Thursday, February 12, 2015

Stuff Green People Like, Part 3

It's been several years now since I first posted on the topic of "stuff green people like" (my attempt at a more positive version of Christian Lander's popular site, and subsequent book, called Stuff White People Like). That original list had 7 items on it, and last year I wrote a second post expanding it to 14, based partly on comments I received from others and partly on new ideas I came up with later. Now, another year has passed, and I thought I might have enough new ideas for a third installment. So here are my next six suggestions for Stuff Ecofrugal People Like:

15. Young House Love (2007-2014). This DIY site was once the best of its kind. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fans like me dropped by regularly to see what new, clever ideas John and Sherry Petersik had come up with for updating their home in a creative and frugal way. We stayed with them through three houses, two kids, two book deals, a house show, and more than 50 makeovers of individual spaces. I named it as one of my seven favorite websites for the ecofrugal in my 2013 Thrift Week celebration. And then, in 2014, as the Petersiks were busily juggling a new house, new book, and new baby, they announced that they would be dialing back their blog entries from five per week to four (one of which was only a raffle to enter, with no actual house-related content). Then they followed that with the news that they would be taking a hiatus from blogging...and when they returned, it was only to say goodbye for good. The site remains live for now, preserved as a kind of time capsule, but the last new entry was four months ago. I still come back there once in a while and prowl around, kind of like visiting an old neighborhood, but the neighbors have all moved away. And so far, no other site I've found—about DIY or anything else—can come close to taking its place.

16. Rehab Addict. This show has replaced the late, lamented Wasted Spaces as my favorite DIY-themed TV show, and its host, Nicole Curtis, has joined Karl Champley in my pantheon of household gods. This five-foot powerhouse knocks out walls, refinishes bathtubs, replaces damaged panes in old leaded glass windows, scavenges Dumpsters for antiques, and keeps a huge pile of scrap wood in her garage—all in the name of keeping old houses true to their original style. Nikki is in the business of buying, restoring, and selling houses, but unlike most flippers, she doesn't just rip everything out and replace it with the newest and latest. She doesn't want to make an old house look new; she wants it to look like a beautifully maintained old house, so she takes an ecofrugal approach in her renovations, saving the original materials whenever possible and, failing that, bringing in vintage materials from elsewhere. (I'm totally envious of her access to Bauer Brothers Salvage in Minneapolis, a store where you can find everything from old windows to light fixtures in every style and period, at bargain-basement prices. The Habitat ReStore in Morris County used to be a bit like that, but on our last trip there we found the selection so disappointing that it no longer seems worth the two-hour round trip.) Sadly, this show isn't to be found on Hulu or anywhere online. There are 17 episodes available on the HGTV website, but they're a few years old and I've already watched them all. New episodes of this show appear regularly only on the DIY Network, which isn't part of our extremely basic cable package. We do get HGTV, but it usually shows Rehab Addict on Thursday nights, when we have dance practice. Occasionally, though, HGTV will run a whole bunch of episodes back-to-back during the day, and I'll make an exception to my usual no-TV-before-dinner rule and binge-watch for two or three hours.

17. Vegetarianism. From an ecofrugal standpoint, a meatless (or meat-light) diet has everything going for it. Eating organic is better for the environment, but it's also costly; a diet of ramen noodles at 25 cents a packet is cheap, but not very healthful. But a plant-based diet reduces your grocery bill and your carbon footprint at the same time—while also offering an assortment of health benefits and, for many people, a clearer conscience. And for those who are used to a more traditional, meat-heavy American diet and aren't sure whether they'd be comfortable giving it up, it's fairly easy to try out vegetarianism on a part-time basis before taking the plunge. Even cutting meat out of just one or two meals a week can make a pretty nice dent in your grocery bill. And adding a couple of meatless meals to your diet can be as simple as having Spaghetti Night on Wednesday and Stir-Fry Night on Friday. Or, if you're looking for a little more variety, just one basic vegetarian cookbook, such as The Clueless Vegetarian, is all you need to get started.

18. Rain barrels. Using a rain barrel has the same appeal as drying clothes on a clothesline: it feels like getting something for nothing. Sure, our municipal water is pretty cheap, but why use it at all when water falls from the sky for free? Admittedly, according to my calculations, using our new rain barrel only saved us around 15 bucks on our water bill last summer, but it also kept an extra 1,000 gallons of water in the municipal reservoir, making our town that much better equipped to withstand an unexpected drought. And in the event of a water main break, which is a much more common disaster in our area, our garden won't have to go thirsty.

19. Aldi. I've noted many times that this no-frills chain consistently has the best prices on foodstuffs in our area. Admittedly, its selection is a bit limited; for most foods, they only carry their house brand, and you shouldn't expect to find obscure or trendy ingredients like arborio rice or Sriracha there. But for the foods that they sell, Aldi's prices are the lowest anywhere. It's the only place we can find breakfast cereal at a reasonable price without stacking sales and coupons, and it's also our go-to store for staples like oats, cheese, chocolate chips, and peanuts. It used to be that Aldi represented the "frugal" half of the ecofrugal equation, while stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (which I named as a Thing Ecofrugal People Like in my original list) focused on the "eco" part. But lately, Aldi has started muscling in on TJ's turf. In addition to carrying the basics, its shelves are now stocked with upscale goodies like balsamic vinegar, bottled lattes, and a line of cheap organic foods that can often beat the price of non-organic versions sold at other stores. So far, Aldi hasn't actually pulled any of our shopping dollars away from Trader Joe, because the items we usually buy at TJ's (organic chicken legs, organic raisins, recycled-fiber toilet paper, cruelty-free toothpaste and bar soap) are still a better deal there. But if the gentrification of Aldi's product line continues, who knows? Our nearest Aldi store is a lot closer than the nearest Trader Joe's, so shopping there is definitely more convenient; we'd be just as happy to go to Aldi regularly and make our visits to Trader Joe's a special once- or twice-a-year outing.

20. Shopping local. Actually, I think what ecofrugal people really love is the idea of shopping local. You don't have to drive around and burn fossil fuels, and you help keep your community strong by supporting its local businesses. It seems like such a complete win-win. But sadly, the reality isn't always as satisfying. Local businesses typically can't offer the same selection as the big chains, and because they can't achieve the same economies of scale, their prices are usually higher. So while local businesses cater to our eco sensibilities, they often go against our frugal instincts. But fortunately, there are exceptions—like my local mechanic, who not only does a better job with our car than the dealership and is much easier to get to, but also charges far more reasonable rates. So in cases like these, shopping local really is a win-win-win. If only our town had just a couple more thrift shops and a good used bookstore, I'd indulge a lot more often.
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