March 8, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’ve stumbled upon a few things over the past few weeks that have just thrilled me to no end, and I’d like to offer them up to you…
Sandwich Solution: The kids make their lunches every morning and this usually consists of some kind of sandwich or wrap. Since we don’t use Ziploc bags at all, I’ve been stressing over the best way to contain these things for clean transport within their lunch boxes. They’ve been using wax paper (fairly acceptable, but I’m not sure if it’s recyclable), aluminum foil (totally wasteful, expensive and ridiculous and it drives me absolutely bonkers when I catch them doing it), re-usable sandwich bags (never, ever big enough and then the kids lose them anyway – another thing that sends me over the edge), and plastic wrap (I hate this option. Every time I look at plastic wrap I can only envision some poor, furry sea animal being choked to death).
So you can see why this was an issue. Apparently I have some sort of sandwich wrap mania.
It occurred to me while just sitting around one day that the kids can wrap their lunches in one of our cloth napkins, use the napkin instead of the paper ones at school and then bring the napkin home to be washed. Problem solved.
I can’t believe it took me this long to think of it.
Cereal Solution: If it wasn’t for the kids I would never, ever buy boxed cereal. It’s expensive, marginally nutritious (even the “healthy” ones are suspect) and the packaging is ever so wasteful. In fact, I don’t usually buy the cereal, their dad does, and I bite my tongue every time he walks into the house with nine boxes of pandapoop puffs or whatever it is that was on sale.
I decided to combat this cereal menace head on, and I found these two marvelous recipes:
Vegan Skinny Bitch Granola: A bit time consuming to make, but it is SO delicious. I have been quadrupling the recipe (takes the same amount of time, really) and there’s usually enough to last for about a week and a half. They eat less because it is so much more dense and filled with goodies than their cereal and I don’t have to toss out five cardboard boxes a week – which makes me happy.
Vegan Overnight Oats: This takes three minutes to whip up and the kids nearly lost their minds over how good this dish is. Big score. Just make a batch before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge and voila! Breakfast.
So we still have some cereal in the house, but we’ve cut waaaay back, and I am feeling all the more relieved for it.
Bread Machine: I had a United mileage plus credit card with a bunch of miles on it. It cost me $60 a year for the privilege of earning miles that are in no way useful for air travel, so I decided to shut it down. But before I did, I spent the balance of my miles on a Cuisinart Bread Machine and it’s the best thing ever.
The kids, with their crazy sandwich needs, were going through at least two bags of bread per week. We never had enough bread, were always on the verge of running out of bread, buying bread, thinking about bread, needing bread… Enough! Now that I have the bread machine I spend about 5 minutes every other day baking a fresh loaf of whole grain bread and we always have bread! I haven’t really crunched the numbers to determine the total cost savings we’ve enjoyed, but we sure love not having to run out to buy bread all the time. Plus, it’s just a few less plastic baggies out there murdering otters, or whatever other mayhem plastic baggies seem to cause.
My Yoga Online: I love me some yoga. I love yoga classes, yoga clothes, pretty pictures of yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga! But since we’ve been on lockdown to pay off the mortgage, I haven’t wanted to spend the $15 per yoga session at my favorite local studio.
In January, I signed up for myyogaonline.com at a special “New Year” rate. Now I have access to hundreds of yoga classes, yoga tips, wellness articles and more for about $5.80 per month. Admittedly it’s not quite the same as being in a room full of people with an instructor, but I can do as much or as little yoga as I want on my schedule. It’s been a wonderful experience to be able to come home from a hike and pop in a 20 minute cool down, or to spend a free hour brushing up on my raven – whenever I feel like it.
That’s the news that’s fit to print from Type A Minimalist! I’d love to hear about the delighful things you’ve recently discovered.
October 26, 2011 § 8 Comments
October 4, 2011 § 2 Comments
In the last six months I have lost TWO different credit cards. What makes it worse is that I still haven’t found them. I have no idea where they might be. I’ve stopped looking.
I do not have a reasonable way of organizing the addresses and phone numbers of friends or family. The last time I purchased an address book was about 15 years ago and all of that contact info is out of date. If I do have your physical address it’s because you sent me a letter with your return address on it and I stuffed it in a drawer. But I probably won’t be able to find it when I need it. If you’re not on Facebook, I might as well not even know you.
Speaking of Facebook, we should discuss my raging internet addiction. It feels like most of the free time I’ve gained by simplifying is spent on stumbleupon, lifehacker, treehugger and earlyretirementextreme. I should stop, but I don’t know how!
I also still can’t stop myself from buying SOMETHING every single time I’m in the bookstore. And I can’t stop myself from going in the bookstore either
On my quest for a more deliberate life, I should be partaking in activities that elevate my spirit and enrich my mind. I will start doing that right after this episode of Teen Mom. Oh yeah, you read that right. I watch Teen Mom. And Intervention. And Jersey Shore, bitches. I don’t watch any Real Housewives, but I would if I knew what time they were on. My reality show freak flag flies high.
I just took another freelance gig that will probably have me doing double time for the next year. It’s a sickness. People dangle work in front of me and I can’t find a good reason to say no, even if I know that it will impact all of the free and unfettered time I’ve worked so hard to create.
September 1, 2011 § 6 Comments
I am completely dependent on my job. I have no significant outside source of income, and I have a mortgage debt that, if my bank would have it their way, won’t get paid off for 27 more years.
I am fortunate that I don’t have the consumer and student debt that a few of my peers do, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are all basically in the same debt-filled boat. I have a mortgage debt that I am required to pay every single month. I signed up for it. And if it takes me the full 30 years to pay it off, I will have paid twice what my house was worth when I “bought” it three years ago.
Unless I make some significant changes I will be working full time for the rest of my life.
I am a wage slave.
This was not what I envisioned for my life.
So here’s my plan.
First, through conscious minimizing I have significantly reduced the amount of money that leaves my hands every month. This process includes:
- insourcing as much home care as possible, including making my own cleaning supplies and de-cluttering to the point that my home is easy to clean
- managing our energy and water use meticulously
- growing some of our food in a community garden
- creating plant-based meal plans that use every aspect of the items I purchase, and only purchasing exactly what we need
- stopping recreational shopping
- seeking out free or very inexpensive sources of entertainment
- owning one car (for a family of four) and driving only when necessary
- ridding myself of extraneous expenses like a cell phone
- generally saying “no” to lots of activities and other things (but saying “yes” to long walks, birding hikes, bike rides and lounging around reading)
George calls this “lock down.”
What the last 12 months of lock down has allowed us to do is live off of George’s salary and put all of mine into savings, along with all of the extra income I’ve made freelancing this year. The goal is to get enough into savings to pay our mortgage off entirely within five years.
Why not send extra payments each month and start paying that bad boy off now?
Here’s why: Both George and I work in specialized jobs that would be incredibly difficult to replace if we were to lose them. While we don’t think that a layoff is imminent, we realized that if we don’t have a significant emergency fund, as wage slaves, we would be totally screwed if we were let go.
The point is that we can send the extra money each month, but if one of us loses our job our mortgage payment is exactly the same. So what if we’ve bought down $50k of the principle? If we can’t make our monthly payment we could still get foreclosed. (And you don’t even want to know what a Type A homelessness nightmare looks like…)
So what we’re doing is stockpiling cash to pay off the mortgage in a couple of lump sums while keeping a healthy emergency fund in case something goes wrong or that thing called “life” happens while we’re making other plans.
Phase two of this plan is to generate more outside income. I am going to actively work to find more freelance work, and so is George. He is also really beginning to hustle to sell his artwork and independent animated films. All of that money will go into the emergency fund since our spending is pretty well fixed at this point.
Ultimately, after five or so years, we’ll have saved enough, thwarted any unexpected financial disasters along the way, and paid off our mortgage. At that point if our jobs are still going strong then our salaries will pour into savings and investments (and long term care insurance). But I’ll no longer be a wage slave; my wages will work for me. (And maybe then I can relax a bit…?)
What are your tips and tricks for financial freedom?
August 24, 2011 § 2 Comments
August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
Americans are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to break our addiction to consumerism. Our belief that our usefulness to society extends only as far as our ability to purchase things is so deeply held that our own government refers to us as “consumers” not “citizens.” (Or worse, “employees.” But without being an employee, you’ll never be an acceptable consumer, so basically those are two connected thoughts.)
I’ve made a conscious effort to re-program my belief that owning certain things will make me happy. Even so, I still get a bit giddy when I think about getting those new barstools I’ve been ogling for over a year now. But I have made serious strides over the past few years to learn about the simple things in life that make me happy without spending money on stuff.
Here’s just a brief sampling of some of the things I’ve discovered:
- The public library is the greatest place on the planet
- Picnics at my local botanical garden, Quarryhill
- Hiking the trails at our local state and regional parks
- Yoga DVDs
- Kettlebell workouts
- Riding my bike with no particular destination
- Walking anywhere
- Cooking meals from scratch
- Meal planning to ensure that none of the ingredients I buy are wasted
- Re-reading my favorite books
- De-cluttering my closets
- Growing my own vegetables in our local community garden (my Anaheim Chiles are amazing!)
- Free concerts on the town green
August 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve been thinking a lot about wastefulness. In the government, something is defined as wasteful when it’s something your opponent wants. In the home, wastefulness can be defined as throwing perfectly good food away (or letting it rot rather than making a meal plan for it). It can also mean leaving the lights on when you’re not in the room, letting the water run while you’re brushing your teeth, or taking 30-minute showers. At school and work, wastefulness not only applies to money and resources, but also time. And in a consumer society, wastefulness could mean that you’re buying more stuff than you could possibly ever need or use.
When we shift our attention to creating a minimal lifestyle, it’s natural that we begin to take stock in our wasteful behaviors and patterns, and then begin to correct them.
The problem I’m having with this approach is that my Type A personality creates a tendency to punish myself when I don’t live up to my goals of eliminating wastefulness in every area of my life.
Recent example: Yesterday George volunteered to do the weekly shopping for me. I wrote the list and the meal plan for him, and one of the items we needed was a handful of Kalamata olives. When I do the shopping myself, I always take my own glass jar specifically for olives so that I don’t have to take the store’s plastic tub. I forgot to pack the jar for George, he came home with a plastic tub, and I nearly had an aneurysm. I felt like a failure. Seriously.
I realized that by creating a goal of “eliminating wastefulness” I have locked myself into a pattern of thinking that is deeply negative. “Eliminating” has a particularly menacing connotation. And “wastefulness” is just loaded with baggage, in my opinion.
I propose that we move away from this double whammy of negativity. Heretofore I will no longer “eliminate wastefulness.” From this moment forward, I “embrace wastelessness.”
“Wastelessness” is an idea that’s long overdue. Rather than chastising myself for a wasteful purchase after the fact (or beating myself up for wanting the wasteful item in the first place), I will instead ask myself if the item is wasteless before I purchase. Or — even better — try to envision all of the creative uses for every aspect of the item, even the parts that are considered throw-aways. I can make these decisions creatively, feeling empowered rather than punished. By discovering if a thing or activity is wasteless before we buy, use or participate, we immediately snap our thoughts to the often limitless creative uses for things (or time) and can make a more enlightened decision.
A wasteless way to view a bunch of carrots, for example, would be to see that you can make a delicious soup from the orange part, and a tasty pesto from the greens. Not a bit of the carrot is wasted (and it’s all in my belly.) A wasteless way to view a bulk-sized plastic bottle of vinegar is to use the vinegar to clean your home, then cut the bottle in half. Use the top part as a funnel. Use the bottom part as a scoop for the dog food. (These are both recent examples from my own home, although I must give credit to George for thinking up the funnel. I’ve used it, like, 100 times since he made it.)
Wasteless spending. Wasteless time management. Wasteless energy usage. Wasteless meal planning…. In what areas of your life can you embrace wastelessness?
August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
July 28, 2011 § Leave a Comment
When I stopped eating meat, I started eating cheese. LOTS of cheese. And milk. And I put super high doses of half-n-half in my coffee. And let’s not forget the ice cream. I became a full-blown dairy addict.
It’s hyperbolic to put it that way, but it’s really not so far from the truth. Dairy products are full of a protein called “casein.” It’s the same protein found in human breast milk (the one that makes babies feel all woozy and bonded), and it reacts with opiate receptors in the brain in the same way morphine and heroin do. (I know, right? Shocking.)
Plus, this recent study by the Environmental Working Group put cheese at #3 on the top five worst climate destroyers. I live in Sonoma County, California, which is well within 50 miles of some of the country’s best and most responsible dairies, from which I purchase milk and cheese almost exclusively. I have long been an advocate of buying local whenever possible, but I admit that sometimes that last-minute lasagna results in a trip to the store to buy mass-produced cheese from god-knows-what poor cow that traveled here on who-knows-what truck.
You wouldn’t see me staggering down the street begging for spare change so I could lose my mind on Gruyere, but when six of the eight things I was eating in a day contained dairy or were centered around dairy, I realized it was time to face the creamy-centered truth: I needed to get better-versed in all things vegan.
Given the enormity of my dairy dependence, I knew I had to create some classic Type-A plans. When I transitioned from meat to veg-only I was constantly hungry (Enter: Cheese!). I wanted to avoid that as much as possible this time around. I checked out some vegan cookbooks from the library, including a brilliant one by Alicia Silverstone, “The Kind Diet.” I also like the recipes found at Post Punk Kitchen.
Recipes in hand, I created a serious meal plan that included breakfast, snacks, lunches and dinners. During the summer, we’ve been eating our main meal in the middle of the day because I need my energy when I’m in the thick of things, not when I’m winding down, and that’s reflected in the plan.
Here’s an example of what my vegan meal plan looked like for a couple of days:
Jasmine green tea
Bowl of fiber cereal with rice milk
Pecan-crusted seitan* and marinade over whole wheat spaghetti (from “The Kind Diet)
*I had never worked with seitan before and was happily surprised. The flavor and texture pretty chicken-y, and this recipe was really delicious. Special occasion delicious.
Vegan Caesar salad (from “The Kind Diet”)
Fresh beets (I just boil, slice and serve!)
Kale Chips (A household favorite. Just slice the leaves off the stem then chop. Toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 375 degrees until crispy. My kids love this.)
Cheese-free polenta topped with sautéed crimini mushrooms
Small green salad with tomatoes, pine nuts, cucumber
Whole wheat crackers with homemade hummus (my recipe below)
Cure-All Tea (from “The Kind Diet”)
Oatmeal with maple syrup
Cheese-free risotto made with vegetable broth
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Grape, Almond and Blueberry salad tossed with soy vanilla yogurt
Roasted almonds (my recipe below)
Avocado, spinach and tomato paninis on whole wheat ciabatta rolls
Carrot soup (my recipe below)
…And this has been going on for a couple of weeks now. It’s a ridiculous amount of work, but I’m hoping the reason for that is because it’s so new to me. With a little time, effort and practice, I believe that whipping up a balanced vegan meal will become as easy as it is for me to do it veggie-style.
My journey here has been a long one. Five years ago I was an unabashed carnivore, devouring any carne asada, lamb chop or pork product that dared cross my path. At some point, I became interested in the local foods movement and began buying my meats, cheeses and veggies from the farmers market and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs). Then, meatless Mondays hit the radar, and I saw the benefit to my health, to the planet and to my wallet. I learned more vegetarian recipes and they were so much fun our family just sort of naturally transitioned out all the meat and fish. (The kids occasionally have sushi or order meat dishes when we’re out.) And now here I am, learning about vegan cooking and ingredients.
I can’t promise I’ll always be vegan, but I am certainly open to the idea that I don’t need SO MUCH cheese and dairy. I’ve learned that I don’t really need so much of anything, after all…
I buy these for cheap in the bulk section and keep them on hand for quick snacks.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the bulk almonds in a bowl. Blanch them by covering them with boiling water and let them sit for about 15 minutes (they may get mushy if they’re in there longer.) Peel the skins off by squeezing the almonds between your thumb and forefinger. If they’re hard to remove, put them back in some boiling water. They should slip off so easily that you’re in danger of shooting them across the room.
Dry them off a bit. Spread them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Pop them in the oven until they’re golden, and let them cool down a bit before eating. Store in a sealed container. Should last several weeks, but they probably won’t because you’ll eat them. I put them in salads.
Pick your favorite beans from the bulk section. I like navy beans or cannellini beans for hummus, but garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans or even black-eyed peas will work (but your hummus with be grey with the BEP). I just recently bought adzuki beans and they are soaking as I write this…
Cover the beans with water in a saucepan and soak for about 8 hours. Then, bring them to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and simmer covered until they’re mushy. Could be anywhere from 15-45 minutes depending on the bean.
In the meantime, gather your fixin’s. (I do all of this to taste, so feel free to do the same.)
I add in chopped fresh basil, cilantro, salt, sesame or olive oil, tahini, cumin, garlic (sometimes I roast it beforehand), green onions, cayenne pepper or anything else that suits my fancy. But tahini and cumin are must-haves.
Place the beans in a food processor and pulse to blend with your chosen ingredients. If the beans get a little sticky, just add a few tablespoons of hot water and blend again.
It’s the easiest thing in the world and impossible to screw up if you add in the things you love…
Serve on whole wheat crackers or bread, celery sticks, carrot sticks, your finger…
1 lb carrots
One small potato, peeled
1 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp peeled, chopped fresh ginger
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth (I make mine from Better Than Boullion)
Salt to taste
Chop vegetables. It doesn’t really matter how big or small as long as the pieces are uniform so they cook evenly. Heat the oil over medium heat in a sauté pan with tall sides. When the oil is shimmering, put the onions in and cook until they soften just a bit. Toss in the garlic and cook a few minutes, until the fragrance is released. Be careful not to burn it.
Add the carrots, potato and ginger and sauté for about ten minutes or until softened. Add about 3 cups of the broth, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until all of the vegetables are soft enough to be blended. Taste for saltiness – if you need to add salt, add it now.
Remove from heat and let the mixture cool down a bit until it can be blended.
Blend in your blender or food processor until the mixture is totally creamy and smooth – no lumps. Add more broth to smooth it out if you need to.
Serve hot or chilled.
I’ve also made a variation with zucchini, and I’m guessing broccoli, cauliflower or squash would work just as well as the main ingredient… I might leave out the ginger and replace with tarragon, basil or thyme.
July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments
We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.
What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater… Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.
A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.
I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.
Things I currently insource:
I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.
I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)
I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.
I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!
I reject the notion that I NEED a car. Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.
I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)
Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:
I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.
Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).
I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.
Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.
I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.
Products we use:
I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?
By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.
One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?
What products/services could you insource?