Archive for the ‘intentional living’ Category

Confession: The No Spend Month Aftermath

I’ll admit that I haven’t blogged about my no spend month to a point that is highly suspicious.  I had intended to do weekly updates.  I somehow expected that week one would be the honeymoon phase and by week two I would look like this.

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It didn’t happen.  So what did happen?  I think the truth of it is that I got rattled.  It sounds stupid when I say it out loud (thank goodness I’m just typing.)  I had my food lists and my menus.  I knew what perishables were OK to buy and I felt good.  I think I even adopted a benign almost Jedi- like smile knowing I had no longer a mindless drone targeted by the consumer death star. Cue music.

It started with something small.  Josh and I decided to use a gift card to go to a movie.  It included snacks so we were good to go, at least until we got to the cashier. Eight dollars?  For what?  The movie was only being shown in 3D so it would be an upcharge.  I honestly felt ill.  If I’d been by myself I think I would have gone home.  This wasn’t the plan.  I thought I was in control. After that there were unexpected school fees, a minor repair and getting stuck somewhere for the day where I needed to buy food.  None of these should have been in surmountable but somehow it shook me.  I maintained staying away from most grocery shopping but the dark side offered cookies and I took them.

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It’s taken me a little while to figure out what happened but it is simple.  I have a tendancy to be all or nothing.  I will climb that mountain, achieve excellence in the field of excellence and have those thinner thighs in thirty days.  I grew up in a culture of leadership worship.  You needed to define what made you special. A lack of ambition was a vice.  It made sense. The generation before had had to work so hard to make it that we with our privileges should be world shakers.  I didn’t realize I’d brought so much of that into this.

It seems terribly dramatic for something as simple as a month of strict budgeting but it was more than that.   Once I put aside that this wasn’t a race to be won I took it for what it was.  It was to be a new habit, a new perspective on my relationship to money and food.  It was also a spotlight on my need to validate myself with measureable success. I had to accept that I will not be asked to lead the rebels to live outside of the Empire’s control.  What I will do is take my participant ribbon and give it some respect.  I managed for the most part to use what I had for meals, not go shopping for clothes, except that one bra after a wardrobe malfunction, and find a new source of income.  I wanted something big and finite.  A penny pinched lifestyle is not about an iron control but being able to flex with your situation.  It is also something beyond a quick fix.

So now I am midway through March.  I accept the challenge as a learning time with no pass or fail and I am good with that.  Anyone in the market for a slightly used droid?

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How to have a Successful No Spend Month

Please come in.  Have a seat.  I want to show you some of the plans I made for a no spend month. What?  No I don’t think I’m being too dramatic.  Trust me I have lots of examples of that.  The only way I can alter my behaviour is to be intentional.  Here is what I needed to do.  First I had to recognize my patterns, where I spend and what to do when I feel the pull to my ancestoral stomping grounds. OK yes that one was a little over the top but I know I am going to struggle in two top areas.

First off I am a hunter/ gatherer.  I do not like the mall but I do like to hunt.  I have a favourite thrift store. It is staged every week with new things and i love to explore and find out of print book titles, vintage mirrors or sunglasses.  I drop things off at least once a week and then I swing in just to look.  The paperback books are .50 so what’s the harm? No that was a rhetorical question.

The other weakness is eating out.  I like to have someone cook for me. I like not having to take the time to prep. and cook and just be able to eat.

Neither of these things worked with my plans so I needed a default.  One of the things I did was check out some of the local foraging.  No not portaging.  Foraging for materials to make my baskets, or for alder tree buds to make salve will help with the impulse to search for treasure.  No I do not have access to a canoe or gold panning supplies.  Can we stay on track?

For the eating out I’ve pooled some of my gift cards, or coupons that offer a free anything consumable and will have them as my safety net.

Being invited out to someone’s house is OK as is being taken out but the point is not to continue in my old behaviours.  For me that means not wasting money eating out when I can cook for a fraction of the price.

To have a real no spend month I needed to take stock of my supplies in my freezer, fridge and cupboards.

I needed to plan some meals around the food stuff I already had.  If I don’t have it and I want it I have to learn to make it from scratch.  If I’m missing an item I will need to substitute.  You can barter or swap items with friends or family but try to create some sustainable habits.  For the last few weeks I’ve been writing down our dinner meals to help me come up with quick ideas.  Allrecipes.com comes with a search function that allows you to enter the ingredients you have and ones you do not want.  There is also PInterest for specific food items and accompanying recipes.  With both of those the caution is that you do not know if the recipes will be to your liking.  I am making lists of some of my favourites that match my supplies so I am less tempted to run out and yell my requests into someone else’s window.  No I do not mean a neighbors. No I will not be yelling in your window.  I’m sorry to have alarmed you.

The other thing I will have to do is throw out all flyers before reading them to avoid temptation to get a deal. I will also have to stay off of the auction sites.  I usually go to try and sell but inevitably look at what everyone else is trying to sell.

So here we go.  There is no avoiding the fixed costs of life.  The taxman frowns on that behaviour. It is the variables that are to be frozen with the exception of some perishable items.  These will be listed in advance and the list is surprisingly small.  What’s that?  Yes you are still invited for dinner.  No it will not be foraged.  You are welcome.  Meeting adjourned.

Better Living Through Free Stuff

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I love the word free; free style, free spirited, free meal; these are all good.
Sometimes free comes with a cost. Most of us have been offered something free that then forced us to enjoy a delightful 3 hour vacuum cleaner demonstration or a relaxing time share pitch. The value of the free watch or striped beach blanket is up to you. The box marked free at the garage sale is usually the same sorts of odds and ends you need to clear out of your house. These are not the good types of free.
Now and again I come across something that is free, or pretty close, that is worth sharing. When I find those things I like to share them as “better living through free stuff”. This post is all about books. There a lot of sites with free ebooks. Here are three I am currently haunting.
Today’s find is Bookshout!. It is an ebook app that features a mixture of ebooks with specials that are either heavily reduced or free.
Today I found a real gem. It is called “Food Family Style: Simple and Tasty Recipes for Everyday Life” by Leigh Oliver Vickery. A number of the recipes come from her friends from MOPS, mothers of preschoolers. You have to know that these recipes are quick, simple and able to please all age ranges. There were also relatively economical.
After downloading it for free I started flicking through the book and immediately found a wealth of recipes that I knew I could use. Right now I have one of the slow cooker recipes ready to go and I am definitely using the appetizers for my next get together.
http://bookshout.us5.list-manage.com/track/click?u=372f42208b83b8affe66a0c39&id=e842107a78&e=7ea888f1af
While you are there you might also want to download a free copy of Stacey Turner’s “Slow Cooker Recipes“. It has thirty recipes with a great variety of soups, some meals and even desserts. Who knew you could make cherry cobbler in a slow cooker?
Another source of free books is Bookbub. I found that sometimes an author is writing a series they will then post their first book for free to get you hooked with the hope that you will buy the rest of the series, but there is much more than that.  They will send you daily offers.  I set it to weekly.

The third one is the free Kindle app through Amazon.com. My friend Wendy Janzen is an endless source of self sufficiency wisdom. She directed me to a few free picks. “Foraging: a beginners guide to wild edible and medicinal plants” by Jill B., The Food Preserving Bible: Quick and Simple Guide to Preserving, Canning and Dehydrating you Delicious Food” by Lisa Blane, and Lonely Planet’s ” The World’s Best Street Food – where to find and and how to make it”. Yum.
Some of these offers are only available for the day they are posted so it is best to check your email as soon as you get it.

There are so many more sites. Feel free to leave a mention here with your favourites. Now it is time to check on dinner.
Happy reading and enjoy your free books, Deb

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Use it or Lose it

This morning I stand in my closet of superhuman costumes and I do not know know how to choose. Today I need to be The Stuff Whisperer (Please insert your own heroic music), but I also need to be the Pied Piper of Pennies (What exactly does “pied” mean?). Unfortunately the two fight domestic disorder in different ways. Saving, upcycling, and repurposing can be at cross purposes with purging and simplifying. You may well be huddling with your picture frames that just need a good sand and some chalk paint, or the box of empty jars that would be great for votives or cookie mix gifts, wondering if you are saving the world or have unwittingly gone over to the dark side.
You may be thinking, “Leaping leftover casserole Deb. Is there no hope? Will I always have to choose between a simplified more stress free lifestyle and saving money?”
Take heart gentle citizen. There is one battle where they can unit. It is organization (cue the triumphant music).

To that end I offer a few simple ideas.
There is a lot of free stuff that comes into the house that gets tossed. In the kitchen it is the packets of ketchup, salt, pepper, paper napkins and soya sauce (don’t judge me). If they do get kept they are thrown into a drawer never to appear until they all get tossed.
These routinely get ignored in place of the purchased ketchup.  Why?  Why not use what we have?
Here is the compromise. They do you no good hidden away. What I did here was take three of my favourite pretty little bowls and place them on the kitchen table. One has ketchup, one soya sauce and one with salt and pepper. Feel free to be impressed with the groovy graphics border.

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The way I work is that to use it I have to see it. The bowls make me smile because I love their colours. If it doesn’t work to have them on the table these are stacked in the cupboard with the spices so they are not forgotten.
On the shelf below the spices lived in an unhappy jumble and I’ve often bought 2 or 3 containers of the same spice because I couldn’t see what I had. An easy fix, after you go through what is too old and needs replacing, is to have a lazy susan so that you can see everything you own and access it without tearing apart the cupboard.

I told you the bowls were cute.  I wish I’d taken a before picture of the spices below.  They were all a right mess before the lazy susan. I had three containers of poppy seeds.  I do not think I will ever bake enough muffins to justify that quantity.

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In the bathroom I dumped out everything and put all of the samples in an atrractive box that sits on the counter. These get used first. No buying new hand cream, facial cleansers or even shampoo until the samples are gone.
Getting the samples is only a deal if you use them.
These are just a few simple life hacks where simplifying and saving work well together.
I would love to hear your ideas on organizing your life to save money.
Up, up and oy veh. Oh my sciatica.

Let There be Peas on Earth and in the Stir Fry

I will admit that there can be a rather chilly detente that occurs in my refrigerator.  There are certain shelves that see a fairly brisk rotation of items. These spaces are the accepted free trade region.  To the sides are the condiments that are the story keepers, the elders of the fridge that rarely cede their spots to newcomers.  In the crisper I do my best not to let the denizens liquify but how much parsley do I really need?  Oh sure I could freeze it but as long as it is visible I can tell myself I am going to make a fresh and healthy soup.  It is a green leafy badge of clean eating superiority.

So what has this all got to do with being penny pinched?  I admit that some days I am intimidated by my fridge.  I open it and see random supplies and am not sure what to do.  I might see one dish for a meal but I get a little sketchy on how to make it reflect the food rainbow.  I’ve been told a handful of M & Ms does nothing to meet the requirements of the bottom of the food pyramid.  Elitists.

That being said I realize I will never balance my food budget or dietary needs without some help. I had gotten into the habit of buying new food because I didn’t know how to use up what I had.  This is where I found this helpful tool on allrecipes.com.  I had been looking for the perfect cornmeal muffin recipe and I noticed that one of the search engines was to list the ingredients I wanted and also the ones I did not want.  This opened up a lot of possibilities.  I decided to haul everything out of my fridge.  Green Peace launched a formal complaint as the contents of the veggie crisper were being considered as a part of a self sustaining eco system but I prevailed.  I found recipes that would use up the scraps of cooked chicken, 1/2c. of green beans, red pepper paste and pearl onions.  I began to make headway into hostile territory and dismantle the peculiarly stacked architecture of tupperware, take out boxes and ziploc bags. (In my defence there was really only one takeout box but the visual image was too cool not to use).

I also found that Pinterest became a great place to store recipes that worked for me with veggies where I was lacking a bit of imagination.Translation: I sometimes need encouragement to not settle for just meat and potatoes.  The photos help.

This new year coming up I am setting Friday as ifits day.  If it is in the fridge then that is what’s for dinner.  If it is still there the next week it is time to shuffle it off to that great compost pile.  My goal is for a couple of empty shelves because I learned to use what I already had.  Now to go back into negotiation with my tartar sauce who is staging a sit in.  Wish me luck.

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Guilty Pleasure’s Annoying Cousin

Christmas time can be the discount bin of emotions.  There is the occasional gem but there is a lot of stuff that is no bargain. Yes I am talking about the neon leg warmers of feelings, guilt. In recent years I’ve been a little more savvy in my approach to my finances for Christmas.  I put aside a set amount a month and create a budget.  By Christmas time I know what I have to spend on everything from gifts, food, travel and clothes.  Since I know the amount I will have, my brain has a framework and things seem to slide in rather neatly.  That is the financial side.  The other part, the emotions thing, can occasionally grinch it all up for me.  It doesn’t just leave me with a curled lip patting my little dog while looking down on Whoville.  It tends to push me down the mountain and bundle me in any layers of guilt I might roll across. In the past the temptation was to spend without a budget because I didn’t have any money anyways.  Excellent logic.  Now the temptation is to purchase that one extra thing.  I say I do this because I want to give and that is true.  I say that those I love are worth it.  They are but honestly I also want to feel good and pretend that I’m not as pinched as I am.  Gift giving season makes me think about my finances and I don’t want to.  Worse I do not want anyone else to know that I cannot buy them the ultra deluxe turnip twaddler with the GPS feature.  This is when the worst of the guilt appears. It is the irrational guilt, the things over which I have no control, the things I should not carry, that jumps right into my shopping cart.  This is the big ticket item. Out of anything you pick up this season this is the one you cannot afford.  You have to put it back.

The real harm in this sort of guilt is that it usually brings its seedy little friend judgement.  We label ourselves for things that are out of our control.  I feel guilty for not being able to live up to some artificial standard. I feel I have failed and it must be my fault.  Rationally I know this is not true and it is this truth that has to guide my feelings and behaviour.  I have to switch from distorted thinking to accurate thinking.  A great blog post on doing this is Renee Jain’s                                     http://blogs.psychcentral.com/stress-better/2014/11/forget-positive-thinking-try-this-to-curb-teen-anxiety For this Christmas season I want us all to receive the gift of freedom from unreasonable guilt, the freedom from judgement that should have never been.

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The Gift of Red

This blog is primarily about frugal living. That being said, the ability to spend less than we make is a many tentacled wonder. Some of my worst spending decisions come when I am tired, stressed and depressed. Most of the year I can glide by with canning, crafting, thrift shopping and humour. At this time of year the days are shorter, the seasonal affective shut down code is punched, and I feel the need to make it “the most wonderful time of the year”. (I will now have that ear worm playing in my head all day). I start to droop. I hit the drive thru or buy the packaged food. I sleep more, indulge more and spend more.  My ability to make wise financial decisions in compromised.
My emotional well being hits my bottom line.  
I realize that most of us intuitively know this but how does this help?  Knowing and dealing are very different. I will share one positive perspective that does help. There is a verse in the bible that says, “Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”. No matter what your beliefs there is truth  here.  Gratitude.  It is a key to taking control of your perspective.
You know the things that weigh you down but what about the things that buoy you up?
I was recently invited to take part in the 100 days of gratitude challenge. What if you kept a gratitude journal? Write down 5 things for which you are grateful. During the day think of different things to write. This will keep your mind on your blessings. Share these with chosen friends and family. Blog them or Facebook them or another outlet of your choosing. You need to dwell on them, express them and share them. It will shift your focus and give you a fighting chance.
I have a great deal for which I am grateful so I will start with the colour red. All my life I believed I could never wear red. I was told it did not suit me. A few years ago I met a man who saw me differently. As we walked through a local market he picked up a red scarf and said it would be beautiful on me. I started to object but he put it on me and said it was perfect and bought it for me. There were no mirrors except for his eyes. I felt timid at first but I wore the scarf every day. Eventually I started adding the colour into my wardrobe and felt joyous. He had given me the gift of the colour red and I am grateful.
I wish you all a season clad in the garments of praise.

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Can’t See the Forest for the Sleeves

OK maybe the title isn’t one of my better literary efforts but this is what happens after two days of trying to pack a suitcase and being unsuccessful.  The embarrassing part is that this is not my first trip to the rodeo (I did not just use that cliche.)  I had decluttered most of my wardrobe, matching outfits with jewelry etc.   It would have been a cunning and clever plan IF I had tried on everything first.  It also had another fatal flaw (see how I’m building the dramatic tension?).  I had a closet full of black pants and matched each one with a suitable top. Unfortunately I cannot bring 9 pairs of black pants with me and not all work with all the tops.  There are four variations on a yoga pant.  One is comfortable, a bit worn and the draw string really shows when under a top. The second is newer, has a more subtle waistband but a small paint stain on one leg. The third is a soft wide leg with pockets but keeps on lengthening due to the material.  The fourth is the newest but too figure fitting to wear with any shirt that doesn’t cover the bum.  Did I mention the dress pants with the faint pin strip in case I need to look businesslike, the flowing pants that would be great for the opera, the clam diggers or the two pairs of thick leggings with faux leather applique?  Of course I have two because the applique on one is on the side of the legs and the other is on the knees.

I will spare you the horrors of the toppings section ( I feel like an ice cream sundae), but I came back to the struggle between style and comfort.  What looked good was not necessarily what I could wear on the sort of multi climate zone trip I was going to take.  Unlike decluttering blouses and sweaters I found letting go of pants too hard.  My lifestyle requires clothes I can trash with my sculpting.  My textiles get lint on everything.  I have clothes for that so I don’t go out looking like I’ve rolled in an old man’s jacket pocket.

Bit by bit the pile of working clothes has grown out of control as well.  I justify that I can turn them into rugs one day but the chances are slim.

The truth is that by hanging on to all the “almost works” pants I didn’t realize that I did not have a basic black pant that was great.  The clutter of “must keep” clothing didn’t let me know what I needed.  Slowly I started matching the tops I wanted to take with the pants as they lay on the bed.  A clear winner emerged for the yoga pants that would serve for hiking and a slim pair for the boots that would walk me around Istanbul. The tops had to either go with one of these two pairs to make the cut.  I allowed myself one skirt and though I only have three, one is for summer, one is in a different colour theme and the lucky winner manages to work with three of the tops.

In the end I had a pair of city pants, country pants, and a skirt..

I learned I had no sweaters, no fleece, no raincoat and 16 camisoles.  Over the next few months I will try and refine the wardrobe into wearable outfits that mix and match and fit properly.   If I can also manage to get a cool hair style and balance my budget I will have pulled a hat trick of domestic bliss. I am reluctant to get rid of things that still fit.  It seems counter intuitive  but if I know what I really need I won’t waste money buying the wrong thing. Maybe the next time I want to get away I will be able to pack in less time than I will spend on my vacation.

Leaving you a trail of breadcrumbs out of the forest, Deb

Going back into the Closet, the Honest Truth

Fashion trends make my eye twitch.  How can you trust people who repeatedly tell you that the only way you dare leave the house is if you wear neon plaid and then a few months later tell you that you don’t dare leave the house if you wear neon plaid.  These people are unstable, undependable and are in the business of making us continually neurotic about our appearance.

I know this because as an artist I do check on the colour trends that are forecast for upcoming seasons to see if my jewelry designs work with the random insanity.  I then go and work on whatever appeals to me, generally metallics, textures, pieces of metal, sculptural elements  and pieces with a story.  I don’t go to shopping malls, read fashion magazines or have any respect for people that pay the price of a car for a purse. Whether it is $20 or $2000 a pen exploding inside of it will still ruin the lining and a moist cough drop will still sent it to the back of the closet.

OK.  So what has that got to do with anything?  We are talking about saving money. Here is my weakness.  I love to travel.  It is what I save my money for and when I am very careful I spend less traveling than living at home (almost, well sort of.)  I find really good deals on flights, accomodations and food.  So far so good but right now I am packing for a wonderful trip with my mom.  We will spend a week in Istanbul, I’ll be using airmiles Best Western cards for accomodations. Great.  We will then be doing a one week cruise from Istanbul to Athens that included free airfare and the whole thing came out cheaper than airfare (I will be so unimpressed if I find out we are really galley help on a Greek fishing boat). Double great.  I will get a chance to introduce my mom to one of the most important people in my life and many other friends, triple great, and they have all seen all of my clothes before. Oh. Ha!  I don’t care.  I’m sure they don’t remember what I wore, even though they are the same outfits I wore in several of the photos I took on my last few trips.  Yup, that one sparkly camisole, certainly made the rounds (in a nice girl way of course).  Yes I have worn these boots there three times. This coat is starting to look like Indiana Jones’ after the fight scenes.  I’m sure they won’t notice.  People in large European cities aren’t too aware of fashion right?  I don’t care about that sort of thing right?  Why is my suitcase inching away from my choices?  Why is my suitcase looking like it was on the Titanic?

All right this is petty but part of my spending before a trip involved a military campaign of getting the hair cut and coloured, feet done, makeup bought fresh, a few new tops, maybe a dress (or two if it was summer) and a bathing suit.  The bathing suit is always problematic because when I buy them I see myself rising from the waves like a spandex clad Venus on a half shell in glistening splendor.  When the photos get downloaded  I see a German opera singer squished into a salami wrapper.  There is no going back and pretending once the photos see the light of day (which they rarely do).  This year, at this time of reckoning it is time to stop avoiding the closet. As Dorothy learned in Oz, everything I really need is right in my own (closet) backyard.  Part of the fun of a trip is buying new things in the hope of being a brand new me, but until I am completely at ease with the me that didn’t suddenly lose 20 lbs. before the trip, then I’m not decluttering the most cluttered room I have, my own closet of anxieties.  Yes marketing and media have had a hand in that but intentional living gives me the freedom to wear brown if “the” trend is lilac.  I have to face my own ego and fantasy cravings and find satisfaction by returning to the closet. Now where is that neon plaid bathing suit? (Don’t visualize.)

Fair Trade

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”.  This is one of the few lines of Shakespeare that most people can quote.  I’ve even heard it quoted as being from the bible.  It’s not and for what it’s worth neither is “God helps them who helps themselves”.  Regardless of where it is from it is something that is engrained deep into the North American psyche, but is it wisdom or anti-community?

I still remember being in grade 3 and loaning one of my Paddington Bear books to a girl in my class.  It was one of a set and came in its own decorative cardboard case.  She never gave it back.  I still remember her name.  She moved away. Every day the hole in the case reproached me and it felt bad.  Six years later this same girl appeared in my high school.  I recognized her instantly and I wanted to bolt up to her and say, “Give me back my book. You have my Paddington book. You shouldn’t have kept it.”  Needless to say it didn’t happen but I remember the shock to my system and how it felt.

In the blog “The Year of Less” one of the recent ideas was to borrow. The idea is that not everyone needs to buy every item you will ever use.  In theory we would borrow from each other and play nicely.  If you have family nearby and you are semi-functional then having communal items is a great idea.  I found myself getting anxious as I contemplated the idea of asking to borrow anything short of an egg or 1/2 cup of sugar which I knew I would quickly replace.  As for loaning, watching Judge Judy, it seems to be a sure fire way to lose friendships and incur hard feelings if anything goes wrong, damage or loss, and then trying to reconcile the bills.  It hardly seems worth it.  The problem is that we don’t need everything we have and it is a waste for us all to own our own turnip twaddlers when none of us probably twaddles on a regular basis.

I am not saying do not lend items to friends but my early experiences taught me to only lend what I could live without and which are not treasured items.  Out of print books that feature pictures of me refusing George Clooney’s proposal stay on my bookshelf.  Dresses that make me look two sizes smaller are not going on your body.  My grandmother’s handmade blanket stays by my side.  As for the other stuff what I suggest is fair trade.

I need to borrow a wheel barrow and i know the neighbors have one.  On occasion they have hired my son to mow their yard.  What I will propose is that Josh will mow their yard in exchange for the use of the wheel barrow for one day.  If that works we both win.   One of the other things I do is a book box.  On Saturdays at our local hospice thrift paperback books are .25 cents.  It is easy to grab a few.  I used to take these with me instead of library books in case they are damaged or lost. Library books stay in the home.  If I like a book, after I’ve read it it goes in the box.  When I get together with girlfriends I bring the box and they can take what they like.  They can pass them on or give them back to the thrift.  Eventually they started doing the same.  It is a habit I fell out of but I think it would be a great time to start again.

In theory I think lending and borrowing could work if you have like minded friends who are all in agreement and there is an element of fair trade.

I think that this is the sort of principle I can live with.  I’d love to hear other people’s opinions of borrowing/lending.

Thanks, Deb