Archive for July, 2011

7 Ways to Simplify Your Life

Have you ever looked around your house or apartment and wondered, ‘How in the heck did I get so much stuff?’  Books, DVD’s, random piles of computer gadgetry, plastic and metal organizers that seem like THEY need organizing?  Kitchen appliances you haven’t used it years, fitness equipment you keep promising to use, 30 years of National Geographic?

One of the touchstones of preparedness and self-sufficiency is getting back to the simple things in life.  I look around my house and my life and while I am blessed with many good things, sometimes the blessings of material things weigh heavy on my spirit.  We held our annual yard sale this past weekend, and I was ecstatic to watch 500 pounds of stuff leave my life.  We didn’t care how much it sold for, we just wanted it gone.  We sold two heavy, old pieces of furniture for a third of what it was worth, just to get rid of it.  After several years, I finally acknowledged I won’t be getting back into my size 36 pants anytime soon, and they all went.  Video games that I haven’t played in 5 years.  And on and on.  And everything that didn’t sell was put into the van and brought to Goodwill.  If we are willing to sell something at a yard sale, why should I ever bring it back into my house?

I’ve read a lot of articles on simplifying, and most of the ideas are common sense.  Still, it is hard to let go of some things, either because we spent money on it, it is sentimental, or because we fear that once we get rid of it, we might suddenly need it.  What do you mean I don’t need that waffle maker?  I made waffles 4 years ago, and I might do it again soon!

My wife and I have a goal.  The next time we buy a house, we aren’t going to move any of our stuff into it.  We will buy (as frugally as possible) only items we must have to live there in reasonable comfort, and nothing more.  If the house has lots of closets in the bedrooms, we won’t buy dressers.  If a space on the walls seems empty, we may put up a piece of art, but not a rack full of knick-knacks.  If we want music, we’ll install a permanent speaker system inside the walls or ceiling and run it from our laptops, and not a giant stereo system.

Maybe you like your stuff, and that’s cool, I used to have a great love affair with all of ours!  But if you feel your stuff draining your spirit and attention, here are 7 tips to help you take back your space and simplify your life.

1.  Identify what is important to you, and eliminate everything else.  Yes, much easier said than done.  We’re not even close to doing this yet, but it is our goal.

2.  Mediate your Media.  If you haven’t watched it, listened to it, or read it in the past year, sell it.  I know people with 1000’s of DVD’s, games and movies.  Most of them are as busy or more busy than I am, so I know they can’t possibly watch 1000 DVD’s, especially if they have seen the movies before.  Pick 10…heck, pick your 25 favorite movies, and sell the rest.  If you really feel like watching something, it is likely available online from Netflix, Hulu or other digital service.

3.  When you reclaim space, give it a purpose.  The two pieces of furniture we sold took up a lot of space in our work area.  Instead of refilling the space with clutter, my wife built shelving into the wall, which now holds business supplies that sat on a table or in totes on the floor previously.  We have gained at least 75square feet of floor we didn’t have before.

4.  If you don’t wear it, donate it.  Those parachute pants are never coming back into fashion.  And sitting on the couch will never make you a size 2 again like you were in high school.  If you haven’t worn it in a year, you are not going to wear it again.  Bring it to Goodwill and it will find a a good home.  Prior to this yard sale, our clothes closets were bursting at the seams.  Now, we have spare hangers for the first time in years.

5.  What do you really enjoy doing?  Pick your 3-4 favorite hobbies, and sell any hobby-related items not related to those.  For me, that means preparedness, hiking, reading, and board games.  Sorry Roller-blades, you were fun but I don’t use you anymore.  The X-Men, Thor, and 5000 other comics I have?  Sell in bulk to a shop, or donate to a children’s home.  Collectible cards?  I sold them last year for over $500 and put the money into a savings account.

6.  Use what you have.  If you have something serviceable, don’t buy something new just because you want to.  I have an excellent Mountainsmith backpack, and it is still in excellent condition after 5 years of use.  When I started thinking about my Appalachian Trail section hike, I asked my friend Bill from BuyItRight about what I should get for a new, larger backpack.  He told me not to get anything at all.  He said ‘if you have a larger backpack, all you’ll do is carry more stuff.’  The same goes for my sleeping bag.  Instead of buying a new -30 bag, I should probably schedule my hike to where my excellent 32-degree bag works just fine.

7.  Use Technology.  It sounds funny even saying it because most of us have computers, cell phones, and GPS devices.  But do we use it all to the fullest?  All of my banking is done online, including auto-bill pay, direct deposit when I had a regular job, and even my check-writing is done online.  No more stamps, a permanent record of when I paid or got paid, and about 1/3 the time I used to spend on that sort of thing.  Some folks are still a little wary about doing things online, but almost all banks protect you from fraudulent charges.  I’ve been doing it for over 5 years, and I check my credit report for free regularly to ensure nothing has gone wrong.  To be honest, I need a better system to organize all that data, but it’s better than the filing cabinets filled with paperwork my father has.

Simplicity creates a sense of peace, serenity and control over our surroundings.  As the timeless Henry David Thoreau said ‘Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify.’


07 2011

Facebook Friends and More Prizes, Oh My

We reached our first milestone on Facebook, 50 friends!  To celebrate, we gave away $50 in store credit to one of the first 50 to sign up.  Next up, we’ll give away $100 once we reach 100 Friends!  To participate, just look up ‘Advice and Beans’ on Facebook and hit ‘Like’.

Thanks y’all!


07 2011

July Updates – It’s Hot Out There Edition!

Quick update!

After much ado, our 5 mil 2 gallon bags are now in stock, and can be found here!  We created a combo kit as well, with 20 5 mil 2 gallon bags and 20 1000cc oxygen absorbers (use 1 per bag).  We are thrilled with the feel and strength of the bags, our supplier has done an excellent job as always!  This is just the start of our move to carry every bag size in a 5 mil or greater thickness, so look for more sizes later in the year.

Secondly, we signed a UPS contract.  This will allow us to ship some things that we couldn’t before based on our USPS-Centric shipping strategy.  For example, starting next week, we will offer 4-packs of Gamma Seal Lids for those who don’t need a full case.  If anyone thinks we should be carrying something in particular, as always let me know!  I love ordering small quantities of nearly anything to test the market, especially if I have order commitments from folks who want something.  This allows you to get something at a discount that you know you want, although it may take some additional time for us to source the item.

For those who have asked, I have small quantities of both our Vacuum Sealer and a clamshell Heat Sealer which are due to arrive next week.  I have pre-orders for 2 of the vacuum sealers and 1 of the heat sealers already, so it’ll be first come first served on the rest.  I am working on setting up a permanent supply chain for these items.  My apologies for the delay in getting these, but the last order with one of our suppliers took over 2 weeks to negotiate, blech.

At the same time the sealers come in, we will also have 2″x3″ Zip Seal Mylar Bags, of the same thickness as our 20″x30″ bags, so they’ll be heavy duty!  My wife made me order these, as she wants to use them for putting up medicines, spices and seeds.  We got a great deal on them so we will be able to offer them to y’all at a great price.

Finally, our food storage calculator is out to bid with several programming companies.  Looks like it will be a bit (ok, a lot) more expensive than I thought to get it up and running with all the cool features I want to add for y’all.  I’m going to put up a donation button on the page where it will live when its finished, and hope that if you find value from it, you’ll consider donating.  Any donations above and beyond the cost of the programming will be used for upgrades you want to see!

That’s it for today, stay cool everyone!



07 2011

How to Move 3200 Gallons a Day Uphill Without Power

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

-Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) Canticle of the Sun circa 1225

The chirp, chirp, chirp of a running ram-pump is soothing to me.  While stored water is necessary for any survival plan, a ram-pump system represents life beyond the most meager of existence.

As a bare minimum, FEMA recommends 1 gallon a day per person for 3 days as a survival necessity (12 gallons for a family of 4).  When compared to the average person’s ‘normal’ usage of water of 80-100 gallons per day, you can imagine how challenging it would be to subsist on that tiny quantity.  Think about how fast the dishes would pile up, the clothes would smell, or how the inability to flush a toilet would make you feel.

Our preparedness group has 20+ members, counting children, and none of us want to imagine having to live without fresh water in a disaster.  Over the course of a year, we came up with the SurvivalClub Water Plan to ensure adequate supplies of fresh water (for at least one location) should we ever need it.  At capacity, the system will actually provide more than 100 gallons per day per person, leaving sufficient water after drinking, cleaning and sanitation to grow a garden, water a lawn, or give to others who might need it as well.  Our total system costs will run around $2500, and provide approximately 1,168,000 gallons of water per year.  If my math is right, that is about 1/50th of a penny per gallon, whereas my city water costs me around 10 times that.  Even if we used it for nothing but grey water to run a garden or water a lawn, the cost/benefit is amazing.  Even if our system costs double or triple as we factor in expenses we haven’t considered (extra filters, replacement parts, etc), the price per gallon is still almost insignificant.  And that is only the water provided in 1 year!

The heart of our system is a hydraulic ram pump.  In a simple sense, it uses water to push water, and is an inefficient system.  I estimate the majority of water is flushed off as excess to run the system, while only a small percentage (in our case, 2.3 gallons per minute) being moved uphill to its destination.  However, that is more than enough for our purposes, and the fact that it runs without electricity and has only 2 moving parts, makes it potentially the best solution for preparedness needs.

When complete, our ram pump will reside at the bottom of a small cliff.  Upstream of the cliff is a stream that runs all year round, though at some points much heavier than others.  We will have a steel trough at the point where the water flow is greatest, which will collect the water.  From there, it will run from the trough through 1.5″ pvc pipe downhill to the ram-pump (total drop 30′), which will push water uphill, around 150′ vertically and 400′ horizontally.   At the top of a slope, the water will collect in a 1000-gallon cistern, which will be above roof-level to the home on the property, allowing us to gravity-flow the water to the house.  We are still determining whether to create a large charcoal/sand filter system, or to use a different mechanism such as a Berkey filter to create potable water.

This is a video of our first test of the ram-pump to ensure it actually worked.  The water is running down the PVC piping from a 55-gallon drum, into the ram-pump, which is then pushing it through the hose down a small incline, and then back up to above the level of the water source.  Next time, I’ll talk about the work required to prepare the ground for the completed system.  We’re probably still several months away from a working system, and I’ll keep you apprised as we get more complete!


07 2011

Prizes, Prizes, Prizes!!

First, I want to thank everyone who participated in our Article Contest.  I know putting oneself out there is not always an easy thing to do.  They say that public speaking is the 2nd biggest fear in the world next to death.  I think that’s part of why I haven’t done any official Advice and Beans Youtube videos yet.=)  (Though I do plan to in the coming weeks!)  But you all did great, and I am honored you took the time to enter.  I had some great email exchanges with many of you, and I learned a lot I didn’t know before.  And a special thanks to Don, the first person to ever write me an email about the blog as well as entered our contest.  I never even knew if anyone was there until he said something!=)

Because we had fewer folks participate than I estimated, I’m happy to announce that everyone will receive a cash value gift certificate to the store! (Of course, if someone wants some cool stuff from the Gear Department of Advice and Beans, let me know and I can do that instead!  I have things like messenger bags, camp showers, paracord, drier lint and the like in the Gear Vault.)

Prizes were assigned using a random number generator (Basically, I rolled a die.  I used to play D&D when I was younger, so I have all sorts of many-sided die hanging around!  Yes, geek, me.)

So without further ado *Drum roll*, the winners are:

$250 – Laura

$150 – Tessie

$100 – Alan

$75 – Don

$50 – Tim

$50 – Rob

$50 – BKB

$50 – Teresa

I will have your gift certificates attached to your email addresses in the store by Tuesday morning so you can go shopping!  Again, thanks everyone and a big round of applause!


07 2011