Friday, July 25, 2008

Yard Sales, Flea Markets and Second Hand or Consignment Stores

I must confess, I became hooked on yard sales, flea markets and consignment stores years ago when I was a single mom and pretty broke. Buying new anything was simply not an option in my budget.   It took me a while to get used to it, because I came from an affluent home where new was taken for granted, but once I did become used to it, I find it very hard to shop retail now.  Especially because I still like very nice things, even designer items, and find that I don't care much for the designer price tags that go along with them.   I am building resistance to consumerism in the form of cheap, disposable fashion and goods, in favor of well-made, durable and quality items.  Inevitably, that drives me back to yard sales, flea markets and second hand or consignment stores!

Now, even when I can buy new I look for used first, unless the new item is dramatically reduced in price. The impact on the environment from used items is minimal, and something that was formerly shuttled off to no-man's land gets a new lease on life. I've even found most of these items are better than their more disposable, more modern and more more plastic counterparts.

Garage sales aren't for everyone. I realize that, but even those who are retail-a-holics may find it pays to buy tools or baby items second hand.  It helps to have both an open mind and an iron-clad idea of what you're looking for. I can't tell you the number of times I went out in search of something and found another thing I didn't at all expect.  Or just went out, looking for nothing specific, and found something I had been needing for a long time, like a 30 foot locking ladder for $20.   (A fantastic investment and used quite often!)

There are some who object to second hand consignment items, and even I have my limits. Generally, I avoid shoes and intimate items of any kind. No bathing suits, either. The only shoes I've bought 'second hand' or consignment were some still in the box, never worn by the owner to my knowledge. I have bought unused shoes off of Ebay, too.  I have bought a lot of 'gently used' vintage designer clothes, and handbags, though.  But since I have started working towards minimalism, I have kept a light variety (3-4) of handbags of the highest quality and donated the rest to charity and/or hosted a clothing swap.

Flea markets are fun, but the flea markets in Florida around here hold a lot of miscellaneous junk. A lot of old movies, dusty books and things. However, I did buy my best vaccuum cleaner ever for $25 at a flea market; it was an old Eureka upright, all metal parts. It still ran, and I took it to an vaccuum-repair place and the guy reworked it for me top to bottom for $30. That thing ran like a dream for 7 years. When it finally died, I was sad - because all the new one are made entirely of plastic and are of much poorer overall quality. I just wish I'd found that old vaccuum cleaner earlier!

I'm planning on holding a garage sale at the end of August. Having them can be a good way of getting rid of unnecessary items, making a little money and putting items out there to be recycled by others. It takes a bit of work, but if you know what you're doing, you can make a tidy profit.  Hosting a garage sale is easy.  There is a lot of free adversiting available in local newspapers and Craigslist, or Freecycle.  Putting clear, bright and well-written signs out in strategic places also helps.  Make sure to get enough change (I start with $50 in change in a cash box, small bills and coins), so you don't have to continually leave the sale in someone's care to go to the bank or nearest grocery store to get more.   Label things clearly with price, but be flexible.  Also, make your sale easy to navigate and tidily set up.  Borrow folding tables, like card tables, and hang more valuable items of clothing.   Try not to make your buyers work too hard or dig through piles.  At my last garage sale, I netted a $200 profit in 4 hours. That's $50/hr (more than I make at my full time job!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Odyssey - Or It's Damned Hard Without A Car!

The US is designed to be traversed by car. From the smallest cow-towns to even the largest cities, most are spread out as to be almost impossible to navigate without a privately owned vehicle of some kind. (Noted exceptions being New York and Chicago.)

My city is like this. A typical college town, any buses provided navigate the city/college center and are primarily for use by college students. The rest of us use private vehicles to get to work and run errands.

I would have never really thought of this, until I decided to green my life. In some ways (gas prices) it was forced on me, but maybe that's what it will take for the majority of Americans to change their habits, their urban planning and their mindsets.

Recently, my car started acting up in a big way. I had been exploring 'greener' options for some time (bus routes, bikes, more fuel efficient cars), but suddenly this was upon me and I had to act fast.

Problem was, there was little to no action to be taken.

Buses did not run from where I live to where I needed to work. I could bike it, it's only 10 miles each way, but what to do with a 10 year old? The highway we live off of isn't geared towards cyclists of any kind; it is solely the province of motor vehicle drivers. I finally landed upon the idea of carpooling.

So, I put up a notice in the main center of my mobile home park, but got few takers. It's still up, so we'll see what happens.

I called the local 'Florida Works' office, and they directed me towards the GreenRide site. I've registered there and also at this place, so we'll see what turns up.

I'm trying to put as few miles on my vehicle as possible until some resolution about the car can be made.

As for buses, I'm a rather disappointed there. Due to budgetary constraints, the city has cut routes and frequency of buses, and increased fares. Which stinks, because as a City employee I can ride buses for free. Unless I want to move into town and rent an apartment again, buses are out for me.

I blogged about it here: I Would Like To Ride The Bus.

Right now we're not investing enough into mass transit, light rail or bus systems. The old mindset still holds true; we cut valuable programs that we should be shoring up in the long run, and we seem still unable to prioritize.

It's a bit frustrating, really.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Green Philosophy

1. Ask yourself to buy new last. That's right. Search thrift stores, consignment shops, garage sales, flea markets and places like E-bay or bookmooch for items that are gently used but serviceable. Not only does it keep the price down, and sometimes you can even barter stuff like on Freecycle, but they don't have to keep making more to keep up with the demand. Maybe even borrow the item from a friend?

2. Ask yourself: Do I really need this? Probably the toughest question of all in a corporate-driven, consumerist culture, but nevertheless an important one. Will something else suffice? If so, use that. Save your pennies and the need to eventually toss it into a landfill.

3. Ask yourself: How much will it cost to maintain it? Are there plastic parts that might break, forcing you to discard them into a landfill? How was the item made? Does it require regular upkeep? All of these things involve time, resources and energy. (I would like to see a sharp move away from the predominance of plastic items, like vacuum cleaners and the like. Metal one work better, longer, and are easier on the environment.)

4. Ask yourself: Does this have more than one use in it? Can it be recycled at all? Styrofoam egg cartons and drink cups, etc. Plastic bags. If you can it's best to get things that have a second or third life that can be attached. I buy plants that are decorative only occasionally; most of my plants actually are either medicinal or culinary.

5. Ask yourself to go natural wherever possible. Cotton, linen, glass, ceramics, wood. These items break down, in the long run. If you can't recycle it, can you return it to the Earth with minimal damage? Low impact products are the key. Can you use salt to scrub a pan instead of a plastic scrubber or 'disposable' steel wool?

So, there you have it. My green philosophy.


And in strangely good news:

India's Temples Go Green.

It's not surprising that religious groups are in the vanguard of India's green movement: India is the birthplace of four of the world's largest religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, all of which revere nature and preach conservation. But the country's environmental practice hasn't always matched that preaching, leaving its air and water woefully polluted. According to the World Bank, emissions increased 57% in the decade following the India's economic liberalization.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Green Tea, Black Coffee And A Sweet Tooth

Good morning, all! On this Monday morning, after a 3-day weekend here in the States, I poured myself a cup of strong, dark coffee and savored it. I love the smell and taste of coffee, and recently felt vindicated after reading an article this weekend by Dr. Andrew Weil in Time Magazine about the benefits of coffee vs. the benefits of green tea.

Newer research indicates that coffee's health benefits are now being brought to light:

Coffee is more complicated. It has received both gold stars and black marks in the medical literature. It too contains antioxidants, although they are less well studied than tea polyphenols. Evidence for the health benefits of coffee is growing, however. In the August issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, a group of investigators from Finland, Italy and the Netherlands report that coffee seems to protect against age-related cognitive decline. The scientists studied 676 healthy men born from 1900 to 1920 and followed them for 10 years, using standardized measures of cognitive function. Their conclusion: the men who consumed coffee had significantly less cognitive impairment than those who didn't. Three cups a day seemed to provide maximum protection.

As a coffee drinker, I think that's excellent. But, what about green tea? We hear all the time about it, and Dr. Weil is an advocate:

That's why I was so interested in a report last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A team of Japanese researchers was able to link green-tea consumption with decreased mortality from all causes--including cardiovascular disease. The researchers tracked 40,530 healthy adults ages 40 to 79 in a region of northeastern Japan where most people drink green tea, following them for up to 11 years. Those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who drank less than one cup a day. There were also fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease.

But no such association was seen with deaths from cancer. Nor was consumption of oolong or black tea correlated with any decrease in mortality. Those teas are more oxidized in processing, which not only darkens the color of the leaves and changes their flavor but also reduces their polyphenol content.

Yet, this article clearly states the benefit of green tea on the heart.

Led by Dr. Nikolaos Alexopoulos of Athens Medical School in Greece, the researchers found that among 14 subjects, those who drank green tea showed greater dilation of their heart arteries on ultrasound 30 min. later than those drinking either diluted caffeine or hot water. That's because, the scientists speculate, green tea works on the lining of blood vessels, helping cells there to secrete the substances needed to relax the vessels and allow blood to flow more freely. It's the flavonoids in the tea, which work as antioxidants and help prevent inflammation in body tissue, that keep the vessels pliable. These substances may also protect against the formation of clots, which are the primary cause of heart attacks. "We found very promptly [that] after drinking green tea, there was a protective effect on the endothelium," says Dr. Charalambos Vlachopoulos, a cardiologist and one of the authors of the study.

My only problem? I'm not a big fan of tea, in general. I do come from a tea-drinking family, after all, but it's never really been my thing. I've experimented from time to time with honey in green tea, to make it tolerable. But that's all it is - tolerable. I'm open to suggestions for making it more palatable.


Studies like these can be confusing, though. How much stock should we put in them? After all, it wasn't too long ago that studies came out showing that coffee was bad for you. I ignored them; after all, I like coffee and I had no intention of giving it up. I did moderate my consumption more, but now it seems that may have been a bit unnecessary in light of recent developments. But these tidbits about diet and food have become an obsession in first world countries. Whether it's because the population is aging, or just we're more aware, I don't know.

I suspect we'd all like to stave off illness and aging as long as possible, but is diet primary culprit? Many people think so.


The last link is for people, like myself, who fall victim to 'demon sugar' from time to time. Take heart, as it may be genetic.

Researchers have found that people with a common variant of a gene that helps the body handle sugar are more likely to crave foods like soda and cake. Sucrose, fructose and glucose — if it is sugar, they like it.

Writing in the online edition of Physiological Genomics, researchers from the University of Toronto say the gene, glucose transporter type 2, helps the brain regulate the intake of food.

This isn't a blanket pass on sugar consumption, which should be moderate, but rather as an example of why not to beat yourself up too badly if you 'fall off the wagon.'

I've been experimenting with consuming primarily fruit sugars, and I must say as long as I get adequate fruit during the day, I tend to crave sweets less at night

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Where I came from, where I am now, and where I am going...

Hi, This is an introductory post. I wanted to update myself and any newcomers on what I've achieved so far on my own.

With costs of fuel and food rising, it had become clear to me that the lifestyle my daughter and I were leading was not only increasingly expensive and wasteful, but also something that we were not going to be able to sustain indefinitely.

We came, just a few years ago, from extensive poverty. I am a single parent of limited means, whose paycheck is the only money we have. I've managed to do well enough so far to put us just slightly above working-class. I purchase a small home this year; nothing fancy, it's a mobile home on a lot. But, it's mine. It also affords me a place to garden and compost, and it has a pool, tennis court and a pond. That's important because a lot of our recreational activities take place close to home in our new lifestyle.

The other thing that was bugging me was quality of life. Both my daughter and I have been struggling with weight; mine as a result of quitting smoking 4 years ago and hers because her diet was overloaded with high fructose corn syrup and convenience foods (which I am convinced are from the devil! lol).

It was hard to decide to voluntary increase our food budget, and decrease our expense elsewhere, but I began to think differently about it as time went on. It is an investment in ourselves, in our health, and that was something that seemed more valuable to me than the temporary enjoyment of a few french fries. With health care expenses rising, it makes more sense to do this now to pay less in the long run.

Once we moved out of our bad neighborhood, and into the new place, I figured I'd make some needed changes. I received a couple of bikes secondhand that were in good shape, and I taught my daughter to ride hers in a single afternoon. We began to make more regular use of tennis courts and the pool. I planted a garden. I bought more things secondhand, primarily books and household items. I bought a book on learning to become a tightwad, another on composting. I received a free wire compost bin from the city solid waste department and set that up. We've given up 90% of the meat in our diet; only seafood and the occasional piece of chicken remain. And I instituted a pretty rigorous home recycling program.

But that's not enough, is it? And that's the great thing about this lifestyle; it's a constant challenge. I recently decided to give up plastic containers in favor of glass ones, for health reasons. We no longer use paper goods of any kind, except toilet paper. I've give up paper napkins, paper towels, disposable plates. We have changed my daughter's aftercare program to one much nearer to the house and it cut my commute and my fuel bill in half.

Yet, the challenges and temptatiosn are constant. There is still much debate over these practices and if they do any good at all. I will attempt to explore that here. I may or may not get the answers I seek, and if I do they may not be the answers I want. However, this is an attempt at thinking differently. Learning to live in a new way is never easy, but I figure if I quit smoking, I can handle this, right? Right?!