Alternative Lifestyle Challenges

My alternative lifestyle involves family, simplicity, and finding joy in independent thought. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed art print at Great Big Canvas.

Because I am essentially an ordinary person, my chosen alternative lifestyle is not one to provoke hate mail, rabid Tweets, and major national news stories. I figure that what goes on in my bedroom — with my Kindle and the unfriendly cat who really hates to snuggle — is my business, and you’re probably not interested in it.

My alternative lifestyle involves things like cooking from scratch, debating whether I will actually splurge on (organic, GMO-free) snack chips, or whether we should plant twice as many pumpkins this year. Most of my — and our family’s — focus is on creating, doing things for ourselves, and saving money by not being rabid consumers of cheap plastic products. In today’s American society, you gotta admit that’s a little different, and come to think of it, I suppose it’s radical.

But it’s still not blaring its way through major news.

One thing you discover, however, when you truly strive to live sensibly, sustainably, and inexpensively, is that a lot of products out there that promise to help you do so . . . don’t. We once invested in a razor blade sharpener: theoretically, it was supposed to increase the life of our disposable razors by weeks and weeks and weeks, because it honed the blade to a crisp, fine, deadly edge.

In reality, it was a piece of mirror with a frame around it. I’d call it cheap plastic junk except for the mirror part.

Inexpensive is fine — that’s a rowboat. Cheap is a boat — even a cruise liner — with holes in it. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed art print at Great Big Canvas.

Another product I have fallen for more than once are the pump spray units that are supposed to replace pressurized cooking sprays. I avoid the latter because many of them consist of canola oil, an agricultural product increasingly associated with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Call me a fanatic, send me a hate Tweet, but I just don’t feel comfy with this. As a consumer, that’s my call.

Well back to the pump sprays — theoretically (isn’t that a great word?) you pump the handle of the unit up and down, the oil in the container unit pressurizes, and a fine mist spray — that mimics the spray from the pressurized can — gently massages your muffin tins, or cake pan, or skillet.

At the best of times, which is generally the first week of ownership — a reasonable facsimile of mist ushers forth. It’s never as fine as the pressurized version, but then again, the alternative product doesn’t contain Propellant– Non-Chlorofluorocarbons. I seem to be out of those in my kitchen cupboards this week.

Sometime, anytime after you have thrown away the receipt for the thing, a pathetic piddle of oil streams forth, and no matter how much you pump the pump, pathetic reigns.

When you live alternatively by living independently, life looks different — freer. Spirit of the Canyon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Which brings me to the conclusion we have reached about alternative products: they rarely, if ever, perform like the “real” thing. Vinegar based cleaners, while decidedly healthier than their chemical competitors, do not clean the same. Gelatinized flax seed, which may look like hair gel, will not spike your hair to the sky. I don’t care what mystery plant is ground into that laundry detergent, you’re going to need more than a half-teaspoon for a large load.

The thing to remember about living alternatively is twofold:

Alternative means different, and anyone who assures you that their natural product is exactly the same as its chemical counterpart, is probably not being 100 percent forthright. The more they’re charging, the more you might want to research the matter.

Don’t give up — it’s worth trying sustainable, homemade alternatives that don’t pour more money into the pockets of major chemical manufacturers. Just don’t expect them to be, or do, the exact same thing. They may not clean as well. They also won’t trigger your allergies, or worse.

Keep being different, experiment, make mistakes, and try out new things. And — alternative or conventional — remember: Buyer Beware.

My Friday Financial Health articles are based upon information in my book, Live Happily on

Yes, you can make it with what you’ve got.

Less, which is a straightforward, commonsense guide on how you can take the resources you have, and live well on them. You don’t need another job; you need this book. Available at Amazon.com in paperback ($12.99) or digital ($5.99), and at Barnes and Noble.

This article was originally published at ThoughtfulWomen.org.

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One Response to “Alternative Lifestyle Challenges”

  1. Hey, Carolyn, here’s a tip: instead of nasty chemical stain removers, laundry sticks, grease removers, etc., I use castile soap or Murphy’s oil soap. This has been an issue in our household because my mother-in-law loves sending all kinds of cleaning agents, and my husband hates “stains” on his clothes. Hopefully, we have a truce about it now. Anyway, Murphy’s oil soap gets oil paint out of clothing.

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