(Or At Least for Several More Years)

The other day I read a short article about the projected 2012 release of the iPad 3. This new iteration of the iPad sounds pretty fabulous: sleeker design, better graphics, wireless charging and data transfer technology, etc. I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll be buying things next year; maybe it’s time for an upgrade.”

Then I remembered my green values—and this short video on electronic waste by Annie Leonard.

Not only does Apple release newer, faster, better versions of its iPods, iPhones, and iPads with astonishing frequency, but it also makes these devices somewhat difficult to maintain. A month ago I took my iPod Mini to the recycler because I couldn’t figure out how to change the battery, which (as most of you probably realize) is sealed inside seemingly impenetrable casing. To be honest, I didn’t even think of replacing the battery until I started researching this post. I’m just that accustomed to the idea that consumer electronics are meant to be replaced, not repaired. Shame on me.

You see, folks, I have grown up in a country where planned obsolescence is the norm. Consumer electronics manufacturers design products or time product updates so that consumers continually spend money on their wares. This strategy is a big problem because most TVs, personal computers, tablets, cell phones, music players, and e-readers are full of various hazardous chemicals, such as lead, PVC, mercury, arsenic, and flame retardants, which have been linked to reproductive disorders and several cancers.* The more gadgets we buy, the more of these chemicals we introduce into our homes and offices—and the more e-waste we create by replacing our obsolete machines.

Twenty-five million tons of e-waste is generated every year. More often than not, this waste is dumped or burned, so in the disposal process all those toxins are released into our air, soil, and waterways. “Well, I recycle my old electronics,” you say. When you choose an electronics recycling program, make sure you do your research. About 70 to 80 percent of the waste given to e-cyclers is shipped overseas, where workers mine the machines for precious metals and then burn the rest. To ensure that your old gadgets are disposed of properly, choose a recycler certified by e-Stewards or conduct your own investigation using this list of questions.

In addition to the problems of toxins and disposal, we must consider the resources consumed as manufacturers create new machines to replace the obsolete ones. As The Daily Green put it, “Our insatiable appetite for stuff drives carbon emissions and pollution.” According to the Product Policy Institute (PPI), the provision and use of products and packaging accounts for 44 percent of U.S. global warming emissions (this statistic covers all consumer goods, not just electronics). The bulk of these emissions occur during the production phase, from materials extraction to manufacturing. PPI concludes that reducing consumption—by repairing broken items, going without, or steering clear of whatever hot new product is making your own stuff look outdated (you do not need that iPhone 5!)—offers the largest opportunity to combat global warming. Well, isn’t that interesting.

On that note, it turns out that a quick Internet search would’ve illuminated the process of changing my iPod Mini battery for myself. Had I known that five years ago, when the thing mysteriously stopped working, I may still be rocking a cute, pink, 4GB antique (or maybe the battery wasn’t the problem?). I will keep this in mind when my replacement iPod (which, at four years old, is still going strong) and my iPad start getting wonky on me.

I don’t mean to single out Apple as the only company—or consumer electronics as the only industry—that indulges in planned obsolescence. The practice has been around since the 1930s, and even light bulb manufacturers do it (see item 9). I don’t think any of our light bulbs have burned out this year (although Channing may have replaced them on the sly), but I have experienced planned obsolescence in the fashion arena. Recall that post in the spring about my urge to update my wardrobe with some newer styles. And then there’s Channing’s continual search for a fast and shiny new car and a bigger TV.

Still, with the constant barrage of updates to computer operating systems, phone networks, gaming systems, and sundry gadgetry, it’s hard not to isolate the electronics industry as an egregious offender. Once again, I’ll close with the moral “Think before you buy.”

Unless otherwise cited, facts are from Annie Leonard’s The Story of Electronics. If you have ten minutes to spare, please consider watching this video and sharing it with your friends.

For (excellent) tips on repairing various household items, see The Daily Green. While there you might also check out this list of things you didn’t know you could rent.

*Apple and other companies have started monitoring and reducing the amount of toxins in their products, as my friend Sarah pointed out in a comment on an earlier post. See this link.


What I Buy

May 10, 2011

Spring Shopping Series, Part 2

Next time I enter Ann Taylor or flip through the Patagonia catalog, what will I find? Clothing, shoe, and accessory manufacturers have a variety of textiles to choose from: natural, renewable fibers, such as cotton, rayon, linen, wool, and silk, and synthetics, such as polyester and nylon. And the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of all of these materials have a pretty huge impact on the earth.

I’ll start with cotton, which makes up the lion’s share of my everyday wardrobe. (I’d guess it makes up a pretty good portion of yours too.) Cotton, which has been cultivated for use in clothing for thousands of years, is native to the tropics, but today it is grown in China, the United States, India, Uzbekistan, Australia, and some African countries. Two and a half percent of the world’s farmland is devoted to cotton, and 25 million tons of the crop are grown every year. It is one of the world’s most heavily irrigated crops and also one of the most heavily fertilized and sprayed: a third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are required to grow just one pound of cotton. In 2000 84 million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on cotton, making it the most heavily sprayed crop behind corn. These chemicals find their way into our waterways, killing fish and birds, and even into feed for cows raised in factory farm lots. (Beef and dairy cattle consume about 3 million tons of cotton meal annually.) And, in the United States hundreds of cotton farm workers suffer from pesticide-related illnesses each year.

By 2003 nearly 80 percent of cotton grown in the United States (which is the second-largest producer of cotton in the world—China is the first) was genetically modified (GM). There are 131 million acres of GM cotton in the world—it is everywhere except in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia, where farmers can’t afford the fancy, expensive seeds. Monsanto developed the two kinds of modified cotton seeds popular today: one is Roundup Ready, i.e., bred for herbicide resistance, and one is insect resistant, i.e., bred to repel the tobacco budworm, the bollworm, and the pink bollworm (but not the infamous boll weevil). So, one type of seed encourages the indiscriminate use of herbicides, but the other reduces the need for pesticides. Huh. There are numerous cons to genetically modified products, even those that don’t find their way into our food.* For one, growers who have purchased GM cotton seeds from Monsanto’s distributor, Delta and Pine Land, have been required to sign a contract saying that they will not save and replant the seeds the next season, which obviously increases the financial burden on the farmers. For an outline of additional cons of genetic engineering, see the Center for Food Safety website. (If you want to hear both sides of the story, also visit the Monsanto website.)

Among the other popular fabrics in my wardrobe are wool (sweaters) and synthetics (exercise clothes). Conventionally grown wool comes from sheep raised in inhumane conditions, on small, overgrazed pastures. Because these conditions increase the sheep’s vulnerability to parasites, the animals are regularly doused with pesticides. The raw wool is again treated with pesticides before it is spun into yarn in order to kill any remaining ticks, lice, and mites. Organic wool is a more eco-friendly option; it’s free of inorganic pesticides, hormones, and dyes, and probably comes from sheep that have generally been better treated. And, like conventional wool, it is naturally fire-retardant, durable, and wrinkle-resistant.

Synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, are made from petroleum by-products in an energy-intensive process. A variety of pollutants, including nitrogen and sulfur oxides, particulates, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and carbon dioxide, are emitted during production of these fabrics. I choose running shorts and shirts made with synthetics because they’re quick-drying and wick sweat away from my skin—which makes for a more comfortable run during Virginia’s hot and sticky summers. These fabrics are also pretty durable. I’ve been wearing the same couple pairs of running shorts since college! Of course, this means that once I toss them, they’ll sit for another few hundred years in the landfill without degrading—and once they start degrading, they’ll leach additional chemicals into the soil and groundwater. The good news is some bright minds out there have developed synthetics made from recyclables, like soda bottles. I even have some long underwear made from recycled polyester. You can buy recycled-fiber clothing from Patagonia and other members of the Textile Exchange.

More eco-friendly fabrics to consider incorporating into your wardrobe are hemp, linen, and bamboo rayon. Hemp and linen, both derived from plants that grow quickly and require few pesticides and herbicides, are in some ways the most eco-friendly fiber choices. But, neither hemp nor textile-grade flax (the source of linen) is grown in the States, so all hemp and linen clothing you find in stores here has traveled from countries such as China, Romania, Hungary, and Poland. Like hemp and flax plants, bamboo is quick-growing and requires few fertilizers and pesticides during cultivation. Plus, it is naturally antimicrobial and moisture wicking, meaning finished clothes don’t need to be treated with additional chemicals to introduce these properties. The downsides to bamboo are, first, turning stalks into textile-grade fiber is energy- and water-intensive and, second, as the demand for bamboo has increased, farmers have begun to cultivate it in monocrop fields, which endangers biodiversity and degrades the soil.

Creating finished clothing from any of these fibers requires a host of energy-sucking machines: machines that prepare the raw product for shipment to factories, machines that turn the raw product into thread, machines for weaving and knitting the thread into fabric, and, finally, machines for sewing and assembly. In addition to the energy use are the myriad additional chemical inputs. Fabrics are dyed in a multistep process, involving scouring (in an alkali) to remove impurities and bleaching (with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine) to prepare the garment for dye. The dying itself usually involves benzene, heavy metals, and formaldehyde. Then the fibers are treated with more formaldehyde to make them soft, wrinkle-resistant, stain and odor resistant, fireproof, mothproof, and antistatic. (Formaldehyde, by the way, can cause respiratory problems, burning eyes, cancer, and allergic-contact dermatitis.) Lucky for us, most of the toxic chemicals used in the production of clothing are rinsed or leached out by the time the products hit the stores. So, only the low-wage workers in the textile factories (i.e., sweatshops) and anyone who drinks from water sources nearby are affected by the toxicity and the waste.

Just to put the amount of chemicals in perspective, here are some stats from Stephen Yafa’s Big Cotton: 3/4 pound of chemicals are applied to every pair of jeans and 1 1/4 pounds are applied to every set of queen-sized sheets. Oh, and here’s another crazy stat for you, this one from The Story of Stuff: A single cotton t-shirt generates at least five pounds of CO2 before it gets to the retailer. Distribution and care for the t-shirt over its lifetime will likely double that number.

The best way to limit the impact of your clothing is to make do with what you already have or buy used or recycled. Talk to your neighbors about good consignment shops in your area. Check out your local Freecycle. There are even a bunch of vintage clothing stores online: Etsy, Posh Girl Vintage, Rusty Zipper, to name just three.

*Make no mistake, though. Cottonseed oil made from GM cotton seeds finds its way into a wide variety of processed food products sold in American grocery stores. Check your labels.

Sources and Related Reading

Solvie Karlstrom, “Guide to Greener Fibers,” NRDC Smarter Living, November 20, 2009.

Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—And a Vision for Change (New York: Free Press, 2010).

Shanti Menon, “Green Fashion: Beautiful on the Inside,” NRDC Smarter Living, February 11, 2010.

National Labor Committee, Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti: Walt Disney and the Science of Exploitation, Parts 1 and 2, YouTube video, from a documentary filmed in 1996, posted by “nicnet,” January 26, 2010.

Andrew Olsen, “Problems with Conventional Cotton Production,” Pesticide Action Network, May 2, 2011.

Stephen Yafa, “The Shirt on Your Back,” in Big Cotton: How a Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map (Viking: New York, 2005), 270-304.

The Junk Mail Nuisance

March 29, 2011

One hundred billion pieces of junk mail, including catalogs, credit card offers, and other unsolicited advertisements, are delivered in the United States every year. That’s about eight hundred pieces per household—or 30–40 percent of our mail. Mail-order catalogs alone make up more than 20 percent of this total. Enough catalogs are distributed each year for every man, woman, and child to have sixty of their very own. The kicker is an estimated 44 percent of junk mail is trashed before it is even opened. A friend of mine who worked in the ad industry for several years told me companies account for that percentage of throwaways. They figure they have to send out at least three mailings to reach just one new customer.

To make enough paper for those 100 billion pieces of mail, 100 million trees are felled and processed. This is equivalent to clear-cutting the Rocky Mountain National Park (more than 265,000 acres) every four months. Of course, we cut down trees for various other manufacturing and development purposes as well—at the rate of 7 million hectares per year. This deforestation comes at great cost: forests create oxygen, sequester carbon dioxide, provide habitat for hundreds of species, filter freshwater, maintain the Earth’s hydrologic cycle, regulate climate, and prevent erosion of topsoil. Deforestation accounts for a whopping 25 percent of the carbon emissions caused by human activity. And, at this point, less than 5 percent of old growth forests (i.e., the most productive forests) remain in the United States.

The environmental damage caused by the paper industry—and the junk mail industry in particular—extends beyond deforestation. Taking logging, production, delivery, and disposal into account, the junk mail industry emits greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 9 million cars. If more companies printed direct mail on recycled paper, they would cut these emissions significantly. Manufacturing a ton of virgin paper requires 17 million BTUs more than producing a ton of 100-percent-recycled paper.*

As a general rule—but especially since I started the experiment—I try to limit the advertising that comes my way. (No need for any extra temptation to buy! As an average American, I’ll probably spend a total of a year of my life watching commercials alone—never mind all the advertisements I’m exposed to in magazines, in newspapers, on websites, in Metro stations…) I’ve found it particularly easy to trim the number of catalogs I receive, primarily thanks to Catalog Choice, one of several online services that help folks reduce unwanted mail, save natural resources, and protect their privacy. (I’ve included websites for two other such companies with the references at the end of this post.)

Catalog Choice offers a free service and a donation-based unlisting service. The free service allows you, once you’ve created an account, to opt-out of mailings from individual companies. The service will contact the junk-mail vendor on your behalf to request removal from its mailing list. Catalog Choice has a list of more than three thousand companies that it will contact for you. This list is continually expanding, and I find that these days I can opt-out of nearly every catalog I receive via this site. For a $20 donation, Catalog Choice will remove your name from marketing lists created by third-party data brokers that trade your personal information to companies based on your buying history and behavioral characteristics. Obviously this will slash your annual junk-mail poundage even more.

If I can’t find a company on Catalog Choice, I call it directly. A phone number is usually provided on the mailing—even the coupon mags list phone numbers. In the rare case I can’t find contact information on the mailing, I look for a customer service number or e-mail on the company’s website. Tracking down this information and making calls took some time initially. I spent fifteen minutes on the phone with Comcast a few months ago, and I’m not even a subscriber! But now I don’t receive two postcards (one for me and one for the previous tenant) every time the company launches a mailing campaign. I also don’t receive Red Plum coupon newspapers or Clipper Magazine. It’s been months since I received a credit card offer. This means I take out the paper recycling less often. I spend less time shredding letters with my address on them. It takes only a minute or two to look through the daily mail. And, best of all, I’m not enticed to visit the mall just because I saw an appealing spread in a catalog or had coupons delivered to my home.



Most of the statistics I cite are from Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—And a Vision for Change (New York: Free Press, 2010), pp. 8 and 9.

Environmental Paper Network, “Increasing Paper Efficiency,” fact sheet, January 2008.

Environmental Paper Network, “Understanding Recycled Fiber,” fact sheet, June 2007.

Susan Kinsella, et al., The State of the Paper Industry, ed. Jennifer Roberts (Asheville, NC: Environmental Paper Network, 2007).

Todd Paglia, “Subsidizing Junk Mail in the Great Recession,” Huffington Post, January 29, 2010.

Other Junk Mail Opt-Out Websites




*People have told me that recycling paper uses more energy than creating new paper from scratch. It turns out this is a myth. Many conventional paper mills purchase less power from the grid than do recycled paper mills because they burn tree waste to generate the bulk of their power. This may seem like a good idea, but in fact, burning tree waste is as environmentally damaging as many other sources of power. And once you factor in this power source, it becomes clear that recycled paper uses significantly less power than conventional paper production. For more information about recycled paper, see this report by the Environmental Paper Network.

When It Rains Indoors

March 16, 2011

Some serious unpleasantness struck the Kimmelhorn household last week. Around 2:30 on Thursday morning, we awoke to the sound of a steady stream of water dripping from above the bedroom closet door. Only the one area of the bedroom appeared to be affected, but on further investigation, we also discovered a puddle forming along the back wall of the living room downstairs. Yikes! Thirty panic-stricken minutes later we finally determined the source of the flooding: our upstairs neighbors’ busted water heater.

Eventually the deluge behind the walls subsided, and we were able to get some sleep. When the sun rose Thursday morning, we assessed the damage: Upstairs and down, the carpet, though soaked, appeared to be salvageable. Some obvious wet patches had appeared in the ceiling in our bedroom and in the living room. And, aside from some dampness on the arm of our couch, all of our furniture was fine.

Clearly, it could have been a lot worse. Well, tracking down someone to help us was a bit of a chore. Our landlords had left for Morocco the day before and had not told us whom to contact in their absence if we had trouble. But, eventually we got a handyman out to the house to appraise the situation and determine a course of action. By Saturday afternoon we had carpet padding air-drying on the deck and three of the loudest fans on earth targeting the remaining problem areas.

Nearly a week later, the incessant noise from the fans has us both on edge and things still aren’t quite dried out, but I’m counting my lucky stars. The last time this condo flooded (late fall 2007), our landlords gutted the place. They bought new carpet, new drywall, new appliances, and new light fixtures. This time around we should be able to save almost everything from the landfill. The ceiling will need some patching, and the landlords may want to replace some portion of the carpet padding, but Channing and I have escaped this mess with all our stuff functional and intact.

Keeping the rules of the experiment in mind, I’m not sure what we would’ve done had a dresser or couch been ruined by the flooding. Found a used replacement on craigslist or in the Old Lucketts Store? I would’ve had a hard time convincing Channing that we could make do with someone’s leftovers—or that we could make do without a dresser or couch at all. And what if the landlords had had to replace the carpet? Could I have convinced them to choose something repurposed or recycled? What choice would I have had as a tenant?

Channing’s Thoughts

While the deluge remains an unpleasant distraction from the tranquility of home, it has brought my attention to a few things that make our lives more pleasant that I would not have otherwise noticed. First, when it doesn’t sound like an airplane hangar, our home is very quiet. Yes, we can sometimes hear our neighbors, but despite being surrounded by other people, it’s one of the quietest homes I’ve ever known. Second, I have no interest in owning a condo. From what I’ve been told by owners, condo fees are a headache, but dealing with a neighbor’s busted water heater is an altogether different beast. I’ll never want to handle both. Third, the event caused us to change the layout of our bedroom (to accommodate one of the fans). I like the new arrangement, and it gives me reason to go through a chest that holds many of my clothes. I’d like to Freecycle the chest so we have more room, and I think I can give away or donate many of the clothes inside.


Water Filter = Necessity

March 14, 2011

Last week, I bought a new water filter for our refrigerator. I didn’t even think twice about this purchase. For one thing, maintaining the appliances in our condo is my responsibility as a renter. For another, a good water filter is a necessary preventative health measure.

My drinking water comes primarily from the Potomac River, which, according to the Virginia Department of Health, is highly susceptible to contamination. Considering the agriculture, industry, and lawns in the Potomac’s watershed, contamination is to be expected. Think of all the fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides spread and sprayed, all the synthetic laundry detergent and soap washed down drains, all the chemical and mineral runoff from quarries and metal refineries. This stuff (along with anything else caught in the wind, rain, or plumbing) all eventually finds its way into our waterways, in some form or another.

And then it has to be filtered out. As water from the Potomac enters my local treatment plant (which is actually here in Reston), coagulants are added to attract small contaminant particles. These coagulant-contaminant compounds become heavy and settle in a sedimentation basin. Next, the water is treated with ozone, which reduces odor and breaks down organic material by severing carbon-carbon bonds. Then, it is passed through sand and granular activated carbon, which act as further filters. Finally, the water is disinfected with chlorine or chloramines (depending on the season), a corrosion inhibitor is added to prevent lead and copper from leaching from household plumbing, and fluoride is added, apparently to protect consumers’ teeth.

According to the 2010 water quality report released by my water utility, Fairfax Water, this treatment process is highly effective at removing EPA-regulated contaminants from drinking water. Only a handful of chemicals remain in finished water after processing—and all in amounts below the EPA’s maximum contaminant level. Among these chemicals are trace amounts chlorine and three chlorination by-products, chloroform, bromodichloromethane, chlorodibromomethane. In large amounts, these contaminants can affect brain, liver, and kidney function. Lucky for me, a simple activated carbon water filter (like a Brita filter) is highly effective at reducing the minimal amount in the water coming from my tap. Most carbon filters, including the one I just bought, also reduce levels of coliform bacteria, naturally occurring (but possibly harmful) bacteria that are also present in trace amounts in my drinking water. The remaining few contaminants listed in Fairfax Water’s report are products of agricultural, drilling, and refinery runoff and included nitrate, fluoride, and barium. All but the fluoride should be caught by my new filter. (If you are concerned about fluoride and fluoridation, consider looking into a distillation unit.)

When you read your water quality report, remember that the list of contaminants that EPA regulates—and that water utilities test for—is not exhaustive. So, although more than 90 percent of U.S. water systems meet EPA regulations, they are not necessarily testing for or reporting every possible hazard. Among the compounds not addressed by federal regulations are pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs), including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics, and vitamins. Studies have shown that PPCPs are in our waterways, but little is known about how they affect human and ecological health. Fairfax Water began testing for PPCPs in 2008. Tens of thousand of such compounds exist; Fairfax Water is testing for about twenty or so at a time (which is better than nothing, I’d say). To date, it has found them in small amounts in the Potomac and Occoquan (which serves southern Fairfax), but not at all in our finished drinking water. Let’s hope the news remains good into the future.

Since we’re talking water (and I recently watched the documentary Tapped), I may as well also address the problem of bottled water. Tap water is highly regulated. Every public water system tests their product many times a day and is required by the Safe Drinking Water Act to provide their consumers with water quality reports once a year. Bottled water, in contrast, is essentially unregulated. The FDA, which in 2007 had only one employee responsible for bottled water regulation, has jurisdiction only over products that cross state lines. Sixty to seventy percent of bottled water is sold in the state it was mined (for thousands of times the cost the company paid to mine it). In addition, bottled water companies (the big three are Coke, Pepsi, and Nestlé) do their own quality testing and are not required to submit regular quality reports to the FDA.

Although 40 percent of bottled water is just filtered tap water (meaning it is not from a natural spring or other inherently pure source), we have good reason to believe it is not nearly as clean as what comes from your home tap. Single-serving, disposable plastic water bottles are manufactured in oil refineries and petrochemical plants at the cost of 714 million gallons of gasoline per year. These bottles are made primarily of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which may leach hazardous compounds. Chemicals that have been found in bottled water include the carcinogens arsenic, benzene, and styrene; toluene, which causes cardiovascular and neurological problems; and phthalates, which cause a host of adverse reproductive effects in men and women. Five-gallon water jugs are made of bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine inhibitor that mimics the effects of estrogen in the body and that has been linked to prostate and breast cancer, aggression, hyperactivity, asthma, and cardiovascular problems.

So, ditch those plastic bottles and jump on the tap water bandwagon. Federally regulated public drinking water systems serve 90 percent of Americans, so most of us have access to our drinking water quality report. Check it out. If you can’t find the report on your water utility’s website, then give the company a call. They have to send it to you. If you see something you don’t like, let them know. Then invest in a good filter. Be sure that filter is certified by a third party, such as NSF.


For more information about water issues, including tips on how to read your water quality report and information about good water filters, visit the Food and Water Watch website.

For information about federal drinking water regulations, visit this EPA website.

For information about PPCPs, visit this EPA website.

To view the film Tapped, click here.

For information about NSF water filter standards, click here.

Lessons Learned (So Far)

February 25, 2011

People who know I’m doing this experiment are always asking, How are things going? I have yet to come up with a good answer. Aside from the workplace gift-giving pickle, I haven’t run into any problems. I felt a little twinge when Channing and I drove past Ann Taylor on the way to the movie theater this weekend, but other than that, I haven’t missed shopping. So, maybe it would be best to focus on a few things I’ve learned these first eight weeks:

1. Making lasagna does not require aluminum foil (in fact, very few things do).

I made a pesto lasagna for a birthday celebration last weekend and baked it uncovered. Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything actually doesn’t call for covering the dish, and his suggested cooking time is super short—25 minutes at 400 degrees. The top layer of noodles was a touch dry, but no one complained because the lasagna was downright delicious. Isn’t anything with pesto?

Interesting note: I’m not using foil for much of anything right now, but I still feel the need to hoard it. When my colleagues and I went to Cosi for the boss’s birthday, I took the foil they wrapped my bread in home with me. It’s sitting under the sink with my one or two other foil scraps not in use. In fact, I keep reusing the same one piece (to store onion leftovers). It’s pretty worn out at this point and probably leaching all kinds of nasty things into my onions.

2. Pumpkin pie ice cream is awesome.

In my continuing effort not to waste food, I finally cut open one of the pumpkins I have had stored atop my fridge since November. The first half of it went into a roasted squash dish with beans, (local greenhouse) tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and onions. Despite the aromatics, the dish wasn’t that great, and the pumpkin in particular was bland. So, I decided I needed to bake the rest of it into submission, spice it up—and then turn it into ice cream. Best idea ever.

3. If I stay out of the stores, I don’t buy anything.

This lesson is a bit obvious, sure, but still worth noting. A couple weeks back, Channing and I were in Fairfax to see The Fighter at Cinema Arts. After the movie, we went across the street to the Record and Tape Exchange in hopes of exchanging some Christmas vinyl Channing had picked up from Freecycle last summer. The exchange was denied (the employee we spoke to had been forbidden from accepting Christmas music), but Channing decided he wanted to browse anyway. So, of course, I ended up browsing with him. It turns out, in addition to loads of used vinyl and CDs, the Record and Tape Exchange deals in DVDs, including full seasons of Gilmore Girls. If I were not hyperconscious of my spending at the moment, I would’ve dropped fifteen bucks on season 5—which then, after one or two views, would’ve sat on the shelf with my copy of season 3, collecting dust. (Hmm, maybe I should take season 3 to the Exchange.) I think it’s best for now to avoid temptation altogether and stay out of the stores.

Accepting Others’ Clutter

January 30, 2011

A few days ago, Mary asked whether we have stopped buying solely to become pickier about what stuff we bring into our lives or whether we hoped to create for ourselves a small cooperative economy. In fact, for me, gratitude for my personal borrowing/lending/giving community was one of the most significant by-products of my no-buying experience in 2009.

Channing and I are lucky enough to have family nearby that we can turn to when we encounter a problem. When I began telecommuting in January 2009, I brought home a printer/scanner/copier from the office and needed a place to put it. Channing’s mom offered me a small red table she wasn’t using. We like the table so much, we kept it during the move. It now holds my sewing machine, a small box of craft supplies, and a basket of fabric. Likewise, when our toaster broke that February, my parents supplied me with an old but still functional toaster they had stored in the attic. This toaster also survived the move; I used it earlier this week.

So, to answer Mary’s questions, yes, I probably would take an open box of aluminum foil or parchment paper if a friend had one to spare. I might also accept a few sheets of construction paper.* In fact, a few people have already offered me these items, but I haven’t taken advantage of their kindness—primarily because I haven’t yet missed anything I’ve run out of.

Giving purpose to others’ clutter could turn out to be an essential component of this experiment. It is a positive way to share the waste-not-want-not mentality and extend my borrowing/lending/giving community beyond family. Lucky for me, Helene has created the building blocks for this extended community with our Voluntary Simplicity group. While I don’t anticipate needing to ask for a lot of help, I am grateful to have a group I’d feel comfortable turning to for support, material or otherwise.

*I’m not sure I want to go down that road again, though. I gave a bunch of craft supplies to a summer camp via Freecycle when we moved. Construction paper and markers made up the bulk of those supplies. I find that both have a tendency to take over an inordinate amount of drawer space. Plus, I’m currently trying to avoid bringing anything else into our home office, which since Thanksgiving has deteriorated to junk room status.