Friday, October 26, 2012

Reductions All Around

Shalom, chaverim! Yesterday we had the first big thunderstorm of the fall, which was very dramatic to watch as giant bolts of lightning came cracking down into the sea and the cats ran for cover. The strong winds also reminded us of the draft-proofing we need to do in the apartment before it gets much colder. Having grown up in Michigan, at the beginning of winter, everyone I knew seemed to haul out their front and backdoor "draft dodger" apparatus, which took the form of a long, soft tube filled with dried beans or sand, which was laid at the foot of each external door to keep out the cold. Many of my friends had cute ones shaped like long dachshunds.  I think my mother sewed a cheerful cover for ours. I have not seen any draft dodgers here (the non-human variety, anyway), so I might just grab an old pair of pantyhose and fill each leg with navy beans. I don't sew, knit or crochet, either, so if anyone wants to contribute a draft dodger snood, I'd be very grateful!*

As the weather changes, it is nice to be able to walk two blocks without completely drenching my clothes with the fruits of my own built-in, personal evaporating cooler mechanism. It's also refreshing to wear clothing slightly more substantial and stylish than my Israeli summer uniform of shorts, sneakers, tank tops and my one, ever increasingly sweat stained, baseball cap.

Nahariyan women's clothing style seems to be heavily influenced by Russian tastes, which, for winter, seems to be comprised of lots of layered tops of varying lengths (but all with deeply plunging necklines), paired with crazily patterned leggings or teeny tiny miniskirts, with high-heeled shoes. There is nary a sensible preppy turtleneck, crewneck sweater, or a good pair of longjohns to be found, so I am already starting to worry about spending another winter here freezing my tucchus off. Beauty is pain, indeed!

It's too bad there aren't many used clothing stores or consignment shops in Israel. This is surprising, because Israel is ahead of the curve when it comes to conserving other things like energy and packaging. All new buildings are required to install solar heated water systems, for example, and just down the road there is a station that charges up electric cars. In Nahariya there is a recycling bin every few blocks. Whoever designed the Nahariyan recycling bins did a great job, in fact. Not only do they take plastic bottles, there are also two additional boxes in the unit for batteries and for CD-ROMs. Paper and cardboard go in the round bin next to it, and bottles and cans are returned to the stores from where they were purchased.

Cheerful recycling bins makes it fun to dump garbage through the center of flowers.

Another clever technique for reducing waste that would normally end up in landfills is what I like to call the "Israeli Bag 'O Milk." Instead of having a big, bulky, gallon jug for milk, a cheap way to buy milk here is by the bag. You can buy little plastic jugs that even have a built-in cutting edge incorporated at the spout, to make sure the angle at which you cut the bag is optimized for spill-proof pouring. Obviously, you keep the pitcher for good and just replace the bags of milk as needed.

I was sanctimoniously sure to take a picture of our 1% fat milk bag, rather than of the yummy 3.6-4.0% fat milk we use for coffee. Why be honest when you can be hypocritical?

Speaking of all things frugal, I recently discovered a way of simultaneously saving money, decorating our minimalist (read: nearly empty) apartment, and reducing landfill contribution. My method was to strip and dry the cut flowers we purchased for a Shabbat service, after they had wilted. Once they were dry, I stuck them into a thermos, whose cup had been broken while we were attending Ulpan. As long as you don't look too closely, it looks slightly "modern industrial." To prevent people from doing just that (looking closely), I put them far above eye level, on top of a tall bookcase.


Wilted cut flowers, as Pini looks on in disgust.


"These would look better if we dragged them onto the floor and chewed on them," Dudu pronounces.
Of course, if we ever buy an apartment with a balcony, or a house with a yard, I could always start a compost bin and use old cut flowers as part of the composting mix. However, despite the wonderful case made for creating homemade compost in the classic book "Worms Eat My Garbage," Elul has not yet consented to having a plastic bin full of simmering garbage and wriggling worms in the kitchen. I am baffled by his resistance to this wonderful, eco-friendly solution, but a happy marriage is all about choosing one's battles and effective compromise.

You might get the impression that with all my talk about finding junk and turning it into treasure, that I'm cheap and a garbage hoarder. In fact, I look at it more as a creative challenge and as a way to reduce my own footprint on the Earth. There are a million more ways I could help the environment, of course, so in no way am I trying to toot my own horn about this. The truth is, I spent many years being a real spendthrift. I bought stuff that I didn't need and couldn't afford, to impress people I didn't even know.

I have made studying frugal and simple living a hobby of mine for more than six years now, and my life has changed for the better for it. I turned to it initially because I was scared about my financial situation, and when I read Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez's classic book, "Your Money Or Your Life," that's when everything started to change for me. I spent less, saved more, paid attention more, and worked towards getting my self out of the debt hole I'd dug for myself. I stopped spending mindlessly and stopped thinking of shopping as a diversionary pastime or as an antidote to loneliness.  It wasn't until we had to move from Nevada to Florida, however, that I really had to jettison my junk.

Fortunately, the combined pain of spending many years mired in the debt that I accrued when I was buying too much crap, along with the shame I felt when I was confronted with the enormous amount of stuff that I had to discard in order to free ourselves up to come to Israel, was enough to make me finally say "no more." I was ashamed of not only all the money I'd stupidly wasted, but also of all the natural resources I'd taken up for no good reason at all.

Living out in the Nevada desert for seven years certainly triggered a major attitude shift in me when it came to material desires and aspirations. It's not that I can't appreciate a fine Italian sports car or the impeccable lines of a gorgeous Chanel handbag. I still can, and do. But it's very liberating not to feel the nagging desire to own them anymore.

Moving across the world to a new country and a new career is not the most frugal move we could have made, of course. There has been the temptation to equate this "new life" with buying "new stuff" to go along with it. And indeed, there are some new things we needed to buy now, to adapt to the way we are living now.  But living simply is not about counting money and being cheap. It's a way of life and an ongoing process. Ten years ago I would have been drooling over an issue of Italian "Vogue," and seriously dreamt of building a giant collection of rental properties in glamorous and exotic cities.  I now get excited when I read something like "how to make your own button candles out of olive oil," or when I make an enthusiastic and impassioned contribution to an online discussion about the usage of handkerchiefs versus paper Kleenex.

Recently I found almost twenty discarded plastic plant pots that a sloppy landscaper threw on the ground when he was finished transplanting their contents into the property's flower beds.  I picked them up, washed them, and now have them ready to root new plants I will create out of cuttings from my friends' plants. This makes me far happier than I would have been if I'd just gone to a nursery and spent a lot of money on the same types of plants. Some might scoff and call me a cheapskate, but from my perspective I reduced some litter on the ground, saved some space in the landfill, didn't spend any money, and increased bonds with friends by trading cuttings for other little tasks I can give in exchange, like helping with their computer or clipping their pet's nails.

The only constant in life is change.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

*By the way, if you're going to the trouble of crocheting a draft-dodger snood for me, could you also throw in a crocheted toilet paper snood that has a legless plastic doll attached, so it looks like the doll's "dress" is covering the paper? My grandmother used to make them...they rocked! Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed finding and reading your blog. So nice to hear stories from other Olim who find creative ways to re-purpose discarded items and do their best to live debt-free. When I couldn't find a second-hand shop, I opened my own! It's a lot of work to organize, but I rarely have to buy clothes for myself or my four (rapidly growing) children.


Thank you for reading my blog. I am interested in your comments, but I will delete anything that is either spam or just plain nasty. Please do not use the comments forum as a political or religious soapbox--there are SO many other online forums for those kinds of tedious arguments!