el cheapo · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 331: It’s hard to leave the jungle

And by “jungle,” I mean Amazon.

Over the last year or so Mr. December and I have discussed reducing our Amazon use.

(Cue laugh track here—reducing Amazon use during a pandemic? Oh, I am so hilarious!)

But really, we’re trying to find ways to support smaller businesses, or, failing that, Canadian businesses of any size. It’s not that I have a particular hate-on for Amazon, it’s just that I think it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one foreign-owned basket. I will say, however, that I realize that Amazon employs a large number of people locally and those people benefit from my Amazon use, so it’s a balance.

The thing is, I’ve been seriously spoiled by Amazon for the last twelve years.

I remember when Mr. December and I took baby K to California for a week to combine a visit to friends with a business trip. We didn’t own a travel crib yet, and we knew we’d need one. Mr. December suggested that I order one on Amazon and have it delivered to our friends’ house. The next day, I got an email from our friend that it had arrived.

One day? I was flabbergasted. Things arrive in one day? Here it takes two weeks!

When Amazon started their subscription service in Canada, it was a godsend. I placed my order once… and for the next two or three years, diapers and wipes showed up at my door on a regular basis. For a mom with three kids under the age of five, this was a big deal—no more shopping and schlepping! It definitely improved my quality of life.

Over the last decade I’ve bought hundreds of things from Amazon, from the mundane (dishwasher detergent and hair elastics) to the unique things I couldn’t find anywhere else (like Dimwit, my adorable reading lamp.) It’s been great—but now we’re trying to change our shopping habits.

There’s just one problem: Amazon is so good at what it does. Where else in Canada can you get a playground swing in January? Or fifty assorted rubber ducks? Amazon was the only place I could find kosher jelly candies for K’s bat mitzvah without leaving the house (we were in lockdown, remember,) and nobody else had a small bag of regular sand for our science experiment about igneous rocks. I can’t count the number of times I’ve spent hours looking for something online in all the Canadian stores I can think of and ended up ordering off Amazon.

Before you ask, it’s not a price issue; we’re willing to pay more to support local businesses. It’s sometimes a simple availability problem, and sometimes it’s a question of delivery time: I don’t usually need things tomorrow, but it would be nice to get them in fewer than three weeks. But sometimes, the actual experience of ordering is so terrible with Canadian companies that it feels like a punishment just to order some toilet paper.

Canadian Tire is a great example. Many times I’ve tried to order from them for shipping to my home, but wasn’t allowed to put the item in my cart because the local store didn’t have it in stock. I can sometimes get around it by selecting a different store as my favourite and then putting the item in my cart, but that’s an extra few steps I’d rather not take. And if one item is in stock in my closest store, but the second item is only available at another store that doesn’t have the first item, forget it.

My pretty new tea infusers, each with its own matching drip tray. From Amazon, of course.

I haven’t even gotten into the insane amount of choice that Amazon offers. It opens up a whole other world of products. Two weeks ago I decided I’d like to use the loose leaf tea in our pantry; I couldn’t, though, because I had no tea ball or tea strainer. I looked online at a few Canadian retailers: Kitchen Stuff Plus, Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay, even a few smaller kitchen supply stores. They each had a simple mesh ball on a chain. When I got to Amazon and entered “tea ball” in the search box, I got an astonishing variety: tea balls shaped like submarines or aquatic animals, reusable silicone tea bags, even a tea ball shaped like an elephant with its forelegs and trunk peeking out over the top of the teacup. With that kind of colourful variety available, it’s very difficult to choose the boring old mesh ball, no matter how Canadian it is.

It’s ridiculous to expect smaller local companies to compete with Amazon; their advantage lies in the personalized service they offer. But if larger Canadian companies just made a few changes to their online shopping platforms, it would be far easier to support them. I’ll gladly pay a bit extra for products that weren’t made in China, or for shipping—even if it takes a few days more. But I’m less and less inclined to pay in time and frustration because Canadian retailers haven’t put enough thought into their online customer experience. It’s 2021, guys. Time to get with the (virtual) program.

el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 332: The Impossible Dream

I’ve developed a new internet addiction: Air BnB.

Ever since we started homeschooling, Mr. December and I have been enthralled by the possibility of worldschooling—travelling the world for months at a time and homeschooling along the way. Inspired by the bloggers of Millenial Revolution, one of whom used to be Mr. December’s coworker, we’ve been turned on to the idea that there are parts of the world that are safe and way cheaper to live in than Toronto, while letting the kids experience a totally new culture.

The current “stay at home” order has definitely exacerbated my wanderlust. As I type this, it’s minus ten degrees celsius and snowing. It’s probably normal to want to get away from this weather even without a pandemic. Of course, it’s basically impossible right now. Except…

“Honey, look at this!” I call to Mr. December. “Looks like Croatia is still open to tourists! Look at those gorgeous beaches! And we could rent this four-bedroom villa by the beach for $2100 a month! How crazy is that?”

Four bedroom home near the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. What’s not to like?

Thailand and Bali aren’t open to tourists right now, but I took a look at rentals for those places, too. In Bali I found this insanely cool house with four bedrooms. These people must be kindred spirits: their kids have a jungle-themed bedroom with a gorgeous wall mural and cargo nets for climbing and relaxing; there’s a pool outside with a waterslide; there’s even a trampoline. I think we’ve found our people… for less than $3500 a month. I wonder if they’d be open to a house swap? I bet their kids would love our attic.

Pics of a home in Bali; Gorgeously landscaped pool with a concrete waterslide that looks like it’s part of the stone wall, jungle themed kids’ room… looks like we’ve found a family as crazy as we are.

In Thailand I focused my search on Chiang Mai, a city in the north with a large population of worldschoolers and other expats. Even when I narrowed the search to “4+ bedrooms, wifi, swimming pool, under $3000 a month” there were still eighteen places to choose from. The one that caught my eye just happens to have the same house number as ours, which is just kinda neat.

A single-family home in Chiang Mai, Thailand; private swimming pool; a garden.

We’ve done the math and the research: we could probably rent out our house (perhaps to a doctor from overseas who’s doing a residency at one of the downtown Toronto hospitals) for $6000 to $8000 per month for six months. Any of the places I discussed in this post are at most half that expensive, which means that we could even come out ahead, financially speaking—not that finances are the most compelling reason to worldschool. Not by a long shot.

Look, I know this isn’t going to happen for a long time. They just extended the “stay at home” order here and the government has announced dire projections for a third wave of COVID if we open up too early. Even if I was completely immune to the open scorn we’d surely endure by travelling when the government has asked us not to (Mr. December is immune, but I don’t think I am,) I’d still be a bit leery of travelling right now. And if we were going to travel with the kids, my first choice would be Israel, which is leading the world in immunizations. But Israel is still closed to tourists, and I fear that when they open it will be to tourists who’ve been immunized. If that ends up being the case, we as Canadians will be screwed: our government has been ridiculously slow in procuring vaccines and getting them to the populace.

In the meantime, I can fantasize. It might be one of the only things keeping me even a little bit sane. If not for the tantalizing hope of future travel, I’d spend my days ruminating on the fact that we’re doomed to spend the next year or so in our little box, separated from friends and family, going nowhere and doing nothing. In the face of that probably reality, who wouldn’t fantasize?

el cheapo · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 325: I really need to stop shopping at Costco.

Is it just me, or does every Costco order end up costing $400?

I just need fruit and vegetables and some milk, I reason, shouldn’t cost me more than $100, even at Costco.

Then I realize that I need flour… might as well get two bags because it’s the softest, nicest flour I’ve ever worked with. We go through about a bag a month anyway.

And we’re almost out of coffee beans, and since only Costco seems to carry this brand, I’d better order them now, because I don’t do Costco very often. Hmmm… might as well order two. Future Me will appreciate that.

I need cream, of course, and milk. I buy two of each because we’ll definitely use it all before it has a chance to go bad, as long as the kids have cereal most days.

Thinking about cereal makes me think of oatmeal, and that’s when I realize that I only have a quarter of a bag of pecans (a favourite topping in our house) left. This time I resist the urge to buy two, though. A whole bag will see us through about four weeks.

And then there’s meat, because I just realized that our downstairs freezer is absolutely empty, and I’d rather just do everything in one big shop.

I’m starting to see the problem: at Costco, every food item seems to cost either ten or twenty dollars, with the exception of milk. So apples plus oranges plus grapes plus tomatoes equals almost forty dollars. Yes, I’m getting a lot of fruit for that price, and I might not need to shop at all next week, but boy does it all add up. And even though I’m stocking my freezer with a month’s worth of chicken and beef, I’m still unconvinced that the next grocery bill will be any lower.

As I’m clicking around, I notice the “non-food” section. Good idea, I think. Do we need anything? Printer paper? Pyjamas for the kids? Socks?

And then I see the iPad. We do NOT need that. Although… actually, that could be kind of useful. In the end I resist, because we really don’t need it. But holy cow, is it easy to buy unnecessary stuff when it’s all conveniently in front of you!

With that in mind, I go back through my cart and take out a few things. Croutons, because we don’t have lettuce and I won’t buy lettuce from Costco because it would go bad before I ate it all. Naan, because I’m really not going to make tandoori chicken this week and there’s plenty of other bread in the house. And the blueberries, because it’s February—how good could they possibly be?

So it is that I manage to keep my total just under $400. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly proud of myself—it still feels like a lot—but I’m resigned to it. At least I didn’t buy a six-pack of grand pianos…

el cheapo · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 307: The Free Economy

I scored some new dining chairs today.

I happened across a post on Facebook offering these four chairs, brand new in box, for free. Since the fasteners on our IKEA chairs (circa 2001) have been tightened repeatedly and still feel rickety, I expressed my interest. That was last night. By noon today I had driven two kilometres to pick them up, and at seven this evening I assembled the first one. We’re trying it out now to decide whether we like them enough to keep, or whether we should pass them on to the next interested party.

This is not my first foray into what I call the Free Economy (or sometimes, the Curb Economy.) Many of my acquisitions have been from the curb on trash day or from a “free to a loving home” post on Facebook.

The comfiest chair in our house is a fully upholstered Dutalier glider that was put out at the curb on someone’s moving day. A couple of tiny stains aside, it was in good condition and certainly looked and worked way better than my decrepit wooden glider. It was just at the end of our block and one of the moving guys graciously offered us the loan of his dolly to roll the chair home.

We’ve found two IKEA children’s tables (plastic) on the curb in our neighbourhood. One was covered with marker scribbles; if I was more pretentious I would say that it had a “distressed finish.” Whatever you want to call it, I was glad I wouldn’t have to get upset about the first marker lines to mar the perfect tabletop.

Just when I was trying to teach E how to ride a two-wheeler, someone offered a free Balance Buddy on the neighbourhood Facebook group. It only took a couple of weeks for her to learn, and then the bike training handle was passed to another neighbour.

The most comfortable couch we own was free, courtesy of a friend for whom style will always trump comfort. After her renovation the couch had “the wrong form factor” (I think that means shape,) so it had to go. The colour isn’t so great in our living room, but I’m willing to put up with a slight deviation from our colour scheme because this couch feels so decadent to sit and lie on. The kids have already informed me it’s never leaving our house.

The list is extensive and I won’t belabour the point. From the wooden tea chest that holds board game parts to the training bras I needed to buy, I’ve benefited repeatedly from hand-me-downs and curbside finds.

When Mr. December first heard I had claimed these free chairs, he commented that surely there must be someone in need who couldn’t afford to buy them new. I pointed out that if I passed on the chairs, there was no guarantee that the next people in line for them would be any more in need of them than we are. Besides, here was a risk-free way to try this style of chair. If it didn’t work for us, we could then pass the chairs on to someone else.

I think that some people still associate hand-me-downs and curbside shopping with being poor. But in some circles it has always been about sharing, reducing consumption, and keeping stuff out of landfills. Besides, participating fairly in the free economy means that you give as well as get. True story: when Mr. December moved out of his student hovel, we dragged to the curb the ugly hand-me-down sofa that some roommate’s grandma had given them. We went back inside the house to get the next thing destined for the curb; by the time we got outside again the couch was gone. A few moments later I was standing in Mr. D’s living room, looking through the window… when I saw through the neighbour’s window that they now had the couch—the free economy had worked its magic.

I’ve given away furniture, toys, clothing, and even scrap wood to people who wanted them. One friend of mine gratefully took some Masonite off my hands for an upcycling project; another friend just posted that she’s looking for picture frames of various shapes and sizes, and I happen to have a pile of unused frames in our basement storage room. She can take her pick.

When the universe give me such an abundance of things, I feel free to share with everyone around me. And if I accidentally give away something I’ll end up needing… well, I have confidence that someone somewhere in this city will be giving that something away one day soon.

el cheapo · Keepin' it real · snarky · whine and cheese

Day 295: Murderers.

My children are murderers, I tell you. Murderers!

The broken bodies of their victims are strewn across the living room, their cords severed and frayed, their headbands snapped. Poor things. They never stood a chance.

And what’s my role in all of this? I have to bring in new victims when the current crop are all dead. Today’s shiny new headsets are tomorrow’s junk. It’s a sad cycle.

Image description: close-up of several pairs of headphones, each broken somehow: a severed cord, one has exposed copper wire, broken headband, disconnected earpiece.

It’s not that my kids are maliciously trying to ruin every set of headphones I buy. It’s just that things happen. E leaves the computer quickly to go to the bathroom, forgetting that she’s wearing headphones, and the cord stretches to the breaking point. N, ever fidgeting with whatever he can get his hands on, plays with the cords until he’s peeled off the outer coating, exposed the wires themselves, and frayed the wires beyond repair. Or someone sits on a pair of headphones that were left on a chair, and the headband snaps. The kids are clearly not setting out to ruin their headphones, but somehow that’s always the end result.

I’ve bought cheap headsets so that I wouldn’t be upset about having to replace them. I’ve bought expensive headsets, hopeful that their higher-quality construction would protect them. They’re all useless now.

I’ve never bought cordless headsets: I avoided them because I assumed that the kids would wander away from the computer, take off the headsets somewhere else in the house, and promptly forget where. I still think that’s a valid assumption, but I can’t just go on luring unsuspecting headphones to their deaths: I need to try something different.

So today I ordered our first ever cordless headset (for the kids; I have my own), and it arrived this afternoon (curbside pickup.) It’s set up and functional. I hope it’s longer-lived than its wired predecessors; I guess time will tell.

DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · The COVID files

Day 243: When Hoarding Pays Off

I spent part of my day yesterday with a spreadsheet, taking inventory in our basement. Mr. December felt that today was the day to do it—he thinks that we’ll be seeing shutdowns soon and wants to be prepared—so we counted cans of beans and calculated kilos of rice and so on, so that I could then go and order all the stuff we don’t have.

While we were down there we started talking about finding a different way to organize the canned beans. We decided we need a FIFO (First In, First Out) system, which I then found for sale on the internet for Too Much Money. I mean, we can afford it, but it seemed ridiculous, so I did what I always do in these circumstances: I made it myself. The best part? I used old scraps of wood and masonite that I saved from other projects.

Remember when Mr. December and I broke the bed? I saved the broken slats all those months ago, and yesterday I ran a few of them through the table saw to create dividers for the rows of cans. A few more of the bed slats performed a supporting role in the rack. A scrap piece of plywood turned into the two sides, and various odds and ends of trim came in handy for edging the shelves. Here’s what it looks like so far:

See, you put the cans on the top shelf and they roll towards the back of the shelf, then drop through to the bottom shelf and roll to the front. The oldest cans will always be the first ones we reach for.

I spent the rest of the day working on the puzzle I blogged about yesterday. Mr. December asked me where it’s going to live while we’re working on it. I had no idea, but I went downstairs to where I keep all my extra stuff and came back up with a cabinet door. I stuck felt pads on the corners so it wouldn’t damage the floors when we slide it under the couch. Then I grabbed my glue gun and ran a bead of glue around the edge of the door so the puzzle pieces can’t slide off.

As you can see, we’ve made some serious progress on the puzzle (although looking at this picture, it looks to me like one or two of those pieces are in the wrong place. The colours don’t match.) It’ll still take us a week or so to finish it, so I’m glad we can now stow it and pull it out easily.

I guess Mr. December and I are both kind of hoarders in our own way. He’s a bit of a crazy survivalist prepper, and I’m the kind of person who says, “I’ll save it—it’ll come in useful someday.” But is it still hoarding if the stuff actually ends up getting used?

education · el cheapo · Homeschool · Kids

Day 198: She can see, but I can’t print.

We picked up K’s glasses this afternoon. Here’s a rough transcript of the three hours that followed:

“Oh, wow! There’s writing on the buildings across the street!”

“Eema! Look at those clouds! They’re amazing!”

“Hey, our house is nice!”

And the winner of the gratitude award:

“It’s so awesome to be able to see!

In other news, I’ve purchased a writing curriculum that I’m really excited about. It’s only available in PDF format, though, so I have to take care of printing and binding. I investigated having them printed and bound at a copy shop; the price made me reconsider, so today I printed the materials myself.

Despite the fact that our printer doesn’t do automatic double-sided printing, it was going pretty well for a while. Then I noticed that the printer had somehow skipped a page, and now the page numbers on the two sides of the pages didn’t match up properly. I had to reprint at least ten percent of the document.

Instead of binding I decided I would just use a 3-hole punch and put it all in a 3-ring binder with dividers. Thankfully I had bought a punch with a 50-sheet capacity back in April (the better to punch large numbers of math drills, my dear.) So I began punching holes, one 50-sheet pile at a time.

Then I noticed that the page numbers weren’t sequential. “Why is only page fifty missing? Shouldn’t there be two pages missing since they’re all double sided?” I wondered aloud. There should have been two pages missing, but there weren’t… which meant all of the subsequent pages were the wrong side up. I had to turn the pages over and punch the other side, which is why my print job looks about as professional as a cake decorated by a five-year-old.

In the end, I figure it took me three hours to get everything done. In future I should probably get these things printed at a copy shop and save myself the time, hassle, and sub-par results. Either that, or I need a new printer that can do automatic double-sided printing.

That’s what I’ll do. I would order one online right now if it weren’t for my stockpile-loving husband. At his insistence we always have at least three spare cartridges of each colour ink so that we never run out, so now I have to wait until we use up all that ink before buying my new printer.

It shouldn’t be too hard to burn through our ink reserves. After all, I still have a 263-page document to print. It’s double sided, so that will probably require a whole lot of reprinting. At this rate, I should have no ink left by next week.

community · DIY · el cheapo · family fun · Kids

Day 176: Putting the Crowd into Crowdsourcing

It’s been hard for K, being at the cottage. As much as she loves going off to her “secret” perch between the woods and the rocky shore, she hasn’t had any swings or her trampoline; and I think we all know that no swings and no trampoline make K go crazy.

We had resolved not to venture into the world outside the cottage until after the long weekend (who needs the crowds?) so today was the earliest we were willing to go out and find some swings for K. Last night saw me googling “playgrounds near me,” which led me to discover something really cool. In a handful of words: there’s an app for that.

The app is called “Playground Buddy,” and it’s free. When I opened it up it immediately found my location on a map, and then up popped the little green symbols — each one indicating a separate playground. As it turned out, there is a playground only six minutes’ drive from our cottage, and it was that one where K spent almost an hour swinging, the usual blissful expression on her face.

Playground Buddy - Helping Families Find Playgrounds

While the kids played I explored the app a bit more. It relies on crowdsourcing to fill in the details of each playground, so I took a bit of time to add a couple of photos and to check off the appropriate amenities for the park where we were. I did a little more scrolling around the map and found that most of the playgrounds lack even basic information, such as their names. Maybe the app is very new, or maybe most of its users are in a completely different part of the world. Either way, I felt good about my little contribution to the effort; so I looked for other playgrounds that I knew well enough to describe (actually, it asks for very little. Any detail you can add is great.)

Later on, I introduced the kids to the concept of crowdsourcing. “It’s really neat,” I said, “by sending in their own observations, people can create a treasure trove of helpful information for others.” I don’t think they needed the explanation as enticement — my phone is enticement enough — but my kids passed the phone around between them, trying to find parks they knew. R filled in details of the park near her former school, N updated the playground stats for the playground at the local public school, and E clicked “yes” or “no” for each amenity at our neighbourhood park as I read them aloud. All in all, we updated the information on seven playgrounds.

I wouldn’t have thought of updating this kind of app as “community service,” but maybe it is, in a way. We take a few minutes out of our day to share information with anyone who wants it. If I tried to list the number of things I learned about for free, on the internet, from material that was posted by ordinary people who just wanted to inform or share, I’d be here all night. Anytime I stop to think about it, I’m blown away by the generosity of spirit I’ve found on the internet; the many tutorials, patterns, instructions, and ideas that people share freely, even when there’s no compensation for their efforts.

Will the Playground Buddy app catch on? I don’t know — I have zero connection to it except as a user — but I hope so. It’s a great resource for tourists with kids and families that have just relocated. And if it really takes off, I may never have to google “playgrounds near me” again.

bikes planes and automobiles · DIY · el cheapo · family fun

Day 171: Be Careful What You Say

Okay, so my post about how I’m the one who’s really good at stacking and packing? I shouldn’t have written it. Or published it. Whatever. All I know is that today it seems like I’m the only person who knows how to pack.

“Eema! I laid out all my clothes, will you pack them?”

“Eema! I put my clothes in the crate but they don’t all fit! And they’re all on the packing list, so I neeeeed them!”

And Mr. December:

“Honey, I know you love packing stuff up really efficiently, so I left my stuff on our bed for you to pack. ThanksIloveyoubye.”

I actually started my day with one of my favourite outings, a bike ride to Lowe’s through the beltline path. I had to buy a concrete deck block to anchor the corner post of the sukkah and some more bolts to finish securing its ceiling beams. I can now proudly say that the sukkah frame is complete and ready for walls and decorations as soon as we get back.

Then off to the supermarket, where I phoned a friend and talked to her while waiting for my Click and Collect order to be brought out to my car.

R informed me last night that she has no running shoes that fit. Seriously? Now she tells me? I can’t be too annoyed because the truth is that she hasn’t needed to wear running shoes since school closed in March. Given that R has grown a lot over the spring and summer I guess it’s only right that she’d need shoes now. I feel like I scored big, though: there was one pair of sparkly sneakers in her size on the clearance rack (always the first place I look) and they fit well. When we got to the cash my jaw almost hit the floor when the cashier announced, “That will be $14.51, please.” Looks like I had a coupon on my account there. Who knew?

Then I got even luckier.

I’ve been scouring Value Village for the last couple of weeks in search of the perfect pair of cottage sweatpants: men’s vintage Roots sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist and elastic at the ankles. Today they were just waiting for me, and I let out a whoop of elation when I found them. I don’t usually believe that stuff about how you have to ask the universe for what you want, but it seems to have worked this time! (Hey, universe? How about some cheesecake?)

The rest of the day is a blur of folding, rolling, and smushing everyone’s clothes into my magic crates. I don’t even remember packing my own, but just now when I trudged up the stairs to pack my clothes I was met by a crate neatly packed with everything I needed. It was like a gift from my past self. (Thank you, past self!)

There are crates, boxes, and bins all over the front hall and the upstairs landing. My typical can-do attitude is telling me that everything will fit just perfectly; a more rational part of my brain doesn’t know what we’ll do when we discover that it doesn’t all fit. (Is it illegal to strap a kid to the roof of the car? Yes? Okay, how about my husband?)

I do know one thing: when we get to the cottage, I’m going to go sit on the dock and let Mr. December and the kids unload the car. I’ve done more than my share; as of 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’m on strike vacation.

el cheapo · family fun · lists

Day 168: Stacking & Packing

I have a thing for packing. I don’t know if it was all my Tetris playing as a child and teenager, but I’m one of those people who gets twitchy watching other people pack or load things. If someone else has loaded the dishwasher, I’ll reload it because my way just fits so many more dishes. When we go on road trips, I pack the car. I have this map in my head of what fits best where, and since it’s painful to watch Mr. December do it his way (which is to say, lots of dead space), I do it myself.

Funny story about that: Mum came over the morning we left for our road trip last summer. She watched me carrying, lifting, and stacking everything and asked, “Why isn’t Mr. December doing this? Or at least helping?” I’m sure she thought that he was being lazy and I was picking up the slack.

“Because he can’t do it as well as I can,” I explained. “I’m really good at this.”

We’re going to ignore the signs of the perfectionism that probably exacerbates my exhaustion, okay? The point is I like packing, and I take pride in using my (clearly superior) spatial skills to pack as efficiently as possible. And because I take pride in it, I’m going to share with you my secret packing weapon:

Plastic crates I got for free from No Frills. Oh, and some stackable containers that I actually had to buy.

I hate trying to get luggage to stack. It’s always just slightly too rounded, or the sizes are a little too irregular, for me to stack them any higher than two — and the top layer usually slides around a lot. And then there’s the lack of visibility: if you can’t see what’s in them, you might end up having to open every bag to find the one thing you’re looking for.

With crates and bins (but especially with crates), they’re designed to stack on each other; the crates from the grocery store are designed to stay locked together in a moving truck. When you’re packing food, clothing, and recreational stuff for six people, you really have to use all the vertical space you can get, which is where the beauty of my crates and bins really lies.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. A stack of bins with flip-lids (so they can’t get lost!): These bins are packed with things for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, art supplies, books, outdoor activity equipment, and board games. They’ll stack nicely in one column in the van and in the cottage, which will be a real space-saver.
  2. My blue grocery bins. I’m using these for canned goods, because they’re sturdy and they nest inside each other. I clearly can’t fill these bins to the top with cans if I want to be able to carry them, but I can pack a single row of cans in one bin, then put the next bin right on top of the cans, and so on. It’s a different type of stack, I guess. When we get to the cottage I’ll unpack and then be able to nest them until they’re needed.
  3. My black plastic crates. Many years ago I plucked these from the “free boxes” area at No Frills; I think they held bags of peas or something. On this trip they’re holding our life jackets, beach towels, board games, and probably some of our clothes — assigning each person one crate (and one crate only!) seems like a fair way to avoid overpacking.
  4. Milk crates. Yes, I know what they say on the sides: “Illegal use prohibited” (Thanks, I had no idea what “illegal” meant!) or “For use by authorized owner only.” It’s not like I pinched these from a pile in the supermarket; they both came with our house and they look to be maybe forty years old. Someone else stole them long before my time. It’s my gain, because they’re sturdy, they stack solidly, and they’re just about the right size to hold all our rain gear.

I have a spreadsheet for packing (of course I do: Mr. December has rubbed off on me) that I’m slowly working my way through. At this point I think it’s just clothes and food that still need to be done, and I’ll have the pleasure of walking past my perfectly packed provisions while I pack some more.

See? Aren’t they beautiful? And organized? Isn’t it soothing just looking at them?


I guess some people will never know this joy… sigh…