Minimalism Meets the Microwave

The microwave oven is one of those marvels of modern convenience that even after 73 years in existence is still the subject of controversy. Just the other day, I saw a post on Facebook about how microwaving broccoli removes 98% of its nutrients. (That’s not exactly true, by the way. Cooking broccoli by any method, especially those involving water, removes some of the nutrients.) There are folks who stand firmly in the anti-microwave camp because of the potential of certain plastics to release harmful chemicals when heated. There are others who believe microwaving can increase carcinogens in our food. On the other side, there are folks who swear microwaves are not only safe, but they are the healthiest way to cook.

Personally, here’s what I believe – the microwave is a giant piece of counter clutter (at least in our home) that serves zero purpose beyond reheating leftovers. Seriously, I’ve looked at our microwave just sitting there for the past 4 years, spending most of its days as a timer for whatever we’re cooking on the stove. So, one morning, while Angie was cleaning up the kitchen, I mentioned ditching the microwave. “Let’s do it!” she said.

We posted the microwave on Marketplace and within an hour, it was gone. Our counter now looks like this:

I’m not advocating that everyone ditches their microwave. I am, however, suggesting that we ditch clutter, whatever form that clutter may take. In this scenario, the word “microwave” could just as easily be replaced by any number of things. Do you have too many dishes? One too many televisions? Maybe an end table that’s only purpose is to serve as a clutter catch-all? Those are the things I recommend ditching. In our case, it just happened to be the microwave.

Several years ago, we stopped using the microwave except to reheat certain leftovers, like rice or pasta. This was a decision we made based on our own research and a desire to eat better. At the time, we were moving away from processed foods, including microwavable convenience meals and side dishes. Though microwaving itself might be safe, processed foods definitely are not and neither are most of the plastics that they come in. A package might say BPA-free, but there are many, many other chemicals in microwavable packaging, such as glues and dyes that can potentially be harmful. And don’t even get me started on microwave popcorn! That stuff is bad on so many levels!

Around the time that we stopped using our microwave, we also bought a hot-air popcorn popper. I can honestly say, I now prefer the flavor of lightly-salted hot air popcorn over any other (including the sinfully delicious and ridiculously overpriced popcorn at the movie theater). We also started batch cooking so that we could avoid answering the question of “what do you want for lunch?” with something quickly zapped in the microwave. Today, we make a huge pot of soup or chili once a week and that serves as lunch most days. We usually pair it with a salad or a grilled veggie quesadilla. And of course, in a pinch, we rely on the most steadfast of lunch menu choices, a good ole peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Aside from quick meals, we also used our microwave for melting butter for baking, quickly thawing foods, and heating water for tea, but even those have substitutes. I’ve started heating the butter (which is now vegan butter) in a ramekin while the oven is preheating. We try to remember to set out frozen foods early enough to thaw or we put them in water to speed up the process. And heating water – well, you can do that on the stove. Without the microwave, things do take a bit longer, but when I consider the pace at which we want our life to go, there really is no reason to rush. We can wait a few extra minutes for a great cup of tea.

It has been nearly a month since we sold the microwave and neither of us has missed it. The internet, yes, but not the microwave. This tells me that it really was just a piece of counter clutter that needed to be removed and I kind of wish we’d done it sooner.

Do you have a microwave? What, if any, modern conveniences have you decided to live without?

Cutting the Internet Cord

On Monday, we cancelled our internet service.

Yes, you read that right. We didn’t downgrade or change providers. We cancelled the service altogether, boxed up the equipment, and sent it back to the fiery abyss from which it came. No, not Hell…Comcast. Though it may seem a bit impulsive, I assure you, it was far from a rash decision on our part.

We started playing around with the idea of cancelling our home internet service last year and then again in January, when our bill went up. What started as $19.99/month quickly became $74.19/month after only a year. Though our town is not that small, our pool of home internet providers is. We have two options – AT&T or Comcast. We’ve tried both in the four years that we’ve lived here and neither provides what we are looking for, a basic internet connection at a reasonable price, without the inclusion of services we don’t want or need.

At first, Angie and I tossed around the idea of making February our test month. We were simply going to unplug everything and give this new echelon of cord-cutting a try; but we chickened out, citing about a half-dozen excuses as to why we just couldn’t do it.

  • I work remotely and the internet is my primary connection to work,
  • The free wi-fi printer our friend so generously gave us won’t work without it,
  • Public wi-fi isn’t safe for online banking,
  • I need the internet for this blog and to download books and to post pictures of our cat to Instagram,
  • We won’t be able to follow along with our stretching routine on the TV without access to YouTube, and most importantly
  • We’re right in the middle of a Netflix marathon of Grey’s Anatomy, for heaven’s sake!

The Universe was having none of our whining though, and in the midst of our indecision, she upped the ante. Our internet service only stayed at $74 for one single solitary month. The next bill we got was for $98!

That’s $24 short of being $1200 a year!

For the internet. Not cable TV. Not phone service. Just the internet. And the basic Performance tier of 25 Mbps, at that. Not even super high speed.

I may be taking a time-out from micromanaging our money right now, but I haven’t lost my mind. Do you know what we can do with $1,200 a year?!? I just finished reading Meet the Frugalwoods and oddly enough there’s a section in it that talks about spending $75/month on cable vs. investing $75/month in an index fund. In the example, foregoing cable for 30 years can net you around $91,000. And that’s just one option. With an extra $98/month, we might just see Alaska sooner than expected.

When I called Comcast to cancel, they asked if they could transfer me to the “Loyal Customer Department”. My answer was no. If they have a department dedicated to keeping customers, perhaps a proactive approach might be in order here. As customers, we should not have to call and beg not to be ripped off by our service providers. And yes, I call it a rip-off. When I can walk out my front door and have access to the same service for free, what else would you call it?

Home internet is convenient, I’ll grant you that, but it is not worth overpaying for.

So, what about those “problems” I mentioned above? Well, the first thing that we did after scheduling our internet cancellation was to upgrade our cell phone plan to one with unlimited data and 12 GB of hotspot per line. Though this increased our monthly bill by $35, we are still saving $63/month over what Comcast wanted to charge. This alone should be enough to sustain all our video viewing, working, and cat-posting activities; but in case it’s not, we also purchased a cheap $23 DVD player. Instead of streaming, we’re going “old-school” for entertainment.

  • Netflix still offers DVD plans and Redbox sends out discounts all the time.
  • The public library and our apartment office both offer free DVD rentals.
  • We have a TV antenna. There’s always the option to watch a show at the time that it airs. I know, there are those pesky commercials, but seriously…how much TV do we need to be watching in the first place?

And for working and blogging:

  • There are no less than 30 free wi-fi hotspots within walking distance of our apartment, including Walmart, Panera, Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and our apartment’s clubhouse; and the library is 2 miles away. Also, we have a BearExtender outdoor wi-fi receiver that we use when camping. I tested it on the patio last week and it pulls in 12 of those 30+ signals with 4 bars or more of signal strength. The quality isn’t always the best, but then again, neither was Comcast, and it wasn’t free.
  • I have Microsoft Outlook on my phone, so I’m never without access to my work email.
  • I rarely have to print anything for work, but if I do, I can just save it to my SD card and pop it right into the “wireless” printer.

Easy peasy, right? I have to laugh at this point. Anything can sound great on paper. It’s when you put it into practice that you truly understand what it’s like to live without something that has been a part of your normal daily routine all your adult life. Neither Angie nor I can remember a time when we didn’t have home internet (not counting the 3 months we lived in our camper). When you turn on the computer and realize that it’s not connected to the greater world, there’s an immediate sense of loss. It’s silly, but it’s true.

Day one without home internet brought to light just how many of our daily routines involve technology. Spoiler alert – it was a lot! By the end of the day, we had worked out a few kinks, but we used nearly 2 GB of hotspot data in the process (which is not something we want to do every day!). I’m sure we’ll encounter other challenges along the way. I know there are going to be days that I don’t want to fight with the open wi-fi or leave the house to find a better connection, but we have to keep reminding ourselves why we are doing this – to put our money where our values are. (And because, let’s face it, we love a good challenge!)

If you’re wondering (as we were) why our bill went up so much, here’s what we were told. Our promotion had expired. A year ago, the Loyal Customer Department told me the cheapest option was to have Performance Internet with the TV Starter Pack (about 10 channels). I adamantly stated that I did not want cable TV but they sent the box anyway. It has sat in our closet for a year. Now, that “cheaper” option is increasing in price to accommodate 20 new channels (that we don’t watch anyway) and an increase in internet speed (that we didn’t ask for).