Archive for the ‘unshopping’ Category

So What Exactly Is Toilet Bowl Cleaner Supposed to DO?   Leave a comment

It’s not a rhetorical question, but something that I really want to figure out. Why? So that I can replace store-bought cleaner with something homemade and get the same results. My success at homemade cleaners over the last 15 years has been entirely hit-or-miss. Well, the only real success has been glass cleaner, actually.

As a kid I would have answered that the job of the toilet bowl cleaner is disinfection, duh. But that seems silly now. Why would I want to disinfect the toilet bowl? No one drinks or even touches the water, and I’m not about to advocate scrubbing the bowl after every use.  If/when Conan were to/does reach into the toilet water he’d get a good washing after regardless of whether it was dirty or freshly cleaned. So, disinfection isn’t the answer.

How about gunk removal? But isn’t that the job of the scrub brush? As an experiment, for a few weeks I’ve tried using nothing but the scrub brush. One thing that I’ve learned is that there is a reason toilet bowl cleaners are so heavily scented. (I HATE scented cleaners and soaps.) It’s not that there’s an offensive smell, it’s really just kind of watery smelling, but in our perfumed world I can see others disliking it. But the other thing is that the brush alone just doesn’t cut it. The brush does a fine job of gunk removal, but apparently toilet bowl cleaner does actually do something.

So now I’m on to film removal on the theory that toilet bowl cleaner is really just fancy scented-up soap. I think I’ll try a few different things for a while and see what I like. This week I started with a sprinkling of washing soda. I’ll try that for a bit, then maybe I’ll try baking soda, vinegar, or a simple squirt of plan liquid soap. So far, based on one trial, washing soda seems better than nothing, which lends credence to the idea that toilet bowl cleaner really doesn’t have to be some magical brew of ingredients concocted for an impossible task.

I have looked around the internet a bit at alternative cleaners. Can’t say I’m impressed. Partly because I’m an engineer so I want to know how/why they work. That’s why I washed dishes with nothing but baking soda before I washed my hair with baking soda. I needed to actually see that baking soda cuts grease. But also the most popular alternative seems to be baking soda and vinegar and then let it sit. Um, explain to me how a little fizz around the water line will do anything to help clean the rest of the bowl. Individually these are great cleaning agents, but together won’t the chemical reaction eliminate the individual cleaning powers? It also seems that there lots of people who are obsessed with needing to disinfect the toilet bowl, but as previously discussed, that seems silly to me.

My follow-up question in case it turns out that commercial toilet bowl cleaner can actually be replaced with a single simple household ingredient (ok, two for those who need to add a drop or two of essential oils for scenting purposes): If you can clean your toilet bowl just as well with a scrub brush and a squirt of the hand soap on the sink next to the toilet, then how did we let marketing people convince us that a cocktail of fancy-named compounds is necessary?

Posted April 12, 2015 by mayakey in cleaning, frugal living, home, unshopping

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A Weird New Goal of Zero Bottles in the Shower   Leave a comment

Not very long ago I was looking at my bottles on the shelf in the shower and realized that I don’t actually think I need any of them. For a long time I’ve been on a slow progression of simplifying my personal care routines (not that I was ever the stereotypical 20-bottles in the shower/over an hour to get ready in the morning woman), and it seems like I’ve reached a point where most of the rest of my products just seem pointless.

When I say slow progression, I do mean that. This story starts over a decade and a half ago, when I stopped shampooing my hair every day and switched to every other day. Over the years that became more like a couple times a week, then once a week. Then a few years ago I decided to try going shampoo free, using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar method. I had to switch back to washing my hair every time I showered (which was so hard as I had gotten so lazy about washing my hair!). Then gradually I was able to BS/ACV my hair only a couple times a week, and then weekly, while just rinsing with water in between. I’ve now reached a point where I don’t actually remember when I last used the BS/ACV, so I’m guessing I use it a couple times a year or so. When I last cleaned the shelf in the shower I realized that there’s really no reason for me to be keeping bottles of the baking soda and apple cider vinegar solutions in the shower, as I can easily mix up “single serve” batches when I feel like using them. Plus then I can customize the essential oil blends mixed in if I feel I need anything. I’ve also got a bottle of conditioner from back in my shampooing days, which I only use after getting a hair cut to make it up to my hair and restore a coating on the follicles. It’s going to take me another decade to finish that bottle, but there’s no reason it can’t join the extra bottle of shampoo for guests in the hall bathroom. So hair care: 0 bottles, 1 natural bristle brush.

The next simplification was a couple years ago when Conan was born. In the days/weeks after his birth I could find the time to splash my face with cold water every day, but not to use the cream cleanser that I’ve been using for years. After a while I realized that not using a cleanser and/or warm water on my face was not causing any breakouts. So why keep buying/using a cleanser? Then I started wondering if I really needed a moisturizer, and found that even my dry skin doesn’t generally demand a moisturizer if I’m only rinsing with cold water. At that point I started wondering about using oil, not a commercial moisturizer. Shockingly, when I switched to using grape seed oil on my face after showers (i.e. rinsing my face with warm water), I didn’t start breaking out. So facial care: 1 small jar of grape seed oil (the bottle lives in the kitchen for cooking), 1 facial brush.

The only thing left in the shower is the shave gel. I wax my legs, so it’s just for my underarms. Now I want to find out if we really do need special shave products as opposed to soap to shave. I suspect that it may be true for those who shave daily, and for legs, but for underarms that get shaved 2-3 times a week I suspect soap will be fine long term. If true that would mean shaving: 0 bottles, 1 razor.

Don’t worry, I’m keeping the soap.

Posted February 21, 2015 by mayakey in frugal living, goals, personal care, simple living, unshopping

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My Deodorant Journey, So Far   Leave a comment

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, and figure that I really need to do it before life turns upside down and I forget everything that I tried on my “deodorant journey”. This journey really started several years ago when I realized that I no longer needed to use an antiperspirant. I was also starting to wonder if there might be subtle health effects from preventing the skin (and major lymph nodes?) from detoxing through the underarm. I was putting a lot of attention on how to best support my body’s natural detoxification systems, and at the best antiperspirant didn’t seem to be something that would be helpful. So I switched to deodorant, buying it at the grocery store. At first I liked the variety of scents much better than those available for antiperspirants, and I found that for the most part deodorant was really all that was needed. But as time went on, I got tired of paying what seemed like a lot of money for these products that have really long ingredient lists and really only provide marginal utility. Plus I was tired of being stuck in between the “feminine” scents and the “masculine” scents.

So a year and a half ago I started a new journey: making my own deodorant. Here’s a list of what I tried and how it worked.

  • Nothing (a la “European”). Hey, it’s a baseline. And you know, some days (especially calm days in winter) I found that bare underarms made it through the day just fine.
  • Straight baking soda. As far as prevention of odor goes – baking soda is amazing! It worked successfully through a hot July day at the State Fair. It’s cheap and readily available, and doesn’t leave any markings on clothing (as long as it is applied first). It is not, however, easy to apply. I tried dusting it on with a facial powder puff over the sink, but there was no way to not make a bit of a mess. The biggest problem? After a while one of my underarms turned dark pink/purple, started to ache a little, and then the skin peeled off.
  • Straight essential oils. Works great, for about an hour. I would put a drop of a safe essential oil (like lavender) directly on each underarm and then rub it in. Smelled great at first, but then wore off and by the end of a work day I think it was worse than nothing.
  • Essential oil in a carrier oil. Same problem as the straight essential oils: wears off quickly and then it seemed like the underarm smell was worse afterwards. I was worried that the oil would start to stain my clothes, but that never happened, at least not that I noticed.
  • Oil and baking soda. Almost a winner, almost. This was an attempt at combining the benefits of the baking soda and the essential oil in carrier oil. I would apply a layer of oil on the skin first, and then dust on the baking soda. It worked great for odor (courtesy of the baking soda), and the oil prevented the baking soda from making my skin peel off. But there’s still the messiness of applying the baking soda. And turning the application of deodorant into a two-step process is annoying.
  • Homemade coconut oil deodorant. I sort-of tried a recipe for homemade deodorant that calls for mixing baking soda and corn starch into melted coconut oil, and then pouring it into an old deodorant stick. I didn’t measure, though, and went purely by consistency. I also left out the corn starch, maybe it would have worked better with the corn starch. There were three problems, all of which could possibly be remedied but I’m not planning to try. (1) The coconut smell isn’t really strong, but it is there, and as I was trying this remedy at the beginning of my pregnancy that was a problem. (2) At temperatures above 70 degrees F coconut oil liquifies and starts to seep out of the bottom of the deodorant tube, making an oily mess. I thought about trying it in old toilet paper rolls with some kind of cap on the bottom where you just tear the paper down from the top. But I got tired of the smell first. (3) After a bit, my underarm peeled again. Apparently mixing the baking soda into the oil isn’t as effective as using the oil as a barrier. Maybe the corn starch would help? I gave up before doing a Take 2.
  • Homemade beeswax deodorant. I didn’t actually try this myself since I already discovered years ago that my skin gets red and itchy when beeswax products are applied to it. My friend Brown Thumb Mama tried this, though. If I remember correctly she did encounter some staining on clothes, though.
  • Crystal. Jury’s still out on this one. I used to think the rock crystal deodorant was a ridiculous idea, but since baking soda was so successful I figured that maybe the crystal would work. I’m not overwhelmingly impressed, but it’s also not worthless. It didn’t fare quite so well through a day at the State Fair, or stressful days at work, compared to the baking soda. But it works fine on normal days. It really only works when applied on fresh clean skin, though, which is a problem after shaving: it stings! The rock is supposed to last over a year, and I haven’t yet seemed to make a dent in it, so I’ll keep using it. I’m saving a final verdict for when I’m not pregnant, in case that changes things.

Posted November 21, 2012 by mayakey in frugal living, personal care, unshopping

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Compost Trials: From 5-Gal Bucket Compost to 5-Gal Bucket Worm Bin   Leave a comment

Even though I had declared the 5-gallon bucket compost experiment to be a failure back in May, I never emptied the bucket into the compost heap. I had no plans for the bucket; what can you do with a hole-y bucket? So it just sat there, and functioned as one of the edges for the compost heap for the last several months. No longer.

I’ve really been wanting to start vermicomposting, aka, composting with worms.  A while back I had managed to talk the man-who-doesn’t-like-anything-that-doesn’t-have-four-legs into letting me vermicompost as long as it was in the garage and not the dining room like I originally wanted. I’ve heard that if properly managed there’s no odor, and the closer to the kitchen the easier to use, but since I can’t convince him that the worms aren’t going to escape it stays in the garage. However, a worm bin, even one made of plastic storage bins, is pretty far down on the house wish list, and I didn’t have any suitable containers to make one for free. Or so I thought!

Then at the Green Festival in November I acquired some worms for free! I went to a vermicomposting workshop where the presenter was giving away a few containers of worm castings. She had collected the worm castings in a hurry so they still had a few baby worms in them. When I got back home I put the bag aside and wasn’t able to get to it for over a week so I thought I’d probably killed the worms. Lo and behold, though, when I peaked in there were a few full sized worms wiggling around in there. I punched a couple holes in the container and threw in an old piece of lettuce. Fast forward a month to around Christmas and I peaked in again to realize that the lettuce was gone and the worms still alive. But they couldn’t stay in a clear plastic snack-food container forever, they needed a home upgrade.

That’s when it occurred to me that the 5-gallon bucket with holes in it could work as a worm bin. I hope. The original holes are quite large so I’m hoping that I don’t lose my few worms through them. The hole-y bucket has holes on the bottom and sides, and I drilled a few more (much smaller) holes on the side to make sure there will be enough ventilation. I grabbed another then-unused 5-gallon bucket to use as the moisture collector. The outer bucket is wider than the hole-y bucket so I didn’t need to drill ventilation holes in it, but if it had been the same dimensions I would have drilled a row of ventilation holes in the sides below where the bottom of the inner bucket would be. Instead I propped the inner bucket on some scrap plastic bits and there’s a narrow annular space between the buckets. I put a really thick layer of dampened hand-shredded newspaper on the bottom since I didn’t want the worms to fall through the drainage holes, added a few rotting lettuce leaves, strawberries, tea leaves, and a well crushed egg shell (or as well as I could crush it), and dumped the castings container and worms on top. I don’t mind sacrificing that worm gold fertilizer if it means I’ll get a head start on creating my own. After topping it off with some more hand-shredded newspaper and another good misting, I created a lid with a peace of plywood we had laying around.

Now I just have to remember to check on them occasionally. At this point they’re not going to create much fertilizer since I’m starting with just a few worms, literally. It’s more of a test run to see if I can keep them alive before I actually order my first pound of worms. I’m really excited at this.

Posted January 9, 2012 by mayakey in gardening, unshopping

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Life Without Paper Towels   Leave a comment

This came up at Thanksgiving as an interesting conversation during the final meal preparations. Someone asked where we keep the paper towels, but we don’t have any. Oddly enough we had more “need” for paper towels during the 8 hours around the Thanksgiving dinner than we have for years. I’d say there was universal surprise that we don’t have paper towels.

How do we live without paper towels? Easily. When I sat down to write this post, I tried to remember when we stopped using paper towels and I can’t. So it could have been 2 years ago, or a little more or a little less. I do remember how it happened: We finished a roll of paper towels and just never replaced it. The paper towel holder got donated, and that’s history. So what do we use instead? Mostly rags.

For your typical cleanup situations we have lots of rags. A bin of old socks, t-shirts, etc. supplies rags for general cleanups around the house. When we first went without paper towels we decided that it was ok if we occasionally felt the need to throw away a rag that we felt had gotten too dirty to go in the laundry and back in the rag bin. Somewhat surprisingly, that hasn’t happened. I do have to confess that we have a small box of paper napkins from our unfortunate take-out food habit. I can’t think of an instance off the top of my head, but we have probably used a paper napkin a time or two for particularly gross/oily/sticky cleanups.

In the kitchen we have a drawer with random old washcloths that are used in place of paper towels for kitchen-specific tasks. These are segregated from the regular rags because it just seems like a good idea.

Between the rags and the washcloths (and the stash of paper napkins), almost all paper towel uses are covered. The only thing missing is gauze. I’ve been meaning for years to order some organic cotton gauzy fabric to be the final piece in the paper towel replacement scheme. I’d like the gauze for tasks like wrapping parsley or other herbs in the fridge, or layering cooked foods like platanos that need to drain/de-oil. This is certainly the least crucial of the paper towel replacements, as we get by fine without, but it is still something I’d eventually like to have.

Why go without paper towels? For me it’s an issue of getting out of the throw-away mentality. Even if you compost the used paper towels, they still have a larger footprint than the alternatives. If you don’t compost them, they most likely go into a landfill where they will last just about forever. But thinking beyond the roll itself there’s the trim from the edge of the rolls, the bleach, the plastic wrapping, lots of water used during manufacture, lots of energy use during manufacture and transport, and the impact of the tree harvesting. As opposed to the rags, which were all old clothing resurrected for many more useful years. Or even new washcloths that will be used for years? decades? before being trashed.

Posted December 3, 2011 by mayakey in frugal living, home, resource use, unshopping

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Sofa Saga   2 comments

Way back in June I posted about buying a new sofa, and while that process was easy (though expensive), it has been much more difficult to deal with the existing sofa. I admit to being lazy and not starting to find a new home for the old sofa during the summer between when we ordered the new sofa, and when we received it. The new sofa actually showed up a couple weeks early, too, so I was caught off guard. But over the last few months I’ve been having no luck getting rid of the sofa.

I tried calling every charity with a thrift store in the Sacramento area, but no luck. The problem is the fact that the existing sofa has tears in the fabric of the seat, and needs to be reupholstered. The foam and liner in the seat also need to be replaced due to 17 years of active usage, so a slipcover doesn’t take care of the problem. But the sofa is still sound. A peek underneath does look like hardwood, so it does still have life left in it. The springs are “no sag” springs, which apparently don’t live up to their name but are really easy to support if that is the case. Unfortunately for the sofa, the local charities only take gently used furniture since they have no way to make the repairs.

We’ve tried listing the sofa twice on Freecycle and once on Craigslist, with no bites. Not even a nibble. I’m a little frustrated with Freecycle because I think it takes the concept of local a little too far. Our local Freecycle is Rancho Cordova. So if I post something, it only goes to people in Rancho Cordova, not other people in the Sacramento metro area. By my count there are three Freecycle groups for “Sacramento”, as well as Orangevale, Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Folsom, Carmichael, Elk Grove, and Roseville (all of which are cities/communities in the Sacramento metro area). I’m not keen on joining all of them.

I’ve left a message with a man who teaches upholstery at a local adult education school, and this week I’ll try calling homeless shelters. Why all this work? Two things. Emotionally, I confess to having an attachment to the sofa since my parents bought it when I was a teenager and passed it down to me over a decade ago. Second, I really really hate the idea of throwing something sound into the landfill. The cost estimate that I’ve gotten from upholsterers is $300-$500, but I can’t afford to spend that kind of money for something I’m giving away. I was hoping that someone who needs a couch would be willing to take one that needs a few hundred dollars of work rather than spending the same or more on a new piece. Guess not.

We can’t keep this extra sofa around for much longer as it is really in the way. I am seriously conflicted, though, because I just can’t stand throwing away something that still has use left in it. I wonder if I should start listing it on Craiglist and Freecycle as a set with the loveseat, which is in fine condition. I’m not ready to get rid of the loveseat, which was going to go in the nursery, but giving away both together might be a better option than throwing away the sofa.

What is the take home lesson here? If you’ve kept a sofa long enough for the seat to get  worn out reupholster it instead of replacing it.

Posted November 27, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, home, unshopping

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The First “R” is Reduce For a Reason   Leave a comment

A while ago I read a newspaper article that started with a statement something along the lines of: We’re all familiar with the three “R’s” reuse, recycle, and repurpose… It made me ANGRY to read that, and weeks (months?) later that anger is still festering. The three “R’s” of environmentalism are REDUCE, reuse, recycle. Besides, reuse and repurpose are redundant.

The order of those “R” words is not arbitrary but is in order of importance and impact. Reducing is the most important thing that you can do, pretty much across the board because the benefits multiply. There’s the immediate and obvious effect of reduction that you use less of whatever it is, be it electricity, water, paper, food, plastic, media, pesticides, or concrete. Depending on what was reduced, there is also a reduction in waste going to a landfill or incinerator with consequent reduction in soil, groundwater, or air pollution. Because of the (somewhat unavoidable) amount of loss and waste along the supply chain, that reduction on a personal scale leads to a waste reduction of many-fold moving up the chain. Some examples are a lightbulb left off not that only reduces the electricity to generate light but also the electricity wasted through heat generation (and losses in the transmission system, and losses at the power plant, and inefficiencies in the generation of electricity, and water consumed by the power plant); and a paper not used not only saves a piece of paper but the packaging, the paper trimmed off the roll, the bleaching/dyeing chemicals, the energy and water to make the paper, and the energy to transport it. Not using something therefore means not using a lot more of the raw materials required to make that something, and reducing the pressing need to mine/harvest/pump ever more of those raw materials at an ever faster rate.

In some cases there are other benefits. Printing less paper means that you have less paper that needs to be filed and stored somewhere, saving time and money. Having less junk means less of your house is taken up by storage space and more can be used for living space. Buying less whatever generally saves money. Watching less TV or spending less time playing video/computer games may mean more family time or sleep. Having less stuff or fewer commitments can mean a much more peaceful life. For people like me who hate to shop, buying less stuff means I have to shop less. On a larger scale using less pavement means more infiltration, healthier plants, more groundwater storage, and less pollution in surface waterways.

At a time like this when jobs are a hot topic and the unemployment rate is scarily high, is it “unpatriotic” to talk about reducing consumption of anything/everything? I don’t think so. For one thing, an economy that is mostly based on excessive consumption is not sustainable ecologically or economically. Isn’t some of what we’re going through now a contraction from the rapidly increasing rates of consumption and indebtedness in recent years? And considering the scarily high amount of personal debt carried by the average American, reduced consumption that saves money also increases personal stability and security. More consumption isn’t necessarily going to be a long term economic fix, but smarter consumption would help.