Okay, it is that time of year. You may be thinking (or agonizing) about how you have to file taxes online or maybe you already have them done. Either way if you are expecting a refund from Uncle Sam than you have already started dreaming about what you will do with it. Same here. Though some will certainly say it is silly to loan the government money, my family usually overpays our taxes during the year and thus we get a refund. We don’t do it as some sort of savings plan, we do it to cover our behinds. I am self employed and my income is unpredictable at best. It just makes us feel better to overpay and make sure we are covered in that department. And let’s face it, it you have no willpower than having a savings account you cannot touch but once a year is kind of logical. :)
So…what to do with all that moola? Well, big or small there are probably a few purchases that you can make that will be helpful in the long run to help you live greener, save money, and be more self sufficient. I understand the tendency to want to blow the money on a trampoline for the kids or a down payment on a newer (but really unneeded car). Part of our personal refund is in fact allotted to purely fun stuff since paying higher taxes throughout the year meant less fun money to play with. But now is also the time to make smart purchases that will pay all year long and even for years to come. Here are a few ideas:
Freezer – A stand alone freezer (either upright or chest) is a great purchase if you want to save money on healthier foods. Being able to freeze more food makes it possible for you to buy in bulk, purchase more sale items, preserve seasonal, local foods, and to store a herdshare. If it is cheaper in the long run to buy 20 pounds of raw almonds then go ahead and do so and then freeze the ones you wont use within the first month or so. Extend blueberry season by visiting the pick-your-own farm and buying enough (and freezing them) to get you through to next season. Having a freezer can really help you save money long term and they are generally cheap to power. Look for an energy star model and/or buy used from Craigslist.
Remodel/Refurbish Supplies – Using tax money to do home improvements is always a smart decision. You can refinish your deck, insulate the attic, paint, install a programmable thermostat, replace carpet and laminates with wood or tile, replace appliances with more energy efficient models, etc. Think about the projects you can do now that will increase the value, efficiency, and comfort of your home.
Gardening Materials – Growing your own food is like printing money according to TED speaker Ron Finley so investing in what you need to grow more of your own food just makes good sense. You may want to use refund money to build raised beds or to buy equipment such as a tiller, hoe, shovel, etc if you plan to sow your seeds directly into the soil. If you have a small area to grow in you may want to buy pots and planters that will fit on decks and inside window sills. A compost bin can be very affordable if you are able to build it yourself. Building plans are abundant online. Buying a plot at your local community garden is another option. Just don’t forget to reserve a small amount for buying heirloom seeds!
Canning, Preservation, and Food Storage - If you grow your own food or buy in bulk during the growing season then you need a way to preserve it for the off season. I mentioned the benefits of a freezer (above) but also helpful would be a good dehydrator. I prefer Excalibur for the space and temperature controls but it is a bit large. Nesco makes a decent smaller version. Canning supplies are another good investment and a vacuum sealer is also a good idea if you buy meat in large quantities (see below for info on that). I hate contributing to plastic waste but I also hate to waste money on good grassfed beef!
You may also want to overhaul your food storage containers. Ball jars and Pyrex always work well and you can pick them up cheap at yard sales and auctions. I use the half gallon size jars for everything from almond flour and nuts to dehydrated apple slices. If you want to save money on bulk and preserved foods then you have to have a place to keep them that will preserve their freshness.
CSA share or Herdshare – A CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where you pay a quarterly or annual fee direct to a local farmer and in return you get a box of home grown foods each week or so during the growing season. A herdshare is where you pay your farmer for your “share” of a cow, pig, etc. You can buy a whole pig, half pig, quarter cow, etc. You essentially pay the farmer to board and feed your animal and then when butchering time comes, your fees pay for a certain amount of the meat from the animal. In case of dairy cows your share pays for weekly raw milk. Doing a herdshare eliminates the middleman to save you money and you can choose to support farmers who raise their animals humanely, feed them appropriate foods, and don’t inject them with growth hormones.
The down side is that you get a large amount of meat all at one time so you need to be able to store it. It is also pricey for the same reason, even if the per pound price is low. For example, here in Ohio I can get a half share of a grassfed Texas Longhorn and the price is only $3.95 per pound (hanging weight). BUT a half share can be 300 pounds which puts my price for all that meat at well over $1000 and I have to have a place to put all that meat! In the long run and health wise it makes good sense to go this route if you can though. Your beef needs for the year will be covered with no time wasted looking for sales. The quality is MUCH better than what you will find in stores too.
Clothes Line and Drying Racks – Dryers are a big waste in the energy department so it makes sense to use wind and solar power to dry your clothes if you can. You can purchase a clothing line or a drying rack for a relatively small investment so why not??? If I owned my own property then I would totally go for big steel T-posts and good thick lines just like my grandmother had. She even had raised flower beds surrounding both of her posts. But for people looking for something requiring less work and space you can get a parallel style clothes dryer and even drying racks which can be used indoors and out.
Take a Class – Do some searching in your city to find specialty classes that you can take and invest in your own education. If my location is any indication of what is available then you can take classes on quilting, sewing, canning, bread making, pie baking, pottery, wild food foraging, animal butchering, maple sugaring, etc. Many places offer classes in homesteading and life skills like this so take advantage of them!
I could keep this post going on and on but you get the general idea. When a small windfall of money lands in your lap there are many smart things you can do with it that will help you save money and be more self sufficient. Money used to empower you and better your situation is always money well spent. Do you have anything to add to this list?
Green travel is no longer just a trend it is a way of life for many and becoming more and more important in a world which is being harmed in so many ways by human activity. So to make your travel more planet friendly here are a few green travel tips.
Choosing a green destination
Some destinations are more environmentally conscious than others. Not only the individual hotels but entire cities or resorts as a whole. A bed and breakfast might be a more sustainable choice than a hotel chain and Portland, Oregon would be considered a greener destination than Atlanta, GA. We can also consider exploring locations closer to home, thus reducing our travel footprint.
Choosing green accommodation
Hotels which use 40% less electricity and produce 35% less carbon emissions than the average hotel are Energy Star approved hotels. When booking a hotel online use the search filters to find smoke-free hotels and hotels listed as “green”. Consider camping as an alternative to conventional travel and also look into bed and breakfasts or inns which tend to use fewer environmentally harmful resources.
Sharing transport by using public buses emits less harmful gases than renting a car, and if you have to rent a car then make sure it is an eco-friendly car. Hiring a scooter uses even less energy and there are also transport alternatives which use only natural energy. Try taking a cycling vacation or sail instead of taking a motorized boat. Hiking and walking vacations are of course the best way of conserving energy! If you must fly then choose an airline known for its eco-friendly policies like Virgin America, Alaska Airlines or Air France which offers passengers carbon offsets.
Often when you’re traveling you’ll be eating on-the-go which means plastic plates, cups and utensils. Take along a reusable bottle/mug and when you dine choose restaurants which use “real” plates and cutlery. Pack reusable cloths to use instead of paper towels and paper napkins, such as Skoy Cloths or PeopleTowels which are reusable and biodegradable. If you want to try the local food truck scene, and who can blame you, bring your own utensils. These nifty bamboo ones come in their own carrying case AND don’t forget to bring your own to-go box… these LunchBots are perfect for that purpose.
To recharge the inevitable electric gadgets that will accompany you on your trip purchase a solar recharger. Using solar energy you can recharge your camera, laptop, mp3 player, and cell phone. If a solar recharger is not a practical option for your trip then use rechargeable camera batteries which can be recharged over night.
Traveling green begins before you’re even out the front door – Cancel your newspaper delivery, turn off all lights and power bars, unplug appliances or even cut off all electricity via the breaker if you can.
Stay Green in the Hotel
Hang up your used towels to indicate that there is no need to wash them every day. This saves on energy used in hotel laundry. Use the hotel toiletries modestly or even bring along your own. When you leave the hotel room for the day turn off the lights, A/C and TV. If there are no recycle bins in your hotel then collect plastic bottles, paper and organic waste separately and ask the hotel manager where you can find the relevant receptacles in town. Even though you’re not paying for the water, limit your bathing to a reasonable length of time. A vacation is no excuse to get lax with your eco habits.
Seek out local farmers markets and organic stores where the food hasn’t traveled far or dine in restaurants which are known to be eco-friendly and local. Half the fun of visiting a new place is trying the food unique to that area so don’t go to chain eateries. You can do that anywhere so support small, local businesses instead.
Hopefully with a little planning your next travel experience will be a little greener…enjoy!
Americans throw away millions of dollars worth of food every year. This food ends up in dumpsters and garbage bins and eventually in landfills where it impacts the environment. It also impacts the environment when we have to keep growing more food than we actually need. Just think about all the energy used to grow crops and the taxation of the soil. Throwing food away is highly wasteful and hurtful to our planet.
There is a movement out there that wants to change all that, and the movement is called freeganism.
What Is Freeganism and How To Use It Solve Food Waste?
Freegans are people who take the food that is about to be thrown away or has been thrown away and use it. These people talk to grocery stores, restaurants and other places that dispose of large quantities of food waste on a daily basis and ask to collect that food waste instead of the business disposing it. Others go to the extreme of actually removing food that has all ready been disposed of (dumpster diving) and eating that. This may seem radical but often times it is perfectly good food that is being thrown away. It gets tossed because they have a new shipment of fruits and veggies they need room for or they toss out the bruised or slightly imperfect foods. Other times they throw out foods that have officially expired but which will be perfectly good for another few days at least.
The goal is to reduce the impact of this wasted food on the environment in two ways. First, by saving the still edible portions of food from ending up in a landfill thus reducing waste and reducing their need to buy more “new” food. Second because they aren’t adding to waste by buying packaged food and then having to dispose of the packaging. They are helping their own pocket books in these tough economic times by reducing their food bills and many freegans also donate perfectly good food to shelters in need.
You Don’t Have To Go To Extremes To Become A Freegan
Most people’s first reaction to freeganism is anything but positive, the truth is, that you don’t have to go to extremes to become a freegan. There are some safe and hygienic ways that you can join the movement without jeopardizing your families health. Here are some tips for those who are wondering how they can help to reduce food waste and help the environment.
・ Freeganism at home – The best place to begin your freegan activities is at home by finding ways to use those left overs instead of throwing them out. There are a number of great soups, stews, smoothies, and casseroles that you make from those small portions of left overs rather than tossing them in trash.
・ Speak to local restaurant owners or managers. Make an appointment with your local restaurant owners or managers. Many restaurants throw soups, vegetables, and other foods such as mashed potatoes away at the end of the night. There is nothing wrong with these foods they simply did not use them and have policies not to serve them the next day. If you bring your own containers some restaurants will allow you to take these leftovers at the end of the night at closing time.
・ The Local Grocers Or Deli-You can also talk to your local grocer or deli, from these types of places you may be able to get large ham bones to make soups from, or small ends of meat. These are things they can’t use in their products and may be willing to give to you because it also conserves on the amount of trash they may have to pay to be hauled away.
And of course freeganism doesn’t just have to be about food. It can be about finding anything useful in the garbage, giving it a second life, and keeping it out of landfills. While freeganism may not be for everyone it is a way that you can have a positive effect on the environment while saving a little extra money as well.
Have you ever tried freegnism? Would you be willing to?
My article with a real freegan on using on using Freeganism for Charity Work. This woman has donated almost $100,000 worth of food to charity organizations via this collection method.
Also the book, The Art & Science Of Dumpster Diving. It is a hilarious how-to guide.
Over the weekend I read a great article on The Washington Post about the fact that women are reclaiming domestic activities.. ala cooking, canning, knitting and such, and it asks whether this is empowering or a step backwards for women’s progress. I think the article is beneficial because it is rightly painting domestic tasks in a favorable light and shows that women who pursue such things are finding enjoyment in them. But I also think it misses a larger point about feminism and domesticity.
Domesticity can be tied quite closely to self sufficiency and empowerment. Empowerment allows us to throw aside the shackles of slavery… slavery to corporations that provide products and services to us because we are not able to provide them for ourselves. The lack of these domestic skills is not empowering, as many modern feminists have tried to make us believe all these all years. Women were encouraged to look at their duties and situations as a homemaker and home “producer” and see it as something that was holding them back from “real power”. Those feminists were wrong though. Women had power already. They had the power to provide for their families, take care of them by nurturing them with real home cooked foods, and heal them when they became ill. They were producers rather than just mindless consumers. They worked with their partners to create good lives and healthy families and their contributions were every bit as valuable as men’s. In my opinion modern feminism did a lot of destructive things but one of the worst was that it made women shun domesticity. Women traded away a skills set that made them self sufficient, wise, and powerful. They traded it away because they thought it made them equal to men when in actuality it worked to enslave them AND their families to corporations and businesses who saw the potential in this movement to create consumers dependent on them for survival and basic necessities.
I think it is great that women are realizing that they find joy in domestic tasks and deciding that it is “feminist” of them to pursue whatever joyful path they want. But instead reclaiming domesticity simply because it is fun, why not encourage it because it is smart and empowering? And this isn’t just about women either. Men and women need to reclaim domesticity. It is not a duty that subjugates them. It is a powerful life choice that makes them more self sufficient and in control of their finances and future. It is actually incredibly sad when the idea of taking care of one’s self is considered a radically new idea or an antiquated one. How did taking care of one’s self ever go out of style? How did we ever buy into that load of malarkey? I will leave that to the social anthropologists.
One thing IS clear though, domesticity is making a comeback because we have so many broken systems in this country that are failing us. We cannot trust big agricorp or food corporations to feed us safe and nourishing foods. We can only rely on them to provide us with something that resembles food and that may or may not be tainted with toxic ingredients and chemicals. We cannot trust other corporations to provide us with safe household products, clothing, toys, and housewares either. When profit comes first we get lead laced, pesticide laden, planet killing products. We get bodies burdened with chemicals and carcinogens we never even dreamed we were being exposed to. We get government agencies working right along side them to tell us that “all is well. We’ve got your back.” Reclaiming domesticity is about standing up and telling them they are no longer our master. We can do that thing our ancestors did from the time of hunter-gatherers. We can take care of ourselves dagnabbit! Sure it may look a little different now and it may be a long road to learn some lost skills but every step we take to reclaim that part of our heritage is a step closer to self sufficiency and freedom. Oh, and it is kind of fun so that makes it easier.
Where to start? Usually the easiest place to start for many is with food. You can start making more of your own food from scratch and growing some of your own food. We have even better tools and gadgets than out ancestors did and there is no shame in buying them if the end result is going to be a better nourished and ultimately more self sufficient family. Get the right tools to Create a Real Foods Kitchen and start learning how to bake, cook, preserve, pickle, marinade, soak, sprout, ferment, etc. Growing your own food can start with one or two crops like some potted herbs in the window or a potted tomato plant on your patio. Start small and go bigger as you can and as experience allows. Square Foot Gardening is a classic book that shows you how to grow food in small spaces. I also like books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. It gives you insight into new ways to increase your self sufficiency from butter making, to curing your own bacon (if you eat it), to making bee boxes. For a more modern and romantic twist I absolutely adore any book by MaryJane Butters but especially MaryJane’s Ideabook – Cookbook – Lifebook. She is the Martha Stewart of farming and homesteading whether you actually live on a farm or in the city.
Winter is the perfect time for planning your new endeavors and also to try things like sewing, quilting, knitting, and soapmaking. If you already do these things then work on teaching your kids, boys and girls. These skills need to be passed on! I sew myself, but I have never quilted so that is something I really want to pursue this year. Take classes or learn from family if you need to but LEARN. Other ideas to think about include raising animals for their products, food foraging, making your own beauty products, making your own cleaners and detergents, woodworking, composting, learning about car mechanics or solar energy installation, masonry… the list is endless and the amount of knowledge you have access to at your local library is vast. In fact I have have read some amazing books lately that delve into this area and all are new releases. Domesticity is really catching on eh?
Tales From the Sustainable Underground: A Wild Journey with People Who Care More About the Planet Than the Law – This book is all about becoming an activist for social change through homesteading and self sufficiency. It has lots of great info about intentional communities, alternative energy, and it also delves into some areas that are culturally taboo, like pot growing. It is partly about green anarchy and partly about smart self sufficient choices. It is a fun and entertaining read though it may be a bit “out there’ for some. ;)
Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes – A lovely book that has lots of backyard eggs/chickens stories, photos, and recipes. I just love personal stories mixed in with yummy recipes.
Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life – Reading this book is like picking up the journal of a whimsical farmer/artist. It talks about all sorts of farming topics and give instructions and diagrams but all are hand drawn. It is an amazing collection of knowledge but also a work of art. Look at the cover art and you will get the idea.
The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm – This follows the story of a young couple that graduate from college and decide they want to be farmers, without any actual experience with farming, and what that entails… complete with successes and failures. It is a fun read and applicable I think to anyone who wants to get into small scale farming, whether it be for business or for self sufficiency.
When making our New Year’s Resolutions every year we need to think about what we can do or what we can learn to be more self sufficient and dare I say it… domestic.
What is on your list?
Nowadays you hear everyone talking about stress, how much they have to accomplish, how little time they have, and how much clutter is in their homes and lives. It is no wonder that a big trend in books and media has been getting back to a simplistic, minimal lifestyle. Many want to have a life that is free of complications; a life that has been pared down to its most basic and fundamental needs. If this sounds good to you then you may be interested in looking into a minimalist lifestyle as well.
What is a Minimalist Lifestyle?
Being a minimalist is a way of living that is built around those things in life; those core values and beliefs that are the most important to you. Of course this requires that you know what exactly those things are, and for many, especially in consumer-driven western societies, discovering these core values and beliefs only becomes clear once you begin to strip away the layers of societal conditioning and extraneous clutter that fill up most of our lives. A green living journey actually does wonders to strip these things away as luck would have it.
Of course how you determine a life to be free of complications, or what you see as your most basic and fundamental needs is going to change from person to person, and from society to society, but it is the ability of the minimalist lifestyle to be able to adapt itself to each person and their own particular view that makes the concept so appealing to so many people.
How to Become a Minimalist
Divesting your life of clutter and its resulting complications is the first (and biggest) step to living a minimalist lifestyle. This can be clutter in the physical sense (as in things that you have collected that you do not actually need, want or use) but it can also be clutter in the emotional and psychological sense, as in relationships and outmoded beliefs.
While clutter can be obvious; like having too many books, clothes or knickknacks; it can also be found in things like cable packages, telephone plans and credit cards. For many living a minimalist lifestyle will mean cutting down to the most basic of cable packages or (revolutionary thought) getting rid of the TV altogether. It really is amazing how much time we devote to television; time that we could be spending on more productive ventures. But what about telephones – we need them, right? In today’s society, of course we do, but do you need all the bells and whistles? Do you need a house phone AND a cell phone or could you make do with just one or the other?
Which brings us to credit cards; revolving credit may be great for the economy, but it ties you down to payments for things that you probably didn’t actually need or even want but rather felt that you had to have. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for credit (think mortgages or school loans) but why are you purchasing consumable items with a promise of payment in the future? You are just extending your headaches over your accumulated possessions into the future. Paying off your credit cards is another big step on the road to living a minimalist lifestyle, and it is a step that the credit card companies will fight tooth and nail, even going so far as to penalize your credit record for closing an account. But the freedom that comes from not being tied to a financial obligation for your stuff is worth it in the long run.
You Can Get There
Living a minimalist lifestyle is not an instantaneous process. It takes courage and commitment and a deep desire to create a more meaningful life for yourself and your family. But no matter how cluttered and confused your life is right now, you can get there; you can live a minimalist lifestyle if you simply have the courage to take the first step. Here are a few ways to get back to basics and live with simplicity:
* Stop shopping at large chain groceries and instead buy a CSA share and make small weekly trips to the farmer’s market. Simple food, good food, less hassle.
* Stop buying books and start going to the library.
* Skip the gym one day a week and take a walk or hike outside.
* Use what you have instead of buying new.
* Get rid of the stuff you don’t really need.
* Prioritize the things that energize you and make you passionate about life.
*Take advantage of Frugal Luxuries.
* Pare down your wardrobe (or that of family members) to the basics and you’ll have less laundry to do.
* Read my article on Raising Minimalist Children in a Society of Excess.