Of all the zero waste swaps we’ve made over the past few years, the switch to cloth napkins has been my absolute favorite. They are so much more beautiful than the quilted, flower-printed, paper kind. Just by setting the table with cloth napkins, our family dinners are instantly elevated to restaurant class – even if nothing else about the meal is fancy. And they are so practical because I have little kids and the number of flimsy paper napkins that we would need at each meal is enormous.
How to use them…
Originally, I was afraid to make the switch because I worried that guests would be afraid to use them and that my children would destroy them and that the added laundry would be a hassle. Turns out, however, that the napkins are the least hassle of all the swaps. I have even used them for big dinner parties [well, “big” being 15-20 people which is all my house can hold]. When we are done, they just go straight into the washer to be cleaned with the next load.
They definitely get messy, but they come clean in the wash and in our experience, each person only needs one no matter how messy the meal is.
Where to get them…
I bought mine from World Market years ago when we were first making the switch, but now I wish I had just made some myself. You can also buy them at home goods stores such as Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond, and don’t forget Amazon! But, as you know, I’m not a big proponent of buying things, so don’t buy them if you can make them! Or check out Etsy. Or pay a friend who sews to make some for you.
I love having a variety of patterns and the ones that I bought are really beautiful. I have also been gifted a few packages of cloth napkins. [One of the great things about identifying as a low waster is that you will often receive AWESOME, practical and beautiful gifts! I have received so many wonderful zero waste tools as gifts and I am so grateful for my understanding and thoughtful family and friends!]
Why to have them…
The better question is why would I want to continually buy paper napkins bound for the trash when I can use beautiful, reusable cloth napkins instead? It has been four years since I have bought any paper napkins, and I have no intention to ever going back.
Of course, there is an environmental cost to both paper napkins and cloth napkins. Reusable cloth napkins require water and energy to produce and to wash; and though paper napkins require much less water and energy to produce, they are only used once before being thrown into the trash where they will continue to have a negative affect on the environment in a landfill.
Over the lifetime of a cloth napkin [which should be as long as a persons lifetime – if not longer], reusable napkins are much more environmentally friendly.
Last month I wrote about my new job that required work boots, which I found used on OfferUp [yay!]. But two weeks after starting, I was offered a position in management which comes with a dress code that includes [but is not limited to] a collared shirt and the covering of my tattoos [two of which are on my forearms].
Well, despite the positives of the new position [higher pay, immediate health benefits, and more tuition assistance], the dress code was a real bummer. Partially because I love my tattoos, gosh darn it! And I work in a warehouse that’s been 90° even at 4am which makes wearing long sleeves totally unbearable! But it’s a bummer mostly because, other than the purchase of three pairs of panties with a Christmas gift card last year, I haven’t bought a single item of clothing in over three years.
All that changed this month. I bought a total of three polos and five button-down dress shirts [all used from local people] and two pairs of sleeves to cover my tattoos [brand new because who really has these things lying around???]. Oh, and another pair of boots because my husband, the fashion guru, said it was not acceptable to wear my current beat-up orange-laced work boots with dress shirts.
So I bought this nice pair of black Timberlands from a very nice woman who lives near me and only wore them once! I had just been reading about Timberland’s commitment to sustainability in Elizabeth L. Cline’s book, The Conscious Closet [which I highly recommend], so I was excited to find a pair for only $35 on OfferUp!
On a positive note, I have resisted buying any new pants for the job. I currently own two pairs of jeans which I rotate and I borrowed some pants that didn’t fit my sister-in-law. I also am still refusing to buy any new socks, underwear or undershirts, despite all of mine [save my three new pairs of panties] being full of holes and basically threadbare. I kid you not. If they weren’t my intimates, I would share pictures. Instead of buying, and thanks to Ms. Cline’s influence in the aforementioned book, I’m taking up mending and darning.
I’ll let you know how that goes…
Besides the things I bought for my job, we also purchased some used LEGO sets for the kids, a used tool box for Brett and a new cast iron Dutch oven [and by “we” I mean Brett because I wouldn’t have bought any of it, but I’ve been too busy working and homeschooling to even pay attention]. I, however, did buy $50 worth of school supplies [500 sheets of construction paper, a set of acrylic paints, a wooden tangram puzzle set and a bag of math manipulatives] but I had a gift card so I only spent $3 after tax — so does it really count???
Next month, the plan is to rebuild the budget since this Covid situation [and our new financial status] appears to be sticking around for the long-haul. We’ve kind of been flying by the seat of our pants since it all began in March, but now that our income is stabilizing [fingers crossed], it’s time to revisit the budget and review our financial goals and priorities and recommit ourselves to intentional spending, giving, and saving.
So that’s hopefully what I’ll be sharing about next month. But, really, who even knows??? It feels totally pointless to even make a plan at this point – which is why my posting is so sporadic. Well, that and because I’m operating on very little sleep and basically zero alone time these days.
July was a crazy month. I started my two new jobs and felt like I was working ALL THE TIME. I’ve also been preparing homeschool curriculum and gathering resources, books and materials. And I volunteered 12 hours to the food bank in June, packing meals and working at a pop-up drive through food pantry one Saturday morning.
Now that we don’t have Brett’s full-time income [and my part-time income is measly in comparison], I have been thinking about money more than usual. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeschool curriculum is not cheap and that getting a new job means buying appropriate work boots. So, we spent some money.
However, a small mercy came in the form of a bag of clothes diapers that a girlfriend offered me literally a day after I told Brett that I need new ones because I cannot seem to solve the diaper rash problem we are now experiencing with our fourth baby. The same friend also gave us a bigger bike for our son who has completely outgrown the little twelve inch bike he currently uses, which my sister-in-law found for him at Savers for $2.
I already mentioned in my previous update post about making masks for the family which kept me from having to buy any.
I have also inherited a new sewing machine which is perfect timing because [though I’ve grown quite fond of my little $20 machine] there is more I would like to make and I needed a bigger machine.
This month was Evangeline’s sixth birthday [!!!] and she told us that she really wanted roller skates. We stumbled upon a pair of adjustable roller skates at Goodwill [while looking for work boots]. And we picked up a pair of used knee and elbow pads for her [that also came with a bike helmet that is perfect for my younger daughter] from a neighbor [I love OfferUp!].
I was really stressed about finding work boots because I had to have them in less than a week for my start date and I didn’t want to spend $200 on a new pair. But with just one day left, I was able to find a used pair of steel-toe work boots for $20 that fit perfectly. In my previous life I would have run out immediately to the closest shoe store and bought whichever pair was my favorite. But these days, our new values [which include: intentional living, minimalism, and waste reduction] keep me from making impulsive buys. And I am so glad. Now, even facing a job loss, we are not worrying about money.
So, it may seem that we’ve hit a rough patch financially, but, as always, the universe takes care of us.
What we bought
Roller skates for Eva’s birthday ($5): I’ve written several times already about how and why we give used gifts to our kids. Evangeline didn’t care at all that these were used and they are adjustable so she can wear them for years.
Shoes for Brett ($6): Brett didn’t need shoes urgently [especially since he’s out of work], but while he was in Goodwill looking for work boots for me, he also found himself a pair of brown dress shoes to replace his worn out pair. These shoes are in perfect condition and are apparently very expensive new. Maybe will start shopping at Goodwill more often!
Bell and streamers for Eva’s bike ($19.33): We couldn’t find these used so we bought them from a locally owned bike shop in town.
Knee and elbow pads for Eva ($10): I was so glad to be able to find someone selling these used pads for Evangeline to use with her roller skates [a tough skill to master, turns out].
Work boots ($20): Took a while to find them, but they’ve been working great since I started my job three weeks ago.
Shampoo and conditioner bars ($27): I usually buy Lush bar products, but this time we went back to Ethique, whose bars are cheaper per ounce. It may seem pricey, but our last shampoo bar lasted four months and the conditioner bar is just now almost gone and it’s been nine months. Ethique’s website states that one shampoo bar replaces eight bottles of shampoo.
School curriculum for Eva– minus math ($113.05): I went with a digital download curriculum to cut down on the cost. The program doesn’t include math, however, so I had to buy a separate math program.
Math curriculum ($92): I bought just the teachers edition and student workbooks [no manipulative or resources] and it was still almost $100! I know their are cheaper options out there, but I really need more direction than professional homeschool moms.
Our new budget is to spend as little money as possible – so I guess we went over budget this month. But, overall, we did pretty well. We still spent money, but we bought mostly used and did our homework to find the most ethical purchasing option available.
What We Gave Away
We have set aside a collection of maybe twelve kids utensils that we no longer need, but we haven’t even had the chance to donate them.
I’m curious: If your job or finances were not negatively impacted by the Coronavirus and you received a relief check from the government, what did you do with it?
Though my partner and I have been furloughed since March and he was actually just let go, we have not been struggling financially. We live very frugally to begin with, we have no debt payments outside our mortgage, and we have always lived well below our income anyway, so our unemployment checks have been sufficient. Plus, we have always kept an “emergency” fund – though not expecting a world-wide pandemic that would wreck our economy and cost Brett his job – so we are surprisingly prepared.
As a result, we didn’t need the relief check that the government sent us and I felt bad keeping it. I wanted to give it away to help people who truly are struggling financially right now, but Brett felt that it would be best to save it for the future in the event that the pandemic drags on or [rightly predicting] he loses his job and has to find a new one.
There is virtue in both options, so how do we choose?
Because my partner and I can’t agree, we’ve settled on a 50/50 rule for all additional/unexpected income: 50% to give away and 50% to save for retirement and the kids through our investment accounts.
We have a modest budget which includes all of our bills [mortgage, utilities, internet, phones, water softener, and trash pickup], our necessities [food, toiletries, medical expenses, house maintenance, and pet supplies], some fun stuff [fun money for Brett and I and the family in general, dining out money, and Netflix subscription], and charitable donations [we sponsor three children and give monthly to charity:water]. Whatever income is leftover after these expenses, is considered “additional income” and gets divided between charitable giving and investing.
Before COVID hit, we had roughly $800 of extra income each month, so we have been typically giving away $400 and investing $400. However, since March, we have been bringing in less money, so we have had less to give away. But we did give away what we had, in addition to half of our relief check.
The Ethical Obligation to Give
A few months ago, I read the book The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer, which confirmed what I already believed to be true – that we are morally and ethically obligated to share our wealth with people in need. This pretty much goes against the American ideals of capitalism and independence, which teach us to take care of ourselves first and that our wealth is for us to enjoy because we “earned it.”
The teachings of Jesus are pretty much the exact opposite of the American mindset, which is why it is so surprising to me that America wants to believe itself to be a “Christian nation.”
Regardless, we decided several years ago that we would prioritize giving, rather than giving out of our excess after we had spoiled ourselves and achieved the American standard of living. We made giving a big part of our budget AND intentionally reduced our budget so that we could give more away. And now, thanks to COVID, we have had even more to give than ever before – over $4,000 in the last two months.
Anyway, I share all this to say that giving has a way of changing my perspective from inward to outward. Rather than thinking of all the things that I want or need or could use, I am often thinking about the families without clean water, the children without vaccines, the girls without an education, the half a billion people on this planet living in extreme poverty. So, when it comes to not buying stuff for myself, I’m not sharing this from a place of self-pity. It is a privilege to be able to live a life of ease and luxury and still be able to give so much money away.
So, here’s the shopping audit for June:
What We Bought
Once again, this is only physical purchases outside of consumables like food, gas, toilet paper and salt blocks.
Headphones and cell charger ($116.00): For Father’s Day, I gave Brett a gift card to buy a pair of headphones. We both run a lot and we’ve been sharing headphones since he bought me a pair. We also needed a new cell charger because ours stopped working [does anyone else have this problem???]
New hose for van ($55.49): Our van was leaking something from somewhere [you’ll have to ask my partner for specifics], so Brett bought a part that was needed and replaced it himself.
Gift card for Evangeline’s teacher ($25.00): I wouldn’t have ordinarily given something as impersonal as a gift card to her teacher, but given the circumstances, I thought this was the easiest and probably most preferred option.
House maintenance ($200.00): We finished several house projects this month, including the french drain which required ordering $130 worth of gravel.
Over-budget: $0 [We only have a $25 gift budget, but I had accumulated enough fun money over the months of quarantine to pay for Brett’s Father’s Day gift.]
What We Are Going to Do With It
I’m proud of how we did this month because we only bought two things that were “wants” and the rest were “needs” [and one gift]. We will get plenty of use out of the headphones and cell charger and recycle them with electronics when we are done with them.
What We Gave Away
We have a stack of maybe 10 things from our home to donate this month – some baby clothes, a lunchbox, some board games. I completely forgot to gather thirty items this month. Next month I will have to make up for it.
Our future has become more uncertain than ever now that Brett has been laid off, which makes our careful spending habits even more important than ever. But being at the start of something new is also exciting! We are looking forward to the next adventure.
Now that we are almost halfway through the year, I have started asking myself why I even bother to track my purchases. It is a hassle since I am really only tracking my partner’s purchases because I never buy anything. It has also lead to a few passionate [aka heated] discussions between the two of us on what constitutes a “necessary” expense.
But that is exactly why this is a helpful endeavor [despite the nuisance]. It forces us to consider each purchase, instead of just buying whatever we want whenever we feel like it, which is what we used to do.
But it’s not easy to stop impulse buying. The very definition of the word “impulse” implies that it will be hard to stop. The American consumer culture preys on our inability to control ourselves when it comes to spending. Advertisers use all kinds of tricks to get us to spend money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need. But we have the power to choose more intentional spending habits. It takes discipline and practice, which is exactly what I am doing with this shopping audit.
Questions to Ask for Intentional Purchases
Before we buy anything, we ask ourselves a series of questions.
Do we need this?
Can we use something we already have?
Can we make it ourselves?
Is it reusable?
How often will we use it?
How long will we need it?
Can we buy it used?
Honestly, the first two questions usually rule out the purchase. But if we do determine that we really do need it and it can’t be found used, we ask more questions – and these questions are just as important as the first set.
What business do we want to support when buying it?
What is the most environmentally friendly option for this product?
Where can we buy this to ensure it was manufactured ethically?
What is the plan for disposing of it at the end of its life?
I will once again share this graphic by Sara Lazarovic [youre going to see this a lot from me].
The point is not to keep us from making any purchases, but rather to help us make intentional purchases. And, also, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever buy anything you want ever again. We still buy things that we technically want more than need, but we are intentional about it – which makes all the difference.
The Story of Our Bike Pump
We needed a new bike pump. Our kids are biking every day and I have two jogging strollers [a single and a double] that I use very frequently that needed the tires refilled. Our bike pump broke last summer. So, once we determined that we needed a new one and couldn’t buy one used, we agreed to buy one. However, instead of running to Walmart or Target that day to pick up the cheapest one we could find, we waited until a local bike shop in our town was open so that we could support a local, ethical business with the purchase.
The bike pump was technically a want, not a need, if you define “need” as something needed for survival. I mean we don’t have to go for bike rides or walks. But, let’s be real, this is a source of enjoyment and health and stress relief and quality time and immersion in nature that our entire family adores. We live on a bike path and use it every single day. And in order to continue, we “needed” a bike pump.
So was it a need or a want?
We made the decision that it would be used a lot and could support a local business and would enhance our lives and so we bought one.
I’m sure your thinking [like my partner did], Geez, what’s the big deal about buying a bike pump? But this bike pump is one of many, many purchases that suddenly pops up. Each time, we try to make intentional purchases. In the case of the bike pump, we purchased a new one from a local business. But in many other cases, we choose to do without, or to wait, or find an alternative.
A few weeks back, I chopped my hair shorter than Brett’s and wanted headbands to make me look less like my little brother. I could have immediately ordered a set from Amazon, but instead I made some out of the old clothes that are too shabby to donate. When we needed to install a French drain in our yard, Brett could have gone to Home Depot straightaway to buy the necessary piping, but instead waited and – lo and behold! – found someone giving away enough tubing for the whole project. And when I wanted cute little bumblebee candies to put on my baby’s first birthday cake, I did some research and found a cute way to make them myself using almonds instead. There’s also the tea kettle that would be handy for heating water and the bathmat that I’m now making out of old towels and the new television because ours keeps shutting off on us randomly – but none of these purchases are necessary, so we haven’t bought them…yet.
Usually buying less just requires taking a pause before buying the first option that comes to mind. And in the end, if the choice is made to purchase new, then “where” and “what” become important questions to consider.
As Anna Lappé said, “Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” We have the choice to buy cheap and support big businesses who promote greed in our economy and ourselves. Or we can buy ethically and environmentally and support small businesses – the businesses of our neighbors and friends and our community – and find ourselves less concerned about the money and more concerned about things that truly matter.
So, without further adieu, here is our purchases for May.
What We Bought
Bike pump: $40 – I’ve already discussed this purchase at length above [you should have heard Brett and I discussing it for DAYS].
Mother’s Day Gifts: $184.10 – We sent gifts to both our moms, both of our living grandmothers, and my sweet Auntie Paula who is like a mother to me. Especially during this time of being separated from our loved ones, I thought it was important to send special gifts. However, even these were ethical and intentional. We sent two gifts through Etsy in order to support small businesses. We sent two gifts of Fair Trade coffee from Grounds for Change, which is a family-owned and operated business in Seattle that we frequently support because they are ethical and eco-friendly. And we sent a candle that supports one of our favorite charities, Charity:Water, the proceeds of which will help provide clean water to people around the world. So even in buying gifts, we try to make intentional and ethical purchases that support causes we care about from companies whose values align with our own, while at the same showing our family that we love them.
Diapers/Diaper Cream/Toiletries: $22.57 – I have to include this purchase, though it pains me. We did some traveling last month and so we bought disposable diapers and some disposable toiletry items. At home, we use exclusively cloth diapers and I use a menstrual cup and reusable menstrual pads, but when traveling to stay with family this becomes…uncomfortable. So we typically buy disposables for travels.
Brake parts for van: $96.88 – At least we didn’t have to pay the cost of labor to have the brakes changed because Brett has picked up this skill [among many other mechanic skills] and saved us lots of money over the years.
Bike: $10 – We bought a used bike for Evangeline because she outgrew the one she had been using. Now her old one is being used by Josephine.
Connectors for French drain: $5 – Oh, the joys of home ownership. But again, Brett is saving lots of money by digging the draining and doing all the work himself.
Tube for kids bike: $5 – One of the kids’ bike got a flat, so we had to replace the tube. I told you we ride A LOT!
Total spent: $363.55
Over budget: $134.10 [We weren’t over budget on the month as a whole, but we did technically overspend in the “gift” category – we just love the moms in our life so much!]
What We Are Going To Do With It
Everything we bought [with the exception of the disposable products] will receive lots of love – especially those new brakes for the van.
What We Got Rid Of
This month we went through the kids toys. I recently read Simplicity Parenting, which reminded me once again how important it is to keep the levels of toys from overwhelming me, and our house, and even the kids.
Thirty-five total books and toys have been temporarily removed to a safe place where they will wait to see if anyone misses anything [they won’t]. Then off to Salvation Army.
The kids’ room is once again under control.
[Speaking of Simplicity Parenting, over the next few weeks I am going to be posting about how we’ve been simplifying our mealtimes, schedules, possessions, and food choices to improve our time together and provide our kids with plenty of opportunities to just be kids.]
Even though we spent quite a bit, we also gave away a lot of money in May to important organizations such has No Kid Hungry, Save the Children, Charity: Water and our local food bank. We spent over $300 on ourselves, but we gave over $1500 away to help people impacted by this global crisis.
Brett and I are both still furloughed from our jobs, but this time has only made us more aware of how blessed we are and rather than stressing about money or worrying for ourselves, we have turned our attention to people less fortunate than ourselves and given what we are able.
This is a very stressful time for our country and our world, so I hope you all are doing okay, staying safe and healthy, and taking care of yourselves and your loved ones!
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.
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:
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!
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!]
April was a “No Spend Month” which I don’t think we have ever successfully done in the past – and I’ll let you know how successful we were this time after a brief COVID-19 Update…
***Carlson Family COVID-19 Update: We were under stay-at-home orders for the entire month of April.
Health: We are all healthy. In fact, no one in our extended family has been sick with the virus either, so we are very grateful. We have been faithfully respecting the stay-at-home orders to protect the vulnerable people in our community – even missing Easter brunch which is my FAVORITE.
But we had a nice Easter at home.
Job: Brett worked from home until he was furloughed on the 24th. With no confirmation of when the baseball season will start (if at all), he may be furloughed for a while. My job is on indefinite hold, but I’m certain I can have my job back when the gym reopens. We are considering having one or both of us get another job for the interim.
School: Evangeline attended kindergarten virtually all month, and it was announced that Illinois schools will not reopen this year, so we will finish out the school year with this format. Monday-Thursday we receive a PowerPoint presentation from her teacher which contains the lessons for the day. It is labor intensive for me to ensure that she is doing everything, but not as bad as for some parents because at least Evangeline can read. I can point her toward the assignment and she can read the instructions herself. School usually takes two or three hours in the mornings. Every day she has a conference video call with the teacher to go over phonics and sight words. Friday is for catching up on anything we missed, but we get it all done so that Friday is like an extra weekend day to spend playing outside.
Family life: We spent lots of time outside and working in the yard. Brett and I have been doing lots of running. Our dog has taken more walks in the past month than in the entire last year combined!
We FINALLY decided to pick up one of the playground sets that are always being offered for free and Brett spent three whole days tearing it down and rebuilding it in our backyard. The kids LOVE it. I have imagined having one of these in the backyard since we bought this house – and now the dream is a reality! Thank you COVID-19.
With salons closed, I’ve started cutting Brett’s hair – and now he’s started cutting mine – which is nice because a trip to the beautician for me usually costs over $100.00!
The move: We are not certain that we will be moving to the city at all now. It depends on how this pandemic and subsequent recession impacts the housing market.
Ok, so there you have it. Now on to the April update.
What We Bought:
We did really well for the most part. Here are the only things we bought (outside of consumables like food and salt blocks):
Medication for baby: $4 – Eleanor needed a medicated cream for a rash. Didn’t see any way around this…
Tool for building playground: $11 – Brett needed a specific attachment for his drill to unscrew all the pieces of the play set (and put them back together).
Total spent: $15
Over budget: $15 (not perfect, but I still consider this a win)
What We Are Going To Do With It:
The medicated ointment will obviously be used and the tube throw into the trash. In some cases, waste is necessary. Medications is probably one of them.
The tool will be added to Brett’s collection and used again, I’m sure.
What We Got Rid Of:
This time has allowed us to go through even more stuff in the shed and get rid of excess. [Originally I was planning to get rid of most of our Halloween and Christmas stuff, but now that we may be here another year, I am going to keep some of it.]
Also, with the weather warming up, I traded out the kids clothes for the new season and am able to get rid of the baby’s clothes and my son’s clothes.
We even created a corner of the house to put all the things that will be given away as soon as the restrictions are lifted.
The contents of the bin total forty-four items.
Then there is what is on top and this overflow section.
I think we are around 100 items leaving our home…as soon as we are able to leave our home, that is.
Now that we are both out of work for the time being, it is more important than ever to watch our spending. While we don’t plan to do a total no spend month again, we are cutting out unnecessary purchases – other than the bike pump we just bought yesterday…
While the coronavirus pandemic has made some aspects of zero waste living more challenging [such as refusing plastic bags, shopping from bulk bins, filling reusable cups, and the war on disposable plastics in general], there are some aspects of low waste living that are becoming more popular as a result of this unprecedented time [such as unpaper towels, cloth diapering, baking from scratch, sewing, and gardening].
Well, there is one more low waste principle I would like to recommend as being ideal in this situation: repairing our stuff rather than throwing it away and buying new. Since shopping malls are closed now and a lot of “retail therapy” has been exchanged for outdoor exercise [👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻], you might be forced to make do with what you have in your closet anyway.
Of course, there is always Amazon [and other online retailers] to order from, but why not give mending a chance? Especially at a time when everyone at least appears to be extremely concerned about their finances, now would be ideal to practice all those forgotten resolutions of not buying a bunch of crap we don’t need.
So, along those lines, here is my story of repairing rather than replacing.
[Don’t worry – it’s a short story.]
Before the stay-at-home order went into effect for Illinois [which was one of the earliest states to go into lockdown], I decided to have one of my boots repaired rather than throwing the pair away.
These boots are nothing special. They aren’t fancy. They didn’t cost very much money. But they are my only pair of black flat boots and I have worn them all fall and winter for the past five years. So when the sole ripped apart from the rest of the boot, I was bummed.
Brett immediately suggested throwing them in the trash – even offering to do the job for me since he knows it pains me to throw anything away [what a guy]. But I told him I would see about getting them repaired. Of course he laughed at this and told me that it would cost more to fix the boot than it would to buy a new pair.
Still, I liked these boots and I didn’t want to buy a new pair. I have developed a very strong aversion to new things as it is. Add to that my dislike of throwing things away and I knew I had to at least attempt to get them repaired.
I found a cobbler. [It took a while for me to even remember what the term is for someone who repairs shoes, my only knowledge of them coming from the old story about the elves and the cobbler…oh and the Adam Sandler movie.]
I have never been to a shoe repair shop. I had absolutely no frame of reference for what this might cost. They could have told me it would cost $75 and I wouldn’t have known if this was highway robbery or if shoe repair really is that challenging of a job. But when I told the man the problem, he said he could glue the sole back on for $10.
Ten dollars! What a steal!
I dropped the boot off that day and picked it up the following week, good as new. [Not really, it is still a worn-out boot, but at least there isn’t a huge hole at the heel anymore.] I am confident that I will get at least several more years out of these boots, and in the very likely event that another part wears out, I will return to the same repairman again.
So there you have it. These poor, innocent little boots would have been rotting in some landfill by now if the kind shoe repairman hadn’t fixed them for $10!
[Also, I don’t think I could buy a pair of new boots for $10 – so there Brett!]
The Moral of the Story
Our society has been trained to believe that everything is disposable – even our clothing and shoes. Oh, those pants don’t fit just right? That zipper is broken? The heel snapped off your shoe? There is a stain on your sweater? There is a hole in your jeans? Missing a button??? Well then, just toss it in the garbage bin and *POOF* it magically disappears and you can go buy another one [or two or three] at any time.
The problem is that clothing and shoes are NOT disposable. They are not meant to be treated like tissues, used once and then thrown away. Clothing has a very high price – in natural resources, in skilled labor, in transport and energy. And we keep churning it out and tossing it away like there is no end in sight.
Unfortunately, the end is coming. The clothing industry [as far as it stands in America] is not sustainable, and I’m not even talking about environmental sustainability. I just mean that it literally cannot go on like this. The model takes too much and abuses too many and creates an exorbitant amount of waste.
Even donated clothing has become a huge problem for non-profits and [even worse] impoverished communities to deal with now.
Do we really believe that we can keep creating and buying and discarding textiles to the tune of over 15 million tons of waste per year? Without something breaking eventually?
So, honestly, I hope that America makes a shift from buying cheap, crappy clothing on repeat and instead repairs and mends and tailors and darns and modifies and, heck, if all else fails, repurposes what they already have.
And I’m not saying this as someone who doesn’t have substantial skin in the game. My partner has been selling clothing for the past ten years. Our family’s primary source of income is clothing retail. But especially as someone who has seen the background of these businesses, I can promise you that the whole machine has been slowly grinding to a halt even before this pandemic. Big name clothing brands are shutting down stores, filing bankruptcy, continually missing sales projections, clearancing surplus stock just to get rid of it so that they can make room for the new collections that are coming in every month [or more frequently]. By dropping their prices, stores are training customers to wait for low prices, which creates a cyclical effect that is basically a death spiral for the clothing retailer.
This has been coming long before the coronavirus existed.
Anyway, how great would it be if we could trade fast fashion retailers for, say, a booming seamstress and tailoring industry? Or make thrift shopping the primary source of clothing rather than the shopping malls [which have also been on the decline for years now], so that resale shops around the country have to hire tons more employees and move to bigger locations to meet the demand? And what if cobblers become so common that everyone knows where their local shoe repair shop is, rather than wondering where to even find such a thing? And maybe people will start getting creative and turning their old clothes into new, unique one-of-a-kind pieces that they truly love, rather than having to search through racks of the same pants that fifty other people will buy that same day?
Sounds good to me.
Don’t worry – the clothing industry will never go away completely. We obviously will always need clothes. But imagine a world where we only buy what we need, then we would have money to pay more and we would buy better quality and clothing manufacturers wouldn’t have to be constantly cutting their costs to appease the American demand for cheaper and cheaper clothing. This would be a win for everyone.
For more information on the clothing industry, I highly recommend the following:
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.]
Housemaintenance/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?
***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.”
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.
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.