Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog ðŸ¥³

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog ðŸ¥³

On May 28th, this blog turned 1 – on the same day that I turned 32. This past year has been the most transformative that I have experienced in my adult life. This blog has been a place for me to share how my family and I have changed our views, values, and lifestyle in favor of simplicity and authenticity.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This has become my life’s motto. And this past year has been all about learning more so I know better, so I can do better.

So, in honor of the blog’s first birthday, I wanted to recap all the changes [to our lifestyle and also our perspective] that my family and I have been working on over the past year.

Minimalism

The changes we have made started with an interest in minimalism. I had grown tired of chasing the “American dream” of wealth and success, which seemed to equate to bigger homes and fancier cars and more stuff, while meaningful relationships, time with family, concern for the less fortunate and other social/environmental causes are ignored. I was anxious for a simpler, more intentional life. I was wanting our life to be about a greater purpose than satisfying our own desires for more.

So, minimalism taught us to purge what we own down to things that are essential or truly appreciated AND to refuse all the excess that society is constantly telling us we “need.” We played the 30-day minimalism game and between Brett and I, removed 930 items from our home.

Mindful Consumerism

My interest in minimalism lead me to Cait Flanders’ book, The Year of Less, which was so impactful that after reading it, I started this blog to document all the ways I intended to end my own mindless consumption.

I began asking myself whether I really needed something before buying it. I continued to purge our stuff without replacing any of it. I committed to first do without, then use what I have, then buy used – and only when all else failed, to buy new.

Slow Fashion

Around this time, I watched the documentary, The True Cost, which describes the fast fashion industry and how the American demand for cheaper and faster clothing is wreaking havoc around the world. I couldn’t believe that I had never considered the wastefulness of my own clothing habits before or how harmful my “take and toss” mentality truly was to the environment and to people around the world.

As a working middle class American, I had always prioritized buying cheap clothing as a way to “manage my money wisely” and thought of myself as some sort of martyr for never buying expensive brands and always shopping the clearance rack in the service of frugality.

Wow, I was so wrong. I am happy to say that I have finally learned to appreciate my belongings enough to spend what they are worth – and I now care enough about my fellow humans, no matter how far away they live, to pay whatever it costs to protect their rights.

Zero Waste

From there, I stumbled upon the zero waste movement, which I had never heard of previously. On a whim I picked up the book, Zero Waste, by Shia Su from the library. I had no idea how significantly this book would change my life.

This book gave me confidence to reduce my waste [it really is so easy!] and opened my eyes to yet another sad side affect of our constant consumption: waste.

Seriously, the waste problem in America is huge. I don’t know why more people aren’t concerned.

So I started trying to reduce my family’s waste. We began recycling, composting, and bulk shopping. This became a passion [bordering on obsession] for me that led to so many other important changes for my family like eliminating processed foods, making most of our food from scratch, and purchasing our first CSA share. It has been a process, and we still are not storing our trash in a mason jar [that is not a realistic goal for us anyway], but we have made HUGE improvements. We only take out one 4 gallon trash bag per week and we have even reduced the amount that we recycle significantly, needing trash and recycling pick up only monthly [or even possibly quarterly] now.

Ethical Shopping

Next, I committed to ethical shopping by supporting brands that are concerned about sustainability and fair, ethical treatment of all members within the supply chain [animals included].

This one is tougher because it is hard to know whether a company is ethical or not and requires research which requires time, but it’s not so bad because we don’t buy very many things, so purchases can be thoughtfully and intentionally made with our values in mind.

Yes, I am boycotting Wendy’s. Yes, I pay more for Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and bananas. Yes, I adore Patagonia.

Simple Living

Then I began to focus on eliminating some of the distractions that caused me to always feel like I never had enough time. We moved our only television into the lower level. I started using the “screen time” feature on my iPhone to limit my time on certain apps. I turned off all notifications on my phone. ALL of them. If you call me and I don’t physically have my phone in my hand, I won’t know it until I actually open my phone app…which I do every couple days. I’m harder to reach, but by responding to texts and calls and emails on my own time, I am no longer a slave to my phone.

The kids and I began spending more time outside after I read the inspiring book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

We started having a Monday movie night with the kids as their only screen time for the week. I simplified my cleaning routine to improve efficiency so I don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning. We purged A TON of toys [with the kids’ help], which cut back on the chaos of living with three toddlers.

I also read Slow by Brooke McAlary which was full of inspiration for living a more intentional and less frantic life.

Giving Back to the World

Last, but most importantly, we rearranged our finances to prioritize giving to charities that we believe are doing good around the world. I wish I could be the one doing the good myself, but at this stage in my life, I am chasing toddlers all day and working part-time, so I am prioritizing what I can do, which is give money to those who will use it to help people. I look forward to volunteering regularly and giving back in other ways in the future, as I believe that this is one of our most important purposes on this earth – not to merely look out for our own interests and our family’s well-being, but to care for the less fortunate and fight for a better world.

But, more on that another day.

I am looking forward to improving in all of these areas and more over the next year.

Karis

[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

Am I wrong for throwing away my kids’ artwork?

Am I wrong for throwing away my kids’ artwork?

I am a lover of art, of the arts, of all things artistic – even the random scribbles of my one-year old daughter. And I am so glad that all three of my kids will happily sit at the kitchen table and color away for hours on end. But seriously, I’m being overrun by artwork.

These are all beautiful gifts that I was given IN ONE DAY. Each one is heartfelt and beautiful, but can I really justify keeping them all? WHERE would I even keep them all?

And it’s not that I don’t keep some.

Two years ago, at the age of two, my oldest daughter Evangeline painted a series of beautiful pieces that have proudly hung on our dining room wall ever since.

My husband makes fun of me regularly for displaying these – which is probably why he hasn’t gotten around to building the frame I requested for these masterpieces. [He just doesn’t appreciate toddler art the way I do, I suppose.]

Currently, I save all the school artwork [at least two pieces a day] in a filing drawer which I intend to sort through and keep favorites at the end of the school year. As for the daily collections, I typically keep them for a few days until my kids have forgotten about them and then hide them strategically in the burn bin or recycling pile. [God forbid one of the kids stumble upon their artwork in the trash!]

Going forward, I intend to give each child a display where I will rotate their artwork. But still, most of it has to go.

Is that terrible? 🤷‍♀️

I have a feeling I’m going to miss this constant supply of creative gifts when my kids are older and don’t even want to give me the time of day. At the moment it feels limitless, but I know it’s not.

Currently accepting suggestions on better ways to treasure these pieces of art.

🎨🎨🎨

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

[Nearly] Zero Waste Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

This entire year, I have been on a journey to become a more mindful consumer, a more generous giver, and a less wasteful person in general. [Besides that, I have also worked very hard to eliminate all of our extra “stuff.”]

So, when Christmas time came around this year, I knew that some things had to change about the way we do gifts for our kids and loved ones.

But – how?

How do we still show everyone how much we love them without giving them a bunch of “stuff”? And how do we make more conscientious purchasing decisions while still giving people things that they will appreciate? And how do I provide my kids with the fun of unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning without a lot of toys that will just end up cluttering our space?

I still don’t have perfect answers, and we didn’t do a perfect job [I should have asked these questions before Christmas to get some help from the blogging world], but we made an effort, which is the most important thing.

Here’s what we did:

Experience gifts for extended family. We gave all of our siblings and their families experience memberships [like to the local zoo for those with little kids] or gift cards to spend on an experience [like jump zone for those with older kids] or amazon/restaurant gift cards for family members without kids.

The nice thing about this type of gift is that it doesn’t even require anything to be physically exchanged [I actually texted the amazon gift cards to my siblings – thank you, 21st century!]. Can’t get much more zero waste than that. And [for the most part], the gift can be enjoyed many times throughout the year.

BUT, the downside is that there is no physical gift to open.

Used toys for our kids. If we are going to have toys to open on Christmas, I felt like we should get them used [as much as we are able]. My kids are young enough to not care at all if a gift is new or not. [Hopefully, they will never care, but that is probably wishful thinking.] We bought an AMAZING wooden train set complete with a table and rails and trains and cars [probably 100+ pieces] for $35 from a family that no longer used it. And we got an art easel from friends who were getting rid of theirs and graciously gave it to us for free. These are types of things that last for years and can be loved by many children – and are plastic-free!

That being said, we did purchase new consumables for the art easel like markers and paint and notepads and things like that. Some things cannot be purchased used. I probably didn’t put enough thought into getting these things from responsible sources [or making my own]. I know I can improve in that area in the future.

Consumable gifts from the family. Anyone who asked what to get our kids, I suggested consumables like art and craft supplies, coloring books, temporary tattoos, bandaids, or gift cards for ice cream. This really helped cut down on the toys they received and this way everything will be used. We received ornaments from two families which the kids loved. Some were homemade which were adorable and meaningful and some were supporting international orphans – also very meaningful to us.

Homemade, meaningful, or consumable gifts for others. We made chocolate pretzels for our neighbors. We gave chocolates and amazon gift cards to Evangeline’s preschool teachers. We made ornaments for our aunts/cousins.

Our Auntie Paula, who does so much for our family, got a special homemade ornament: three hearts [one for each of my kids] hanging from a moon that said “Love you to the moon” – the special saying she shares with my kids. It might have been small and not cost us anything, but sometimes something special and made with love is the best gift.

Any other ideas/suggestions? I know there are other ways to give mindfully and meaningfully. If anyone has ideas to share, let me know so I can continue to improve in this area.

We love giving to our friends and family – but now I feel the pressure to purchase from responsible sources and not burden the recipients with stuff they don’t need. It is a strange balancing act that I am new [and not very good] at.

Overall, we stayed within budget and [hopefully] made everyone feel loved and appreciated this holiday season.

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 8-11

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 8-11

The Christmas festivities have continued, but I was getting sick of posting every day [as I’m sure you all were as well].

Dec 8: Baking Christmas Cookies

On the 8th day of Christmas, the kids and I spent most of the day baking Christmas cookies for [spoiler alert] Brett’s work party that we were hosting the following day.

No Bakes:

The Grinch Crinkle Cookies:

Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies:

Oreo Christmas Trees:

I had planned to do the standard cut out sugar cookies as well, but my feet hurt and I was tired after four hours, so we called it quits. [Hard to believe that two months ago I ran for four hours straight and now I can’t even stand in my kitchen for four hours…ahh, pregnant life.]

Dec 9: Christmas Party

On the 9th day of Christmas, we hosted Brett’s management team for a Christmas party. We spent most of the day cleaning [since I haven’t been doing much housework these days 😬] and prepping for dinner, but the kids were allowed to stay up extra late to meet the guests and join in part of the party.

Dec 10: Arthur Christmas Movie Night

On the 10th day of Christmas, the kids and I watched Arthur Christmas for our “Monday movie night.” We had popcorn and movie candy – which are rare treats in our home.

Dec 11: Anniversary / Christmas Crafts with Auntie Paula

On the 11th day of Christmas, Brett and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary by going to dinner and a movie. Our wonderful Auntie Paula came over to watch the kids and she brought Christmas crafts for them to do.

It’s been fun!

We are already prepping for tonight’s annual celebration! [More on that at a later date.]

Karis

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 7

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 7

Tonight we went to the annual Geneva Christmas Walk.

It was SO COLD!

But this event only comes one night a year…and it is tradition!

[I’m usually not a fan of doing anything purely for the sake of tradition – but I suppose the Christmas season is an exception.]

So we bundled up the kids….

[And I mean bundled. Jo could barely move under all the layers.]

…and we headed to downtown Geneva to do the Christmas Walk thing – which is really just an excuse for most people to shop at the local shops and eat at the local restaurants. We don’t do any shopping though. We wade through the sea of people to countdown to the lighting of the big tree in front of city hall and we stand in unbelievably long lines for half an ounce of melted chocolate and a piece of freshly pulled candy cane.

For those three small things, it took one hour and forty five minutes.

😱

We must be insane. This is what Christmas does to us.

But it was cool to watch them make candy canes in the Graham’s shop window and to eat them just after they were made – still warm!

And there were carolers on the street corners, and a living nativity, and Christmas lights on the trees, and Christmas music being blasted in the streets… all good Christmas cheer type of stuff that I love.

Last year, we waited forever to take the kids to see Santa, but after a potty emergency and all of us losing feeling in our faces and all of our digits, we decided to skip Santa this year and hightail it outta there! [We literally ran most of the way back to the car.]

I think next year we’re going to skip it unless it’s above 20°…maybe 30°.

Brrrr…I’m going to go sit by the fire and try to thaw…

🥶🥶🥶

Karis

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 6

Carlson Countdown to Christmas 2018: Dec 6

Tonight we took the kids ice skating.

Well, only the older two skated, but JoElle and I had fun watching and hanging out in the warming shelter. 👍🏻

This is another one of our annual traditions and gets more enjoyable each year as the kids get older. However, it was really cold tonight and the kids can barely stand on their skates, let alone actually skate. So we only lasted about thirty minutes. But we still made fun memories.

That’s what it’s all about, right?

Afterwards, we always go to Noodles and Co to get warm cheesy noodles. [It’s the only way to bribe Brett into skating the kids around the whole time – way to take one for the team, babe!]

Good times!

⛸ ⛸ ⛸

Karis