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

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

Trash Update: One step forward, two steps back

Trash Update: One step forward, two steps back

At the start of the new year, we finally used the last tall kitchen trash bag from the box of 55 that we had bought at the beginning of 2018. I had been waiting for this day and, since we’ve been using one bag per week, it was a long wait.

The time finally came, so we bought a box of small 4 gallon trash bags that actually fit the minuscule trash can we use in our kitchen.

If we continue at our current rate, this box should last us over half of the year. After these run out, I plan to have so little garbage that I can start making these handy paper trash can liners I read about in the book Zero Waste by Shia Su:

Or at least, that’s what I was hoping.

Unfortunately, there have already been two weeks when we emptied the can twice.

Yesterday, we had some family members over who brought with them a Starbucks coffee [excuse me, “dirty Chai latte”] and a large styrofoam Chic-fil-a cup. The trash can was full from these two items alone. And then we had cake to celebrate a family birthday and a well-meaning family member bought a package of paper plates [oh the horror! 😱]. The trash bag had to be emptied before I could even squeeze the last plate into the bag.

It had only been two days since I emptied the can last…

But the realization that I am not always in control of the trash that comes into my home AND that I cannot do anything about other people’s perspectives on disposables AND that it is worthless to try to bend everyone to my way of thinking on matters of environmental conservancy [or to offend anyone in the attempt] reminded me to let go of perfection.

I can only control what I can control.

So, maybe this box of bags will last us through April. 🤷‍♀️

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 Christmas Gifts: how we gave mindful and meaningful gifts this year

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

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

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

But – how?

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

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

Here’s what we did:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🎁 🎁 🎁

Karis

October Clothing Donation

October Clothing Donation

October marks the halfway point in my clothing ban. In the past six months, I haven’t purchased a single item of clothing [though I did acquire two new shirts for the marathon which were included with my entry – one from the race and one from the charity I ran with] and I have donated 156 items from my wardrobe to local charities.

We’ve also been through round one of decluttering our home. I’ve been through the entire house now and gotten rid of the surface level clutter – the easy stuff. But I know there are many rounds ahead. I’ve already been through three rounds on my book collection and two rounds on the toys and six rounds on my tank top collection – and I know there is still a lot more to free myself from in the future.

This month, since it is now fall and definitely, without a doubt, past tank top weather, I am donating every tank top that I did not wear all summer long. I probably mentioned before that tank tops are apparently my favorite piece of clothing because I used to own 57 pieces [!!!] – the biggest line item in my clothing inventory last May. I’ve weaned it down now to twenty, but really, I don’t need more than seven [for crying out loud].

So, it may be a few more rounds for the tank tops.

I also began setting aside everything I thought about wearing, but chose not to for whatever reason. Throughout the month there were several times when I put something on and stood in front of the mirror and had to ask myself if I actually wanted to wear it – or worse, asked my husband whether it was ok to wear. Each time, I immediately put it in the donate pile. If I’m wasting time wondering if I like it or if it fits or if it’s flattering … then, no. Buh-bye.

I am also getting rid of some socks and tights and underwear that I know I will never wear.

This process of weaning down my wardrobe has been very effective. Each month I have to make slightly tougher choices…but only slightly. I’m still working through a lot of excess.

So, don’t worry if you feel like you could never cut down your wardrobe. Just start with one thing. Just put one thing in the donate pile. Do it in waves. First get rid of all the easy stuff. Then come back and re-examine. Then get rid of the emotional stuff. Then come back again … and again until you’ve got only stuff you love and feel good about and actually need.

I’ve read in several books that a clean sweep is the best way to declutter. Collect everything of like type in your entire home and then after examining each individual thing, narrow it down to your favorite, say, 10% and get rid of the rest. But, for me, I have found that doing it in waves is more practical and much easier.

It’s hard to slash your belongings by 90% overnight. I don’t doubt that it’s possible, but I don’t think I could do it that way. I prefer to gradually free myself from belongings and then examine myself and realize that the more I let go, the less I need the stuff that remains, and then I cycle through again. In this way, I’m changing myself and not just the amount of stuff I own.

I am continually learning how little I need in this life to be happy and fulfilled – especially when it comes to clothing.

Karis

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

DIY Birthday Cards / Decluttering my craft supplies

Turns out, I am a paper hoarder.

😱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karis