Friday, January 15, 2016

Lessons from Choosing Less: Practicing Using Zero-Waste Alternatives

Good, better, best,
never let it rest,
until your good is better,
and your better best!

Package free, plastic free lunch!
I learned this little sing-song rhyme about a decade ago when I was reading  a book by Elizabeth George. She didn't claim to have made it up, but was told it herself as a child when she was growing up. Have you ever heard it?

My girls used to groan when I would say it to them, usually with a chuckle. While not wanting to inspire perfectionism in anyone, I do believe in always giving best effort, so this is one little ditty that I have always remembered.

It has been running around in my head the last couple of weeks as I have been making greater strides in reducing unwanted stuff from my home, making do with and mending the things I already have and want to keep, thinking about ways to greatly reduce - if not eliminate - plastic, thinking about ways of getting needed items second-hand, and just rearranging my thinking overall about the ways to live as a citizen rather than a consumer.

Of course, it's a process.

I want to be careful, because in addition to these goals, I have to work with the budget we have set for ourselves for the year. Other than our mortgage, we have managed to remain debt-free since the late 90's. On one income, that always means being on a budget.

Our food has always made up one of the largest portions of our spending and over the years I have done various things to keep our food budget in check. I have never been much of a coupon clipper because most of the coupons are for packaged foods and I cook mostly from scratch. Other than that, I have tried things like memberships to wholesale clubs, shopping at various stores, buying in bulk, working from a menu plan etc. My efforts have proven relatively fruitful and I still do nearly all those things except for the wholesale club.

What I haven't done, though, is what I am trying now. Given the strict grocery budget that I want to maintain (the least amount of money I have spent on food in years) plus the zero-waste alternatives I want to aim for, I am only buying what we need for the week. It's only mid-January, so I'm only mid-way through my first month, but I think (I hope) I am seeing a way to make this really possible.

I am doing about half of my shopping at the co-op and the other half in other stores right now. That is quite a bit more at the co-op than I have ever done. But I am just getting a little of what we need.

Take popcorn, for example.

When I purchase popcorn prepackaged, I have way more than we will eat in a week or even a couple of months. I am not talking about microwave popcorn here, either; I pop popcorn on the stove. Despite claims that buying in bulk is always cheaper, I have not really found that to be true at our co-op. Yes, buying in bulk may be cheaper in their store than a packaged jar in their store, but oz for oz, their things are often more expensive than when I buy a large quantity at a grocery store. Certainly, they could not compete price-wise with a warehouse store, even for conventional (not organic) products. This has always driven me crazy, because I want to purchase things in bulk and I like all the things that our co-ops stand for, such as living wages, fair trade, supporting local farmers, etc.

With bulk products, though, I can control the amount that I take home with me and I can actually see a way that I can continue to save money. Yes, I will potentially have to go to the co-op more, but I don't mind. It is actually the one grocery shopping experience that I enjoy. It is lovely inside, small, and smells wonderful. And I am slowly beginning to know some of the staff. Not only am I in there more often, but I also call ahead to speak to the lead in the deli and have her cut pieces of cheese for my girls and wrap them in brown butcher paper for me rather than plastic wrap. I know that Bea Johnson would take her jar, but the co-op doesn't do cheese slicing all day; they only do it once a day and so I have to have them set some aside for me when they are doing the cutting they would do for the day. So far it is working really well and they seem so pleased to be able to help me out in this way!

Speaking of Bea Johnson, one point that she made in a panel presentation that she participated in at Google really resonated with me and made me think of the hidden costs of our "cheap" packaged food. She said:

If you don't buy packaging, if you buy only what you need, you can invest your money into things that matter. Every time you buy packaging or a disposable product, it's literally investing your money into the landfill...basically throwing your money out the window.

When you purchase packaged goods, very little of the product you actually use or have is what you have paid for. Instead, you pay for the advertising and the design of and materials made up in the packaging. Purchasing items from bulk bins means that you only pay for the product itself, because the weight of the bag or jar is subtracted.

So the new approach for me is that instead of bulk buying meaning convenience (having a large amount on hand at home that ultimately cost me a few cents less per ounce, but includes packaging and sits in my home for months), I now have a smaller amount of fresher ingredients to use and I am only paying for the product itself.

Johnson insists that her lifestyle has saved her money. I don't believe I will ever be as minimalist as she and her family are; I don't think I want to be and of course, that is okay. But I am hopeful that I will be able to achieve my goals within my family's budget. So far, so good!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Learning: Experiments with Capsule Wardrobe - January

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that taking a picture of yourself every day can be very revealing. As I mentioned on my Instagram feed, I am not a huge fan of taking selfies... and certainly not every day! But my aim at the start of this project was to post one daily photo on Instagram to hopefully show others how many choices there are when it comes to creating a wardrobe, not just with limited items, but also with thrifted or handmade clothing.

Of course, I am mainly aiming to teach myself a number of things along the way. I assumed there would be lessons in creativity when it comes to working with fewer things. There have been those lessons and I am really enjoying that aspect of the project so far!

But I am also learning things about fit and flatter that I hadn't noticed so much until now. One lesson concerns the length of my sweaters. I like the length of the sweater in the large photo below the best. But when I look at the rest of the photos in the collage, I see that there are no others that length! In fact, I have always preferred slightly longer sweaters (which is obviously why I have more of those!) such as the cream colored one and the raspberry one in the bottom row.

My hand-knit navy sweater is not as long as those two, which is good, but I can see that I will adjust my knitting to closer match the tan sweater or at least keep the lengths of my knitted items more in between the blue and the tan sweater lengths. I also could have used more waist-shaping in my navy sweater: another note for future projects.

I already knew this, but I like skirts and dresses more than pants (or even skirts/dresses over pants!). I want to find more of those for future capsules or to replace pieces (maybe some tops) in this one.

I'm going to give up the striped sweater. Not only is it thin, but it is worn and more pilly than I'd like and I just don't like it as much as I used to. I've swapped it out for another old sweater, but one that is in better condition and is more versatile. It was one that I did not initially want to put away in storage, but did so in keeping with the item number allowed for Project333.

I am also done with the raspberry sweater. This was one that my daughter, Maia, was going to donate and I thought I might try it. As you can probably tell, I am not one for wearing a great deal of color; I like neutrals. My kids are always trying to get me to wear more color and so I do try different things from time to time. But I always slowly end up weeding them out! That's a waste of money. I think I do better with having colorful accessories. The raspberry sweater, though, was an easy one to try because it was free and it was already here. But I don't really care for the color on me and it's not one of those pieces that Marie Kondo has taught us all to think about: it doesn't "spark joy".

One more piece I'm saying goodbye to is one that I just got (ugh!) and that I wore once before I started this project. I have tried it on a few times, but have not selected it for an outfit yet. Despite people telling me they liked the sweater the day I wore it, I don't care for how it fits me (just a little too tight) and despite the fact that I think the cut edging on the hem looks cool on the hanger, it doesn't look as good on me. In fact, I often feel that when people tell me they like an item of clothing that I am wearing, but I don't once hear that I look nice, I am suspicious. I feel like they notice the clothing more.

I'm not saying that every time someone might say, "I love your jacket!" or "That's a nice sweater," that I don't take it as they mean it. But as many designers and stylists say, you want a person to notice you and not your clothing in particular. Anyway, that's how I felt about this sweater and am letting it go too. Thankfully, since my clothes are mostly thrifted, it is not a huge loss financially. In fact, I think I paid $3.99 for this one:

I actually bought this one because of a sweater that I saw and loved on Julianna Margulies a few seasons back on "The Good Wife." I may still knit one similar, but one that fits better.

So, that is two items down that I could replace with something from storage. I just haven't gotten around to looking again yet and I'm okay with that for now. I am currently knitting a sweater (and am hoping I will like the fit... it's out of chunky yarn, which is always a roll of the dice!) and I am finding I have plenty to wear as-is for now.

If you are doing a capsule wardrobe, what have you learned? And if not, do you think you would ever try it? Do you give yourself personal challenges? Courtney Carver, founder of Project333, just wrote a terrific piece that articulates some of the reasons I like to give myself personal challenges on a regular basis. Hop on over and have a look and enjoy this January day!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Week One - Project 333 & Happy New Year!

Hmm... maybe it's the lighting in my room. My photos are all pretty grainy. Oh, well. I've got too many other things I want to do rather than editing photos all day. So here is my first week (I started a day late, hence the 6 photos) of Project 333 and I'm really liking it so far. I can see that the striped sweater/gray cords combo is one that should remain at home (like it did; I was putting away Christmas decor that day) or just not come out to play at all anymore! In fact, I MAY swap out the striped sweater altogether for something different that I have in storage; we'll see.

It was kind of an odd week anyway, being a holiday week and all. Though I didn't do hair and makeup every day, I still like to "get dressed" even when I am on vacation. A normal week has me a little more pulled together most days.

Already the project is stretching my creativity which is one of the things I wanted. The gray dress in the large photo in the collage is one that I've had for 5 years and has normally only gotten worn in the same way it was sold: sleeveless with a belt. This is it here:

It's very flattering as-is, but doesn't get worn too often since it is sleeveless and is kind of dressy on its own. But layered, it is much more versatile and it is my surprise favorite outfit of the week! Don't you love it when that happens?! But I don't think I ever would have even thought to try it when I was using all of my other clothes. It simply would not have occurred to me to try it with anything else. So far, the project is off to a good start.

So is the rest of my year... all three days of it! :)

I have spent a good deal of time thinking about all of the things I want to do in the new year. I am not talking about radical changes. Most of the things/goals I have set for myself are more like just trying to incorporate new practices that continually reflect my priorities. This morning I was introduced to Sarah, a YouTuber at "Marital Glue" via another YouTube host, Hilary of "My So-Called Home." Sarah was talking about "3 Ways to Prepare Your Heart & Mind for the New Year." She talked about goal-setting and it seems she has a very similar philosophical approach about it to my own ideas about it. She said that she approaches setting new year's goals, "... in a way that what will really make what matters to you happen...and to really think about what those things are that really matter."

One of the things that really matters to me - and has for years - is my personal footprint. A number of years ago I began thinking a lot about the amount of plastic in our lives - in my life - and I took some steps to reduce it. But I didn't go very far with it. I felt challenged by finances and a feeling of being very alone in my concerns and practice. Fast-forward to 2015/2016, and there is a booming community online of other like-minded people incorporating zero-waste (the new terminology for it) practices and reducing consumption overall. So, this year I am revisiting seeking out and choosing zero-waste alternatives wherever and whenever I can. This time around I am learning from some great blogs: Zero-Waste Home, Zero-Waste Chef, Trash is for Tossers and more (search Google or Pinterest or Instagram and you'll see what I mean). And I am feeling a great deal of support and shared values over at My Make Do and Mend Life and the groups Jen of that blog hosts on Facebook.

One little project I've already done in this vein is to be done using cotton rounds for removing my makeup. I cut up an old, cotton, stained sweatshirt and an empty tea tin and am now using these. It works perfectly and looks pretty on my bathroom counter!

But that's not all! This theme carries over into my creative life as well. Kate at A Playful Day (podcast and blog) is hosting "The Makers Year" all year, which is a "creativity and sustainable living challenge." And my friend and knitwear designer, Sarah, at Imagined Landscapes is hosting a GAL - a "goal-along," which many of you knitters and crocheters is a play on the KAL/CAL "knit-along/crochet-along" that you are probably familiar with. I will be participating with both of them through Instagram and occasionally here.

Whew! It makes me fairly buzz with ideas! And that is another goal... to take things slowly. One of the things I love about the internet is that it connects me with really creative, interesting people. I love knowing that there are others out there around the world seeking out ways of expression and living life that are life-giving and unique. At the same time, it becomes easy to jump around from idea to idea and not focus. I am really trying to be more mindful of doing one thing at a time. It's not so easy in our hyperspeed world, but it is something I began working on last year and am bringing into 2016 with me.

Speaking of mindful, I do have one short-term goal and that is to complete Yoga Camp with Yoga With Adriene. As I mentioned, most of my goals are just practices, but I have a few that are actually materially measurable:

Complete 30 days of yoga in Yoga Camp
Sew a dress
Make a sofa for the dollhouse

Yoga Camp is free - and free is good as I work at finishing up my last semester of school and then begin looking for work. In the meantime one of my big financial goals is to continue feeding my vegetarian family of four a whole-food diet on $346 a month. That's the original $500 budgeted minus the additional $54 a month added to my health care plan minus $100 a month I would like to save toward a vacation in August. So. Can it be done? I don't know! Right now my strategies are: menu-planning, little to no pre-packaged snacks, and maybe even just eating less!

There's plenty of fodder to talk about here on the blog! I'd like to do that, but again, it's catch as catch-can while I'm still in school. I hope to be able to track my progress with all of these things and continue to share new ideas with you in the new year; I will do what I can! In the meantime, Happy New Year to you all friends. I hope your new year is bursting with some inspirational ideas if that is what you want, and relaxation if you'd rather take that. Thanks for stopping by and God bless.
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