Simple Living Goals for October

Simple Living Goals for October

I’ve been reading a new book…

…which I LOVE.

Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary

Even though I’ve already come across, wrestled with, and thought through most of the information in the book already, I find the author’s journey to be similar to mine in the sense that we both knew what we were looking for but didn’t really know how to get there and so went on a long journey to figure it out. She is much further along on her journey than I am, which gives me hope and inspires me to continue.

I haven’t come across a single thing in the book that doesn’t make me want to stand up and yell “Preach it, Sister!”

Brooke [can I call her Brooke? Because I feel like we are friends even though she had no idea who I am…] has inspired me to start living the simple life right now. I’ve been so busy trying to get there – trying to simplify my life, to declutter my home, to reduce my waste, to be a conscious consumer, to bake my own bread for crying out loud – that I think I may have missed out on actually enjoying the simple life, which was the whole point in the first place.

For me, this journey has been about creating a life of making memories and savoring moments and spending time with loved ones and pouring myself into my kids and caring for the world around me and enjoying all of it. That’s the whole reason I started on all this zero waste, minimalist and hyggelit stuff anyway.

So, to refocus and help myself prioritize the type of life I’m wanting to live, I’m making a few goals for the month:

1. Spend time with my kids outdoors for an hour every day. After last week, I am looking forward to spending more time outside with my kids. We are going to do some fun fall activities, explore some new parks, ride our bikes, hang out on our back deck, and take lots of walks in the forest preserve behind our home.

2. Read 30 minutes every day. I’ve been wanting to prioritize reading, but so many other things seem to be more important. So I’ve starting reading for the first thirty minutes of my kids’ “quiet time” rather than saving it for the end when I would inevitably run out of time.

3. Play with my kids when they ask. “Not now” and “In a little bit” and “After I finish this project” and “I’ve got a lot to do right now” are all common responses I give when my kids ask me to play with them – which they do about a thousand times a day. So I’m going to start playing more. I have less housework to do because of the decluttering, less meal planning and shopping due to the zero waste…so I’ve got more time to play!

4. Create something every day. I love involving my kids in art, but I know that it is just as much for me as it is for them. I have always needed a creative outlet. As an adult, I find my creative outlet in different ways than I did when I was in school art classes, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t flex my creativity and make something from scratch.

5. Leave my phone behind. Since leaving social media almost two years ago, I’m on my phone a lot less, but I still find myself tied to it, checking it, carrying it on my person at all times. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but my son asked me to put my phone down the other day and I realized that I do have it in front of my face more than I should. While I may need to keep it handy to be reachable or for emergencies, it can stay on the counter or in the diaper bag or in the stroller. It doesn’t have to be on me all the time. I think that looking at my phone less will allow me to notice and experience a lot more.

Karis

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

Josephine’s [Nearly] Zero Waste 1st Birthday Party

My sweet baby girl turned one this month so yesterday we threw a small [nearly] zero waste dinner party to celebrate.

For my older two kids, I threw big themed parties for their first birthdays. For Evangeline’s ice cream themed party, I made a ton of paper decorations including huge ice cream cones that hung from the ceiling and a “Sweet Shoppe” banner. I also catered the food from a grocery store. For Theo’s Cubs baseball party, I hung a huge stadium backdrop and ordered a photo booth prop package. For both of those parties I served everything in disposable dishes with disposable cutlery and disposable napkins.

Still, I wanted Josephine to have a party that was just as special – but without all the waste. I tried to marry our new “simple living” philosophy with our goal to reduce our waste and what we ended up with was a beautiful party that was inexpensive and elegant.

Here’s how it went:

The Food

I made three roasted vegetable lasagnas, Brett baked two batches of rosemary focaccia [his specialty], and we also served a yellow watermelon we got from the farm share [or CSA, if you’re just now joining us].

Since I made the lasagnas myself, including the noodles, tomato sauce, and ricotta cheese, there was very little waste. The only waste was the plastic bags from the mozzarella and parmesan, which we will recycle. Brett made the focaccia from scratch using the yeast and flour I bought at Walmart a while back [more about that zero waste trip here] and the rosemary from our herb garden on our deck.

Waste: cheese bags [recycled]

The Cakes

I also made all the cakes and frosting from scratch – a total of four different kinds of cake with three different types of buttercream. [Before you go thinking I’m absolutely insane, I had to make a special vegan cake for the birthday girl and my cousin who is on a special diet for health reasons. Then I wanted to make two small special cakes for two other family members who also have birthdays in the same week. And then a big cake for everyone else.]

The butter wrappers cannot be recycled so they ended up in the trash before I found this amazing article about all the brilliant ways to use the butter wrappers [spoiler alert, they still end up in the trash] BUT I probably need to just make my own going forward. The most waste was actually from the piping bags, which were not necessary but made the cakes so pretty. Next time I am going to invest in a reusable option since I am out of disposable piping bags now anyway.

Waste: butter wrappers and piping bags [trash], butter carton and whipping cream carton [recycled]

The Tableware

We used all of our regular tableware. With a guest count of twelve adults and eight kids, we had enough dinner plates to feed everyone, but we didn’t have enough dessert plates for the cake so some people ate their cake out of bowls. But, really, cake is cake no matter what it’s served on, right?

We served the drinks [cucumber lemon water and sweet tea lemonade] from big glass beverage dispensers [one of which we borrowed] and everyone used cloth napkins [well, I don’t know how many people actually used them…why are people so afraid of cloth napkins???].

After dinner, my sweet auntie rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher and we gathered all the dirty napkins and put them in the laundry room.

We even fed the scraps to the dog who was in heaven – but there were very few scraps. Oh, and the watermelon seeds and rinds were composted.

Waste: None!

The Decorations

I decorated with a pallet from my backyard [don’t judge me from having pallets randomly lying around my back yard] and signs from Josephine’s nursery [the flowery “J” and the painted sign with her name that I made for her before she was born and the floral bunting that hangs in her room].

I printed the photos for the typical monthly timeline, but I needed these photos for her baby book anyway, so they will not be wasted. I up-cycled old wine bottles and used mason jars as vases for flowers. I even used some of the small buds that had fallen off the flowers and carnations as “confetti” on the table.

The biggest waste [which I had not even thought about] was the plastic wrapping from the flowers [along with the rubber bands and the flower food packets]. I’m not sure how to get flowers without the plastic besides cutting them from your own garden. At least the film can be recycled by dropping it off at the store, so not a total waste.

Everything else I used to decorate [like the paper and burlap runners] are compostable or recycleable or reusable AND everything was already in my home and therefore technically already wasted.

Waste: plastic sleeves for flowers and paper decorations [recycled]

The Gifts

I asked for no gifts, but I knew that the chances of not receiving any gifts was slim. And I was right. But it was SIGNIFICANTLY reduced compared to what it would ordinarily be. [Also, I have noticed that when I request no gifts, which I always do, people tend to give us practical, useful gifts]. Josephine got two baby board books, a helium birthday balloon, and an elephant bath towel and homemade soap.

Waste: gift bag and tissue paper [which I will reuse] and balloon [which will end up in the trash but will entertain my kids for the next week, so I’m not upset about it at all].

All in all, it was a good party – not because of the small amount of waste, but because we spent time with family celebrating our sweet baby girl being so grown up!

Of course, the lack of waste makes me happy. We didn’t even have to empty our little trash can under the sink. Come to think of it, I don’t think a single thing was thrown away the entire party. [It helps to hide the trash can – and the paper towels.]

That’s a success in my book!

Karis

September Clothing Donation

September Clothing Donation

This month I’m giving away several sweaters and what’s left of my business casual pieces: some cardigans, skirts, blouses, and dress pants. I had been hanging on to these things “just in case” [which is by far my most frequent excuse for hoarding things I never use, by the way].

For most of these clothes the excuses were: “just in case I go back to work in an office” [BUT I have been so spoiled by working in the fitness world for the last five years that I never want to work for a company that requires this dress code again] and “just in case I visit a church that expects people to dress up” [BUT I know that I’ll never conform to a church dress code again either].

I still have a few nice dresses that I really like for hot dates with my husband or weddings or special occasions [or maybe that aforementioned visit to a church] that I would actually enjoy dressing up for.

But here is one “just in case” I’m not ready to let go of yet: I’m keeping one black mini-skirt just in case my husband takes me out dancing like back in the day.

Hint, hint, Babe. 😉

Karis

TACO Week

TACO Week

Take A Child Outside week has arrived! [I know, it’s a super misleading acronym…]

Though I would love an entire week dedicated to tacos, I’m just as excited about spending time outside with my kids this week!

Not to imply that you need a special week to spend time outside [obviously], but our local park district has all sorts of fun and engaging activities this week to facilitate more quality time in the great outdoors. Plus, this week acts as a reminder to spend as much time outside as possible during the beautiful fall weather! Fall has to be my absolute favorite season because of all the apple picking, pumpkin farming, hay wagon riding, camp firing, trick-or-treating, cider sipping [I could go on all day, folks] fun to be had!

Another emphasis of this week is time together, which is a good reminder for me to get outside and actively spend time with my kids, as opposed to sending them outside to play while I stay indoors. I’m considering making a goal to spend 1,000 hours outdoors in a year [which I heard someone did and find very inspiring], so it’s been interesting to see how quickly I am ready to go back inside. And I consider myself to be someone who loves the outdoors – but apparently not quite as much as I thought.

1,000 hours is A LOT…

But, anyway, back to TACO week.

Today, we kicked things off with Farm Frolic at our local park district’s farm. We enjoyed face painting, sand digging, pumpkin painting, goat petting, corn shucking, barn raising, and pony riding. It was exhausting for me pulling the three kids around in the wagon by myself, but we had so much fun! I’m glad I didn’t skip it just because it was going to be hot and tiring. Time outside really does do wonders for the soul!

I’ve been reading a new book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk who was raised in Sweden where apparently people love the outdoors so much that there are literal outdoor schools and they go out in rain or shine or snow or sleet or whatever. It has really inspired me to take my kids outside more often anyway.

So, this week is the perfect opportunity to see if I can make my outdoor goal a reality and refocus on spending time outside enjoying this beautiful Midwest fall.

Here are some photo highlights from our day:

So, are you taking a child outside this week?

Karis

Decluttering: The Master Bedroom

Decluttering: The Master Bedroom

[Please forgive my poor photography.]

When we moved into this house almost two years ago, I hated everything about it – but I hated the master bedroom the most. [I wish I had a photo to show.] It had stained green carpet and brown walls and a popcorn ceiling full of cobwebs and a ceiling fan that had literally not been dusted once since the house was built. But we had more pressing projects so we didn’t even update the paint [we did clean and change the carpet] until a year ago when I decided to give birth to my third baby at home and nearly had a panic attack when I thought of bringing my baby into the world in that bedroom.

So, one night when we thought I was going into labor, my husband painted the whole room and we got all new bedding and we hung new blinds and new curtains and we made a wooden sign to hang above the bed with words from the song that was played at our wedding [“Come What May” from Moulin Rouge].

And it looked beautiful.

It still had [and still has] the popcorn ceiling, but it is much, much better.

[I didn’t even end up giving birth to Josephine in the bedroom – we were in a birth tub in the living room – but we did take pictures there after, so it was worth it.]

[The photo above was taken by a professional – not me, obviously!]

Fast forward one year, to three weeks ago, and the room was cluttered and filled with boxes we never unpacked and basically a disaster.

Seriously, I can’t even believe that I’m sharing these pictures. The saddest part is that this is how the room always looked.

Well, anyway, to wrap up it up and get to the point of this post, I wanted my bedroom to be an oasis again. I wanted it to feel like a spa – calm and quiet and clean and most of all…free of clutter.

So, I spent the better part of a day decluttering every surface, every drawer, every nightstand, every corner until everything had a home and everything that didn’t was no longer wasting space in our room.

The result was magical.

I actually love this room now.

And the best part, since I didn’t just clean the room, I actually cleared it, the room has stayed this clutter-free for three weeks. No really. I took the “before” pictures on August 28th before I started and I actually took the “after” pictures last night before bed because I was amazed that we’ve managed to keep a clean room for three weeks! Our room literally always looks like this now!

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m much more motivated to keep the room clean now that it is free of clutter. When the room looks pristine, I’m a lot less likely to throw clothes on the floor or leave the bed unmade. It’s so clean, I don’t want to mess it up. And I think that is what has allowed us to keep it tidy for so long – and hopefully from now on!

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Walmart

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Walmart

To be honest, this shopping trip was pretty far from “zero waste.” I’m admittedly using “nearly” very loosely here. The good news is that all of the waste, with the exception of the produce stickers, can be recycled or composted.

I don’t typically shop at Walmart, but when the closest bulk store is 30 minutes away and I have all three kids with me and we just spent the morning at the doctor and we really need some basics for baking and produce for snacks…well, sometimes I end up going to Walmart.

[This is actually the first time such a thing has happened because I try my best to always plan ahead and therefore avoid this problem.]

I don’t even have the time or energy to sort through my varied and complex feelings about Walmart in general. So, I had to do what I could, and I’m happy to report that, at the very least, I didn’t bring very much waste home.

Here’s a breakdown of what I got:

Flour and Sugar

I usually buy these from the bulk bins at Whole Foods or [recently] Fresh Thyme, but I just couldn’t get all the way to one of those stores. But, the good news is that these bags are compostable and I bought the largest bags I have space to store. My biggest bummer is actually that I’m not certain that the sugar is fair trade.

Extra virgin olive oil

We usually buy it at Walmart because it is a good price for a big jug [even though the jug is unfortunately plastic], BUT I will be buying my EVOO from Fresh Thyme from now on since they have it in bulk and I can bring my own container.

Toilet paper

I haven’t found a source of unpackaged toilet paper yet, so I buy the rolls in large packages and recycle the plastic wrap [grocery store drop off] and all of the cardboard rolls [curbside pickup].

I wish we were to the point of not using any toilet paper, but my husband is not a fan of the make-shift bidet [aka diaper sprayer].

Yeast

I buy my yeast in glass jars because I use a lot of yeast and glass is a sustainable material and good for reusing [like storing homemade baby food or making homemade candles] or recycling.

Milk

Ah, milk – the bane of my zero waste existence. I see why it is so much easier to be truly “zero waste” as a vegan. But my husband cannot live without milk. We could buy it in glass bottles, but I just can’t bring myself to do it yet. So, the downside is three plastic jugs to be recycled. BUT, on the upside, one gallon is for making homemade yogurt, and the other is for making homemade ricotta…so I’m saving the waste I would have if I bought those things.

[I’m trying to convince my family to switch over to the cashew milk I make and think is delicious – but change takes time…]

Produce

I picked up loose produce and put it in my own bags. The only regret is that the bananas are not fair trade – but I don’t even know where to find fair trade bananas. [Suggestions, anyone?]

Ironically, the produce is the only place where I brought home something actually bound for the trash can – the stickers.

But, I guess if this is all that goes to the landfill, that’s not too bad after all.

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme

Today we took a long drive to a grocery store that sounded [from everything I read online] like a bulk bin paradise. I first heard of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market a month or so ago during one of my many searches for local zero waste shopping options, but was sad to find that the closest store was forty minutes from my home. Since then, however, I learned that a new location is opening in January 2019 only ten minutes away!!!

So, today we decided to make the drive and check out the location nearest us. I was pleasantly surprised by the bulk bin options which, though not quite as many as Whole Foods, include bulk coffee beans and bulk liquids like oils, vinegars, and honey! And the prices are more reasonable than any other bulk sections I have found. The grocery store also runs good deals that offer meat and produce for prices similar to what our local grocer, Jewel-Osco, does, which is why I picked up a package of blackberries [my only purchase today with any plastic waste].

Here’s our grocery haul:

We even got some package-free bars of soap.

I put the bulk bin numbers into my phone for checkout so we didn’t even bother with any papers or pens or twisty ties or anything. The only other waste [besides the blackberry package] was the stickers on the bananas and avocados and the receipt.

Also, since going [nearly] zero waste and not buying any processed foods, we’ve reduced our grocery budget by $100 per month – from $400 to $300 for our family of five [being mostly vegan also really helps with saving money]. I think it is pretty clear that buying healthy, organic, local and fair trade food does not have to break the bank.

Quite frankly, I don’t know why more people aren’t doing it…

Karis