Cheapskates Rejoice

Champions emerge from every crappy situation, and our long, lousy economic condition is no exception. Sometimes in the name of environmental sustainability, sometimes as a matter of one-upmanship, extreme thriftiness and downsizing have usurped ramen noodles and Geo Metros to become an art form.

1) Big on Small

Dee Williams of Olympia has become a poster child for the Small House Movement — a phenomenon that’s getting a lot of ink and bandwidth as more Americans are shedding their belongings and asking themselves just how far they can scale back before they’re running around in loin cloths. Dwelling in a $10,000, 84-square-foot home on wheels that’s parked in a friend’s back yard, Williams pays $8 a month in utilities. She has a sleeping loft, one-burner stove and a composting toilet to call her own, space for a couple changes of clothes and a little porch for hanging out with friends, who are best to be small. Curious? The Small House Society has a big list of resources that’ll help cut you down to size.

2) Freeganism

Bolstered by an awful economy, the freegan movement, which comprises a lot of people who hate the word “freegan,” is all about extreme sustainability and living off the wastes of capitalism. If you’re really good at it, you can avoid the ravages of employment and find abandoned digs in which to squat (i.e. Las Vegas). The urban-foraging lifestyle requires bountiful dumpsters for food and other cast-offs, with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s dumpsters getting good reviews. The downside to getting all your goods on the take: Bedbugs (which have made a bigger comeback than the ’04 Red Sox) and getting busted. Cities that are cracking down: Salt Lake and Sacramento. As far as bed-bugs go, Cincinnati leads the national pack, with the rest of Ohio close behind. Denver is the only Western city to make the top 10, ranking a hearty, scratchy fourth place.

3) Cheapest place in the West

In most of the western U.S., you’re statistically screwed if you want to live cheaply. Tennessee comes in as the cost-of-living champion at an overall index of 89.05, with Hawaii at the high end at 163. In the West, Idaho is the cheapest in 10th place, with an overall score of 92.07. Colorado comes in 31st with a 100.83; Arizona 37th at 104.27; and California in 48th place with 131.46. In housing, Idaho comes in at a reasonable 78.9, while California tops the Western charts at 185.74. FYI — the median 2020 home price in Oahu is estimated at over $1 million. Best to stay in Idaho.

4) DIY disasters

Do-it-yourselfers have taken on a certain swagger these days, accounting for a $160 billion business in the U.S. But before you attempt to join the ranks of Bob Vila, remember that complete failure is a strong possibility. For example, it’s common for DIYers to install bathtubs without hooking them up to drainpipes. And sure, that wax ring under your toilet looks easy to replace, but this widespread blunder has an ugly outcome that requires no elaboration. In Las Vegas, where the housing industry has driven homeowners to despair, home inspectors see Darwinian slip-ups such as ceiling fans installed so low that they hit people’s heads and outlets installed right next to tubs so bathers don’t have to get out to plug in their whirlpool spas. If you need more encouragement to call a handyman: http://blog.

5) Hot rocks and yard sales

Last year, a Milwaukee man shelled out $10 for a strange chunk of metal he found at a rummage sale, figuring he’d be able to salvage it as copper or bronze and make a few dollars in these hard times. Too bad he watched a TV show that indicated he probably had a rare meteorite on his hands. A collector then offered $10,000, while posts on the all-reliable Internet said he might make $100,000. The bad news: The chunk turned out to be part of the big Canyon Diablo meteor, which strayed from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and landed in the Arizona desert in 1942. Some jerk stole it from the Meteor Crater Visitor Center in 1962. The Milwaukee man returned the find, which rewarded him $1,000. He says he doesn’t remember where the rummage sale was.

Got Stuff?

Technically speaking, gear is gear as long as it is actively useful. After that, it becomes stuff. At a certain point, it becomes certifiable crap, such as the 25-year-old randonee boards taking up space in a certain writer’s garage. Or that single climbing skin. Or the abandoned blades used in a cross-country ice-skating experiment. With the exception
of other primates using crude tools, humans are the only species that utilizes gear, which gets put to use every time we step outside.

1) This may shock you

If you like really big gear, you’d best settle down in Wyoming or Montana, which rank first and second in U.S. truck ownership. In Wyoming, you’ll find .55 pick-em-up trucks per capita, with Montana coming in at .51. The District of Columbia, comparatively speaking, lags at .0734, despite the vast amount of bullshit that someone needs to haul away.

2) Gear for swingin’ free

Guys: How many times have you been out on the trail, on your bike or hitting the links, when you’ve said to yourself, “WTF, I wish I’d had the foresight to wear a kilt!” Sport Kilt, which manufactures all manner of models to suit the manly modes, has what you need in the form of the Boulder Kilt, Commando Kilt, Hiking Kilt and even the Comfy Kilt, which is an oh-so-soft flannel model designed for the privacy of your own home. (“This is the kilt in which you can completely unwind.”) It doesn’t hold a pleat real well, so the makers recommend you upgrade to a Sport Kilt if you plan to go outside.

3) At altitude, holding your drink isn’t easy

If you’re like me, many a backpacking trip has been scuttled because of the lack of classy, packable martini glass. GSI Outdoors has taken care of that with the Glacier, a 215-gram stainless vessel that has been likened to the ware that James Bond drinks from. The company also makes a nesting, two-speed hand-crank blender (the ice supply remains problematic, though), as well as the most stylish cathole trowel you’ll ever see.

4) A scrotal sanctuary

According to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, there is a search-and-rescue mission underway every 36 hours. This includes overdue aircraft, hikers, hunters and you-name-it who are using the outdoors and don’t know where the hell they are, or do know where they are and really wish they could get somewhere else. Wouldn’t it be good if each of them were carrying a Cocoon, a lightweight shelter that slings over a tree branch and resembles an inordinately large bull scrotum when occupied? It keeps a person warm and sheltered from wind and wild animals, and inside “The user is comforted by warming colors and materials.”

5) Poor delivery of gear

Daredevil George Hopkins had it all planned out when he stepped from a small plane over Devil’s Tower on a $50 bet (this was in 1941) and parachuted safely to the top of the formation. The next and critical part of the experiment didn’t go so well, though, when the plane made its second pass to drop off the gear he needed to descend the tower. When his buddies tossed out a rope, pulley, sledgehammer and axe, the stuff fell to a ledge beyond anyone’s reach. A second attempt to drop another rope worked, but it tangled the rope beyond use. The nation’s best climbers assembled to try to find a way to get Hopkins down, and the Goodyear Blimp was dispatched from Ohio with the idea that it could help pluck Hopkins from his perch in three days (it made it as far as Fort Wayne before crapping out). The good thing: A follow-up drop soon after the failed rope delivery provided a tent and bottle of booze to Hopkins. Subsequent drops yielded huge amounts of food and luxuries like a fur-lined flying suit, all of which got heaved over the edge when a team of climbers got to him six days and five nights after his landing. He reported feeling fine after rappelling down.

6) Failed retrieval of gear

What happens when idiots try to load a jet ski into a van: