Reuse, Repair, Recycle

January 30, 2007

My refrigerator died.  This is not the first sign of trouble.  The automatic ice dispenser in the door randomly shoots ice across the kitchen as if it is possessed.  We had to unhook the automatic water door dispenser after waking up several mornings to a flooded kitchen when it decided to turn itself on.  

After much thought, debate and consideration, we made the hard decision not to repair it again but to purchase a new one.

So now we are taxed with figuring out what to do with this refrigerator.  Bulk trash collection is coming but I cannot stomach the thought of putting a fridge into a landfill when it is in basic good shape but clearly needs someone with more mechanical skills than us to keep it going.  Instead I am listing it on our local Freecycle site and our local Craigslist site.  I am sure someone out there can repair this thing and get it going again. 

I love the concept of these two sites.  Bartering in the 21st century.  

When I began gardening, I posted a wanted on these sites for a pitch fork.  I could have bought a pitch fork but I thought it would be better to see if one was lurking in the back of a garage that was no longer needed.  The one we found has slightly bent tines and therefore isn’t “perfect” and is limited in its use but it can do its job of turning a compost pile.   That pitchfork request led to another email  from someone offering left over wood pieces from a remodel project to build square-foot gardening boxes.  When I picked up the wood, the giver offered me an old redwood bench that needed to be put back together.  Once reassembled, it will serve as an excellent potting bench.  As we discussed beautiful her water gardens, the giver found a knife and began dividing up beautiful plants that were aggressively taking over her pond.  

We didn’t just take these things because we are cheap.  They were freely offered and were no longer useful to their previous owners who wished to remove them from their homes.  We provided a new home, new uses and new life to each of these items that were destined to fill a landfill site somewhere.

Lest you think I am advocating getting things from people without giving, I have one caveat to using a barting system.  It is never good to just be a taker.  In order for a bartering system to work properly, you must also give.   Over the years we have found a great many things we no longer need like outgrown sports equipment for our fast growing son, outgrown bikes, appliances that were replaced with newer more efficient options and books we acquired through garage sales, used book stores and handmedowns from family members who love to read. 

The give and take of this old fashioned bartering system restores a sense of balance in the acquisition of goods.  I like putting that pitchfork in my hands and knowing that this one thing was saved and its use restored.  I like knowing that in acquiring a pitchfork, I did not use any raw materials for a new item.  I like knowing that I saved $30 I would have otherwise spent buying a new pitchfork.  I love watching my garden grow from plants given to me, lovingly dug from their own backyards or cultivated in their own water gardens.   And I equally enjoy setting a box of books on my front step and seeing someone pick it up to take home and enjoy or a small child trying on a set of newly acquired baseball cleats or sitting on the seat of this new bike.  I like knowing that an appliance that served us well will be repaired and go on to serve many many more. 

There is something right and good about bartering over buying. 


Do I feel deprived?

January 29, 2007

This is one of the biggest questions we get asked as participants in voluntary simplicity.  Do I feel deprived?  Lets face it, we like our stuff.  We are used to it. It brings comfort when we are lonely.  It gives us something to talk about with friends.  Americans definitely view shopping as an entitlement activity.   

We have been working toward a more simple life for four years.  I have never felt deprived.  Being simple, living simple lives is about choices.  I can choose to spend money on an item but usually, when I think hard about it, I realize that I really didn’t want the item. I, like most Americans, enjoy the rush of shopping, making purchases and seeing something beautiful in my home.  I still have those things.  I just do it much more conscientiously now.  

By choosing the simple path, you are controlling your money, your time, your resources and not the other way around.   I make choices.  I decide what amount of my life I am willing to give up to pay for anything I purchase.   We have decided that clothes or things in our home are not worth that life time.  We have decided that cultural activities, growing experiences and travel are worth the life time it takes to pay for them. 

You do not have to live a deprived life to live simple, just a conscious one. 

The Importance of Planning

January 29, 2007

I do a bit of “mystery shopping” on the side where I shop at restaurants and other retail spaces, observe the service and provide feedback to companies in exchange for a reimbursement on my expenses.  I have found this to be a great way to eat out or take quick trips when otherwise we wouldn’t have the money in the budget. 

Last week I signed up for a hotel mystery shop in another city.  I figured it was a great way to visit a few cultural sites in this particular city known for its science and art museums without spending a lot of money.  Originally, I planned to pack lunch for the day and bring snacks in order to make healthy choices with regards to food and to limit the hit to our budget for our impromptu mini-break.  Best laid plans….. I forgot and then I let my husband talk me into just going with the flow.

$200 later…… our minibreak wasn’t so frugal.   No, this blog isn’t about being frugal, but I think simplicity, environmental responsibility and frugality often go hand in hand.  And, while we are trying to live natural, healthy, simple lives…. we also need to be wise with our money because we are not financially independant! 

Packing a few snacks and sandwiches would have prevented our mid-morning snack, our horrible lunch at the museum and our feasting on popcorn at the movie, all of which was horribly over priced.   It didn’t account for all of the $200 extra but it was a significant portion.    

On the other hand, besides spending more money than we should have…. we had a great time.  We spent one entire day at a natural history and science museum, enjoyed their hands-on exhibits, watched a live science demonstration, enjoyed the planetarium and caught a movie on the IMAX theater – all for the low price of $29.00 for three people!  By looking for a few coupons on-line, we were able to save over $30 on the price of admission for all of those events. 

By providing a report at the end of our stay, we enjoyed a hotel room, an evening of room service and movies and breakfast the next morning. 

While being smart with your money can sometimes take you off the simple path – mystery shopping isn’t necessarily simple -, it certainly is prudent.   However, it was a wonderful, simple experience by spending the day together playing with science exhibits. 

 And we can enjoy some success.  In the past, we would have jumped in the car and headed to this town for a quick weekend get-away without thought to money.   We would have eaten out every meal on our own dime and we would have purchased without impunity.  We can appreciate the baby steps. 

Can we really change?

January 24, 2007

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  – Ghandi

This quote has been on my mind a lot lately. Change is hard.  There is no way around it. People talk of saving the earth and leaving a better future for our children, but what are we, collectively, doing about it?  It is just talk?  In the words of one of my favorite former pastors – are your lips and feet in sync?

A startling alert came across my desk this morning.  The National Wildlife Federation says that the artic ice cap is melting up to 24,000 acres a day.  Polar bears are drowning because they cannot swim the ever growing distance between ice sheets where they hunt food and land where they live. How can I stop this?   What can I do? 

One person cannot surely stop the polar ice caps from melting but if one person joins me, and another, and another, and another…..soon we have made a difference. 

So what can I do to be the change I wish to see in the world?  

I can set my thermastat slightly lower even though I hate being cold.  Is my comfort worth millions of pounds of carbon dioxide released into the air to supply energy to my home? 

I can change my light bulbs to florescent.  The light isn’t as good as incandescent but the CO2 is reduced by me reducing how much energy is used to light my home. 

Simply turning off unused lights.   Rooms do not need to be lit if you aren’t in them, even if they are using florescent bulbs. 

I can take  cloth bags to the grocery store, something I always seem to forget.  They are reusable and they will not end up in a landfill.  If they ever do need to be thrown away, they are a natural cotton fiber that will  break down much quicker and easier than petroleum based plastic.

I can shop locally for my produce, meat and dairy.  The food is fresher, full of nutrients that are lacking in conventional grocery store items and more importantly reduce the emissions that would be used to ship produce to me from far away lands.  

There are many things that I can do to take that one step….and be the change that I wish to see in the world.

Join me in making a difference.

What does this mean?

January 22, 2007

We recently endured a freak ice storm that stranded us in the house for several days.  I say freak because in our little corner of the world the weather, except summer, is moderate with few days ever falling below freezing. 

Like any good southerner not accustomed to inclimate weather, the entire city stocked up on provisions to get them through the 72 hour lock in which meant buying enough groceries to last at least a month.   Half way through our freeze, my husband and I venture out to the local grocery for some supplies. As we wandered through the store, we noticed a disturbing trend.  The soda isle was bare and nearly empty, as was the chip and snack isle.  The rest of the store was relatively well stocked even though all deliveries had been delayed until after the storm was over.

What does this say?  

If you were anticipating a weather emergency, what supplies would you make sure to have on hand?

I find it ironic that we are obsessed with finding reasons why our nation possesses the ever expanding waistline and why the generation up and coming will likely not live as long as their parents……

Consumerism 1, Parents 0

January 21, 2007

Just today my seven year old asked why we couldn’t buy a brand new Ford Explorer. This isn’t the first time. He has been mentioning it for about three months now. We explained to him that to buy a new vehicle would mean we would have to pay for it. My vehicle is eight years old, runs fine, looks fine and is paid in full. If we needed to pay for a new vehicle, we would have to change our life back to how we used to live. To replace my car, I would have to go back to work full time and I wouldn’t be home with him after school and we wouldn’t be able to move forward with our plans to homeschool after the end of this academic school year.

But I have to question the values of our society when my seven year old can tell me the exact specifications of a new Ford Explorer, including seven-passenger seating with a folding third row seat. The child sounded like an announcer on a commercial. Where did he learn that? When did he learn that? Yes, yes, I know it was obviously from a commercial. This question left my husband and me two issues we clearly need to address. First, we obviously have been slacking in the television watching department, but we can’t shield him from television and commercials short of demanding no television. Others have given up television, but I admit, we all like Spongebob too much to give it up. Instead, the only option I see is the second issue, educate our son on the value of money, the power of using money as a tool and taking command of your life rather than buying something new you saw on television.

Fortunately, I think fast on my feet and pointed out to him that a purchase like that is not something to be done lightly. It needs to be considered with many other things in the budget. First, we need to analyze how much money we bring home. Second, we review how much currently goes out in bills, savings and investments, as well as fun time. Third, we look at what we already possess, does it work fine? Do we need a replacement? Fourth, we have to analyze how to make changes to accommodate such a purchase, including what we would give up (more time at home, the chance to direct our son’s education and better yet, let him direct it in a way that suits him best) and what we would gain (a pretty new vehicle that can seat more people). Finally, we would look at what the purchase meant in terms of the earth and the environment. What would buying a new Ford Explorer cost in terms of resources and future gas and emissions.

He is a smart boy, I am sure he suddenly saw the value of my older vehicle. When I asked him if he thought that giving up those things was acceptable in exchange for a new vehicle that we could fit more people into, he quickly answered no. So it looks like, barring any sudden downturn in my vehicle, we will continue driving my old one and we will continue with our plans of taking control over our lives.

The question that still leaves me unsettled is…. When did seven year old start caring about having old cars versus newer ones?

Consumerism 1, mom 0

Time Deficit

January 20, 2007

Did you know that Americans work, on average, 350 hours longer annually than their European counterparts?   Did you know that the United States one of the only countries in the industrialized world that does not have mandatory annual leave requirements and encourage workers to not take vacations?   Did you know that European countries have annually 5 weeks leave, Canada and Japan each have 2 weeks leave mandated by the government? (Information provide by Take Back Your Time at

What do the other countries know that we do not?  They know that a rested worker is a productive worker.  They know that to keep an employee they have to value employees and that includes employees’ time away from the job.

People complain daily that their lives are too busy to exercise, to eat right or to just hang out with their families.  Families feel pressure more than ever before, with kids having unprecedented stress levels.  Convenience foods loaded with fats, chemicals and toxins are chosen over healthy whole foods that take longer to prepare because families and parents just do not have time to prepare wholesome quality meals.  Our waist lines are growing along with our dependence on caffeine and mood stabilizing drugs such as antidepressants. Work hours are increasing while Americans are reporting unprecedented levels of dissatisfaction with their lives. 



Why are we working so hard? The American Dream?  What is that anyway?   Is it the latest game console or the latest $40,000 vehicle?    Does it mean having to park your expensive vehicles in the driveway because your garage is packed with stuff acquired and discarded?  Does any of that stuff make you feel more or less satisfied? 



The meaning of life – is to live it – unknown.