striving for zero waste: Valentine’s Day is for earth lovers

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Valentine’s Day is not normally a large celebration in our household.  Usually the kids get some sort of small treat or toy, we send the kids to school with Valentines for their friends, and I might do some baking that day to celebrate with the kids.  Having spent nearly an entire year now collecting our household plastic, I will tell you that conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day is completely unnecessary.   There are many ways to honour Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank or polluting the planet.

Origami Valentine's heart

Origami Valentine’s heart

Tell your friends, family and significant other that you don’t need flowers for Valentine’s Day.  Roses and flowers are big business on Valentine’s Day, but not very thoughtful to Mother Earth.  Flowers purchased as gifts often come wrapped in plastic and other packaging, which is often not biodegradable and ends up in the landfill.  If you or your loved one has their heart set on flowers, consider giving a living plant grown locally or even a small potted herb for your sweetheart’s kitchen.  Even better, ask your sweetie to accompany you on a nature walk and keep your eyes peeled for flowers making their appearance this Spring in one of our many local parks.

Make paper valentines for school age children to share with their friends.  Have kids make their own valentines from paper supplies you already have one hand, or (if you are feeling pinched for time) buy plastic-free valentines from the stores.  Most years I will make valentines for the kids classmates at home, but this year we bought our valentines at the drugstore.  Luckily enough, we found some cool, fun ones that had no plastic packaging to them.

Valentine shark

Valentine’s shark – made by my oldest child at school last year, we are using this cute guy for decoration this year!

Plan for experiences rather than gifts.  Since Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday this year, we celebrated early by taking our family out to a restaurant for dinner on Saturday night.  We don’t often go out for dinner with the kids due to their early bedtimes, so it was nice to get dressed up and have a fun night out.  The kids had a lot of fun putting on their dress clothes and my youngest little guy even wore a tie!

Buy your Valentine’s candy in bulk and refuse the packaging.  No Valentine’s celebration would be complete without candy!  Or at least that’s what my kids tell me.  We are lucky to have a cool candy store just up the street from us, that sells candy in bulk.  The Candy Aisle is a cute little shop on Robson St (600 block) with lots of bulk candy options, and they even sell Mason jars and lids if you are wanting to buy your candy plastic free!  I popped into their store yesterday to ask about bringing my own jar to buy candy in bulk, and the lady working there confirmed that would be fine.  Hooray for plastic free candy!

Valentine's candy in mason jar - photo courtesy of Etsy

Valentine’s candy in mason jar – photo courtesy of Etsy

I like to celebrate most holidays and events enthusiastically – this past weekend we celebrated Chinese New Year (Gung Hei Fat Choy!) and Family Day (the first ever in BC!) without much ado and we managed to produce very little waste.  On a positive note, we made a weekly grocery trip to our local Whole Foods yesterday afternoon and after spending $80 on groceries, we came away with only one piece of plastic packaging (from the deli).  Small victories are worth celebrating too!

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?  Are you going to make Valentine’s Day a zero waste celebration?

striving for zero waste: not buying Starbucks’ $1 reusable cup

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I was in a Starbucks in downtown Vancouver this past weekend, buying a snack for my kids.  I wasn’t buying a coffee for myself, as I’d made my own coffee at home and was drinking out of my stainless steel travel cup.  As I ponied up to the register to pay for a slice of banana bread, the young man behind the cash register tried to enlighten me on the subject of Starbucks’ new reusable, $1 plastic cup.  The premise behind the cup is that customers pay $1 for this reusable cup (with lid), then the cup can be used 10 times and is to be recycled within 30 days.  The cup and lid are themselves made of polypropylene plastic (#5).  Starbucks’ suggestion is that these cups can be recycled at the local level, and that their use will limit the demand for customers who like to drink their hot beverages from double-layered paper cups, hence further limiting Starbucks paper waste.

starbucks reusable

Photo courtesy of Treehugger.com

My first reaction to hearing about this product was outright horror.

I pointed out to the barista that I already carried my own stainless steel cup with me (and have done for the past two years), as I enjoyed using it and preventing further waste as I visited Starbucks.  The barista countered that the concept of reducing paper cup waste was “amazing,” and that the fact that this reusable cup was inexpensive meant that it would appeal to a broad number of people.  He further stated that this idea was a “great step for the Starbucks company,” as it would reduce the amount of waste Starbucks produced.

I was agog.

Sure, in premise, the concept of a cup that can be used 10 times is of greater environmental benefit than a cup that is used simply once.  However, when things are inexpensive (like for example a $1 cup), we are more likely to construe them to be disposable and we are less likely to be dispose of  them in a considerable manner.  Sadly, Starbucks does not seem to recognize that not only will people purchase this plastic cup and then forget to bring it for subsequent uses, but that in all likelihood, these cups will end up in the trash more often than they will end up being appropriately recycled.

If we think of all the plastic, “throw-away” things in the world that are available to us, isn’t this plastic cup from Starbucks just another one of them?  Why isn’t the suggestion of adding plastic to the waste stream on such a large scale offensive?  While the goal of reducing paper waste is commendable for any company, to simply replace the paper waste with plastic waste is extremely short-sighted and frankly, abhorrent.

I’m going to continue to use my stainless steel, reusable travel mug whenever I frequent my local Starbucks.  How about you?

curating your child’s minimalist wardrobe

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I’ve been busy these past few weeks decluttering my kids’ closet.  They share a very small closet (and a very small room) and because they wear different sizes there tends to always be a lot of stuff floating around in there.  I decided there was not a lot of sense in keeping clothing they don’t like or won’t wear, so I’ve been posting lots of stuff on craigslist this past month and have luckily sold quite a few items.  Their closet is finally becoming manageable, and that’s no small feat – I’m pretty sure it’s been stuffed to the gills since the time I was pregnant with my first child eight years ago.  It really was the last bastion of clutter in our otherwise orderly home.

Here’s a few tips I’ve found useful to keep in mind over the past few weeks as I clear out the kids closet and work towards keeping a minimalist wardrobe for each of my kids:

  1. Do not anticipate a need before it actually arrives.  This is probably the most useful tidbit I can offer on this subject.  Do not buy a winter coat in summer, do not buy a bathing suit in November (unless you’re going on vacation!) and do not buy shoes for your kids in sizes they are not currently wearing.  Kids body shapes change so quickly and differently that you might anticipate – your child might skip a size, or spend an ETERNITY wearing one size, and if you have neatly tucked something away for future use, chances are you will forget it’s even there (ahem, speaking from personal experience).
  2. Do not buy ahead – or if you do, keep a list.  This is something I’ve struggled with since becoming pregnant with my first son.  While I don’t enjoy shopping, I have always enjoyed the thrill of getting a good deal.  This can lead to problems.  Or ten pair of jeans in a size your child won’t be growing into for the next three years.  Buying ahead can lead to clutter, but I can appreciate that there are some savings to be had by shopping this way – so tread carefully and keep stock of what you already own before you get too carried away by the latest sale at your favourite kid’s store.
  3. Consider what your kids will and won’t wear.  I would not have guessed that my kids would be built differently and that one would grow at a MUCH slower pace than the other.  The bonus?  My youngest wears clothing for at least a year longer than his brother was able to.  The downside?  He is much pickier about his clothing choices and would choose the same shirt and pants daily if I would give in and let him.  I’ve decided to stop fighting my little guy’s natural tendencies toward comfort and have pared down considerably for my second child.  This strategy works well in that my oldest has more clothes and will not be able to wear out most of his clothing before it gets passed on to my youngest.  And then my youngest will be able to choose his favourites and we will cull the rest.  Win, win situation, right?
  4. Keep footwear to a minimum.  Buy good shoes.  But not many.  One pair of well-made runners are usually sufficient, and they may be expensive so plan ahead to buy them once a year (I like to buy them in the summer so they are in excellent condition for September.  That and they are also usually on sale in the summer months).  If your children are not school-age yet and are still growing out of shoes quickly, be sure to check thrift stores and craigslist for high-end shoes that have been worn minimally.  Prices are sure to be better than in stores.

What kinds of things are my kids wearing this fall?  Long-sleeve t-shirts on top, and jeans or casual pants on the bottom.  They each have one pair of runners and one pair of rain boots.  They also have a pair of warmer winter boots that we will be breaking out when the weather really gets cold, and one pair of sandals that they’ll be taking on vacation this winter.  In terms of Project 333, my kids could get away with much less than 33 items each in their wardrobe.  Here’s a good list of clothing that I am going to stick very closely to:

  • 10 tops (or less if you can swing it) – these can be short-sleeve tops in the summer or long-sleeve shirts in the winter, and I try to incorporate at least one dress shirt and one nice sweater to wear for special occasions or a night out.
  • 6 bottoms – shorts in the summer and pants in the winter.  Again, at least one pair of dress shorts or pants in the appropriate season for more fancy events would be useful.
  • 2 sweatshirts or hoodies, useful for layering and warmth in the Fall and Spring seasons
  • 1 seasonally appropriate jacket – either a rain jacket or a winter coat, preferably with a hood
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 3 footwear – includes one pair of runners, one pair of rain boots and one pair of summer shoes

I have gone minimalist enough in my own daily routine that finding time to do laundry daily is not an issue.  I am usually doing a load of laundry every day or two, so there is no real need to have more than a handful of clothes in rotation anyway.  Another bonus: I find my kids are less overwhelmed about getting dressed on their own when there is less clothing in their closet, which means less arguing about what to wear.  It’s true that less really is more!

Are you and / or your family participating in Project 333?  I love to hear from others who are on the path to living with less, so be sure to share your experience in the comments!

project 333: fall is here!

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I was one of those kids who loved back to school shopping.  I always felt the need to buy several items of clothing before school started, and loved wearing my new gear the very first days of the school year.  Never mind that Fall usually hadn’t arrived by that time, and I would find myself in my new classroom in my new clothes and sweating up a storm because the weather hadn’t cooled yet.

While I’ve been reminiscing fondly about my school years these past weeks, I’m no longer shopping without a purpose or just to have new clothes in my closet.  I’ve moved away from my old back-to-school shopping ways considerably, and I didn’t buy a single article of clothing for myself or my kids for the beginning of their school adventure this year.  While I did buy a few items for the kids at a thrift store in my hometown this summer while I was on vacation, I didn’t go overboard like I did last year.  I have just recently packed away my own summer wardrobe away for the winter, and as I do the same for the kids, I’m struck with how manageable all of our closets are becoming.   I’d like to list the kids’ clothing and having them participate in Project 333 too, but I’ll save that post for another day.

So here’s what I’ll be wearing for the next three months:

  1. Wrap sweater – grey
  2. Bolero-style sweatshirt – grey
  3. Hoodie – grey
  4. Hoodie – grey, faux fur lined
  5. Cowl neck sweatshirt – pink
  6. Cowl neck sweatshirt – blue
  7. Cowl neck sweatshirt – black
  8. Plaid shirt – red and navy
  9. Long sleeved t-shirt – blue
  10. Long sleeved t-shirt – grey
  11. Long sleeved t-shirt – mulberry
  12. Long sleeved t-shirt – pink
  13. Long sleeved t-shirt – pattern
  14. Long sleeved t-shirt – blue
  15. Corduroy skirt – black
  16. Corduroy skirt – grey
  17. Sleeveless dress – black
  18. Short sleeved dress – black
  19. Formal dress – black
  20. Blue jeans, bootcut
  21. Blue jeans, straight leg
  22. Black jeans, skinny
  23. Turquoise jeans, skinny
  24. Lightweight jacket – army green
  25. Fall jacket – black
  26. Winter jacket – black
  27. Rain jacket – black
  28. Infinity scarf – purple
  29. Jersey knit scarf – turquoise
  30. Winter accessories – hat and gloves
  31. Slip on shoes – black
  32. Boots – brown
  33. Rain boots – black

Comfort definitely trumps style for a stay-at-home mom who likes to work out while the kids are at school, so my wardrobe reflects that.  My wardrobe is casual, but so is my lifestyle, so these clothes are what works for me.  I do have one formal dress that I keep on to my Project 333 list, even though it only gets broken out once a year (if that!).  I’m not including my workout clothing, but I’ve limited those items to ten, including shoes.  I’ve packed away all of my tank tops and summer dresses (I think there are about 20 of them – eek!) for when we go away this winter on a family vacation.

It feels great to have a small wardrobe, and to not have succumbed to the pressures of back to school shopping this year, both for myself and the kids.  Stay tuned for a Project 333 post that takes a look at my kids tiny shared closet.

Have you heard of Project 333 and have you considered participating?  Please share your experiences in the comments – I love to hear how others are paring down their closets and living successfully with less!

running: a sport for minimalists

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I’ve taken up running.

Such a minimalist cliche, I know.

It started out innocently enough.  My husband and I started jogging on our nightly summer walks with the kids.  The kids would sometimes run alongside the jogging stroller or alternate sitting in it.  Then we went on vacation and we ran a few times after dinner without the kids.  I discovered I hate jogging with a stroller.  Good thing the stroller is borrowed from friends and will be leaving our house next spring.

Now I’m jogging by myself a few mornings a week along the seawall while my kids are at school.  The scenery in my neighbourhood is unparalleled.  Running along the seawall and through Stanley Park gives me an opportunity to admire the majesty of the North Shore mountains and is a very scenic backdrop to my morning run.  Such a great way to clear the mental cobwebs and get some exercise in at the same time.

I’m not too concerned with gadgets and workout wear.  I just wear workout gear that I already own and use my three year old runners, and I am good to go.

What do I take with me when I run?  Not much.  As with most things, I like to adopt a minimalist approach:

  • Cell phone (yes, that 12 year old phone is still kickin’!)
  • House keys
  • Credit card or pre-loaded Starbucks card or five bucks (for post workout snack)

That’s it.  No MP3 player.  No iPhone.  No pedometer.  Certainly nothing that I would be upset if I lost or broke along the way.  I run for about 45 minutes and then I am done.  My apres run routine includes finding a healthy snack before I head back to pick my youngest son up from school.  All in all, it is a very enjoyable way to spend a morning.

Do you enjoy running as part of your exercise routine?  Do you have any particular routine or gadgets you like to use, or are you a running minimalist too?

striving for zero waste: cheap and eco-cheerful at Granville Island

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There are only two more weeks left in summer vacation before it’s back to school time for the kids.  We had a summer meltdown yesterday at our house – I had to listen to my seven year old complain about how the park was soooo boring and how he had already been there twenty times this month (not an exaggeration).  However, we persevered and hit the park under the Cambie Bridge – so cool and shady under there, we stayed for three hours while the boys played on the playground equipment, played a little ball hockey, and chased some bubbles around.  I hardly wanted to leave, it was so breezy and relaxing.  I promised my oldest we would do something a little different today and offered to take the kids to the water park at Granville Island.

Before we headed out this morning, I packed my trusty stainless steel Tiffin lunchbox (from To-Go Ware) so that we could have a zero-waste picnic lunch at the park. I highly recommend getting one of these lunch containers – they are durable and long-lasting and will more than pay for themselves even though they are a lot pricier than other comparable plastic lunch boxes.  I bought my two-tier Tiffin at Choices Market for $20 just last week, and I have used it every day since I got it.

I am having a small love affair with my stainless steel Tiffin. I highly recommend you get one if you are in the market for something to carry your food around in. Also an awesome idea for restaurant take-out!

The water playground at Granville Island is awesome, complete with a ton of sprayers and even a small waterslide (get there early because the line-ups for the slide are ginormous!).  Another cool thing about this park is that since it is run by the City of Vancouver, it is free.  So you can go for a short while and not feel guilty that it cost you an arm and a leg for admission, because, it’s FREE!  The kids had fun running around for an hour or so, then decided there were too cold (how does that happen on a hot, sunny summer day?) so they changed and we headed indoors.  Before heading inside, we had our lunch/snack outside on the benches next to the water park.

Granville Island water park (photo courtesy of RuthandDave on Flickr)

After their snack, the kids asked if we could go to the Kid’s Market.  That place is a parent’s worst nightmare.  There are tons of shops, all geared toward novelty gift items and toys, and a lot of it is plastic.  I overheard one mom say to her kids today, “Mom is such an amazing shopper!  I have spent hundreds of dollars in here in the last few minutes!”  Surely something to be proud of.  My oldest promised that he just wanted to go look, but I did get quite a few requests to buy toys while we checked out some of the stores – his birthday is tomorrow and he is having a hard time deciding what he would like for a gift, and so he continues to ask for most everything that catches his eye.  In the end, we didn’t end up buying anything at the Kid’s Market but had tons of fun looking at all the toys.

On our way out I stopped in at Paper-Ya.  Paper-Ya is located in the Net Loft building at Granville Island and is home to a plethora of beautiful paper and stationery products.  I have been thinking about buying some washi tape (which is essentially decorated paper masking tape) to use for gift wrapping and an upcoming birthday party celebration – I was in luck at Paper-Ya!  I found they have a small selection of beautiful washi tape.  It’s not cheap, but it’s not plastic either.  I’ll be using it to wrap a gift for a friend and anticipate the couple of rolls I purchased will last for years.

Pretty washi tape (photo courtesy of Paper-Ya)

As we headed back to the dock to catch the Aquabus, my kids reminded me that I had promised them a treat – gelato!  I had planned to take the Aquabus back over False Creek to the downtown side where there is a little Italian cafe located a the foot of Hornby St that sells, among other things, ice cream.  But as we approached the dock, there was a sign pointing us around the corner to GI Gelato & Coffee where they make homemade gelato on site!  I bought two cones for the kids and had a few bites of theirs – I highly recommend the Lemon Lime Zest gelato!  Yum.  If you order your gelato in a cone instead of a paper cup, you can avoid having to use those adorable (but useless) little plastic spoons that you find at most gelato spots.

Yummy gelato offerings at GI Gelato & Coffee (photo courtesy of dinehere.ca)

All in all, it was an enjoyable morning and we are home now relaxing in the cool of our small launchpad apartment.  I’m sure will be heading out again later today to enjoy some more summer weather, and striving for zer0-waste then too!  We’ve become a lot more conscious with our consumption habits (which is essential for both aspiring minimalists and those striving for less waste) and although we have still managed to accumulate two more bags of plastic for the documentary we are participating in, I have hope that if we stay the course and not buying replacements for the plastic that is leaving our home that we will be in good shape.  Great shape, in fact.

Do you aspire to reduce your consumption footprint and is zero-waste a goal for you or your family?  I love to hear how others are doing in their journey toward zero-waste, so leave me a comment and let me know how you’re doing!

lolla-spore-looza 2012: otherwise known as involuntary decluttering

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I started to move a few things around in my bedroom closet yesterday afternoon.  I plucked a few of my husband’s suit jackets from the hanging rack at the back of our closet and that’s when I noticed… his arms of his wool suit jackets were covered in mold.  MOULD!  Lots of SPORE-covered MOULD laced the arms of his jackets where they touched the back wall of the closet.

Damn Vancouver rainy season that lasts ten months.  Damn Vancouver condos that are sealed up so tight nothing can breathe.  Damn mouldy-mould that likes to grow in damp, cool, airless conditions.  Damn damn damn.

I’ve not been paying too close attention to our level of stuff lately, probably because we haven’t been accumulating much and things are as minimal as they’ve ever been (unless you open the hall closet, then: look out).  We’ve been continuing to collect our plastic waste in our bathtub, which sure serves as a great reminder to limit unnecessary consumption, but we’ve not been living an austere life.  We’ve been enjoying the summer weather, and have spent time travelling within our beautiful province, hitting the beach, visiting our local parks and even frequenting touristy venues for which we have memberships.  All in all, it’s been a great summer.

So perhaps the time was right for the mould to take hold.  My husband had not been wearing any of his jackets during the spring and summer months.  I’d been ignoring the last few bins of stuff hiding on the closet floor.

But let me tell you, discovering that mould was like lighting a fire under my ass.

I spent a few hours last night throwing mold-ridden clothing away and salvaging two suit jackets of my husbands that just had a tiny amount of moldy dust on them from the other jackets that were harder hit.  Then I felt the urge to purge.  I purged an additional two large garbage bags of clothing in good condition (most  of it was from the kids’ closet, which is in a separate room) and took it all to donation this morning.  I feel better, but still icky.

The thought of mold in our house was enough for me to consider for a fleeting moment a desire to get rid of everything.  My husband’s reaction to having to throw away hundreds of dollars in mould-covered clothing was telling – he asked if anything could be saved and we threw the rest away without a moment’s thought.  As soon as we knew that mould was involved, it took us half a second to make the decision to part with the stuff.

Why don’t those impulses fire as quickly when there’s not an immediate threat?  Why do we wait until there’s a crisis to deal with something?  The decision is much easier then, I suppose.

I’m grateful that this incident was limited to a few wool jackets.  I’m grateful that it wasn’t worse, and I’m so thankful we caught this problem while it was still small.  We’ll be painting the back wall of our closet with mould resistant paint and see what happens.  What we won’t be doing is replacing any of my husband’s lost clothing – he’ll be wearing the two remaining jackets in his closet, because two jackets are enough.  Minimalism for the win!

Have you ever struggled with mould in your home?  I know it’s not a savoury topic, but comments are welcome!