Category Archives: Simplify!

Compost!

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This winter has hardly been bleak here in the northeastern U.S.  Temperatures fluctuate into spring weather every few days, and I spied some green shoots (crocuses?  daffodils?) poking up by the side of the house a month and a half early.  I heard the weather woman say we’ve had a mere 7.5 inches (19.05cm) of snow this winter — down from last year’s abundant 60+ inches (1.5+ m).

It’s not glum here, not really.  It’s the dearth of growing things that makes the winter gray.  And this teasing, unseasonable warmth!  I can’t bear to think that planting season won’t start for another two months.

Then I remembered my compost last week, that glorious bin of kitchen waste that is turning into black gold over rotations of earth and sky.  It is superb.

I had forgotten it because, with three of us in the house and occasional contributions from the neighbors, my bin became too wet.  I added leaves and shredded brown paper when I could, but couldn’t keep up with the amount of kitchen scraps we add daily.  The compost was rotting.  I didn’t want to look at another lifeless object, especially one under my care that should have been growing and changing into beautiful dirt.

And then one golden day, a kind soul on Craigslist posted free sawdust from his furniture making shop, unadulterated and in large quantities.  It was just what I needed.  I emailed him immediately, and then tricked Mr. Savvy into driving out and carrying three enormous trash barrel sized bags of sawdust back to the car.  Three!  I couldn’t stop giggling.  Moving each bag was like trying to carry a slippery, unruly chub of a dog.

We came home.  My eyes may have been bigger than my stomach because one bag of sawdust filled the compost bin to the brim.  Don’t tell Mr. Savvy.

Over the next month, the compost bin grew alive.  It was no longer a pile of wet, stinking vegetables that froze every night as temperatures dipped.  It became something warm and sweet smelling.  The sawdust settled as we mixed in more banana peels and eggshells and coffee grounds and onion skins.  The pile is doing what it promised: changing from garbage to earth before my eyes.  It is beautiful.

My compost’s life cycle is slow.  As I watch and wait for it with the patience of a tender young plant, I realize it satisfies my yearning for growth and life — yes, even in the dead of winter.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my neighbor caught just as I was photographing the compost bin, but luckily he knows me too well to think anything strange about it.

The Catch and Release Program

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There’s something about decluttering and downsizing an entire house that makes a person not care about things anymore — the things that you used to live with, the things that you’re not taking with you, the things that were once belongings but are now just stuff.

For example, Mr. Savvy and I owned a jar of rocks.  It wasn’t a bad jar of rocks, as far as rocks go.  It served its purpose well holding the screen door open, and we liked adding to it when we had the chance: bits and bobs we had collected throughout our time together, rocks that were cool or fun-looking, rocks from places we had visited together, or rocks that had splintered and shattered along our path and caught our eye.  They were fun, and we hauled them with us from our last apartment to this one.

But you know what?  They’re just rocks.

Moving has thrown that into relief.  We took the rocks to Wagon Hill Farm this weekend and released them into the wild.  We tossed them into the bay so that Nature could do her best with them, and threw some for Lily to chase at top speed.  Someone else will find them, maybe in ten years when they’re pebbles, or maybe never, which would be okay too, because they’d be doing their thing out there in the wilderness.

We enjoy giving away our stuff.  It makes moving a heck of a lot easier.  Once we’re done, we’ll have so little that I doubt we’ll fill the pickup truck we’re borrowing.  We’re loving watching our house emptying out to the point where Mr. Savvy even suggested that we do this the next time we move, whenever that is.  Let’s get rid of all our belongings the next time, he said.  It was music to my ears.  I called it the catch and release program.

It means that we won’t have to find an apartment that fits our Stuff (like an enormous bed).  It means that we have license to pick up new-to-us furniture that we’re not sure about, that we might not love, or that might not work for us.  We can always resell it or give it away.  We can experiment with decor ideas (the thought makes me giggle), we can travel lightly, we can make a pact to get all that we need off Craigslist and Freecycle.  Our Stuff is not holding us back because it’s just stuff — it’s not important enough for a capital letter any more.  We’ll get some for a little while, use it, love it, then throw it back.  Moving has done that to us.

The trick is, I think, carrying over this mindset into the real world, that banal everydayness where you’re not filled with fire and urgency and deadline.  Perhaps it’s as easy as remembering that we’re all small and insignificant on this world, so our things don’t matter.  Perhaps it’s much harder — writing notes and searching for inspiration and reaching out to a greater community.  Whatever, the case, I’m all in. This is a good move.

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where we’re talking about collecting rocks all next year, and then throwing them back on the Winter Solstice.  That would be a nice tradition.  Basket of rocks image courtesy of Dominic (because I didn’t think to take a picture of my own).

A Bike Shop Story

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It’s snowing here.  I’ve been dreaming of sunny days and dry streets — all the better to bike on, my dears.  And I’ve been meaning to write an article about my bike shopping experience.  I haven’t written it yet because I’m just a poor kid who hasn’t biked much since the age of 13.  I don’t know much of anything about derailleurs, struts, frames, forks, spokes or titanium alloys of any kind, and so I felt I couldn’t advise you properly.  But in response to this article (courtesy of Rowdy Kittens), about women’s bike shopping experiences, I decided it didn’t matter that I don’t know technical terms and biking language.  So here we go:

I walked into a bike shop with the intent of buying a bike.  I vaguely knew what I wanted: something lightweight, something simple, something where I didn’t feel like I was going to pitch headfirst over the bars.  I did a little research into what types of bikes were available, and came up with a price range and the word “hybrid.”  That was all I had to go on.

At my local bike shop, I was greeted by one of the owners.  I explained to him what I wanted, thinking I was doing pretty well.  I told him I hadn’t been on a bike in a while, that I was just going to ride around town, that the last bike I had was a road bike, and I didn’t like it.  I wanted wider tires, fewer speeds, and I didn’t want to feel like I was sitting too high or too forward.  No, I didn’t care that I wouldn’t go too fast.

“Let me show you this hybrid here,” he said, and lifted down a bike that looked like a road bike.  It was skinny, the seat was high, it was lightweight.  “Hands down, this is the most popular bike we sell.  You could ride across the country on this bike.  One of my regular customers rode it to Florida this summer.”

He let me try it out in the parking lot.  At once, I knew it wasn’t right; it felt exactly like a road bike.  It was rigid and, to my way of thinking, unyielding.  It was wobbly (or maybe that was me).  I didn’t like my posture on it, I didn’t like that I could barely lift my leg over the top bar.  It had twenty-three speeds.  Essentially, it was a road bike, but with mountain bike handlebars.  It was also out of my price range.

We looked at another bike, this one also a hybrid, but leaning way over into the “comfort bike” category.  The owner was skeptical, but I tried it out — and loved it.  There were shocks under the seat and over the front wheel.  It was slow and wide, a little sluggish, and I felt like  kid again, seated upright, barely leaning over at all.  I wished I had a bell.

The owner laughed.  “I never would have pegged you for that bike,” he said, glancing back at the first one I tried out.  The fast one.  I figured he was judging me by my looks, and possibly by the way I carried myself with confidence into the store.  I guess he hadn’t listened to what I had to say after that — like the fact that he tried to sell me a bike that was just about everything I didn’t want.

I tried out a third bike.  This one was slightly faster than the last, less expensive, more lightweight.  It had shocks under the seat, but none over the front wheel.  It had seven speeds, something that I stressed I was looking for three times.  I loved it.  I knew I wanted it.

To be safe, I tried out another bike, and then went to two more bike shops.  Nothing compared to the beautiful simplicity of that bike, that simple, lovely, not fast bike.  I went back and bought it, and since then, I’ve loved it.

The moral of the story?  Anyone can buy a bike.  Heck, I bought a bike.  I used to be the most sedentary person known to man, and now I have a bike and a bike shop where they know me by name.  So!  Do your research; now’s an excellent time to get started.  That way, when warm weather comes, you’ll be prepared.  You’ll be confident.  Confidence is key.

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©2010 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my bike looks forlorn on the porch, dusted with snow.  Image courtesy of sfbike.

Guest Post: Switching from the Purge Mentality

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This first guest post comes from Katie at the fantastic Making This Home.  Katie and her husband Martin moved to Berlin, Germany last year, where they reside in a 480 square foot apartment.  Be sure to check out their amazing kitchen remodel, and some of the ideas they have for saving space — I love their hanging, sliding bike garage in the hallway.

My husband and I move a lot, so you can probably guess that we go through our stuff all the time.  Each time we’re moving, I get really excited to purge the clutter.  But after our last move overseas to Germany, I realized we needed to switch from the purge mentality and into the stop-buying-all-that-stuff ideology.

If your house is like ours sometimes, it’s easy to grab a cute little item from the $1 bins at Target or grab a cute pad of paper from the shipping center.  In addition to being a very un-green habit, our tendency to buy here and there will also unknowingly bog our lives down.  We don’t always realize how much stuff we’re accumulating and not using (like every one of those $1 items I’ve ever grabbed) and how much we’re spending until we stop and really look at our habits.  We just get sadder and more frustrated for having so many things.

Here’s some of our diehard habits we’ve been working on because we’re not always going to have the chance to declutter several times a year, which is how often we move:
First we stopped grocery shopping at super centers.  It’s just too easy to venture into the other end of the store, you know?
Second I share my purchases with my husband.  If I feel embarrassed showing him what I buy (like two of the same shirt in different colors), it’s probably a good sign that I don’t even need what I’m spending our money on.
Third is asking myself when I’ll need or use something.  If I need it in the next week, I should get it.  A lot of women love to buy huge quantities of fabric that never get used.  It’s easy to do if you love to sew.  But fabric often just becomes more stuff.  If you’re not going to use it this week, skip it.
Finally do the math.  How many hours of work will it take you to pay for this item?  Is it worth that type of commitment?  The worst is when you can’t actually pay cash for something and end up paying interest.  Suddenly the little $3.50 magazine bill is collecting interest over the months.
Thanks, Katie!  Find more of her great content and some truly awesome photos of her apartment at Making This Home.

Spring Cleaning Tip: Start with Old Pots and Pans

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My Favorite Pot

The evils of nonstick cookware are still up for debate, but mine are in pretty good shape; the rusty cast iron pan waits for a good sanding and seasoning.  There are pots in the cupboard I haven’t used in years.  My four standby pieces are within easy reach, pushing the seldom-used wok and roasting pan up and to the back.  Why I delayed cleaning out the tall cupboard until this weekend, I don’t know, but it was a beautiful weekend to stay inside and get something accomplished.

Pots all over the counter.  Everywhere!

I ended up with five stockpots, three small saucepans, two big skillets, two small skillets, one fry pan, one cast iron pan, and one wok.  Too many for a small kitchen; it was time to take the plunge.

Step 1: Sort into piles.

My piles ended up as my four most-used pots and pans, a pile of a few “occasional” pans, and the junk pile.  How do you know if you need to put a pot into the junk pile?  If it has scratches like this:

Scratched Teflon.  That was in my food.Yes, I’ve been eating nonstick coating.  I know that the links between ingesting Teflon and getting sick are tenuous, but the sources I’ve seen (like this Guide to Using Nonstick Pans) recommend tossing out the pots and pans that are losing their coating.  Flaky Teflon is a good sign that your pots and pans are damaged by heat and the utensils you used, so even if you kept them, they wouldn’t be as effective.  And I would hate to find out several years down the road that it’s not a big jump from eating Teflon to getting Alzheimer’s.  I play it safe and junk the junky pots.

Pots also go into the junk pile if you don’t use them.  I find myself upgrading to a nicer pot occasionally, without getting rid of the old one.  Then it sits in the cupboard for months (or years).  Take the time now to sort out what you don’t use, even if it’s an heirloom piece or something really nice.  You can figure out what to do with it later.

Step 2: Rearrange your storage.

Now that you have a nice empty cupboard, put everything back in a way that makes sense.  Stick the seldom-used pieces behind the other pots and pans, or in another room altogether.  Keep the clumsy, heavy items like cast iron unobstructed for easy removal.  Step back.  Admire your work.

Step 3: Reuse, recycle, or trash.

I had some nice pots.  They had no lids, so instead of donating them to my brother’s first kitchen or the local domestic violence shelter, I repurposed them to grow catnip and basil.

Catnip in a pot.  My other plants don't grow this well.

If I’d had beat up stainless steel or aluminum pots in the junk pile, I would’ve called my local transfer station to see if they accepted scrap metal.  Earth911 gives a pretty good idea of what can be recycled in your area.   (As far as I know, no one will take nonstick-coated pots and pans for recycling, but you could always try to resurface your old stuff.)

If you have your great-grandmother’s cast iron skillet that you don’t use, consider displaying it.  Hang it on the wall (with reinforced nails and the like), or use it as a catch-all container by the front door.

Anything in between beautiful and junky get donated.  Whether it goes to the neighbor’s children’s play kitchen set, or the Goodwill down the road, get it out of the kitchen (and preferably out of the house).  You’ll feel a whole lot better if it’s out of your hands.

Step 4: Cook with gusto.

Every time you go for a pot or pan, remind yourself that it only took fifteen minutes to sort your stuff and clear it out.  Smile.  Add some more spice to whatever you’re making.  Cook happy.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I firmly believe that your food will come out better if you’re happy when you cook it.  Happy and unrushed.  And I’m not the only one.

The Tipping Point for a Peaceful Home

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sadie

I don’t know who recommended The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, but I picked it up two weeks ago not knowing what it was about.  After reading 300 pages about epidemics, I came away with one key point about simplifying:  context matters.

According to the Gladwell, “what really matters is little things….You can prevent crimes just by scrubbing off graffiti and arresting fare-beaters…..it is possible to be a better person on a clean street or in a clean subway than in one littered with trash and graffiti” (150-168).

That last sentence (emphasis mine) really stuck with me.  It’s possible to be a better person in a nice place because a cared-for environment shows that someone will notice when it’s messy and work to change it.  This is why a peaceful home is a clean home.  It’s because we feel like someone will notice when it’s out of place, and so we all do our part to keep it tidy together.

It’s a far cry from dirty dishes in the sink to the crime rate of New York, but there’s a lesson I can learn here: Keeping a home clean and uncluttered means that everyone will feel better.  I think I can live with that.

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©2009 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I included a picture of Sadie on this post because nothing says “peaceful home” like a sleeping cat.