3rd Quarter Progress to Goals

Before I dive right into a recap of our progress for this quarter, I wanted to catch everyone up on a few items (possibly) of interest. First, on Monday (10/1), our refrigerator finally arrived. We now have a complete set of matching appliances in our apartment. It only took 3 months to get them, but they are here now and that’s all that matters. The new fridge is huge (in comparison to the old one) so we should be able to make a few more meals ahead of time now. Yay!

Next up, my mom’s bathroom disaster is finally fixed. Angie and I decided to take charge of solving this problem and after much prayerful consideration, we opted to have the brand new floor replaced. We contacted some folks we met a few weeks earlier when we were looking for flooring. They were already aware of what was going on and gave us an estimate that fit within our budget. The new floor was installed in less than 2 hours, with no seams, no rips, and no pieces of missing plywood. In other words, they did the job right. Yay, again!

Not everything has been good news though. In the midst of all of this, my mom fractured her back again. She was opening the oven drawer and heard a pop in her lower back. An X-ray confirmed that she has 5 compression fractures of the lumbar and sacral regions. Needless to say, this has made her even more upset about not being able to do the things she wants to do. One of those things was a trip we had just planned to North Carolina to see her sister later this month. We have an appointment today that will determine whether she should travel. I’m hoping, for her sake, that the outcome is positive – even it means we have to postpone our trip for a few weeks.

With all of those things going on, you might think this has been a less than stellar quarter. In some ways, it has, but in other ways, we knocked it out of the park. I’m happy to report our progress toward our Better Me, Better World goals for this quarter.

Better Me

Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less. 

Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for no unplanned spending.

July was a true no-spend month. We didn’t exactly plan for this but we did decide ahead of time to only spend money what was already allocated to various spending categories and the result – we didn’t have any out of category spending. I can’t say the same for August or September though. We averaged $220 in extra spending for those months, most of which went toward padding to our grocery budget and purchasing few tools for our woodworking projects.

Buy used when possible.

We’ve been shopping a lot of yard sales lately. Not only is it a fun way to spend an hour or so on Saturday morning, we’ve found a lot of great bargains on things that we had on our “need to buy” list anyway. For example, we’ve had sun shirts on our list for more than a year. I’m not sure if that’s what they are called but they are the lightweight, quick dry, long-sleeved shirts with SPF protection that you wear when paddling or swimming. We priced them at $30+ each at Dick’s Sporting Goods and decided we didn’t need them that bad. We found 2 at a church rummage sale on Saturday for 50 cents each. Score! We also picked up several glass jars to help with our transition to a plastic-free kitchen and some puzzles and yarn for those days this winter when it will be too cold to play outside.

Eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat.

We had 82 completely meatless days (out of 92). Though we tried, it was hard to avoid meat completely during our Grit, Grace, and Grub tour of the town. In total 11% of our meals contained meat.

Do something active 3 times a week.

We walked/hiked a total of 28.9 miles. I would say that was pitiful, except that it doesn’t count all of our walks to the grocery store and dumpster, the countless miles we’ve walked at the various festivals we attended this summer, or the handful of letterboxes we’ve traipsed through the weeds to get. I blame this miscalculation on the untimely death of my fake Fitbit. God rest its soul! We also went on 3 kayaking trips, went swimming 4 times, tended the garden, and practiced our woodworking skills. Dead Fitbit aside, this category is still very much a work in progress.

Better World

Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

Plan meals.

My mom recently asked, after seeing our calendar, if we ever got bored with planning meals. My answer – nope. I love knowing what we are having for dinner every night. It saves hours of conversations that go like this: “What do you want for dinner? I don’t know, what do you want? I don’t know and I asked you first.” We did really well with this again and even started something new – pizza club. On lawn mowing day (usually Tuesdays) we have a pizza for dinner. The rules of pizza club are simple – it doesn’t matter where the pizza comes from (restaurant, store, or homemade) but it can’t be the same toppings as the week before. I would tell you more but what happens in pizza club stays in pizza club.

Continue food rescue.

Our dumpster diving efforts were stifled by the summer heat. Food tends to rot more quickly when it’s 100 degrees outside (and probably 110 degrees inside the metal dumpster).  We did manage to rescue 14.8 pounds of food from the dumpster and 46 pounds from the Farmer’s Market, which was donated to the Nashville Rescue Mission.

Shop reduced-to-clear/quick-sale items first when grocery shopping.

Still doing good here too. I would guesstimate that 75-80% of the fruit we buy comes from the reduced-to-clear bins at Kroger. We have also found that our favorite dairy-free So Delicious yogurts often get reduced for quick sale. Just last night we lucked up on 4 of them at half-price.

Buy local foods.

I’m happy to say that we shopped local all summer long. All of our fresh produce came from our CSA basket or the Farmer’s Market. Though our CSA is over for the year and the Farmer’s Market is winding down, we continue to try to source as much local food as possible to can or freeze for winter. We recently attended the Tennessee Honey Festival to stock up on our honey needs for the upcoming hot tea season. We also added a nice selection of local jams to our pantry and several dozen ears of corn, a 1/2 bushel of peppers, and a 1/4 bushel okra to the freezer.

Grow a garden.

For a small garden, we had a lot of produce this year. The 3 pepper plants we picked up for free yielded over 100 peppers – jalapenos and Sweetie Pies. Our yellow squash was still producing up until a week ago when the rains rotted the last of the blooms. The cow peas (another of our freebies) are in their second season. The first produced 2 1/2 quarts of dried peas and snaps. Our tomatoes did well and we actually had enough blackberries this year to freeze 3 pints. We still have radishes, peppers, and peas to pick this month. Another thing that did well in the garden was Angie’s flowers. She had sunflowers over 10 feet tall and some of the prettiest bi-color zinnias I’ve ever seen.

Compost year-round.

Our composting efforts are still going strong, though sadly, Angie’s worms all escaped from the worm bin. A few days ago, I saw a post from the Tennessee Environmental Council for a program called Come Post Your Compost. It’s a yearlong program aimed at reducing food waste in TN by encouraging people to compost. We joined and if you live in TN, you can too! It’s free and if saving the world isn’t prize enough, there are monthly drawings for gift cards. Check it out at https://www.tectn.org/comepostyourcompost.html.

How did you do this quarter? Did you reach your goals? We’re there any surprises or setbacks?

That’s Not Garbage!

For the past 7 months, we have been trying to raise awareness of the amount of food that is wasted in our community. We’ve attempted to rescue as much usable food as we can from the grocery store dumpster next door and have posted those finds on this blog. We’ve shared that food (when we can) with those in need. We’ve conditioned ourselves to shop the reduced-to-clear bins first at the grocery store and ugly produce always has a home in our refrigerator. We’ve volunteered with organizations that directly fight both food waste and hunger and we’ve attended educational events on the subject. We’ve talked about food waste and shared our dumpster diving stories with almost anyone who would listen. And maybe, to a small degree, it’s working.

Or perhaps, we’ve just encouraged more folks to forage that particular dumpster 🙂

There’s still quite a bit of food being tossed out next door, but the overall volume is much less than it was last year, or even just a few months ago. It’s been this way since they reopened after their remodel. I’d love to say that it will stay this way but from experience, we know that the summer months are usually lighter than the winter months on waste anyway. My guess would be that the grocery store probably orders less fresh produce in the summer when it is available locally. Less produce ordered means less produce to toss out when it doesn’t sell. Only time will tell as to whether my theory holds true or not.

In the meantime, we’ve turned our attention [once again] to another area of waste – consumer goods. Having lived the past decade in various apartments in Colorado, Florida, and Tennessee, we’ve noticed there’s one thing they all have in common. Residents have no qualms about discarding good, usable clothes, furniture, household and sporting goods, and electronics with their trash. Florida was the worst, though you’ll probably question that statement once you read on. In Florida, we found 2 bicycles, countless garbage bags full of clothing, 2 storage ottomans, the Paula Deen skillet that we use every day, lots of storage containers, and a brand-new camping stove, among many, many other things. It seemed that every other day we were picking up something from the trash area to take to the thrift store.

Since moving to TN, the two dumpsters next to our building have yielded 2 brand-new blankets, a book of collectable coins, a child’s kitchen playset, 2 ride-on toys, a hammer, a wrought-iron flower stand, several flowerpots, lamps and more lamps, and a few dozen storage totes and bins.

Just last week, we picked up 2 wooden pallets, 2 lamps, a clock radio, 4 men’s dress shirts, 3 ties, a computer keyboard, and a brand-new neck massager.

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There’s no denying the thrill of finding good stuff in the garbage. It’s almost like finding money on the ground (oddly, that happens a lot to us too – I just found $5 at the park yesterday). But this is no cheap thrill. Americans spend $12 billion a year on clothing and $206 billion a year on consumer electronics. With consumerism comes its inevitable byproduct – waste. When you buy something new, whatever it replaced (along with whatever is broken, no longer in fashion, no longer needed, or no longer desired) is usually discarded. Sadly, only 22% of clothing and 29% of electronics are recycled, so most end up in landfills. In fact, every year, 10.5 million tons of clothing, and 2.4 million tons of electronics are sent to landfill. This is where the items we found last week would be right now if we hadn’t rescued them.

We took 90% of the items we found to Goodwill. We kept the clock radio and lamp. When we arrived at the drop-off location, we were struck with a terrible sight. Rows and rows of collection bins lined the street outside the store. It was as if everyone within a 2-mile radius had cleaned out their closet or garage and brought their clutter to Goodwill. Considering everything I said above, you might be thinking, “this seems like a good thing…at least it’s not in the dumpster.” But…I started to wonder…just as it also started to rain, just what happens to this good, usable stuff if the store can’t sell it? Or worse, what happens if it’s ruined by the rain before they can get it inside?

As long as we live in a disposable society, the question of what to do with used goods is always going to be an issue. I don’t foresee a time when we pass the dumpster without seeing something in it that shouldn’t be. And with the Goodwill no longer seeming like the best option (for us, at least), what can we do?

Angie and I have been tossing around a few ideas lately. Here are some of the better ones:

  • Research other local non-profit agencies that accept donations for actual client use and pass along any rescued goods to those places. Example – we could have given the shirts and ties to the Rescue Mission for their workforce program.
  • Resell our rescue finds on eBay, OfferUp, etc. and donate any proceeds to charities we already support or give them away on FreeCycle.
  • Store our rescue finds until we have enough to either have a yard sale (donating the proceeds to charity) or host an annual “free store” where people in the community can take what they need.

There are positives and negatives with all of these options – including the fact that storing anything goes against all that we believe in as minimalists – but just like food rescue, there has to be a way to get these usable items into the hands of people who will actually continue to use them (at least for a little while longer). Are we crazy? Are we just prolonging the inevitable (stuff ending up in landfill anyway)? Or do you think we’re onto a good idea here? I’d love to hear your input and ideas.