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.

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Zero Waste | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Minimalism, Zero Waste | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Let Minimalism Intimidate You

Minimalism has some baggage. People associate it with all kinds of things. Some believe that to be a minimalist you have to be a single, white, rich guy with only a backpack and a penchant for world travel. These assumptions make it pretty easy to write off minimalism as something that is unattainable and therefore not worth pursuing.

Even the assumption that minimalism is the goal and not the process or lens casts minimalism in the light of perfectionism – some distant goal that only the most righteous (or whatever) can achieve. Those who claim to be “a minimalist” are therefore under suspicion because, as we all know, no one is perfect.

Pointing fingers at other minimalists and telling them how they are not quite there because of x, y, or z totally sidesteps the value of minimalism.

Minimalism is actually quite accessible, beneficial, and personal and for the following six reasons, I hope that those who wish to pursue a more curated life won’t write minimalism off as an elitist hobby.

#1: You Get to Make Your Own Rules

There is no magic number of items that fulfills everyone’s needs and heartfelt desires. What is crucial to have for some would simply be extravagance or clutter for others. We all have our own interests, talents, and life’s work. Almost everything we do requires appropriate props.

For example, as a writer, I need a computer, Internet connection, and books. Musical instruments and art supplies, however, are wasted on me. I wouldn’t want a musician or visual artist to take my list of necessities to heart and deprive themselves of something that brings them joy and makes the world a more beautiful place.

Minimalism is about finding out what makes you tick and it allows you to focus on those things by pruning away those possessions, activities and thought patterns that you’ve collected over the years but only get in your way.

A concrete example is the rule I’ve adopted regarding kids’ books: if I don’t enjoy reading it, it gets donated (or immediately returned) to the library. Life is too short for multiple readings of unpleasant works. A minimalist who is not also a parent may never consider adopting such a rule. To each their own.

#2: Minimalism Can Help You Reach Your Goals

It is easy to spend our time spinning our wheels on useless or repetitive tasks and either lose focus or not recognize what our meaningful goals actually are. Even if we know what our goals are, we may find ourselves blocked from working toward them. Minimalism can help in both of these areas.

For example, I could easily follow my kids around and tidy All. Day. Long. Then, wake up and do the very same thing again. Not very productive or fulfilling. Instead, I’ve imposed strict limits on the amount of cleaning I’ll do each day so that I can focus on other things. This allows me to raise my children, not just to look after their messes. It also allows me to work and study and write and film and so on so that, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved something valuable to me that is far more lasting than a tidy room.

#3: Minimalism Isn’t Just for the Elite

I’ve heard the critique that minimalism is only for people with a lot of privilege. You know, those rich folks that can spend their free time decorating their mansions with white paint, green plants, and maybe one framed piece of artwork per room.

I believe this to be nothing more than a distancing mechanism. What does it matter if some people who practice minimalism are rich? Or poor? Snooty? Or down to Earth? It doesn’t bar the rest of us from benefiting from minimalism. We can all still examine our own situations in order to achieve more contentment and connection to what matters to us.

I realize that I have a lot of privilege and that describing my passion for minimalism to struggling families in emerging countries might just come off as ridiculous. That said, I’m not about to throw my privilege away by leading an unexamined life that helps no one.

#4: Minimalism Can Make You Happier

“Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” – Rabbi Hyman Schachtel (1954)

I’ve seen an immediate change in perspective, from feelings of lack to feelings of abundance, through practicing minimalism. Take my jeans, for example.

Yes, my jeans. I was culling my wardrobe when this insight first struck me. I was looking at all my bottoms (slacks, jeans, shorts, skirts) and noticing how few jeans I had. I had maybe 6 pairs, so I wasn’t running around naked, but I also wasn’t wearing many of them for one reason or another. (Like those jeans I was waiting to lose at least 5 pounds to fit into.)

I was putting together a capsule wardrobe and my somewhat arbitrary target was 33 items of clothes for the next three months. I had decided that in order to have a good balance, I needed about 4 bottoms. Already, this meant my 6 pairs were in excess of what I needed. I was no longer feeling lack. I needed to weed out two (or more if I wanted to wear something other than jeans) so those jeans that made me feel badly when I stepped on the bathroom scale? Out the door! How freeing!

I know this may seem a little shallow, talking about clothes and weight, but this was just the start of the insights that began to flow in. I realized that the media I consumed could help or hinder my feelings of contentment. That comparing myself to others instead of learning what was best for me could immediately affect my happiness. The list goes on. What a wonderful gift this change in perspective has been.

#5: Minimalism Can Save You Money

Minimalists still buy things, but we tend to focus our money in areas that really matter to us. This means buying a lot less on impulse.

It also means a greater awareness of where our money is going and re-evaluating our regular expenditures. For example, we might decide that by moving to a smaller home, we can save money to travel, if that is more important to us.

Another avenue for saving is that with fewer purchases overall being made, minimalists can spend a little extra money on quality things that last longer. When items last longer, replacements aren’t as big a drain on resources.

Finally, when minimalists cull their extra clutter, they can sell those things that no longer bring happiness and make some money at the same time.

#6: Minimalism Can Help Save the World

I’m an ambitious person. One of my life’s goals is literally to: “help save the world”. Why is a sustainability writer and environmentalist so interested in minimalism?

I believe that the adoption of minimalism is the simplest way to reduce our overall impact on the planet.

Minimalists are more likely to use less electricity, less fuel, less water, less natural resources, and so on.

No matter what choices a person faces, by becoming more conscious of our life’s direction and decisions, and by consuming less overall, we can’t fail to reduce our negative impacts and to support our positive impact.

Until next time, keep living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged | Leave a comment

5 Rs to Zero Waste

You’ve probably heard of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. While the chasing arrow symbol is meant to underscore the equality between these, recycling is the process that everyone seems to remember. Here, we’ll explore why recycling should be pushed down a few pegs if we want to be more environmentally responsible with our waste.

Béa Johnson, author of the Zero Waste Home, and one of the major thinkers behind the Zero Waste movement, places recycling near the bottom of her waste stream hierarchy. Throwing less away in landfills isn’t about recycling more, but about employing a better articulated method of “precycling”, which she expresses in her 5 Rs.

What is “Precycling”?

Remember those “reduce” and “reuse” methods that are often ignored? They return here. Precycling is about bringing home products only after considering what their (and their packaging) end life will be like.

Consider whether an item will go to …

  • Recycling center? How many times?

  • Landfill?

  • Litter?

  • Compost?

  • Polluting our environment?

  • Poisoning other countries?

And also:

  • How long will it last? Is it single-use? Will it be used a month from now?

Precycling means thinking about the ultimate destination and making the best choice available to us.

For example, you may be aware that plastic is toxic to produce and very hard to recycle. So if you’re at the grocery store and are buying pasta sauce, a good precycling choice would be to buy the glass container with the metal lid instead of the pasta sauce in plastic.

The concept of “precycling” may seem daunting, but the 5Rs provide a systematic approach to make considerations easier.

Béa’s 5 Rs:

Her list goes something like this:

  1. Refuse what you do not need.

  2. Reduce what you do need.

  3. Reuse what you have (and buy used).

  4. Recycle what you can.

  5. Rot the rest.

If you make your decisions in this order, you’ll have very little left to find a good resting place for.

But what do these statements mean?

Refusing what you do not need could mean anything from asking for no straw at a restaurant to deciding that the community pool is a better option than maintaining your own. It is considering what actually brings value to your life and what is the unnecessary surplus that just leads to trash.

What is necessary for you will be different from my necessities so there is no hard list to follow. It is more about checking in with yourself.

There are a few things that you can do to set yourself up for refusal success. For example, if you bring a canvas tote from home, you can refuse the plastic bag at check out.

Refusal Kit

Being prepared (and creative) can improve your chances of creating less waste. Pictured here is my current “refusal kit”.

Reducing what you do need means stretching what you have so that you’re not buying so frequently. It might mean using less shampoo or developing a capsule wardrobe or using scrap paper when a new sheet isn’t important. Here to, the mindset is what is important. There is no magic list for everything you can reduce.

Reuse what you have (also buy used) probably doesn’t need much explaining. If something you already own can fill a purpose, try that first. The last glass from a set your kids have broken can make a great toothbrush holder. My husband uses my hair dryer way more often than I do – and not for his hair!

We buy as much as we can second-hand and are happy to accept hand-me-downs. It is amazing the kind of money you can save here.

Recycle what you can also doesn’t need much elaboration. However, I will say that what you can recycle will vary from community to community. It is important to know what is actually getting sent to recycling facilities and what is being tossed. Outside of curbside recycling, there are other options. Many grocery stores accept plastic grocery sacks, for example.

Also, as I mentioned above, some materials recycle better than others so choose glass and metal over plastic as much as you can.

Rot the rest refers to composting. It’s easier than you might think and you can compost more than table scraps. I compost our hair and fingernails (from the bathroom) and the contents of the vacuum cleaner’s canister too.

My Take on The 5 Rs

I am in love with this hierarchy of decision making and have little to add. However, I have 2 Rs that are appropriate for my circumstances.

The first is: “Repair what you can”, which just means repairing what your ability and resources will allow. I resew buttons, for example, but I no longer spend the time patching toddler pants. It just isn’t worth it for me. I would place Repair after Reuse on Béa’s list.

The second is: “Roast” which just means “burn what is appropriate”. We rarely have a burn ban in our moist climate. While there are people who irresponsibly burn toxic garbage, I am talking about things like paper, untreated lumber, broken wooden kitchen spoons and bamboo toothbrushes. The sort of thing that is compostable but may take a very long time to break down in a home composting system.

I would place this R before Rot, though I’m likely to take paper out of the recycling bin to get our fire pit going.

Your Thoughts

How about you? Have you heard of precycling before? Does the strategy of the 5 Rs seem to be effective against creating waste? What do you think of my additions?

Posted in Zero Waste | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Minimalism 101

Minimalism 101

What is Minimalism?

Minimalism has taken on an elitist air. Popularly, the minimalist image is of a sparsely furnished modern home with no individual touches. And no children, hobbies, or, in some cases, underwear.

To be a minimalist, you don’t have to get rid of all but 50 things so that you can travel the globe by yourself. Though, if that is your pleasure, have fun! Minimalism is as individualistic as its subscribers. Because minimalism is a process, with no end point, anyone who employs the philosophy can consider themselves a minimalist.

So what is it that defines a minimalist approach? What makes someone a minimalist?

Minimalism is a process whereby an individual decides what brings value and enriches his or her life. It also means determining what doesn’t have value and doesn’t enrich. And it is about finding ways to increase the former at the expense of the latter.

We all do this to some extent. We gravitate toward things we like and are repulsed by what we don’t. But, if you don’t make conscious choices and don’t consider trade-offs in the process, you will find that chaos rules out and progress is slow or non-existent.

Instead of freeing ourselves, we bog ourselves down with new commitments that could have made us happier. That is, when we accumulate activities/obligations we tend to tap into the wrong resources: our time and our energy. This leads us to feel stressed and exhausted. If we instead make trade-offs, something undesirable for something desirable, then we’re left freer and energized.

10 Benefits of Minimalism

  1. Fewer things to schlepp around. Less baggage to travel with, to live with, or to move with.

  2. Fewer things to clean, which means less time and energy wasted.

  3. Fewer things to buy, which can help you get out of debt and achieve financial security.

  4. Greater satisfaction with the stuff you do have. You’ve surrounded yourself with those things that bring you joy (these are now unburied, dusted off, and placed front and center).

  5. Less looking at stuff that makes you unhappy (those “skinny” clothes you haven’t fit into since your last pregnancy or that picture that reminds you of a fight you had with your Dad).

  6. More space to move in. Impromptu dance party!

  7. More time for family and friends.

  8. More time to pursue your new hobbies, current interests, or writing your novel.

  9. Greater involvement in your own life (less auto-pilot).

  10. Greater awareness of what matters to you. This can help your relationships, bring about a passionate life mission, or allow you to finally identify what you require from a shirt’s hemline.

Tips to Get Started

Physical clutter is a great starting point in a minimalist journey and helps you hone your minimalist skills.

I recommend starting in your closet because it decreases the need to navigate inter-personal relationships right off, it is a finite area, everyone has to dress, and you can see the benefits of minimalism straight away.

Setting space or number limits on things is a great tool for decision-making and can immediately change a perspective from one of lack to satisfaction or even over-abundance. A closet-inspired example of this principle is setting for yourself a cap on the number of jeans. If you say, two is enough for your lifestyle, then you can pick your favorite two, sell or gift the rest and until those two get damaged, you won’t feel compelled to buy more.

Group things before you cull them. It is easier to get rid of the pants you don’t need when you have 20 of them staring you in the face.

Don’t just think about what you’re getting rid of, determine what it is you’ll get in its place (more space, time, energy, a nicer blouse with the money you got from selling those that didn’t fit).

When de-cluttering a space, focus on what to keep before you focus on what to get rid of. Clear out the space entirely and then include those things you really want and need.

Until next time, bring in the light by living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Meal Prepping

If I were to list the great insights of my life, I seriously think this practice would make the top twenty.

Doing this one thing simplifies my life, makes it easier to eat healthy foods, and it saves me a lot of time and money.

Meal prepping (also sometimes called batch cooking) is the act of making a bunch of meals at one time so they are ready for you when you need them. You can take them to work with you and heat them in a microwave or have them at home when you’d otherwise grab snack food. It’s kind of like freezer dinners for frugal environmentalists. Here, I will help you get started.

Gearing Up

MealPrep3-768x432

You could get started with what you have at home. A pot and some Tupperware is really enough.

I recommend getting some glass Pyrex style Tupperware with lids. I prefer the 4 cup sized ones, but I make do with the other sizes that came from sets I’ve bought. You probably won’t need more than five. These might seem costlier when compared to plastic, but they are worth it. They’ll last longer, be safer for you than plastic, and can travel from freezer, refrigerator, lunchbox, microwave, oven, and table without doing much more than taking on and off the lid.

(Caution: the glass will get hot coming out of a microwave or oven, I’d include an oven mitt with your lunch box, but then you can forgo the extra serving dishes.)

I also love my combination rice cooker and steamer which allows me to batch cook very easily. The kind I have is stainless steel so that I can avoid the dangers of scratched Teflon.

How I Meal Prep

I currently only prep my lunches. I usually have the same lunch for about 4-5 days and then switch to another recipe. This simplifies grocery shopping and thought time.

If I prep more than 3 days worth of lunches, I like to freeze the remainder so that the contents remain safe. Then, I’ll pull from the freezer batches that I intend to eat, letting them thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Your mileage may vary depending on the food you like to eat and how it freezes, refrigerates, reheats and so on. I recommend looking up meal prepping and batch cooking on YouTube where you can gain inspiration and find recipes appealing to you.

My Favorite Meal Prep Recipe

Cheap & Easy “Buddha” Bowl

MealPrep1-768x432

I have a combination rice cooker and steamer so I’ll put brown rice and water in the bottom portion and Asian style frozen veggies in the steamer. While that is cooking, I’ll cut my tofu into slices and bake them in the oven for 10 minutes at 350F. I flip once and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

After everything has cooked, I’ll dispense them into the Pyrex containers and a bowl (I’ll eat one batch for lunch on the spot).

I like to purchase Terriyaki or Korean Barbecue sauce, but you can make your own sauces too. I like to vary the sauces through the week as it keeps the meals more interesting. I’ll add the sauce to the containers while I allow them to cool. Once they cool, I put the covers on and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Ending Thoughts

Meal prepping is a practice that can save you a lot of time, energy, and money. It can be a tool for you to eat healthier and to lose weight. I find it simplifies my life and, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you give it a try!

Posted in Frugal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Minimalism: A Year Later (Part 2 of 4)

Over the course of 2017, I focused my sustainability efforts on minimalism. When I started out, I had no idea how great an impact it would make on my possessions, on my physical, mental and emotional health and on my life’s goals. I also realized that the first year was just the start of my journey.

Possessions: Minimalism and Personal Care Routines

I began my minimalist journey with my closet and so it just seemed logical to continue revamping my personal care and appearance. I began to tackle my beauty routines and possessions.

Some things I tried didn’t stick (like buzzing my hair), but overall my routines became more streamlined and better reflect my values.

buzz-150x150

Buzzed Hair.

(One minimalist experiment I tried was buzzing my hair. While I love the look of a buzz cut on many women, I didn’t find it suited the shape of my face.)

I’ve gone for a simplified look: no elaborate hair styling, make-up, or perfume simply because I currently find no value in it (if I one day do, then so be it). Minimalists can certainly be beauticians as well, but this doesn’t interest me personally.

My selection favors routines that don’t take up too much time or space, but also that have as few ingredients as possible. I don’t use products that have been tested on animals or have animal-derived ingredients.

Oral Hygiene:

  • tongue scraper (mornings)

  • dental floss (evenings)

  • toothbrush (2x/day)

  • tooth powder or toothpaste (2x/day)

  • mouth rinse (2x/day)

Face Care: (1x/day)

  • witch hazel (in roller bottle)

  • oil blend (in roller bottle)

  • chap stick

In The Shower: (3-4x/week)

  • shampoo

  • conditioner

  • liquid Soap

Body Skin Care: (Variable)

  • dry skin brush (1x/day)

  • lip and scar balm (for stretch marks, 1x/day)

  • Nova Scotia Fisherman: Xtreme Skin Care (for my super dry hands, as needed)

  • salt deodorant

Misc. Body: (1x/week)

  • safety razor and coconut oil (shaving)

  • fingernail clipper

  • toenail clipper

  • tweezers

  • small scissors

Hair: (daily)

  • wooden comb

  • a small baggy of assorted hair ties, bobby pins, and clips

  • fancy leaf/feather hair clip (1)

  • fancy hair piece (with stick)

Women’s Health:

  • cloth pads (x9)

  • Diva cup

  • basal body thermometer (not shown in picture)

hygiene spread

Health: Minimalism and Fitness

During my pregnancy, I did try to stay fit with varying degrees of success over 9 long months. It was actually at the end of the pregnancy and when dealing with a newborn that my fitness suffered the most. As anyone involved in fitness can attest, with a break in practice, your fitness gains can easily be lost. Still carrying the baby weight, I feel as though I’m starting from scratch. My core is especially weak.

I have three kids, have very little personal time, and very little daylight at this time of the year. With these factors in mind, I’ve fashioned a simple routine that has already shown itself to be beneficial.

Early in the morning, before the kids wake up and my husband leaves, I spend about 30 minutes doing the following:

  • 4 Sun Salutations

  • App assisted, body weight training:

    • Leg Challenge Apps on my cell phone (Right now, I’m working on a squat challenge.)

    • Core Challenge Apps on my cell phone (Right now, I’m doing an app that has 5 different body weight exercises.)

    • Arm Challenge Apps (Right now, I’m using an app that has multiple exercises and a set of light weights I already had at home.)

  • 7 Minute Full Body Workout App

  • Stretching

I also try to incorporate more movement into my day by: writing while sitting on an exercise ball, moving the baby changing station up the stairs, parking further from my destination and walking, housecleaning as exercise.

I’m one of those crazy people who enjoys exercise, but it can be difficult to slip it into a busy day. By simplifying my routine and lowering my expectations somewhat (I tell myself that in warmer months I’ll get to doing more) as well as being consistent, I feel as thought my fitness is not being neglected.

Goal: Health

Health is a very important, lifelong value for me. After all, as it is often noted, if you don’t have your health, you haven’t got anything.

I didn’t expect minimalism to improve my physical health. Sure, I kind of figured it could have a positive impact on my mental and emotional health as I removed clutter and excessive obligations from my life and home, but how could paring down help build my health?

As noted above, by simplifying my exercise routine, I am able to do it more consistently which is crucial to keeping those fitness gains I do make.

I apply a lot fewer chemicals to my body while preparing for the day, keeping the ingredients simple and less toxic.

I also clean my home with little more than vinegar, water, baking soda, and castile soap.

With less stress, I feel freer to add routines to increase the quality of my sleep such as winding down at night with self-massage, daily gratitude journal, a cup of chamomile tea, and meditation.

Beyond striving for simplicity and “do-ability”, minimalism has filled my life with more intention. I think about what I do and whether or not it serves me and my goals. For instance, I choose not to get drunk because I am acutely aware of the financial cost, potential weight gain, and the cost to next day’s productivity and emotional state.

Still to Come: Minimalism and Diet

I don’t eat less. That might be a bit contrary to what one might expect from minimalism and diet being linked.

So far, minimalism has begun to affect my dietary habits, but I haven’t hit that magic groove that tells me that my decluttering has reached a satisfactory level for me right now. It is a feeling I get when the level of decluttering reveals the possessions and routines that are in alignment my values and sense of self.

I also have to make more compromises here as my husband and I have very different cooking styles and goals. This is shared territory.

Some adjustments I’ve made so far include:

  • organized and decluttered (a bit) in the kitchen

  • purchasing packaged foods with fewer ingredients

  • cooking simpler meals that are less time, ingredient and utensil intensive

  • meal prep my lunches, cooking a big batch that lasts for about five days (this has decreased the amount of processed foods I eat)

  • employing a meal plan and making a shopping list from it

  • not worrying over the “perfect” diet, just making incremental changes

Minimalism has positively impacted my health in non-minimal ways. It should be fun to see how these changes magnify themselves, when done consistently, over the course of another year.

Until next time, be the light by living lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cat Food: A Lesson in Minimalism

My cat began avoiding her dried food. I was worried, so I bought one of those multi-packs of cans, a three pack of lids to house left-overs in, and I collected a few pieces of plastic cutlery with which to scoop out the meaty mess.

My cat was quite pleased with the addition of wet food to her diet.

While I was glad she was eating, I quickly grew to hate the additional work. As a long time vegetarian, I liked the dried kibble because I could ignore the more visceral proof that my roommate was a meat-eater.

But of course, I would now have to keep the slop as hygienic as possible. I chose to spray the cans with the diaper sprayer attached to my toilet and wash her dishes in the bathroom sink. Anything to keep my food surfaces from contamination.

Enter Minimalism

This is where minimalism enters our story. When I bought the cat can lids, they only came in a three pack and I also had multiple pieces of plastic cutlery. The facts that I hated the chore and that I had extra pieces meant that I could be lazier about cleaning. I would wait until my three lids ran out before washing her dishes. And, after three to six days, those dishes were worse than unpleasant.

I was washing the dishes and cussing myself out for my laziness when my husband pointed out that I simply had too many dishes and this was the root of my problem.

My husband, for all his playful love of fantasy, also has the firmest grip on reality that I’ve known. Of course! Why didn’t I think of this?

I promptly stored the other lids and cutlery upstairs in her carrier so that they wouldn’t be easily accessible.

Now, every time she goes through a can, I wash her dishes immediately while they are still fresh. There’s no caked on mess. Her dishes are cleaned more regularly but more easily. There’s less to keep track of in our living space.

Local to Global Thinking

So, yes, that is the story of my cat’s wet food gear, but it is also more than that. I mean, how many times have I thought that having more of something would make things simpler when, in fact, the situation becomes harder, more tedious, too cluttered instead?

I’m not saying that one is the perfect number for everything. One pair of underwear, for example, might be beyond my comfort zone and might force more frequent laundry washes. But there probably is an ideal number for most things in my life. My magic numbers will not be the same as other people’s and it may not even be the same throughout my life, but paring back and experimenting with less can be a real game changer.

Until next time, live lightly!

Posted in Minimalism | Tagged , | Leave a comment