July 9th, 2008

Every time I’ve moved, I have taken a huge amount of stuff along – instead of culling before the move, I’ve always done it on the other end. I think this is inevitable. Wouldn’t a move be the perfect time to reduce the stuff in our home? Reasons why it doesn’t work that way:

  1. An employer is paying for the move. Why get rid of it when it moves for free? When we moved to our current city, in fact, insurance was by the pound, so we moved a bunch of cinder blocks (supporting a door desk) even though we didn’t think we would use them. That was crazy, but it is easier to let things linger in the move pile when you aren’t paying for the hauling.
  2. There is fear and uncertainty in a move – it is very easy to fall into the “we might need this in the new place” trap since we’re nervous about owning our first place, and we honestly don’t know what we will really need. In fact, we’ve been buying more stuff because we’ll be setting up the place from scratch. The new place is much larger (we have a 21 month old in our one bedroom apartment now, which is mighty cramped), so it is easy to expand outwards.
  3. Even stuff we really dislike, such as our amazingly ugly sofa from my wife’s graduate school days, is going to be moved because we have visitors coming to help us after we move in, so we’ll need a sofa right away in Canada for them to sleep on, etc. We have no idea where to buy a sofa in Montreal, and since we believe in investigating purchases thoroughly, we’ll end up moving this one to buy us time to make a good decision on a new sofa later. The realistic alternative would be to give this one away while in the US, then buy a temporary sofa (probably equally ugly and more poorly made) in our new city, and then research and buy the one we really want later. Yes, we could have replaced it here in the US and shipped the new one, but we don’t even have good measurements for the place we purchased.
  4. It is surprisingly difficult to find stuff you like at a good price. We comparison shop and wait for a good deal. If we needed everything all at once right after moving (how long can you really wait to get a kitchen table?), we’d end up buying a compromise at an inflated price due to haste.

I wish it were otherwise – I still cling to the fantasy of the fresh start, including the thought that maybe the truck will start on fire and we’ll get a hefty insurance payment to start fresh. But beyond the environmental damage of all that stuff being destroyed, I know that replacing it all would be a nightmare, and we’d end up with so many compromises we would likely be worse off from a minimalist perspective. We have given away stacks of stuff and sold some things we don’t need, but we’re still moving a substantial amount of excess. Hopefully we’ll have enough discipline to really do the cull on the other end.


March 20th, 2008

$25 – $50 million = beer and pretzels

Recession? TGIAM

January 23rd, 2008

Lots of headlines are popping up predicting a US or global recession. I don’t claim to understand economic theory at more than a basic level – I took a few economics classes in college and manage our family investments, but that’s about it. We might go into a recession this year (my guess) or we might not. Either way, it is a fine time to re-examine how it would impact you.

Don’t count on the media to help you figure out what to do. On the one hand, there are lots of articles about stimulating spending in order to avoid recession, including giving people money in the hope that they spend it quickly and NOT use it to pay down debt. Yet personal advice columns are exhorting individuals to examine their spending carefully and reduce their debt, warning of job losses in a recession. So what should you do? Don’t be fooled by any rhetoric that you should feel good about spending because it “helps the economy” even if it puts you into debt that you might not be able to manage if things go south. The economy exists to serve you, and not the other way around – it isn’t some separate thing that we need to feed at our own expense. Spend money only if it is good for you. Decouple your spending from your earnings as much as you can so that the volatility and uncertainty in the world, which you can’t control, will not yank you back and forth as it rises and falls. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that a recession won’t hurt many people even if they have stripped their consumption to the bone, but hopefully living below one’s means whenever possible will limit the pain.

There is no better time to be a minimalist than right now – and that is always true, whether a recession is looming or not. If you’re personally at risk in a recession, learning what is essential to your happiness will help you through any bad times to come, whether they happen this year or a decade from now.

So, TGIAM – Thank Goodness I’m (attempting to be) A Minimalist.

Destruction for fashion

March 15th, 2006

I don’t know what store this is, but I can’t stand egregious waste. Basically, rather than dilute their high-end brand, they destroy old merchandise in full view of customers if it doesn’t sell. I suppose the intended message is that their stuff is so exclusive that it should be destroyed rather than be seen in the dirty hands of the un-cool. Or that you may as well pay full price, since they certainly won’t be doing any discounting. Dunno. Heck – I don’t even go into stores that keep their air conditioning on with their doors wide open in the summer, so this is way over my line.

Energy: There is no silver bullet

February 21st, 2006

Lots of talk in the news about alternative energy. I’m skeptical of Bush’s newfound passion for clean energy (much less his oops, I didn’t mean to cut funding and force dozens of layoffs at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explanation), but money for renewables is money for renewables. That’s certainly better than no money spent investigating true long-term solutions. I’m equally skeptical about the “let’s get off of Mideast Oil” rationale, but as usual, Dilbert says it best.

What worries me even more is that we’re not also going to focus on reducing consumption. In the long-term, I’m pretty optimistic – there is tons of energy to be had from renewable resources, and I do believe we’ll figure out ways to harness it in relatively benign ways. But most of the alternatives being bandied about aren’t magical solutions without downsides. Solar panels take considerable energy to create, install, and maintain. Dams destroy fisheries and ecosystems. Biofuels use arable land, and sometimes actual food products, along with the pesticides and water use that come with any large-scale agribusiness. Thus, overly simplistic statements from the President like, “All of a sudden, you know, we may be in the energy business by being able to grow grass on the ranch! And have it harvested and converted into energy. That’s what’s close to happening,” simply aren’t encouraging for those who care about things other than poking Saudi Arabia in the eye.

In the lifetime of anyone reading this article, we will do massive damage to the world, both environmentally and politically, by regarding thoughtless, uncontrolled, and heavily subsidized energy use as the major underpinning of our happiness. Before recent events, this is exactly what the President believed. When asked at a press conference about conservation, his press secretary stated it baldly:

“But the President also believes that the American people’s use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy.”

Has he really changed his mind? The SUV presidential motocades toodling around DC make me think not. It isn’t weak to minimize and conserve, but that’s certainly not the message being sent. We don’t need to freeze to death. We don’t have to give up going places. It is at least worth considering that living a more creative life rather than solving problems through greater energy use would actually increase our overall satisfaction. That’s the American way in my book.

Fork ice cream scoop

February 7th, 2006

Tip of the day: If you have trouble scooping rock hard ice cream (or even better, frozen custard), don’t turn to a fancy electric Posted in Home | 2 Comments »

TruBamboo cutting board – broken

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?

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

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

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.