Tag Archives: Green

Thrifty Living: 12 Creative, Thrifty Ways to Wrap Gifts

6 Dec

Here are my favorite creative and thrifty ways to wrap presents for the holidays. Have an idea? Add yours in the comments.

1. Stock up on thrifted tins. I always check out tins while thrifting and stock up for the holidays. For a quarter I can buy a unique way to wrap a gift that can then be reused and repurposed later.

2. Use colorful paper bags and printable gift tags. When I still worked at the library I did a whole lot of gift-giving: coworkers, office staff, friends and student aides all got gifts from me. The cheapest way to wrap these gifts turned out to be colorful paper bags and ribbon from the craft store plus printable gift tags that I made myself. This was the perfect way to distribute baked goods and they looked so cheerful. Free printable gift tags can be found all over the web, but my favorites are found here.

3. Wrap an ugly box collage-style. I bought a lovely necklace for my MIL one year and of course the only box I could find to put it in said something dumb on it. I used a page out of a magazine to cover the top of the box and glued origami paper to the sides and it was transformed. She ended up loving the box as much as the necklace.

4. Try fabric scraps and yarn. One year I ran out of wrapping paper altogether so I raided my fabric stash and found this vintage green cotton fabric I found while thrifting. I was able to secure this fabric with scotch tape even though it was a decently heavy weight.  Wrap as you would normally for wrapping paper, add some yarn, and you’re good to go.

5. Embellish a plain gift bag. I can’t remember if this bag was plain or if it had a logo in the middle, but either way it benefited from some scraps from my collage file.

6. Reuse a pretty jar. I save jars like this throughout the year because I like to give spiced nuts and candy at Christmas. If your jar is pretty enough, only a ribbon is needed, though you can always paint the lid.

7. Use sheet music instead of wrapping paper. I have lots of musician friends so I had the idea to wrap their gifts in sheet music. I happened to have sheet music lying around, so I made copies of it specifically to use for wrapping. Collage paper, doilies, and some pink yarn finished it off.

8. Wrap with tissue paper and add a colorful bow. Many times the tissue paper is lovely enough to use as wrapping. I keep a few spools of colorful ribbon on hand for wrapping. I get it when it goes on clearance at the craft store.

9. Use a small piece of fancy paper for accent. A very creative friend of mine made me a necklace and sent it to me in this lovely packaging. I like how she decorated a plain box by adding a strip of fancy paper around it. I bet the sheet of paper was pricey, but using it sparingly makes it last.

10. Reuse a gift bag. I saved so many gift bags from our baby showers that I finally had to go through our gift bags and get rid of some. I didn’t throw them out, though! I donated them to Goodwill. Speaking of, you can find all sorts of lovely gift bags at good will for cheap.

11. Just add a huge bow. Sometimes one large statement is all you need.

12. Add a creative card. I don’t recommend giving tequila for every occasion, but in this case a lime made the perfect card.

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Thrifty Living: Cloth Cleaning Rags

23 Jun

Before I was able to amass my cloth napkin stash, I began to cut back on my paper towel consumption by stockpiling my rags in kitchen and bathrooms specifically for cleaning. I’d read about how you can make your own out of a large bolt of cotton flannel fabric and a sewing machine, but we did not have enough money at the time to buy fabric, and I didn’t have the time to cut them out and sew them. And to be honest, what I ended up doing was way easier.

Although this post isn’t a Thrift Store Score, you could easily do this with towels picked up while thrifting. We’ve saved a lot of money by switching to cloth rags.

I noticed that some of my white bath towels didn’t look as pristine as they once did. Actually, Anthony noticed this and he alerted me to the fact that they were, in his words, “gross.” So I cut up the towels that had lost their bloom with some very sharp scissors, and portioned them out two sizes for rags. Those are the towels you see on the right.

The ends are very frayed because I never bothered to go back and hem them with some bias tape. It doesn’t affect their absorbance or performance, but it does make them look shabby. It was never really a problem till we had a kid and started using cloth diapers. When we threw these guys in the wash with the diapers all the little strings would attach themselves to the velcro and a nightly part of our diaper-folding tradition involved pulling cotton threads from the tabs. It was annoying, and if we didn’t do it, the tabs lost their grip. But if you don’t use cloth diapers or wear lots and lots of velcro, this won’t be a problem for you.

We keep them in the skinny cupboard next to the sink, and as I went to take this picture I realized that most of them were in the dryer, waiting to be folded, but here’s the two that are left. Normally this shelf is stuffed with rags, but since Isobel came along, I’ve considered doubling our supply. We go through them now at an alarming rate.

In the beginning the rags still looked like nice hand towels, so I wrote “kitchen” on them with a sharpie to easily identify them as rags. Now, however, what with the stains of wear and use and the giant frayed edges, the label is a bit unnecessary. My rags have stains like this on them even after they are laundered, but they are rags so I don’t care. If I did I could bleach them or lay them out in the sun for awhile.

The smaller of the two piles are bathroom rags. These are wash cloths that I bought a huge stack of for cheap at a dollar store. They are the kind of washcloths that get really stiff and rough with use, but are perfect for wiping the water your daughter spilled all over the counter by “washing her hands,” or for wiping the mirror of tiny, yet numerous, fingerprints. I split the stack I bought into two and keep half of them under the sink in the front bathroom and half under the sink in our bathroom. (I took a photo but my bathroom cupboards are kind of a mess so I’m not going to post them.)

If you don’t sew or just don’t have the time or inclination to make cleaning rags, it’s certainly easy enough to find thrifted towels to do the job. It’s saved us money over the years and it’s much nicer to clean with cloth rather than paper.

Thrift Store Score: Cloth Napkins

20 Jun

One of the things I totally love about thrift stores is that if you look long enough and at enough places, you’ll eventually find anything you could possibly need. This is true, and I’m sure there’s some mathematical theorem out there that could prove it. Case in point for me would be these cloth napkins.

I grew up with a cloth napkin hero. I mean, technically I was already an adult when I found this hero, but at 18 you’re really just a kid with permission to stay out late. My cloth napkin hero is named Gretchen, and she’s my friend Zack’s mom. She always had a basket on her counter filled with mismatched (but still, somehow, perfectly matched) cloth napkins, ready for use. I always wanted a basket like that on my counter or in my cupboards but cloth napkins can be expensive to buy new. Thanks to thrifting, I know have both the napkins and the basket in my cupboard.

I was able to pick up a few here and there while thrifting, but I scored the motherlode one day while out with my friend Stef, and purchased what was probably someone’s recently donated stash of cloth napkins. I keep a stash in the kitchen, but I also keep one in my purse for those times when Isobel eats a store sample of yogurt and ends up wearing half of it on her face. Oh, and if you have a cold? Using two or thee of these babies is way nicer on the skin than going through a thousand tissues. It’s also neater, because there comes that shameful part of the cold where you are too tired to even think about disposing of your used kleenex responsibly and you end up making disgusting nest in the used tissue. But I digress.

I am only showing you a small fraction of the cloth napkins I have amassed in these photos. I seriously have a large box that is nothing but cloth napkins. I rotate through the stack I have because I don’t have enough room to store them all in my kitchen, and because if I leave them out Isobel likes to cover half the house in cloth napkins and throws a fit when I try to pick them up because “Shh! Vacuum is sleeping!”

I probably don’t have to mention what a boon cloth napkins can be for a household budget. Especially with a toddler, I could potentially go through paper towels like crazy, and even though we buy them in bulk, it adds up. Plus the fact that cloth napkins are way easier on the environment–everybody wins. I am always especially thrilled when cute + thrifty + environmentally sustainable collide. Achieving two is the goal. Achieving all three is extra credit.

Typically I use one cloth napkin a day, and I share it between myself and Isobel. (Larger messes are handled by the cleaning rags, which I’ll talk about later.) Napkins used at one meal usually aren’t soiled enough to be washed, so I keep the same one for both of us around all day and toss it into the hamper after dinner.

Pretty Pictures: Orchids

19 Sep

This orchid room was on display at this year’s county fair. Isn’t it just gorgeous? I’m kind of torn—I’m a reverent supporter of xeriscaping and hope to one day convert my front and back yard into a water-conserving paradise. Growing orchids in our climate is kind of the equivalent of buying oranges from Chile in the off-season. I love orchids but I just don’t think that they were meant to live everywhere and since it takes so much time and trouble to grow them here I have to wonder if it’s worth it. If you’re an orchid aficionado and that’s your passion, that’s one thing. But the casual gardener like myself can’t really justify the time, energy and money it takes to sustain plants that abhor my climate.

I mean, I tried. After I graduated high school I had enough disposable income to spend on exotic flowers yet not enough to move out and support myself so I filled my bathroom at my mom’s house with orchids. I learned a lot about orchids in that time, namely that you shouldn’t try to grow them if you live in a hot, dry, savannah-like climate. They did okay in the bathroom, which received lots of light and was constantly a bit humid from the showers my sister and I took, but removing them from that room was practically a death sentence. When I finally moved away from home I ended up returning the orchids to my parents’ bathroom. They were unhappy anywhere else.

I could never get them to bloom after their initial flowering, but I could get them to grow and look happy as long as they stayed in the bathroom. Whenever I see orchids in the store I’m tempted to try again but I can’t justify spending twenty bucks on a project I don’t have the time and energy for.

Aren’t they lovely though?

Thrifted Home Tour

23 Jul

A few weeks back my MIL Olivia watched Isobel for an afternoon while I tackled a project that just seemed too daunting with a baby around: photographing my house. I want to create a series of posts that featured thrifted goods throughout my home, some of them purchased for the shop and some of them that are mine. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve pretty much decorated my whole house with things found while thrifting and yardsaling and nothing would make me happier than to inspire people to do the same.

Right out of high school I had an awful roommate for about two years. Even though she reached out and asked me to live with her, she made it clear from the moment I unpacked my bags that I was not welcome in her house. I even heard her complain about me to her boyfriend when she thought I wasn’t around, saying, “She’s going to make this place look like a thrift store.” At the time I was totally caught off guard and I found it very hurtful, but you know what? Today I’m proud to have decorated my house from a thrift store. Damn straight. I think more people should decorate their home with thrifted goods. Here’s why:

CHARM & PERSONALITY: There is nothing cookie-cutter about the inside of my tract home even though most of our furniture came from Ikea. A thrifted home truly has some individuality; it’s not something that looks like came straight from the shelves of Target. I’m saying this as someone who has nothing against Target. In fact I like Target a little too much for my budget so I try not to visit very often. As much as I like Target there is something to be said about mixing up your design with less common items. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of being in someone’s home and seeing something that you saw in a store somewhere before, or maybe you’ve gone to somebody’s house and found the very same you bought on their mantel on display. Yeah. That.

FRUGALITY & VALUE: Not everything I find at a thrift store or yard sale is always cheap, and some times I pay a nice chunk of change for something vintage, but it’s often much cheaper than finding a comparable item new. And many times you can get great deals second hand and save a whole bunch of money. Case in point? Second hand frames. Have you checked the price of a custom frame job for artwork? Insane. If you have something that doesn’t fit nicely into a standard frame striaght from the store you are looking into paying a whole lot for buying a custom frame for that bad boy. Even if it does fit into a typical poster frame you then have all the drawbacks of a typical poster frame: it being cheap and ugly. Fortunately I have been able to find solid wood and glass frames secondhand. Sure sometimes I have to buy whatever crap work of art is already in the frame, but for five dollars I can have something I’m proud to hang in my living room. Also, don’t overlook the value of something. Vintage may not be the cheapest, but when you consider the fact that you are getting something gorgeous that you love that you can’t just find anywhere, it more than justifies the purchase.

ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY: Buying second hand is recycling at its most basic form: what could be greener than reusing an item that has already lived a useful life? How many times can you reuse an item to save resources? What is more sustainable than looking around you at items that already exist and choosing to purchase that item as opposed to one made by child labor at some big box store? Exactly. I knew you were the responsible sort.

SUPPORT A SMALL BUSINESS: Here’s where I post a shameless plug for my Etsy store and other purveyors of second hand goods. Often I shop at yard sales and estate sales but most often I go straight for thrift stores. All the second hand shops in my area support local causes: hospice care, the homeless, youth camps. My favorite thrift store forever and ever is run by the Catholic church and supports their charity. I’m not Catholic but I see the difference their outreach makes in the community. The stores I frequent are volunteer-run by the nicest people. I feel good about giving them my money because I know it is used to help others and keep the secondhand cycle going. And, *ahem* running my vintage shop through Etsy is a dream come true. Last month I bought some groceries with my Etsy earnings and I thought to myself, I did it! I’m a small business! That feels awesome. I’m not going to lie: every time I make a sale and I package that item up I think to myself, I can’t believe I’m letting this go. I truly love each and every item I find for my store, and I’m thrilled that you do, too.

Over a series of posts I’m going to be featuring a tour of my house and I’ll highlight all the thrifted goods and items to hopefully inspire others to look to second hand sources for their decorating projects. I’ll also be featuring some stuff in the photos that will end up in the Little Big Shop so you can see ideas of how they can be used. I hope it inspires you to reuse items in your design.

Shake Your Cloth Diaper Booty V: FAQ & Resources

16 May

And now, a handy guide to Frequently Asked Questions in Cloth Diapering.

How many cloth diapers do you need?

This is a tough question for me because we really do not have enough. I think we started with 17 but now have 15 because we’ve had two get messed up in the washing machine and the elastic came out. Now that I’m typing this I realize we really should have sent those back to the manufacturer as they were under warranty. Damn.

My cousin suggests having at least twenty. She does diaper laundry every other day or every third day, so she probably has more than that.

Although we’re just getting by on diapers, we actually received an extra stack of hemp liners, and if you can afford it, I recommend you go for it. You’ll need extra liners incase you lose one or need to line the diaper for diaper rash cream.

What the heck am I supposed to do if my baby gets diaper rash?

Technically, you cannot use any butt creams or ointments with your cloth diapers as residue buildup will interfere with your diaper’s absorption abilities. If you do use an ointment it would be in violation of your diaper’s warranty, so use it at your own risk.

We did read about a technique, however, wherein you can use diaper cream if you put an extra diaper liner between your baby’s butt and the diaper. When you change the baby’s diaper you’ll need to set that liner aside and wash it separately from your regular diaper load because of – you guessed it – residue. This apparently does not void the warranty, but you should check your manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.

Some babies tend to get diaper rash and some babies don’t. Isobel was not a very rash-y baby but one thing that did tend to make her break out was intense heat. Soaring temperatures in late July and August meant a sweatier baby which naturally leads to rash. Keeping your baby as dry as possible down below is best, and my pediatrician even recommended giving Isobel diaper-free time in the heat of summer.

Some argue cloth diapers decrease the instance of diaper rash because they aren’t made of unbreathable plastic and chemicals, but some argue the instance is the same because cloth diapers are warmer in summer. Diaper rash is not the end of the world, it’s treatable, and happens to every baby. I don’t think one diaper or the other is to blame.

What do I do with poop?

When your baby is a newborn, the volume of their poop is so small that most of it will be taken care of by wiping your baby’s bum. As your baby gets older, what you will need to do is collect the solids with toilet paper and flush them down the toilet. If your baby has diarrhea this will be less pleasant than if your baby conveniently formed his or her poop into little balls for you. Ether way, collect the solids with toilet paper and flush them. Then take out the liners and dump the diaper and liners into the hamper. There’s nothing to wipe off with urine, just take the diaper apart and toss in the hamper.

Some places off a poop rinse gadget (don’t you dare google that, just click here) for rinsing the poop from the diaper. I assure you I have never needed that. Even Isobel’s blowouts have been easily handled by wiping off the excess with toilet paper and flushing it away. I know some people really like their poop rinse gadget, but perhaps they also like paying $45 bucks for a toilet attachment. I don’t and I’m saying that in my opinion, it’s not necessary. Your mileage may vary.

We do have a technique for diaper doodie duty now that she’s mobile. When she was a newborn it was easy to just leave her on the changing table while we took care of the mess. Now, however, that would be dangerous, so we set the dirty diaper on top of the closed hamper and finish changing her. When that’s done, we put her in her crib so she’s safe while we tend to the cleaning of poop and the washing of hands.

We’re fortunate that our nursery is very close to our bathroom. If you own a large mansion and your nursery is on a different floor from the nearest bathroom, make the maid do it.

Isn’t washing cloth diapers in the washing machine gross?

You’re gross.

Can I use cloth diapers as soon as my baby’s born?

They do make cloth diapers with a little cut out in the front especially for newborns. The important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want anything rubbing or chafing your baby on his/her tender umbilical cord area. Not only is it an unpleasant feeling, it could cause infection. You want to leave that whole area alone. Plus, newborns need their diapers changed about fifteen times a day, so you’d need I don’t know, millions of those little diapers for a two week period.

Basically, you can use cloth diapers from the get-go if you buy the special newborn version with the cutouts for the cords and if you want to launder a ton of diapers after pushing a buckethead of a baby out of your vajayjay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Buy the disposable diapers for two week and forgive yourself because chances are you’ve done worse things in life.

Where do I buy all this crap?

Crap comes FREE with the purchase of every baby! Cloth diapers and supplies will run you a little more.

DIAPERS

Doing a cloth diaper search in google shopping will give you a ton of results. I got all mine through Amazon, however because it was easy enough for me to register there.

I personally use BumGenius 3.0 and I go into detail about the pros and cons here. A little hint: if you are having a girl and anticipate having more children, don’t register for 15 million pink diapers like I did. This will prove expensive if my next child is a boy.

We registered for a bunch of extra hemp liners to have on hand, such as these.

DIAPER PAIL LINER

Searching diaper pail liner will also give you a slew of results, however the one I use and love can be found here. Remember to get more than one or you’ll kick yourself later.

HAMPER

I had a very hard time finding a hamper to work as a diaper pail. All the ones I’ve found online have been rather pricey considering they were plastic baskets, and since they are large, shipping was more than I wanted to pay, too. I had several unsuccessful runs at Target before finding a trash can that was about $7.00 and fit my needs perfectly. Moral of the story: you’ll have better luck finding something cheap if you look in the wastebasket section. Sticking the word ‘baby’ on an item and stores feel justified in charging $20 more than they would otherwise.

WET BAGS

I got all my wet bags on etsy. I particularly recommend  monkey foot wet bags—secure and adorable!—but searching etsy for ‘wet bag’ or ‘cloth diapers’ should yield more results than you ever thought possible.

LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Remember, check with your manufacturer for the best soap for your diapers. Double-check, so as to not void the warranty. I use Charlie Soap which you can buy online. I think I heard it’s available at some natural foods stores or Trader Joe’s, if you happen to live near one. I don’t.

POO SPRAYER

Do you have $45 bucks you don’t need? You can buy a Poo Sprayer! Just click here)

PRODUCT REVIEWS AND FORUMS

Product reviews, diaper tips and a forum can be found at The Diaper Pin.

This site has reviews and giveaways but you have to register.

Tons of cloth diaper info can be found at All About Cloth Diapers.

If there are any other questions relating to cloth diapers or something you’d like me to go over again, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments. My cousin Liz really helped me get started in this and I would love to return the favor for someone else.

Happy pooping!

Cloth Diaper Booty II: Electric Bugaloo

13 May

Here’s part II of my series on cloth diapers. You can find part 1 here.

Brands: FuzziBuns vs BumGenius


There are many kinds of cloth diapers out there but my experience has been limited to two of the larger brands, FuzziBuns and BumGenius. All in one (AIO) diapers have the absorbent layer built-in to the diaper, whereas pocket diapers (the kind I use) have a pouch on the inside for absorbent pads. The pocket diapers are more flexible and adjustable for use from newborns to toddlers, and therefore made the most economic sense to us. BumGenius pocket diapers each come with a liner and a doubler so you can adjust the amount of absorbency you need to your baby’s size.

Sizing and Fit

When I was pregnant FuzziBuns came in three sizes and BumGenius offered an adjustable ‘one-sized’ diaper that would work from birth to potty training on most babies, and that was the deciding factor. Cloth diapers are an investment up front, no question about it, and even though they save money in the long term, you have to be able to afford the initial costs to make it worth your while. Buying a bunch of one-sized diapers made more financial sense to us as opposed to buying a bunch of each size.

Since then FuzziBuns seems to have streamlined their design and now offer two different types of adjustable diapers to grow with your baby. The choice would be a lot harder for me now. The adjustable BumGenius diapers have three snaps on the front to adjust the length and a wide Velcro band to adjust the width.
My cousin Liz uses FuzziBuns on her daughter so I have had the opportunity of using these while babysitting Victoria. Their quality is just as good, if not better than, the BumGenius diapers.

little big

Closure: Velcro vs Snap


Thank goodness we don’t have to use diaper pins any more. Once my mom accidentally skewered my poor little baby leg and pinned the diaper to my wiggling flesh. Ouch! I’m happy to say that diaper pins are no longer necessary not just for safety reasons but also for convenience. Making cloth diapers as simple as possible will help those used to disposable make the switch.

FuzziBuns uses a complicated system of snaps to secure their diapers while BumGenius uses the ever-familiar Velcro closure. The Velcro makes it super easy to fasten and those hesitant about using cloth diapers will find it works just like the disposable. Learning the snaps on FuzziBuns isn’t hard, but if you have a grandmother or other caretaker that is hesitant about using cloth diapers then it’s another hurdle to overcome.

I will say that when you have a determined toddler who tries to get away from you mid-diaper change the Velcro is much easier to work with. Many times I’ve diapered Isobel in her BumGenius while she was standing up and trying to walk away from me. This would have been impossible if I had to fasten a series of snaps.
The Velcro is much easier to use but it wears out quickly. You are supposed to fold the tabs in for laundering but they inevitably start to curl and collect threads that lead to loss of ‘sticking power.’ Sometimes Anthony and I sit in front of the TV with a bunch of diapers in our lap to de-fuzz the Velcro. It’s a hassle, but it works.

Both closures have their pros and cons; it basically comes down to a matter of personal choice and what works for your family.
Next Post–Washing Instructions, and Wear, Stains and Smells!

Shake Your Cloth Diaper Booty, part I

12 May

I like big butts and I cannot lie

Cloth diapering has changed in many ways since my own bum was swaddled in absorbent cotton, and this is a good thing. I planned on using cloth diapers from the start because that was what my mom used, but when I found out I was pregnant I realized I no longer recognized the cloth diaper landscape. I logged on to forums and saw terms I was unfamiliar with–AIO diapers? Pocket Diapers? Liners? Wet bags? It’s all so confusing!

Back in the day my mom wrapped me in cotton pinned together with actual metal and plastic diaper pins and topped the whole thing with a plastic cover that looked suspiciously like a shower cap for the butt. Cloth diapers have come a long way since then.

The next few posts I have lined up are all about cloth diapers. We’ve used cloth diapers since Isobel was two weeks old and I’ve had lots of people approach me with questions. I’ve written the same email over and over to friends who have wanted to learn more about them so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned here.

Using cloth diapers is not hard, it’s not scary, and it’s certainly not gross. What it is an investment up front (but major savings overall), a kindness to the environment, and a commitment to the wash and fold cycle.

The first thing people assume when I tell them I use cloth diapers is, “Oh! You have a diaper service!” It’s after I tell them that we launder the diapers ourselves that I begin to get the strange looks. It’s not as hard as many people think it is. In many ways, it’s not hard at all.

Let me just say that I am no cloth diapering expert, nor have I tried more than a couple cloth diapers. I’m not the end-all, be-all of diaper information, but I do want to share my experience incase you are thinking about cloth diapering and would like to know more.

If you have thought about cloth diapering, or just have questions about it in general, please add them to the comments section. I am going to wrap up this whole series with a Cloth Diapering FAQ and would like to address as many questions as possible. We cloth diaper, and we love it.