[Nearly] Zero Waste Preschool Birthday Favors

[Nearly] Zero Waste Preschool Birthday Favors

Preschool has been tough for my zero-wasting heart. Besides countless papers and craft projects, my daughter has brought home bags of Valentine’s Day gifts, Halloween candy, plastic Easter eggs, and, of course, the birthday favors from her 17 classmates. This is all very sweet and well intended, but it produces a lot of waste.

Still, I can only do what I can do, so we have tried to reduce the waste that we send into the classroom as much as possible. I pack Evangeline’s snack [always fruit or vegetables] in a beeswax wrap, and I send her with a reusable silicone bag to collect the compostable items from her class [a task that she LOVES].

We made homemade cards and zero-waste Christmas gifts for her teachers and wrapped them in simple brown paper bags.

And we gave cuties as Valentine’s Day gifts, tied with compostable string and tag.

I was thinking that since my daughter’s birthday was in the summer I could just avoid the whole “birthday treat” tradition altogether. But I received a letter that they would be celebrating the summer birthdays after all. They encouraged a non-edible gift of some sort – which eliminated my idea of sending home baked cookies wrapped in paper. Instead, I decided to send sidewalk chalk.

I figured that these could be purchased in cardboard boxes and tied with string. And what child doesn’t love sidewalk chalk?

Well, imagine my horror when I opened the box of chalk to find the sticks wrapped in plastic!!

🤦‍♀️

You win some, you lose some, I suppose. They made a cute gifts anyway.

Of course, now I’ve found tutorials showing how to make chalk from household items like cornstarch or EGG SHELLS! What?!?

Zero waste school tips are always welcome!!! 😁

Karis

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

Lessons in Motherhood and Giving Used Gifts

My son, Theo, turned three a few days ago. In keeping with our new sustainability and zero waste principles, we made a big deal of our time together [at Chuck E Cheese for the afternoon] and downplayed the gift portion of the celebration. We actually never even mentioned a gift and he never asked for one.

But, of course, we did give him a gift – a set of used Paw Patrol characters and their vehicles [one of which I used to decorate his “Paw Patrol” birthday cake that all the kids helped decorate.]

A few weeks ago we began looking for someone selling a used set of these Paw Patrol trucks because we knew how much Theo would love them. Living in the Chicagoland area meant that they were easy to find. We ended up buying a set of six vehicles and eight characters for $15. At Target, these Paw Patrol vehicle/character sets sells for $15 each.

We’ve already lost a few characters…

But the point here is that it’s actually not about the money at all. Yes, there was a savings, but it’s not like we couldn’t afford to buy it all brand-new.

Why buy used?

The motivation for buying used is to give a second [or third or fourth] life to something bound for the garbage bin. Rather feeding the machine that is constantly making new toys [especially plastic toys] we should be intentionally prolonging the life of the current toy population. I basically rescued these trucks from a landfill. I am essentially a super hero. And they are perfectly fine toys. In fact, my son ADORES them and couldn’t care less whether they were purchased new.

Why not buy used?

So it got me thinking about why I would still never show up at another kid’s birthday party with a gift purchased second-hand. It’s one thing to buy a used gift for my own kid, but a completely different story if I’m going to give a gift to someone else.

There is some unwritten social code that says it’s unacceptable to give gifts that are second-hand.

We even frown [although slightly less so] on “re-gifting” and most people would agree that the appropriate way to re-gift an item is if the recipient doesn’t know it’s re-gifted.

Isn’t that strange? Why should it matter?

Gift giving today is about the represented dollar value, not how much it will be appreciated.

I think that what has happened to our society is that gift giving has become more about the ritual [i.e. gifts are required at certain holidays and events] and the dollar value [i.e. gifts need to be within a certain price range] than it is about the recipient’s enjoyment of the gift.

At my first baby shower, a cousin of mine gave me a gift for the baby – purchased new, obviously. After I opened it, she handed me a pair of baby girl Sperrys that she had found used and thought were so cute she had to get them for my baby, but she gave them to me separately because she wanted to explain that they were second-hand.

I LOVE those pink cheetah-print baby Sperrys! It didn’t matter if they were new or not. Both of my baby girls have worn them – and I’m sure this third baby girl will as well.

I find it perplexing and rather sad that we don’t feel free to give gifts just for the sake of their enjoyment value.

Similarly, when I started dating my husband, he and his siblings had a Christmas tradition of trading names for a gift exchange. They had set a value of $75 and then provided a detailed list of things they wanted. I went shopping with Brett that year and watched him cross items off the list and tally up the total dollar amount for his sister-in-law.

I couldn’t even believe it. Is this what gift-giving has become? I felt, even back then, that this was the total antithesis of what giving a gift should be.

Have you been out shopping for a gift and had some sort of mental idea of how much you needed to spend? Somewhere between being “too cheap” and being “too flashy”? And have you been invited to a party or shower or event and known without any overt statement that a gift is a requirement – or at least you would be viewed as a party crasher if you showed-up empty-handed? Have you tried to make sure that each of your kids gets the same general value of gifts or the same number of packages on Christmas morning?

Can we go back?

Can we go back to giving a gift purely because we want to, rather than because it’s required? Can we go back to giving a gift just because we know someone will love it and not care about how much it cost or where it came from?

I’m hoping that by continuing to exchange used gifts [whenever possible] in my immediate family that I will teach my children that gifts are for the purpose of making people feel loved and appreciated by giving something that they will love – not out of obligation or to follow social customs or to show that we have the means to buy new, expensive things.

Buying used isn’t being cheap, it’s being responsible.

Theo was so excited about those Paw Patrol toys that he didn’t even want to eat cake. Everyone else ate cake while Theo played with the trucks. All the other kids came to the table for cake eventually, but Theo only wanted to play.

These toys were the perfect gift – because they were used and because no one cared that they were used. They represented our commitment to sustainability and our belief that the value of a gift doesn’t come from how much is spent or where it is purchased, but from whether it is given out of love.

Theo’s Birthday Video

As is my new tradition for the kids, here is a short video highlighting Theo’s third year.

Happy Birthday to my sweet, handsome boy!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

Turns out, I am a paper hoarder.

😱

I have been saving craft paper, scrapbooking paper, card stock, envelopes, even two HUGE rolls of brown paper, for the better part of my life. Seriously. I’ve had a lot of this stuff since grade school when I first picked up a scrapbooking hobby. Since then, I have collected SO MUCH PAPER.

I’ve been avoiding going through my craft stuff because I knew it was going to be tough. BUT I have learned an important thing about myself: scrapbooking is no longer a hobby of mine. Truthfully, it hasn’t been for years now, but I still kind of always felt that it was. I think it was Marie Kondo who said in her well-known book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, that decluttering often means letting go of who you once were so you can fully live as the person you have become. [I’m very loosely paraphrasing here because I don’t have the book in front of me.] When I heard that, [I listened to the audiobook while training for my marathon], it was like a lightbulb went off. It’s okay if I don’t scrapbook anymore. I don’t have to feel like all that time and money was wasted because I enjoyed it for the time that I did it and now I need to let it go and move on.

So I donated a lot of paper and my cricut machine and twelve or so cricut cartridges and pretty much all my other scrapping materials. I only kept paper and tools for making cards – a useful hobby that I still enjoy.

And now I’ve initiated a “use it up” challenge. No buying cards or notebooks or ANY PAPER [other than maybe coloring books for the kids] until I’ve used up the rest of my stash, which I reduced to fit into this one case.

[This is down from six filing drawers and three shelves in my craft cabinet.]

So, I’ve started making birthday cards for family and friends.

As you can tell, I’m not a perfectionist.

I made these three while painting with my kids. I even used the kids’ painting sets. Super simple and easy. I do have a set of birthday stamps which come in super handy for making cards. And since I send a card to everyone in our immediate families each year – I figure I have enough paper to last me…about the next 10 years. 👍🏻

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

Lessons in Motherhood and Gift-Giving

Lessons in Motherhood and Gift-Giving

A few days ago, my oldest, Evangeline, turned 4-years-old. I had been planning to start a new tradition of making a photo book of the year for each of my kids birthdays – but after going through all my photos and photo books and scrapbooks, I’ve realized I need to choose a more “green” option that jives with my new minimalist lifestyle. So, I put together a quick video of highlights from her first year using the Google Photos app.

Voila! Memories stored for a lifetime! [Assuming there is no apocalyptic event that destroys all power on the planet – and in that case, I probably won’t be strolling down memory lane very often anyway.]

You can watch the video at this link:

Today was the party – a unicorn party.

Even though it was a small “family only” gathering and the majority of our local family couldn’t come, it was still a lot of fun – maybe even more fun because the absence of kids forced the adults to participate in the “Pin the Horn on the Unicorn” game. [Yes, there is video evidence below.]

Because of the changes we’ve been making to our perspective on waste and excess and consumerism and …life in general, we made two changes to how we celebrate birthdays in our family.

First, we emphasize experiences over gifts. On her actual birthday, Brett took the day off so we could all enjoy a day at the community pool [which is more like a water park]. We gave her a gift, but rather than making that a focal point of the day, we set it out in the living room the night before so she could discover it in the morning and then we didn’t talk about gifts again. We focused the day around the activities we were doing together.

To be honest, I’m having a hard time figuring out where I stand on the gift-giving thing. On the one hand, I love to give gifts. Brett and I enjoy giving gifts to our family members on holidays and birthdays and we make it a priority to give a gift to all the nieces and nephews each year. But on the other hand, I don’t want my kids thinking that birthdays and holidays are all about getting stuff, so I prefer that people not give gifts to my kids on these occasions. But I realize that is hypocritical of me, so I am trying to find a solution. I think we are going to try to find a way to give more experience gifts and fewer objects – and whenever possible, give the gift of quality time, which is the best gift we can give to our loved ones.

Second, we gave Evangeline a used gift. It was something she really, really wanted – a baby stroller – and of course, she has no idea that it wasn’t new nor does she care in the least. The motive here is not at all financial. It is sustainability. I don’t care what an item costs. I’m more concerned about the environmental impact of constantly making new things while sending old things to a landfill. I’m committed to buying used toys [just like my commitment to buying used or sustainably sourced clothing] because this just makes sense.

I realize that this won’t always work because my kids will undoubtedly grow up some day [😭] and start caring about price tags and all that [though not if I can help it] and they will want the latest and greatest stuff. But at 4-years-old, my daughter just wanted something with wheels to push her stuffed animals around in. If only life would stay this simple forever.

Happy Birthday, my sweet Evangeline. 💕

Karis