[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

[Nearly] Zero Waste Groceries In a Pandemic

In the past, I’ve written about my experiences with [nearly] zero waste grocery shopping at Aldi, Walmart, and Fresh Thyme — now here is how my family is shopping [nearly] zero waste during a pandemic.

Don’t judge me by the ramen noodle purchase–that was my husband’s choice… 😆

My husband [who has done all our shopping since the shelter-at-home order began] went to Jewel-Osco [our local grocery chain here in Chicagoland] on Wednesday for groceries. As you can see from the photo above, he brought home a lot of plastic. And that’s totally ok. This is one of the side-effects of the pandemic, but it does not in any way change my obligation to reduce my waste.

Before COVID-19, I always bought the following foods from bulk bins:

  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Flour
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans/Lentils/Split Peas
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Maple Syrup
  • Vinegar
  • Honey
  • Candy/Chocolates

Now, we buy all of these items in packaging.

But all is not lost! This doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel on reducing our waste. Here is how we are continuing to reduce our waste in the grocery department:

1. Buy the biggest package available. When this all started, Brett bought the biggest bag of rice at the store. It will probably last us the rest of the year – but that is better than buying a bunch of plastic bags. [And, trust me, we have very little storage space, but we made room the big bag in our laundry room storage area.] Whenever applicable – and for shelf-stable items only – buying a bigger package cuts down on the waste.

2. Buy only what we need. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but I’m not talking about buying big packages of shelf-stable foods that you will definitely use. I’m talking about buying the store out of everything that you may possibly, potentially have an urge for in the next century. If you don’t eat it, don’t buy it. This is common sense. And especially don’t stock up on fresh foods. Despite good intentions, this always leads to food waste. We buy enough fresh produce for the week and that’s it. We never buy frozen food [apart from the occasional carton of ice cream] because the packaging isn’t recycle able, but we have bought some canned items because you can easily recycle the cans.

[P.S.A. This is partly to reduce food waste, but also to just be a kind and considerate person during this time of panic. If everyone only bought what they actually needed we wouldn’t be running out of stuff like toilet paper and disinfectants and BREAD FLOUR!!! The problem becomes more compounded when people want something and can’t find it. The next time they see the product they buy more than they need out of fear it won’t be available again. I BEG OF YOU: RESIST THIS URGE. Just buy what you need.]

3. Choose glass over plastic. If you have to buy food in packaging, it is best to always choose the most easily recycled type of packaging. Glass is best as it can be continually recycled without losing quality or purity. So we choose to buy our milk in glass bottles instead of milk. We buy pasta sauce in glass over plastic jars. We buy jams and syrup and honey in glass even though cheaper alternatives are available in plastic [the price difference is really minor.] When glass isn’t available, we choose the next best thing. For instance, we buy our pasta in cardboard instead of plastic bags. We buy our vegetables in aluminum cans over frozen plastic bags [when fresh isn’t available] because plastic bags in the freezer section can’t be recycled.

4. Choose loose over bagged. When it comes to produce, we choose loose over wrapped in plastic. This may seem unsanitary at a time like this, but we wash our produce before eating and sometimes loose produce is actually more sanitary because produce that is wrapped in plastic often leads people to believe that it doesn’t need to be washed before consuming – but it does. Some types of produce can only be found in plastic at the grocery store [such as berries, green beans, grapes, and cauliflower]. In those cases, we buy them less frequently and always recycle the plastic containers and bags [through store drop-off recycling programs].

5. Recycle everything possible. So, yes, we are bringing home more packaging because it is unavoidable. We are even bringing our food home in plastic grocery bags [oh the horror!], but that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we are more diligent about what we can do, which is recycle. It’s true that recycling is just a bandaid, but it’s still important to do our best to keep stuff out of the landfills. We rinse every jug and jar and carton and container and put it out for recycling. It may be a hassle, but it is important.

6. Reuse or recycle plastic bags. We previously shopped with reusable bags, but now that we are bringing plastic bags home we use them as doggy poop bags [since Daisy is getting lots of walks these days] and trash bags. We haven’t bought trash bags in over a year and since we only produce less than one grocery bag of trash per week, this actually is pretty convenient. While I wish we didn’t produce any trash at all, it isn’t realistic for our family of meat eaters and little kids, BUT we have been actively pursuing [nearly] zero waste so that we reduce our negative impact on the environment as much as we can. These bags are recyclable through store drop-off programs though, so if you don’t have a way to use them, recycle them!

Our lovely collection of plastic grocery bags from one grocery trip.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve been saying [so frequently that your probably sick of it] that this doesn’t change our obligation to take care of our planet. The way we go about it has changed and will continue to change, I am sure. But what is the point of surviving this pandemic just to get back to a world of pollution and waste?

[And as a side note, I know a lot of people “don’t believe in global warming” and whatever. But environmentalism isn’t just about doomsday, it’s about simple stewardship. It’s about sustainability. It’s about being responsible and kind to the planet so that all of god’s creatures can survive and thrive here – us humans included.]

I hope these ideas encourage people to make small changes that can have a big impact if we all start adopting them.

So happy grocery shopping! [Don’t forget your face mask and social distancing!]

🛒🛒🛒

Karis

March Shopping Audit

March Shopping Audit

I ended my last shopping audit [here] by saying, “February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!”

…I had no idea.

Of course, I was referring to the sale of our home and our impending move and our apartment search in Chicago – all of which is now on indefinite hold – but it definitely was a crazy month. I think March 2020 was the craziest month of my life thus far!

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we spent the second half of March on lockdown, and as a result, we didn’t spend much money. Mercifully [and for the first time in recorded history], all six of us were well the entire month and so we didn’t even need to pay doctor co-pays or buy medicine. We also didn’t spend money on family activities [for which we budget $50/month]. We didn’t get haircuts [$25] or buy any clothing [$50] and I even had to cancel my tattoo appointment [which saved me at least $100 of my fun money]!

We did, however, spend more money on restaurant food delivery to support local businesses and we spent more on groceries than we normally would. We brought home WAY more packaging than usual [all recyclable, but still made my heart a little sad].

We bought extra rice and canned vegetables and dry beans…you know, typical pandemic stuff. BUT, on the flip side, we went for three weeks without toilet paper because we couldn’t find any until just YESTERDAY! But, no worries, our “wee wipes” have been a big hit with everyone except my partner. The kids and I may never go back…

Anyway, we did buy some stuff though, so here is the full report:

What We Bought:

[My audit only includes physical items and does NOT include consumables, such as groceries, pet food, and toilet paper.]

House maintenance/yard supplies ($60) – Now that the weather is warming up, we needed to buy some things like mulch to fix up the outside of our home. Of course, the sale of our house is now on hold, but we do intend to sell eventually, so we have continued to improve the house.

Legos for Theo’s birthday ($22) – March 19th was Theo’s birthday. We already had a gift for him that we had been saving since Christmas [a used Paw Patrol Sea Patroller] but we decided to pick up a few [ok, 10] used sets of legos. We gave him some for his birthday and used the rest to entertain the kids during quarantine. [Definitely money well spent.]

Brita water dispenser and replacement filters ($40) – We had planned to buy a Brita for our move to the city anyway since we won’t be taking our Primo water dispenser with us. The coronavirus pandemic scared us into getting one early just in case stores were to shut down. I’m genuinely ashamed to admit this third world problem, but our well water tastes terrible and I have a really hard time drinking it [I’m genuinely working on this area of my born privilege].

Beats wireless earbuds ($90) Brett bought me these as a gift, using an old gift card, money from selling stuff and his own fun money. My old headphones had fallen out of my pocket in the driveway and sat in the rain until I found them – by which time they were so damaged that they would literally shock my ears when I wore them. And since our library is shut down, I have been pretty much relying on audiobooks during my outdoor walks, so this was a very helpful gift.

Lush toiletries ($40) This seems expensive, but because of a free shipping deal, I went ahead and bought four months worth of bad shampoo and two bars of deodorant for myself to try. We budget $20/month for toiletries but didn’t use any of it last month so this was still in budget.

Total spent: $252

Over budget: $0

What We Are Going to Do With It:

Some of these things, the mulch and toiletries, for example, will be used for their intended purposes and won’t need to be thrown out. Some things will stay with us for a very long time – hopefully their whole lives – until they are no longer functioning and will be recycled [the Brita and earbuds] or will be passed on to another person to enjoy [the legos].

What We Got Rid Of:

We’ve used this time to go through more of our stuff that we don’t want to take with us on the move, so now Brett’s car is entirely full of donations waiting to be dropped off once the Salvation Army and pregnancy center reopen.

Also, Brett went through his closet and set aside a huge pile of clothes to donate.

So, once again, we’ve removed more things from our home than what we’ve brought into our home.

Now that we are officially quarantined for another month, this seems like a great time to do a “no spend” month… what do you think?

✌🏻

Karis

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

Zero Waste: Toothpaste Tablets

***COVID-19 Carlson Family Update: We are on day 12 of the 15-day Social Distancing request by the United States Government and day 6 of the Illinois “shelter-in-place” order. We are all healthy [which is quite shocking even under normal circumstances because with a family of six someone is usually sick this time of year]. Brett is home working remotely and getting paid 80% of his salary, which makes us very lucky compared to many, many people in the retail industry. Today is the last day of e-learning for Evangeline before spring break next week. This is probably the only time I will ever say that I wish she wasn’t getting a week off since the school work gives us something to do each morning. Still no end in sight to this virus despite what optimist want to say. Infection rates are still increasing and we are still bracing for the worst while staying safely away from everyone. Also…we are still out of toilet paper.***

COVID-19 has changed the whole world, and my zero waste lifestyle is no exception. We are no longer allowed to bring our own reusable bags or jars to the grocery store. I have received emails stating that only prepackaged bulk goods will be available to purchase for the time being. In some of these minor ways, we have had to adjust just like everyone else. But many of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle have become even more important and more necessary.

Although zero waste is commonly thought of as using a bunch of specialty products and buying a bunch of specialty foods — at the real heart of the zero waste movement is the simple concept of [duh] not wasting anything.

I’ve posted this quote before and I’m sure I’ll do it again. The whole point of zero waste is NOT to have all the aesthetically pleasing bamboo products — it’s about simply not letting anything go to waste.

And at a time like this, when people are surviving on less money and our very government is ordering us to stop going out, and shopping malls and stores are shit down all over the WORLD, now is the perfect time to stop all the wastefulness.

So, anyway, all that to say I hope that we come out on the other side of this global tragedy as a less wasteful society because we have learned how to “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

Toothpaste Tablets

In spite of everything, the world continues to turn, so I am continuing to make my usual zero waste swaps. This month I’ve traded traditional toothpaste for toothpaste tablets.

I purchased these a few months ago from Well Earth Goods but was determined to use up my current toothpaste stash before I started with these. However, my partner keeps bringing new toothpaste home from the dentist [I politely refuse their little plastic gift baggy], so I decided to start using the tablets for myself.

Brett saw me try one for the first time, and now he refuses to try it himself. [He said that I made a face which made it look very unappealing.]

🤷‍♀️

What can I say? I was unprepared for how strange it would be to chew up a powdery tablet and then brush it on my teeth. But it didn’t take me long to get used to it.

I like these little tablets a lot now. They provide that minty zing I always want in a toothpaste and my mouth feels clean and refreshed after brushing. AND they are A MILLION TIMES BETTER than the homemade baking soda variety I tried last year. [Yuck!]

In reality, though, the primary reason I like these is that they don’t come in a plastic tube bound for the trash.

But…

Let’s talk about the packaging of these bad boys.

These tablets came in a compostable package and were shipped in a [very nice] cardboard box with paper filler that could be easily recycled.

Still, I’m not a fan of compostable packaging because I’m not entirely certain whether they can be composted in a backyard compost pile, like I have at my home.

[I was disappointed to learn that a lot of packaging that proudly claims to be “compostable” has to be composted by an industrial or commercial composting facility – not just thrown in the backyard bin – which defeats the whole purpose in my opinion.]

I really love the company Well Earth Goods and plan to purchase from them in the future – particularly their laundry strips which I plan to move to exclusively after I’m done with cloth diapers. But I think there may be a better way to purchase the toothpaste tablets, say, in a glass jar that can be recycled or, even better, a container that can be returned to the company for recycling. [I believe this is the case with Lush products, so I will be buying toothpaste tablets there next.]

But over all, I give the toothpaste tablets a huge thumbs up.

👍🏻

I intend to make this permanent switch and now with my bamboo toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner bar, water flosser, and wee wipes [thank you, COVID-19], I have a [nearly] zero waste bathroom!

Next, I will be trying out bar deodorant and posting about that after a few week trial.

Stay tuned – and stay well!!

🦠 🦠 🦠

Karis

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

[Nearly] Zero Waste Valentine’s Day Coloring Bookmarks

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!

❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Karis

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

January Shopping Audit [and the Minimalism Game]

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 but the 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 1-9

Day 10-18

Day 19-27

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.

What’s Next

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.

👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

Karis

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

2020 Resolutions [or goals, or whatever you want to call them so long as you actually ACCOMPLISH them]

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.

Happy New Year!

🥳 🥳 🥳

Karis

The Whole Point of Zero Waste [spoiler alert: it’s not about the waste]

The Whole Point of Zero Waste [spoiler alert: it’s not about the waste]

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?

My favorite zero waste blogger, Anne-Marie Bonneau at The Zero Waste Chef, says,

“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.

This is our purpose. This is the whole point.

❤️❤️❤️

Karis

Plastic Free July 2019: My Failures [and Successes]

Plastic Free July 2019: My Failures [and Successes]

No one is perfect, right? 🤷‍♀️

Seriously, though, I’m glad this plastic free business is not about perfection. Our take-and-toss society makes living without any plastic nearly impossible [especially if you have kids] and single-use plastics are EVERYWHERE.

Image from UN Environment

And old habits die hard, folks. But I am slowly making new, more sustainable habits.

Overall, I’ve been doing great with my zero waste goals. I went so far as to not buy anything at all on my entire 12 hour drive to New York…WITH FOUR KIDS! If you have ever taken a road trip with children, you know how tempting those drive through nuggets are so you can toss them into the back seat to keep the kids quiet. But I just couldn’t face the waste.

My three-week-old baby on her first road trip. ❤️

As far as Plastic Free July went, I did pretty well for the month – but, to my embarrassment, I made some rookie mistakes.

These were my commitments for the month:

Refuse plastic straws and disposable beverage cups. For the aforementioned “New York or Bust” road trip, we didn’t buy any drinks. Our one stop for dinner on the way home was at Panera where we brought in everyone’s water bottles and refilled them. We ate out of real dishes with real utensils [one of several reasons that I am a Panera fan]. We also took our own water bottles when we went to Chuck E. Cheese for Evangeline’s 5th birthday.

[Failure #1] BUT when Brett and I went out for a date night and ended up at a local ice cream chain, Brett’s sundae came in a big glass bowl with a real spoon and my low-calorie smoothie came in a plastic cup with [egad!] a plastic straw. I was literally half way through the smoothie before Brett pointed out that I was drinking out of a plastic. I was so concerned about the healthfulness of my choice, I totally forgot to think about the plastic.

🤦‍♀️

Bring my own reusable container for restaurant leftovers. The only restaurants we ate at all month were Panera and Chuck E. Cheese, as I mentioned above. For Panera, we had no leftovers, but at Chuck E. Cheese we had about a whole pizza leftover [Failure #2] and, of course, I forgot to bring a container. We ended up carrying the pizza home in styrofoam.

🤦‍♀️

Since then, however, I did remember to bring a few reusable containers when we went to Red Robin…but of course we had no leftovers. There must be a Murphy’s Law about this…

Buy only plastic-free groceries. Oh man, this was tough – especially when blackberries went on sale for $.88! But I stuck to my commitment and didn’t buy a single thing in plastic packaging all month. [My husband might have – but let’s not discuss it.] I even stopped an employee at the grocery store who was putting handfuls of loose green beans into plastic bags and asked if he could just put them straight into my reusable bag. He looked at me like I was crazy, but he did it! Which made me very happy because I LOVE green beans and my grocer always sells them in plastic bags.

Well, everyone already knows how much I care about this stuff [and I still end up using plastic sometimes] but for all you “no-big-deal” folks out there, here’s why single-use plastics are a big deal.

So that’s how my month went. Anyone else have confessions to make???

Karis

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog 🥳

Happy [Belated] Birthday to my Blog 🥳

On May 28th, this blog turned 1 – on the same day that I turned 32. This past year has been the most transformative that I have experienced in my adult life. This blog has been a place for me to share how my family and I have changed our views, values, and lifestyle in favor of simplicity and authenticity.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This has become my life’s motto. And this past year has been all about learning more so I know better, so I can do better.

So, in honor of the blog’s first birthday, I wanted to recap all the changes [to our lifestyle and also our perspective] that my family and I have been working on over the past year.

Minimalism

The changes we have made started with an interest in minimalism. I had grown tired of chasing the “American dream” of wealth and success, which seemed to equate to bigger homes and fancier cars and more stuff, while meaningful relationships, time with family, concern for the less fortunate and other social/environmental causes are ignored. I was anxious for a simpler, more intentional life. I was wanting our life to be about a greater purpose than satisfying our own desires for more.

So, minimalism taught us to purge what we own down to things that are essential or truly appreciated AND to refuse all the excess that society is constantly telling us we “need.” We played the 30-day minimalism game and between Brett and I, removed 930 items from our home.

Mindful Consumerism

My interest in minimalism lead me to Cait Flanders’ book, The Year of Less, which was so impactful that after reading it, I started this blog to document all the ways I intended to end my own mindless consumption.

I began asking myself whether I really needed something before buying it. I continued to purge our stuff without replacing any of it. I committed to first do without, then use what I have, then buy used – and only when all else failed, to buy new.

Slow Fashion

Around this time, I watched the documentary, The True Cost, which describes the fast fashion industry and how the American demand for cheaper and faster clothing is wreaking havoc around the world. I couldn’t believe that I had never considered the wastefulness of my own clothing habits before or how harmful my “take and toss” mentality truly was to the environment and to people around the world.

As a working middle class American, I had always prioritized buying cheap clothing as a way to “manage my money wisely” and thought of myself as some sort of martyr for never buying expensive brands and always shopping the clearance rack in the service of frugality.

Wow, I was so wrong. I am happy to say that I have finally learned to appreciate my belongings enough to spend what they are worth – and I now care enough about my fellow humans, no matter how far away they live, to pay whatever it costs to protect their rights.

Zero Waste

From there, I stumbled upon the zero waste movement, which I had never heard of previously. On a whim I picked up the book, Zero Waste, by Shia Su from the library. I had no idea how significantly this book would change my life.

This book gave me confidence to reduce my waste [it really is so easy!] and opened my eyes to yet another sad side affect of our constant consumption: waste.

Seriously, the waste problem in America is huge. I don’t know why more people aren’t concerned.

So I started trying to reduce my family’s waste. We began recycling, composting, and bulk shopping. This became a passion [bordering on obsession] for me that led to so many other important changes for my family like eliminating processed foods, making most of our food from scratch, and purchasing our first CSA share. It has been a process, and we still are not storing our trash in a mason jar [that is not a realistic goal for us anyway], but we have made HUGE improvements. We only take out one 4 gallon trash bag per week and we have even reduced the amount that we recycle significantly, needing trash and recycling pick up only monthly [or even possibly quarterly] now.

Ethical Shopping

Next, I committed to ethical shopping by supporting brands that are concerned about sustainability and fair, ethical treatment of all members within the supply chain [animals included].

This one is tougher because it is hard to know whether a company is ethical or not and requires research which requires time, but it’s not so bad because we don’t buy very many things, so purchases can be thoughtfully and intentionally made with our values in mind.

Yes, I am boycotting Wendy’s. Yes, I pay more for Fair Trade coffee and chocolate and bananas. Yes, I adore Patagonia.

Simple Living

Then I began to focus on eliminating some of the distractions that caused me to always feel like I never had enough time. We moved our only television into the lower level. I started using the “screen time” feature on my iPhone to limit my time on certain apps. I turned off all notifications on my phone. ALL of them. If you call me and I don’t physically have my phone in my hand, I won’t know it until I actually open my phone app…which I do every couple days. I’m harder to reach, but by responding to texts and calls and emails on my own time, I am no longer a slave to my phone.

The kids and I began spending more time outside after I read the inspiring book, There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Åkeson McGurk.

We started having a Monday movie night with the kids as their only screen time for the week. I simplified my cleaning routine to improve efficiency so I don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning. We purged A TON of toys [with the kids’ help], which cut back on the chaos of living with three toddlers.

I also read Slow by Brooke McAlary which was full of inspiration for living a more intentional and less frantic life.

Giving Back to the World

Last, but most importantly, we rearranged our finances to prioritize giving to charities that we believe are doing good around the world. I wish I could be the one doing the good myself, but at this stage in my life, I am chasing toddlers all day and working part-time, so I am prioritizing what I can do, which is give money to those who will use it to help people. I look forward to volunteering regularly and giving back in other ways in the future, as I believe that this is one of our most important purposes on this earth – not to merely look out for our own interests and our family’s well-being, but to care for the less fortunate and fight for a better world.

But, more on that another day.

I am looking forward to improving in all of these areas and more over the next year.

Karis

My 34 Ways to Go Zero Waste

My 34 Ways to Go Zero Waste

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:

  1. Say “No” to straws
  2. Go to the farmers market
  3. Go to the butcher
  4. Specialty stores and restaurants
  5. Compostable dish scrubs*
  6. Swapping out toxic items
  7. Toothpaste*
  8. Toothbrush
  9. Toilet paper
  10. Tissues
  11. Razor*
  12. Lotion*
  13. Deodorant*
  14. All-Purpose cleaner*
  15. Deodorizing spray*
  16. Room deodorizer*
  17. Carpet deodorizer*
  18. Tub and toilet cleaner*
  19. Floor cleaners*
  20. Dishwasher detergent
  21. Air drying
  22. Shipping packaging
  23. Fountain pen*
  24. Recycled and double sided paper*
  25. Office-wide initiatives
  26. Take out
  27. Out to eat
  28. Zero waste travel kit
  29. Buying carbon offsets
  30. Zero waste vacations
  31. Zero waste pets
  32. Find community
  33. Work locally
  34. 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.

    Karis