Back-to-school thrifting

Today is a holiday in Canada, but the local thrift store was having a sale – 50 percent off on all items with certain colour tags.  It’s fairly rare that I head to the thrift stores now, but I headed out with my eye on picking up some new clothing for school and replacing some of the meh stuff I have kicking around.  I love thrift stores, and will sing their praises to pretty much anyone who will listen.  I do have some issues with the culture of consumption that allows thrift stores to flourish, but so long as they do, I’ll keep buying used.  For me, it feels much more frugal and environmentally responsible than any other shopping option.

That said, regular thrift store visits have gotten me into a bit of trouble.  These routine trips have enabled me to fill the apartment, which has necessitated this weekend’s purge.  Much of what I own was bought for pennies on the dollar – it would have cost a fortune to buy new, and a lot of the older stuff is better quality and more durable than newer goods.

One of my biggest problem areas (and one I’ll be tackling today) is clothing.  For a long while, my tendency was to buy what was cheap, so long as it fit okay-ish.  This was a bad idea.  It’s really, really easy to justify clothes that don’t fit so well when they’re a few dollars (or less).   This meant that I wound up with a bunch stuff that, while not unwearable, doesn’t fit or look all that great.  (In the interest of full disclosure, the height of “oops” for me is probably a pair of pink pants – the fact that they were only a dollar still doesn’t make this purchase anywhere close to okay.)

I’m trying to overcome this mindset and buy only what fits really well.  I haven’t bought any clothing at all this summer beyond a sweatshirt that I wear a lot.  But now, I’m on a bit of a mission now to replace some of the things that I’ve bought that I don’t really wear and to pick up a few new things for the start of the school year that are teaching-appropriate.  For what it’s worth, I’m aiming for at least a one to two ratio – for every one thing that comes in, at least two have to be donated.  While this does feel a bit wasteful, it seems even more wasteful to me to leave a bunch of stuff sitting in my closets and drawers that just isn’t being worn because I didn’t shop like a reasonable person.

Heading to the store, I knew what I wanted – my usual teaching style is a t-shirt layered with a sweater – preferably a long-ish cardigan – with a nice pair of jeans, so I focused on those things.  I tried everything on, and considered it carefully.  If I loved it, I could buy it.  If I didn’t – for any reason – it had to stay.  I tried on eight pairs of pants and came home with none.  I tried on 16 different tops, and came home with five – three t-shirts and two cardigans – all of which I love. They were also all half off, so all five items cost me $18.50.

I also seem to have discovered a little shopping tip (that is likely remarkably boring for everyone else).  I can’t usually find t-shirts that fit properly.  I have a long torso, and an average t-shirt tends to bare my stomach, which is really not the look I go for when I teach.  It turns out that the answer might just be maternity t-shirts.  The three t-shirts I bought today came from the maternity section – they’re cut long to accommodate a baby bump, and they seem to stay in place and hold their shape better.

But the really good part of today’s trip was the footwear.  I wasn’t looking that hard, but there, in with the men’s section, was a pair of what seem to be unworn L.L. Bean winter boots.  They weren’t on sale, but I was still happy to pay $17 for a pair of boots that I’d had my eye on for awhile and that should help keep my feet warm this winter.

Beyond that?  Well, I did indulge a little bit.  I bought a sturdy canvas tote bag – I have a few, but use them all the time – for $3.50.  And, for my whimsical bit of silly goofiness for the day, I found a ceramic cup that’s a reproduction of those paper cups that are ubiquitous in diners.  I have no idea why, but I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and it was lovey to satisfy the urge for $0.45.

Although I haven’t really bought clothes in well over a year now, it was nice to go out and consciously and carefully pick up a few things that I needed.  Everything is in good shape and reasonable quality, and it will work well with what I already have.  Plus, I’m looking forward to getting rid of some more things and freeing up additional space for more things that work with my needs and are what I actually want, rather than just what’s cheap.


Independence Days – August 5

So far, this has been the week of decluttering.  Facing down the end of the summer and the start of the school year, your not-so-intrepid heroine (that would be me) has started clearing out as much as possible from the overly-stuffed secret lair (read: apartment) that she inhabits.  At this point in our story, there are many boxes of thrift store donations littering the bedroom floor, and many more things left to be sorted, decided upon, and either put away or gotten rid of.  As a result of this project, not a whole lot else has happened this week.

Plant something:  Arugula and lettuce; a new batch of kombucha; sourdough starter

Harvest something:  As always, mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, borage, and violet; green peppers, chard, and a bit of kale; the first few ripe tomatoes

Preserve something:  Didn’t do so well on this one this week – the last pickles that I fermented were a dismal failure, and I need some practice (or something approximating a root cellar)

Waste not:  Thrift store purchases – three books (Winter greens: Solar Greenhouses for Cold Climates, The Not So Big House, and Creating the Not So Big House); put together a rather large donation pile for the thrift store (and still going strong on the decluttering); started putting a few sewing books to good use through learning how to refashion old t-shirts and other jersey knits

Want not:  Stocked up on more salt and spices; working on seriously organizing and decluttering the apartment so it’s easier to work in and there’s more room for the important stuff – there are already four boxes of books and another three boxes of miscellaneous stuff ready to go, and the main closet is cleaner and less cluttered than it has been in ages

Eat the food:  Frittata, lots of salads, eggs, fish, burgers with corn on the cob and fresh steamed veggies, soup

Build community food systems:  Back to the farmers’ market this week, and had some good chats with farmers (and a few invitations for farm tours, if I can find a way out of the city)

Skill up: Still knitting; practicing a bit of hand-sewing

Get healthy:  Still biking and walking anywhere I possibly can; watching calories in an attempt to lose a bit of weight and avoid buying new pants; a fair amount of greens and fruits; added in some more yoga, meditation, and general mindfulness

Up next: keep up with the decluttering and spend more time relaxing (via yoga and meditation), on doctor’s orders.  There’s a lot to do prior to the start of school, and a lot to learn and plan, and so the calmer I can stay, the better off I’ll be.  Happily, I also tend to feel better when the apartment is clean and tidy, so I’m hoping that the big push to purge now will help a lot with that as things start up again and the school year starts up.

Stuff and things

This month, I’m getting rid of stuff.  And things.  Well, that’s the plan, anyway.  I suppose we’ll have to see how things go.  Technically, this was supposed to be an “I’ll do it over the whole of the summer” thing, but…well, that didn’t happen, largely due to a whole bunch of work projects.  But now, it’s time to get down to it and at least make a good start before the new semester starts and I’m spending much of my time dealing with teaching-related thing.

I know – and have known for awhile – that I have too much stuff in this small-ish apartment.  If I want any semblance of functionality, organization, and tidiness, I’m going to have to clear some stuff out.  It’s difficult to put things away (and I’m a tad lazy about tidying up), which means that there’s usually some kind of mess somewhere.  Anytime I want to do a bigger project – like canning or starting seeds, I have to move or clean up lot of stuff up first, which is time consuming and takes some of the fun out of the whole process.  Heck, sometimes I have to do that just to sit on the couch and read.

Part of the problem is that I’ve had this understanding of the world for awhile now that includes scary concepts like climate change, peak oil, and economic collapse.  I try not to dwell on them too much, but I’m aware and making moves to help soften what I usually refer to as an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, this means keeping a lot of things.  Useful things.  Practical things.  Backups.  Things that may not be so easy to find or to replace if things get bad.  I have extra cold-weather clothing and sturdy shoes.  Reference books and food.  Canning jars, cast iron pots and pans, and various fermentation and storage containers.  Yarn for socks and fabric for clothing.  Board games and books for entertainment.  Candles and lanterns.  Bikes, a bike trailer, and a variety tools.  And the list goes on…you get the idea.  Right now, this is all crammed into about 700 square feet of living space.  The bike trailer alone takes up a third of the front hall closet.

This also means that I’m rather reluctant to get rid of things that might be useful (and by reluctant, you can safely assume that I spend a lot of time clutching things and cooing “my precious” when I go through this process).  When I work on getting things, what I usually have in my head is Chile’s somewhat humorous view of the future for those who got rid of too much stuff (in light of her Cut the Crap challenge).  Given this understanding of what the world could be (not that it will, but certainly that it could), it’s pretty easy to assume that anything and everything could be put to use in some way, shape, or form, which makes it more of a challenge to put into the donation box.

And so, the challenge right now is to get rid of the things that aren’t necessary, or that I have enough back-ups for.  I really do need the space this will free up so that I have more room to work on important tasks, like food preservation, cooking, sewing, and exercise. Having a bit more space and a tidier apartment would certainly be helpful.  At the same time, I also want to clear some room for some of my wish-list items that I just don’t currently have space for, and that I think are important to have – things like a pressure canner, grain mill, water filter, and really good quality gardening tools.

Today, I start small, and deal with the overstuffed containers and drawers of kitchen utensils.  I’m reasonably sure that there are at least three sets of measuring cups and two sets of measuring spoons lurking in there somewhere (no, I don’t really know why, other than I make far too many trips to the thrift store), plus goodness knows what else.  After that, I’ll tackle one shelf of the overstuffed “linen” closet (which actually contains very few linens, but quite a lot of a whole lot of other stuff).  Ideally, I’d like to turn that into the main space for storage (food, tools, yarn, fabric, and so on), so the more I can get out of there, the better.  These aren’t huge steps, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so a bit of really focused decluttering is the way to go, at least to start with.  Who knows, maybe by this time tomorrow I’ll have dumped half my stuff, leaving only the practical, necessary, and beautiful.  It’s not likely, but a girl can dream…


I don’t know that I’d have expected it, but it was really quite pleasing to bring in a fresh-picked salad for lunch today, only to have to go out again to return the snail that I found clinging to one of the leaves.  Food at it’s freshest.

Veggie powered

For nearly seven years now, I’ve been car-free.  I had a small economy car for two years while I was doing my master’s degree in the big city and commuting a long distance, at night, with very poor public transit options. But technically, the car belonged to my parents.  When I started my PhD in a new city two hours away, they asked for it back.  I was happy to oblige.  While it was fairly low-cost as cars go in terms of gas, maintenance, and insurance (and possibly even pollution, although I’m not completely sure on that), it was still an expense that I didn’t really need or want, and I liked the idea of being without a vehicle.

During the six years of my PhD, I had a bus pass.  It was included with my tuition fees, and was about $50 a semester.  For shorter trips, I walked and biked whenever I could, but by total fluke, I lived right on four bus routes that went to all of the main places that I was usually headed, and so I took the bus quite a lot.  Local public transit isn’t all that convenient due to wonky schedules and no late-night service at all, but it worked well enough for most of what I needed and wanted to do.  As a result, I got used to the bus pretty quickly, and never really looked back.

Then, with the completion of my degree, the bus passes stopped.  I still have to be on campus fairly regularly, and I do a number of other things, and so I once again needed to figure out how to get myself around the city.  I looked more closely at the bus, and found that bus passes are between $60 and $80 a month.  That amount certainly wouldn’t break the bank, but it’s still fairly high considering my income, and I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea of paying for transit regularly.

So I decided I’d try getting to as many places as I needed to go under my own power.  I dusted off my running shoes, tuned up my bike, and started fueling myself for extra exercise – I like to joke now that I’m veggie powered, although I suspect that joke will be getting old very, very soon.

Honestly, it’s been great, and I keep asking myself why I didn’t do this sooner (short answer: the bus was rather convenient for many of the things I did regularly, and I was a bit lazy).  I get a lot more exercise and fresh air.  Walking to campus, for instance, is 45 minutes and biking is 20 to 25.  I listen to music or audio books as I go, which is pleasant.  I see and notice more of my neighbourhood than I ever have before.  I also get a lot more time to think, and have worked through some research and writing challenges while out and about.

It’s not a perfect solution.  Some days are too hot to bike, especially when I have meetings, and sometimes the weather is just too much, like with all the thunderstorms we’ve been having around here recently.  Sometimes I wind up on campus a sweaty gross mess when I underestimate the head and humidity.  Occasionally, people in vehicles simply don’t share the road all that well, or pay enough attention to what’s going on around them.  But by and large, it’s been a great thing to do, and I’d heartily encourage anyone who’s been thinking about making the shift to give it a try.  A bit more exercise, a bit more downtime, a bit more money in the wallet, and a bit less pollution – what’s not to love?

Independence Days – July 29

Despite a long, somewhat un-food-focused week, I’ve been trying to keep up with Independence Days here and there.  News about drought and rising food prices has me concerned, and I’m trying to gear up my food production and storage a bit more to help mitigate some of the issues that we seem to be facing.  Hopefully this week will be even better, especially now that I have on project off my plate, and another nearly completed as well.

Plant something:  More arugula and lettuce; started a new kombucha scoby; started a ginger beer starter

Harvest something:  Mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, borage, and violet; green peppers, chard, and a bit of kale; foraged garlic

Preserve something:  Prepped both cultivated and foraged garlic for storage; made pesto with leftover garlic scapes; dried mint, chives, basil, oregano, thyme, borage, and violet leaves

Waste not:  Thrift store purchases – one pair jeans and one cardigan, one reference book (The Nature Principle), and one large jar for storage; worked on storing and eating leftover promptly; used chicken bones to make stock; made further use of the quick sale grocery store produce racks

Want not:  Stocked up on pasta, potatoes, olive oil, butter, and tea; bought two sets of reusable produce bags (on sale)

Eat the food:  Basmati rice with butter chicken, frittata, thai shrimp curry, lots of salad, battered fish, roasted fish, shakshuka (with sale halloumi cheese), pizza, minestrone soup

Build community food systems:  Not so much here – between caring for my container garden and the plot across the street, most of my energy has gone to food production rather than building food systems

Skill up: Easing back into knitting (I decided I’d do better if I started with something really basic, rather than trying to resume a sweater that I have no idea where I stopped on); still working on the guitar here and there; reading as much as possible on good gardening practices

Get healthy:  Still keeping up with the walking and biking as much as possible, plus regular gardening; lots of healthy foods;  trying for a bit more sleep and to get fully into meditation as a daily practice, rather than something that happens a few times when it strikes me

I have a week of meetings and dealing with a journal issue coming up, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the market (I’ve missed the past two weeks for different reasons), and hopefully getting some jam made to free up a bit more freezer space.  With any luck, there may also be some corn to freeze (pricey as it is), and if I can get some cucumbers and tomatoes in bulk, I’d like to try my hand at a bit more canning – I’ve made both pickles and tomato sauce before, but never to can.  Admittedly, this might be a bit ambitious, but if I get even half of this done, I’ll be pretty happy with that.

Back to food

Occasionally, I forget about food.  Sure, I eat (well, mostly, anyway – I find it harder to get myself to eat when things are nuts).  But sometimes when things get busy, or hectic, or stressful, I start to lose sight of the importance that I think food should play in my life.  When this happens, I reduce or even stop cooking.  I don’t store or preserve food.  I don’t make it to the farmers’ market.

I’ve been feeling like this recently – rather unmotivated, and inclined to let things slide.  But (and this is a big but)…food is important for health.  It’s fundamental to community and to culture.  And it’s especially important to be careful with what we have now and to make sure that we’re able to feed ourselves adequately in the future.

Today, I’m spending a good bit of the day focused on food, both to actually do something productive, but also to remind myself of why this is important and how much I enjoy doing it.  Thus far, I have:

  • Biked to a local cafe that sells kombucha mothers to buy a new one (half the price of the last place I bought one!)
  • Brewed sweet tea with which to make kombucha
  • Picked up a gallon jar at the thrift store for storing food (I much prefer glass to plastic, and finding large containers for cheap is always a challenge)
  • Stopped on the way home to forage for garlic in the park across the street
  • Separated out the garlic flowers to use for cooking
  • Set out the small foraged garlic bulbs to dry off
  • Cleaned the cultivated garlic given to me by a friend’s mother
  • Made garlic scape pesto

But why stop there?  I have a few other things that I’d like to get taken care of.  Truthfully, I have a whole mess of frozen cranberries, strawberries, and rhubarb that are supposed to become jelly and jam, but I’m not sure that I’m up for water bath canning today (or that the kitchen is anywhere near clean enough for that kind of endeavour).  Instead, I’m hoping to:

  • Finish a few rounds of dishes so I can actually cook something later
  • Clean off (and clean) the kitchen counters and the cutting board
  • Figure out if the new cart/island that I have my eye on will fit where I want it to in the kitchen (always a challenge)
  • Start planning how to reorganize the pantry and my food storage, and decide what should stay in the kitchen and what can go to the cupboard

Few things feel as productive to me as dealing with food, or the places where I prepare and store food.  I enjoy a lot of elements of my job, and I feel good when projects are done, but there’s something deeply satisfying and grounding about cooking a good meal, putting food away neatly in the fridge or cupboard, or making something to store away for later.  Even though I sometimes falter and wind up a bit of a ways off the path, I always seem to come back to food in the end.