In the last several months, we had to replace both a toaster and a toaster oven.  Both of the now-dead appliances were pretty basic, no-frills items, but they did their jobs.  And then they stopped.

The toaster conked out first.  In the few weeks it took to settle on a replacement, having the toaster oven as a back-up was really nice (if less efficient than using the toaster for simple tasks like toasting bread).

I first turned to Craigslist, hoping for a decent used toaster, but that effort was unsuccessful.  Whenever we’re buying new, we try to read some reviews to help pick a good value product.  Unfortunately, most reviews don’t provide a good test of lifespan, unless the product dies very quickly.

We opted for this rather basic model, and chose the standard dial rather than the digital display, since a digital display seemed like one more thing that could break.  We’ve had the toaster for a number of months now, and so far, so good.

Then, several weeks ago, our toaster oven started malfunctioning.  The heating elements on the bottom were getting hot, but those on the top were not.  The top heating elements are essential to the “broil” function, which is something we use a good bit, for broiling tofu, asparagus, etc.

I succeeded in finding a replacement on Craigslist.  The replacement is actually an upgrade, I guess, to a much larger toaster oven that includes a convection oven feature.  The thing is, the small toaster oven was really pretty ideal for our needs, which included broiling small batches of things and reheating things that we wanted to crisp up a bit, like pizza and croissants.  When not in use, it stored easily under the counter and didn’t take up precious counter space.

If we actually want to bake anything, we usually do so in a quantity that exceeds the capacity of even a large toaster oven, and thus necessitates the real oven.

The new toaster oven (bottom) could eat the old toaster oven for breakfast!
The new toaster oven (bottom) could eat the old toaster oven for breakfast!

This new toaster oven is a bit of a beast, and more toaster oven than we really need.  It’s too big to fit under the counter, even if I wanted to be moving it around all the time, which I don’t, given it’s bulk and weight, so it’s permanently using counter real estate.  While I haven’t tested it yet (time to pull out the Kill-A-Watt meter), I imagine it chews more energy that our previous, much smaller toaster oven, because there is more space to heat to the desired temperature.  If we were using that space, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but, most of the time, we are not.

I spent the first week with the new toaster oven seriously questioning my purchase.  The previous owner had attempted to clean it, which was nice, but the oven cleaner fumes coming off the thing were overwhelming, to the point of potentially rendering it unusable.  I placed an open container of baking soda inside for a few days, but it had little effect.

Then I found a suggestion to place a pan of water in the oven, turn it to 400° F, and leave it on until the water came to a boil.  I decided it would take a really long time to boil an open pan of water in the oven, so I cheated a bit, and preheated the water in the microwave, then poured it into a metal bread pan in the hot toaster oven.  I left it in, with the oven on, for about 30 minutes.  Lo and behold, this did the trick, and we now have a fully usuable, de-stinkified toaster oven!

In which a crazy pregnant lady goes dumpster diving

It all started out innocently enough.  With the warmer temps, I spent some time cleaning our sun porch on Friday in preparation for being able to use it again soon.

In the process of breaking down a cardboard box for recycling, I pulled off the packing tape, and since I was already outside on my way to the recycling bin at that point, I decided to put the tape directly into the trash dumpster.  I opened the dumpster lid and saw a bunch of brand new looking books.

Unable to just close the lid and go on with my life knowing that some perfectly good books were headed for the landfill, I started pulling them out and piling them on top of the dumpster.

I found about 20 middle school teachers’ guide math texts that looked like they’d never been used.  In the dumpster!  I was tempted to just leave the books piled on top of or next to the dumpster and hope that someone would come along and rescue them, but, realistically, people only tend to pick up furniture and other large objects.

If I left them there, they would probably just sit and end up getting water damage from rain, and then they really would be trash. So I brought them inside in two huge armfuls, found a box in the basement as a temporary home, and posted them on ReUseItStLouis (formerly known as FreeCycle).

They had not generated much interest by Saturday, when I made the mistake of visiting the dumpster again (with another small trash item).  Guess what?  More books!  Same topic and condition as the books from Friday — clearly the same culprit.

My shoulders sagged in defeat.  I could (and did) pull out these books, but this is one dumpster, in one alley, in one city, and I’m one person.  Every day, all across our country, perfectly good and usable items, like these books, get sent to the landfill.

I understand that taking the time to find new homes for items we no longer want does require some effort and can be frustrating, we just went through it with our couch, but taking the time and effort is part of being a responsible consumer.

In this case, the books I rescued would be perfect for a math tutor or a family that home schools.  While this story is not finished yet, I received two emails about the books, including one from a person who seemed very interested.  If all goes well, the books may have a new home by the end of the day, which would turn my distressed expression in the photo into a smile.

Trash vs. treasure

This post started as a comment on “The last antique” over at The Green Phone Booth.  It quickly grew to a length that seemed a bit cumbersome for a mere comment:

After reading the comments thus far, one thing that sticks out is want vs. need. Sure, holding out for that perfect piece of furniture (the one that looks nice, fits in your space, is good quality, at the right price) at an estate sale or on Craigslist can be frustrating, but do you really NEED it enough right now to settle for something that may not last, something made unsustainably?

The answer will be different for everyone and vary depending on the item in question and other specifics of the situation. However, it provides a good starting point for evaluating potential purchases. You may be able to find creative ways to do without for just a bit longer, giving you time to find what you really want in the quality used market.

We successfully used this method for our desk, and we’re currently keeping an eye out for a nice, new-to-us couch.  In the meantime, we’re holding on to our slightly uncomfortable, not so fashionable, but still sturdy, estate sale bought couch.