It’s been a minute.

It’s been far too long since my last blog post! I have started to shop again but I have limited my purchases to clothing from local consignment shops and reworking clothes that I already own (whenever possible). Sometimes, things simply wear out and you need a refresh! I’ve also tried to limit any houseware items to second hand shops or through my local Buy Nothing group.

It’s coming up on two years since my mother left us rather unexpectedly. It’s been two years of boxes, sifting, sorting, packing, moving, storage, unpacking, purging, ohmygawd-why do I still have so much stuff?! The slow uphill climb can be attributed to many factors namely GRIEF AND DEPRESSION and the related fatigue, both emotional and physical. I’ve had other priorities, too, like spending time with friends, my pack, traveling to see my family, and tending to my job so I can keep a paycheck and benefits. Adulting is hard.

There is still a lot to address, both physically and emotionally. We sold our parents’ condo earlier this summer and my sister took on the Herculean task of emptying the space of its contents. Know this, the greatest gift you can leave your heirs is an empty house. Obviously, that’s not a reasonable request, we need things to be comfortable in our daily lives, but I did learn that there is a limited market for used goods.

Earlier this summer Mary and I went through Mom’s jewelry, selecting pieces that we liked or had sentimental value. We did keep some important pieces that are now stored in a bank box, we could only make so many decisions at the time. Once we had reviewed the other pieces and chose what we wanted, I took the lot to a local jeweler. I was very glad to have found Mona, she was warm, friendly, transparent and never pushy. During the selection process with Mary, there were pieces that had components that I liked, but I didn’t like the existing setting, etc. Mona helped me rework them into pieces that I will enjoy wearing.

My mother wore more yellow gold than I do, I’m more of a sterling/white gold type of gal. Her birthstone is garnet; she had a garnet pendant set in yellow gold and garnet earrings which were post style aslo set in yellow gold. I had everything rhodium plated and the earrings redone as dangles:

The amethyst is a carved thistle and had been set as a  pin. Mom was a teacher, her uniform was a blouse, dress trousers, and a blazer with a pin/broach. I don’t have any memory of her wearing this particular pin, but I thought it was pretty and now enjoy it much more as a pendant.

The opal on the left was also set in yellow gold which I had rhodium plated, it completely changes the look! The opal on the right was actually on a ring. I don’t wear rings, I work with my hands and am far too clumsy, I’d bash my hand into something and said ring would need to be cut off. However, I do wear necklaces and look forward to wearing a fiery opal.

The cuff links belonged to my grandfather, you can see where the other half of the cuff link had been attached on the back side. My mother had them made into earrings when he passed away, as posts. I had them converted into dangles, something I’m much more inclined to wear.

Angela found a number of time pieces when she was helping us pack including an Omega watch with a cracked crystal that belongs to Dad. I had the watch repaired, cleaned up, a couple of links removed from the band and it is now on my wrist! According to the serial number, the watch is from 1958. I can pretty much guarantee that my Fitbit won’t work in 60 years. I hope that Dad is clear enough on my next visit to tell me the story about the watch.

I don’t feel sad or disloyal about selling the bulk of my mother’s jewelry. The pieces I have now are lovely, I will wear them and think of her when I put them on. It is far more disloyal to just hold on to things out of some sense of obligation and have them languish in a box, waiting for the next generation to deal with them. Free yourself from the ghosts and the guilt. Treasure what you keep.

 

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Unintended Consequences

When I was younger, I loved my credit card. I had fewer responsibilities so I could whip out my card to buy shoes, a plane ticket, a nice dinner out, whatever. I slowly slid into more adult responsibilities including home-ownership and a dog (two!). For the last several years, I have limited my credit card use to renting a car, purchasing plane tickets, or big-ticket veterinarian/car/house bills. In 2016, I barely took my card out of my wallet.

I am now traveling to the east coast more often so I applied for an American Airlines credit card; American is the carrier that flies non-stop to my destination. I figured I would rack up extra points faster and enjoy an occasional upgrade. I submitted my application and didn’t think much more about it.

Several days later I received an envelope in the mail which I assumed was my new card. Nope, my application was denied! WOT?!?! I pay my bills on time and my only debt is my house! I rushed to check my FICO score and credit report thinking someone had hacked my accounts, stolen my identity, or crashed my credit. My FICO score was still good, but the short version is that I did not have enough credit activity for the bank to issue me a new credit card. When I started my year of less, I committed to living with less so that meant paying in cash/debit unless I had no other option. It did not occur to me that by not using my credit card, I could actually ding my financial standing. I understand why the system is set up the way it is, but there are obvious consequences to those of us trying to live without credit. My new plan to use my current credit card for purchases such as gas and groceries for the next several months and reapply.

Lesson learned.

 

 

 

WWJSD?

The other day  I received a text from a friend who was expecting her first baby. He has since arrived! Yay! Anyhoo, as many of you know, I share articles about the ills of fast fashion on social media; one of the single best things we can do to help the planet is to simply wear our clothes longer before replacing them. Fast fashion is a lot like fast food, it’s produced cheaply to taste good and be easy to consume on the go. Once you’ve eaten your food, you have waste: wrappers, condiment packets, soiled serviettes, plastic straws, etc, never mind the invisible waste in the actual food production. The same is true of fast fashion, it’s cute, cheap, you wear it a few times and the seams start to come undone, or it doesn’t wash well, or you simply tire of the trend, and who cares? It’s a $10 t-shirt! It goes into the rag pile (maybe) or into the Goodwill pile where it will more than likely end up in a landfill as charity shops are inundated with cheap, poorly made products that have little to no resale value.

My friend and her husband have been preparing for their baby’s arrival. Babies need stuff, NO argument. However, babies don’t need all of their things to be brand new. They grow overnight and the cute onesie with the monkey face on the tush is only worn a handful of times before it becomes too short. My friend has been interested in how fast fashion, and the clothing industry in general, affects the planet and has shopped for gently used items during her pregnancy. The other day was the best, though:

“WWJSD – what would Jeanne Sutter do- last Saturday I was super lazy and thought, we can just buy new baby clothes, no need to get off my ass and go to the Corvallis clothing swap. Then I thought WWJSD and so I got off my ass :)”

This message MADE MY DAY! It made me like I’m not some crazy-fleece-clad-Pacific-Northwest-hippie. I mean, sure, there’s some of that (side note: never buying fleece again. More on that later) but that my actions or raising awareness about a particular issue has influenced another person’s consumption habits was incredibly gratifying. She scored some cute items for baby boy, kept money in her wallet, and didn’t create demand to produce more new STUFF.

In the interest of full disclosure, I really need some new t-shirts. The shirts that I regularly wear under sweaters etc are showing their age and wear. I will continue to use them, I’ll add them to the rotation of “wash the dogs/yard work/kitchen work/general rumpus” tops, but I need to add some newer looking shirts to actually be out in public. I have many American Apparel t-shirts, even though they got rid of their former CEO, I find their advertising to be kind of sleazy and many of their products to be downright horrifying. I’m all for fair trade, so I’ve been looking at Fair Indigo, too. However, the company that I’m intrigued with at the moment is American Giant. They source their cotton from North Carolina and the garments are made here in the US. Their products are not cheap, but they look well-made and I far prefer to support a domestic company using American labor than out-sourced labor where the clothing company has little to no oversight over the manufacturers’ working conditions or employee wages.

We’ve gotten ourselves into a vicious cycle: wages have not kept up with the cost of living, we look to stretch our money as best we can, so we end up buying cheaply made disposable goods produced in places where wages are much lower and there is less worker safety oversight.  But corporate retailers can still make a disproportionate profit without paying living wages. Companies buy into planned obsolescence so we’re continually driven to consume more to replace crappy products with equally crappy products in flashy packaging. I don’t dispute that manufacturing technology has evolved and made many jobs redundant, but there is still a lot of exploited human capital in the garment industry.

So, what will Jeanne Sutter do next? There are some new to me t-shirts and I’m in the market for a darning needle. Anyone darn their socks? We’ll see how it goes!

 

 

Lessons

I was feeling pretty darn smug the other day as I pumped liquid castile soap into my container at the grocery store. I use concentrated castile soap for virtually all cleaning needs, from dishes to floors to toilets. “This is so great” I thought to myself, “I’ve used this bottle so many times! I don’t know why more people don’t do this!” Yep, I was pretty.darn.smug. A salesperson walked by and asked if I needed any help, I declined with thanks, but then turned and asked her about the large jugs of soap and other bulk personal care items. I admit, I had this dreamy fantasy that the jugs were returned to the vendor for refilling. The truth is far less dreamy: the jugs are rinsed, slashed, and then tossed into recycling. I’m guessing the jugs are slashed to prevent anyone from using them for food products or some other misuse.

Well, shit. I went from feeling so pleased with myself to questioning if my efforts were even worth it! As I pushed my shopping cart around the store, I started to doubt my intentions. Of course, all bulk products arrive at the store in packaging. Huge bags of coffee, flour, grains, and beans are poured into the bins and dispensers. Somehow, I felt better about decanting my popcorn kernels into my mason jar rather than buying another plastic container of kernels or using a single-use plastic bag or paper bag provided in the bulk aisle. I still do feel better about my glass jars and I will continue to use them. Glass will be continually recycled as long as there is a demand for it. The recyclability life-span for plastic is far shorter and it becomes more toxic as it is down-cycled. Which leads me back to my original dilemma, should I pump liquid products packaged in plastic into a reused plastic container? I might be creating a little less plastic waste, but maybe not by much. I have also been sourcing my shampoo and conditioner from bulk pumps reusing my plastic bottles. I use liquids because of the convenience, a squirt of soap into a bucket of hot water and I’m ready to mop. Another squirt and some baking soda and the toilet is ready for a scrub. But, what to do about the plastic??

My solution is to finish the products I already own in my reused plastic containers. Then I will buy solid bars of soap. Both Dr. Bronner’s and Kirk’s produce soap in bar form wrapped in paper. I can grate the soap, dilute in water and pour my liquid soap into my bottles. Is this process as convenient as just pumping soap into a container? No. But it won’t be so inconvenient that I won’t do it. Additionally, I have been looking at shampoo and conditioner bars for a while, this is my opportunity to try them out. I will move toward moisturizer bars in the future, but I’m *still* working my way through the many bottles I have amassed!

I am constantly learning as I move through this experiment. What works for me may not work for someone else, but a consistent lesson is that there are alternatives if you’re willing to seek them out.

Politics and the Year of Less

 

We knew things would change on January 21st, but I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for the shit storm that has been raging around the world for the last two weeks. Two weeks. It’s only been two weeks. I’m mentally exhausted; trying to summon courage and optimism is difficult. In many ways it feels like I’m skidding out of control while desperately turning the wheel to correct it. In an effort to not emotionally unravel, I’ve been directing much of my ire to action, whether small actions such as sending an email to Starbucks thanking Howard Schultz for his brave business decisions, to attending a town hall hosted by my senators, to expressing opposing views with respect (that’s the hard part).  This is a marathon and we’re barely out of the gate.

What does all of the political poop have to do with my year of less? Well, consumption is a political act. I’m not going to get into the “vote with your dollar” debate because it is simply too nuanced and I’m not going to sit in my position of privilege and tell people where they should shop. It’s not fair, it’s not feasible, and it’s not right. People need to provide and they are often limited as to how and where they can spend their hard earned dollars. There are certain universal fixed costs: mortgage/rent, utilities, student loans, transportation, and insurance. We have little control over those costs but we do control how we spend our disposable income. My disposable income is fairly modest, but I enjoy time with friends, happy hour, movies, and shows, but given the current political climate, my budget for fun has shrunk a bit. I now contribute monthly to organizations I support such as Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, 350.org, the ACLU, and my local NPR affiliate. Following the attacks on the press, I have doubled down my efforts and now have electronic subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and my local paper, the Oregonian.

I don’t want to dismiss the need for comfort and fun (and new shoes!), those outlets are just as important if we’re going to get through this. Austerity is not the goal and this is just about my own experience, but I feel like sacrificing a dinner out or tickets to a show so I can help fund a cause that is bigger than me is just more important right now. For a long time we were lulled into apathy, I’m glad we’re fighting back. If we’re the greatest country on the planet, we should act like it.

A New Beginning

I’m not quite ready to share the details of the last several weeks of the year of less, it still feels too raw and personal, but I will admit that circumstances dictated that I buy some new things. Rather than go into those details, I will do a bit of a 2016 wrap-up and think about what is on the horizon for a second year of less in 2017.

The big reveal, no I did not save oodles of money. I have spent the last year working a little less than full-time so I was earning proportionately less and had far less discretionary income. However, while I didn’t save a lot of money during the year (in addition to my automatic savings), I did not carry any credit card debt and I did not feel as anxious about money. I still had a social life that included happy hour, meals out, movies, and shows, but I felt less anxiety which I can only attribute to my lack of need to buy anything other than food and required toiletries/medicine. I did not buy the dogs one new toy this year and they were just fine!

The good: The first thing I bought myself were some new underthings which I bought on 31 December. I know, I did not wait until 2017, but I assumed the shops would be closed and I just wanted that errand done. It’s marvelous to have new underthings that aren’t all stretched out or full of holes. There was no remorse when I dropped my extremely well-worn items in the trash.

The bad: I had an extended absence from home, nearly two months. And during that time, a trio of rodents moved in and partied like it was 1999! One of the (many) things they chewed through were all the dog food bags I had saved to use as trash bags. Since I was producing so little trash, I only used one bag/month. I had to pitch them all, they were useless. I picked up a box of 13 gallon sized compost bags to use instead of regular kitchen liners. Using the dog food bags was a bit of a mixed bag (pardon the pun), they didn’t really fit my trash bin or under the sink very well and I had to tape it closed before putting the bag in the bin. Not the worst, but I’m investigating other alternatives.

The ugly: Rodents make themselves very much at home in an empty house. I thought the house was devoid of all pet food, but there was a Nancy’s yogurt tub that I use when I travel with the dogs…and there was some kibble inside. The rodent friends managed to get into the container and were storing the food in one of my couches. Needless to say, the couch is gone. I entertained the idea of having it professionally cleaned, but then I saw the damaged cushions and realized it was not worth trying to save a 10-year-old couch. It was the first piece of furniture I purchased when I bought the house and I was sad to haul it curbside for pick up. It was also a sleeper; I did not want to open up the mattress to see what they had possibly left for me to find. Nasty.

All in all, it’s been a bit of a tough start to the New Year. But, I am happy to be reunited with my pack, back at work, and I have new undies! So, what’s next? I liked being a Consumer of Less so I think I will continue my general practices. I do need to replace some very tired clothing but I don’t feel compelled to buy much of anything else. My laptop was having some trouble but I was able to have it repaired for less than $200, far less than a new one. And guess who made it through the year, my clunky and slow iPhone 4S!

I am looking forward to exciting adventures in this new year. I hope your year will be full of wonderful experiences and memories.

 

 

When did it get to be NOVEMBER?

There are still a couple of days left to October, but this year has been screaming by! I’m experiencing some anxiety about the end of the year of less. At first it was a bit challenging; trying to find alternative resources for the few things I’ve needed was a little inconvenient, but once I figured out processes that worked for me, it has been fairly easy. Now that the year is almost over, I need to find new processes that will not cause me to fall into a spiral of despair over unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, environmental degradation, or fill my house with additional unused STUFF.

A friend recently asked me about which habits I plan to keep and which ones I plan to be less stringent. “You seem to really love your bulk food” she said. OHMYGOSH, YES. I love shopping the bulk department and I don’t know why everyone who has access to bulk doesn’t utilize it more. I am fortunate to live in a place that not only allows the use of personal containers, but encourages it for bulk shopping. I love that I don’t have to buy the prescribed amount in the prepackaged options. I love that I can just put my jars away when I return home, and I can just wash and reuse my containers as needed.

Other bits and pieces I’ve learned along the way:

  • I’m fine without paper towels and napkins. Newspaper pieces are used to pick up anything really gross, otherwise rags are used, rinsed, and tossed in the laundry.
  • Soap nuts work. My experience has been that they are great for clothes that require washing from daily wear. They come out of the wash smelling fresh and clean, a bit like a green apple. However, for anything that is stained or soiled, I still need to use detergent (bulk bin purchase from my local co-op).
  • I haven’t missed trash bags. I’m fine re-purposing dog food bags as the kitchen trash liner. Since so little of my waste isn’t composted or recycled, I’m down to about 1 pound of trash/month. The total weight does not include animal waste!
  • Repairing clothes makes sense! This year I have spent $114 on clothes that required cleaning and repairs including having two pairs of shoes re-soled.
  • No one has given me a hard time about packing up my leftovers in my own container. I have received only positive feedback from waitstaff.
  • I’m learning what to keep and discard from my life now. Not my future life or my fantasy life, but my life right NOW. This has been a challenge for me. While I’m not a “what if I need XYZ?” type of person, I’m trying to figure out how to build a comfortable home that fits my aesthetic and my year of less rules and values.
  • I now see disposable products as a complete waste of money. Why do we buy something that we will just throw in the trash and then spend more money to replace? I understand societal constraints and the ease of convenience, but for home/daily use do we really need to continue to purchase beverages in disposable cups/bottles, zip top bags and plastic wrap? I’m not going to retire on the amount of money saved from not purchasing these items, but my Target runs are far less frequent which is WAY more money in my pocket. Because who goes to Target and sticks to the list??!! Actually, now I do and Target runs are a lot less fun but far more efficient.
  • My volume of laundry hasn’t changed much. Sure, I’m washing more items, but not so much more that it requires additional loads.
  • I’m a little bummed that I could not buy the new Ina Garten book, but I have the other 9, I’m okay.
  • I still have too much stuff. I have made a concerted effort to not purchase any new items and finish or dispose of items that are no longer useful to me, but there is still more. I will probably need to impose a 1-in-2-out rule for 2017.
  • Not buying anything is freeing. I have experienced ten months without pressure to buy anything new. I am glad that I allowed myself the freedom to still enjoy experiences (including meals out) with friends. I think a full ban could be isolating.
  • This process can be a little inconvenient. Yes, it is often faster to just get online or zip to the store and purchase XYZ item. However, by taking a step back and trying to source it through other channels, I am able to determine if I really need the item and I tend to keep money in my pocket by not purchasing the item or being tempted by other consumables.
  • No one cares about what you’re wearing. Seriously. As long as you are clean, put together and dressed appropriately, no one cares if you’re wearing the same sweater you wore three days earlier.

This is getting to be quite long so I will end it there. I’m visiting my parents again in a few weeks so there will be more blogging fodder. Onward!