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

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

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

January Clothing Donation

January Clothing Donation

Three notable things happened this month regarding my clothing ban:

1. We sold our bedroom set and moved all of our clothing into our closets.

I have these six drawers [still hanging around from my college days] which contain all the clothes that currently fit [all seasons] and a top shelf that holds all of the clothes that I can’t fit into while pregnant but that I will [hopefully] fit into again someday. I also have some hanging dresses/skirts/cardigans [maternity and regular].

This feels like a big accomplishment – and also makes our bedroom feel MUCH larger in the absence of the huge sleigh bed with storage, two full dressers, and two excessively large nightstands, which of course we thought we needed when we got married.

My, how we’ve changed. Now, our bed is on the floor, two plastic storage bins serve as nightstands, and we have a laundry basket against the wall. That’s it.

[Well, we also currently have a huge collection of items headed to charity along one wall.]

2. Brett bought me a sweater.

I mean, look at this thing! It is basically a Snuggie that I can wear out of the house without ridicule! Would you say no to this level of comfort???

This is the first new piece of clothing I have bought [indirectly] since last May. I’ve received a new work uniform, two race shirts for the Chicago Marathon, and a dress that was a Christmas present, but this is the first piece of clothing to come from our money.

I kinda feel badly about it. [But only kinda.] It was new and it was from Express. Neither would be my preference. But it’s so soft and so comfy and I have worn it literally every day since I got it.

And I technically didn’t buy it…

As penance, I’m giving away an extra ten items from my wardrobe this month for a total of 36.

Hey, I never said I was perfect.

3. I mended some clothes instead of tossing them.

By “mended” I mean I used a travel sewing kit to [very poorly and by hand] stitch a few holes and tears in a couple of clothing pieces that I would like to wear again. A year ago, I would have tossed these and just bought a replacement. [I wouldn’t have even recycled them! Egad!]

Now I’m wondering whether I should try to fix my socks with holes…

[googling “how to darn socks”]

Additional thoughts…

We are in the middle of the “polar vortex” here in Chicagoland with temperatures in the -20s, which has me thinking of all the less fortunate people in my community without warm clothes, without winter coats and hats, and everyone living on the streets who hopefully found somewhere warm to stay today.

It made me think, Why should everyone in my family have multiple coats, hats, and pairs of gloves when there are people in my own community who have none?

So, I am going to give all of our extra winter gear to local shelters who are providing safety and warmth for the less fortunate in my town. We only need one winter coat. And the extra coat that just sits in the closet most of the time might make a big difference to someone this winter.

If you are as privileged as I am to always have a warm place to sleep and lots of warm clothes and several warm coats, I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Karis

Two Words that Taught me Contentment

Two Words that Taught me Contentment

Two years ago, we started on our journey to minimalism. At the time, I didn’t even know that it was an actual movement with a name and everything, I just knew that there had to be a better way to use my money than just to buy my family’s comfort and happiness. [We all know money doesn’t buy happiness anyway, right?] I wanted to spend less money on stuff we don’t need so we have more money to spend on people who really do have needs.

I found Minimalism and it helped me be less focused on getting more for myself and more focused on giving more to meet the needs of people around the world.

After two years of changing our perspective on money and possessions [and getting rid of a lot of excess as well], I have found one phrase to be the key to maintaining a simple, minimalist lifestyle – and ultimately to finding contentment.

Do without.

It’s not enough to get rid of our excess crap – we have to stop bringing in new crap. In the past year, I’ve been tempted to buy things that I thought I “needed” only to do without and realize that I didn’t need them at all. Bath mats, dish towels, pizza cutter, organizers, end tables, new dishwasher…the list is seriously long.

Now, before I go out and buy something that I think I need, I do without and see how it goes. Turns out, I don’t “need” nearly as much as I think I do.

Of course I’m not saying you should not buy legitimate things you need like food and toilet paper. I’m saying we need to do without all the extra stuff that we don’t need. And we need learn to tell the difference.

Well, the craziest thing has happened. The more I realize how little I need, the more I see how wealthy I am. The more I feel content with what I have. The less I want.

Now I look around my home see tons of stuff that I don’t need or want – especially when I think of the needs of other people. And all of that stuff represents money that I wasted and can’t get back. Money that could have bought something that someone actually does need – like food or clothing or shelter or clean water or medical supplies or an education, etc. The list of needs is long and the list of people on this planet who need them is so long it breaks my heart.

People think Minimalism is “extreme” or too restrictive. But [for me anyway] minimalism is the greatest freedom. Freedom from American consumerism. Freedom from trying to keep up with the Joneses. Freedom from wasting money on junk that just clutters my home. Freedom from feeling like I constantly need more or never have enough.

Freedom to give more away to people who really do have needs.

So, if minimalism seems like too much for you, don’t worry. You don’t have to purge all your belongings, or own a monochromatic capsule wardrobe, or leave all your walls white and bare. All you need to do is do without the excess. Do without that new shirt you don’t need. Do without that appliance that you’re only going to use once a year anyway. Do without the knick-knacks. Do without the new jewelry. Do without the pizza cutter and bath mats. Life will go on. And chances are you’ll be more content with what you have.

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Planner System for 2019

[Nearly] Zero Waste Planner System for 2019

Two years ago, I was gifted my first Happy Planner.

I was in heaven. Doesn’t this look like so much fun?! [Or is it just me?] I could lose myself for hours just in decorating my planner pages. Which, come to think of it, was not the greatest use of my time…

However, after our transition this past year to zero waste and simple living, I realized that I needed to find a simpler, smaller, less wasteful way of organizing myself.

I thought about buying an eco-friendly planner made from recycled paper [but would rather find a reusable option]. Or making a white erase board out of an old picture frame, like I’ve seen in Pinterest tutorials [but I have no place to put one]. Or maybe use an app on my phone [but I don’t want to be tied to my phone again after I just broke the habit]. Or maybe try to do without a planner at all [but I know this would end in total chaos].

I know that the most zero waste option would be a digital planner of some kind but I haven’t found one that satisfies my need to physically cross things off a list – or that I would see often during the day since I don’t use my phone or computer very frequently anymore.

In the end, I decided to use what I already have available: a white board monthly calendar and a chalkboard.

These aren’t perfectly zero waste, but they are reusable and I already had them, so I didn’t have to buy anything new. The monthly calendar has my schedule and special dates. The chalkboard has my habits list and a meal plan and a shopping list. I will likely add a place for a daily to-do list eventually, but for now I am using up the pad of paper on the board.

I’m not certain how this will work out in the long run, but I am going to try it for now.

I’m curious what system other people use? If you have a suggestion for a better zero waste option to try, let me know!

Happy planning!

Karis

November & December Clothing Donation

November & December Clothing Donation

Last month I didn’t gather the required 26 wardrobe pieces for donation mostly because I wasn’t doing much of anything in November due to debilitating morning sickness [and a general feeling of laziness]. So this month I have a pile of 52 clothing items from my closet that will be donated or recycled [depending on their condition].

I’ve now gotten rid of 208 pieces of clothing that I don’t need. I started with 486, which means I have almost cut my wardrobe in half.

And, after 8 months, I still have not bought a single item of clothing for myself. [I did buy a pair of socks for each of my kids’ Christmas stockings…]

In a few more months I plan to move all of my remaining clothes into my closet drawers and get rid of my ginormous dresser altogether, which will make our room feel so much bigger [and also provide a space for our pet, Petunia the Python, to live].

Cheers.

[I was up til 1am binging the entire Body Guard series on Netflix last night. Between that and The Great British Baking Show, I find myself using great British words like gobsmacked, bloke, dodgy, and – best of all – cheers! 🥂]

Karis