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

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

[Nearly] Zero Waste at Fresh Thyme vol.2

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market finally opened a new location close to my home!

Yes, I was there on opening morning waiting in line with some one hundred other people.

No, I am not ashamed.

Though…I did accept the bag of free groceries that was FULL of packaging.

I am slightly ashamed of that…

Still, I was glad to show my support for a grocery store that encourages customers to reduce their waste by putting bulk bins front and center and by making it easy to bring your own containers.

I’ve been a few times since they opened, but most recently I made my first bulk liquid purchase.

I brought my own jars [and a dry erase marker] and weighed them with the cashier before filling them with maple syrup, local honey, and freshly ground peanut butter [it literally ground the peanuts right into my jar – doesn’t get any fresher than that].

Fresh Thyme also sells bulk oils, vinegars, nut butters, and even kombucha – which I fully intend to purchase in the future.

I frickin LOVE this store.

And on top of that, the prices are reasonable. I paid less for the maple syrup than I do for a jar of pure maple syrup from Aldi.

They also don’t give me side eye for checking out with cloth bags and my own jars. My cashier even said it was “so cute.”

🤷‍♀️

Just doin’ what I do. Being cute AND saving the planet.

The only waste from the purchase was [once again] produce stickers and the receipt.

All in all, a huge success!

Karis

February Clothing Donation

February Clothing Donation

This month, I’m donating [or recycling] 27 items of clothing plus three maternity pieces. [Maternity clothes don’t count towards my total because I didn’t count them in my original clothing inventory].

It’s crazy how much my perspective on my possessions – especially my clothes – has changed over the past ten months. I look in my closet now and I still have way too much, even after giving away more than 270 items from my wardrobe. How on earth did I ever justify buying new clothes? And at the same time I was probably complaining about money being “tight.”

I must have been crazy.

There have been moments when I could have bought more clothes. Believe it or not, I have actually worn my maternity workout pants straight from the washer a few times because I only have one pair and I exercise six days a week, so sometimes when I haven’t had time to dry them [or I forgot about them in the wash…oops], I just put them on straight from the washer. Other times I just wear them over and over again until laundry day. I’ve thought about how nice it would be nice to buy another pair. But I’m only going to be pregnant for a few more months and I don’t really need need them.

So I just do without. And I’ve been doing just fine. [I might be a little smelly…but hopefully no one notices.]

Even though my clothing ban technically ends in two months, I can’t imagine needing to buy any clothing for a very long time. I originally was planning to purchase something from Patagonia, which is one of my preferred ethical brands, as a way of ending the ban in May, but I can’t even justify that because I literally don’t need any clothes. When I do need something though [as in really need something], I look forward to using my consumer dollars to support a company who is transparent and ethical in its treatment of all members of the supply chain AND committed to sustainable and eco-friendly practices [like Patagonia].

If you haven’t read Cait Flander’s book, The Year of Less, or watched the documentary The True Cost, both of which inspired the start of my clothing ban last May [and my subsequent transformation], YOU SHOULD DO IT ASAP. They will not leave you unchanged.

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Cutie Valentine’s Day Gifts

[Nearly] Zero Waste Cutie Valentine’s Day Gifts

[I know this post is a day too late to be helpful for anyone this year – sorry ’bout that.]

Now that my oldest is in preschool, I get to prepare the obligatory Valentine’s Day gifts for my daughter to distribute to her classmates. As an avid Pinterest user and someone who loves all things crafty, I’ve been looking forward to this day, imagining all the cute, clever homemade card possibilities. However, I had the added challenge of finding something eco-friendly and plastic free and not candy and not wasteful and not crap that the other parents are just going to throw out and not wrapped in a plastic bag and [hopefully] not requiring me to go to the store and spend any money at all.

My solution: the cutie.

I did have to buy the cuties, but they happened to be on sale this week at my grocer and I had everything else at home – which was very important because, even though I was looking forward to this occasion, it snuck up on me, and yesterday I found myself scrambling to put together seventeen preschool Valentine’s Day gifts.

I didn’t want to wrap them in plastic bags, so I carefully tied them with string and put a cute little card to the top that I printed on green card stock. [Thank you, prettyprovidence.com for the free printable!]

My daughter drew hearts and her name on the back of each leaf. And since cuties are her favorite snack, she was very excited to give these to her classmates.

What I love most is that every part of this Valentine’s Day gift is either edible or compostable. I have no idea how many other families compost – but at least I know I have done my part.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers

Why is it that taking care of the planet, protecting wildlife, and preserving our natural resources appears to only concern liberals and environmentalists? These are issues that affect all of us, so why aren’t we all on board?

If you watch the news, the “green” initiatives seem to be constantly touted by liberals while the conservatives are always on the other side of the screen shaking their heads, insisting “it’s no big deal.”

Since this is the impression I have always had of the two sides of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised to find in Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, that there are conservative Christians [even Republicans!] with the same concerns for our shared environment. Of course, Jen is the only one I have ever heard of – and she only cared for a month – but still. This is progress.

She writes with compelling sarcasm that a belief in God as creator of planet earth is a great reason to start taking care of said planet.

I wish I could quote her entire chapter on reducing waste here, but you should really just go get a copy of the book. In the meantime, though, here’s a snippet:

“I’m a Christian author, so my deal is to write Bible stuff, and the hippies can worry with creation.

Wait a minute.

Does ‘creation’ have anything to do with God whom I call ‘Creator’? Oh, pish posh. Surely God isn’t worried about how we handle His creation that He created. His main concern is making His followers happy and prosperous, yes? And if we need to consume the rest of His creation to make us happy, then I’m sure God doesn’t mind. I bet ‘creation’ mainly refers to us humans, and the soil and rivers and animals and forests and oceans and wildflowers and air and vegetation and resources and lakes and mountains and streams are purely secondary, if not inconsequential.

If I’m taking my cues from many mainstream evangelicals, then only Democrats and loosely-goose liberals care about the earth. It’s a giant conspiracy to distract us from the abortion and gay issues, which evidently are the only subjects worth worrying about. Ecology is for alarmists who want to ruin our lives and obsess about acid rain.

I’m beginning to wonder if the unprecedented consumption of the earth’s resources and the cavalier destruction of its natural assets is a spiritual issue as much as environmental…

This month the Hatmakers are doing their part, setting aside apathy and respecting the earth God made and loves.”

Thank you, Jen! I wish more Christians were drinking your kool-aid.

Truthfully, I don’t really care what your reasoning is for choosing to take better care of our beautiful planet – I just want you to do it. I want everyone to do it.

The American Waste Problem

America has a definite waste problem. It’s not like we are without resources to do something about it, and we can no longer claim to be ignorant about it. So, why aren’t we doing more? We know it’s possible. We’ve seen the impact of a country committed to sustainability. Sweden not only sends a mere 1% of household waste to landfills, but they are actually making money off of other countries’ waste by using it to fuel their incinerators [source article].

Then there is America…

According to the EPA, we send 52.8% of our waste to landfills each year [source article]. Don’t even get me started on all the reasons this is terrible [but you can read about it for yourself in this article].

The Solution

If both sides of the debate [virtually ALL OF AMERICA] could join hands and work together towards the goal of a greener future, then we could really get shit done.

And there is hope. If everyone identifying themselves as Christians would “go green” for the good of their religious beliefs, then a whopping 75% of Americans would be changing their wasteful ways. [2017 Gallup poll of religions in the US can be found here.]

Can we even hope for such a transformation? I don’t know, but I did get a little glimmer of hope from Jen’s book.

Ok, I’m almost done…

No matter your religion or political preference, everyone should be behind a more sustainable future for our world. I’m singling out Christians here because they make up the majority of people in this country with the greatest power to change the current consumer mentality that is doomed to fail in the long run.

Written by a Christian pastor’s wife, 7 is a great book that confronts our American culture through the lens of the Bible. For that reason, if you believe in the Bible, I highly recommend it. And I hope that reading it produces a wave of authentic Christianity like our country has never seen – one that encourages, rather than criticizes, recycling, composting, AND tree-hugging.

🌳 🌳 🌳

Karis

6 Zero Waste Swaps You Can Make Right Now without Spending a Penny

6 Zero Waste Swaps You Can Make Right Now without Spending a Penny

Last year, I began swapping disposable products for reusable alternatives and was impressed by how easy and affordable it was to make my home less wasteful. Many times, I already had eco-friendly alternatives lying around anyway. Now, I just had to make the switch to using them. Once I did, I no longer had to spend money on constantly restocking disposables and that alone actually saved me loads of money over the past year.

Contrary to what some might think, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a difference. You also don’t need to be perfectly, 100% without any waste. A little effort goes a long way, and when choosing zero waste alternatives saves you some cash, everyone wins.

Some of these suggestions are going to sound like no-brainers to anyone who is already living a zero waste life, but these are also some of the biggest offenders in the unnecessary waste department, so we’ve got to be better about even these small simple products that collect in landfills [or our oceans and ecosystems] in alarming amounts.

Here are some of the easiest swaps we made:

1. Cloth shopping bags instead of disposable bags. Most people have bags lying around that can be used as shopping bags. If you’ve ever shopped at Aldi then you probably already have a stash for those trips. So why not use them for all your shopping? Turns out you don’t need a special material or a specific size, and it doesn’t have to have some cutesy environmentally friendly slogan written on it. Just grab a bag – any bag – before you head out for your next shopping trip and pass on the store’s bags. If you literally don’t have a bag, grab a t-shirt you don’t wear and make one – tutorial here.

2. Reusable plates instead of paper plates. This one is guaranteed to save you money since the only thing required is to stop buying paper plates altogether. I assume everyone has a set of real plates (even plastic will do – so long as they are reusable). I know it’s convenient – especially for big gatherings and for packing lunches – but it’s not the only way. Create a system for the party so dishes get rinsed and washed. Eat out of your container at work/school so you don’t need a dish at all. Paper plates cannot be recycled because the paper becomes contaminated by food. And with the global paper plate industry at around 3.6 BILLION USD – that equals a whole lot of paper plates in landfills.

3. Silverware instead of plastic cutlery. Same as above, this will only save you money. Pack a real spoon and wash it. Is it as convenient? Maybe not. Is it free to do? Definitely. Is it important. Yessiree.

4. Reusable water bottle instead of plastic water bottles. I am admittedly a total water snob. I hate tap water – especially my own because we have very hard well water which, even after an elaborate softener system treats it, still tastes terrible. [I am working on becoming less entitled in this regard – but it may take a LONG time.] We used to buy tons of water bottles because they are so convenient, despite being a colossal waste of plastic and money. So, our alternative has been a Primo water dispenser.

This guy conveniently hides a refillable five-gallon water jug.

So, we are still technically paying for water [though we don’t pay for our well water], but it costs less than $2 for five gallons and we reuse the jugs so that we are not creating any waste.

Another good solution for water snobs like myself would be to use water from a filtered dispenser in the refrigerator. We don’t have one of those. Even putting a filter on the sink would be good.

Then use a reusable beverage holder of some kind.

Most people probably have a reusable water bottle lying around their house. You don’t need a fancy stainless steel one [though they are nice to have]. You don’t even need a water bottle, truthfully. You could just use a glass…or a mug…or heck, a sippy cup if you have to. Anything that will hold liquid should work.

5. Kitchen rags instead of paper towels. The attachment to paper towels is very strong and is probably the hardest disposable to stop using. In fact, I occasionally wish for paper towels when I want to clean the bathroom mirrors or have a place to set freshly fried bacon…BUT I don’t use them. We haven’t bought any in a year and we are surviving just fine. I didn’t purchase anything to replace paper towels, I just used my current stash of kitchen towels, wash cloths, and rags. You don’t actually need something that comes on a roll that allows you to rip off individual pieces [though there are Pinterest tutorials aplenty, if you want to make your cloth towels into a roll]. You can just reach into a drawer or cupboard and get a new towel or rag when you need one. This system has been serving us very well AND saving us a lot of money.

6. Reusable containers instead of zip-lock bags. Plastic baggies are definitely very convenient, but they are nothing that a reusable container [tupperware or glass] cannot be – besides made of plastic and very wasteful. I have kept my plastic Tupperware sets to use for food storage and travel and anything else I might need a plastic baggie for, so I didn’t have to buy anything. All I had to do was stop buying zip-lock bags. The only challenge I encountered was freezing certain foods – and for this purpose, I did purchase reusable silicone bags, but now I just cook the meat before freezing [with the exception of chicken which I freeze raw in small portions in the silicone bags].

Try the 30-day challenge

If any of these swaps seem like a challenge, just try doing without for a while – say a month or so – to see if you really do need these things in your life. Yes, there is a minor loss of convenience, but a big benefit for our shared environment AND your wallet. So, it’s a win-win.

I’m sure there are other zero waste swaps that can be made on the cheap. If you have ideas to add to this list, please share below!

Karis

Recycling [or Repurposing] Candle Jars

Recycling [or Repurposing] Candle Jars

Does anyone recycle their used candle jars? I’m not judging – I’m just seriously wondering because I don’t think I’ve ever actually burned through an entire candle until just recently [thanks to my recent hygge kick, you may recall]. I feel like candles are things that every person has a million of and most of them are never [or rarely] used.

Maybe that’s just me.

I don’t remember ever finishing a candle, but I am certain that if I ever did, the jar ended up in the trash because, well, everything I disposed of ended up in the trash in those days. [I’m new to this recycling thing, don’t forget.]

So, now that I have several candles that have been fully burned, I had to figure out what to do with the remaining jars.

First I had to clean them out, which I accomplished by filling with hot water and scraping out the remaining wax with a spoon. Only one candle cooperated.

Folks, this is apparently not the best way to clean your candle jars. I was just trying to use my brain when I should have been asking Google. Apparently, all you need to do is stick the candle in the freezer and the wax will magically separate from the container. [Whaaa?] I cannot verify this, of course, but it sounds much easier than my scraping method.

So now, what?

I have seen a million ways to repurpose candle jars on Pinterest. They can hold cotton swabs, makeup brushes, plants, tea lights, herbs, buttons, candy, rubber bands, and on and on. Basically they can hold anything that will fit [duh]. The problem is, I don’t need another glass jar lying around holding more of the little stuff I don’t want in my house anyway!

So I figured I would just recycle the glass jars. Off to the recycling bin and that is that. After all, we burn a lot of candles these days and if I kept every jar, we would eventually be overrun with empty jars.

That’s when it hit me. The best way to reuse the old jars is to refill with wax and make new candles. After all, WE BURN A LOT OF CANDLES! [This should not have been such a revelation. I am admittedly slow sometimes.] Pinterest was actually a little low on recommendations for refilling candle jars with [wait for it…] new candles! But maybe that is just too obvious for anyone else to even burden the interwebs with.

All I will need is the wax [some of which I can reuse from the bottom of old jars] and I won’t need to buy candles any longer. This provides me with the opportunity to switch over to 100% beeswax candles AND reduce waste AND cut down the cost of our candle habit.

I immediately rescued the empty jars from the recycling bin outside and refilled the little one that I like the best with leftover wax melts we have had in our basement for ages. [Now I finally understand why providence never let me get rid of those…]

Voila! New candle cooling down as we speak. [Yeah, I used a beeswax candle to hold the wick – it’s what I had handy.]

I should also mention that I found conflicting info regarding whether candle jars can be recycled curbside due to some of the containers being made to withstand high heat and therefore not your basic run o’ the mill glass. If you are certain that are glass, then go for it, but if they might be made of borosilicate [I have not the foggiest idea how one is supposed to tell the difference…], it can’t be recycled curbside and you’ll have to scour the Internet for a local recycling center.

This is a fabulous argument for just reusing. If you have a need for a cutesy q-tip holder – then go for it. Otherwise, refill with some beeswax [don’t forget a wick], and you’re all set for clear-conscience candle consumption!

[Well, unless we start talking about indoor air pollution…oy vey!]

🕯 🕯 🕯

Karis