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!
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.
After 19 months without buying any clothes, I have finally made my first purchase.
I’ll tell you what I bought and why I bought it, but first…
In May of 2018, I started this blog with a promise to not buy ANY clothing for a full year and to donate 26 items from my current wardrobe each month.
I had just finished reading the book The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and knew instantly that I had to change the way I consumed everything – starting with my clothes.
As someone who has never really been that concerned with clothes or fashion, I was shocked to discover that I had WAY TOO MUCH clothing in my closet [and dresser and storage] – 486 pieces in total. I had so much clothes that even after the year was up, I still had more than enough, so I made a new commitment to purchase clothing only when it was needed.
Seven months went by and I still didn’t need any clothes. By this time, I was so used to not buying clothes that I insisted my current stuff [socks with holes so big they barely stay on, and underwear so stretched out from pregnancy that they barely stay on as well] was “perfectly sufficient.”
My partner rolled his eyes.
Then, on Christmas morning, he gave me a gift card for a brand that I have already given a rave review in my post My Favorite Ethical Clothing Brands so that I could buy some much needed intimates.
My First Clothing Purchase
That very day, I placed an order for some new panties and a bra at Naja.co, ending my 19 month hiatus from buying clothes. But this purchase was different than any clothing purchase I have made in my entire life.
After a year and a half of reading and educating myself, reflecting on my values and ultimately setting my requirements for new clothes going forward – I made a purchase that I feel really good about.
The purchase was necessary. Undergarments are an obvious necessity – though I don’t need a big selection. Seven pairs of underwear, two comfy bras, and a selection of good sports bras are all I really need. I’m done buying clothing [or anything else for that matter] to make myself feel better [aka retail therapy]. I’m not going to buy clothing because I am out and see an advertisement that makes me want something that I don’t actually need. I’m not going to buy clothes just because they are cute or stylish or CHEAP. I am only buying clothes when I need them.
The purchase had to be new. I have a commitment to buying used whenever possible. For obvious reasons, intimates are not available used. So, I had no choice but to buy new.
As a reminder, here is the “Buyerarchy of Needs” by Sara Lazarovic.
The company is ethical and eco-conscious. If I have no choice but to buy new, then I want to purchase clothing that is made ethically and sustainably – meaning a company that prioritizes taking care of EVERY PERSON in its supply chain and making a concerted effort to protect the environment. The clothing industry is taxing on the environment no matter how it is done [but, obviously, so is just plain living], but some companies are trying to do a better job. The heart of the company is what I care about most.
When I buy something, I am essentially casting my vote for that business. I cannot say that I want companies to treat their garment workers fairly if I am not willing to stop buying from the companies that don’t.
And this leads to the final and [for me] biggest difference in my shopping habits.
The cost didn’t matter. I spent $100 for three pairs of underwear and a comfy day bra. In my previous life, I would have NEVER spent $100 on four items of clothing so small they were shipped to me in a manila envelope. I would have called this “highway robbery.” I would have said, “Why would I pay that price when I can go to Target and get a pack of five panties for $9.99?!”
Wow, have I changed.
Now I am buying based on my values – not the cost. [And of course, now I can afford to spend more money because I don’t buy more than what I actually need.]
How can I expect a company to pay a fair price for the cotton and a fair price to the garment worker and a fair price to the store employees if I am unwilling to pay a fair price for the item? Seriously, I cannot even go buy the material to make a pair of cotton panties [let alone pay myself for actually making them – which of course is a skill I absolutely do not have] for as cheap as I can buy them. How can I expect my clothing to be cheaper than the cost of the material??
We, the consumers, are the heart of this problem – even more so than the companies taking advantage of desperate and impoverished workers around the world. We have to be the ones to say that we care enough to pay MORE. Being cheap is not a virtue if it’s hurting people, and just because we don’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We live in such a global economy now that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the suffering that is literally caused by OUR demand for cheaper and cheaper goods.
The companies also have a responsibility to do the right and decent thing – I’m not letting them off the hook entirely. But we have the power to make changes by changing how we shop.
This change simply MUST HAPPEN.
[I’ve mentioned it A MILLION TIMES, but if you want more info, watch the documentary, The True Cost – or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Clineor Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press.]
So, now what?
The results of my clothing ban have been amazing. I am so happy that I made this change[and I’m not just saying that].Besides supporting ethical and sustainable brands, there are other practical benefits of a minimalist wardrobe.
1. I love everything in my closet. Never again will I put on a shirt and then remember how the seam always irritates my armpit or how the top is just a little too snug or how the material is kind of itchy or whatever the problem was that caused me to never wear it.I’ve gotten rid of all that stuff. Now I only have pieces I love. They fit great. They look great. Some are even so worn that they have holes, but I love them so much I wouldn’t think of parting with them. Imagine having a wardrobefull of clotheslike that. I also love them because they fit my “style” [or do they fit my style because I love them?]
Which brings me to the next thing I love about my minimal wardrobe.
2. All of my clothes are MY style. The world of fashion is all about style: what is trending, what’s hitting the runways, what’s everyone going to be wearing next season, etc. I have taken all of the work out of being stylish by simplywearing my own style. And, quite frankly, I don’t care if anyone else likes it. Most people don’t even know what their style is because they are trying to be “in style” whatever that style may happen to be at the moment, rather than dressing for themselves. Wear whatever YOU want. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. If you don’t know what your style is, get rid of every piece of clothing that you don’t absolutely love, and look at what is left. THAT is your unique style, and going forward you can bypass any other type of clothing that someone else or a clever ad tries to tell you you should be wearing. Wear your style. And wear it with pride.
My personal style is SUPER casual, mostly sporty, always comfy. I like to wear a fancy [read: sexy] cocktail dress on very rare and special occasions. I love long, flowing dresses in the summer.I love long, slouchy sweaters in the winter. I like neutralcolors.My favorite shirt is actually a blue and white checked flannel button-down that I stole from my partner’s closet. So apparently my style also includes menswear. So what?
I wear what I like and I like what I wear.
3. Gettingdressed is a breeze. With not as many choices, it is very easy to get dressedfor any occasion. It’s also super easy to pack. Over the holidays, I went on two short trips to visit family. I literally packed in three minutes and I only needed half a duffle bag for three nights. I only own one nice sweater and two pairs of jeans, so I don’t have to choose between a bunch of options.And since I love it all [see #1] and it’s all my style [see #2], then it doesn’t really matter what I choose.
4. I take better care of my stuff. My clothes have a greater value to me than they ever did before– partially because I love them so much and also because I don’t buy new stuff soI need my current clothes to last. I have completely erased the “take and toss” mentality that our society has toward clothing and replaced it with a “wear, take care, mend and repair” attitude. [I just made that up!]
5. My clothes take up less space. When I started the clothing ban, my husband and I each had a dresser and a closet full of clothes AND additionalbins of clothing in the shed. Today, all of my clothes fit in my closet. And folks, I don’t have a walk-in closet. A walk-in closet for me wouldtotally be overkill. [Side note: have you seen those families on HGTV who use the whole spare bedroom as their closet?!?!] The benefit of a smaller wardrobe is the same benefit as having fewer of anything – fewer things to take care of, less space needed to store it, less money spent to pay for the space to store it, more money to spend on things that matter like family, experiences, giving, etc.
2020 Is My Year of Less
It’s probably not a surprise that I won’t be shopping for unnecessary clothing ever again, but this year I am extending my values to all other purchases.
I have already started the 30-Day Minimalism Game this month to kickstart my year of less. I am not promising to never buy anything – but I am committing to purchase only things that we need [excluding gifts and things for the kids, of course] AND to remove unnecessary items from my home [at least 30 per month]. I will post a monthly update of what I have gotten rid of and what new things we have purchased [excluding consumables, which right now are only food and toilet paper]. I’m going to keep my zero waste goals in mind as well, which makes this tough because I can’t just throw everything I don’t want into the rubbish bin.
But I am very excited. If this year of less goes as well as my clothing ban did – it’s going to be a great year.
In 2019, I read 40 books, I fell in love with yoga, I learned to knit, I spent more time outside with my kids, I visited the dentist TWICE, I made my own cleaning products, and I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby.
All-in-all, it was a great year.
This, my friends, is what New Years resolutions are all about. They are NOT just to set and forget. They are supposed to change you. And when they are effective, they are AWESOME.
This year, I have goals that are BIG. They are so big, they are a little scary. I’m almost afraid to state them – but these are things I truly want to accomplish, so I’m going to go for it anyway.
New skill: learn Spanish
Health: run a marathon, swim regularly, improve flexibility
Personal: go back to school for nursing, pursue kidney donation, volunteer regularly
Blog: improve blog design and function, organize and categorize posts
Family: establish family mealtime routine and guidelines, take international trip with Brett
Minimalism: minimalist game in January, remove 30 unused items per month, log all [non-consumable] purchases
Environmentalism: buy milk in glass, switch to safety razor, wooden dish brushes, and straw broom.
Humanitarianism: donate more money this year, sponsor another child, commission quilts for donation
As I’ve said before, I LOVE making resolutions [or goals] because it is so helpful for me to focus on specific things I want to change or improve or learn or accomplish in the new year. Maybe you hate them, maybe you’re indifferent, or maybe you have your own way of goal-setting. Whatever the case, I hope that 2020 is a year of tremendous personal growth and accomplishments for you.
When I first started reducing my waste, I was definitely tempted to toss every piece of plastic in the trash and buy all new wooden toys for my kids, bamboo scrub brushes for my dishes, and cast iron pots and pans for my kitchen…but I knew that was the exact opposite of the zero waste lifestyle I was trying to live. So, instead, I kept using my plastic Tupperware, my kids still play with their cheap plastic toys, and I’ve been scrubbing the toilet with the same plastic toilet brush that we bought nine years ago after we moved in together.
But all that changed a few weeks ago when I walked into the bathroom and saw, to my great excitement, that the toilet brush had somehow snapped in half! [Now that I think about it, one of the kids probably broke it, but I don’t even want to know how that happened…]
I’ve never been so happy to see something broken. And since I am unwilling to actually plunge my hand into the toilet to clean it, it was time for a new toilet brush!
This new beechwood brush is a beauty. In this case, eco-friendly is also the most attractive option.
I finally conceded that my son needs pull-ups to help with night potty training and my first thought was that we would have to buy disposables. [I know, old habits die hard.] But then I realized there may be a reusable alternative – and of course there is! So I bought a reusable pull-up that works just like our cloth diapers except that my son can pull it up and down to go to the bathroom if he needs to.
This GroVia pull-up works GREAT, but it is very pricey so I only bought one. I should get more so I don’t have to wash it every day. [I also got a set of “pull-ups” that are basically just padded underwear and don’t really prevent leaks AT ALL.]
Reusable 2-Gallon Bags
So, I have a confession. I’ve been using plastic gallon bags for storing and freezing my bread each week.
I wasn’t buying bags [which is good]. I was reusing them [which is a little iffy]. And let me tell you, they are definitely not made to be reused. But I didn’t have anything else that would keep the bread from drying out or going stale.
I’ve already replaced sandwich bags with wraps and silicone bags, so I decided to see if they have reusable bags in bigger sizes – and of course they do!
I bought these biodegradable two-gallon reusable bags for storing my loaves of bread in the fridge or freezer. I’m very pleased with them!
I haven’t bought tissues in my adult life – other than picking up a box before my dad comes to visit and buying a box this fall for my daughter to take to kindergarten. It is probably unusual, but we use toilet paper for nose blowing. I fully blame my partner for this alternative. We currently compost the make-shift tissues, so I guess it’s not a total waste, but I’ve been dying for handkerchiefs. They are reusable, they are soft, and they kinda have this old-fashioned classy feel to them.
My girlfriend, Megan, made these for me and I could not be happier! I go to her for all of my sewing needs and she never disappoints! Someday I hope to have her teach me how to sew so I can make reusable produce bags from scrap material to hand out for free at my local farmers market like The Zero Waste Chef does.
Ah, well, we all have dreams!
Laundry Detergent Strips
I have spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME trying to find an eco-friendly laundry detergent. I know lots of people DIY this household essential, but I’ve just read too many reasons to trust the experts AND I use cloth diapers so I can’t be messing around with detergent or I’ll end up with unhappy babies.
So, I was SO EXCITED when my amazing cousin, Stacey, told me about these laundry strips by Well Earth Goods!
Half of a square is detergent for one load of laundry. I just put the strip in the drum and run my washer as usual. I think they are great! I was worried that they wouldn’t be strong enough for the diapers, but out of necessity we tried it￼, and I think it worked fine.
I love that this detergent option has no plastic jug to dispose of and even ships free without any plastic packaging.
This company is great and the store is full of low waste products. While I was there buying the laundry strips, I also picked up toothpaste tablets:
And a laundry stain stick:
I haven’t tried these two things yet. They will each probably warrant their own post with all the details, so stay tuned!
So, basically, what I’m trying to say is, before you go out and buy something that has a single use and will be tossed in the trash and that you have to continue to buy and throw away over and over and over again for the rest of your life….look around for a reusable alternative. There most likely is one. And it will save you loads of cash and Mother Earth loads of trash in the long run.
You heard it here first, folks. Zero Waste is not actually about the waste.
When I first hopped on the waste-less bandwagon around a year ago, I kept seeing all these articles by negative Nancys basically calling the zero waste movement a fraud.
“It’s not actually zero waste,” they said.
“It’s not even going to make a dent in the waste problem.”
“The only way to save the planet is get big business and government legislation involved.”
Ok, so I hear all of this angsty, “why bother” business and I realize that they have all missed the entire point of the zero waste movement.
It’s not about the waste.
Technically it is about waste, but in reality, this way of life is MUCH MUCH bigger than just how much garbage you personally produce. It’s about more than reusable shopping bags and stainless steel straws and cooking from scratch and BYORC [bring your own reusable container – I bet you couldn’t tell I made that up…]. It’s not about storing all your trash in a jar, or in anything at all. None of that matters if we’re missing the whole point.
So what is the whole point?
Are you ready for it?
Zero waste is about affecting social change.
In other words, zero waste is less about how much actual waste you are producing and is much more about how you are influencing other people’s understanding of the waste problem. Sure, you can store five years worth of rubbish in a can, but if you are the only one doing it – I’m sorry – it’s just not going to help.
On trash pickup day, I see so many trash cans in my neighborhood filled to the brim. Some houses have several cans out. Some have whole piles of extra crap next to their cans. I would have to be certifiably insane to think that I am helping the cause by not contributing trash to the weekly pickup. That’s just nonsense. The quantity of trash is just plain enormous.
But I’m not trying to discourage zero wasters [or potential converts]. On the contrary, I’m trying to encourage everyone by saying that you ARE making a difference. Just by participating in the zero waste movement and living the zero waste lifestyle [and it doesn’t have to be perfectly, by the way] we are influencing those around us.
The whole reason the zero waste movement became defined by the trash in the jar stuff is because it is shocking. When someone holds a pint jar and says that all of the trash they have produced in the past year is inside, well, people notice. Because that is just plain not normal in our society. And that catches people’s attention. That plants a seed of curiosity, which we all hope will lead to research and then enlightenment and then changed behavior.
After all, that is the journey that we all went on before going zero waste, right?
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Those millions of people aren’t just going to wake up one morning and start refusing plastic straws. But maybe if they see us doing it, if they hear us talking about it, then maybe the millions will join us.
It seems like a daunting problem from the perspective of the individual – and, yes, we do need corporate and government support to create significant and systemic change. But we shouldn’t let that discourage us either. All of the businesses and governments in the world are made up of people like you and me. It may seem like corporations and governments are huge insurmountable obstacles in the fight for the planet, but when you look closely, they are just people – people who have friends and families, who like to vacation at the beach or hike in the mountains, who also put their trash cans by the road each week. These people are not unreachable and all it takes is for us to set an example of sustainable living that spreads until it reaches the companies and government agencies that can create the biggest impact.
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. We can create a positive change. All we have to do is set the example.
Do you know how badly I wish there were such a thing as truly zero waste shoes????
Like, really badly.
And I’m not even a shoe person. But when I committed to sourcing my clothes through ethical, sustainable means I just kinda assumed that it would be possible to find shoes the same way.
Turns out, I was mistaken.
Of course, this post is not ALL bad news. There ARE some sustainable shoe brands out there – Made Trade, Everlane, Rothy’s, Allbirds [among others]. But none are totally zero waste [that I have found]. And more importantly, none of them make performance running shoes – which is, of course, what I need.
Eco-Friendly Running Shoes
The issue with finding sustainable running shoes is that they have to be able to perform well. They need to have cushion and support or my running [and feet and knees and legs and hips] will suffer. They also need to be replaced every 300-500 miles because the soles wear down and then, once again, my running will suffer. This also means that I can’t buy them used.
My dream is to find a running shoe that is comfortable and lightweight and can handle 500 miles of pavement pounding AND is 100% biodegradable.
I’m telling you right now, that is a total pipe dream.
At best, I’m hoping for a brand to someday take back worn out running shoes to recycle into new shoes. That would be the second best option. If we could close the loop on the running shoes, I would consider that zero waste. But, unfortunately, no such shoe exists [at least not that I know of, but I have my eye on the new Adidas project called Futurecraft.Loop].
So, while I’m waiting for the perfect zero waste shoe, I had to find the best alternative.
And this is where my new Adidas UltraBOOST Parley running shoes come in.
Meet My Adidas UltraBOOSTs
These are a collaboration between Adidas [the athletic shoe giant] and Parley for the Oceans [a nonprofit that is trying to save our oceans]. The top of the shoe is made [of some undefined percentage] of recycled plastic from the ocean.
Well that’s pretty cool.
And, honestly, the shoes are pretty cool with or without the ocean plastic. They aren’t kidding when they call them UltraBOOSTs…
Eco-Friendly Non-Running Running Shoes
While I was researching sustainable running shoes – and by the way, I did A TON of research – I came across these beautiful runners by Allbirds.
Meet my Allbirds Tree Runners
Unfortunately, despite being called runners, they are not actually for running. But they are so beautiful and from such a great eco-friendly company that I bought a pair for casual wear.
You can wear these without socks!!! THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE!!! And they are machine washable [which is important because I went with white].
These are sparking some serious joy, folks…
Even the packaging they came in was totally waste free. 👍🏻
So, basically shoes are still tough to find zero waste – especially athletic shoes – but it’s important to me to do my homework and make the most ethical and most sustainable choice I can.
All I can do is give my consumer dollars to the companies that are doing their best for people and planet and hope that others follow.
If you have sustainable shoe brands to share, let me know!