Clothing Kids: A Zero-Waste Conundrum

Kids grow fast. On top of that, kids are really rough on clothes. I know, these aren’t great, revelatory observations, sorry. But for zero-wasters, this is a particular problem. It seems that every other day, my older son has blown out the knee of a new pair of pants. Or, irretrievably stained a school shirt.

I’ve discovered a local kids’ used clothing store called the Lilly Bean in my town. It is very well curated and decently organized and priced. And the store has loyalty cards. Yay!

This means that by accepting hand-me-downs and buying used, we can cut way down on buying new clothing. I still think socks, underwear, shoes, and specialty clothing may be an issue, but I will look first to Lilly Bean to meet our needs.

3 pairs of pants, 3 shorts, 2 shirts, and a pair of shoes for $30.

I’m very happy with my $30 haul. Because I now keep a cloth bag in my purse, I was also able to get it home with a minimal amount of fuss. Here is the garbage and recycling produced (not including the loyalty card and receipt, which are both recyclable) :

Top is unavoidable garbage. One pair of pants was brand new and still had a size sticker. The bottom pile contains the recyclable tags.

Buying used is one element in my efforts to clothe my kids in a more zero waste fashion. I also try to treat stains and make repairs to their clothes.

Soaking in cold water and super washing soda does wonders for most stains. Peroxide gets blood out.

I also do some mending if it seems worth my time and effort.

The biggest problem right now is finding out what to do with clothes that are too damaged to be worn. Obviously, donations are the wrong place for these clothes. I have heard of recycling clothes, but I wonder if this is a big city thing.

This is a topic I hope to explore more thoroughly for the future.

So How About You?

Does the need to clothe children complicate your zero-waste ambitions? How do you solve the conundrum? What do you do with clothes that can no longer be worn? Please post your tricks below!

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

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Enough

The minimalist and Zero Waste movements intersect from the start. Béa Johnson, in her book: The Zero Waste Home, introduces the hierarchy of Zero Waste, known as the 5 R’s. The first two: “Refuse what you do not need” and “Reduce what you do need”, are clearly a call to minimalism.

These R’s are also deceptively simple.

But what is need?

We would all agree that we need food to survive, but do we “need” the deluxe food processor or blender? If food goes bad in our fridge week after week, did we “need” it after all? And that handful of chips I had with lunch. Did I “need” that?

The reason that Béa didn’t just write “refuse what you do not need or want” is that wants are such a slippery target. I think we’ve all experienced this at some point. You go into a store to buy something specific, but then you see all sorts of beautiful things around you, a desire you didn’t have before is awakened. Suddenly, you’re less content and left wanting more.

Needs are finite and wants can be infinite. So do we just ignore all of our wants and live in tents, cooking over a fire what we’ve foraged from the woods?

As much as I adore camping, I don’t think this is the answer. There are so many wonders that humans bring to this world when we’re not over-consumed by acts of survival. Along with camping, I’m also a big fan of the Internet.

So, how do we go about managing our wants so that they don’t overwhelm us?

Step 1: Determine Your Vision

The most important step in determining your “enough” will be to set goals for yourself. Do you want to be a nomad? Do you want to live out of a van or in a tiny home? Do you want a chic, white walled studio apartment decorated with green plants and little else? Or are your goals a little more conventional? Maybe, like me, you’d just like to keep a clean, clutter free home that reduces the family’s environmental impact. Maybe you’d like to live with less stress and less debt. There are all kinds of minimalists. What sort do you want to be?

Does the media you consume support or detract from your goals? I like to watch YouTube videos by extreme minimalists for inspiration about how little I actually need. It still creates a desire to emulate, just as watching a show where beautiful actresses prance around in expensive clothes and in expensive homes portraying the average American, but the result of emulation is healthier for me.

Step 2: Set Your Limits

I can’t sing the praises of limits enough, it seems. I’ve experienced immediate transformation of mindset just by pinning a maximum number or by allotting a certain space for things. When I had no magic numbers for my clothes, my satisfaction went up and down with my boredom or the proximity to laundry day. As soon as I told myself that six bottoms were enough for a season, I had to pick and choose from my favorites. I no longer felt deprived but instead over-abundant.

Step 3: Avoid Your Triggers

Children are often overwhelmed with their wants. Take a kid to the proverbial candy store, or, perhaps a toy store. See what happens.

Some parents will choose to avoid the situation in the first place: don’t take the kids to the toy or candy stores, don’t bake cookies if they’re not on the menu. Get upset with the school district when they serve chocolate milk and pizza with a side of chips for lunch.

This is because young children are under-developed in their decision making skills. They frequently aren’t able to set aside immediate gratification in order to reach more important goals. This is why kid’s toothpaste is sweetened and kid vitamins resemble candy.

The truth is, adults aren’t really that much better. Certainly, we have more life experience and can see that our immediate gratification might not be in our best interest. We can take our morning pill that might be tough to swallow.

That said, our ability to parent ourselves judiciously is finite. A few good decisions here or there are easily offset by allowances we give ourselves as reward for making good decisions.

Since our good decisions are limited, it’s best not to overwhelm ourselves with what is often referred to as “decision fatigue”.

Do you always overspend at the mall? Maybe trade mall shopping for going to see a movie or taking a hike instead.

I have the guilty habit of online shopping on pay day. I love the satisfaction of picking just the right things out and then waiting eagerly for the mail to come. When it gets here, it’s a nice little high. Admitting you have a problem, I hear, is the first step.

Your Homework

Now, get out a pen and a notebook. Write down everything you own. Every item in every drawer.

What’s that? Is the idea ludicrous to you? You, like me, wouldn’t consider wasting your time in this way? Chances are, then, that you have “enough” stuff. Maybe, if you were especially terrified by the sound of this assignment, you have more than enough.

Until next time, live lightly and shine brightly!

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Zero Waste Period Gear

WARNING: If you lack female parts, or are particularly squeamish, this post may not be for you. Reader discretion is advised.

I just finished that time of the month. You know what I’m talking about.

I used to buy packages of maxi pads every month and chucked the little plastic wrappers, liners, and the pads themselves away in a monthly mega-haul of embarrassing proportions and unmentionable content.

Not anymore. I want to share with you how I went zero waste in this area of my life. Years ago, I started using what many call “mama cloth” (my four-year-old calls them “mommy’s diapers”) and I still use this variety of period gear today. Greener still is the menstrual cup that I learned about later. I bought a Luna Cup.

Basics

“Mama cloth” is the cloth version of a maxi pad. They usually use snaps to attach the wings around the gusset of your underwear.

The menstrual cup (and there are many brands) is a funnel shaped cup with no hole in the bottom. It is most often made of medical grade silicone. You insert it while folded and allow the opening to pop open inside of you, thus creating a suction seal. The cup catches the flow.

Trouble Shooting

Many women rave about menstrual cups. They are lightweight, compact, long lasting, and super easy to clean. They are very minimalist too. After a couple of months of practice, many women feel confident to use a cup exclusively. These women are often so confident that they use them while wearing a bathing suit during their periods! Amazing and more power to them!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the enviable success that these women enjoy. In the interest of full disclosure, and the desire to help women who have a similar experience, I’ll tell you what I do.

I’m not sure whether the Luna Cup is just not shaped or sized correctly for my body (some women shop around before settling on a menstrual cup) or if, perhaps, the slight leakage I do get can be put down to human error.

What I like to do is double up on my protection. I use the cup and then a cloth pad attached to my underwear. I need far fewer pads (usually just one a day), because I use them to catch leaks. I use Diva Wash to clean my cup and store it in a nice little breathable cotton bag when it’s not in use. My favorite retail cloth pad is made by Bububibi.

On The Go

When traveling, I like using a little pouch intended to store cloth diaper wipes. Planet Wise puts out a style that has a front pouch to store clean gear and a lined pouch that can store used gear. I simply turn it inside out to wash it in the washing machine.

Typically, you will not need to remove a menstrual cup during the day, but if you’re traveling, you can take a squirt bottle (such as an old dish soap bottle) and fill it with water in a public bathroom sink. Then, in the stall, you can remove, dump, and squirt clean before re-inserting the cup or putting it in a wipes pouch.

You could also use disposables when traveling, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Cleaning 

I use peroxide on my mama cloth to combat stains and I soak in a metal bowl with some Super Washing Soda and cold water. I wash the pads with the cloth diapers or rags/towels wash.

I wash the Diva Cup with warm water and Diva Wash and I dry it in its cotton pouch. I occasionally boil the cup and will probably use this method after the Diva Wash has been used up to avoid buying more plastic.

Pictured: a Planet Wise wipe pouch, a Bububibi mama cloth, a Diva cup in baggie, Diva Wash, and a Lunapads mama cloth with three inserts.

 

How About You?

Do you use any of this gear? Did you have problems with the cup? Did they go away with practice? A new size? A new brand? I’d love to hear about it! If you’re willing, please post in the comments below.

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

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Simple Gift-Giving

Want. Need. Wear. Read.

‘Tis the season. For buying too much stuff. Gigantic hauls under Christmas and Yule trees, gifts exchanged beside Chanukiahs, gifts that represent consumption mania, environmental devastation, guilt trips, debt, and disappointment. Kids running out of steam before the present pile has been tackled.

Our gift-giving mantra for the kids has become: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” That totals up as four gifts for each of them.

The reasons we do this are many.

Firstly, it puts a cap on gifts; once we reach a certain number, we know we can end our shopping spree instead of continuously shopping from October through December. After we have acquired the items, we can relax.

It also de-emphasizes gifts, making them a part of the holiday season and not the center of it. It’s really hard to ignore a gigantic pile of wrapped mystery in the family room. Instead of focusing on wrapped things, we’ve made family activities our priority.

Obviously, getting fewer presents will save us money. We’ve chosen to budget by putting a spending cap on the total amount as well as a number cap for each category.

Acquiring fewer items serves our minimalist goals – we’re not cluttering up our homes as much.

By categorizing our consumption by “wants”, “needs”, “wears” and “reads”, we gain insight into the role each gift is taking in our lives. A pair of snow boots, for example, fulfills a need in our winter climate and allows our kids to see the value in getting a need met (hopefully!).

For inspiration purposes, this is what I mean by each category:

“Wants” = Games, toys, art and craft supplies, movies, hobby supplies, etc.

“Needs” = Functional clothes, bedding, winter gear, sport or club supplies, school supplies, etc.

“Wears” = Clothes for fun (such as a t-shirt with a favorite character on it), jewelry, hats, ceremonial, hand-made, etc.

“Reads” = Books, educational games/toys, magazine subscriptions, etc.

Furoshiki: The Japanese Art of Wrapping in Cloth

My main interest in simplifying my family’s gift-giving habits is environmental. I’ve always mourned the heaps of wrapping paper discarded at the holidays.

This year, I discovered the Japanese art of wrapping in cloth, called furoshiki, and rejoiced. Since there are fewer presents overall, I have decided to wrap them in re-usable cloth. I already own festive cloth and decided to create a stock of square pieces in varying sizes. We should be able to use these year after year.

Furoshiki is typically done with square cloths between 18 inches and 28 inches wide. The size needed depends on the size of the gift, but a good stock size is 28 inches. There are many tutorials available over the internet for those wishing to embrace this art form.

Limiting Extra Gift-Giving Burdens

One of the most stressful things about the holiday time is the gift-giving game. This is the worry over social niceties and predicting who will give to you and what is required in return.

This spending to save face can lead to unwanted debt. And receiving can lead to unwanted clutter. Backing out of this game is not always possible, but we do try.

Sometimes explaining to friends and family that we’ve decided to simplify and would prefer not to receive gifts is enough. Sometimes we ask for money or experiences en lieu of gifts, but this then obligates us to give something in return. This can be stressful.

We’ve chosen to only give cards to our elderly family members (or those less digitally-minded). We include a few photos. We’ve chosen e-cards for our younger friends and family and include digital photos. We generally do not buy gifts for friends or family who aren’t visiting us during the holidays.

If we know someone will be here, we buy them a gift. We also make fudge batches to give as a pleasant, short order, and nearly universal gift for surprise visitors and gift-givers.

My Wish for You

I hope that this guide serves you this upcoming holiday season. I hope it brings more clarity and peace and less stress.             

Happy Holidays.

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Zero Waste Shaving

My husband and I got on the safety razor train while we were back in college. For us, these were no-brainers. We never liked the idea that we were wasting our money on disposable, plastic razors that were only a few uses shy of a landfill. That all said, what we were going to use with our swanky, stainless steel numbers was a more complex question.

At first, we got ceramic bowls and brushes and soap. I liked that we weren’t using aerosol cans.

Then, I started to question the ethical sourcing of the bristles on the brush and the soap that came with it. So, I got a plastic tube with Dr. Bronner’s shave soap in it. I like Dr. Bronner’s products.

Then, I wondered about the plastic that went into the tube.

Obviously, I have a problem with thinking too much at times. Or, maybe, not thinking something through enough before trying to act in the best way I know how.

For about a year, I’ve been using coconut oil as a shaving lubricant. I use this and it deodorizes and moisturizers my shave zones while providing a painless shave. Better still, I can easily get it from the grocery store in a glass jar with a metal lid.

I am pretty sold on this solution.

My husband’s and my safety razors. Below are some long lasting (refillable and recyclable) blades. Illustrated are two of our shaving cream solutions that we’ve used in the past. 

How About You? 

Have you tried this awesome, retro shaving solution? Do animal-hair brushes wig you out? Or have you decided that shaving isn’t right for you? Post your answers in the comments section below and…

Until next time, keep that talk walking!

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Eco-Minimalism

When I first came across the concept of minimalism, around the year 2009, I wasn’t too impressed. It seemed to me that minimalism was all about getting rid of stuff. Sometimes perfectly good stuff. I suspected that minimalism was all about filling landfills.

After reading the first book on minimalism that I found, the idea that minimalism was all about housekeeping and de-cluttering was cemented in my mind. I moved on to other things.

You see, back in 2009, my environmentalism was more a field of study and a rallying call behind my activism. I didn’t yet understand that each of us in our daily living creates our legacy. So home upkeep seemed irrelevant to me back then, especially as an unmarried, childless college student living in the dorms.

When I began my minimalist journey in earnest, I discovered that minimalism would shape my sustainability ethics so drastically that I could no longer pursue environmentalism without minimalism. I’ll never see the world the same way again.

I was initially lured back into the realm of minimalism by stumbling upon the concept of capsule wardrobing. The idea that I could finally look decent without breaking the bank, filling the laundry basket, and ravaging the Earth held great appeal. I saw a minimalist practice as both personally and environmentally beneficial for the first time. I began to see that less really was more and that there was more to less.

Rather than simply ditching things, minimalism has become a call to rethink my consumptive habits. Guarding the inflow of things and therefore limiting my negative impact on the Earth.

How Minimalism Has Shaped My New Environmentalism

As I mentioned above, I didn’t see the environmental benefits of minimalism at first. Like many new to the concept of minimalism, I focused on the most visible attributes of the philosophy. It wasn’t until I began exploring another movement, called Zero Waste, that I understood that the practice of sustainable living benefited from a framework, or a hierarchy of decisions. At the peak of the Zero Waste hierarchy, created by Bea Johnson in her Zero Waste Home book and blog, is the first “R” of 5 R’s, which stands for “refuse what you do not need”. The second “R” is “reduce what you do need”.

What would have been painfully obvious to a practicing minimalist but took me some time to grasp was that these first two “R”s, are a call to minimalism, because waste is naturally reduced when consumption is reduced.

In fact, whatever the impact you have on the environment, whether your choices are considered wildly harmful to the environment or only mildly so, choices both big and small, that impact is made automatically less harmful be curbing the consumptive level. For example, say you have a Hummer as your family vehicle. You’re not in a position to replace the vehicle right now, but you have become more environmentally conscious. To make the least impact, you decide to combine errands, to carpool, and to simply drive less when activities could be walked to instead. This is clearly not the ideal scenario, but it is a realistic one that improves the situation just by making the decision to consume less.

I now consider minimalism to be at the top of my environmental hierarchy of decision making. I first look to refuse and reduce the things coming into my life before I look at other issues such as buying second-hand, limiting plastic, avoiding toxins, and so on. The decisions I could make might be endless, but if I am already refusing an object that I decided I don’t need, I no longer have to worry about how ethically it was produced (I’m protesting an unethical or unnecessary product by not handing over my money in the first place).

And, by the way, when I do de-clutter, I’ve learned that I can think minimally and responsibly at the same time. I always think about alternatives to the landfill first.

Until next time, shine brightly by living lightly!

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What is Zero Waste?

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. – Ancient Proverb

If you’re anything like me, you know that you care for the environment and you’ve known this for a long time. In that time, you may have come across tidbit advice here and there: take shorter showers, drive less, eat local and so on. After awhile, you’ve collected so many little “to do’s” that you’ve simply lost track of them all. Their relative importance with one another can escape you. Worst of all, if someone were to quiz you on why you do those little eco-tasks, the question can leave you staring blankly. This is the sad state of environmentalist affairs.

It is also why I’ve been so enamored by the zero waste movement. I see it as the answer to these problems.

I’m not saying the movement is perfect, it does have its own problems. The main one, in my opinion, is that it focuses on only three parts of the supply chain – acquisition, use and disposal. This leaves production, shipping, labor and animal issues somewhat neglected.

Zero Waste is a personal sustainability project that one can take on to drastically reduce their environmental footprint and to comprehensively change one’s lifestyle. Béa Johnson, author of The Zero Waste Home, created a system called the 5 R’s, which, if addressed in order, places eco-tasks in a hierarchy and involves the full process of consumption.

zero waste home

The Five R’s Are:

  1. Refuse what you do not need. This is refusing a plastic straw, a business card, a swimming pool, junk mail, a second home, etc. The list can go on and on and will vary from person to person. What is my “don’t need” could be another’s “must have”. The point is, that evaluating what we take into our lives and being vigilant gatekeepers is a crucial first step. Simply don’t bring into your life those things that you do not agree with or that do not support your lifestyle. This will actually affect some areas of the supply chain. When we consume something, we tell the industry and our community that something is acceptable. Likewise, if we choose to abstain, we can send the message that certain things are unnecessary or unethical.
  2. Reduce what you do need. Living on this Earth requires the consumption of resources. However, we can choose how big or small our consumptive impact will be. We can eat less, lower on the food chain, we can collect fewer clothes, fewer trinkets, we can use less energy, less water, extend the life of our stuff, and so on.
  3. Reuse what you do consume. Reuse means finding ways to keep manufactured goods going. This means buying used and secondhand, it means bringing cloth bags shopping, bringing a water bottle, using rags instead of paper towels, repairing goods and so on. It means ditching the disposable in favor of the re-usable.
  4. Recycle. Recycling is a process that transforms a material into a new good and it requires additional inputs such as water and energy. Some materials are more easily recycled and can be recycled over and over again. For the most part, this is metal, glass, and paper/cardboard. Plastic has a very limited number of times that it can go through this process and still create something useful. This is why many zero-wasters avoid purchasing as much plastic as they can.
  5. Rot/Compost the rest. Composting is nature’s way of recycling. This can be more than table scraps too. You can compost hair, fingernail clippings, the contents of a vacuum cleaner or your dust pan.

Consider the plastic grocery bag. Technically, they are recyclable, but whether or not they can be or will be depends upon what the local recycling center accepts and what the consumer is willing to do to get it recycled. However, by using the 5 R’s, a zero waster has already refused the single use plastic bag in favor of a reusable cloth one by following the first and third R’s. Therefore, figuring out what to do with the plastic bag is a non-issue.

Here, the order of the 5 R’s allows you to efficiently overcome the more difficult waste problems by avoiding consumption first, reducing the amount consumed overall, reusing whenever possible, and only then looking to dispose of the much reduced waste within the context of recycling or rotting.

Zero Waste Isn’t About Recycling More

As Béa Johnson is known for saying, zero waste isn’t about recycling more. I think it’s about a comprehensive lifestyle redesign. This sounds ominous, but the layout is all right in front of you in the 5 R’s. That’s the beauty of it. And it starts with embracing simplicity.

Until next time, live lightly and shine brightly!

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