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What’s keeping in the kitchen?

Does anyone else wonder where the money goes for their food?

Yum!

Yum!

We hardly ever eat out.  We love to eat — and cook — and we make our own dinners almost every night (we went out twice in the past month — one anniversary and one reunion dinner with family).  We don’t order out.  We don’t bring home take-out.  So where does the money go?  I wonder……not worry……just wonder.

So when I saw a post on Houzz about 6 Tips From a Nearly Zero Waste Home. I was on it like a shot.  Let’s stop the waste!  Rule #1:

Then I heard that needle across the record noise.

You see my problem?  We don’t eat chips (just don’t care for them).  We don’t use K-Cups (it makes us anxious that we have any waste from our coffee making — even compostable  filters and grounds). No tetra paks except for some stock now and again.  We actually make our own cereal mixes.  Few crackers.  We’re exterior-walls-of-the-super-market shoppers.  PLUS!  No room for bringing home and storing huge packs of ANYTHING!  Costco is not on our list of favourite stores. We just can’t stock up for the zombie apocalypse.

What else can we do to minimize our food bill?  Reduce waste.  Over to Life Edited for tips on creating a smaller footprint in the kitchen.

Rule #1:

  1. Buy only what you need. This is a pretty obvious one, but try to buy the food and the quantities you know you’ll consume from one shopping trip to another. It’s okay to have an empty fridge before you go shopping. If feasible in your area, make more frequent, smaller shopping trips.

That’s a bit more like it.  We live up the hill from a Superstore.  DH likes to take a nice walk every day.  It’s a match (of purposes) made in heaven.  Following the rest of the rules, we compost — Vancouver has a great composting program.  We don’t hoard food until it’s spoiled — our tiny fridge and freezer means we’re faced with our leftovers whenever we dip in for a cold one or an ice cube.  We use up our leftovers.  What to do to reduce our food bill?

**sigh**

One place I would really like to reduce our waste is with food storage.  I rely on plastic wrap.  I use it to keep my lunch from drying out, I wrap my cut onions in it, and put over dishes of leftovers.

Can someone please invent a biodegradable plastic wrap?

Thanks!

Keeping it cool old school

Being part of the design process for your home means making decisions — and compromises.

DH and I had a bit of a struggle over air conditioning.  Neither of us can handle the heat in the summer — we tend to wilt around 25° C. And as for sleeping in a hot, humid room – well, it ain’t gonna happen.

Fan

DH wanted air conditioning for the laneway.  I did not.  I think we can keep the space cool through the summer using what we have, and not use more energy cooling off the place.

On his side of the discussion — summer.

On my side — windows on all four sides of the house, so we’re sure of getting a cross breeze, upstairs and down (our ex-condo had windows on one side of the building — north — so no chance of a cross breeze). Plus the house is built facing full south, but the sun does not hit the windows after 5 pm (this far in the year) so we don’t get the hot rays of the setting sun streaming in. We can close the blinds on the south and east sides of the upstairs to keep the hottest sun of the day out.  Plus we have fans to blow cooling breezes (when available) throughout the house, and we can move them from room to room as we need them.

So the weight of words won the day and we did not install air conditioning.  We have high hopes that we will survive without it.

Since the bedroom is tucked into the slope of the lot, with a small north-facing window, we can keep it lovely and cool. Last year  we were thrilled to find how cool and dark the bedroom was in the basement suite we rented during the build, and how easy it was to get a good sleep compared to the hot, stuffy master bedroom of our ex-condo.  We expect our open-and-screened bedroom window will provide enough cool air for the bedroom fan to circulate and keep us comfortable.

And we can always step onto our deck if we start to swoon from the heat upstairs.  Delightfully we could even watch TV through the window from the deck, so we’ll always have a cool place to go if it gets too warm in the sitting room.

Right now the sitting room is wonderfully comfortable, with a couple of windows open at the top (tilt and turn windows — great idea)

WindowTilt

windowturn

It tilts!  It turns!  It slices, dices, and juliennes (not exactly as shown) plus it gives our cats the illusion that they can escape if they can just discover how they work.

There’s no shortage of fresh air.  We will put the screens on our windows this weekend, so we can keep the bugs out (and the cats in) when we open the windows nice and wide.

We also expect the extra insulation of the living roof will provide an extra layer of comfort.

We will have to live and learn to see if our plans work as well as we hope they will to keep us really cool in the heat of summer.

In short:

  1. Windows on at least 3 sides of the building to catch all the breezes.
  2. Blinds to keep out the most intense rays of the sun.
  3. Sleeping on the lowest level of the house (a basement if you can).
  4. Getting outside if the heat is too much inside.
  5. Fans.  We are fans of fans.

We are ready for the summer.

Because summer is coming. Keep cool.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? And how many?

I ran across another great article on Life Edited, this time on household size.

All along I have touted laneway homes as a good method to increase the densification of neighbourhoods without changing their character.  These houses, by nature of their small size, will only house one or two people each.  What about the housing density of the rest of the neighbourhood?

Not this kind of housing density.

Not this kind of housing density.

We tend to frame the density issue in terms of housing size, because it’s easy to understand that big homes, as a rule, reduce overall density. But there is something else, just as important as housing size, that must be factored in to understand how density works, and that is household size.

The article quotes a paper in the online journal Population and Environment.  Looking at the population/housing ratio in the past 400 years,

the number of households grew faster than population size in every country and every time period. These findings suggest accommodating housing may continue to pose one of the greatest environmental challenges of the twenty-first century because the impacts of increased housing present a threat to sustainability even when population growth slows.

There are fewer people being born per capita, true, but

Progress made in curbing population growth, however, has not translated into reducing human
consumption of natural resources and impact on the environment.

Yikes!  Why?  Of course there are lots of reasons, and it’s not just because people are building larger homes (McMansions) for their smaller families.  People are also moving out of the family home at an earlier age.  The trend during the recent economic downturn for people to move back in with their parents after college is an anomaly, and probably will not be continued after the economy picks up again.  Also elderly people stay in their own homes longer rather than moving in with their families.  Plus they remain in their old family homes longer rather than moving to smaller ones.  There are other factors as well

The rising incidence of divorce also encourages increased household numbers. In the United
States, 15 % of all households had divorced heads in 2000 …. Although remarriage is common, the relatively high percentage of divorced households persists, and divorced households are 27–41 % smaller than married households

And that means?

From a more simplistic perspective, declining household sizes, from over 5 to approximately 2.5, will mean approximately twice as many houses will be needed per capita in any areas of the world yet to undergo the shift in household size.

Assuming that each of the additional households occupies a 210 m2 house (the average US
house size in 2002) (National Association of Home Builders 2004), then an additional
185,800 km2 of housing area would be required. This estimate may be conservative because land
area for household-related infrastructure (e.g., roads, yards, and retail) can require 2–4 times as
much land as the actual land used for the home …. Each of those houses would demand more household products and have lower efficiency of resource use per person because fewer people share goods and services in smaller households.

That’s why urban sprawl — taking more land to build more houses — will not solve all the problem.

One small caveat by Life Edited shows a glimmer of light in the tunnel of doom:

As a small space design blog, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the amount of sprawl (i.e. the 72K sq miles) they calculate is based on a house size of 2509 sq ft–McMansions for all.

So smaller houses will help the problem well into the future.  And they give us a couple of options,

  1. Let things remain the same. Encroach on undeveloped lands and deplete all natural resources until the planet’s homeostatic environmental mechanisms are irrevocably destroyed.

  2. Reverse demographic shifts away from industrialization, the desire for privacy, divorce and so forth.

  3. Rethink housing. Adjust housing style to meet demographic shifts. Have smaller, more efficient houses with shared amenities. Creatively subdivide existing housing. Mitigate sprawl by keeping density high, even outside of major metropolises, permitting walk/bike/public transportation-friendly living.

That last choice seems the best to me.

Organizing? Or ?

We are still in the process of a) getting rid of stuff, and b) finding places for the stuff that we need.  We want to downsize our rented storage space this month with the goal firmly in place of getting to the point where we don’t need any exterior storage space at all.

So I am doing my part by sitting down with a cup of coffee and my laptop and perusing stories on organizing.  Thanks to Apartment Therapy for giving me “101 Organizational Helpers” with “stylish storage options”  and tips like

Even when your contents are stored and labeled, it means nothing if they’re not accessible. Stacking a group of boxes and storing them on wheels is a great way to utilize the back corner of a closet. When you need a particular box, out rolls your storage cart for easy access.

That is a good idea.  Also

consider repurposing a few things from the kitchen to help you straighten up your sleeping space. Silverware and ice cube trays can be used to sort jewelry and dresser drawers,

But then I ran across another article that reminded me of what it is all about.

Life Edited asked the musical question “Is Organization A Sham?

The article quotes The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus from their book “Everything That Remains” 

Discussing how to get rid of our stuff answers only the what side of the equation, but not the why; the action, but not the purpose; the how-to, but not the significantly more important why-to. In other words, the what is relatively easy. We all know instinctually how to declutter–how to get “organized.” But that’s just one part of the larger issue. Instead of “get organized,” I’ve decided I need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word, a sneaky little profanity who keeps us from really simplifying our lives.

You see, our televisions would have us believe there’s a battle being fought on the consumption continuum, a battle between messy hoarders on one side and spruce organizers on the other. And from our couches it’s hard to see who’s winning. I’d like to posit, however, that these two sides are actually working together, colluding to achieve the same thing: the accumulation of more stuff. One side–the hoarders–does so overtly, leaving everything out in the open, making them easy targets to sneer at. Face it, we all laugh and point and say “I’m sure glad my house doesn’t look like that,” every time we see them on TV. But the other side–the sneaky organizers–are the more covert, more systematic, when it comes to the accumulation of stuff. Truthfully, most organizing is nothing more than well-planned hoarding.

Who among us has not glanced at one of those hoarding shows, shocked and yet fascinated, like staring into the abyss that our lives could spiral into if we weren’t ever vigilant.  Those hoarders, those poor, pathetic people, don’t think they are hoarding.  They know that they might need that thing, that old magazine with that article, that pair of shoes that just needs new soles, that pot that might come in handy.

All around us we see constant reminders that we NEED MORE STUFF.  The answer is not to find more places, more attractive containers and more efficient ways to hang onto it.

It’s important to see that the final goal is not to find places for everything we own, it’s to get rid of everything that doesn’t fit into our lives any more.  That will give us more time and energy to concentrate on what is really important.

More space for less stuff

The shelf guys were back this week to give us more space.  They put in shelves in places we had hardly thought of — great horizontal spaces for us to put our stuff.  And just moving boxes out of their way to install the shelves showed us once again — we have too much crap.  Er, things.

F’instance they installed a shelf under the kitchen sink so we can finally put our composting, recycling and garbage out of the way….and discovered we had stored bottles of carpet cleaner under the sink for the past 6 weeks.  We don’t have any carpets.  Ergo, we don’t need carpet cleaner.  Into the recycling they went.

Removing what we don’t need is part of our de-cluttering quest for this year.  And it’s a long, hard, constant job. Or, as LifeEdited puts it,

editing, i.e. getting to that essential, irreducible quality…is something that takes time and great effort.

They have a point, this life style demands a shift in thinking, a paradigm shift if you will.  One of the most important questions we have to ask ourselves is

What would my life look like in its most essential form?

So we’re changing our way of thinking in five essential ways, as suggested in this article:

1. Attention. Practice doing one thing at a time–whether it’s work, driving, reading or talking with a friend.

No more watching TV while writing, reading, doing the crossword.  Let’s concentrate on what we are doing.

2. Space. ask ourselves how we can make the most of the existing space and how we can remove any elements that don’t support how we live.

Like carpet cleaner.

3. Clothing.Create a wardrobe where every item is our favorite.

And that means no more shopping for shopping’s sake — even during the sales.

4. Food. eat less, but better–healthy, fresh food that supports longterm health, not immediate gratification.

Now the holidays are over and all the candy/snacks/desserts are gone, let’s keep it that way until next December.  The only food to grab and eat will be fruit.

5. Stuff. we might continually ask whether we need the stuff we have. Do we use it? Does our frequency and quality of use justify its residency in our lives?

As we move things from our rental storage space to our laneway home we have to keep getting rid of things we don’t use and don’t need.  Yes!  Everything we get rid of makes our lives simpler, more elegant, easier.  And cleaner.

Living a conscious, serene life.  Isn’t that what we all want?

How much can we stuff into our laneway house?

Stuff is a noun.  And stuff is a verb.  It’s either the things you own, or it’s how you fit them into a small space.

So how much do we need to make us happy? Comfortable? Content?

It’s a long trail of discovery.  With many things discarded along the way.

Last night I watched a movie called “Happy“.  It was a fascinating study of people around the world and what makes them happy.  And guess what doesn’t make them happy?  Stuff. Scientist types explained that wanting stuff makes us happy.  And the anticipation of owning something makes us happy.  We’re even happy when we’re acquiring the stuff. But owning it does not make us happy.  Because once it’s ours, after a very short time it just becomes part of “the stuff we own”.  And apart from it losing that new-car smell and getting a little worn, it also needs to be taken care of.  Polished. Ironed. Painted. Dusted.  More work for you.

Oh, sure, I know you love that guitar/vintage Chanel purse/motorcycle.  But how much of our stuff do we really love, and how much of our stuff is just…..stuff?

We’re lucky in that our two moves this year have brought us face to face with everything we own.  And we own too much.  During the first move I was astonished by the stuff I found in the back of cupboards or the top of closets.  Things I had not even looked at in the 13 years we had lived in that condo.  I said good-bye to it quite happily. Now, as we sift through our Christmas decorations for the ones we can use, the ones that will go to family or to decorate my workplace office, and the ones that will be used to decorate our laneway home, we will be freeing ourselves a little bit more from the tyranny of owning too much stuff.

Huang Qingjun is a Chinese photographer who photographed families with all their belongings posing in front of their homes.  These people own very little.  What they have is precious to them.  You can read more about the story here, here, and here, and read an interview with the photographer here.

My favourite shots are these:

200-7

200-6

Even in a yurt or a mud house built into the side of the hill, these people have their TVs and their satellite dishes.  They are connected with the world outside their small homes.

And I suspect they are happy.

War, war, war-drobe!

Guess who was watching Gone With The Wind the other night?  Do you know Olivia deHavilland is still alive?  97 and kicking.

But I digress.

Pattern

A couple of months ago I ran across a very interesting and inspiring blog post by Nadia Eghbal.  A former fashionista, she wore the same outfit every day for a year.   Did people notice?  Maybe, but no one followed her through the halls pointing and giggling (she doesn’t work in a high school, obvs).  Her uniform was a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a scarf.  That can carry you through almost any situation.  She also kept a couple of formal dresses for special occasions, but she got rid of all her other clothes.

That really resonated with me.  I thought about it for quite a while and then I realized the reason why I got such a charge out of that post.  I wear a uniform almost every day, too.  I take the bus to work in all weather, so I usually wear slacks.  I have about five pairs so I wear one a day for the work week — jeans on Friday, natch.

I top the slacks with a short-sleeved top in the summer and a long-sleeved top in the winter.  A couple of cardigans. Three or four scarves.  One necklace.  That’s it.

So do I need too much else?  No, I really don’t. I buy a lot of clothes at the Gap because they are comfortable and affordable.

Now that we have to squeeze two wardrobes into one PAX system, I’ve got to pare that wardrobe down to the basics. But it’s not like I have to re-invent myself.  I’ve been doing that for years.  I just have to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t fit my re-invented lifestyle. And buy new clothes that do fit it — and me.

It helps that I’ve lost some weight in the last year.  No, it didn’t just fall off me, every pound was hard-fought, and I have to keep working at it to keep it off.  (I know what you’re going to say, “If you lost that weight, how come you’re still….plumpish?”  **Hard Stare**.) I still own several ensembles that are just too big for me.  I’m tossing them.  And I have lots of tops that I can still wear, but they are my old size and make me feel…plumpish.  So they will be replaced one by one by tops that fit me better.

We want to start travelling more.  That means clothes that can be rolled up and squeezed into carry-on luggage.  Tops that can dry overnight after being washed in hotel sinks. Slacks that can be worn on long flights without bagging at the knees and bum.

I won’t need a lot of clothes, and I won’t have the space to store clothes that can’t meet the criteria.

Next weekend — I will gather my forces to get rid of that sad pile of ill-fitting clothes, and fight the battle of the Droop Mountain.  I knew I’d work in Gone With The Wind somehow.

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