Remember how grandma washed her aluminum foil, laying it out to dry so she could use it to store the next evening's supper? And her box of string, buttons and other scraps, things she just couldn't--or wouldn't--throw away?
Maybe she refused to buy new things when hers busted, choosing instead to make do without. Or, she'd concoct some homespun repair job that made her avocado-green dishwasher look more like a science project gone horribly awry than a well-maintained, lovingly used home appliance.
We all made fun of grandma, and her thriftiness may have seemed extreme. But, you know, she just might have been onto something.
Her Depression-era philosophy placed value on everything, even if those things seem useless to those of us raised in that other American paradigm: The culture of conspicuous consumption.
In this world governed by planned obsolescence, we're driven to take and toss, to forever chase the bigger and better. We eschew our used plastic sandwich bags, our worn clothes, our furniture--heck, even our automobiles--only to have grandma come in behind us and pick our things out of the landfills.
"Grandma was green before green is what it is," said Sean Griffin, local entrepreneur and power player in Tulsa's green groups, including Sustainable Tulsa and the Mayor's Green Team.
"That is what we can go back to. We can be satisfied with what we have," he said.
"I think our consumer-based society has created this insecurity in people. We're not good enough, we're not reaching our potential if we don't own this or that."
Try as marketers might to keep us in the stores with credit cards hot and ready, we're starting to gain glimpses of what our ways have wrought. We're in debt up to our ears--2.6 trillion as of February, to be exact, at an average of $8,700 per household--and our dwellings are chock full of stuff we either use once and throw away, or we didn't need in the first place.
BIY (build-it-yourself) is the new DIY. Everyone from the kids' preschool teacher to the cosmetics-addicted babysitter is clipping coupons--coupon usage was up 83 percent in July 2008 from 2005, according to Scarborough Research--and an endless stream of features and advice columns tell us how to put our individual twist on that shabby garage sale find.
There's a point of entry into this "waste not, want not" lifestyle for everyone, no matter if you're still attempting to keep up with the Joneses (who are broke, by the way) or if you've taken up brushing your teeth with straight baking soda while simultaneously weaving reusable shopping totes out of plastic Wal-Mart sacks.
Three things happen once the conservation bug bites. First, that extra change in the bank will turn into airborne, heavy bricks, hurtling toward the swollen car payment and credit card bills about 80 percent of us dread each month. The financial picture starts to change.
Second, the environment gets a hardy helping of TLC. Once the cabinet under the kitchen sink is full of baking soda and vinegar instead of cleaners with ingredient lists that bring back bad memories of remedial reading class, hearth and home don't smell so much like that mysterious "fragrance" anymore.
Here's what else.
Forging a lifestyle centered on using material things down to the bone is the quickest way to not only build a legacy, but to connect to history as well.
Case in point: The building that houses Tulsa's new see-and-be-seen pizza joint, Joe Momma's at 112 S. Elgin, was left alone by architect Shelby Navarro (of ONE Architecture) as much as possible.
Thanks to this laissez-faire approach to design, the history of the building shines through the exposed brick walls, the cracked hodgepodge of a concrete and hexagonal tile floor and intact hoists and joists, connecting pizza lovers today with the ghosts of this city's oil-boom heyday.
And, long after Joe Momma's owner Blake Ewing leaves us for the pie in the sky, the wood flooring in his office and in other parts of the restaurant, saved by Ewing from his alma mater Nathan Hale High School when it splurged on a new basketball court, will live on to tell future generations taken with the urban chic of downtown buildings about a young entrepreneur who sought to turn on the lights in Tulsa's Blue Dome District.
There's always something to test beyond what you thought were its limits of usability. Time to get a new car, just because the check engine light is on? Sure beyond all doubt that the sofa will spontaneously combust if burdened with labor longer than three years? Positive there's no hope for Tulsa's abandoned homes and warehouses?
Of course, Urban Tulsa Weekly saw all of this downturn and need for sustainability coming ("How Much Do You Need before its Greed," UTW Cover Story, Dec. 28, 2001). We were green before grass. All the more reason to read on.
Sage on the Page
The chain of events that led to the opening of the new location of Eco Baby + Kids (formerly Lundeby's Eco Baby further south on Brookside) in Center 1 at 35th and Peoria started with a glimpse at waste.
"People just consume and throw away, consume and throw away," said Tiffany Bjorlie, Eco Baby + Kids owner. "My husband, Jeremy, and I started to look back to how people used to do things, at how people do things in other countries."
The Bjorlies reformed their lives, starting with their use of plastic bags. Tiffany vowed to stop buying them and invested instead in a set of glass and stainless steel storage containers that could be used again and again.
"It was really inexpensive--maybe the cost of two or three packages of those plastic bags I'd been using. Same thing with household cleaners. I wanted to get away from chemicals, and in doing that I ended up saving a ton of money. I just get out my vinegar and baking soda, and I make my own stuff."
The trip down this green rabbit hole culminated in a reexamination of everything from clothes to laundry detergent to mascara. Bjorlie's quest to find "more natural" makeup ended with the question, "Why bother?"
Considering that the cosmetics industry manages to convince the world to part with $7 billion every year, Bjorlie's bank account is thanking her.
"The year I got married, I know I spent $2,000 on cosmetics," she said. "That's crazy. I know there were times in college when I spent about that much.
"It was all about feeling better, fitting in. Then I realized that all that stuff was getting between me and life."
Besides, it's easy to make beauty and hygiene goodies at home, said Stephanie Lloyd, the maker behind Tulsa-based organic soap company Luka Organics.
"It's easy to buy ready-to-use bases for pretty much anything anyone might want to use: lotion, lip balm, soap, bubble bath. There are so many different kinds of essential and fragrance oils, too. Whatever you can imagine, you can probably make it. You can save a lot of money."
Lloyd is another fan of the waste not, want not credo. She shreds bars of soap that have lost their scent into new batches, and she's using them to experiment with a new liquid soap line.
"I want to be sure to use every ingredient and product down to the last bit," she said.
Made for Walkin'
There's no shortage of work for the cobbler, said Gary Nutter, for more than 30 years the owner of A Nutter Shoe Repair Company, 5071 S. Yale Ave. The reason is simple enough: When a pair of $200 oxfords wears thin, it's easier in this economy to pay 25 percent of the cost of a new pair to have them spiffied up and resoled than to run to the mall.
"People are bringing in bags of shoes," Nutter said. "I've had customers drive up in Mercedes, bringing in loads of old shoes needing new soles. Normally, you wouldn't see that. Things aren't too good out there right now."
Nutter offers repairs for shoes, boots, orthopedics and dye jobs, all with a three-day turnaround. He sells shoe and leather care products, too.
"Right now, I'm more than a week behind all the time," he said. "Years before, it's been three or four days."
The easiest way to stay out of the market for an expensive pair of new shoes is to clean and polish the ones you have, Nutter said. Not only do shoes look better when they're cared for, but the need for repairs can be spotted before any expensive damage occurs.
And ladies, don't wear those heels down to the nubs. There's no reason to strike sparks on the sidewalk when new heel tips are just about $7.
Yeah, a trip to the thrift store is, technically, in line with the whole recession chic craze. But, really, it's like those giant pacifiers stuck in the faces of the snotty toddlers at the mall--it's just another way to consume, only it's disguised as a lesser evil. Why go to the thrift store or even to a garage sale to procure more clothing, inexpensive though it is, if the bedroom closets are bursting already?
Michelle Lehman, professional organizer and founder of Tulsa-based Organizing Solutions, and Tiffany Bjorlie piped up about when it's okay to splurge on clothes (and when it's not) and how to be happy with what's already in the closet.
UTW: How can people break out of the addiction to clothes shopping?
Lehman: People wear 20 percent of what's in their closets. When I'm invited to help a client organize a closet, I remove their clothes in chunks. I lay every last bit of it on the bed. People say, 'Holy cow.' Until it's spread out everywhere, people don't realize the amount of clothes they have. Then, color coordinate the closet. That way, it's not hard to see when yet another white t-shirt is just unnecessary.
UTW: Oh, come on. Throw the clothes horses a bone.
Lehman: Okay, okay. T-shirts--most of those cost just a few dollars. Buy a few, and they can be worn spring- and summer-long. Because they didn't cost much and you wore them out, it's okay to replace them. For the office, save your money for classic pieces worthy of taking to a tailor.
UTW: But aren't quality clothes expensive? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of trying to conserve?
Bjorlie: Jeremy and I used to shop every couple of months and get several new outfits. It wasn't expensive, but we did it regularly, and we couldn't buy anything we could keep for a long time because it'd wear out. Then we looked into the way the things we were buying were manufactured and the labor processes involved. We were disturbed about that, and also about how much we were wasting by not buying quality. We thought, 'We can just get a few things and wear them over and over again for a long time, things we feel solidly about.' It took a real switch because there's this up-front investment, but you're not making it as often as before when it was really adding up.
UTW: What are the best ways to keep clothes looking newer, longer?
Bjorlie: You can save money on detergent, water and energy, not to mention do something green, by performing a sniff test. No, really. You can wear a pair of jeans a couple of times before you wash them. If your clothes don't smell, wear them again. Washing them repeatedly just wears them out, and that's expensive in a lot of ways.
UTW: What to do if the shop-a-holic still can't shake the feeling he or she has 'not a thing to wear?'
Lehman: Before you head to the mall, organize a clothing swap with some like-bodied buds.
Take a Seat
Like furniture? Then you probably like ApartmentTherapy.com, too. The blog, which ranks in the top 100 most popular as ranked by leading blog search engine Technorati.com, has featured time and again Tulsan Lloyd Fadem's home-based business, Retro Redo.
The two-man re-upholstery shop, specializing in mid-century furniture (think Charles Eames and his iconic bucket chair, along with the rest of the atomic-age furniture that had the power to steer the course of architecture itself), now does business all across the globe. The partnership has recovered about 500 chairs since it started five years ago.
"We can do anything to your mid-century chair," Fadem said.
Some of the quintessential chairs of the period are still in production, but prices have skyrocketed. For example, a 50th anniversary set of the original, 1958 swan chairs by Arne Jacobsen, two of which are quite at home in Fadem's home/museum of the who's who of '50s mod, would cost more than $10,000. They can be found online for $800-$950, and a recover job, done with nothing but the finest fabric from Maharam, cost about $800. The standard vinyl recovering runs about $275.
For mod furniture lovers on a budget, Fadem's advice:
Become a professional. A professional garage and estate sale hopper, that is. These pieces of furniture are rare, but they can be found in top condition at estate sales and online.
Buy authentic. For the value of a collection, it's important to buy genuine pieces. If you find a jewel and can't afford to recover it now, just live with it--go shabby chic.
A salve for the sticker shock. Yes, you have to have the passion to collect modern furniture. It can be a life-long collection, one that appreciates in value. Most furniture depreciates. Not this stuff--that's what I love about this furniture. It's part of history and highly collectible.
Ah, this day and age. After everything politically charged, apocalyptic and downright pessimistic that's been said about it, we can at least agree it's peculiar.
For decades we've known our consumption habits have affected the environment and the human world around us, even if how much so has been hotly debated. Until this moment in history, though, no financial impetus compelled us to reconsider the American model of the throw-away nation. With the largest financial crisis since the Depression of the 1930s still weighing on stock markets and consumer confidence, more and more are searching for the blueprints to a new paradigm.
This is where we've been headed, said Shelby Navarro, president of ONE Architecture, "and we've been resisting it, but we're getting there."
"If there was any time to create that shift, it's before the economy starts kicking again and people go back to their old ways," Griffin said.
"We need a different kind of economy, one not based on consumption. It's so extreme here that after 9/11, President Bush said, 'Go shop.' They were practically the first words out of his mouth. I think that was the point when I thought, 'We have really lost our way.'"
Because reuse is not part of the mainstream culture here, Sustainable Tulsa continues its Green the 918 community seminar series. Topics range from local food to solid waste management reduction, all with the goal of inspiring citizens to make Tulsa the greenest city in the nation.
"We're still a long way away," said Corey Wren Williams, executive director at Sustainable Tulsa. "There's so much infrastructure that's needed to make this lifestyle more accessible. While there are options and you can do it easily enough, it's not just right there as are other avenues."
Raised on 80 acres in Verdigris by his grandparents, Shelby Navarro finds his roots in the close-the-loop ethos.
"We had our own organic garden. We had a pond where we fished. We lived in a house my grandfather built. He took me on recycling trips, and we went to garage sales all the time. He taught me in that same vein."
Navarro has built his career, which has garnered lots of attention in Tulsa's green circles, on sustainable architecture, including the repurposing of existing structures. He has single-handedly designed the restaurant district blossoming in the Blue Dome, having headed up the build-outs of McNellie's Sidebar, El Guapo's, Joe Momma's and Dilly Deli.
Even Navarro's office at 418 S. Peoria was "a nasty block building, only good for storage. The roof was leaky, the windows were boarded up," Navarro said.
"We did simple little fix-ups--painted, put some metal on the outside, got some overstock thermal windows for about $20 apiece. We got our bookshelves from a firm that went out of business not long ago."
Navarro is forging ahead on a set of infill projects in Tulsa's Pearl District, centered on Sixth Street and Peoria Avenue, with plans to integrate what's already built with the vision residents have for the area. He is also drawing up more plans for restaurants and entertainment spaces downtown.
UTW: Why bother with working with existing structures?
Navarro: First, it saves money. Plus, you put a bunch of stuff in a landfill when you tear down and build new. The architectural style in the neighborhood where my office is located is prairie commercial; these buildings are representative of a period in time. We want to preserve that.
UTW: How much does a homeowner or business owner stand to save by repurposing structures and materials?
Navarro: It varies. Savings could be as good as twice the quality for a third of the price, or it could be half the cost of new. If you start with a warehouse, you could just put new windows in it and move in versus the expense of tearing it down and starting over.
UTW: How can the Average Joe give his place the urban chic treatment?
Navarro: A lot of people look at a cracked concrete floor and think there's no way they can use it. But, just put a clear coat over it, polish it and it'll look incredible. It's instant character instead of putting a new slab down and staining it to make it look like it would have in the first place. Don't board over brick walls. Leave them exposed and seal them instead. Don't throw out the weird stuff. Hang onto it; after it's all said and done, it might turn out to be a funky centerpiece for the new space. Keep everything that still works.
UTW: Same advice for business owners?
Navarro: Yep. Plus, leave rafters exposed. Some of the beams have the old lumber yard stamp burned into the side--that's a bit of history. Restaurants should use rooftops and sidewalks for extra dining space. We don't do enough of that here.
Close to Home
As homeowners drive to the Habitat for Humanity of Tulsa ReStore, 1234 S. Norwood Ave., they could cut their trip short by stopping at Lowe's about a mile away. For those with fortitude, though, great rewards await them in the form of everything from furniture to tile to kitchen appliances priced at 50 percent of retail.
ReStore merchandise is thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Tulsa donations. Some comes from the leftover pile at construction sites while some comes from homeowners hoping to skip garage sale duty.
"Take this table, for example. It looks like it'd be a prime candidate for a ride with the garbage man. But someone donated it instead. Now someone is going to give it a new life, keep it out of the landfill," said ReStore manager Dave Enkey.
Items that have seen better days head to the in-house wood shop, where the pieces are repaired by future homeowners putting in the 500 "sweat equity" hours required by Habitat to benefit from a home built by the nonprofit.
"We've had furniture come in here in pieces. We sent it to the wood shop, they figured it out and made it look like new," Enkey said.
The Habitat ReStore bustles, even in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. The shop has been especially busy since the economy went belly up, Enkey said.
"It's a great way to save a lot of money while helping people in their neighborhood. Everything sold here goes to cover our overhead so that we're here to help rebuild neighborhoods and eradicate poverty in the Tulsa area."
Everything Old Is New Again
An entire photographic genre has formed around the image of the old barn. A search for the term returns more than five million results in Google Images, more than 23 million on the Web.
Plainly, we're fascinated with these structures.
Timber and Beam Solutions, headquartered in Tulsa with offices in Aspen and Florida, has tapped into this fascination, along with the surging green and sustainable construction materials market, rescuing usable wood and hardware from barns for use in new buildings and renovations. Just think: A wood beam from a Civil War-era barn stretching across the rafters of your great room. There'd never be an awkward moment, an ever-present conversation piece hovering just above everyone's heads.
The guys at Timber and Beam--Bob Mathes, Dean West of West Construction and Ed Conn--noticed that homeowners are looking for sustainable materials, sure--but what captures their imaginations is the look of their beams and the histories behind them.
"A client came to our yard looking for beams, and when she found out we had some that came from a barn in her hometown, she practically re-did her entire house in them," West said. "She loved knowing there was a history there."
"These not only have a special history behind them, but they also have a look that you really can't emulate, especially the hand-hewn beams," Conn said.
The two-year-old company, which wasn't below reclaiming Midtown trees felled by the 2007 ice storm and using them to build stair treads for the showroom, is disassembling its third antique barn. The average barn comes complete with about 250 beams at least 20 feet long. Count each one of those beams as a saved tree.
"Of course, most of those trees came from around the land they wanted to build the barn on," Mathes said.
"They were very green back then," West said, laughing.
When the average American family sees anywhere from 9 to 13 percent of their average income of about $50,000 eaten up by the grocery store, it's easy to cringe at the thought that, according to a federal study, that same family will throw out 122 pounds of food each month from grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias and homes.
Two Tulsa proprietor chefs--Susan Simmons of Pare Catering and Bill Harris of Thyme: An American Bistro--have some tips on how to cut down on waste and squeeze every last bit of use out of what makes it home from the grocery store and farmers' markets.
The freezer is your friend, Simmons said. Don't be afraid to use the freezer, Harris said. Point taken. Anything with high fat and low water content freezes well. Think soups, stews, meat and casseroles.
Don't toss veggies. Instead, impress your friends and make homemade stock, the base for many a delicious soup and sauce, Harris said. Simply cut veggies on hand into chunks, cover with water in a large stockpot, toss in some peppercorns and a bay leaf or two and simmer for about an hour. Put some cheesecloth in a colander and drain. For darker stock, roast veggies until caramelized before adding them to the pot.
Here's where a freezer comes in handy, since it's not likely a recipe will call for as much stock as was made: Ladle about 15 oz. of stock into a storage container. Freeze; repeat until all extra stock is chillin' in the Frigidaire. Use it within six months.
Or, Simmons said, throw those veggies into a soup rather than into the trash. Same thing goes for herbs. Why toss a wilted sprig of rosemary of thyme when you could use it to infuse a bottle of olive oil?
Fruit can be recycled as fruit compote and sauces, both of which can be frozen, Simmons added.
Buy whole chickens. It's not only cheaper per pound, but it gives the cook more control and versatility in the kitchen than would a mega-pack of chicken breasts, Harris said. There are tons of videos on the Interweb to school those who have never broken down a yard bird. Or, take a cooking class (hint: Thyme boasts a diverse menu of cooking courses).
Watch portion sizes. Buying in bulk isn't always cheaper, and much of time, food goes uneaten before the expiration date comes and goes. Think fresh and shop often, Simmons said.
Reinvigorate leftovers. It's easy to work with leftovers like rice and meat when there's plenty of pasta, eggs, rice and beans around. Wrap leftovers in scrambled eggs and, ta-da, an omelet breakfast. Toss those second-day beef fajitas in a wok, add rice and, voila, stir fry for dinner.
Check with farmers and co-ops for savings, Simmons said. Buy in-season produce and inexpensive cuts of meat that can be roasted or braised to yield tender, juicy meat. If bulk shopping proves irresistible, split the trip with a few friends. Preserve stuff. Can it--it's not as time consuming as you might think, Simmons said.
Seems more folks are finding they like to tinker with cars--either that, or the family budget commands it. New-vehicle sales are down about 34 percent since April of last year, said auto data clearing house Motor Intelligence. At the same time, O'Reilly Auto Parts and AutoZone--two of the largest retailers of aftermarket auto parts--saw their stocks go sky-high this year.
Couldn't tell a carburetor from a solenoid? The folks at ASAP Lube, 3252 S. Yale, would be happy to teach you a thing or two about how to keep your wheels rollin' like new. Enroll in one of their general automotive knowledge classes.
"We'll teach stuff everyone needs to know about their car but maybe doesn't," said owner Chris Glidden.
"It keeps people from wasting money. If someone says that your belt is bad, and you don't know the difference between a good and bad belt by looking at it, you're going to tell them to replace it. If it wasn't bad after all, then you've wasted money and created excess waste of rubber product, and rubber is one of the hardest things to recycle."
In case it was hard to tell, ASAP Lube, home of the 25,000-mile oil change that's thanks to synthetic oil line Amsoil, is a car shop gone green. Since the store opened in September, the crew has recycled everything from motor oil (bring in the used stuff and ASAP will recycle it, free of charge) and air filters to oil filters and tires.
The drive to 31st and Yale not ecologically feasible? Be on the lookout for ASAP locations in Bixby and Broken Arrow.
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