Composting; You’re Doing it Wrong

Each and every year, for the last several years, I’ve said that I plan on finding a space for a compost heap and create one.  Several years ago, I went so far as to take all of the grass trimmings and garden trimmings and dump them into a pile in the back yard.  And that’s where they sat, untended, and somewhat forgotten.  I’m still hoping that this year is going to be the year that I get off my duff and actually create the compost pile that creates actual compost.

Every year, we end up buying several bags of garden dirt for our container garden, and it would be really nice to be able to just walk into the back yard, and load up the wheelbarrow with fresh dirt from the compost pile and add that to the dirt we already have before planting our garden.  A few days ago, I spotted this TED talk, which threw my idea of compost for a little loop.  You’ll have to watch it for the full rundown, but basically, the speaker is saying that we’re doing compost wrong.

How should we be doing compost?

Mike McGrath, the speaker, suggests that the commonly held belief that you just grab all the clippings, leaves, junk mail, and kitchen scraps is wrong.  According to him, those things don’t really compost all that well because they don’t break down very easily.  Instead, he suggests that your compost pile should consist of mainly the leaves from the trees when they are shed in the fall.  All the rest, your kitchen scraps and paper bits, he suggests would be better off in a vermi-composter, or worm farm.

Compost WrongIf it’s Not Broken, Why Fix It?

The method of throwing pretty much everything into a compost bin or tumbler is a pretty old method.  It’s the way that people have been doing it, and suggesting you do it, for years.  It obviously works to some degree, or it wouldn’t have reached that point.  The first few times it failed, people would have decided it wasn’t a very good way to dispose of refuse and would have moved on to something that worked better.  In short, it doesn’t appear to be broken, so why should we go and fix it, as Mr. McGrath suggests?

I think it’s about efficiency.  If you want to take your refuse (lawn trimmings, leaves, kitchen scraps, etc) and break it down into usable compost (a.k.a. super-dirt), doing so as efficiently as possible make some sense.  Of course, most people usually choose one or the other method (everything in a pile, or vermi-composting) so I haven’t been able to find any good examples of someone doing both.  I don’t think that McGrath would have any opposition to a person adding worms directly to a compost pile.  It’s probably not as efficient as having an actual vermi-composting setup where you can harvest the castings and throw them in with the leaves.

How do you Compost?

Here’s the place in this post where you get to help out the readers of Beating Broke.  Do you compost?  How do you compost?  What do you think of separating the leaves and the kitchen scraps into two systems? Too much work?  Ideal?

Declutter Your House Like You’re Moving and Make Some Cash

It’s been a long, hard winter.  In Chicago, this winter ranks as the third snowiest on record, and the temperatures have been bitterly cold.  Of course, we’re not alone; much of the country has felt the same pain.

Finally getting some warm, sunny days and watching all the snow melt has put me in the mood to spring clean.  I’m not someone who cleans just for the sake of cleaning.  No, I clean for two main reasons–to feel better about our home and how we feel in it and to make some cash.

To me, spring cleaning and decluttering mean raking in some extra cash selling the crap stuff we no longer use, love, or need.

A New Way to Think about Decluttering

But this year, I’m looking at decluttering and spring cleaning in a different light.  My husband’s mentor has accepted a job in Florida, and he asked my husband to come with him.  For a few weeks, we thought about going before we decided it wasn’t the best move for our family.

Still, during those few weeks a move was on the table, I panicked a bit looking at all the stuff we would need to either move, sell, or donate before moving 1,000 miles.  Suddenly decluttering became less about the mantra, “Only keep what you love and use”, and more about, “Would I pay to move this item 16 hours away?”  It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Declutter your houseHow Much Money Can You Make Decluttering?

You make think of decluttering primarily as tossing or donating, but there’s also good money to be made in decluttering.

Things to Trash

Of course, we have our fair share of trash.  One of our daughter’s is a prolific artist.  She’s only 5, but she creates artistic masterpieces every day.  I’m perfectly okay with just keeping a few of these and trashing the rest, but my husband can’t yet bear to let them go.  We have three shelves filled with her work.  Seriously!  Almost none of those drawings would make a 1,000 mile move, so it’s time to purge.

Things to Donate

Right away, I saw plenty of stuff that we just don’t need and that have no resale value.  Clothes that we don’t wear, clothes that the kids have outgrown, baby blankets we no longer use, books and more books that we no longer read.  The list goes on and on.  Those items would easily make the donate pile.  (Remember if you itemize on your tax return to get a receipt for your donations so you can get a tax deduction.)

Things to Sell

But then I looked with a keen eye at the dollars we’re sitting on.

  • My husband has a jigsaw tool that he used once and never used again that could be sold for perhaps $50.
  • I have a good stash of canning jars, many of which I will never use and would not want to move 1,000 miles which could be sold for another $40 or so.
  • We have a foreign language program that we bought for homeschooling that was never opened because we were able to get a different program for free.  That is worth another $250 to $300.

The more I looked around, the more I realized I was just holding on to stuff that easily tallied $1,000 or more!

Is decluttering worth it?  For a cleaner house and an extra $1,000, I’d say yes!

What’s the most you’ve made when decluttering?

Is the Living Wage Realistic?

I recently found an interesting calculator (Via Lifehacker, via MIT), called the Living Wage Calculator.  The smart folks over at MIT put it together to”provide a minimum estimate of the cost of living for low wage families.” Normally, when I see one of these calculators, I try it once, scoff lightly, then move on to something far more useful with my day.  This calculator is a bit different from some other ones I’ve seen in that it actually gets pretty localized.  Others tend to use a generalization like “urban” or “suburban” and leave it at that.  The fault there is that the living wage in an urban setting like Los Angeles is going to be very different from a living wage in the urban setting of a city like Fargo.

The MIT living wage calculator gets localized down to the county you live in, and then goes a bit further and can go right down to the city that you live in in some cases.  I gave it a run based on my county, and then based on my city.  Not surprisingly, I got the same number in both cases.  The city I live in is both the county seat, and the largest city in the county.  I suppose it’s possible that the numbers could vary a bit at the two levels, but I don’t think it would be too much in any case.

A Living Wage: Example locations.

Living WageTo compare how the results fare based on your actual location, I ran it for a few different locales.  First, using the example above, for Los Angeles city.  In all cases, I used the 2 adult, 3 children number.  For Los Angeles, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $27.97 which translates to just a hair under $58,200.  (using $/hr * 2080)  For Fargo, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $20.56 which translates to about $42,800 a year.  To be honest, I was a little surprised by the small difference between the two.  Not that almost $16,000 is a small amount, but considering the difference in the size of the two cities, I really expected the living wage to much more significantly different.

For a second example, I compared Fargo against the city that I live in.  The numbers for Fargo are above.  For my city, the calculator returned an hourly wage of $19.20 which translates to about $40,000.  This difference was a bit more expected.  The two cities are only a couple of hours away, and their economic differences are pretty minimal.  I also got curious and looked up what it would spit out for a living wage for New York City (Queens County).  There, it estimates the living wage at $26.12 an hour, or about $54,300 a year.

I found it somewhat interesting to dig into how they were calculating the living wage.  They’ve estimated some of the expenses for an average family of a certain number of adults and possible children.  Based on our own expenses, I think it’s safe to say that some of them are a little low.  They’ve also assumed that any 2 adult family with children is a one-income family with no childcare expenses.  In fact, I’m not so sure that they aren’t saying that a 2 adult household with no children would be a one-income family.

Given all of that, it was a bit reassuring to know that our family makes more than what they’re assuming is a living wage for our area.  However, that’s with two incomes.    Which also means that we’re spending plenty of extra on child care.  If I use their numbers for expenses for 2 children and childcare, then add it to their 2 adult, 2 children number the resulting number is not that far from what we’re really making.  There’s still a bit left over above that amount, but it’s a bit of a reality check too.  Time to find some ways to increase income!

A Living Wage: Is it Realistic?

All the playing around brings a question to mind.  Is the living wage realistic?  It’s important, I think, to realize that the living wage is meant as an indicator of the amount of income that is necessary to assure that a family can pay for the bare necessities of “living”. Keeping that in mine, it might be realistic.  But, one of the key things I don’t see in the expenses categories is a line for any sort of debt servicing.  Which means they’re assuming that you’re renting a house or apartment, and that you don’t have any other debts.  And we all know how realistic that assumption is.  Or not.  I think, for this to be truly realistic, it’s got to assume that the family will be dual-income.  It’s also got to assume that at least one of the two adults will have some student loan debt.  More likely, both.  And it’s got to assume that there’s going to be some other debts that will need servicing.  Then it might border on a true living wage.  Otherwise, it’s just another way of saying poverty line.

Go and give the calculator a spin.  How close to the number are you?  Are you so far from it that it’s scoff worthy?  Or is it time for you to find a way to increase your income too? Do you think that the living wage is realistic?