Beware The Vampires!

by Katy on July 28, 2008 · 2 comments


Like conserving energy and saving money?

Who doesn’t?

Energy conservation and frugality — two great tastes that taste great together!

You know all those little red and green lights on your appliances?

They’re called vampire electronics. And they suck away approximately 5% of all energy used in the United States.

Those little lights sure do add up.

But it’s not just the lights. Plugged in cell phone chargers also suck energy, even when they’re not hooked into anything!

One solution is to centralize your electronics so they can be plugged into a single power strip. Then it’s as simple as flipping off a single switch to turn everything off.

Now take a look around your house to find your little vampires. 

Common appliances are TV’s, VCR’s, DVD players, stereos, microwaves, toasters, scanners, printers and coffee makers. 

Then take that wooden stake of a power strip and put them out of their misery.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


I have a method for getting great stuff. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I simply ask people for things that seem to be on their way to the landfill.

For example:

There’s a mini-mall a few blocks up the road that is getting a fancy-schmancy overhaul. In the 12 years we’ve owned our house, this property has been home to a series of unsuccessful Asian restaurants, laundromats, a rather seedy convenience store and a pizza joint. It’s always been poorly kept up, with lots of litter blowing around and a general air of neglect.

However, there’s always been a small, oddly kept up garden planted with pretty flowers and even a lovely pear tree. It stood out as an oasis of hope among the vista of plastic bags and cigarette butts.

With the hubbub of construction, the plants were getting sadly trampled. They were certainly no longer getting watered.

I needed to save those plants!

Cycling by yesterday, I noticed a number of people at the site and swerved my bike over.

Taking a deep breath, I asked one of the workers if I could dig up the plants. He pointed out the new owner of the complex. He told me to take all I liked. He didn’t care.

So yesterday evening I grabbed a couple of five-gallon buckets, a shovel and my ever-present Discman with the audio book of Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten. (I’m addicted to audio books from my local library — it’s the only way I get any fiction read.)

My husband’s parting shot: “When the police give you one phone call, make it your mom.”

Thanks. Good to know.

I started with the gladiolas, and moved along to the long thin yellow iris I’ve always thought were so much prettier than the squat purple freebies lining the north side of my house.

At that point a man came along and asked if I was the new landscaper for the development. Defensively, I explained that the owner had given me permission to dig up the plants. It turns out he’s the next-door neighbor who had originally put in the garden. His wife then joined us and was over the moon that her plants were not going to waste. She also pointed out where she’d planted an expensive variety of daffodils. Cool.

(Whew! Not going to have to make that one phone call after all.)

I was only able to dig up maybe one-tenth of what was there. But I plan on going back in a day or two to salvage more of the iris for my ongoing backyard project.

Here’s the thing: I’m sure many people have walked by this spot and noticed the trampled flowers. But I was the only person to actually talk to the owner and get permission to salvage them. My next-door neighbor mentioned she had been lusting after the gladiolas herself.

Yes, it’s hard to overcome one’s natural shyness. It’s kind of embarrassing to ask someone to simply give you their stuff.

What’s the worst that can happen?

The person says no.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


Bye-Bye Plastic Bags!

by Katy on July 26, 2008 · 2 comments

Portland, Oregon just announced a proposal that would have local grocers charging between 5 and 20 cents per plastic bag. This proposal is put forth by city councilman and Mayor-elect Sam Adams. (Not the brewer/patriot!)

I had written on June 20th about the environmental impact of the 500 billion – 1 trillion bags being produced annually. How they clog water drainage systems, are mistaken for food by marine animals, and are simply mucking up the landscape of our planet.

Many communities world-wide have already chosen to ban the flimsy plastic bags, from small towns in England to Bangladesh and Ireland. 

The precedence has been set.

The money raised from the plastic bag fees would go towards re-usable bags for low income citizens, as well as recycling programs. 

Is it difficult to bring your own bags when shopping?

Absolutely not. I always practice this, and it’s simply a matter of a habit. I keep my stash of hodge-podge reusable bags in the car, and it takes maybe 15 extra seconds to grab them when shopping. The five cents per bag I get from bringing my own bag is certainly an incentive, but I would be willing to give it up for the greater good. (See how generous I can be?)

For the price of a minor inconvenience, a world-wide environmental problem could be eradicated.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


Cheap Eats — Pesto

by Katy on July 25, 2008 · 7 comments


I may be in a time warp, because I am freshly in love with pesto. I know that the rest of the world went pesto-crazy 10+ years ago. But here I am in 2008 trying to figure out how to work this magical green paste into everything I cook.

My sister Sara was over at the house all day prepping the backyard for a brick patio. She was doing some pretty serious manual labor and working up an appetite. I wanted to make a nice lunch for everyone. Here’s the thing though:

Sara is a vegan.

I had already made her a nice burrito the evening before with beans, peppers and onions. All seared in a cast-iron skillet. Yum. This is my vegan-for-Sara standby, and I’d served it way too recently to offer it up again.

I happened to notice a big basil plant, ($4) I had impulse purchased at Trader Joe’s last week and began to hatch a plan.

I had some pecans in the freezer that my mother had brought home from a trip to Texas. I know pesto is supposed to have pine nuts, but my cooking style is all about figuring out substitutions. How bad could it be?

So I threw a big handful of pecans into the food processor. (The frozen nuts were satisfyingly loud.)  I then added a handful of basil, and four cloves of garlic, olive oil, plus salt and pepper. 

Wowie-Zowie, this stuff was good, really good!

I served it over spiral pasta, with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top and everyone scarfed it down. 

The confluence of cheap, healthy, easy to make food that is actually enjoyed by the 10, 12 and 42-year-olds in my house is a depressingly rare. My sons can be picky, but in completely opposite ways. 

Unfortunately, Sara’s boyfriend was craving burritos, so they missed out on our fabulous lunch.

Sad for them, delicious for us.

This cost this meal was: noodles, ($1) basil, ($1) garlic, (10 cents) olive oil (maybe 50 cents) and the pecans (free!). Plus, I have enough pesto leftover for a few more meals. 

Cheap food does not have to be unhealthy and flavorless. So I will say this only once, Non-Consumers:

Stay away from the ramen!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


My Non-Consumer Backyard Project

by Katy on July 24, 2008 · 7 comments







Today starts a huge project in The Non-Consumer backyard — putting in a brick patio, long retaining wall, (inspiration above) shade garden and path. 

It’s kind of a big project.

We bought our house 12 years ago, partly because it had a nice big backyard. We’ve pretty much done nothing to it through the years besides put in a mammoth play structure, and a wall of arborvitae to block the neighbor’s viscious pit bulls. The dogs left last year, so it’s time to get busy.

My little sister Sara, who at the tender age of 24 is a landscaping goddess has agreed to take on the project. (And is even knocking $5 off her normal hourly wage as a “family discount.”) Her boyfriend, Chente will do her bidding.

She understood what I meant when I explained the goal as “hippie ethics, without a hippie look.” 

We’ll be using free, found and re-purposed materials as much as possible.

I already have ginormous stacks of used bricks that I’ve been amassing over the past decade.

We spent last night poring over craigslist to see what kind of stuff was out there. There were lots of tempting listings, although most of it was kind of far away, and I would prefer to not drive too much.

I am over-the-moon that this long awaited project is finally getting started. I can’t wait until I can start having people over for lovely garden parties.

Long flowy dresses will be a must for the ladies, as long as they’re from Goodwill.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”



Enjoy going to the movies?

Yeah, me too!

Enjoy paying exorbitant prices?

Umm. . .  me neither. That part always makes me feel like a sucker. (The Ringling Brothers would love current ticket prices!)

Here’s what to do:

Make a no first-run movies policy in your family.

It may sound like extreme deprivation in this age of Super-hero mayhem, but think of it this way — All these highly anticipated movies will soon be screening at second-run theaters. What’s the hurry?

What’s playing at the second-run theaters now? The blockbusters from a few months back. Either way, you’re getting to see a movie. Who cares whether or not it’s newly released?

In Portland, Oregon, there are many uber-cool rehabbed movie theaters that cost just a few dollars for admission. ($1 for kids!) They also serve micro-brew beer, wine and pizza. So. . . for the cost of that newly released movie, you can watch a movie while sipping a cold brew and munching pizza. Or, eat and drink nothing for true savings.

Remember, fellow Non-Consumers, every time you spend too much money, you’re giving up the opportunity to add to savings or pay down debt. Also, think about the time you spent to earn that money.

Still worth it?

There’s nothing to give up, and everything to gain. There may be a sucker born every minute, but you don’t have to be one of them.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


The Ultimate in Greenwashing

by Katy on July 22, 2008 · 2 comments


2009 "Carbon Neutral" Land Rover

2009 "Carbon Neutral" Land Rover


I was driving along a few weeks ago, when a radio ad came on telling me about how environmentally responsible it is to buy a brand-new Land Rover. What the . . . ?

Because the local dealership was buying carbon offsets for each vehicle purchased.

Was this a joke? A “War of The Worlds” type of pseudo-news for the 21st century? 

Sadly, no.

The Land Rover of Portland website boasts of its “carbon neutral” vehicles:

“Land Rover Portland has calculated the approximate carbon footprint made by driving a Land Rover for 50,000 miles. In partnership with The Conservation Fund, a top rated environmental non-profit organization, we provide 100% CO2 offset, for 50,000 miles of driving, with each new and Certified Pre-Owned Land Rover we sell. The Conservation Fund offsets this carbon production by planting and protecting sufficient trees in North America to absorb the CO2 produced.”

Nice try, but how stupid do they think American consumers are?!

The environmental impact of a shiny new Land Rover is not simply the first 50,000 miles. It’s the mining of all the raw materials, the shipping of materials to the factory(s), the shipping to the dealership, and everything involved with driving such a gluttonous low-mileage vehicle.

Carbon neutral? Hardly.

A 2008 Land Rover gets 12 miles-per-gallon (mpg) in the city or 18 freeway according to their website, but a quick google check came up with drivers actually getting more like 7.31 mpg.

No amount of tree planting makes up for this.

It’s like when a child does something awful, then thinks all is forgiven if they say the word, “sorry.” The word does not erase what has already happened.

I’d been wanting to write about the practice of “greenwashing,” which is described by Source Watch as:

“The unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.”

So, thank you — Land Rover of Portland. You’ve given me the perfect example of how to describe the practice of greenwashing.

For information about the true costs of manufacturing, check out Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff website.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


Goodbye Seattle — Hello Portland!

by Katy on July 21, 2008 · 2 comments



We came back from our week-long Seattle vacation today. I wrote about it herehere and here. We had a fabulous Non-Consumer trip!

We mooched a stay at my sister’s house while she went on an Alaskan cruise. This meant free lodgings, cooking facilities, extra clothes, laundry, tubs of Legos for the boys and the use of a Seattle library card. (Most important!) 

It’s like I won the big trip package on “The Price Is Right” without the dilemma of where to put that life-size ceramic dog.

While driving the three hours home this afternoon, my husband and I dissected the positives and negatives. 

It turns out that the parts of the trip that were our favorites were also the cheapest. The splurges, (pricey restaurant meals) were simply not worth the extra expense.

The biggest bang for our buck was definitely the commuter ferry we took from Seattle to Bremerton. The cost for the four of us was $24 round trip, and it was 50 minutes each way! 

The 10-year-old was so excited, and kept referring to it as a “cruise!” We scored a booth-like set-up with a table, but mostly we walked around on the outside part. I saw what I think was an orca whale, and the view of Mt Rainier was spectacular. It was lovely.

We ate our packed-from-home picnic lunches at The Bremerton Fountain Park, which is right off the ferry launch. This small-ish park has five huge sculptures of submarine tops (sorry, I’m sure there’s a better word for it) that dribble water until they suddenly spout water about ten feet into the air. This, to the delighted squeals of the kids playing below. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring water friendly clothes, and were actually dressed for chilly weather. However, there were granite boulders to climb on, some of which had slides carved and polished into them. 

We also took a “foot ferry,” (too small for cars) over to Port Orchard which was another $10 round trip for the four of us. We wandered around a bit, noting the proliferation of bars and bail-bondsmen before taking another small ferry back to Bremerton. It was fun though, because all the ferries were really different from each other.

Other favorites on this trip were three Goodwill trips, two of which were to the fabulous store on Dearborn street. It not only is enormous, but is well organized and cheap, cheap, cheap! My already lean wardrobe has been dwindling lately, and I found some great high quality  pants, skirts and tops for pennies on the dollar.

Another trip highlight was the matinee we took in at The Majestic theater of the Disney/Pixar film, “Wall-E.” The Majestic is a wonderful old theater and, (according to my friend Ed) is the oldest continuously running movie theater in the U.S. Neet-O Jets!

But the highlight for a library freak as myself, was our trip to the glass paneled Seattle downtown library. I’d been itching to go here since it was first built, when my now 12-year-old uttered the now-famous line of:

“But what if an opera singer went in there?!”

It was not to disappoint. We stuffed our re-useable shopping bag with manga, Pokemon movies and even a DVD for us grown-up types. (Knocked Up, which my husband hadn’t seen yet.) No opera singers though. Whew!

The expensive meals bought here and there were all disappointments, and the cheapie meals all hit the spot. The pizza by-the-slice was great, the fancy-schmancy brick oven pizza — not. 

I am happy to be back home, and am looking forward to putting a renewed effort into de-cluttering my home using Max’s suggestions. I’ve already gotten started on the coat closet. I’ve replaced the random plastic hangers with nice wooden ones from the Seattle Goodwill. But that, my fellow Non-Consumers, is an entirely different blog entry.

Don’t let your lack of riches keep you from a fabulous vacation. House sit for a friend or family, and then find some free or cheap entertainment. It’s probably easier than winning big on “The Price Is Right,” and there’s no ceramic dog to deal with.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Thank you to all The Non-Consumer Advocate readers who sent in suggestions for places to go, and places to eat. The “Dick’s Drive In” suggestion was especially enjoyed.


Max’s De-Cluttering Advice

by Katy on July 20, 2008 · 4 comments

Since joining The Compact (buy nothing new) in January 2007, I’ve worked very hard on one particular project:

De-cluttering my house and my life.

I live in a five bedroom (one bathroom) house with a full basement, so there’s room for a lot of stuff. And stuff it we did. Sports equipment, toys, clothes, books, furniture. You name it — I had it. 11 years in the same house was taking its toll. It had gotten to the point where our home was next to impossible to keep clean, and having people had become extremely anxiety producing.

Something had to give.

It’s taken an enormous amount of time and effort, (19 Goodwill donations in 2007 alone!) but my house is looking pretty good now, and having people over is (mostly) a breeze. It might not be your idea of perfect, but it works for us.

Max, one of the frequent, (and most entertaining) posters on The Compact Yahoo Group wrote up some specific advice for people just getting started with the decluttering process. He generously agreed to let me excerpt some of it.

Just start with something small–a kitchen drawer for example, that you can clean during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show. Try and clear one square foot of space every day, not a whole room or even a whole closet. If you are busy you will never find the time to do a big purge in one fell swoop. Just chip away at the problem.
That’s why ten things works for me. It took me five months of getting rid of 10 things to initially see a difference in my house. Don’t bring anything new in! Keep a tally so you don’t cheat! Ten things a day is 3650 things a year!
You are not happy with the clutter. With every single thing you get rid of, remind yourself, “I am one step closer to happiness.”
Oh, and set a TIMER! I set a kitchen timer for every chore because I’m a child, so racing the clock makes things easier. Clean your house for 15 minutes every day. Try and sort as much stuff for donation as you can in that time. You can endure just about anything for 15 minutes.
I have read many, many books about de-cluttering, and I like How Max’s advice is very simple. No fancy three-box system, no blasted worksheets.

It’s simple:  “Get rid of ten things” and “Clean your house for 15 minutes every day.”

Who here can’t follow that?

Who here doesn’t want to be closer to happiness?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”


How Walkable Is Your Neighborhood?

by Katy on July 19, 2008 · 5 comments


With all the attention on hybrid cars, cycling and public transportation these days, it’s easy to ignore the most obvious transportation option:


It’s highly fuel efficient, (just add cookies) and is accessible to most everyone.

I just found a cool website called, “walkscore” that will calculate a 0-100 score of how walkable your United States/Canada neighborhood is. (Sorry, foreign Non-Consumers.)

The website describes itself as such:

“Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle.”

Okay. I live in an enviably walkable neighborhood. I’m but a scant few blocks from a school, the library, a park, grocery stores, coffee shops, art supply, a UPS store, a gym, restaurants, plus much, much more. Really, I could become a relative hermit without difficulty. I’m feeling confident and smug.

So I punch in my address and get a score of “80?” Jeepers — what does a girl have to do to get a higher score? Last time I checked, that’s a B-! Actually, it turns out that an “80” puts my house in a “very walkable” category. I can live with that.

After I had inserted my info, a map popped up of my neighborhood with tiny icons for the different businesses, schools, parks, etc. Many were consumer rated, which was pretty interesting to read. There was a small amount of outdated info, but mostly it was up to date. 

A friend tells me that real estate agents are starting to use this site to engage potential buyers. And that, fellow Non-Consumers is a positive. This means that the green lifestyle of alternative transportation is no longer considered weird.

Because we all need to be getting out of our cars and onto our own two feet.

What’s your score? Can you beat me?

Let me know in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”