On the Problem of Food Storage and Hoarding

Food pantry before and after.

If there’s one thing that life in this bungalow has taught me is that what we call “minimalism” is simply the way people lived in the 1920s. The original inhabitants of this house made do with one small closet and a few built-in cabinets. If there’s another thing I’ve learned it’s that building additional storage always leads us down the path of over-consumption.

If the Food Network ever makes a foodie hoarder reality show, we could have been on an episode thanks to the shelves we added to the utility room. Those shelves quickly filled with aspirational but never used ingredients such as tapioca flour as well as mediocre food preservation projects that I just couldn’t admit defeat on.

Our kitchen’s ample built-in cabinets.

When it came time for our painters to work on the utility room we decided to take down the shelves and try to live with the storage built for the original inhabitants of this house. Now I’ve noticed that when I go to the market I’m more conscious of the choices I make knowing that we don’t have the room for ingredients that won’t get used much.

Transportation nerds have a phrase for this phenomenon, “induced demand.” Build extra lanes for a freeway and those lanes will fill to capacity and you’ll end up with worse traffic jams than the ones you thought you were preventing. The same goes for storage space. Built it and you’ll end up with a lot of crap you don’t need.

Of course, if I followed this pre-WWII logic to its extreme, I’d have to start dressing more sharply and stop walking around what, in the 1920s, wouldn’t even pass for pajamas. Hey Kelly where did I put my spats?

The Return of the Apron?

Kelly got me an apron for my birthday last year which I thought might be taken as a hipster affectation in my semi-public, sidewalk-adjacent workshop. But on the very first day I wore it I dropped a sharp chisel in my lap and realized that this garment, made out of sturdy canvas, actually has a purpose. Then there’s all those pockets in which to put rulers and pencils.

A quick perusal of the interwebs will show you that, at one time, all of the trades had their own aprons. In addition to safety and tool holstering, aprons are from a time before the cheap, disposable clothes we now wear.

The decline of the apron could also be about our modern world’s distaste for visible signs of physical labor. We’re all supposed to be spending our days in front of glowing screens. Speaking of which, I’ve got to get back to work . . .

For more on the history of the apron which some nice examples, see this article by Delores Monet.

A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance

In the process of installing some new floors and rearranging a few doors and walls we’ve had to completely empty most of the rooms of the house. In the process I’ve come to realize that I like the look of an empty room or, at least, a room with nothing more than a few pieces of furniture. Call me one of those controversial minimalists (with, in my youth, maximalist tendencies).

A few years ago a group of archaeologists and anthropologists at UCLA undertook a meticulous study of the cluttery habits of 32 families in Los Angeles and published a book Life at Home in the Twenty First Century. The book has the distanced vibe of what it would be like if a group of archaeologists from the future excavated a 21st century home and reported the results. Why the photo shrines on the metal food storage units?

The book is worth reading (ironically, I just sold my copy to reduce book clutter). While I no longer own the book I was happy to discover the short, three part video series on the project which I’ve embedded for your weekend enjoyment.

Part II

Part III

What was especially interesting for me about these videos is that they address the complex intersection of clutter and child rearing, something that we don’t have experience with.

What to Do With Junk Mail and Shredded Paper

Image: Max Pixel.

Perhaps obsessing over reducing junk mail while simultaneously generating a metric freak-ton of construction debris is a bit of a pathological redirection, but I’m really tired of the daily chore of transferring the mail straight to the recycling. I’ve thought about asking our nice mail person to just drop the mail straight into the blue bin, but that would insult her noble profession.

Recycling junk mail may not even do much good. Recycling is dirty, complicated and, at least in part, just a ruse to make us all feel less guilty about shopping. Listen to our two part interview with Kreigh Hampel, recycling coordinator for the city of Burbank if you’d like to get the lowdown on what it’s like on the receiving end of all our garbage (Part 1, Part 2). And the possibility of a trade ware with China may make things even more complicated. China no longer wants our trash.

So what to do about reducing paper waste at the source aside from the obvious (sign up for paperless bills). The Data & Marketing Association will grant you the privilege of not getting receiving their trashy mailings for a $2 fee. Thank you Adam Smith! Thankfully you can remove deceased relatives from their database for free. Just don’t try to fake your own junk mail death as the DMA, apparently, checks. To opt out of credit card applications head here.

And what to do with all that shredded paper? We’ve had both our mail and credit card numbers stolen so I have to shred a considerable amount of paper every month. Shredded paper is a big problem for recyclers and a trade war will only make it worse.

Assuming you’ve done your best to stop incoming junk mail, what can you do with the stuff that still clogs the mail box? I have a very short list:

Junk Mail

Shredded Paper

I’ve also been pondering the possibility of making lumber with junk mail and/or shredded paper bound together with resin. I’m not the only person who’s had this idea but, unfortunately, it involves plastics which I don’t like to work with if at all possible.

If you know of a good way to stop junk mail or re-use paper please leave a comment!