Friday 24 June 2016

How Living on a Limited Income Helped Me Go Green(ish)

When my husband died my household income declined sharply. Although I did receive the survivor's benefits from his Canada Pension Plan and superannuation, that amount was 50 percent of what he had been receiving. His full pension amounts were low enough that he had been entitled to an Old Age Security benefit but, being under the age of 65, I wasn't entitled to receive that top up. The harsh financial reality is that the total amount of pension coming into this household was reduced by about sixty percent.

Anyone who has lived alone can tell you that a household of one is not sixty percent less expensive to run than a household of two. My mortgage payment and condo fees remained the same, my home insurance went up, my car insurance and car maintenance costs were largely unchanged, and - because I'm not eligible for the senior's home owner grant - my property taxes more than doubled.  

I'd left work to care for my husband during the last months of his life and did receive a small unemployment insurance cheque for a while. but that ended four months after he died.  I found a new job but because of some on-going health issues of my own I chose to leave it, stay at home, and try to get by on solely on pension income. 

Tight does not begin to describe my budget.  

Just to be clear, I'm not complaining here. I'm doing okay. I have all of life's essentials, I'm surrounded by loving friends and family, and I'm gradually making a new life alone.  I did experience some big changes though, and I learned some good things along the way. 

These days I'm very clear about want versus need. I don't ignore every want - life is no fun without a few little treats - but I consider very carefully before I spend my money and I economize where I can. This is where the green(ish) part comes in.  It turns out that much of what I do to keep my budget in check is also good for the environment.

I don't buy stuff I don't need (or at least not very much of it), and it's amazing how many tchotchkes, shoes, clothing items, and dishes I don't  need.  If I don't buy it, I don't need to pay to maintain it, or store it, and I end up throwing far less away.

I source most of my craft materials and the fabric for my sewing projects from thrift stores.  It's far more affordable than shopping retail and it extends the useful life of items others have discarded.

I walk for most of my errands around town, only taking my car out if I'm going to be carrying something very large or heavy.  I'm not such a purist that I don't drive at all, but walking when I can reduces my fuel bills and car maintenance costs. It also reduces my carbon footprint.  

I buy plain, unprocessed food because it's less expensive.  It also usually comes with less packaging.  I do end up with some plastic, cardboard and tin to recycle, but much less than I used to.

Being vigilant about waste is the most important thing I do for both my budget and my impact on the environment. I can't afford to buy things and then not use them up. 

Unless I'm putting it by for future use, I don't buy more food than I can eat.  I try to use every edible bit of the food I do buy, including peels, cores, tops, leaves, skin, bones, shells, and fish heads.  It saves me money, makes respectful use of the energy required to grow/catch, transport, and package what I eat, and it produces some wonderfully flavourful stocks and sauces.

Whenever I can, I use rags made from worn out flannel sheets instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, and glass jars and covered bowls instead of plastic wrap.  Freezer bags do have a place in my kitchen but I reuse them as many times as I can.  I also reuse the heavy zip closure bags that dry fruit and frozen goods come packaged in, and the liners from cereal boxes (awesome sandwich wrap!).

I use envelopes and any blank paper that comes in the mail for drawing, art projects, and making lists.  I cover both sides of the paper before I send it to recycling.  

I don't buy clothes unless I absolutely need them and when I do buy them, I usually buy second hand.  I mend my clothing and wear it until it's worn out, then use the salvageable fabric, buttons, and zippers to make new things.

All of these things are kind to the environment.

My new, very simple life works well for me. I can take quiet days, and rest when I need to.  I spend time outdoors every day.  I know exactly what I can afford and what I can't, and I can plan for that. My stress levels are greatly reduced.

Isn't it nice that many of those changes benefit the environment too? That's a win/win.

Do you have any frugal green living tips you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Google+.  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday 10 June 2016

How to Get Rid of Unpleasant Odours in Your Dishwasher

This is my dishwasher.  It's nice and shiny but it's old. The springs on the door are broken so I have to prop the open door up with a footstool to keep it from opening so far that the hinges break.  If I use it every day for three or four days in a row, it arbitrarily stops working and won't start again until I've given it a week's rest.  It's not worth fixing and I can't afford to replace it.

Now that I'm on my own, I don't have as many dirty dishes as I used to so I mostly wash them by hand but, despite its many faults, my dishwasher is still of use to me.   I use it once a week to sanitize my cutting boards and wash whatever dishes happen to need cleaning on that day.  I also use it when I have company, and extra dishes to wash.

Perhaps because I use it less often than I used to, I recently began to notice an unpleasant, garbage-y odour coming from my dishwasher.  It was pretty awful and, if I left the door propped open, it pervaded my entire apartment.  I had to do something about it.  

Pinterest is my go-to place for all things housekeeping, so I did a search to see if I could find a tip for de-stinking the dishwasher.  I came across a post by that suggested using vinegar and baking soda.  I use baking soda for cleaning my stainless steel sink, and vinegar and baking soda to keep my sink drains clear, so it seemed to be something worth trying.

I put a cup full of vinegar, upright, in the top rack of the dishwasher, poured an approximately equal amount of baking soda onto the bottom deck of the machine and then ran the dishwasher for a half cycle on the "sanitize" setting.

It worked really well.  My dishwasher is sparkling clean inside and smells nice and fresh.  

Cleaning my dishwasher with vinegar and baking soda cost me a lot less than it would have cost to buy a commercially made dishwasher cleaning detergent, and it was kinder to the environment too.  That's a win/win in my books.   

Do you have any housecleaning tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them.

Friday 3 June 2016

Refresh You Clothes and Reduce Your Ironing

Every fall, I pack my summer clothes into Rubbermaid bins and store them away in my storage locker, down in the basement of my apartment building. They stay there for almost 9 months before warm weather encourages me to bring them out again. 

The bins do a great job of keeping my clothes clean, dry, and moth free but, when I unpack them, my clothes come out smelling not bad exactly, but storage-y: kind of musty and not fresh.  Also, because I pack the totes tightly, everything ends up creased and wrinkled.  

On the scale of domestic challenges, I figure this barely registers at all but, still, getting those clothes ready to wear does make for a tedious chore. In past years I've re-laundered all my clothes after taking them out of storage, and then ironed them all before putting them away in my dressers and closet.  It was a lot of work. This year I wanted to simplify the process.  

I'd washed them before storing them in the bins, so my clothes were already clean. I decided to try a little experiment.  Instead of laundering them again, I hung a few of my T-shirts on hangers along the shower curtain rod in the bathroom and used a spray bottle to dampen them all over with water.  After that,I did nothing at all but leave them alone until they were dry.

The photo above shows the results.  It worked very well.  Not only did my T-shirts regain their freshness, but most of the wrinkles relaxed right out of the fabric.  They weren't perfectly smooth like they'd be if I ironed them but, hey, they're T-shirts.  The results were good enough that I'd wear them without pressing them first.

I repeated the hanging/spraying/drying process with the rest of the clothing from my bins and the results were good throughout.  I still chose to press some of the dressier items but, having removed so many of the wrinkles from the fabric before I ironed, the job went much more quickly than it would have with clothing straight from storage.

So there you have it:  Simple, work saving, and free. Housekeeping tasks don't get much better than that.