2/22/12

Things You Get for Free: Making the Most of Free Events in Your Area

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Freebies are everywhere. If you’re trying to live frugally, making freebies a key part of your arsenal can boost your savings as well as adding fun to your life.

Taking advantage of freebies doesn’t mean you never pay for entertainment or luxuries. On the contrary: it can help ‘free up’ the necessary funds to splurge on higher priced events and items that enrich your life: theatre tickets, a ride in a hot air balloon, a gorgeous sustainable garment for a special event.

Below I’ve identified many great sources of regular freebies. Sometimes freebies will be listed on a website, but you’ll need to do some of your own digging to get the most out of free.

Libraries are one of the original homes of free. DVDs, CDs, magazines, books and in some cases ebooks – it’s all there! Many libraries allow you to suggest a purchase, which you can then reserve. Libraries often run free cultural events, such as author talks, that are listed on their websites; some hold free film screenings. And you can always peruse the daily paper in your local library if you don’t want the expense of buying it.

Local area websites. There are a growing number of websites dedicated to listing free events in local areas. For example, Weekend Notes lists free things to do in many Australian and New Zealand cities as well as East London, Edinburgh, New York and Singapore. If you’re in or going to London, there’s Free London events. White Hat lists events in Melbourne, many of them free. A simple Google check of free events in your area should throw up some sites; subscribe to their feeds for regular updates.

Museums. Museums are often free, or provide free admission to concession card holders. Don’t just restrict yourself to your state or regional museums – smaller specialist museums can offer interesting cultural experiences. In Melbourne, for example, the Immigration Museum, the Melbourne Museum and Scienceworks are free for children and concession card holders.

Universities. Become a polymath by attending the many free public lectures that unis hold throughout the academic year, covering a huge range of subjects from theatre in ancient Athens and the impact of the GFC to how to build a sustainable city. Online faculty events-calendars and newsletters are good places to start your search.

Galleries. Large state galleries often have a number of free exhibitions as well as paying ones. They also often hold free floor talks – check websites for details. Small galleries offer challenging and fascinating art that you can view for nothing. Pinpoint a few in one area and go on a gallery crawl.

Local councils may offer many types of free events. They sometimes run free fitness classes. My local council, for example, offers free yoga, chi gong and tai chi classes, in parks during summer and indoors during winter. In 2011 it ran workshops and presentations on how to keep chickens, how to create edible gardens, and gardening in small spaces. Melbourne City Council has just announced it will run free dance classes monthly in the City Square or similar venue. Some councils offer free business networking events.

Many local councils also hold free outdoor concerts and cultural events during the warmer months.

Local festivals often include a host of free entertainment, talks and workshops.

Meet-ups. Meetup is an online bulletin board for events and gatherings of all stripes taking place in dozens of places across the world. Not all of the events are free; some are workshops and classes, and some group outings cost money, but there are cafe meet-ups where you only pay for what you consume. Start your own meet-up!

Informal business networking meet-ups that aren’t organised for profit don’t necessarily cost anything apart from what you buy at the cafe or bar. For example, Flying Solo, a website for Australia’s microbusiness community, provides a forum for its members to organise informal meet-ups in their local area.

Bookstores often hold free author talks and book launches – you might score some cheap wine and munchies if you’re lucky.

Free film websites. Word-of-mouth is a vital means by which film distribution companies advertise their offerings. Preview screenings of films can now be accessed on the web from sites such as GetScreening.com and SeeFilmFirst.

City parks sometimes hold free events in summer such as free guided walks. For example, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne offers a free Summer Discovery Walk.

Neighbourhood houses sometimes run free or very cheap classes - check the websites of those in your local area.

Until next time!
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2/15/12

Decorating on a Budget? Nine Reasons to Discover the Delights of Kitsch Prints

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If you want to decorate on a small budget, you can’t go past kitsch. Kitsch prints in particular are an incredibly cheap (not to mention cheerful!) way to decorate.

As a style kitsch is unfairly derided. Wikipedia describes a typical kitsch object as ‘an inferior, tasteless copy’ of an existing style of art, one that is ‘cheap and mass-produced’, ‘aesthetically deficient’ and overly sentimental. Yet in the last ten years I’ve developed a huge love of kitsch, particularly when it comes in the form of originality-challenged pictures. These ‘bad taste’ items are now the first thing I look for when I go on one of my op shop (thrift store) crawls.

Below are nine reasons to use kitsch pictures to add colour and fun to your rooms. Most of the pics are kitsch prints I’ve amassed (collected’ just doesn't seem the right word!). 

 1.  Kitsch pictures work on two levels – irony and visual display.
Kitsch demonstrates a sense of humour, but the colours and designs should also complement your decor. I only buy pictures whose colours and designs attract me, no matter how daggy the pictures may be.


2.  Hardly anyone else is buying them so they’re dirt cheap. Kitsch pictures are too old to be modern and too recent to be retro but they will graduate to retro in a few years’ time. Buying them now will put you ahead of the pack! Of course, one person’s kitsch is another person’s retro. Some of my pictures, such as the one above, could be described as retro, kitsch or both. You can also stumble across cheap kitsch paintings that are originals, but theyre harder to find.




3. Kitch is fun! Kitsch pictures give a lighthearted, playful tone to your decorating.




4.  Kitsch prints are everywhere, so they’re easy to find. Op shops are full of them. They’re on eBay, can be found at garage/yard sales and auction houses, and are probably hiding out in the garages and sheds of your friends and rellies.


5.   Kitsch prints go well with many different decorating styles and eras. They’re often fairly bland, and can be safely paired with all kinds of decor for an eclectic look, as shown below.






6.  Because they’re so cheap, you can buy a lot of pictures and play around with them. Group many together for maximum impact. The image below, from Kitsch Cafe, shows how effective a grouping of  floral and landscape pictures can be. 



7.  Kitsch prints are easy to let go of. If you get sick of your kitsch prints, your taste changes or your decorating budget expands to embrace, say, emerging artists, the low cost of kitsch prints means you won’t be mired in regret about wasted money. And you should be able to offload your prints easily to the op shop or your council hard rubbish collection, or by selling them on eBay or at a garage sale.




8.  Kitsch is environmentally friendly.
Decorating your walls with kitsch prints is a great way to recycle and reuse. For every kitsch print on your wall, one less new print needs to be generated!




9.  Kitsch prints are easy to upcycle. If you’re crafty it’s easy to upcycle the wooden frames of kitsch prints, eg by painting, stripping or shabby chic-ing them.

Do you have a fondness for kitsch? Got some tips for finding and making the most of kitsch prints? Please feel free to comment!

Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Inspired Thrifting: What Makes a Good Find at the Op Shop or Thrift Store?

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2/8/12

The Tale of an Attic: Thinking before You Renovate

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Our homes are our castles. They’re the place on Earth we have the most control over, so it’s no wonder we want to make them as comfortable and right for us as possible. But things can go wrong if we don’t take the time to consider all the factors involved. Below is a shopping story that illustrates the importance of biding your time and getting all the facts when it comes to home renovation.

An architect friend of mine, who I’ll call Chris, had a ripper idea while he was having the tiles fixed on his roof. Why not create more space in his house by turning the attic into a proper room? A study with a relaxed feel that he could escape to when he needed to get some work done? His Edwardian red brick home had generous living areas but his two daughters were growing up. They currently shared a bedroom but were clamouring for their own rooms, and his tiny study near the kitchen would soon be lost forever.

The attic wasn’t a proper room at that stage, just a space between the ceiling and the roof – but there was easily enough height to stand up in, so it could be done. The entrance hole was large and situated in the main hallway of the house.

Chris didn’t think too much about what the job would involve. Because he was an architect, he assumed he had the expertise to  oversee the job himself, and he wanted to do it cheaply. He bought a fold-down extension ladder and had it installed. Then he purchased some cheap flooring – chipboard – and paid someone to install it.

It wasn’t until later that he thought to consult his friend Alan, a builder. It was lucky he did. Not only had he got the type of flooring wrong – chipboard absorbs moisture, so it’s not suitable for roof cavities – but the flooring structure wasn’t strong enough for the purpose. It would put too much weight on the ceiling joists, which would lead to sagging. The floor needed to be underpinned by load-bearing timber. The flooring Chris needed and that he ultimately bought with his friend’s guidance was thick board covered by malamite; with the supporting timber underneath, the floor ended up being 15 cm thick.

Acting on Alan’s advice, Chris also put a safety fence around the entrance to which the folding ladder was attached.

The tale ended happily. The room is now a study, complete with mood lighting, built-in drawers, cupboards and desk. It has a lovely attic-y feel. But in ripping the floor out and starting again, Chris ended up spending more money than he needed to. In trying to save both time and money, he’d wasted both.

This story illustrates just how important it is, when you want to do any sort of redecorating that involves purchasing, to bide your time.

Just as we sometimes give in to impulsive shopping, so we also act impulsively when we want to make major changes such as renovating our homes. It’s vital to carry out research, but sometimes the information we need isn’t available instantly. Perhaps Chris had wanted to contact Alan right away but couldn’t. Or perhaps he feared that if he took Alan’s advice, the whole thing would get too complicated (and too expensive!).

It’s especially difficult to take your time when you’ve been undecided for a while and then you finally make a decision. It’s natural to want to start right away and ask questions later.

What lessons can be taken from Chris's experience?
  • Listen to yourself when you want to dive straight into a home  renovation project. Perhaps there are things you need to consider that you’re not aware of yet. Think about what they are, and where you might get the right information.

  • Before you begin, wait until you’ve considered all the factors involved; wait until you have all the information you need. Think about the plan for your project as a puzzle for which you need all the pieces before completing. Ask yourself if you have all the pieces before you begin to carry out your plan.

  • Consult with someone who can see the whole picture. Individual tradespeople quoting on their own jobs won’t necessarily consider every factor; they may be concerned only with their piece of the puzzle. Even if they are aware of other considerations, some (not all) may fail to inform you of the ultimate requirements and costs because they want to provide a cheap quote.

  • Develop ‘negative capability’. The poet John Keats coined this term to describe the state of uncertainty and unknowing in which creativity manifests itself. When it comes to making big changes to our homes, being open to uncertainty can help us determine the type and extent of research we have to do and all the factors we need to take into account.

  • By all means be organised and use your rational mind. But also let your inner self guide you, when it comes to both the changes you decide to make and the people you contract to help you carry them out.

  • Above all, keep your mind (and your ears) open!

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Steps to Take before You Buy a Big-Ticket Item


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2/5/12

Plastic Not So Fantastic - Tips for Using Less Plastic

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The other day I found the plastic top of a takeaway coffee that had blown into my front yard.

As I picked it up I thought of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I’d just been reading about. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating soup of 100 million tons of garbage, 90 per cent of which is plastic, in the North Pacific. It’s impossible to estimate the area accurately; one study found it to be twice the size of Hawaii. In 2010, similar patches of decomposed plastic debris were found in the North Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean.

While navies and commercial shopping are partly responsible, it’s estimated that perhaps 80 per cent of marine plastic originated on land as litter and industrial waste. Some of it has been dumped on the beach and in rivers or streams, and some has been blown away from landfill, or while being transported to landfill. Water bottles and plastic bags are the most familiar part of the problem – for example, US citizens consume an estimated 50 billion bottles of water per annum, and the annual figure for the globe is around 200 billion bottles – but the plastics in the garbage patches range from pocket combs, tampon applicators and toothbrushes to fishing nets, detergent bottles and toys.

Bits of this waterlogged mass of rubbish end up in the stomachs or around the necks of birds, turtles, whales, seals and other sea creatures, many of which die slow and horrible deaths from starvation, strangulation or suffocation. It’s likely that over 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and hundreds of thousands of sea birds die each year due to marine debris, including plastic. Scientific American describes some of the effects on sea life of coming into contact with plastic: ‘fur seals entangled by nylon nets, sea otters choking on polyethylene six-pack rings, and plastic bags or toys stuck in the guts of sea turtles’. More information about marine debris and what’s being done to clean it up can be found on the NOAA website.

Large pieces of plastic debris are just one aspect of the problem. Estimates for the time it takes various kinds of plastics to decompose range from 20 to 1000 years. They don’t biodegrade – get broken down by microbes – in any reasonable amount of time, but they do photodegrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Much of the plastic in the ocean consists of tiny fragments that are less than 1 cm in size, some of them microscopic. These fragments release toxic chemicals into the ocean and into the food chain. Tiny marine organisms ingest the particles and these organisms are then eaten by fish, which in turn are eaten by humans.

A problem like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can seem overwhelming; individual actions aren’t ever going to solve it on their own. It would take government action and regulation on a global scale to simply stop the situation getting worse, by legislating for less use and greater recycling of plastics, for example. In the meantime, though, it’s surprisingly easy to cut down on your own consumption of plastic, and there are plenty of resources if you want to advocate for tougher regulations.

Below are some simple ways to reduce the use of plastic in your life, reuse it where possible, and recycle the plastic you can’t reuse. (There are also some more ‘hard core’ suggestions.)

* Put plastic containers in your recycling bin. There are many different types of plastics, and not all can be recycled. In the US, UK and Australia, local authorities usually allow some kinds of hard plastic such as drink bottles in their curbside recycling services, but the types of plastics they recycle will vary – check the website of your local authority. A Plastics Identification Code (used internationally) is stamped on plastic containers to indicate their type. According to Clean Up Australia, most local councils here recycle plastics labelled 1, 2, and 3, but many are now extending their recycling programs to include plastics labelled 4 to 7. Clean the containers before you put them in the bin.

* Recycle your plastic bags at recycling drop-off points in your area. Plastic bag recycling stations are now increasingly common. As well as supermarket plastic bags and the heavier store bags, packaging film is normally recyclable at these stations (eg plastic packaging for paper towels, toilet paper and junk mail), as well as drycleaning plastic. Cling wrap, compostable bags and prepackaged food bags, including frozen food bags and prewashed salad bags, normally can’t be included. It’s important that you only put in clean bags.

If you’re in the USA you can locate plastic bag recycling stations in your area at plasticbagrecycling.org or www.earth911.com. In the UK, some supermarkets offer plastic bag recycling; find a station near you at RecycleNow. In Australia you can drop your plastic bags off at your local supermarket.

* Wash and recycle dirty plastic bags rather than throwing them out. The thought of washing a plastic bag is a put-off for some. It’s not hard – turn the bag inside out and give it a quick rinse under the tap, wiping it as you go. Dry your bags on the line or on a clothes rack, using pegs to attach them. Plastic bags with meaty or fishy residue can be washed in hot, soapy water.

* Use your spare plastic bags around the house. Here are some great ideas for making use of spare plastic bags.

* Compost your unused food scraps. You’ll generate less rubbish and therefore need to use fewer plastic bags for household waste. Many options for outdoor and indoor compost bins are now available.

* Don’t assume that so-called ‘biodegradable’ and ‘degradable’ plastic bags are the answer. These bags may cause more problems than they solve. Oxo-degradable bags, for example, contain toxic metals that may not biodegrade at all. Even fully compostable bags require light and heat in order to biodegrade efficiently, which they won’t get if they end up in landfill or the ocean. They can also cause harm if they are included in plastic bag recycling systems.

* Buy fewer plastic toys. Consider reducing the number of plastic toys you buy for your children. Join a toy library, and buy eco-friendly toys where possible. Here’s a good article on eco-friendly dolls.

* Don’t buy exfoliants that include plastic. Unbelievably, minute granules of plastic are now used in some exfoliants! These can end up in the water supply and make their way to the oceans. Don’t buy exfoliants that include ‘micro-fine’ polyethylene granules, polyethylene ‘micro-spheres’, polyethylene ‘beads’, or just plain polyethylene.

* Stop buying plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles can be reused several times as long as they haven’t been heated and you wash them with soap and water and allow them to dry before refilling. Better still, buy an aluminium drink container. It’s worth paying more for a good-quality bottle – a couple of years ago I bought a cheap aluminium water bottle that leaked water into my bag from the get-go.

* Buy a reusable takeaway coffee container. Look forward to your daily hit of takeaway coffee? Bring your own reusable takeaway coffee cup to the cafe.

* Reuse bubble wrap. If you receive something in the mail packed with bubble wrap, store it and reuse it as packaging in your own parcels.

* Reuse straws. Wash straws or better still, buy a non-throwaway straw. Alternatives include aluminium and glass straws.

* Stop using plastic film for keeping food fresh. Other options for covering food in the fridge include silicon lids, or simply putting a dinner or bread plate over a container of food. Use wax paper for wrapping sandwiches.

* Reuse plastic food containers. Buy your dips from delis and market stalls that serve the dip from bulk containers, and bring your own containers. (You can also buy slices of unwrapped cheese from deli counters.) When you buy takeaway food, bring your own used takeaway container. Used dip and takeaway containers are great for storing food in the freezer. There are dozens of uses for margarine and yoghurt containers; here’s a good list.

Extreme plastic reduction

* Recycle your toothbrush. Once you start becoming aware of how much plastic is needlessly thrown away, even tossing a toothbrush in the bin may start to feel wrong. Alternatives include a company that turns your used toothbrush into picnic tables, one that offers a toothbrush with replaceable heads, and sustainable toothbrushes made from bamboo, wood and cellulose. Some of these ideas can be found here.

* Use your own plastic containers for liquid goods. Buy your liquid goods such as shampoo and conditioner in bulk at food co-ops, health food stores, or speciality bulk stores, and bring your own used shampoo bottles to store them in.

* Buy your dry goods loose, and bring your own plastic bags to carry them. You can find grains, flours, nuts, seeds and pulses at produce and farmers markets, as well as food co-ops and health food stores.

* Bring your own plastic bag when buying meat and fish. Wash your used plastic bags and take them with you for wrapping meat and fish when you go to the butchers, fishmonger or supermarket.

* Use newspaper to wrap wet or smelly rubbish that you can’t compost. I remember my parents doing this when I was young, before plastic bags were widely used for rubbish in Australia.

Suggestions for taking action

* Pressure your local authority to widen the scope of its plastics recycling, eg by recycling plastic food containers if it doesn't already.

* Organise for your town or city to become plastic bag free.

* Pressure your state or federal environment minister to create stronger regulations for the use and recycling of plastic in manufacturing and packaging.

Organisations

These organisations and websites aim to decrease the use of plastics and stop them polluting our environment.

USA

Plastic Pollution Coalition Berkeley California

Australia

Planet Ark

Clean Up Australia

UK

Waste Watch

WRAP

RecycleNow

Help with a plastic-free lifestyle

Life without Plastic

Ethically sourced alternatives to plastic products

Plastic Manners

The blog of a woman who decided to try to live without plastic

Until next time!
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