Of all the zero waste swaps we’ve made over the past few years, the switch to cloth napkins has been my absolute favorite. They are so much more beautiful than the quilted, flower-printed, paper kind. Just by setting the table with cloth napkins, our family dinners are instantly elevated to restaurant class – even if nothing else about the meal is fancy. And they are so practical because I have little kids and the number of flimsy paper napkins that we would need at each meal is enormous.
How to use them…
Originally, I was afraid to make the switch because I worried that guests would be afraid to use them and that my children would destroy them and that the added laundry would be a hassle. Turns out, however, that the napkins are the least hassle of all the swaps. I have even used them for big dinner parties [well, “big” being 15-20 people which is all my house can hold]. When we are done, they just go straight into the washer to be cleaned with the next load.
They definitely get messy, but they come clean in the wash and in our experience, each person only needs one no matter how messy the meal is.
Where to get them…
I bought mine from World Market years ago when we were first making the switch, but now I wish I had just made some myself. You can also buy them at home goods stores such as Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, and don’t forget Amazon! But, as you know, I’m not a big proponent of buying things, so don’t buy them if you can make them! Or check out Etsy. Or pay a friend who sews to make some for you.
I love having a variety of patterns and the ones that I bought are really beautiful. I have also been gifted a few packages of cloth napkins. [One of the great things about identifying as a low waster is that you will often receive AWESOME, practical and beautiful gifts! I have received so many wonderful zero waste tools as gifts and I am so grateful for my understanding and thoughtful family and friends!]
Why to have them…
The better question is why would I want to continually buy paper napkins bound for the trash when I can use beautiful, reusable cloth napkins instead? It has been four years since I have bought any paper napkins, and I have no intention to ever going back.
Of course, there is an environmental cost to both paper napkins and cloth napkins. Reusable cloth napkins require water and energy to produce and to wash; and though paper napkins require much less water and energy to produce, they are only used once before being thrown into the trash where they will continue to have a negative affect on the environment in a landfill.
Over the lifetime of a cloth napkin [which should be as long as a persons lifetime – if not longer], reusable napkins are much more environmentally friendly.
July was a crazy month. I started my two new jobs and felt like I was working ALL THE TIME. I’ve also been preparing homeschool curriculum and gathering resources, books and materials. And I volunteered 12 hours to the food bank in June, packing meals and working at a pop-up drive through food pantry one Saturday morning.
Now that we don’t have Brett’s full-time income [and my part-time income is measly in comparison], I have been thinking about money more than usual. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeschool curriculum is not cheap and that getting a new job means buying appropriate work boots. So, we spent some money.
However, a small mercy came in the form of a bag of clothes diapers that a girlfriend offered me literally a day after I told Brett that I need new ones because I cannot seem to solve the diaper rash problem we are now experiencing with our fourth baby. The same friend also gave us a bigger bike for our son who has completely outgrown the little twelve inch bike he currently uses, which my sister-in-law found for him at Savers for $2.
I already mentioned in my previous update post about making masks for the family which kept me from having to buy any.
I have also inherited a new sewing machine which is perfect timing because [though I’ve grown quite fond of my little $20 machine] there is more I would like to make and I needed a bigger machine.
This month was Evangeline’s sixth birthday [!!!] and she told us that she really wanted roller skates. We stumbled upon a pair of adjustable roller skates at Goodwill [while looking for work boots]. And we picked up a pair of used knee and elbow pads for her [that also came with a bike helmet that is perfect for my younger daughter] from a neighbor [I love OfferUp!].
I was really stressed about finding work boots because I had to have them in less than a week for my start date and I didn’t want to spend $200 on a new pair. But with just one day left, I was able to find a used pair of steel-toe work boots for $20 that fit perfectly. In my previous life I would have run out immediately to the closest shoe store and bought whichever pair was my favorite. But these days, our new values [which include: intentional living, minimalism, and waste reduction] keep me from making impulsive buys. And I am so glad. Now, even facing a job loss, we are not worrying about money.
So, it may seem that we’ve hit a rough patch financially, but, as always, the universe takes care of us.
What we bought
Roller skates for Eva’s birthday ($5): I’ve written several times already about how and why we give used gifts to our kids. Evangeline didn’t care at all that these were used and they are adjustable so she can wear them for years.
Shoes for Brett ($6): Brett didn’t need shoes urgently [especially since he’s out of work], but while he was in Goodwill looking for work boots for me, he also found himself a pair of brown dress shoes to replace his worn out pair. These shoes are in perfect condition and are apparently very expensive new. Maybe will start shopping at Goodwill more often!
Bell and streamers for Eva’s bike ($19.33): We couldn’t find these used so we bought them from a locally owned bike shop in town.
Knee and elbow pads for Eva ($10): I was so glad to be able to find someone selling these used pads for Evangeline to use with her roller skates [a tough skill to master, turns out].
Work boots ($20): Took a while to find them, but they’ve been working great since I started my job three weeks ago.
Shampoo and conditioner bars ($27): I usually buy Lush bar products, but this time we went back to Ethique, whose bars are cheaper per ounce. It may seem pricey, but our last shampoo bar lasted four months and the conditioner bar is just now almost gone and it’s been nine months. Ethique’s website states that one shampoo bar replaces eight bottles of shampoo.
School curriculum for Eva– minus math ($113.05): I went with a digital download curriculum to cut down on the cost. The program doesn’t include math, however, so I had to buy a separate math program.
Math curriculum ($92): I bought just the teachers edition and student workbooks [no manipulative or resources] and it was still almost $100! I know their are cheaper options out there, but I really need more direction than professional homeschool moms.
Our new budget is to spend as little money as possible – so I guess we went over budget this month. But, overall, we did pretty well. We still spent money, but we bought mostly used and did our homework to find the most ethical purchasing option available.
What We Gave Away
We have set aside a collection of maybe twelve kids utensils that we no longer need, but we haven’t even had the chance to donate them.
Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I have started asking myself why I even bother to track my purchases. It is a hassle since I am really only tracking my partner’s purchases because I never buy anything. It has also lead to a few passionate [aka heated] discussions between the two of us on what constitutes a “necessary” expense.
But that is exactly why this is a helpful endeavor [despite the nuisance]. It forces us to consider each purchase, instead of just buying whatever we want whenever we feel like it, which is what we used to do.
But it’s not easy to stop impulse buying. The very definition of the word “impulse” implies that it will be hard to stop. The American consumer culture preys on our inability to control ourselves when it comes to spending. Advertisers use all kinds of tricks to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. But we have the power to choose more intentional spending habits. It takes discipline and practice, which is exactly what I am doing with this shopping audit.
Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases
Before we buy anything, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
Do we need this?
Can we use something we already have?
Can we make it ourselves?
Is it reusable?
How often will we use it?
How long will we need it?
Can we buy it used?
Honestly, the first two questions usually rule out the purchase. But if we do determine that we really do need it and it can’t be found used, we ask more questions – and these questions are just as important as the first set.
What business do we want to support when buying it?
What is the most environmentally friendly option for this product?
Where can we buy this to ensure it was manufactured ethically?
What is the plan for disposing of it at the end of its life?
I will once again share this graphic by Sara Lazarovic [youre going to see this a lot from me].
The point is not to keep us from making any purchases, but rather to help us make intentional purchases. And, also, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever buy anything you want ever again. We still buy things that we technically want more than need, but we are intentional about it – which makes all the difference.
The Story of Our Bike Pump
We needed a new bike pump. Our kids are biking every day and I have two jogging strollers [a single and a double] that I use very frequently that needed the tires refilled. Our bike pump broke last summer. So, once we determined that we needed a new one and couldn’t buy one used, we agreed to buy one. However, instead of running to Walmart or Target that day to pick up the cheapest one we could find, we waited until a local bike shop in our town was open so that we could support a local, ethical business with the purchase.
The bike pump was technically a want, not a need, if you define “need” as something needed for survival. I mean we don’t have to go for bike rides or walks. But, let’s be real, this is a source of enjoyment and health and stress relief and quality time and immersion in nature that our entire family adores. We live on a bike path and use it every single day. And in order to continue, we “needed” a bike pump.
So was it a need or a want?
We made the decision that it would be used a lot and could support a local business and would enhance our lives and so we bought one.
I’m sure your thinking [like my partner did], Geez, what’s the big deal about buying a bike pump? But this bike pump is one of many, many purchases that suddenly pops up. Each time, we try to make intentional purchases. In the case of the bike pump, we purchased a new one from a local business. But in many other cases, we choose to do without, or to wait, or find an alternative.
A few weeks back, I chopped my hair shorter than Brett’s and wanted headbands to make me look less like my little brother. I could have immediately ordered a set from Amazon, but instead I made some out of the old clothes that are too shabby to donate. When we needed to install a French drain in our yard, Brett could have gone to Home Depot straightaway to buy the necessary piping, but instead waited and – lo and behold! – found someone giving away enough tubing for the whole project. And when I wanted cute little bumblebee candies to put on my baby’s first birthday cake, I did some research and found a cute way to make them myself using almonds instead. There’s also the tea kettle that would be handy for heating water and the bathmat that I’m now making out of old towels and the new television because ours keeps shutting off on us randomly – but none of these purchases are necessary, so we haven’t bought them…yet.
Usually buying less just requires taking a pause before buying the first option that comes to mind. And in the end, if the choice is made to purchase new, then “where” and “what” become important questions to consider.
As Anna Lappé said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We have the choice to buy cheap and support big businesses who promote greed in our economy and ourselves. Or we can buy ethically and environmentally and support small businesses – the businesses of our neighbors and friends and our community – and find ourselves less concerned about the money and more concerned about things that truly matter.
So, without further adieu, here is our purchases for May.
What We Bought
Bike pump: $40 – I’ve already discussed this purchase at length above [you should have heard Brett and I discussing it for DAYS].
Mother’s Day Gifts: $184.10 – We sent gifts to both our moms, both of our living grandmothers, and my sweet Auntie Paula who is like a mother to me. Especially during this time of being separated from our loved ones, I thought it was important to send special gifts. However, even these were ethical and intentional. We sent two gifts through Etsy in order to support small businesses. We sent two gifts of Fair Trade coffee from Grounds for Change, which is a family-owned and operated business in Seattle that we frequently support because they are ethical and eco-friendly. And we sent a candle that supports one of our favorite charities, Charity:Water, the proceeds of which will help provide clean water to people around the world. So even in buying gifts, we try to make intentional and ethical purchases that support causes we care about from companies whose values align with our own, while at the same showing our family that we love them.
Diapers/Diaper Cream/Toiletries: $22.57 – I have to include this purchase, though it pains me. We did some traveling last month and so we bought disposable diapers and some disposable toiletry items. At home, we use exclusively cloth diapers and I use a menstrual cup and reusable menstrual pads, but when traveling to stay with family this becomes…uncomfortable. So we typically buy disposables for travels.
Brake parts for van: $96.88 – At least we didn’t have to pay the cost of labor to have the brakes changed because Brett has picked up this skill [among many other mechanic skills] and saved us lots of money over the years.
Bike: $10 – We bought a used bike for Evangeline because she outgrew the one she had been using. Now her old one is being used by Josephine.
Connectors for French drain: $5 – Oh, the joys of home ownership. But again, Brett is saving lots of money by digging the draining and doing all the work himself.
Tube for kids bike: $5 – One of the kids’ bike got a flat, so we had to replace the tube. I told you we ride A LOT!
Total spent: $363.55
Over budget: $134.10 [We weren’t over budget on the month as a whole, but we did technically overspend in the “gift” category – we just love the moms in our life so much!]
What We Are Going To Do With It
Everything we bought [with the exception of the disposable products] will receive lots of love – especially those new brakes for the van.
What We Got Rid Of
This month we went through the kids toys. I recently read Simplicity Parenting, which reminded me once again how important it is to keep the levels of toys from overwhelming me, and our house, and even the kids.
Thirty-five total books and toys have been temporarily removed to a safe place where they will wait to see if anyone misses anything [they won’t]. Then off to Salvation Army.
The kids’ room is once again under control.
[Speaking of Simplicity Parenting, over the next few weeks I am going to be posting about how we’ve been simplifying our mealtimes, schedules, possessions, and food choices to improve our time together and provide our kids with plenty of opportunities to just be kids.]
Even though we spent quite a bit, we also gave away a lot of money in May to important organizations such has No Kid Hungry, Save the Children, Charity: Water and our local food bank. We spent over $300 on ourselves, but we gave over $1500 away to help people impacted by this global crisis.
Brett and I are both still furloughed from our jobs, but this time has only made us more aware of how blessed we are and rather than stressing about money or worrying for ourselves, we have turned our attention to people less fortunate than ourselves and given what we are able.
This is a very stressful time for our country and our world, so I hope you all are doing okay, staying safe and healthy, and taking care of yourselves and your loved ones!
In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.
My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.
Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:
Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.
But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:
1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.
2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.
[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]
3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.
4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].
5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.
6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?
[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]
I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.
So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]
While the coronavirus pandemic has made some aspects of zero waste living more challenging [such as refusing plastic bags, shopping from bulk bins, filling reusable cups, and the war on disposable plastics in general], there are some aspects of low waste living that are becoming more popular as a result of this unprecedented time [such as unpaper towels, cloth diapering, baking from scratch, sewing, and gardening].
Well, there is one more low waste principle I would like to recommend as being ideal in this situation: repairing our stuff rather than throwing it away and buying new. Since shopping malls are closed now and a lot of “retail therapy” has been exchanged for outdoor exercise [👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻], you might be forced to make do with what you have in your closet anyway.
Of course, there is always Amazon [and other online retailers] to order from, but why not give mending a chance? Especially at a time when everyone at least appears to be extremely concerned about their finances, now would be ideal to practice all those forgotten resolutions of not buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.
So, along those lines, here is my story of repairing rather than replacing.
[Don’t worry – it’s a short story.]
Before the stay-at-home order went into effect for Illinois [which was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown], I decided to have one of my boots repaired rather than throwing the pair away.
These boots are nothing special. They aren’t fancy. They didn’t cost very much money. But they are my only pair of black flat boots and I have worn them all fall and winter for the past five years. So when the sole ripped apart from the rest of the boot, I was bummed.
Brett immediately suggested throwing them in the trash – even offering to do the job for me since he knows it pains me to throw anything away [what a guy]. But I told him I would see about getting them repaired. Of course he laughed at this and told me that it would cost more to fix the boot than it would to buy a new pair.
Still, I liked these boots and I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I have developed a very strong aversion to new things as it is. Add to that my dislike of throwing things away and I knew I had to at least attempt to get them repaired.
I found a cobbler. [It took a while for me to even remember what the term is for someone who repairs shoes, my only knowledge of them coming from the old story about the elves and the cobbler…oh and the Adam Sandler movie.]
I have never been to a shoe repair shop. I had absolutely no frame of reference for what this might cost. They could have told me it would cost $75 and I wouldn’t have known if this was highway robbery or if shoe repair really is that challenging of a job. But when I told the man the problem, he said he could glue the sole back on for $10.
Ten dollars! What a steal!
I dropped the boot off that day and picked it up the following week, good as new. [Not really, it is still a worn-out boot, but at least there isn’t a huge hole at the heel anymore.] I am confident that I will get at least several more years out of these boots, and in the very likely event that another part wears out, I will return to the same repairman again.
So there you have it. These poor, innocent little boots would have been rotting in some landfill by now if the kind shoe repairman hadn’t fixed them for $10!
[Also, I don’t think I could buy a pair of new boots for $10 – so there Brett!]
The Moral of the Story
Our society has been trained to believe that everything is disposable – even our clothing and shoes. Oh, those pants don’t fit just right? That zipper is broken? The heel snapped off your shoe? There is a stain on your sweater? There is a hole in your jeans? Missing a button??? Well then, just toss it in the garbage bin and *POOF* it magically disappears and you can go buy another one [or two or three] at any time.
The problem is that clothing and shoes are NOT disposable. They are not meant to be treated like tissues, used once and then thrown away. Clothing has a very high price – in natural resources, in skilled labor, in transport and energy. And we keep churning it out and tossing it away like there is no end in sight.
Unfortunately, the end is coming. The clothing industry [as far as it stands in America] is not sustainable, and I’m not even talking about environmental sustainability. I just mean that it literally cannot go on like this. The model takes too much and abuses too many and creates an exorbitant amount of waste.
Even donated clothing has become a huge problem for non-profits and [even worse] impoverished communities to deal with now.
Do we really believe that we can keep creating and buying and discarding textiles to the tune of over 15 million tons of waste per year? Without something breaking eventually?
So, honestly, I hope that America makes a shift from buying cheap, crappy clothing on repeat and instead repairs and mends and tailors and darns and modifies and, heck, if all else fails, repurposes what they already have.
And I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t have substantial skin in the game. My partner has been selling clothing for the past ten years. Our family’s primary source of income is clothing retail. But especially as someone who has seen the background of these businesses, I can promise you that the whole machine has been slowly grinding to a halt even before this pandemic. Big name clothing brands are shutting down stores, filing bankruptcy, continually missing sales projections, clearancing surplus stock just to get rid of it so that they can make room for the new collections that are coming in every month [or more frequently]. By dropping their prices, stores are training customers to wait for low prices, which creates a cyclical effect that is basically a death spiral for the clothing retailer.
This has been coming long before the coronavirus existed.
Anyway, how great would it be if we could trade fast fashion retailers for, say, a booming seamstress and tailoring industry? Or make thrift shopping the primary source of clothing rather than the shopping malls [which have also been on the decline for years now], so that resale shops around the country have to hire tons more employees and move to bigger locations to meet the demand? And what if cobblers become so common that everyone knows where their local shoe repair shop is, rather than wondering where to even find such a thing? And maybe people will start getting creative and turning their old clothes into new, unique one-of-a-kind pieces that they truly love, rather than having to search through racks of the same pants that fifty other people will buy that same day?
Sounds good to me.
Don’t worry – the clothing industry will never go away completely. We obviously will always need clothes. But imagine a world where we only buy what we need, then we would have money to pay more and we would buy better quality and clothing manufacturers wouldn’t have to be constantly cutting their costs to appease the American demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing. This would be a win for everyone.
For more information on the clothing industry, I highly recommend the following:
***COVID-19 Carlson Family Update: We are on day 12 of the 15-day Social Distancing request by the United States Government and day 6 of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order. We are all healthy [which is quite shocking even under normal circumstances because with a family of six someone is usually sick this time of year]. Brett is home working remotely and getting paid 80% of his salary, which makes us very lucky compared to many, many people in the retail industry. Today is the last day of e-learning for Evangeline before spring break next week. This is probably the only time I will ever say that I wish she wasn’t getting a week off since the school work gives us something to do each morning. Still no end in sight to this virus despite what optimist want to say. Infection rates are still increasing and we are still bracing for the worst while staying safely away from everyone. Also…we are still out of toilet paper.***
COVID-19 has changed the whole world, and my zero waste lifestyle is no exception. We are no longer allowed to bring our own reusable bags or jars to the grocery store. I have received emails stating that only prepackaged bulk goods will be available to purchase for the time being. In some of these minor ways, we have had to adjust just like everyone else. But many of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle have become even more important and more necessary.
Although zero waste is commonly thought of as using a bunch of specialty products and buying a bunch of specialty foods — at the real heart of the zero waste movement is the simple concept of [duh] not wasting anything.
I’ve posted this quote before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. The whole point of zero waste is NOT to have all the aesthetically pleasing bamboo products — it’s about simply not letting anything go to waste.
And at a time like this, when people are surviving on less money and our very government is ordering us to stop going out, and shopping malls and stores are shit down all over the WORLD, now is the perfect time to stop all the wastefulness.
So, anyway, all that to say I hope that we come out on the other side of this global tragedy as a less wasteful society because we have learned how to “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”
In spite of everything, the world continues to turn, so I am continuing to make my usual zero waste swaps. This month I’ve traded traditional toothpaste for toothpaste tablets.
I purchased these a few months ago from Well Earth Goods but was determined to use up my current toothpaste stash before I started with these. However, my partner keeps bringing new toothpaste home from the dentist [I politely refuse their little plastic gift baggy], so I decided to start using the tablets for myself.
Brett saw me try one for the first time, and now he refuses to try it himself. [He said that I made a face which made it look very unappealing.]
What can I say? I was unprepared for how strange it would be to chew up a powdery tablet and then brush it on my teeth. But it didn’t take me long to get used to it.
I like these little tablets a lot now. They provide that minty zing I always want in a toothpaste and my mouth feels clean and refreshed after brushing. AND they are A MILLION TIMES BETTER than the homemade baking soda variety I tried last year. [Yuck!]
In reality, though, the primary reason I like these is that they don’t come in a plastic tube bound for the trash.
Let’s talk about the packaging of these bad boys.
These tablets came in a compostable package and were shipped in a [very nice] cardboard box with paper filler that could be easily recycled.
Still, I’m not a fan of compostable packaging because I’m not entirely certain whether they can be composted in a backyard compost pile, like I have at my home.
[I was disappointed to learn that a lot of packaging that proudly claims to be “compostable” has to be composted by an industrial or commercial composting facility – not just thrown in the backyard bin – which defeats the whole purpose in my opinion.]
I really love the company Well Earth Goods and plan to purchase from them in the future – particularly their laundry strips which I plan to move to exclusively after I’m done with cloth diapers. But I think there may be a better way to purchase the toothpaste tablets, say, in a glass jar that can be recycled or, even better, a container that can be returned to the company for recycling. [I believe this is the case with Lush products, so I will be buying toothpaste tablets there next.]
But over all, I give the toothpaste tablets a huge thumbs up.
I intend to make this permanent switch and now with my bamboo toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bar, water flosser, and wee wipes [thank you, COVID-19], I have a [nearly] zero waste bathroom!
Next, I will be trying out bar deodorant and posting about that after a few week trial.
The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.
Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.
[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]
And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.
This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.
Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.
I choose the latter.
So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.
Spending Time Together
My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:
We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.
We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.
Eating Real Food
This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.
Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!
Exercising At [or near] Home
Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].
When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.
Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.
For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.
You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.
[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]
I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.
Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.
That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.
Last year was my first time dealing with a school Valentine’s Day exchange in probably twenty years. And let me tell you, A LOT has changed since I used to tear apart those cheap perforated cards with looney toons characters and obsess over which cute boys got the most romantic messages. Fast forward to today and the expectations for this holiday seems to have skyrocketed. [Well done, Hallmark]
As you might expect, cutting down on the wastefulness of the event is my main priority. Last year, Evangeline took these cuties to her class to give out.
This year, we went with a non-edible option: color your own bookmark.
I printed these bookmarks [free from Inspiration Made Simple – thank you!] and attached them to colored card stock then taped a crayon to the back.
This option was perfect for Evangeline because she LOVES reading and she actually uses bookmarks because she is already reading chapter books [WHAT?!?]. She also LOVES coloring. Of course, she wanted to color them in, so I let her color one for her teacher and attached it to a jar of chocolate we got from the bulk bins.
Besides avoiding waste, I also like to use what I have on hand. Since we already had an unused box of crayons and plenty of paper, this project didn’t require going out to buy anything.
Though a lot has changed, kids still apparently decorate boxes for their valentines. I may have had a little too much fun helping Evangeline with hers.
It turned out cute – and distinctly Evangeline.
[I found more great ideas for zero waste Valentine’s gifts for the obligatory classroom exchange on Zeroish.org – read the list here!]
I hope everyone has a lovely [nearly] zero waste Valentine’s Day!
Laundry used to consume WAY too much of my time, so last year I established a designated laundry day once a week. It works great [so long as my partner doesn’t sneak loads into the washer – which he does FREQUENTLY] except that a week between washes means that I have to be more proactive about stains.
And I’ve already admitted that I’m super lazy about laundry. Historically, if one of the kids have played with their pasta sauce or rolled around in the mud outside or poured hit chocolate down their front – well, I would set the clothing aside until I threw it in the laundry. And quite honestly, if it didn’t come out in the wash…well, who cares? These little kids clothes are like $5 for a pack of three.
Well, times have changed. Or rather, I have changed. It is no longer okay for me to trash stuff that I am just too lazy to clean properly. I am so embarrassed that this used to be my attitude toward clothing, as if it is disposable just because it is inexpensive.
[I could go off on a huge tangent here, but I will spare you in this post.]
Part of zero waste, minimalist, and simple living is about taking care of your stuff. Dare I say, it is a HUGE part. So, it’s time for me to put my big girl pants on and handle my home like I actually value everything in it.
Confession #2: I used to “Shout it out.”
You are all familiar with the Shout stain-remover, right? Miracle worker, really.
There have definitely been occasions when I spilled something on my favorite t-shirt or – god forbid – a shirt I borrowed from a friend and had to do an emergency Shout session. [Shout sessions consist of soaking and spraying and scrubbing and praying – on the knees if necessary – and then repeating until the stain is gone.] I mean, for real, that stuff works!
BUT, Shout comes in a plastic bottle that I would rather not buy again. So when I stumbled upon the stain stick, I was super excited to give it a try.
Remember that aforementioned hot chocolate incident? Well, here you can see the aftermath. The other shirt has a banana stain that has already been washed and dried [oops].
I followed the instructions on the stick: “Wet stick and stained area. Run into fabric and lather. Wash as usual.” Very simple.
Good as new!
The banana stain, however, didn’t fare as well, so I have learned a valuable lesson: pre-treat IMMEDIATELY.
I’ve been using the stain stick to pre-treat all our messy clothes with excellent results. And we have A LOT of messy clothes. I have four children under the age of six, folks. Things get really messy around here.
Confession #3: I’m not perfect and that’s okay.
Sometimes, despite my best intentions, things sit dirty and stain and it’s a bummer. But I am only human. I’m trying to do my best. And I think the stain stick over the plastic bottle is a step in the right direction.
One of my 2020 goals is to focus on minimalism. In the past two years we have made great progress toward living a [nearly] zero waste lifestyle, but now I want to circle back and focus on cutting out unnecessary spending and eliminate all the clutter from our home and our life.
My new motto:
So, as a part of that goal, I am tracking all of our spending for the entire year and will share it with you monthly. I am not promising to stop spend money altogether but I am tracking it so that we can see where we need to improve.
Just as it is helpful to do a “trash audit” at the start of a zero waste journey, a “shopping audit” is helpful if I am trying to stop bringing junk into my home.
January Shopping Audit
Some clarifications before I begin: My audit only includes physical items [not doctor co-pays, museum entry fees, and school activity costs] and does NOT include consumables, which include food, pet food, toilet paper, and salt blocks for our water softener.
[Toiletries and laundry supplies are consumables, but I am going to share those purchases because I am trying to reduce our waste – and spending – in these areas.]
What We Bought:
So here is everything we bought this month:
Bracelet for Brett for $35 – For Christmas, I gave my partner a leather bracelet with our kids’ names engraved on little beads butthe bracelet didn’t fit [oh the joys of shopping on Amazon]. So he used his Christmas money to buy a new bracelet for the beads.
Seven used puzzles for $7 – my partner and I have started doing puzzles together instead of spending all of our alone time watching Netflix.
Medications for the kids for $20 – We ran out of children’s Tylenol [and this is a necessity when you have four kids under six] and my daughter got an infection and needed an expensive OTC cream.
Used ballet slippers for $2 – My daughter outgrew her ballet slippers for ballet class to the point where she couldn’t even put them on without being in pain, so we needed to get her a bigger pair. [We donated the old pair to her dance class instructor].
Toiletries for $20 – Brett bought another shampoo bar from Lush for $9 and also needed more deodorant and hair cream.
Total spent: $84
Over budget: $0
What We Are Going to Do With It:
The most important reason to stop bringing stuff into the home is that eventually I will [most likely] have to get rid of it. I mean, nothing lasts forever. So, I don’t want to bring anything into my home that I won’t be able to responsibly dispose of when I am done with it.
I’d like to think that Brett will keep the bracelet forever, but that is unrealistic. When he no longer wants to wear it, we will have to throw away the beads and donate the bracelet. Looking back on it, this was not the wisest gift choice on my part. In the future I will give him experience gifts like a brewery tour or something like that.
The ballet slippers and puzzles we will donate or give away to anyone who would like them. We actually only do a puzzle once, so we will be getting rid of them as we finish them. Maybe we can find a friend to swap with so that we all get new puzzles.
The medicine and toiletries will be consumed and then the bottles will be recycled. I haven’t found a way to eliminate the plastic medicine bottles from our lives – sometimes we just need medicine and I am okay with this exception to our zero waste rule until there is a better way.
The Minimalism Game
This month, I played the 30-Day Minimalism Game [which you can read about here].
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve probably already seen all the stuff that I got rid of – over 500 items!
Day 28-31 [combined into two photos]
Through this process I learned so much about being responsible for where something goes when I am done with it. I tried SO HARD to not have anything go into the trash. I listed stuff for free on OfferUp. I researched how to recycle unusual things. I even went back and forth with Contigo to try to figure out how to responsibly get rid of the kids’ chewed up water bottles [hint: there is no good way so I will never buy bottles like this again].
In a perfect world every manufacturer would be responsible for the product it is creating – either taking it back to be recycled into new products, or at the very least providing helpful information about how to best recycle a product. In a perfect world, companies wouldn’t be allowed to mass produce plastic crap that will still be on this earth when my great great great grandkids are here without at the very least having a plan for the end of its life. But, I can only do my best to avoid products like these. If I cannot responsibly rehome an item, if it cannot be recycled or repurposed or reused, then I simply should not be buying it.
Thankfully, nowadays, there are so many wonderful, easy [even FREE] alternatives for the typical plastic crap.
This month, only a handful of items [the lids to those plastic water bottles, a bag of plastic junk, and some expired vitamins] went into the trash. Everything else was donated or given to friends or recycled or repurposed.
For the rest of the year, I will be getting rid of 30 items from the house each month and continuing to report our shopping habits monthly.