Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Of Thrift and Thinking and Bicycles

My home is tiny. One thousand square feet with 3 kids, a husband, 2 cats, a bird and way too many hobbies for our own good. As a result I have a firm rule to keep the clutter down to a level that makes having guests over a possibility (although we are nowhere near the minimalist ideal one finds in magazines : )

One in, two out.

Whenever one of us gets something new, two things have to leave the house. It is interesting to see how this changes what you bring in in the first place, as every acquisition requires sacrifice from someone in the family (unless you are lucky enough to have clothes or shoes that do not fit, and then it is easy to get rid of something). Because of this rule, I make a lot of runs to the Salvation Army to drop off old toys, clothes, dishes...

Sally Army Run

The only way I go to the Salvation Army is by bicycle, so even if there is a large backlog of stuff to get rid of, it has to fit on my bike. Couple that with the fact that my local Goodwill only carries new with tags or high end designer clothing, I decided to start documenting my thrifted existence.

Thus, this last couple of times my panniers have been over stuffed. In the picture above I have 40 pounds of stuff jammed into or bungeed onto the rack. The clothes I am wearing were all thrifted- the skirt is Evan Picone and had a style of price tag on it that Macy's stopped using in the early, early 90's.

Sally Army Run 2

This second picture was taken just a few days later. It was the result of having to make more donation choices because I had found the fantastic skirt I am wearing at the thrift shop after donating everything in the panniers in the first picture. The panniers have about 20 pounds of stuff in them and the skirt is the exact one I used to sell to rich debutantes for $250 back in 1989.

"So what?" you say. In the last few years I have spent a bit of time trying to find different ways of doing things. Something about letting go of the artificial dependence that excessive car use causes in us makes embracing so many other things a great deal easier. Once I discovered what was possible in my life without my car, it was easy to start changing other parts of my life. Everything from how I eat to how I shop to how I dress and how I read changed when I discovered that all I needed to get just about anywhere I wanted was my bicycle, a water bottle and a topographical map. Somewhere along the thousands of miles I pedaled I discovered I don't need most of the things I used to think I did.

I don't need to move out of San Francisco to buy a house. Living somewhere where I can not ride my bicycle to do my shopping or go to the movies or get to work is not an option any longer.

While my love of tomatoes is enormous, I don't want them if they came from Mexico or Arizona or Oregon... I found jam the other day that is made locally and delivered by bicycle and that makes me happy in a way that a jar of Smucker's never did.

High end fashion has been a love of mine since I was a child. Over the years I was able to pick up a few things, but they were so expensive I was afraid to wear them. Now, because everything looks better on a bicycle I have embraced my favorite designers in an all new way, mostly in second hand shops that I ride my bicycle to. A double whammy of eco-goodness!

The best part of all of it, though, is this- All of these things that make me feel better about me make my place in the world less damaging to those around me and I discovered (or reinforced) it all because I chose to open my life to riding a bicycle. Who knew?


  1. You seem to have embraced the 'Franciscan spirit of detachment' ('Franciscan' as to the religious Order of St. Francis of Assisi) to material things ( To encapsulate : "Can have - have and be thankful ... if cannot have some other reasonably good substitute would do or else could go without it, 'no sweat' <= to put in current jargon.:D) So you're a Franciscan in more ways than one - your hubby and children must be very lucky!)
    (Ps: I 'belong' to the Franciscan 3rd Order - set for the laity to 'follow' the Franciscan way of life without actually taking the 'Vow of Poverty' <= Am trying very very ... very hard to keep to this .. you know !! :p ooops! :D haaahaa ...hmm..hmmm ..hmmm. )

  2. I thought my family was cramped (4 people total in 1300 sq feet). I salute you!

    I grow my tomatoes in containers -- they didn't do too well this year because of our unusually cool summer.

  3. Love your boots. I've been looking for some similar to that at thrift stores but haven't been lucky.

  4. wait. they're shipping tomatoes from oregon to california?

    you succeed where we failed: a house in SF, however tiny, was a bridge too far. portland received us well. i miss the produce, or at least its variety and abundance even in winter. we're entering the brassica and turnip months...

  5. ade! i love Inna Jam! Curator (Church & 30th), down stairs from my place sells it there, and it IS the best jam ever! i love that she takes care of her business on bike and here in sf. such a sweetie and treasure!

    glad you finally found a fun plaid skirt, you look fabulous! and kudos to your efforts on living eco-good. funny how our lives on bikes changes everything right? ding ding!

  6. ..and I thought I was the only one who operated on the one in,two out principle. But hey, I do have a problem with the tomato concept. For instance, my new Bullitt cargo bike is being shipped from CPH to MEB.Is this wrong? Should I stop travelling by plane? This would be hard as we love to travel! I guess it's just a case of all things in well thought out moderation.



  7. Ian- the difference between your bicycle and that tomato are that your bicycle is not made in Australia and my tomato is grown in my backyard. I have no problem buying something from a distant place if I can't get it from somewhere local. As I live in the SF Bay Area which is surrounded by farm land that produces a significant percentage of the USA's food supply there is no excuse for me buying produce from any place other than here.

    As to cargo bikes... let's just say that there is one in my future that is a great deal more local than Denmark : )

  8. Loved this thoughtful post. I agree in that there is something about how the bike as your primary form of transportation shapes the mind in how you approach your life, as well as your stuff.. Thank you!

  9. Jennifer- $30, new with tags!! Score!

    Todd- I am not sure you could call your move to Portland a "Failure" : ) A great deal of why we live in our tiny place is "rent control" which over the last 17 years has saved us from having to leave the City.

    CGR- best thing about the skirt? i can spill jam on it and you would never see it! : D

    cmb- I am not sure if it is the focused time spent in the saddle, or the blood flowing or having to be open to being different when you ride but it certainly changes things when you do!

  10. Adrienne, what a fantastic post! I've come across it after writing mine "Less is More"... but then, I am not surprised as your blog, Meli's and many others (cycling related) are my daily inspiration. I really do feel that when cycling is fully embraced and becomes part of your daily life, the bike seriously inspires you that indeed less-is-more :D L x