Archive for February, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

the ouch factor


I just bought an electric razor.  Yes, it was Compact approved.  (Thrift store razor – eewww!)    I was in need of both shave cream and razor blades – which can get pretty dang spendy, those little slice and dice suckers.  I had read a comment by a woman who bought an electric to save on the continuous purchase of the blades.  One rechargable razor should last quite a while, at least as long as a couple packs of those refill blades.  (And my legs are worth the more expensive brand.  They are.  Trust me.)  Makes sense, right?  Or so I thought. 

I am now debating whether to take advantage of the 30 day money-back guarantee.  I love that I don’t have to worry about nicks but I’m not sure I’m up for the learning curve.  I’ve been shaving my legs with a razor for over 20 years, maybe it’s too late for a new trick.  (I can pat my head and rub my belly but can I go from long, straight strokes to a small, circular motion?  I just don’t know.)  And apparently, when the instructions say “not recommended for under-arms”, they really mean it.  Ouch!  That’s just not going to work.  So if I still need another razor for the under-arms where’s the savings?  Am I wrong?  Do I just need more practice?  Ladies, yea or nay on the electric?

And for the guys who’ve kept with me through the salad spinners and the potato mashers, I apologize.  I will talk about garbage or something tomorrow.  I promise.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

firing off


If your house were on fire what would you grab?  This was the question posed by Anna Quindlen in a Newsweek article last December.  (Yes, I’m just reading it now.  I also have each Real Simple issue from January through March that I haven’t touched yet.  I have time issues.)  But the point of the article (or at least what I took to be the point) was that today’s consumerism is going bankrupt along with our economy.  And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.  If we can realize that stuff is not the answer, then more stuff will not solve the problem.  If we have less material possessions maybe the ones we do have will have some meaning.

I think I’ve always done a pretty decent job of keeping the clutter down to a minimum.  And what clutter there is, is because I value it.  A year of thinking hard about every purchase really drives that home.  I’m already thinking how I will live next year.  What restrictions will my family live under after we complete our Compact year?  I have told you before, I am a design geek and a little OCD about the matter.  Some of the things I find myself needing should be part of a matched set for which I already own a portion.  (example: I have four matching glass canisters for flour, etc.  Now I need more canisters because I am cooking so much at home.)  But how can I keep everything matching if I’m limited in where I can get my goods?  Does it really matter?  I’m sorry to say, yes, it does.  At least to me.  So I may do without until I can purchase the items that fit the aesthetic so I maintain a sense of balance.  But to me that is meaning.

If we can work at limiting our possessions to those that have true meaning then figuring out what to grab from that fire might be a major decision.  But at least it will be a question of value and perhaps not price or status.  We all have purchases of limited value yet great convenience (think about that daily microwave usage), but do we confuse convenience with necessity?

I think it’s pretty much impossible for most people to answer what one thing they would grab, but if I could put four or five items in a laundry basket what would they be?

1) external hard-drive which houses over 4000 pictures taken in the last three years – including our wedding and every stage in Toddler L’s short life so far.
2) clay model of a building I made in high school – because even when I deny it, it reminds me that I am an artist.
3) the jewelry box that was made for my grandmother, and if I’m lucky all the pieces I have inherited are safely stored inside as this is a tangible connection with the women in my family.

I was really going for a list of five but I just couldn’t get there.  Either I’m tired, I can’t recall everything I own at any given point (very likely since I’m tired and pregnant), or I have realized there is very little that can’t, with some effort or money, be replaced.  What’s on your list?

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Monday, February 23, 2009

one less exception

For those of you really paying attention you’ll remember a while back I added a few new exceptions to my list of acceptable items to buy new.  I was very quickly able to scratch one off as I found my much desired salad spinner at the thrift store.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I will be marking through another item that did not get purchased new.  It wasn’t even purchased used.  I was “gifted” my mother’s unused potato masher.  At least it’s been unused in the last 10 years.  It’s probably as old as I am so it might have been used somewhere in there.  But it’s here with me now and I bought potatoes at the farmer’s market yesterday so watch out.

I probably won’t be posting about my potato mashing experience but just know it is in the near future.  I’m so giddy I could sing.  But that’s not allowed in this house.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

the milk bag


While sitting in a coffee shop on our recent trip to Toronto, I told my husband I wanted to take a picture of the shop’s back counter.  He looked at me a little strangely and I explained they were using milk bags.  He looked at me a lot strangely then.  I told him “milk comes in bags here”.  More strange looks.  I had completely forgotten since leaving Canada many years ago about the wonder of milk bags.  It wasn’t really a wonder growing up with it, but seeing it again I wondered why it was such a north of the border thing.  (Apparently it’s not, it’s just not such a U.S. thing.)  Milk in a bag.   Bag in a pitcher.   Less packaging.  Less cost.   How is this not the norm?  In fact, it’s such a great thing there’s a website completely devoted to it.  You may have to be Canadian to enjoy this but take a minute to check out Milk Bags V.20.  It’s funny.  In a strange way.

Ah well, this could be a great social debate, but I really just wanted to pass on the wonder of milk bags.  Was that a strange look you just gave me?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

the same, only different


Just when things were getting fun I left you hanging with only a penguin cartoon to keep you warm.  Sorry about that.  The family took a trip to Toronto to visit Gramma.  As much as I can’t disconnect when I’m home, take me on the road and I pretty much forget what a computer is.  But it doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about you my dear friends.  Every day we did things, I would think, “how can I write about this”?  So I’ve got some things saved up to entertain you with.  (Just pretend you’re entertained okay?  I have a sensitive ego.)

I’ll start by letting everyone know thrift shops in Canada are pretty much the same as in the States.  In case you were wondering.  And if you’re saying “duh”, I know; but my dear, sweet, very intelligent husband was convinced they would be noticeably different.  I’ll skip over the part about him being so excited to get to Toronto and go shopping.  It was a surreal moment.

Goodwill - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Goodwill - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

There were two things that were new to me though.  And this may just show my limited thrift store experience.  You can tell me for sure.  One things was finding this Goodwill tucked into the shopping mall right there with the other typical retail shops.  That felt strange.  Maybe it was just me.

The other thing were the thrift store auctions.  A number of the stores we visited were doing weekly auctions.  We stumbled upon one on Saturday.  For the most part, the items seemed to be the same as other thrift store items but somehow would garner a higher price.  I guess a model sailing ship could be tagged at $15, but if sold at auction would fetch a stellar $65.  Who knew.  Are these things common in your area?  Am I just missing the boat here?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

climate change and funny penguins


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

conscious frugality


On my usual meanderings through the blogosphere I came across a great post over at The Non-Consumer Advocate.  Like me, she is a mom who joined the Compact and has been reviewing what it means in her life.

“Which brings me to the term conscious frugality. To be mindful with one’s money without being miserly or blowing it on poorly made stuff that’s was never manufactured with longevity in mind.”

I have to say, that could mean a departure from the tenets of the Compact.  So far this year I have been quite happy to shop used for what we have needed.  It has met our needs and I don’t think we have missed out or bought less than comparable quality because of it.  But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider buying something new of great quality, (and for that I mean production quality, not necessarily brand quality or cost) that will last my family for years to come.  Think about it, many of the things we (being me) buy at thrift stores and flea markets are 15-20 years old at least.  If they weren’t quality to begin with, they wouldn’t still be around for me to be the second, third or subsequent owner.  The problem lies in the fact that most things are not made the way they used to be.  Which brings us to the stuff issue.

Reading Ms. Wolk-Stanley’s post reminded me that my desire to join the Compact was not to limit my family to second-hand goods, but to take a year to look at what we buy, what we spend our money on and perhaps save some of that said money.  Conscious frugality.  It has a ring to it.  I like it.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

did I compact?


It was grey, but was it green?  Well, I can’t say Friday and Saturday were terribly inspired but Sunday.  What a Sunday!  Despite the fact that Toddler L refused to sleep Saturday night we still got up early (okay, 7:45 am may not be early for you but my eyes were still puffy) and got ourselves to the Rose Bowl flea market.  It’s the largest flea market in the country, they say it can be seen from space.  I don’t know about that, but I do know I can’t do it all in a day.  We spent a good few hours wandering the aisles, seeing what was up for grabs, and even doing a small amount of grabbing.

I got some great fabric for a couple of sofa pillows to go with my newly refurbished dining room chairs.  Now I just have to actually make the pillows.  Ugh, the planning is so much more fun than the execution.

Husband found some sunglasses to replace the ones Toddler L broke.  Luckily he’s not picky about style because he loved the super cheap price.  I’m sure they were more expensive in 1994 when they were new!  But they fit the bill.  I was tempted to give him a pass to get new glasses as long as they came from an independent, local shop.  We live in Southern California, wearing sunglasses is kind of like wearing sunblock, it’s a health and safety issue.  Especially when driving.  But husband said no, he’d find some eventually.  As I drive with him frequently, I was glad the eventually was sooner rather than later.

A couple other great finds, (an 8 cup measuring cup, a couple of gifty things for people I can’t talk about in case they actually read this) and we headed home.  Plenty more stuff we both would have loved to have, but as we were buying for “need” and not “want” we kept it pretty tame.  Maybe some day some of those wants might make it back in, but for now we’re keeping it simple.  And we had a great time doing it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

at what cost do we recycle?


You may have heard this piece on NPR’s All Things Considered in December which discussed how the recycling industry has been affected by the downturn in consumerism.  A majority of this downturn is economic-based, not because the majority of society has realized we don’t need as much stuff as we have been led to believe.  But the end result is temporarily the same.  We are buying less packaged goods.  In my opinion that is a good thing.  But, (yes there is a but) that does affect our current system of recycling.

As is stated in the NPR piece, we buy things, we take them home, we un-package them and (if we’re lucky) we put that packaging in the recycling bin on the curb.  Or, as in my case, we head to a nearby recycling center like Walser’s.  But that’s just one step in a long chain of activities.  Let’s see if I can catch them all.  Product is made and packaged.  Product is purchased and packaging is recycled.  (It’s my dream this is always the case, just let me dream.)  A government entity or business entity takes the recycled packaging and sells it to a recycling distributor.  This distributor sells it to a processor to recycle said packaging into new packaging (or in the rare instance, new consumables).  And this could be cardboard packaging, plastic packaging, glass packaging, metal packaging, you name it, I’m not discriminating.

The issue at hand seems to be that because the US is consuming less product there is less packaging to sell to the processors.  Is that good for the environment?  You bet.  And as I said, I fully support this.  I wish this was the end of the story.  But it’s the 21st century and the majority of society revolves around business not ethics.  Not what I would choose just what I happen to see as fact.  I know I can change my percentage of this and obviously I have chosen to for my family.  But I’m less than a cog in the wheel of American society.  So we’re back to less packaging to be sold.  And that’s the key word, sold.  Not less.  Recycling, like most everything is a business.  Is it a business that helps the environment?  You bet.  Do the people at the top of every recycling/processing company/plant care about the environment.  I doubt it.  They do care about making a profit.

Currently, a majority of our recycling is done in China.  Why?  A lot of reasons.  Fewer regulations.  Cheaper labor.  They make a majority of the product that needs packaging so it can be shipped back to the US.  Is this good for the environment.  Of course not.  Eco Child’s Play published an article following the NPR story.  As was illustrated there, one solution is to do more of the recycling here in the US.  Create more product in the US, create more recycled packaging in the US.  Why ship to another country what could be done right here?

If only it were so simple.  There are recycling plants in the US.  There is a desire keep that business local.  But the same economic rules apply.  If the amount of recycled material is decreasing the plants cannot process what they don’t have and make the same profit margin as they have in the past.  And by profit margin I mean enough cash flow to pay for the processing, there’s not a gold mine inside every recycling plant.  When I dropped my last load of recycling off at Walser’s earlier this week, I was told the company they sell to is considering not taking paper and plastic any longer.  And this is a US processor who sells to a US recycling plant.  They don’t ship it overseas.  They just can’t make a profit anymore.

Am I saying buy more stuff to save the recycling plants?  No.

Though the current down swing of shopping means there are crates of fibers not being used, it also means that there will be less coming in. Supply and demand, even in recycling, eventually even themselves out. With fewer packages being used the supply of packaging being recycled will also diminish.†

I agree with this concept.  The issue goes back to the current business market though.  As we wait for the supply and demand to even out, we are going to lose some of our recycling options.  Plants may close, processors will buy fewer recyclable materials and companies like Walser’s will stop collecting my paper and plastic.  I’m not writing this as an unbiased news article.  I am simply an eco-friendly steward, mother and yes, consumer.  I do not have the answer but I do think we need to help keep the recycling plants open.  What does that mean?  Provide more recyclable material?  Subsidize the plants?  Subsidize the companies that use recycled materials to incentivize them?  I don’t know.  I do know the whole thing boggles me.  And I don’t want to find another way to dispose of my paper and plastic.

[†Should We Consume More to Recycle More? Eco Child’s Play, December 23, 2008]

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

a job well done

old and improved

old and improved

Project complete!  I was so excited yesterday to meet Carrie of Sommer Designs and pick up the fabric for my chairs.  I quickly (okay, really more like 8 hours later after Toddler L went to bed) got to work taking off the old fabric and replacing it with my stain-free beautiful new fabric.  What do you think?

And by the way, the old fabric was this awesome white (well, it was when it was new) ultra-suede so I just couldn’t throw it out.  I cut it up to make washable swiffer cloths and some rags.  We’ll see how they work but first I have to wash off all the finger prints and peanut butter.