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 coffee {addiction}

Coffee is the one thing I have every single day, without fail. I always start my day with a cup or three. So it was one of the obvious things to apply zero waste to quickly. I absolutely love how simple and elegant zero waste can look, and my coffee habit is no exception. No more plastic containers with words printed on them to assault you every time you open the cupboard. No more disposable paper cups. Ahhh.

ZW coffeeI make my coffee at home in an unfancy Mr. Coffee coffee maker. If I were looking into buying a coffee pot now (as in, now that I am trying to do zero waste) I would probably look for a used appliance or invest in a good French press. But I am using what I have.

I buy my coffee beans in bulk and grind them at home. At my grocery store, organic beans cost the exact same as regular, so it’s a no-brainer. But even if it costs a bit more, it’s worth it to buy organic when you can. I simply use one of my bulk bags, writing the code on the outside with a washable crayon. Then I bring them home and store the beans in a mason jar. (If your store allows you to weigh and tare your jars you could skip the cloth bag step and buy them directly in your mason jar.) I grind enough for a week or so at a time, keeping the grounds in another canister near my coffee pot.

I make my own coffee creamer with almond milk (which I make with my Vitamix), sugar, and homemade vanilla extract (and sometimes a pinch of cinnamon). Sometimes I just use milk and sugar. As our milk is delivered in returnable bottles, both are zero waste options (except for the milk cap). (PS, I don’t have that cream and sugar set in the collage above, but it’s so beautiful isn’t it?) There are actually bulk powdered creamers at my grocery store, but I’ve given up creamers – the ingredients just seem TOO sketchy. It wasn’t as hard a habit to kick as I thought it would be!

I have replaced paper filters with this gold tone mesh filter. I paid $5 for it and it should last indefinitely. Each night when I set up the pot for morning, I scoop out the coffee grounds from that morning into my compost pail and just rinse the filter out with hot water. I hand wash the filter a couple times a week when I am doing other dishes. I run white vinegar through my coffee pot to descale it, about once a month (then follow up with clean water to get all the vinegar out). It works like a charm. (I then use the hot vinegar to clean my sink and inside of the microwave.)

IMG_3153My owl mug makes me happy every day. It was a spontaneous no-reason gift from my sister-in-law and brother, and I use it nearly every morning. Also, I’ve gone through a lot of travel mugs in my day. But I love this basic Thermos mug. It actually keeps coffee hot for most of a day and is leak-proof. I donated all our other travel mugs, so we now have one hot beverage mug and three stainless water bottles now – one is a small one for Hannah – as opposed to a cabinet full of plastic crap.

On the rare occasion I go out for coffee, I take my Thermos mug with me and I’ve never had a barista tell me no; in fact some places will give you a slight BYO discount. If you’re a coffee drinker, it’s truly one of the easiest places to go zero waste. Good thing, since it’s my addiction..

One more tip – if I have leftover coffee I save it in a jar in the fridge and use it to make afternoon pick-me-up smoothies sometimes. I blend about 1 cup of cold coffee, one cup of almond milk, some ice, a tsp of cocoa powder, and a frozen banana. It’s DELICIOUS.

green grocery-getting

green grocery getting

I’ve blogged about my grocery-getting routine before and not a whole lot will change since heading for zero waste (other than being more diligent and committed!), but I thought it was worth updating on.

I still use my favorite muslin bags and Envirosax (the pattern I have is no longer available). I’ve added to my zero waste kit these big canvas bags with jar sleeves and mesh produce bags. The canvas bags are so sturdy, and they will also be great for picnics since they hold up jars/wine bottles perfectly!

At the store, rather than use provided plastic bags for produce and bulk items, I use the mesh and muslin bags (I previously only had a couple of each so I’ve added to my stash to completely prevent having to use plastic). At home, I decant the items into glass mason jars or Glasslock containers. I use a bit of Washi tape and a Sharpie to label them. A lot of produce can stay loose in the fridge or fruit basket on the counter. No more ugly bags!

I’ve yet to need bakery, dairy and deli items since beginning zero waste (I am trying to use up things in the pantry and freezer before shopping), but those items will definitely be more challenging. I already have a good practice for some things, or a plan in place to at least minimize the waste:

  • Milk – We already have this delivered weekly in returnable/refillable bottles.
  • Almond milk/creamer – I make my own.
  • Yogurt – I now make my own with milk.
  • Eggs – We have chickens, so we just collect the eggs in recycled cartons again and again.
  • Cheese/meats – Hoping I can ask deli counter/butcher block to fill my glass jars with no funny looks or refusal!
  • Bakery – I’ll ask to have my bread order put into a bag/pillowcase I will bring with me (or just make my own bread). Again, a bit nervous about asking!
  • Toiletry items – Look for a bulk source (possibly will have to make a biyearly drive to the nearest to stock up?) and make my own as much as I can. This will be a fun challenge to me because I’m odd like that.
  • Anything I can’t find in bulk – buy in glass or paper packaging. No more plastic!

I’ll do another post with actual photos of my haul next time I do a grocery trip, but so far I have been working on using up what we already had accumulated so I haven’t done a grocery trip since December 28 (and even then for only for 4 items!).

I’m not even close to perfect, but with a bit of pre-planning I’ve already prevented a LOT of plastic waste from heading to the landfill. It adds up so quickly. I’m still beginning and if I can find items I need loose, or in glass/paper packaging I feel like I’m doing pretty well. However, the bar gets higher for myself each day, which is a great thing!

styling a black leather couch

It’s a true First World problem, I know, but about every other week I want to scrap our big black leather sofas for something different. They just aren’t my style, and they aren’t even as comfy as the ones we test-sat in the store years back. In fact, they’ve deflated rather than broke in. It’s a bummer, because we spent a good deal of money on them (besides our bedroom set, it’s the only furniture we have that isn’t either hand-me-down, refinished, or from IKEA.)

There are plenty of good reasons to keep them – mainly that they are already paid for, but also they are kid and pet-friendly. So I’m trying to convince myself they are more versatile that I’m giving them credit for by coming up with some different ways to style them. A living room makeover isn’t in my near future, but it’s fun to dream anyway. Really, I just like making collages in my insomnia. 🙂

1. Eclectic and Jewel Toned.

Leather Couch 1Rather than downplay the dark bulkiness of the couch, I could just embrace it with lots of deep, moody colors and patterns. I love an eclectic global vibe with a mix of patterns. I scout Turkish rugs on Ebay constantly just to torture myself, but maybe one day I’ll find an amazing deal on the perfect thing and it will just bring the whole thing together.

2. Traditional and Earthy.

Leather Couch 3This one’s definitely a bit masculine due to the earthy tones. I like the idea of using different wood tones, woven items, and metals. Lots of textures kind of makes the couch recede into the background, which I like.

3. Light and Airy.

Leather Couch 2This isn’t my style, but I think it’s pretty. The idea behind this one is just to pretend the black leather doesn’t exist by layering white, cream, and metallic items around it. Very feminine and classy (and not at all kid-friendly). I think I need more shiny things in my life.

4. California Bohemian.

Leather Couch 4This one’s probably the most budget and kid-friendly. And it’s actually my favorite because it’s livable. The dresser, side table, and rug are some IKEA favorites. The curtains, terrarium, and art are easily DIY ideas. The black and white with pops of color is really easy to recreate, isn’t limited to a certain palette, and easy to change out. Plus every item is something that could work elsewhere, which I like since I love changing things up regularly.

I’m inspired, so some use-what-I’ve-got rearranging is in the plans for the week. Which is your favorite?

updating our spaces (planning post #1)

There have been a lot of changes in-work at our place. In November we recarpeted the house, repainted the formerly teal bedroom a soft, smokey blue (I miss the teal walls, but it works better with our black furniture), and J updated our fireplace with a new tile surround and mantel. We are in the process of finishing our basement (!!), which will eventually serve as our family hang-out space, play room, and office. That requires a whole separate post another day.

A new basement family room means that eventually we will be moving our living room couches, chair, end tables, ottoman, and tv downstairs. We will have a completely blank canvas upstairs to design! With the dark walnut mantel (I just stained it last week), and (eventually) darker cabinets in the kitchen, I will want to keep the furnishings light and airy, with the bigger purchases very neutral. I like to be able to switch up the pillows and art and not be too limited by anything.

I am a very visual person, so I like to create little boards on Polyvore when I’m making decisions for a space. That way I can picture how the things we already have can be best incorporated. It helps me focus and best use our budget. So while I can’t use the exact items I’ve got, I can still get a good idea of the feel of the room with similar items and colors. It works for me. Below is kind of my ultimate plan mood-wise:

living room ideas..
 Of course, this is just for a general idea/vibe I’m going for, using a lot of what we already have. As the budget is tighter than ever, picking a couch gives me anxiety! With dogs and a toddler, I have to be practical. But we also need to think budget-friendly. I am thinking sofas with slipcovers are the way to go. I am really interested in the IKEA EKTORP line of sofas (pictured above). Does anyone have an EKTORP, and would you recommend it? What about slipcovers in general? (BTW I am not anti-laundry. I have white IKEA curtains in most rooms, and we cloth-diaper! But I don’t want to spend hours every week actively maintaining a sofa.)
  • We already have the LACK coffee table and the LACK side tables I modified into a cube table; they have been collecting dust in the basement until we had a room for them.
  • We also already have some glass ball lamps we are using in the bedroom, which I’d be happy to switch up into the living room.
  • The purple chair above represents my fave thrift score that is currently in Hannah’s room. It is a nice small chair perfect for reading and additional seating.

I’ll be on the lookout for:

  • The perfect basic couch. The one above is the IKEA EKTORP but I haven’t decided for sure what I want to get.
  • A hutch for the wall where the tv currently sits. The one above is the IKEA REGISSÖR, which I like size-wise, but will more likely keep hunting for a used piece I can paint. Most of the media in our house will be in the basement, but we will need a place for a few books and toys upstairs.
  • Great curtains. I love the ticking stripe above from Anthropologie, but they never gonna happen. It would be simple enough to add my own pom poms to some stripey curtains if I could find something similar, or sew my own panels.
  • Not pictured, but more seating on the other side of the room. Probably a love seat, but I could be flexible since this will no longer be a lazy tv-watching space. (I want it to be comfy in there, but the seating doesn’t need to be as lounge-around-all-evening-friendly).

The kitchen/living area is all one big open area, so it needs to coordinate. We have some kitchen sprucing in the near-future plans as well. We are going to stain the now cherry alder cabinets a darker walnut color, and paint the island white. Here’s the idea I’ve got in mind for the mood of the kitchen area:

kitchen idea
 The blue rectangle with a chalkboard represents our pantry door, which I would like to paint a fun color. Really, paint and stain are the only required expenses for the kitchen area. I would like to find a great rug, but I am happy with some others I’ve got for now so it will only be if I find an amazing bargain that I will worry about that. I just threw that on there because I like the pop of color. I could work that in anywhere.
I made a board for our dining area a couple of years ago, and though it doesn’t look entirely inspired by this look, it does have a sort of similar mood, in my opinion. I still really like the look of this board, and think it ties nicely in with the living room and kitchen space I have worked up above.
dining room update
You know what is so hard for me? Figuring out what my style is. Even with creating those little collages to capture the look I want, it’s hard for me to not get too easily inspired by other styles. And I’ve been trying to decide what my style would be called. It’s a little boho (but not messy), a little farmhouse (but not country), a little Scandinavian (but not minimalist), a little traditional (but not matchy).