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Michele Piastro

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At her home in Oregon, Michele Piastro, 59, dug her own well and constructed a garden, where she grows peas, onions, lettuce, and nettles. During the summer, Piastro goes fishing, crabbing, and clamming, and eats like a queen in the home that she constructed almost entirely out of recycled materials.

Piastro’s commitment to creative frugality started at a young age.  She spent her childhood on farms in New York and Vermont, passing her days searching for alternative sources of food and everyday materials simply because it was entertaining.

Since then, Piastro has lived all over the world, from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea to being a farmer in Alabama and Oregon, volunteering and teaching along the way.  The central consistency in her life has been frugality, which she says has made her life an adventure unto itself.

“I feel good about what I do, because I feel independent,” Piastro says.  “I know I can make it on my own.  I know I can do what it takes to survive and have a good life.”

Piastro has redefined retirement, spending her days discovering new and inventive methods to continue building and furnishing her home.  She discovers treasures where others may see trash, rescuing chairs and fabric from errant yard sales.

Even the trash can produce unexpected opportunities.  Piastro has found ways to see past years of use and dirt, instead glimpsing the makings of a new window treatment or dining room set.

“This curtain I actually got out of the trash in another country,” Piastro says, showing off a particular find.  “When I used to travel, I’d check out the trash bins because that’s the best place to find out about an area.  I got this in Romania.  Somebody was throwing out this beautiful curtain and that’s the only thing I brought back.”

Piastro is part of a new movement that looks back to simpler days for inspiration.  Grocery store runs are supplemented by gardening and fishing for one’s supper, and expensive central air and electricity units are replaced with wood stoves and lanterns.  Forget McMansions and expensive iPods – these days, less is more, not to mention safe and smart.

Piastro works as a volunteer coordinator at Bring Recycling and utilizes their extensive warehouse for her home improvements.  Windows, granite countertops, curtains, and linoleum floors are easily purchased and installed by Piastro herself.

The do-it-yourself movement could easily save homeowners money in the long-run, well worth the extra minutes it takes to look through a local recycling store.  Buying products made from recycled materials is cheaper and eco-friendly, and even simple habits, like buying cloth napkins and washable utensils, can make all the difference in reducing waste,  not to mention cost.

Recycling and other time-tested means of saving money will need to become commonplace in order for retiring citizens to both survive and enjoy their retiring years, according to Henry “Bud”  Hebeler, founder of the retirement planning website

“For those of us whose parents lived during the Depression, we raised much of our food and we did a lot of canning,” says Hebeler, former engineer, corporate financial analyst and past president of The Boeing Company. He sees the return to more do-it-yourself living as a growing trend for the future.

“We are going to go back to that kind of situation, I believe, because you have got to save some money in almost every area,” Hebeler says.

The retirement planning guru would undoubtedly agree with Piastro’s father’s old adage, “Use it up, wear it out,  make it do, or do without,” and encourage people to forego $4 daily lattes and satellite television for more modest living.

“I like to have people look at their utility bills.  Utilities used to be not all that important.  You paid for your heat and you paid for your water, but now there are some large additions to it,” Hebeler says.  “Look at your phone bill, both landline and cell phone, the cable that you have for your television, the cable that you have for your Internet.  These things all really add up.”

Piastro uses a wood-burning stove and lanterns to heat and light her home, creating a cozy setting for very little money.  Hebeler says that citizens could also prepare for retirement by considering a smaller home, which in turn will save on utility bills, or trying to survive on fewer cars and home appliances.

For people like Piastro, cutting back on everyday indulgences does not equal the minimizing of everyday enjoyment.

“I have a really luxurious life,” Piastro says.  “I’m having clams for dinner and fresh greens, stuff that people pay a lot of money to eat.  I’m going to have this gorgeous house with a view in all directions, perfect soil for a garden, southern exposure, and it doesn’t really cost me anything.  I’m not trying to brag or anything, but  it’s a nice life.”


1 comment


I’m proud to be Michele’s sister and some of the nicest stuff in my house was found on garage sale excursions with Michele. I never realized what treasures could be found even among the tail ends of someone’s sale when everything’s marked half off. Michele was a recycler way back when we were kids and the word was rarely if ever, used. When I visit her house always looks different. She can change a room’s entire look after a good day of resale shopping.

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