Archive for January, 2006

TruBamboo cutting board – broken

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

TruBamboo - brokenTreehugger says that bamboo is the new cotton, and sings paeans to it regularly. It certainly seems like a great idea – quick growing, renewable, beautiful, and supposedly durable. We needed a small cutting board, and purchased a TruBamboo Small Bermuda. It looks cool, and is a perfect size. Chopping on it was fine, but slicing really seemed to cut deeply into the board. For better or worse, we’re no longer concerned about it getting all marked up – after a month or so, we noticed that gaps were appearing in the light-colored areas on the sides. It turns out that the board is just a bunch of strips of bamboo glued together. It fell from the drying rack, and half of the light strip on one side snapped off. Blech.

We didn’t abuse the board – hand washing, drying it on edge on a towel so it didn’t stay damp, etc. I think the implementation is flawed – the bamboo apparently warps even under normal use (causing the gaps, faintly visible in the picture), and a single fall can easily snap one of the many seams. Perhaps layering it up in alternating directions or using notched strips would help. Or stronger glue. In any event, these are too fragile for our kitchen. Plus, there is no way to easily contact the company to complain (email? nope… web form? nope…), so I think we’re just going to trash it when it breaks again or becomes unsanitary from the gaps, and skip the TruBamboo next time. Anyone have luck with another kind?

What is minimalist living?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

A few weeks ago, Dawn at Frugal For Life talked about what minimalist living really is. Sure, it might include white, bare walls and a single tulip in the middle of the table, or owning only a few clothing outfits. But it is less than that. Just as Martha Stewart is an aspiration (for some people) instead of a realistic lifestyle, the white couches in architecture magazines are from a nonexistant utopian world without dirt. Minimalism seeks happiness and satisfaction with less. Yet we buy into unrealistic visions of being minimalist enough, as if there is a rule that we aren’t a real minimalist unless we live like the magazine pictures. Heaven forbid we set anything down on our pristine granite countertops!

Here are some random pokings at the question. Knowing that we’ll never meet the theoretical ideal, minimalist living strives toward:

  1. Skill rather than thing.
  2. Why must I buy this? instead of why not buy this?
  3. Realizing it probably won’t come in handy.
  4. Spare is beautiful.
  5. More kitchen gear rarely improves the meal.
  6. If you don’t have it, you don’t have to dust it. If you have to keep it, hide it, and you still don’t have to dust it.
  7. When making a drink coaster from a CD, just place CD on table and set a drink on it. This does does not require a knitted cover, no matter how frugal. 🙂

As Dawn mentions, there’s a difference between being a minimalist at heart and struggling to figure out ways to make it work, versus thinking that you ought to be a minimalist, and struggling to try and become one. The latter is destined for failure – fighting desire through denial is incredibly difficult. Remove or subdue the desire first, and the struggle largely dissipates. I am happier when I move toward minimalism, but still struggle with doing it in a way that makes sense. I fail all the time, but that’s OK.


All Small & Mighty laundry detergent

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

We’ve used All Free & Clear laundry detergent for quite a while. It is available in a pretty inexpensive monster 200 oz container and seems to do a fine job on clothing, although we always wash on warm – tried once on cold, and jogging shirts were still stinky. Anyway, we live in an apartment building with a laundry room in the basement, so the 200 oz was mighty inconvenient. Even normal 100 oz detergent bottles were a pain.

allI saw the new All Small & Mighty, Triple Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent, Free Clear (yes, that’s a mouthful), which comes in a small container, more like a dish detergent bottle. It isn’t much more expensive than the normal stuff, and with coupons & sales at CVS and Safeway, was actually much cheaper per load. I like the reduced packaging and resources used in shipping it to the store, as well as reduced space taken up at home – in a small apartment, storing big detergent bottles is a pain. And even better, it is easy to put in the laundry basket and haul down to the basement of the building – much better than standard size detergent bottles.

But does it work? Yes. I make sure to let some water run into the washer, add the (surprisingly small amount of) detergent, let the water run for a few more seconds to mix things up, then add the clothes. They smell fine – no problems. This review says that it turned into an unpourable “thick gel” after a while, so I’ve made sure to screw the cap on tightly. Hopefully we won’t have any such troubles, but you’ll hear about it here if we do.

Learning to tie my shoes

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Ian's Shoelace SiteMy shoelaces frequently come untied while jogging, and although I always think I can just tie them tighter, it never works. A double-knot holds longer, but is kludgy and hard to untie. It was to the point that I was briefly tempted by these Speed Laces mentioned on Cool Tools, which quickly and securely fasten your shoes with a sliding catch rather than a knot.

Fortunately, we’ve been learning some basic knots, and in looking for one to lash a box closed, I came across Ian’s Shoelace Site. I love exhaustive niche sites, and this is a doozy. In five minutes, I learned to tie Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot, and my life is better. It looks difficult, but basically you start like the classic shoe-tying knot, and then make a knot of two rabbit ears instead of doing the make-one-loop-and-tuck-the-other-one-through-the-middle thing. Or something like that. Really, the instructions are good, and this thing doesn’t come apart, even if mine isn’t quite as pretty as the photo on his page.

Once again, a bit of easily-learned skill beats out a $10 gizmo. Plus, I can use the knot with my black dress shoes as well. I’m no fashion maven, but wearing Speed Laces with a suit steps over even my line in the sand. Maybe if I’m really doing triathalons and need to shave seconds from changing shoes after the biking I’ll reconsider Speed Laces for my running shoes. But then again, there’s always “The World’s Fastest Shoelace Knot,” also courtesy of Ian.

Glass Jars

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

At the Container Store, they sell glass jars for a buck or more. What a hoot. You can go to Safeway and get nicer jars for not much more money, with the added advantage that they are filled with tasty jam or pickles. Anyway, we use glass jars for food storage. This helps us reduce the mound of bags filled with rice, beans, flour, sugar, etc. that end up buried and forgotten in the back of the cabinet. We use things more quickly since we can actually see everything, and jars seem to keep most foods fresher with less mess. Plus they are free, so when we move, we can just recycle them and start over again. I also like fewer garish labels confronting us every time we open the cabinet – it is really easier on the eyes. A few tips:

  1. Soak the labels to remove them. Nothing nastier than a jar covered with sticky goop. If water doesn’t work, try baking soda or rubbing alchohol. If that doesn’t work, recycle it and wait for another kind to come along.
  2. Tall jars are better than squat jars – you can fit more side-by-side in the cabinet and see what’s in them.
  3. Some jars, like Classico pasta sauce, have measurement markings on the side, which can be helpful.
  4. The plastic liner in most lids can pick up smells. We’ve soaked them with dish detergent, scrubbed them, and rubbed them with baking soda, but it is difficult to remove strong smells. It does fade over time, so just leave the lid out for a while. Someone suggested soaking with vinegar, so maybe we’ll try that next time.
  5. If the lid doesn’t have a plastic liner, it may be cardboard. Hard to clean, so just recycle and move on.
  6. If you are going to stick a knife in the jar (to get jam or something) then try to use one that has straight sides all the way up to the lid, so that stuff doesn’t get stuck when you try and scrape it out. Bonne Maman jam jars are perfect for this. (And it is good jam.) If you are going to pour stuff out of the jar (e.g. dry rice or beans) then use one that rounds at the top and has an opening smaller than the width of the jar – since it is narrower, it is easier to pour stuff out accurately into a measuring cup. This knowledge is hard-earned after many messes on the counter, so heed it well.
  7. For sanity’s sake, try and accumulate a bunch of identical jars, and discard the singletons as soon as possible. Otherwise finding the right lid is a constant irritation. Even worse, sometimes the wrong lid will feel like it fits, but actually not seal at all, making your mini-marshmallows hard and nasty.
  8. Even better, there are some jars like the smaller Mt. Olive pickle jars, that use the same lids for two different sizes. 100% goodness.

If you do something similar, we’d love to hear about any jars that nest for more compact storage. Keeping a variety on hand can get cluttered since they don’t stack well.

Starting up again for 2006!

Sunday, January 1st, 2006

The original intent of The Minimalist was to be a daily clearinghouse of multiple articles interesting to aspiring Minimalists. This was just too much work, and we couldn’t find and write about articles fast enough to even approach anything comprehensive. With a fresh start in 2006, posting will be more personal, more in-depth, and more unique…but less frequent. Please join us (again) in exploring “everything about less!”