Frugal Wintertime Habits: This Year’s Progress

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With spring coming next week, I thought it would be nice to recap all the frugal wintertime habits we put into practice this year. Most of them were inspired by other bloggers I have been reading these past few years, for example here, here, here or here. Even though I don’t believe that individual actions alone can change the world (I think we need some serious thinking, political debate and action too), I have found it very useful and inspiring to read about other people’s progress toward a greener and simpler life. It has helped me realize there were many changes I could make in my everyday life that would benefit both planet and people. Last year, inspired by zero waste ideas, I stopped buying tea bags and started using handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues. It wasn’t difficult, it was a change of perspective. And it saved me some money, too. For me personally, every new penny-saving habit is precious because it gives me time I can spend away from a job that made me unhappy, building something I find more meaningful instead. Here’s the progress we made this winter to save even more energy, labor, and money:

We’ve stopped buying canned beans and peas. We cook dried ones instead. We found that it’s not so time-consuming if you’re well organized: we make a big batch every two weeks or so. We soak them overnight, cook them on the wood stove (which is also our main heating source), and freeze then in small glass jars. It’s very quick to thaw them as we need them by filling the jar with boiling water. This way we have plenty of balanced, delicious and quickly prepared vegetarian meals. Whenever we run out of homemade houmous, for example, we grab a jar of chickpeas in the freezer and make some more. We also save the broth when cooking kidney beans. It makes delicious minestrone soup.

Last fall I wrote about being a vegetable freak and learning to love winter vegetables. I’m happy to say that the love affair has gone quite well all winter long, and we’ve almost completely replaced arugula and lettuce by carrots, parsnip, cabbage and celery.

There’s nothing like a good cup of tea to keep warm or fight a cold (in the event of which I use the handkerchiefs I sewed last year!). We’ve stopped buying tea bags when we realized that using a infuser was just as good and generated less waste. Last year’s harvest of peppermint and nettles made delicious tea for several months. I hope to harvest enough plants and herbs this year again to make tea all winter long.

Whenever we use the oven, we try to bake several things in a row. We often bake a cake after we’ve made a loaf of bread. If we don’t eat it straight away, we slice it and freeze it so that we always have something ready in case someone turns out for fika.

Our fridge/freezer is old and it’s noisy when it goes off. But since it works ok, we’re reluctant to throw it away and get a newer one. Luckily, we live in a cold climate. Everything we need to freeze cools down (often even freezes) outside before going into the freezer. Whenever it’s below zero, we also rotate a couple of water bottles or ice packs so that there’s always one freezing outside and one in the fridge to help it a little. We might be over-optimistic, but we’re pretty sure it goes off less often when we’re doing this.

Before we finished installing the wood stove, hot water bottles were a must. We simply repurposed empty glass bottles. We still use them whenever it’s really cold. We sleep much better in a cool room, but we’re not (that) crazy either!

As our neighbors recommended, after the big snowfall in January, we piled the snow against the walls of the house. We really noticed a difference in terms of insulation, especially on windy days.

We don’t have a tumble drier. But in the cold season, we don’t miss it at all. When it’s below zero, the air is very dry, and laundry dries quickly. We hang it outside in the sun, or next to the wood stove (keeping fire safety in mind, of course!). Our drying rack is a repurposed metal bed frame.

repurposed headboard drying rack

I’ve learned a lot more about knitting this winter. Thanks to very helpful YouTube videos and my grandma’s detailed explanations, I learned how to make hats, cowls, mittens, and socks. I’m really happy to be able to make these myself.

And, last but not least:pillows-bymarion-text

Making pillow cases from old shirts is really fun. Spring or not spring, I’m looking for more fabric to practice. If you have old shirts you don’t use, email me! I’ll be happy to make you a pillow case.

Finally, I must say that everything on this list felt much more like a satisfying change of perspective than like a painful sacrifice.

Now for frugal spring plans: we will take advantage of sunnier and warmer days to complete our pallet furniture projects, and prepare our first vegetable garden around our tiny red house.

How about you? What new frugal habits did you form this winter? What frugal plans do you have for spring?


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on not buying stuff and hot water bottles

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Soon (hopefully), our little house will have a brand new wood stove. While we’re longing for a crakling fire, our stay-warm strategy is all about fine-tuning the electric heaters so as 1) not to freeze and 2) not to get a heart attack when receiving electricity bills.

A while ago, as I was getting ready to go to bed after a cold and white day, I found myself dreaming of a nice hot water bottle.

The next day, I did some research to find out what a hot water bottle is called in this country, and then where to buy one. The pharmacy. That is, at least, a one hour drive.

Luckily, as Gregg points out in this brilliant post, “most often the best alternative is to not buy anything”.

And, after all, a hot water bottle is not much more than a bottle of hot water, is it? I just love it, really, when that happens.

on neighbors and apple cake

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My neighbor is almost 90 and we don’t speak the same language. In his garden, he has a beautiful apple tree.

When I first moved to Scandinavia, I landed in a big city. I rarely stammered anything in my new language because all my neighbors spoke English very well. In my green, tidy, fancy neighborhood, every garden had its own beautiful apple tree.

The apples, though, remained largely unpicked. They fell, and rotted. Sometimes, a few remained on the trees after the snow came, dressing them with red dots, looking like Christmas bulbs. It was beautiful, and stupid.

This fall, just a few days after I ended up in this tiny village here up north, my 90 years old neighbor, who doesn’t speak English, told me that he had too many apples and that I could pick as many as I wanted from his tree.

I stammered, in my new language: thank you, thank you so much, that is so nice of you.

I’ve spoken different languages and lived in neighborhoods with apple trees before, but this, you see, had never happened to me.

———————–

The apple cake of good neighbors

Ingredients

3 dL flour
2 dL sugar
1 ts baking soda
1 dL sour milk or yoghurt
2 eggs
1/2 dL neutral vegetable oil (I use peanut oil)
1 pinch of vanilla sugar

2-3 of the neighbor’s apples. (If your neighbor happens to have a plum tree instead, grab a bunch of plums. It’s delicious too)

Instructions

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add liquids/eggs and mix well. Pour in a buttered pan. Slice the fruits and arrange them on top of the batter. Place in a warm oven (200°C). Bake until the top is golden (about half an hour). Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and continue baking for another half hour or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

on second-hand clothes and tumble dryers

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I remember feeling very pleased with myself when, about a decade ago, I simultaneously started refusing plastic bags and buying clothes made of organic cotton. Only much later did I realize that resisting over-consumption was not just a matter of saving the planet.

I thought: you need money to buy stuff. Well, of course I already knew that. More precisely, I though: you have to work to get money to buy stuff. ‘Duh!’ you’ll say. ‘Has that girl just come back down to earth, or what?’

If I wanted to quibble a little, I’d point out that your reaction was a little hurried. What if I had been an annuitant, or inherited a fortune, and suddenly lost everything? But anyway. I am not, and I didn’t.

Here’s what I thought. I thought: if working means being employed to do something you don’t like or disagree with, then not spending a lot of money – or simply not buying stuff – is a way to become less dependent on your job. I truly like the not buying option, and I literally delight in applying it whenever I have the chance. But we’re speaking of clothes, and, friends, I live in Scandinavia. It’s pretty darn cold here.

Fortunately, I also thought about something else. I thought: someone has to work to produce the stuff you will buy. Do I really need that shirt so much that someone has to get up in the wee hours and spend the day sewing in a factory instead of slowly sipping a cup of tea while reading a book?

My point is, it took me all these years to start buying second-hand clothes. I wish I’d done that before, ’cause they’re awesome. No toxic smell of new textile. No hesitating about what color to choose.

I hang them to dry on the clothes line. Sometimes it takes a while, but hey, I have time. I don’t need to run to my job: I have no plans to buy a tumble dryer.