Clothing items purchased: 0 (bought no clothes at all – not for me or my kids. My husband did buy some clothes for work and bought me one of the above mentioned gifts)
[The shopping ban officially ends at the end of May on my 32nd birthday, but I’ll talk more about that then.]
The conclusion of this challenge [or experiment or whatever you want to call it] has come at the perfect time – right before I give birth to my fourth and final baby. So, on one hand, I am still holding on to some larger sizes that I will be able to permanently get rid of as soon as I shrink out of them AND a wealth of maternity clothes that I am anxious to find a good home for – possibly with a local pregnancy center. But, on the other hand, it has allowed me to clear out my wardrobe before the newborn craziness begins and my priorities switch once again to meeting the constant needs of the baby. Couldn’t have timed it better if I tried, quite honestly.
Soon I’ll be sharing my favorite ethical clothing brands that I plan to support in he future – in the absence of used clothing options.
It’s been exactly one year since I read my first zero waste book, Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash by Shia Su, which was my first introduction to the world of bulk bins and muslin bags and stainless steel straws and bamboo cutlery. And my life has been forever changed.
Thanks, Shia! [I LOVE HER!]
This book made me believe that reducing my waste is totally achievable – not extreme or inconvenient, as it is commonly perceived – and gave BRILLIANT tips and hacks and photos to convince me that, YES, I can do it!
Since then, I’ve made a lot of changes to reduce my household’s waste.
Then, a few days ago, I picked up this new book: 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg, which is another super practical guide for reducing your waste.
This book is so fabulous that I read the entire thing in two days – which basically means a few hours.
As someone who is outspokenly “low waste,” this book was part slap on the back [“yeah, look at you go! No more paper towels in your home!”] and part slap on the wrist [“don’t call yourself zero waste when you still accept disposable straws at the drive-thru!”].
I’ve clearly got some more work to do.
Out of the 101 ways in the book, 20 are not applicable to me [I don’t use hairspray] or are impractical [I can’t walk, bike, or take public transportation because of where I live and the fact that I always have three toddlers in tow]. Out of the 81 that are left, I’ve already been doing 47! [Go me!] But that still leaves 34 ways to go zero waste that I have not gotten a handle on yet.
Yes, one of them is the straw issue…
So, since my clothing ban officially ends next month, I’m going to use the next twelve months to focus on these remaining 34 areas.
Here they are:
Say “No” to straws
Go to the farmers market
Go to the butcher
Specialty stores and restaurants
Compostable dish scrubs*
Swapping out toxic items
Tub and toilet cleaner*
Recycled and double sided paper*
Out to eat
Zero waste travel kit
Buying carbon offsets
Zero waste vacations
Zero waste pets
Get involved with local government
[*I haven’t been buying these for the past year and I am still trying to use up what I have so that I can switch to a sustainable or DIY alternative.]
Geez, that is a long list. Luckily, many of these things can be combined. Also, many of these won’t be accomplished in a year because I’m still working through using up my bajillion bottles of lotion and my fifteen packages of disposable razors [don’t ask].
And now, I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book:
“In today’s world, one of the most radical things you can do is find contentment.” – Kathryn Kellogg, 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste
Doesn’t sound related to zero waste, but that is at the heart of the zero waste movement – to stop the constant consumption and need for more that drives our linear economy. Finding contentment with what we have is the first step to counteracting our wastefulness.
There was a time [not too long ago] when I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away the ends of the bread loaf or the bag of wilted spinach, and I have most definitely been guilty of tossing leftovers that I willfully ignored until they were no longer edible. But now, every time I throw away food – even into the compost bin – it is a reminder of my life of excess which provides me with so much food that I’m letting it go bad and throwing it away, and even more importantly, it is a reprimand for not being a responsible consumer of one of life’s most essential resources. Needless to say, I don’t throw food away without feeling badly about it anymore.
As a family, we began actively trying to reduce our waste [in general] at the start of 2018. To be honest, food waste wasn’t a primary focus until a few months ago when I read statistics about food waste in America being as high as 40% [read it for yourself here].
I am APPALLED at that number – especially when I think of the 49 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table , not to mention the millions around the world who will go to bed hungry tonight. And here I am, throwing out grapes because they are a little squishy…
Part of the solution to this problem is recognizing that I am a contributor to the food waste problem in the world and accepting that it is my responsibility to reduce my waste as much as I am capable.
So, in our home, we’ve been taking extra measures to reduce our food waste. I’m going to share them below, but before I do, here are the statistics that I hope you will find as shocking as I did and will motivate you to join the cause.
Food Waste Statistics
The waste is HUGE.
An estimated 40% of food in America is wasted. (Source: NRDC.org, read it here.)
On average, 197 pounds of perfectly good food goes to landfills EVERY DAY. (Source: FeedingAmerica.org)
The problem is serious, and seriously EXPENSIVE.
Approximately $161 billion worth of food is wasted each year in the US. (Source: USDA, read it here.)
Food waste is costly to our environment as well – using 21% of fresh water, 18% of crop land, and taking up 21% of our landfills. (Source: ReFED)
We are paying $218 billion annually to produce and ship and dispose of food.
“American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.That’s 52 million tons of food sent to landfill annually, plus another 10 million tons that is discarded or left unharvested on farms. Meanwhile, one in seven Americans is food insecure.”– ReFED.com
The biggest problem is in American homes – not grocery stores and restaurants.
43% of wasted food is happening at the consumer level.
The chart above, from FeedingAmerica.org, shows the breakdown of where the food waste is happening.
What you can do about it
1. Buy only what you need. Only buy enough fresh food to last you a week or two, depending on the item’s shelf life. Then EAT IT.Don’t stock up on foods with expiration dates unless you are certain you will eat them.
2. Eat leftovers – including leftovers from restaurants. Store them in clear containers so you know what you have available in your fridge. Set up a “first in, first out” rule, eating oldest leftovers first.
3. Store food properly. Prolong the life of your fresh foods by storing them properly.
4. Freeze or preserve excess. When foods are nearing their expiration, eat or freeze or preserve them. Don’t just let them rot and then toss them in the trash.
5. Take inventory regularly. Make it a habit to frequently take inventory of the contents in your fridge and freezer and pantry – noting expiration dates – so that you know what you have, what needs to be eaten soon, and what you need to purchase.
6. Compost your food scraps. Composting is not as intimidating as it sounds and while it is easier to do if you own land, there are a growing number of urban composting resources to help you compost in your apartment or townhome or penthouse with a view. [Read this article by The Washington Post about how to get started.]
7. Donate to organizations that are rescuing food like Feeding America and ReFED. Look for organizations in your area and donate or volunteer.
8. Spread the word. We all have a sphere of influence and are capable of multiplying our impact by encouraging our social circles to join us in ending food waste.
Food is one of life’s most vital resources. Let’s not waste it.
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.
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.
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”]
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.
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. 🤷♀️
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.
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, Ido 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.