Really, Really Free Stuff

Once a month, Treasure City Thrift hosts Austin’s Really, Really Free Market (RRFM) at Chestnut Community Park. Now that I’ve stopped frequenting thrift shops so often (because it’s too tempting to buy crap I don’t need), this is the one time that I can still get my shopping fix. So much stuff, and all for the low low price of free. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and rummage through crates and crates of clothing to find your treasure.

Austin Really, Really Free Market

Unlike many thrift shops, Treasure City Thrift is dedicated to zero waste and tries to make the best use of donations, even if that means giving them away free to people who will actually use them. Most of the goods at the Austin RRFM are thrift store donations that didn’t sell, even at their 25¬Ę sale. So I can feel good that when I find anything I like here and put it to good use I’m actually conserving resources.

This month I kept my haul pretty light but came home with a button-down shirt, a skirt that I may refashion into a shirt, a pair of mixmatched warm socks for the winter weather, yet another cloth napkin, and some interesting pattered cotton fabric for my yoyo quilt.

Things I’ve picked up in the past at the RRFM:

  • A cute onesie and cloth gift bag to present it in to my newborn nephew.
  • Tshirts and button-up shirts that I wear regularly.
  • One pair of jeans I wear regularly and one pair that’s slightly too big and which I only wear on weekends.
  • Underwear and socks. Hey, I washed them!
  • Cloth napkins. These are actually pretty common. If only I had known before I made my own set last year.
  • Lots of tshirts, used as tshirt yarn to make rugs and baskets.
  • Lots of jeans, used to reupholster my ottoman.
  • Pillow cases.
  • Lacy tablecloth for side table.
  • Straw baskets.
  • Patterned cotton fabric for my yoyo quilt.

But honestly, for me the best part isn’t the items that I’ve found here and made use of. The best part is the ease of returning the items that I picked up and ended up not really wanting. The shirt that doesn’t fit quite right. The felt I planned on using for some craft project but later realized I wasn’t that interested. Normally, I’d either have to surpress my shame returning the items to the store or otherwise go out of my way to find another home for them. But with the RRFM, I just set it aside in a bag ready to drop off at my next visit. No questions asked. Getting my shopping fix with absolutely no buyer’s remorse is totally worth dropping by even in the peak of summer heat or on a chilly day like today.

November 28 Food Haul

After the excesses of Thanksgiving, it’s time to get back to the basics.

First stop: Wheatsville Co-op

Bulk goods plus other goodies.

  • IMG_20151128_110231Celery, 1.18 pounds: $1.05
  • Garlic, 0.11 pounds: $0.60
  • Cheddar cheese, 0.55 pounds: $3.35
  • Graham crackers, $3.99
  • Toilet paper x2, $1.38
  • Brown rice, 1.15 pounds: $3.21
  • Corn flakes, 0.42 pounds: $2.22
  • Peanuts, 0.86 pounds: $3.43
  • Lentils, 0.69 pounds: $1.17
  • Corn meal, 0.45 pounds: $0.67
  • Soymilk, half-gallon: $3.49
  • Eggs, 12 count: $3.00
  • Toothpaste: $4.79

Total: $32.86

The clay-based toothpaste is a first, so fingers crossed that it actually works well for both me and my husband. The graham crackers of course I could have done without, but I’ll blame that on Thanksgiving for spoiling me.

Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151128_104659Tomatoes, 1 basket: $5.00
  • Carrots, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Onions, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Mushrooms, 1.09 pounds: $6.00
  • Kale, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Spaghetti squash, 3 pounds: $7.00
  • Broccoli, 2 heads: $5.00
  • Chicken, 3.56 pounds: $16.00

Total: $48.00

There were only about half the number of booths at the farmers market this week, maybe because they’re still on holiday or maybe because we had our first freeze of the season earlier this week. These may be the last of the farmers market tomatoes, but the broccoli and kale looked really delicious already. This week I also remembered to make some carrot top pesto when I got home rather than waiting for the tops to get all droopy.

Seeing the price of this haul kind of makes me question how sustainable farmers markets really are, though. Sustainable from the perspective that it may not make sense for everyone to do it, even if the farmers kept up. After all, it would have been way cheaper to buy whatever conventional, shipped in produce is available at the H-E-B. At the same time, I realize it may just feel that way because Americans are so accustomed to cheap prices while every other country is willing to spend a higher percentage of their income on food. But, how do you convince someone to pay more when they have other options?

Final Stop: My backyard


I should have harvested the immature peas while I had the chance. Checking on them this morning, they were the most miserable looking plants ever. The frost and continued cooler weather destroyed the few pods that had grown, so those two peas I ate earlier will be the only two for the year.

At least there were a few little radishes out there to much on. Time to put some more radish seeds out and maybe more carrot seeds also, since those should be able to grow all winter here.

Transforming Clutter into Desirable Goods

Egg cartons, music posters, comics, magazines, and socks. What all of these things have in common is that I don’t want or need any of them and yet they’re taking up space in my home.

I used to think recycling was the epitome of greenness, and I would have been happy to put all the paper items in my recycling bin. However, the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto isn’t just a set of three possible options. It’s a hierarchy:

  1. Reduce – Minimize new resources from being used up
  2. Reuse – Use an item again making use of both the material it’s made of and the form in which it was constructed
  3. Recycle – Destroy the existing form and recreate it as something else, using up energy and other materials in the process

Since these items already exist, it may be a bit late to reduce, but reusing is definitely still in the picture. Rather than bin all of these items, I posted them all on Craigslist in the free stuff category to find people who need and will make use of them. Almost instantly I had takers for the socks and comics and am hoping to find good homes for everything this weekend. They’re not at their end of life just yet!

Looking for places to rehome your pre-loved items? Here are just a few options.

Of course, you can always sell items for some extra $$$ if you have good stuff and in that case it’s more likely that they’ll be well loved. But I opt for the easier route of free. ūüôā

I didn’t buy a grass hook


Last year before I started this Buy Nothing New project I bought a lawn mower. It’s a fun little push reel mower which works great for the front yard. But the back yard has big clumps of weeds that get out of control, and the reel mower doesn’t like those at all. In most cases of mower vs weeds, the weeds definitely win.

So for some time I’ve been dreaming of switching out for a scythe. Taking out a large swash of weeds with one fell swoop. With a whetstone in a trusty carrying case on my belt, brought out from time to time to keep the blade in top condition. It’s a beautiful fantasy.

The thing is, a scythe is a big scary thing and I haven’t bought one. And from time to time I’ve just been pulling the tops of big weeds off by hand. Of course, that doesn’t really cut it (no pun intended) so last week I somehow ended up looking at grass hooks online and fantasizing about buying one. They’re much smaller and less intimidating. They can be used similar to my manual weed attacking but with a lot more efficiency.

Yes, it is Buy Nothing New 2015, but there are always exceptions. There have been several already. So I got online to see what’s available at the Home Depot that’s really convenient to me. Their website showed just one option in the grass hook category, but I was totally in dreamland and ready to go over to that big box store just to eyeball and touch one of these guys. Fortunately, just before heading out I noticed the “online only” note by the product description. Oh, well. It wasn’t meant to be.

But maybe I could get a used grass hook online. It would still count as Nothing New, so I wouldn’t be an official failure. Inwardly, I battled my demons of excessive shipping packaging that would wind up in the trash or at best downcycled and then headed over to check Craigslist, eBay, or any other site that could satisfy my new and nearly irresistable urge to own a grass hook. Fortunately again, everything I found was either sold new or clearly not in usable condition. So I was saved from making an impulse purchase.

After just a few days have passed, I already feel the urge going away. With my pretzel experiment this weekend, the bitter taste of buyer’s remorse is fresh in my memory. What if it doesn’t work the way I want it to? What if it’s too much effort to maintain? What if I wind up secretly loathing it every time I lay eyes on it because I put such time and effort into acquiring something that turned out to be not worthwhile?

If I do buy a grass hook, it won’t be any time soon. I have enough creativity and vigor to do something greater than just run out to the store whenever I have a problem. This year is more than Buy Nothing New. To whatever extent is both possible and reasonable, my goal this year is to Buy Nothing. In the past year, I can’t remember an occasion where I regretted not buying something.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful – William Morris

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. – Unknown


November 14 Food Haul

First stop: Wheatsville Co-op

So I may have gone a bit overboard with the co-op shopping this week, as I actually stopped there twice over the weekend. But I wanted to see if I could find all the items that I’d normally pick up from the supermarket.

  • Wheatsville Coop groceriesIMG_20151115_093148Celery, 1.27 pounds: $1.26
  • Smoked Provolone, 0.71 pounds: $4.25
  • Marinara sauce x2: $5.00
  • Corn tortillas: $1.49
  • Toilet paper: $0.69
  • Corn flakes, 0.44 pounds: $2.33
  • Brown rice, 0.67 pounds: $1.33
  • Popcorn, 1.23 pounds: $2.45
  • Soy sauce, $1.99
  • Flour, 5 pounds: $3.99
  • Pretzel shells: $3.49
  • Toilet paper: $1.49
  • Jasmine rice, 1.23 pounds: $3.68
  • Barley, 0.54 pounds: $0.97
  • Rolled oats, 0.38 pounds: $0.45
  • Milk, 1 gallon: $5.99
  • Eggs, 12 count: $3.00

Total: $44.03

Feel free to chastise me about this Pretzel Shells product. I had planned to pick up a bag of pretzel sticks from the supermarket to satisfy my mid-day munchies and keep me away from worse things. But of the many varieties of pretzels at the Co-op almost all were gluten free–not my expected wheat-based pretzels. So I tried these and though they were kind of tasty, they left me with the buyer’s remorse. Yup, even during Buy Nothing New 2015, I can still walk away with that disappointment because of the lack of satisfaction from this snack food and a feeling of failure at buying so much excessive packaging. (When they say “shells”, they really do mean just the shell of the pretzel. It’s mostly air in that bag.) Next time I’ll opt for a special snack from the bulk bins.

See the eggs? Package-free eggs are one of the great things about the Co-op. They’re pretty cheap at just $0.25 each, so although they’re labeled as local and cage-free it’s still possible those chickens are all crammed into a depressing windowless building. I may have to switch to the farmers market for eggs at some point.

There’s a lot of other packaging in those pictures, though, so lots of room to improve. I haven’t taken a close look at the tortillas yet, but I’m crossing my fingers that it’s something unterrible. And if not, hey, I’ll learn.

Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151114_114223Bell peppers x2: $0.50
  • Onions, 1 bunch: $3.00
  • Tomatoes, 1 basket: $5.00
  • Mushrooms, half pound: $2.75
  • Cabbage, 2.25 pounds: $4.50
  • Cucumber, 1 pound: $3.00
  • Goat milk, 1 quart: $6.00
  • Chicken, 3.84 pounds: $17.30

Total: $42.05

The splurge this week was some goat milk from Swede Farms since I’ve never tried that before. It was a bit thicker than I’m used to but with a very rich creamy flavor that thankfully tasted nothing like goat. This milk probably would have made some great pudding, but my husband guzzled it all down long before there was a chance of that.

Several of those tomatoes were soon blended up in the Magic Bullet and added to some arroz con pollo. Package-free tomato sauce. Much more of a success story than the marinara sauce pictured above. By the way, if you’re discouraged by complicated tomato sauce recipes you’ve read online, I’ve found most of that to be unnecessary. Wash them up, halve or quarter them and blend until they’re the consistency you want. I just wish package-free was less expensive, may have to try growing my own tomatoes next year.

Final Stop: My backyard

There’s not much in the garden ready for harvest right now, but I savored what was there. One small spicy radish sliced very thinly so I could handle the heat. And a pea pod that I just couldn’t wait to sample. The peas obviously hadn’t filled out the pod though, but they were sweet, dense, and very pea-tasting. It always surprises me when sampling something straight from the garden just how different it tastes from supermarket food. And immensely more satisfying, even if it is just a wee little veggie.

I probably won’t make my regular shopping rounds next weekend due to holiday travelling and to make sure this deliciously curated food doesn’t go to waste.

November 7 Food Haul

First stop: Wheatsville Co-Op

I stopped here for the first time last weekend and it’s already a regular stop on my weekly shopping trip. Partly because of this:


I’ve shopped regularly at other stores that allow you to use your own containers but none that actually promotes it. So I brought along a few jars for the bulk bins and got a few other necessities. The tomato and onions turned out to not be necessary here because they were at the farmers market too but I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

  • IMG_20151107_105958Pecans, 1.83 pounds: $9.13
  • Onions, 0.85 pounds: $1.69
  • Tomato, 0.38 pounds: $0.76
  • Jalape√Īos, 0.06 pounds: $0.24
  • Cheddar cheese, 0.59 pounds: $3.59
  • BBQ Sauce, 16 oz: $3.99
  • Toilet paper, 2 rolls: $1.38
  • Wild rice blend, 0.76 pounds, $4.55
  • Corn flakes, 0.67 pounds, $3.54

Total: $28.98

I may have gone a little overboard with the pecans, but hey I’m a Texan. The neighborhood pecan trees have just dropped their final pecans and I haven’t had nearly enough. You can see from the picture below that these nuts are so much plumper than my scavenged finds. And at $4.99 a pound, I end up getting more pecan meat for my money than the $13+ per pound for pecan meat from the bulk bins. Yumm.


Next Stop: Downtown Farmers Market

  • IMG_20151107_105236Long beans: $2.50.
  • Chuck roast, about 2 1/2 pounds: $20.90.
  • Persimmons, one basket: $5.
  • Carrots: $9.
  • Mushrooms, half pound: $2.75
  • Spaghetti squash: $3.

Total: $43.15

This is my first time buying a roast from the farmers market and I’ve never eaten persimmons or spaghetti squash at all, so this will be an adventurous week. The glut of carrots is for a birthday cake.

Seeing as today’s a nice cool, drizzly day, it’s a perfect time to make some soup and finish up some of last week’s score.

How I quit buying new crap

Buy Nothing New Month posterI don’t know exactly when this started, but last year I spent¬†a lot of time browsing the internet, looking for ways to enhance my thriftiness and found instructions on various money-saving activites:

  • Cook your own bread / pizza / stir-fry / etc.
  • Make your own cleaning products
  • Buy nothing you don’t need
  • But if you do need it, shop second-hand
  • Eat less meat
  • Line dry clothing

By chance, many of these activities also happen to be the environmentally-friendly option. So I felt good about myself … until I started reading up on other¬†environmentally-friendly options that were out of my comfort zone (and could wind up costing me more money):

  • Buy all organic foods
  • Buy all local foods
  • Don’t shop online
  • Give up single-use plastic
  • Give up all single-use disposables

At first, I dismissed much of it as not for me but it kept coming up again and again. And I realized that maybe supporting all the chemicals that go into conventional farming isn’t such a great idea. Maybe recycling¬†isn’t a perfect solution for dealing with plastic waste. Maybe¬†getting a shirt¬†made overseas from plastic thread by under-paid workers¬†really isn’t such a great deal even on clearance.

So just over a year ago, I signed up¬†for Buy Nothing New Month¬†to evaluate how much I really need, and that month¬†was nowhere near as hard as expected. The quick and dirty deals were so tempting, but it was a relief to not have to deal with the usual buyer’s remorse afterwards. BNN Month¬†went so well¬†that¬†I decided to declare this year Buy Nothing New 2015. Yes, there have been a few cases where I really needed to buy something new and a few cases where I just gave in without good reason. But overall, I feel better about the things I do buy¬†and am especially happy with spending a little more on food instead of on random clearance and sale-priced crap. And any other green habits I’ve picked up along the way, that’s all bonus.