Here’s the never-ending electrical dilemma:

When leaving a room for just a short period of time, should you turn the lights off or leave them on?

Some will argue to always turn off bulbs,  even if a room will be re-entered in the near future.

Others counter to leave them on, because they believe it takes more energy to restart a bulb than to simply leave it on.

Opinions are curiously strong on this subject, almost as bad as the toilet paper roll dilemma. (spin over, or under?)

Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” television show addressed this issue from a scientific standpoint.

Here’s what they came up with:

“Hypothesis: The “start up” burst of energy consumed more energy than leaving the lights on continually.

Procedure/Experimental Design: The MythBusters test common type of lightbulbs: incandecent, flourescent, metal hylide, and even an LED.

Results: Even with the flourescent bulb having the largest start-up surge, needing to be off for 23 seconds before it is more energy efficient to leave it off, it is still a small amount of time before it is more energy efficient to leave them off.

Conclusion: It is better to turn the lights off when leaving the room even for a brief instant.”

So there you have it.

Turn your lights off unless you are coming back within 23 seconds.

For me though, I am highly distractible and likely to find something to prevent my 23 second return. (A shiny pebble or juicy e-mail perhaps?)

The toilet paper direction debate? Finer minds than mine have failed to bring consensus, so I’ll just have to leave this one to those fancy-schmancy think tank folks.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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The Purchase Not Taken

by Katy on July 6, 2008 · 2 comments

I had a friend in high school who spent a lot of money on clothes. I remember how she would gloat, “look at this $350 dress I got for only $75!” In her mind she was saving $275, in my mind she’d simply blown $75! (Babysitting was $1.25 an hour in those days, so $75 represented a lot of diaper changes and mind-numbing Candyland games!)

It’s easy to solely focus on the money saved with a purchase. But your bank account doesn’t know how much you saved, it only knows how much you spent.

I have certainly been dead guilty of this outlook.

I go into a thrift store and see a $75 whatever-ma-thingy, that’s now priced at $10.

“Wow, what a deal, can’t pass that up!”

But $10 spent is still $10 gone from my wallet.

Because I never would have actually bought the item at the original price, there’s no actual savings.

So next time you’re passing that tempting clearance aisle, try adjusting yourself to this mindset: 

Money spent is money gone. It doesn’t matter what the original price was. The perceived savings is only valid if the item/service is something you would have bought in the first place.

Your money is precious, and not just because the price of a good babysitter has risen slightly.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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



I issued a “Waste-No-Food Challenge”   on May 25th. The challenge was officially only for 30 days. But here we are at day 39, and I am not looking to dive back into my formerly wasteful ways.

How are we doing? Pretty Good. The problem is that it’s not something to simply master once and be done with.

It’s never ending.

I personally like a project with a beginning, middle and end. The never ending aspect of this challenge is harder than I thought it would be.  

It seems that as soon as we’ve eaten our leftovers, more shows up. It’s like some sort of bizarro Star Trek Tribblelike phenomenon. If I remember correctly, those furry little guys were born pregnant. You just couldn’t stop them.

I must stay vigilant.

Jonathan Bloom, who writes the Wasted Food blog wrote about “delayed waste” the other day.

“Most of us Delay Waste. ‘Waste delaying’ can take the form of saving leftovers you know you won’t eat or leaving bad food in the fridge.

This classic guilt avoidance tactic was the reason I hadn’t thrown away that freezerburnt iceberg of orange sherbet. I felt bad that I’d let it get that way and avoided the dirty work of dumping it down the drain.”

Waste delay huh? Well, at least I know what to call it now.

I currently have some homemade hummus in my fridge that’s at least a month old. I need to toss it, but doing so would mean I would have to admit that I’m wasting food.

Then I’d have to write about it!

I just need to own up to my food wastage, and toss that hummus into the compost. 

But most importantly, I’m going to continue the never ending work of eating our leftovers, because it’s currently not an option to beam it aboard a Klingon spaceship.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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What if you could consistently shave a few bucks off your monthly bills, possibly much more? 

What if this change was also good for the environment and would simplify your life?

Sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it?

My 12-year-old son and husband went on a two-week class trip to Japan last summer. My husband had been the one in charge of making sure bills got paid on time, and I was worried some stray bill would get forgotten in his absence.

So I set up all the bills for auto-pay.

I’d been meaning to do this for awhile, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I thought it would involve elaborate insider banking knowledge. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. In a short amount of time, I was able to set up auto-pay for our:

  • Mortgage
  • Electric
  • Gas
  • Insurance
  • Newspaper
  • Phone bills, both land line and cellular
  • Credit Card
  • Water
  • Car payment

I’m far from techo-savvy, but the different company websites for make switching over to auto-pay a snap. 

Now, I simply receive monthly e-statements of bill amounts due, and that sum is automatically deducted from our checking account.


Never an accidental late fee, always on time.

Doing electronic billing saves an enormous amount of paper. Javelin Strategy and Research found that:

“If every American household viewed and paid bills online, it could reduce solid waste in U.S. landfills by more than 800,000 tons a year and help curb the release of greenhouse gases by 2.1 million tons. This could also save an estimated 18.5 million trees a year.”

And at the current price of 42 cents per stamp, I’m saving at least $4.20 per month, not to mention the occasional late fees we used to get. 

Research sponsored by Wells Fargo reported that:

Online bill presentment and payment is also a huge timesaver, saving an individual, on average, two hours per month.

Two hours, huh? I could use that time to do sit-ups, cook impressive gourmet meals, polish the silver or, um. . .  sleep.

Paying bills automatically is one of those great situations where doing the right thing environmentally will also save you money, time and stress. There’s no reason to put it off any longer.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


I wrote yesterday about books that support The Non-Consumer Advocate lifestyle. I received this question from “Daniel.”

What is your opinion on the Kindle device? It does save quite a lot of paper and allows for less expensive distribution of books. Just wondering what your take was on this.

Since I do The Compact, (buy nothing new) I’d never even given one minute’s thought to Amazon’s revolutionary wireless reading device. 

My first impulse is to outright dismiss The Kindle. I’m a bit of a techno-phobe, and have repeatedly turned down my husband’s offer to buy me an iPod. 

“No thank you, dear. I’m perfectly happy listening to audio books on my Discman.” 

Or, maybe something far less polite.

So I clicked my way to the Amazon website, where the Kindle is featured prominently on the home page. The cost is $359, with free super-saver shipping. Hmm . . . that’s a lot of moolah, folks.

I read through the description and user-reviews. Once you buy the Kindle, there’s nothing further to subscribe to. You can instantly buy most any book you want for about $9.99. (That is kind of cool.) It holds around 200 books at a time, and you can store books you don’t currently need on the Amazon site. The battery sounds like it holds up well and re-charges quickly. It weighs less than a regular paperback, yet holds 200 books?

I can see why people are going nutso for this Kindle thingy. 

Wait a minute?! What’s going to happen to all these Kindles in two years when Amazon comes out with a newer, shinier, improved version? (Titanium for him, pink for her.)

Electronic waste is a huge problem in today’s world. Wired magazine had this to say:

“The refuse from discarded electronics products, also known as e-waste, often ends up in landfills or incinerators instead of being recycled. And that means toxic substances like lead, cadmium and mercury that are commonly used in these products can contaminate the land, water and air.”

The Kindle takes a recyclable and virtually indestructible product – a book — and replaces it with a fragile, toxic device that will be obsolesced in a few years. Drop a book and it can get bent pages. Drop a Kindle and you’ve just made a nasty piece of electronic garbage.

But are books perfect?

Not really. Publishers print too many books, many of which then get destroyed. (Recycled? I don’t know.) Few books are currently published on recycled paper, and the inks are usually far from natural. The last Harry Potter book was  printed on recycled paper in the U.K. and Canada, but only partially so here in the U.S. 

And yes, they do have to be distributed to the bookstores.

What’s my verdict on the Kindle?

Thumbs down.

I do see how the Kindle would be a great addition on a long vacation, or a trip to the Mir space station. But for most of us, reading an actual paper book is no burden.

I see each purchase I make as a validation of consumer ethics.

What am I supporting with this purchase?

Am I telling the manufacturers to be responsible?

For now, I’ll continue with my juicy stack of old-fashioned library books, knowing there are no damaging components to poison the land.

Besides, my fancy living room shelves would look pretty stupid filled with electronics. 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

For information on electronics recycling in your area, click here.

Do you have a Kindle? Let me know how you like it, in the comments section below.



I’m a big reader. I would rather snuggle up in bed with a book than most anything else. I’m very happy to have finally entered that golden age of parenting, where I have blissful chunks of time to indulge this satisfying pleasure.

I also read audio books while commuting, doing dishes, cleaning, hanging laundry and similar similarly dull tasks. It’s an addiction.

But I’m an open-minded reader – fiction, non-fiction, I devour it all.

There are certain books I have read through the years that are in-line with the ethics of frugality and green-living that I support on my blog. Here’s just a partial list:

  • “The Poisonwood Bible,” by Barbara Kingsolver.
  • “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn,” by Betty Smith.
  • “The Complete Tightwad Gazette,” by Amy Dacyczyn.
  • “Your Money Or Your Life,” by Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin.
  • “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America,” by Barbara Ehrenreich.
  • “Living The Good Life,” by Helen and Scott Nearing.
  • “Confessions Of A Shopaholic,” by Sophie Kinsella. (Because the power of a cautionary tale knows no bounds, plus I have a soft spot for British Chick Lit).

I’m sure there are scads of books I’ve left out, and many I’ve yet to read. That’s what so great about reading — you could never possibly run out of fresh material.

Which favorite books would you recommend for the Non-Consumer in each of us? Let me know in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

P.S. Don’t forget to patronize the locally owned used bookshops in your community, or your local library.




Still think that the current consumer culture is no big deal?

Watch this video clip, and then go to Annie Leonard’s “Story Of Stuff” website to view the full 20 minute video in its entirety.


Katy Wolk-Stanley

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


Walk Your Walk

by Katy on June 30, 2008 · 2 comments


Because we live frugally, my family has some wiggle room in our finances. Thankfully, we no longer have to count each and every penny.

This means we get to make a few fun choices with our money. (Of course, what’s fun to me, The Non-Consumer Advocate, might be different from your idea of fun — I am a bit of a freak of nature).

We make 13 mortgage payments per year. We simply add an extra $150 each month. By doing this, our house will be fully paid off before we retire.

We sponsor a 4-year-old girl in Zambia. This in my older son’s name, so he is the one who takes responsibility for this commitment. For birthdays, we’ve had family give money to her, instead of the boys.

The letters we get from her family are full of the richest details. Like, how she is really good at imitating the sound a cricket makes. She is able to catch 75 per day, which she “relishes.” These letters act as a sound reminder to appreciate our Western lives. It’s the best $24 per month ever! It may sound sappy, but I really love Freida.

We have played host family for foreign exchange teachers here in Portland. Twice, we’ve hosted Japanese teachers for the boys’ school, once for three months, once for six. Both times the experience was incredibly positive for everyone. We do this despite our one bathroom house. The relationships we formed will last throughout our lives.

We are just now finishing hosting an English soccer coach who was teaching at a one week camp that the kids attended. He was great fun and had a high tolerance for knock-knock jokes.

If our finances were close to the bone, it would not have been possible to afford soccer camp, yet alone give room and board to a stranger. 

Living a frugal life gives us the freedom to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

I still am extremely careful with how we spend our money. Not because I have to be, but because I want to continue to spend in ways I consider to be enriching to our lives.

-Katy Wolk-Stanley

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




A Love Letter To Tap Water

by Katy on June 29, 2008 · 3 comments


Dearest Beloved Tap Water,

We’ve known one another since I was but a mere babe, sippy cup in hand.  

No more can I keep our love quiet. One. Minute. Longer.  

I love you, Tap Water!

If only I could write it across the skies, yell it from the tallest mountain, whisper it in your ear.

With each caress of my lips, you quench my desire and soothe my parched soul.

Yet others spurn your unconditional love. They purchase entire cases of bottled water, tainting the innocent beauty of your selfless gifts. Why, why would they reject you?

You have zero packaging and cost only one cent per gallon. 

Do they not know that 40% of bottled water sold in the U.S. is tap water anyway? That 86% of bottles never get recycled? That the U.S. manufacture of water bottles uses 1.5 million barrels of oil annually?

I’m so lucky to have your delicious presence in my life. So many world citizens cannot simply twist a faucet to receive the safe clarity of your divine beauty.

Each bottled water purchase plants a seed of doubt.

We all need to show our love and trust of you, my sweet, sweet tap water. To drink you in our homes, serve you to our guests, and pour you into our own bottles when we venture out.

I love you Tap Water — You are my safe and clean savior! Without you, I would wither away.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

To read more about bottled water issues, click here.




I first heard about Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me a number of years ago. A couple of women at work were raving about it, and I remember enjoying an inner smugness about my own makeup-free beauty.

I rarely wear cosmetics, and pretty much consider it a waste of money, time and synaptic activity. (We can send a man to the moon, so why are we spending time engineering new lip liners?) 

Fast forward to age 40.

My casual prettiness is showing its age, and my kids are entering the pre-teen complexion-angst age.

I want to go buy some face creams and pimple-goo, but have no idea where to start. I don’t want to waste my money on products that don’t live up to their claims.

A quick trip to the library, and enter Don’t Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me by Paula Begoun, with Bryan Barron (Beginning Press).

Begoun’s message quickly won me over.

“Consumers (including myself) deserved better. I wasn’t anti-makeup — just the opposite — but I was (and am) anti-hype, and against misleading information.”

Consumer rights? That’s right up my alley!

The 2008 seventh edition, is a seriously heavy debunking of false scientific cosmetics claims. It weighs in at a staggering 1187 pages.

Every single product from all the major cosmetic lines, as well as many of the smaller lines, are analyzed. The reviews are based on ingredients, percentages, packaging, (light infiltration can deactivate some products), pH, appearance, price — All reviewed in spectacular detail.

“Natural” and “organic” claims especially piss her off.

“Natural ingredient claims are not regulated by the FDA. Although the FDA has tried to establish official definitions and guidelines for the use of terms  such as “natural,” its regulation proposals were overturned in court. Therefore, cosmetics companies can use the ‘all natural’ term on ingredient lists to mean anything they want, and almost always it means nothing at all.”

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Poison ivy face mask, anyone?

Other interesting points:

  • You don’t need different moisturizers for the different areas of your body. Eyes, hands, face, etc.
  • You can’t just stick to one brand. No one product line receives across the board recommendations. 
  • The number one thing to prevent skin damage/aged appearance is sunscreen vigilance.
  • The $1 lipstick I prefer for those rare occasions calling for my “fancy face,” is actually very highly rated. (Way to go, Wet ‘n Wild!)
  • The best treatment for pimples and blackheads is just a generic tube of benzoyl peroxide.
  • A regular washcloth cleans your face just as well as a store-bought abrasive scrub.
The book ends with a summary of recommended cosmetic products. So if you’re looking for something specific, you can simply flip to the back.

The upshot of this book? I ended up buying a $3.50 tube of benzoyl peroxide for my son and a huge jug of sunscreen for myself.

Thank you, Paula Begoun!

-Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

Update: I had e-mailed a copy of this review to the Don’t Go To the Cosmetics Counter Without Me website, and received this helpful reply:

Dear Katy,

Wow! Thank you for sharing this with me. I will make sure Paula sees it. She will be delighted (as am I) that you discovered and are getting such value from the book. As you can imagine, it is a monstrous task to conquer, and we’re very proud of it.

If I may I’d like to point out that your mention of benzoyl peroxide for acne is great, but it is not going to help blackheads. Blackheads are unrelated to acne in the sense that there is no bacterial component to them. That is why blackheads do not respond to benzoyl peroxide like acne lesions do. The best product for blackhead control is a well-formulated (meaning pH-correct) beta hydroxy acid product with salicylic acid. You’ll find a list of the best options in the “Best Products” section of the book.