The Not New Rain Gauge

As a kid, an occasional chore I had was to water the plants. I never wanted to, so I never had to be told to not water the plants. But now after getting into gardening a bit myself, that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn. That you can kill plants by overwatering them!

For a while, I wanted a really nifty rain gauge that would tell me exactly how much it had rained. After joining the Buy Nothing New project, I considered making one myself. It would just take a cup, a ruler, and a permanent marker to get my beautiful rain measurements.

But finally it dawned on me that I was still overcomplicating things. I threw a spare bowl outside and it now sits there waiting for rain. Sometimes it rains and then the sun comes out, and by the time I look at the bowl it’s empty or with only a few drops clinging on. No matter whether it was just a light rain or if the sun dried it quickly, it simply doesn’t count as a watering for my plants.

But today, oh, today. There was only some light drizzle when I woke up. I was disappointed that the forecasted rain had failed me again and most of the plants were likely still thirsty. Yet when I got outside the water gauge was full! This meant I could just leisurely stroll around the yard and admire the plants that were growing themselves. No need to even stick my finger in the dirt to check the moisture level. The plants will have their fill for at least a couple more days.

My rain gauge is perfect because I can read it even from the bedroom window, because it’s more durable than the flimsy plastic one I would have otherwise bought, and because once the neighborhood cat curled up inside the dry warm bowl for a nap. You’ll never see that with a store-bought rain gauge. 🙂

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The water gauge today reads “Don’t water the plants!”
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Not New Doorknobs

I wish I could do a complete Buy-Nothing month but there’s too much work needed for the house that I’ve been putting off for too long already. To at least avoid buying brand new items when perfectly good ones already exist, today I headed over to the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store to pick up some items from my list.

I started off in Hardwares with the goal of finding some curtain rod brackets so I can add window treatments for the last few windows. Unfortunately it’s an uncommon item so rather than finding them easily on a shelf I had to dig through several different buckets along a row of some-sorted, some-not miscellaneous hardware.

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A few bins in the Hardware section at the Re-Store

In the end I found four of them, but in those four there wasn’t a single matching set and I had to walk away from that section empty-handed.

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Failure

Later in the trip I found a section with some wooden curtain rod brackets, but once again they were unmatching individuals. 😦

Fortunately, my second item on the list was a resounding success. The light on the back porch didn’t have a cover. (Or a bulb for that matter, but we found one in the closet.) There were several rows full of different kinds of lights and I ended up choosing a whimsical bubbly globe thing to add a bit of personality to our home.

Next up was some white paint for the indoor trim. I had a bit of trouble identifying the container to purchase because these were custom blend paints and there wasn’t much more than a dab of paint on the lids to show what color they were inside. But in the end I found one that should work well.

After browsing the second-hand cabinets, sinks, leftover tiles and other goods, I stopped by the doorknobs section to pick up a couple to replace two that haven’t been turning all the way. (It turns out that it was a plastic bit that failed in our old ones, and these new-to-me knobs are metal where it counts. They could use a little oil to turn more smoothly, but I can take care of that later.)

Finally, I found a couple of really nice textured curtains that I wasn’t looking for. (It turns out that one’s a shower curtain and the other is just a nice sheet, but they’ll do.)

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Haul from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store

All together these items cost a whopping $12 plus tax. Not much unnecessary packaging to dispose of. And better quality than I would have splurged on if I was buying new. So other than still not having the curtain rod brackets, it was a pretty good trip. Someday when we get our real (not-just-a-flimsy-plastic-shell) bathtub I’ll be back, if not for the tub then at least for the tile. It’s awesome that these places exist!

Yet Another Way to Prevent Food Waste

At my office, on most days there is some kind of a meeting with leftover food. It usually winds up in one of the kitchen areas for people to randomly find. Some gets eaten, some ends up in the trash. At my office, we also use a chat program for communicating, so I created a chat channel called #free. This has worked great for not just meeting leftovers, but has included some items culled from folks’ pantries at home, personal lunch leftovers, non-food items, and a successful call to eat (or take home for banana bread) the very ripe and spotty bananas in the kitchen one day before they would have been thrown out. This has to be one of the easiest ways to keep food out of the landfill in an office. We’re up to 59 members now who share info on food that needs saving or at least will happily eat some of it. 🙂

Here are just a few of the many recent postings with successfully adopted items:

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Everything Has Value

Every time I see a beverage can littered somewhere, I think of can collectors. Yes, the men who would go around collecting cans in a large cart or large bag to take to the cash-for-cans machine. Why don’t I ever see them anymore? Why are so many areas totally littered with cans? Is it because they no longer have any value? Is there too much other trash to wade through everywhere? Or is it just not convenient enough to be worthwhile?

When I was younger, my family used to save our cans and take them to a cash-for-cans machine at the supermarket. We saw it there regularly, and the big “CASH FOR CANS” sign made it obvious that cans had value.

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An ugly version of the cash-for-cans machine

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen one of those machines in a long while. These days cans are just a nuisance and once they’ve served their purpose they all too often get tossed into a trash bin, on the ground, or even in the creek. 😦

How do we make it obvious again that things have value and shouldn’t just be thrown away? Should I start a business with these cash-for-can machines to drive awareness? Maybe those states that have a deposit fee are on to something?

Anyhow, my point is that everything has value. If something is laying on the ground, it can still have value. Even if most people can’t see it, those cans are valuable resources. The plastic bottles too. Even the polystyrene foam cups.

… Although even I don’t bother trying to find a recycling home for those. If it’s foam, I just throw it in the trash can. I may feel a twinge of disappointment, but that’s my limit at the moment.

But to close on a happier note, I’d like to share the story of one resource whose value I have done my best to honor. I have previously shared some examples of reusing old tshirts by means of tshirt yarn creations, but I’ve since learned to take it one step further.

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Disassembling the seams

By practice disassembling tshirts to make tshirt yarn, I’ve discovered that there’s a way to undo the hem such that you can often salvage longer threads for reuse. And I now have several different colors in a baby food jar either for necessities or for embroidery practice.

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Bonus thread!

Just this week I used some of my tshirt thread to hem up my most recent jeans acquisition. Sure, these little pieces of thread wouldn’t have maxed out the landfill but being able to find another purpose for them sure felt good.

Book Review – The Moneyless Man

Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten pretty good at not buying things. But what if I couldn’t buy internet service? Bus tickets? FOOD? That’s exactly what Mark Boyle tries to do in his book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.

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This wasn’t the first time I had heard of money-free living, but it’s the first time I really listened.

“Money is a bit like love. We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is.”

Boyle begins with the story of money being introduced into society which he leads naturally led to banks and the practice of lending out money that wasn’t theirs. Let’s say five people each put $50 in the bank. Then the bank would loan out $50 to someone else even if none of the money they had was their own. (It sounds great at first. The bank and its customers get some interest as the borrower pays back the $50, and the borrower was able to get the cash when he really needed it.)

“For most of us, money represents security. As long as we have money in the bank, we’ll be safe.”

What I had never considered before reading this book is that banks are strongly incentivized to loan out as much money as possible, making the foundation not only shaky but also pushing loans on people and encouraging them to buy things that they could otherwise do without for a while. This process leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer buying things they can’t afford and paying interest on it all the while. Taken in that perspective, money-free living finally makes some sense.

So Boyle decides to see what it would be like to live without even touching money for a year. He spends months in preparation figuring out how to live without money. Oddly enough, he starts by buying some supplies like solar panels. Other things he acquires for free, like a caravan that someone didn’t want. He finds a place where he can put the caravan and live in exchange for his labor, and learns about humanure and rocket stoves for moneyfree defecation and cooking respectively. And finally, it’s time. He sells his houseboat, gives the proceeds to a charity he set up, and embarks on his new life.

Boyle recognized from the start that to live without money, he’d also have to rely on community. His charity is all about skill-sharing so he can have more skills to barter with. He performs odd jobs in exchange for foodstuffs or other goods. He relies on strangers to give him a lift while hitchhiking to visit his folks for the holidays. He goes dumpster diving with acquaintances, and even brings in the whole community a couple of times to throw and enjoy feasts created from food that would otherwise have been disposed of.

One of the common complaints about this book was that Boyle is still using money fairly regularly, just not his own. Using a phone line that someone else paid for. Living on land that someone else is paying for. Relying on someone else’s trash to eat. It wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone were to suddenly embrace his way of life.

But I’ve got to give him credit for purifying his water, doing manual labor when he could have opted for a lazier option, rescuing food from going to landfill. There are some ideas in this book that anyone interested in green living can learn from. And most of all, it promotes the idea of thrift.

“When you produce anything of your own, you don’t waste a drop.”

While I’m still not sold (ha!) on the idea that money is inherently bad, I may do a bit more research into what banks I do business with. Perhaps I should also donate more instead of aggressively planning for solitary retirement?

As for Boyle, what’s he up to these days? Well, he’s still living mostly “moneyless”, but not quite. If you’re really interested, you can find out more from his articles for The Guardian.

I’ll leave you with one final thought, though, because it’s something I at times need to be reminded of myself:

“Activists often talk like they ‘want to save the earth’. The earth will be fine, in time; it’s humanity that may need saving. But who do they want to ‘save’ it for? Only other activists? Only for activists and the working classes? Or for everyone: executive bankers, environmentalists, police officers, human rights activists, and politicians alike?”