Our Personal Project for 2016 – Addition Through Subtraction

A few years ago, one of our projects involved focusing our pantry on the bare essentials; raw ingredients that could be used to make almost any recipe imaginable.  At the time, I posted pictures of the early stages, which included different types of flour (bread flour, with higher protein for baking loaves of bread, all-purpose flour, cake flour); different types of sugar (white sugar, raw sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar); assorted dried fruits and berries; various types of nuts; vinegars and shortenings; white rice, brown rice, long-grain rice, short-grain rice; dozens of varieties of lose tea.  We also built a huge McCormick spice selection so, with few exceptions, we could make almost any type of dish from any type of cuisine from around the world.

To save you from having to click on the old link (unless you’re interested in our thoughts at the time as to why we were doing it), here’s a quick refresher in images …

It turned out to be one of the best things we ever did.  The amount of time and preparation necessary to cook recipes from scratch plummeted.  We installed hanging hooks below the shelves to store the Mauviel professional line of copper pots we use, which remain the workhouses of the kitchen (the Ruffoni are beautiful, and we do cook in them, but they are stored with the Le Creuset and Staub).

Wait – before I move on and while we are on the topic – you know how I love the scented McCormick & Company annual report that shows up each year?  The one I talked about last year, too?  The 2015 installment showed up recently and when I opened the envelope, the fragrance of coriander flooded the car.  If you want a case study of how international currency movements can significantly depress reported earnings, causing return on equity and return on assets to look substantially lower than they really are and making the price-to-earnings ratio, PEG ratio, and dividend-adjusted PEG ratio appear substantially higher than they really are, now would be a good time.

It really is one of the greatest businesses that most investors never pay attention to when discussing stocks.  You’ll almost never hear someone at a cocktail party talking about their continuous acquisition of ownership in the world’s largest spice empire, instead going on and on about some new technology startup or financial enterprise.  Yet, there it is, year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation showering its equity holders with more money due to a virtually unshakable hold global spices.  The core owner earnings are so good, no matter how poorly the stock does in the short-term, they exert their influence over time.  Over the past 1, 5, 10, and 20 year period, respectively, total return has been 18%, 17%, 13%, and 13%, the latter period including one of the worst equity market environments in American history from both the dot-com bust, the September 11th recession, and the 2007-2009 Great Recession.  That’s what happens when you supply 9 of the top 10 food and beverage companies in the world; when you earn such high returns on capital you can give back 46% of cash flow from operations to owners in the form of dividends and share repurchases net of option exercises while spending another 34% on acquisitions (only 20% needs to be used for capital expenditures, and not all of those are maintenance capital expenditures – the financiers among you just had your heat beat accelerate, I imagine).  The firm has paid a dividend for 90 consecutive years and increased that dividend every single year for the past 30 years.  It is 4x the size of its nearest competitor.  In some countries, the market share exceeds 50%.  The employees own a huge part of the business.  Even the financial reporting is beautifully presented (see page 31 of the 10-K form for the Consumer Segment desegregation of the sources of growth year-over-year; that is the kind of presentation a shareholder-friendly management puts together).

Personally, I think it’s overvalued at the moment but it’s one of those companies that, even if we go into a 1973-1974 and it loses 75% of its market value over 2-3 years, it probably isn’t going to make a bit of difference over the next 25 years.  If anything, due to the return accelerator mathematical phenomenon we discussed from the research at Wharton when we went over the oil majors, the volatility would make investors who reinvested their dividends wealthier than they otherwise would have been (consider it compensation for watching your money seemingly disappear on you for years at a time).  The biggest danger would be the risk of a “take-under”, for a lack of a better term, which I discussed awhile ago.  Basically, if equities get cheap and a buyout offer comes along higher than the then-lower market price but substantially below long-term intrinsic value, you might be forced to have your losses permanently cemented in place.  That’s one of the reasons diversification is so important.  Nevertheless, whenever it’s within striking distance of intrinsic value, McCormick is one of those things I like to buy for myself and the family; voting shares, non-voting shares, doesn’t matter.  I have it shoved everywhere; our accounts, my brother’s retirement accounts, my parents’ accounts, my in-laws’ accounts.  You can hardly flavor your food in most of the world without indirectly sending us dividends.  I love this business.  The shares Aaron and I buy are often intended for our future grandchildren.

McCormick 2015 Scented Annual Report Coriander

That … was an unexpectedly long detour.  I get carried away when talking about those handful of 100 or firms out of the 30,000+ publicly traded ones that are really extraordinary.  Back to the point of the post.

As part of one of our projects this year, “Addition Through Subtraction” Aaron and I have been going through every facet of our lives, no matter how small, and identifying the things that can be removed to make us happier.  One of the things we have been removing is complexity.  This goes far beyond the minimalism and decluttering project.

We started with the refrigerator and freezer, building upon our earlier pantry system.  One night, we researched and picked up the best fresh food storage containers we could find consistent with our aesthetic, threw out almost everything, and began a policy of keeping, with very few exceptions, only fresh, raw ingredients so all meals are made from scratch without preservatives.  This means fresh onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and more are stored on a schedule so little to nothing goes bad.  It takes a bit more work when grocery shopping because we have to spend an hour or so in the kitchen putting everything up but the time saving in the long-run is shocking.  I could never go back to how we did it before this.  Want a stir-fry?  No problem, everything is ready.  Feel like making a soup?  Go ahead, it’s almost all right there waiting for you.  The net efficiency gain is staggering.

Here is what a typical prep session looks like, as we put fruit and vegetables into their refrigerator containers …

Organizing Refrigerator

The freezer we’re still working on because we need to special order in more of the sizes we want as they aren’t available in the Kansas City market.  We use it as a way to store out-of-season fruit and vegetables.  Here’s a picture of how we have it setup thus far.  The top contains mangos, peaches, black cherries, a blackberry/raspberry mix, and a grape/cantaloupe/pineapple mix.  The next shelf down contains broccoli, corn, sweet peas, and various vegetable medleys.

Organized Freezer Joshua Kennon

For my fellow K-Drama addicts out there, this part of the project was inspired by Do Min Joon’s refrigerator in My Love from Another Star.  Behold the glory that is his perfectly organized home.  (The lesson: Korean Dramas make you live a better life.  Give into them.  Let their superior plot lines and overly dramatic emotional outbursts fill your life with joy.  You’ll thank me.)

Do Min Joon's Refrigerator My Love from Another Star

We’ve also removed almost all of our spare coffee mugs, glasses, and dish ware, reducing down to a handful of core sets that perfectly match.  Part of this “addition through subtraction” project builds upon our earlier projects, taking them further than we were willing to go; fully committed, no looking back.  We have filled four or five carloads of paperwork, representing at least five or more stuffed file cabinets, with paperwork that is now digitized and in the cloud.  We have sold or donated furniture, lamps, office equipment; you name it.  I’ve thrown away decades worth of old stock reports.  It’s all on the iPad Pro now.  I’m hoping to be completely done by the end of second quarter.

Our personal finances are now radically simplified after a post I wrote back in November of 2014, when we decided to get rid of debt and consolidate our holdings.  Other than a small 3.75% fixed-rate mortgage, which will get paid off when we move in a couple of years, anyway, so it doesn’t bother me as I have much better uses for the money, we now have no debt.  No student loan debt.  No car debt.  No credit card debt.  No consumer debt.  No business debt other than ordinary working capital balances (e.g., payables that arise in the ordinary course of the cash conversion cycle).  Nothing.  Even the buyout of one of the private businesses, when we acquired 100% of the stock from the other shareholders, is now paid in full.  Everything down to staples in the stapler are entirely equity.

We’ve donated or thrown out 75% of our wardrobes.  We need to rebuild them but we’ll probably put that off until later in the year, wearing jeans and t-shirts in the meantime.

We’ve hired specialists to come into the house and do maintenance checkups.  That will be handy when we eventually sell the house and move.

We decided we didn’t like our shampoo and conditioner so we went on a testing binge, finally settling on the one we like best.  Yeah, it’s $33 a bottle but who cares?  We tried everything, too.  Discount store brands.  Salon brands.  Department store brands.

We’re working on our sleep cycles.  For example, we will have no electronic devices such as iPads in the bedroom to distract us or throw off our circadian rhythm.

Even things that other people wouldn’t care about or necessarily notice have gone on the list.  Both Aaron and I have teeth that are better than 95% of the population, yet there were some small, minor misalignment that we didn’t like; things most people wouldn’t notice or care about.  We’re better than that.  Life is a gift and if something is within our control to change that we want changed, we owe it to ourselves to do it.  Part of it is also an awareness of the power of signaling theory with the upcoming launch of the asset management group.  So, we decided to get it fixed.  Since it’s cosmetic, it will take only 6 to 12 months but right now, as I type this, I have braces on, a full mouth of metal like a 15 year old (I told the orthodontist that I wanted the best, fastest, most effective treatment possible regardless of aesthetics so I could get it over and done with; old-school won in the end.).  I spent three hours in a chair on Monday having an industrial diamond saw hacking away at part of my teeth as it reshaped my smile and having the brackets and wires cemented after it was completed.  Aaron’s are set to be put on within the next couple of weeks.

That has led to some interesting culinary experiments.  Since I’ve basically had to be on a liquid diet, we’ve been adapting our menu around it.  I’ve been playing around with various types of smoothies.  Yesterday, Aaron made me a sweet potato and caramelized onion soup from the New England Soup Factory cookbook.  You sauté onions, carrots, celery, and brown sugar in butter, add sweet potatoes, boil it in chicken stock, add light cream, Worcester sauce, sherry, and caramelized onions which had been cooked in a bit of brown sugar on the side, to end up with this rich, winter soup.  It’s delicious.

Sweet Potato and Carmalized Onion Soup Ingredients

Sweet Potato and Carmalized Onion Soup Finished Bowl

The funny thing is, with all of the election craziness going on in the United States right now, we found ourselves inadvertently gamifying our conduct like we tend to do as a matter of habit.  There’s a group on Reddit devoted to the rise of Donald Trump as a Presidential candidate.  It runs on memes, some of which are really funny (and some of which are classless and offensive).  They have certain catch phrases (“high energy”, “MAGA” for “Make America Great Again”, “nimble navigator”, etc.)  Aaron and I have been cracking each other up by randomly jumping up and doing things.  Even small things.  For example, he turns around in the parking lot of the store, the groceries are already loaded and the cart put up.  “Where did the cart go?  You’re already done?  How did you do that?” … “I’m making America great again.  Nimble navigator.”  It becomes a game; a challenge to do better.  See something on the floor?  Bend down and pick it up.  Don’t wait until later.

It’s actually turned into a shockingly useful tool.  All these tiny victories add up to a complete paradigm shift in thinking.  Several times a day, we ask ourselves, “What could we do to make our lives great?” and then get up and do it.  Right then.  At that moment.  The productivity gain has been enormous.

Simplicity.  Focus.  Efficiency.  Our entire lives are being reordered right now.  I haven’t felt this much energy since our startup days.  It’s like a compulsion to improve everything.  Anything that crosses the radar as being something less than ideal, something I don’t love, gets put on a list and obliterated.

  • Mike B

    My hats off to Aaron and you for taking up this project. In de-cluttering and cutting down items around my house, I apply a test to objects. 1) Will my heirs have any value for it. If no: 2) Have you used this item in the last year, five years? Will I reasonably using it again?

    Once you identity what should go, then its the process of: sell it (ebay) Give it to somebody whom might appreciate it. Donate it to a Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. Lastly, into the trash.

    A contractor I know builds as many storage unit sites as he reasonably can. I asked him if anybody every kept things of value in the units. He quickly said no. It’s almost always junk, but people keep paying every month to keep it.

  • Abe

    It’s easy to get comfortable when life isn’t nearly as challenging or novel as it once was. But, you’ve inspired me to renew my dedication towards improving efficiency in all areas of my life. Back to work!

    P.S. Ordered the shampoo. We’ll see how it goes. The Noxema cleansing cream you wrote an article on a while back proved excellent 🙂

    • The shampoo has tea tree oil in it so you’ll probably either love it or hate it. We wanted something more masculine and that just felt clean. The tingle caused by the tee tree oil is really nice and the foaming level was satisfactory, too (we wanted a good lather – some of the shampoos didn’t whip up enough). For some people, tea tree oil can be harsh rather than soothing. I hope it works out for you! We love it.

  • Roundball

    Here’s a foreign currency question I hope someone could help me with. I’ve been reading Coca-Cola’s 2015 10-K. On page 50, they describe that foreign currency fluctuations caused a 7% decrease in revenue (despite 3% increase in volume/ price product and geographic mix). The Consolidated Statement of Comprehensive Income shows a “net foreign currency translation adjustment” charge for $3959 million (page 76). The Consolidated Cash Flow Statement shows a foreign currency adjustment charge of $137 million (page 78). What is a good way to think about these different numbers and their relation to the economic engine of Coca Cola? Why does the number on the cash flow statement seem so small in relation to the other two numbers? If one were calculating owner earnings per share, which of these would you use to factor in foreign currency fluctuations?


    Thank you!

  • Joshua Myers

    Less is more, I like it! I’m in the process of a cross country move right now. We purposely keep way less crap than 98% of people, but I’m still shocked how much stuff I have stored away that I don’t need and will never use. For some reason it’s still hard to throw things out, even when I repeatedly see how much clearer my life feels immediately after.

    One task I haven’t even thought to tackle yet is digitizing my loads of paperwork. I’m going to do this as soon as we get to our new home. If it’s like any task in life that seems too hard it will realistically take a couple of days and the payoff will be enormous. Thanks for the motivation!

    Btw, what storage containers did you end up getting? I didn’t see a link in the post.

  • engineer7006

    I remember my teeth being so sensitive after braces that eating a potato chip was painful. I don’t envy what you are going through Joshua!

    • It’s definitely a different kind of pain from anything I’ve felt. What makes it more complicated is as they move things around, my bite is now off so I can’t fully close my teeth (not that I want them touching given how much they hurt but they said the biting misalignment would probably last for the first 3-4 months based on what they’re doing to me).

      We’ve been making it work … smoothies, soups, chowders. In fact, I’ve been working on a list of 30 or so smoothie recipes so I can use this as an excuse to test all different types of flavor combinations I’ve been finding all over the Internet and elsewhere since it’s the perfect time; might as well use it to my advantage. I have a peanut butter, oat, and honey one I want to try, as well as a spinach, lime, and avocado combination. Other than the occasional soft-serve ice cream, my dietary needs are quickly being reduced to blended raw fruits, vegetables, and yogurt. Even ordinary straws are too painful, though. We had to break open the giant straws that we bought at the Korean market, meant for bubble tea, as we can move a lot more volume through them relative to effort.

      Today, though, we both wanted something warm and of substance. Real, actual food we could have quickly. Or something close to it. In desperation, we jumped into the car, drove to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken, bought chicken strips, mashed potatoes, and gravy, returned home, and, using a hand blender, turned it into a pâté. We then proceeded to eat said pâté not on crackers – that would be too painful – but with spoons out of bowls. I would laugh and say, “This is my life now …” but it was surprisingly delicious and there’s no use complaining about it. Everything in life has a trade-off. It’ll be worth it in the end, getting one more thing knocked off my list. In that sense, I’m grateful for the pain because it means it’s working.

      Still, what I wouldn’t give to bite into a turkey leg at the moment. I can’t even handle raw bananas without blending them so that isn’t on the proverbial table for awhile.

      • Abe

        If you make protein shakes (and I can see that you store protein in your pantry) , a simple favorite of mine is:

        1) 1/2 – 1 Frozen banana (It can be room temperature as well, but you then have to add 3-4 ice cubes in order to get a smoothie-like consistency)

        2) 1-2 Heaping tablespoons of peanut butter. (I prefer smooth/creamy, but crunchy works as well)

        3) 1/4 – 1 full cup of uncooked oats. (I would adjust this according to your the amount of fiber currently in your diet)

        4) 3-4 cups of Milk

        5) 1-3 scoops of vanilla protein (This will vary according to your desired protein content, and bear in mind that the milk will add to the total. While I can’t attest to the quality of the protein, the best tasting was Syntha-6 from BSN. I currently use ‘Dymatize Nutrition Elite 100% Whey Protein’ primarily because they explicitly list their BCAA content.)

        The recipe can yield anywhere from 4-6 cups of a rich tasting, liquid form of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Calorie content can vary widely – one specific batch I made exceeded 1,000 calories. Also, be mindful when adding the frozen banana, ice cubes, or oats; the consistency can be so thick as to make the drink ‘unblendable’.

        Edit: Spelling

      • Eric Vaughn

        For what it’s worth, I really like bolthouse farms smoothies, especially mango and strawberry banana.

        • I’ll have to keep an eye out for it in the Kansas City market. Thanks for the suggestion!

      • Kandice

        When I was 25 and practicing law in an AmLaw100 firm (sort of like the Fortune 100 but for law firms), I decided to get braces. (I’d never had them as a child and I was self-conscious about my teeth.) At a time before the advent of the Invisalign, I opted for the clear brackets (in an attempt to minimize attention to the braces themselves), because I already looked like I was 12, my voice is/was high so I sounded like I was a child, and clients frequently assumed I was the secretary. I followed all instructions to the letter, which allowed me to get them off a mere 10.5 months later. But, holy goodness, every time I went in for an adjustment I wanted to cry afterwards. Never did I imagine eating LETTUCE would be painful.

        • You are singing the song of my people … I have another tightening Monday and I can’t say that I’m exactly looking forward to it. I finally get to the point I can eat (last night, we went out with friends and had pasta) and then it’s back to square one. I have grown used to it, though. We’re hoping to be done by Christmas at the latest but there’s no predicting these things. Even coffee … I’m drinking a lot less, it seems like, because I look and it and it’s just … harder … to drink with all of this in my mouth. But it will be worth it. It’s another thing marked off the list.

  • Ang

    Seconded on Noxema, wife loves it

    • Stephen H

      I love it too. Been using it all winter (the moisturizer one) and skin is so much happier. No dryness or nothing. Good stuff.

  • DVY

    Joshua: I always appreciate the insight you give… I jumped on the Noxcema face cream on your rec.

    I’ve been using Paul Mitchell products for years. Tea tree shampoo is fabolous. Paul Mitchell shaping cream (tea tree) is also amazing.

    I also like Johnny B Mode Gel. Fragrance is very pleasant as well.

    On a separate note, because you are getting braces on (dentist here)- Id like to recommend that you go pick up a waterpik. In theory, floss is better BUT practically because of ease of use and dexterity issues- waterpik is 10x better. Use it wash away all the food debris that will get trapped from braces.

    Also get a high fluoride toothpaste. Prescription can be had via dentist. I personally like to prescribe Prevident 5000.

    Braces increase the risk of cavities….so I always like to adopt prophylactic measures. Fluoride is poisonous at high levels internally but extremely beneficial to teeth topically. So don’t swallow it!


    • Thanks for all of this! I appreciate it a lot!

      We went out and bought a WaterPik after your suggestion and love it. It is going to be so convenient to have. Thank you very much for recommending it.

      I’ll have to look into Johnny B. Mode gel. We’ve been looking for something in that category but haven’t been satisfied, yet, so this looks like it could be perfect.

      Also, I’ll look into Prevident 5000 at my next appointment. It makes me happy knowing it’s a Colgate product. So far, we’ve been using the new, non-prescription Colgate Mineral Health line with a Sonicare DiamondClean toothbrush but if the stronger product has utility (and looking at the literature I can find on it, it certainly seems like it does), I’d much rather have it.

  • Anyone have a broker recommendation for someone getting started with long-term investing? I’ve been using Robinhood because, with no fees, it allows me to buy a few extra shares each month even if I only have like $200. But on the other hand, if like Josh I want to put money into MKC for the long run, maybe I should pick an older company (e.g. I already have a Vanguard account).

  • Andrew

    Which containers did you end up buying?

  • Fantastic.

    I have been on a bit of radical simplification effort at home also. I just reduced my wardrobe to 10 key items, and 3 different shoes. (I am from Australia so I don’t have to account for true cold weather gear.) Each pant/t-shirt/button-down/sweater/knit/coat goes with almost every other item, with only certain shoes clashing with certain pants. I now have one type of underwear, and two types of socks.

    There is the first level daily efficiency gain, but at the second level I have reduced my annual clothing budget by eliminating shopping for items that I may not get real utility from. Beyond that there is a real emotional benefit too that I struggle to put in to words.

    Quick question regarding the paperless office: Are you using a particular app for storing, viewing, and organising reports on the iPad? I have been searching all the app blogs but there are so many recommendations; if you have already discovered a great solution I would love to know.

  • Steven

    I so badly want to add Mckormick to my portfolio – if it ever goes on a sale.

    It’s about the most romantic business I can think of, there is so much history in the trade of spices.

  • joe pierson

    You might want to look into kitchen gardens in your next house, get fresh greens and spices anytime

    • Matt

      I agree – herbs are often much better fresh than dried. But the convenience of having fresh herbs will depend on if you can use it fast enough to make it worth the hassle. Thyme and Rosemary are easy to grow fresh and they last forever, but something like Basil will depend on how frequently you actually use it since it can get old on the plant.

      Fresh Basil really doesn’t compare to dried basil though if you can get it. In the event that the leaves are starting to get old, you can just use a bunch of it to make pesto. Store bought versions seem to cut corners since the high quality ingredients are quite expensive (I have never found one that I like). And sometimes they even put filler in it (like potato starch). Pesto is fortunately easy to make even if it doesn’t keep for long in the fridge.

      • joe pierson

        Yes, it’s definitely not a set it and forget it like they advertise, but if you like gardening, it’s not much effort to keep track of the various plants and replant when necessary. Except for oregano, I prefer fresh herbs. I use grow-lights under kitchen cabinets myself, but those fancy kitchen gardens may be in my future.

    • AHHHHHHHHHH. JOE. I NEED THIS. I NEED THIS, JOE. Many years ago, Aaron had an herb garden and the fresh herbs were nice but I thought it was more work than worth the trade-off. If it had an easy-to-organize place like this … thank you for this link. Do you have one? What are they like? How did you learn about this?

  • david

    Big fan. What might be in those bottles on fridge shelf? Its clear like water

    • In the Do Min Joon Korean drama picture? They were. He always had cold water and room temperature water he drank. For our fridge project, we’re searching for bottles now but we tend to stock different flavors of Perrier from Sam’s Club in the meantime. Aaron’s not crazy about it but I love the stuff since I drink a lot less soda as I’ve gotten older. (I had two Coca-Cola’s today and it was far too much. I’m just not able to have as much sugar or caffeine now that I’m in my thirties. Not sure as to the reason.)

  • Shane Benz

    Great post. I have implemented a similar strategy in my own household and could not be happier. Above you mention being on a liquid diet and a smoothie you created. What did you use to blend it? I have a recommendation for you that would amount to “addition by addition”, but ultimately I think is a small “life improvement” tool. I have been reading for quite some time and also did a quick search on the site, and I haven’t heard you mention this product: Vitamix. Perhaps you already own one, have mentioned it before and are happily blending away. I purchased a 6300 as a Christmas gift to myself, and have used it nearly everyday since. Yes $500+ for a blender is pretty expensive, no doubt. But man, this is like a whole different class of product compared to the sub $100 blenders I had been using before. Smoothies, soups, nut butters, frozen/freezing deserts, I am super excited about the even greater quantity of whole foods I am using with no preservatives (completely stopped buying ice cream now).I don’t mean to sound like a shill for Vitamix, there are other great high-end blenders on the market like Blendtec. Through my research, I landed on Vitamix. I was so impressed with the brand and company, I wanted to purchase some ownership, but alas it is a private company. Comes with a 7 year warranty, but troll the inter-webs and find people still using units from the 90’s. Anyways, huge fan and thanks again for what you do.

  • Joshua,

    A few recommendations from a fairly accomplished amateur chef:

    1.) Do not store ground spices that you do not use frequently. Spices are largely seeds, barks and leaves. Seeds (especially) are oil-rich, and are typically rich in polyunsaturated oils which oxidize rapidly when exposed to air. Since grinding increases a spice’s surface area by orders of magnitude (and in the case of seeds crushes its protective coating), they degrade in quality with an exponential decay curve. Keeping your spices whole and then purchasing a simple coffee grinder for grinding at time of use will drastically increase shelf life and flavor long-term. And your health, since high quality spices are medicinal.

    2.) Glass storage>plastic storage. Plastic is a reactive medium. Have you ever seen instructions that say not to store items in reactive mediums? Examples: yogurt, bread dough, sourdough starter, etc. Plastic leeches chemicals into your food. This is particularly detrimental with acids – citrus, vinegar, coffee, etc. NEVER store acids in plastic. I only store in glass and stainless steel.

    3.) I wouldn’t pre-chop anything that should ideally be kept on the countertop. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, many fruits – I would want them kept whole at room temperature until use. Onions are a particularly interesting subject. Onions tend to “absorb the environment” around you. They are a sponge. Once you remove the onion’s protective layer and slice it, they start absorbing toxins. Cutting onions ahead of time, and especially keeping them in plastic, is something I’d avoid.

    4.) Most flours are rancid before you buy them. Particularly wheat flour. Wheat lasts a long time when kept in berry form, but begins degrading rapidly upon grinding. Since flours in the store are already weeks if not months old, they’re probably already somewhat sour. Whole wheat flour is the worst. You would have to pay me to eat that junk. I would recommend you store as little flour as possible and purchase it as needed if you’re not willing to purchase a grain mill and grind your own. I really only stock white rice flour and tapioca starch. Since they are practically fat free (unlike wheat flour, oat flour, barley flour, etc) they don’t break down as quickly. Ideally, as little flour in your diet as possible is beneficial but…everyone wants a cookie sometimes, right? If you must store flour, the freezer is ideal actually!

    Just a few tips! I agree wholeheartedly with your minimalist food approach. I have been living that lifestyle for the better part of a decade. Expect to drop some weight, too.

    • david

      regarding point 2…what about the plastic cups that Starbucks puts their ice tea in? Iced tea is acidic.

      • Personally, I don’t like using plastic for anything food-related. Even using a Solo cup with the water from the water cooler in my office…if you let the water sit on your desk for an hour it noticeably tastes like plastic. That won’t happen in a pint glass. I always stop to think if so many of these “rare” diseases that didn’t exist decades ago are from things like this – non-stick cookware, plastic containers, plastic cups, food microwaved in plastic containers (like in TV dinners)…it could be a real problem.

  • Blair

    My only gripe with Vitamix is the small size of their blending containers, which make them horribly inefficient for my purposes. I ended up making a 6 qt. pitcher (4 times the volume) with spare parts. So far the results have been great.

  • Blair

    It makes sense to me that simpler systems would mean less entropy, too.

  • dave (nestle)

    So yesterday one of the hotel chains I frequent and am a stock fan of, HOT, got another recent buyout(takeunder bid) by a Chinese company.(details are as accurate as I can tell at this point). It has a higher market cap than McCormick does. This is a bit scary for the future, at least to me. As lucrative safer fixed investing options become scarcer and money supply increases and as there are larger and larger pools of investable capital globally, will we be in for real trouble as individual investors as all the really good(and relatively large) companies get gobbled up, one by one?
    Sort of like corporate inversions keep moving along in the US, or how the S&P 500 is quietly changing(see Joshua’s prior posts)?

    Should we start a movement to outlaw any more acquisitions by Berkshire and make them pay a dividend?

    • Truth be told, I hate it. When we were digitizing a bunch of documents, I came across an old Gillette annual report. I think Procter & Gamble has done it a great disservice since the acquisition just like it did with Noxema. I hate that William Wrigley is now private. I hate that Dial was acquired. A few times a decade, whispers start to fly around that Unilever is going to make a bid for Colgate-Palmolive and despite my love and affinity for both firms, even if they were to offer twice the market price, my thought would be, “No.”

      The big thing that gives me hope is that Wall Street, corporate America, and executives are just as given to the winds of fashion as any art student at Parsons is. From time to time, breakups, split-offs, and spin-offs become all the rage. Everyone tries to outcompete everyone else so assets are suddenly freed. It seems like we’re flirting with one of those times at present. Abbott split itself up. Baxalta split itself up. Reckitt Benckiser spun off assets. BHP Billiton spun off assets. I’m not sure how I feel about the Honeywell attempt to buy United Technologies. And Coca-Cola’s eternal vacillation about whether or not to own its bottlers – acquiring and divesting, acquiring and divesting – is, at this point, strangely funny to me. It’s as if a new generation of managers comes into power, “Oh man, look how good the core economic engine is, let’s shed everything else,” followed by the next generation, “Oh man, we don’t control our distribution as much as we’d like, let’s acquire it back”, wash, rinse, and repeat.

      I’m not sure I’d outlaw further acquisitions for firms like Berkshire but I do think the FTC needs to be breaking up a lot of companies. I’d like to see Comcast, TimeWarner, etc. shattered. I think banks need to broken up. I’d like to see a return on the limitations of media market share so you’d have a lot of smaller firms created. Not only does it encourage competition but a lot of value can be unlocked when that happens. People think of the breakup of Standard Oil, for example, hurting its shareholders but, in fact, it made them much, much richer.

    • Derek

      I’ve had similar concerns as well, seeing great companies taken private and out of reach for smaller investors.

      There has been much speculation recently that Jorge Paolo Lemann and his 3G Capital might make General Mills their next target. While I’d almost certainly come out with a nice profit in any such deal, I bought GIS hoping to watch the cash pour in for decades from Cheerios, Old El Paso taco shells, and a hundred other products.

  • Eric Vaughn

    I use and like Google Drive. I had been using Dropbox, but found it a little clunky to navigate stored files. Drive is so much easier and has really simplified things for me.

    • I like Drive a lot but there was a security issue a few years ago that caused my entire Google account to be shut down and I had to physically get in touch with someone at Google to get it unlocked. While that happened – it was due to a completely non-related service Google offered – I had no access to Drive. Losing access to not only email, but Drive, made me realize how much I want self-contained systems. Even though they corrected it, I suddenly realized that Steve Wozniak was right. The Cloud is dangerous in more ways than one and must be treated as such. Of course all of life requires trade-off risks but I don’t want Google controlling my important documents. They already have too much.

      I’m not sure how I would feel if I hadn’t found myself locked out of my own data so quickly.

      • Eric Vaughn

        Thanks for the reply. You (and Woz) are right, the cloud can be really dangerous, especially if it’s all you use. Someday Google could Taco Tuesday everyone. But if you’re going to use it, I think Drive is the best product.

  • Eric Vaughn

    “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris

  • joe pierson

    Hey are you opting for a permanent retainer or a removable retainer? I had braces in my 30’s and the removable ones are no fun .

  • Stephen H

    Why buy McCormick spices and not, say, house brand? Club House is 3.99 vs .99 for house brand spices. I don’t know the intricacies of spices so I’m honestly curious. I’m trying to understand why they have such a hold on the spice market when cheaper alternatives seem to be everywhere (atleast to me). Or does McCormick supply most other companies with lower quality than their own labels?

    I would love McCormick but would be a hard choice over Colgate. Even harder over Hershey a month or so ago. I love all three but only enough cash to have one at the moment, haha.

    • There are a lot of complex, inter-dependent, and jointly-reinforcing reasons McCormick is as dominate as it is. It has a roughly 45% share of the U.S. spice market across its entirely portfolio. A few of those reasons are:

      1. When a company like PepsiCo wants to develop a new product for, say, Lay’s Potato Chips, it needs a spice partner capable of not only helping them formulate it, but consistently deliver the perfectly consistent, large-scale spice blends to their manufacturing facilities regardless of weather, spice market volatility, etc. That is the reason 9 of the 10 largest packaged food companies use them. They are the spice giant. You don’t want to risk the potentially lucrative launch of a new product by going with an also-ran or unproven would-be competitor. There’s an enormous first-arriver advantage that is engrained.

      I mean, think of the new Kraft Heinz merger. Both Kraft and Heinz were/are McCormick customers. How do you think they flavor their food? It’s not just customers walking into a grocery store buying from the spice aisle. They are all the aisles. They are everywhere. They are the Matrix.

      2. The economies of scale they have allow them to consistently source a wide range of higher-quality spices across the globe. If you’re making a recipe and you need spices, you aren’t going to want to risk ruining everything because you might save a few bucks on a store brand you’ve never tried. To some degree, it’s the same reason off-brand gum never catches on. You know what to expect with Juicy Fruit or Big Red but not so much with the random Acme Gum sitting next to it. The amount is relatively negligible in terms of utility to the median family income in the United States so why take the risk? Of course, if you’re willing to run experiments and find out about spices ahead of time, it can be worth it but few people are. Besides, even in those cases, McCormick is one of the largest private label spice sellers in the country so you’re still putting money in their pocket. HyVee’s brand cinnamon is a perfect example. I’m not sure if McCormick is the supplier or not but it is very good cinnamon for most recipes. I have some of it alongside our other kinds. (And, of course, Penzy’s spices are just top-notch. They are absolutely worth the price. I love their Sunny Paris blend for scrambled eggs. I wish McCormick would buy Penzey’s and then open a sister chain of its own spices, in raw form, where you could go in and fill big bags.)

      3. On that same note, McCormick’s supply chain is incredible compared to other spice companies. Look at how it responded back in 2012.

      4. There is a lot of research on the power of early exposure to brands. The more familiar you are with a brand, especially during childhood, the more favorably you’re going to view that brand as you get older. It doesn’t show up in the income statement today but a Visa ad shown to a 4 year old will produce future dividends. All else equal, more people are going to opt for the brand that is lodged deep in the recesses of their memory. How much more you can get in terms of price for that is an open question but the answer is definitely somewhere between a little and a lot depending on the specifics. The fact that a lot of households already use McCormick reinforce this power. People are very loyal. Look at Wal-Mart’s decision to try and change to private label spices 6 or so years ago. It did not go as planned.

      5. They have some major advantages with the restaurant and hospitality industries. If you’re running a multi-million dollar food service business, you’re not going to screw it up to save a few bucks on spices. It simply isn’t worth the risk/reward ratio.

      6. The huge volumes result in much higher returns on capital which produces substantially greater free cash flow to support marketing, advertising, promotions, etc. In 2015, 2014, and 2013, respectively, they spent $240.6 million, $226.6 million, and $207.8 million psychologically conditioning consumers to buy their goods. That’s $675 million over the past 36 month, or $18.75 million per month on average, devoted solely to getting people to buy McCormick spices. (Advertising, in isolation, over that period was $106.8 million, $100.4 million, and $85 million.) Part of this is a major presence in the serious-hobby cooking sphere. They regularly engage with bloggers and online writers to get their products in front of people. They also now run one of the largest cooking sites on the Internet as a way to reinforce the power of the brand.

      7. All of that surplus free cash flow also means if a competitor becomes a potential problem, McCormick can pay up to absorb them. Most shareholders and private business owners will give in to a very large check waived in front of their face. McCormick recently took the crown jewel of the Italian spice industry, giving a massive presence in that country. It’d be extraordinarily hard to unseat them. Who wants to stay around and compete? Most folks would rather walk off into the sunset freshly minted millionaires.

      8. The employee ownership is substantial compared to most other firms. It is one of the biggest ownership-cultures in the S&P 500 with how much of the outstanding stock is in the hands of employees, managers, and executives; their retirement accounts, etc. The incentives are aligned in a way that is very rare so you have thousands of people who want the company to prosper just as much as outside owners do.

      The downside of all of this is that McCormick does have concentration risk with some of its biggest clients. For that reason, I’d prefer a bigger margin of safety, which I don’t think is present at the moment. I’m not sure it’d matter as part of a diversified, dollar-cost averaging portfolio held over many decades but if you’re talking about a value-investing approach, the current market price is less than compelling unless you think someone is going to attempt to acquire it relatively soon.

      The great thing about investing, though, is you don’t have to own it. If you don’t feel as comfortable with its core economic engine as you do Hershey or Colgate, you, and only you, get to make that decision if you’re managing your own money. I’ve found that it’s usually best in life not to talk yourself into investments. Smart opportunities are usually so clear when they present themselves, and it only takes a handful in life, so pushing the edges of one’s own comfort zone is hardly necessary in so far as blue chip stocks are concerned. (Career, yes. Personal growth, yes. Not here.)

      Those are my thoughts, anyway. The fact that we can all look at the same enterprise and numbers, coming to different conclusions is one of the things that make life so interesting, not to mention fun.

  • Abe

    The wife and I both tried it yesterday. I must admit that I feel that smell is almost overpowering at times; not that it’s malodorous just incredibly pungent. However, we both enjoyed the tingling sensation and as you said you just feel clean afterwards. Actually, that’s an excellent way to describe why I enjoy the Noxema as well – there’s a sensation of cleanliness that lasts for hours after its use.

    One point of interest: As someone who generally uses Head & Shoulders, I’ve found that after 1 use of Tea Oil Shampoo my scalp is a lot less dry. We’ll see if this continues. If it does, I may switch over permanently.

    • engineer7006

      I’ve had success with that same shampoo in the past, but found that the effects wore off after a month.
      If I rotated between a tea tree oil and other shampoos it kept dandruff at bay. I have also tried adding tea tree oil directly to other shampoos and found that it worked extremely well.

  • The scanning process itself: We setup a photography area and used Scanner Pro on iPhones, which I was skeptical about but turned out to be awesome due to the sheer speed of the entire process. It integrated with our preferred cloud solution so all of our files were sitting there almost instantaneously. We haven’t, yet, found the viewing software we want to use, partly because I’m going to need a secure document solution for the upcoming asset management firm so I figured I might be able to get a discount on the licenses if I bought multiple packages at one time. For now, we’re just using the operating system. Sorting is going to be a heck of a task but the physical space cleaned up by it is worth it.

    If you end up coming across something before we do, by all means, please send it my way. I’d appreciate it very much.

  • Stephen H

    Some of that was what I suspected, thank you for the response! Going to check that website out actually, curious to see what recipes I can find now.

  • WaterPik has treated me well. When my US WaterPik system burned up in China due to the voltage difference, they sent me an internationally compatible version for free.

  • AC

    Joshua, great minds…

    Lately I’ve been trying to live under the assumption that tomorrow I would move to a different part of the world and had unlimited funds to buy anything that I really needed and didn’t brign with me. Under that premise, it’s pretty clear that most people have a bunch of stuff that they don’t need. I’ve probably made 40 individual donations of stuff to charities over the last 1.5 years and I don’t miss a single thing that has left my home. People always ask my wife and I if we still have anything left to get rid of but there is always more.

    I definitely recommend borrowing “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” from your library (don’t buy it – it would just be more junk in your house!). It’s all about quality than quantity.

    • I’ll look into the book. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • pax north

    That is so bizarre. I’ve went through something similar in March (albeit more on a interiority and consciousness level, which, once it had settled, did result in certain outward manifestations, actions, and new habits). It’s enough to make me believe in some of the ideas promoted in astrology about energy patterns that ripple through humanity.

  • Muhammad

    Is there something wrong with my internet browser or has Joshua not posted in a long time?

    • IlovePi314159265359

      Your browser is fine. According to his posting he has a lot going on so free content like this is probably on the back burner for now. I hope he does a podcast which would probably be easier to create.

    • Steve Roberts

      The background has turned from blue to green. I like blue better (if anyone is counting votes)

      • Ang

        I agree on the blue being better, although I do like the new layout better – everything is easier on the eyes when there’s no menu bars on the side

        • Steven

          How about a proof of life Joshua! We are worrying about you.

        • I’m here. My goal in the next few months is to get the firm’s regulatory stuff completely done. Aaron and I are writing the Form ADV right now and testing various CRM systems, compliance systems, etc. (Though we did manage a small break yesterday. We snuck up to Omaha to buy books at the Berkshire shareholder meeting, ate See’s candy in the car – or, as much as that was possible because wearing braces, all we could manage was sucking on a few blocks of milk chocolate until they melted in our mouth – and drove back home that afternoon after stopping by the furniture mart.) When we got back, we worked with the tech people to finish getting the email implemented. It’s a system that archives every incoming and outgoing email so it cannot be modified or destroyed, making it available for regulators. We’ve also found our document archiving vendor so that documents will be stored on a WORM system (read once, write many) so there is an audit trail for everything. This morning, I worked a bit on getting initial estimates for different insurance coverages.

          My parents are in the middle of launching a new business, which I’ve been helping them with as it is a very big deal for their careers. Plus, I’ve agreed to try and update several hundred of my About.com articles this summer, bringing my 15+/- years or writing onto the new template as much as possible. The deal with it is interesting because I’m taking old articles that were maybe 400 or 500 words, completely ripping them apart and turning them into 2,000 or 3,000 word essays that tie into my subsequent work. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to update the directory so it’s not easy to find from the front end reader, yet.

          Basically, Aaron and I are looking at 18 hour days for at least the next couple of months. But by autumn, if all goes according to plan, most things should be done, the investment business should be opening to the initial waitlist in the controlled rollout, and I can start cleaning up this site, finishing the upgrades that were started last year. It’s a bit like being back in my senior year of college, again. I have no time for reading, entertainment, or even social engagements. But, that’s how things work out sometimes and I want to get it all done so all I can do is enjoy it. I am going to try and post an update about where we are on the asset management business sometime soon. It’s really interesting seeing the different technology solutions from which we have to choose. I started to write a 6,000+ word piece of understanding fees and, somehow, somewhat, literally lost the document so it never went live early last week. But it’s on my mind.

    • Aunt Donna

      I was thinking the same thing!!

      • Muhammad

        Hello Aunt Donna! I’m assuming your THE aunt Donna. The one for whom Joshua started this blog so you could read about what was going on in Joshua’s life (and his awesome mind too!) …..I dont know if the people who are new to Joshua’s writing realise it yet but we all have you to thank for this awesome blog! Thank you! 🙂

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