Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Cell Phone Delemna

Cell phones.  Specifically smart phones.  I love to hate them.  They give you an amazing freedom, being able to access virtually anything wherever you are.

But they also cost a lot.  We are currently spending like $130 a month on our two smart phones with unlimited data, texting, and talk.  Since we don't have a land line anymore, we want an "unlimited talk" type of plan so we don't have to worry about going over our minutes, which is part of that price tag, but unlimited data is a big part of it too.  And I'm not convinced that I am properly using my share of that $130 anymore.  Having all those apps on my phone has kind of lost it's excitement for me.  I mostly use my phone to read blogs on the Google reader app while I'm nursing.  But I could just as easily grab the iPad.  I don't need to check email when I'm out and about as much as I used to.  I use the Chase app to deposit checks, since that saves me a trip to the bank.  Oh, and the directions, I do use that often. But I also have a Garmen in the drawer collecting dust that I could use with a very minimal amount of hassle.

Not to mention that my cell phone seems to have a direct app to defect ratio - the more apps and widgets I have, the more error messages and lock ups I get.  The most frustrating part is that I am quite often not able to use the damn thing for it's most important purpose:  to CALL people!  The latest thing issue is that about 80% of the time that I try to answer the phone, I hang up on the person instead.  I've set it back to the factory settings about a half dozen times, and I am no longer downloading fun/unnecessary apps or using widgets at all just so it doesn't get hosed up.

Our contract with Sprint is up this spring, and Matt has been scouring around, looking at all the plans out there.  We are pretty decided on going back to phones that are just phones, not a smart phone that can also do your laundry (wait, is there an app for that?).  Revol Wireless has a family plan that allows you to have unlimited nationwide talk and texts, voice mail, and "media mail" (which I'm assuming is sending pictures?) for $35 a person.  We could then add my mom for another $25.  They also will "flash" your existing phone so you can use it on their network, so we may be able to use some older phones if we want to.  I'm thinking of getting a new one though, since they are only $30.  I'm sure I will continue to text quite a bit and I think it might be nice to have a QWERTY keyboard.  There's also no contract with them, so it seems like a pretty low-risk thing to try out.  

This has also led me to think back to that pre-smart phone era and the little tricks that we used with texting to get information.  My old favorite was texting Google to get phone numbers and addresses of businesses and restaurant near you.  But now that I'm looking, you can do so many things through SMS that I had no idea too, including:
  • SMS Search - This is what I used to use a little, but there are lots more commands that you can use.  You can look up movie times, weather, etc.  For example, I sent the text message "weather 43214" to 46645 and got back a message with the current temp, wind, humidity, and the ranges of temperatures expected for today and the next two days.
  • Google Calendar - After you go online to set it up, you can text GVENT things like "DAY" and it will send you a text with all of your scheduled events for the day.
  • Blogger - You can text a message to your blog and it will add it as a new post.
All of these things definitely make a plain old texting cell phone much more interesting.  So we'll see if we actually suck it up and give up our fancy phones.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Bite at a Time Project 15: A Paperless Kitchen

As I mentioned my last post, I've really been into Tsh Oxenreider's stuff lately from  I purchased her $5 eBook , "One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler" and found tons of great minimalism/house management tips that I want to try putting into action.  Project 15 is making your kitchen paperless.  

This was one of the projects that stood out to me when I first read the book.  Here I am, using cloth diapers for Addy, but I'm still buying gobs of paper towels.  Kind of seems like I tackled one of the more difficult (or at least initially more gross) paper item first! After getting used to washing poopy diapers, the thought of washing napkins and cleaning rags kind of seems like a no brainer.  

So I started by evaluating what we use paper towels for in the kitchen.  The main purposes seemed to be:

1.  Napkins.  Every time we eat, we each grab a paper towel.  Half the time I barely use it, but it's something that you want just in case you need it.  We also use paper towels for napkins when guests come over, and I always wish that I had something nicer to give them anyway.

2.  Wiping up general kitchen mess.  Many times I grab a paper towel because I don't want to get the regular towel hanging on the stove too dirty.  I like to keep the towel "clean," and only use it for drying clean things like just washed pots and hands. 

3.  Cleaning counters after dealing with raw meat.  This is the one that I struggled with the most.  The paper towel replacement would definitely have to be a one-time-use item here, and I'd have to put it someplace that equated to throwing it in the trash so it wouldn't have to be messed with again.  Then there was the laundering piece of it of it too, because I didn't want rags with cleaner on them to get in with napkins that people would use on their face.

The final solution to the paperless kitchen included the following changes:

1.  Buying a pack of cheap, every day napkins, $10 for 12 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond (with a 20% off coupon, of course).  We use these with all our meals and snacks.  They can be used for our guests too, but because I don't iron them they end up looking kind of crumpled and crappy, so I haven't done that yet.  I want to get some nicer ones to have at the ready when guests come over, but that is still on the to-do list.

2.  Replacing my chemical cleansers with Tsh's natural versions.  I am currently using the all-purpose cleaner and glass cleaner, which covers most of what I use, especially in the kitchen.  I've been surprisingly impressed with how clean things look and feel, and there isn't an overwhelming chemical smell afterwards.  The other day I cleaned the glass on the back doors with Addy a couple feet away, and it was nice not to have to worry about her breathing it in.
Ingredients for the all-purpose cleaner: baking soda, vinegar, water, and lemon oil.

3.  Matt had a pack of microfiber towels that were meant to be used to wash a car, but they are perfect to use for cleaning.  I've been using them with both of the cleansers to mop up wet messes, clean counter tops, windows, wipe down the table, etc.  

4.  Laundering all of this stuff and making it easy to deposit dirty items conveniently.  I already had a small laundry basket in the kitchen area to put Addy's used bibs and washcloths in (when I got tired of running them downstairs all the time).  Now that we are using natural cleaners, I can throw all of the napkins, towels, and rags in the same basket and launder them with her things.  I use the heavy duty setting on my machine since a lot of these items have the potential for stains, and so far everything has come out very clean with no extra scrubbing.

It feels good to be using the natural cleaners and I'm finding that the cloth alternatives actually work much better than the paper towels anyway.  So I am calling project 15 complete and a success!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Simple Mom's Project Simplify 2012

One of the blogs that I've been into a lot lately is Simple Mom.  In her About section she says that "Simple Mom is a productivity blog for home managers.  It's like Zen Habits wearing an apron."  (love that)  I've found myself bookmarking a lot of her posts because they are inspiring me to do things in my own life; she posts a lot of links that I find interesting too.  Her latest post has me motivated to actually do a few things instead of spending all this time reading about it, so here goes...

Project: Simplify - March 5-30, 2012!

Each Monday, she is going to say "go", and we are going to have a virtual support group working on tackling four major areas in our houses.  Here is the line up:  
  • Week of March 5: Kids’ stuff—toys, clothes, and the like (I think if you don't have kids, this could just be your own clothes or "toys", like craft stuff, electronics, movies, CDs, books, etc.)
  • Week of March 12: Kitchen and/or pantry
  • Week of March 19: Closets, countertops, and drawers
  • Week of March 26: Choose your own adventure - you pick your most-needed hot spot

I've enlisted my resident photographer to help as well, so hopefully you will even get some snazzy before and after pictures.  I'm in the middle of reading her book Organized Simplicity, so I may be trying to follow along with her suggestions listed there as I go too.

So let's get motivated to purge and clean up some stuff people - who's with me?!?