Looking Ahead - Part 1 - une femme d'un certain âge

Looking Ahead – Part 1

Une femme isn’t one for New Year’s Resolutions, formal or informal.  My thinking is, if you want to make a change or set out to achieve a goal, there’s no need to wait until a particular date on the calendar to Just Do It.  Still, this time of year seems ripe for reflection and renewal, and some thoughts I’ve been noodling around recently were brought into clearer focus when reading what some other bloggers had to say about their own directions in 2011.

Waste Not
Frugal Scholar asked recently, Will Frugality Be on the Wane in the New Year?  She pondered whether the last two years of economic meltdown had permanently influenced people’s financial and spending habits, or if the change was a temporary reaction to uncertainty.  While le monsieur and I have been fortunate during this economic malaise in that we’ve both retained our jobs, current conditions have certainly been a wake up call for us.  I’ve always made the maximum allowed contribution to my 401K, but last year I also doubled my monthly contributions to our “liquid” savings account and will continue at that higher level.

Her question also got me thinking about other ways I’ve adjusted my spending and consumption in recent months.  While I will never be a contender in any Tightwad Olympics, I have become more conscious about reducing waste and wasteful spending.  I was raised hearing the saying, “waste not, want not” rather frequently, at least from my Dad and Grandmother (Mom was another story) and the lesson did take hold to a certain degree. 

I’ve come to believe that living wastefully is toxic, not just for our finances and environment, but for our spirits as well.  Living wastefully often leads to not valuing or appreciating what we have, and getting caught up in that never ending spiral of Want.  Everyone has their own criteria of what constitutes “wasteful.”  For some people, that might mean having or buying beyond only what we absolutely need.  I’m not that extreme.  I’ll define it this way: waste is that which doesn’t add to the quality of one’s life. 

It doesn’t have to be painful or require Herculean effort to cut back on waste. And I believe these small efforts will help get one into the mindset of avoiding waste in bigger areas.  Here are a few of the small ways I’ve been trying to reduce waste in my life.

  • Brewing. I still buy the good coffee (Peet’s) but as I’m the only coffee drinker in the house, in the mornings I now only brew a cup at a time, using a single-cup cone filter.  I’d found that when I made even a small pot in the morning, I was often throwing half of it out.  (I still have my Nespresso machine for espressos/cappuchinos, and save oodles by making at home rather than visiting the baristas at Peet’s or Starbucks.)
  • Decluttering.  Not only might I find something I forgot I had and can actually use, but I think the presence of clutter desensitizes us to the kind of “plaque build up” of how much stuff we actually have and how little of it we actually use or need.  There’s nothing like a cleared out space to help realign our senses to what is enough, and to better analyze what we use and value.
  • Consolidate.  Do you have four half-used bottles of hand cream scattered around the house?  Put them together into one or two, and keep in the same place all the time.  It’s easier to keep track of how much of something we have and use when I always know where to find it.  Use up the one that’s open completely before opening or buying another.  If you get samples or “gift with purchase” containers of skin care products, put aside only as much as you need for your next trip, and use the rest.  I recently realized I have enough Clarins travel-sized products to last a month or two, meaning I can hold off replenishing my usual products by that long.
  • Core wardrobe.  Doing the Express Lane Challenge back in Oct/Nov really helped me realize the value of a core wardrobe, and that I don’t need to have as many pieces in rotation as I’d previously imagined.  It’s also helped me to stop buying the same type of pieces over and over.
  • Discriminate.  If you only like the eau de parfum version of your favorite fragrance, don’t buy the eau de toilette version just to save a few bucks.  You won’t enjoy it as much, and it will probably sit on the shelf, unused.
  • Wine vaccuum stoppers.  These extend the drinking life of an opened bottle of wine. 

How do you define “waste?”  Are there ways in which you’ve reduced waste in your life, or do you have ideas you plan to try?  Any challenges you’ve encountered in doing so?

In Part 2, some style ruminations for 2011.
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27 Comments

  1. January 3, 2011 / 12:48 pm

    Something I always do, that when I mention it to people, am surprised to hear they don´t :)- is to cut open skin care/body care bottles and tubes and scoop out whatever is inside- I usually get another one or two uses on what is left inside depending on the way it´s trickled down the inside of the container.

  2. January 3, 2011 / 3:46 pm

    Lovely post. I recently canned my extremely expensive cable tv service. I now have only the basic local channels and use Netflix for Wii for movies and tv shows. I’m saving almost $100/month and haven’t missed the service at all. I’m now inspired to look through all of my other regular expenses to see where I can chop. The money I save goes into my liquid savings for travel.

  3. January 3, 2011 / 5:00 pm

    Yup, what you said Pseu, plus a rediscovered love of our local public library, not just for books, but also for dvd’s and audiobooks.

    I’ve also been doing some hard thinking about non-visible clutter. For me, living in one room concentrates the mind wonderfully. But I’ve got a great big (10 x 10) storage unit full of things I’ve not even touched in two years. So over the next few weeks I’m going to weed through, pitch, resell, and gift. It’s my goal to get into a 5 x 10 unit, which will save me some money to boot.

  4. citizen spot
    January 3, 2011 / 5:41 pm

    I save $$ by never buying bottled water, unless it is the only option (like at sports stadiums). If drinking water from the garden hose all those years ago didn’t kill me, I guess that the tap water won’t hasten my demise any more than all the other toxins around me. Also, I pack my lunch to work at least 2 days a week. Even with a shared fridge, no one will steal a PB & mayo sandwich! Ha! Just kidding. The kids at work know not to steal my lunch. It would make me more grumpy than usual, and they sure don’t want that! 🙂

  5. January 3, 2011 / 6:25 pm

    I think I might do quite well at the Tightwad Olympics! We have the wine stoppers and I’ve already started on the New Year de-cluttering. I gave a pile of unwanted clothes to my friend when she popped round on Saturday and have another bag for the charity shop. Oh and I usually have Last Night’s Leftovers for lunch, at work.

    Happy 2011.

  6. Anonymous
    January 3, 2011 / 10:06 pm

    i do mend. I have some cashemire pieces, which got mysterious holes. I mended it. Nobody can see it from normal distance and it prolonged the life of quite expensive pieces.

    i also totally live yours “discriminate”.

  7. Kalee
    January 3, 2011 / 2:13 pm

    I regularly go through our refrigerator to see what might be there that needs to be used up. I had a stalk of brussels sprouts that were not going to last much longer, so last night we had them roasted as a side to homemade chicken noodle/veggie soup. Food is expensive and I’d rather not throw it away!

    I also have started looking at the library card catalog online to see if they have books I’m interested in buying. If they do, I pick it up there first to read. I figure if I love it I can buy it, but that way I’m not wasting money on books that turn out to be blah.

    Oh, and Doriana, I don’t think that’s odd. With our milk containers (the cardboard carton kind that Organic Valley uses) I open the whole container up at the end to let it all get out (where it gets stuck in the nooks and crannies). I do the same with the chicken stock I buy (when I don’t have time to make my own). Those things can be pricey, and I normally get another tablespoon out, which may not be much, but it adds another splash to whatever I’m cooking.

  8. Carol
    January 3, 2011 / 11:13 pm

    I’ve decided to track what someone called “dress up” costs (clothes, shoes, jewelry). My hope is that this will make me more mindful of wants versus needs, and lessen impulse spending in this area.

    I had to laugh at “Citizen Spot’s” description of a PB and mayo sandwich. Add in some iceberg lettuce (and substitute Miracle Whip for mayo), and that’s what passed for a peanut butter sandwich when I was a kid. And with mayo instead of Miracle Whip, I still like it!

  9. Someone
    January 3, 2011 / 6:46 pm

    In 2010 we moved across the country into a place a little less than half the size of our last home, and have decluttered a LOT.

    We are using almost all of the forementioned waste-reduction practices (our wine doesn’t last long enough to store.. 😉 and I am amazed at how much we not only enjoy the game but are able to keep it going. We have a policy of removing at least as much mass in hard goods as we bring in; we’ve stuck to it for almost a year so far and we are quite careful about what comes in: no mindless consumerism!

    In addition, I checked my spending for last year and it turns out that since mid-Feb., what I call “dress-up” costs (clothes, shoes, makeup, jewelry, anything like that) are down to $40 per month. *gasp*

    I do believe that for many, many people, the interest in cutting waste and spending WILL be permanent. After all, voluntary simplicity isn’t really about self-denial or going without, it’s just about better choices that actually enhance life.

    In general, the only way to get people back into waste is to persuade them, and it will be tried. I predict that this will be attempted on our younger citizens, who will be told how uncool it is to be disciplined and content with a smaller, better collection of whatever.

  10. January 4, 2011 / 4:15 am

    Doriana Gray – that’s a great tip, thank you!

    Kalee – I haven’t utilized the library as much as I ought lately, and especially because it’s walking distance from my house!

    cafelatte – that’s a great suggestion as well.

    Rubiatonta – our garage is our Final Frontier! Lots of stuff gets stashed out there to moulder.

    citizen spot – the problem I have with packing lunch is that I get hungry around 10am and usually wind up eating it then! Still, it’s a good habit to get into.

  11. January 4, 2011 / 4:20 am

    That’s Not My Age – Happy 2011 to you too! Decluttering my closet is a continuous and ongoing project. Tonight I came home and cleared 6 big bags of books from our bookshelves that will be donated to our local library.

    Someone – I agree that avoiding accumulation is life-enhancing. I hope this won’t be a passing trend.

    Anonymous – that’s a great skill to be able to mend clothing, especially knitted goods.

    Terri – could you brew at home and take in a thermos?

  12. January 4, 2011 / 4:27 am

    Carol – that’s the sandwich we grew up on (PB, Mayo and lettuce)! Used to gross our friends out, but we loved it.

    Tiffany – cutting back on magazine subscriptions is a great idea. We’re still not as thrifty with our food as we could be…

    Carolyn – I think many of us were not as conscious of this when younger. Live and learn!

    RoseAG – I’m the same way about only buying quantities I will use (and have room for!) even though the cost-per-unit price may be higher.

  13. Terri
    January 3, 2011 / 10:07 pm

    I have found myself rethinking my coffee habit. On days I commute to campus, I routinely purchase a strong coffee for $1. I have long thought this was a reasonable amount. But over the holidays, I found myself thinking that I could purchase the most expensive, fair trade coffee for the $30 I’ve been spending on coffee each month. Here’s a case where luxury is less expensive.

  14. Tiffany
    January 4, 2011 / 12:41 am

    We always make our own coffee in the morning before Spouse heads into the city; he packs his lunch most days, and I eat last night’s leftovers in my home office. I try to keep purchases – of any type – to a practical minimum, and I declutter regularly (my hoarder family says too regularly). I’ve taken to buying books for a dollar or two at our local Vinnies (thrift store?) when they’re titles I know I won’t want to keep – then I return them to Vinnies so they can do another round! Sadly, wine stoppers will never get much use in my house, but I am learning to be more creative with leftovers … I’ve also stopped buying magazines, except for one subscription, although I will allow myself a treat if I see something really special.

  15. Carolyn
    January 4, 2011 / 1:13 am

    Great post. I reflect back on how wasteful I was and nearly hide in shame. I am sure I did not appreciate all I had and so value all I have now.. lessons learned.

  16. RoseAG
    January 4, 2011 / 1:42 am

    I’m less interested in saving money than in minimizing waste.

    Several years ago I determined that my cupboards were full of detritus from Costco. Half-used packages of things were all over. Next time my membership was due I didn’t renew. I’d rather pay more for the quantity I need than be saddled with leftover stuff.

    As for coffee, a major indulgence. My coffee pot/machine brews into a thermal carafe. The coffee stays reasonably warm for a few hours but eventually cools. Since it hasn’t sat on a burner for hours it reheats very nicely. I never throw coffee out.

  17. January 4, 2011 / 10:34 am

    These are great ideas – thanks Deja.. and I have to say that we have so many little free bars of soap from Hotels that Mr SE visits on business that we use up I hardly ever buy a large bar any more! X

  18. January 4, 2011 / 12:20 pm

    Without my clutter, I’d be lonely!

  19. January 4, 2011 / 2:07 pm

    Great post! Waste is what one throws out that could be used by another, or languishes unused.

    I have reduced waste by
    – writing down every penny I spend and reviewing it periodically to see if things I bought gave value
    – discontinuing holiday gift exchange, donations instead (who needs another candle?)
    – giving samples to a halfway house
    – paring down my wardrobe, which I completely enjoy. Clutter=waste!

  20. January 4, 2011 / 2:09 pm

    Thoughtful post! For many years I have shopped estate sales, thrift shops, and consignment stores. I find it interesting, fun, meditative, and the ultimate form of recycling. Plus I meet fascinating people. However, sometimes it feels as though my collections take over. Maybe if I didn’t believe that if an item could be worn once every 20 years it’s a keeper, I woud be able to downsize with more ease!

  21. January 4, 2011 / 2:32 pm

    Magazine subscriptions are so much more economical than a single purchase, so if it’s a magazine you actually read, better to subscribe. But, you have to watch out, they start sending you renewal requests after a couple months, and it’s no longer possible to look at the label and easily determine when your subscription expires. When you’re finished with a magazine, take it to work or the doctor’s office for others to read.

  22. Frugal Scholar
    January 4, 2011 / 2:09 pm

    Ahhhh. I am so honored to have inspired this, which is one of the best things I’ve read on frugality (and I read a lot on the topic). I love the comments as much as the post.

  23. January 4, 2011 / 10:39 pm

    I rarely throw away food, planning menus for the week and going through the refrigerator to see what needs to be used before planning the next weeks menu. I also save scraps (carrot peel and ends, onion peel, bones) and throw them in the slow cooker, twice a week on average, to make stock or broth that I can use in cooking. It tastes better than the expensive stuff.

    I’ve also started making only two cups of coffee in the morning. I can make more if we want it or use the Nespresso for our afternoon treat. I was throwing out an awful lot of brewed coffee before.

    I find myself also being much more thoughtful about most things, but my life has been going through big changes. For example I have had to purchase most of my wardrobe and I have only bought a few things at a time, making sure I use them frequently before buying anything more. I find I need much less.

    Partly it is saving money, partly it is just feeling that stuff is a waste and a burden, but I am increasingly for having and using less, or at least appreciating the things I do have and use and not taking them for granted.

  24. Sally
    January 4, 2011 / 2:50 pm

    Did you know that your blog was given a positive mention in an article about good blogs in Easy Living Magazine in the UK? If you didn’t and you would like me to let you have a copy of the article, let me know. It was a short mention but good nonetheless. Keep up the good work. Word is spreading!x

  25. Susan Tiner
    January 5, 2011 / 2:07 am

    Well, I’ll admit it, we’re frugal minimalists. But we totally splurge on cooking and entertaining friends. And occasional travel. As I like to tell clients, the most powerful dollar is the one you don’t have to earn 🙂

  26. January 5, 2011 / 9:10 pm

    Semi-Expat – that’s a good one too. I never think to grab the bars of soap…

    WendyB – but your clutter is so fabulous!!

    Duchesse – those are great suggestions. I’m not yet disciplined enough to write down everything, but am trying to avoid impulse purchases that don’t seem like much at the time but add up. Our family transitioned to charitable giving a few years ago, and it’s been a positive change.

    The Style Crone – your collections seem to be amazing, based on the photos on your blog! I can see why you’d be reluctant to part with the types of things you collect.

    Frugal Scholar – so glad you’ve enjoyed. Your blog always gets me thinking!

  27. January 5, 2011 / 9:16 pm

    Rita – great reminder about donating magazines where others can enjoy. What irks me is when you subscribe to one, and then suddenly find you’re getting two additional “gift subscriptions” of other magazines you have no interest in! Getting unsubscribed to a magazine sometimes feels more difficult than escaping Alcatraz!

    Sally – I did not know that, and yes, I would love to see the mention! Thanks!

    Mardel – I’m really impressed with your efficient use of foodstuffs! Too much stuff can indeed feel like a burden at times.

    Susan Tiner – those are fabulous things to splurge on! And if you truly enjoy them, they are not wasted.

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