No Impact Week Day 1: What We Did on No-Consumption Day

18 10 2009

The Halloween costume, however, was yesterday. Today I began the day throwing things out — I threw a tissue into the trash after blowing my nose, and threw out a maxipad (if that’s TMI, too bad). I was already failing at “no trash” and it wasn’t even six in the morning! Add hankies and reusable maxipads to my to-make list for the day.

Later in the week we’ll officially switch over to local foods, but mostly we’re already there. Floppy made us  local eggs scrambled in local butter with salt and pepper. (He’d never made eggs before. He stood in the kitchen and hollered into the bedroom: “I know what to do; you pound the eggs on the bowl, right?” Then we heard…. “Oh, that’s not good, but at least I got the egg part in the bowl.” We were dying.)

We did some picking up in the morning and did some laundry with our homemade laundry detergent. We had a fire — necessary to keep warm in our energy-inefficient house — but it still bothers me. We looked for couchsurfing possibilities online and made our list for the week.

We had homemade potstickers for lunch, with local King Arthur Flour for the wrappers and lots of vegetables from our CSA for the filling. We also had BLTs made with local bacon, our own No Knead Bread, and the very last garden tomato.

I also had the last of a container of (not local) Ice Cream, and felt angry: Here was this big paper container to throw away. It was a nice container — a round paper cylinder with a lid, sturdy and suitable for …. well, surely something more than ice cream. So I washed it and covered it with tissue paper, using the same decoupage technique I used on the costume button. I’m not sure what I will do with it (Christmas present container), but at least it’s no longer in the trash.

While I was decoupaging, I listened to Reverend Billy’s Hour of Power. Floppy and Dad raked leaves and visited with the neighbors. As I type, I’m listening to Colin Beavan, Wood Turner of Climate Counts, and Matthew Palevsky and Catherine Someone? from Huffington Post discuss No Impact Week live; they plan to have more such discussions tomorrow.

For dinner we’re having homemade pineapple pizza (mostly organic, but not mostly local) and we’ll make candles, do some embroidery, and/or do some cleaning. (Oh, and about the hankies and maxipads? I stuck a clean terry cloth rag in my pants, and a clean cotton rag in my pocket;  I’ll let you know how it works out, but for now I’m glad for a simple solution.)


No Impact Week Day 1: A No-Impact Halloween Costume

18 10 2009

The other tasks, besides making a list, that the No Impact Week handbook suggested focused on observing your trash and not shopping.Yesterday, as I was thinking about beginning this project, I already found myself considering all the useless things that pass into and out of my house and my hands every day, all the things I buy that I don’t really need.

But besides that, it’s getting to be Halloween, and my 6-year-old son needed a costume. He wanted to be Robin, as in Batman-and. We usually make his costumes, and yet yesterday I found myself being even more hardcore about not buying anything new to make his costume. Here’s what we came up with:

Robin saves the global climate!

Robin saves the global climate!

The mask is a modified printable Mardi Gras mask that I printed out on black paper, which was then glue-sticked down onto a pasta box backing. I used some silver elastic leftover from Christmas to tie it on his head.

The cape is Floppy’s rain slicker with the sleeves and hood tucked in and snapped at the top snap. He wore green pajama pants and a green polo shirt he already had, as well as a pair of green handknit slippers our friend Jana made him for Christmas one year.

The vest is made out of cardboard covered with taped-down red fabric. The fabric is on its third or fourth upcycle — originally our friend Jeremy bought a huge quantity of red polyester on sale for a Twin Peaks party (back when Twin Peaks was still on the air). It went through a second life as a bedouin tent for my Arabian Nights 30th birthday party (six years ago). It’s third life was as a curtain at our house in Riva. Now it’s in its fourth life as Robin.

I asked Floppy to color in a shoelace left over from a pair of his shoes that came with two sets of laces — he turned it from white to yellow with a Crayola marker, and then we laced it through the vest. He has a set of belts that go with detachable animal tails, but he had taken a scissors to the yellow lion belt. So I stapled that to the cardboard vest, and covered the middle hole for the tail with the lid of a tiny jelly jar that I had decoupaged with yellow tissue. Finally, some double stick tape and printed out photoshopped black-and-yellow R badges complete the look. I was pleased to be able to make such a cool costume with no purchases at all, although on halloween itself we will probably add red leggings borrowed from his pajamas for warmth, and perhaps some green Robin rubber gloves from the dollar store.

No Impact Week Day 1: Reducing Consumption by Making a List

18 10 2009

So Chez Don’t Buy It is doing Colin Beavan‘s No Impact Week Experiment, and the very first day’s task is a topic near and dear to our hearts: stopping consumption, or, not buying it.

His suggested tasks for today were these:

  1. Type up a list of all the stuff you “need” to buy this week. Delete the items that you can live without for the week. For the rest of the items, figure out if you can purchase them second-hand, borrow them, or make them yourself.
  2. Put an empty re-usable bag in a private place at home. Throughout the day, fill it up with all of your trash, recyclables, and food waste. If you’re out of the house, carry your trash home with you. Make sure that nobody else’s trash gets in there but your own. This will help you get ready for Monday’s challenge.
  3. Just for this week, try not to shop for new items. Will you find something better to do with your time and money? Could you use this time to spend with friends instead?

In this post, I’ll be considering just that first task.

Our initial list of items we planned to buy this week included mostly items for a weekend trip next weekend to DC:

  • a hotel room in Washington D.C. for the weekend
  • gas for the car to get around town here and down and back to DC
  • metro cards in DC
  • meals in DC and during the trip
  • scotch and chapbooks at the Poetic Art benefit we’ll be attending in DC
  • fillings for my teeth at the dentist
  • an oil change
  • candles for our pumpkins

We had trouble figuring out how to get rid of most of these things.

Couch-surfing is the low-impact way of staying in another city, but I had already asked (on facebook) if any of my friends felt like putting us up in DC. No volunteers there. (Do we have rotten friends, or *are we* rotten friends? The world may never know.) Still, today I created a profile on, paid $25 to have my identity validated, volunteered our guest room to all comers, and sent a couch-borrowing request to the wonderful couple who hosted 16 strangers for Obama’s inauguration. It’s awful short notice, and I suspect that we’ll end up in a hotel room as it is, but I did try to avoid buying hotel accomodations.

It looks like taking our car, a Prius, is actually the most environmentally friendly way of getting all of us from NH to DC, although since there are three of us rather than four, taking a bus might be a little bit better. Similarly, once in DC, we’ll maximize walking and use public transit when we can’t walk.

We’ll skip the souvenirs at the benefit in honor of the week, and I’ll be cancelling my dentist’s appointment anyway, since it conflicts with the trip. We’ll also make and bring a cooler full of food to minimize meals out. The candles I’m planning to make later today from materials we’ve saved.

The oil change is tougher: to do an oil change at home, we’d have to buy materials, and I’m not clear that it’s any more environmentally friendly to DIY in this case. Any thoughts?

Don’t Buy It Reader Question

24 06 2009

So Unclutterer suggested that maybe I would like, which is a new dry goods retailer. It sounded good — free shipping of your non-perishable grocery needs, lower prices than Costco. So I started to make an account.

First of all, they make you choose little avatars to represent your family — you, your spouse,  your kids. But wait, how did they know I was white? And married to a white man? They must be psychic!

Or, you know, it could be that they have the same obnoxious little group of avatars for everyone. Way with the assumptions, marketing department. Hope there are enough cute little matching families around to sustain your business model, but, as Liss would say, Wev.

Since I do have the matchy-matchy little family for the avatars, I turned a blind eye — for the moment — and clicked to the next page, which is a list of suggested items you may buy regularly, from say, bar soap to coffee to detergent. You can check off the things you use. This was the part that stopped me dead. I looked over the list — it has about 60 items on it — and realized our family only ever buys 9 things on this list, and half of those we only buy rarely. There are only five things on this list of 60 household staples that my household actually buys regularly.

(Bar soap, dental floss, maxipads, TP, and dish soap, if you were wondering.)

Recently this blog has had more readers, thanks to a nice review on MSN Money. So I figured it was time for a delurking question. If you’ve clicked over here to read this blog from MSN money, or somewhere else on the web, I’d be completely thrilled and grateful if you would tell me: Which of these staples do you find essential? Are there any that you’ve found ways to “don’t buy it”? (Especially the ones that are still on my list?) And are there any of them that you’d like to stop buying, but can’t imagine how you’d ever live without?

I’m hoping I can learn from you, we can learn from each other, and if there’s anything we’ve managed not to buy that you see as essential, you can expect to see that in a new blog post soon!

Don’t Buy It Blog Featured on the Festival of Frugality

10 06 2009

View the other cool blog posts with a baseball theme here. Best of the bunch from my perspective is 25 simple tricks to cut $100/month from your spending. Most of the tricks on this list, and other similar lists, we’re already doing and then some, but this one had a surprise for me. I had no idea that some mortgage banks charge $50-60 a month for the privilege of escrowing your money, and you can bet we’ll be checking to see what our bank charges for this service. For that kind of money we’re definitely able to save for our property taxes and insurance ourselves!

Don’t Buy It: Baby Strollers

9 06 2009

Can someone please explain to me why anyone buys a baby stroller? If you have triplets or you run a daycare, OK, I understand (or I suppose more than two tots under the age of two in whatever combination). But for able-bodied people towing one baby, I simply don’t understand what use they serve. They are bulky and every bit as hard to drive as a shopping cart with a bum wheel. If you go anywhere and try to stop and do something you have to find a safe place to park them. (And then someone steals it!) They separate you from your cuddly baby, who then cries and complains at the loneliness of it all. And they decondition your toddler, who then screams and complains whenever s/he’s asked to use hir legs for the purpose God provided them. Some people spend hundreds of dollars on a baby stroller. Why?

Seriously, for babies too small to walk, allow me to introduce you to the Baby Bjorn, which is truly a marvel of modern engineering. Or a baby sling, which you can make yourself (although truthfully we had one, and we couldn’t really make ours work for us, but different strokes). Or, you know, you do have arms and shoulders.

Baby Floppy on Mama's Shoulders

Once they get big enough to walk, they can walk. We were amazed at how far toddler Floppy could walk, and how perfectly calibrated his abilities were to our stamina. When he was too tiny to walk at all, he was portable in a carrier. When he was big enough to walk a little, he was comfortable to carry on shoulders when he got tired. When he was big enough to be exhausting to carry, he could walk as far as we could with only a little encouragement. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. For the millenia when human beings walked all day, every day, they didn’t have baby strollers.

Don’t Buy It: Wedding Bands

2 06 2009

There are several reasons to “don’t buy it” when it comes to wedding rings. For women, their history includes the ancient Roman tradition wherein a man could claim you as property via the gift, and  for men, they are a delightful 20th century marketing invented need. And even if the history doesn’t trouble you, well, when it comes to diamonds and gold, as Racialicious says: exploitation is forever.

My husband and I were married in 1995. I was ambivalent about the symbolism of the whole situation: Well beyond the rings, I was reflecting on the reality that if he were female, there’d be no wedding at all. So the first don’t buy it approach we took to weddings rings was just…. don’t buy it. We didn’t have rings for the first 13 years of our marriage, and that worked out fine.

Sometime this year, though, we felt ourselves softening up towards them. But not softening up so much that we were willing to shell out that two months’ salary that the diamond shillers are always urging on you.

My husband and my mom came up with a don’t buy it solution to the problem of the blingy engagement ring. On Valentine’s Day, he gave me my grandmother’s wedding and engagement band set, which she had once upon a time had soldered together. We had the two rings separated and restored at a local  family-owned jeweler (for about $700), and now I have a gorgeous heirloom diamond ring for my engagement band, and my brother has the other ring to give on bended knee someday. The jeweler said that the rings — which were heirloom-quality to begin with — had quadrupled in value when the work was complete, so that $700 was worth the investment. If you are thinking of asking someone to marry you, you might consider asking both your folks and your future in-laws if there’s a family ring that you could hand down.

For the wedding bands themselves, we came up with another don’t buy it solution. We made them. Here they are (I made his; he made mine):

They are sterling silver, not gold. (We could have made them in 14k gold, for about $200-300 per ring, but I like the symbolism of a wedding ring that needs to be polished.)

I’d like to assure you that I have no talent whatsoever at handskills in general, and had never made jewelry before. We made these in one evening in a $35 class (yes, that included the price of the silver) offered by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, but similar classes are offered in other places, by craft groups and independent jewelers. In Minneapolis, for example, you can do the same thing at Veberod’s Gem Gallery. (Please do comment if you know of other places in other cities.) I have heard that many small, independent jewelers — even if they don’t offer classes — may be willing to rent you studio and instruction time to make your own ring, so if you can’t find a class and want to do this it may be worth a call to explore the option.

Making your own rings qualifies as an intensely romantic, meaningful date, and you get a quality ring made from materials you choose. Having done it, I can’t imagine why anyone would buy them: they were easy and fun to make (with a teacher’s help and supervision), inexpensive, and they are deeply meaningful to us.

What have been your don’t buy it solutions to the come hither call of the wedding industry?