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.

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the elephant in the room, and big changes (again).

Sometimes trying to live my values is so, so hard.

Because the world is set up to be disposable.
Because some people enjoy pointing out my failures, to justify their own lack of action.
Because I can’t control the entire household.
Because sometimes I have to make compromises.
Because no matter how much I am doing, I could always be doing more.
Because when you actually CARE about things, it can seem hopeless and futile.
Because no matter how much I am doing, I’m only one person and it can be a little defeating.
Because sometimes I realize the hypocrisy in some of my actions.

But then there are days when those very things are what motivate or inspire me to do more. It’s a very zen thing to do, and to be honest, I’m not exactly sure how I got here. But where I used to feel discouraged pretty regularly about things, lately I have been just accepting the feeling, learning from it, then resolving to do what I can to do better myself. It’s taken me 33 years to realize that separating what I can and can’t control is the best way to be productive. It gives me a place to start without feeling overwhelmed, because it lowers the scope of the problem to a reasonable level.

But more importantly than that – separating the big impacts from the little ones is more powerful still. And I am finally ready to stop skirting the issue. For me, there’s been one big elephant in the room for three years now. Eating animals.

Six years ago, I pledged to go vegetarian, and I happily kept it up for a few years (mostly vegan), even through pregnancy. Then I had a baby. The vegetarian freezer meals I had prepared for the first couple of weeks after giving birth were supplemented by lovely neighbors bringing things like chicken alfredo and drive-thru meals of..whatever.. picked up by my husband. I wasn’t truly prepared for a newborn who hated to sleep, who was constantly fussy, who wanted to nurse for only 2 minutes every 20 minutes around the clock. I just completely relapsed as every priority I had – my health, the planet, and animals – just got completely eclipsed by a tiny human who consumed my heart, time, and sanity.

Obviously as babies grow, they quickly get easier in some ways, but present new challenges with every milestone. Cooking the entire Veganomican cookbook was a pre-kid goal I had and I just laughed at the thought of even attempting to cook involved vegan meals, knowing I also need to have a plan B on hand for my husband in case the Seitan Pot Pie was just too weird for his liking. And then, well, I just kind of fell into eating meat out of habit. We mostly ate vegetarian, but I was cooking and eating meat once or twice a week or so just for variety, feeling guilty about it all the while. I am not even sure why I did it.

But suddenly my reasons for making a change finally are glaringly bigger than my excuses not to.

I haven’t lost any of my pregnancy weight.
I feel like garbage, physically and mentally, and I know it’s because of my diet.
I have made huge efforts to lower my impact to the planet, while ignoring the single biggest thing I can do.
I truly to love animals, and have willfully ignored their suffering for my own convenience, when I know better.
I try to instill compassion and caring for Earth in my daughter, but have failed her in ignoring this.

But like I said – those are just facts. Not sources of guilt. Dwelling on the guilt and the past will not change anything. All I can do is move forward. I can just change what I do today.

cowspiracy

So, I’m going vegetarian again – transitioning to mostly vegan. I have not completely decided about going vegan. I will still be cooking for non-vegetarians, so adding a little cheese sometimes seems like a good compromise. We have also been considering quite seriously, getting backyard laying chickens. The ethical/environmental concerns over eating backyard chicken eggs are pretty minuscule to me – they would be named, loved, and spoiled (and would put my kitchen scraps to great use). So I am putting some thought into that. But as for dairy, I’ve always had an easy time cutting out about 75% of my consumption of it – so I think I’ll be able to work up to it at home (it’s out of the house I struggle with).

{Image from the documentary Cowspiracy, which is excellent. I highly recommend watching this film to learn about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. It’s now on Netflix. Watching this was honestly the tipping point for me.}

library love.

location-of-the-library

There are so many good reasons to should use and support your libraries. They are amazing! But I was talking to a friend the other day about a documentary, and I mentioned that I had borrowed it from the library. She was surprised – “they have new movies at the library?” It made me realize that not everyone treats their local library as an extension of their home like we do in our household. Especially since striving for zero waste and more minimalist, the library is really one of our favorite resources.

This post is absolutely written from the perspective of someone who has access to great libraries. It’s one of my favorite things about my community – it really invests in libraries. Sadly, not all are created equally, but you should still not neglect even the shabbiest. Support it! Visit and use it, vote YES on measures to improve it, donate to it, and advocate for it! They are super important to communities. And if you don’t use them, you could be seriously missing out.

Here’s my list of our favorite things to do at our local library:

  1. Books-books-books. We always check out oodles of books. I read to Hannah every night at bedtime, and often during the daytime, too. I can only handle reading the same books so many times before I lose my mind – so I love having a new stack every week to rotate through. And I generally grab a few, too. I at least glance through every homesteading/gardening/food preservation book I can get my hands on, and I am always reading one or two novels at a given time. I add my name to the wait list for popular books, and eventually will be notified when I’m up in the queue- I love this service. (This and this are the books I’m currently reading).
  2. Research. Not just for students. When I want to learn how to do something, I hit up YouTube and the library. Since I switch interests weekly, it only makes sense to “get my learn on” with free resources.
  3. Audio books/ebooks. I borrow audio books for car trips, and can borrow ebooks for my Kindle from the library website without leaving the house. It’s the BEST.
  4. Music and movies. Our library has a great selection of both. I love picking up a few CDs to listen to in my car for the week (lately I’ve been picking up 90s rap) and a movie or two. Sometimes we never get around to watching the movies, but at least there’s no guilt over a wasted rental fee.
  5. Toys. Our library has toys you can borrow! They are pretty much limited to educational toys for babies and toddlers, so eventually they won’t be of any use, but for now they are great. Borrowing and returning is clutter-free, and a great way to gauge what your child finds interest in and what they don’t, without buying something.
  6. Kid play/Socialization. Our library has a great kids section with fun, good quality toys (wooden dollhouse, legos, magnatiles..). We always sit and play for a bit when we visit. It’s good for socialization/sharing teaching for our only child. They also host a “Discovery Time,” a teacher-led activity time with songs, books, and active play with the group. We have been quite a few times and it’s really fun. A great wintertime activity (or those hot hot summer days).
  7. Pre-preschool curriculum. I’ve just started to use the library to assemble very informal “curriculum” on a various subject or theme. One week I’ll seek out materials on a specific topic (both fiction and nonfiction). We will look at those books together and discuss them. (I’ll also try to come up with or seek out ideas online for activities that reinforce the topic). I will be doing more of this now that Hannah’s closer to 3. (I also discovered my library has books of curriculum in their resources, so I won’t even have to do all the work myself to put this together!)
  8. Meet ups. My mom’s group meets up for play dates at the library really frequently (after Discovery Time). It’s the perfect venue because it’s free, the kids love it, and we can return/pick up books while we are there.
  9. Quiet work space. I work from home, and when I can sneak away for a few hours on the weekend to work from the coffee shop or library to get some done, it feels like a great luxury. My library has a café, so that is my spot of choice. (I also take the opportunity to leisurely browse the non-kid stacks while I’m there and end up with a pile of books for myself).
  10. Teaching responsibility. One thing I love about the library is that it provides a great opportunity to teach your little ones how to take care of things. I teach Hannah to treat the library items carefully so other kids can enjoy them later, and she’s always been so good about this (of course, when she was a baby we only brought home the sturdy board books).
  11. Yearly book sales. Admittedly, I haven’t really taken advantage of this. We went to one recently, and while the selection/prices were great, I didn’t prepare for the time it would take to dig through boxes and wait in the checkout line! With a toddler in tow, it wasn’t reasonable. Next time I’ll plan accordingly and go by myself – it seemed like a real goldmine for used books!

How about you – are you a library lover? What are your favorite things about your libraries?

zero-ish waste holidays 2016- gift wrapping

Merry Christmas! I didn’t want to post anything with spoilers ahead of time, but still wanted to share some of my ZW Christmas gift wrapping. There just aren’t a lot of posts out there about this and I wanted to add to the conversation in case it’s helpful to someone later.

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I’ve always loved and admired beautifully wrapped gifts, but had never bothered to master the skill. This year, however, my gifts are wrapped up in such unique ways. Some of my wrapping this year includes: a roll of brown kraft paper I already had, tea towels a hand-dyed, a secondhand scarf (and one from my closet I’ll take back), advertisements from our local alternative press publication, Hannah’s doodles saved throughout the year, the cloth bags from a pair of curtain panels I’d purchased early in the year, a piece of tissue paper and a bow from gifts I’d received from friends earlier in the season, yarn as string, and upcycled cardboard gift tags. Several gifts remain unwrapped entirely because they are beautiful without wrapping.

My little Christmas elf was happy to paint some gift tags for me. I used a couple Christmas cookie cutters to trace onto an upcycled cardboard shipping box, and cut them out. She painted her little heart out, and once they dried I punched a hole and used some yarn to tie them to our gifts. They turned out so beautiful! Hannah also strung beads for bracelets for all her girl cousins and aunts, over the course of the last month or so. It’s a great activity to keep her busy at the kitchen counter while I work on dinner, and the results are so beautiful! I tied them to some of the gifts as well. I LOVE them.

I’ve NEVER had this much fun wrapping gifts (or shopping for them, really). Removing most of that over-consumption guilt was such a freeing experience. I didn’t step foot in a mall. That was like a Christmas gift for myself. To be honest, despite buying fewer gifts, our budget didn’t change much from last year, because we bought things of higher quality and not made in sweatshops. Those items will (and should) cost more. Besides buying less, we offset it with not buying wrapping papers, bows, tags, etc, or buying/sending Christmas cards this year (another carbon-footprint motivated decision).

Next year I hope to hit 100% with a sustainable Christmas, which means better planning for my husband (I did okish, but he’s quite difficult to buy for so I compromised my goals here a bit) and my mother-in-law and father-in-law (my husband took care of their gifts this year and they weren’t ZW). It will also mean no online shopping unless I know for certain their packing materials are plastic-free (I was disappointed with a couple of items that should have been otherwise ZW). I only bought a handful of things online though, so I could have easily avoided this. Next year I will!

I hope everyone has a lovely holiday!

zero-ish waste holidays 2016 – what I’m gifting and wanting

I haven’t been perfect (not even close), but I’ve definitely embraced the zero waste lifestyle this year. 2017 will be the year of tweaking things and really digging in to the waste that I’m still creating (mainly outside of the household – work and when I’m on-the-go, though it’s definitely less than before, too).
I have my own rules for gift-buying this year that are zero waste-light:
  1. No plastic. Above all – no plastic!
  2. 4 gifts for the kiddo. Keep it small.
  3. Gifts must all be either: handmade (by me or otherwise), experience gifts, donations in the giftee’s name, and/or at the very least made from sustainable materials. Bonus points for buying local (so far I’m about 50% here..)
  4. Gift wrapping will be either upcycled materials or reusable (or unwrapped).
  5. We are foregoing the stockings (hubby and I anyway) and multiple gifts for each other. One small gift each (saving the money for some kitchen upgrades later this winter).
  6. We are also foregoing mailing cards. This one is the only one that feels like a sacrifice kind of. But the resources they take – both in materials and transportation – is kind of hard to justify for something unnecessary. I still have a bit of time to work on an electronic greeting with a family photo, but I need to work on it right away!

Without giving too much away, so far some of my gifts are:

  • A wooden dollhouse for Hannah. I am sure there will be some plastic packaging in this, unfortunately.
  • Unpackaged bath bombs and bubbles from Lush for some kiddos.
  • Homemade play dough in all the colors for another kiddo.
  • Fair trade African market baskets (with homemade baked goods inside) for friends.
  • A donation to a favorite charity for a friend.
  • A membership to our local Nature Center for a family member.
  • Handmade and functional items for my parents- one made by me and the other custom made from an Etsy seller (I can’t say more than that right now).
  • Homemade cookies in reusable cloth bags for the neighbors.
  • Homemade treats for the dogs in my life.

So, what does a almost-zero-waster want? At this point in my journey I have reusable everything, a collection of jars and other containers, and mainly just don’t want to hoard more stuff. So I don’t necessarily need anything to support my ZW efforts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have certain things I need. I have never been too shy about telling people what I want for gifts (if they ask) because if I know I need it, it’s not a waste of money or resources. That said, here’s what’s on my list this year:

2016 Christmas Wishlist

  1. A cute and warm plaid flannel shirt. I am really really trying to be more outdoorsy this winter, so being warm and cute def. helps. I would be super happy to receive one of these if it were second-hand, especially!
  2. See number 1; I could really use a legit winter coat that’s not too bulky but still waterproof. I mean, how long have I lived in this climate without one? All my life. Time to embrace this place.
  3. Wool socks. Because winter. There’s a pattern here…
  4. Unpackaged Lush products. I am LOVING their shampoo and conditioner bars, bar soaps, deodorant bar, and unpackaged hair honey. I’m going to buy it throughout the year anyway!
  5. Wine. The ultimate gift for me!
  6. Books about chicken-raising. This is our near-future undertaking and I am so very excited! We’ve co-owned 8 or so birds for a few years off our property but we are going to be bringing some to our back yard hopefully this spring! I cannot wait and I would love to study up this winter with a few reference books.
  7. Not pictured: if someone were to gift me an almond tree I could plant in the spring, I’d love your forever and name it after you.

I can honestly say that I’ve never been quite as ready for the holidays (in my adult life) as this year, and it’s because it’s going to better line up with my values. I’ve never been big on overspending, over-consuming, over-stressing part of the holidays (are any of us, really?). Truly, my “rules” have made shopping easier. Next year I hope to take it just a little further – handmade everything perhaps? But I’ll definitely need to build in more time.

How about you – what’s on your lists (to give and receive)?

zero waste bathroom

Sorry for the lack of postings! I have over a dozen almost-ready drafts I have yet to publish, because I seem to never get enough consecutive minutes. I sure have missed blogging! I hope to be back more often now, with holiday-related posts and plans for 2017 (I love a good resolution plan).

My 2016 has been a rocky road to zero waste (with plenty of detours), but I’m as committed as EVER. I can’t wait to take it all even further in 2017, as so much of 2016 entailed using up what I still had! It took me 10 months to use up the gigantic bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash I already had before starting zero waste. I was chomping at the bit to make the zero waste switches, but of course wanted to use up the old product responsibly first. It was actually really nice to have the luxury of time to research zero waste options, though. While I was kicking butt in the kitchen with zero waste, I was kind of nervous and at a loss with how to replace toiletry items (and TBH I still am stumped over a few).

But I’ve spent the past months following zero waste bloggers and Instagramers, reading books, and just doing research on some of my options out there. A big goal of mine is always to consolidate products as much as I can, so I didn’t want to swap one-for-one if there was a better alternative out there that can multitask.

This is the extent of what I use body and hair-care wise (though after creating this collage I also began using a Lush conditioner bar and love it, too).

zero waste bath and body1.Lush shampoo bar // 2. Lotion bar (shown is Lush but I make my own) // 3. Stainless safety razor // 4. Lush deodorant bar // 5. Lush tins for the soap, shampoo, and conditioner // 6. Coconut oil (as a leave-in conditioner when needed, and as body lotion), and 7. Lush soap (I also use the soap to shave.)

I chose LUSH products because: they are organic, cruelty free, and naked in packaging.

I have to say it took a week to get used to the shampoo bar, but now my hair looks and feels the same as before. I’ve been using a conditioner bar after each shampoo as well, and I use coconut oil – a tiny amount – as a leave-in conditioner about once a month. That’s it! To extend the life of the bars, I let them dry before putting in the tins, and I keep the tins in a cabinet between showers.

One of my favorite zero waste switches BY FAR is my stainless razor. I now only have to replace a blade occasionally (dirt cheap, packaged in huge quantities in cardboard). The reason I love this so much is that it’s going to save me SO MUCH MONEY over time. The price of razor cartridges for those girlie razors is out of hand, and the packaging is awful. I feel like I’m giving Gillette the middle finger every time I shave my legs.

drawer

This is a (terrible) picture of my bathroom drawer. In it you see: glass jars of ACV (for toning) and coconut oil, a jar of my homemade toothpaste, sustainable toothbrush, various dropper bottles of face oils like jojoba and rose hip, (trying to find the right combo for winter..), reusable eye makeup remover pads, Lush deodorant bar in a mason jar, Lush hair honey in a tin, Burt’s Bees night cream and day cream* (the day cream in plastic:(), homemade lotion bar, glasses, contacts, and contacts case. And a comb and pins/elastics I’ve had for years.

In addition to these items and the shower items, I have a few things under my vanity: a small cosmetic bag with makeup* (most pre-ZW, as I’m trying to use it up responsibly), one (metal) can of hairspray*, sunscreen (in plastic*), contacts solution (also plastic**), hair styling heat tools, a few headbands/headscarves, a small stash of nail polish (trying to decide if I can part with this!) and manicure supplies, a luna cup, and 5 washable menstrual pads. That’s it!

*I’ll be phasing these all out in the coming months..

**There is no avoiding the trash generated by my bad vision, and for that, I am so sad. To cut back on the packaging I do try to wear my glasses more often (so I don’t have to change contacts as often or use as much solution). I also think they make sustainable contact lens cases, but as most solution comes with a plastic one, purchasing additional ones would be redundant. One day I’ll get LASIK, but for the next many years it will probably be my last bit of remaining plastic in the bathroom. 😦

Still, I’ve come so far! I love my new regimen – it all feels so simplified and freeing. I’m completely marketing-proof when it comes to the beauty industry, and I love that because they are the worst. Best of all, I generate so little trash in the bathroom. A big future goal needs to be to convince Hubby to make some switches, too… a post for another day!

a thrift haul, & 1-in-1-out

I have been paring down and donating so much this year, so it feels weird to bring much back IN to our house. But my shopping habits, even when thrifting, have changed a lot. Everything has to be functional and plastic-free. I keep a second-hand wishlist where I write down anything I want to shop for. I always refer to it before shopping. Some of these items weren’t on the list, but they are still pretty and functional (and plastic free/zero waste).

I love a good thrift haul, so I am going to start sharing them here. This week’s latest haul was a big one – $71 – which is a LOT for thrifting. But I brought home lots of good stuff:

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On the list:

  • 15 dinner plates & 20 dessert plates – all mismatched, yes! However, I decided that rather than buy disposable dishes for entertaining (when we need more dishes than the 12 place settings of Fiestaware that I have) I would keep a collection of funky, mismatched dishware to use for this purpose to mix in with my existing dishes. I just picked all neutrals, blues, and greens and I think they are so beautiful. I have a couple of parties in the works, so I’ll put these to use soon!

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  • Two pairs of pants to replace my work pairs that looked just horrible (they were once secondhand as well and have seen way better days).
  • A pair of flannel PJ pants I am going to cut up for a project/gift..
  • A dress to wear to an upcoming wedding (my original Ebay’d dress didn’t work out. Always a risk to order clothes online that you can’t return – oops!).

Not on the list:

 

  • A big basket – because who doesn’t need another basket? This wasn’t on my list, but I liked the size and handles. I will probably stain it with a slightly darker stain. (If I can’t find an immediate use for it, I may use it to hold a gift for Christmas or something. The thing about thrifted baskets is they are cheaper than a new paper gift bag – and obviously way more reusable!)
  • A big wooden bowl and a small wooden pillar holder. These weren’t on the list either. These are just for year-round seasonal decorating purposes. I thought I’d put mini pumpkins from my garden in/on them this fall, then possibly plant succulents in them later. I’ve gotten rid of SO many decorative items. Now I just want to rotate a few seasonal items from nature (compostable) or plants.
  • A wooden bird house. Total impulse buy, but a fun one (for $2). Hannah and I love looking at the bird houses at the Nature Center, so I thought she’d like working on our own. We will paint it together and maybe glue on some random costume jewelry I wanted to upcycle rather than donate, then we will donate the finished bird house to the Nature Center next spring!
  • A cute silky kimono. I’ve been wanting a kimono since the trend started, but they are always sweatshop made (or I can’t afford them). I was stoked to find one secondhand. It’s be favorite new item (even if I do need to fix a seam first..).

I keep a “1-in-1-out” list on my computer. Whenever I bring in a new item, I add it to the left. Items going out are on the right. My “out”list is MUCH longer, currently. But I do still try to get rid of one item for each new item anyway – I am still wanting to pare down our items, not just maintain the number of items we have.

However, I am not going to try to get rid of 35 items to make up for the dishware! They are solving wastefulness of disposable items, so I’ll just count it all as one item. I am also not counting the PJ pants, since they are just to use as the materials for a gift. So, I have 9 items to part with after this trip. Those are:

  • My two pairs of old work pants I was replacing (2)
  • A dress I originally bought for the wedding (reselling on Ebay) (1)
  • Two clothing items of Hannah’s (not in great shape, but donating anyway..) (2)
  • 1 plant pots I haven’t used (1)
  • 2 picture frames (2)
  • A decorative item (1)

I keep a box or bag in my office to accumulate these items, and make a monthly donation run (except items I am selling or giving to people I know, which I try to deal with within a week if possible). So far I’m loving this method for controlling clutter. It keeps my impulse-buying in check, as I have to think about what I want to get rid of at home in place of a new item. I also rather love that I am getting rid of more than I accumulate overall, and want to keep it that way for a while! I still have some areas of the house yet to tackle so my “out” list will be growing again soon; my eventual goal is to only have what I use and love in my home.:)