The Master Calendar

If you share a house – and maybe even if you don't – you'll benefit from having a master calendar in the kitchen.

Get or make one with big squares to write events.

Things that should go on here include:
– dinner guests/parties
– house guests
– medical appointments
– household members out of town
– holidays when household members will be around home instead of off at work/school
– deliveries or repair appointments
– "Mail rent today"
– parent/teacher conferences
– any special event where one household member will be getting a ride from another ("Suzi's soccer game")
– household and significant other birthdays

The ideal spot for this is on or beside the fridge, especially if that's also near the kitchen phone.

Near it can be the shopping list, any shared bills that need to be reviewed (e.g. the phone bill), and the current list of who's doing which chores (or as we used to call it in my household "The Wheel of Torture").

How much do you really need that ticket to boxtown?

In my time I've had memberships to super huge warehouse stores. Costco is something of the archetype for this, but there are other similar places where one gets "great deals" by buying in larger quantities.

I always find, after the initial glut of buying lots of things for relatively less money, that I'm overall spending more than I would shopping at neighborhood stores – even non-chain ones – and ending up with things I don't really need or more than I can use.

What's even sillier about it is that I wind up buying not quite what I wanted – different brands, other flavors,  higher calories – because the selection is more limited.

Take a good hard look at your shopping habits and the kind of eating habits they're leading to. Try taking a month off from the big box stores. Shop locally, get more fresh fruit & vegetables, pick out ingredients to cook with or make a sandwich for tomorrow's lunch instead of a frozen entree. Visit the farmers' market and find the nearest good bakery to your house.

At the end of the month see how you feel, what you're eating and what you've spent.  Chances are pretty good that the delicious organic produce that's giving you loads more energy has been easily paid for by not having bought a boxed set of DVDs for a show you liked when you were 12, a five-attachment cordless drill, and a pair of ill-fitting orange sneakers with totally cool treads.

Empty Your Mind

If you have a mobile phone, turn it off.

Unplug the wall phone.

Turn off the computer and the television and the stereo.

Go in the back yard or to a window and stare at the sky for a while, say 10 minutes or more.

Don't plan anything.

Don't sort anything out.

Look at clouds or birds or stars or the shapes of the tops of distant buildings.

Don't think about anything you'll necessarily remember 10 seconds from now.

Be.

What the hell is that? Anyone want some meatcake?

Today's discard target is the mysterious collection of aged condiments in your fridge.

Grab yourself a trash bag and start weeding the safe from the dubious, the known from the unknown & frankly frightening.

Here's a handy list of how long foods can be safely stored for.

Once you've eliminated the bad and the things you know you won't eat before their "toss by" date, take a laundry marker (a.k.a. a Sharpie) and write on all the condiment bottles – over the barcode for example – one of two things:

– a greater than sign and today's date to indicate this is definitely older than today
e.g. ">20060319"

– when it should be tossed according to safe food storage
e.g. "toss June 06"

Next time you decide to do a fridge purge you'll be more accurate in throwing away those things which may be a danger to your health.

Add More Storage To Your Home For Free

Okay, it's time for big game hunting. Pick up your mug of coffee or whatever and take a little stroll around the house opening cupboards & closets and scanning for your prey: the Undesired Spacesucker.

I bet you can find 3 things bigger than your head that you would be perfectly happy to get rid of or at least move to a less accessible storage area.

Did you buy one of those sexy new cyclonic vacuum cleaners and keep the old one "just in case"?

Got a pair of rollerblades you haven't used this century?

Fondue pot you got as a wedding gift that might be a wonderful kitchy "going off to college" gift for your kid?

Hunt 'em down and drive them from their lairs. The wipe out the dust and put that space to better use.

(Super-discardians are encouraged to try this sport on each and every cupboard, closet and drawer; find the biggest discardable thing in each of them!)

Avoid the Shocking Utility Bill

Gas prices, including natural gas prices are very high and not expected to change much for the better. That means your utility bill is probably rising.

Save yourself from a nasty surprise on the bill after a particularly cold month by doing some no cost and low cost changes to reduce your energy use. Lowering thermostats somewhat, using appliances more efficiently,  and putting in a low-flow showerhead can all help. Find out more from your utility company. Mine provided this PDF file of tips: 123 Gas Savings.

Instead of a bill $50 higher than normal wouldn't you really rather have a nice dinner out or go see a show?

Trust the Burst

There are certain chores that get put off because they just seem too big to get done in a little bite of your day.  It's easy to view "clean the kitchen," for example, as a monumental roadblock, but you don't have to do everything in one go and even 20-30 minutes can make a big difference.

Next time you're feeling daunted just say "Okay, 20 minute burst", put on some good music, set the kitchen timer and make a little progress. You'll be amazed at your ability to carve a few bursts out of your day when you'd never believe you had a spare hour to spend making things nicer.

Discard your illusions about housefires

There's a classic question to help reveal your personality "if the house were on fire what would you save?" Unfortunately, if you really do try to save things, you dramatically increase your risk of being injured or killed.

You need to know and deeply believe the following things:

1. Fire is incredibly fast and dangerous. A room can go from one small smoking smolder to full flashover inferno in 2 to 3 minutes. There is no time in a fire for anything but getting out. Call the fire department from a neighbor's house. Don't delay, just get out!

2. Smoke is the killer. Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that kills. Breathing even small amounts of these gases can make you drowsy and disoriented. This is why having an escape plan that you practice is critical.

3. Stay low for safety. Room temperatures in a fire can be 90 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super hot air will burn your lungs.

4. Fires are dark. Though flame is bright, the smoke can quickly fill rooms and render them pitch black. Fire victims who did manage to escape report having been completely disoriented in homes they've lived in for years.

5. Smoke alarms save lives. Keep yours well-maintained and test it monthly.

6. Fire drills and escape plans save lives. Always have more than one exit route planned, practice how to test closed doors for heat (use the back of your hand and don't touch the knob!), and desiginate a meeting place outside the building.

Check with your local fire department for more details on how to protect your household.

Are you using it?

Back on January 4th, I recommended "If you don't use it, don't pay for it".

So, it's been over two months; are you really using the things you decided to keep paying for?

I reduced my Netflix membership to two videos at a time and thought that would be enough of a change to bring me back into a reasonable budget for my video entertainment.

The two videos I have on my shelf right now arrived on around January 19th. Apparently, no, I really don't need this membership. Time to cancel (or at least put the account on hold for 3 months since Netflix offers that civilized option, ever so handy for those of us with 499 items in their possible rentals queue).