Nothing New in Review

At the beginning of the year I made a series of resolutions. One of the more challenging ones was to refrain from buying anything new for the first three months of the year. I was sick of being a mindless consumer, buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, from where ever in the world I wanted. Instead, I wanted to stop to consider the resources that passed through my hands. I wanted to see if I could do without, make stuff, purchase used items instead. I wanted to abandon the image of myself as “consumer” and replace it with “citizen”.

My exceptions were as follows:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

So now that today is officially the last day of the three months – how did I do? What did I end up buying? I am here to confess to some cheats and some insights in breaking free from shop-mode.

Here is a list of items I did buy over the last 90 days:

  1. 2 handmade bars of soap from the Farmer’s Market
  2. 1 small jar of handmade face cream from the Farmer’s Market
  3. 1 two-inch bottle of handmade hemp conditioner from… yes, the Farmer’s Market
  4. Dishwasher detergent – only after trying to make my own with great disastrous results
  5. Liquid dish soup – only after trying to make my own with somewhat disastrous results
  6. Flour sifter – to sift the bran from my stone-ground local flour so that I could make a lighter loaf of bread, and also – local bran muffins!
  7. Candy thermometer – to use when canning, as I am planning to preserve lots of food this summer/fall
  8. Birthday presents – for two birthday parties my 5 year-old son attended (although I gave my 1 year-old niece a previously loved toy my kids had when they were babies – I think she liked it!)
  9. Handmade necklace and bracelet from the Farmer’s Market for my mother-in-law for her birthday (I got her 3 used hardcover books as well).
  10. Rubber boots for my kids – after I had checked out 2 stores for used pairs, I bought ones that were phthalate-free and made in Canada, which is not easy to find! The snow melt is finally on, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
  11. Tylenol – we ran out and I had a horrible headache one day
  12. 4 recycled plastic large bins – for storing items in the garage that were previously stored in cardboard boxes in the storage room downstairs. That stuff cannot reside in their existing cardboard boxes as our garage can flood. I am clearing out the storage room to make way for a new shelving unit for… homemade canned goods!
  13. Emergency supply kit – this is a whole other blog post
  14. Digital SLR camera – I lost my camera and spent the whole next day calling around and retracing my steps trying to find it. Frustrated, I threw up my hands and decided to buy a camera I plan to have for a really long time. I did not however, purchase a camera case. I did however, purchase a used men’s jacket, from which I plan to sew, and craft into, a custom-made camera case. By the way, I know how weird this sounds. But the camera case for the camera was over $100! The men’s jacket was $7! Besides, it will be much more interesting. Until it is made, my camera is bound to the confines of my house.

That is it. I feel a bit guilty about the 4 (recycled) plastic bins. Who knew a year ago, that I would be sitting here writing this, feeling guilty about buying 4 plastic bins. Under normal circumstances I would feel happy and proud of myself, for taking the initiative to actually organize and clean out the storage room and garage in the same project. Look at me! Cleaning the garage! Now I feel like – look at me! I just bought 4 big ol’ plastic bins when I forgo buying regular bread since I don’t want to waste a little bread bag! It is nonsense, I know. However, there are situations, when a plastic bin does make sense. Like when things are going in the garage, where they could become wet and ruined if they were left in any other type of container – cardboard, wicker basket – these just will not work. Even a homemade wooden box from sustainable timber that I cut down myself using a previously used axe, would not work. Plastic has some uses. For example, I like my plastic laptop. For the most part though, I try to avoid plastic whenever I can. If you really look, plastic is everywhere. So if a non-plastic alternative exists I will normally take it. Despite these justifications, I still have lingering guilt.

The other big glaring item on the list is the camera. Nothing new, and I buy a camera… I justified it as something I was not willing to sacrifice, as it is important to document my children growing up, and also – I need to be able to take pictures for you, dear reader, for this here blog.

Note that I did not buy shampoo. Digging through my bathroom cupboard, I found a stockpile of a brand I don’t really like. Oh well, it is finally getting used up. Eventually I want to learn how to make my own soap, and then by extension, my own liquid soaps, such as dish soap, hand soap and shampoo. I am going to defer this project until next fall, as I feel like I am going to be pretty busy with the whole big new garden plan and all.

The other thing I did not purchase – any clothes or shoes for me, even used. I bought used clothes for my kids and found some really cute stuff.  Kids grow and they need bigger clothes, you just cannot get around that. However, I am also getting some hand me downs from friends and my sister, and that helps too.

So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t have to shop for something to do. Have you ever been in a long line up at the till, waiting and waiting to pay, squinting under the fluorescent lights, feeling the energy and life slowly drain out of you, bored, restless and annoyed? Why am I standing here? I did not miss those moments. How about when you get home with all your bags, and the kids are restless and jumpy and loud, and it is well past the time you were supposed to get supper on, so the bags get left by the door in a heap, and at the end of the day after everyone is in bed, you trip over them again, and realize that you have the additional job of taking everything out of the bag, clipping off all the tags, peeling off all the stickers, taking stuff out of the packages, and then putting it all away, into your already full house? I never liked the putting away part. The best part of shopping is the finding, the discovery. After that, it just seems to go downhill.

So what will I do now? I have thought a lot about it, and have decided that I am going to sign up for another three months of Nothing New! I will report any exceptions here at the end of June.

It actually was not that bad, it was liberating really, and I learned quite a few things along the way. I think I also saved about $1,000!

Before I begin though, I think I might buy myself some of those made in Canada rubber boots, to play around in the puddles with my kids, and later, to play around in my future garden. Other than that, my original exceptions will apply, with the addition of shampoo, dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap.

So who is with me?  What would your rules be?

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Nothing New

Shopping – we love it. We do it for fun; we do it with friends. I remember in high school, doing it lots. I would call up a friend and we would want to go out, so we would go to the mall. We would hang out. We would buy clothes. We would buy shoes and earrings and boots and music.

As I got older, I shopped less with friends. I found it was more efficient to shop by myself! I wandered around stores, looking at pretty things. I would appreciate interesting paintings and cool home décor items. I would covet fancy dresses and expensive shoes, even if I did not always buy them. Sometimes I would purchase. Other times I would go overboard, and blow the bank. Mostly I stayed within my means and only bought stuff I either really really liked, or really really wanted.

Then I had kids. Suddenly I had two other little people accompanying me on these shopping trips. When my son was first born it was great, I could schlep him around anywhere while he either slept or cooed happily. No problem. We scoured the malls together. I spent more money than I should have, bought more stuff than we needed.

Once I had two kids I used shopping as an excuse to get out of the house. I would start to feel cooped up if I stayed indoors for too long. Sometimes we went out for groceries, sometimes for things for the house, and many times for shoes, boots, clothes and kids stuff.

So now my house is filled with stuff. I don’t have a big house, so I don’t have massive amounts of stuff, but each closet and cupboard and shelf and storage area is expertly arranged and organized so that the maximum amount of stuff can be packed in. For example, I have what I like to refer to as the “jigsaw container drawer”. The only way to get everything that belongs in that drawer to fit in that drawer is to precisely perform a plastic container jigsaw puzzle. If you do not know my puzzle secrets, you will never get it all in.

So what do I need all this stuff for anyway? Why is shopping a form of entertainment, and a way to spend my time?

Some people do things differently. There is a growing movement of minimalism out there. People are eliminating their possessions and getting back to basics. Some are paring back so drastically, that they possess only 100 items, like this guy (watch video). Imagine having only 100 items? I bet there are millions of people in the world who have less than 100 items, but imagine doing this on purpose? I bet I have 100 items in one cupboard alone. However these people live simply, and focus on that which is truly important – love, friends, family and happy moments.

There is another movement called the compact. It started in San Francisco, where a group of people made a pact to purchase nothing new for one year. What would that even look like? Well it would mean no more purchases of clothes, shoes and boots. New home décor items would especially not be allowed. It would mean no more fun trips to the mall, to spend money on things I think we need but mostly just want.

I know that walking lightly upon the Earth means consuming less. How can I walk lightly when I go to the mall and come home with plastic bags full of extra clothes, shoes and boots, and now also, toys for the kids? How much extra stuff do we need and why do I think we need it?

The fact is that I probably don’t need much of it at all. I need essentials, but we are not talking about essentials are we? My shopping bags are not full of essentials. I already have a closet full of clothes, shoes and boots, and so do my kids. We are talking extras here, luxuries.

If I want to get serious about reducing my carbon footprint, I have to reduce my consumption. All these items take materials from the Earth, they take carbon to produce, carbon to ship and then will probably end up in a landfill anyway, where they will release methane as they rot. So what to do?

Well I can do something about it. Are you ready? This is a big one. I will commit to not purchase anything brand new for the first three months of the year.

These are my exceptions:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

I want to try that on and see how it feels. I suspect my bank account will be smiling. Heck, I am smiling, because I am so excited for this challenge. I will just have to make due, and figure out a way. The time I save by not shopping, perhaps will now be spent on the floor playing with my kids. Or perhaps I will read another good book. Or perhaps I will just look outside and appreciate the birds singing in the trees.

Resolutions

Ah… a fresh new year, a new decade even. Around this time I always find myself reflecting on the year that passed. My 5-year old son and I actually took our 2010 family calendar down from the fridge this afternoon (the one that is scribbled and scratched upon beyond recognition), and paged through it month by month, remembering the events of the year. Some of it was not so great (such as a hospital stay for my daughter last January for pneumonia) and some of it was wonderful (such as our family vacation to Waterton). I think it helped him better understand the passage of time and the seasons.

With reflection comes resolution for the year ahead. This year – it just feels different. Instead of making my typical resolutions like “exercise more” I am making resolutions that I am really excited to do, not just what I should do. Somehow making resolutions that are less about myself, and more about the world I live in, is way more motivating. Here is what I have come up with:

Resolve to LEARN:
1. How to compost my food and garden waste
2. How to make natural cosmetics and soaps
3. How to make natural household cleaners
4. How to grow a vegetable garden

Resolve to DO:
5. Reduce kilometres traveled in my vehicle
6. Reduce spending on brand new items
7. Track and reduce all energy and water use
8. Become more political

Resolve to WRITE:
9. New weekly series called “Foodie Fridays” – each post will be about eco-food choices and recipes. I decided to do this because it seems like many of the green changes that I am making right now come back to food. Food definitely has its own footprint, both on the planet and on our health. So let’s try to minimize the former while maximizing the latter!

10.  New bi-weekly series called “Letters to Leaders” – each post will be in the form of a letter that I will write and send to either a politician, or a leader of a company. The purpose of this is to lend my voice in a rational and open way, to hopefully engage these people to consider alternatives. I want to start discussions, I want people to take me seriously and I want to share what I am doing with you.

This list beats “exercise more”. Totally beats it! I will inherently be exercising more due to resolution #5, which will undoubtedly involve more walking. This list is so exciting for me, because I will be learning new things and doing new things, and adding my voice to where it is desperately needed. Knowing that I may do some good, not for myself but for others and for our fragile climate, is so much more motivating. I feel more connected, engaged, alive.

Happy New Year.

Toy Mountain

Well another Christmas has passed, with the merry moments and warm wishes that go along with it. I have always loved the Christmas season, the sparkly lights, the pretty packages and the good spirits. I remember feeling sad as a child, when it was all over at the end of Christmas day.

My children are just getting old enough now (at ages 2 and 5) to get really excited about Christmas. They were so excited yesterday morning, when they realized that Santa really did come, and he really did eat the cookies and drink the milk. They were doubly excited when they saw that Santa really did bring the toys they had asked for. It was magical for them and for me too.

This year, I was committed to not use a scrap of wrap in the giving of our gifts. All my gifts were given in a homemade bag, a tote bag or a reusable gift bag. As a result we generated less Christmas garbage than in other years. Way less! Some family and friends also used homemade gift bags as well. We had cute fabric bags a plenty this year! One sister went as far as to make all her Christmas gifts, and a friend of mine gave Kiva loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world! I was so inspired by these gifts.

Despite this, we still managed to generate a lot of garbage associated with the toy packaging. It is obscene really. The most annoying thing is how all the toys are pinned in with multiple ties and screws and elastics and tape. Why? With some, you have to be careful not to break the toy when prying it free from its plastic cage.

How can I reduce that next year? Well one idea is to purchase used toys instead of new toys for my kids. I actually did some of that this year – they got some used story books, and some used toys from Santa in their stocking. However, I could have gone further if I planned better, and looked for stuff earlier on, such as at summer garage sales.

The second idea is to drastically reduce the amount of toys that we get the kids. Right now they each get three toys from us and one toy from Santa, along with a stocking full of toys from Santa. This is clearly too much, since they also get toys from Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Uncles and cousins.

The worst part is that they are starting to get greedy for toys, especially my oldest. This must be in part, due to the amount of toys they have and get. What am I promoting here? That toys are what we value? When they grown up, what will they value? Adult toys? More stuff? This rampant consumerism is exactly the opposite of what I want to be promoting.

It is so hard though, since their little faces light up when they see the toys, and then they spend hours and hours playing with them. They do love the toys, and use them. It is hard to take that away, and they will probably not understand. However, it is in their long-term best interest. That is what parenting is about – thinking long-term, and educating for the long-term. That is why we don’t let them eat cookies and cake all day long.

So enjoy today kids, playing with your new mountain of toys. Next boxing day might be different.  Perhaps we will go sledding! 🙂

Toy Packaging

Garbage is especially appalling after a kid’s birthday party. Why do toys have to come with so much darn packaging? They all have an oversized cardboard box, and then clear plastic innards that hold the toy in the best display position so that it can be seen through the clear plastic window. If that was not enough, they then have about 10 twist ties holding the whole thing together from the inside. To top it all off, sometimes toys are even screwed in to the packaging, meaning you have to get out your screwdriver. It can take up to 10 minutes to unleash the thing from its unwieldy cage. Why do we need all that?

Well I suppose people like to see what they are buying. Apparently a picture on the box doesn’t suffice; we want to see the toy in the clear plastic window. In addition, a larger box lets you see all the cool things you can do with the toy, and sometimes gives you pictures of other toys you could also purchase that would make playing with this toy more fun. My 5-year old son always wants to save the box, he loves looking at them. But what if we got it in a reusable mesh bag, and then looked on the Internet together to see all the cool things the toy could do?

Do you know what kind of toys come with no packaging? – The ones from a garage sale or from goodwill. You just pick it up off the table, dust it off, pay a fraction of the price for it, and then toss it in your tote bag. How great is that? No packaging, ultra cheap, and to top it all off – you are reusing it. It is about as green as you can get.

At night after the kids go to bed, I try to go around the house and pick up and put away toys. Sometimes I just look at it all and think – where did this all come from? There are so many toys, and 90% of them are plastic. Probably 80% of them were purchased new. They are not in the landfill yet, but one day they probably will be. How many pounds of plastic will our toys take up in the landfill one day? It is something I have never even thought about until today. Not to mention those toys with the “don’t throw out” symbol on them, because they might contain heavy metals or something. I don’t know. What happens to these toys? I donate them to goodwill and then the next user just tosses them with abandon? What is the impact?

Today is one month until Christmas. More toys will come into our house; as will more packaging.

So today’s resolution is to scour 2nd hand stores for Christmas toys and stocking stuffers and toys this year. Santa doesn’t want his Arctic Ice meltin’!