Stockpiling for sustainability

stockpile

If you aren’t stockpiling yet, you definitely should. It saves time on shopping, enables one to take advantage of the best deals, and has the potential to tide one over a tough period. In several instances we have eaten our way through our stockpile, relying heavily on it when times were rough.

Read more on stockpiling in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and barley, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.”

Top Money Savers

Above: growing some of your own food is excellent, but one must give it time

For those just venturing out into the field of frugality and a more self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the things I find most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Apart from making and using my own soap, I also clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out.

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it’s easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get “the best” antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn’t pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year.

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn’t much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use – and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! One of my favorite things to wear for yard work a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it’s perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you’re actually paying for something you aren’t using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude – would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn’t a right and wrong or black and white in this, it’s all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life.

What are your top money savers?

A Guide to Buying Second Hand

Image result for second hand shop

Buying second-hand – clothes, shoes, tools, books, toys, furniture – can save you a whole lot of money and give you high-quality products at the fraction of the cost – if you shop wisely.

An item’s value drops by the very fact of it not being brand-new – if I buy a pair of shoes, wear them once for five minutes and give them away to a second-hand shop, someone else can buy them very cheaply even though they are, essentially, good new shoes. Looking for such gently used items can be a very rewarding challenge.

On the other hand,  there are thrift shops and there are thrift shops. Not long ago I visited one which was packed with stuff, but everything was in such disarray that I was discouraged from even browsing and went away without buying anything.

A good,  well organized thrift store is well worth being put on your local map and visited regularly.  My top tips for making the most out of thrift shopping are the following:

1. Check the quality – there is no guarantee and often no returns in second hand shops, so before you buy, carefully look for any tears, rips, stains, dysfunctional parts, etc.

2. Be a regular.  Ordinary stores are somewhat predictable; second hand ones are full of surprises.  Make it a habit to pop in once in a while so you don’t miss new great finds.

3. Resist the temptation to buy too much because it’s cheap.  Remember, the goal is to save on what you really need, not fill your house with stuff.

4. When buying used furniture,  beware of wood pests.  You don’t want to risk infecting your whole house – getting rid of wood pests is a troublesome and almost futile task.

Mean Green Cleaning Machine

Do you like to clean? I think I see a couple of you shaking their heads and smiling… yes, I mean you. And I’ll be brutally honest – while I, in fact, appreciate a clean bathroom and floors, there are many other things I’d rather be doing – like baking cookies, taking a walk with the kids, digging in the garden or writing.

However, cleaning must be done in order to maintain a livable, inviting atmosphere, and while I’m at it I’d rather avoid harsh dangerous chemicals as much as possible (and save money along the way, too). Check out my latest Mother Earth News post on this subject:

“When standing in the household supplies aisle in a supermarket, it’s easy to be dazzled by all the various cleaning agents in colorful bottles and packages. However, most of that stuff isn’t just outrageously expensive, it’s harmful for the environment and can even be downright dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to clean house simply and effectively, just the way our grandmothers did – combining simple materials which don’t cost a lot and aren’t dangerous to keep around small children.”

citric acid crystals

Above: citric acid crystals – one of my favorite green cleaning little tricks.

Myrtle berry jam

Following my previous post on myrtle’s culinary uses, I have been experimenting with myrtle leaves and berries some more. I guess I’m just really tickled that there is a berry which grows well and prolifically in our area – and it’s free for picking!

I have tried to search online for myrtle berry jam recipes but couldn’t find anything definite, except that on one site I’ve read the berries are used in mixed fruit jam, generally along with apple. I cooked up a small experimental batch with about 1:1 ratio of myrtle berries and apples, sweetened to taste. After cooking, I ran it all through a food processor and got a beautifully colored, unique-tasting jam which I’m sure will be great as yogurt or granola topping, on toast, or even as roll or pie filling (if I make a larger batch).

The astringency of the berries is almost gone after cooking, and the only improvement suggestion I’d give myself for the future would be to strain the cooked berries and discard the seeds, which have a somewhat coarse texture and slightly bitter taste.

Left: myrtle berries; right: apple and myrtle berry jam. 

Little homes, creative solutions

Lately I’ve been greatly enjoying Teri’s blog, Homestead Honey. Teri and her husband live in a charming tiny cabin of 350 square feet (just over 32 square meters) that they had built themselves. They have two children, whom they homeschool.
How do four people fit into 350 square feet? On her blog, Teri talks about some creative solutions that have enabled them to live in their small space. They have, for instance, an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor shower. And, of course, despite having a storage shed they need to be very selective about which possessions they keep.

We live in a house of about a 100 square meters, or 1070 square feet. In addition, we have a storage shed of about 15 square meters (about 160 square feet). Our house is by no means huge, but I confess we do have a lot of poorly utilized space. First, our storage shed is filled to bursting with stuff we hardly use. We also have an office and a guest bedroom that are seldom used for their direct purpose, and a lot more for accumulating junk. In addition, we have three bathrooms in our house, out of which one is used very, very rarely, and its shower not at all – I consider it completely superfluous.

So, while it’s certainly nice to have a roomy house and lots of space to put our stuff, it’s an undeniable fact that a family like ours can downsize and live in a smaller house that is easier and cheaper to heat (or cool), clean and maintain. Also, in Israel, the smaller your house is, the lower the occupation tax you pay.

Of course, you wouldn’t pay occupation tax for an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, a storage shed or a covered front porch/deck/pergola that would enable you to place garden furniture, benches, swings, hammocks, and spend many pleasant hours outside! The only hitch I see in this arrangement are the days when you are confined to the interior of your house – when it’s too rainy, windy, stormy, cold or, as more often happens in Israel, too hot.

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Above: deck at our new cabin

I do have to be fair and acknowledge that all these wonderful outdoor extensions are only possible if you are living on the land. In city apartments, you just make do with your space (though I’ve seen some very neat space-utilization practices done in apartments too). But if you have some land, however little, you can work wonders.

We have been married close to nine years now, and we are on our fourth house, so far. Despite my desire to get settled in a permanent home (as much as anything can be permanent in this world) straight away, I think it was a blessing in its way, because it did force us to go through our possessions from time to time and decide what we can’t do without. When you must pay to have your stuff moved, you’ll probably let go of that old broken-down washer than has been sitting in your back yard for years, waiting to be turned into a potter’s wheel or some other marvelous engine (talking from experience here). Still, we tend to accumulate possessions at an alarming rate.

At this time, we are facing the prospect of moving to a smaller house. When it first began to dawn upon me this is a serious possibility, it was daunting. How would I sort through all our things? Obviously we wouldn’t be able to keep everything. We’d have to get rid of stuff, possibly a lot of stuff. How would we fit into a smaller space? But now that I’ve found Teri’s blog, and the testimonies of other people who have downsized and are happier for it, I’m not nervous anymore, but rather looking forward to this as a challenge. In the future I hope to post updates of our progress.

Melons

ripemelon

Above is one of the melons we grew this season. We only grew a couple of vines for the experiment, from seeds we saved a couple of years ago from an especially delicious specimen (which we bought at the store, by the way). We planted rather late and the melons sure took their time to ripen, but the wait was definitely worth it. The fruit was small, but very fragrant and sweet, since we allowed it to fully ripen on the vine before picking. I think I’m going to save seeds from this one too, to plant next year.

And, yes, in the background you can see some more hot peppers! The bounty sure doesn’t stop, and I’m going to make some more hot sauce soon.

You can read more about growing food from supermarket scraps here and here.