Category Archives: frugal-ness

project 333: update for September


One of my goals for the year is to consciously participate in Project 333.  The main purpose of Project 333 is to have a complete wardrobe with only 33 items in it and wear that wardrobe for a period of three months.  I’m hoping that once I get started, I’ll be able to have no more than 33 items in my wardrobe at any given moment.  You can learn more about Project 333 here

As far as clothing goes, Europeans have us beat in both style and function.  A minimalist wardrobe is part of the European mentality, as clothing is not only more expensive in Europe, but is often more well made and follows more classic styles.  Also, Europeans tend to have less access to washing machines and dryers, unlike us North American energy hogs, so it just makes sense for them to have more simple wardrobes.  With two kids, I find myself running my washing machine daily just to wash clothing, and I’d hazard a guess that I’m not alone in this practice.

My parents are currently on a three week trip through Italy and Greece.  I received an update from my mom via email this morning about how much fun they’re having on their trip.  Here’s my favourite part of her email:

We have enjoyed four relaxing days on the lake, taking two ferry rides to different towns and driving up the west side to explore the areas up there.  This is a very nice place – I’ve been keeping an eye out for George Clooney, but have come to realize that I am on the wrong lake!

Oh well.  I’m not really dressed for company these days.  Oh, that reminds me:  Erin, your little gold slippers are the height of fashion out here, especially paired with a neutral dress – how perfect is that?  Also, your “biker” boots are in all the stores and on the streets with skinny jeans.  You wouldn’t believe the prices here – we should probably be very thankful that we have loads of clothes coming from China, or we probably would be going around naked.  All I can say is, “Thank goodness for Winners!”

Love the part about George Clooney.  Apparently we have the same taste.

It’s good to know that I can have a minimalist wardrobe and still be fashionable.  I don’t have many clothes, but I still get compliments from friends on my clothing and footwear. Clearly this means that no one is noticing that I only own one pair of jeans.

Here’s a few practices I’ve adopted when it comes to incorporating clothing into my minimalist wardrobe:

  • Look for classic styles that will stand the test of time and trends.
  • Stick to mostly neutral colours, and pick one or two accent colours to jazz things up.
  • If the fit and condition of an item is not perfect, consider foregoing it for something that is.
  • Look for quality made pieces that can withstand your lifestyle.
  • If it’s on sale, great.  But consider buying it only if you would still pay full price for the item.
  • If you’ve lost that loving feeling for an item in your wardrobe, consider recycling or repurposing it.

I’ve added a couple of long-sleeved t-shirts to my wardrobe after culling several heavy weight sweaters from the line-up.  It doesn’t really get cold enough in Vancouver to warrant heavy wool sweaters, so I’ve sent a couple off to the thrift shop and I even managed to sell one on craigslist.  Score!  You can see the list of all my clothing here, and be sure to check out Project 333 for more inspiration.

Are you participating in Project 333?  I’d love to hear how your experiment with less fashion is going!

2011 in 2011: using failure as a motivating factor


We’ve just returned from our last vacation of the summer and are trying our best to settle into the back to school routine.  It’s hard to maintain a lot of the routines from home when you are on vacation, and I tried to go with the flow and appreciate the differences.  We went to the beach, the park, for long walks, and spent lots of time together making great memories.  What we didn’t do was think at all about how our purchasing choices would impact our home upon our return, or how our choices in food would impact our waistlines. Oops.

I’ve decided though that failures should be looked upon more as opportunities for future improvements, rather than things I should be punishing myself over.  Rachel at The Minimalist Mom had a great post the other day about setting sights on the bigger picture – if you set goals and don’t meet them, don’t be discouraged.  Re-jig your original goals to create new goals and stay motivated in your minimalist journey for the longer haul.

A few less-than-ideal highlights from our vacation included:

  • I bought new-to-us, gently used clothes for the kids even though they don’t really need anything in the clothing department.  My hometown has a great children’s consignment shop, and they were having their annual $1 sale.  Yes, one dollar. While I’ve heard of such a thing, it was like an urban legend to stumble across a sale like that.  I ended up taking two trips to the store, and bought a total of 40 new articles of clothing for my kids.  My oldest will not need any more clothing before the end of next summer.  As a frugalitarian who hates to shop but still likes my kids to look adorable, I cannot tell you how happy this made me.  As a minimalist, I am struggling to find places to put all those extra items in the kids closet.
  • I received a Tassimo coffee machine from a friend with their blessing to use it while they are out of the country, even though I’m trying to drink less coffee and am ashamed of the amount of waste that comes along with the use of these machines.  I wrote previously about these fancy machines that make coffee from pre-prepared pods of coffee grinds, and how as much as the coffee was delicious, I wouldn’t be buying one.  Well, it’s harder to turn down one of these things when it turns up on your doorstep courtesy of a very good friend.  My friends have been using this handy little machine for a few months and bought it prior to knowing that they would be moving out of the country for awhile.  So when they offered it to me, I agreed to take ownership of it for the next year.  The coffee is still delicious, and while the pods are disposable, the plastic from the Tassimo pods can be recycled if you put in a small amount of effort to clean out the used coffee grinds.  I’m also taking a small amount of solace in the fact that I’ve given up buying coffee from coffee shops, which will eliminate my use of disposable cups, lids and sleeves.
  • I ate very poorly for the second half of my vacation.  For the second part of our 10 day vacation, we were in Armstrong with family and spent nearly every day at the Interior Provincial Exhibition (otherwise known as the IPE).  With everyone being so busy taking in all the excitement of an agricultural fair, midway complete with rides, and the rodeo and stampede action, there wasn’t much time for grocery shopping or preparing meals.  We ate out a lot, and if there’s one thing about Fair food, it’s that most of it is deep-fried.  I ate more than my share of mini-donuts and french fries.  We had some friends come in from out of town to spend the day with us at the Fair, and my girlfriend went so far as to indulge in a deep-fried Mars bar.  Yes, it really does look as disgusting as it sounds.  Needless to say, there were not too many fruits or vegetables consumed by anyone in our family over the course of the latter half of our trip.  A sad statement really, considering my husband and I had spent the first half of our vacation eating very healthily and going for long walks/runs every evening.

Instead of allowing all of these things to hamper my efforts towards minimalism, simplicity and good health, I have renewed my efforts and desire to live better.  I’m trying to consider the journey more so than the destination.  If you have plans to live differently, don’t be discouraged if your best laid plans go astray – take comfort in the process and get motivated, even setting new, revised goals for yourself if that helps.  If you fall off the proverbial wagon, just renew your efforts and get back on.

Like most things in life, minimalism is a journey, and the object of striving to live more simply is more so about the process than the end result.  Rooms and closets that have been decluttered will likely need to be purged more than once in this lifetime.  Eating poorly for a few days can be rectified by a return to a lifestyle of healthy eating and regular exercise.   Dietary indulgences can be reflected upon and efforts doubled to do better in the future.  Now that a few extra things have found their way into our home, I’ll be working to declutter a little more before the end of the year.  As of last count, I’m at 4822 items decluttered in 2011.  I’m hoping to hit the big 5K before the end of the year.

If you’re decluttering this year, I’d love to hear how your project is going!  Keep me motivated by sharing your story in the comments.


get your party on, minimalist style


Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years.  I remember attending birthday parties when I was young, and they were very nearly always hosted in the birthday boy or girl’s home.  Either that or at McDonald’s.  Things were a lot simpler back then.

While you can still have your birthday party at McDonald’s, children’s parties seem to be getting a lot more elaborate as time goes on.  We’re planning a minimalist, eco-friendly version of a kid’s birthday party around here this week.  Here’s a few ideas we’ve come up with to keep the event both fun and earth friendly, minimalist style.

  • Host friends in your home or at a park.  Hosting a party in your home or at a park can help ensure that the party will not only cost less, but that there will be less waste generated overall from the party.  Our home is too small to host more than a couple of people at a time, but we’re lucky enough to have a lounge in our building that is a perfect area for hosting friends and family.  We’ll be taking advantage of this common space in our building to host my son’s birthday party, and we’ll be using the yard-sized grassy area for the kids to play outside if the weather cooperates.
  • Use reusable plates, bowls and glasses.  I’d considered using disposable plates, but I’d have to buy them.  And then throw them away.  Seems a shame when I already have perfectly good dishes and glasses on hand.  Sure, I’ll have to wash the dishes when we’re finished with them, but I figure that’s what my dishwasher is for anyway.
  • Prepare food at home with fresh ingredients, rather than buying pre-made food.  I’ll be toting my popcorn maker to the party and making fresh, air-popped popcorn for the kids.  I’ll also be making my famous hummous in advance of the party, as well as serving some fresh fruit and vegetables for guests to nosh on.  It’s less expensive to prepare your own party food, and it’s less wasteful than buying food that has a ton of packaging.
  • Ensure anything bought from the store has packaging that can be recycled.  Even though I’ll be buying fresh food for the party, some things still come in packaging that can’t be escaped.  Strawberries come in a plastic clamshell, blueberries come in a cardboard container, and the garbanzo beans that will later be turned into hummous come in an aluminum can – thankfully, these packaging items can at least be recycled.  If you recycle where you can, you’ll be able to keep your party trash to a bare minimum.
  • Entertain with what you have on hand.  I’ll be organizing an art project for the party for kids who want to play inside, and we’ll have a soccer game and Hot Wheels car wash set up for the kids outside.  We had a similar set-up last year (and way more kids), and it worked perfectly.  We’ll be using toys, sports equipment and craft supplies that we already have on hand at home, and we won’t be buying anything extra for the party.
  • Eliminate loot bags.  For my son’s birthday party last year I did prepare loot bags for the kids, but I won’t be doing the same this year.  I don’t really like loot bags (I can’t stand the junk that goes in them), but I know the kids love them, so I’m making a compromise.  For this year’s event, we’ve chosen a small toy for each child – the boys will be getting a small Lego toy and the girls will be receiving a Playmobil figurine.  Both of these companies produce high quality toys, and giving our young guests a toy that is not destined for the garbage the moment they arrive home makes me feel better about the whole loot bag conundrum.
By having a minimalist birthday party, it not only makes for less waste, but it’s a strategy that saves money too.  Keeping things to a minimum in the “stuff” department, will also ensure we won’t be left with a lot of extra things when the party is over.  We’re just making do with what we’ve got on hand in the entertainment department, and we’ll be having delicious food, a yummy birthday cake, and lots of great conversation with friends.

How do you do kids birthday parties?  Do you go all out, party mama style?  Or do you like to keep things a bit more low key?

retail me not: how to avoid back-to-school shopping


As a teenager, I felt a certain urgency around having a few new items to wear to school in September.  I know now that the urgency I felt was manufactured by marketing and advertising in an attempt to get me to spend more money on things I probably didn’t need in the first place.  Even now, nearly a month ahead of the start of the school year, the “Back to School” sales and promotions have begun.  On a grocery trip to Costco this past weekend, I noticed a huge selection of backpacks, books, writing utensils and other school related items.

According to a study by Visa Canada, Canadian shoppers plan to spend over $400 on back-to-school shopping before Labour Day.  Last year, back to school shopping costs in the United States averaged over $600 per family.  Myself, I’ve never enjoyed the pressure to acquire new clothing at the beginning of each school year.  Thankfully, I won’t be participating in the time-honoured tradition of back-to-school shopping in the coming weeks.

I’ll be foregoing back-to-school shopping entirely this year, and here’s a few ideas our family will be applying to get the most out of the back to school experience.  This strategy is designed to save us time and money, and it jives nicely with our interests in lightening our own impact on the environment.

  1. I’ll be taking inventory.  As I pack away my kids’ summer clothes, I’ll be getting out the fall/winter clothing.  We’re lucky enough to live in a climate where we can wear the same lightweight, cool weather clothing for ten months out of the years, so the kids will continue wearing the clothes they wore in the spring and summer, as seasonally appropriate.  Throw on an extra sweater or sweatshirt and substitute pants for shorts when the weather cools down, and we’re good to go.  My own clothing selection will be re-evaluated at the beginning of September as I enter a new phase of my Project 333, but I won’t be taking advantage of any seasonal sales or promotions to supplement my own wardrobe.
  2. We’ll be shopping in our closets.  My son has not grown enough in the past two months that he has outgrown enough of anything in his wardrobe to warrant a trip to the mall.  His backpack has held up well, so he’ll be using the same one again this year.  We picked up a winter jacket for my oldest last January during sale season, so we are set for the winter as well.  The only clothing purchase I can foresee making for him in the next six months is a new pair of running shoes (if he outgrows his current ones).
  3. I’ll be participating in our school supplies program.  My son’s school asks that families pay up front in September for their children’s school supplies for the duration of the school year.  We are asked to pay $25 for our child’s school supplies needs for an entire school year.  This amount seems reasonable to me, especially given that if I had to and purchase supplies for my child alone, the cost would likely run over $25.  Also, with this system, I don’t need to spend any time at all shopping for school supplies.  All things considered, I think it’s money well spent.
  4. I don’t homeschool my school-age child, and therefore, I have little need for school supplies at home.  Since my son attends public school, most of his school supplies needs will be met in his classroom.  Other than a few pencils, an eraser, some paper and a few craft supplies, we won’t need much else here at home.
  5. We’ll be brown-bagging it this year.  Well, not literally – he’ll be packing a reusable lunch sack with an assortment of tasty and nutritious food as he’s starting first grade and it will be the first time he’ll be at school over the lunch hour.  We won’t be participating in a school lunch program – it was cancelled for the semester due to low enrollment, but I hadn’t planned on participating anyway primarily because seeing as how I’m at home full-time with the kids, I will have the time to prepare his lunch the night before.
  6. We’ll be looking to buy gently used, rather than new.  Not only is a lot of money spent every year on items earmarked for returning to school, but consider too the resources required to buy all-new, all the time.  Consider re-using things you may still have from your child’s previous year, or consider checking your local thrift shop for gently used kids’ clothing before you head to the mall to shop for brand new clothes.
I’ll be staying out of stores (particularly the big box variety) and limiting my visits to online sites that sell kids clothing, so as not to be tempted to buy anything.  I know that my kids have enough, and I don’t need a back-to-school sale to tell me otherwise.  I’ll be spending the time I would have spent shopping on the playground with my kids, and enjoying the last few lazy days of summer vacation.

Are you planning on doing any back to school shopping?  Or will you be approaching things differently this year?

the shampoo-free experiment


I recently stumbled upon another great local blog – Alexis lives in Vancouver and I was initially struck by her eloquent and touching post about how uncertain things felt both during and in the wake of the riot in downtown Vancouver following the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.  I continued to follow her blog and was thrilled to read her post about going without shampoo.  In the past, I’ve always shunned the idea of going shampoo-free.  I’ve been reading about the “no poo” movement online for years now, and I never believed it would actually work on my fine, sometimes frizzy, wavy-in-some-spots, oily-in-other-areas hair.  However, Alexis’ post made me think, “Why not give it a try?  What do I have to lose in trying?”

Well, I’m only two days in to this experiment, and already I’m liking the results.  Yesterday I gave the baking soda shampoo/apple cider vinegar rinse combo a go and my hair, which tends to get extremely oily overnight, was not even oily this morning.  I did wash it again in the shower this morning with baking soda (1 T mixed with water to make a paste) and apple cider vinegar rinse (1 T mixed with water), and honestly, my hair is the softest it has been in years.

I don’t colour or process my hair, but I’ve noticed that since having children my hair has a tendency to get a bit frizzy and fly-away. Neither of those issues have been materializing the last couple of days, and I’m intrigued to see how things unfold over the coming weeks.  It’s a bonus that baking soda and apple cider vinegar are considerably less expensive than conventional shampoos and conditioner.  It’s also a big plus to remove all those chemicals present in shampoo and conditioner from my daily beauty routine.

I encourage you to join me in this experiment, and be sure to let me know how your journey without shampoo is going.  I’d love to hear of others who are going without shampoo, why you felt like giving it a try, and how your experiment is going.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

penny wise, pound foolish


I broke my blender yesterday.  And not on purpose.  I was trying to perfect my homemade coffee frappuccino recipe – I had been trying my hand at making them at home the day before, with mixed results, but was determined to find a way to make them simply at home on the cheap.  Well, I got my delicious frappuccino alright, but as I was trying to help the blender along in the ice chopping department, a metal piece of the blender sheared some plastic pieces right off the base of the blender!  Ack!  My gorgeous, stainless steel blender! Here I was trying to be frugal about my blended beverage consumption and I had wrecked a pretty expensive kitchen countertop appliance.  That’s what my granny would call, “penny wise and pound foolish.”

Maybe I should have been more careful about what I was wishing for.  I’m feeling a bit guilty over the blender getting wrecked as I’ve been dreaming of getting a Magic Bullet for years – so cute, so small, so SIMPLE!

looks awesome, right?

I saw them for sale at Canadian Tire just last month and longed for one, but realized it was counterintuitive to own both a Magic Bullet and a perfectly good blender.  So, I’ve been dutifully using my blender, making smoothies for myself and the kids.  But, I am now without a blender and pretty disappointed that it’s broken.  I’d gotten into the habit of making smoothies for the kids now that the weather was warming up, and was pretty jazzed that the kids were into such a healthful treat.

While I could probably get a replacement part for the blender for less than $10, the exorbitant shipping will probably make the decision pretty simple in the end.  I’m going to look into getting a Magic Bullet as a replacement for the blender.  In a funny coincidence, a friend of ours who is moving overseas in the Fall has offered us their Magic Bullet as they don’t plan to take it with them.  You know what they say: “Ask and ye shall receive.”  I’ll be ensuring the blender’s motor goes to the right place for recycling, and I’ve offered the blender pitcher to my brother who has the same identical blender as us.

Do you own a blender or do you prefer another appliance that does the same job?  Or do you prefer your margaritas on the rocks and do without a blender altogether?

retail me not: disposable coffee, disposable consumerism


Earlier this year, I decluttered my coffee machine.  It was a cute little machine, I wanted to go more minimal and stick with using my french press.  A french press doesn’t require filters, so not having to buy filters was a bonus, but I will admit to not loving the process of cleaning the french press.  It is easier to ignore having to clean a drip coffee machine – a french press has to be cleaned each and every time you make coffee in it.  But I digress, I had gotten rid of the coffee machine and was happily making do with making my morning java in the coffee press.

In the past month, I’ve been introduced to the single-serve coffee machines and all the benefits they tout.  A friend recently purchased a Keurig machine from a large retailer in town, and upon visiting their house for a couple of dinner parties, I had the opportunity to try out the coffee.  I’ll admit, the coffee is pretty good.  But the packaging, oh, the packaging.  The grounds for each coffee is contained in a single-serving plastic container with a foil lid.  And the plastic is non-recyclable.  Now, I did not give my friend a hard time for choosing such a non-sustainable coffee maker, but I personally would not choose to purchase a coffee maker like this, no matter how tasty the coffee.

Last week, I visited a friend’s house for a playdate with the kids and she mentioned her husband had purchased a brand new coffee machine, a Nespresso Pixie.  Is this thing ever cute.  And the coffee that comes out of it… divine!  My friend gave me the sales pitch on it and served me a delicious cappuccino while she described its capabilities.  I questioned whether the capsules that hold the coffee grinds and make the coffee making so easy and mess free were recyclable.  She said, yes, the pods are recyclable as they are made of aluminum (like a pop can) – so you can elect to either clean the pods yourself and pop them into your recycling container, or you can return them to your local Nespresso dealer for recycling.  Huh.  As good as it all sounded, there is quite a lot of  plastic packaging that comes along with all the tiny little Nespresso pods.  Also, although the greenwashing of the Nespresso brand is quite thorough, it appears that only about 25% of used Nespresso pods are recycled globally.  Even worse, Nespresso’s Pro Capsules are made of aluminum bonded with plastic and are, as such, non-recyclable.

One of my main pursuits in adopting a minimalist lifestyle is to create less waste.  And, as sexy as these coffee machines are, I won’t be buying one.

(did I mention that George Clooney is a spokesperson for Nespresso?)

And as delicious as the coffee is that comes out of those things, I won’t be spending my husband’s hard-earned money on one.  The financial cost of single-serving coffee is enough of a deterrent (the machines themselves are quite expensive), but the environmental cost of single-serving coffee is abhorrent and I’ll be avoiding it at all costs. Grinding coffee beans in my own grinder once weekly is not an unpleasant enough task to warrant purchasing a coffee machine that will do it all at the touch of a button.  The most environmentally sound cup of coffee is one that is made from good ol’ traditionally ground coffee beans, prepared in a pot, and consumed out of a reusable cup.  Still delicious, and guilt-free.