Planet Over Popularity

Shampoo bars. Reusable straws. Bamboo toothbrushes. Check, check and check. You’ll also find eco laundry soap, cleaning vinegar, and organic produce in my home, and laundry flapping out on my clothesline. I must be one of the green cool kids.

Image illustrates that saving the planet can be popular

If only the environment was a popularity contest. We’d be a lot better at fixing what’s wrong. While using eco-friendly cleaning and beauty products are a great start, they aren’t going to get the hard work of fixing our planet done. We have to tackle the heavy hitting categories of transportation, energy usage, waste, water usage, and food consumption. These things aren’t as Instagram-worthy, and involve a commitment to making changes in our lives, and sacrifice. That makes them a whole lot less popular.

Still, it’s do-able, with commitment and prioritization, as well as being immensely rewarding. I work with my clients to do an analysis of their households and lifestyles to find their biggest areas of opportunity, and we create a plan for change that is incremental and sustainable. This means you don’t have to go from a typical American lifestyle to living off grid overnight, or even at all. Extremism isn’t something most people are willing to commit to, and it’s not necessary to get us out of this mess.

To get an idea of changes that make a huge difference, ask your employer if you could work from home at least part time, to reduce your commute, or get a hybrid car. Fly less and try staycations or visit nearby attractions you may have overlooked. Reduce meat and dairy by half, and buy as much organic food from your local farmers market as possible. Eat the food you buy so it doesn’t waste, and purchase products in bulk or at least in packaging you can reuse and then compost or recycle. Contact your electricity company and ask about renewable energy options available in your area. Have an expert analyze your home for heating and cooling leaks, and convert all your old bulbs and faucets to ones that conserve. As your appliances age, be sure to replace them with Energy Star rated ones, or consider selling what you have and replacing them with warranted refurbished Energy Star models now. Buy less. Seriously, most of what you’re buying you don’t really capital N Need.

Bigger changes down the road might include selling one or all of your cars and getting around other ways, downsizing to a smaller, more efficient home, converting your yard from grass to garden space, and installing solar panels.

While it might not win the popularity contest, these changes will absolutely help us win back our planet. Start today, with making one change for the better. Then create attainable goals. If you need some help, contact me!

One Less Tank

I am about to do something considered radical by most of the people I know. I am going to turn my back on the American concept of convenience, where nearly everything I want and need can be obtained within minutes; where I can, on impulse, take a road trip; where I can haul masses of consumer goods from bulk stores. I am getting rid of my car. Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic. Plenty of people use public transportation or bum rides from friends and family.

However, the average American household still owns about 2 cars. That’s 268 million vehicles guzzling gas and burping fumes, demanding land for highways, and taking masses of materials for manufacturing and maintenance.

I come from a long line of superfluous vehicle owners, though. Cars were just as much for collecting and weekend waxing as they were for getting from here to there. Growing up, I never saw a car paid off and kept. They were always traded up for another bigger, faster, shinier model. Gas mileage always lost to horse power. All the better to tow RVs and boats with.

Most of my adult life I’ve had older cars that were in meh condition. Once I finished college in my early 30s, I was able to get a better job and could finally afford a better car. It was totaled a couple of years ago by a jerk who was texting and driving at the same time. When I replaced it, I got a lightweight SUV with 7 seats to accommodate my kids and their friends/dates when we all went somewhere as a family, and to haul around extra things I needed for my side gig.

When I bought it, I spent a lot of time researching how to buy a good quality, lightly used car, without getting ripped off. I qualified for a low interest loan and headed off to do my shopping. No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn’t find a hybrid or electric vehicle within my budget. I was really disappointed, but decided to minimize driving and that the next time I bought a car, it had to be better for the environment.

Flash forward 2.5 years, and it’s been amazing having a reliable car that I could jump in at the drop of a hat. However, my kids are mostly away from home and my side gig no longer requires me to haul stuff around. I also don’t commute to work. I have a bigger car than I need, and still owe about $10k on it. Plus, even though it has the best gas mileage of the vehicles in our home, it’s still not eco friendly.

We have three other vehicles in the house: my mother-in-law has her 25 year old Jeep Grand Cherokee, which she uses daily to get back and forth to work; my husband has a 10 year old Ford Ranger he uses daily to get back and forth to work, and my son has a 10 year old Ford Focus he uses daily to get back and forth to work and school. For a 4 person household, it’s a lot of cars. We have a bus line that comes near our home only twice a day. To get to a more frequent line, we would need to walk or bike at least two miles along a very busy road with no sidewalks or shoulder, so that’s why everyone has a car.

As I seek to minimize my belongings, and expenses, allowing me more time to take care of my health and have energy for the things that are important to me, the car inevitably came up on the list. I won’t lie, I love the convenience and comfort of my car. It’s a smooth ride, I can fit everything in it I need, and it’s there anytime I need it. But I can absolutely sacrifice that to save an estimated $450 a month in payments and insurance, and that’s not even counting gas and maintenance. It also gives me satisfaction knowing that I will be contributing less to global warming.

I will still be borrowing my family members’ cars from time to time, or bumming a ride to the bus or train line. However, impulse trips will be mostly gone, and I will be consolidating trips out. This is good for our planet as well as my budget.

Have you reduced the number of cars you own, or taken steps to reduce the number of trips you make? How about carpooling? Can you replace a less efficient vehicle with a hybrid? Please share how you’re getting where you need to be, with less environmental impact.

Minimalism is not Dogma

Image Credit: Dogma, Lions Gate Films

As we seek to grow and make changes in our lives, we hit obstacles. A common obstacle can be lack of support from friends and family. They may not understand what we’re doing, or why. Our new ways of doing things can come off as judgmental to the way they choose to live, might seem frivolous, or are just plain foreign to how they see the world.

In my home, my husband has been great about adapting to organic eating, as well as reducing our waste. Minimalism, however, has been difficult for him as well as everyone else in the family. My husband, son and mother-in-law all love to collect CDs movies, video games, plushies, figurines, and more.

Additionally, my husband is frugal. He doesn’t buy new things often. Most of his collection items come to him as gifts. He rarely gets rid of household objects because he believes there is a time in the future they might come in handy. I appreciate his frugality and can see his perspective about needing something in the future. Yet, as a minimalist, I see other ways to be frugal and meet the concern of items being needed down the road.

This difference of opinion definitely causes friction. Since I am the one instigating change, I feel like the onus is on me to see things from his perspective and instead of seeing ourselves at odds, try to find a solution that meets both of our needs for frugality.

The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, discuss in their collection Essential Essays, something they call the 20/20 rule. This rule means that if something you “might” use in the future can be replaced for less than $20, within 20 minutes, you can go ahead and get rid of it. The logic of this rule is that storing items for possible future use is expensive. We are paying for the space to store them. We may spend time maintaining these items. (I say “may” because many people leave these “maybe” items to fall into disrepair or let them pile up with no further attention.) We spend frustrating time digging through the piles or cupboards or boxes searching for items we think we have saved for down the road. All of these expenditures usually add up to more than if we just followed the 20/20 rule.

Still, old habits can be difficult to break, and some people may not be interested in adopting Minimalism or the 20/20 rule. That’s okay. Minimalism isn’t a religion. I’m not a preacher, here to lord my dogma over family, friends, and the public at large. It is something that resonates with me and has become a way of life. I see it as a path to a simpler existence where I have more time for my passions.

In my home, this means compromise. I can certainly reduce or remove my own physical and intangible things that I see as obstacles to the lifestyle I want to have. Yet I share this home with three other people I care about, and that means we share items, finances and other things that I only have a 1/4 vote in. That also means that this morning I had to apologize to my husband for throwing out the Rustbuster oil that had been languishing in the laundry room cupboard for two years. He did indeed need it down the road, and that time was this morning when he needed to remove the rust covered lawn mower bolt so we could take the blade in for sharpening.

The secret to solving issues like these is to understand we both have similar goals, albeit different understandings of how to achieve them. By working together, we can come up with new solutions that meet both our concerns. I have a feeling it’s going to involve the mess of a shed in the back yard that we’ve both been avoiding dealing with. Eek!

Rot

For those of you following this series, we’ve already covered 4 of the 5Rs — refuse, reduce, reuse, and repurpose. You might be thinking that the last one of the 5 will be Recycling. However, so many of us are familiar with recycling that I’m only going to quickly go over this one at the bottom of the post, and instead we’re going to focus on a lesser known part of the cycle: rot.

“Rot?” you say?” “That sounds…unappetizing.” Stay with me here. Rot is the natural result of all of the delicious fruits, vegetables and related foods you’ve been growing, buying, and cooking. Waste of these items began when they were harvested, and leaves or stems — parts of the fruit and veggie plant that aren’t edible, are composted or left on the soil to breakdown and return the nutrients to where they came from.

More rot naturally happens as items intended for sale don’t survive the trip to market, or waste on the shelves before they sell. Grocers and markets may toss these in the trash, or, if they’re smart, they have a composter pick them up.

You usually join the cycle when you plunk down payment for your produce, and head home with it. You process the goodies, removing outer leaves, peeling, and trimming off stalks or less appealing/edible parts. Most people throw these in the trash. What’s the problem with that? They’re biodegradable, no harm no foul. Right?

Ahem. Not really. Most trash dumps don’t reach appropriate temperatures or have the right environment for effective breaking down of vegetable matter. There are much, much better ways to make use of them.

For example, some folks will keep all of these scraps in a container in their freezer and when they need a good vegetable stock, they boil them down. (You may also find your dog enjoys the woody ends of asparagus, broccoli, carrots, etc. you trim off.)

If you don’t have a dog or don’t make your own stock, it’s going to be you and that veggie, alone in the kitchen, looking at each other, and you control its fate. Give it a hero’s burial, by starting a backyard compost heap.

This can be as simple as a pile of vegetable matter rotting away under a tarp. You could get fancier and use a bit of wire fencing to create a circular container, or find a composting bin built for the purpose from your local Freecycle or Nextdoor group. The container matters little as long as it has lots of air holes to allow your compost to breathe and let off some steam. I prefer one that’s in full contact with the ground (vs. a tumbler style that stands above the ground level) to allow worms to get up inside and add those super beneficial castings (poop) that are amazing fertilizer. Every couple of weeks, stir that baby around. It’s going to be a bit stinky, but nothing crazy. You’re going to see bugs and worms and that’s okay. Give them a little blessing and appreciate the magic they’re doing. If you’re lucky, a neighborhood Garter Snake will take up residence on the warm heap and you’ll often get a glimpse of her yellow or red stripe before she quickly scoots off to hide. The compost is going to break down a lot faster in warmer weather and won’t do much in the winter. Just give it time.

You can put in pretty much any type of vegetable matter including small sticks, leaves, mowed grass, fruit and vegetable scraps from the house, coffee grounds, and crushed up eggshells. Don’t put any other type of animal products in there, including dairy products, meat, fish, bones, or fats. These will draw rodents and other pests and are a big no-no. Also avoid putting weed seeds in there. Home compost rarely gets hot enough to kill seeds and you’ll just be spreading weed seeds around your yard and garden next spring. You can also compost your recycled paper towels, cardboard, pet hair, and dryer lint (only from natural fibers such as cotton, linen or wool.)

You can find tons of composting container ideas and tips for success online. I like this page from EarthEasy.

Let’s get the recycling bit I mentioned earlier out of the way. It’s simple:

If you’re counting, this comes to 6, 6 Rs ah, ah ahhh! (Sorry, The Count from my childhood days of Sesame Street refuses to stop counting in my head.) You’re correct, you all received an extra “r” from me. That’s how much I love you. Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, rot. You’ve got this!

No Spend September

Image illustrates no spend monthly challenge concept

Could I do it? Not buy anything I didn’t “need” for an entire month? I wasn’t sure I could. However, a No Spend month seemed like a fantastic way to kickoff our new budget, designed to help us pay off our remaining debt significantly faster. Also, it’s easy to talk the Minimalism talk, but it’s important to me that I also continue to walk the walk.

The rules were fairly simple: we would keep our weekly budgeted fun money, but it wasn’t to be spent on things. Instead, we could use it towards a fun experience, or for a shared meal at a locally owned restaurant. We wouldn’t be placing any online orders, allowing impulse buys, or purchasing anything that isn’t considered food, or necessary for health, work or basic hygiene.

How did it go? Well there are a couple of days left, but so far, I’d say it’s been fantastic! I avoided going into any stores besides the grocery store and pharmacy, to make sure I didn’t get tempted with impulse buys. We went for walks and bike rides, went to a lecture at the community college planetarium, met a friend for pinball, had a fantastic meal at a new local brew pub, and otherwise focused on reading, crafting, and making meals to use up food we had in the garden, deep freeze and pantry. I also planned Christmas decor and gifts based around homespun delights, and got a start on some of those.

I kept up my new bullet journaling habit, set a daily intention, and satisfied myself with recording things I wanted to buy in my “Anti-Impulse 30 Day Waiting List” page. Surprisingly, after an entire month, there were only three entries on my list: new leather boots for fall/winter (the ones I bought at an outlet 4 years ago have worn out), essential oils for health and cleaning products I make for use around the home, and VOC-free red paint for my front door. (I’ve always dreamed of a red front door, cheery and welcoming, and believed to usher in good luck.)

My husband’s work truck was running roughly, so he went to the local auto parts store and had them run a free diagnostic. A spark plug was bad. We borrowed tools to remove the plug and discovered it was actually a frayed cable leading to the plug. He was able to purchase and replace the cable for $38. Since we get a lot of rain here in Oregon in the fall and winter, we needed to make sure our gutters were free of debris, but we don’t own a ladder tall enough to check. Luckily, our next door neighbor was happy to let us borrow theirs, and we were able to not only clean our gutters ourselves, but also prune some trees and bushes growing against the house to help prevent wind damage, more debris falling into the gutters and to keep airflow moving around the home to prevent water damage and decay.

A key part of minimalism isn’t just in owning less, but also in having the few items you do own be of high quality and something that can be repaired/maintained rather than tossed at the first sign of use or malfunction. Fostering goodwill with the neighbors by plying them with copious amounts of garden delights and canned goodies goes a long way in reducing the number of tools you need to own. If your neighbors don’t have what you need or you don’t have that type of relationship, you can always check to see if there is a tool lending library in your neighborhood or post to your local Nextdoor, Trash Nothing, or Freecycle groups.

As much as I want to celebrate what we got done this month while living frugally, I’m especially excited about what we didn’t do. I didn’t worry about finances and was more comfortable taking days off when my fibromyalgia and Sjogrens symptoms were on high. I didn’t spend my precious Saturday afternoon shopping. Instead, I napped in the waning sunshine, meditated, and read. On Sunday afternoons, instead of schlepping around the home improvement store or running other mundane errands, we sat on the deck, listened to music, and worked on a latch hook craft project reminiscent of a hobby we both shared as kids. We didn’t add a bunch of waste into the system, and we didn’t encourage corporate greed and irresponsibility.

I really enjoyed No-Spend September and plan to do it again early next year. It was a fantastic way to prioritize what’s really important to us and make sure we were spending our resources doing what we love with the people we love. If you’ve done something similar, be sure to share in the comments!

Oh, and totally unrelated, here are a couple of photos of happy, healthy frogs, snakes and other flora and fauna we’ve spotted in the yard this month. (The hubby requested a blog post on frogs, and compromise is one way to foster marital bliss.)

Repurpose

“These days, social platforms celebrate repurposing as a novel and trendy idea. That’s fine, in my mind, as long as the concept is getting good press. However, let’s remember that while repurposing isn’t always Instagram-worthy, it’s still worth doing.”

Part 4 in a 5 part series. Start the series with Part I, Refuse.

My Aunt Dode has been a green hero to me since I was a child. Her home was magical. There was the chicken coop, where I could tiptoe in and gently slide my hand under a warm, softly clucking chicken and withdraw a warm, beautifully brown or greenish blue egg. I wandered up and down long rows of her immense garden, marveling at vegetables I’d never seen, dahlias bigger than my head, or pausing to pluck an impossibly large and sweet marionberry off a vine. One of my favorite things were surprise objects all over her property — old leather work boots with succulents playfully spilling out; tires splayed open and brightly painted as pots for massive tomatoes; and colorful kitchen rugs that looked suspiciously like braided and crocheted plastic shopping bags from the local grocer. There were wind chimes made from antique blue glass bottles, cast iron feet from an old chair now holding up an ottoman, and my Uncle Elliott would be in the backyard taking worn out metal lawn chairs and weaving new bright nylon seats and backs on them and giving them a fresh coat of matching paint.

While all of this was new to me, it was old hat to Aunt Dode and Uncle Elliott. They’d been children during the Great Depression, and resourcefulness and the ability to find two, three, even four uses for a single object increased not only their survival, but also their ability to enjoy life. As a child, Dode had lived for a while in an abandoned train car. Grandma had papered the inside with cheerful newspaper pasted on with flour-and-water glue, so it was brighter inside.

These days, this type of resourcefulness is a trend. I hate to tell you, Pinterest, but people have been planting hen and chicks (succulents) in all sorts of unusual objects for decades. Our generation might call what Uncle Elliott was doing with the chairs “upcycling,” but people have been taking worn out objects and giving them creative new lives for centuries. At least, until the last generation or two.

The second half of the 20th century brought an unprecedented prosperity to America. People started tossing objects aside the moment they showed wear. Why take an hour to sew on a patch or lower the hem on a pair of jeans when you could buy a new pair while you were in town getting a burger? Manufacturers stopped designing objects to be easily repairable, and they used less durable materials. Increasingly, products became designed for niche uses. We had gadgets for every task, beauty serums for every part of our body. It became less expensive to buy a new item than to pay the local repair shop to fix the broken one. Some old timers abandoned their resourcefulness for convenience. Most people born during these decades didn’t realize there were alternatives.

These days, social platforms celebrate repurposing as a novel and trendy idea. That’s fine, in my mind, as long as the concept is getting good press. However, let’s remember that while repurposing isn’t always Instagram-worthy, it’s still worth doing.

As I’ve done in the other posts in this series, let’s take a look at some practical ways you can implement repurposing in your home:

  • Chipped mugs or teacups make adorable pots for small plants.
  • Worn out nightstands or bureaus can be converted to small dog beds or entertainment stands.
  • Worn out t-shirts can be turned into adorable shopping bags, quilts, rugs, and much more.
  • Wine corks can be made into corkbords, placecard holders, etc.
  • Broken plates and dishes can be saved and made into tile mosaic projects.

At this point, you might be saying, sure, but what if I have zero creative ability and crafting is NOT going to happen? No worries, I’ve got you, my friend:

  • Empty facial tissue boxes make a handy and decorative place to store receipts until you’re able to process them.
  • Empty prescription bottles are fantastic for storing small objects like my son’s Pokemon tokens, my husband’s pinball quarter stash (or quarters for the laundromat), and as seen in a previous post on repurposing, doggie doo waste bags on a leash. If you have stickers around you can even decorate them for kids.
  • Tired of a dreary winter and wanting some color in the house? Take a collection of empty bottles and jars, add water and food coloring, put the lid on and line up on a windowsill.
  • Cardboard boxes can be flattened out and layered in an area of your yard where you want to keep weeds down or prep for a garden bed. They’re also nice protective layers to kneel on as you’re scrubbing the floor or weeding, and you can lay them under your parking spot in the garage to prevent oil from staining your concrete floor. My cat loves to sit in them for a day or two before they get flattened.
  • Any time you have an empty container, ask yourself, “Do I need something contained/stored? Would this work?” There you go. Glass is exceptionally good for food storage as it doesn’t leach chemicals into your food and you can easily see the contents.
  • Empty glass jars are also good glasses, and if you hold on to the lids, a good container to send home goodies and leftovers with friends/family.
  • If you’ve got larger yogurt or sour cream containers, you can use the lids as “coasters” or under plant pots to catch water. You can store your toilet brush or other “icky” things you don’t want in your good food storage containers.
  • Food storage baggies with holes are a good way to keep many types of produce crisp in your refrigerator. Snip a few more penny sized holes and keep your lettuce, cucumbers or peppers in them.
  • Empty egg cartons can be handy organizers for small objects like buttons or beads. You can also put potting soil in them and start seeds, or use them as sorting containers for small children to help with their dexterity and grouping skills.

None of these things require a lot of thought or time to make happen, and are frequently fun! Also, you’ll find that as you find new purposes for things you already have, you don’t have to buy new items to do the same job. That extra money can help you with paying off debt, or taking a vacation. Best of all, every time you repurpose something, you prevent another new object from being produced and eventually tossed aside. The planet thanks you.

Reuse

Part 3 of a 5 part series on the 5Rs. Read the previous posts here: Refuse Reduce

A few weeks ago, in Repurposing Containers, I confessed that in the past I’ve had a bit of an addiction to resealable plastic baggies for organization and food storage. Today, I have widely replaced them with better alternatives in my home. For example, I’ve made beeswax food wraps in various sizes for wrapping up a sandwich for lunch, or covering bowls in the refrigerator. Still, these baggies remain in use from time to time. In keeping with the 5 Rs, we do our best to wash and reuse them when we have to use them at all.

My mother in law washes most of the dishes in our home, as well as baggies and jars, and I see her exasperation with my “hippie” ways. She grew up, poor, in remote Alaska, and reusing items was essential to surviving. It was a real celebration when she reached a point in her life where she had the luxury of single use items and the reduced work that comes from a modern lifestyle, and she’s not keen to return to the old ways.

I understand her perspective. It is a bother to take something we’re used to chucking in the trash without a second thought, and, instead, set it aside to later wash, dry, fold, and replace in the drawer it came from in the first place. Hanging laundry outside to dry, item by item, then fetching it later is also a bother. Heck, we’re American, and Americans don’t need to be bothered with something so trivial. Funny, how these messages are absorbed over decades.

When I weigh her perspective against messages of conservation, I realize the key to moving forward together is understanding that while it seems that we have a choice as to whether we participate in the 5Rs, the truth is that we do not. Her generation celebrates a move from poverty to prosperity. I want to acknowledge and celebrate our prosperity as well. However, for the last century, that prosperity has been celebrated with a pillaging of resources and peoples at such a pace that we will soon reach a point of no return. We will once again have to conserve in order to survive. Many argue that it’s already too late.

In another example, I recently read that many cities and HOAs have laws against hanging laundry outside to dry. Why? Because it looks “trashy” and people believe it brings down property values. Okay, sure, I don’t want to see other people’s undies flapping in the breeze when I look out my window. However, there are other things I want to see even less: dead landscaping from global-warming-triggered drought. A lack of happy birds, frogs and other native wildlife. Smog. So yeah, I can deal with the undies in the name of taking care of the planet .

And as far as the bother goes, if I’m not washing out a plastic baggie, or fetching dried laundry from the line, what other more noble task would be occupying my time? Fail videos on You-Tube? Shopping for things I don’t need? Truth is, many of us who feel that we’re unbearably busy are simply wasting gobs of time on digital media, living further than we should from work and getting stuck in commutes, and other things that reflect more of a lack of priorities than tasks we simply cannot avoid doing. Besides, if I’m standing at my sink washing something, I’m also looking out my window at my yard and enjoying the abundance of native wildlife that finds sanctuary here. Or if I’m bringing in the laundry, I’m doing so only after burying my face in a bath towel and deeply inhaling the beautifully fresh and natural scent that a dryer sheet cannot emulate. This appreciation of the “small things” is what minimalism is all about, and illustrates how paths of minimalism and conservation frequently wind together. What is it all for if not for these moments, these treasures?

What other “single use” items get reused in my home? Once you learn the best way to get all of the remains of peanut butter out of an Adams peanut butter jar, they’re easy to wash and take to the grocery store to be refilled with freshly ground peanut butter. (I’m anxiously waiting for my local store to offer freshly ground organic peanut butter!) The plastic produce baggies that invariably find their way into my home get stuffed back into our reusable shopping bags for the next trip to the store. Spice bottles are a cinch to remove the label*, wash out, and take back to the store for a refill in the bulk section. Mrs. Myer’s Clean Day dish soap bottles are fantastically squirty and durable, and I like to keep one in the shower with my diluted Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap for easy dispensing onto my loofah.

There’s not a whole lot else to write about this, as it’s one of the easiest of the 5Rs if we can get over the messages of prosperity we’re conditioned to believe. Look at that disposable thing in your hand that you weren’t able to refuse or reduce. Ask yourself if you can wash it and use it again for the same purpose. Chances are, you can! Easy peasy.

Next week we’ll take a look at repurposing — how it differs from reusing, how it flexes our creativity muscles, and how it’s key to being good stewards of our earth.

Read the next post in this series, Repurpose.

*Pro tip: if jar labels won’t come off cleanly, don’t lose your sanity or resort to toxic store-bought goo removers. Instead, soak the jar in some hot soapy water, peel or scrape as much of the paper off as you can with a butter knife, and then mix up 2 teaspoons baking soda with 1 tsp cooking oil. This paste easily scrubs off the remaining gunk.

Reduce

“Everywhere, we run into marketing messages that we deserve it, we work hard, we had a bad day, a little indulgence is good for our wellbeing. Sometimes, that is true. More often, consumption at the American level feeds unhealthy issues such as overeating, depletion of resources, unethical work conditions, poverty, addiction, and waste.”

This post is #2 in a series of 5. Be sure to check out the first post, Refuse.

Last Saturday found me standing outside of Collage, a local art and craft store that specializes in paper type crafts. I am a sucker for paper crafts. I love origami, stamping, sketching, journaling, etc. I knew better than to go in, because I knew I could not leave without buying anything.

There were a few problems with going in. Firstly, we implemented a new budget that allotted me $40 spending money a week, and I had already spent most of my $40. The second issue was that we were planning a no-spend September, and it was just one day before it began. Lastly, and most relevantly, I am working hard on being better at today’s blog topic: Reduce. Did I N-E-E-D a new bullet journal along with markers and washi tape to match? Resoundingly, no. Did I want them? Heck yes. I knew that no-spend September would be a bit of a challenge since like many of us, I get a high off that endorphin hit that comes from clicking on buy now, or walking out of a store with my new whatchamacallit. Additionally, I thought that moving all of the content I had in a bunch of apps and lists to a single journal I could handwrite like the old days would be a step in the direction of minimalism. Also, it would be fun! Lots of wholesome, creative fun!

Reducing our consumption of goods is something we Americans aren’t very good at. Heck, some people accuse minimalists and zero wasters of trying to sabotage our economy — even being un-American. Everywhere, we run into marketing messages that we deserve it, we work hard, we had a bad day, a little indulgence is good for our wellbeing. Sometimes, that is true. More often, consumption at the American level feeds unhealthy issues such as overeating, depletion of resources, unethical work conditions, poverty, addiction, and waste.

I’ll be the first to admit that reducing consumption is tough. I like food, a lot. I’m a sucker for Pinterest and the many art and decoration projects there. I have a four person household and keeping us all clothed, fed, comfortably housed and with decent personal hygiene requires a lot of consumption and it’s easy to get carried away with the messages we see in ads that newer is better, more effective, more natural, more everything.

Then there’s the pesky little issue I have with anyone telling me what I can and cannot have or do. Let’s say that self-discipline remains an ongoing personal growth opportunity. I know I’m not alone, though. It’s an American epidemic. As the image above illustrates, few of us even take the time to ask ourselves if what we are getting ready to buy is a N-E-E-D or a want. Doing what we want instead of what is truly good for us plagues us.

This has to change. It’s a process we’ve been working on in my home for some time, and it’s something I help my clients achieve as well. Buying with intentionality is critical to reducing waste and harm on many levels. Let’s break down the how-tos of this with a few practical examples:

  • Learn the difference between want and need and get in the habit of asking yourself which of these your purchase is, before you commit.
  • What are your financial goals? Will this purchase support them?
  • What are your environmental goals? Does this purchase reduce waste or increase it?
  • What are your goals towards minimalism? Will this purchase require ongoing maintenance even when you no longer enjoy it as much? Will you have to keep spending money on it? Will it add to or decrease physical and mental clutter in your life?
  • Is this item manufactured in an ethical way?

In the end, I did buy the journal and accessories. I chose one that was locally made with recycled materials by folks with physical and mental challenges, so that was a win. On the other hand, the markers are plastic and have a limited lifespan, so that’s a loss. The money I spent wasn’t enough to wreck my entire month’s budget, and I redeemed about 350 bottles and cans for recycling so I absorbed that alright. I have already spent at least 15 hours drawing and organizing in my journal and thoroughly enjoyed each of them.

What lessons did I learn? Avoid temptation altogether. Don’t walk on the block you know you can’t pass by without going in if you know your purchase doesn’t support your goals. Also, I learned that my journal can be a powerful tool towards supporting my budget and minimalism goals. Lastly, I was again reminded that many of the choices we face on this path aren’t clear cut. Sometimes, the best we can do is break even. As long as we are actively engaged, that’s okay. Next time, we will rock it!

Refuse: Part 1 in a Series of 5

“Refuse” is the Alpha and the Omega of the Five Rs. How so, you ask? Well, if you do this first one right, you don’t even have to think about the two the kids on the bag are struggling with.

I had to giggle a bit when I noticed the above caption on this Trader Joe’s shopping bag. It illustrates the general public’s overall confusion with the Five Rs and the fact that the bag exists at all shows that the first of the Five Rs is the most commonly forgotten. Which is it? It’s “refuse” my friends, “refuse.” I promised a five part series on the Five Rs, so let it begin.

Read my guilt. That Trader Joe’s bag is on my kitchen counter which means that one time very recently, someone in my household dashed in TJs for some quick goodies and either forgot to bring in their reusable bags, or –gasp! — didn’t care! This scenario happens way too easily in our society. Let’s go over the concept of Refuse, and then we’ll take a look at some of the most common scenarios in which we screw this up, and how to avoid it.

Refuse is the Alpha and Omega of the Five Rs. How so, you ask? Well, if you do this first one right, you don’t even have to think about the two the kids on the bag are struggling with. The term Refuse refers to refusing to buy/be handed or otherwise come in possession of single use waste items; most commonly plastic but also glass, aluminum, tin, paper, etc. We so often come in contact with single use “disposable” items that it’s super easy not to realize at all how often we use and toss these things. On an average weekend day of running errands and grabbing some food on the way, I could easily add a couple of dozen to my unfortunate collection.

Is it realistic that we might refuse all of these items and be 100% perfect Zero Wasters? Meh. Some Pinterest Pins and Instagrammers might tell you yes, but for most of us, we’ve got other things to do with our lives. Sheer perfection isn’t likely. Regardless, it is a goal we are working towards and since doing it reasonably well means we don’t have to monkey around with the other 4 Rs, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

How do we obtain these single use items? Let me count some of the common ways:

  • Packaging in the grocery store: cardboard boxes, plastic bags/pouches, aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, and frequently, plastic bags within cardboard boxes.
  • Plastic and paper shopping bags. (Even if you own and remember reusable bags most of the time, your mother in law likely still brings plastic home with her (not my mother in law, surely), or you forget your bags in the car and are too lazy to go out and get them once you’re in the store.
  • Boxes, bags, and bags within bags within bags within bags within boxes for your online shopping habit.
  • Dining out, especially if you are getting takeout or drive thru, but even at sit down places, you are likely to encounter plastic sauce/dressing cups, straws, and styrofoam doggie takeout containers.
  • Gifts from well meaning loved ones and friends.
  • Plastic windows on otherwise recyclable envelopes.
  • Plastic and paper tags on clothing.
  • Heck, a lot of your clothing is actually made from plastic; and while it may not technically count as “single use,” today’s fast fashion means that a shirt you’d like to own for years likely won’t even make it through a single season without shrinking, bunching, balling, tearing, misshaping or other sad and premature death outcomes.

So what’s someone seeking to live a sustainable lifestyle to do? Let’s revisit the above scenarios with some alternatives. Some of these are going to be easier than others. Remember, we’re not seeking perfection, so start with the ones that are easiest and then work your way down the list of difficulty as your green muscles strengthen.

  • Packaging in the grocery store: the easiest thing to do here is to locate a store in your area that offers at least some bulk items on your list and fill up reusable containers you already have in your possession. Let the store manager know you love the bulk options and would love to see them expanded. If you’re super lucky, you live in one of the areas that has an all-bulk grocer. Also keep in mind that not everything needs to be in a container. No, you don’t really need a flimsy plastic bag around every single item of produce you buy. If you must choose containers, look for those from post consumer recycled content that also will be handy for the “Repurposing” we’ll be visiting in a few weeks.
  • Plastic and paper shopping bags: bring your own reusables each and every time. If you forget, walk your heinie back to the car. You need the exercise anyway. Yes you do. Most stores offer you a bag credit for each disposable bag you don’t use, so be sure to ask.
  • Boxes and bags from online shopping: do you really need to buy this thing? No really, do you? In a this-item-will-likely-save-me-from-death kind of way? That might sound drastic, but our society really confuses the word “need” with what they really mean, “want,” a lot. The things we want far outweigh things we really need to get by. Most of the time, these things come from a shopping-as-recreation habit, from keeping up with trends, competing with friends and neighbors, or simply shopping mindlessly because the money in your pocket is just too heavy to keep carrying around. If you find you really do capital N-E-E-D this item, check to see if your online retailer offers a less packaging or plastic free option. Amazon does, as an example, with varying levels of success.
  • Dining out: do it less. Restaurant food likely isn’t organic, grown locally and it’s definitely a lot more expensive than preparing food at home. Research ways to bring food from home to make on-the-go eating better on the planet and your debit card. If you want to treat yourself sometimes, do it. However, refuse the plastic altogether. Bring a few extra pieces of silverware from home, along with a glass jar, cloth napkins, and reusable straws in your to-go kit, and you’ve got everything you need with you already.
  • Gifts: spread the word ahead of time, in casual conversation, about how you’re shifting from owning a lot of things to enjoying more experiences. Hold gift-free celebrations, and encourage others to do the same. If you do end up doing a gift exchange, consider a “secret santa” style charitable donation, or give and request handmade gifts. I’ll do an in-depth blog about this topic as we get a bit closer to the holidays.
  • Clothing: the best choice is to shop resale. Before you get scuzzed out imagining digging through bins of lice-and-bedbug-ridden discount clothes, realize that second hand clothing has gotten a lot more mainstream and it’s easy to find higher quality resale shops, charity resale, vintage boutiques, and even local exchanges in your neighborhood to make getting your hands on a barely worn, well made item of natural fibers a heck of a lot classier. Avoid synthetic fibers that shed micro plastics (another upcoming blog post). If you do insist on buying new, look for eco-minded clothing manufacturers that focus on natural fibers, and fair wages for workers. You are going to pay more, but these items are of much better quality and can last you a lifetime with proper care. As with the slow food movement, there is also a slow fashion movement.
  • Mail: switch as many bills as possible to online bill pay. Cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Opt-out of prescreened credit offers. Wait at your mailbox and snarl at your mail carrier when they try to deposit the weekly ads. Okay, maybe don’t do that last one. But do ask if there’s any way around getting those delivered. If not, remember you’ve got the remaining four Rs to get by on.

Read Part 2 in this 5 part series, Reduce.

Eyes on Digital Overload?

Image illustrating Digital Minimalism Concept.

This flyer highlights a key problem in our overworked culture.

I spotted this flyer while I was at Natural Grocers the other day and it was just perfect timing as I’d recently spent a few hours listening to a podcast about, ironically, digital minimalism. At first glance, it seems perfectly innocent. We can all relate to weary, dry eyes that just don’t want to focus after all day on our computer and phones. A natural supplement that can help? Sign me up!

We’re so conditioned to think this way that we don’t really see the insidious concept it illustrates. This flyer is telling us not to listen to the warning signs that our body is giving us: that we are spending too much time online. Instead, it’s promising us a miracle cure for the symptoms we are having. Even better, this cure is natural, so it has to be good for us.

Our society does this all of the time. It teaches us not to listen to our bodies and minds. The body is awesome at giving us warning signals. Eating too much rich food? That’s what this awful indigestion is telling you. Been hunched over your computer too long? Your aching shoulders and neck are complaining. When you listen to the warning signals from your body, and change positions, or take a break, or choose the marinara instead of the alfredo, you don’t suffer. It’s basic cause and effect.

However, in a consumerist culture, instead of listening to the warning signals and making changes that truly benefit us, we are encouraged to buy something we don’t really need, and that may not actually help. The great majority of illnesses facing us today are preventable by making healthy lifestyle choices. That takes time, work and dedication, though. The tempting marketing messages of products that mask our bodies’ natural warning systems (symptoms) offer us a shortcut to disregarding messages we really should be paying attention to, and implementing changes to prevent. Other people are getting rich from selling us ways to enable our unhealthy behaviors.

Cutting back on digital time is a real challenge and takes prioritization, planning, and dedication. It’s all too easy to allow ourselves to be overworked and addicted to the endorphin reward system of social networks. We feel terrified we are missing out on something important (FOMO) or just don’t know what to do with ourselves if we were to unplug.

One thing I’ve done recently to reduce my digital time is to read in the evening before bed, rather than watching TV. I thought it would be tough to do, but it’s been great! I’ve had more time to get to those books that I’ve been wanting to read, and outside of a few really outstanding shows, most of what I was watching was utterly forgettable and a waste of time.

Another thing I’ve been trying to do, sometimes more successfully than others, is to leave my phone in another room. When I am up taking a break from what I’m working on, I’ll go check it, and reply to messages. I uninstalled apps that aren’t of a purely functional nature, so I’m less tempted to start scrolling through things and lose track of time.

Here are some resources I’ve come across lately that support what I’m talking about here. Let me know what you think and I’ve love to hear ways that you are paying attention to your body’s signals and minimizing your digital time!

Digital Minimalism Resources:
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newton.
The Minimalists Podcast: Episode 173 Digital Clutter

Listening to your body’s warning signals:
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn

General good advice about slowing down and living a meaningful life:
Making the Good Life Last: Four Keys to Sustainable Living by Michael A. Schuler