Throw out fifty things

We took a little holiday last week, back to Sudbury to see the folks. While I was away, I decided that I really really really really really want to do some de-cluttering. (I almost wrote re-cluttering . . . yikes!!!). So I picked up a used book for a dollar about de-cluttering by the host of the show “Clean Sweep”. I’ve never seen the show, but I take it the premise is that this guy helps hopelessly cluttered couples “get their lives back” by mucking out their closets, basements, attics, etc.

I wish he would visit us!

But in lieu of a fairy god-father, I guess we’re going to have to do it ourselves. He has a lot of good rational responses to typical excuses for keeping stuff, which is good for me. He really is relentless.

Besides that book, while I was in Sudbury I got myself a Sudbury library card (isn’t that amazing?!? I was thrilled!) and took out this book called “Throw Out Fifty Things” where she coaches you to do just that. You keep a list, and then you can post your list on her website. And just in case you think “I’ll just throw out these fifty dried out pens and be done with it,” sorry–multiples of a kind only count as one. Oh and by “throw out” she also means “recycle” or “give away” or “sell”. In the book there’s a whole part on “throwing out” mental garbage too, like bad attitudes, regrets, and so on, but I’m aiming for fifty real things, and I figure lots of mental things will probably follow quite naturally!

So we got home from our vacation this evening and within seconds of stepping in the door, I was already de-cluttering. I was like a parched woman finding water. Our suitcases are not yet unpacked but I have so far thrown out eight things. I’m recording my list in my sidebar to keep me motivated.

Some of these were actually kind of a big deal. For example, I threw away two old pairs of shoes. I wore them into the ground. Into the dirt. They were falling apart. And yet I have not replaced them. Why? I’m sure there are many disturbing reasons, but the fact that they are now GONE means that I don’t have to wear gross shoes any more–in fact, even if I want to, I can’t! This is important for me, and it’s only ONE THING!

Oh, what other changes are in store . . .


Confessing my sins

Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut
Garage Sale find: a crock for Sauerkraut

Well, today was the Great Glebe Garage Sale, and I definitely took a holiday from my no spending month. Here is my list of sins:

We got our bike for our girl, $30 for a Dora 2-wheeler with training wheels. It was more than I wanted to spend, and it weighs a TON, but hey, now we have it. Some better deals were some red Tommy Hilfiger running shoes for her for $1, a few dolls for $1, an old school red bandanna for $1, a Joan Didion book for 50 cents, and a crock for making sauerkraut for $2. Besides that was a plate of cookies for $10 (proceeds going to charity) and a sandwich mid-day for $5. Oh, plus one extremely packed bus ride home.

Overall, the yard sale itself was exhausting, but I’m fairly happy with what I brought home. Afterwards, my friend hosted an amazing brunch.

And now I’m home–both kids melting down and feet aching–it was a huge effort to not just go with the flow of my spendy day and get pizza. No, I chopped and whisked and grated together a little omelette for supper. Can I count that as a savings of $20 that would have been spent on pizza? Does that help atone for my spending sins???

Back to Frugality

A hand-made doll

As I’ve mentioned on here, I haven’t been feeling very frugal these last several months, mostly since my son was born in October, and also during Christmas and our March/April birthday madness (five family birthdays from March 21st to April 5th!). But those seasons are past, summer simplicity is here, so I feel it’s time to bring back the frugal.

In light of this, I’m making May a No Buying Month, with the following omissions:

– groceries (though I will endeavour to stick to my budget)

– gardening equipment and supplies

– some glass freezer containers so I can start making my partner some microwavable frozen lunches

I’ll try otherwise to hand-make gifts, make do with what we have, and avoid the Great Glebe Garage Sale (though that one will be really hard!). I’ll try to focus on gardening, cooking for the freezer before the hot weather sets in, and sewing some gifts.

What do you think? Is May a good time to do a No Spend month for you?

Nerdmobile cleaning cart

I blogged about it awhile back, but I finally did it: created my very own cleaning cart! And yes it is as exciting as it sounds (that is, if it sounds like the most exciting thing ever!).

What you see in the photo is my version of this cleaning cart. On the front is a blue bag for laundry, the inside is for items that belong in another room, with a red bag for small things or things that belong in my daughter’s room. On the back I have a garbage bag and a recycling bag.

This is the tidying version; when I’m doing cleaning too I have a tray with my cleaning stuff and rags that goes on top. The only additional things I have to lug are the broom, mop or vacuum if I’m using them.

The idea of the cart is that you set yourself up to sweep through the house once, tidying (and/or cleaning) as you go, with no time-wasting back-tracking to put stuff back where it belongs. Once I heard the idea, I was intrigued. Once I tried it, I was sold! It really works. It’s super fast to just stick things into the appropriate bags in the cart and move along. Otherwise, I tend to pick up a sock and bring it into the bedroom, there noticing a coffee cup and bringing it to the kitchen, where I notice that the stovetop is dirty, which I clean, and before I know it an hour has gone by and nothing substantial has been accomplished. With the cart, even if I can completely clean/tidy one room before a minor emergency distracts me, my life is seriously improved.

One fantastic additional thing I discovered about this cart is that my preschooler was really into helping me tidy up the living room! I guess she enjoyed sorting the stuff into the different bags. We actually tidied up the entire living room together, which really helped my sanity, and occupied at least 15 minutes of our time.

So, if you have a handy shopping cart like the one in the picture, try out the Nerdmobile technique and let me know how it works for you!

Ottawa Freecycle Weekend


I’ve written before about how much I love curb shopping–a lot! I love finding useful and beautiful things in the trash and giving them a new useful life at my house.

Well, this weekend is a curb shopper’s dream come true: an “official” Ottawa Freecycle Weekend. Or as the City of Ottawa is calling it, the “Give Away Weekend“, coming at the end of Waste Reduction Week. The idea is simple: the city is encouraging people to put their unwanted items out on the curb with a “Free” sign on them, so neighbours can “shop” the streets, bringing home anything that looks appealing.

I think this is a fabulous idea: the city encouraging people to re-purpose and reduce waste. Do you curb shop? Do you have any great curb shopping triumphs to share? Does your city have an official Freecycle weekend? Let me know in the comments!

Happy curb shopping everyone 🙂

Reflecting on my “Buy-Nothing” Month

Last month I participated in Crunchy Chicken’s Buy Nothing Challenge. The challenge was simple, to not buy anything other than groceries for a whole month. That meant no meals out, no new clothes, etc. but also no haircuts or other salon services, no makeup, and no entertainment expenses either.

There were a few exceptions: necessary things like school supplies or other purchases, and also “items used for canning and food storage”. This was explicitely spelled out as jars and pectin for canning, which I did purchase during the month.

I did, however, extend this definition somewhat with my first and most major breach of the month, to buy a small chest freezer. Yikes! But let me explain: as many of my readers know, I’m expecting a baby very soon–2 weeks and 5 days to be exact (well, as exact as “due dates” are anyway!)–and I figure one of the most important things I can do right now is to stock up on prepared food that I can rely on for our dinners once the baby arrives and things are turned upside-down. I also bought some zip-lock baggies to store food in the freezer.

I remember two and a half years ago when our daughter was born, we were not prepared food-wise and we ended up getting a lot of convenience items. Take-out pizza, grocery store barbecued chickens, frozen lasagne, etc. Since I got my freezer in early August, I’ve been slowly filling it with yummy food like spaghetti sauce, chili, pesto made with local organic basil, and a variety of creamy soups. It’s so great to know I won’t have to spend the extra money for lower-quality additive-rich food later on.

I made other purchases as well during the month, such as my weekly cookie purchase at a cafe where I meet friends to knit. This is a sanity-saver, as it’s just about the only time I get away from the house and my toddler. Don’t get me wrong–I love spending time with her–but it’s great to be able to escape once a week and not be a mom for about 90 minutes!

Some other things I bought were perhaps less excusable: one lunch out for myself, plus at least two lunches at the farmer’s market when I was not organized enough to pack one up before leaving. Replacement batteries for my kitchen scale (an absolute necessity!!), a stupid $10 sippy cup (in a desperate, failed attempt to night wean my 2 1/2-year old off the boob and onto the bottle . . . didn’t work!), a gift for some friends, and a bunch of second-hand baby stuff, which we got an AMAZING deal on. I’m probably forgetting something, but I do feel I did pretty good . . . until the last couple of days.

For some reason, buying nothing felt pretty easy for most of the month. I had lots of energy to prepare lunches and snacks, and I was okay delaying or redirecting my desires for new fun stuff. We went to the park, brought our lunches, met friends at the park, avoided the mall, ate well at home instead of going out to restaurants, made gifts by hand and gave away jam. For entertainment we went to the library and hung out in our building’s back yard. We watched downloaded TV shows and used our membership to go to the museum. We had fun, and life really didn’t change in any way!

But for some reason toward the end of the month I started to suffer from buy-nothing burn-out. I started to want. I started to NEED! So on August 31st when my mother-in-law came visiting in her Mazda Protegée, I took advantage and went . . . to Ikea.

Utility Cart
Utility Cart

Oh my, but it was satisfying. After a full month (almost!) of not indulging in “retail therapy” I broke down and bought: some new bibs, a “park” potty and a baking kit for my little girl, a children’s rug with roads drawn on it to put in the living room for the coming baby, some light bulbs for our hall light that’s been burnt out for over 2 months, and a tray to serve as the top of my “utility cart” so I can pretend to be a hotel chambermaid as I move through the apartment tidying up. Overall, $100 damage. Way to go out with a bang!

So, what did I learn from my “Buy-Nothing” Month? The first thing I noticed was that our bank account was much healthier than usual (before the Ikea trip in any case!) . The second thing I noticed was that I do have a bit of a retail addiction that works against my otherwise frugal lifestyle. In times of stress I react by buying things. Not for myself (as in makeup or clothes) but for my daughter, or more likely, for the house.

If I can keep a watch out for my triggers, and work through these desires in a less spendy way, that will help me to maintain my frugal lifestyle. For the moment, I’m thinking about doing a buy-nothing week once a month, just to keep myself trained and practice being better organized.

Buy Nothing Challenge — Day 1

I blogged a little while ago about answering Crunchy Chicken’s call-out to folks to buy nothing for the month of August.  I wrote about being slightly worried about it, and having to use the last couple weeks of July to prepare . . .

Well, I didn’t do much preparation.  I mean, I didn’t get my hair cut or buy the blush I’ve needed for months now, or even buy any nail polish to make my toes look cute now that the flip-flops are out.  I’ve bought next to nothing the last 2 weeks, and now am heading into August with a good track record, but a bit of a want list.

On the top of my want list is a chest freezer.  I’ve been debating (with myself mostly) the purchase for a few months now, but a recent weighted pro-con list tells me that this will be a good thing for us for the coming months.  Mostly because it will mean I can cook ahead and stock up on meals so that when tiny baby arrives, we’ll have a few “convenience” items stashed away that are cheap, nutritious, and close-at-hand.  I’d love to get a bunch of local organic meat, and some organic chickens to freeze for busier times, and put up some chili and spaghetti sauce and even some pizzas.  Yep, I’ve got this freezer filled up already, in my mind.  Did I mention I’m probably getting a 3.5 cubic foot model?!

Anyway, this weekend seemed like the perfect weekend to get it.  We ended up not going on our trip to Sudbury so I thought, “I know, I’ll get the freezer and start my cooking this weekend–perfect!”.  Except . . . the Buy Nothing Challenge.  I KNOW the rules allow for “preserving” tools, and I KNOW we are free to confess our purchasing sins, and I also KNOW it’s just a fairly random set of self-imposed rules . . . but still!

I guess the kicker is that we are still paying down debt, and while this is a purchase that will need to come (if it is to come) before the end of September (otherwise, Tiny Baby will be here, and my chance to stock up beforehand will be long past!), we still don’t really have the money for it.

So, I have not yet rushed out to buy the freezer.  I don’t know if I will, or perhaps I’ll wait until the cooler days of September, when I’ll be home pre-baby for a couple of weeks.  The Buy Nothing Challenge has reigned me in.

One other purchase that didn’t happen . . . we walked by a yard sale on the way to the park today and there was a GORGEOUS Mikasa set of a serving bowl and platter–pale yellow around the rim, and a seventies-era floral pattern in the middle, with one bright red poppy in the design.  Beautiful.  And I didn’t even ask the price, because it is Buy Nothing month, and do I NEED a serving platter, beautiful though it may be?  Nope.  I will survive just fine without it.

Anyway, it’s still day 1 . . . is it really true that August has 31 days?????

Consumption Tracking

google calendarI don’t think I’ve written yet about how much I love Google.  How much do I love Google?  Well, pretty much whole-heartedly. I use iGoogle as my homepage–it tells me the weather, my agenda for the day, the phases of the moon (so important 😉 ), and recent news updates.  I don’t have any “office” software on my desktop at home, but use Google Docs instead.  I do use a Moleskine calendar, but I also use Google’s calendar app for many things.  I also store photos on Picasa and of course, have been using Gmail since the days when you had to have a friend “invite” you to use it.

I think the fact that Google rhymes with frugal is no mistake. Their apps have so many functions that can help get you organized and save time.

Today I thought I’d mention something I recently began doing with Google Calendar: tracking my consuption of household items.

With Google Calendar you can create new calendars with different names, to keep track of different types of events.  All your different calendars will be listed under “My Calendars” and you can turn on and off which one(s) you want to view at a time.

I have one calendar for work, one for the community garden I’m involved with, one to track my cycle, one for regular life stuff, and my new one called “Consumption”.  My idea here is to track how long it takes me to go through certain household goods, which will help me to budget for these items, and could even help me to determine savings if I make a change in how I do things.

For example, I am now tracking how long it takes us to go through a package of toilet paper.  I wish I knew the info for before I started using my cloth toilet wipes (for pee only), but I didn’t think to track it back then.

Some items I want to start tracking:

– flour: since I make all my own bread, cookies, and other baked items, I want to know how quickly I go through a 10 kilo bag of flour.  That way I won’t be tempted to stock up with more than I can use before it goes bad.

– laundry soap: how long does it take me to go through a box of laundry soap?  And from this, how much do I spend in a year on laundry soap?  Given this figure, does it make sense to revisit making my own laundry detergent?  Would it save me a significant amount over a year?  The jury is still out . . .

– hand soap: how long does it take me to go through a bar of soap?  I can then determine how much I spend on soap on a yearly basis.  Then if I feel the urge to start making my own, I can determine how much it would save me over the year to make my own (my inkling is it wouldn’t save very much, which is why this isn’t top of my priority list right now!)

– bread: how much bread do we go through?  Just out of curiosity.

– anything else we might buy in bulk, i.e. from Costco, etc.  Like rolled oats, for instance, or brown sugar.

Overall, I’m hoping this tracking calendar will yield some interesting results, and help me to determine where I should concentrate my money-saving efforts.

Do you use Google Calendar?  Any creative ways you use it to save?

Quick Tip #2: Save 30% at The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic! 5% goes to charity

give+getNow I’m not a clothes buyer, or a shopper by nature, but this came into my inbox from Care Canada, a wonderful group doing great work with women overseas, so I thought I’d pass it along.  Plus, 30% off at Old Navy is practically free.

Here’s the Blurb from Care Canada’s website:

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

Give and Get from July 30 – Aug 2. Receive a 30% discount at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy and Gap Inc. will donate 5% of your purchase price to CARE!

Give and Get in time for Back to School!

CARE’s longtime corporate partner Gap Inc. once again has invited CARE to participate in its seasonal charitable giving program, Give and Get.

From July 30 – August 2, you can receive a 30% discount on purchases made at Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy stores and outlets. When you do, Gap Inc. will donate 5% of all purchases to CARE! Past Give and Get promotions have generated more than $500,000 for CARE’s work around the world!

How does it work? Simply click here to download and print out your coupon. Then, take it with you shopping to Gap, Banana Republic or Old Navy from Thursday, July 30 – Sunday, August 2 to receive your discount—and generate donations for CARE. Gap Inc. has asked that each shopper go online and print their own coupon.

Please tell your family and friends about this promotion!

CLICK HERE to download your Give and Get coupon.

We’ll see you in the store!

My Cloth Revolution

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house.  Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers.  We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more “natural” than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time.  I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers.  It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads.  This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them.  Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use.

As the stickers say, “I ♥ my lunapads”! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out! I had bought myself an “Intro kit”, and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection.  It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13.  Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It’s so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper.  Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

Moving on, my most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven’t yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I’m doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It’s a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I’ve missed, please let me know! I’m always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.