The Universe Gave Us Garbage (and We Like It!)

Call me silly, but I have this belief that if you want something and you’re meant to have it, all you have to do is “put it out to the Universe” and 99% of the time, you’ll find it. I have done this so many times that I know there’s some truth to it, and from what I’ve seen, other folks find it true too.

I’m a huge fan of Anne-Marie at Zero Waste Chef and always marvel at the things she finds on her walks around the neighborhood. Just the other day, she needed an iron for a class she was teaching and poof! an iron appeared on the sidewalk. A few years back, she found a cast iron dutch oven.

Over the past month, we’ve had a few things on our wish list – things that we didn’t want to buy new but definitely had a use for. The biggest thing on our wish list was canning jars. With all our canning this summer, we ran out of jars! And if you’ve ever priced them in the store, you can’t help but wonder – when did food preservation turn into a hobby?? And an expensive one at that!

For weeks, Angie diligently scoured Marketplace almost every day for a good deal on jars, while also rummaging through the recycling bins on Mondays. This landed us 33 awesome Ball canning jars – most of which had been used as candle holders in a wedding. We paid $10 for 30 and found the other 3. The bonus on these jars was that they still had the candles inside and jute twine wrapped around their tops. We rolled the twine into a ball to use in the garden next summer.

On Saturday, on a whim, we decided to stop at a yard sale on our way home from my mom’s house. It was getting late in the afternoon and we only had $2 in our pocket (and a handful of change in the cup holder of our car) but we thought, what the heck, it can’t hurt to look. Thank goodness we did, because we hit the jar lottery! The lady hosting the sale had 2 boxes of jelly jars, pints, and quarts for $1 a box. She also had a sweet little Fire King 8” pie plate (another item on my wish list) for a quarter.

I can clearly see a pumpkin pie in our future.

When we got home, we found that not only had we had bought 36 canning jars for $2, but some of them were vintage.

Now I realize, the Universe did not provide all these jars free of charge, at least not directly, but I did find the quarter that I used to purchase the pie plate in the parking lot at Aldi that very same day. What the Universe did provide though was the 16 pounds of red, ripe strawberries that we used to make jam in those jars.

We found these in the dumpster, of course, and out of the 16 cartons, only 7 strawberries were bad.

We had a similar score with sweet potatoes a few days before. All of us (my mom included) had been hungry for a sweet potato (being Fall and all) but the Farmer’s Market has been slim on them this year. I’m pretty sure there’s about 20 pounds of sweet potatoes in this photo. Courtesy of the Universe (via the dumpster).

For anyone new here, you may at this point, be appalled, either by the fact that so much good food gets tossed in the dumpster or that we go in after it. Rest assured, we stand firmly with you on the first one and encourage you to read this and this for more info on the second one.

Another item on our wish list was “something to put our indoor planters on”. One afternoon, as I was heading out, I saw a blue-topped console table just sitting by the dumpster in our apartment complex. It was just the right shape and size for our small apartment, so we cleaned it and tightened it up, and now this “garbage” has new life as a plant stand.

And those planters that you see – they are made from milk cartons – from the recycling bin.

This one too.

We found it and another just like it, sitting by recycling. The price tags were still on them and no dirt had ever touched them. (By the way, I had also asked the Universe for a terra cotta pot to try making a grill sometime prior to this find. The grill is still a work in progress.)

Of course, every gift we receive this way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we are completely grateful to find something that saves us money or provides for a need that we (or others close to us) may have. But on the other hand, it doesn’t go unnoticed that these things were in the trash and if we hadn’t come along, that’s where they would still be. We can’t rescue everything. Even with our mini army of fellow dumpster divers, tons and tons of good stuff goes to landfill every single day.

Though I do encourage you to try asking the Universe for things you might need, the bigger thing that I want to encourage you to do today is to be a good steward of our environment and a helping hand to others. Buy only what you need. Donate your unwanted items to a non-profit thrift store or homeless shelter. Our shelter even takes food that is still in date and hasn’t been opened (and fresh produce from the garden). Check with friends, family, and neighbors before tossing something out, post it for free on Marketplace or FreeCycle, or in a pinch, sit in by the curb with a sign that says free (or course, if no one picks it up, please remove it in a timely fashion).

And if you want something – particularly things that are prone to being trashed, like furniture, household goods, plastic totes, containers, flower pots, and more – don’t be afraid to do a little curbside shopping first before hitting the retail stores.

If Every Day Were Sunday…

Our little garden is starting to wind down for the season and I’m already starting to miss it. When we were ankle deep in peas and tomatoes, I didn’t think the end would come quick enough but as we canned the last few pints of salsa on Sunday, it started to sink in. Fall is just steps away and winter is right behind it.

Years ago, those transitions meant little more to me than putting up the appropriate seasonal decor on our front door. My life was basically the same every day, only the weather changed. I got up, went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV, went to bed, and repeated it all until Friday night, when I’d go out to eat (like everyone else I knew) and head to the grocery store, Walmart, and wherever else I could spend my paycheck. Why? Because I worked hard and the new fall sweaters (or spring t-shirts) were out and well, I deserved one!

I didn’t become a minimalist overnight, though sometimes it feels like it. Like one day I just woke up and decided the repetitive pattern of my life was not working and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. In reality though, it was more of a process than that. I did wake up one day and decide something needed to change and I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

It was just another Sunday in September of 2011. I was beyond tired from a week of running all over Colorado (some poor life choices at the time meant driving into downtown Denver every day for work after driving Angie half way to Black Hawk to catch a bus to the casino where she worked). I had started a decluttering project but failed to finish it and the apartment was covered in stuff – from bicycles to a bubblegum machine. But football was on and I just wanted to curl up on the couch and veg for the day. So I did. At the end of that day, I took out my journal and wrote one single sentence – if every day were Sunday, I’d be free.

The next day, as I sat in traffic on I-25 once again, those words came back to me. Why couldn’t every day be Sunday? Why did I have to be in this car? Why wasn’t I in control of my time? My life? My choices? On that highway, in the early hours of the morning, I made two decisions – every day would be Sunday if I wanted it to be and we were leaving Colorado.

And we did.

Less than a year later, we were in North Port, Florida, a city we had never even heard of before Googling “best places to live on the Gulf Coast”. The three years that we lived there laid the foundation for everything that was to follow. We learned to live on one income. We learned contentment, the kind that comes from just sitting on the porch watching the birds or making a meal from scratch. We learned to be resourceful. And we learned the meaning of true happiness.

Minimalism alone did not make it possible for me to quit my job last week but it sure helped.

When I look around the room right now, I see Angie sitting on the couch, her favorite blanket across her lap, reading a book. Her cup of coffee is tucked into the fold of the blanket, just to her right. Caesar is on her left. The sun is shining in through the open windows, greeting the new herbs we just planted yesterday in the windowsill. A vegetable soup is simmering on the stove for lunch, while mixed beans slow cook in the crock pot for tomorrow night’s dinner. It is Tuesday, yet it feels like a peaceful and relaxing Sunday.

As I raised my own cup of coffee to take a sip, the realization slowly settled upon me. Almost 8 years to the day that I wrote that single sentence in my journal, we have finally achieved the life I so longed for back then.

Every day is Sunday and I am now free.


If you had asked me in 2011, if I thought I’d be here today, I would have said no. The weight of the world sat on my shoulders then. We were knee deep in years of baggage – both physical and mental – and I couldn’t see a way to wade through. Angie worked 12 hour days at a menial job she hated and we spent our time off with people we had nothing in common with – the kind of “friends” that discourage growth and change. Our relationship was still new but it was tenuous at best. When we sat down that day in September to discuss the direction of our life together, we realized the only way out was to turn around. We need a new path, one that we chose together, and one that was free of the clutter of our past lives. Through persistence, lots of trial and error, and good communication (I can’t stress that one enough), we have come to the place we are today – ready to open a new page, in a new journal, and start a brand new adventure. 

If you are contemplating of your own life-changing adventure, our best advice – just do it. It may take a while to get to where you want to be, but you’ll never regret making the leap.