Category Archives: retail me not

retail me not: striving for zero waste

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I’m becoming more and more fascinated with the concept of Zero Waste and creating less waste in our household as a means of lessening our impact on the earth.  We’re already recycling and doing our best to limit what we are bringing home, but practicing a lifestyle that results in less waste means choosing necessities (like food) that are either unpackaged or packaged as little as possible.  It also means making an effort to dispose of our waste as responsibly as possible.  After doing a little sleuthing, I discovered that Vancouver has a food scraps drop off program in place where every Saturday you can take your compostable waste, including food scraps and coffee grinds, to be disposed of in a more sustainable way – your waste is converted to compost rather being sent to the dump!  I performed an experiment last week and created a food waste bin in my fridge – I wanted to see how much of our garbage is actually food scraps and waste.  By simply diverting our food waste into a stainless steel bowl in the fridge, I’ve managed to avoid taking a single trip to the garbage room in our building this week and the garbage in our trash can is about half its normal amount.  I’m looking forward to taking an inaugural trip down to the food waste drop off spot next weekend.

Reducing our packaging is a big part of reducing our waste. Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

These are some of my goals for this year with respect to moving towards producing less waste in our household:

  1. Avoiding food with packaging (especially excessive, non-reusable or non-recyclable packaging)
  2. Carry reusable bags so as to refuse plastic and paper bags when shopping
  3. Reuse packaging (rather than recycling) by frequenting stores that will allow me to reuse and refill my own containers
  4. Making food at home so as to make it healthier and produce less packaging waste
  5. Diverting food waste by collecting compostable food scraps
  6. Lose weight by eating real food and food as close to its natural state as possible
I will admit that buying food products with as little packaging as possible can be a bit tricky.  But I believe that any effort to reduce one’s waste is commendable!  Recently, I have been making  grocery trips to Whole Foods (or lovingly referred to as “Whole Paycheck” in these parts) and have been making a real effort to buy food with little or no packaging.  This is quite simple in the produce section – I brought my own reusable produce bags that I purchased last year (from Carebags).  When I had finished shopping, I stopped by the customer service desk and asked if they allow customers to bring their own reusable containers to be used at the meat and deli counters – and they said, no problem!  The great thing about Whole Foods Market is that they do not carry any products in their store that contain high fructose corn syrop or hydrogenated oils, and all of their meats are hormone and antibiotic free.  Whew.  So in addition to being sure that you aren’t getting anything extra in your food, you can also eliminate some of the packaging that comes along with groceries and avoid having to bring it home at all!

If you are interested in cultivating a zero waste lifestyle, one of my favourite resources for inspiration on this subject is Bea at The Zero Waste Home.  Bea and her family are living proof that with a little effort and planning, zero waste (or little waste) is possible for a family with children.

Are you interested in reducing your waste and your impact on the planet?  What works for you and your family in terms of reducing waste in your household?  Please share your ideas in the comments – I love hearing what others are doing on to reduce their impact on the planet!

retail me not: much ado about leaky boots

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Winter  arrived a couple of weeks ago in Vancouver, and darn, did it ever get cold.  I’m not bothered by the snow, but the frigid temperatures almost did me in – last week saw the temperature dip to well below freezing, which is a real rarity in Vancouver.  And if you combine cold temperatures with having to stand outdoors for hours on end while your bundled children attempt to sled down hills of frozen grass on their snowsuit bottoms, well it makes for very cold hands and toes.  I won’t deny that I’ve been looking enviously at the winter boots of all my friends and neighbours and thinking how cozy their feet must be in their Uggs or Sorel Caribou boots, while I’ve been freezing my toes off in my rain boots.  I’d been considering buying winter boots, if only so I wasn’t frigid for all the hours spent outside with my kids.  However, winter in Vancouver is more often a rainy season than a cold, snowy season; so intially I decided to tough it out in my rainboots, and put on an extra layer of fleece socks.

And then I discovered that  my rain boots are leaking.  And that was the reason that my feet were feeling cold and damp regardless of the fact that I was wearing three pair of socks.

Leaky boots make me sad. And cold toes make me grumpy.

I was disappointed, because I was convinced that it would be years before I would have to replace my rain boots.  The gentleman who originally sold me my boots informed me that the company who made these boots were  a reputable company who made a very durable product.  So I tested a theory on customer service, and extended an email to the company explaining the situation.  To my pleasant surprise, they offered to replace my boots free of charge and apologized for any inconvenience.  As much as I am disappointed that my original rain boots did not survive the test of time, I am content with the offer to receive replacement boots and I will be seeking out one of Kamik’s local retailers to return my defunct and leaky boots for recycling.  So thank you Kamik – from the bottom of my heart and my cozy, dry toes.

I’m still trying to keep to less than 10 pair of footwear, with the plan to not replace some things as they wear out.  I’m proud to say I’m down to one pair of heels (yippee!) and everything else is shoes or boots that I wear regularly and is comfortable.

retail me not: buying nothing in 2012

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I’ve been off enjoying the festivities of the holiday season for the past couple of weeks.  I thought very little about decluttering and mostly just enjoyed spending time with family and friends (and indulging in food and drink entirely too much!)  But my thoughts of coming up with a new challenge for 2012 to keep my home clutter free have recently resurfaced.  Even though certain family members could not restrain themselves from buying large gifts for the kids (which we will be sure to have a conversation about that FAR in advance of the Christmas season next year!), our goal of keeping with a minimalist Christmas was somewhat of a success.  The kids received one joint gift from Santa, and one DVD each in their stockings.  That along with a letter from Santa wishing them the best of the holidays and a couple of foil wrapped chocolates was enough to thrill them.  We gave our oldest a book and our youngest received a puzzle from us (purchased at the thrift store no less!), and for those who like numbers, we spent $25 on each of our childrens’ gifts this holiday season.

However, as reasonable as Christmas was in the spending and consumption department, I did notice when putting the gifts away in the closet that there is one area of our home that is far from minimalist, and I would argue has become a bit indulgent.  It is the area of children’s clothing.  While I’ve had great success in sticking to a limited wardrobe myself, I seem to have issues with buying clothing for my kids that is either a) a great deal or b) too cute to pass up.  While I’ve spent the last twelve months decluttering my home, which has included kitchenware, bathroom towels, small appliances, endless amounts of toys, shoes, and my own clothing, my kids’ closet has become a bit of a boondoggle.  Granted, they share a room and one very small closet between the two of them; however, there are two large bins of clothing on the floor of their closet that doesn’t even fit them yet and is too big to wear.  Erp.

So here is my challenge for the coming year:  2012 will be the year of not shopping.  Not only will my husband or I NOT be buying them any toys or games (I spent WAY too much time clearing away toys in 2011), but I am holding a moratorium on kid’s clothing as well.  In the past, any time I spent shopping for my kids was dedicated to buying ahead for them, for events to take place in the future: next winter, next summer, next Christmas, ad nauseum.  So for 2012, I’m hoping to not only to enjoy all of the cute things already in their closet, but to develop a habit of not buying ahead.  This will be good practice for living in the moment, as well as enjoying and being grateful for what we own already.  The only things I would consider buying them this year would be socks and underwear, but they have no need for any more of these things currently.  I’m hoping that this challenge will have a positive impact on the amount of space in our home, and I won’t be buying and hanging onto superfluous amounts of clothing for my kids “just in case.” I am also pledging to buy nothing new in the clothing department for myself for the entirety of 2012.  If I do need to replace anything in my already little wardrobe, I’ll be heading to the thrift shop, otherwise, I’m putting a stop to shopping for myself too.  I’m hoping to cultivate a focus on other activities that are more experience rich than shopping.

As a parent who has for a long time preferred shopping for my kids to shopping for myself, I have no idea how this challenge will go.  I would love to hear stories of encouragement of how you have curbed buying for children in your family, or how you have downsized your kids’ wardrobes without too much whinging from the peanut gallery.

retail me not: avoiding the mall and embracing the real spirit of Christmas

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I’m finding that since wrapping up my decluttering challenge for 2011, I’m twisting in the wind.  I suppose December is a poor time to be left with idle hands and no project on the go.  This time of year is like a siren song to a reformed shopper.  Every time I leave my house, I walk by stores that are decorated beautifully for the holidays, but all of them are calling out to all of us to spend money on things we don’t need or to buy things for other people who don’t need anything else cluttering up their lives either.  I’m especially drawn to stores (and the items contained therein) that claim to make entertaining friends and family easier or more enjoyable – hence my most recent purchase of a box of pre-made gingerbread people with all of the accoutrements necessary for decorating these cute little guys and girls.  I had visions of having friends over with their kids to decorate the cookies and everyone going home warm from hot chocolate and fuzzy from the sugar high of eating the aforementioned cookies.  Alas, I decorated them myself on Friday night.  And my family and I ate them over the weekend.  Clearly, I have issues.

I’m not afraid to admit the atmosphere of the holidays makes me feel overwhelmed.  While I try to focus on the merry and the jolly aspects of Christmas for the sake of my children, I find that I feel more pressure at this time of year to buy things (clothes, home furnishings and toys) than at any other time of the year.  Luckily for me, December is already half over.  But I’m finding myself thinking about shopping every single day.  I know from previous years that these feelings fade by the time Christmas day has arrived, so I’m not worried that my feelings are anything out of the ordinary.  However, it is a bit strange to acknowledge that I currently have a little voice in my head telling me that I need to go shopping.  That I need to buy things for my home in order for me to have a happy holidays.  That I need to buy toys and other gifts for my children in order for them to have an amazing Christmas.  I try to remind myself that I spent over $400 on clothing for my kids last Christmas, and after opening all their gifts they promptly asked (that same morning), “But where are the toys?”  I’ve learned that having high expectations around gift giving (and receiving) ends up being a bit of a letdown, but apparently that isn’t stopping my psyche from entertaining all of the marketing that is being driven into our brains during this holiday season that tells us we should be shopping until we drop.

So instead of letting that little voice get me down and make me feel like I am depriving myself and my family of the spirit of Christmas by not rushing out to the stores to shop, I am looking to the future.  I’m planning for another challenge for 2012, which will help us focus on not only maintaining our clutter-free home, but will allow us to stay in our little home as long as we want to stay here (even though by all accounts, our family should have long outgrown our small space).  I’m hoping this vision of a new challenge will get me through the next two weeks without a last minute dash to the mall to alleviate my fears and anxiety about not shopping at Christmas.  I’m going to make myself a homemade eggnog latte and put on some Christmas music, which hopefully will be enough to talk me down from the ledge where I am perched with my credit cards and loyalty cards clutched close to my chest.

retail me not: a thrifty Halloween

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I’m having a hard time with how fast time is flying these days.  My oldest is in school all day, but my youngest son and I are keeping busy – there’s always playing at the park and coffee at my house or a friend’s place to keep us entertained.  I must say there is a lot of relief in being able to invite people over at the last minute without any thought of “is the house clean enough for company?”  When you go minimalist, there’s a lot less stuff lying around to make your home messy.  While we’ve been having fun with friends and keeping busy enjoying the gorgeous Fall weather, the Halloween season has crept up on us!

Finding a costume for my youngest was a bit of a stroke of luck a few weeks back.  I had made plans to go grocery shopping with a friend, but the universe had other plans – when we pulled up to the store and it was closed!  We circled around to their other store and found it was closed too.  Boo.  As we started to make our way back home, we passed a Value Village and as we noticed Halloween costumes hanging outside, my friend suggested we pull over and have a look.   Before I even got out of her car, I had spotted an adorable Halloween costume for my three year old.  We went inside and were thrilled with what we discovered – an awesome store filled with a ton of second-hand stuff in great condition.  I ended up buying a pair of jeans (that makes two pair in my closet!), a couple of fleece hoodies for my kids, two board games and the aforementioned Halloween costume.  Amazing.

Halloween costumes can get pretty pricey, and since they’re only worn for such a short period of time it seems a shame to make a big investment in them.  Here’s some strategies I’ve developed for honouring a more minimalist Halloween experience:

  • Buy Halloween costumes second-hand.  Whether you’re buying Halloween costumes for yourself or your kids, second-hand is the way to go.  Thrift stores and craigslist are great places to find gently used Halloween costumes.  Most costumes are only worn for a few short hours, so it is not too hard to find costumes that are in good condition that are second-hand.
  • Re-use Halloween costumes from previous years.  My oldest son will be wearing the same costume he wore last year, and he’s happy about that.  When I bought the costume, I bought it a size or two too big, so it still fits this year.
  • Re-sell or donate costumes you are finished with, or pass them on to friends who have younger children.  Craigslist is very popular in Vancouver and there are a ton of listings for Halloween costumes on there right now.  If re-selling isn’t your gig, thrift stores will always accept costumes that they will then re-sell to another lucky person who will enjoy wearing your old costume.  Another thing I like to do is pass things on to friends, and Halloween costumes would definitely be something that you could pass on.  However, I’m always sure to check with them in advance, as I don’t want to be burdening my friends if they don’t actually want hand-me-downs.
  • Consider making a dress-up chest for your kids to enjoy their pre-loved costume beyond October 31.  This is a great way to enjoy costumes beyond the actual day of Halloween.  Kids love dressing up, it is great imaginative play and will keep them busy for hours (literally).  Don’t be afraid to let them wear their old costumes again and again – before you know it, they will have outgrown them!
We have plans to attend a Halloween party with friends following some trick-or-treating in our neighbourhood.  Since we’re all sorted out in the costume department, I’m now looking forward to spending the evening making fun memories with my kids and hanging out with friends.

If you celebrate Halloween, have you found costumes for your family yet this year?  Will you be dressing up for Halloween?  How do you handle outgrown costumes?

retail me not: thrift store strategies

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Last week I stopped into one of my local thrift stores.  I like to pop in every couple of weeks to check out if there are any gems waiting around to be picked up that can be incorporated into my wardrobe of 33 items or less.  I didn’t find anything worth buying, but I still had fun.  A fellow thrift store shopper, a young guy in his twenties, struck up conversation when he asked me for my opinion on an outfit he was putting together.  He was assembling a costume for a party of sorts (he called it a “Tree Planter’s Ball”) and he had picked out a pink and orange boucle jacket (think Chanel on the cheap) and asked me if I would give him my opinion on what tie would go best with his outfit.  Of course, I selected an equally hideous pink and grey argyle tie.  He thanked me, and was happy with my selection, as he mentioned the tie was actually one he would wear again after the party.  I thought that was pretty brave of him.

You don’t often find too many friendly, chatty folk at the mall or in some of the higher end stores in my neighbourhood.  Heck, I’d venture to say that most of the time I am in any conventional store in my neighbourhood store, the only people who say hello are the salespeople.   And let’s be honest – they are being paid to be friendly. It’s a nice change to chat (even briefly) with locals in my neighbourhood who I probably wouldn’t get the opportunity to strike up conversation with otherwise.

I’ve decided it’s important to have a good strategy for shopping at thrift stores, otherwise, it can be too easy to buy many things simply because they’re cheap.  Here’s a few things I like to keep in mind while shopping at the thrift store, but they’re also good reminders of what I should be looking for when shopping at other conventional stores too:

  1. I am learning to be patient.  There are always lots of items at the thrift shop that either aren’t the right size, style or condition.  For some reason, I’m finding it easier to forego making purchases when at the thrift shop – if something’s not quite right, I’m happy to leave it for someone else who will treasure it.  I know that if I’m patient, any item that I’m looking for will eventually find it’s way to me.  If not, then it probably wasn’t meant to be.
  2. I am looking for quality over quantity.  Of course shopping at the thrift store means shopping through gently used items.  Or sometimes very used or even trashed.  I’ve discovered it’s easier to look for one item that will be the perfect addition to my wardrobe, rather than trying to find a handful of items that suit me perfectly.
  3. I am looking for perfection, or as near to it as possible.  As hard as it is to find excellent quality things in good condition at the thrift store, it’s even harder to find them in the right size.  That’s a good thing, because it means I get to hold out for things that are not only perfect for me in style, but also in my size.  This translates to less buying, and less owning.
  4. I am doing my best to support a good cause.  Whether I’m shopping at Value Village (which benefits the Developmental Disabilities Society) or the Wildlife Thrift Shop, a lot of the profits from thrift shops benefit a good cause.  If you are interested, inquire whether your local thrift shop is a not-for-profit organization and where the proceeds of sales are going.
  5. I am looking to recycle.  I’m happy to send my family’s unloved clothing back to the thrift shop when we’re done with it.  Doing so is an effective form of recycling, as donating to a thrift shop is a good way of ensuring your unwanted things re-enter the stream of clothing available to others.  This benefits all of us, as it ultimately prevents useable things from entering the waste stream and ending up in your local landfill.
I’m going to stick with buying only from thrift shops for the remainder of the year, and I am even going to pledge to buying anything I want to buy for my children for Christmas this year from the thrift shop.  Stay tuned and see what I can find – I’ll keep track of the cost too and see if I can keep to a budget of $25 / child for the Christmas season.

Do you have a great thrift store near you?  Or any good experiences at the thrift shop?  I know some cities have better thrift shops than others – if you have an awesome garage sale story, I’d love to hear that too!

retail me not: how to avoid back-to-school shopping

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As a teenager, I felt a certain urgency around having a few new items to wear to school in September.  I know now that the urgency I felt was manufactured by marketing and advertising in an attempt to get me to spend more money on things I probably didn’t need in the first place.  Even now, nearly a month ahead of the start of the school year, the “Back to School” sales and promotions have begun.  On a grocery trip to Costco this past weekend, I noticed a huge selection of backpacks, books, writing utensils and other school related items.

According to a study by Visa Canada, Canadian shoppers plan to spend over $400 on back-to-school shopping before Labour Day.  Last year, back to school shopping costs in the United States averaged over $600 per family.  Myself, I’ve never enjoyed the pressure to acquire new clothing at the beginning of each school year.  Thankfully, I won’t be participating in the time-honoured tradition of back-to-school shopping in the coming weeks.

I’ll be foregoing back-to-school shopping entirely this year, and here’s a few ideas our family will be applying to get the most out of the back to school experience.  This strategy is designed to save us time and money, and it jives nicely with our interests in lightening our own impact on the environment.

  1. I’ll be taking inventory.  As I pack away my kids’ summer clothes, I’ll be getting out the fall/winter clothing.  We’re lucky enough to live in a climate where we can wear the same lightweight, cool weather clothing for ten months out of the years, so the kids will continue wearing the clothes they wore in the spring and summer, as seasonally appropriate.  Throw on an extra sweater or sweatshirt and substitute pants for shorts when the weather cools down, and we’re good to go.  My own clothing selection will be re-evaluated at the beginning of September as I enter a new phase of my Project 333, but I won’t be taking advantage of any seasonal sales or promotions to supplement my own wardrobe.
  2. We’ll be shopping in our closets.  My son has not grown enough in the past two months that he has outgrown enough of anything in his wardrobe to warrant a trip to the mall.  His backpack has held up well, so he’ll be using the same one again this year.  We picked up a winter jacket for my oldest last January during sale season, so we are set for the winter as well.  The only clothing purchase I can foresee making for him in the next six months is a new pair of running shoes (if he outgrows his current ones).
  3. I’ll be participating in our school supplies program.  My son’s school asks that families pay up front in September for their children’s school supplies for the duration of the school year.  We are asked to pay $25 for our child’s school supplies needs for an entire school year.  This amount seems reasonable to me, especially given that if I had to and purchase supplies for my child alone, the cost would likely run over $25.  Also, with this system, I don’t need to spend any time at all shopping for school supplies.  All things considered, I think it’s money well spent.
  4. I don’t homeschool my school-age child, and therefore, I have little need for school supplies at home.  Since my son attends public school, most of his school supplies needs will be met in his classroom.  Other than a few pencils, an eraser, some paper and a few craft supplies, we won’t need much else here at home.
  5. We’ll be brown-bagging it this year.  Well, not literally – he’ll be packing a reusable lunch sack with an assortment of tasty and nutritious food as he’s starting first grade and it will be the first time he’ll be at school over the lunch hour.  We won’t be participating in a school lunch program – it was cancelled for the semester due to low enrollment, but I hadn’t planned on participating anyway primarily because seeing as how I’m at home full-time with the kids, I will have the time to prepare his lunch the night before.
  6. We’ll be looking to buy gently used, rather than new.  Not only is a lot of money spent every year on items earmarked for returning to school, but consider too the resources required to buy all-new, all the time.  Consider re-using things you may still have from your child’s previous year, or consider checking your local thrift shop for gently used kids’ clothing before you head to the mall to shop for brand new clothes.
I’ll be staying out of stores (particularly the big box variety) and limiting my visits to online sites that sell kids clothing, so as not to be tempted to buy anything.  I know that my kids have enough, and I don’t need a back-to-school sale to tell me otherwise.  I’ll be spending the time I would have spent shopping on the playground with my kids, and enjoying the last few lazy days of summer vacation.

Are you planning on doing any back to school shopping?  Or will you be approaching things differently this year?