June Shopping Audit [and the 50/50 rule]

June Shopping Audit [and the 50/50 rule]

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?

50/50 Rule

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.

Total: $396.49

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.

🛍 🛍 🛍

Karis

[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

April Shopping Audit [No Spend Month]

April Shopping Audit [No Spend Month]

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 communityeven 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.

How adorable is this color wheel art project Evangeline did???

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.

Donation bin

The contents of the bin total forty-four items.

Then there is what is on top and this overflow section.

Donation overflow pile

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…

😬😬😬

Karis

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

The Story of My Worn-Out Boots

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.]

The 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:

  • Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline
  • Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press
  • The True Cost [Documentary]

Happy mending!

👢👢👢

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 Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

[Nearly] Zero Waste Kitchen: Simple Plant-Based Meals

My first experience with a vegan diet was two years ago while I was breastfeeding my middle daughter. She was having terrible reflux issues and our pediatrician suggested trying no dairy or eggs. Since I was already eating a vegetarian diet, I suddenly became a vegan [and my [Nearly] Vegetable Only Diet was born].

The problem was that all vegan recipes either called for a vegan version of the standard ingredient OR strange ingredients I’d never even heard of, let alone had in my cupboard. If you’ve been a vegan for a while, you will likely be familiar with all of these things, but as a newcomer to that way of eating these ingredients were totally unfamiliar to me:

  • Flax eggs
  • Aquafaba
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Tempeh
  • Tahini
  • Chia seeds

I had no idea at the time that cashews could become cheese, oats could make milk, quinoa could replace beef, black beans could make brownies, and avocados could transform into chocolate mousse.

Oh, the wonders of the vegan world!

But at the time, I just needed to eat something that wouldn’t make my baby sick. I didn’t have time to go down the rabbit hole of experimental vegan cooking OR go to the grocery store to stock my house with every vegan alternative.

And so was born a simple way to do plant-based, vegan meals – without a single specialty vegan product [no vegan butter, vegan mayo, vegan cheese, etc] or any of the fancy vegan ingredients that can only be found tucked away in the “international” aisle of your grocery store.

And even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian or even flexitarian, it is still smart, sustainable and healthful to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods. So, you may find these suggestions to be helpful as well.

Vegan Meals

I’m not here to provide recipes because I’m leaving that to the professionals. But what I DO want to do is inspire you to SIMPLIFY the food you eat. Eating healthy food is about taking whole foods in their original form, cooking and then consuming them. It doesn’t have to be complex. These meal ideas I’m going to share are just ways to take simple foods you would find in the produce section and make them into a nutritious and delicious meal.

So without further rambling, here are the simplest vegan meals.

Oatmeal

Let’s start with a vegan breakfast – but, of course, I’m not opposed to the “breakfast for dinner” deal either. I LOVE breakfast. And oatmeal is most definitely my favorite breakfast.

If you are a cereal kind of person, then, yes, you could just swap your cows milk for a non-dairy milk alternative. But WHY when you could have a totally dairy free, incredibly healthy breakfast with so many possibilities you’ll never get bored of it??

Here is a secret: oatmeal DOES NOT need to be made with milk! I just add boiling water and let it sit for a minute or two then add my sweetener and toppings!

Oatmeal is the perfect breakfast because it is minimally processed and contains healthy carbohydrates, protein and lots of fiber. Top it with fresh fruit and you have a nutrient packed breakfast.

[My kids also love oatmeal! We eat it every morning – with the exception of rare, special occasions.]

Here are some of our favorite oatmeal varieties:

  • Chocolate and peanut butter
  • Cinnamon and raisins
  • Bananas and peanut butter
  • Fresh berries and maple syrup

Salad

Salads are totally misunderstood. People think of salads as bowls of lettuce drenched in sugary dressings to make them more palatable. But salads are DELICIOUS when done correctly.

Salad is not only about the greens. You can make a taco salad by adding salsa, black beans and corn. You can make a Greek salad [my personal favorite] by adding olives, artichokes, tomatoes and capers. You can make a classic salad by throwing in every vegetable you have in your house. You can add protein with quinoa or chickpeas. You can add fat with avocados and olive oil. You don’t even need a sugary, store-bought dressing – just toss your salad in fresh lemon juice, or make your own balsamic vinaigrette.

[Here is my favorite homemade salad dressing.]

Salads are not just side dishes anymore! They can be a full, satisfying meal when you think outside the greens.

Burrito Bowls

You’ve probably heard of “meatless Mondays” which are a good idea for everyone to implement because of the health and financial benefits of eating less meat. Years ago, when we started our own meatless Monday tradition, it was always Mexican because Mexican food is already full of so many wonderful whole foods – beans, rice, corn, peppers, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, to name a few. Of course, a big part of Mexican cuisine is cheese, but it’s still delicious to top a burrito bowl with salsa and guacamole and – if you’re like me – a large amount of hot sauce.

Our vegan burrito bowls are delicious and so simple because I just use whatever we have on hand. If I’m feeling extra ambitious I can always turn these into tacos by making flour tortillas. Or we can throw everything into the crockpot with a jar of salsa and have Mexican chili. Or we can make tostadas. Or we can make loaded nachos. Really, Mexican cuisine has endless possibilities. But I prefer the simplest option: a burrito bowl with rice, beans, peppers and onions, salsa, avocado, and some hot sauce.

Delicioso!

Soup

I’ve already written about my vegetable soup obsession here. I make soup about once a week and it is always different because I throw in whatever I have. I always use some vegetables but I also frequently include other delicious whole foods like beans, rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc. Homemade soup is about as simple as it gets and it doesn’t require any weird vegan stuff – just real, normal, plant-based food.

On soup day in my home, I throw everything in a pot with some water and let it simmer until dinner time.

Mm-mm Good!

Stir-Fry

Stir-frying was my very first cooking experience. When Brett and I first married, I LOATHED cooking and so we bought a lot of those frozen stir-fry meals until I finally got smart and realized that I could make them myself.

To this day, my favorite way to eat vegetables is sautéd in a skillet with some seasonings. I usually skip the sauces because they are typically full of sugar or sodium, but I occasionally create my own with something like honey and balsamic or lemon and capers. But just a seasoning blend is enough to turn ordinary vegetables into a delicious meal.

Sometimes we put the stir-fry over rice or quinoa. Sometimes we eat it plain. Sometimes we make vegetable fried rice! The best of both worlds!

It’s a “choose-your-own-adventure” sort of meal.

Make Any Meal Vegan

Additionally, you can make any meal plant-based by following these simple tips:

1. Cook with olive oil. Just leave out the butter. It is not necessary. I keep butter on hand for baking treats for my kids, but we don’t use it otherwise. There is no reason to go buy a vegan butter. Just cook with oil instead. It is a plant-based, healthier alternative.

2. Pass on the meat. No meal that I have ever heard of is made 100% of meat, so just eat everything else. If you are like me and live with a family member who simply MUST have meat, then go ahead and cook meat. You don’t have to eat it just because it is being offered.

3. Make some vegan Parmesan. No vegan cheese is exactly like the real thing, unfortunately [at least not that I’ve found yet], but vegan Parmesan is a good enough alternative if you are trying to avoid animal products. It is cashew based and you will have to pick up some nutritional yeast, but it’s a worthwhile investment and will make the transition to a cheese-less existence more palatable.

So, hopefully you are on your way to a healthier and more sustainable way of eating!

🥗 🥗 🥗

Karis

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

Simple Living and Social Distancing [Zero Waste and COVID-19]

The last few days have been CRAZY. By now the coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone in some way or another, and my family is no different.

Earlier this month, I announced that my family is moving to downtown Chicago because my partner took a new job in the city, working with the Chicago Cubs. We already had a contract on the house, we were aggressively apartment hunting, and we were already packing boxes for the move. Now, however, the new job, the house sale, the moving plans, and my daughter’s schooling are all on hold until further notice. This is definitely an uncertain time for all of us.

[This feels like something out of a horror film, am I right???]

And yet, despite all the fear and panic surrounding this pandemic, despite all the unknowns about our house and our income and our future, I feel quite calm.

This whole situation is entirely out of my control, so I am doing the only thing I can do: staying home. Social distancing is extremely important right now, and we have committed to it fully. Other than necessary trips to the store, my family is staying home to help slow the spread of this thing [or “flatten the curve”] and I can only hope that everyone else is doing the same.

Of course, we could freak out, stare at our TVs all day, wring our hands, stock up on household essentials, and prepare for the end of the world as we know it. But it is much more productive [not to mention enjoyable] to spend time as a family, relax, spring clean, read books, cook from scratch, and spend time outside together.

I choose the latter.

Simple Living

So we have been enjoying the simple life, free from the pressure of work schedules, school activities, long commutes, social events, and even media overload. This has been a great time to unplug and unwind and hang out together AT HOME.

Spending Time Together

My cousin, Stacey, shared this GIANT list of at-home activities to keep kids busy:

At Home Activities for Kids

We’ve been choosing a few of these activities to do each day. One day we used all of our building blocks [including duplos, legos, k’nex, magnet blocks, and even wooden blocks] to make one huge tower. We’ve been playing a lot of board games. We painted pictures and then made up stories to tie all the pictures together.

We have NOT spent time watching tv [other than the news for a little bit each evening to stay up-to-date]. We haven’t been stressed out or frightening our kids about what’s happening. We have also not been glued to our phones [other than my daily Spanish lessons]. We have been present and attentive and enjoying each other.

Eating Real Food

This has been a great time to cook more from scratch. I usually cook a lot from scratch, but since I haven’t had much else to do, I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.

Food from scratch is SO MUCH better than the convenient, pre-made boxed stuff. If you normally don’t have time to cook or bake from scratch, this is a great time to try it!

Exercising At [or near] Home

Exercise is a big part of my life and I am enjoying exercising outdoors now that the weather is warming up. I also have workouts that I can do at home through BeachBody On Demand. And yesterday, after my yoga workout, my kids did their own Cosmic Kids Yoga [you can check out these great yoga videos on YouTube].

Zero Waste

When I started on my low waste journey three years ago, I never expected to encounter this type of doomsday preparation where basic household “necessities” are being fought over in the grocery aisles. But here we are – and having already adjusted to [nearly] zero waste living is a huge advantage. Being out of toilet paper is no big deal in my home where we have a bidet and plenty of reusable “wee wipes” [which are usually reserved for the baby, but can be used by anyone when necessary]. The same goes for all the other disposables that have become household staples here in America. We never use them anyway, so we are not worried. We have plenty of reusable diapers for the baby, towels for the kitchen, a Brita for our water, and everything else we may need. The only thing we need to buy is our food, which doesn’t seem to be in short supply at this time.

Speaking of food, a [nearly] zero waste pantry is also a big advantage at times like these because I already know how to make a wide variety of meals from scratch using pantry staples like rice, quinoa, beans and flour. So, should groceries become scarce, we would be set for a long time with just the dry goods in my pantry.

For example, if pizza delivery services shut down, I already make my own pizza dough for homemade pizza each Friday and I can even make an Alfredo sauce from cashews if we experience a shortage of cheese. Once a week we have vegan burrito bowls, which I can easily turn into tacos or tostadas by making homemade tortillas which only require flour, oil, and salt. I can make my own almond milk and nut butters. With just potatoes and flour, I can make homemade gnocchi. Lasagna noodles are also a cinch. Vegan chili is made with quinoa, black beans and kidney beans. With a simple bag of flour and a jar of yeast the options are practically limitless.

You would be AMAZED the things you can make with dry goods you can keep in your pantry. And you don’t need to buy any of these items in packaging.

[In fact, I had already been planning to share my favorite SIMPLE plant-based zero-waste meals – which I will still do later this week.]

I’ll write more about this later this week, but the truth about my journey to baking/cooking is that I never even cared to learn until I was motivated by the low waste movement to try. Sometimes it just requires the right motivation. And now, I love to cook and bake and have improved my skills exponentially.

Maybe this world-wide catastrophe will provide more people with the motivation to reduce their waste, improve their health, cut back their reliance on disposable and packaged goods, and start making more earth-friendly choices.

That would be another silver lining of an otherwise terrible situation.

Stay safe [and stay home]!

🌎 🌍 🌏

Karis

My Minimal Wardrobe [Clothing Ban Update]

My Minimal Wardrobe [Clothing Ban Update]

It’s been almost two years since I quit buying clothes and started “minimizing” my wardrobe. Other than one purchase last December [which you can read about in my post My First Clothing Purchase in 19 Months], I have not bought any clothing since I made the commitment to simplify my wardrobe and put an end to my consumerism.

Originally, I was thinking that this would be like a victory lap where I show off how little clothes I have…

Until I actually pulled them all out and counted them. I still have 155 pieces of clothing!!!! That doesn’t sound very minimal to me, but if you look at the difference in the photo below, I’ve definitely made some progress.

Still, this is not exactly as “minimal” as I had hoped.

Here are the numbers:

In general, this is good progress – but I felt like I had WAY LESS than 155 pieces of clothing!! And now I see that I still have too many workout tops and tank tops and underwear and – why the heck do I need two bathrobes?!?!

So, since we are moving and downsizing, I’m going get rid of 55 more pieces so that I end up with an even 100.

What I Wear

I have the benefit of having a casual job and a lack of concern about what people think of my clothes which makes it very easy to get dressed.

Sure, I like to dress up sometimes. I have a few dresses I keep for summer and skirts I like to go out in on hot dates with my man…but in general, I’m a leggings and loose top over a camisole kinda gal.

I’ve already shown my favorite outfit – leggings with a camisole and a button-down flannel that I stole from my partner’s closet.

I took this lovely photo to show off all my wrinkles, but I’m also wearing my favorite piece of clothing – my blue flannel shirt.

I recently stole another one – black this time – and I wear this one a lot now too.

As you can see, my children inherited my complete lack of concern for fashion.

I intentionally kept neutral pieces so that I can create as many outfits as I need – but in reality, I only need a handful.

The majority of my wardrobe still consists of workout clothes because that is my job and my passion and my hobby and the majority of what I wear.

What You Should Wear

Since I am the absolute LAST person who should be telling anyone what to wear, I’m obviously not going to make any recommendations. But if you are interested in reducing your wardrobe, here are some tips I recommend:

1. Get rid of what you NEVER WEAR.

If you have clothes that you never wear, well, chances are you don’t need those. So that’s a good place to start with decluttering your closet. And if you pay attention to what those types of things are and avoid acquiring more of them [regardless of how adorable they look on the mannequin], then you’ll be well on your way toward a less excessive wardrobe.

2. Stop buying what you don’t NEED.

Very few of us actually need new clothes, but we all buy stuff for different reasons. Mindfulness and a little self-reflection go a long way in this regard. I discovered that I liked the idea of certain clothing [wearing a certain style or looking a certain way], so I would buy it, but then never wore it because it wasn’t my thing. I also used to have a terrible problem with turning down “deals.” PSA: Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it!

3. Find YOUR style and wear it with PRIDE.

We don’t all have to look alike. In fact, it’s kind of nice that we have the ability to choose what we like and what looks good on us, so let’s not fall into the trap of letting anyone tell us what we should like or buy or wear. Also, forget all that hogwash about not wearing the same shirt twice and don’t wear white after Labor Day and all that other nonsense. Do whatever you want and don’t worry about anyone else thinks.

Anyway, these are just the things that I’ve been learning and embracing over the past two years.

As always, if you need to know the reasons behind reducing your clothing habits, watch The True Cost documentary and/or read Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline.

Happy decluttering!

👚👖👕

Karis

February Shopping Audit [and selling our house]

February Shopping Audit [and selling our house]

February was a wild month. Theo had surgery [he’s made a full and fast recovery, by the way]. Brett accepted a new job in the city of Chicago and began commuting an hour and a half each way. We prepped and staged and listed our house for sale. Three days later we accepted an offer.

In order to get the house ready to sell, we made some unexpected purchases, but overall, we bought very little because we were so busy.

What We Bought:

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

House maintenance supplies ($68) – We had to pick up some random things like paint brushes, outlet covers, and quarter round in order to get the house ready to sell. I actually consider this to be a real victory because it was tempting to spend a ton of money sprucing up the house and even adding accents or decorations to make it look better – but I stood my ground and committed to buying as little as possible.

Mason jars for Valentine’s craft ($20 gift card) – I was in charge of a craft at my daughter’s kindergarten class Valentine’s Day party. The timing could not have been worse, but I decided to make slime with the kids because I already had everything I needed, but I did need to buy something for the kids to make and take the slime in. So I bought 4 ounce mason jars with a gift card.

Medicine for Theo ($10) – After Theo’s surgery, he was on a regular schedule of pain medications for several days so we had to buy more. Poor kid.

Gift card for Brett’s Employee ($50) – I’m totally ok with the occasional obligatory gift for coworkers.

Backpack for Brett ($40) – I’m not so totally ok with this, but it was Brett’s Christmas money and he used this backpack every day…until his first day at the new job when they gave him a new one. This is a great reason to try waiting for something you need – you never know when the universe might decide to just give it to you!

Soaps and toiletries ($15) – Brett picked up three boxes of sustainable toiletries which include bar soaps, bar shampoos, and hair product because they were on clearance at his store and come package free. Man after my own heart.

Silicone muffin liners ($8 gift card) – I can’t safely bake in my muffin tin without liners anymore so when I ran out of paper liners I waited a month or so, but eventually caved and bought reusable silicone liners. Muffins and cupcakes, though not necessities, are definitely things that we would miss. Anyway, I had a gift card.

Total spent: $211

Over budget: $0

What We Are Going To Do With it:

The house maintenance supplies were either used up [paint] or will be reused [paint brushes]. The mason jars went home with the kindergarteners. The medicine and toiletries will be used obviously. Brett’s old backpack will become my new diaper bag. And I’ve already used the muffin liners at least five times since I bought them.

Nothing bound for the trash.

👍🏻

What We Got Rid Of:

While we brought in more stuff than I would have preferred, we got rid of WAAAAY more. In preparation for the big move coming up, I have been going through every drawer and every closet and even every bin in storage and eliminating all the excess.

Quite frankly, I thought we were already living pretty lean – but man, oh man! Turns out we still had plenty to remove. I even went through my clothing again and did an overhaul that now allows me to fit all of my clothes in three drawers in my closet.

We sold, gave to friends, donated tons of stuff. I’m actually sad that I didn’t track it or even take photos of everything to show the quantity, but I promise you that it was way more than the 30 items I committed to getting rid of every month.

Now that we have a closing date on our house, we have less than two months to find an apartment in the city and downsize enough to fit all of our stuff in it.

February was nuts, but I think March is going to get even crazier!

✌🏻

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