Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Thrifty Stylist At Home

We are definitely primarily a fashion blog over here, but we thought we'd discuss being thriftier in your home for a change... We consider ourselves environmentally conscious, so we certainly try to be "green;" however, recycled (thrifted) housewares are not only more economic but likely higher quality (they just don't make 'em like they used to, as they say) and vintage/ handmade/ reusable items can be ridiculously stylish and so much classier than disposable crap!

Our favorite places to find vintage housewares are flea markets or consignment and antique shops (that aren't too high-end); there's a permanent flea market in a barn in Newburyport, MA that we've had some amazing scores at (lots of cast-iron pans, hanging baskets, old wine boxes to use as planters, trunks for coffee tables, fish-grilling baskets, napkin rings- ours are made from old sterling spoons) , and there are so many fleas, yard sales, church sales, tag sales, out there that really there's almost no reason to ever buy anything new, in our opinion! There's also Etsy, for wonderful vintage goods and handmade lovelies, although shipping is a consideration with heavier items like pots and furniture.

We're not nearly as frugal as some folks we know who make their own soap and such (or maybe we just covet leisure time too much), but here are some of the things we've changed in the past couple of years to try to fulfill the dual goal of environmental responsiblity and personal savings:

-Switched from paper napkins to reusable. We bought both of our sets on Etsy:

Plum Crysanthemum Hand-Dyed Batik by MargotBianca

Turquoise and Black Hand-Sewn Striped Batik by GoodKarma

Aren't they gorgeous? They're so much more attractive than a paper towel, and they go right in the wash, so it's not any less convenient, really (and we only hit the big T for paper towels every few months instead of weeks now...) We also have a hand towel hanging on the refrigerator and paper towels are absolutely banned for hand-washing purposes (we have become our mother. Sigh).

-Switched from petroleum-based laundry detergent to vegetable (coconut)-based (with plans for next time to get it in bulk from the co-op!) According to IdealBite, "If every U.S. household replaces one box of 48-oz, petroleum-based powder laundry detergent with a vegetable-based one, we'll save enough oil to heat and cool 5,300 homes for a year." Wow! Most eco-detergents are made with coconut-- pretty renewable, right? And they really do work just fine. (we've also switched the dish detergent). Look for any brand that says "vegetable-based surfactants" or "coconut surfactants" or the like- Arm & Hammer is offering one, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods definitely carry them, and of course Seventh Generation at most regular groceries is non-petrolate-based. We hope you won't buy Clorox's version, even if it's not that awful; we boycott Clorox because their bleach is one of the leading products contaminated with mercury (other brands of bleach do not have it- we know this from working in a lab where Clorox was banned!)

It may not seem like a big deal what you choose to wash your clothes with, but personally we think it's foul that we were using oil, anyway (!), and we're glad to help save some fossil fuels. Also, most "green" detergents are concentrated, so they use less water in the bottle; if we're just going to dilute it in the washer anyway, why do so many manufacturers waste water in the package, driving up shipping fuel costs at the same time? Baffling.

-Started washing all clothes in cold water. Maybe you already do this sometimes, or maybe you don't at all- but unless you're trying to kill dust mites, you really don't need hot water for anything, and you'll save tons of energy (and money) not heating the water up. Bonus: with cold water you can throw everything in together and save yourself a few minutes of sorting (more time to shop!) We also do.not.dry.clean. Bad for the earth, bad for your bank account. Most things that say dry clean only can be gently hand-washed, hung to dry and then ironed inside out to restore their softness.

-Joined a CSA. That's Community-Supported Agriculture, if you haven't heard the acronym, which means a "subscription," in effect, to a local farm (ours happens to be our mum's :D ). You prepay for a set amount of produce per month for the harvest season (usually June through October), and each week you either pick up at a designated location or have delivered to your home a box of seasonal surprises. It's true that sometimes you'll have more zucchini or kale than you really know what to do with, and occasionally you may get something you don't know what to (or don't want to have anything to) do with... But for the most part, at a truly bargain price you get a steady supply of nutritious, delicious food grown without pesticides, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers. Not to preach, but Big Food is a terrifying entity and we should all try to eat as close to the farm as we can!

You probably can't get into a CSA this late in the year but do research and get in on one for next year! We pay $60/month for a half-share which translates to a dozen eggs, a pint or two of berries, half a loaf of amazing whole-grain homemade bread, and at least two full meal's worth if not three each of myriad vegetables like greens, squash, potatoes, peppers, and come August, luscious vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet corn, every single week. We scarcely have to go grocery shopping anymore!

-Stopped buying cleaning products. No, we haven't just decided to let our house go to hell- but after watching "How Clean Is Your House" on the BBC, we discovered that salt, white vinegar, baking soda and lemons are really all the cleaning products you will ever need. Everything else is a scam in an expensive package sent to you through the tremendous expenditure of fuel.

-We also don't drive. That hasn't changed in recent years-- we never got a license-- but we're mentioning it here because it certainly helps our wallet and "carbon footprint" to use exclusively pedipower and public transportation! Hooray for living in a city where it's (somewhat of) a priority!

Boston- MBTA system map

If you live in a place where walking or taking buses and trains is just not possible, think about trying to use a bicycle for smaller trips- those things go like 25 miles/hour if you're cruising! You can get places. Plus, then you don't have to worry about a gym membership or expensive exercise videos and equipment. Beater + frequent riding = cheap hot body. Hey! Wait, we should take our own advice.

We assume you recycle. You do, right?

...And here are some things we really ought to do and hope to in the next year:

-Install dual-action ceiling fans to heat in winter and cool in summer (it really works)
-Start a compost bin
-Put out rain barrels for lawn watering
-Install low-flow shower head (has anyone seen a dual-pressure one for, say, when you're shaving your legs, or when it's heating up? Feels so horribly wasteful, right?)
-Try SoapNuts!

How about you? How are you trying to be thriftier and a more responsible human? Were any of these new to you or are you already way ahead of us? (We're looking at you, goodkarma)

Share your favorite tips and/or thrifty secrets!


  1. :p

    i *do* drive. but only when it's too far to walk. and i don't purchase CSA memberships because we have our own garden and a farmer's market 2 blocks away. if we didn't, we'd absolutely go that way though. CSAs rock.

    and, yes, i am one of those freaks that makes their own laundry soap - and have for something like 7 years now. if you want to *buy* eco-friendly laundry soap for cheaper though, i highly recommend buying it in bulk at your local co-op if you can. you can just bring your own container in each time and fill it up. no waste.

    great post! so lovely to see like-minded people.

  2. i know you have to drive out where you are! and i don't think you're a freak! and i wish i had the land for any kind of garden :D you rock! everyone please check out goodkarma's shop for lots more rad stuff than just napkins!

  3. Great post! Thanks for all the hints and tricks!

  4. Fascinating post, thank you! I have been toying with the idea of joining a veggie-box program, not least because I hate spending time at the grocery store selecting the different bits and pieces. And I do like the sound of the coconut products, that would be an easy switch for me.

    My husband is definitely my conscience in environmental matters. We share a hybrid Ford Escape (his pick) and he either bikes or walks to work. Our new furnace is a higher efficiency model (guess who sorted that out) and all our bulbs are CFLs (which I know is the right thing to do, I just wish their light wasn't so 'cold' looking!). We've recycled for ages, but now have a 2-bin system in the kitchen which is great.

    We do have problems with the length of time hot water takes to reach the master bathroom (I agree, huge waste) but I can't yet bring myself to not flush the toilet after each use. :)

  5. what a great post! i'm honored to have my product featured by such responsible customers :).

    i, too, bike all around town (lucky to live in a town conducive to bikers). i also don't buy cleaning products. and, grow, catch and preserve as much of my own food as possible. my husband and i have really gotten into the many pick-your-own opportunities in our area, too. this lets us eat frozen organic produce all year long for a fraction of the price.

    coming this fall: we're setting up a rain barrel system so that all my dye baths will be made with rainwater.

    thanks again for sharing!


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