Monday, September 5, 2011

Time Management and Fun

I've been gradually working on ways to reduce the amount of time I waste on the internet. It had become kind of a problem. I'd be trying to study for a class, click onto my RSS reader for a break, and an hour would pass before I'd realize it. The same thing happened with Facebook. I'd go on to check when an event was, and then I'd be scrolling through the newsfeed for an hour.

I found a couple of Mozilla Firefox add-ons to help me with the problem. LeechBlock allows me to create time limits for certain sites. I have a 15 minute limit on my RSS reader during the week and only allowed myself to look at Facebook on Sundays. Ad Blocker Plus keeps me from having to look at any ads on any site, it also blocks the commercials on Hulu. But even these add-ons didn't stop me from maximizing my time on the internet.

Last month I quit Facebook which has been a big help. My RSS reader has been culled, and none of my shows are loading new episodes onto Hulu. The result? I have very few ways to procrastinate on line.

I've found myself actually studying when I'm supposed to (or blogging) instead of just randomly Googling or watching funny cat videos.

While I could theoretically be more productive without distractions, I am finding it difficult to even get on the computer. With the distractions gone, studying becomes more of a chore. Maybe I'm so used to being constantly overstimulated and shifting between tasks so often that it will take some time to get used to having focus.

Or maybe I'll start updating this blog a lot more often.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Over the last year or so, I've been trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" I own. It's really incredible how much I've gotten rid of by donating, freecycling, selling, or trashing so far.

When I moved to California, I came with two suitcases and a guitar. That was in 2002. I expanded into a very large 2 bedroom apartment with my husband, and have since downsized into a 400 square foot 1 bedroom.

I think the problem is, I like stuff. I especially like the type of stuff that is classified as "Gear." For a year I worked at a sporting goods store and learned to rock climb, which requires stuff, and found out about other bicycling stuff that was either better than my current stuff or that I needed in addition to the other stuff I already had. I have a bicycle for when I'm puttering around town in a skirt. I have a bicycle for loaded touring. I have a bicycle for racing. I have all manner of locks and lights for these bikes, all of which come with their own accessories. Then...there's the camping stuff.

I don't think all stuff is bad by any stretch. I think if the stuff you have serves a specific function and brings happiness, then that stuff is valuable. The problem I have is with the other stuff. The stuff that weighs me down. This sort of stuff doesn't have a specific purpose, or it has a purpose that can be served with something else I own. The stuff I'm talking about is "extra stuff." Like a dress that I wear sometimes but doesn't make me feel super good in it.

Some people, like my mom, would say I'm already pretty minimalist in the amount of stuff I keep around. Two people living in a 400 square foot apartment is extreme minimalism to a lot of Americans. But I see people with blogs about minimalism posting about owning fewer than 100 things, or bloggers like Rowdy Kittens' home tour with barely any stuff, and I am so so jealous!

I want to have a house that is clean, not because I spend time cleaning it, but because there's just not enough stuff to get dirty. I want to own only what is necessary for my health and happiness.

In an effort to get closer to that goal, I'm working on an inventory of everything I own. Since I'm still working on it, I'm not sure what all the rules are. I'm grouping things like 1 pair of socks instead of counting each sock, but I am not grouping "socks." So far I have a ton of stuff. I hope the exercise will help me to really have to touch everything I own and write it down so I can see at a glance the bulk of it, instead of having it hidden away in drawers. I'll keep you updated on my progress.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Simple Pleasures

I've found that I have a tendency to compartmentalize my life. Vacation and Relaxation have needed to be planned for their own time, be it a weekend or an out of town trip. Adventure falls into the same category. Rarely do Relaxation and Adventure occur within my daily routine. A pair of cycle-touring bloggers has inspired me to change that.

In a CBC radio interview, The Traveling Two describe staying with a family while touring the middle east who decided to take them on a picnic...for the middle of winter. The couple describe being surprised, then delighted by the concept. I decided to do something similar.

Last night I packed up the dinner I made for my husband and myself and suggested we walk down to the beach to eat. The dinner wasn't anything special. We ate what we normally would, we just changed up the location. The 28 block walk to the beach and back gave us a chance to wind down for the evening and actually chat with each other, rather than retreating to our separate computers until sleep-time. Sitting on the beach at sunset watching the tourists take pictures of each other made us appreciate our town, which we often take for granted. The whole thing was relaxing, spontaneous, adventurous even!

It really showed me how easy it is to get stuck in a routine and how easy it is to take each other and our surroundings for granted. The whole thing cost nothing and really made the evening special. I hope to do it again soon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Battling The Junk Mail Monster

There are a lot of easy things we can all do to save the planet, change a lightbulb, drive less, recycle, but some things that should be easy like stopping unwanted mail are much harder than you'd think.

For the last 3 years I have been waging an all out war on junk mail. Every day when I get the mail, I make a pile of all the stuff that is unsolicited. I then call each and every sender of mail and remove myself from their mailing lists. Stopping some were easier than others. Bed Bath and Beyond is pretty simple, so is RedPlum. Others like Time Warner Cable's advertisements are nearly impossible.

This war on junk mail started to become an obsession after my husband and I moved to a new apartment. Suddenly I was back to square one. All of the mail I finally stopped from coming to my previous apartment was coming to the new one. I found myself spending an hour or more on the phone every time I went to the mailbox. Finally, I decided to enlist some help. is my mercenary army. The crew there tells me they will stop 85% or more of my junkmail from getting to my mailbox. Think of all the hours I'll have back! Another nice thing about 41 pounds is the extra tips they have given me on stopping junk mail.

1. NEVER fill out a change of address form with the post office. The post office sells that information. I was shocked when I found this out. 41 pounds says to instead fill out a temporary mail forwarding request and notify all the important parties about your move.

2. You can stop unwanted phone books - protects your online identity and opts you out of books at the same time. It's totally free. You do have to use your real phone number though. That's how the phone book companies keep track of whether they're actually opting you out or not.

3. Never send in those little warranty cards that come with a product. I think most people know better, but still.

4. Whenever you give your information to a charity or company, request that they not sell or give your information to anyone.

Since I just started with 41 pounds, I'm excited to see how well it works. So far, the company has sent me a stack of opt out cards for lists that require my signature to remove me from their lists. I sent those off in the mail. I'll post an update in a few months with information about how well it works.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Car Free

Today I am car-free.

My husband and I have been working on being car-free for a long time. Ever since I started biking around L.A., the idea has been floating around in my head. Once I started exploring all of the alternative transit options available, naturally, my driving decreased. With biking, buses, trains, and the subway in L.A., along with the car-share we belong to, the only times we've taken the car out lately have been to make sure its battery doesn't die.

Getting rid of the car means no paying for gas, no paying for insurance, no paying for maintenance, no looking for a parking space, no paying for parking, no sitting in a line of cars in traffic. It means a less stressful commute. It means structuring my life so it has a lighter footprint on the planet.

True, there are some cases where a car comes in handy. But that outing to the desert or the ski resort a few hours away can be made with a rented car. Trips to the grocery store are easily made by bike (or by walking from our new place.) The doctor's is walking distance, or taxi distance if I'm not feeling up to it. If it's truly an emergency, an ambulance would be called.

While the decision makes perfect sense to me now, I didn't always see being car-free as possible. I used to commute an hour to work each way. That's 10 hours per week stuck in traffic. When my husband and I were dating, we lived an hour away from each other. He sold his car and would ride his bike 45 minutes each way to visit me. I was shocked that he could make it faster on bike than in the car. Since then, we've had my one car between us. But since we got married last year and I left my far-away job, we haven't needed it.

I'll be honest, I've had mixed feelings in the past month about whether to sell it or store it. All the hype about how "nobody walks in L.A." got to my head. But after another month of it sitting under a tarp in the car-port, I decided it was time.

I'm very excited about having one less thing to worry about and pay for.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Moving On Down

Most newlywed couples plan ahead to when they can afford a bigger apartment, condo, or even a home. Our society views these items as status symbols and indicators of stability and prosperity. Gary (my husband) and I made the same sort of plans together, even before we were engaged. We dreamed about our ideal two bedroom apartment or condo with the balcony garden. Now, we're moving into a tiny 400 square foot 1 bedroom apartment with no parking.

When we got engaged, we moved out of my studio and his one bedroom and into the first affordable two bedroom we could find. It's in a great location, has two tiny balconies just big enough for our worm bin and some potted plants, off-street parking, and it houses all of our stuff really comfortably.

Many people seem confused about why we made the decision to downsize. Often when I tell people we're getting a smaller apartment, they ask me with concern if we're doing alright financially. The answer is yes. We're doing fine. But why not do better? Why not put more into savings or travel? Since I will be in school for a few years, paying a lower rent will allow us to add to our nest egg even with only one substantial income between us.

Besides the financial incentive to downsize, there is the ecological impact. A smaller space requires less lighting. Our climate in Southern California allows us to forgo heating and cooling costs. The tiny jr-sized fridge will be much more efficient. The lack of a parking space and the high walk-score of the neighborhood inspired me to finally let go of the car. The location two blocks from the food Co-Op will (hopefully) inspire us to shop more frequently and eat fresh foods instead of stocking the pantry with convenience food. The large window garden will let us grow our own salad greens and herbs. (as long as I don't kill them)

The thing I'm looking most forward to, and dreading at the same time, is the physical downsizing. While we don't have a huge amount of stuff, we managed to accumulate an entire closet full of art supplies and tools. We have 8 bicycles plus a bicycle built for two. A suitcase plus a shelf full of camping gear, and all manner of other odds and ends. A lot of this stuff will not fit into our tiny new place. We're in the process of making some very tough decisions about what will move with us and what will be donated to friends, Goodwill, and freecycle.

I have always enjoyed de-cluttering, but this will force me to step up my game. It will require us to really think about what is important to us and keep only objects that help us to shape our lives to meet those priorities. As we go through boxes, we have to think about the meaning we attach to objects and determine if it is the object, or the idea it represents that is what we cherish. I'm hoping our more streamlined lifestyle at the new apartment will help to reduce stress and encourage us to value each other even more than we already do.

Overall I'm very excited about the move. I'm making a game plan on how to get everything packed and moved and cleaned and donated. I'm trying to figure out how best to move the worm bin and where to put it once it is moved, and trying to pull together Craigslist posts for the bicycles we're selling. In 1 month, we'll be totally tucked into our new tiny home.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


My husband and I have both been vegan for years, but we're also environmentalists. The "but" is significant. We have found things that are friendly to animals are not always so friendly to the earth. This has posed an ethical dilemma.

For example, a pair of synthetic boots does not contribute to animal suffering. It eliminates the need for the abusive factory farming techniques that hurt the cows, workers at processing plants, and local water sources which are polluted by the concentrated animal waste. At first glance, this seems like an ideal solution for animals and the earth. However, when I think of how the boots were made and how they'll be disposed of when they are beyond repair, I have to reconsider. Synthetic leather is basically plastic, a petroleum product. It doesn't take a genius to know that plastic is bad for the earth. It never biodegrades and can create other chemical problems during the manufacturing process.

So which do we choose? The leather that kills a cow but biodegrades? The synthetic that stops the suffering but never breaks down?

This dilemma also extends to other products: down vs synthetic sleeping bags, wool or polypropylene base layers, even local unprocessed honey vs vegan sweeteners that come from across the country and are processed.

The compromise I have come up with so far for the leather dilemma is to purchase secondhand leather boots at thrift stores. I don't know if that is fully vegan or not. My rationale is that I'm not contributing to the demand for new leather, I'm recycling, and the boots will eventually break down. However, I am contributing to the secondary market for leather, making it perhaps more valuable new since it has a resale value. I'm also contributing to demand if someone sees my boots, thinks I'm totally stylish, and heads to Nordstrom to buy them new. Hey, it could happen!

I've also purchased SmartWool products, which are made from the wool of more ethically farmed sheep. This stuff works better and lasts longer than synthetic alternatives, but still gnaws at my conscience.

I don't think there is a solution that will solve both problems. There will there always be shades of gray. Trying our best seems to be all we can do.

Please comment respectfully and intelligently.