Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: Washington DC (page 1 of 2)

Great Minimalist Blogs (Plus Three Books & A Group)

Over the past year, as I’m researching topics or getting advice from friends, I’ve found a few good minimalist blogs that I thought I’d pass along.

Becoming Minimalist

If you need a dose of inspiration to pursue a life with less stuff, try Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist. He’s been living a life of rational minimalism for years in Arizona with his family. His posts are usually not very tactical, but are always motivational. Start with this blog if you need to be convinced of the merits of minimalism or if you need an infusion of inspiration to move forward on your own journey. Becker has also written the best book I’ve found yet on embracing minimalism with kids, Clutterfree with Kids and his book Simplify, which I’ve never read is constantly hitting the non-fiction best-sellers list on Amazon.

Zen Habits

This is not strictly a blog about minimalism; it’s a blog about changing your everyday habits for the better. In his blog, Zen Habits, Leo Babauta writes about topics ranging from how to get out of a funk to how to lose weight and keep it off. He’s developed a menagerie of habits that make life sweeter, and he discusses in detail how to make good habits and how to break bad ones. This is currently one of my favorite blogs because Babauta outlines concrete steps to help readers form better habits. I’m currently using his advice on leveling up to gain healthier eating habits and lose weight.

Minimalist Mom

I subscribed to The Minimalist Mom last year when Rachel Jonat was not writing much due to the birth of her third child. Then she moved from the Isle of Man to Vancouver and suddenly her posts have become regular and fairly relevant. She usually writes about something specific, like getting a smaller fridge or a new second-hand clothing website that she’s found. If you’re a parent, this is a great place to get ongoing ideas for life with your kids.

Marie Kondo

I haven’t been following any ongoing dialogue from Kondo, but her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is by far the best way to reduce stuff and get organized. I love, love, love her book and the KonMari Method. The book is a somewhat quirky and indispensible must-read for anyone trying to create a life with less.

Find Other Minimalists in DC or Your City

I also follow The Minimalists and, while I don’t usually find their blog entries useful (they focus more on their tours, books, and upcoming documentary), one thing they’ve done well is to establish minimalist groups in major cities across the country. There’s one in DC. To join, like the Minimalist.org: Washington, DC facebook page and you’ll be invited to meet-ups about once a month. You’re also treated to random articles found by the club members. I’ve enjoyed lurking on the site for a while and someday hope to join a group meeting.

Which blogs inspire you?

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.

 

DC is the Most Expensive Place to Live

According to an article in the Washington Post yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics did a study that shows that “on average – Washingtonians spend more on housing and related expenses (utilities, furnishings, and equipment) than New Yorkers and San Franciscans.”  At least we did in 2011-2012.

2011-2012 Housing Expenses by City

2011-2012 Housing Expenses by City Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics / Washington Post

I find this hard to believe when tiny apartments in San Francisco are going for an average of $3,120, but this seems to be a huge increase over the last two years.  DC may no longer be on top.  However, it is still true that the DC area is way up there when it comes to expenses.

Which leads me to believe that if you can be a minimalist and reduce expenses here, anyone can.

A Minimalist Birthday

Birthday Cake

My husband’s birthday was last week and he is maybe 50% onboard with my minimalist project. At least we’re in agreement on one thing: we don’t need more stuff.

So how do you celebrate a birthday the minimalist way? For adults who are not very excited about checking off another year, it’s pretty easy. We’ve practically been holding minimalist birthday parties for ourselves for years: a nice dinner out or friends over for beer and games. That’s all we really need or want. The only problem is the birthday present. I haven’t been released from buying a present. In fact I like to give presents. The trick is going to be to get something consumable; something that won’t sit around forever not enriching our lives. So, I came up with a list of minimalist birthday presents. Some of these aren’t perfect for Nathan, but they might be for someone else.

  1. A gift membership
    We love our National Zoo membership, which gives us free parking downtown and also has reciprocal discounts to zoos and aquariums across the country. We go all the time. Most museums that aren’t already free around DC offer gift memberships, like the National Children’s Museum and the National Aquarium. Great ideas for a family with kids.
  2. Beer, wine or chocolate
    Sometimes it’s fun to just wander around Total Wine and find something new. Nathan loves beer, so a six-pack of his favorite kind or a gift card might be exactly what he needs.
  3. A night out
    Date night or a gift card to a restaurant and/or movie are always fun. We don’t typically have enough money to go anywhere fancy, so a nicer place would be special.
  4. A babysitter
    For friends, you can always offer to watch the kids. A night out without them is one of the best gifts of all time.
  5. Surprise weekend getaway
    I’ve always wanted to make Nathan pack for a trip without telling him where we’re going. Since I’m a planner and he’s more go-with-the-flow, this just might work with the two of us.
  6. Kindle gift card
    This could backfire, because you can use a Kindle gift card to buy anything on Amazon, but for someone that reads almost exclusively kindle books (and a lot of them), this could be a nice gift. I’m still a bigger fan of the library.
  7. Steam gift card
    Nathan plays a LOT of video games. I was worried about him until I read Daniel Pink’s book Drive and discovered that video games provide many with the flow experiences they need to be healthy, happy adults. Ever since then, I’ve tried to be more forgiving about the gaming. Encouraging it would be a big birthday surprise.
  8. A surprise night in
    Make the birthday boy or girl their favorite dinner, and play games or watch a movie.

I don’t know what happened to the time this year, but I ended up with a combination of #6 & #2. Nathan got a Kindle gift card, plus some candy and beer. I’m not really happy with the creativity of this gift, but I think it was well-received. Next year, I should have more time to plan.

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