Seeking the Minimum Level

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A while back I told you about The Tightwad Gazette. I warned you that I’d be sharing more jewels of wisdom from this oldie-but-goodie, and today I’m dishin’ Dacyczyn. She wrote an article entitled “Seeking the Minimum Level,” which describes practical ways of scaling back our usage of everyday items in the name of pushing the ‘ol budget that much farther. The article resonated with me because it was so straight-forward. By consuming less, we not only spend less but we also waste less. It’s a win-win-win-win. Today I’m sharing the piece with you. I’m excited to see what you think about it! (To save space, I may have omitted a paragraph or two. The integrity of the article is intact, I promise!) So without further ado… Amy Dacyczyn, people. (Give her a big round of applause!). Or applesauce. Whichever you feel like.

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People are creatures of habit. We do things because we have always done them that way, or because our parents always did them that way, or because a teacher taught us that way, or because an “expert” said to do it that way. We seldom challenge why we do things the way we do. As a result we persist in expensive behaviors purely out of habit.

To form new, frugal habits, develop an awareness about all the small actions you do every day. Explore new ways to do things… seek the minimum level. Scale down step by step until the process does not work satisfactorily for your standards. Then bump it up one level.

What you wash dishes, do you always fill the sink to the top? Do you always put a two-second squirt of soap in the dishwasher? See if a one-second squirt will work. When you wash laundry, do you always put the recommended amount of detergent in each load? (Isn’t it handy the way the manufacturers provide you with a plastic scoop in each box so you never think about using less?) Think about how dirty each load is and add detergent accordingly. Often a half scoop will work as well.

Do you use an inch of toothpaste because a brush has inch-long rows of bristles and every toothpaste ad you’ve ever seen portrays a neat, full, bristle-length swath? Experiment to see if a 1/2″ swipe of toothpaste works as well. (Or make your own!)

When you shampoo, do you experiment to find the least amount that will work? If you pour a quarter-sized dab in your palm, try a nickel-sized one.

When you are baking, do you always set the timer the recommended time? Maybe your oven thermostat is high and your oven bakes faster. Try checking for doneness a few minutes early. Do you follow recipes exactly or do you experiment? In baking you can try using less sugar, eggs, and oil. Find the point where you notice a significant taste difference, then increase the sugar/eggs/oil slightly.

When you eat and drink, do you always fill plates and cups full? Maybe a partial cup of coffee or a smaller portion would satisfy you as much. If you have a chocolate craving at the checkout line, do you really need the extra-large size chocolate bat? Maybe a small peppermint patty would satisfy you.

Β Most important, when you establish your budget, do you always spend the allowed amount, or do you try to spend less on the areas of your budget that are flexible?

When you seek the minimum level, you may be breaking old habits. Give yourself time to get used to the new lower level. It may take a few months to adjust so that the change feels comfortable. And at that point, try the experiment again.

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19 Comments
  • Viv
    February 1, 2013

    Hi there Evelyn – I have ventured through onto your lovely blog from A New Life in the Country and I can tell this is just the site for me. My word for this year is REDUCE and I am looking to do this in all areas of my life and have even begun a sister blog just to log my progress, so this article was very interesting for me to read as I have been thinking on these lines myself and evaluating everything we do a bit like the old time and motion experts. I have even been photographing all our kitchen type waste for a future post (my better half just smiles fondly at this point!) and to document for ourselves exactly what we throw away that cannot be recycled. My most recent revelation this week has been ‘If I don’t buy it in the first place than I don’t have to then get rid of it at some future date!
    I will definitely be popping back soon to read more. Viv

    • Evelyn
      February 1, 2013

      Hi Viv, I’m glad to have you here! Reduce is SUCH an amazing word for this year–what a great goal. We just recently started recycling and I’m a little bit awed at how big our recycling pile is… totally with you on that! Can’t wait to hear more about your journey in 2013.

    • Karen T.
      March 18, 2013

      I’m new to the blog, so just getting caught up. “Reduce” is a fantastic mantra for this year, in so many ways! Thanks for the inspiration.

      • Evelyn
        March 18, 2013

        Thanks for stopping by, Karen! Reduce is a great mantra for 2013.

  • Linda Stoll
    February 1, 2013

    fascinating perspective on taking it down a notch!

    • Evelyn
      February 1, 2013

      I thought so too, Linda! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Emily Chaffer
    February 1, 2013

    Evelyn,
    LOVED this! It really made me think about how I approach everything I’m doing. Being intentional is never a bad thing! Especially the laundry detergent thing. Now I’m like “No… I WILL DECIDE HOW MUCH DETERGENT I NEED!!” πŸ™‚ Thanks for the great post!

    • Evelyn
      February 1, 2013

      Seriously! Don’t let anyone dictate your detergent amount, lady! Take charge! Be strong! πŸ™‚

  • Jane Sasser
    February 1, 2013

    Actually, I have to bake anything in my oven LONGER– and not just a little longer. It’s an art, trying to figure out how long to bake a cake. It drives me crazy.

    But I can make a bottle of shampoo last forever. Do I get points for that? πŸ™‚

    • Evelyn
      February 1, 2013

      Yes, but your oven is absolutely possessed. That’s not your fault, Jane. πŸ˜‰ You totally get points for eternal shampoo–talk about reducing!

  • Jenifer
    February 2, 2013

    I have now finished the whole blog. It’s very nice indeed. πŸ™‚

    I have found that paring back what I use has been amazing. Instead of buying a lot of different products we now buy vinegar, castile soap, honey and baking soda in bulk (less expensive), and it usually lasts us a year or more when we buy our bulk.

    We use it to wash ourselves, our home, our dishes, our laundry. You name it, we use one of these to wash. We even use honey as our antibiotic ‘gel!’

    Now, I’m experimenting with how much I actually need to use. I used to just splash things in, out, and around. Now, I measure, fill spray bottles, and try to see how little I can get away with using. It’s pretty exciting!

    I love having little minimizing challenges.

    Right now, I”m minimizing my work-load (I own my own business — so I’m making arrangements to work less and spend more time with my family — essentially work only part time). I want to make the business as efficient as possible!

    • Evelyn
      February 22, 2013

      Jenifer, I love that your minimizing journey is taking you to streamlining how you use your time. I think that’s often the bottom line, right? Thanks for sharing… and for reading the whole blog. πŸ˜‰ We’ll have more posts coming soon!!

  • Charity
    February 21, 2013

    Excellent ideas! I’ve been trying to do that with chocolate — eating one small piece a day instead of, say, munching on too many M&Ms.

    Btw, I love your measuring spoon in the pic — my mom and I both have the same ones. πŸ™‚

    • Evelyn
      February 22, 2013

      Hi Charity, oohhh chocolate should definitely be my next “find-the-minimum.” Good call! Thanks for joining the discussion.

  • Athena
    February 25, 2013

    Chocolate BAT huh!!! the typo made me smile.

  • Evelyn
    February 26, 2013

    Athena… I’m laughing too. Thanks for catching that!! Totally didn’t see that before. I don’t even think I’ll change it…. we all need extra large chocolate bats. πŸ˜€

  • sandy
    March 4, 2013

    Hello,
    I follow your ideia but when baking, if you don’t follow the recipe and reduce the quantities for the sake of saving, you might end up wasting a lot more until you find the right reductions….
    But, overall I agree with you. About brushing the teeth, my dentist always says: “all you need to clean the teeth is a glass of water and a brush”. :-), also I always cut the tooth paste tube and get a few extra doses of of it!
    kind regards

    • Evelyn
      March 4, 2013

      Ohhh the toothpaste is a good one, too! I think I always use too much without even thinking. Thanks for the thought!

  • MelD
    March 5, 2013

    So many things can be reduced.
    If you eat healthily, all you need to brush teeth is water. No toothpaste.
    Lots of folk are now going shampoo free.
    I researched deodorant – another marketing ploy. My mom and grandma washed clothes less often and themselves more often (wash, not shower and using water!) and used bar soap and talcum powder to smell nice… that still works. Most of us don’t actually need deodorant and they say anti-perspirant is an even worse idea. Go figure.
    Washing powder is also better than liquid – you don’t need a lot but your machine will likely end up smelly without the abrasive action of the powder to help. Found that out by experience! Now I use a small amount of powder and a bit more if things really are muddy.
    In this country, every rented apartment has a special hook on the balcony to hang your clothes out overnight to freshen – an old-fashioned idea we should revisit, I think!
    Nice to have found your blog – I now plan to read some of your archives πŸ™‚

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