Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dumpster Diving... sort of

Although I'm inspired by true dumpster divers, and think that it makes a lot of sense, I'm mostly too scared to do it. Maybe one day...

But last weekend, our neighbors' trash heap taught me that patience is, indeed, a virtue.

I've been wanting chairs for our back porch. This may be the ultimate example of the category of stuff that I decide I HAVE to have, but decidedly do NOT need. I sweep the porch, put away the toys, weed the herb garden, and decide that the chairs that most people only take camping or to outdoor concerts but that we use every day are completely unacceptable. What yesterday seemed like a perfectly acceptable place to sit down today seems like an eye sore that no respectable person would actually use.
I have actually gone to several stores, looking for either vintage or new chairs. And I have resisted all of the chairs at places like Home Depot that, at that moment, I think would transform our backyard dramatically. I decided that I wanted the adirondack chairs that aren't actually all that comfortable, but are relatively affordable and secure a spot in the DIY makeover page of my imaginings. I have nearly loaded them into my car on 2 occasions, but then remembered this damned resolution and resisted.
And then...
I saw a perfectly good adirondack chair and table in our neighbor's trash.
Patience and thrift rewarded.

Friday, April 30, 2010


April wasn't a good month for blogging, ok?

But... I've been saving up some observations and tales of recent acquisitions that I will share.

First... Target.
I have boycotted Walmart for years (which I might need to rethink now that they have pretty legitimately become a "green" company and have pushed other stores to do the same thing), but I have a weakness for Target. It is so obviously classist of me. I prefer the people that I see in Target more than the ones in Walmart. The $6 teeshirts at Target are just as likely to be made in sweatshops as the ones at Walmart. There are no websites (that I know of) making fun of people who shop at Target. Famous designers (that I've never heard of) design the clothes that are then made in sweatshops and sold at Target. So I have historically made a huge exception by shopping at Target. The biggest issue for me is that I walk into the store needing toilet paper and leave with a new bathing suit cover up, some notecards, and a system to organize my shoes--none of which I needed or intended to buy. I once was weak.

But now I am strong.

I went to Target last week for the first time since January. As I walked in, I was initially drawn by the $1 bins, lured by the canvas handbags, and tempted to look at the bathing suits. But.... I took a deep breath and said (aloud), "I do not need any of this."
And I didn't.
We went in to get stencils for a project with Jasper, but left deciding that we could just write our own letters. It was empowering. So, so silly that I felt empowered by NOT shopping at Target, but I did.

I never realized how much money I dropped on incidental crap at Target until I made this resolution to buy nothing new. Try going a month without entering Target. It helped me see how that bullseye was shifting my perception of "need."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Station Wagons

When I was a kid, we had a station wagon. The kind with the fake wood on the outside panel and a seat that faced backwards. This thing was enormous. Aside from a reconstructed memory based on a photograph of my scowling dad after he put regular gas in the diesel tank or vice versa--either way it was bad news, I have fond memories of this station wagon. On trips, we would lay down the back and sleep or read without the constraints of these new-fangled carseats. I remember especially riding on the bumpy farm roads facing backwards. It always made me sick, but it was so freakin' cool that I'd do it every time.

When I was twenty and a college student in the mountains, I desperately wanted a station wagon. A Subaru wagon. I imagined that I would use it to drive up to the parkway for hikes (I hiked a lot once upon a time), and somehow this Subaru wagon of my dreams would hold my muddy boots as I slipped back into my birkenstocks (oh, yes, I did) better than whatever car I drove when I really was twenty. I thought that if I had the Subaru wagon, I would have to learn to kayak and mountain bike. I would get my brother to give me his old climbing gear and I'd take that up with verocity. Essentially, this car of my imagination would make the sort of dorky girl who read a lot of books and was a little bit too talkative in class (with the important exception of Spanish) into a whole different person. Maybe I'd start to like Phish. Maybe I'd finally dread the long hair I usually just wore in braids. Maybe I'd use the bumpers of this car of my imagination to encourage people to recycle and be tolerant.
Instead I moved to Atlanta for a job in "publishing," leased a new car, immediately regretted both decisions, retreated quickly to grad school and made my way through a series of cars--many of which are hand-me-downs.

For some reason, people give Jeff and me cars. We inherited a Saturn from a relative that neither of us had ever met. We inherited my Granny's Buick, which was 15 years old and had under 30,000 miles on the odometer. We were recently given a Ford Taurus when Jeff's mom upgraded. And then...

My mom gave us her Subaru wagon.
And suddenly, all of my fantasies of being the sort of woman who can drink scotch and keeps a sleeping bag in her car (just in case) are clashing with my fear of being the sort of mom who slathers her child(ren) in antibiotic hand sanitizer and keeps baby wipes in the glove compartment (just in case). Both of these are valid positions (although I think the hand sanitizer bit is overdone in our culture). It's just strange to look at this old/new car in my driveway and try to figure out what it says about me today--at 33 with 1.7 kids AND some very worn in hiking boots. I suppose it mostly says that I'm lucky to get an old/new car from my mama.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

These boots were made for...

On a recent Spring Break trip to the land of collared shirts, khaki pants and golfgolfgolf (aka South Florida to visit my dad), I lost my soul a little bit. In these moments, I somehow feel pressure to return to the preppy girl that I never was. I question my little eccentricities and begin to think that banking might be a better career than my own. As we flew North and prepared for a weekend trip in the mountains with friends who love my eccentricities as much now as when I was 17 and frustrated my dad's undiscovered inner South Floridian (read: New Jersian) with my Doc Martens and Dead Milkmen teeshirts, I began to reclaim myself. And this led me to a favorite thriftstore in Asheville, North Carolina... The Enchanted Forrest It was here that my non-buying karma graced me with some purple boots.

Jeff saw these boots, asked my size, and offered to pay half because they were so very cool. I mean, really... who has PURPLE boots? They are Justin boots (which is a name I trust because I can read billboards and I believe billboards), and were priced at 68 bucks. I imagined myself at Merlefest, at the Farmer's Market in these boots, listening to Wilco with a glass of scotch in my belly and these boots on my coffee table (even though I don't have a coffee table)... $68 for all of those experiences is truly a bargain. But... there was one little problem. A hole in the bottom of one of them. So I pointed this out to Ms. Enchanted Forrest, even though I was perfectly willing to pay $68 bucks and could already feel the warmth of the scotch in my belly and the sun on my back from these various fantasies, and she said, "Oh, how about I give them to you for half price?"

Next up, more karma brings us a new (to us) car!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I'm sure that this will happen a few times in the 10 months remaining in this experiment, but I caved in today. That part of me that wanted to be cool when I was 12 kicked in and wanted my son to be cool today. Before he is aware of what that means.
He has shown interest in his first real activity--a soccer league with his best friend, Owen. Owen's mom sent the form to me today and as I filled it out* I realized that this means that I'm paying $65 for a. the experience of being on a team with a coach and practices and games and the whole 9 (or 25 or however long they make a 4-year-old soccer field) yards, and b. a tee-shirt. I foresee, as well, a trip to some superstore (although I will vow here and now to go to a local mom-n-pop sports store) for the purchase of shin guards and soccer shoes and shorts. The shoes might be available barely used (my own soccer shoes from high school might be a good example of barely used sporting equipment, although I was the co-captain). Pretty much, though, I'm caving in so that my son doesn't have to suffer for his crazy parent's silly resolution.
All his underwear I'll buy used this year just to make up for this.

*As I was filling out this form, on the line that said "Mother's Name," I wrote Phyllis Braswell (my mother's name). Then I realized, "Oh. I'm a mother. I'm the mother." I also signed up to be a coach, referee or team parent. I'm getting a minivan and heading to West Knoxville suburban hell.
Can I add soccer coach to my CV?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Next Non-Purchase: Dresser

The fact that we're expecting a new baby and we've decided to not buy anything new is not exactly a coincidence. I think that we were partly inspired on this journey because of the temptation to justify stupid purchases. I can justify many things. And I can easily convince myself that I need a new pair of jeans or I need a new pair of boots or I need a visit to Boston or I need a weekend in Atlanta. So here is the next challenge...

Because Jasper and new baby (who I refuse to give any nickname, even though I think that is an especially bloggerish thing to do) are going to be sharing a room, they are also going to be sharing a dresser. Jasper currently uses a dresser that I think we got at a used furniture place here in Knoxville, but it may have traveled with us from Boston. If it did, it should not have made the journey. It is in rough shape. I painted it white and put purple knobs on it when I was pregnant with Jasper. It has served its purpose, but it is very flimsy and very small for two wardrobes (as petite as they are). So I have set out in search of a new dresser.

The problem with only buying used stuff is that I'm picky. I went yesterday to a very weird and potentially illegal warehouse that had everything from stacks of tires for 4 Wheelers to records to a minivan. They also had some dressers. All of these dressers, though, have this overly ornate thing going on. I want an Ikea-style dresser. I just want to find it for $40 in a sketchy warehouse where the "owner" literally walks me through the place with a flashlight because there is no electricity in the building. (As we left, Jasper said, "This place is WEIRD." He is astute.) Actually, I don't need that precise experience. I would just like a used dresser that isn't trying to look like something it is not. It seems that dressers of the 1970s made up for any inadequacies with overly ornate knobs. I know I can change knobs. I'm trying to be imaginative. But really, so far, I've just found ugly dressers.

Meredith of last year would break down and get the dresser from Ikea that matches the crib. But Meredith of 2010 will find a way to scrounge up a dresser that adds to the eclectic look of this new room which already features a bed made of apple crates. I'm radiating that a well-built dresser with simple, clean lines and 6 drawers will makes its way into my life. Do I dare go the Craigslist route?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Short Pants

Just an update that Jasper's short pants evoked sympathy and action from his grandmother. No.... he didn't get new pants, but he did come away with a sort of jersey which might distract from his short pants.

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Blog Sucks

I have now had two friends, with varying degrees of tact, point out that my blog sucks. ("Your blog sucks," said one friend. "Meredith is not a natural blogger," said another). I can't just invite people to read my blog and care about my anti-capitalist experiments and then stop blogging. It's rude. Yet... it is hard to write about something that you're not doing. I will try, though. Especially since this was my big idea.

I'll start as I start most things that intimidate me, with a list.
Things I have wanted to buy recently, but didn't:
  • new pants for Jasper as he headed off to visit family and continually showed his socks and his growth spurt. (Instead of heading to Target, I knew I would have to take a longer drive to a consignment shop. I did neither, but went with the idea that his family might feel sorry for him and buy him new clothes.)
  • a winter coat that buttons over my pregnant belly. (Preparing for a recent trip to Boston, I was very tempted to buy a warm coat that I might be able to button. Meredith of last year would have done it. Meredith of this year just wore a smaller coat and didn't button it. Plus, the daffodils are coming up in my yard, so it can't be cold for MUCH longer.)
  • an interview outfit for Jeff. (After trying on and modeling many outfits, though, we actually uncovered some things from deep in his closet. And he looked dashing.)
  • William Faulkner's Sanctuary. (A colleague invited me to write an article about this book, which I read years ago. I agreed, but then found that I no longer had the book. Just as I was about to break and go get the book, said colleague left his extra copy on my desk.)
  • a new water bottle. (I have a metal water bottle that I take with me everywhere. It is really beat up, but as of today, still holds water. I was convinced that it was lost forever and I felt a desperate need to replace it when I noticed it was lost. The day that I decided that I should give in and just buy a new one, I found it in the back seat of the car. Perhaps I should have written a blog about keeping my car cleaner?)
Does anyone really want to hear how hard it is for me to not buy new socks, though? It's a bit underwhelming... the concept of this blog. The good news is that I'm sticking to this ridiculous goal that I set, and it seems to be working out well in terms of karma. Just as I was struggling with my very limited clothing options (I seem to have loaned out all of my maternity clothes, but I don't know where!), I received a huge package in the mail from my step-sister with her maternity gear. And as I realized that I will grow out of some of her stuff soon, I was able to raid my sister-in-law's closet. Perhaps this trend will continue. (It should be said that neither of these people know that I am embarking on this no-buying spree. Otherwise, it would be a little bit pathetic.)

Other ideas for how to blog about something I'm NOT doing? I welcome them, if you've got them.

My blog may still suck, but at least there is a more recent post now.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Craigslist, Apple Crates, and a Dose of Patience

Now that we are making room for a new living creature in our family and home (we're having a baby in June!), there is a purging and organizing movement in our house. Wee little beings don't actually need much, we have learned. Perhaps I will have another post on the incredible waste in the accumulation of plastic and musical things for an infant that serve only to irritate parents and frighten babies. Small humans need food. They need a lot of protection from the world; we're one of the only species whose newborns are so incredibly inept at survival upon birth.

It's the parents that need more stuff like swings that put the infant to sleep so that they can write papers or fold laundry or pluck eyebrows or whatever sorts of things seem so difficult when you have a tiny creature who depends upon you. Beds fall somewhere between a need for a child and a need for a parent. I'll abstain from the controversies around family beds (because I do think it is a fairly complicated issue without one clear answer), and say that we wanted our pending son/daughter to have a crib.

Jasper still sleeps in a modified version of the crib that he used as a baby, so it was time for him to get a new bed. A big boy bed. Here begins my entrance into the world of Craigslist.

I anticipate that on this new endeavor Craigslist will be my friend. But I did learn that one must be very informed as a shopper on Craigslist. I simply wanted a twin bed. I imagined that one could be had for fifty bucks. I imagined garages and attics filled with unwanted twin beds. I preferred one that did not come out of a college apartment to lower the chances of spreading communicable or sexually transmitted diseases with this purchase. I know, I know... picky. I found that beds that were under $100 were "autographed" on their frames by young children, missing parts, and could not guarantee the absence of bodily fluids and/or disease.

Mostly, I found that on Craigslist people were charging between $200 and $400 for a twin bed. I knew that I could get one from Ikea for less. And this was just before the nonewstuff resolution of 2010, so I considered it. But again, I imagined the attics and garages of Knox County that needed to be rid of their twinbeds, and I persevered.

After several interesting exchanges with several interesting people, I found a better deal at a used furniture market about 1 mile from my house. A kindly man who might have been 97, who had glaucoma in one eye that gave it the appearance of a marble and a strange condition or tear in his other eye that made his pupil resemble a goat's (he really was not demonic at all and gave me a good deal and even tied the beds to the top of the car), sold me a mattress and box spring with no frame for $65. This was exciting.

But Jasper was not keen on the idea of sleeping with his new big boy bed on the floor, so I reused the most versatile item in my home for the base: 4 apple crates. These apple crates, since I got them at Barberville Orchard in Waynesville, North Carolina in 1995, have served as a coffee table, my dresser, a stereo cabinet, a sewing nook, bookshelves (many times), a bench, and now... my son's bed frame. This re-using thing might just be ok.

This makes me want to hear other stories of reused stuff.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Our friends Scott and Erin gave us a subscription to Good magazine a while back. It is amazing and you should look around on their website if you've never seen it ( In the most recent issue, I saw this and thought it fitting.

Another friend, Elizabeth, knew about a sweater that my Granny had mostly made before she passed away. It was a very bright sweater which I couldn't make myself toss, but I knew I would never wear. Completely complete except that the arms weren't yet sewn to the body of the sweater. Elizabeth sneakily took this and returned them to me as a shawl for Jasper (our son) and a pair of outrageous, warm, and meaningful legwarmers for me (see picture).

This gets me thinking of other things that can be reused in various ways. And brings me to the next post, which involves my first real experience in the world of Craig's List, 4 apple crates, and an old new bed for a little big boy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out with the New

In response to the relative catastrophe of last night's frozen and then burst pipes, and a pending enormous plumbing bill, Jeff and I decided that we had to make some big changes. Perhaps to change our juju, but also to make it so that we might have savings for such events that you cannot predict but can be sure will happen eventually.

As artists/teachers, we have an enviable schedule and lifestyle. We spend much time with our son. We have frequent quiet afternoons at home. We both work on projects (dance performances, Americana music-making and so on) that matter to us and that we hope impact our little spot in the world. There is a balance that we try to strike in order to spend our mornings with fingerpaints in our son's room, our afternoons with ideas and books in coffee shops, and our evenings with live music downtown. These choices mean, though, that we aren't suddenly going to make a lot more money any time soon.

So... we resolve, in 2010, to not buy new stuff.

I'm going public with this to keep me honest, because I think it will be harder than I'd like to admit.

We will buy groceries and goods that you cannot so easily buy used (lotion, shampoo, pens, etc), but will strive to resist new furniture, clothing, and the like. There is much too much good used stuff out there to buy new stuff. It means no trips to Target for $6 teeshirts or stationary with a recycled look or another Matchbox car... It means, I hope, rethinking the concept of "need," and learning to both appreciate what we have and find ways to reuse perfectly good products.

Perhaps this will inspire others to buy a few less new things. Mostly, I hope it will keep me accountable to this challenge that, as a child of the upper-middle class, I anticipate will shock me a little bit.