Friday, November 27, 2015

Evils of planned obsolescence

Of all of our consumerist, capitalist sins now wrecking havoc on the planet, planned obsolescence is possibly the worst. Or the most irritating at least.

Defined as designing a product with a purposefully limited useful life, planned obsolescence seems to be a hallmark of modern life.

Rather than frequently upgrade to the newest and best, I prefer to hold on to things. My car is 15 years old. My bedroom furniture was purchased when I was a teenager. Having older things doesn't feel like a hardship--I rarely crave the newest and best. Plus, keeping things for as long as possible is not only good for the planet, it's also great for your wallet.

When making a larger purchase, I take my time, do extensive research and buy carefully. It's a time-consuming process that I prefer to repeat as little as possible. This is especially true for electronics.

My mp3 player is an 8-year-old second generation iPod nano that only shows a white square on the screen. But it still works just fine and 95 percent of the time I use it in my car and control it via the stereo anyway. The living room TV is a hand-me-down from the boyfriend's last upgrade with some dead pixels at the top, but most of the time I forget they're even there.

My smartphone (my first and only that I was given last year) is a hand-me-down iPhone 5 that I'll use until it dies. I keep my computers until well-past using them becomes inconvenient.

But planned obsolescence makes it increasingly difficult to keep possessions for long, especially in the case of electronics. Apple seems to be especially bad at this with their frequent operating system updates that don't always work well on older devices. I experienced this recently when my Feedly app on my ipad mini updated to an iOS 9 compatible version that crashed immediately after launch. I'm still using iOS 7 because of reports that the new software renders older ipads so slow that they're virtually unusable. I tried all my usual tricks of rebooting the ipad, re-downloading the app, etc. to no avail.

In case you're thinking, so what, it's just one app, Feedly is a news aggregator that makes it quick and simple for me to read dozens of blogs and websites that I follow from multiple devices and the web. While not the only aggregator out there, for me it's by far the best and my most used app. And while it still worked on my phone and laptop, I prefer surfing on my ipad as it's far easier to read than my phone screen while still being much more comfortable to use than the laptop.

After two days of complaining about my Feedly-less life. my boyfriend suggested that I might just have to buy a new ipad mini so I can use my favorite apps since it's something I use so often and enjoy.

While he has a point on one hand, it seems almost criminal to have to spend $400 or more for a new device when the old one still functions perfectly well except for some software issues. The miser in me was very unpleased with this idea.

Luckily it didn't come to that as I was able to revert to an earlier version of the app using these instructions and all was well again. Although I know it's only a matter of time until more issues crop up.

What about you? Are you a serial upgrader who prefers the latest and greatest? Has planned obsolescence caused any issues for you?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Beauty product peekaboo

Because I love seeing what's lurking in other's homes so much, I thought it only fair that I join the product show and tell fun and let you see my stash. Trying to pack light for the Alaska trip opened my eyes to just how much stuff I use daily, while taking photos of everything proved that it's definitely time for another use it or lose it challenge.

Things start off pretty well in the medicine cabinet. It's mainly tooth care and the boy's contact supplies here. Side note: I still absolutely love the plastic top-shelf organizer (from Target). It keeps everything in its place or no more random falling objects.

Next up, my shower products. Believe it or not, this is less than I had been keeping in the shower. Two body washes (Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle is my fave. Still trying to use up the Yesto cucumber wash), shampoo, conditioner and Burt's Bees face wash (another fave). The boy has his own stash of products. It's just best if we don't share, even if it does mean twice the crap.

Extras: Face lotion and free conditioners that come with the hair color I use. I used to have twice as many of these, until I finally started using them as shaving cream. Very moisturizing and saves both waste and money.

Leaving the bathroom we head to the bedroom, where I do most of my primping (the trials of a one-bath home). Here we have deodorant, hair heat protector/frizz free spray (love), hair oil, lavender body lotion (love), perfume, night cream and day lotion with sunscreen (love). All are used daily.

Current-use makeup: 40 Carrots BB Cream, eyeshadow collections (3), bronzer, powder, concealer, lip gloss (love) and mascara. I've never been able to wear foundation well, it always cracked and looked terrible, but with uneven blotchy skin I longed for some coverage. I finally tried this 40 Carrots BB Cream and it's wonderful. Makes my skin look great with no caking or cracking, plus it's paraben free. But I bought it at a discount store and it seems to be discontinued. *Sniffle.

Backup makeup: The Physicians Formula CC cream, concealer and powder were purchased just before the Alaska trip because I feared I might run out of my current supply. You can see that I still haven't. Also eyeshadow and too many Burt's Bees lip glosses (like them, but don't use these daily).

Nail polish that I never use, but somehow can't toss. Now, brace yourselves for the extras from my shelf in the hallway closet.

From left: deodorant (2), hair cream (2), hair oil, sunscreen, face mask, mouthwash, body wash (2), shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, dry shampoo, hair heat protectant spray (2), foot lotion, curl spray, face lotion and body lotion. Many of these are items I either don't love, or have small amounts left that I haven't used, but can't throw out. Whittling these down to only what I love is my new goal.

Now take the amount above and double it to account for all the boy's stuff. Yikes.

That's a lot of stuff for someone who hates clutter, isn't it? What about you do you have just the right amount of products, too little or too much?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The challenge of buying used

Even the idea of searching those racks make me anxious. [photo: gnosis / john r]

If you start reading up on how to go green or simplify your life, one of the most oft given tips is to buy used. Frugal living blogs tout buying used because of the immense savings.

And who could argue with any of that? Of course buying used instead of buying a brand new item saves energy and resources and enables us to get more mileage out of those that have already been expended. Plus, I really love to save a buck.

But even though I'm on board philosophically, buying used is one of the things other frugal, planet-saving minded people seem to do all the time that I struggle with the most.

Take clothes. Of course I'd love to pay $5-$10 per outfit rather than the quadruple to ten times more I pay for new clothes (and that number would be a lot more if I wasn't so cheap..I mean frugal). But I have a really hard time finding used clothes that I love, fit well and don't already look, well, used. Several times I have purchased used clothing items only to never wear them again before finally, guiltily returning them back to the same thrift store I purchased them at. Despite numerous shopping trips to thrift stores to find clothing, I can only count  7 pieces of used clothing I've purchased in the last say 10 years and worn extensively, while other people have created entire blogs out of their thrift store fashion finds.

Why is this, I wonder? Am I just unlucky? Perhaps it's that I don't thrift often enough, don't have a lot of patience to hunt through rack after rack. Or maybe it's a matter of being too tall (I'm 5'11), not skinny enough (although the thrift store I like best seems to have a surplus of 1X items and larger, which is bigger than I wear). And sometimes I think other locales must just enjoy better selections of items than we do, because I see a lot of heavily used clothing, but there again others who nearby prove that theory wrong.

I'm extremely squeamish about buying soft furnishings (bed bug fears you know), shoes, plastic food items and books from thrift stores due to hygiene concerns, so those are off the table entirely.

One of my few thrifting successes

I have had luck in recent years buying purses at my favorite thrift store, which is somewhat hypocritical compared to the list above since you can't throw then in the washer. Instead I leave them in my hot trunk for a number of days to weeks or freeze them to kill the nasties and use Lysol to disinfect. Although I have noticed used purses start to show wear far sooner than new new ones. Over the years I've also purchased a few household items used, mainly decor items like the piece of Pyrex pictured above.

So what about you? Do you have good thrifting karma? Am I the only one who doesn't? Any tips? I'd really love to hear about your thrifting experiences.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Taking the week off up north

A few days ago I returned from a lovely vacation in Alaska. Besides having a great time, I had one other major goal for this trip: packing lightly.

As a control freak, I am a classic over-packer. I like to be covered for every contingency. I also have trouble deciding on outfits ahead of time and so I like to have some extra clothes for flexibility. But for this trip I really wanted to pack light and I was determined not to pay an baggage fees on my flight (I get one bag per flight free with the Amex Delta Gold card).
Hiking near Eagle River Nature Center, Alaska
Packing light for a trip to Alaska is a bit more tricky than to other destinations simply because of the weather. Even at the height of summer, temperatures in Anchorage were ranging from the mid '50s to '70s, which for me means needing everything from shorts and t-shirts to jeans and sweatshirts. Layers are definitely key especially if you plan to do outdoor activities.

near Anchorage
For a seven day trip, I ended up taking: 
  • Two pairs of shoes: light hikers and tennis shoes
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two pairs of capris (including one pair of bike pants)
  • Six t-shirts
  • Three long-sleeve shirts
  • Two light sweatshirt zip-up hoodies
  • I had planned to take, but accidentally left my raincoat in the car. This was a key piece of clothing, not only for rain protection,but also as a third layer when it was chilly. Luckily my aunt had packed an extra raincoat so I ended up using hers, but this is a must-have.
I was so successful packing light that I almost packed too light. I wore all the clothing I took, but could have used more quick-dry outdoor clothing for all the hiking, biking and boating we did. A pair of quick-dry convertible pants (the kind with zippers that change from shorts to pants) would have been ideal. But since the only ones I found were $80-$100 and I don't know if I'd wear them much outside of that trip, I passed. And, I survived just fine without them.
Alaskan Railroad
My best buy for the trip was definitely these light North Face hikers from REI. I agonized over paying $120 for shoes and even tried ordered and returned cheaper ones of the Internet first. But in the end they were more than worth it. Not only did they keep my feet comfty and dry during hiking and biking, they also had great traction on the wet muddy trails and rocks. And since they're light hikers rather than hiking boots, I know I'll use them again in the trails around my much flatter homeland.

I still ended up taking a few things I barely used, namely my makeup and hairdryer. When you're spending most of the day exploring nature, they really aren't necessary. For toiletries, I stuck to only taking what I could fit in small bottles in a single TSA-approved quart-size bag and that worked just fine. I also took an eye mask since their daylight is much longer than ours, but I didn't use it even once because my cousin had installed blackout blinds in his spare room (thanks, cousin!).

Technically, I could have just carried on my bag and backpack, but I'm glad I checked them, I had layovers on both legs of my trip and I was glad not to have a suitcase to lug around and worry about. Plus the flights were so full, the airline was constantly asking people to check any extra bags possible.
Seward, Alaska
The trip, by the way, was amazing and highly recommended. Alaska is gorgeous and reminded me a great deal of scenic Norway (especially the fjords). We hiked up Aleyska in Girdwood (and happily took the free tram ride down), to Exit Glacier near Seward and near Eagle River. We went for a 25 mile bike ride on Anchorage's Coastal Trail, rode an Alaskan Railroad train to Seward and a boat and kayaking cruise in the Kenaj Fjord. We saw many native wildlife in their natural habitats: moose, Doll Sheep, a brown bear, eagles, puffins, a sea otter, a sea lion, Little Richard the seal, Doll porpoises and several pods of Orcas. 

We watched approximately one hour of TV the whole week and did very little shopping and I didn't miss it a bit.

It was definitely a week to remember.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The lawn cult

summer lawn by Rachel Pasch

Picture a typical summer and what comes to mind? The beach, surely. Ice cream cones and bike rides, perhaps. For the 80% of Americans who have a lawn, summer just isn't summer without a fantastic living green carpet to enjoy it on.

What's the deal with Americans and their lawns anyway? I mean on one hand, I get it. I'm as enamored with the idea of treating my tootsies to a walk across a cool, soft, perfectly manicured lawn as anyone. Or I was, at least, until I understood how much work goes into them.

There's the constant mowing, the twice-yearly (or more) fertilizing, applying pesticides to kill weeds, edging, weed-wacking, aerating, de-thatching. I didn't even know most of these were things existed before becoming a homeowner.

Collectively, we use 90 million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides on our grass, not to mention all the watering we do to avoid the shame of having a brown lawn in say, July. Horrors. Let's not even mention the absurdity of all the water wasted watering lawns planted in desert communities, because that's just beyond stupid. With our present environmental woes, you would think we'd have moved on to something else by now.

Really, it's no wonder lawns were originally only owned by European aristocrats. With all the upkeep they require, maybe we should have left them there. Of course you can always hire someone else to do the work. Lawn care is a $40 billion-a-year industry in the U.S.

But it's not just the upkeep these non-native monolithic monocultures require that really gets me. It's that everyone is so darn obsessed with the idea of the perfect lawn that it's practically a competitive sport. Neighbors try different lawn care regimes to see whose can be the greenest and most lush. Let your grass grow too long? Too weedy? Shameful! A lackluster lawn is one of the worst embarrassments to my grandparents' and even parents' generation. My grandmother got sunstroke once because the lawn needed mowed and she simply couldn't wait for someone else to get to it. So she mowed midday, despite the fact that she was over 80 and it was in the 90s out with air quality index warnings. Heck, if you let the grass get really out of hand, you could receive a fine from your homeowners' association or a citation from your friendly local government.

During my marathon landscaping session Memorial Day weekend a neighbor from down the street stopped to commiserate with me about the state of my neighbors' lawn. They let it grow a good 8-12 inches long, so even I agreed it was looking pretty bad. But on the list of things we have to worry about, should the neighbors' lawn even get a mention?

I'm hardly the poster child for a great lawn. I fertilized the lawn exactly twice in the 10 years I've lived here. I applied corn gluten to try and kill the weeds just once. The grass regularly gets too long before we mow it and my parents used to scold me for it during every summer visit. It's just grass. I can't see postponing real plans to mow. Oh and the only times I've ever watered the lawn was when we planted grass seed. Our yard is proof that the grass can go dormant and live.

When is the last time you walked across the lawn barefoot anyway? Or played a game with the kids on it? For all the time that we spend primping our lawns, I don't see nearly as much time spent actually enjoying the darn thing. Which makes the whole thing even more ludicrous.

But despite my griping, I still don't know what the solution is. I'm not even close to ready to rip out all my grass and plant something else. In the long run that might save time, but can you imagine that project? Did I mention it took me 13 hours to get one little garden bed in good shape?

What about planting gardens instead? Um, I can't even keep up with weeding the three flower beds I do have. And while I may keep the lawn for now, I'd rather not add to its environmental sins by applying pesticides to the weed-filled backyard. So for now I seem destined to live in crappy, weed-filled lawn purgatory. Cause it kinds seems like you're dammed if you do or if you don't.

So what about you dear readers, are you pro- or anti-lawn? Has anyone ditched the grass for something more environmentally friendly?

Monday, May 25, 2015


I've never been big on change just for change's sake. No, I'd much rather get things exactly as I like and have them stay that way. But the thing about gardens, houses, and, well, life, is that even if things seem quite perfect for the moment, they eventually change. Sometimes they change for the better, and sometimes not. And we have little choice but to adapt.

Last year was a big year of changes and I've been trying to adapt ever since. This long holiday weekend I continued on our efforts to get the garden back in order. Tiny steps you know.


From a distance it was still somewhat passable, but eventually I could no longer deny that the front yard needed some serious help. The white picket fence I'd once loved was in need of a good coat of paint, which I considered until finding out the wood was mostly rotten. And the purple barberry bushed were overgrown and dying. Not to mention their copious thorns which stuck me every time I tried to garden around them, no matter how thick my gloves or careful I was.

So early this spring the boyfriend pulled out the bushes with his truck (I guess there's a redneck side to all of us, but it was fast and it worked) and pulled out the fence. We loaded up the bushes in his truck and after a stressful drive where I fretted about us losing our precariously balanced load all over the road, we made it to the compost site and got rid of those suckers.

Then I weeded and weeded, and planned and shopped for something to replace the bushes with. The boyfriend campaigned for flowers only (no more pesky overgrown bush issues with those), while I thought we needed something bigger to fill the large gaps.

Thursday evening I went to the garden center and spent a lovely evening picking out two dwarf butterfly bushes, a baptisa smoke, three Veronica speedwell plants, lavender and an obedient plant. Then on Friday and Saturday I weeded some more, amended the soil, moved plants, planted new ones and mulched.


My body still aches from the effort, but finally it's finished and I'm pretty pleased with the result.

That's one small corner of life sorted. For now, at least.


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