Monday, February 28, 2011

Trying to live clutter-free

I'm on my way to a simple life.  I purged through my old files, my kids' schoolwork and artwork, along with old magazine clippings, and 2 trunks of memories.  Most of the junk in my life is finally gone.  But how long will it last?

What I'm trying to figure out is how to handle everyday clutter.  Kitchen clutter, study clutter, paper clutter.  I feel inundated with papers EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Whether it's the mail, or school flyers, or articles from magazines that I find interesting, there's always something.

Here are a few tips that I've used to at least condense the amount of paper clutter in my home:
1.  Create a home for everything:  I've set up file folders in a stand on my kitchen counter to organize some of this randomness, but it doesn't contain everything.  I've also bought 2 plastic scrapbooking bins for each of my children to put their schoolwork in.  At least that part is organized.

2.  Find a basket to put everything else:  I also have a basket for all of these papers that I intend to organize at another time.  I think as long as I keep the basket down to one, compared to the one in every room system that I used to have, then it'll be much more manageable.

3.  Stop the junk mail.  There are a few sources to get rid of your junk mail, and although I still receive some, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be.
Here are a few links to help you get started:

4.  Get your news or magazines online or at the library.  Less clutter to get rid of later.

5.  Give yourself distance:  I know my problem is not unique, but most people don't have as hard of a time letting go of these papers like I do.  My "just in case" mentality is exhausting, but if I leave the pile for a month or so, it gives me enough distance to get rid of the stuff without a problem.

6.  Recycle or shred: I have a shredder under my kitchen desk in order to get rid of junk mail containing any personal info in it.  This way I get to the biggest culprit immediately.  And then recycle the rest.

I still flock to the magazines that tout in bold letters "organize and de-clutter your house in 3 easy steps", thinking it'll have some transformative information that will rid me of this problem forever.  But nothing is fool-proof and obviously, I still have this problem.  So, if you have a method that works for you, please share it so I can make my kitchen desk a little less cluttered.  I'd greatly appreciate it.

Now where did I put that field trip permission slip....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vegan, Vegetarian, and Meat-eater, Oh My!

I just finished watching Oprah's episode about her staff going vegan.  I know it's been almost a month since it aired, but it's been sitting on my DVR since then.  Honestly, I was scared to watch it because I wasn't sure how it would affect my eating habits.  I watched the episode a couple of years ago when she first featured Michael Pollen, who made the documentary "Food Inc", and I haven't shopped for food the same since.

The vegan diet has never been something that appealed to me because it seems like it's too much to think about.  How would I get my calcium and protein without milk or meat?  Do I have to start eating things I can't pronounce, like quinoa?  Will I lose so much weight that people will think I'm anorexic?

So, after this vegan episode, I must say it wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be. What I got from it is that you should be conscious of what you're eating and where it comes from.  I buy only organic and free-range meat when it's available at the store, and I try not to buy too many boxed, processed foods.  As Michael Pollen suggested, I try to shop in the perimeter of the grocery store where things are fresh and refrigerated or frozen.

So the ethical question is this: Can I be an animal lover and an environmentalist if I like to eat meat or animal products?  I know for a fact that I will never be vegetarian or vegan.  I like steak, chicken, and cheese too much to give it up (and don't get me started on bacon!).  But I am conscious of where my food comes from and buy from local farms or free-range sources when I can.  I also only eat red meat once a week and make at least one vegetarian meal a week.

I know the environmental impacts of factory farms are detrimental to our water supply and contribute to global warming, but if the farms are smaller, treat the animals humanely, and are more conscious of their impact, then maybe it's not that bad.  Last year, I learned about Temple Grandin (thru the HBO documentary about her life and contributions to the way cattle farms are run) and am relieved to hear that many farms, and even McDonald's, use her methods to treat the animals more humanely.  If more farms were run that way, with more consciousness of how they affect the planet and the animals, we'd all be better off.

In my opinion, I CAN be an environmentalist and animal lover AND eat meat and animal products.  I respect veganists and vegetarians as well.  To each his own, right?  Who said there's only one right way to eat anyway?  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Keeping warm: Gas vs. Logs

This year, we seem to have experienced such a long, cold, and agonizing winter.  The weather seems to be warming up a little bit now, but who knows if we have another winter storm ahead of us.  After all, spring is still 5 weeks away.  With so many days at or below freezing, my utility bills have skyrocketed and I wondered about the environmental impacts of the ways people heat their homes.

Do you have a fireplace in your home?  Do you ever wonder if the natural gas logs are better for the environment than the traditional wood-burning stoves?  Are there any alternatives to either choice?

Here are the environmental advantages of having a gas fireplace to heat your home:

  • No wood means no trees to cut down 
  • It can save 25% on your energy bill
  • There are no fumes or particles that are being released into the air, no pollution
  • Some models have a blower that circulates the heat into the rest of the home (and if you don't have a blower you could use a ceiling fan switched to turn the opposite way you do in the summer)
  • If you lower the thermostat while the fireplace is on, it increases more energy efficiency (and lower bills)
Here are the environmental advantages of having a woodburning fireplaces:
  • You can use reclaimed or waste wood to burn; wood that would be taken to the landfill
  • They're cheaper to run than conventional heating systems
  • Reduces your dependency on electricity and natural gas
  • Wood is a renewable resource

And here is alternative source of materials to burn in a woodburning fireplace:
Terracycle, an organization that is based around making products out of trash, has a wonderful product called "eco-friendly fire logs".

  • It burns cleaner than the alternatives and gets rid of some of the waste from the landfill.
  • They also offer a fire starter product  that is made for woodburning stoves and charcoal grills.  
Another way to stay warm this winter and paying a little less on your energy bills is by lowering your thermostat to 68 degrees (65 at night).  And an even better way to do this is to get a programmable thermostat to regulate the temperature to be lower when you're sleeping and when you're out of the house for long periods of time (like when you're at work).  These are just a few ways to help your wallet survive this winter.  Remember, only 5 weeks to go.   :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Memory Clutter--good riddance!!

As I've mentioned before, I have a terrible memory.  Blame it on the wine I've consumed in the last 15 years or maybe on my 2 kids (I never got over pregnancy brain, apparently).  Whatever the reason is that I can't remember anything, I've kept too many things hoping it would trigger some memory of an event that has occurred in my life.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work too well.

I've kept two foot-locker trunks full of crap memorabilia that I am starting to go through and purge.  The tip I gave a few posts ago about giving yourself distance really works.  I've given myself 20+ years distance on a lot of the stuff and can't remember why I kept half of it.  My goal is to condense them into just one trunk.

Remember when we used to pass notes in class, as in the ones written on a piece of paper?  For those of you young folks who only know texts and emails, this is the way we communicated in the old days.  I found at least a dozen shoeboxes full of these notes and discovered that I had the past all wrong.  Maybe I was romanticizing it, but I kind of wish I never opened up that pandora's box, literally.

While I don't remember most of the details of my high school years, I do remember the lessons of these events, or bad friendships/relationships.  Isn't that what counts anyway?  I regret a lot of the decisions I made back then, but there are no do-overs in life, so it is what it is.  I am who I am because of those decisions.

I'll admit that I don't remember a lot of the people from my high school who have friended me on Facebook, but does it really matter how we were back then if we've become better people now?  I'm glad I don't hold on to the past because I don't think I would have made the friends from my high school that I have made this past year.  Maybe losing my mind isn't such a bad thing after all.

I can't wait to get rid of more stuff and be done with it forever.  It's very cathartic to let go of the past in such a permanent way. I would've burned that stuff as a symbolic gesture but sent it to the recycling instead (because burning it wouldn't have been very eco-friendly, now would it).  Revealing the "drama" that I went through as a teenager makes me so thankful of the life I have today, and a little anxious of what's to come in the future with my kids when they become teenagers.

So this week's eco-tip is to let go of the past and your memory clutter.  You'll find that most of it has no significance whatsoever.  And remember to recycle it if you can.

Thanks for reading!
Next week: gas logs vs. woodburning fireplaces