Homemade haircuts

I have not been to a barber in 40 years.Every five months, Betsy gets out her sharpest scissors and I put a towel around my neck, and she starts snipping away.

This started as another exercise in radical frugality, a concept I wrote about here. Although homemade haircuts don’t save that much money (less than $50 a year) I hate spending money when I don’t have to.

And homemade haircuts, for me,  have a history. When I was a boy, I hated going to the barber because I didn’t like being fussed over. So my mother started cutting my hair at home. Then, in the long-hair era of the late 1960s and ’70s, I almost completely stopped getting my hair cut. Must have been a tough time for the barbering profession.

img_20170202_075125135We enjoy the experience of cutting my hair. There’s a certain, uh, intimacy of Betsy wielding sharp objects close to my flesh. And for her, cutting my hair is sensual  and aesthetic, a form of creativity. She’s a very handy person, and this is the ultimate hands-on task.

When we’re done, it’s my job to clean up the hair that has spilled on the floor. I  put it in the compost bucket to be turned into garden fertilizer.

I do go to the barber shop — for other people’s hair. I read that critters that prey on our vegetable garden are deterred by the human scent that lingers in hair. So every year I collect lots of it from a friendly barber and put it near critter-sensitive plants that are outside our garden fence.

When I’ve gone more than four months without cutting my hair, I have to wash it often or it looks unkempt and greasy (as in the photo above). So now that my hair is short, I don’t have to worry so much about it.

Betsy has developed a system with her own hair of getting it cut once a year, in the fall. Then she lets it grow until, by the time the hot weather arrives, her hair is long enough that she can pin it up off her neck to keep cool. She sees this as another way to economize on hair cutting, by just not doing very much of it!

What are some of the DIY habits you have developed that save money and lead the way out of the mainstream culture and into The Good Life?

New readers of this blog can get a quick summary of more than 150 past posts on frugality, simple living, gardening, climate change, life lessons and living without. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a given category.







Home-grown Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree this year did not come from a farm or a department store. We found it in our own yard.

It’s a white pine that was shading some of our plants and dying back at the top due to a disease. Betsy had been eying it for several years as a potential Christmas tree.

img_20161222_211904330So a week before Christmas, we tromped through the snow, saw in hand, to harvest it. We cut the 12-foot-high tree three feet from the bottom, a technique called “coppicing.” We hope the tree will  grow back. Maybe it will provide another Christmas tree in 15 years.

We’ve seen Christmas trees that are so perfectly tapered I’ve felt and smelled them to make sure they are real. No one would mistake our tree for one you’d buy at Wal-Mart.

We had to cut its top off so it would fit in our eight-foot-high living room, and its limbs jut out haphazardly. Its top is a stump that’s lower than many of the branches. We think it’s beautiful.

The joy of real Christmas trees is partly bringing something from nature inside the house. In the presence of our homely tree, we imagine we are actually in the forest.

And this Christmas tree fits in well with the frugal lifestyle we describe in this blog. Part of that lifestyle is making do with what’s available, and seeing it not as deprivation but as an opportunity for creativity.

If our tree is imperfect, that seems to fit in with the Christmas story of a baby being born in a stable and laid in a manger.

And it fits in with a quotation that’s on our refrigerator: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury; and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich…to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common…” (William Henry Channing, American transcendentalist)

 For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick summary of more than 150 past posts, divided into categories such as frugality, simple living, cooking, living without, gardening and climate change.


Keeping the clunker

I’ve been scouting the web sites of used-car dealers, with an eye to buying a newer version of our 2007 Toyota Prius, which has 146,000 miles on it.

IMG_20160901_095905375_HDROur car runs well, gets 45 miles a gallon (52 on the highway), and we’ve spent only $345 on repairs and maintenance in the past year. But it’s survived two crunches (while unoccupied) and one part was stitched together to pass inspection. It’s got lots of other dings, and the warranty on the power-train battery is about to expire. I believed it is uneconomical to be either a car’s first owner or its last, and worried about the hassle and expense of future repairs.

IMG_20160901_095933051(1)And then there’s the exclamation point that’s lit up on our car’s dashboard. Mechanics assure us that it’s a tire-pressure sensor problem that does not indicate a problem with the car’s operation, but it’s still mildly worrisome.

Betsy wanted to keep the car a little longer. After doing some research on automotive economics – and wondering who would buy a car with an exclamation point on its dashboard – I decided that she was right. Here are seven reasons why it makes sense for us to keep the car until the cost of a repair exceeds its value:

  1. Miles to go. I’ve heard that with Priuses, “200,000 miles is the new 100,000.” And I read about a guy in Maine who put 1 million miles on a 1990 Honda Accord.
  2. Carbon footprint. We care about the energy cost of building a new car and disposing of an old one, including hazardous chemicals.
  3. Free theft insurance. Who would steal a car with so many flaws? Keeping the car, we don’t have to worry about future dings, or all the carpet stains.
  4. Frugality. We will pay less for insurance and excise tax than with a new car. I read that insurance costs $300 a year more on a 2010 Corolla than an ’05.
  5. Above average. The average car owner keeps it for six years before trading it in. We bought our car in mid-2013, so we have at least a few years to go.
  6. Depreciation. The amount a car declines in value in a year is the true cost of owning one. The longer you own a car, the less it depreciates every year.
  7. Self-image. We’re just not spiffy types. Our car looks as, uh, lived in as our house and our clothes do. Keeping a old car keeps us humble. (Or prideful in our shabbiness?)

This decision is made easier by the fact that I can get most places I want to go on my bicycle, allowing us to share our one car, and we drive it only 8,000 miles a year. Neither of us has a long commute that requires a newer car.

There will come a time when we’ll face a big repair bill, face each other and say, “It’s time.” But the longer we can delay that day, the better off we’ll be.

New readers of this blog  may want to check out this quick overview of 150 past posts, in 13 categories such as frugality, simple living, gardening, living without and climate change. Or hover on “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.




Free heat

When town employees were taking down some maple and birch trees on our street a few months ago, we asked them to dump the wood in our side yard instead of disposing of it.

IMG_20160415_134405415We ended up with an enormous pile of logs, two of them behemoths 18 inches in diameter and 10 feet long. So I asked two friends who own gas-powered chainsaws to help me cut them up. Amazingly, they both offered to come over on the same day.

I used to own a gas-powered chainsaw, and cut up big trees for firewood, but I concluded that I shouldn’t. It’s too dangerous for me to operate alone, and I wasn’t able to give this machine the care it demanded, in terms of oiling, cleaning, tightening  and sharpening. The smaller electric chain saw we now own is lighter and easier to control, but can only cut up tree limbs and other wood under six inches in diameter.

IMG_20160606_113248691_HDRMy friend Rick Cowan came down from Vermont on Monday to help out. With Betsy and I moving logs into place for him to cut, we went through half the wood in 90 minutes. I was impressed with Rick’s caution, from the protective chaps he put on his legs to the number of times he stopped to check his chainsaw.

IMG_20160606_113335736_HDRDuring our breaks we reflected on how much  easier and faster it is for us to cut up wood using these machines, powered by fossil fuels, than it would be to do the work by hand. Even with the big two-person saws that can fell a tree or cut up big logs, the human strength, time and energy required would be enormous. We are grateful for the industrial revolution, the invention of the chainsaw and for the fossil fuels that run them. It makes you wonder how we would do things if we didn’t have these “energy slaves” at our command.

The work tired us out, and we were having lunch when the phone rang. It was our friend David Ahlfeld, offering to come over and help us cut up wood. After laughing at the coincidence, I told him we we’d just been there, done that. Then I pulled out that old infomercial tag line, “But wait! There’s more!” and agreed to get together soon to finish off the job.

IMG_20160610_073118495_HDRMost of the wood we cut up Monday won’t be burned until the start of 2018. I’ve started  splitting the logs with a maul and stacking the wood so it can dry out. This is the part of heating with wood that I enjoy the most, though I have to do it in short bursts to avoid hurting my 66-year-old body.

Why bother? Why not heat our house with oil, which is so cheap now, or pay someone $200-plus a cord for wood that’s cut, split and delivered? Well, we enjoy the comradeship that comes with working with friends, we like getting life’s necessities for free, and appreciate getting them from our very own street. You can’t get much more local than that!

For new readers of this blog, here’s a quick overview of 150 past posts, divided into categories such as simple living, frugality, cooking, gardening, living without and climate change. Or hover over “Index” above to read all the posts in a particular category.





The joy of mending

IMG_20160223_095327997_HDRWhen I mentioned to someone recently that my winter hibernation project this year is working through my backlog of mending, she asked if she could bring her mending pile over for me to do too. But I know my limits, so I politely declined!

At other times, when I have moaned about my mountains of mending and the closets full of fabrics for future sewing projects, people have suggested I just toss it all out. They suggested this would clear out the clutter that was weighing on my mind.

I thought about it, but my planet-loving conscience, my thrifty soul and the voice of my “waste not, want not” ancestors all said “No!” So all through this past year, I looked forward to this winter, when I could devote myself to mending as my annual hibernation project. (Read about last year’s project here.)  And believe it or not, I’ve been having fun!

This year, as I sit pinning, sewing and snipping, I have realized that mending is also a spiritual practice.  When I do productive work with my hands, it grounds* and centers me. I lose track of time and feel delight!  I myself am mended just as surely as I sew up a ripped seam or use old fabric to recover a pillow. I can’t get enough of it!

IMG_20160223_094615331So I want to share with you some of the things I’ve been working on.  After it sat in a laundry basket for 10 or 20 years,  waiting for me to get around to it, I FINALLY mended the quilt I made in 1971  and replaced all the worn-out patches.  Beautiful!

IMG_20160223_094415486_HDRI made a new quilt out of an old blanket with a few too many holes, a sheet (also with holes that I mended), and a nice, big piece of ancestral fabric (was it a tablecloth? a bedspread?). Something useful produced and the pile reduced.

I mended the holes in a  wool blanket that used to belong to my parents, and then to one of my sisters and that I recently inherited.  The pattern is reminiscent of Native American weaving, but it may be a reproduction.

IMG_20160223_092754418_HDRAnd then there were the usual clothing items, the holey wool socks, the ripped seams, the stretched-out elastic, the too-long dress that is more useful shorter.

IMG_20160223_100858617_HDRAnd now I am working on re-covering seat cushions for our hard wooden chairs so they’ll be more comfortable, and so the colors and patterns will coordinate better.  Fun!

The satisfaction of doing this practice of mending and repairing in my own life, with my own stuff, gives a glimpse of a bigger lesson. I think of how the earth calls out for mending and healing of its soil, its atmosphere, its waters.  I think of the mending needed in our communities, our politics, our culture. I think of the broken places in all our human hearts that are crying for repair and healing.

How can we bind up, heal, repair, re-weave, regenerate, restore all that is broken? As spring, the season of rebirth, resurrection and liberation approaches,  I hope we can be set free and energized to mend the world around us.

Meanwhile, I will stitch and pin and darn and sew and hope that spring will see my mending piles reduced, my closets a little less stuffed, and my soul restored.

* My church congregation is having an “all church read” of the book Grounded: Finding God in the World A Spiritual Revolution by Diana Butler Bass.  At a book discussion group meeting recently, the leader asked “What grounds you?”  At the time I couldn’t really come up with a true answer, but I got this insight while mending.

New readers of this blog can click here for a quick overview of 150 past posts on simple living, frugality, climate change, cooking, gardening and living without. Or hover on “Index” above to read many of the posts in a particular category.