Monday, March 24, 2008

Minimalistic Lifestyle: Influencing Others

The main reason I wanted to write this blog was to have some influence over others behavior. That is to say, I want people to reduce what they buy by buying quality items that last, recycle as much as they can, reuse what they can and just start thinking about a sustainable lifestyle.

If you think you can't influence others to help our planet, here's a great example:
Seeing as it is spring break, my neighbor Kembol, who teaches eighth grade math and I took our babies, (dogs) for a long walk along the beautiful Willamette River. As usual we talked about our life concerns, our husbands, children and yes, politics. As we talked about the different candidates and how they would each handle the economic problems our country faces, it led us to a larger concern that we both have, our planet. I remarked that packaging is one of the biggest contributors to our landfills and why can't the companies that sell things help to fix that problem.

Then, Kembol tells me about her math lesson plan for last week. First she says she gave her eighth graders three types of snack cakes, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, and Little Debbies.

The kids had to calculate the surface area and then they could eat them. Okay, great, we've done that type of stuff before. The difference in this lesson was what she challenged them with next! She asked them to find a way for each prospective company to save on packaging and to calculate the difference. Apparently, each group was able to come up with different designs that would save packaging. One student even came up with a triangular package. I ask you, if eighth grade math students can redesign a product to save packaging, why can't the companies who sell it do it? Or why won't they?

My friend then told me she wasn't sure if she influenced the kids at all as they didn't seem very impressed. I had to remind her that eighth graders are seldom impressed and if they are they don't let their teachers know, ( yes, I taught eighth grade once.) I am sure she influenced her math students and why don't we have more great teachers like her? At any rate, she surely earned her spring break!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Minimalist Ways to Bank and Pay Bills

Using On Line Banking:

When it comes to making managing your money as easy as possible, on line banking is a huge help. Once it is set up, you can enter all of your bills just once and then pay them with a few clicks as they come in. If you aren’t so great about balancing your statement, don't worry, it deducts the money right away. So, if you only use your on line banking to pay bills, and your debit card for purchases, you’ll always know how much money is in your account. No more checks floating around out there to throw you off!

Some people prefer to have their bills automatically deducted. The only problem with that is that if something changes in your bill or a mistake has been made, the money has already taken out. It’s much easier to negotiate with a company when they’re trying to get you to pay them than after they’ve over billed you! And just in case you think that never happens, we had our mortgage escrow account recalculated with an error of over $6,000.00! Luckily I read the “New Escrow Estimation” letter they sent and refused to pay them a cent until it was resolved. It took a month of phone calls, emails, and threatening to turn it over to my attorney to get them to fix it. Unfortunately, I that mortgage set up to auto deduct so I had to pay the bank a $20.00 fee to cancel it. I’ll never use auto deduct again.

Any checks that you can have processed through direct deposit to your bank , however,will save you time. I had this at my last job and it was always nice to get my statement at work as good reminder of why I was working so hard!

So if you’ve been following my last few posts, soon you’ll have less junk mail to deal with, less bills in your mailbox because some of your bills are being e-mailed to you, and you’ll always know how much money is in your account by using on line banking, bill pay, and a debit card. No more checks! Now you’re in control!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Minimalist Finances: Getting Rid of More Junk Mail

When looking at simplifying finances, it makes sense to eliminate as much junk mail as we can. Not only are we helping the environment, but it makes it less likely that we will miss something important. In addition to arranging for paperless billing one can opt out of many catalogs and credit card offers.

To stop unwanted catalogs go to the Catalog Choice site. It’s a free service. Simply sign up and choose the catalogs you don’t want to receive. What's great is that you can update it whenever you want. I update it whenever I receive a new catalog. I feel that I am actually doing the retailer a favor by saving them their advertising money, because after all, I’m not going to order anything anyway! If I do want to order something that would be in their catalogs, I just go on line.

Here is a great time saver! Opt out of credit card offers. These are a huge time waster because they have to be shredded. What’s worse if they are stolen from your mailbox it could result in identity theft. Opting out is free and easy and you can opt back in at any time. Just go to the Opt Out Prescreen web site. And if you’re worried about missing some great credit card offer that would be mailed only to you, don’t. You can always shop for the best credit card deals on the Lower My Bills site or check with your mortgage carrier or bank.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Minimalist Finances and Junk Mail

Let’s face it managing money is a pain. I not only manage our family money but the money for our business as well. And the amount of paper that comes into our house is down right awful! It makes paying bills a cluttered event. The more stuff in our mailbox the more likely we are at risk of missing something important. Why does our government let random people send us stuff? Why is anyone allowed to send to “resident”? Well, we do have some recourse in this matter. I’ll share with you what I’ve been doing to reduce the amount of stuff that comes into my mailbox.

Step One: First of all, I went through my bills and found that our gas, electricity, and cable bills can be delivered via email. That change alone means that I don’t have to open the bill up, recycle the envelope it came in, the return envelope, the newsletter, etc. So at a minimum, that one action saves 72 envelopes a year plus 36 statements, and 36 newsletters. It also saves those companies money which could result in lower costs for the consumer. To manage these bills, I have created a simple email system. I set up two folders: bills, paid bills. These are the only bills I have been able to find that can be handled this way so far. I hope more will show up in the future.

Step Two: My bank lets me choose to have our statements delivered on line. So for us that means, line of credit, business bank account, personal bank account, IRAs, and credit card statements are all sent via email and don’t end up in my mailbox. That’s 5 x 12 = 60 less pieces of mail with their envelope, return envelope, statement, and newsletters. We’re talking 5 X 60 = 300 less pieces of paper that I have to handle per year.

These two steps save 444 pieces of paper a year that I don’t have to handle (i.e. open, shred, recycle.) What if everyone did that? How many trees wouldn’t have to be cut down just for the cost of doing business? And how much time do you think that saves? It’s hard to estimate it.

So as a minimalist, these two steps save time, space, ( in your mailbox) and our environment.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Minimalist Kitchen - Other Kitchen Dangers

Other Kitchen Dangers:
Knives: Kitchen knives are the kind of thing that can fall from a crowded counter and hurt your foot or a child. If you have small children keep knives in a drawer with a child proof lock on it. Kids learn to climb up on counters pretty early in life so they shouldn’t be stored in a block on the counter. They should go sharp end down in the dishwasher. My favorite dishwasher, the Fisher Paykel dish drawer has a lock so kids can’t open it. (See Minimalist Kitchen - Dishwashers)

Poisonous Items: Most of the earth friendly cleaning products I recommend are not going to poison a child. But dish washing liquid and dishwasher detergent could. They should be kept behind a child proof lock. If you have your fire extinguisher under your sink it’s best to store them in a higher locked cupboard because in the case of a fire every second counts.

Germs and Microorganisms: The only way to keep this stuff out of your kitchen is to keep it clean. Spray your counters and sink with diluted bleach solution, leave it for two minutes and then wipe it off.( See Minimalist Kitchen - Sink) Check out what bleach can kill on the Clorox site.

Lets talk about mice and rats. If you live near water or fields these guys would just love to come and eat at your house. Don’t leave anything out for them and forget bread boxes! Put your bread in the fridge and your dry products in the freezer. Also, make sure there isn’t any standing water under your house. If it’s already a problem adopt a cat that is a real mouser. All cats aren’t mousers though. They must be taught by their mothers. Usually, a tamed feral cat will kill every mouse, rat, snake, gofer, and mole, in your yard just for sport. For more information about mousers ( my heroes,) read Perfect Paws.

Minimalist’s Point: About Safety: The best way to keep a kitchen safe is to keep it clean and clear of clutter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Minimalist Kitchen - Fire Safety

More about fire safety in the minimalist kitchen :

Cleaning Products: A kitchen can be kept sparking with just a few cleaning products:
1. spray bottle of vinegar and water for floors
2. spray bottle with a cap full of bleach, dish washing liquid and the rest water
3. Dish washing liquid
4. Dishwasher powder
5. Baking soda to use as a cleanser

Try to store more flammable and harsh chemicals away from the kitchen. For example, if you need to clean an oven just buy one oven cleaning pad use it and then dispose of it.

Grease is no fun to deal with. Don’t leave it on the counter in a juice can for days as I’ve seen people do and don’t try to reuse it ( I know, are you kidding me?) Green Tip: It should not go down the sink drain as this is terrible for our rivers. It should be cooled, put into a disposable container and put into the trash can right away. If you have a greasy fry pan on the stove and a fire happens it’s going to make it much worse.

How do kitchen fires happen? You might ask. Are people just careless? Well I’ve set two so I’ll tell you how they happened. The first time I was about ten. We had a wall mounted oven that I couldn’t reach very well. I simply dropped a cloth pot holder onto the hot filament and it went up in flames. I grabbed two spoons and threw it into the sink where it landed in a greasy fry pan and set the grease on fire. Being home alone, and not knowing what to do, (and we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in our kitchen even if I did,) I ran across the street to get my adult neighbor who brought his extinguisher over and put it out.

What is learned from this story? Don’t let your kids cook when you’re not home, keep a fire extinguisher ready under your kitchen sink, and teach kids that are old enough how to use it. And what did I say about grease?

The second fire I set was when I was a 24 year old brand new mother. I wanted to make fried shrimp tempura. I knew how to cook, but had never really fried before. So I set the oil on the stove to high heat and it soon set on fire. Panicking, I moved it to the sink and turned on the water. Then it flamed up and set the curtains above the sink on fire! (What did I say about grease?) Luckily, my husband was home because I just screamed, grabbed the baby, and ran outside. He simply put the lid on the pot, and sprayed the curtains with a fire extinguisher. Oh well. Fried food isn’t good for you anyway.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Minimalist Kitchen - Safety

Kitchens are one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. They have all the elements for starting a fire: heat, electricity, and water and they contain all kinds of highly flammable items like: paper, cleaning products, grease, wow! There are plenty of poisonous items in a kitchen, sharp objects, and germs, microorganisms, and perhaps even vermin! The best way to keep a kitchen safe is to keep it clean and clear of clutter.

Let’s talk about paper:

Paper: If you use paper towels these should be stored far away from the stove preferably near the sink. I hope you don’t use paper napkins as they are a waste of money and trees, but if you do, they should be stored in a drawer, not on the table, above the refrigerator, and certainly not near the stove! Your grocery list should be stored in a drawer as well. If you have a desk area built into your cupboards, keep the paper in the drawers and don’t have a bulletin board cluttered with papers tacked to the wall and keep your fridge front clear of papers. (Find another place for your kids art gallery.)

Two of the worst fire safety offenders found in a kitchen are junk mail and newspapers. If you read the paper at the kitchen table, don’t leave it there. Put it into your recycling center. The same with junk mail. Most organizers will tell you to open and sort it right when you bring it in and deal with it. I’ll talk more about the horrors of junk mail in future blogs about recycling. (Along with those empty Northwest Micro brew beer bottles.)

One more thing about paper. I was a teacher and school media specialist and have had many dealings with the local Fire Marshall. Classrooms are filled with paper and we were always being told to take down the fabulous 3-d paper trees we had on the wall or the 3-d painted paper fish we had hanging from our ceilings!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Minimalist Kitchen - Cooking from Scratch

Many of the so called convenience foods we buy aren’t really that convenient and they cost a lot more. Having basic ingredients on hand saves time shopping, rinsing, sorting, and recycling bottles and boxes of ready mades.

Here’s an example: salad dressing. Why do we buy vinaigrette when all it is is 3/4ths olive oil and 1/4th vinegar? The variations on this theme are virtually endless. Play around with these two ingredients by using different types of vinegars such as basalmic, apple cider, rice etc. You can also try adding different flavors like garlic, honey and mustard, salt and pepper, etc. The idea is you can whisk it up whenever you need it instead of wondering when you first opened that crusty salad dressing bottle you have sitting on the shelf in your fridge!

If you are used to buying convenience foods, try to learn how to make just one item from scratch. You can learn how to make just about anything on the Food Network web site. Minimalist tip: I donated all of my cookbooks because I can easily find anything on this site!

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Minimalist Kitchen - Fresh Food

More About Food:

My minimalist food philosophy is to eat fresh. So I shop at the local farmers market once a week. If you don't have time for that, you can get a variety of local produce delivered right to you door in most cities. Here in Portland we have Organics to You. Check the internet for companies like this in your area. Green Tip: Using food that was grown near where you live requires less transportation causing less pollution and thus your carbon footprint.

I cook from scratch quite a bit as well. If you don’t know how to cook, learn. It will save you a huge amount of money and your food will have a much higher nutritional content
than if you eat processed food. You'll also be skipping all of the preservatives, additives and chemicals found in processed food.

Frozen Food: Freezers should stay full. This saves energy. If you don’t eat a lot of frozen food, you can fill it up with baked items like bagels, English muffins, and loaves of bread. Frozen vegetables are picked fresh then frozen. So they are healthy. Two of my favorites to incorporate into a lot of dishes are spinach and pureed squash. As I mentioned before, dry goods like flower and bread crumbs last longer in the freezer and nuts store well in the freezer because their oils won't go rancid. Storing these items in your freezer help to keep it full and frees up room in your cupboards. Of course, making extra portions of whatever you're making for dinner and freezing it for another day is a great time saver as well. The Renolds Handi Vac is an inexpensive way of vacuum sealing your food. It is small enough to fit into any drawer but works as well as those huge sealers.

Some people like to keep coffee in the freezer but according to there are a lot of conditions around this, such as when the coffee should be used after it's thawed and how it should be wrapped. Check out the linked article for the details. The best way to store coffee is in an air tight cannister at room temperature, and it should be consumed within two weeks.

Fridge Items:
Keep your fresh vegetables at eye level so you remember to eat them. If you don’t, they can always live on as compost! Use the lower sections beer and soda.
Green Tip: Buy juice in plastic recyclable bottles. Save your time by keeping my easy food like, French bread, cold cuts and cheese ready to eat. That way everyone can feed themselves!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Minimalist Kitchen - Pantry

Boxed items: I don’t buy a lot of this stuff I keep much of it in my freezer though. Baking mix, flour, and bread crumbs stay "weevil free". Nuts, which contain oil that can go rancid, last a very long time. in the freezer. This gives you more room in your cupboards for rice, dry beans, cereal, crackers, chips, real popcorn, whatever. I always have crackers on hand for drop in guests. As well as cheese, wine, and micro-brew beer.

Jarred Items: Yep. I do buy a lot of gourmet items like artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, olives, etc. They are great to serve on the spur of the moment with French bread or crackers. The jars are simply recycled at my curb. I don’t buy jarred pasta sauce though. Tomatoes, basil, and olive oil in the food processor makes a great sauce base and takes less time to make as opening the jar, rinsing it out and recycling it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Minimalist Kitchen - Cans

Canned foods were a big deal when they came out because people had limited refrigeration. But why do you need canned food when there is fresh food at your local farmer’s market and you have great refrigeration? I never buy them. (Remember the orange?) They’re filled with salt and the metal can leach into any foods containing tomatoes. Of course, as with all packaged foods, you’re paying for that can its label, advertising, transportation, etc.

Learning to cook from scratch is the minimalist’s way to cook. If you need something that you usually buy in a can, check The Food Network's web site to find out how to make it from scratch. (Minimalist's tip: If you have a computer, you don't need cookbooks! That's a real space saver.)

Green Tip: The garbage that is created from packaging fills up a large percentage of our landfills. Tin is no longer mined in the US. So if it doesn’t get recycled it is lost to us and increases our dependence on foreign goods.