Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Posts Tagged ‘thrift

How low can you go – week one

with 2 comments

In an effort to keep costs down, I’m continuing to track my spending and now I’m reporting it here.  Basically, I’m trying to keep my variable expenses down as much as I can right now to save for next year, when I may not be earning much.  Rent, utilities, and my one recurring research-related subscription will get added in at the end of the month for the grand total.  I’ll have to see if I can keep track of groceries, since The Boy usually pays for those.

In the first week of my how low can you go challenge, I think I did pretty well.

Friday – nothing

Saturday – nothing

Sunday – nothing

Monday – 6 books for $15 (The Road – 2; The Fiery Cross – 2; The Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – 3; A Minnesota Doctor’s Home Remedies for Common and Uncommon Ailments – 2; Blue Covenant – 3; World Hunger: Twelve Myths – 3).

Tuesday – toilet paper for $12.

Wednesday – nothing

Thursday – nothing

Total = $27

Not bad, I suppose.  In all honesty, as I’ve said before I don’t need more books.  I consider this a birthday gift to myself, though, and I appreciate their entertainment value (in the case of the novels) and having them around for reference (home remedies and organic gardening).  Happily, the ones on water and hunger will be reimbursed as part of a research project that I’m working on.  The toilet paper was found cheaper at a local store than where I usually get it, and will last us awhile.

Next week, I’m going to be more vigilant about staying away from the bookstore (and I won’t have a birthday as my excuse).  I need to get a birthday gift for my mom, and pay for a warranty on my computer (expansive, and totally worth it, in my experience), but other than that, I’m still aiming for reducing costs.  I also have a pressing desire to do some spring cleaning, so I imagine that will keep me busy (and hyper-aware of how much stuff I have), as will all the grading I have to do.

Written by Jenn

April 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Reference library

with 2 comments

I am my own library.

I’ve always loved reading and having books around.  When I was 10 or so I had one bookshelf, crammed with books, and piles everywhere else for the ones that just wouldn’t fit.

Things aren’t really that different now, although the focus of the books has shifted.

When I started my Masters degree, I realised how hard it was to get some of the books that I needed from the library, if they even had them at all.  I also realised that 3 weeks was simply not enough time for some of them.  So I started buying books.  Not a lot, but when I needed something, especially for my research, I tended to get it so I could have my own copy, always available, that I could do what I wanted with.  This carried through to my doctorate, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grant money that has allowed me to buy most of the books that I use for research, many of which are generally good, useful texts that will be handy for a wide variety of academic work in the future (Veblen, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, de Certeau, and Simmel, I’m looking at you).

Once I became aware of issues around food security, sustainability, and peak oil, I began to see the value in using this approach of making sure I had books on hand that would help me live the life I was increasingly wanting to lead.  And so, with another bookshelf on hand, I started building up a greater selection of books on cooking, gardening, knitting, sewing, preparedness, preserving, food issues, compost, household maintenance, and most recently, raising animals.

Coupled with the fiction that I also kept around, this makes for a lot of books.  Actually, for awhile I considered getting rid of some of the fiction or academic books to make a bit more room (the fiction especially was considered for the shopping block), but then I read one of Sharon’s posts that included a section about buying books and feeling that she should be the local library, and I stopped thinking that way.

While fiction may not be useful in the practical sense, it gives me some very inexpensive, reusable, and lendable entertainment.  It’s an escape, a way to get away from the world for a while.  Sometimes its inspirational.  Sometimes its relaxing.  But I appreciate having books around that I want to read, and so when I see something at the used bookstore for a few dollars that I want to have around long term, it often comes home with me.  At the most recent 50 percent off sale, I came home with John Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Dostoyevsky, Douglas Adams, John Irving, and Annie Dillard.  I’m still not looking forward to moving them, and I do trim the collection here and there but, by and large, the books stay.

The building of my library has been facilitated in a few ways.  My long-standing love of thrift stores has certainly helped, and I’d say the vast majority of my books have cost no more than a few dollars each.  Back in my undergrad days there was a thrift store where almost every book was a quarter or less – total bliss.  The annual library book sale here helps as well.  Also, everyone I know knows of my love of books, and birthday and Christmas gifts are frequently gift certificates.  I also do a few reward-type programs that don’t cost me anything, but that add up to a bit of book money here and there.  Occasionally there’s something that I want or think is useful enough to buy new, but this is very much a rarity.

Missing from this post: photos of my book-covered coffee table, bedside, nightstand, desk, and dining room table.

Written by Jenn

April 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm

How low can you go?

with one comment

It’s three days into April now, but at the start of the month, I decided that this will be a month where I see how low I can get my budget to go under normal circumstances.

The goal?  To spend as little as possible while I live like I normally would.  No eating strictly from the pantry, no putting off things that I need until the next month to skew the spending lower, no making The Boy take on more than he normally would to cover for me.  So, normal life, just with less spending, whether that means buying fewer things, or spending less on the things that are necessities.

Seems simple enough, but I suppose I shall see.  I’ll update as I go with weekly spending reports.  Three days down, 27 left to go.

How low can you go?

Written by Jenn

April 3, 2011 at 4:06 pm


leave a comment »

I’ve never been what you might call a fancy dresser.  I like to look nice in general, and I put some thought into my clothing, certainly, but I’ve never focused too much on it.  I’ve always had comfort as at least one priority.  As much as I like to look nice, I’m also not willing to sacrifice comfort in the name of high heels, or binding outfits.

But more and more as I think about and work towards sustainability, I’ve been thinking about clothing in terms of utility.  Now, it’s not like I’m out in the fields daily (or at all, really, much as I would like to be), but I have been thinking about the purposes that clothing serve, as well as some other things like fibre, durability, and functionality.

While I still have a wardrobe of fairly nice clothing that I wear to work, I find myself looking for very different clothing when I’m not teaching.  My teaching clothing is somewhat dressier than normal – certainly as well made as I can find, relative stylish and classic, I think, but very focused on a particular purpose.  When I’m not teaching, though, I find myself wanting clothes that are as practical and functional as possible.

I will admit, I do find myself coveting almost everything produced at Old Town Clothing, and much of what shows up at Archival Clothing makes me perhaps a bit desirous.  But I’ve managed to find much of my utilitarian wardrobe closer to home, and in some cases, for less cash.

This is why I now have a closet with the most durable and practical clothing I could thrift.  Wool sweaters and vests.  Heavy leather shoes.  Densely wove linen shirts and skirts.  Rugged denim and canvas pants and coats.  Heavy cotton tote bags.  Down jackets and vests.  Thick wool socks.  Slip-on traction thingies for my winter boots and shoes. Thick leather sandals.  I stay warm and dry in the winter, and cool in the summer.  I can walk without slipping, or further wounding my already damaged ankle.

I’ve never really been one for labels or brands.  I’ve never really seen the point of paying more for something just because of what it says on the tag (and I’ve also never been one to walk around with a label across my chest, since I don’t see the point in paying to be a billboard for a company.)  That said, I do find myself paying more attention to labels now, since I have a better sense of what’s durable and likely to last, and while labels aren’t a guarantee of quality, it does help narrow the field in some cases.

I appreciate quality these days more than I have before – things that will last, serve their purpose well, be functional, and not fall apart after a season.  In part, being aware of labels helps me quickly sort through the wide variety of clothing available in the thrift store.  It also helps me identify what’s worth spending a bit of money on (of course, thrift stores are generally not the expensive, but I do still appreciate a good value.)  And this is why I now have a closet with Blundstone, Wrangler, Eddie Bauer, Tilley, Stetson, Doc Marten, Levis, Birkenstocks, Kodiak, Woolrich, Pendleton, Land’s End, L.L. Bean, and many other solidly built items of clothing, none of which cost more than $8 apiece.  (I also take a similar tact with my apartment, but that’s a whole other post.)

While I wouldn’t say that I’m concerned about fashion, I am concerned with what I wear, how well it works for me, what it’s made of, and where it comes from.  I haven’t yet perfected the art of utility, I don’t think, but I’m working on it.

Written by Jenn

October 23, 2010 at 12:54 am

Posted in Sustainable living

Tagged with , ,


with 3 comments

I study a relatively high-tech field, then come home and cook from scratch and knit on the couch.  I almost always have a laptop with me for work, but I listen to record on vinyl sometimes in the evening.  I have an iPod, but have a rotary dial phone hooked up in my kitchen by choice.  I can’t decide if I’m the best or the worst luddite ever.  At best, though, I think I’m at least a bit of an anachronism.

I don’t have a cell phone, and my favourite phone is a black rotary dial one that lives in the kitchen.  There’s also a pale pink/beige one on the bookshelf.  (I’m holding out for a red one).  While I’m still just hoping to learn to use it properly, I’m looking to replace my calculator with a slide rule.  When spending an evening at home I sometimes like to put a record on my turntable, usually James Taylor, or Jackson Browne, or Neil Young.  In the kitchen, I use older cast iron almost exclusively, and refuse teflon or anything that’s non-stick without just being well seasoned.  I have a hand egg-beater that I love to use, a food mill, and a stove-top kettle that have served me well.  My carpet sweeper means that I don’t need an electricity-hungry vacuum.

I’m not anachronistic in all ways, of course.  I use a computer for all of my work and, for now anyway, the typewriters simply sit (they need new ribbons, but I need some digital capacities).  I have an iPod that comes on bus rides and long runs with me.  I appreciate my brand new stove, my on-command hot water

Given the choice, I’d rather not only choose, but also use, old rather than new.  In some cases, I simply have newer versions of older things.  My record player, for instance, was new a number of years ago when I couldn’t find a working used version, as was the carpet sweeper I bought only a few weeks ago now.  But in most cases, I prefer the originals.  While almost all of my anacronistic-type things were inexpensive, that’s not really the point here.  Rather, the point is that I like old ways of doing things.  I like the quality inherent in many of the older things that I use, and the fact that they’ve lasted as long as they have.  They make sense for me, they work for me.  They feel as though they offer a sense of permanence, a link not only to the past, but the way things used to be.

I know in some ways that this is a somewhat romantic notion.  Some things – a return to the wringer washers, or the hauling of water – may not be desirable for some people (although, personally, I wonder sometimes how much I would actually mind.)  But I appreciate older things, a slow way of doings things, and even a return to more conscious, thoughtful way of living life.  If that’s what being a bit of an anacronism gets me, then I can work with that.

Written by Jenn

October 19, 2010 at 1:57 am

On books

leave a comment »

Awhile back, I’d mentioned that I was a bit concerned about the fact that one of my escapes seems to be heading to the local used bookstore and picking up a new-to-me book or two to read.  I’d found that when things were tough I tended to turn to book shopping as an escape – not something I normally do, but somewhat easy to defend since first, I was buying books to read and, second, I was supporting a thrift store in the process.  At the time, I also mentioned that I wanted to cut back a bit and see if I could reduce that expense a bit more.

Well…at this point I haven’t given up on the books, but I think I’m managing it better.

Although I bought books that I wanted to read, I was buying more than I am now.  While the purchases certainly weren’t indiscriminate, I wasn’t as thoughtful as I try now to be about what I was bringing home.  I’ve found that being aware not only of what I buy but also why I buy it to be very helpful (not just when it comes to books, actually) in planning and managing what I do choose to buy.

I find I buy books for two reasons.  First, I like to read.  Books are pleasurable.  I enjoy finding something that I’ve wanted to read and then actually being able to get immersed and absorbed in the content, whether it’s stories or recipes, fact or fiction.  They’re also an inexpensive source of entertainment.  $4 (and usually less) for a used book that I get to keep is better value, for me anyway, than going to a movie, or out to a bar, or buying most video games.  Beyond electricity to read at night and the odd accompanying pot of tea, the cost is usually nothing.  And, psychologically speaking, I love being cozied up on the couch with tea and wool blankets and a good book to spend an afternoon or evening.

So, to keep the shopping for books a bit more under control.  I have a list of authors that I look for, and a few books in mind.  The authors and books are ones that I know I’ll read again and again, and are worth it for me to have.  John Irving.  Annie Dillard.  Neil Gaiman.  Annie Proulx.  Edgar Allen Poe.  Kate DiCamillo.  Classics of various descriptions.  Barbara Kingsolver.  Diane Ackerman.  Agatha Christie.  Neal Stephenson.  William Gibson.

I also read for reference, and try to keep part of my library as very practical and useful.  When a book shows up on making quilts or knitting sweaters, or goatkeeping, or companion planting, I tend to look twice at it (unless I have one already, a distinction I think I’ve been much better at making lately as well).  I want a library not only of books that I want to read for pleasure, but also ones that will be useful.  In some ways this is actually the broader category as I seek out materials that will be useful and informative for building a life that’s even more sustainable.

Admittedly, I already have a lot of books here, and I have yet to read them all (far from it, actually).  I have everything from cookbooks to the classics, and from guidebooks to graphic novels.  But I appreciate being able to have what I want at my fingertips.  I like being able to loan books out.  I worry that, as with so many of the truly good things that make cities great, that library hours and services will soon be cut.  I enjoy having my own copies that I can fall asleep in bed with, make notes in pencil on, and hide little scraps and bits and pieces in the pages to find later.

One day they will have to be moved.  I know this, and I sort of dread that day, both for the pile that I imagine will need to be out the door, and for the struggle involved in moving the rest.  But for now, I like having them, and I appreciate that such a great source of books is close by, not only for the rough days when I’m out hunting for that one book that I want to read, but for all the others that have passed and that are yet to come where I curl up and have swaths of information and whole other worlds ready at my fingertips.

Written by Jenn

October 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Patience, grasshopper

leave a comment »

One of the work-related things on my plate right now is job applications.  Some interesting positions have come through my mailbox recently, and I’m now in a position where I’m able to apply for some of them.

Given how crazy the next few weeks are going to be with other work-related things, I got to think about what I can do to be best prepared if something should come up.  From an application perspective I’m in pretty good shape – I have all of my documents other than cover and reference letters pretty much ready to go, so I can get applications together quickly.

Interviews are another story, though.  I’m currently making arrangements for some interview skills workshops and practice sessions.  But I also got to thinking about clothing, since I don’t have much that’s interview ready in my closet.  Even worse, I was browsing through Banana Republic’s site (their pants fit without tailoring, which I like), and was once again horrified by the cost of suits – the one I was looking at was $124 for pants, and $240 for the blazer.

I was out for a bike ride today, and happened to be by the local thrift store, so I went in to look to see if there were any suits that would work for interviews.  After striking out in the suit section (not a huge surprise, really, in a sea of 80s pastels and super-long shoulder padded blazers), I had a look through the blazers where I happened across the very blazer I was looking at online only a few days ago.  After a few second of debating just getting the blazer, it struck me that perhaps I could find some wool pants that would match, since much suiting material is similar.  And so I went and had a look.  Lo and behold, I found what looked to be the same pants I was looking at online, and they matched the blazer perfectly.  The pants were $7, and the blazer was $15.  For $22, I bought a suit that would have cost me over $400 to buy new.

Now, anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I shop almost excusively at the thrift store, and that 98% of my closet (and probably 75% of my home) has come from one such store or another.  I love the thrift store (possibly more than I should, but that’s another post).  But this find was pretty exciting, even for me.  It was also rather impressive for The Boy, who is usually rather indifferent my thrifting ways (“a total score” were the words he used, I believe).

Happily, the suit wasn’t the only needed thing that crossed my path today.  I’ve had 4 watches die on me in the last two weeks (a sign from the universe to slow down a bit, perhaps?).  To tide me over until I can get my usual one out to be fixed I picked up a new-to-me one for $2 that seems to run well and that I actually quite like the look of.  And then, although it’s not really so much a need, a much-wanted field vest in my size finally crossed my path and came home with me for a whole $3.

Now, I’m excited by the suit, certainly, and the other items, but I think I’m also excited by the fact that, once again, I was able to not only find something used that I needed, but that I was able to find pretty much the perfect thing.  A few days ago as I was looking online for suits I assumed that I simply wouldn’t be able to find anything close to what I wanted.  Admittedly, I haven’t had much luck in the past, and I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suit for awhile now.  But, at that moment I was ready to spring for that suit then and there just to have it out of the way and ready to go.  I’m glad that I didn’t, though, and although the moments I spring to these conclusions are getting farther apart, I’d like to keep this in mind for the next time I decide I’m just going to have to give in and go the typical shopping route and spend the big bucks for what I need.

Written by Jenn

October 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm