Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Seeds and Junk Mail - Some Things Were Meant to Be Saved

I've reached that magical age at which I am the recipient of a lot of unwanted mail from organizations that cater to people of a certain age.

At the moment, AARP is very interested in my being a member.  I am not as interested in joining as they seem to be to have me.  Every few weeks, I receive another solicitation from them. 

It's a lot of wasted paper, and we all know how I feel about waste.

So, I thought, there must be something I can do to make less waste - other than throwing it in my wood stove.

On a related note (it's related ... I swear!) ...

We don't buy a lot of fresh vegetables during the winter.  My goal is to grow my own and/or purchase local, in season produce, and preserve it.  There are a lot of vegetables that are eaten from a can (well, a jar) in my house during the winter.  Tomato sauce, pickles, and corn are jarred up and on my pantry shelves.  I also make sauerkraut, and some things are put into the freezer, like broccoli and peppers.

Occasionally, however, we purchase some fresh produce, for a specific meal - like steak sandwiches with peppers and onions.

And for this treat, I will purchase an organic green pepper from the grocery store.

Thing is, those peppers are just full of seeds, and as organic produce, those seeds are likely to be viable. 

So, I like to save them.  Even if I don't end up using them this spring, knowing that I have them means I won't purchase a packet of seeds.  I've saved $2 from keeping something that might have ended up in the compost pile - not that compost is a bad thing.

Back to all that AARP mail ... and you can probably guess where this is going.

Good ole AARP includes a return envelope with their mailing.  They want to make as easy as possible for me to join their club.

And those lovely little envelopes are just perfect for storing those organic pepper seeds.

I particularly like the request in the bottom corner to "please recycle."  

Of course, we all know that reusing is much better than "recycling", especially these days, when we don't know if our recycling is actually being "recycled."  

Do what you can with what you have where you are.  

Pepper seeds from organic peppers saved in envelopes from junk mail.  That seems like a good use of time and resources.

What did you save today?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

ReUp-ing a Popcorn Tin

The holidays can  be pretty amazing ... and stressful - especially if one is trying to downsize one's collection of stuff.  Getting out of the habit of buying, often just for the sake of giving a gift, can be very difficult.

To be honest, I haven't, quite, mastered the skill of giving less or not at all.   There's still that pressure to give *something*, even if it's just some cheap little tchotchske.   None of us want to be guilty of a social faux pas for failing to get a present for someone, even if there is absolutely no reason for that someone to expect a gift.

I usually prefer to give homemade gifts or experiences.  Unfortunately, those homemade gifts can be quite time consuming, and too often are not always as well received (depending on the recipient and the gift).  The gift of experience (concert tickets, museum passes, a kayak trip to Fort Gorges, theater tickets, movie tickets) is a great way to keep clutter at bay, while honoring that obligation to give something.  But those experiences can be expensive. 

Gift cards have become a favorite way to meet that social requirement, but Deus Ex Machina doesn't like them.  He thinks they're lazy, which maybe they are.  He says one may as well give cash.  I'm not quite sure why giving cash has such a negative stigma.  My sister says that cash makes a great gift, because it's always the right size and the right color.

Another gift I both enjoy receiving and giving is consumables - yes, food!  If you're like us, you get a few boxes from mail order places, like Swiss Colony (love that summer sausage and those cute little jars of mustard!). 

One of my favorite consumable gifts is that big tin of popcorn.

First off, I LOVE popcorn.  I've even eaten it for breakfast and dinner.  In fact, I'm not entirely certain why popcorn has been relegated to a snack food.

The only problem with those big tins of popcorn is what to do with the tin when the popcorn is gone.  So, I've come up with six really awesome ideas that I couldn't wait to share for reusing/upcycling those tins.

1.  Fill it with more popcorn.

From a frugal standpoint, refilling the tin with home-cooked popcorn is the perfect solution.

First, we all know that home-cooked food is less expensive than prepared food.  The tin filled with popcorn is between $4 and $10 (depending on where one purchases it, and the flavors of popcorn inside the tin).

A pound of non-GMO, organic popcorn, which will fill that tin many times over, is $2.95.

Second, most frugal-gurus recommend making menus and cooking ahead.  So, making a tin of popcorn for weekly snacks, makes perfect sense and takes about 15 minutes.  We know that the popcorn will stay fresh in the tin, because, well it was made for storing popcorn, right?

2.  Use it for bulk dry goods storage.

Pantry moths.  I hate 'em.

When I was a first year teacher many years ago, I had a very small food budget.  I lived in a tiny town with no major grocery store.  The bonus (since I only got paid once a month) was that I could run a credit tab at the little general store that was, conveniently, on my way home from work.

The problem was that most people didn't buy their weekly groceries at the general store.  They drove the half hour to the next town for groceries, and so the selection at the store was kind of small for actual food, and I'm not entirely sure that the proprietor of the store paid very close attention to expiration dates.

One evening, I purchased a box of potato flakes.  When I got it home and poured the flakes into my pot of boiling water, I observed a bunch of little writhing red worms.  I didn't eat the potatoes.  It ended up being a hungry night.

What that taught me was how easy it is for the moths to end up in one's pantry.  I mean, who would have imagined that a newly purchased box of potato flakes would have moth larvae in it? 

While it wouldn't have saved me from those moths, putting my dried goods into the popcorn tin in my pantry, could prevent the moths from spreading to my other foods, like rice, popcorn kernels, and flour.

3.  Turn it into a holder for kindling.

4.  Use it as a trash can in the bathroom.

My first reuse of these tins was for my bathroom trash.

As those who've been there know, those first few months of home-ownership can be pretty hectic, especially with regard to finances.  We all want to have our perfectly furnished home, right off, but few of us have the money to pull it off.  So, those little things that are nice to have, like a trash can in the bathroom, are put on the "to buy in the future" list.

Deus Ex Machina and I bought our house in December, just before Christmas, and of course, we were gifted a huge tin of popcorn, which worked out perfectly, because we didn't have a lot of extra cash for little incidental purchases (and there was no dollar store in my town at the time), like trashcans.  That little tin was perfect.

5.  Boil water or sap (to make syrup) over an open fire outside.

I don't know about you, but the clean up after using one of my big kettles on the open fire outside is brutal.  The soot on the outside of the kettle is a mess to clean up.  As such, I don't really like using my kettles outside over the fire, because I will want to use those same pans inside on my glass top stove.

The popcorn tin comes to the rescue!  See, I don't have to clean up the outside, because I can just leave it outside until I need it again.

6.  Make it into a hobo stove.

When I was in the seventh grade, I was a Girl Scout.  My troop went on a camping trip to what someone called a "primitive camping site."  What they meant was that: there was no plumbing, i.e. no showers, no sinks with running water, and no toilets (there was a hand-pump connected to a well for water and an outhouse facility); there were no fancy tents on platforms, and we had to set-up our own canvas tents with no floor (I didn't see anything similar until I went to Basic Training where I was issued a "shelter half"); and there were no cooking facilities (there was a fire pit, but no fireplace or grills).

Our troop leaders were really amazing, and I learned during that camping trip, that it was possible to make a stove-top burner out of a coffee can.  We cooked on the bottom of the can.  The heat was made by taking a tuna can, filling it with rolled up cardboard, and then pouring melted wax into the can.  The cardboard was the fuel.  The wax kept it from burning up too fast.  We controlled the flame with the lid of the tuna can.

It works great for cooking pancakes and bacon.

Bonus use:

When I posed the question to my family, my daughter said, "Put your socks in it," and, indeed, she is correct.  Those tins are great for a number of storage options, including socks, and they could be painted with chalkboard paint, too, so that we could see what's inside without having to open it.

So, next year, when those popcorn tins go on sale, I may have to pick up a few extras.  I'm always looking for free/low cost storage options.

And there's popcorn. 

How would you reuse a popcorn tin?

Saturday, January 11, 2020


It's no secret that most of us have too much stuff.  Americans spend, roughly, a quarter of their incomes on consumer goods - clothing; shoes; jewelry; dining room tables, appliances, mattresses, new counter tops, couches; sheets, towels, and table cloths; ice skates, skis, sneakers; lawn mowers, hedge clippers, patio furniture; toys; books; musical instruments; the headphones my daughter is wearing and the cellphone she is holding while I type this. 

We spend a lot of time and energy and money accumulating stuff, much of which ends up donated to some organization, like Goodwill, or thrown into a landfill when we can't figure out what to do with it, but just know it can't stay in our homes any longer.  The clutter problem is real for most of us.  Studies have proven that clutter is actually bad for us 

Decluttering has become the new catch-phrase and gurus, like Marie Kondo, have gained an almost cult following with their advice on how to cut the crap.  Marie's specific advice is to get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy."

While I agree, mostly, with what she says, what concerns me is that there really is no "away", is there?  We throw it in the garbage, and most of us don't have to worry about it anymore, but someone does, right? 

I live a couple of miles from a former trash incinerator.  The idea is perfect, in my opinion.  The company gets paid to remove folks' trash.  Then, they bring the trash back to their facility, sort out anything that can not be safely burned, and then, burn the rest to create electricity.  Awesome, right?!  Unfortunately, the smell was too much, and the sorting wasn't careful enough to ensure that things like, batteries, weren't being put into the incinerators and causing air pollution.

Landfills are also a poor answer to the problem of trash.  Basically a landfill is a big hole.  The garbage - now, just take a second to think of what YOU put in the garbage - is dumped into the hole.  When the hole gets too full, it's topped with soil and grass ... and maybe trees or something, but underneath that lovely "nature" facade is your trash. 

We see lots and lots of stuff about garbage that will take centuries to decompose.  Landfills make the decomposition phase even slower, because the holes are lined with clay to keep contaminates out of groundwater (yay!), but what that means is that some of that stuff could be dug up by your grandchildren's grandchildren, and still be intact. 

That's a nice image, right?

I once had this (somewhat emphatic) discussion with a woman I knew.  I was very proud of myself at the time, because I was very much into recycling.  I didn't buy products with packaging that couldn't be recycled.  Or at least I tried very hard.  If it could be recycled, it went in the recycling.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Very wrong.  We are all wrong to think that we can just throw our stuff in those blue bins and something wonderful happens.

I don't recall exactly what she said, and it took me a few years to understand what she was trying to tell me. 

The answer is not recycling, as we are shown in this article

Recycling is okay - as a last resort.  Better is to reuse or repurpose.  So, instead of buying olives in a recyclable plastic container, I should buy olives in a container that I can reuse.  Over the years I've thought about what she said.  Now, when I purchase pre-packaged spaghetti sauce, for instance, I buy the brand that is in jars that can be reused as canning jars (with new lids, but the spaghetti sauce jar lids can be reused for bulk, dry good storage.  So, win-win). 

Better, of course, is to not use a container at all, but we'll spend some time chatting about that later.

My goal has been to reduce my trash AND my recycling.

But also to reduce the amount of stuff I just bring into my home in general.  So, instead of automatically running to the store anytime I need something new, I take some time to look around my house to see if I might have something I could make different to satisfy whatever need I have. 

Which brings us to now.  For the next year, my goal will be to share, at least once a week, something we have repurposed with a how-to of what we did, and what need it filled. 

Welcome to our journey!  Please feel free to comment and share your stories.   

The Story of Stuff shows us that when we're done with that "stuff", too often it has no where to go.  It's a great little film, definitely worth the twenty minutes to watch it.