Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: November 2014 (page 2 of 4)

Two Months of Minimalism

 Nightstand Minimalism

I’m really enjoying my minimalism project and find that the more excess stuff I clear away from my life, the more focused and better all parts of it are. For example, I decluttered my bedroom last weekend, which included cleaning up a six-inch-tall stack of papers, notes, magazines and books from my nightstand. Now, my nightstand has only a lamp and the current book I’m reading (which is Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time by Brigid Schulte). Whereas when the pile was there, I would never read before getting some sleep, now I’m inspired to read every night.

While I know I’m making amazing strides toward the lifestyle that I want, the strides toward my $25K goal are not as big. In the past month I’ve saved only $81.56 for a total of $271.94. What I realized is that while clearing away the clutter is a wonderful place to start (it gives you energy and a great sense of accomplishment), I’ve been ignoring the benefits of compound interest. That is, the earlier I can strip away the excess money we’re spending, the faster it will add up to my $25K goal. Therefore, December’s challenge will be all about money. More specifically, I’m going to look at all of our recurring bills and see if there are ways to save money. I haven’t examined my Netflix options or gotten a quote from another insurance company in years. It’s time I knew I’m not spending more than I should for what our family needs.

Dieting for Minimalists

In Defense of Food
As far as food guidance goes, you can’t beat Michael Pollan’s advice from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” I adore this book and it’s one of a handful that have really made me think differently about the world.

He argues, as Americans, we simply don’t have a healthy food culture. Advertising, choices in stores, and what we were raised on make bad habits hard to change. I agree and constantly feel confused by the leading advice, which contradicts itself all the time: drink milk (milk industry), get rid of carbs, eat eggs for breakfast, don’t eat eggs (largely debunked), sugar is probably causing you cancer, so is meat and dairy and burnt toast.

What to Eat

As I did research for my various food posts, I learned a lot about the latest thinking around food. I thought the jury was still out on eggs (it’s not, eat ‘em!) and that most of the research on milk proved it is good for you (far more articles say limit your intake). However, everyone seems to be agreeing on at least four things:

Eat fruits and vegetables.

Eat whole grains.

Limit meat and dairy.

Limit sugar and other refined carbs.

No controversy, no polarization: everyone agrees on these four things.

Dieting for Minimalists

We all know dieting is not the best way to become healthy since it isn’t going to work in the long run unless you’re committed to eating a specific diet the rest of your life. That being said, there is some diet advice that seems sane and logical.

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

If you’re looking for a simple mantra to live by, Michael Pollan’s “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” will steer you in the right general direction. He has an entire book called Food Rules where he lays out specific, actionable advice like “Don’t eat foods with more than five ingredients on the package” or “Don’t eat foods your great grandma wouldn’t recognize as food.” His top seven pieces of advice can be found here.

Diabetic Diet

One of my friends was just diagnosed with gestational diabetes. After seeing a nutritionist and trying the diet for a week she told me she feels great and that, “This is the diet that most people should probably be on anyway.” She loves it so much that she’s started blogging and sharing recipes at mydiabetesblessing.wordpress.com. Check it out! She lays out how much of each food category to eat at each meal and what counts for each category. Then she shares key tips and recipes like this one on how to make brown rice taste great and I am dying to try this chicken sandwich.

Minimalist Diet

Years ago I invented a “diet” that worked really well for me.   I had realized that the part of Michael Pollan’s advice that was hardest for me was the “Not Too Much” part.

I don’t really have a name for my diet, so let’s just call it the Minimalist Diet. It is simple: I wondered what would happen if I actually paid attention to the portion sizes on the nutritional panel for foods and only ate one portion at a time? That’s the diet. Here are the two rules that make it work.

  1. Eat whatever you want, but only eat the portion size listed on the package or, if it’s fresh food, look-up the portion size on a site like this.
  2. When you’ve finished a meal, wait 20 minutes before getting seconds. If you’re still hungry after 20 minutes, have another portion.

I’ve never had to go back for more food. No matter how tiny I thought a plate of food was, it always filled me up if I gave my body a chance to realize I was full.  I also noticed that other good things naturally started happening like:

  1. I made better choices when I realized that the portion size of, say, fried fish sticks (one!) is just too small to sustain me.
  2. I realized just how much excess food I was eating before.
  3. Groceries cost less because you’re eating less.
  4. I didn’t miss certain foods because I can still eat them – in moderation.

Eventually, once you get used to the smaller portion sizes, you can start to replace unhealthy items with healthier options. If you do this one by one over time, you’ll have a better chance of sticking with your healthy habits.

Ditch Disposables for Lower Grocery Bills (Quick Tip)

It seemed crazy to me a month ago that I would consider replacing some of my most-used disposable items like diapers and paper towels with reusable ones. That is, until I did the math and realized that if I ditch disposables I could be saving a lot of money.

Ditch Disposables with the Itzy Ritzy Snack Bag

My Itzy Ritzy Reusable Snack Bag

Case Study: Paper Towels

I felt like most of the items we clean up with paper towels (sticky baby hands, food particles, the bathroom, etc) is really stuff that should go straight into the garbage, so it seemed unsanitary that a regular towel could do the same thing.

Many savvy people have written about the benefits of flour sack towels and I’ve always wondered if I could make the switch. The other day, I discovered that the towels Nathan’s grandma had given us for our wedding almost ten years ago are flour sack towels! I got to do a product trial without investing anything in the equipment.

I have to admit, when it comes to jobs I normally do with paper towels, they are amazing. It’s not as gross as I thought because I’ll generally use one towel per job, then rinse it out, hang it up, and wash it. They are so much more durable than paper towels and our baby loves them because they’re softer on her skin when we need to wipe her mouth and hands. If I had invested in a set of flour sack towels, they would have cost me $15 for a pack of 12. You break even after replacing just two six-packs of paper towels. After that, I’d save around $9 every 1-2 months.

Case Study: Diapers

I’ve used cloth diapers before (this is something I posted about them on an old blog), but decided to go back to disposables with our second child once a majority of my diapers started inexplicably leaking. What I just realized is that instead of spending money on diapers for my oldest daughter, who only uses them at night, I could use the 3-4 diapers that don’t leak for her. That is saving me $15-$20 a month. I plan to potty train daughter #2 in a couple months, but if I weren’t, I could reinvest in new diapers. Cloth diapers come in packs of two for $35.99 (and many times you can get them cheaper). It costs us $30 a month for disposable diapers. Having around 12 cloth diapers on hand is good practice so if I invested in 12 diapers up-front, it would only take me seven months to break even and most kids are in diapers at least two years.

Case Study: Snack Bags

I’ve also bought an Itzy-Ritzy 7×7 inch snack bag. It keeps all kinds of snacks in and can be machine washed or hand washed. I use this every day with lunch and simply wash it out by hand and let it dry overnight.  At this rate, I’ll break-even after 50 days and save myself around $3 thereafter on snack bags.  Not huge savings, but the bags are sturdy, cute and I feel like I’m making a big difference for the planet.

More Ideas to Ditch Disposables

Here is a good list of common disposable items and their reusable counterparts. The book The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Less Away by Amy Korst is also a treasure trove of reuse ideas.

You Need to Shop for Groceries Online (Weekend Project)

There are a few times when I tried something and knew immediately that my life would never be the same. My local Giant was offering free grocery pick-up through Peapod over the summer and I decided to try it one day. I will never go back to regular grocery shopping again.

 How It Works (Peapod)

There are many, many places that offer similar services. I’ve done a little research and list them at the end of the post. Here, I’ll specifically talk about Peapod, which is what I use every week.

Peapod has a website where you first log-in, can link your Giant Bonus Card information and tell them to which location you live nearest. Then, you can start filling your cart.

They offer several ways to find items. There’s a search bar that works fairly well, you can browse aisles or by category, you can view all the specials, and you can view your specials (items you’ve previously bought that are on sale).

Shop for Groceries Online - Peapod

Peapod Main Screen

The items show up in your cart and you get a real-time update on how much you’re spending.

Shop for Groceries Online - Cart

Searching & Cart Updates

I do a lot of package reading and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get that information. Not so! For every item, they post the nutrition information, ingredients, and other relevant information like preparation steps.

Peapod Nutrition

Nutrition Facts

Peapod Food Details

Preparation Details

At any time, you can select a day/time for pick-up or delivery. As long as you finish before the web session ends, that spot is reserved for you. At the end you checkout, just like any other online shopping experience. For pick-up, you sign up for a day/hour and can arrive at any time during that hour to pick-up your food. For delivery, you’re given a larger timespan (maybe 2-4 hours) when the truck might come to deliver your food. I’ve only done pick-up thus far and it works out great.

I initially didn’t trust Peapod to get my order right, but they do a remarkably good job. I still double-check it, though, because once or twice they’ve forgotten a bag and just last week, I was charged for an avocado I never received. This is the first time that’s happened.

So Many Amazing Grocery Lifehacks

Let me try to elaborate on all of the ways this makes life better.

  1. Time Savings – I no longer have to spend an hour picking out things in the grocery store. I can order my items a couple days ahead and add or subtract things up until 12-18 hours before my pick-up time.
  2. Sorting by unit price – You can sort by a variety of methods, including unit price. No more staring at a wall filled with ketchup and wondering which one’s the best value.
  3. Knowing exactly how much everything costs – There’s a real-time tally of how much you’re spending and you can review taxes and fees any time. You know exactly what you’ll be spending.
  4. Easy to boot items from the cart – If you’re spending too much, it’s easy to delete items from your cart without wandering all over the store trying to put them back in the proper spot.
  5. Less impulse purchasing – No checkout aisle means no temptation to buy an impulse Toblerone.
  6. Express shop – There’s a way to scan and upload a grocery list you’ve already created. I haven’t tried it, but that’s brilliant.
  7. Start with your last list – If you buy mostly the same things every week, you can save even MORE time by starting with a previous list or adding your frequent purchases to a list.
  8. Warehouse carries more options than local stores – Peapod grabs their items from a centralized warehouse and I’ve noticed they have some items that my local store doesn’t carry.
  9. No more searching for physical items – Most importantly, I never have to wander around the store aimlessly wondering where the bread crumbs are.

Downsides

Every rose has its torn.

  1. Costs extra – It used to be free to pick-up groceries, but they started charging $2.95 in September. For deliveries, the fee is currently $7.95. To me, $3 is a nominal fee to pay for regaining so much of my time and the savings from some of the lifehacks above more than make up for the cost.
  2. Bags – You can’t use your canvas bags and Peapod seems to be trying to break the record for just how many bags they can waste in one shopping trip. Many, many items come by themselves in a bag. We try to mitigate this by giving the bags right back for reuse.
  3. Some things/sizes aren’t available (e.g. large crunchy JIF peanut butter) – There is a way to request items, though.
  4. If you shop too late, there may not be pick-up/delivery times available – If you try to shop the day-of or later the day before, the pick-up slots might be gone
  5. Out of stock items – When the exact item you ordered is out of stock, they tell you, but you don’t get it, which is a real bummer when you need that item for a recipe. When you shop yourself, you can pick out another brand.
  6. Refunds – If there is a problem with your order, you can’t just go inside the Giant and get a refund right away, you have to contact Peapod and deal with emails sometimes for days to get it right.
  7. Coupons – You can use coupons. You turn them into your truck driver or pick-up rep, but then you have to wait 1-2 weeks to see a credit on your account. One time I had my husband pick-up and the rep told him they don’t take coupons. I think that guy was new.
  8. Disorganization – In September, our Giant store got a new driver that doesn’t organize the bags properly. Since I am usually the first customer to pick-up on Saturdays, I have to wait around an extra 10-20 minutes for the poor people at Giant to sift through everything. I wish they would fix this.

 Where Else Can You Shop for Groceries Online?

I did a little research to find out who else is offering pick-up or delivery. Here’s what I found:

  1. Giant/Peapod – As detailed above, they do pick-up and delivery.  They’re running a referral program right now, so contact me via comments or at minimalistindc@gmail.com for $20 off.
  2. Safeway – Delivery within a one-hour window and your first delivery is free. The regular delivery price fluctuates based on fuel prices, but the base cost is currently $9.95 if you spend over $150.
  3. Harris Tetter Express Lane –  Harris Tetter lets you shop online and pick-up gorceries for $4.95 per trip, or you can buy a one-month or annual pass.
  4. Target – Target has free store pick-up for all of their items, including some groceries. You don’t get to choose when it’s available, though and it appears that only non-perishable items are available. They’ll contact you when your order is ready.
  5. Relay Foods – Relay Foods boasts local, organic, and everyday items.  They have a decent amount of options. You can pick-up for free the next day at a centralized location or have food delivered for a fee.  The food looks delicious, but prices are Whole Foods-worthy!
  6. Instacart – In Washington DC, some parts of Northern VA and other large cities across the country, Instacart delivers from Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Costco with varying fees and some items are marked up.
  7. Washington’s Green Grocer – This works like a CSA that delivers boxes of produce right to your door. You can choose strictly local or strictly organic boxes of produce that range from $27-$46. They also deliver meat, dairy, and baked goodies, but only to the Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, and some Virginia areas.
  8. Hello Fresh – Hello Fresh is not a full grocery shopping experience. Instead, they have a bunch of recipes you can make in 30 minutes or less. You pick the ones you want and they deliver the ingredients to you. Meals start at $9.

Coming Soon

  1. Amazon Fresh – Not yet in the DC area, but I am anxiously awaiting Amazon Fresh. If they can do for groceries what they do for everything else, I may never shop anywhere else.
  2. Google Shopping Express – Also not available in the DC area yet, but Google Shopping says they’ll pick-up items from a variety of stores and deliver them right to your door.

Five Reasons to Try a CSA (Quick Tip)

CSA

There’s a really easy way to force yourself to try new, healthy foods and eat locally all summer long. Try a CSA! CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”. You pay a flat rate per season to get a box delivered each week filled with seasonal produce from local farms.

Many CSAs deliver to a centralized location (like your office or a community building) and some will even deliver straight to your door. The food is delicious, fresh, and worth every penny.

I’ve participated in three CSAs and they’re each a little different. Most are around $25 a box per week for a small share, which typically provides almost enough vegetables for two people for a week. Some include fruit, eggs, or cheese, but others are just vegetables. My office, Opower, which is located in Arlington, VA participates in the Earth Spring Farm CSA. You can find one close to you here.

Five Reasons to Try a CSA

  1. Healthy Foods – CSAs are big boxes of local vegetables and fruit (although some CSAs also allow you to buy extra items like eggs and honey). There’s no better way to force yourself to eat a lot of vegetables than to have them show up automatically.
  2. Variety – Each week, you get a mix of different vegetables. If you’ve never bought into a CSA, I guarantee you’ll learn about some foods you’ve never even heard of before. For me it was things like mizuna lettuce and shallots. Along with a variety of vegetables comes a variety of healthy vitamins too.
  3. Convenience – Instead of going to the farmer’s market every week, the farmer’s market comes to you. That saves a lot of time.
  4. New Recipes – Finding new ways to eat everything in the CSA has turned into a competitive game (against ourselves), which is great because we get to try new recipes as well as new ways to cook ingredients we already use. Allrecipes.com is my go-to site for new recipes. You can type in one or more ingredients like “kale potatoes” and it will return recipes you can make with those items.Try a CSA - allrecipes.com
    Each recipe is rated by users and includes comments from people who have tried and modified it. It’s an excellent community. Similar sites include epicurious.com and food.com.
  5. Gifts – Inevitably, there are weeks when you’re out of town and can’t use the CSA, so I give my box to a friend. It turns out people LOVE getting fresh produce and sometimes will even surprise me with a delicious treat they made with something from the box.

I’m a big fan of my CSA. Why not try one next year? Visit localharvest.org to find one near you.

 

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