December 31, 2009
There's no particular reason for that photo, except that I like it. It's my madmen avatar. You can make your own avatar at MadMenYourself.com. It's fun.
So here are my favorite blog posts of the year, from oldest to newest. Yes, they're my personal favorites, not the most popular or most commented upon. That's partly because I have to admit I really don't know how to read those statistics, and partly because I'm just feeling a little giddy. Like that's what I want to do, so I'll do it. And really, I don't know if they're my favorites, I just tried to pick out some that I like a lot.
Unless you've been reading this blog all year, there are probably some posts on this list that you haven't read. So here goes...
#10) from 3/23: More Exceptions to Buy Nothing New, in which I add running shoes and a few other items to the list of things I will allow myself to buy new.
#9) from 3/30: How Much Do You Need to Live On? in which I explore the idea that how much money we think we need to live on determines many of the choices we make in life.
#8) from 6/8: Frugal Vacations, in which I talk about house-swapping and other creative ways to travel on a tight budget.
#7) from 6/18: Non-Consumer Father's Day Gift Ideas, in which I make my dad a card from old photos.
#6) from 6/23: 20 Questions to Ask Your Parents, in which I get a tad sentimental.
#5) from 8/25: Livin' the High Life, in which I discuss how my non-consumer lifestyle is not about deprivation.
#4) from 9/15: The United States of Clutter, in which I ponder our collective desire to accumulate STUFF.
#3) from 9/26: In Memoriam: Paul Newman, in which I attempt to dissect the meaning of having such a strong reaction to a celebrity death.
#2) from 10/13: The Skirt, in which I am sorely tempted and my commitment is put to the test.
#1) from 10/27: Our Mini Kitchen Remodel, in which I post lots of photos of our groovy remodeled kitchen.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year! Tomorrow I'll post some reflections on my year of buying nothing new, and next week I'll be back to a regular schedule with Meatless Mondays, Thrifty Threads, and Food Waste Friday. Plus I'll continue to answer your questions about what I've learned from this experiment and what's ahead for next year.
December 30, 2009
Much to my surprise, there's nothing in particular that I've been waiting or planning to buy. But there are things that I know will present a challenge. My biggest concern with doing this project long-term is technology. I always use a computer and cell phone as long as possible, and I've even bought a refurbished laptop two or three times (I think all my laptops have been refurbished), but I'm not about to stop buying them entirely. And I have a feeling I'm going to want an iphone at some point, when the monthly service fees drop significantly. Since I'm not going to become a Luddite just because I'm a Compacter, I think the key will be to use items as long as possible and to dispose of them properly. So far I've always sold my old computers and returned used cell phones for recycling and I'm considering donating my old laptop.
Another thing that might not be easy to find used is personal items like sheets and towels. But when I do need those things, I'll look to other Compacters and my readers for suggestions. And I know there will be compromises, like if I absolutely need something and can't find it used. In that case I'll try to buy green and local. But I've also learned the value of borrowing or doing without. Those are underrated options. I've never owned a food processor and we have no room for one, but I still cook and bake a fair amount and borrow a friend's about once a year.
I am still "looking out for" a ceramic pot that sits out on the counter for food scraps on their way to the compost bin. I want it to look nice in our kitchen and haven't found anything in the thrift stores. That is something I may end up buying if I don't find one soon. And one other thing I really need is a digital camera. The one I've been using to take photos for this blog is really old and very temperamental and I spend way too much time coaxing it to behave. I am going to try to buy one used, perhaps on ebay. Let me know if you have any ideas about that.
And one other thing that came up recently...
A good friend is having a baby girl and the shower is in January. Oh, how I would love to go out and buy some beautiful baby clothes. Just yesterday I looked at an online children's clothing catalog and saw the most adorable little white fuzzy baby coat with a hood and lamb's ears. The company is all organic cotton and made in the USA, so I'm considering making an exception. But I would also really love to give them some of our favorite children's books, and I can probably find those used in good condition. What do you think, readers? I've done great so far with gifts, but do you have any ideas for baby gifts? I don't knit or quilt, and I want to give them something really nice. If you have any suggestions for non-consumer baby gifts, please leave them in the Comments section.
December 29, 2009
Over the next few weeks, I'll try to answer all your questions in detail. Right now I can tell you that doing the Compact and blogging about it have become so much a part of my regular lifestyle that I can't imagine stopping now. So I will definitely continue blogging into 2010, with a few changes. I'll continue with Thrifty Threads and Food Waste Friday and some of my regular features, but I'll also be adding new challenges, conducting interviews, and reading more simple living books and telling you about them.
I embarked upon this experiment with a definite end date in sight, but sometime around September it dawned on me that not only was there nothing I was dying to buy new, but that my new lifestyle was very satisfying to me. It occurred to me that I didn't want to give it up, that I'd become a die-hard Compacter. That is to say, I will still make exceptions and occasionally buy new things, but I will always make a conscious effort to borrow, buy used, or do without first. And I like that. It feels right to me.
There's no way to say everything on the subject in one post, but I think the most important element in my decision to continue with the Compact and writing this blog has been the support of my readers. I've gotten great support from my husband for doing the Compact, but writing the blog has been so much more valuable than I'd ever imagined. It's much more than just a document of my year, because of all of you out there reading and commenting and writing emails to me. It's become a whole conversation about living a non-consumer lifestyle. And that interactive element is what I've enjoyed most of all. I can't express how much I appreciate your support and involvement, and that goes for those of you who challenge me as much as those who say I've inspired them to make similar changes. There is nothing that makes my day like having someone tell me that what I've said or done has meant something to them or made them think of things differently. So thank you all so much for joining me in this journey.
Tomorrow I'll answer the question, "Is there anything you plan on purchasing new in January? Something you've realized that you can't find used, or just really have been wanting to splurge on?" If you have any specific questions you want me to answer over the next few weeks, feel free to leave them in the Comments section.
December 28, 2009
But I shouldn't complain about this beautiful spread. There are tons of greens, some I'll cook for a New Year's Eve supper with black-eyed peas and the rest I shouldn't have any trouble using up. I don't have any recipes for the daikon, but I'll bet that would make an interesting salad.
Here's what we got, roughly clockwise from the back: mustard greens, baby bok choy, broccoli rabe, blue potatoes, flat red kale, bull's blood beets, broccoli, daikon, carrots, small red onions with tops, cilantro, china rose radish, and a bag of baby spinach.
Having a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery is helping us eat more healthfully, and we eat more produce and a greater variety. It's forcing us to be more creative with our cooking.
Do you have a CSA delivery service in your area? If you're not sure, click here to find out more about CSA and to find one near you. And please share your suggestions and recipes for any of the produce in this photo in the Comments section, especially the daikon.
December 24, 2009
This year he wanted to do something different and I think it's stunning. He used a bird and fruit theme with the ornaments, which I will try to photograph up close before he takes it down. The photo at the top is the clearest and shows the most detail, but since I cut off the top of the tree, I wanted you to see the shape of the whole tableau, so I included the photo below. It's not as clear, but you can see the top of the tree and all of the lit candles.
So whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I wish you all a wonderful weekend.
December 23, 2009
1. SnagFilms.com. I just learned about this great website that lets you send a friend a "virtual movie theater" with a playlist of up to 10 full-length documentary films. They currently have 1000 free documentaries on the site, ranging from politics to the environment to music. Just a few titles from their library: Super Size Me, What Would Jesus Buy?, and The End of America.
This gift is eco-friendly and free. It would be a great option for a movie buff who loves documentaries but might not know about this service. And someone who doesn't think you're cheap because you're not spending money. Because what you're giving, including your time, doesn't have a price tag.
2. Make a donation in their name. I've already talked about Global Giving, one of my favorites. Your loved one can choose where they want to put their money, and for as little as $10, they can buy malaria nets for a family in Mali, buy books for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or contribute to a host of worthwhile projects. Other great organizations are Children.org, which allows them to sponsor a child or donate to an individual project, or Heifer International, where they can give the gift of livestock to a family in an effort to lift them out of poverty while providing a source of nourishment. If you want something physical to present as a gift, most of these places let you download a certificate/card for the recipient.
3. Food. Finally, many people enjoy the gift of food during the holidays, I know I do. If you're afraid they might have already OD'd on baked goods, try something like mixed nuts or homemade trail mix. My favorite combines almonds, walnuts, pecans, salt, cumin, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips. You just heat the nuts in a pan on medium until slightly browned, remove from the heat and lightly coat with cooking spray, and toss with salt and a little cumin. Then let it cool completely before adding the remaining ingredients. It's delicious, and listed as a great snack for women over 40 because the nuts contain omega-3s which lower bad cholesterol and raise the good kind, plus lower the risk of heart attack if you eat them several times a week. If you have a tree, fresh lemons are always appreciated, or fresh herbs from the garden if you live in a temperate climate.
Most importantly, remember that the season isn't about competitive shopping and figuring out the best STUFF to buy. It isn't about STUFF at all. One year I simply wrote cards telling my family members what they meant to me and I think they appreciated the time and thought behind it. But no matter what you do, try to enjoy yourself because life is too short to dwell on unimportant details.
Happy Holidays. If you have any last-minute gift ideas you'd like to share, please tell us about them in the Comments section.
December 22, 2009
Check it out. I'm having fun reading the other 4 Frugal Blogs they chose.
Wow, I'm so flattered. Thanks, MakeUseOf.com!
I'll be back tomorrow with a few last minute non-consumer holiday gift ideas for those tough-to-buy-for folks on your list.
December 21, 2009
That's when I borrowed my neighbor's "tree sculpture" and have been using it ever since. It lets me have a holiday tree with almost no hassle. I still get to hang some of our favorite ornaments, but I don't have to drag a tree across our hardwood floor and clean up pine needles afterward or worry about disposing of it after the holiday. It's also extremely green and frugal. And very Compact-y, since I'm borrowing the tree each year and purchasing nothing new.
This tree was purchased several years ago at a store called Smith & Hawken that has recently gone out of business. But the options are endless as far as materials you could use as a "tree alternative." One idea would be a tree branch, perhaps spray painted white before you decorate it. That would work well with a bush that grows in California called manzanita. The wood is both sculptural and hard.
December 18, 2009
What do you use for wrapping gifts? What are some of your best green and frugal tips? Please share them in the Comments section.
Our refrigerator is packed with fresh produce from the CSA however, so I have to make a big batch of soup to use some of it up. That will be good to have around during the busyness of holiday preparations.
I've been watching our food waste this year in an effort to keep it out of the landfill. One statistic from Wasted Food is that Americans throw away up to 40 percent of the food that we buy. That's a lot of food waste creating CO2 and causing pollution! Not to mention, it's money down the drain.
Kristen at The Frugal Girl came up with the idea of photographing her waste each week in order to pay more attention to it, and the tactic worked so well for her that she invited others to join in. For me personally, the photo keeps me focused on the issue and has definitely helped us to waste less food.
How did you do this week? Please leave your tips and advice in the Comments section.
I still have two more holiday posts to fit in today and tomorrow, one about my green gift wrapping style, and the other about our holiday tree. So I'll be back later today with one of those depending on what kind of photos I can get from my dying camera.
December 17, 2009
December 16, 2009
Just in time for wedding and graduation season (not really, I'm a little late, but hopefully not too late for all your celebrations) is this tip for a sparkling wine. That's champagne. So for any event that requires a toast, this is a great budget option.
This Prosecco Brut Zonin is bottled in Italy and sells at Trader Joe's for just $5.99. It's an unbelievable steal. I'm not a big fan of champagne, especially cheap champagne, and I like this one. A lot.
I used to think I just didn't really care for champagne, until I had occasion to try a truly remarkable brand: Dom Perignon. Yes, the one you've heard about all these years. Wasn't there something about sipping Dom Perignon in a 70s pop song? Anyway, our good friends very generously shared a bottle with us last New Year's Eve, and it was a revelation. None of the cloying sweetness, just a fresh light deliciousness that evaporated right off of your tongue. For the first time in my life, I had a second glass. And at the same time I became a champagne fan, I knew I wouldn't be drinking it very often, because now I REALLY wouldn't be able to drink the cheap stuff.
You should rush right out and buy a bottle of this when I tell you that the same friends who shared the Dom with us, and who are wine connoisseurs and even make their own wine, are the same friends who discovered this Prosecco. Need I say more? This is a hot tip, folks. So get your bottle, or case, before Trader Joe's runs out. Especially if you've got a celebration coming up.
Please leave your favorite wine tips, including champagne, in the Comments section. And tell me if you know what 70s song I'm talking about.
December 15, 2009
Being consumers of soft toilet paper (though not Charmin), my husband and I were both horrified by this. Of course I knew that toilet paper was made from trees, but I've driven and taken the train across country many times, and there is no lack of trees on this continent. But old-growth trees are another thing entirely, and I still cannot believe they would be cut down for something so... what's the word I'm looking for? Trivial? Mundane? Banal?
My husband is in charge of buying toilet paper and other paper products, and he generally gets the best price at places like Smart & Final. But we agreed immediately to switch brands to a recycled toilet paper that wouldn't endanger old growth forests!
This is the kind of thing I'm glad to learn about but feel so upset that I didn't know. How can this go on? I'm raving, I know. But if you feel like I do, please switch brands immediately. I don't think anyone thinks soft toilet paper is important enough to fell giant trees.
Click here for a guide to where to buy "green" toilet paper. Until we find the cheapest/most convenient item on the list for us, we'll buy the Trader Joe's brand.
Thanks sister-in-law, for helping us Do The Right Thing! And hopefully some of my readers will be inspired to make the switch as well. I'll bet a lot of you knew about this already. Please leave your thoughts on the issue in the Comments section.
December 14, 2009
One of the perks of living in Southern California is getting such a wide variety of organic local produce. This week we got (roughly clockwise from the back): romaine lettuce, broccoli, beets, kale, cauliflower, rainbow swiss chard, red onions, carrots, another green with yellow flowers (the list isn't posted online yet), acorn squash, cabbage, pears, tangerines, radishes, red potatoes, and a chocolate/cranberry cookie.
I haven't planned a menu yet, so if you have any ideas for any of this, let me know. I'm a bit overwhelmed and will probably give some of it away. Because of the holiday, we have ten days to use this all up.
Getting this delivery is helping us eat more healthfully, and also eat less meat. And it's no more expensive, because I've been spending the same amount or even less every month on groceries. Click here if you want to learn more about CSA and find one in your area.
Going to a Farmer's Market is another great option for getting fresh local produce. Do you belong to a CSA or shop at a Farmer's Market? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And let me know if you see the ingredients for a favorite dish. I'm low on ideas this week because my mind is on other things.
December 12, 2009
So here for your enjoyment is another beautiful photo of the food that went bad this week. I haven't had a photo in awhile, so that's progress. This week we had a bit of arugula, after my husband used most of it on sandwiches. In the container is two roasted carrots that I had forgotten about. And then the dreaded Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. Hmmm.
I rarely use this and usually just keep a can for a last minute emergency. In this case, I used it in tuna casserole, and it tastes fine, but normally I would make another type of sauce that's a little healthier. Anyway, for some reason I used all but a tablespoon or so that was left in this can. And I had absolutely no plan for using it up so there was no way it was going to get eaten.
A plan. That's the best way to avoid food waste, in my experience. Plan your shopping, plan your meals, plan how to use leftovers. If that sounds like a big drag to you (like it does to me), just do a semi-plan. Plan some meals and then have pantry staples. But keep an eye on your leftovers or they'll definitely be forgotten.
Why do I care about wasted food? Because when it goes to the landfill, it creates CO2 and adds to the climate crisis. Plus it wastes a lot of money. Luckily, most of this stuff will go on the compost pile (is cream of mushroom soup okay, does anyone know?). But I'd still rather have a zero waste week.
If you want to find out more about the effect of food waste on the environment, check out Wasted Food. And click here if you want to participate in The Frugal Girl's project of photographing food that goes bad in an effort to waste less.
Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And if anyone knows whether or not I can compost that soup, let me know.
December 11, 2009
The world lost an angel when he died.
December 10, 2009
December 8, 2009
All my gifts this year are handmade, used, or experiential. It's been fun and I'm already almost done except for the baking and wrapping.
My steps for finding a used pizza stone, as is the Compact-y way, went as follows:
1) Tell people I'm looking out for the item. I sent out an email in case anyone had one they weren't using. I got one response that I could use a paver from Home Depot instead of a pizza stone. I considered that but couldn't find a suitable paver, they were all too thick.
2) Went to two Goodwills. There weren't any pizza stones, but I asked a manager if they ever get them. I've seen tons of breadmakers at Goodwill. One manager didn't seem to know what I was talking about, the other said he'd seen them occasionally, once even new and still in the box. I made one more visit to that Goodwill, so three visits total.
3) I put up a notice on Freecycle that I was looking for a pizza stone.
After a couple of weeks, I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn't be giving my husband a pizza stone. But because I had "put the word out," an awesome friend sent me a link to a pizza stone he saw listed on Craigslist. So I bought it! The woman selling it was asking $10 for the stone and $8 for the paddle. She told me she loved it but she was going vegan so she thought it best to get rid of it.
It's a little stained, but my friend told me it doesn't matter because a new one would get stained right away anyway. I was very happy with the gift, but since it was used I couldn't get too excited about wrapping it up and went ahead and gave it to my husband early. He can't wait to make pizza next week.
Moral of the story: "Ask and ye shall receive." Or maybe "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Or maybe "good things come to those who wait." You get the picture. It was a combination of patience, putting the word out, and Craigslist that scored this pizza stone.
It IS possible to get through the holidays on The Compact! It's been fun in fact. I wrote about Compact-y holiday gifts a few weeks back. If you missed it, click here to read the post about experiential gifts and here to get ideas for handmade gifts.
Do you ever use freecycle, Craigslist or ebay? What about for gifts? Tell us about your favorite gift scores in the Comments section.
December 7, 2009
If you haven't heard of Meatless Monday, click here to find out more about it. It's a non-profit initiative to encourage people to give up meat one day a week for their health and the health of the planet. If you sign up, you'll receive a weekly email packed with delicious recipes. I can't find the time to make all the ones I've saved!
Here are this week's reader suggestions:
1) Kate from Creating A Life I Love says this recipe is simple and satisfying: scoop fresh cooked Basmati rice into individual bowls, squeeze half a lime over the rice plus soy sauce and sliced avocado. Serve with steamed or stir-fried veggies and a green salad, and you have a quick and healthy meal.
2) Julie adds to the rice theme with this suggestion: brown rice topped with stir-fried onions, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, sugar snap peas and Trader Joe's veggie birds' nests on the side. She says she was busy and let the onions cook so long they carmelized and it was heavenly.
I love carmelized onions. They're such a great addition to any veggie stir fry. Julie's recipe is almost exactly like my old college standby, except for the addition of the Trader Joe's birds' nests. I can't wait to try them. Julie says they're in the frozen foods section.
On the rice theme, this recipe for vegetable curry is one of our staples. It's a crockpot dish, and for me it's comfort food over rice. Plus curry is SO good for you.
Readers, please share your favorite super-simple meatless meals in the Comments section and I'll include them in the next Meatless Monday post in two weeks. Next Monday I'll have a CSA delivery photo and post for you and we'll be back on our regular schedule.
Have you signed up for Meatless Mondays yet? Click here to check out previous meatless monday recipes posts.
December 5, 2009
So this year, instead of exchanging gifts, they're participating in the Adopt-A-Family program instead. She's pretty high in the company, so she was in a position to make the decision with a couple of coworkers. They sent out an email saying that since they were all so fortunate to have good jobs, this year instead of buying gifts for coworkers, they would buy them for people who were down on their luck.
The whole office is jazzed about the project. Everyone was asked to pledge the amount of money they felt comfortable with, and with that sum they were able to "adopt" ten families. They're going to divide the shopping list and then have a wrapping party to celebrate. Instead of giving a coworker something they don't need and may not even use, they can be happy knowing the food and clothing and toys they're wrapping are on their way to families who will really appreciate it.
What a great way to get into the holiday spirit, and give up a lot of stress in the bargain. If your office hasn't made a plan yet and you have anything to say about it, you might want to give this a try. Or at least think about it for next year.
Click here to find out about the Adopt-A-Family program in Los Angeles. A lot of different organizations run these projects, so the best thing to do would be a google search for your area.
What's your office doing for the holidays this year? Tell us about it in the Comments section.
December 4, 2009
If you're new to this blog, on Fridays I usually talk about food waste and even post a photo of the food that went bad over the course of the week. It's an effort to become conscious of how much food we throw away, so that we can try to buy less and waste less. The idea of posting the photograph came from Kristen of The Frugal Girl, and a lot of people have joined in the effort.
Why should we care about wasted food? Simply put, it's bad for the environment and it's bad for your wallet. Here's just one alarming statistic: Americans waste 40 percent of the food that they buy. And all that food sitting in a landfill adds to the greenhouse gas problem.
If you want to find out more, check out Wasted Food. So far, what's worked for us is to buy less in the first place, keep track of our leftovers, and create an Eat Me section of the refrigerator.
Are you watching your food waste? How did you do this week? What are your favorite tips for wasting less food? Please share your ideas and advice in the Comments section.
I'll be back later with a Food Waste Fridays post.
December 3, 2009
A Compact-y outfit is used or recycled, from Goodwill, a thrift store, or a consignment shop.
Today's model is "Non Consumer Girl," who was the very first model for this series, and I'm so happy to have her back for a return visit. She got this lovely dress at what they call a "frock swap" in Australia. It's a clothing swap where everyone brings nice clothes that are in great shape but just don't suit them, and then hopefully they leave with something new for free!
The dress is a brand called Filo, and NCG says it fits her perfectly. Even though her husband rarely comments on what she's wearing, when she put it on he said, "that's a nice dress!" and offered to take this photo.
And if you're like me, you can't help noticing the killer shoes. I think her year on The Compact has turned her into a brilliant shopper, not just for finding those shoes, but for picking them up for a song. They're Tony Bianco and had only been worn once or twice, and she bought them on ebay for $8. They would retail at around $120. Now THAT'S a bargain!
Thanks so much for sending in that photo, Non Consumer Girl! You look amazing! Imagine getting that entire outfit for just 8 dollars. Click here to read all the details of the frock swap she attended, how they set it up and organized it, etc.
Readers, it's your turn! If you shop in thrift stores, put on your favorite outfit, snap a photo, and send it to me at email@example.com. I always need more photos, and we all want to see your fabulous finds! Just look what's out there!
Do you shop secondhand? What are some of your best tips for scoring great stuff? Tell us in the Comments section. And click here if you want to check out previous installments of Thrifty Threads.
December 2, 2009
The author suggests that maybe the silver lining is in the downsizing, especially the downsizing of expectations. People had gotten exhausted with keeping up with the Joneses, and they're a little relieved that the era of excess is over.
I like the last paragraph: "Whatever you make of the psychology of happiness, we know something of its physics. It rises as it ricochets off other people, returning to us stronger by virtue of being released. It gets bigger when we don't care if it gets smaller; we stopped buying all the stuff we didn't need that was supposed to make us happier, and we seem to be happier for it. And who would have expected that?"
Who indeed? I won't go so far as to say that I'm happy about the recession or the global condition or the fact that so many people I know are out of work. But I am happy lately, and I think it has a lot to do with The Compact, and with blogging about it. Becoming a non-consumer has definitely been liberating. I've got more money, more time for things I care about, and I feel more in control. It's a little bit like when I quit smoking cigarettes. One of the things I had come to hate was feeling like someone else (the cigarette companies and their advertisements) had control over my behavior. I didn't want anyone else to have that power. To the best of my ability, I want to make my own decisions. And I feel more connected, part of a simple living/frugal/non-consumer community.
So, are you happier? Do you think being more or less happy is related to your economic situation or your status as a consumer? Do you identify yourself as a non-consumer, a conscious consumer, or something else? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section. Read the entire article here.
December 1, 2009
This was the easy solution. I bought a parsley plant for about a dollar, planted it with whatever potting soil I had, and made sure I watered it a couple of times a week. Now every time we have clams linguini, I just go outside and clip off what we need. No waste, ever.
It's a small thing, but you know my philosophy: baby steps. It's easy to change a habit by incremental degrees.
Maybe I should be posting this the next time we have zero food waste, but I felt like mixing things up a bit! Do you have any examples of a problem you'd accepted for years, that you were able to change with one small action? Something that saved energy or food or time or money? Tell us about it in the Comments section.