Why Work Optional Matters to Us

Two weeks ago, Angie and I were sitting on the patio contemplating the future. I had just started reading Work Optional by Tanja Hester (of the blog Our Next Life) and we were brainstorming a list of ideas for what we thought an early retirement might possibly look like for us.

We’ve never had a specific goal to retire early but we have always had a “work optional” attitude. Angie retired from formal employment in 2012, right before we moved to Florida, and I have worked only part-time for the past 3 years. We’re not high wage earners yet we still manage to live on only 63-65% of our current income. Ridiculously frugal. That’s how some folks describe us. (At this point, you might be thinking that those expensive ice cream bars we blew our budget on a few weeks back weren’t all that frugal. Well, guess what? We used a coupon! 😊)

Anyway, back to the point…

Though we’re not in a position to fully retire right now, we are in a position to start thinking about the next chapter of our own work optional story. This is exactly what we were trying to do that day on the patio, but life happened, and that is the real point of this post.

Our great-niece was supposed to stay with us for 3 days while her little brother had an exploratory procedure in preparation for open-heart surgery in July. He was born last December with a congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome and will require a series of three surgeries to repair his heart. The exploratory procedure last week did not go as planned and the doctors had to move up the timeline. On Friday, the little guy had surgery to place a shunt between his pulmonary artery and his heart. He is doing better than expected but will still be in the hospital for several weeks, during which time we have a very energetic 3-year-old house guest to entertain.

While this leaves little time to breathe, much less write a blog post, it has really highlighted one thing – if we were tied to normal jobs on a traditional career path, we would not be able to do this, at least not without the fear of losing our security. As a grant writer, my work is driven by deadlines but the work itself is flexible. No one cares if I write proposals before dawn, midday, or after dark…as long as the quality is good, and the deadlines are met. (I’m an early morning person, in case you’re wondering.) No matter what the next steps are in our work life, the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to jeopardize that type of freedom in any way. Work optional only works when the work is truly optional. (Say that three times fast!)

Angie and I will resume our brainstorming and planning when the time is right. Absolutely nothing needs to be decided today…except what to pack for a picnic at the playground, because that’s what a certain little one said she’d like to do today.

The Ups and Downs of Composting in a Small Apartment

In 2016, we made our first indoor composting bucket – complete with a tap to drain the nutrient rich “compost tea” to use as liquid fertilizer in our garden. We crafted it from a 2-gallon Igloo Cooler that we found at our local Goodwill Store for $4.99. After cleaning it up, Angie drilled a few holes in the lid for ventilation.

And voila! The resulting compost bin fit nicely underneath our kitchen sink.

Until it died. I think 3 years of use somehow eroded the tap and we opened the door to a sea of compost tea in our cabinet last week. For a brief half-second, we thought about not composting…then we tried to throw a banana peel in the trash. We absolutely could not do it. It was as if this one banana peel was going to undo all our good efforts over the past few years. (You’re talking to people here who bring apple cores home from the park to compost, so yes, it was an extremely difficult half-second.)

Composting is one of those tasks that you love but also hate. We love seeing our kitchen scraps turn into a nice garden soil amendment. We also love seeing what crazy assortment of volunteer plants pop up in the garden every year. Last year, it was a dozen tomatoes and an acorn squash.

But, we hate doing all this in an apartment, especially one in a city that offers no composting services or facilities. Oh, how nice it would be to simply toss our scraps into a bin in the yard. Instead, we drive them across town every week to my mom’s house, where we have a larger compost system which consists of a turning bin and a finishing bin (and a garden).

Once upon a time, we tried a 2 bucket system on our apartment’s patio. The flies loved it but management did not, so we decided to try a bokashi system instead. In a bokashi composting system, a special fermented bran is added to the scraps to speed up decomposition. Instead of the expensive bran sold on Amazon, we picked up a bag of compost starter at our local Tractor Supply Co. I’m not sure what the actual bokashi bran smells like but I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that the compost starter STINKS! In fact, it stinks so bad that we couldn’t have it in the apartment, on the porch, or in the yard. When you can taste a foul smell across a half-acre yard, you know it stinks!

We also considered an electric composter but at $400-$1,200 that seemed a bit ridiculous. So we went old-school (again). Our new bin doesn’t even have a spigot. In fact, it’s just a simple 3-gallon bucket and lid from Lowe’s (cost: ~$6). Angie drilled ventilation holes in this one too and we popped it right back under the sink where the other one once lived.

If we did not have access to a garden space, we would most likely go back to the 2 bucket system and “renegade” composting, which basically means using one bucket while the other composts then dumping the fully composted materials in a public space that needs a bit of fertilizing. We did this a few times in Florida until we found a community garden that would take our scraps.

Whatever the method used to approach this madness, the important part is the actual composting. Not only does compost add vital nutrients back to the soil, it lessens our environmental impact. Nearly 40% of material in our public landfills is compostable (42% is recyclable), meaning 82% of what’s in a landfill shouldn’t be there in the first place. Composting is challenging, especially if you live in a small space, but it’s not impossible. Even the smallest efforts can make a big difference.

Thinking of making your own bin? Here are some tips on what to compost: