Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

iRecycle: the app that my sister (almost) invented

The Keurig coffee maker was the first thing to leave the curb, picked up by a guy on roller blades. We peered from behind the curtains in the front window and watched him read the disclaimer, written in sharpie marker and taped to the box by my very honest sister: "This was given to us by a friend second-hand. We think it probably works, but we never actually tried it. Good luck." I don't know who had higher hopes, the roller-blader with the free find, or my sister, who was on a downsizing binge. She had gathered kitchen gadgets, clothes no longer in favor, sewing fabric, and miscellaneous items from closets, put them all out on the curb with an enticing FREE STUFF sign, and posted an alert on Craigslist. We felt like household goods adoption agents, monitoring the bonding between items and the passers by, but keeping a respectful distance so as not to jeopardize the attachment process. By the end of the day, even the single mugs had found new homes. We were left with a printer with a crooked paper feed, (the disclaimer having probably been too much information in this case), and a few other odds and ends.

Passionate about diverting things from the waste stream, my sister knew exactly where to take the leftovers to increase their chances of being reused or properly recycled. She knew which thrift stores in her community would be likely to resell clothes versus dishes, where to take the electronic waste, and where to donate the leftover craft supplies. Recognizing that not everyone is as obsessed or committed to this cause as she is, she proposed, "Redistribution needs to be easier for people...people aren't against recycling or repurposing, they just don't know what to do with their stuff...they don't have time to spend doing the research...they use up all their energy just making the decision to finally get rid of something, and at that point, they just need a quick solution for disposal... " And then the lightbulb went off, and for the next few hours, two low-tech sisters thought they had invented an App to save the planet.

While reading a magazine the following week, I discovered that we weren't the first people to think of this. It already exists.  iRecycle is available for iOS and Android, or at Earth911on the internet if you are still using a computer. It's easy to use! Enter your zip code, enter the item you are ready to recycle or redistribute, and find your local recycling centers.

You may be very familiar with the resources in your own community, but keep this in mind if you ever find yourself cleaning out the household of a faraway family member.  I wish I had known of this a few years ago...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Let your fingers do the walking

We seem to get a new batch of phone books at least quarterly here, and with competing phone companies and multiple publishers, they accumulate quickly. I just found a 2007 edition under the stack of three 2010-11's, and we didn't even move here until 2009.

With our internet dependence and the increasing intelligence of cell phones, the usefulness of even the most current phone books is debatable, but I still refer to them frequently, and I know for a fact that I am not alone. When Opa and I settled into our new place, I opted for an unlisted number, so that incoming calls would be limited to friends and family who understand our increasingly nocturnal schedule and the unpredictability of sleep in a household where dementia has taken up residence. This completely backfired when a phone book printing error resulted in a flood of urgent calls at all hours from people who found our number misplaced as a local business listing. They sought consultation for septic system and drainage problems, and though caregiving had certainly increased my focus on issues related to plumbing, my trouble-shooting expertise was quite personalized, and I had absolutely nothing to offer the callers other than someone else's phone number.  

Today's downsize challenge is to gather up your out-of-date directories. Your phone book should have a "recycling guide" section that tells you where to put them. In some parts of the country, you will only receive a printed phone book if you ask for one. If you would rather not receive any in the future, click here to opt out of yellow pages delivery by entering your zip code.

 Let your fingers do the walking, right over to the recycling bin.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Where have all the flowers gone? (the case of the empty vase)

empty vases from under the sink...
Opa has always loved having flowers in the house. We are lucky to have a yard with mature gardens that offer many blooms throughout the summer season. The only thing that brings him more joy than arranging them these days is taking their pictures.

When Oma was still alive, bringing home a bouquet from the grocery store, (or sometimes two if they were on sale), carefully measuring and trimming the ends, and displaying them in a vase on the coffee table was part of his weekly routine. After 95 years of birthdays and 68 anniversaries, they were not lacking for empty vases, baskets, or other containers to hold them.

When tackling the pantry, where they were precariously stacked inside each other in topple-over, accident- potentially-requiring-sutures, waiting-to-happen fashion, Mom led the initiative. This was a great place to begin downsizing because it wasn't emotionally loaded. (Generally a good starting point when facing the dismantling of an entire household.) We cleaned, sorted, and boxed up the lot, (at least a dozen baskets, two boxes full of vases, and quite a few holiday themed ceramics) then drove them to the florist who had originally made the deliveries. If they were less than delighted to receive them, they were great fakers.

This week, I decided to do the same with the small collection that was starting to gather under the kitchen sink in our current home. It was a great outing for us and Opa came home with a prize.

Today's Downsize Challenge is to take inventory of your empty vases and make new arrangements for the extras. Personally, as long as I have one thing big enough to hold peonies during the week in June when they bloom, and another thing small enough to hold the daisies, I feel well prepared.

This challenge should be fairly easy on you. Many florists around the country have initiated vase recycling programs. Some even offer discounts or store credit for your return. If your local florist has not thought of this yet, your inquiry might really start something. Please do take the extra few minutes to clean them first. I don't have a dishwasher, but soak mine in dish detergent in the sink to get them in prime condition for reuse. The baskets used for flower arrangements can be re-used too.  If your favorite florist won't take them back, consider finding a new favorite. As for the little water tubes, they might accept those for re-use too, but if not, notice their potential role in other areas of the house.  A few have found new careers in my sewing basket (great as needle holders, for bead storage, etc) and tool box (perfect for little nails and small hardware). And remember, glass and plastic can usually be recycled if all attempts at redistribution fail.

Opa's smile shows the power of a single flower, so pick one today for somebody you love. Don't worry about the vase. There's sure to be one in the utility closet somewhere...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Was blind, but now I see...

One nut, two screws, three detached temples, and after four years out of commission, a five minute repair job has my collection of drugstore sunglasses back in action! I knew this day would come eventually, which is what I remember telling myself when I packed up the various pieces from the junk drawer in my old apartment last year and opted to pack them into a U-Haul instead of throwing them away. "I'll get around to fixing them sometime..."

I assumed this would be an easy task once I stopped procrastinating, and since the sunglasses were of the inexpensive non-prescription variety, it was certainly going to be a do it yourself operation.  Like most of those, it should have been easier than it was, took significantly longer than it should have, and involved more than one trip to a store for parts. If you've attempted this task yourself recently, you probably discovered that it's hard to find tiny screws without a minimum purchase that includes a 4-way screwdriver with magnifier that you don't need, (because you already have two in a desk drawer someplace), wrenches that don't fit the nuts, and 4 screws that turn out to be too big or too small to be useful. The kit cost me just one dollar and eighty-eight cents; but was worth less than that, so it's now in the junk drawer where the glasses used to be.

A "Fix all glasses/ eyeglass repair kit" that I ordered online for seven dollars finally gave me what I needed to repair the glasses from the junk drawer, and any others I will ever own in the future. It came with lots of different sized screws, which was good, because I lost quite a few of them when I bumped my elbow on the table while opening the package. Even with many of the nuts and screws lost forever in the carpet, there were still enough to do the job, and three pair of sunglasses have avoided the trash. But what about other glasses we have around the house that are no longer being used? Reading glasses that have been replaced by a stronger magnification...My old prescription lenses from the nineties with frames that cover three-quarters of my face....What can be done with those???

This week's downsize challenge is to take inventory of your eye glasses; Sunglasses, reading glasses, old prescription glasses, etc. Fix what can be fixed, and consider donating what you don't need or want anymore. Even old sunglasses that you have replaced with a cooler pair; they will find their way to people near the equator, where eye protection is hard to come by, and UV rays cause serious vision loss. The following organizations collect, refurbish, and redistribute glasses of all kinds:

New eyes for the needy
Lions club

We have one pair of glasses in the house that I am not quite ready to donate. Family photo albums confirm my memory that my Oma wore the same frames for at least thirty-five years.  They were big, round bi-focals, and I don't think you could find anything like them in a store today. I remember the specific morning when I first learned the Dutch word "brill" while I was helping her get dressed. She asked me to get them from the dresser, along with her wristwatch. It was during the last six months of her life, when she began letting me help her with daily tasks, and I began making a more concerted effort to learn her language while we still had time together. Oma would stop in the middle of whatever we were doing, point to an object, say the word, and patiently wait while I would repeat it over and over until I had it right. I remember quietly setting those glasses on the dresser after taking them off for the last time. When I hold them in my hands now, I can still see her bright blue eyes behind them, saying so much that didn't need to be translated.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The biggest surprise

When I was talking with New York Times contributor Paula Span recently about the experience of cleaning out the condo, she asked me a great question: "What was the biggest surprise?" Nothing specific came to mind right away. It had been nearly a year since I'd locked that door for the last time, and my mind was cluttered with more current things, but a few weeks after the conversation, the memory of it suddenly hit me.

I had found the biggest surprise in the drawer of Opa's bedside table, underneath the index cards with illustrated directions for how to connect the High-8 video camera to the TV and VCR, a neatly folded sheet of typed lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner, five flashlights that didn't work, his stash of double-salt licorice, and a lot of miscellaneous batteries. It was inside of a small blue box with foreign writing on it that didn't look like Dutch to me. I mindlessly opened it, figuring that it was probably another "gift" that had come in the mail from some charity; another calculator or clock or something along those lines. I was two months into the clean-out process at that point, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the contents of the two bedrooms and their respective closets, but to find myself holding an Italian tear gas pistol came as a complete shock to me.

The biggest surprise

When I asked him about it, Opa said, "Oh, that's my revolver. It's for if someone breaks in at night."  I sat there trying to imagine a scenario in which my 95 year old grandfather, who has the steadiest, but largest hands I have ever seen, would successfully load teeny tiny tear gas caps, in the dark, without his glasses on, into this pistol, after first finding it underneath all the other stuff that was on top of it in the drawer.

Then I thought about all the nights during the previous four years when I had stayed up late after flying down for my long weekend visits, waiting for my grandparents to fall asleep so that I could sneak into the kitchen to reload the dishwasher with the dishes that had been put away dirty, sort through the contents of kitchen cabinets to find the source of rancid odors, and dump expired bottles of Thousand Island salad dressing down the garbage disposal. I began to imagine the story that might have run in the Herald Tribune if Opa's hearing loss had not been so profound, "Woman in pantry, surrounded by outdated boxes of Rice-a-Roni, teargassed by her grandfather who mistook her for an intruder..."

Opa is one of the most trusting people I have ever met, which is what made the discovery so hard to believe. If the pistol had been in the drawer on my grandmother's side of the bed, it would have all made so much more sense to me, but the people who have known Opa throughout his life agree that he'd be far more inclined to offer a burglar a cup of tea than to respond with self-defense.

He did not remember where he had bought the gun, or when, but my aunt put the pieces of the story together. She had lived in Uganda with her husband and young children between 1967-69. During a period of frequent break-ins and politic strain, they were advised to obtain tear gas for their personal safety. This wasn't something they could easily purchase locally, so they wrote to Opa for help. She didn't know that he'd bought one for himself too, but that must have been what happened. Neither of the weapons were ever fired.

While I was on the phone hearing the rest of the story, Opa sat at the kitchen table, wearing the coffee stained shirt that I hadn't been able to get him to change all week. Someone on The Price is Right was bidding on the showcase. As I watched him carefully sorting paper clips into neat piles of different sizes and colors, I could see it all so clearly, the X-Acto knife he'd used to cut the pages out of the center of a hardcover edition of Reader's Digest Collected Stories, the hours of letting the glue dry around the section that would hold the pistol, the long drive in his '66 Dodge Dart to a post office out of town, the fake return address, the successful smuggling operation. His strong desire to protect the people he loves; a lump rising in my throat. After I hung up the phone, I swallowed hard and said the only thing I could think of,  "Opa, would you like to go out for ice cream after lunch?"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When it no longer suits you

Suit jacket made by Opa's friend Mau in the 70's
Eighty-five years ago, Opa and his friend Mau were twelve year old boys playing in the streets of Amsterdam, riding bikes, going to the movies, and camping along the North Sea. By the time I knew them as retired old men sitting in lawn chairs on the beach, their friendship had survived a World War, immigration, and over fifty years of telling the same jokes. Mau grew up to be a tailor, and every few decades Opa would have a new suit made by his oldest friend.

When I was clearing out the wardrobe closet in Florida last spring, it was packed with every dress my grandmother had worn since immigration in 1957, (in a full range of sizes), purses and shoes in at least seven shades of beige, zippered bathrobes in every imaginable length and material, multiple pairs of identical slacks ("Buy one, get another half-off"), winter coats that hadn't been worn since the move from Massachusetts in the mid-eighties, an array of sun visors, and so much more. A woman's clothes are so occasional; the dress she wore to the fiftieth anniversary party when they hired that polka band... .the beaded blue two-piece suit from the last Captain's dinner, neatly stored in the dry cleaning bag, optimistically awaiting the next cruise. Cleaning out the closet of a recently departed loved one is overwhelmingly intimate and profoundly lonesome. The scent of familiarity has the power to deeply soothe and wound us in the same breath. I cried both kinds of tears as I sat on the floor of that closet, and the eleven umbrellas Oma had been saving for a rainy day could do nothing to deflect them.

When we would go for our walk to get the mail each afternoon, Opa would inevitably say to the ladies we met along the way, “My wife died. She was about your size. You could come to my house and see if any of her clothes fit you.” He didn't understand why nobody ever followed-up on his offer, so I started sneaking things out to the Goodwill and Salvation Army early in the morning, telling him later that I'd found someone who could really use them, which I desperately hoped was the truth.

When it came time to tackle Opa's side of the closet in preparation for our move, I made him try on everything he owned and we had a fashion show in the living room. We sorted his wardrobe into piles of 'things that fit' and 'things that didn't'. Then we subdivided, eliminating the fabrics that would most easily melt if they caught on fire, and other things we decided were unlikely to be worn by him in his ninety-fifth year (the belt buckles to his square dancing outfits, and the stretched out Speedo bathing suit with the lightening bolt on the backside). I appreciated his utilitarian approach to the process, “Why the hell do I need sixteen pairs of pants when I wear the same ones for a whole week and we have a perfectly good washing machine?” Moments of such clarity must be seized!  The decisions that followed were more straight forward than they would have been if my Oma had still been alive, and believe me, I felt guilty about that. We made one exception to our practical and ruthless purging; Mau's suits. They no longer fit Opa well, and we don't attend many suit-worthy occasions anymore, but after parting with so much already, “My longest- lasting friend made them for me,” seemed like a good enough reason to keep them.  

About six months after we got settled, Opa started to lose track of things that he usually carried in his pockets. My purse started getting overloaded with wadded up handkerchiefs, colored pencils, camera batteries, word search puzzle books, and the other items that travel with us on our daily outings. He needed a bag of his own...So we sent a suit jacket to my sister and she transformed it into the perfect solution, keeping the pockets intact and even reusing the original lining! (Click on the 'Something New' photo below to see her other similar projects.)

Something OldSomething New
Opa's jacket in 1979Opa's bag in 2011

Opa loves his new bag and tells everyone that it was “twice made” for him. The very same pocket that once held theater tickets and hotel keys now holds a pack of UNO cards and some spare hearing aide batteries, and it's getting a lot more use than it did while it was hanging in the back of the closet for the past twenty years.

What could you do with the beloved things that no longer suit you in their current form?

Spring is a great time to take a look in your closet. The Downsize Challenge this week is to sort through your wardrobe. I invite you to start with the things on hangers if the idea of tackling contents of dresser drawers feels like it will zap your life force. Diverting clothing from the textile waste stream is good for the planet and for the people on it. You probably already have some system in place for downsizing your unwanted clothing. Here are some options to consider:

You can maximize interest in a post on Freecyle or Craigslist by mentioning sizes and materials of what you have to offer (cotton dresses, denim jeans, wool coats, etc) rather than just listing “free clothes”. Don't limit yourself to thinking about the clothes as worthless in their current form. Many craftspeople seek these items for up-cycling projects and will be happy to take them off your hands. The condition may not matter if it is going to be deconstructed. When your old wool sweater has been cut up and felted and turned into something beautiful and new, nobody will ever know about that big hole in the left armpit.

Alterations: Do you still really love it but it needs some adjustment? Could it fit you again after a trip to the seamstress or tailor?

Consignment: Could you get some cash back?  

Donation: To maximize the impact of your local clothing donation, it's best to work seasonally. Your unwanted winter coat is honestly more likely to end up in the dumpster outside of the thrift store if you donate it in July than if you do so in October. Ask your donation center what happens to things that don't get purchased. Some participate in textile recycling programs (like this one in New York City). Others aren't in the loop yet. A lot of clothing goes into our landfills in spite of our best intentions.  (Readers, please post comments with your other resources and ideas.)

If you've got professional clothes in good condition, consider donating to one of several organizations that promote economic independence by providing workplace attire as part of career development programs:

But please remember, the recipients are not interviewing for careers as 1990's fashion models, so these clothes must be interview appropriate and IN STYLE.

Got any vintage items of interest? (Not just clothes, think about shoes, accessories, coats, hats, suitcases, parasols?...) A community theater company  in your area might welcome them for their costume shop.

And if you've been holding on to something sentimental from your longest lasting friend, consider how it might be transformed into something new to suit you. One of the keys to healthy downsizing is knowing what you really need to keep. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have you seen the muffin pan?

Wedding shower gifts from 1971
 The person who gave Mom these baking pans at her wedding shower in 1971 could never have known the long term yield on the investment. Other snazzier models (non-stick, air insulated, etc.) have been introduced into the household over the years, but the cookie sheet to the right is the one that is still burning the bottoms of ginger bread boys and roasting tater tots.

I made popovers yesterday and while digging through the storage drawer under the stove to find the muffin pan, discovered that I must have been distracted when cleaning up after my last baking project.

It seems that I totally bypassed the, "Oh, just let it soak overnight in the sink," step and put it away without even rinsing it at all. I love to cook and honestly enjoy doing dishes, but pots and pans are usually the last in the line-up, and they sometimes get overlooked. Have you ever opened the door of the oven to put something into it only to discover the roasting pan from last weekend, right where you left it?
The  muffin pan
I found an electric skillet in my grandmother's kitchen that contained what may have been the remnants of fried chicken, which I estimate to have been in there for at least five years before my discovery. It was stored in the cabinet over the refrigerator, which nobody in my immediate family can reach without a ladder, so I am not quite sure how it got there. The condo kitchenette, which was designed for people who like to eat out, contained three complete sets of cookware, each with a large stock pot and three sizes of saucepans.

What is the status of your cookie sheet collection? Is there something sticky permanently stuck to your non-stick?  Are you regularly ingesting Teflon flakes with your scrambled eggs? How many sauce pans do you really use on a day other than Thanksgiving? This week's Downsize Challenge is to take inventory of your pots and pans and cull out any that you are ready to live without. If intensive cleaning and polishing is in order, as it was here, an online search for "how to clean pots and pans" will yield many great suggestions for dealing with baked on grease. A paste of vinegar and baking soda worked very well for us.

If your unwanted pots and pans are still in usable condition for cooking, consider donation sites that accept household goods (Salvation Army, Goodwill, other charities in your area, etc.) Posting them on Craigslist under "free stuff" or on Freecycle might also help them find a good new home. Some metal pans will be accepted by your recycling center, but non-stick cookware seems to be a challenge in most areas. Consider re-purposing instead. Mom has found a few applications in the greenhouse. Seedling flats sit nicely on an old rusty cookie sheet. The handles can often be removed from pans and can serve as dishes under houseplants.

Gluten free muffins

Is there a place in the house where a magnetic message board would help YOU get more organized? Before you throw away that metal cookie sheet, check out this link for a creative idea with simple instructions by Carolyn on her beautiful blog about do it yourself projects at home.

Last night, I covered an old Baker's Secret with fabric to create a reminder board for Opa. When he woke up this morning, he was greeted by this note:

Today is Saturday
  (a good day for a shower)
  Muffins for breakfast!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vintage Vicks and Vaseline

Winter has officially ended and I am eager for our N.H. weather to match the arrival of a new season. I started my more ambitious Spring cleaning in the same corner of the house where the downsize challenge began last year; the bathroom. The medicine cabinet is a good place to start, because the decisions to be made are more straight forward than in other parts of the house. Expiration dates are easier to deal with than the more vague questions of current usage that we face elsewhere. It amazes me that although we have lived here for just over a year, we have somehow accumulated enough toe nail clippers to fully stock a pedicure salon in the mall. We have razor cartridges that don't fit any of the handles in our supply. The hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol are expired. There is sediment in the calamine lotion. I've got a few of Opa's prescriptions that were discontinued, but never discarded. Our four boxes of supposedly “assorted” Bandaids mostly contain empty wrappers now, or the little round ones that are too small for most of the things that happen around here.

What's the first aid supply situation at your place? If you had an accident with a minor injury right now, could you, or someone in your house, easily locate the stuff you would need to clean and dress your wound?  How is your stretched-out ace bandage collection? 

The downsize challenge of the week: 
I invited my family to compete with each other last spring to see who would find the bathroom product with the oldest expiration date. Some Pre-Sun 29 that had expired in 1986 placed third. My Oma's bottle of Ponds Cold Cream, circa 1982 held the record for almost a week, until one of her daughters discovered some Norwegian Vaseline that had been left behind by a visitor during the 1970's.

This week's downsize challenge is to clean out YOUR medicine cabinet. Will YOU be the new champion?

And what should you do with unused or expired medications?
They are not safe for septic tanks or public water supplies, so please DON'T FLUSH them. Your local waste management facility can tell you the specific rules for disposition in your area. When I was in Florida last spring, I was instructed to crush Oma's unused pills and mix them with cat litter or damp coffee grounds before putting them in a plastic bag and then disposing of them with our regular trash. This was an enormous task, as the blender, food processor, and most of Opa's tools that might have been useful for crushing hundreds of tablets had just been sold for a few dollars each in a yard sale. The coffee/spice mill that I borrowed from my friend upstairs worked very well for pulverizing, though in hindsight, I would highly recommend wearing a mask while handling this stuff.

In response to concerns about public health hazards related to improper storage and disposition of medications, the Drug Enforcement Agency initiated a national Take Back program last year and has scheduled a spring collection date for April 30th, 2011. This is an easy and safe way to get rid of expired or unused medications. Follow this link to learn more about the initiative, and to enter your zip code to find a nearby collection site.

Some of the lessons I learned from this particular challenge:
It's really worth thinking twice before buying one of anything just to get another one for free, but especially when it comes to talcum powder. We have more than enough to last a lifetime.
Antibiotic ointment RARELY gets used up before it expires, so if ever needed in the future, purchasing the smallest tube they've got in the store is probably a smart move.
Storing creams for faces and creams for butts in different locations is a really good idea, especially if anyone in the household is at the point in life where reading glasses are standard issue, but are frequently missing at important moments.
Based on the number of fully loaded complementary floss dispensers I still have in stock, I am not flossing at the rate that the hygienist suggests.  
It's smart to dump out the water from a hot water bottle before putting it away and forgetting about it for a few years.

And lastly, it is not a given that all members of a household will correctly identify their own toothbrushes when asked to do so. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yellow Roses (the first downsize challenge)

The Downsize Challenge began for me last spring, while I was sitting on the edge of my Oma's tub, staring at a bottle of Jean Nate. It had been there as long as I could remember, right next to the dish of dusty little yellow soaps, shaped like roses, which I figured she must have won at Bridge, because they weren't the kind of thing she would have bought for herself. She had been a very practical person and didn't have much use for decorative things. I decided that the logical thing to do with the soap was to use it, but the little roses started to crumble when they made contact with the water, and they wouldn't lather. So I chucked the whole lot into the trash.

When I woke up the next morning, I desperately wanted them back. I stared down the trash chute next to the elevators and felt the permanence of the situation. They were gone. There was nothing I could do about it. I sat down for a while, in front of the recycling bins, on a pile of cardboard boxes, trying to compose myself before going back to check on Opa, who couldn't be left for too long. My thoughts eventually settled. “They're just soap. They are not Her. Love can never be thrown down a trash chute.”

If you have ever dismantled a place that has always existed in your heart, you know what it means to pour Jean Nate down the toilet.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Locked out (a few keys to spare)

Can you currently identify each key on the keyring in your pocket or purse? Do they unlock doors that exist in your present life, or are you deliberately carrying around some extras as part of a weight bearing exercise program? I finally have the keyring under control, but the ones I have removed from it over the years are still around, and I don't have any good excuses. When my old car didn't pass inspection last year, it was ultimately sold for parts. Since it's dismantled in a salvage yard someplace, it's safe to say that theft is no longer a concern, so what am I doing with the key? And what about the three copies of former front door keys to my current home, which had new locks installed two years ago? Hey, at least those are identifiable and an informed decision can be made, but what about the ones that remain a mystery? Might need them someday, but don't know for sure. Won't know until I need them, right? What if one of them belongs to my neighbor who might ask me again to feed the cat while she's away...can't exactly go over there now with all the miscellaneous keys and start trying them out on her front door. I'd at least better wait until she isn't home.

Have you got a similar collection? This week's downsize challenge is to sort through your keys, not just the ones on the keyring, but the ones hanging on nails by the door, or hiding in drawers, or on desks and dressers. Figure out what they open. Keep them only if you need them.

What can we do with our old keys?
The internet is full of ideas for craft projects to be made with keys, but this remains a downsize challenge, so I encourage you to fight the overwhelming urge to make wind chimes or necklaces from your old luggage set.

Don't throw them in the trash! Keys are metal and can be recycled, often right along with the rest of your metal recycling. Ask the folks at your recycling center or transfer station. Mine told me to put them in with the cans.

If you have a lot of keys, especially brass or other metals of value, you might want to scrap them for cash.

If you'd like to donate them to a group raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research? See the link below:

Whatever you do, label the ones you keep. It'll save you a lot of time later.  

Monday, February 28, 2011

Under more than one conditioner (an abundance of amenities)

I am an amateur shower singer, and like most others I have ever heard, my repertoire is limited to the lyrics of first verses, followed by a lot of humming. I tend to get stuck on a certain song for a while, and for about a month now, I've been on continuous repeat of  the songs of South Pacific. A few weeks ago, in the midst of my third round of “I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair...”, I discovered that my 96 year old roommate had used up the last of the shampoo.

Fortunately, like most of you, I have a collection of tiny bottles from hotels, just waiting to justify their existence. This was their big moment. Unfortunately, they aren't within reach of the shower, so I got out, leaving puddles all over the floor, and after scrounging through the miscellaneous stuff (in the recently demoted food storage containers) under the sink, I found the sleek little bottle that I brought back from a posh place in Montreal a few years ago. I assumed it was shampoo, but since the tiny words were in French, and my hair was wet and in my face, I was mistaken. It turned out to be body lotion. Strongly scented body lotion. Eau de someone's great-aunt-Minerva's perfume.

When you've been traveling and finally get to the room at your hotel, is the bathroom, and it's offerings, one of the first things you check out? Can you document your trips for the last few decades through a slew of shampoos, conditioners, and tiny bars of soap? It seems to be human nature to collect these. But why?

  1. They are cute and little, and people are attracted to cute little things.
  2. We hate wasting stuff, so if we've opened it, we take it home, with the intention of saving it from being wasted.
  3. We paid for them! (If this is your main argument, do you feel the same way about the pillows, curtains, extra rolls of toilet paper folded into a triangle at the end...? Where do you draw the line?)
  4. We are saving them to be used during a natural disaster when we can't get to the store. (My aunt in California admits this, though she agrees that this is unrealistic, as seeking shelter and drinking water, and perhaps even swimming will take priority over hair products in that situation.)

I rarely leave town these days, but have made a pact not to accumulate any more hotel amenities in the future. I just don't need them. They serve no purpose in my life. I don't wear shower caps. I've got my own sewing kit. My hair prefers the same grocery store shampoo that I've been using for years. I pack my own stuff when I travel.

The downsize challenge for this week is to find new homes for your hotel amenities

What can we do with them? Well, the obvious answer is to use them up and recycle the bottles, but if you doubt that you will really do this, think about donation opportunities in your community. Personal care items are expensive and your hotel souvenirs could be better utilized if they moved out of storage in your bathroom closet. Donate to homeless shelters, organizations that support people in leaving violent relationships, group homes for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, half-way houses, senior centers. You may not be aware of these places in your community, but they exist. Your local food shelf might welcome unopened lotions, shampoos, and conditioners.

I am pleased to share that there is something else you can do on a more global scale! When you book your next reservation, ask if the hotel is a hospitality partner with the Clean the World Foundation. This Orlando, Florida based charity, founded in 2009 reduces waste from discarded hotel soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion products, collects and sanitizes them, then redistributes to homeless shelters and impoverished countries, supporting the prevention of hygiene-related illnesses around the world. If you want to learn more about how your half-used bar of hotel soap could be “washed” on its way to a child in Haiti, check out their website. It's easy to search for participating hotels in a specific location too, so you'll be able to leave that soap behind, without any reservations.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Topless Bottoms (The food storage container dilemma)

It's been a week of minimalist cooking at our place. Lots of soup and casseroles, the stuff you make too much of on Sunday on purpose, convincing yourself that having leftovers ready for the week will make life easier, but by the second day of tuna noodle, you're thoroughly uninspired, with 6 more servings to go, and a burning desire for a piece of pizza.

My food storage container situation is a bit like an end-of-season bikini sale; bottoms are not quite big enough to hold everything, and tops are either one size too big or small for the job. Nothing matches. This can be a source of kitchen rage for me. “Why did I have to pour the marinara into the ONE CONTAINER WITH NO LID????? How can thirteen rectangles be so similar but different and not one of them is the RIGHT SIZE???? Oh great, now I have to put tin foil over it, or plastic wrap that will never actually seal...or find another container and wash this one after I have JUST FINISHED doing the dishes...Where in the hell do the lids GO????? ” And the drawer in which they are stored is often hard to open and close because there is always something sticking up that should be nesting, while something else is toppling over.

If you can relate with this scene in any way, this week's downsize challenge is to tackle the unstackables and streamline your food storage containers. Whether you're using plastic, glass, or some other system, take a look at what you've got, see if the bottoms have tops, and figure out what you are really using and what might be best recycled or re-purposed.

Still using plastic but rethinking the whole idea of storing your food in containers that can leach estrogen mimicking chemicals? If you haven't already switched to a non-plastic storage system, there are lots of options, but this is a Downsizing Challenge, so I will have to look the other way while mentioning that a good friend in Vermont recommends this set:

If you want to learn more about what the science community has to say about BPA's and the safety of food storage, here are a few links:

Plastic (not) fantastic: Food containers leach a potentially harmful chemical - Scientific American article

Pots, pans, and plastics: A shopper's guide to food safety -Web MD article

Want to learn more about resin identification numbers (those numbers in the triangles on the bottoms of your plastics) and what they mean? Check out this article from The Ecologist:

Storing food safely in plastic containers

If you happen to be missing a top or a bottom, and you can't think of a purpose for one without the other, check the resin identification number and see if it can be recycled. (This will depend on where you live and what plastics are accepted.)

If you happen to have containers and lids to match, but you are thinking of retiring them from food storage, recognize their amazing potential for other uses.

Great for kids craft supplies, crayons, paints, pencils, glue
game pieces
small toys
sewing room notions, thread, buttons, needles
first aide kit in the car
bathroom stuff – cotton balls, sanitary supplies, q-tips, bandaids, cosmetics
nails, screws, bolts, batteries
office supplies

They are lightweight, airtight, and translucent, (unless you have microwaved tomato sauce way too many times) and they're good for so much more than leftovers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reaping the Rewards Cards

Today is errand day for me. Thanks to a wonderful respite provider, I am on my own, experiencing the thrill that only parents of young children and people who live with elderly dependents full-time can truly appreciate.... the incredibly liberating feeling of meandering through the produce section of the grocery store ALONE. I've been looking forward to this day all week, and in the spirit of effective time management, I have a list:

Bank (get papers for rolling coins – in case Opa still needs a time consuming meaningful activity after we have finished testing all the pens)

Grocery store (walk slowly up and down each isle, look at all the exotic things in the international food sections...Ahh....silently celebrate the lack of cart slamming into the back of my legs)

Post Office (return dress that looked much better on the model in the catalog)

Library (return and borrow)

Hardware store (get dog food)

Nancy's Alterations (pants that I got for seven dollars at my favorite consignment store need hemming that will look much better if Nancy does it than if I try to do it myself)

Pharmacy (Pharmacist will remark with amazement that it is unheard of for a 96 year old to take only one medication)

Office supply store (get ink cartridges for fountain pen, and more batteries for Opa's pencil sharpener)

And if there is still time....

Internet cafe (drink tea while working on this week's edition of the Downsize challenge)

Local Independent Bookstore (browse)

With the exception of my trip to Nancy's, (where I won't have to pay until tomorrow), I anticipate a lot of action today for the plastic cards in my wallet. Not just the ones that are used for actual transactions of funds, but the others that promise rewards, savings, points, free cups of coffee, and other mysterious benefits of membership.

If we were all trapped together waiting for a delayed plane , just think of the endless card games that could be played with the array of colors and suits in our wallets. In my hand right now, I've already got Gin Rummy! (Four public library cards from towns I have lived in during the past 5 years, and three consecutive insurance identification cards for previously owned cars.)

Platinum and Gold credit cards could serve as our royalty, unless of course, they've been maxed out, or are expired.

We'd have to establish rules and agree on face values in order to play games like 'war' with Borders, Barnes&Noble, and Booksamillion. Do you think a Starbucks coffee card should have more face value than a Dunkin' Donuts card, or would it all depend on how much is left on the balance?

For the kids in the room, “Oh look! A match! The Shaw's Rewards Card is the exact same bright orange color as the Home Team Savings card from Aubuchon Hardware.” (A frequent mistake I make when getting the dog food.)

How about a memory game with our dental appointment reminder cards: “In what year did you get your teeth cleaned on July 6th?” (Oh, sorry, the front desk person didn't write the year on the card, it could be this coming summer, but you'd better call to check before you go...)

And for those of us who have exhausted the benefits of COBRA, this modification of a childhood classic:

“Have you got a health insurance card with a deductible under ten thousand dollars?”

“Go Fish!”

Downsize challenge: Reaping the Rewards

This week's downsize micro-challenge should only take you a few minutes. Sit down with your wallet, dump out the contents, and decide what should and shouldn't be in there. You're sure to have enough legitimate stuff to carry without keeping things that are expired, useless, or more securely stored someplace else. And if you are carrying cards for someone else too, (AARP supplemental insurance, and three different Florida ATM cards that belong to your grandfather, for example) Consider keeping these separate from your own stuff, to at least make for more focused scrounging around the wallet when you need to find them quickly.

And once you know what is in there, it would be a really good idea to make a list to keep at home, at least of the credit cards and bank cards that you carry, so that if you mindlessly leave your wallet in a coffee shop by accident, or you happen to be in Madrid and get mugged, you'll know what you are missing and you'll be in a better position to take action.

Though I am only a skein or two away from 5 dollars off my next purchase, the punch card for the Yarn Shop in Vermont can probably get recycled now, since it's a four hour drive from my current home, and I've completely given up knitting. Store discount cards for places I don't frequent will go in the shredder this afternoon. I notice that the signature on my original social security card dates back to fourth grade, when I was first learning cursive writing. My signature was so much more legible then. I really shouldn't be carrying that around in my wallet at all. It should be in a fireproof safe someplace.

I'll take care of that when I get home from the bookstore. I appreciate that they keep their membership cards in an old fashioned recipe box on the counter. I don't have to carry it with me at all to reap the benefits, whatever they are...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Missing the point? (The write stuff; pens and pencils)

Cup made by the author in 1984 for Mother's Day
Consider this scenario. The phone rings impatiently. You run from one end of the house to the other to grab it. Out of breath, you answer, it turns out to be your mechanic, with estimates for the various options for fixing your car so that it will pass inspection. You need to write down some information. You reach for a pen from that mug on the counter, (the one that your kid made in third grade art class, that you will feel obligated to keep for the rest of your life). You start to scrawl, but the ink won't flow. You circle wildly, scratching holes in the one piece of scrap paper you were able to find, while saying, “Hang on a second, my pen is dead...” The next thing you grab is a pencil with bite marks, a broken tip, and a hardened eraser. After several more false starts, you finally find a crayola marker that works, (fortunately, it's washable, since the paper is now shredded and you are writing labor estimates on your arm).

Having successfully written down the cost of the components of a new exhaust system, you are most likely to:

A. Mindlessly shove the dead pen and dull pencil back in the mug, where their uselessness continues to frustrate you intermittently for the next twenty-seven years?

B. Idealistically convince yourself that you are going to sharpen the pencils and get refill ink cartridges for every dead pen “someday”, but never actually do it?

C. Deliberately throw them into the trash can, sending them on their journey to the landfill, where they will inform future civilizations about the advertising strategies of our pharmaceutical, banking, and insurance industries?

I tend toward A and B, but not C, which seems to run in the family. Last spring, during the process of cleaning out the Florida condo, I came across several hundred pens in Opa's desk. Since he was eager to help, and I was eager for him to sit still so that I could keep cleaning out the closets while he wasn't looking, I set up a work station at the kitchen table. He spent an entire afternoon testing pens and sorting them into categories; Dead or Alive, (a concept we could relate to very easily). Since we were moving, we didn't need any of them, so the “alive” pens were donated to a nearby preschool with a low budget for office supplies. The “dead” ones presented the issue of disposal that dead things always do.

How many of the writing implements in your home are missing the point of their existence, and more importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Investing just a few minutes in this week's challenge is certain to increase your efficiency.


First, let's start with pencils. If it's mechanical, and you are out of lead, either get more today or say goodbye. If your collection includes the good old fashioned yellow ones, this is equally straight forward. If it's dull, sharpen it. You'll feel very satisfied and the process is certain to stir up memories of early elementary school. The issue of the eraser requires a value judgment. Will you still use the otherwise perfectly good pencil if the eraser is petrified? If yes, skip to the next paragraph. If no, consider replacement, or reactivation. Pink erasers that fit over the end of your pencil cost about ten cents each. Hardened erasers can often be revived by running them over an emery board or sandpaper.


Things with ink can be misleading. Your pen may not really be dead, just unresponsive at this moment, and you may be able to resuscitate it if you know what to do. We all know the vigorous circle scribbling step. “Pen, Pen, are you okay??!!” I came across one blogger who said that scribbling the tip of a dead pen over a circle previously scribbled by the ink from a live pen can restart the flow. I haven't tried it yet, but hey, if jumper cables work for cars...?

Here are some web tips for reviving other ink based implements:

How to revive dry erase markers

How to revive washable or permanent markers

Reviving will only work if there is still ink in the pen, which seems obvious, but must be mentioned. If your attempts fail, you'll need to accept that the pen is indeed dead. Now what?

A little online research led me to suggested uses for parts of pens, but the idea of sawing pen barrels into beads for kid craft projects appealed to me even less than wearing a necklace made out of macaroni.

So I am delighted to introduce to you, The Pen Guy. His name is Costas Schuler and he is on a mission to collect a million used pens. When he isn't working his day job as a graphic designer, he promotes pen recycling by collecting pens and gluing them onto his 1981 300SD, 'Mercedes Pens'. You can send any kind of used pen to him at The Pen Guy, P.O. Box 994, Forestville, CA 95436. I have a box labeled and ready to ship later this week. As of Monday, he posted that he has collected over twenty-two thousand used pens over the last five years. His website,, describes his visions for creating Pentopia. Check it out to see very cool pictures of his car.


I have been a fountain pen user for decades, and this cuts down considerably on my pen consumption, but nibs aren't very practical for things like Yahtzee score sheets, or grocery lists, so I have accumulated my share of ball points. I am making a concerted effort to remind myself that something free is not necessarily something I need, and this has prevented me from bringing home more pens for the mug.

As a committed downsizer, I am not generally one to promote introducing any new items into the house, except when quality can replace quantity. After reading an advertisement this week for 'The Seven Year Pen', I am intrigued. It's made in Switzerland, contains more than three miles of ink, is guaranteed to write for seven years with daily usage, is available in a multitude of snazzy colors, and costs less than 8 bucks. Has anybody tried one?


If you find that you have accumulated more functional pens than you can possibly use at home, redistribution is always an option. Consider taking them to public places where people are often scrounging for pens, (banks, waiting rooms, etc.) and quietly leave them there. Return them to your workplace, as long as you've got one outside of the house.

Finally, if all else fails, and the people at your next Yankee swap are likely to have a good sense of humor, consider bringing a complete pen and mug gift set. Just make sure the mug doesn't have your name on it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Can you hear me now? (A call-up for old cell phones)

As a person more inclined toward Little House on the Prairie than The Jetsons, I've generally been a resister of all things technological, and didn't purchase my first cell phone until most people were on their third or fourth upgrade. That was back in the days when androids were characters in Star Wars, blackberries were picked by grandmothers who wore aprons and still knew how to make jam, I Touch was definitely not something you would ever admit, and a 'hot spot' required treatment by a veterinarian.

I remember my first cell phone with nostalgic longing. It was a simple model that could be used for making and taking calls. That's it. And yet, it still seemed so magical. I remember the first time it rang when I was in a public restroom and I had to decide if I should take the call, or wait. Wow. Now that is accessibility. It changed life forever, even without any fancy applications. The manual was less than one hundred pages, and most of those were instructions about using the voice mail system, which was the most complicated function the phone could perform, and took about six minutes to master.

The phone worked wonderfully, until it started having problems holding a charge, as all phones seem to do when they are approaching the end of their 18 month lifespan, coinciding, as usual, with the end of the contract agreement. Since a new battery would cost more than a new phone, I fell for the “free” upgrade scheme.

I told that sales guy seven years ago that I didn't need or want a camera in my phone, but he said that all phones in the store had cameras, and if I really wanted one without, they would have to special order it, and it would be a lot more expensive. He also tried to sell me extra minutes in my new contract, especially for texting, to which I replied, “Isn't it more efficient just to talk, I mean, it's still a phone, right?”

I ended up with a basic flip phone that could do a lot of things that I didn't feel a phone really needed to do. As predicted, I never used the camera on purpose, but did take a series of unintentional shots of the inside of my coat pocket. So the upgrade ultimately replaced the deactivated, and the junk drawer in my kitchen developed a new subcategory.

As of yesterday morning, there were four dead cell phones in there, along with four house chargers, three car chargers, and a few clips and ear pieces and other accessories that serve no purpose.

When I asked my friends at the local town transfer station about recycling cell phones, they told me to throw them in with the regular trash. This made me wince.

Common sense, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, will tell you that there are many good reasons not to put old cell phones into landfills. Toxic waste is the main one. Fortunately, cell phones can be refurbished, reused, and recycled, and your donation of an old cell phone can even generate funds to support a charity of your choice.

How do you donate?

It's easy. First, go find your old phones in your closets, drawers, and cabinets, then decide who you would like to support with your donation.

One of the more publicized programs is Cell Phones for Soldiers, a company started in 2004 by teenage siblings, Brittany and Robbie Berquist. Cell Phones for Soldiers collects donated cell phones, sells them to a recycling company, and uses the proceeds to purchase prepaid calling cards for American troops who are faraway from home. If you are interested in donating your phone to this organization, visit the website link below, enter your zip code to find a drop-off location, (there were three within 8 miles of our rural home), or print a prepaid mailing label and drop them in the mail.

There are hundreds of other programs that collect donated phones for different causes. Since I had four to get rid of today, I chose to support several different organizations, including HopeLine, Verizon's program to collect, recycle, and refurbish cell phones and provide service to domestic violence victims. As with most cell phone recycling programs, you can print a free shipping label from their website.

What about other charities that accept donations?

The EPA has established relationships with all cell phone manufacturers, recycling programs, charities, and retailers around the nation. To learn more about how to recycle your phone for a specific cause of your choice, check out this link

Once you start looking around, you will notice that there are collection boxes at many retail locations that you probably visit regularly. Home Depot, Staples, and Lowe's are just a few. They each support different causes. Schools and other organizations often collect phones for fund raising events.

What about the personal data on the phone?

Your phone retailer can remove data from your old phone.

To learn more about recycling practices, and for tips on how to erase personal data from your phones yourself, check out

What happens when your donated phone is recycled?

Firstly, you avoid putting more toxic waste into the landfill. Charities sell them to recycling companies, who either send your phones to a smelter, where they are ground up and the metals are reclaimed (there's a lot of gold and silver in there!), while hazardous constituents are disposed of conscientiously, or, they are de-manufactured first, which recovers more plastics and usable components before the reclamation process begins.

If you are interested in learning more, listen to this podcast about phone recycling Cell Phone Recycling Podcast (MP3)

This week's challenge: Release your deactivated cell phones from junk drawer purgatory, donate them to the cause of your choice, and keep old cell phones out of the landfill by spreading the word about recycling.

I plan to print out this flyer from the EPA and give it to the guys at my transfer station. These guys are really friendly and they are in the perfect position to divert many cell phones from improper disposition.

Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's an Easy Call (Flyer) (PDF)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Putting our best feet forward

Happy New Year!

 The Downsize Challenge took a backseat to some personal life up-sizing last summer, but I am back, and am recommitting to another year of cleaning house. The experience of emptying the Florida home of my 95 year old Dutch grandparents last winter sparked a purge surge, inspired in part by their long term over-utilization of a utility closet, which was packed with cut-off toaster cords, half-filled butane canisters, puzzles with missing pieces, instruction manuals for household appliances that were no longer operable, lids to broken coffee pots, stacks of mailing labels with old addresses, forty years of tax records, and a whole lot more.

I am determined not to follow in their footsteps in terms of accumulation and I invite you to join me in 2011 as I continue reducing, redistributing, and re-purposing things around our place. If you choose to tag along, I'll email you with the focus for our weekly challenge, including suggestions for finding new homes for the things we no longer use, need, or love enough to keep.

Are you ready to kick off the new year???

Putting our best feet forward: Shoes and socks

How many athletic shoes are in current use in your household? When you got your last new pair, what did you do with the old ones? I saved mine for mowing the lawn. That meant that the ones I was already using for lawn mowing replaced the ones I had been saving in the utility closet for the infrequent, but inevitable painting project. The previous painting project pair was then demoted and shoved into the box of miscellaneous stuff in the corner of the closet that is full of other items that I am never quite sure how to deal with, because they seem too useful to be trash, but aren't so useful that they will actually ever get used again by me. They are old smelly sneakers, not worthy of donating for reuse by anyone else, but when I think of them going to a landfill, I shove them back in the closet.

Can you relate?

There is good news. Athletic shoes can be recycled. If they just don't fit you well, and you honestly think they have life left in them, hang onto them for a few more minutes, (I'll be talking about options for donating non-athletic shoes next), but if they are truly un-footworthy, you might want to let Nike grind them up into flooring for gymnasiums, tracks, and other surfaces. Check out their link below to learn more about their ReUseaShoe program and enter your zip code to find a drop-off location near you. They will accept up to ten pair at a time, athletic shoes only, of any brand.

Take a very close look at the rest of your shoes. Don't forget about the boots. When was the last time you wore that pair? Are that many black shoes necessary? Are there any you are ready to consign, donate, or discard?

If they are in very good shape, without a lot of scuff marks, soles still in good condition, etc, you've got some options:

-Consignment, if you want to invest the time in the possibility of making a few dollars.
-Donation to Goodwill or your local thrift store for resale.
-Donation to Dress for Success – a program that promotes self-sufficiency by providing career skills and clothing for women trying to obtain jobs (check to see if there is a program in your area that will accept dress shoes)

If they are gently worn but still wearable, but might not sell at a resale shop, consider other donation options:

-Salvation Army or other agency in your area
-The yellow bins managed by Planet Aid, a private non-profit.
-Soles4souls – a shoe charity program that collects and distributes shoes to people all over the world, often after natural disasters, like tsunamis or hurricanes. They will accept any kind of shoe, even a single shoe, but it should still be in wearable condition. Check out their website for more details and to enter your zip code for a drop-off location. It is also possible to ship shoes to their warehouse if you are not near a drop-off center.

If you are finding yourself ambivalent about parting with a particular pair of footwear because you haven't been wearing them but think that you might...try putting a penny in the toe. In 6 months, when I remind you to check for change in your shoes, you can make a more informed decision.

While we are thinking about our feet, let's check out the sock situation. Any in donatable condition that you just don't use because they are hot pink and you are just not a hot pink person? How many of your socks have holes in the toes or heels? How long are you planning on saving that stray?

What can you do with the socks headed for retirement? Clean blinds or other places that involve reaching into narrow areas, stuff a tennis ball in the toe and make a dog toy, fill them with rice for microwaveable hot packs...

Anybody with a collection of overextended nylons or tights? Because nylon doesn't break down, there aren't any recycling options for pantyhose, but the reuse suggestions online are endless:

-great for storing garlic (the air circulates well, plus they will look cool hanging in your kitchen)
-great for storing garden bulbs
-stretch one over your broom and see what it picks up, amazing!
-clean or polish shiny things, use to dust your computer keyboard
-superb emergency fan belt (but not recommended for a long distance emergency)
-tie up plants in the yard and garden
-sling shot

But my favorite, and maybe the most seasonally appropriate suggestion:

Not only a source of support to legs, nylon stockings can be used to store wrapping paper, rolled posters, or anything that tends to unwind and could benefit from a little compression.

So the challenge this week is to streamline your shoes, socks, and hose. Start the year with one step in the right direction.