Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Frugal Remodeling July 21, 2014

Filed under: homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:08 am
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One of the aspects of living in on old home that we are very aware of is that the old homestead house needs remodeling.  Not necessarily a total updating of the home, but simple cosmetic upgrades.  Some of the plans that we have are more involved than others.  Our home was built about 1890 and is the oldest inhabited structure still standing in our small rural community.  With that age, there are definite changes that need to be made.  Here is a list of some of the upcoming projects.

First, we will be lowering the tall ceilings.  This is to help lower costs of heating the home in winter as well as to allow us to better insulate the ceiling.  We will only be lowering the ceilings by about 1 foot, but it will make quite a difference once winter comes.

Next, we are putting down new flooring.  When my husband served in the Navy, the ships her served on had a rubberized material as flooring.  This material indulated the floors very well and was easy to maintain.  We checked at the home improvement centers and a similar product can be purchased there.  We plan to put it in nearly every room.  The house was built with a crawl space under it.  Each year, the floor becomes cold from the winter winds blowing under the house.  This flooring will help to prevent that.  It will also give the kids a warmer and more cushioned surface to play on.

For lighting, we are looking at buying the old fashioned propane gas lights.  These work in a similar way as the camp lanterns in that you burn a mantle.  The gas lights are very safe and modern versions of the old lights are readily sold for use in Amish or other off-grid homes.  These lights are mounted as sconces on the wall, so will be well out of the children’s reach.  Because they give off heat, we will likely use them more in the winter.  Summer months, the daylight lasts plenty long enough to meet out needs without much additional lighting needed.  As they do now, the kids will still have battery operated lanterns for lighting their bedrooms.  This has proven to be the safest option.  Small decorative lights can be found even at the Dollar Tree type stores.  These usually take 2 of the AAA batteries.  For each child’s lantern, I find myself changing batteries only about once every week or two, depending on the time of year.  The batteries are also purchased at Dollar Tree, so the cost for their lighting is very low.   I have tried the solar lights for them, but the small ones only give out enough light to be used as a nightlight.  Never enough to illuminate the bedroom sufficiently for them to play in the room on early winter evenings before bedtime.  My husband and I still use oil lamps on high shelves.  Currently, we go through a 5 gallon container of kerosene once every 2-3 months if used for lighting the lamps alone.  In winter when lamps are lit for longer amounts of time, the usage is about 5 gallons every 4-6 weeks.

One of the main resources that we are planning to use with our remodeling are businesses that sell reclaimed or factory seconds lumber and building supplies.  Just by using the factory seconds in lumber, we can save over 50% of the cost for building materials.  We found a business that sells this type of product up in Tulsa.  It will be a long drive (nearly 80 miles) to reach the business, but the savings will make the trip worth while.

I found the business by doing an internet search for “recycled reclaimed construction lumber Oklahoma”.  Yeah, it was quite a long search topic but it gave the results we were looking for.  There are many such businesses across the USA.  This one happens to sell not just the lumber, but flooring and roofing materials as well.

We are still planning to build our own wind turbine and expand our solar panel system.  Harbor Freight sells solar panels for far less than many other retailers.  Being as we do not have a house full of electricity using appliances and such, the systems from Harbor Freight will be more than sufficient.

In short, the remodel is more cosmetic than anything.  We are going to relay the plumbing to get rid of the PVC pipes which easily can freeze during an Oklahoma winter.  A subzero outdoor faucet will also be installed at the water faucet near the porch.  A new bathroom is being designed by my darling husband.  Putting in new insulation and more efficient windows is also in the plans.  The house, once done, will be far easier to heat in winter and keep cool in summer.

I can’t wait to get started.  Soon, we will be heading out and buying the first of many trailer loads of supplies to get started.  In the meantime, I am going to be sorting out more things to donate.  There are boxes that have not been looked into for several months upwards to a year or more.  Those are easily going to be donated since we have had no need for the items in those boxes in all this time.  End goal is to have less stuff and keep only what is necessary.  That particular goal has never changed.  Only my definitions of what is needed has undergone adjustments.


Simplifying Your Life….Really? April 19, 2013

Filed under: homesteading,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:07 am
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I have been reading blogs lately and a question has come to mind. In many of the simple living themed blogs (sadly, mine included) I see a pattern. We start out with the goal in mind of simplifying our lives. Please know that I am not talking about a life of ease from work, just getting rid of the excess and junk in our lives that bog us down. It is an attitude of focusing on what is truly important in our lives and less on what society would have us believe to be vital.

Over time, for some the time frame is longer than others, the message of the blogs change. I read about women who are trying so many different ways to simplify that they are in effect causing more unnecessary work and stress for themselves. Let me give you some examples. These are NOT ones copied from any other blog but are hypothetical in nature to state a point.

Blogger #1 is trying to cut back on grocery expenses by making all her family’s meals from scratch. At first, she is learning to make homemade pasta, bread, and other pantry staples in an effort to buy less packaged foods and cut back on her grocery costs each month. After a while, you notice that she is spending quite a bit of money buying ingredients that are costing enough that you realize that she is likely spending even more on the groceries than when she started out.

Blogger #2 is sewing for her family to save money. While a great idea to know how to make your family’s clothing should the need arise, she is spending so much on fabric & sewing supplies that you wonder where the true savings come into play.

Blogger #3 is a trend blogger. She reads new ideas on other blogs and gets so excited about trying the ideas for herself that she inadvertently spends more money and makes more work for herself. Case in point, a blogger that gets so caught up in making a wide variety of homemade cleaning supplies instead of making 2-3 that will work on everything.

In the above examples, here is what concerns me. Blogger #1 started out with the right idea of trying to be more frugal in her grocery spending. Unfortunately, like so many others, she decides to try and recreate packaged foods in her home in a way that is not financially a wise choice. For example, I can buy a large frozen veggie lazagne for about $12 that is more than large enough for a family meal. To make that same lazagne would cost me far more by the time I bought the fresh produce, sauce, cheeses, etc. The only way I could make it cheaper is if I used fresh produce from my own garden. If I were devoted to never buying packaged/convenience foods, then making the recipe when my garden is not in season would cost more than buying packaged. On the same note, unless I am great about recycling containers, stocking my pantry with homemade mixes would be costly. Far better to learn to make a single recipe of those items. This is especially true if the mix is not one that you use on a regular basis.

Blogger #2 is wanting to sew for her family. If the purpose is to learn how to make the clothing, that is great. But does the cost of supplies, along with the increased workload, make it worth your while? Wouldn’t it be more frugal to shop at yard sales or consignment shops instead? Personally, I think any homesteading mom should have a good basic knowledge of how clothing is constructed so that she can make repairs to extend the life of the family’s wardrobes. But are we truly making the right choice if we are spending more for the sake of being able to say that we made it all ourselves?

Blogger #3 is a tough one. There are so many ideas adn recipes out there that when taken individually would be a savings of money for the family. Adding too many of them together can defeat your purposes. For example, a common attitude is that for every type of cleaning, you need a special type of cleaner. This hype was started by the cleaning product companies to sell more product lines. If you take a critical look at your home, you will find that you need very few cleaners. To really save money, you simply find the 2-3 recipes that will work on as many surfaces as possible. The trends are not just with cleaning products but with many areas of our lives as we become more self-reliant. Just because John & Jane Doe are storing 400 lbs of wheat doesn’t mean that you need to consider the same thing. If another person is saying how critical it is to raise your own meat, you don’t have to rush out there and buy livestock. There are other ways to accomplish the same ends without taking on work and expense you may not be able to afford.

There is a little of me in each of these bloggers. I have had my moments of insanity when I thought I had to do it all in order to be self-reliant. Over time, I found that I was just being silly in my spending of our resources. Not just in the resource of money, but my time and work. In the past, I have made up a large supply of mixes that took over 6 months to use. Now, if I make up a mix, I make only what will be used within a month. This saves not only the expense but storage space. I may keep the ingredients for the mixes well stocked, but I don’t make the mixes themselves unless I have a need for them.

I have learned to buy clothing at thrift stores or yard sales. Often, I have been able to find like new clothing for less than $2.00. In one instance, I bought myself a skirt, with the original store tags still on it, for only $1.00 at a yard sale. There are some clothing items that I refuse to buy secondhand, such as underclothing, but nearly anything else can be found for pennies on the dollar and in very good or like new condition.

In following trends or jumping on ideas that others present, I never saved us money in the long run. Cleaning supplies is a hot topic among DIY blogs. I find that in our home I only need to make 3 cleaners: an all-purpose cleaner, laundry soap, and fabric softener. The all-purpose cleaner will clean nearly everything. If I want to wash windows, then I simply mix white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. The laundry soap serves well as a dish soap. You can add a bit of orange oil to it if you wanted, but it isn’t essential.

The point is, when you take a look at how you are working to simplify your life and save money, are you really reaching that goal or are you making things harder on yourself both in work and finacially?


A Hoarder’s Nightmare January 17, 2013

I proudly admit it. I am a hoarder’s nightmare. Why do I say this? In our house, we have a strict rule. Unless it is something like a tools or other essential homestead item, if the items go unused or needed for 3 months, they are not necessary to keep. I can just imagine the gasps and panics that a true hoarder would have at the thought of applying that rule in their own homes.

There are many reasons for why we apply this routine in our family. First, it immediately cuts down on the clutter. We only have around the items that are truly necessary. Sure, we have bits of time when clutter happens. It makes me crazy though. I just can’t stand it. I never have a problem with it at someone else’s home, but it makes me edgy in my own home. I simply cannot relax. If I need something, I don’t like having to search for it.

Living our lifestyle of doing things as past generations did, I don’t have time to be constantly having to declutter and clean. I have enough to do each day without causing myself extra work. I have always dreamed of having a simply furnished home like those the pioneers may have had. They didn’t have excess. Sadly, the “entitlement” mentality of today’s generations have brought about the idea of having whatever we want. But is that attitude really a healthy one? Where are we learning self-restraint? Where are we learning to prioritize? What example are we giving our children?

When I have our home as it should be, with all excess removed, it is fast and easy to maintain. I have much more time to spend doing daily chores and doing activities with the children. Stress levels are nearly non-existant.

I have found that the children play with only a very few toys, yet they have many more. The extra toys end up scattered due to lack of space to store them. It makes no sense to hold on to the toys that are not played with. Instead, they could be donated to a shelter or thrift store so that other kids could enjoy them. If the toys are in very good condition, a church nursery may even have use for them.

In the kitchen, it is very easy to let excess get out of hand. I have a weakness in that area. I see a kitchen item at a thrift store or yard sale and am sure that I will use it quite often, only to find that I rarely use it. I tend to gravitate to the same kitchen utensils and cookware every time I prepare a meal. I tested my theory by placing in the pantry the items I rarely use. If I didn’t need those items within 2 months, I knew I wouldn’t miss it.

I read an idea on some blogs of filling 40 bags in 40 days. This idea is to take a bag and going through one closet or room at a time, fill a bag each day. These are to be donated or disposed of. The idea being that at the end of that 40 day time period, your home will be decluttered. It is a workable idea for those who are not sure where to start. For me, I like to simply take one room at a time and do a thorough job of it. It is very similar to spring cleaning. I just prefer to do it more often.