Monday, January 13, 2014

Reduce Single Use

I've been an avid recycler for years. It just makes intuitive sense and isn't that hard to accomplish. I'm in good company. According to the most recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recycling continues to be on the rise, and almost 35% of our trash is recycled. Yay us! (tinge of sarcasm).

This is an area that I actually pride myself in doing really well in, and yet, I am challenging myself to Do Better. How?

  1. Self assess and see where I'm still wasteful, then make changes!
  2. Step up the Reduce and Reuse (since I already recycle as much as I can). Reducing is the highest impact of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle paradigm - here is a good site explaining that. 
  3. Spread the word and invite others take small and large steps to make a difference. 
That third commitment is the most difficult one because this is a cause that seems so...80's, such a done deal. Aren't we already doing this? Don't we already drag our own reusable bags to the grocery store and carry our own water bottles most of the time? And yet...only 35% of trash is recycled. Turns out there's a lot more to the problem than tote bags and water bottles. 

In order to accomplish this I'm going to do a little research, share it online and in person (more about that later) and work on some challenges and rewards for people to make small changes. My effort begins with...another blog...yeah, whoop-dee-doo. Please support me by checking it out, and if you like what you see, subscribe to my posts. I won't overwhelm you with posts (I'm not that prolific). It's called Reduce Single Use, and the first post is up, see you there!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do Better

Last year I experimented with setting myself a theme for the year - Use it UP I told myself! It helped me focus my intentions, I learned, and had fun trying new things. I had a no-spend February, went vegan for 6 weeks, repurposed a lot of things, made my own stuff, cleared out a lot of clutter and excess, stopped myself from taking on more clutter and excess and generally cut down on my consumption. 2013 helped me form new habits that will stick with me for a long time: 

  • I will never go back to consuming the amount of dairy I once did, and my sinuses and digestion are happier for it
  • Making my own cleaning and personal hygiene supplies is so easy and I like knowing what's in the products I use (deodorant, shampoo, make up remover, laundry soap, all purpose cleaner)
  • One of the most pleasurable ways to use up what you have is by giving it away! Giving hand made things makes me feel accomplished, and carefully selected regifting helps me let go of things that I love but don't really need to keep
  • Making food from scratch tastes better, is better for the environment and is often cheaper

As we approached the new year I was thinking that this theme thing was just a one off because I really wasn't feeling any new theminess coming on (yeah, theminess, that feeling that things are coming into focus and you have a broad new direction you want to move in). My reluctance was mostly a hesitancy to take on a bold new thing that I might not keep up with all year long. Things such as "exercise every day", "write every day" and "go camping at least once a month" are ideas rattling around my head that I want to commit to but haven't. It's not that they are not important to me, but I could not vizualize what to stop doing, or give up, in order to increase in these areas. I don't want to lose momentum on what I'm doing right to grow in a new direction. Then I remembered the book Now Discover Your Strengths that I read at work, in which I learned that it's more effective to focus on and grow your strengths than to try to make up for your shortfalls. This book really helped me understand myself and my team and how to work together. And it was that insight that led me to my theme for 2014 - Do Better! 

Rather than taking on new things, I'm going to support my strengths and ramp up what I'm already doing well, to challenge myself to Do Better. So, here are some things I'm already doing:

  • Health: I eat mostly organic and made from scratch food, walk to work sometimes
  • Wealth: I am frugal, save money, am financially responsible
  • Relationships: I am an affectionate, supportive, loving mother, daughter, friend
  • Social responsibility: At work I make a difference in lives of parents and young children, personally I am committed reducing my carbon footprint, recycling.

So, I'm going to take a journey this year to challenge myself to Do Better in all four of these areas. I will use this blog to keep myself accountable and share what I've learned along the way (and I will Do Better at keeping up with my blog than I did last year!). 

Happy New Year! Every day is the first day of a whole new year, so take one more minute today and give yourself the gift of reading this poem from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.

Finish every day and be done with it.

You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

This new day is too dear,

with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Used up Summer

one of my many little projects in the cabin this summer
a found salt lick turned into a little shelf

It's not easy to think that summer is over when it's 100 degrees outside here in Texas, but it is. I had a glorious summer in Wyoming and got a lot of work done while also having fun. Our little cabin in Wyoming got a lot of Use It Up attention from me - I did a lot of cleaning and clearing, rearranging and organizing. Before allowing myself to start any kind of redecorating projects I decided that I needed to use what we already have there. This meant going through every little nook and cranny, including the basement that hadn't been cleared for a generation, and finding out what exactly we do have. I ended up donating books, duplicates of kitchen ware, and lots of bedding and towels (our cabin seems to be the final resting place for all the linens we've ever owned over the years). My goal is to refurbish, upcycle and make as much as possible, over buying new. My first little project was this salt lick I found in the creek, which I upturned, painted and made into a shelf. Next year I'm taking some chalk paint with me and will be redoing some of the existing furniture. What I enjoy the most in my Use It Up campaign is how it forces me to be creative with what I have, rather than purchase more things. Once I've run out of projects with existing things, then I will purchase some of the new furniture we need (new bed, a computer desk, couch).  

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Fix it Up

my stack of repairs and sewing box - put to use!

Well, the April month of repair turned out to be only 2 weeks due to a heavy travel schedule at work. Nonetheless I have made a start, and have a nicely organized list to keep me on track to repairing what I have. What I have learned from these efforts:

  1. It really irritates me to wear something torn, even if it is just a loose hem, or a hole in my pocket. Why not take a few minutes to do something about it? Well, it seems to be one of those tasks that could always be pushed to "later". I needed a system!
  2. Setting about to repair something forces me to asses whether it is worth keeping at all. If it's not worth repairing then it's not worth keeping. Several things went that way!
  3. It doesn't take that long once you get organized. Once I sat down with my little stack it took maybe 20 minutes to repair 7 items while I watched a movie.
I now have a basket for clothing that needs repairing. It's in my closet right next to my laundry since I think of repairs usually when I am either getting dressed or undressed. Once that basket gets full, I'm going to repair. The mere act of putting something in that basket makes me feel productive. 

So, as I have learned with all this Use it UP stuff, the monthly challenges are about creating awareness in myself. They are a good idea, even when I realize that it takes longer to really put it into practice. But not having a challenge sort of lets the thing wander aimlessly. Therefore, I've decided to continue on with the fixing thing throughout May. 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude Jar

Part of using up my social capital comes from knowing and appreciating what I already have. That's also known as gratitude. Research shows that gratitude makes you healthier and happier. In a study, people who were asked to write daily about something they were grateful for were found to be 25% happier than those who were asked to journal about anything or to only write up their grumbles. My sweet friends Carmen and Victoria gave me a gratitude jar which I have been filling up with daily observations. Of course I am so grateful for the love, health, and abundance in my life, but I found myself reflecting daily about the little things that bring me joy day to day. Here is a sampling:

* Finishing a project
* Sunshine
* Holding a baby
* Buying organic food
* African violets in bloom
* Have a heartfelt conversation with an aquaintance
* Holding hands

March went by really fast! I am not sure how successful my Use it Up campaign was this month - focusing on Social Capital, but I have had a wonderful, social, love-filled month of March, and for that I am very grateful. I have found that a month is a somewhat arbitrary allotment of time to complete a challenge, but it is enough time to focus attention and effort to get things started. I am still being quite frugal, even though February is long past. And now that I embark on my April goals, I find myself still dwelling on some of the things I wanted to accomplish in March - namely forgiveness (of myself and others), charity, and random acts of kindness. I will continue to work on these even as I start the April Use It Up challenge: repair and maintain what I have. This brings me back to the practical side of using things up. I've been organizing and making a list of things that need mending or repair and will share with you as I make progress. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I have been plagued with forgetfulness all my life. It's a source of amusement and irritation to those who love and surround me. It's not such a big flaw that it brings great pain, but I recognize that it's inconvenient and annoying, mostly to me, but sometimes to others. Having gone through a whopping six phones in 4 months - two of which I personally lost - I have to say "this has got to stop!". But first, a little self reflection, a little digging into why this is happening, sprinkled about with some gratitude.

Why is this happening to me? I am a big believer in there being two sides to every character trait. So - let's start with the good news. I am creative, flexible and imaginative. The dark side to these traits provide a little insight into my forgetfulness. Creativity and imagination - often times I will have an idea and will be so internally caught up with and energized by my thoughts that I lose track of the mundane world around me. I have the ability to transport myself into a past or future time and place and imagine plans and details, but not notice that I am at that very moment putting putting my wallet into the same drawer that I just got a nail file from. Flexibility - borne out of my early life experiences in which my family lived around the world, and I went to 14 schools between Kindergarten and 12th grade - also has its darker side. My flexibility allows me to adjust to many situations and settings - I sleep like a baby in an airplane, car or hotel room. This same flexibility means that I don't have that bell clanging in my head when I walk away without a purse on my shoulder - sometimes I carry a purse and other times I don't, same for the phone. So, it may take me hours to even notice that I don't have some key thing (or keys themselves) that was left behind earlier in the day. 

Now for the gratitude. I have lost so many things in so many places and been extremely lucky to have things returned to me unharmed. This too has two sides. On the one hand, I don't crumble with panic when I misplace my wallet, because I've done that so many times and each time it has been returned - I have stories to tell. Once I left it in a public restroom at a mall on Christmas Eve. Several weeks later it was returned in the mail to me, intact, with a note apologizing for not returning it sooner. Versions of that has happened many times in my life. On the other hand - the fact that the Universe has taken such good care of me, makes me less vigilant about keeping track of my stuff. 

What to do? Well, I have some strategies that are helping me be better with this. 

* First, simplify - the fewer things I have to keep track of the better. This means that I carry only what I need to have on me,  and don't bother with things like umbrellas, sunglasses, water bottles, etc. that would be nice to have but that I will probably just leave somewhere. 
* Second, habits - with those all important items that I have trouble keeping up with (keys, wallet, phone) I use the Alzheimers strategies setting up routines to help me. So, I have places for these special items, a bowl in my entry way for keys, a spot in my car door for the wallet, etc. I recognize that arrival and departure times are the most prone to misplacing things, so I try to pay special attention at those times. 
* Third, and the most important, but hardest for me to do is to pay attention! Mindfulness is the real antidote to forgetfulness. Meditation, yoga and relaxation are the keys to mindfulness to me. Giving myself the time I need to just daydream, to make up elaborate plans in my mind, to journal, all these help me be more present and mindful in my daily life which then reduces forgetfulness. 

So next time I ask "Has anyone seen my keys? wallet? purse? phone?" I know that I really need to take some time to take a walk, read a book, daydream or write in my journal. 

DIY Happiness

Revelation - that ray of light through the clouds

During my recent drive to Austin I hawked the odometer, seeing it quickly reach the mileage required for an oil change. This used to be a source of dread for me, because I wasn't the one who changed the oil, someone else in our house was in charge of that, and it usually didn't get done. This time though, I felt something bordering on excitement, and once I got back to Denton I immediately took it in for service. It got me thinking, why the change in my experience of this same little thing - an oil change.

The answer begins with one of the many life lessons from my Dad. That is, the importance of maintenance - vehicles, property, equipment - and taking care of what you've already invested in. This maintenance was a source of irritation in my past relationship because I felt it was "the guy" who was supposed to take care of this - like Dad did for Mom. Here I am living alone, and rather than feeling lonely for someone to take care of these things for me, I feel happy to be doing this for myself.

That was my revelation: Do for yourself what you wish others would do for you. I recognized that I have wasted too much time wishing that the good people I have loved would do certain things FOR me like call, change the oil in my car, recognize my good qualities or remind me about things. When you are in a relationship or live with someone it's so easy to let the things that need to be done in your world slip into being that other person's responsibility, and feel resentful when it doesn't happen.

After one year of living alone it is clear that if something is important to me, I will get it done, and if it doesn't get done it wasn't all that important to me. In actuality, that's how my life was before I lived alone, just my perspective and expectations were different. Taking responsibility in this way frees me up to enjoy, appreciate and receive all those other things that people do, say and are. These gifts could easily be overlooked if I am caught up in expecting them to read my mind and heart and meet my needs.

I am drawn to people like me, people who are kind, generous, helpful and loving. So, I'm not saying that I'm the only one that does anything in my relationships. Just that we each do what's important to us, and if you're lucky those things overlap with what those you love think is important too. These ways of being are our social capital - that we share with others, and can also lavish on ourselves.

I am not waiting for "that perfect person" to come in my life to fulfill all these real and idealized needs and wants. I don't have to wait or look for that because I am already that perfect person. This means that everyone I love is officially off the hook. It's my responsibility to find, identify and enjoy the qualities and actions of others that make me happy, and surround myself with people who bring the most joy, love and happiness to my life by just being themselves.

Monday, March 04, 2013

USE IT UP With Heart

Heart Art Installation - Using up a glossy magazine

Frugal February is officially over, and was a great success! Find out more here. Marching on! Please forgive that, I have a tendency towards cheeziness and alliteration (Mend-it March was sorely tempting). Well, this month I am changing course to a less practical and more reflective iteration of my USE IT UP theme.

On the month that promises springtime and new beginnings, I'm taking a look at my relationships and social connections. I will be using up some Social Capital, both generating it, sharing what I have, and accepting what's offered to me. Social Capital involves social and interpersonal human networks of exchange, interaction and support. Having worked my entire career in the field of education and human development it's really easy to feel like "I already do that at work". I'm resisting that this month and am going to USE UP some of my artistic and interpersonal skills in a more social way. You see, my independence and self-sufficiency can isolate me, and while I don't feel lonely, I do feel insulated at times.

So, my goals for a heart-filled USE IT UP March are as follows:

* engage in positive social experiences and exchanges
* practice and accept random acts of kindness
* communicate love and regard for the lovelies in my life
* ask for and offer forgiveness
* practice generosity by identifying a cause to contribute to for the rest of the year

If I think of other things as I go along - you'll hear about it!

Friday, March 01, 2013

Confirmation and Temptations

home made deodorant - feels and smells so good!

It has been surprisingly easy to not spend any money this month, for the following reasons:
  • It's only a month, how hard can that be? Makes me feel like taking on other monthly challenges on things I've been meaning to improve on.
  • I've travelled for work a few times this month which had me eating out - which I do a couple of days a week at work normally and would have missed.
  • I already have everything I need anyway.
  • I watched Zeitgeist, wow, major confirmation.
  • Natural Grocers opened in Denton and I got some great snacks and groceries, which have made home made lunches awesome
  • When I ran out of deodorant and laundry soap, I had so much fun making my own!
Here are temptations that I managed to resist:
  • One dollar donuts at Denton Square Donuts - "donuts" does not do them justice, they are kolache type pastries, and absolutely delicious!
  • A second pair of Puma sneakers
  • A vacuum cleaner, I've been in my digs for a's time...
  • $10 ticket to theater production of O'Keefe
  • A can opener - will probably have to get one now, but I borrowed and met a new neighbor!
  • An iron for crafty projects (you don't think I iron my clothes do you?) - I put the word out I'm doing an exchange with a friend, her old iron for some handmade earrings! 
True confessions time, here are the temptations that I have NOT resisted:
  • Postage on mailing some Valentine goodies to my sweeties
  • A LARGE Starbucks Misto on a rainy drive from Austin to Dallas
  • $3 car wash, which may not have really been cheating but it felt like it so it probably was
  • $35 for technical assistance for Toshiba to fix my TV signal (should that "count")?
  • $15 for lunch - a lunch meeting for work that had already been set up long ago
I had several breakfast/lunch meetings that had been set up before I decided to go frugal in February. That's where it gets interesting - as mentioned, one of them I went ahead with and spent about $15 on and that was fine. The other two I went ahead with and the other person insisted on picking up the tab! That was so generous of them, and normally I would have put up more of a fight, but I thought it was so cool that they took care of me like that. (No, I didn't mention to any of them beforehand that I was being frugal in February). I will definitely be paying it forward!

Bottom line on the savings: $428. How did I calculate this? Well, in January I spent $681 in various expenses other than bills, but including groceries (I couldn't tease that out because I use cash for groceries). I had $400 in cash that I was supposed to use for groceries and miscellany and  I used that plus $281 in things such as shoes, gifts and eating out once the cash ran out. In February I spent a total of $253 including groceries and the $51.25 in miscellany that crept in. 

What have I learned from this? Well, I've learned that I am pretty frugal already. To get even better I think I need to get a little more cash to spend every month, and then when it runs out it runs out. I'm going to try that and not use the debit card at all if possible. If I can do that, and save some cash on the side for extras, I think I will do better on the miscellany. And, I am going to continue to bring my lunch to work every single day, rather than eat out. I have plenty of opportunities to eat out when I travel for work, I'll make the best of that, and I will save eating out for weekends with the girls and friends. Other than that, I feel like I'm on the right track!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

USE IT UP sounds scary

My USE IT UP strategy may be making some people uncomfortable. I first learned this when I told my friend and coworker Keshia about my theme for the year. I told her that I want to assess what I have and if I don't use it then I need to organize, repair, clean, or give it away so it does get used. She said that if I start giving away my stuff people are going to wonder if something is wrong with me, and that Grannies do that in preparation for the Great Beyond. I assured her that I am just moving some of the excess STUFF out of my space and she seemed OK with that. Frugal February didn't sit so well with her either because we enjoy eating lunch out together, and she felt this was going to put a cramp in her eating plans (neither one of us like to deny ourselves a good meal). Then she remembered that I tend to cook way too much food and would probably be bringing enough to share, so she came around on that too. Later we agreed that we need to institute a monthly potluck at work so we can all enjoy each other's home cooking.

Then when I announced on Facebook that I was wasn't buying anything but groceries and gas in February, a few folks - I'm talking to you Darrel, Shawna and Michelle - started throwing what-ifs and temptations my way, as if I needed their help to find loopholes in my self imposed rules! So what is it about this USE IT UP thing that has people squirming a little? I think that our society has us oriented towards over-consuming, even though this is against our best nature. And that even though we're told (over and over and over by advertisers) that we'll somehow be made happier by that next purchase, our best selves know this isn't true. My throwing out that intention to the universe reminds folks of what they know already - that we have way too much stuff in our lives! And nobody likes a know-it-all so I guess I'm going to quiet down on my USE IT UP frugality and just do it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Am Not A Genius

image from the Sugar and Spice blog on Frugal February

Just for kicks I Googled "frugal february". Boy was I surprised to see a whole lot of links, including one from someone in their 7th year of Frugal February! But wait, how can that possibly be when I thought of that idea all on my own just last month? some kind of weird time-travel-vulcan-mind-meld thing I guess. So here are the highlights I've culled from all these other copy-cat February spendthrifts:

  1. Why February? other than drive people mad with your alliterative corniness - there are some darned good reasons - mine was that it's a short month :)
  2. Using a spreadsheet budget to see where you get spendy and therefore measure your savings during Frugal February. I am pretty much on a cash only basis for all miscellaneous purchases so this made it easy to keep track of for me. 
  3. Questions for taking inventory so that you can best use up what you already have rather than buying more. Taking inventory was actually my first step in my whole USE IT UP campaign.  
  4. Saving on food, especially if you like organic and expensive food like I do.

Sometimes I need to rustle around the interweb for ideas to get and keep me motivated. Now I'm really determined to have a Frugal February!

PS. luckily my bar is stocked so I didn't need to go the no drinking route... :)