Sunday, April 28, 2019

Homestead Happenings on a Stay-at-home Sunday

It happens to the best of us.  We go to the Winter Farm Store and buy a bunch of onions, and then, a couple of months later, we realize the onions have started to sprout.  Despair not!  This can actually be a good thing.

A while back I read this book.  It was doomer fiction.  The protagonists in the story, knowing how fragile our lifestyles and infrastructure are, took steps to insulate themselves against the exact event they always knew would happen.  

But they also lived in a suburb (which begs the question, if they KNEW the shiznit was going to hit the fan, and that being in the suburbs would be very, very bad, why did they stay in the suburbs?  Shh ... it's fiction), where their neighbors were not quite so prepared.  

Immediately, they discount their neighbors as useless in this emergency, grab their bug-out paraphernalia, and get the heck out of Dodge.

I say, they were missing a valuable opportunity.

See, I have these onions.  They sprouted. 

I trimmed off the green sprouts and cut them into 1/4" pieces.  These will be used as a garnish for tacos or something.  Then, I peeled the brittle skins and pulled off the layers until I got to the heart of the onion.  Each one had a couple of root starts.  I planted those.  

What you see in the picture above is what I can use in meals now.  The root parts are in one of my container gardens.  Worst case, I've wasted garden space ... but since I could companion plant the container with lettuce, there'd be no wasted space, actually.  What's most likely to happen is that I have onion tops that I can trim for a few months, and then, I have some bulbs that I can store for use this winter.

That's what bothered me about that novel.  The neighbor, who was deemed useless, might have something that would be useful.  I realize it was a plot device, and very necessary to the overall theme - which is to show how we are woefully unprepared to such an event - as a society, in general.

But I tend to think, in real life, we would be surprised by what our neighbors can offer in an emergency situation, and with some reimagining, we could probably figure out how to find useful something that seems like it is past its prime.

Like these seeds.

If I direct sow them, I may or may not end up with a plant.  It's always a gamble, really.  There's very rarely 100% germination rate with seeds, but when one has such a small space in which needs to be grown so much, it's difficult to consider using old seeds in the garden, and chancing getting nothing.

But I'm not going to throw them away, either.

I decided to try sprouting them.

I have this fancy-smancy seed sprouting apparatus, but I've seen people use canning jars, too.  The goal is to get the seeds wet, but not submerged in water.  With my sprouter, I fill the top bowl with water.  Each of the clear bowls and the top bowl has a hole in one side.  I stack them all together.  Fill the top bowl with water, and then, when all of the water has drained through the four top bowls, I dump the bottom bowl.  Repeat daily until the seeds start to sprout.  The sprouts are ready to enjoy in about a week.  

Worst case, none of the seeds germinate.  I'm out nothing, except the time it took to fill up the water. 

Innovation and creativity are key to survival, and those things are what make us adaptable, successful, and ... well, human, right?  

Little Fire Faery was invited to her friend's senior prom.  She didn't ask us to go dress shopping.  She asked if I would take her fabric shopping, because she found a tutorial for a dress that she wanted to make.  That's what she's doing, as I type this.  She making a prom dress.  

Deus Ex Machina and Precious joke that they are practicing for the 2020 Homestead Olympics.  They're planning to compete in the log toss.  

I think she's exceptionally brave, and to me, it takes a great deal of talent and self-control to be on the receiving end of that log.  As much as I trust Deus Ex Machina, I would not be able to stand there while he threw a log at my face.  

My children humble me, and they continually inspire me to do better, to be better.  

Planting stuff, splitting and stacking firewood, sewing a prom dress ... not too bad a way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It's a good life.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

New is Silver ... Old is Gold

I made my way out to the garden this morning.  It's cloudy, but warm. 

Oh, so warm! 

I'm still, mostly, in winter mode here.  We still have wood in the house for a fire, because the house still gets chilly enough that we need one - or want one.  Either way, the cold still seeps in, and I am surprised, on days like today, when I walk outside and my sweater is too much.

Tomorrow, I may need that sweater to be comfortable. 

That's life in the Spring, in Maine.

The perennials are sprouting all over the yard.  In the herb garden next to the driveway, I found the savory.  Bright green, highly aromatic leaves, pushing - tenaciously - against the leaf mulch I blanketed the bed with last fall.  The sweet, little herb rested under that blanket all winter, and now, it's throwing off the covers and stretching up to greet the sun.

Bee balm was poking its little head up, too, mostly in the crevices along the edges of the rock border. 

Deus Ex Machina is thrilled to note that the garlic we planted just a few weeks ago, is already poking up through the soil. 

Last year, I missed the fall planting of garlic.  I just waited too long - not as long as the year before, when I just barely got the garlic in the ground before winter - but last fall, I missed whatever sweet spot there might have been before the snow started to fly - in earnest - and the ground froze too solid for planting. 

The garlic I had harvested in mid-summer spent the winter in the cooler back room, but it had started going soft and sprouting.  So, we did what we do ... we planted it. 

We also planted the potatoes that had started to sprout, and I'll be planting the sprouting onions later today.

Very little goes to waste here at Chez Brown.

For breakfast, we made use of the abundance of eggs. 

Unlike their humans, the chickens here at Chez Brown are fully aware that it's spring, and they're celebrating with an abundance of egg-laying revelry.

The thing is, I feel like I'm still in winter mode.  Like being surprised by the warm weather, I'm still overwhelmed by the bounty in our backyard. 

Like most animals, chickens don't reproduce in the winter.  It's not the cold that keeps them from laying as much as it is lack of light.  So, when we're in the midst of the dark winter, they don't lay.  Some farmers give their chickens an artificial light source.  We never have.  We just know that, during the winter, we don't eat eggs.  Sometimes it's a drag to want something that requires eggs and to have to make a different plan.  But that's part of having a mostly local, mostly seasonal diet. 

We don't give our chickens artificial heat or light during the winter.  It's their down-time.  I don't know if it's better for them or not, but come spring, when the light returns and it starts to warm up a little, they become star providers.  Twelve chickens, all between the ages of one and seven years old, give us an average of seven eggs - per day.  That's a lot of eggs, especially when I'm still used to not having eggs at all.

Now that the chickens are in egg-mode, we can enjoy egg-heavy dishes, like German pancakes.  For those who've never had German pancakes, they're not like American pancakes, which are more like a French crepe.  German pancakes are like muffins, only not sweet, and they puff up and have a hollow center.

German pancakes are served with a filling or topping.

For the topping today, I decided to make applesauce, because we had a bunch of apples that were going soft.

It's that time of year, here.  Our long-storage foods are at the very end of their storage life, and they need to be used.  This morning, with our German pancakes, we had applesauce made from the last of the stored apples. 

Very little goes to waste here at Chez Brown.  Soft roots get planted for next years' crop.  Soft apples get baked or sauced. The apple peels go to the rabbits.  The cores will become vinegar or jelly, or they'll end up in the compost pile.

We've tried to adopt a lifestyle that produces less waste, and while we still put out a bag of garbage every couple of weeks, and our recycle bin always has something in it (we are, after all, still very much suburbanites), many things find a second life here.  Old clothes become rugs or skirts or underwear.  Old pallets become a floor.  Shoes are repaired.  Jars are reused. 

The octagonal fish tank stand that someone gave us becomes an end table with storage for our ski boots in the bottom.

We - as individuals and, especially, as a culture - can't afford to just keep throwing things away - there is no "away."  But the flip-side, the very selfish and ego-centric side, is that figuring out how to reuse a thing is incredibly empowering and fuels my creativity in ways that buying something new will never do.  

I'm planning my *new* garden, for this year, but I'm also welcoming back to the garden some old friends - those hardy perennials that have become part of our landscape here - herbs, flowers, bushes, and trees, that nourish us and our landscape.  

Welcome Spring!

And, if you have a favorite egg-based recipe, please feel free to share it in the comments ;)!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Turning rags to ... rugs

A few years ago, I asked Deus Ex Machina to purchase this book for me.  It was written by a friend of ours from the homeschool community.  She and her husband moved from their urban rental into a big farmhouse on a nice piece of acreage in more rural Maine.  I was a little envious, but very happy for them.

My friend had a blog on which she shared her family's adventures - both before and after the move - and among other things, she talked a lot about making a home.  Homemade stuff - everything from delicious, drool-worthy food to incredibly functional and adorable home decor.

One of the projects in her book, and the reason I wanted it, was a rag rug. 

The instructions for her rug were really well-written, but the process was a much larger commitment and a lot more complicated than I was able to do.  I'm too much a product of my generation of sitcom watchers, plus I'm a Gemini.  The combination means that, while I love doing things, if it takes too long, I get distracted.  Her rag rug required collecting, cutting, sewing, and ironing of material scraps that would be wrapped into ball.  When one had three of the properly sized balls of fabric, one could begin.  I have a couple of balls of fabric strips ... somewhere. 

Anyway, I started the rag rug based on my friend's instructions, but like too many things in my life, it ended up on a back shelf.  I also have a dozen or more knitted squares that will, someday, become an afghan ... probably.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a much easier and less time consuming set of instructions for a braided rag rug, and I decided to give it a whirl.

We had several old tee shirts with stains or small rips.  Deus Ex Machina cut them into strips for me, and using the instructions from the above link, I made not one, but two small rugs (about 27" across).  The plan is to use a fusible backing for them to make them a bit more sturdy, but mostly, they're pretty decent rugs.  

We're using one of them in the bathroom as a mat in front of the shower.  I haven't decided what to do with the other one, yet. 

I'm a fan of the Tightwad Gazette ... well, most things frugal, actually, and what I've found is that a prepping mind-set and frugality (and "green" living, too, actually) go hand-in-hand.  Much of the advice that the three camps offer is similar.  I save money by making my own rugs (frugality).  I'm learning to be more self sufficient by making use of something I already have (prepping and frugality).  I'm saving the environment by not spending money and by not throwing away something that can still be used (frugality and "green" living). 

I actually quite enjoyed making my rag rugs.  I don't know how many more I'll make.  I have more of he strips (ones that were shorter and so I didn't use them in the rugs), and I'm thinking the same design, only smaller, would make a nice pot holder or a, kind of pretty, cloth trivet kind of thing for the table. 

I love repurposing and reusing, and I love saving money by not purchasing things I can make, and I love making pretty and useful things for my home. 

What's your favorite frugal, prepper, "green" living cross-over?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Pulling Double Duty

As part of my ongoing series about living large in a small house, today's topic is about having storage with furniture that also serves another function.

My living room is tiny.  It's very long and narrow, and the space is actually two rooms.  It's 9' wide, and the two rooms combined are around 30' long with the wood stove right in the middle and a door on either end.  I love the space, but putting furniture into it required some real thought, a lot of trial and too much error.

But we have finally found a combination of furniture that appeals to our aesthetic, is comfortable, and gives us that much-coveted storage space.

I went through a lot of different choices for furniture in the room, and we finally found a good fit.  We have one, over-sized couch and a wing-backed chair.  We can comfortably seat four people, if one person sits in the middle section of the couch, but when we have guests, depending on who the guests are, conversation is not terribly comfortable for more than three.  

We needed another seating option, but the room can not handle any more chairs.  

I decided that an ottoman would be the best option, and we found one on Craig's list for $40.  

It's exactly what we needed in that room.  It's perfect for a coffee table, but it also has storage for blankets and pillows.  When we have extra guests, we push it against the wall and use it for seating.  

We also have a couple of non-traditional end tables in the room.  On the side of the couch nearest the woodstove is an old wooden filing cabinet (not pictured).  We store DVDs in the drawers.  The fact that it is wooden makes it look less like a filing cabinet, which appeals to the overall aesthetic of the room.

The other "end table" is this cabinet.  

In it's former life, it was a fish tank stand.  The tank broke, and we just had this stand hanging around.  After a few years of moving it from one room to another with no clear idea what I was going to do with it, but knowing that it might be useful (so I couldn't get rid of it!), I finally took a good hard look, and thought, it would make a good end table.  Only problem is that fish tank stands don't have tops.  I had a left over piece of plywood, and I asked Deus Ex Machina to cut it to size for me.  I painted it black and secured it to the top of the stand with finishing nails.  Et voila!  An end table that cost me around $4 - for the spray paint. 

We store our ski boots and climbing shoes in the bottom. 

When we had the back room redone, the one thing we were really looking for was to add storage space.  What we imagined was not at all what we ended up with, but in the end, mission accomplished!  We had more storage under our raised bed. 

When one lives in small house with no traditional kinds of storage options available, one must get creative.

What are your double-duty storage options?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Liquid Gold

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a young man for a film he was doing for a school project. At the end of the interview, as he was preparing to leave, we gave him a half pint of our maple syrup - just boiled that day, during our interview.  He was thrilled by the gift, stating, that as a Texan, maple syrup was better than gold.

I'd never, much, thought about the dollar value of some of the things Deus Ex Machina and I do here at Chez Brown.  I mean, I did - because we're saving money - but I never, really, think about how much someone ELSE might be willing to pay us for that product or service.

Part of it is that I know how much time and energy goes into the process, and I know that with our small scale, highly labor intensive technique, if we worked a dollar-per-hour fee into the price of our maple syrup (or strawberry jam or hard cider), no one would be willing to pay the true value of that product.  It's a lot of work to tap the trees, collect the sap, and boil the sap over an open fire in the front yard until it's just about syrup.  Then, bring it in to finish it off, put the finished syrup into jars, and boil-water bath them to seal the jars (to ensure that they are shelf-stable for long-term storage).

Most people have no idea what it takes to get a gallon of maple syrup.

I also think that most people haven't had REAL maple syrup, because it does take a lot of work, and when there's the option of paying $8 for a half gallon of Mrs. Butterworth's (corn syrup with fake maple flavoring) or $35 for the same amount of real maple syrup, it's hard to justify the cost for the real stuff.  I mean, syrup is syrup, right?

Actually, no.  There are dozens of studies about the health properties of real maple syrup.  Like honey, maple syrup - in its pure, unadulterated form - is a whole food.  Our maple syrup is very simple - sap from maple trees, boiled until most of the water is gone, and put into jars.  That's it.  We don't use any fertilizers or pesticides on our property, and so, I guess we could say that our maple syrup is also "organic", which means its worth even more.

Deus Ex Machina and I have been tapping maple trees for a few years now.  Even before climate change started making mainstream news, we knew something was happening with the weather, because the maple sugaring season - especially the last three or four years - has been really short.

At the height of our maple syrup production, we bottled 3 gallons of syrup.  That's roughly 120 gallons of maple sap collected.  This year, we put out 15 of our 20 buckets.  We boiled around 20 gallons of sap this weekend.  We'll be lucky to get another 20 gallons.  That works out to about a gallon of syrup.

For the sap to flow conditions have to be just right (below freezing nights and above freezing days).  The sugaring season, here in Maine, used to be five to eight weeks long.  This year, it was, maybe, two weeks.  With only 15 buckets, there's not a lot of sap.  I can't imagine how commercial sugarers can even make a living.  I worry about them, but I also worry about the future of maple trees, especially if the sugarers get desperate to turn a profit and over tap their maples.  It can happen.  Too often, it does.

Deus Ex Machina and I are planning some property upgrades for this summer, and included in those plans are the planting of a few more maple trees on our property.

A wise man plants trees under which he will never sit.

And real maple syrup may, actually, become more valuable than gold in our not-too-distant future.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Buying Second-Hand - Thrift Stores are not Petri-Dishes

I clicked on a headline today.  The article was in response to the current decluttering craze prompted by Netflix's new series starring the lovely Marie Kondo (no, in fact, I have not watched it).  The author suggested that, while downsizing our clutter is a very good idea, getting rid of books is probably a very bad idea.  It was a good article, and I agreed with all of it. 

Books are just something very different, and to be quite honest, as the author pointed out, books often don't "spark joy", because sometimes they challenge our assumptions and our beliefs, and those are both very good things, but confronting those long-held and often deeply entrenched ideas is not comfortable or joyful.  Sometimes it forces us to be incredibly uncomfortable, but we NEED to keep reading, especially when it's not happy, because we need to be educated and thoughtful.  A good home library will bring joy in the joy of learning and growing and in the act of reading, but there are hundreds of books on my shelves that did not bring me joy in the story, or in the ending of the story, and those are exactly the books that I intend to keep.

At the end of that article, there were links to a bunch of other articles - several having to do with things NOT to buy at Thrift Stores.  Those two things are related - the decluttering craze and thrift store buying - because Marie Kondo's advice has resulted in a deluge of decluttering and donating.  Thrift stores are overwhelmed with donations - thankful for all of the support, but also a little inundated by stuff. 

Out of curiosity, I clicked on a couple of the articles focused on "Things Not to Buy at Thrift Stores", and what I found was a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering.

I mean, the folks who wrote those articles are so worried about germs that they seem like they might have trouble grasping door knobs or using public bathrooms.

For instance, one article recommended not buying any wooden dishes, like cutting boards, but the reasons they gave were wrong.  The author said that those cutting boards could be harboring all sorts of germs.  I mean, yes, this might be somewhat true, but not, really, for wood.  In the case of a cutting board, it would only be true if there were deep gouges in the board, but, as mentioned in this article, what researchers found was that on wooden cutting boards, the "bacteria sunk into the grooves and died."  Wood is naturally anti-bacterial - unlike plastic, which the article did not caution against purchasing. 

Here's the thing about wooden cutting boards, though.  A good, quality wooden cutting board is really expensive.  If one finds a really good one at a thrift store for a couple of dollars, but it has a few deep knife grooves, that wooden cutting board could be refurbished with a little sand paper.   Get rid of the deep groove, and the danger of pathogenic bacteria disappears.  A maple cutting board can cost as much as $160 new.  If I find one at Goodwill for $5, it's coming home with me.  Just sayin'.

A common recommendation is to avoid purchasing shoes second-hand.  While I agree with not buying used shoes, it's not for the reasons they gave.  In fact, the most common reason they gave for *not* purchasing the items on their list had to do with pathogens, but the fact is that germs exist in the world, and most of those items aren't nearly as dirty as the authors seem to imply.  There seemed to be a little too much squeamishness and germophobia happening in the authors' recommendations.

So, about the shoes.  People bowl as a past-time, and they don't think twice about renting shoes.  Back in my day, rollerskating was a favorite activity, and most people rented their skates.  I can think of a few other sports where the footwear is rented, and not once have those folks doing the renting worried about contracting something from the rentals.  To me, it's the same principle.  Folks who are worried about getting a foot fungus from used shoes should probably not go bowling or skiing either.

That said, I do not purchase shoes second hand, but not because they might have germs.  I don't purchase second hand shoes, because shoes will take on a wear pattern of the person who wore them. That is, if that person walked on the side of his/her foot, the sole of the shoe will be worn on that side.  Wearing those shoes could result in musculo-skeletal or joint issues.  The caveat to that is, if one finds a really good, high quality pair of shoes, like Birkenstocks, purchasing them should be a no brainer, because those shoes can be resoled and refurbished for a fraction of the price of a new pair, AND they will last for years.  Resoling Birkenstocks will correct any gait-related wear patterns. 

There are reasons not to buy second-hand shoes.  Worrying about germs is not the top one. 

One of the other not to buy items on the list was hats.  There are probably a lot of reasons not to purchase a hat at the Thrift Store.  If one is worried about the hat containing head lice, as the article suggests, then one should never purchase a hat in any store ... ever.  The fact is that any store where hats are sold and people can try on those hats prior to purchase - whether they are thrift stores or the local department store - can carry the risk of lice.  The lesson here is not to purchase hats, not *not* to purchase used hats.

Another recommendation was not to purchase kitchen knives, and again, their reasoning was completely unsound.  The author's rationale for not purchasing a used knife was that the knife blade might be dull, which is dangerous.  Um ... okay.  Because, you know, knives can't be sharpened and stuff.  A high quality, full-tang butcher knife can cost upward of $100.  If I find a good knife at the Thrift Store, I would purchase it - without hesitation - and then, I will bring it to the local knife-sharpening shop.  In the end, I'm supporting small, local businesses, keeping stuff out of landfills, AND saving money for myself.  Everyone wins.

There are two, basic reasons, we shop at Thrift Stores.  The first, as the name implies, is that we are being "thrifty."  That is, we are attempting to find and purchase items that we feel we need in our lives without having to pay a lot of money for them.  It's a completely valid reason to shop at Thrift Stores, and indeed, probably the reason that Thrift Stores exist in the first place. 

The second very sound reason is that, as a culture, we produce a lot of stuff.  That stuff has to be manufactured, which puts a burden on the earth's finite resources.  Additionally, as too often is the case, we purchase things without thinking about the end-life of that item.  Sometimes, a lot of times, we discover that we can no longer use that item, but that the item still has life.  Perhaps, we've lost weight and have a bunch of clothes that no longer fit, or we move to a smaller house and that lovely set of bone China is too big for our new cabinets. 

Whatever the reason,  being able to purchase items second-hand means that we're doing a lot more good than harm. 

There are some items available in Thrift Stores that should probably carry a buyer beware sign, but for the most part, items in Thrift Stores are as safe from germs as the items offered new.  At worst,  the items might need a little TLC, but for the most part, we can rest easy that we're not subjecting ourselves or our families to life-threatening pathogens when we purchase things from Thrift Stores instead of buying new.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House - Go Old School with a China Cabinet

I was just thinking about my grandma's house the other day.  Grandma lived in an honest-to-goodness homestead.  I loved visiting her when I was a kid, because she always had some sort of animal (pigs, horses, cows, chickens), and there were always lots of dogs and cats.  There were a million things for this kid from the suburbs to do at Grandma's house.  

She didn't have a fancy-smancy kitchen.  There was no granite topped island in the middle of the big kitchen or one those super cool pot spigots on the wall near the stove.  It wasn't a French Country kitchen, but it was incredibly functional, and my Grandmother made it work. 

The stove on one side of the kitchen was nothing fancy.  It was probably the cheapest one they could find in the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  The sink was an all-in-one unit - not built into a lower cabinet with lots of counter-top space.  There was a double sink in the middle and two areas on the side where dishes could be drained.  They didn't get hot water plumbed into the sink until I was high school-aged and so my grandmother would heat the water on the stove in a big kettle and pour it into a plastic pan.  There was a pan for soapy water and a pan for rinse water.  

Her sink was kind of like the one pictured below.  There was one, wall-mounted cabinet over the sink and it was metal.  I can't even remember what was in those cabinets.  It wasn't dishes. 

And I know it wasn't dishes, because all of the dishes were kept in a glass-doored curio cabinet in the dining room.  

She didn't have a bunch of counter space either.  The top of her stove had a big area between the burners, and she had a Hoosier cabinet, like this one.  

Her kitchen was odd to me, as a child, because I grew up in apartments and houses with much more modern kitchens. 

Even though my current kitchen is a little more up-to-date than my grandma's kitchen, as I mentioned in a previous post, storage is at a premium, and I've had to be super creative.

We've tried a number of different places for our dishes.  Because I like to entertain, but I don't like disposable dishes, I do have a large supply of dishes that are used only when we have dinner guests.  For the family, we each have our individual plate, bowl, and coffee cup.  

When I started my collection of dinnerware (mostly found at secondhand stores, and all mismatched), I had a separate place for "family" and "guest" dishes.  I kept the guest dishes in a box in the closet, but when that room was remodeled, we lost the closet, and also the place we were storing the dishes.  Plus, the family dishes were in the kitchen on the dishwasher cart, which is frequently moved, and the dishes fell, a lot.  Ceramic plates and bowls break when they hit the floor.  

I needed to do something different, and so I started looking around for something that could replace both storage areas and just combine the dishes into one location.

Then in a stroke of good luck, for me, a friend was trying to find a new home for his mother's dining room furniture, when she downsized and moved out-of-state.  I was gifted this beautiful China Cabinet, and although my sad collection of mismatched pieces do not do it justice, I adore having this little cabinet in my dining area.  And it has drawers for my extra flat ware!

It fits almost perfectly into the corner of my dining room - a corner that was not well used prior to our being given this cabinet, and it helped us empty a bunch of cabinets in the kitchen so that we could put food stuff in those cabinets.  It made more sense to have food in the kitchen and dishes in the dining room, too.

I guess in my Grandma's day, kitchens weren't all built-in cabinetry like they are today, which isn't a bad thing, I think.  

I love my little kitchen and my small house, and I am incredibly thankful that, when I figured out what I was looking for, it and I found each other ... and it was free.

Someday I may pull out some paint and get new knobs to give it a more modern look/feel, but for now, I just adore it as it is.  

What is your favorite storage solution in your house?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Ode to a Well Stocked Pantry

In general, I'm not fond of baking.  I love to cook, but baking has always been one of those tasks that just seems to take so much time and energy.

I mean, there's the whole "softened butter" thing, that requires a lot more planning than I usually want to attempt.  Or the sifted flour that means I need more clutter in my kitchen.  Or the strange ingredients, like cream of tartar.  I mean, who even knows what the heck to do with cream of tartar.  What is a tartar anyway?

To all of you amazing bakers - don't answer that.  I do actually know.  I'm just being facetious. 

The point is that I don't usually like to bake, because the ROI on my time, alone, is usually not worth it.  When I was a kid, baking was an all-day affair.  At the end of that day, there would be several kinds of pie, a few dozen cookies, and these cinnamon roll pastries made from leftover pie dough.  Baking day was awesome!

But it was time-consuming, and frankly, I like cookies, but usually not enough to spend a whole afternoon making them.  If we're being totally honest, though, what I really hate is the clean-up afterward.  

But I found myself really wanting some cookies recently.  

Back many years ago, when I was in Basic Training, I gave up a lot of consumables.  We were denied cigarettes, coffee (until our FTX, and someday let me tell you about the best cup of coffee I've ever had ;)), and for whatever bizarre-o rationale, cookies.  We had cake.  We had copious amounts of syrup for our French toast.  We had sugary Kool-aid (which may explain why I can no longer drink fruity drinks - although I was never much of a Kool-aid fan before BCT).

But no cookies.

I thought about those days the other night, when I googled a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  

It was simple - butter (which I softened by putting it into a bowl on the back of my wood stove, which was warm, but not blazing - worked better than a microwave, which I don't have), sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips.  

The directions were, basically, put everything in the bowl, mix well, drop by the spoonful onto a baking sheet, and cook until the edges are golden-brown.  

I halved the recipe, and it made just about two dozen cookies.  


It was no more time or effort than making a typical dinner.  It used five dishes, including the cutting board (a bowl, a spoon for mixing, the cookie sheet and a spatula).  

And I had all of the ingredients I needed.  So, no unnecessary trips to the store. 

The only substitution was gluten-free flour for regular wheat flour.

In general, I don't typically want or need sweets, and so I ate one cookie, and it was delicious, and I was satisfied. 

A few days later, I wanted a cookie, but by the time my sweet-tooth resurfaced, the cookies were gone.  

This time, I decided to do something different, and I googled a recipe for oatmeal cookies, walked into the kitchen, and found that I, again, had everything I needed in my pantry to make the cookies.  I even had some dried cranberries, which I used in place of raisins. 

Interestingly, the ingredients were, mostly, the same, with the addition of oatmeal and the dried fruit.  I, again, halved the recipe, and again, made about two dozen cookies.  It's the perfect amount for my family.  They will all be eaten over the next couple of days, and then, if I want more cookies, I can google a recipe, walk into the kitchen, and have cookies in less time than it would take to run down to the grocery store and buy a package of cookies.  And mine taste better.

That's the thing about a well-stocked pantry.  If my daughters needed cookies or cupcakes for a class party, I could make them ... or rather, at their ages, THEY could make them.  If I had unexpected company, I could make us all a meal that would be tasty and satisfying.  

And if I'm sitting on the couch with Deus Ex Machina, and I suddenly want chocolate chip cookies, I can make them.

A big part of Prepping is to have that sort of resilience, and it's not just about being able to make cookies when one wants them.  It's also about being able to go a week, or two, without visiting the grocery store, and still being able to make cookies on a whim.

Or, more.

The other day I got a text from Big Little Sister (who is now married and lives with her husband and their two dogs on the other side of town).  She wanted to know if my water smelled like chlorine.  It did.  She was wondering, because theirs did, too, but they were not feeling well, and their dogs were sick, too.  

When I can small batches of whatever (like when I have only two quart jars of chicken broth and a couple pints of shredded chicken), and I don't have enough jars to fill the canner, I will add a few jars of water.  This "canned" water goes into my pantry.  

I told her that I had some bottled water, if she needed it.

If we had ended up with a boil advisory or had been advised not to drink our tap water for any reason, I would have been able to avoid the mad dash to the local grocery for bottled water, because I already have potable water in my pantry - all sealed up and safe in canning jars.

There's something quite comforting, and incredibly empowering, in knowing that whatever the case may be - contaminated water, civil unrest, a simple craving for a sweet snack - my well-stocked pantry can handle it.

*Also a note about the frugality of a well-stocked kitchen.  

The bottled water I have in my pantry did not cost me anything extra.  I was already canning, and so the cost of the fuel used to can those jars actually goes toward the price of the food I was canning, and not the water.  I already have the jars.  And for water canning, I just reuse lids - washed and in good condition - i.e. the rims aren't bent or rusted so that they'll seal, but if the seals don't take, I'm not losing any food.    

In addition, we all know that home-cooked foods are significantly less expensive (and usually more tasty) than their store-bought equivalents. 

Having a well-stocked pantry saves me a great deal of money in the long run, especially considering we eat gluten-free and, mostly, local, and/or organic foods.  

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Stockpiling skills instead of stuff

"Terror kicks in on the third night.

Going through the Great March Blackout, I knew the country would be forever different now that we know just how fragile our infrastructure really is ...."  - Victor Drax,
Caracas Chronicles

What's happening in Caracas, in particular, and in Venezuela, in general, is every Prepper's fantasy ... maybe fantasy isn't the best word.  It is, however, every Prepper's worst fear come to fruition. 

Those of us who prep keenly understand:

1.  How fragile our infrastructure is, and
2.  That it can happen here.

Those two awarenesses are what have prompted those of us in the prepping community to do the things we do.

What's happening in Venezuela right now is a stark reminder of the dim prospects for our civilized - and wholly dependent culture - when supply lines are interrupted.  We will come face-to-face with that scarcity we fear, and we will, at that time, need to figure out how we're going to survive when life is no longer as simple as going to work and coming home, and heading out to the store to buy the things we need and want. 

Certainly, life isn't as simple as that for some people - even here in the US - but in general, everyone has most of what he/she needs to survive.  We know how we're going to cook our food.  We are pretty comfortable in the knowledge that our water isn't full of parasites that will give us life-threatening diarrhea.  Food is available, even if it's not, exactly, what we're craving or as much as we'd like.

For those in places, like Caracas, everyone is doing without even those very basic needs and wants: electric lights, gas for cooking, clean water from the tap, gasoline for the car's gas tank, a mostly reliable dissemination of information.  For the average person, those few things listed are taken for granted.  Even if the worst possible scenario came true for my individual family, I could still access most of those things through friends, family, or public services. 

In Caracas, the neighbors don't have those things, either, and there is very little (if any) social services available.   

So, what does one do to be better prepared, in the event that everyone is doing without?

The key to prepping is not to have everything one will need for the rest of one's life stockpiled in a bunker in the backyard.

The first step is to distinguish between what is a need and what is a want.  Can we live without electricity?  Absolutely.  Is it nice to have?  Definitely.  It's wonderful to have a generator, especially for short-term power outages, especially for those of us with freezers full of food, but at some point, operating that generator is going to prove unreliable (how does one get fuel for the generator when fuel is scarce?).  Unless one is making one's own biofuel, having that generator will, eventually, prove useless.

Instead of spending the money on a generator that requires refueling, as a first step, one should take a really hard look at those things one believes one needs a generator for. 

The second step would be to find a way to power those items with a renewable fuel. 

For me, there are no items that I require electricity for, really.  I mean, I love my washing machine.  It's easy.  Put the clothes in.  Add detergent.  Turn it on.  Clothes come out ready to go on the line.  I would very much like to continue enjoying that convenience.

But I have a wash tub and a wringer.  So, if the worst case happens, I can still wash clothes.  It will just take longer and be a lot more difficult.  My back aches just thinking about it.

I also love my refrigerator and freezer.  Preserving food with the freezer is easy.  Putting stuff in the refrigerator reduces food waste.  Both are wonderful resources, and I would be very happy to keep them.

But much of what we, Americans, believe must be refrigerated doesn't really need to be in the refrigerator.  The problem, for me, is that I tend to purchase those items in much larger quantities than would be stay fresh without refrigeration for the length of time it would take me.  Like mustard.  Small amounts of prepared mustard are fine for storing in a cabinet - for week or two.  But I, like most Americans, tend to purchase the largest size of mustard, and then, it sits, safely refrigerated, for months before it's all used up. 

And cheese.  The fact is that our modern refrigerators are too cold for cheese, but keeping cheese fresh without refrigeration requires techniques, like waxing, that we don't know how to do. 

Not having refrigeration would not be a tragedy, but it would require that I learn some new skills and change some habits. 

With regard to electronics, what would be valuable to have is my laptop and/or cellphone, and for those, we have a small solar panel.  We just need a battery back-up. 

Those are the sorts of thought-exercises in which real preppers engage - this determining what is necessary and what they could do without, and then, figuring out how to supply and/or acquire those things that are true necessities, rather than conveniences.

The real key to preparedness is knowing how and where to obtain those consumable necessities.

Like food. 

Seriously, there is absolutely NO WAY that one can stockpile all of the food and water - and whatever - that one will need for the rest of one's life.  Ain't happening. 

So what's the answer, if like Caracas (or Cuba and the USSR in the 1990s or Argentina and Greece in the 2000's), we end up in a collapse scenario and our supply lines are fractured - or worse, severed - and new stuff is, at best, trickling in to the stores?  The answer is that we need to have figured out WHERE and HOW we will resupply when we run out of our stockpiled stuff.

I've spent years thinking about, writing about, and teaching about these very things, and I've always had one, basic, recommendation: stockpile knowledge and ingredients, not stuff.

That is, don't just stockpile candles.  Have wax and wicks, and know how to make a candle (and having wax that is food grade would also give one the option of preserving cheese for longer term, non-refrigerator storage).

Don't just stockpile canned foods and pantry goods.  ALSO know where and how to get more food.  Learn to forage, or hunt, or fish, or raise your own, and be doing those things. 

Don't just have containers of stored water in your basement or pantry, if you don't have a well.  ALSO, know where you will get water, when your water supply goes dry, AND because there's a very good chance that any water you find will be contaminated in some way, know how to make it safe to consume. 

Prepping isn't, really, about stuff.  It's really about learning and practicing skills rather than accumulating stuff, and it's about developing a mindset focused on abundance rather than scarcity.

It's living the philosophy, teach a man to fish ....

If we all know how to fish, we won't need to worry if there's no fish in the store to buy. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House - Big Storage in a Tiny Kitchen

I know I've probably talked about my tiny kitchen before. 

When we found the listing for our house - way back in the 1990s - it was listed as having an "eat-in" kitchen.  The folks who were renting the house did, indeed, have a table in the kitchen area.  It was a cute, little pub-style table with a couple of stools.  Technically, one could have a meal there. 

Their refrigerator was next to the table, and they had a portable dishwasher on that side of the room, also.  There were no cabinets, though. 

We changed all of that.  There is no cute, little pub-style table in our kitchen.  We added a pantry cabinet (because I like to stock up on food, and I needed MORE cabinet space in the kitchen), and we also have an upright freezer (same reason - stocking up!).

The result is that there isn't much room left on that side of the kitchen.

The problem is, and has always been, that I just need more storage.  I would love some drawers, which my kitchen also does not have, but thanks to some creative plumbing by former owners, a complete renovation would be more of a challenge than it may be worth.  So, we get to be more creative - which is actually kind of fun.  

I'm a huge fan of small space storage options, and when we started moving things around the kitchen for the new floor installation, I started really looking at our space and the possibilities.  I sent Deus Ex Machina a couple of images of pull out cabinets, and we discussed, perhaps, building one, but we're both very busy, and I was, kind of, in a "do it NOW" frame of mind.

So, I measured the space, and I started looking for some other solutions.  Several years ago, I purchased a metal shelf unit for our laundry area.  The empty space was about the same size as that metal shelf.  


On wheels, the metal shelf unit becomes a pull-out storage unit!

I really like the openness of the metal shelving unit vs. one of the pull out units for a couple of reasons.

First, the freezer gives off a lot of heat, and so when the freezer was next to the pantry cabinet, I had to be careful what I stored in there, because (especially in the summer - as we have no AC), the stuff in that cabinet could get too warm for safe storage.  When packages say, "store at room temperature", they don't mean 90°.  The open shelf allows for a lot more air flow, which will keep that space, and the cabinet next too, a little cooler.

Second, I just think the aesthetic of it is very appealing with the baskets and the succulent plant we have on top. 

It fits neatly and perfectly in that spot - almost like the kitchen was made for that particular arrangement.

And I love that it is the same depth as the cabinets, but I can pull it out and see what's in the back. 

It's taken me, probably too long, but little-by-little, we are learning to work better with the space we have, and all of our solutions, so far, have been super-inexpensive.

How cool is it to do a kitchen make-over for less than $200 (including the new floor)??

Friday, March 1, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Look Up

When Deus Ex Machina and I met, we were both enlisted soldiers living in the barracks.  His barracks room was about as bare as a living space can be.  He had the essentials - a place to sleep with enough bedding to be comfortable, a place to store his clothes and gear, a desk with a computer, a stereo for music, and a television.  There were no knick-knacks, no shelves of books or CDs, no pictures of family members or friends, or artist prints on the walls.  His room was neat and austere - like a monk's cell.

My room was completely the opposite.  I had a lot of stuff:  pictures of my family, prints of things I liked on the walls, little knick-knacks I'd picked up in my travels, books I had liked or wanted to read, cassettes or CDs from artists whose music I enjoyed, and just the stuff of living.   Everything had a place, and while my room was full, it was also tidy.

The current tiny house/tiny living craze was our fact of life, and Deus Ex Machina enjoyed the tiny life by having very few things.  I enjoyed the tiny life by making sure that my stuff had a place so that I didn't get overwhelmed.

When we bought our house, we didn't have enough furniture to fill it.  Our family grew, and as that happened, we made the mistake of allowing the space to get filled with too much stuff, and we weren't careful to find a place for the stuff as it entered our house.

As I mentioned in a previous post, part of the problem is that we just don't have much in the way of storage space, and so I had to get creative with the space that we had.

Part of that entailed looking at spaces that weren't obviously a place where storage could happen.

Like over windows.

The room where these shelves are located has six windows.  I have shelves over four of them.  The shelves are good for storing books, but they're also good for storing tools - like my tiny butter churn (in this picture) and my coffee grinder (not pictured, as it's on a different shelf).  

As a prepper, books are essential, especially given that most of us didn't grow up being taught self-sufficiency skills, but it's also nice to have some hand tools - like that butter churn.  The bonus about having this sort of open storage is that I don't forget I have it, but also, that it's an attractive ornament that is also very functional - my favorite kind of knick-knack.

What creative ways have you employed in your home to store your prepper tools?

Monday, February 25, 2019

Storage Options in a Small House: Doors as a Storage Space?

The average size of house being built today is 2700 sq ft.  My house is around 1500 sq ft.  By today's standards, I live in a small house - just over half the size of average. 

The problem, though, isn't that my house is small.  It's that there are very few closets (two), no basement, no attic space, no garage, and no storage shed outside in the yard. 

Pretty much, every thing I own is out in the open and on display, which has, in the past, resulted in a very cluttered-looking living space, which, as we all know, can be damaging to one's psyche.

It's taken me a lot of years to really find attractive and creative solutions to minimize the clutter in my home and to make space for things that make me happy.

Like this built-in shelf with plants.

It was actually my daughter, who started the whole houseplant craze.  She's been adding plants to her room for a while now.  It started out as mostly succulents, but then, she started acquiring other kinds of houseplants.  The thing about succulents is that they can go dormant over the winter and be able to tolerate her colder room.  What she found with the plants in the picture is that they tended to not thrive in her colder room, and so she needed to move them closer to the woodstove.  I cleared off this space for her, and now, I'm finding that I really like it - the garden inside the house-, and I know if/when she decides to take her plants back to her room, I'll be acquiring some of my own to fill that space.

It makes me happy and isn't that what one should feel when one is in one's home?

It can be tough, when one is prepper-minded and living in a small space, to be able to keep the things one is certain one might need, without being overwhelmed by clutter.  In the greater scheme of things, I don't really care what my house looks like, because function is infinitely more important to me than form, but at the same time, I like pretty things.  I think most of us do, and if I can have it pretty AND functional - all the better.  It makes me happy.

In the next few posts, I will share some of the solutions we've found that look nice, but are also useful storage options.

Using the Doors for Storage

As I mentioned above, we don't have closets.  There are two - one in each of my daughters' rooms, and neither of those are very big.  No linen closet.  No utility closet for things like vacuum cleaners.  No coat closet.

But we live in Maine, and coats are a part of life - at least for half the year.  We need a place to put them when they aren't on our bodies.

For a long time, the solution was to hang coats in the bedroom closets, but to be honest, the coats rarely made it that far.  Most of the time, they ended up on the backs of  chairs.  I've developed a real loathing for coats and sweaters hanging off the back of a chair.  It just looks messy. 

As such, for my mental health and sanity, it was really important that we come up with a better solutions.

We have an Armoire.  It started life as a TV cabinet, but when we got rid of the television, I repurposed it.  The top half, where the TV went, is where we hang coats.  The bottom half is where we store gloves, hats and scarves.  The top half isn't quite long enough for adult-sized coats, but we manage it.  We also have a wall hook rack that is attached to the side of the Armoire so that when we first come into the house, we can hang up our coat by the door. 

It's neat and convenient, and mostly, it keeps things off the backs of chairs.

With four people and the varying temperatures here in Maine, we found that we have a lot of outerwear.  Coats for winter sports.  Coats to wear to non-sporting events (like work).  Cardigan sweaters.  Fleece pullovers.  Light jackets.  The list actually does go on. 

With the Armoire and the wall hook rack full to overflowing, I needed more options.  I tried having special storage areas for "extra" outerwear, but the issue of chairbacks becoming the storage option of choice, I decided to get a little more creative.

That's when I discovered over-the-door racks.  They are genius.  Unlike the wall hooks, I don't have to worry about putting something on the rack that's going to be too heavy (just in case I didn't attach it to the wall properly.  Good thing those holes are easy to fix :D).  These over-the-door racks are pretty sturdy.  They are also pretty cheap at the dollar store.  Useful and frugal!  Be still my heart!

For me, the lesson over the years has been to not overlook those under used spaces, like the backs of doors, for storage options. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Cheap Ways to Stay Warm When It's WICKED Cold

When I heard about the Polar Vortex, my first thought was to post some comments about staying warm, but I was pretty sure that I'd covered the topic on my blog in the past.  There have been numerous occasions when Deus Ex Machina and I have had to stay warm in our house when there was no electricity, and over the years, we've developed the infrastructure that allows us to not worry when the electricity goes out - regardless of the time of year.  As I've said here before, also, the only real concern when we lose electricity is the stuff in our freezer. 

On Facebook, I belong to a group where we chat a lot about ways to live more frugally.  Today, one of the other members posted a query asking folks to comment on "cheap" ways to stay warm when the heat is out.  The poster didn't clarify whether or not there was electricity, but just that there was no heat. 

Comments ranged from the silly (sex!) to inane ("set your partner on fire") with a few decent ideas tucked in the middle.

There were the usual recommendations to layer one's clothes, wear heavy socks (or several pairs), don a hat and a scarf, cover doors and windows with heavy blankets, use sleeping bags, snuggle with pets and/or loved ones, and drink hot fluids.  Several people talked about using fireplaces, but unless one already has the fireplace, this is not a "cheap" option when other heat sources aren't available.

There were several recommendations for flower pot heaters.  Unfortunately, while it would be so amazing if it really worked like some YouTubers claim it will work, those heaters will only work in a very small and very well insulated space.  If one is expecting to heat more than a large closet with four tea lights, one will be very disappointed, and cold.  Although, moving into an interior walk-in closet and closing the doors is not a bad idea, come to think of it. 

I was more surprised by the ideas that weren't offered, though.  I guess frugal folks aren't, necessarily, prepper minded. 

The "cheap" heating solution that I recommended was a Kotatsu.

Kotatsu originated in Japan, but the technique is not specific to southeast Asia.  There are a lot of cultures that have something similar.  This was just one of the only that still seemed to be in widespread use, and so I could learn more about it than the other similar heaters from other cultures.

From what I've read, homes in Japan are not well insulated (although my sources may be lying to me) nor are they heated - at least not like our homes in the United States are heated, with a central heating system that keeps the entire house at (roughly) the same ambient temperature.  According to articles, like this one, space heating is the most common way to keep out the winter chill in Japan, and the most energy efficient heating option is the Kotatsu.

Basically, a Kotatsu is a coffee table covered with a very thick blanket.  A heater (these days it's usually electric, but in the past it was a brazier) is under the table, and one sits at the coffee table with one's lower half under the blanket.  It sounds very cozy, and if I didn't have a woodstove, and I were facing a few days without heat, I would be trying to figure out how to make a Kotatsu for my house using some of my iron cookware and some hot bricks.

Another cheap way to stay warm that I was surprised hadn't been mentioned was using a tent.  

While going out and buying a tent just to stay warm when the heat goes out isn't cheap or frugal, if one already has a tent, setting it up in the house and sleeping in it or watching Netflix curled up in sleeping bag is not a bad way to spend an evening. 

Suppose one doesn't own a tent?  The same thing can still be accomplished by stringing a rope across the room and draping a blanket over the rope.

In many cultures with cold winters, having a drapes around one's bed was common.  Since we live in a time in which our homes are centrally cooled and heated, we rarely see canopy beds with drapes, except in magazines where the effect is supposed to evoke some feelings of fancy that will encourage us to purchase a vacation or some bed linens.  As a cheap way to stay warmer in a cold house, we could harken back to those days and put curtains around our beds.

There's actually a company that makes bed tents, which are being marketed to people who have anxiety. 

While a lot of folks talked about moving into one room, the usual commentary centered around moving into the room with the wood stove or fireplace.  For those who don't have a wood-burning heat source, moving into a small room is still not a bad idea.  If there is still electricity (assuming the loss of heat is not due to a power outage), moving into a room with heat-producing appliances could be comfortable with just the heat from those.  It's actually pretty amazing how much heat appliances like a refrigerator or a freezer give off. 

Even televisions and computers give off heat, and several years ago, there was a television show in which participates roasted a chicken using a 100w incandescent bulb. 

Finally, given the usual answers from folks in the group, I was surprised that no one suggested baking as an option.  Taking the recommendation to move into one room, and adding baking, one could move into the kitchen, drape any windows and doors with heavy blankets, bake some pumpkin bread, a few potatoes, maybe a roasted chicken, and end the day with a satisfying hot meal and a warm room.

No one asked the original poster if she had a basement, but with no heat in the rest of the house, moving underground, if possible, would be the best solution.  Many years ago, we had a neighborhood-wide power outage that lasted several days.  Our neighbor moved into her basement for the duration of the outage.  It wasn't toasty, but she was warm enough not to freeze to death.  The temperature underground stays at around 55°.  If she had employed some of the suggestions above, she might have been even warmer.

It can be very scary to lose one's heat source - especially if one is currently living in one of the areas in the path of the Polar Vortex.  None of the suggestions above are long-term suggestions for people who live in areas with bitterly cold winters, but any one of those ideas would work in the short-term, or for people who live where the winters rarely get below freezing and where snow is still a surprise. 

What are some cheap solutions you have for staying warm in a house with no heat?

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It's not Trash. It's Treasure.

There is, apparently, a new television show starring author and home organizing expert, Marie Kondo.  For those who don't know, Marie Kondo wrote a book a few years ago called "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and then, she authored a bunch of follow-up books to that one, including an illustrated version called, "The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up."

Six years after the publication of her best-selling book, Marie Kondo is now the star of her own Netflix series, based on her book, in which she will give other folks advice on how to bring more joy to their lives by getting rid of the clutter in their homes.

For the record:  I have neither read Marie Kondo's books nor watched her television show, and so any opinion I have of the content of both is based on blurbs and summaries I've read online.  I completely understand if that admission results in your complete dismissal of my opinion and the following commentary. 

I had the unfortunate audacity to share some graphics about KonMari (the title given to the organizational techniques encouraged by Marie Kondo) on my personal Facebook wall.  One was Marie's - alleged - comment regarding the number of books one should own.  According to the meme, her recommendation is "not more than 30."  My comment on that meme was "some people just don't appreciate the finer things in life." 

Anyone who knows me knows that I consider myself a bibliophile.  I love books.  I buy books.  I probably could be accurately accused of hoarding books - some books by some authors.  I have half a bookcase with just hardcover Stephen King books.  I also tend to really like to collect how-to books.  I have five or six different books on how-to be more thrifty (including the complete Tightwad Gazette AND all three of the volumes - yes, that means I have the three individual compilations of the Tightwad Gazette AND the big book that contains the whole set.  I know.  That's overkill.).  Being thrifty is not something that I was raised to be, exactly, and so I like to read as many different opinions as I can find.  I do that with a lot of subjects - try to find as many different opinions as I can find - so that I get a better overall understanding of the topic.  I dozens of gardening books.  Lots of books on ways to preserve food.  And I even have a few books on organizing and decluttering a home. 

From what I understand of Marie Kondo's approach, one should sort through everything one owns, and then, handle each item to determine if that item gives one "joy" or not.  If not, one should discard it. 

Let's be honest.  While books do, dishes do not give me joy.  At least not most of the dishes I own, and I own a LOT of dishes.  I'm sure you'll ask, "Wendy, if these items don't give you joy, why then do you, not only hold onto them, allowing them to clutter your space and suck the life out of your soul, but also purchase more of them?"

And it is because I abhor waste more than I dislike the clutter of my dishes. 

Are you asking, how hoarding dishes keeps me from creating waste?

Well, in several ways:

The first is that having kitchen tools allows me to cook at home.  Cooking means I'm not wasting money by purchasing the more expensive convenience foods with a lot of packaging, and by choosing less packaging, I am putting less garbage in landfills.  I can even make the choice to purchase some items that have no packaging. 

Several years ago, we transitioned our diet to sourcing as many locally produced foods as possible.  Eating locally means we waste a lot fewer resources, because it takes less energy to get apples from Buxton, Maine to me than it does to get apples from Washington State to me, but most of the foods I can purchase locally require that I have some tools to process them.  We can eat apples fresh off the tree, but if we want local applesauce, I need to the tools to make and preserve those apples.  My canning jars don't bring ... wait, they do bring me joy.  Scratch that.  Although, at this point, I have a LOT of canning jars, and they are, kind of, turning into clutter.

A second way having dishes is useful to me is that I can entertain with less waste.

A few years ago, I was privileged to host my son and his bride.  They traveled to Maine to have me perform their wedding ceremony and allowed me the honor of planning their reception.  It was early summer, and the plan was to hold the wedding ceremony on the beach and to have the reception in my front yard.  I rented a canopy, tables, and chairs.  I purchased dishes and table linens from the thrift store.  My goal was to not use disposables, and in that endeavor, I was successful. 

I probably could have rented some really nice (matching) dishes from the same place I rented the canopy, etc., but the cost of purchasing the dishes and linens was significantly less than renting them.  But also, since that time, I have had many other opportunities to use those dishes and table linens for other parties and gatherings at my house.  In addition, when my daughter moved out and started setting up her own household, I had enough dishes to share so that she didn't have to purchase any.  The fact that I could give her dishes saved her money so that she could afford stuff like, oh, I don't know ... rent and food.

Following Marie Kondo's advice, I would have jettisoned those dishes a long time ago.  I don't even like half of them, and most of the time, they just take up space.  But when I have friends or family over and I can give them a meal on a real plate, I appreciate those dishes.

Speaking of dishes, though, let's be brutally honest.  I hate washing dishes, and it must be a genetic thing, because NO ONE in my house likes doing dishes.  Unfortunately, that means that we end up with a perennial sink-full of dirty dishes.

Yes, I do have a dishwasher, which brings me to another issue with the Marie Kondo method. 

Precious was my fifth child.  Her four older siblings still lived at home when she was born, which means there were seven people living in this smaller-than-average house - two adults, two teenagers, and three children younger than six.   Deus Ex Machina worked long hours and had a long commute.  I worked from home and had two babies (one newborn and one not-quite-two year old).  The dishes never got done back then, either, and so I talked Deus Ex Machina into getting a dishwasher. 

Our kitchen wouldn't accommodate a built-in dishwasher without some major changes, and not only did we not have the money for that, but we just couldn't spare our kitchen long enough to have the work done.  So, we opted for an apartment-sized portable dishwasher - one that we rolled over to the sink and attached to the faucet. 

We used it, happily (mostly) for many years.  Our teenagers became adults and moved out.  Our babies became school-aged kids and were able to, at least, empty the dishwasher.

Then, I started reading about resource depletion, Peak Oil, and climate change (this was ten or fifteen YEARS ago - yep, I'm that old).  I started calculating our footprint, and my goal became to reduce our overall electrical usage enough that we could afford to generate our own electricity.  Anything that used electricity was evaluated. 

At first, we just stopped using the dishwasher.  I did the dishes by hand.  The dishwasher got a little musty from non-use.  It was taking up space that I really wanted to use for something else, and so I gave it away.

Fast-forward several years, we still have a sink full of dirty dishes and those dishes are also covering the counters now.  No one is washing the dishes.  I tried all sorts of things to reduce the number of dirty dishes.  We all have an assigned plate, bowl, and coffee mug.  I only have one skillet and one sauce pan.  Fancy tools are kept to a minimum.  I don't have a fancy mandolin or a vegetable peeler.  I have a knife.  Things are mixed using a spoon.  My hands are my best kitchen tool for most things.  Still, some how or other, that sink and that counter always seem to be full of dishes that need to be cleaned. 

Tired of always having a messy kitchen, Deus Ex Machina and I decided it was time to consider having a dishwasher again.  *sigh*  Yes, I was kicking myself for getting rid of the one we had because it no longer gave me joy

We no longer had room for the same sort of dishwasher we'd had before, and we still couldn't have a built-in.  So, we did some research on what would be the best option and ended up purchasing (second-hand from Craigslist) a counter-top dishwasher with a rolling cart.  It uses about 4 gallons of water per load, and to be honest, we haven't notice any significant increase in our electrical or water usage. 

The point of that very long story is that I had what I needed, and I got rid of it, because it no longer "gave me joy", and then I realized (after I had discarded my thing) that I needed it, even if I didn't particularly like it.

That's just one example of something I had that I decided I no longer wanted, but then realized - too late - that it was something that actually was useful.

What surprised me was the number of folks who commented on my KonMari posts defending Marie Kondo, and basically, chastising me for sharing the memes.  In one post, I called KonMari "the latest fad", and I was told that the best-selling books were several years old.  In short, she's been around a while and she's helped a LOT of people, and so this isn't a fad. 


Fad: n.  an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something.

The books have been around for several years, true, and she's had a following on social media.  Since her Netflix show premiered on New Year's Day, and her following more than doubled.  That is, kind of, the definition of a fad.  Her show is the fad.  Her technique of tossing items that don't give us pleasure is a fad, and people will lose interest, eventually, when the next new and shiny comes along.

To be clear (and I said as much on the post), I am not criticizing what she's doing.  I shared the first meme, because of the comments about having no more than 30 books.  It was a joke, that I, as a bibliophile, found incredibly funny.  I have six floor to ceiling bookcases - all full of books and most of the shelves have more than 30 books.  Those aren't the only book cases I have.  There are books in every room in my house ... including the bathroom.  Less than 30 books?  Yeah, right!  There are more than 30 books in my to-be-read (TBR) pile. 

Then, I found a couple of other (funny-to-me) memes and a few articles about her wildly successful television premier, and I started looking a bit closer. 

I'm a prepper, but let's face it, the Prepping "fad" has come and gone.  There are still a lot of us who are still writing about and talking about and making a living at preparedness, but those folks who made the news a few years ago with their bunkers and their 50lb buckets of wheat berries - you know, in case the SHTF - are either underground now, or have moved on to something else ... maybe they're decluttering their prepper supplies with the KonMari method. 

Back in the day, there were dozens of blogs and forums and books and articles and a huge following for folks, like me, who just wanted people to be thinking about and preparing for the possibilities.

Unfortunately, when the S did not HTF quickly enough, the mainstream lost interest.

And, now, we're on to the next "new" thing.

But is it new?

Back when I had a television (before I was a Blogger, even), I loved to watch those reality home-makeover shows on TLC, HGTV, and the Discovery Channel.  One of the ones I loved to hate was Clean Sweep.  In this show, an "expert" would arrive at some cluttered house and help the homeowner declutter and remodel a couple of rooms.  I loved the show, because who doesn't love seeing a brand new room, rising like a Phoenix out of the clutter?  I also hated the show, because those "experts" just made snap judgments (in my opinion) about what was necessary and what wasn't.  How did they know what those homeowners needed?  One expert even made the homeowner get rid of *gasp* books!   I probably cried a little during that show.

In many ways, the whole "clearing the clutter" ideology is antithetical to the prepper lifestyle.  Not that preppers are hoarders, but the fact is that many of us have stuff that we know will be useful if/when the grid goes down.  Quite frankly, I have some things that I almost never use, except every couple of years when the power is out for three or four days, and then, that thing that is usually just clutter and doesn't "bring me joy", suddenly makes me VERY happy.  That's also when I most appreciate the fact that I have a TBR pile of books that's taller than I am.

I have a 12 quart cast iron Dutch oven.  It has a permanent home under my woodstove where it's getting very dusty and a little rusty.  I never use it.  Frankly, it's just too big for regular use.  It's heavy and cumbersome, and it doesn't, quite, fit on the woodstove.  I could use it to cook outside on the fire pit (and I have used it for that), but then, I have to clean it.  Have you ever cleaned a pot that was used on an open fire?  It's a pretty dirty job. 

As such, using that huge Dutch oven is inconvenient in a way that my "normal" life doesn't have to be inconvenient.  I have a normal-sized ceramic-coated cast iron Dutch oven that I can use on the woodstove.  I can also use the smaller one on my electric glass-top stove in the kitchen.  Does the 12 quart Dutch oven bring me joy?  No, not really.  Am I going to give it a way?  Not a chance.

Because the moment I do, I will have a need for it.  We'll have that week-long power outage, and I'll be able to bake a pie on the woodstove, because I have this massive Dutch oven. 

Back to the meme posts, there was one comment that, actually, prompted this blog post, and my friend, essentially, said that this fixation on minimalism is a "privilege."  While I usually bristle at that word - privilege -, because I think it creates divisions where divisions don't really exist, I think, in this case, she is right. 

Folks who aren't worried about how to replace items that are worn out, are often the same folks who are flocking to these minimalist ideals.  The point that my friend was making is that, for too many people in this world, stuff acquisition comes at a great cost and getting rid of stuff can really create a hardship. 

To paraphrase her, minimalism only really works for people who know that they have the financial security to replace those items they've gotten rid of.   In short, it's easy to give up something that doesn't give one joy, if one knows that the item can be easily replaced should it be truly missed.

The whole decluttering thing is not "new."  It's not a fad.  It's been the message for a lot of years - a LONG time before Marie Kondo unveiled her way of dealing with stuff.  Before her there were television shows and books and The Story of Stuff - a short film that debuted in 2009 with the message that we were accumulating too much, which meant we tended to waste a lot more than we should. 

Her method, however, IS a fad, and her ideas around the spirituality of owning things ....  It's interesting, but really?  Does anyone remember The Secret?  That was only ten years ago. 

Yes, decluttering is and can be an incredibly uplifting experience.  I know this to be a fact.  When Deus Ex Machina and I were remodeling our bedroom and sleeping in the den hemmed in by enough stuff to fill two rooms, it was terrible, and we started paring things down and making some very conscious choices about what to keep and what to give away, sell, or toss.   It felt great to open up the space, and there were a lot of times I wondered why we'd kept that odd bit of flotsam.  There were other times when I knew we just needed to make room.

My grandparents' generation didn't easily give up stuff, and they cherished the stuff they had, because they couldn't afford to just go out and get a new one. 

That's the message, I think, that we need to be sharing. 

That's the show that should be on Netflix - how NOT to fill our homes with "stuff" that we will, someday, have to decide whether or not it gives us pleasure. 

We should be having anti-consumerist classes, and rather than encouraging all of us to sort through our stuff and get rid of what doesn't give us joy, perhaps, teach us to see those things differently.  Maybe an episode that deals with not impulse buying so that we don't have a bunch of junk to begin with.  Another episode could focus on finding ways to make our junk useful rather than just throwing it away (making it someone else's problem). 

It's not an old tee-shirt, it's a skirt, or a future quilt, or rags to replace paper products (double bonus points for reducing paper waste and repurposing what might have become garbage). 

It's not a bunch of old pallets, it's firewood or a wood floor (double bonus points for saving money and resources by not having to manufacture or transport flooring and repurposing what might have become garbage). 

It's not a bunch of old fence pieces, it's bookshelves or beehives. 

It's not a holey sheet, it's a pair of pajama pants or curtains.

It's not a disposable jar, it's a drinking glass.

Re-imagining things takes a little more creativity, but honestly, Pinterest was created for and by people who do that sort of thing all of the time - people who see something more than just garbage and are able to find a way to make junk into something more than clutter, like making an old t-shirt into a skirt. 

I don't disagree that decluttering is good.  I completely believe the research on clutter and depression.  Anecdotally, when Deus Ex Machina and I were remodeling our bedroom and had our bed in the den, it was difficult, psychologically, on both of us ... and really on our whole family. 

Our bedroom, though.  That room!  It took three years for us to finish it, but the floor is reclaimed wood pallets that would have ended up in a landfill.  We had those pallets in our yard for a long time before they ended up as our floor.  It was clutter, and it did not bring me joy.  It does now, though.  I love that floor.

For me, that's the way things can be.  Maybe we don't have to keep everything that we should discard, but there are dozens of examples in my own home of things that we could have thrown away, but we didn't, and we ended up being able to reuse them for something that, ultimately, enriched our lives.

That's the story of MY life.  Often those things that feel useless end up being something I can use, and having those things saves me money, and it keeps excess waste from ending up in a landfill, because I didn't buy something new and I didn't throw away something that was useful.  Win for me. Win for the environment. 

Kudos to Marie Kondo for both her best-selling book and her TV show, and more power to those people who decide to adopt minimalism.

For the rest of us, being more mindful of what we decide to bring into our homes in the first place is a good first step, and then, adopting a use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without mentality will go a lot further toward making us happier and reducing the negative human impact on our world.

As for the psychology of decluttering being linked to happiness, there is a way to be both happy and keep some of the stuff that doesn't necessarily give you peace and harmony all of the time.  If a cluttered house makes you depressed, research has shown that nature is the remedy. 

I recommend gardening.

And the bonus is that you get food ... package free ... but you'll have to cook it ... but only if you don't get rid of all of those dishes that are cluttering up the counter.