Minimalist Cooking Hacks

09.26.2017

0600

As someone who likes to make my routines as simple as possible, I also try to create simple cooking habit routines as well. This approach simplifies the ingredients I buy and my grocery shopping haul trips. Here are seven simple tips and tricks for cooking hacks.

 

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1. Focus on Whole, Single-Ingredient Foods

  • Whole, single-ingredient foods are the key to good health.
  • Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry and eggs are great examples. These foods are incredibly nutritious and satisfying.
  • When you focus on whole foods and high-quality ingredients, you will automatically start to eat less processed junk foods.
  • Processed foods often come with misleading health claims and long lists of ingredients, many of which you can’t even pronounce. However, truly healthy foods don’t even need an ingredients list. They are the ingredient.

Bottom Line: Eating healthy can be quite simple. Stick to whole foods and avoid processed foods made with refined ingredients and artificial chemicals.

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2. Use Simple Flavorings

  • If you buy high-quality ingredients, you don’t need to add a lot of flavoring. Olive oil, salt and pepper may be enough.
  • Fresh herbs can also do wonders for a meal.
  • Try to avoid buying new flavorings unless they are something you think you will use often.
  • If a new recipe requires hard-to-find spices and condiments, you can most likely replace them with something you already have.
  • A rare ingredient that you will end up using only once is a waste of money and space in your kitchen. Most of the time, you can stick to common ingredients that you already own and know how to use.

Bottom Line: You don’t need to own a lot of rare ingredients in order to add flavor to your food. Simple ingredients like high-quality olive oil, salt and pepper can be used in almost anything you make.

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3. Clean Out Your Spice Cabinet

  • Most people keep a lot of herbs and spices on hand. That’s perfectly fine, as long as you use them regularly and don’t have duplicates.
  • If your spice cabinet is disorganized and overflowing with spices you never use, you might want to tidy it up a bit.
  • Try to combine duplicates into one container and donate spices you never use. Throw away/compost spices that are old or bland.
  • Having a tidy spice drawer will help you cook faster because it will be easier to find the spices you’re looking for.
  • A good rule of thumb is to go through your spices at least once per year.

Bottom Line: Having a tidy spice cabinet will make you more efficient in the kitchen. Keep spices you use regularly within reach and combine duplicates. Throw out old spices and donate the ones you never use.

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4. Keep an Organized, Minimalist Pantry

  • Keep a clutter-free pantry stocked with quality foods you use regularly. Preparing healthy meals will become much easier.
  • A clutter-free pantry also makes your food less likely to spoil, since you’ll be able to see all your food items neatly organized.
  • You’ll find it easier to navigate your pantry and locate the items you’re looking for when cooking. Here are a few tips to help you organize your pantry:
    • Optimize storage: Store items you often use on the bottom shelves or near the front. Items you use less often can be stored in the back or a little higher.
    • Sort and group: Designate shelves for similar items, such as keeping your canned foods on one shelf and your breakfast foods on another.
    • Label everything: Label all of your pantry items and store them in clear, well-sealed containers so that your foods don’t spoil.
    • Increase accessibility: Try to place items so they are either directly accessible or you can reach them after moving just one item.

Bottom Line: Taking the time to plan and organize your pantry will make both shopping and cooking easier and more enjoyable.

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5. Simplify Your Kitchen Tools

  • There are tons of clever gadgets you can purchase for your kitchen.
  • Yet many are nonessential, single-purpose appliances.
  • You don’t need fancy kitchenware to cook a great, healthy meal. Simple meals require just a few basics.
  • If your kitchen is cluttered with items you rarely use, consider selling or donating them. Focus on keeping the functional items you use on a regular basis — it’s a plus if they serve multiple purposes.
  • However, figuring out what’s essential is entirely up to you. This varies, and something you regularly use may seem unnecessary to someone else. What you use depends on your lifestyle, how you cook and what kinds of foods you like to eat.
  • Try storing the items you rarely use in a box. If you haven’t opened it in six months, then it’s probably safe to sell or donate those things.

Bottom Line: You don’t need highly specialized, fancy tools for most tasks in the kitchen. Consider selling or donating kitchenware you don’t use often and keeping only the most useful kitchen items.

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6. Think Before You Shop

  • You should think carefully before you purchase a new kitchen gadget.
  • Start by asking yourself if you really need it. If you’re not sure, think it over for one week before you decide to buy it.
  • Setting yourself a rule of “one in, one out” may also help. So for any new item you bring into the kitchen, another needs to go.
  • Think creatively and you might even be able to use something you already own in a different way than you’re used to.

Bottom Line: When it comes to kitchen appliances, less is more. Think carefully before you decide to add another item to your kitchen, especially if it’s an item that’s designed to perform just one specific task.

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7. Clear Your Kitchen Counter

  • It’s time to de-clutter your kitchen counter.
  • Store kitchenware you use less frequently in your cabinets and drawers instead of on the countertop.
  • This is especially important if you live in a small apartment with limited counter space.
  • You’ll have more room to prepare meals and you’ll probably enjoy cooking more if there is less clutter around you.
  • This will also allow you to be more organized and focused while cooking.
  • If you need to keep items on the kitchen counters because of limited cabinet space then make sure they’re frequently used and essential for food preparation.
  • If you like to store items like keys, mail and wallets on your kitchen counter, make sure everything has a place where it belongs.

Bottom Line: Kitchen counters tend to attract clutter. Keeping them clear will give you more space to prepare meals and enjoy your time in the kitchen.

 

 

The Problem With Teflon

08.08.2017

0600

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Teflon became popular because it is non-reactive due to its strong carbon–fluorine bonds; it reduces friction and energy consumption of machinery when used as a lubricant. Though it was claimed to be the best-known chemical inventions of the 20th century, today, Teflon has been touted as a serious health hazard to humans as well as animals. When I found out about the dangers of teflon, I transitioned over to cast iron and stainless steel pots and pans. The research behind teflon is dangerous and jarring.

Non-stick cookware may cause cancer

The non-stick coating, used in Dupont Teflon pans, has been found to release one or more (up to 15) different toxic gases when heated to high temperatures. Did you know that non-sick cookware is made with a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been labeled carcinogenic by a scientific review panel that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
This is a chemical that is being used in many household products from cookware, coated paper plates and even microwave popcorn bags. The side effects have been known for a long time, and one of the most written about is its effects on pet birds.

The worst issue behind Teflon pots and pans

As careful as we try to be – Teflon pots and pans can easily get scratched at some point. In fact, the truth is many people tend to use battered and scratched Teflon cookware. Teflon is usually used to cover aluminum which in itself is a dangerous metal – implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What are some of  the health hazards faced?

  1. Male Infertility- The chemicals emitted from the heating of Teflon pans have recently been shown to be linked with higher rates of infertility. A recent Danish study suggested that exposure to PFOAs in fetal or later life accounted for decreased sperm production and morphologically abnormal sperm.
  2. Thyroid disease – A recent study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), goes on to confirm the association of thyroid disease with human exposure to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Also the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that higher concentrations of PFOA in the blood of the surveyed people were linked to the occurrence of thyroid disease.
  3. Childbirth and reproductive problems – PFOA contamination of food, air and water supply has the potential to damage the reproductive systems of a large population of women. Inevitably causing difficulty in childbirth or birth defects. Scientists based at the University of California-Los Angeles, found that women with higher concentrations of PFOA in the blood stream (more than 3.9 ppb) experienced greater difficulty in conceiving than those with lesser PFOA concentrations. Also the chances of them being diagnosed with infertility were greater.
  4. Birth Defects – an individual living near the DuPont factory that produces Teflon products was born with one nostril and other facial defects. He claims that his mother who was working in the factory was exposed to PFOA while pregnant therefore he acquired those birth defects.
  5. Kills bird – when Teflon is heated to a high temperatures toxic fumes are emitted that are known to kill pet birds especially small birds such as budgies, finches, and cockatiels. Considering this the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states that cookware and heated appliances comprising of non-stick coatings must carry a label that warns the hazard caused by the coating to pet birds.
  6. Carcinogenic – a recent study showed that when rats were injected with PFOA they developed brain tumors. PFOA the coating material used in Teflon products was also shown to be present in trace amounts in blood samples of people and lasted four years in the blood stream.
  7. Causes other diseases – animal research has shown that liver cancer has propelled with more exposure to PFOA’s and case reports suggest that the PFE fumes emitted by very hot Teflon coated utensils have caused pneumonia and inflammation in the lungs.
  8. Non Biodegradable – PTFE is non-biodegradable as it is made up of strong molecular bonds that make it durable and resistant to natural processes of degradation. Thus it tends to accumulate in the food chain causing sever damage.

How to avoid these circumstances?

The best way to protect you and your family is to use cookware made from: ceramic, stainless steel or glass. There’s clearly no argument as to whether conventional non-stick cookware has a negative impact on human health, so with that in mind, what are the alternatives?

1. Ceramic

Ceramic cookware is gaining popularity fast thanks to its ability to create a non-stick cooking surface while containing no traces of PTFE or PFOA.

Brands such as Neoflam are using the most advanced ceramic technology to produce durable and heat efficient non-stick coatings that are safer and more environmentally friendly than conventional non-stick cookware.

2. Cast Iron

Companies like Solid Teknics are manufacturing some incredibly high quality cast iron products which have a myriad of advantages over conventional non-stick cookware.

Cast iron is extremely rugged, easy to clean, and if properly seasoned, it’s also “non-stick” (minus the toxic cocktail of chemical compounds). Cooking with cast iron is a great way to experience many of the benefits that come with using non-stick cookware while also minimizing your exposure to harmful substances.

3. Heatproof Glass

Glass isn’t the most dynamic cooking material and it’s somewhat limited in the styles of cooking that it can accommodate, however, for oven baked dishes there aren’t many materials more safe and affordable than heatproof glass.

When choosing glassware for cooking, be sure to check that the glass is heatproof and of high quality construction. Pyrex has a great range of kitchen glassware for all sorts of different applications, including cooking.

4. Stonewear

Similar to ceramic, stonewear cooking equipment is a non-toxic alternative that usually involves a combination of crushed stone and a PTFE-free coating in order to achieve similar results to those of typical non-stick cookware.

Brands such as Stoneline, Swiss Diamond & Ozeri all provide good products in this range.

5. Stainless Steel

Tried and tested, stainless steel is one of the safest cookware materials in existence and is an excellent non-stick alternative for many forms of cooking. It’s worth noting that using frying pans and skillets that are made from stainless steel will sometimes result in ingredients sticking to the surface of the cookware when exposed to high temperatures. However, if you use ample amounts of a high quality cooking oil, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Creating Sliding Drawers

06.20.2017

0600

Materials:

  1. One sheet of brown peg board
  2. KOMPLEMENT drawer handles from IKEA
  3. Bulk rope from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store
  4. Extra nuts and bolts to secure the handles to the peg boards

 

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I first had to measure the width of my cabinet openings, due to the fact that they were old up-cycled cabinets from when we had first moved into this house. The cabinet drawer opening measured 12″ wide and 24″ deep. Ideally, most new cabinet installments would add a nice overall look and clean up the space a bit, but the way new sliding drawers are built, the thickness of the wood would eat up a lot of the width opening. This is why I decided to make some generic sliding drawers.

I measured out the dimensions of 11-1/2″ wide and 20″deep on the peg board, and I had just enough board to make up three drawers. Because the peg board came with pre-drilled holes, it was easy to guesstimate where the handles would be located, and not all of the handles would necessarily be centered. Also, the screws that came with the handles accessories package were designed to fit a 3/4″ thick board, but the peg board was only 1/4″ thick. this is why I had to gather a few extra nuts to infill the space between the original handle screw and the end of the handle itself.

Once I cut the boards to the right size to fit the openings, I placed the handles where I wanted them to be located and attached the nuts and screws accordingly. Because I wanted these drawers to slide, I went to a local fabric store and bought some thick bulk rope. I used this rope to wrap around the long sides of the drawers so that they would slide out easier. The rope also evidently contained the items sitting on top. You can also contain the items that would sit on top of these drawers by screwing a thin piece of wood onto the top of the drawer so  you have a more secure way of holding your items.

Because the motion of the drawers is more of a pull-out motion when in use, I was more concerned about the items falling off in the back of the drawer when the drawer was pulled outward. Once the rope was tied on, I placed my items inside my small rectangular, fabric containers.

 

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Drawer Guides:

I nailed down 12″(L) x 1/4″(W) x 3/4″(D) wooden pieces on each side of the drawers, inside the cabinet, as guides for the drawers. I chose to use a 12″(L) because the depth of the cabinet is 24″. I braced the guides up against the front of the cabinet, in which these guides will help slide out the drawers along a smoother line.

Conclusion:

These drawers are very simple sliding drawers made form material found around the house. There are a number of designs to secure drawer guides in place, and this one was a very simple design. If I had used a 1/4″ bottom for the drawers, I would have secured a different drawer guide design underneath the drawer. I genuinely like the fact that these drawers slide on the rope and it makes virtually no sound when pulled out and pushed back in. It doesn’t’ scratch the surface of the cabinet shelves and it’s simple enough to take apart if I no longer have the need for this design. Maybe this design will work for you, in other areas of your home. I hope this post might have helped brainstorm some ideas.

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Sewed Fabric Bags For My Makeup Tools

05.23.2017

0600

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So originally, I had created these bags for my Utensil To-Go Kit, and I realized that I could create smaller bags for my make-up tools. So I tested it out and this is what I came up with.

I had some old zippers from awhile back that I never used and these were a great fit. I first undid and removed the drawstring from the bag. Then I cut the original bag in half and sewed the sides of each to create two smaller bags. Because I cut straight thorough the original drawstring hem, I took the string and also cut that in half.

I measured each zipper and made appropriate cuts on the front of each bag for each zipper. Using small sewing pins, I attached each zipper to each bag and then I hand sewed the zippers to the bags. I inserted the smaller drawstrings through the new drawstring hems and tied them off.

The end product were bags that could be accessed through the zipper or through the top where the drawstring closed the bag. This was an interesting solution because when I place items in these type of bag designs, I never have items of all the same height. This bag allows me to access the taller items from the top opening and the smaller items from the front where the zipper is located. I’ve used this for make up tools, writing utensils and also my “Take Out Silverware Kit” that I keep in my purse.

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Hand Powered Kitchen Tools

 

07.18.2016

0800

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I personally dislike using a lot of appliances in my kitchen. The less appliances I have, the more kitchen counter space I tend to save. I’m also not one for buying appliances that very specific uses. I prefer appliances that vary in uses such as a toaster oven, which can toast bread, bake small dishes and grill small amounts of food at a time. I also prefer appliances that are hand powered or are designed in a way that the kitchen tool can sustain its use if I walk away. For instance, my French Press is one of my favorite kitchen tools because it will keep my coffee hot for up four hours. I can take my time and sip and enjoy my coffee knowing that there’s more in my pot that’s still hot.

Part of the reason why I prefer kitchen tools that are powered by hand is due to the fact that I usually know how to fix them easily. If it’s an electrical appliance, I’m not sure how to approach fixing it. If the appliance needs a wire re-attached, I can fix that- but if it malfunctions on any other level, I doubt I’d be able to fix it.

Living a zero waste life also means that when I need to use a certain kitchen tool, and I don’t own it- I have to improvise. Granted, sometimes the improvised version of the kitchen tool takes longer to get the task done, but it WILL get the job done. Honestly, sometimes I only need to use the kitchen tool once, so that’s why I don’t go out to buy it. I use a stove, toaster oven and an electrical hand blender; those are the appliances I own. I don’t use a microwave because I heat items up in my toaster oven. Owning a total of two appliances helps in the fact that I only need to maintain those two.

A few of my non electrical kitchen tools are:

  1. French Press
  2. Pepper grinder
  3. Lemon Juicer
  4. Can Opener
  5. Wine Bottle Opener
  6. Scissors
  7. Vegetable Peeler
  8. Knife Sharpener

A few of my substitute kitchen tools include:

  1. Wine Bottle, used as a rolling-pin
  2. Pyrex bowls, used as a nut grinder
  3. Colander , used as a flour sifter

I’m simply not a fan of using multiple appliances that will end up using a lot of electricity. As long as I have the basic essentials, then I’m more content with my kitchen. It also boils down to the fact that I don’t want the responsibility to have to maintain multiple appliances yearly.

Borrowing Tools

 

04.13.2016

0900

As a child, I grew up watching my father fix the house little by little using his collection of tools. This childhood observation conditioned me to understand that owning tools was essential to get any job done around the house. However, any tool owner knows that whatever tool you buy, it comes with a warranty and there will always be a more powerful version of your tool out on the market somewhere at some point in time.

Owning tools can be quite costly and takes up a great deal of space. If you are a collector of tools and owning tools is essential to your day-to-day routine, then by all means, I think keeping them is the best decision. However, I am not a part of that population. I love to fix up my home and there’s a great satisfaction when I finish a job, but I don’t like to maintain tools nor do I like the amount of space they can take up.

The concept of borrowing, sharing and renting tools is not new, in fact, it’s quite old. There’s a level of trust and blind faith you must have in order to hand over your valuable tool to someone who may or may not know how to use it correctly. This idea of sharing tools creates a larger library of tools for any community in which the members understand who owns which tools and opens the communication lines between neighbors. By teaching each other how to use tools properly may in fact bond a community in a very unique way. Home owners, renters and potential home owners understand the frustration of maintaining a home so that bond in itself is unique. I personally have a numerous conversations with friends and family about how I prepare my home for each season of the year. Between the list of what tasks needs to be done to what tasks have yet to be done, neighbors young and old understand the need for certain tools and how to go about obtaining them.

Sometimes you only need to use a tool once or just use a specific tool once in a while so renting it may be a better idea. Some tools are not expensive and by owning all of the tools that you could possibly need, shuts you off from your neighbors. Granted, perhaps you’re the guy who everyone goes to in order to borrow tools, and in that scenario, you’ll be everyones’ ‘go-to person’ when it comes to tool inquiry. When you borrow/share/rent tools, it forces you to step outside and talk to one another.

We all know how to survive on our own, some of us are better at it than others, but part of me asks the question, how do we survive with each other? Borrowing and sharing tools is a small task to conquor “surving with one another”, but I think it opens a door of communitcation with one another.

There are programs designed to allow you to rent tools such as Loan-A-Tool from AutoZone or Cresco Equipment Rental.

Tools I borrow:

  • Dewalt Mechanics Tool Set
  • Dewalt Reciprocating Saw
  • Ridgid Cordless Drill/Driver & Drill Bits
  • Single Bevel Miter Saw
  • Sawhorses
  • Power Sander

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Essential Design Tools

03.28.2016

0900

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When I mention my essential design tools, I’m talking about tools I keep around in order to hack an object or product. Whether it be the way that the product is used, is placed in a location or creating more than one type of use for it. These alterations are never designed to compromise the integrity of the product itself unless I really want to step into that realm. The reason why I don’t want to alter the integrity of the products too much is because by living a zero waste life, I must be able to make multiple products be able to be used for multiple functions. This idea of versatility with every product I invest in, is always in the back of my mind with every purchase or design hack.

Supplies I keep in order to fix or hack day to day situations and circumstances around the house:

  1. Shoelaces and Rope
  2. S-Hooks
  3. Metal Binder Clips
  4. Velcro straps
  5. Carabiners
  6. Metal Rings

All of the tools I choose to keep are reusable and are made of durable material. I do prefer metal or stainless steel material because these tools can be manipulated into the shape of a loop. My favorite tools out of all of these are the carabiners and metal rings. Carabiners are strong, safe, secure and easy to use. Their closed loop design and locking mechanism was the design feature that caught my attention years ago. And due to the fact that these carabiners can be used repeatedly, the investment will pay off on its own. Metal rings can be used anywhere to create another secure loop for hooking any carabiner to it. These two tools coincide with one another when I use them.

I also favor rope as well. If you can find extra rope that’s braided together, then you’ve found gold in my opinion. The strength of braided rope combined with the knowledge of knots is essential. Also, rope has a soft flexibility to it where it can be use with clothing alterations, products and repairs. It’s flexible enough to create tension for a blanket fort, yet can be turned into a lasso to help save a drowning adult in a roaring rapid.

Metal binder clips and velcro straps are used as temporary grips for a group of anything that need to be bundled together. Although metal binder clips are limited in the width of the object they’re gripping, the metal material is still strong enough to retain it’s own shape.  Velcro straps can be used for larger bundles and can also be linked together to extend their capabilities around larger bundles.

S-Hooks are simply used when I need to hang something up without needing to drill a hole into another material. It is my go to tool when I have to deal with an object that needs support due to gravity more so than any other issue.

There are parameters to living a zero waste life, but one has to live within those parameters and still meet their own needs. Some might say that keeping supplies such as  the ones I’ve listed above is excessive, yet, I reuse these design tools repeatedly. If you notice that you constantly reuse certain tools or constantly go out and buy the same supplies, I’m betting that you’ve stumbled upon your own design tools. Invest in supplies that are versatile and are produced with durable materials, and they will consistently give back to you.

My Basic Toolbox

03.23.2016

0830

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I like household fixes, I genuinely do. There’s a sense of accomplishment that goes along with it and a better understanding of how your home functions. Plus, a lot of household repairs are quite simple and easy to get out of the way if you have the right tools and techniques. So I do keep a few tools on hand in my toolbox for this reason, but over the years, I also purged my tool collection. I tend to use a few tools frequently for fixes and I’ll borrow others. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have an extensive collection in my toolbox due to the fact that I prefer to borrow tools on bigger jobs. Plus, owning more tools means I have to put more effort into maintaining all of my tools. Basically, now my small toolbox includes:

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Level 1:
Exacto blades with blade refills, electrical tape, Teflon (plumbers) tape, a combination lock, 2 old ID cards as putty scrapers, solar calculator

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Level 2:
Pair of trauma shears, long nose pliers, combination pliers, gardening shears, multi bit screwdriver, wind up flashlight, Eklind Ergo-Fold Hex Key Set, DAP Dry Time Indicator Spackling & Nail Hole Filler, biking gloves

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Level 3:
8-Inch pliers wrench, ratcheting adjustable wrench, claw hammer, bike tool kit, masking tape, extension cords, variety of screws and nails, (Denim bag: mini level, compact mirror, measuring tape, laser measure)

My denim bag is the bag I bring to site visits for my job. It’s basically tools I need to map out a floor plan or sketch out a floor plan easily. I’m a big advocator for borrowing tools, being that I think it helps a community in creating a stronger bond and it eases the stress of trying to own every tool out there for every single fix-up job. I do understand that not everyone will hand over their tools to a total stranger, but there are chains such as Cresco Equipment Rental, which is an equipment rental store, that allow you to rent most any equipment you need.

I also keep an eye on tools that may dry up such as the nail hole filler, electrical tape and masking tape. I keep an eye on them due to the fact that I have a tendency to not use an item for a long time and then the product dries up and becomes trash. It’s for that reason as to why I only own a few AAA batteries and only four battery operated items. I’m a believer in owning and buying ONLY WHAT YOU NEED in the quantity that you need it in. With the intention of buying only tools that you need, I also think that investing in a good set of quality tools is essential. Quality over quantity works on all levels. Over estimating your need for items will always lead to more waste and producing trash.

For most household fixes, you can either fix it yourself which means, you’ll go out to buy the part that needs to be fixed (which most likely will come in packaging that will be discarded) or you can hire a contractor to do the job and hope that they take all the trash with them. Hiring someone to do the job may cost more, but I guess that’s the toss up of how you want to produce trash. Unfortunately, either way, trash will be produced. One of the only hopes when it comes to those situations is that you hope your maintenance of the home stands the test of time.

The point of this blog post was not to tell anyone to copy what I own or to give a standard toolbox set, but evoke some thought of how we go about owning tools. My father was a big believer in fixing up our home on his own so as a child, I always saw a massive collection of tools and I had to re-organize my thought process of how I was going to approach tool ownership.

Minimize, minimize, minimize, it’s one of the simplest steps towards a zero waste life.