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. 


  1. I find that buying consistent colors of toothbrush for different people help.. Likewise, using the same color towel helps a lot when there's only a single rack to put them on. And no, I shouldn't be old enough for this kind of thing yet :-), but you know, often in the bathroom people aren't quite awake, and some of us don't function as well without our glasses on.

  2. HI there I LOVE this blog. Are there any archives older than January 2011?

  3. I started writing The Downsize Challenge in the form of email to friends and family last spring (2010) but decided to start a blog at the start of 2011 in hopes of connecting with more people. I am in the process of editing my original emails to post soon in this new format. Thanks for your interest! Sharing the experience motivates me to keep writing. My goal is to tackle a new area of the house each week, with micro-challenges that won't overwhelm people who choose to follow along. We'll be working together, chipping away at it, hopefully sharing a few laughs along the way and finding useful solutions to dealing with our stuff.

  4. This is just wonderful - I'm going to use your comment about face/butt creams in a digital sentiment for some of my cards - you'll get full credit - too close to real for comfort!!!! ~chris

  5. You can bring old medicines to your doctor or nearest hospital and they will dispose of them.

  6. Chris, I look forward to seeing those cards!

  7. Loving this blog! We are very near to retirement, and almost at the point of selling the house, which will lead to some adventures like moving out of the country for some volunteer work. I started a blog myself as I began my own journey to downsize. And - I'm my 90-year-old mother's main "person" as she has downsized from house to apartment to nursing home... and of course, so much of her stuff flowed downhill into my crowded home! My blog is nowhere near as concretely helpful or amusing as yours, though! I'm putting you on my Blogroll! Looking forward to your posting your earlier thoughts in future blog entires! THANKS!

  8. wow thank you so much for posting this! As we have just moved we have been downsizing, and this will help a lot!

  9. I just found your blog and am so happy that you are promoting where to release the stuff that is keeping you hostage. I think more people would get rid of stuff but they have a hard time throwing it in the garbage when they know it still has value. Seems like you are doing a great job searching out those places for people. Thank you for that.

    One resource I'm not sure you're aware of is a network of creative re-use centers. These centers are all a little unique in what they take/focus on, but many are focused on arts/crafts and of course, are great for the environment too. For many people, these centers can become their craft closet and they can collect materials for a project and bring back leftovers when they are done. I am with Trash to Treasure, a creative reuse center in Fort Lauderdale that was recently featured in Oprah's magazine. Check us out! www.trash2treasurefl.org

  10. Thanks for this resource. I'll be thinking more about this when I start to tackle the oceans of notions...

  11. Hilarious & full of really great, useful tips! Let's hope Downsize Challenge is the beginning of a new revolution.

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  13. katie in AustraliaJune 26, 2011 at 3:55 AM

    Really enjoying your blog. A heartwarming read filled with gentle observations on life and useful prods towards greater sustainability. Thank you.

    NB: I've stopped using talc given it's closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Did you know that talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims?