Thrifty Thursday: Bar Soap

Image © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0

When did liquid soap become ubiquitous? I recall when I made the change for handwashing in my home; I had a cat that obsessively licked bar soap, and I thought it might be bad for her. Over time I became more aware of the environmental consequences of liquid soap: more fuel for transport; unnecessary ingredients, including some that have been shown to be harmful; all those plastic containers. Once Mari was old enough to hold a bar of soap, long after the cat had spent her 9 lives, we gladly made the change back.

Pros of Bar Soap:
– Minimal packaging
– Long-lasting
– No anti-microbials
– Easily available in unscented form, or naturally scented
– Soap dishes never wear out and are easy to “refill”
– Lots of fun options for soap dishes – beautiful china, interesting rocks.  I use seashells that we collected on a family trip.
– Lower cost per handwash
– Takes up less space in the cabinet, so easier to buy in bulk, with further cost savings
– Less weight for transport (liquid soap contains water, which weighs 8 pounds per gallon)

Bar soap demonstrates the green triangle about which I first read in a simple living book: if something is good for one aspects of health, budget, and the environment, then it is likely good for the other two as well. Three priorities met with one small effort!

Retreat at Home


Set Contemplative Deco Object Group Art StonesSpace to think, uninterrupted, has drawn for me since at least my early teen years, when my favorite place was a large rock in the middle of the creek in the woods behind our house, where I would sit, write, and listen to the moving water. I was entranced by the idea of Thoreau’s Walden life, and years later, by the seaside cottage of Gift From the Sea.   Most people don’t have the option of taking a year off to build a cabin, explore nature, and write, and even a week of calm solitude can be unrealistic – I know it is for me.   But thinking about the internal and external space that this would offer has me contemplating how I could create some similar space in my upcoming weeks.

I have memories of retreat-like days. Once while traveling, I was snowbound for an afternoon in a hotel. It was lovely. I read and wrote and thought, uninterrupted, for hours. A retreat need not be solitary or academic. When I was a grad student, burned out from exams, thesis research, and winter, I spent a weekend helping my parents paint a barn. The gentle labor in the spring sunshine left me refreshed and ready to return to books and lab. More recently, Thom, Mari, and I had a weekend retreat at a friend’s cabin. We like to go there in the off season, when the lake is quiet, even if the weather is unpleasant, because that increases the coziness and pushes each of us to the activities for which we rarely find time when at home.

What gets in the way of doing this at home? Even on a weekend, there are all the activities. Driving someone here or there, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, getting ready for the workweek, fixing whatever has recently broken in the house, car upkeep, etc, etc, etc. So a retreat at home requires planning, first of all – to choose a day in advance and prepare for it to be as quiet as possible.

Preparing for a retreat at home

  • Give permission: time for deep work and contemplation is as important as the time spent on all those other activities. The reason we don’t do it more often is that it has no deadline associated with it. Give yourself permission to take a day off from everything.
  • Choose the day to minimize disruptions: a day that everyone can linger around the house in pajamas is ideal.
  • Share the plan: it’s nice If everyone in the house would like to participate, and makes interruptions less likely.
  • Plan meals in advance for easy reheating and cleanup: cook double a couple of nights during the week and put the extra meal in the freezer, in a container that is reheating-ready. In addition to saving time cooking, cleanup is greatly reduced on nights these meals are served.
  • Do essential cleaning and chores during the few evenings prior to the planned retreat. Tidy surroundings are more peaceful, and it’s nice to know that everything is done.
  • Be flexible. I was preparing for Sunday to be a retreat day, but some urgencies disrupted the weekend. It is what it is. There will be another weekend that will work.

Reclaiming Time from Technology


I began a partial news fast last week.

I don’t watch the news, and I don’t read a newspaper daily… but I had fallen into checking the news on multiple sites and selectively reading articles at least a couple times each day. It’s another way of procrastinating, I think, inspired by the smartphone and its promise of passing any unfilled time painlessly. But it also creates unnecessary tension, and the fact is, I can’t do anything about most of the things happening in the world or even my country.

The breakneck speed of technology has enabled instant information about everything, everywhere. In some cases, such as an approaching tornado, this is life-saving. But most of the time, it’s not that essential. Whichever side of the political divide you favor, odds are any news source delivers jolts of anger or fear throughout the day. In taking a news fast, I am choosing to limit these reactions.

Because this is a partial fast, I am staying informed, by reading a non-sensational world news source no more than once daily.  I plan to use some of the time I save to write my legislators issues that are important to me, an activity that, for most of the past 15 years has fallen into the category of “I wish I had time for…”

I recently read Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism. I found the thoughts in his earlier book Deep Work to be very useful, and have been looking forward to harvesting tips toward reducing digital time since I heard of the title of his latest work.

Newport proposes a 30-day digital declutter to break away from the strong pull of technology and rediscover how we used to or how we want to spend our time. After this period, during which unnecessary technology is eliminated, components can be added back… mindfully.

He suggests that, prior to this declutter, goals and priorities are planned so that the lack of technology is less of a black hole. He recommends a clean break – not slowly stopping the technology train, but jumping away from all nonessential use.

Prior to reading this, I found my own slow approach to digital decluttering. I began by removing all potentially time-wasting apps from my phone, and proceeded by unfollowing almost everything on my social media feed, which led to largely abandoning social media. It is a great relief to not have to react internally or externally to all of the minutia, vacations, news, and vents shared there. The pull of the phone remains, though: like one of the individuals cited in Digital Minimalism, I have found myself reading the weather for lack of something else to swipe on the phone – which reminds me that it’s time to put it away.

I don’t call myself a minimalist in any regard, but I appreciate the mindfulness afforded by a little bit of space in my time. Making it more difficult to waste time on the pocket computer that we all call phones has brought more of that space into every day.

Simple Pleasures of Spring

CC0 image

Hearing rain after a silent winter

The return of the songbirds

Beginning the 6 months when daylight hours exceed dark hours

Daffodils waving their cheery trumpets even after an unexpected snowfall

Baby lettuce and spinach from the garden

The explosion of greenery

The return of the pollinators

Baby animals!

Easier commuting, never so appreciated as after a hard winter

Fresh strawberries for breakfast, still warm from the morning sun

Opening the windows!

Waking to the early morning chorus of birds


Putting away the heavy winter coats and boots

Replacing the utility mats that pick up winter’s slush and grit with less utilitarian rugs

Cooking outside

Eating outside

Pausing on a long walk to talk with neighbors we’ve not seen in months

That brief time of ease between shoveling snow and mowing lawns

The first bicycle ride of the season

What makes you smile in the spring?

Reducing Waste: Our Tried and True Methods

Public domain image created by U.S. EPA, 2012.

This month’s question: What are your favorite ways to reduce waste?


  1. Composting natural materials.  We compost kitchen scraps and leaves, but I also use a lot of materials in the garden under mulch for weed prevention, such as cardboard boxes, newspaper, and old cotton clothing or sheets.  I recently discovered that our county’s composting program has winter drop sites; participating in this will reduce our winter trash substantially (previously, we had two issues with winter composting at home: getting to the bin through deep snow, and the bin filling up with frozen materials early in the season).
  2. Reducing single-use objects.  Dishcloths last years longer than sponges, and old dishcloths become cleaning rags.  Old hand towels are folded and kept in the place where we used to keep paper towels. We’ve always used cloth napkins, and keep a stash of handkerchiefs available.  When we eat out, I try to remember to bring food storage containers for leftovers so we can avoid those awful takeout boxes.
  3. Thrifting.  By buying our purchases slightly used, we reduce demand for new objects, as well as costs associated with shipping new objects. Most thrifted items come without packaging, too.


  1. Secondhand purchasing.  I don’t so much go to thrift stores anymore; too much of a crapshoot and not enough time.  Rather I troll and use Facebook sale groups, Craigslist and Nextdoor. I try to get away from the trolling part for mindset’s sake, but I do put out a lot of requests and most are fulfilled.  And I started a free group for the moms in my neighborhood mom group, and it’s quite active. There’s a lot of “good” stuff on there, but also it is AMAZING who will take broken and quite worn out items for a specific use, extending their life a tad bit more before they land in the landfill.
  2. Rags in the kitchen.  We have bought few paper towels in the last 10 years, because we keep a drawer of rags for all the kitchen and dining room disasters.  I was making them out of old t-shirts, but they got so disgusting that finally we decided to use all the same color tan washcloths. We have grey ones for the bathroom so it makes it easy to know where they belong when washing/putting away.
  3. My reusable mug.  I have it with me all the time.  On those occasions when I am buying a coffee, I rarely take the disposable cup.


  1. Definitely buying second hand. The vast majority of the things that I own are secondhand. Especially kids clothing. My kids work hard and play hard, and it shows. With seven of them I just can’t justify spending full price on something they will wear out in a season.
  2. Discount stores. So much goes to waste in this country. We have a couple of really great discount stores in my area that stock food or other items that are perfectly good, but for a variety of reasons aren’t able to be sold at the big box and grocery stores. Rather than go to waste, the suppliers sell the stuff very cheaply to the discount stores, who sell it at amazing discounts. Last Friday Zach and I were there when the Target truck arrived and it was eye opening how much of the stuff that adorns the shelves at big box stores is discarded. They have huge boxes full of mixed items, clothes, shoes, toys, decor, etc. that are just dumped in together with no organization. We picked through and got some insane deals, but it bothered me to see how much excess there is in retail.
  3. Repurposing. Something really fun and waste reducing that we do at work is an activity we do with our seniors. We get the cast off jeans and shirts from the local thrift store. We cut the pockets out of the jeans, the buttons off of the shirt and cut the rest up into squares of fabric. It’s a good activity for the seniors to do while sitting and chatting, and the resulting product gets sold at the thrift store to crafters. The owners say they sells like hot cakes.

We’re all reducing, reusing, recycling every day.  Please share your ideas for reducing household waste so we can all improve!

Thrifty Thursday – Helping the Planet
Image by Trish Steel and Licensed through CC BY-SA 2.0

Thrift saves money, but it saves many resources, too. Reducing waste and maximizing use of resources can be a strong motivation in developing frugal daily habits. A few ways in which I consider our household reduces the national waste average are:

Reducing food waste: The planning begins when shopping – are the fresh ingredients in the cart enough but not too much for the coming week?  Once home, I cook most vegetables in advance – this saves weeknight time while cooking the vegetables at maximum freshness. When we do eat out, I plan ahead by taking a container and an ice pack.

Buying less new stuff: Manufacturing plants provide jobs, but they also use fossil fuels, water, and raw materials that have in some way been harvested from the planet. Shipping new items is also energy-intensive. Plenty of new items still enter our house, but I view any reduction as a positive.

Buying less packaging: Many new items are contained within single-use packaging. It seems silly that so many things are still sold in boxes or, worse, those hard plastic shells that must be cut open and discarded.

Reusing and upcycling: There is a challenge in finding new purposes for things that would otherwise be discarded. Old sweaters yield one-of-a-kind hats and mittens. Worn-out sheets and cardboard shipping boxes become weed barriers under mulch. Retail food packaging containers are often sturdier than purchased food storage containers. Before discarding, ask the question: What else could this be?