Getting Off the Grid: Rethinking Our Priorities

Yeah, getting off the grid, completely, was a noble ambition. But now we have some other noble ambitions.

Basically, it has occurred to us that we may be trying to sell our house in the not-so-far future. And that buyers might not appreciate such an “alternative” dwelling.

We wanted to install a woodstove, but it probably would not pay for itself. Instead, we’re going to focus on cutting down our energy usage, so that we can save money for our dock fees, and anything else that might come up as a result of our new “plan.”

We’ve moved down to the basement for the duration of the winter. This alone makes the furnace run much less. Enough heat still comes up through the floor, so that our pipes won’t freeze, and we can still use our bathroom, shower and stove. Cooking in the cold is nothing new to us, as we grill year round!

We love our cozy basement, and it has given us much more chance to have fun together!

Wardrobe and Zero Waste Update

Last week I worked on our wardrobes, and this week I worked on reducing our waste.

First, I completed my minimalist wardrobe my purchasing a white dress and pair of sandals. I got rid of one of my grey jackets, one shirt, and one skirt. So, now, my “core” wardrobe consists of: four sundresses, a denim jacket, two blazers, one pair of jeans, one shirt, one pair of shorts, one bathing suit, a pair of sneakers, dress shoes, and sandals. I also have two formal dresses that I can’t yet part with, as well as my bikini from Goodwill that I wore last summer (Rob won’t let me get rid of that!).

For Rob and Beanie, I made a list of clothing for them. We got rid of items we didn’t need and went to Goodwill to look for things on our wish list. I then hit e-bay to look for the rest.

Beanie has 4 long sleeved shirts, 4 pair of pants, 4 short sleeved shirts, 4 pair of shorts, 3 sundresses, 3 pair of tights, sneakers, boots, dress shoes, sandals, 2 sleepers, and 2 swimsuits. She also has three fancier dresses that people have given us, and they are too cute to get rid of!

Rob’s wardrobe consists of 3 pair of shorts, 1 Hawaiin shirt, 1 paisley shirt, 1 short sleeved shirt with a band collar, 1 polo shirt, 1 striped shirt, 2 pair of dress pants, 1 pair of jeans, 1 sweater, 1 turtleneck, 3 button down shirts, running shoes, deck shoes, boots, and sandals. Rob collects t-shirts from moped rallies, so he also has a collection of those and two formal suits. We both kept an older pair of jeans to wear when we paint the boat.

As far as zero waste is concerned, we are focusing on not letting the recycling pile up. I bought a container to go next to the garbage can under the sink, and I’ve found a recycling center that will accept more plastics than the one near our house.

Next week is my week to focus on my resolution to get off the grid, but I do not want to invest a great deal of money on the house at this time during the year. Instead, we will focus on getting Moonraker ready for the summer (70 days left until launch day!). We will be away from shore powers during much of the summer, so being off the grid will be important with the boat.

Zero Waste Wednesday: A Garbage Update

We’ve made some great progress toward meeting our New Year’s Resolution of reducing our garbage. We split our time between two houses in the winter, to make Beanie’s therapy schedule easier. At our house, we have been filling about 1/3 of a kitchen garbage bag per week. At the other house, it’s been 1/2 of a plastic grocery bag.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the garbage is diapers. We used cloth diapers until the Bean turned two. At that time, she was outgrowing her supply, and we decided to just use disposables, since we were surely so close to potty training! However, potty training is sometimes more difficult for kids with SPD, and we don’t know if Beanie even feels the urge to go. But we’ll keep plugging away. I am positive that we will meet our goal of filling no more than one grocery bag per month, once the Bean is potty trained!

Otherwise, we’ve had the most luck with using reusable grocery shopping containers and finding creative ways to dispose of food waste. Also, making a weekly recycling trip has cut down on paper, cardboard, and plastic waste. Recycling is overwhelming if we don’t reduce first, but we have no more than a canvas grocery bag full of items to take in each week.

So, out of curiosity, after garbage day on Monday, I am going to bag the diapers separately for a week and see how much garbage we would produce without them.

Off the Grid Tuesday: Samovar!

This little device will be more practical on Moonraker than at home, but it’s sure been a lot of fun!

In Russia, many homes did not have heated water until recently. So, instead, families own a samovar. Water is heated–using charcoal, wood, or pine ones–and a tea pot is set on top. You make very strong, concentrated tea in the pot, and you dilute it with the heated water.

We’ve enjoyed this in our house in the winter, when a cup of hot tea is always appreciated. In the summer, we can set up a chimney and use it on the boat. It produces a great deal of heat and will make a nice heater in the boat. And while we don’t drink much hot tea in the summer, having hot water while on board will also be very nice!

Zero Waste Wednesday: Working Our Way Down

Producing close to Zero Waste is a lofty goal..and one that can seem impossibly unobtainable. We made the New Year’s resolution to produce no more than one grocery bag of garbage in a month, and it’s hard to know where to start.

We’ve been using reusable containers for grocery shopping, and buying in bulk whenever possible. We even get our shampoo, conditioner, dish soap, and laundry detergent in bulk, so that we don’t have the container waste.

We used to recycle a lot. The problems arose when the items for recycling took over our kitchen, especially if we weren’t able to get to the recycling center that week. Now, since we’ve reduced our waste in general, we only have a few items to recycle. I’ve put an extra garbage can under the sink, for these items.

Food waste is our next project. We’re not home enough for composting to be practical, but we do live in the woods. I’ve found that if I leave clippings and other food waste outside, they will be gone in the morning. The trick here, like with recycling, is to reduce first. We really try to eat as much of the food as possible, so there is less waste in the first place.

With all these changes, we’re filling one kitchen-sized bag per week, if we don’t count garbage from decluttering/remodeling. I think the next step is to fill a kitchen-sized bag every other week. Only after we are able to do that consistently for a couple of weeks, will we look at filling a kitchen-sized bag every three weeks, then every month. After that, we will work toward filling a grocery bag every month.

It’s definitely do-able. I’ll keep you posted!

Myths About Organic Food

As part of our resolution to eat less poison, we have switched to organic foods. My research on this has shown me that a lot of common beliefs about organic food are just wrong.

Here are a few of them:

1. Organic food is grown in poop. This is definitely false! According to The Organic Cook’s Bible, organic produce is grown in compost, which is a lot different from straight-up manure.

2. Organic food is prohibitively expensive. I think I have proven this to be untrue. Here is my grocery budget, with all organic food, for less that $100 a week for a family of three. Conventionally produced foods, especially those containing corn and soy, are heavily subsidized, so their prices are artificially low. So, yes, you will pay more for organic, but it is manageable.

3. Organic farming can not feed the world. No, unsustainable farming practices can not feed the world forever. Conventionally farming destroys the soil and pollutes the water. A recent study done by Iowa State University shows that conventional and organic farms produce similar yields. For more information, click here.

4. Conventionally produced food is just as healthy as organic. This is not true. Organic beef and eggs contain more beneficial omega-3’s. Studies have found that organic produce contains more antioxidants.

5. Pesticides are not a problem anymore. Yes, they are! Pesticides have been tied to cognitive impairments and other health problems in children. Click on the link in #3 for more information.

And the most common myth–organic food tastes the same as conventionally grown. I’ll let you be the judge of that: try some raw milk cheese, organic chicken, or sustainably grown lettuce and decide for yourself!

Parting With Consumer’s–Next Steps

When you read my resolutions, “Eating Less Poison” probably wasn’t the one that immediately caught your attention.

Now we’re going to talk about the crazier one, #2.

I felt the joy of seeing our kilowatt wheel stop (other than the power outage!) when we closed up the house, right before we left on our cruise.
Next year, I want to see it stopped in January.

To be honest, I didn’t think going off the grid was something we would actually accomplish, at least not living in a subdivision as we do now. However, for Christmas we got a used woodstove, solar panels, and a bit of cash…

So, here is our game plan, for reducing our dependence on the electric company:

1. Reduce, reduce, reduce, is the name of the game. Solar panels aren’t going to allow us to continue with our current lifestyle. Immediately, we need to turn off lights when we aren’t in the room, keep the desk top computer off most of the time, etc. Eventually, we will get LED lights, which use less energy than our fluorescents. Before we install the wood stove, we are going to make sure the house is adequately insulated (which is currently is not). We already replaced one door, which has cut down significantly on drafts.

2. While we have a high-efficiency furnace, the blower uses a great deal of energy. The woodstove should heat the house well enough that the furnace will not be necessary. If need be, we will continue with our plan of moving into the basement during the cold months.

3. Our next largest energy user is the hot water heater. Luckily, those are available as attachments to wood stoves.

4. We received money for purchasing solar panels for Moonraker, which will be infinitely useful when we are anchored out, or moored in Thunder Bay. There is no reason to leave these on the boat in the winter, though. Hopefully, we can get our usage low enough for these to support it. If not, we would consider a wind generator (for the boat and the house!).

5. If the solar panels will not support the washing machine, we will use our portable unit. We’ll invest in a drying rack.

6. I’m neglecting our largest energy user: the well pump. Our current pump is not doable off the grid. We are considering more efficient pumps, and a gravity feed water system. Our house is very tall, so this would work quite well!

So, breaking it down this way, you can see that off the grid living is not so much of a pipe dream, even in our home in a subdivision!

Zero Waste Wednesday: Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Used

Rob and I have theorized that there is enough stuff. They really could stop manufacturing anything for a couple of years, and we would all be all right. People replace their stuff so quickly and so frequently, that there is a lot of very nice stuff slated for the landfill.

So, now we have a frugal way to keep things out of the landfill. Whatever you are looking for, try to find it used first!

I know there is a stigma to buying used. Part of me thinks that this is deeply rooted in our consumer culture. If you’re ever seen “The Story of Stuff,” you could say that it’s because, in buying used, you’re not feeding the arrow enough. We are taught to consume conspicuously, and it if we don’t have fancy, name-brand things, we must be *gasp* poor or *double gasp* tightwads. It doesn’t matter who or what we harm in our consumption.

So, yes, buying used will help save the earth. But what about germs? All these people have touched those things. Think of all the people who slept on that couch. Ewww!

First of all, new items are hardly sterile. They still get touched. Germs are literally everywhere. That’s why we have immune systems! As far as the “eww” factor, a good shampooing will fix any furniture. Clothes get washed, and hard surfaces get bleached. Really, they will be fine!

OK, but aren’t used things in worse shape? That’s why people want new, right?

Yes, sometimes, but we have found many items that, with a little TLC, can shine as good as new. It does require more time, but it can be worth it in the end. When you buy something that was made before planned obsolescence was the norm, when items were supposed to actually last a year–and then some!–you’re really getting a higher quality product, even if it does require some sweat equity.

So, how do you get started? Here are some of our favorite places to look for used goods:

1. Thrift stores are a great place to start. These are great for dishes and other kitchen-wares, clothing, and toys. Some even have furniture (although it’s all about the hunt, it you want something that isn’t completely dated). The Salvation Army sends all of their donations to a central location, then redistributes them, so it’s really the luck of the draw what you find and where. Goodwill does not redistribute, so certain communities will have certain items. For example, I love shopping at a Goodwill in a college town, for clothing. They have very up-to-date, even trendy clothes. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent DePaul are non-profit, so they will probably have lower prices, and the money will go to good causes.

2. Now let me talked about the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Technically, it is a non-profit thrift store, but it deserves its own category. If you’re going to do ANY project in your home, stop here first. You’ll find paint, building materials, fixtures, appliances, and furniture. Some is really dated, some is not, so it’s all about the hunt! One ReStore is not like another, so you might want to visit a few of them. Some also sell toys; we got an umbrella stroller for $5.

3. Next, check out independently owned resale shops. Some of these are very expensive; some are cheaper than thrift stores. Some have nice things; some have junk. We got our coffee grinder and table at a very artsy resale shop (I also got a nice pair of jeans there!). Once you find a store you like, go back every so often.

4. We got our fridge at a pawn shop. Usually these have good electronics, especially car stereos. Other than that, you never know what else you’ll find, so it is worth checking out!

5. Summer is rummage sale time. I posted about some of my tips for those here.

6. Craig’s List is great for larger items. We found our Volvo, our pop-up camper, our motor home, and Moonrakeron Craig’s List! You can also find very nice furniture, woodstoves, and appliances there. We found our stove on Craig’s List.

7. After that, it’s time for e-bay. I do a LOT of Christmas shopping there. There are plenty of new items, but used ones cost less. It’s buyer-beware though, since you are buying the item sight unseen. Don’t spend a lot of money if there is any chance the item isn’t in great shape. We got computer parts, books, and software on e-bay.

8. Finally, you might want to check out Freecycle. Some areas have a great one going, some do not. I tried it and was very disappointed with the one in our area. There were plenty of “in search of” posts, and few people offering anything. Still, I put up some items, and found that people wanted me to go above and beyond to deliver them. Silly, silly, silly. If it’s free, then the recipient should be responsible for picking it up at a time when the other person is available. But I have heard that it’s better in other areas.

So, enjoy living greener and more frugally. Happy hunting!

Zero Waste Wednesday: Mismatched Plates

This is a fun was to add personality to your kitchen and reduce waste at the same time.

Walking through any thrift store, you will see many outdated, single plates, being sold for a dollar or less apiece. These plates are going to sit in the thrift stores until they are eventually thrown away, destined for the landfill. What if we were to buy three of these and use them for meals? We couldn’t help but wonder.

So, Beanie picked out a blue plate, ruffled along the edge. Rob chose a 1970’s vintage dish, decorated with green vegetables. For me, it was a blue china piece. Those are our plates. Beanie knows where to place each one when she sets the table, and we are each in charge of washing our own. We tried to pick out mismatched forks as well, but the only interesting one was a small one for the Bean. We will continue searching.

So what about company? We’ll just keep looking for more interesting plates. We only need two more, for hosting. We’ll keep them up on the top shelf in the cupboard, so we won’t be tempted to use them ourselves and cause dishes to pile up.

So, here is our table, set for dinner. We think it looks really nice with our kitchen.

Zero Waste Wedneday: Plastic Bag Alternatives

I have been writing, from time to time, about our efforts to reduce waste. We have been especially focusing on how to reduce waste involved in grocery shopping and meal preparation.

We all know about canvas grocery bags. But what about the other plastic bags in our lives? What about Ziplocs and produce bags? I’ve found myself putting fruits and vegetables straight into the canvas bag, so that I won’t have to use a plastic bag.

Then, for my birthday, my friend gave me some Blue Avocado bags. These sturdy, pretty bags are exactly what I needed!

The net bags are perfect for fresh fruits and veggies:

The sandwich bags are great replacements for Ziplocs, and they are perfect for trail mix and granola:

By reusing something that will last, we are reducing our waste, little by little!