Thursday, June 21, 2012

Crumbs of frugal wisdom

In the past few days, I've spotted a few interesting observations here and there on the frugal life—nothing I could work up into a proper long entry, but still worth sharing. So instead, I'm presenting them all in one entry as a sort of smorgasbord—a series of appetite-whetting ideas instead of a hearty main course.

1. The "Live Like a Mensch" blog (another blog devoted to frugal living, though rather more punctually updated than mine) has an amusing entry this week on "Things They Don't Teach You In School." Basically, it's about the application of Murphy's Law to frugality: e.g., whatever you save because it might come in useful won't, and whatever you throw away because it's just taking up space, you'll discover a use for next week.

2. Now that our garden is starting to produce stuff in earnest (last night's dinner was penne with chickpeas, fresh arugula, and sun-dried tomatoes, which struck me as a particularly Yuppie meal), I pulled my copy of Your Own Kitchen & Garden Sourcebook off the shelf to look for other interesting ways to use garden veggies. This is primarily a cookbook, but with an emphasis on sustainability and home-grown produce. I did find one recipe that looked intriguing (a way to make iced coffee by freezing the coffee in ice cube trays and then pouring warm milk over it), but of more interest to me was the quotation at the front, which came from The American Woman's Home, an 1869 volume by Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (better known for her other contributions to literature and social discourse). It's about how the women's movement (at that time chiefly a suffrage movement) misses what they see as "the chief cause" of the "disabilities and sufferings" of women: the fact that "women's work" is denigrated by society. This they consider completely upside-down thinking, as
There are but a few things on which health and happiness depend, more than on the manner in which food is cooked. You may make houses enchantingly beautiful, hang them with pictures, have them clean and airy and convenient; but if the stomach is fed with sour bread and burnt meats, it will raise such rebellions that the eyes will see no beauty anywhere. The abundance of splendid material we have in America is in great contrast with the style of cooking most prevalent in our country. Considering that our resources are greater than those of any civilized people, our results are comparatively poorer.
It seems to me that this is even more true nowadays than it was in 1869. We have all this rich farmland, and our screwed-up system of agricultural subsidies means that we devote most of it to growing corn and soybeans, which we then grind up into processed products that we package in boxes for breakfast cereal, in single-serve foil packs for snacks, in bottles for beverages. Paying farmers to grow less healthful food doesn't seem like a sustainable plan. I'm sure there must be some good reason why we do it this way, but so far I haven't heard it.

3. The Dollar Stretcher site has a list of interesting tips on storage solutions for a small house. Some of the more intriguing ideas:
  • One person suggests converting your coat closet to a pantry. Yeah, but then where do you hang your coats? I thought the suggestion to add some pantry shelves in your broom closet was more reasonable.
  • Mount racks under your cabinets for storing flat items, like big platters and trays. Or use this space for hanging mugs.
  • Save the wooden boxes that clementines come in for storing personal items in the bathroom. (I haven't tried this, but I use one for storing all my seed packets in the basement.)
  • Eliminate "dead space" everywhere. Most cabinet shelves have more vertical space than you need, so add racks to make two tiers of shelving instead of one. Use sliding drawers to make better use of deep shelves. Hang shoes on the back of the bedroom door. Store stuff under beds, in ottomans, even in between wall studs. One contributor says, "If it's empty, fill it, [like the old milk can she uses for storing her plastic bags] and if it has a skirt, hide stuff under it."
  • Finally, since it's no use having it if you can't find it, keep a list on the inside of the cabinet door to remind yourself where everything is. (This is what we did with our canventory.)
This article hits on the key point of ecofrugality: waste not, want not. It may not be obvious at first how wasting space hurts you financially, but considering that the average cost of a kitchen remodel is estimated at 15 to 20 thousand dollars, making the most of the space you already have seems like a mighty wise use of resources.
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