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Abridged Version: Sustainable Favors for a Child’s Birthday Party; no more junk please!

Capture “I am planning a birthday party for my preschool aged son, and I am thinking about party favors.  Typically, I receive a bag, with tissue paper, and some tchotchkes in it. Either the favors last for a week or so, or I put them away, or I throw them away. What type of favor can I give my guests to say thank you for coming, but that won’t be so tchotchke? At one child’s birthday party recently, my child received seeds to plant at home.”

(**Please note, this is a shorter version of my previous post.  For more                                detail, see post below.)

I received the above inquiry from a blog reader.  Although I have not yet lived through the birthday party circuit as a parent, I agree with my reader that favors have a tendency to be little trinkets that offer a short term high or rush, but rarely offer real joy in the long run.  The childhood equivalent of a “Swag Bag.”  From a quick google search of “sustainable party favors,” I surmise that many Moms are also frustrated with “dollar store trash” that either breaks or becomes more clutter to add to their child’s already busting collection.

I would urge party planners to consider why they are giving a favor in the first place?  Hopefully they find that it enhances the party in some way, gets the birthday boy or girl more excited about the occasion, and increases the enjoyment of guests at the party.  Parents such as this reader want to be hospitable and teach generosity to their child.  With all of these good motivations to give a party favor, why does the execution so frequently lead to more plastic trash?

Unfortunately, I fear that many favors are not Intentionally thought out, and are motivated by a need to conform, or by some attachment to etiquette as not giving a party favor, “just isn’t done.” I would encourage my readers who do not have an Intentional motivation behind giving the favor to consider abandoning the favor all together.  Lessons of hospitality and generosity can be taught through other aspects of the party, such as greeting guests when they come and go.

If I were to take some time to think outside the box on this one, maybe parents need to ban together and decide that materialistic party favors aren’t a necessary part of birthday parties.  Can we challenge ourselves as parents to teach our children to get this type of joy or rush from non-material things?  Can we emphasize gratitude about the opportunity to host or attend a fun birthday party instead?

All it takes is one or two parents to be brave enough to suggest a different way of doing things. What if at the beginning of the school year, all the parents agreed to give a donation to mark occasions in lieu of party favors?  Or, if at every party, every kid brought back a used toy, and then picked a new used toy out of a grab-bag? Every party could have a used toy exchange instead of a new toy.  If the kid wasn’t happy with what they picked, they could just bring it back to the next birthday party favor grab-bag.   This still ignites the curiosity, excitement and feeling of gaining something in the little guests, without all the excess.

For those that feel like forgoing favors all together would be too radical and are guided by an Intentionally Abundant motivation, here are some suggestions to make favors meaningful, thoughtful and to reduce their environmental impact.

  1. Make a donation on behalf of the guests.  You can print out small cards with the name of the charity and decorate them with your child.  You can even pick a charity that goes with the theme of the party.  For instance, if your party is located in a local park, a donation to Trust for Public Land, supports conservation of wildlands as well as creation of local parks.

 

  1. Prioritize experiential gifts over a material gifts.  Are there any local arcades where you can buy a gift certificate for a certain number of tokens?  What about giving each guest an iTunes gift card to download X# of songs?   One note here is that these gifts may burden the parent.  For instance, the parent still needs to take the kid to the arcade, and inevitably, the trip may wind of costing more than then the gift certificate.  However, similar to you throwing away tchotchkes that you don’t want, other parents can figure out how to manage your gift.

 

  1. Try to think of a gift with a sustainable use. For instance, a reusable snack container with a fun character on it.  Guests can use it for lunch or snacks on the go, and its better than using a plastic bag.

 

  1. Give a gift that’s practical and consumable.  Soap in the shape of a favorite character.  Bake some healthy cookies.

 

  1. Activity based favors. For instance, a coloring book, activity book, deck of cards, or small puzzle. These are also experience based rather than just a material good.

 

  1. No matter what you chose to give, think about the material it is made out of and the packaging required.  A cardboard toy is easier to recycle than a plastic toy.  Instead of a gift bag, a colorful ribbon could do the trick.

 

My goal of Intentional Abundance is to evaluate consumerist and therefore environmental decisions in light of my values; sustainability, enjoyment, convenience, etc, then make a decision that allows me to move forward guilt free.  The important thing is to consider your reasons for giving out a favor, then make sure that whatever you decide to do aligns with your values.  If you think giving a party favor is a critical part of hospitality, go for it.  If you prioritize sustainability, then its OK to forgo the party favor all together or to provide something experiential or charitable.  If you otherwise run a tight ship, but want to allow for some birthday indulgence, feel free.  Whatever you decide, be honest and intentional with yourself about living and demonstrating your values and don’t feel pressure or judgment by others to just do things a certain way.

Thank you for your inquiry!  I hope that some of my readers will share their thoughts or suggestions too.   In addition, here are some other bloggers who support alternative or no party favors.

http://grist.org/living/help-i-need-eco-friendly-party-favors-on-a-budget/

http://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/supplies/stop-giving-out-birthday-favors/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/birthday-parties/tips_post/green-birthday-party/

http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/04/its-my-party-and-ill-give-what-i-want-to/

 

Photo Credit:  DIY Birdhouse photo taken from: http://themindfulhome.blogspot.com/2015/10/eco-friendly-birthday-party-favors-and.html

 

Happy Birthday to your son!

Sustainable Party Favors for a Child’s Birthday Party; no more junk please!

Capture “I am planning a birthday party for my preschool aged son, and I am thinking about party favors.  Typically, I receive a bag, with tissue paper, and some tchotchkes in it. Either the favors last for a week or so, or I put them away, or I throw them away. What type of favor can I give my guests to say thank you for coming, but that won’t be so tchotchke? At one child’s birthday party recently, my child received seeds to plant at home.”

I received the above inquiry from a blog reader, so I’ve dedicated this post to providing some suggestions and thoughts about this dilemma.   Please share your ideas below!

 

Dear Reader,

Thank you for our inquiry.  First, I must say that a question like this highlights the struggle of daily “stuff” related decisions and is exactly why I started writing Intentional Abundance.  My goal of Intentional Abundance is to evaluate consumeristic and therefore environmental decisions in light of my values; sustainability, enjoyment, convenience, etc, then make a decision that allows me to move forward guilt free.  Everything is a tradeoff, and this simple example is no exception.

I have not yet thrown a big party for my son, but I can try to put myself in your position and imagine the things I would want to consider.  Who knows how parenting experience may shape the reality that is yet to unfold, but here are my current thoughts on this, with suggestions to follow.

My first concern would likely be to make sure that my son has a good time on his birthday.  There are so many opportunities to teach other values and lessons, but in my opinion, I have always felt a child should feel special on his birthday, that it should be something to look forward to and have fun with.  I’m not saying it’s a free pass for bad behavior, but it’s a chance to show that a little indulgence is OK once in a while, and why not on a birthday?  The importance that my child put on the party favor would likely provide some guidance for me.  If I thought it wasn’t something he would notice at all, I’d likely forgo it all together. If there was something he felt excited or proud to give away, we’d go in that direction.

The second thing I would likely consider is cost and convenience.  I’m already planning a party, so factoring in the extra expense and planning needed for favors wouldn’t be a priority for me unless it was a priority for my son.

Third, I would likely consider charity.  I like the idea of marking special occasions with a small donation.  On special occasions, I feel lucky and blessed and it’s a good reminder to share that good fortune with others.  In the past, I’ve made personal donations at my wedding, for my son’s birth, graduation, but not yet for birthdays.  However, in light of a big party I would consider a donation in lieu of party favors.

Fourth, I would focus on hospitality and what would make the occasion enjoyable and memorable for my guests.  If I could think of a great favor that really added to the party, I would go in that direction.  For instance, a wedding I attended this February was outdoors.  Even in Southern California, February can be cold at night.  On every other seat, the hosts left a throw for guests to take home.  The throw added color and atmosphere to the party, and was practical in keeping guests warmer.  This host nailed the party favor combo of giving out something useful and practical that also enhanced the occasion.  For a child’s party, maybe a craft they could make during the event, or a yard game they used during the event could serve as the favor?  If the favor doesn’t enhance the event or contribute to a theme, why bother? I’d look to my child for guidance on something that would spark a little joy or excitement in the guests.

Fifth, I would need to remind myself to allow for a little F-U-N.  Sometimes, a favor is just cute, and there is a little joy to be gained from that.  As a child, I remember there was a little bit of glee about going to a party and getting a gift, even if it was short lived.  Even as adults, we all enjoy a little freebie once in a while.  I want the guests to have a good time so I’d consider how a favor could contribute. In the big picture I’d like my son to be part of a society where joy comes from things more substantial than trinkets from a party, but maybe the other 364 days of the year are intended for that lesson.

Finally, sustainability and environmental impact get considered.  This consideration is already running throughout the above points, but its worth pointing out that I wouldn’t want to give out something I considered junk, meaningless or wasteful.  I would be excited to give out something that I or my son saw value in.

Before I get to my suggestions, I would say that another consideration is unfortunately social norms, and what other people think.  I try not to get distracted by this one but it does creep in there sometimes.  For party favors, I feel like it might sneak in even more because there is so much judgement out there about parenting styles.  For instance, I would consider giving out candy.  Its easy, consumable, colorful, and provides the temporary “rush” of fun that a party favor often provides for a child.  However, I find there is so much pressure for kids to eat healthy that it might be taboo to distribute candy. I would try to remind myself (and you) not to get too worried about what other people think.  If the intention of your gift is good, the result will be too.

Here are some approaches that you could take, roughly ordered from most to least Intentionally Abundant.

  1. Forgo the party favors all together. Like you said, the favor usually just sits around and gets forgotten about, creating clutter and an extra item to clean/keep track of, or just gets thrown out – plus it comes with wasteful packaging. I would ask what you hope to achieve with the party favors.  Are you giving out favors to conform, because not providing a party favor “just isn’t done?” Or do you feel that they contribute to the occasion in some way?   In your case, it sounds like you feel a gift is part of being a good host, and its a good opportunity to teach hospitality and generosity to your son.  Instead of teaching this materially, perhaps you can show your son how to warmly thank everyone for coming when they leave?  Or to let his guests share his toys?  Or through the thank you notes?  Ask yourself why you are doing the party favors and if that result can be accomplished without buying and distributing more meaningless trinkets.  Another benefit of forgoing the favors is that you can save yourself the time of buying and assembling them and focus more on your son and his guests instead.

 

  1. Make a donation on behalf of the guests.  You can print out small cards with the name of the charity and you and your son can decorate them together as an activity.  This instills the same value of hospitality and generosity, but even more so because your son has a hand in creating the favor himself.  You can even pick a charity that goes with the theme of the party.  For instance, if you have an outer space themed party, a donation to scientific research.  If your party is located in a local park, a donation to Trust for Public Land, supports conservation of wildlands as well as creation of local parks that are accessible and usable in urban areas. https://www.tpl.org/our-work#sm.00000d2a804fjqe8wr2hpprttoo8q

 

  1.  Prioritize experiential gifts over a material gifts.  When Trick or Treating, I remember occasionally getting MacDonalds coupons good for one ice-cream cone, or one apple pie. I’m not sure how often we cashed them in, but I remember the potential of the outing being exciting.  Similarly, are there any local arcades where you can buy a gift certificate for a certain number of tokens?  What about giving each guest an iTunes gift card to download X# of songs?   One note here is that these gifts may burden the parent.  For instance, if you give a certain # of arcade tokens, the parent still needs to take the kid to the arcade, and inevitably, the trip may wind of costing more than then the gift certificate.  However, I would say this does not need to be your problem.  Similar to you throwing away tchotchkes that you don’t want, other parents can figure out how to manage your gift.

 

  1.  Try to think of a gift with a sustainable use. For instance, a reusable snack container with a fun character on it.  They can use it for lunch or snacks on the go, and its better than using a ziplock bag.

 

  1.  Give a gift that’s practical and consumable.  What about soap in the shape of a favorite character?  Bake some healthy cookies.

 

  1. Consider activity based favors. For instance, a coloring book, activity book or small puzzle. These are also experience based rather than just a material good.   I remember getting decks of cards, like Old Maid or Go Fish.

 

  1.  No matter what you chose to give, if anything, think about the material it is made out of and the packaging required.  A cardboard toy is easier to recycle than a plastic toy.  Instead of a gift bag, would a colorful ribbon do the trick?

If I were to take some time to think outside the box on this one, maybe parents need to ban together and decide that materialistic party favors aren’t a necessary part of birthday parties.  Can we challenge ourselves as parents to teach our children to get this type of joy or rush from non-material things?  Can we emphasize gratitude about the opportunity to host or attend a fun birthday party instead?

All it takes is one or two parents to be brave enough to suggest a different way of doing things. What if at the beginning of the school year, all the parents agreed to give a donation to mark occasions in lieu of party favors?  Or what if at every party, every kid brought back a used toy, and then picked a new used toy out of a grab-bag . Every party could have a used toy exchange instead of a new toy.  If the kid wasn’t happy with what they picked, they could just bring it back to the next birthday party favor grab-bag.

The important thing is to consider your reasons for giving out a favor, then make sure that whatever you decide to do aligns with your values.  If you think giving a party favor is a critical part of hospitality, go for it.  If you prioritize sustainability, then its OK to forgo the party favor all together or to provide something experiential or charitable.  If you otherwise run a tight ship, but want to allow for some birthday indulgence, feel free.  Whatever you decide, be honest and intentional with yourself about living and demonstrating your values and don’t feel pressure or judgment by others to just do things a certain way.

Thank you for your inquiry!  I hope that some of my readers will share their thoughts or suggestions too.   In addition, here are some other bloggers who support alternative or no party favors.

 

http://grist.org/living/help-i-need-eco-friendly-party-favors-on-a-budget/

http://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/supplies/stop-giving-out-birthday-favors/

http://www.pbs.org/parents/birthday-parties/tips_post/green-birthday-party/

http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2011/04/its-my-party-and-ill-give-what-i-want-to/

 

DIY Birdhouse photo taken from http://themindfulhome.blogspot.com/2015/10/eco-friendly-birthday-party-favors-and.html

 

Happy Birthday to your son!

Finding the confidence to spend more, overcome indecision and stop procrastinating; the mixing bowl replacement solution.

DSC00835I was preparing a big salad last night and as I went to get our big red bowl from its residence on top of the microwave, for lack of a better location, I clumsily knocked it.  It toppled to the floor and even though it was plastic, shattered into at least 3 or 4 pieces with a few shards here and there.  I consider it a talent that I can break a plastic bowl, one that runs in the family.  Unfortunately, it was a bowl that we use frequently.  It came as a set of 4 from our wedding registry and has lasted about 5 years. I think my husband was stressed out about some other thing at the time because I remember him having a real sense of urgency – we must replace this RIGHT AWAY!!! I felt less urgency, but primarily because the decision of what to replace it with seemed overwhelming and I wanted to procrastinate.

I must preface this story by saying that while my culinary life was enhanced by having set of bowls with matching lids, it was certainly possible to make do without them.  Prior to receiving the gift, I would marinate chicken in the same Pyrex cooking dish I planned to bake it in, instead of a separate prep bowl.   On the rare occasion that I wanted to bake, I would use a soup pot for mixing.  I used our regular soup bowls to store cut veggies during prep.   There was endless potential for workarounds, but the bowls really did enhance our culinary life in an Intentionally Abundant way, providing convenience, color and reducing waste (no plastic wrap or foil needed) for the past five years.

As fate would have it, the universe gave me a nudge.  About a week later, living in a state of denial about another impending shopping chore, while my husband struggled to find the right bowl to prepare our salad in, I took the yellow bowl of the set and ran it under hot water to wash my pump bits as usual. The dang thing split down the side.  Quite literally, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. So given the death of two of the four bowls I decided it was time to take action.

The first choice, and likely the simplest, would be to take the broken bowls back to Macy’s for a free replacement.  I still had the original box in my closet (five years!) and as long as the cashier has a barcode to scan, Macy’s has a very liberal return policy.  The problem with this is that I was never a big fan of the lids that came with set.  They were finicky and it was never easy to get them to snap properly. But due to the dread of doing Amazon research to find a better set, I thought I’d give this option a try.

Luckily, there is a Macy’s a block away from my office building, so I took in my broken bowls, in their original box, and was ready to just do a simple switch when again, fate intervened.  Although the cashier was glad to give me a gift card for the original purchase value ($29.99), that store was out of the bowls and I would have to order it online.

This extra and unexpected step led to a new wave of indecision.  I was torn between the expediency of a quick online Macy’s purchase and task/quest of Amazon research.  Nevertheless, I decided to casually test the waters and see what Amazon had to offer.  Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to narrow it down to two primary contenders, then after reading a few reviews one set rose to the top.  It was surprisingly clear which set I was drawn to.    But Aye, there’s a rub… The primary contender set was $40.00, twice the price that the Macy’s set would be (it was near the xmas and there was a coupon).  I did internet research to see if there were any coupons for my Amazon first choice, but no luck.

After some soul searching, I decided it was worth it to splurge, and pay the extra for the different bowls.  I liked the bowl color and design better, and from the picture, I had a hunch that the lids might fit better.  “What’s the risk,” I thought?  If they aren’t as nice in the picture, I have 30 days to return them.  If they break and aren’t returnable, it’s only a $40.00 gamble.  I decided the risk/reward threshold was in my favor. So what was the hold up?

My husband.  I could chalk this up to a Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, difference, but he could not fathom why I would want to spend an extra $20.00 on bowls, and for some reason, I couldn’t seem to act without his validation of my choice.  This lunacy dragged on for several weeks…  In fact, every time I brought it up, I got a very negative attitude – “you already asked me about the bowls.  I don’t agree with you, but you can do whatever you want.”  On paper, the words sound very civilized, but the tone was problematic.  The tone of, “I’m shutting down, I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t approve, don’t press me on this issue, if the bowls are a bad decision, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT.”  At least that was my interpretation.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I needed to involve him at all.  Had my decision making skills deteriorated to a point where I couldn’t independently act on a $40.00 purchase?  Perhaps I was seeking some kind of approval that imperfection could be tolerated.  Should the bowls not live up to the hype, the loss wouldn’t be catastrophic.  Maybe I wanted him to share the burden of the risk.   Or maybe I was looking for validation that my preferences were worth the “splurge” of paying twice as much, in this case only $20.00 more, on a set of bowls.  At a certain point, I don’t think we had eaten any salad in almost a month, and I dug deep.  I found the confidence to self-validate my original decision, and informed my husband that I had made a Decision.  He kindly ordered the new bowls from our Amazon Prime account and they arrived a few days later.

So far we are BOTH pretty happy with them.  The lids fit great, and the colors and shape brighten up the kitchen.  I used the Macy’s gift card for some GlassLock Tupperware that I take to work almost daily for lunch, and  I’ve even gotten to say “I told you so” a few times.   Nah nah na na nah!

 

Originally Written: November 14, 2016.

 

Original bowls:  http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/martha-stewart-collection-harvest-multi-bowls-with-lids-set-of-4-only-at-macys?ID=386700

New and Improved bowls:    As pictured above. Manufactured by Costco.

 

 

 

Damn Headset broke AGAIN

IMG_3947My Apple headset broke.  A piece of technology that I truly depend on is the headset for my iPhone. iPhone dependency is a totally different story.  In order to use the iPhone, I must have a headset. I absolutely must be hands free when I’m on the phone.  The only times I talk on the phone are when driving (by law must have hands free), walking (need the headphones to block out other sound), on my lunch break (need my hands to eat lunch), pushing the baby stroller around the neighborhood, or while doing chores like cooking or folding laundry.   Granted there may be a few exceptions, but even those would require a headset.  Not to mention listening to audiobooks or music.   (Note, though I interchangeably refer to my headset as headphones, earphones, headset etc, a quick google reveals that headset is the correct term as they include a microphone for two way communication.)

This past week I’ve noticed a short in my headphones, they disconnect the calls, summon Siri on their own, and only the right earbud works.   In addition to the frustration of getting disconnected from my parents – no exaggeration, seven times while walking home from the Metro on Monday, and the annoyance of having to replace something so central to my day to day life, I also experienced a feeling of shock.  These broke already?  I just bought them!   These were supposed to be the real deal!  Although these were also a replacement pair, I had opted for the authentic Apple headphones from the Apple store.  In the past, I had opted for the cheaper knock-off replacements, purchasing one from the dry cleaner and at least one from Amazon.   However, when I bought this pair, my husband suggested I not take a chance with knock-offs from Amazon and just pay the price difference for the “premium” Apple product.  To his credit, I did notice a dramatic sound improvement with the genuine headset.  This “quality” came with a price.   Instead of $5.00 at the cleaner, or $8.00 at RiteAid, or XX amount at Amazon, I paid $31.00.    That’s 6x more expensive than a cheaper alternative.   I would expect that with a mark-up that high, the device would last longer.  It felt like just yesterday that I bought them, but actually broke down after, their one year warranty expired, by a mere three months.

Headsets are really a frustrating device aren’t they?  I find that prior to just about any call, I must untangle the wires.  No matter what, they always look like a fisherman’s net of knots.  Somehow, this never happens to my husband’s headphones.  His are always pristine and perfectly untangled, as if they were coated with some rubber repellant or tangle free conditioner for wires instead of hair.  He almost never uses them, only when driving or when listening to something.  Cursed by his gender, he has trouble multi-tasking and can’t talk on the phone and do something else at the same time.

I also find that I spend more time than I would want to looking for the headphones. I normally keep them plugged in at all times, however, using voice to text – a feature that I love – requires me to unplug them for the clearest comprehension.   It is also more convenient to carry the phone around without the headset, and there is less risk of a pocket dial with the headset unattached.  Unfortunately, this convenience results in me forgetting where I last left them.

If my parents are any indication, I fear that my inability to locate my headphones may be an inherited quality that is doomed to get worse over time.  Like me, my Mom is completely dependent on her headset.  Unless she is with my Dad, in which case they use speaker phone, there is no occasion where a phone call doesn’t go like this… “Sweetie?  Hold on… I have to put my headset in.. shhhhhhsshhhhshhh fumble fumble,  crinckle crinkle… shhhhssshhhhs…  Hi sweetie, how’s it going?”

My dad has his own set of idiosyncrasies.  He likes to walk around with his headphones tucked under his shirt.  He is retired now, so his wardrobe is primarily sweatpants, with the phone in his pocket, and the headset wire running under his T-shirt with the earbuds sticking out of the collar. With this accessory, he must be the coolest looking retired Dad at the JCC gym, on Oaktree Road.  Even though he has confessed that many of his necklines have stretched out due to this habit he still laments the fact that he never has the headset when he needs it and has a down pat routine comically expressing his frustration of having to spend an hour each day looking for some combination of his headset, keys or phone.  Part of the problem is that neither parent can locate theirs so they take turns stealing each other’s, perpetuating the cycle.

Perhaps because they get lost so easily, or perhaps because manufacturers know how dependent we are on them, I have historically found headsets to be a purchase with a frustratingly short shelf life.  Years ago, I caught on to this conspiracy of planned product obsolescence.  I began saving the box and receipt, and waiting on a long line at the Verizon store to exchange a headset on its last legs, just before the warranty was set to expire.  This was my version of “vote with your dollar,” hoping that my contribution to the pile of returned broken headsets would send a glaring message to the manufacturer to improve their product quality.  No, I will NOT just buy a new one every year, I’ll exchange it and make you pay…. ARRRRR.

At the time of being a grad student, waiting on line to avoid wasting between 20 and 30 dollars on a new headset, and sending the manufacturer a message, made sense.   Though I still would like to show those manufacturers that NO, I will not stand for a product that lasts less than a year,  I don’t know if I would still think it was a good use of time.  I’m lucky that I have the luxury to choose.

Weirdly enough, I just found a few of the old plastic cases with the receipt in them in the back of my Prius.  It was ages ago that I cleaned out the Prius, but I think I had reserved a few “critical” items, in a single self-contained cardboard box.  The box had mostly maps,  old cassette tapes (remember those?  My Prius still has a tape deck in it!), and a beloved travel blanket, but I suppose that for whatever reason, at the time that I cleaned it out, I felt the need to hold on to those headset boxes.   I think I can finally throw them out now…

But back to the current situation of the broken Apple headset.  Unlike a lot of product replacement decisions, this one was fairly easy.  Though indignant about the short life of the product, I decided that the quality of use was worth the price difference and asked my husband if he would order me the “authentic” Apple headset as a replacement.  The warranty had expired so no exchange protest was possible.   Additionally, I breathed a sigh of relief that the problem was the headset, and not the headphone jack.  I take my opportunities for gratitude where I can.    I’d much rather replace a $30.00 headset than a phone worth several hundred dollars.

This replacement headset is an example where my goal of Intentional Abundance has manifested.  I knew exactly what I needed and was willing to pay the price as it made life easier on at least two fronts.  First, I could avoid shopping for a replacement pair, no weeding through Amazon seller reviews, and second, I appreciated the sound quality.  The story has an even happier ending, as the original headphones were purchased with a Chase credit card that has an extended product warranty.  For products valued at less than $100.00, the procedure for a free replacement was fairly simple.  (Even simpler for me in this case because my husband volunteered to handle that.) A shopping victory!

Originally written, Dec 28, 2016

Key words – success stories, warranty, comedy, headphones, Apple, headset, earpod, earbuds, cell phone, losing things, breaking things, product obsolescence, exchanges, replacements, vote with the dollar.

Shared Fashion; To Buy or to Borrow? Options for Special Occasion Wear

On August 20th 2016, my husband and I attended my cousin’s black tie wedding on Long Island.   In anticipation of the occasion, I had to decide what to wear.  I wasn’t very excited about wearing one of the three dresses I already owned and the idea of shopping for something new felt both expensive and daunting.

First, I reconsidered the three dresses I had and tried them all on to see how they fit and felt.  The first was a purple one purchased prior to 2008, which I know because my husband has a photo of me in it on his phone from a wedding we attended together when we were first dating (sweet right?)  I still really like it, but it seemed a bit casual for this event.   The second dress is a lovely shade of Emerald Green that I purchased back in 2010 to wear to another wedding.  The third is actually a hand-me down from my Mom, who still feels the need to buy a new dress for every occasion. It’s black and tight fitting with a little bit of gold lace at the top. The third is probably the least “me,” not surprising, considering  it was a hand-me down, but pretty flattering on.

Regardless of this preexisting supply of 3 perfectly good dresses, I  felt the temptation to shop around and get something new.  Though I felt the green dress could work, I wasn’t excited to wear it.    I’m not particularly “girly” but I do love the opportunity to get dressed up in something fun.  Occasionally, I even find dress shopping to be a fun opportunity to explore new styles and colors.  I remember the days of going to the mall with a good friend back in high school and trying on prom dresses just for the thrill of it.   Nowadays however, the fun of dress shopping has been reduced by the high bar I set for something to be worthy of that credit card swipe.    To buy a new dress, it must be deemed “closet worthy.”  If I’m going to buy it, it should be wearable for multiple occasions – whether I had them on the calendar or not – and be classic enough to wear again down the road.   If I’m going to add it to my collection, it needs to be nicer that what I already have and unique enough to add some variety to the collection.  In addition to these criteria, I expect a good price.

When discussing what to wear, my Mom got very excited about using Rent the Runway  https://www.renttherunway.com/ . If you are not familiar with the program, this is an online business where you can rent a dress. All cleaning is handled by the company and they ship you a dress in two sizes for a designated period of time.  They recommend having the dress arrive 1-2 days prior to the event to allow for exchanges, but I’m not sure if there are extra charges for more exchanges.   They also allow for a second style to be ordered at the same time for a reduced rate.   In theory, this approach fits well with my ethic of responsible consumerism, and offers a solution to buying and storing a dress that will just be stashed in the back of the closet until another occasion may or may not come up.

Unless one is unfettered enough to just buy a dress for one occasion and justify the expense and the purchase because the occasion is special enough, purchasing special occasion wear comes with a gamble that the dress will be worn again in the future.  Will I be the same size?  Will the occasion be a similar dress code?  Season?  Will anyone notice if I re-wear a dress?   I haven’t encountered this last one too much in California, but back on the East Coast, there was a certain stigma against the latter – an obnoxious philosophy that one can’t be seen in the same dress twice by the same group of people.   I loved the concept of Rent the Runway so both to humor my mom, and also to see if this “shared economy” solution would work for me, I visited their website.

The first disincentive to this option was the price.  The rental packages for a weekend rental started at $70.00.  Given that I would consider spending up to about $150.00 on a dress that I loved, and would likely wear again, this didn’t seem too worthwhile.

The second disincentive is the lack of opportunity to try it on before the event. Essentially, it’s a role of the dice for $70.00.   Though not applicable to me because I don’t usually need to get things altered, my Aunt mentioned that it never works for her because she is short and the dresses generally run to long.

Though I loved the concept, I decided Rent the Runway wasn’t for me.  The price/uncertainty balance wasn’t right.  Incidentally, my mom didn’t wind up using Rent the Runway either and wore something she already had – to an East Coast wedding – Gasp, I’m surprised they let her in!

I shopped around a bit but didn’t see anything too exciting so I considered a third option, to  see about borrowing a dress.  This idea brought me back to the good old days of college, where trying on and borrowing each other’s clothes went without saying.  But as an adult, I felt the normalcy of that has decreased.  It’s a lot more complicated to drive across town to raid a friend’s closet than walk down the hall.  Also, have we gotten more particular about sharing as we have aged?

I thought it was worth a try and drafted a hypothetical posting for Facebook.

Using social media to create a lending society….

“Hi, Does anyone who thinks they are roughly my size have a black tie appropriate dress I could borrow for a wedding this August?  I could also buy something or “Rent the Runway”  just thought about trying a lending approach to be more sustainable.  If you are like me, you might have a few previously worn dresses that are hanging around waiting for the next potential occasion.  I’m offering you a chance to put that item to use.  Happy to pay for any cleaning needed.” 

Though I really love the idea of using social media to create a “lending society” I felt too self-conscious about the posting.  Instead, I asked a  trusted friend who is in the ball park of my size, and she was more than generous about the loan.   She texted me a few pictures and I went over to investigate more.   She had at least 10 dresses and even though our size might be similar, she had had a few altered or shortened, and they really didn’t do me any favors.  There was one that was really beautiful, but would require a firm tug to close and I really didn’t want to take any risks with her new dress.   It was worth a shot, but it didn’t work out.   Anxiety about possibly returning something damaged, or possibly taking advantage of a friend’s generosity overrode the sharing/sustainability angle.

In the end, I was discussing this with my mom and she reminded me of one of her old dresses that I could borrow.  The intuitive feeling – of “Yes, this is it!”  struck and I put my search to rest.  Since she lives so far away, I couldn’t try the dress on in advance so I brought my own green dress on the plane as a back-up.  Luckily, her dress fit great and was perfect for the occasion.  I suppose there is more comfort in borrowing something from your mom than a friend, and in this case a better fit too!

There are a few lessons to be learned from all this.  First, there is something subconsciously better about owning a new dress rather than renting one unless there is a great price incentive to do so.   Knowing myself, I only buy things that I love and would want to wear again, so if I rented something that I loved and had to give it back it would be disappointing.    Second, the particularities of size and taste make borrowing a bit difficult, and there is a worry about ruining and item and therefore putting a ding on the friendship as well.  Ideally I’d like to get around this and practice lending and borrowing more, but it takes a little bit to get around some of the perceived obstacles and anxieties surrounding this.   Finally, after taking stock of my collection, I realized I’ve managed pretty well on only a few dresses.  I take well enough care of them, so that if I were to find something I really liked, I should just buy it and plan to hold it and USE IT for the long term.

 

To my readers, I’d love to hear about what you do about special occasion wear.   How many wedding appropriate dresses do you currently have in your closet? How do you decide when to buy something new, rent or borrow?  How quickly do give away or donate your used dresses?  As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

 

Originally written, July 18, 2016 – edited for past tense December 27, 2016

Meant to be used – and maintained – the coffee maker/humidifier challenge

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Today, I cleaned my coffee maker.  A few years ago, I purchased a single serve coffee maker to keep in my office at work.  It’s great. It brews directly into a travel mug, and doesn’t require a filter for the coffee grinds –  just add the grinds, add the water and brew.   I used it pretty much up until my maternity leave.  When I got back, it kind of grossed me out.  I thought about it sitting unused and collecting dust for 6 months.  I thought about the old grinds wedged into in, giving it a bitter flavor.  So, it sat unused for almost another 3 months until today.  I gave that baby a big washin’!  Took it to the sink in the cafeteria and used soap and everything.  Used a bristle brush.  Even wiped the outside so its shiny.  Then, I made myself a niiiiice cup of decaf.

It occurred to me to document this, because it felt good to take care of my possessions.  The idea of taking care of your things, treating them well, and showing them gratitude is something that Marie Kondo discuses in her books.  She attributes a spirit to inanimate objects and claims that we must therefore treat them with respect.  She even goes so far as to thank them before putting them away. Perhaps this is the one crumb of environmentalism in a book that mostly focused on discarding.  If I appreciate my things, I will be more likely to take care of them, they will be more likely to be used well and last longer.

While I generally do take care of things, I’ve also been known to procrastinate, especially on a task that involves a thorough cleaning.  It literally took me 2 and half months of wondering what to drink in the mornings, staring at my coffee maker, and then opting for tea, before I got around to cleaning this thing.   This coffee pot washing was a nice reminder to appreciate the things we have and to take care of them well.

This occasion made me wonder what other items were hiding out, where a nice bit of maintenance would bring them to life again. One item that is a constant source of procrastination and therefore stresses me out is our bedroom humidifier.  When the cycle works well, I clean the humidifier, fill it up, let it run for a few days, husband fills it up again and again, then I wash it roughly every 2 weeks.  We bought the humidifier when I was pregnant, (due to extreme dry nose), and my husband graciously offered to be the water refiller because he didn’t want me carrying heavy things around.  We lovingly joke that refilling it is his department, washing it is my department.   If you become a frequent reader, you may notice that we each have our own various “departments.”

Our cycle worked great for a while, but it now has a crack.  Its too easy to procrastinate on refilling it.  If its not refilled right way, I procrastinate on cleaning it even more because I imagine mold festering.  The inconvenience of this task has become exaggerated in my head to monumental proportions.  So similar to the coffee maker (which is now resolved), the humidifier takes up precious space on my desk, yet still remains unused because it requires an obnoxious cycle of maintenance.

Despite the chore involved, I don’t want to get rid of it.  My dry nose is better, but our son is frequently  congested from daycare germs.  Running the humidifier is one small thing that may help, so it is probably worth it.  I sincerely think we would all benefit from it.  In using this space to brainstorm some fixes for this problem, I think the first step is to take my husband out of the cycle and make this “my department.”  By refilling the humidifier, I can reduce the need to clean it as frequently, as well as the mental roadblock of the mold. This sole responsibility may also take some of the resentment out of the chore.  I don’t have to think- “I’m only washing this out because my husband didn’t refill it.”  In a similar spirit of generosity, I may even further complicate the chore by adding menthol to the container.

Menthol that my husband bought.  He bought it because he sincerely felt that it would help with our son’s colds, but unfortunately, it doesn’t help anyone when the humidifier isn’t even in use.  It was probably a waste of money since I don’t really want to complicate a chore that is already pestering me and I guarantee that he hasn’t given a second thought to either the humidifier or the menthol since then Yet, like an unwanted houseguest, I didn’t invite that menthol into our home, I can’t kick it out (throw it away), but I don’t want to be responsible for entertaining it (using it) either.  But back to my spirit of generosity, I suppose I can graciously add the menthol, despite lengthening the task, and see how it goes.

As I write this, I realize logically that this is a minor task, and not a real problem.  This is probably a ten minute chore, max.  It’s not like I need to go fetch the water from the well and boil it on an open flame.  Despite this logic, it really does feel like a drag.   Though our possessions bring benefits, they also bring responsibilities.   My “stuff” is not in charge of me!  I want to control my stuff and my time!  But yet, the benefit/chore paradox remains, so it is up to me to adapt a better attitude about it.  Thinking about the benefits of humidified air, thinking about my son and husband, (and me too) breathing better at night.  Thinking about graciously taking on a task without complaint or resentment.  I’d really like to get there.

Another thought I had is to ask our cleaning lady if she would mind washing it when she comes once a month.  I know, I know, as I write this, I’m full of self-criticism, imagining my readers thinking, “what, this girl is lucky enough to have a monthly cleaning lady and she is still complaining about a ten minute task!??!!!”  I know, I know, time to get a better attitude.  In fact, the last time the cleaning lady came, I mentioned the humidifier to my husband, but he didn’t want to ask her to clean it, saying that it wasn’t part of her job.  I think this is an area where I should be more assertive.  I don’t see any harm in asking her to help out with this task, so the next time she comes, I’ll just ask her myself.

Thank you for indulging me and sharing in my recent joys and frustrations related to cleaning and maintaining my possessions.  I’ve adapted a new resolution.  I’ll continue to enjoy the coffee maker, and wash it out on an as needed basis. I’ll also take the humidifier task “into my department”, but ask the cleaning lady for help with it once a month.  I’d love to hear more about your high maintenance stuff.  Is any of it sitting around waiting for a seize the day, I will use this moment?  An unworn shirt that needs to be ironed?  A favorite watch that needs a battery?  A family table cloth that needs some stain removing treatment?  The water bottle forgotten in the trunk of the car that needs a thorough rinse?  Your stuff is calling you!!!!   Please share your confessions below…..

 

Originally written, September 15, 2016 (coffee maker).  Humidifier portions added December 29, 2016.

 

My New Vegetable Peeler; In with the new, out with the old (eventually)

dsc00829_64-kbOriginal Date of writing:  July 15, 2016

My resolve to eliminate the excess was challenged recently.  A friend invited me over to keep each other company while we cooked for the week and I instantly fell in love with her vegetable peeler.  It was an OXO good grip and it peeled those carrots like but-ah.  I could tell right away that this was the tool for the job.  I currently had 2 peelers in the kitchen drawer, my favorite being a red handled peeler, likely from IKEA, probably about 10 years old.  The other a black kitchen aid that admittedly had a sharper blade, but always took away too much of the vegetable and I found it to be bulky and awkward.  It was probably from my husband’s apartment before we moved in together.  Normally, I wouldn’t consider getting a new one until at least one of them broke or disappeared into that mysterious place where things tend to disappear to (just like our ice cream scooper has at the moment.)  BUT, after using that OXO, I knew it was time to “indulge” in an upgrade.   I put indulge in quotes, as when I went to Amazon, the peeler cost a whooping total of $8.99.   Compared to smoothness and ease of that OXO peeler, our peelers WERE broken, so the upgrade was justified in my mind.

Here’s where the responsibility and discipline come in…. When I went to Amazon to find the peeler, I saw a set of 3 available for $14.99, each one doing a slightly different function.  Functions that I had never thought I needed – but now that they were available, and at a nominal charge compared to the price of the first peeler, I was very tempted.  A peeler that can julienne vegetables?  Oh Boy!   That is what I’ve long been searching for…… oh wait, the urge to julienne vegetables has hit me all of zero times in … oh wait, my whole life.  Also part of the set was a Y-shaped peeler.  I think it did the same thing as the first one, but allows for a slightly different angle to be used.  I sat in front of the Amazon screen doing a peeling motion, trying to imagine the difference between a Y shaped and a standard peeler.  A downward stroking motion with my right hand, hmm, hope no one saw me. (Insert sheepish emoticon here).

I almost bought the set as FOMO began to set it. What if the Y-shaped peeler was such a better angle and I was really missing out?  Maybe we did need to julienne vegetables and have just never had the chance?  But discipline in the form of my husband stopped me and I settled on the one new OXO peeler.  Just ONE new peeler.

Now that the order has been placed, another dilemma lurks.  Which, if any, of the other peelers should be discarded? I prefer the red one, my husband prefers the black one. Its probably good to have at least one spare.  What if two people want to peel at the same time?  For now its in my nature to hold on to all 3 but I should probably donate the other one.  TBD.

Afterthoughts:

Aug 15, 2016

My husband was making a salad last night and commented “you are right, this vegetable peeler really is good.”  All 3 peelers are still in the drawer.

December 27, 2016

In rereading and editing this post, I think its time to throw away at least the other black peeler.  The new peeler is also black and the old one was distracting me when I reached for it in the drawer.  I think its time for it to go.

Link for new peeler:

https://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-Swivel-Peeler/dp/B00004OCIP