thoughts on zero waste home keeping

I haven’t been perfect, but I’m still very much striving for a zero waste home and lifestyle. My home is getting there, with a few exceptions and impulse buy/relapses I always regret.

My favorite things about zero waste are supposed to be the lessened environmental impact and cost savings (and they are awesome things), but admittedly my favorite thing about it is how pretty it is. I mean, functional items can basically be on display when they aren’t made of ugly, bright plastic, and I love that. Like my kitchen sink – I leave potted herbs, a crock of dish brushes, and my compost pail right in plain sight at all times, and I think it’s so pretty.

kitchen sink

My home-keeping essentials are all actually pretty beautiful now. I haven’t upgraded our perfectly good broom or dustpan (and won’t until I need to), but this board is home goals that are actually reasonable and responsible when you have a zero waste household. This is what my wish list looks like now: simple and functional items that will last forever.

cleaning tools

I use cloths and rags for cleaning and spills, wooden brushes for scrubbing, and cloth bags and mason jars for EVERYTHING. Originally I thought keeping all these reusables nearby would overfill my cabinets, but I’ve been paring down things I no longer use in conjunction and have plenty of space for it all.

It’s also helped me to define a more minimalist and elegant decor and clothing style. No more style ADD and regrettable purchases- I’ve discovered I truly love living in a space with space, where everything is pretty and functional.

why I don’t live in a tiny house.

less is the new more

When you want to change your life, you first have to accept where you are right now. I talk a lot about my goals to live zero waste and become more minimalist. While I’m not perfect, those two goals have shaped most of my decisions and efforts for more than a year, and that alone is progress.

However, I don’t want anyone to think I am hiding anything or being hypocritical. I don’t want the fact that I don’t yet live like a minimalist to detract from talking about my eventual goals. We all have to start somewhere. I’ve read about couples who decide to become more minimalistic and one day they sell most of their possessions and move into a tiny home or an RV. I read their blogs and follow their Instagrams! The beauty is they can work less, and live more. It sounds like the dream. I live vicariously through these bohemian spirits from my big ol’ suburban rambler and wonder why I didn’t find this inspiration earlier.

But I think the thing is, you have to have an “enough is enough” epiphany. And usually to get there, you have to have hit a point where your life just doesn’t FIT YOU anymore. And then, when you share that life with others, you have to compromise until those others have the same moment (if ever). It will be a long process for us, and I am accepting that.

So here’s the deal.

I have a 3400 sf house in the ‘burbs. Because a couple of years ago we finished our basement in time for my brother-in-law’s family to stay with us, we now have 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and 1.5 kitchens. We have a 3 car garage, two vehicles, a big fifth wheel camping trailer, and 3 tvs. We are not exactly living the minimalist lifestyle I daydream of constantly.

Believe it or not, though, it was actually a practical decision to buy this house. Our mortgage is now our only debt (as of last year). This house was government-owned when we bought it, and needed a LOT of love (despite being a few years old). But it was steal, we had equity from our last fixer-upper, and we knew it was a good investment. I don’t think I ever thought we’d live here for long. But now that we are closing in on our house being “finished,” and realizing that with a finished basement, this house is ridiculously huge for us, we’re in a weird place. At least in our area, we cannot downsize any time soon, without paying MORE. We could downsize and downgrade, yes, but ideally we would want to live in a smaller house with a bit of land, in a safe neighborhood. That criteria doesn’t much exist unless we wanted to have a larger house payment than we currently have. It doesn’t make sense for us any time soon, because we are in such a good situation financially with our too-big house. It’s a weird (First World) “problem” for a wannabe minimalist such as myself.

I think we’d make the switch for the right place. Even if we weren’t getting the square-footage bang for our buck we have with our current home, we’d do it if we loved the house, neighborhood, school district, etc. At least I would. But so far we haven’t found that. Perhaps one day.

In the meantime, I don’t want to feel like I can’t still chip away at my goals of having a simpler life. Just because I have more house than we need doesn’t mean I need to fill it. When we finished our basement, we doubled our square footage, but we only bought a couple of items; and I’m even in the process of selling off some small furniture pieces we have had stored away. We will have two completely empty bedrooms, and many of our other rooms will be pretty sparse. I’m ok with it. I like the space, and feeling like everything can breathe.

Even though I get overwhelmed and impatient sometimes, I like the process of easing into a more minimalist life: decreasing our possessions, increasing the value of our home with our DIY-spirit, committing to less, focusing on our long-term financial goals. All of those things will make us more free to jump on an opportunity to downsize when the time is right, whenever that may be.

my minimalist dining essentials

So earlier I blogged about our kitchen revamp and some plans for minimizing and streamlining my cooking and baking supplies. I am back with a post on my minimalist  dining essentials. Until I started listing all my kitchen items, I never realized how much I still have! Since my last post, I’ve unloaded about 10 more items (through donating and selling locally).

Everything on my dining essentials list, and my last post about my minimalist cooking and baking essentials, are of the “buy once” mentality. The idea is if you invest in good quality, timeless stuff, you won’t have to switch out and upgrade constantly! As things in my kitchen need replaced, I am replacing with the mindset of only replacing it this one last time – so I’ll invest in things that will last forever.

It’s so easy to go overboard collecting dishware. It’s functional art, after all. If you love it, keep it. But if you are out of space or don’t use half of your stuff, it’s always a good challenge to pare down. A good tactic may be to pack up anything you aren’t sure about, and if you don’t retrieve anything from the box in 6 months to a year, consider selling or donating it.

Here is my absolute dining essentials (these are not the exact items I own, this is just my #goals collage):

mnmlst-dining

  1. Entree plates and dessert plates (mine are Fiestaware and I also have a “set” of mismatched thrift store plates and dessert plates for when I have a lot of people to feed). If it did it over again, I’d forgo the Fiestaware; while it’s fun, I actually find the rainbow explosion of color kind of limiting when I’m trying to go for a minimalist aesthetic..
  2. Wooden serving utensils.
  3. Cloth napkins. I only have everyday ones, but I plan to make or buy a set of nicer napkins for entertaining.
  4. Stainless flatware.
  5. Basic (nesting) small glass tumblers that work for water, juice, and cocktails. (No fancy bar ware collection needed.)
  6. Soup bowls.
  7. Stemless wine glasses. (These copper ones are amazing! I’m not sure if I’d miss the clear glass; currently I just drink my wine from small jelly jars, but I may start acquiring proper glasses.)
  8. Mugs. I’d love a collection of handmade mugs. Boo to perfectly matching mugs.
  9. Serving bowls. The soup bowls and a nice mixing bowl can also perform the job when entertaining and serving multiple dishes.)
  10. Large platter. (Extra dinner plates, a wooden cutting board, and small prep bowls can be used for serving appetizers.)

I listed most of my additional kitchen goods in my last post, but I didn’t mention that I also own the following serving/dining items (the asterisk (*) means they are on the chopping block):

  1. Gravy boat*
  2. Nesting bowls*
  3. A long melamine platter*
  4. 2 misc serving bowls
  5. Stainless ladle
  6. Stainless serving spoons
  7. Stainless serving spatula
  8. To-go dining items like stainless water bottles, stainless coffee cup, metal tiffens, glass food containers, bamboo utensils, and a stainless lunch box. This kind of stuff is pretty critical to minimizing trash, but does tend to take up real estate..
  9. Toddler food dishes, utensils, and cups (I could further pare down the cups). We are using RePlay brand dishes which are sturdy and made from recycled milk jugs. In hindsight I wish I’d have invested in stainless dishes, but I won’t be upgrading, as ours are perfectly functional for as long as we will need them.

This post (and my last) are the kinds I wish I’d seen when I first began to set up a household. Do not trust the wedding registry suggestions, the “off to college” guides, etc, unless they were written by minimalists! Had I invested in good, classic, multifunctional cooking and dining items 15 years ago, I’d have saved myself a bundle of money, not to mention all the resources. For example, now on my 4th set of skillets in 15 years, I finally invested in cast iron, which means this set will actually outlive me.

What’s on your must-have list?

a fresher, lighter kitchen

Fun news: we are revamping our kitchen this month! We moved into this house 6 years ago, and we always planned to make the kitchen nicer. But I am weird, and I settle in/nest where I am, and have been perfectly content with its imperfections. But now that we are rolling, I am really looking forward to the new-and-improved space! On the agenda is staining the cabinets, replacing the tile, tiling a back splash, and getting solid-surface counters. My husband is doing all the work (minus counter installation). For the sake of later comparison, here’s what the kitchen looked like (this was a while ago, but the finishes are the same):

kitchen2

While our kitchen’s torn up, we have moved into the basement, where we have a second kitchen area with some refinished secondhand cabinets. (My brother-in-law’s family used our basement for a couple years while they built their house). The basement kitchen is much smaller, so I am taking this opportunity to pare down to the very basics for now. This means fewer place settings, only a handful of gadgets, utensils, and bake ware, and a pared down pantry. (The irony is not lost on me that I am striving for a minimalist kitchen while having TWO kitchens in my house, trust me).

downstairs-kitchen

Right now I LOVE my smaller, efficient kitchen, multi-tasking tools, and simplified menu plan. It’s a great lesson to remind myself how little I really need to cook for our family. I’m always happiest when I can simplify! It’s inspired me think about how I’d set up my kitchen now, knowing what I now know. Obviously it’s not practical to just discard and replace everything I already have, when it’s all perfectly functional. But I am definitely thinking about my eventual goals for our kitchen, especially now that it will be spruced up and sleeker. So my plan is to keep everything additional packed away (except for food), even after we move back in upstairs; I will get out other items as I need them, but if they are still packed away in six months, I’ll seriously consider parting with them (some maybe sooner if I can sell them).

I thought I would do a few posts on setting up a more minimal kitchen, if doing it from scratch. Today I’m focusing on just the cooking-related items. I will do a later post for dining essentials and cleaning essentials! Here are my essentials for cooking (I don’t own all of these exact items – this is just my #goals collage):

mnmlst-cooking

  1. A nice wooden cutting board.
  2. Wooden cooking utensils, a silicone spatula, and a metal whisk.
  3. Kitchen scissors for cutting greens, herbs, etc.
  4. Three good knives.
  5. Stainless measuring spoons.
  6. Stainless measuring cups.
  7. A box cheese grater.
  8. Glass prep bowls. I have various sizes from a thrift store and I use them all the time.
  9. A medium cast iron skillet.
  10. A graduated, pouring measuring cup.
  11. A heavy mixing bowl.
  12. A metal colander.
  13. An enamel Dutch oven. I have this exact one from Lodge, and I love it. I use it all the time.
  14. Salt and pepper grinders.
  15. Mason jars (and other glass/stainless storage) for pantry item storage, produce storage in the fridge, leftovers, picnics, taking food to people, and to drink from when hosting large groups (so you don’t have to store more glassware).
  16. A good food processor. I love my 9-cup Cuisinart. I’ve had it for almost 10 years and I still use it regularly.
  17. Stainless pots. I have 2, but 3 would be more practical.
  18. A glass French press. I love my Mr. Coffee, but French pressed coffee does taste better..
  19. A Vita-mix or other blender. I use ours almost daily for smoothies, and also to make almond milk, peanut butter, dressings/sauces, and grind coffee beans.

And my baking essentials:

mnmlst-baking

  1. A half sheet baking sheet (and cover)
  2. Cooling rack
  3. Rolling pin
  4. Silicone baking mat
  5. Baking dish
  6. Loaf pan
  7. KitchenAid stand mixer
  8. Bread machine (yes, I really do use mine weekly!)
  9. Silicone muffin cups

I own far more than those items. I also own the following probably non-essential items (the asterisk (*) means they are on the chopping block):

  1. A toaster*
  2. A juicer*
  3. Deep fryer (given to us, never used)*
  4. Yogurt maker*
  5. Electric mixer*
  6. Tea kettle*
  7. Second 9×13 baking dish*
  8. Tart pan*
  9. Multiple loaf and mini loaf pans*
  10. Mini muffin pan*
  11. Tortilla bowl makers*
  12. Ramekins*
  13. Stock pot*
  14. A citrus juicer*
  15. Sifter*
  16. Tortilla press*
  17. Pizza stone*
  18. Nesting mixing/serving bowls*
  19. Mesh strainer*
  20. Salad tongs*
  21. Multiple silicone spatulas*
  22. Dough scraper*
  23. Cocktail shaker*
  24. Tea ball*
  25. Sun tea jar*
  26. A toaster oven
  27. Belgian waffle maker
  28. Crock Pot
  29. Kitchen scales
  30. Immersion blender
  31. 9×9 baking dish
  32. Muffin pans
  33. Donut pan
  34. Large cast iron skillet
  35. Cast iron pizza pan
  36. Second cutting board
  37. Tile trivet I use as a cutting board for garlic
  38. About 10 various knives
  39. Vegetable peeler
  40. Can opener
  41. Jar opener
  42. Ice cream scoop
  43. Small metal colander
  44. Silicone tongs
  45. Pasta server
  46. Ladle
  47. Silicone flipper
  48. 5 cookie cutters
  49. Pastry brush
  50. Cork screw
  51. Wine stopper
  52. Various BBQ tools
  53. Cooking thermometer
  54. Mortar and pestle
  55. Nut milk bag
  56. Silicone bowl covers (to replace cling wrap/tin foil)

I wouldn’t consider any of the above items to be critical to a kitchen, but many are really nice to have for my particular cooking habits (like the second cast iron skillet, silicone bowl covers, nut milk bag, and cork screw).  But looking at the list, there are plenty of duplicate-function items. Silicone muffin cups eliminate the need for muffin tins; we don’t need a toaster AND a toaster oven; we don’t really need two colanders AND a mesh strainer AND a nut milk bag; I can boil water without a kettle… The trick will be figuring out the most versatile items to keep.

What do you think? What’s in your ideal kitchen? Am I an insane person for listing out what I own? (Don’t actually answer that).:)

1-in-2-out

closet

Last year, I blogged about my zero waste habits quite a bit, and mentioned I have a 1-in-1-out document on my computer to be accountable for my consumption. This year I have decided I am not done minimizing, so I am doing a 1-in-2-out rule. This means that for every (non-consumable) item I bring into the house, I must part with two items I already have. Ideally, the items I give up will be along the same category lines as the item I am bringing in (one book for another, for example), but sometimes that isn’t always feasible.

I keep a box or bag (or whatever I can round up) in my office, and add donation items to it regularly. With a 1-in-1-out rule, I realized I may be doing this FOREVER. But if I’m getting rid of things at twice the rate I am bringing them in, I may eventually be where I want to be. It’s a rather fun, creative exercise.

Just last week, my basement tenants (my brother-in-law’s family) moved out and into their new home. This means we acquired an additional 1,500sf, 3 bedrooms, another bathroom, and a kitchenette, for our use. This is a RIDICULOUS amount of space for our wannabe minimalist family of three, I know. (Someday I will post about why we are in the big home we are in, and may not leave it for a long time, despite my wanting to drastically downsize.)

In the past I’d have already been making a gigantic shopping list of stuff to fill all our new space, obsessing over how I want to decorate it. But I have evolved as a responsible consumer. We have plenty of stuff already. We moved a lot of furniture and other items from our upstairs living area, office, and bedrooms downstairs. Yesterday, we purchased a couch for our living room (since the couch and loveseat moved downstairs). My husband also really wanted a TV, and something to warm up the space, so we bought a TV stand with an electric fireplace. So while we did purchase a few big items, my goal is not to buy a single other item for the basement for at least 60 days. In addition to my 1-in-2-out document, I will be keeping a 60 day list. We may find we need a few other things eventually, but I want to live with what we already have for a while and really decide, as well as take the time to find what we may want/need secondhand. But my 1-in-2-out rule will still apply. There is really no need to accumulate more, just because we have the space.

In 2016 I got rid of so much stuff; and only 17 days into 2017, I’ve gotten rid of 67 items (and counting) just by going through our storage area! One day I may have a smaller home (I hope so!) and we will have to half our possessions again, which would be ok with me. While we still have plenty of useful stuff, I am not attached to much of it at all. I’m loving all the breathing room in our home these days!

zero waste bathroom cleaning

Bit of a boring topic, but we all have to do it, so I’m going to talk about my zero waste bathroom cleaning method. I rather enjoy bathroom cleaning, actually. Years ago I stopped using all toxic cleaners (in favor of Mrs. Meyers brand). Now that I’m trying not to generate waste, I’ve made another switch to some really simple, but just as effective products.

cleaning

My entire arsenal of supplies includes vinegar (poured into a spray bottle from a glass bottle in the kitchen // baking soda in a jar (bought in bulk bins) // tea tree oil (melaluca- I don’t usually use my dōTERRA oils for this, but I ran out of the less expensive one) // a wooden toilet brush // Norwex mop, envirocloth, and window cloth // basic rag.

If you aren’t familiar with Norwex or other e-cloths, they are worth looking into. I love mine. I know I’ve had them for 5.5 years because I was texting my order to a friend while I was signing the mortgage paperwork for our house, and they are still holding up great after using them many times a week. They are made with a technology that allows you to clean with just water (antimicrobial silver is woven into the fabric); and if you rinse between uses and hang up, they are ok to use again (although I do not use the bathroom cloth in the kitchen, nor clean the toilet with them ever). There are other similar brands out there I cannot vouch for, but might be worth a bit of research if you go this route. They are a bit expensive upfront, but I know they pay for themselves over time (especially if you cut out commercial cleaners).

IMG_4146

Here’s my process:

I start from the top down, so I wipe the mirrors with the envirocloth, then polish with the window cloth. Then I wipe the faucets and shine them. I use the envirocloth to wipe down the sinks and counters. Admittedly I don’t clean the shower and tub each week. I am lazy! But when I do, I use the envirocloth to wipe it down as well. Occasionally I need to use some baking soda on the soap scum and scrub with a Norwex mitt or scrub brush. Then I rinse out the Norwex rags and hang it to dry so it can be used once more before laundering (since I only do laundry weekly). YES this is ok to do with Norwex because of their antimicrobial properties.

Then I spray the toilet and toilet seat all over with vinegar and wipe down with my regular rag. I flush the toilet once, then sprinkle baking soda in the bowl, and put a drop of melaluca in the water. I spray the inside of the bowl with vinegar and let sit for about 2 minutes, then scrub with the toilet brush and flush.

I wet the Norwex mop pad and mop the floor. Sometimes I’ll drop a few drops of essential oils on the mop pad first so the bathroom smells fancy for a while (like if we are having company). Again, rinse out the mop pad and hang to dry so you can use again before laundering.

The whole cleaning time-frame is about 10-15 minutes (for our Master bathroom and small bathroom).

I have a really ghetto method of hanging things to dry! I keep a collapsible clothes drying rack standing in our bathtub. It’s always there unless people are coming over that may use that bathroom or want to tour our house for some reason. Or I am cleaning or using the tub of course. Generally you will find some combination of drying wash cloths from showers (before putting them in the hamper), bras I’ve hand-washed, and my Norwex cloths/mop pads. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional and out of the way.

zero waste – january recap

January came and went, but my zero waste efforts are paying off more and more each day. It’s like I had trash-blinders on before, and now I can’t miss it. Every day has been a mission to simplify my life and detox from wasteful habits. Not that we’ve done perfectly. But we have done so, so much better. And because we didn’t just light a match to our possessions, we will be dealing with them in various ways as we phase them out: using them up, donating them, or repurposing them.

Early in the month I did a massive cleanout of disposable items. Ziplock bags, plastic wraps, plastic containers, straws, napkins, plastic plates/cups/utensils leftover from parties.. I either gave it away to people who’d buy it anyway, and in the case of the random items, donated them to Food Services at the Salvation Army. I also began to aggressively use up pantry and freezer items (we’ve had some weird meals, admittedly) and buying in bulk with reusable bags, or at least in non-plastic/ 100% recyclable packaging. With only a couple of exceptions (like cheese and a starter yogurt to make my own) I’ve been able to avoid plastic. Most plastic getting thrown out (recycled if possible of course) has been from items purchased before January. Every item going out the door is a cause for celebration (with a little guilt of course for buying it in the first place).

For about a week, I felt like a crazy person, examining my trash to part with each item in the best way. I repurposed grapefruit peels by making my own grapefruit-infused vinegar for cleaning. I diligently separated things into the compost bucket, chicken scrap bucket, or recycle bin. Shortly into this, it became second nature. Granted, we already did these things, but not to the level of attention I now put in (the goal being that none of it ends up in the trash or down the garbage disposal).

Our fridge looks a little emptier (this was taken today – the day after grocery shopping!) because I only buy what we absolutely need that week. We have our milk delivered in returnable plastic bottles. I store leftovers in mason jars (along with my DIY coffee creamer). Zero waste produce storage is fun. Fresh herbs and carrots look like little bouquets. 🙂 We generally have a container of scraps for the chickens in there as well, but it’s being emptied today. The box up top is a Bota box of Moscato. Since we don’t have a local winery where I can get refills, a 100% recyclable Bota box is the best alternative. In the produce drawers, loose produce is wrapped in damp towels, or in jars or glass containers if needed.

IMG_4263

What you can’t see is the fridge door, full of plastic bottles of condiments from our pre-zero waste life. 😉 Those will eventually get phased out.

Here was a fun victory. Hubby gave our Master bathroom a makeover. He replaced the light fixtures, sinks, towel and toilet paper roll holder, and faucets; plus removed the shower door and replaced it with a curtain. All the items we removed will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. He cut down the mirrors and made frames for them with wood scraps leftover from our mantle.

IMG_4143

The only trash generated from this project was the old laminate counter top, the painter’s tape, and a bit of packaging (most could be recycled). It looks so beautiful now! (I just noticed we have a re-purposed Jägermeister bottle hand soap pump next to a repurposed Sangria jug vase. Ha!;))

IMG_4146

I have been writing down in my planner, every little zero waste victory or step I’ve taken this month and wanted to share them here. Some are swaps for the long term, and some are just little ways I met a particular challenge that I wanted to keep track of just to see how much those little things add up. January was meant to focus on the kitchen/food packaging so there’s definitely been more progress there then elsewhere, but I’ve been chipping away a bit everywhere. So, here we are (in no particular order:

January Zero Waste Victories

Kitchen/Grocery:

  1. Menu planning each Sunday and shopping exclusively from list.
  2. Took bulk bags to local bulk shop (multiple times); store bulk items in jars.
  3. Got rid of plastic containers, bags, etc. to family and donation center.
  4. Used jars and glass containers for freezing and refrigerating leftovers, and for storing loose produce (to replace plastic containers, plastic bags, and plastic food packaging).
  5. Upgraded to cloth napkins.
  6. Packed sandwich for the office, wrapped in a cloth napkin.
  7. Made (zero waste) almond milk; used remaining almond pulp to turn to flour, then to bake into Snickerdoodles!
  8. Made reusable food wrap (to replace plastic wrap).
  9. Found local glass recycling and used it.
  10. Replaced nonstick pans with two cast iron skillets (Costco has a great price); replaced plastic spatulas with bamboo. I haven’t done anything with the nonstick skillets yet; I am considering keeping them in the camping trailer.
  11. Replaced Hannah’s sippies and bowls with this brand. (Still plastic, but a better alternative. We already had the plates and loved them!).
  12. Looked for glass-packaged alternatives to items normally in plastic. Success with juice, BBQ sauce, white vinegar, and ketchup.
  13. Making my own yogurt and coffee creamer to avoid purchasing in plastic.
  14. Emailing local dairy re. switching to glass. Not a win for me, but they did tell me their returnable milk bottles are the safest grade of plastic.
  15. Air dried dishwasher loads instead of running the heated dry. Refilled the rinse aid compartment with vinegar.
  16. Learned and implemented loose produce storage tips from the Internet (herbs and carrots upright in jars of water (bouquet style in the fridge), mushrooms in glass containers draped with a wet towel, broccoli wrapped in a damp towel, etc. This article is the best I’ve found.
  17. Haven’t kicked the soda habit, but I’ve been washing and refilling the same plastic cup all month (I get a fountain soda a couple times a week) and using a stainless steel straw.
  18. Composting scraps, lint, egg shells, coffee grounds.
  19. Saving other scraps, bits of food leftover from Hannah’s plate, etc, for the chickens.
  20. Upgraded to stainless steel water bottles (from plastic reusables).
  21. Upgraded to stainless steel drinking straws.
  22. Only a couple of meals out/take-out. It’s nearly impossible to control the waste created by going out to eat! This is definitely something I need to work on – better planning when we go out.

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