Apr 7 2011

fast waste [day 315]

I love pretty much any condiment, mustard, ketchup, sour cream, grape jelly, salsa… you name it.  I’ve been referred to as the condiment queen.  This is a problem to me in the world of fast food.  There’s so much plastic and paper waste associated with it.  I looked up condiment packaging and found a few eco-friendly alternatives.  For me, this brings up a bigger question.  The word “ECO” is used a lot these days.  I’m glad people are coming up with eco-friendly options that are much better for the environment, but here’s my question.

Should we just be content with using products that are a little bit better for the environment or should we be trying to scale back our use of disposable products?

I’m trying to do both.  I’m not always successful as you can see in the photo, but those were given with my meal, not upon request, but just assumed I would eat them all.  I’ve cut way back on the fast food consumption over the past year.  Meals are supposed to be a time of fellowship and relaxation.  If my lifestyle needs fast food, I need to make some changes.

My ideas were validated a few days ago by the cost of fast food.  My 2 boys and I went to Sonic.  I’m usually all over the price shopping part of eating, but this day, I decided to let them order whatever they wanted.  They both ordered modestly, as did I.  Almost $18.00 spent and the kids were still hungry.  A few days later, we went to a sit-down restaurant.  This time it was me and the kids, but we brought a friend along as well.  Including ‘good’ food for all of us, one beer and one dessert, the total was around $35, including the tip.  There’s a price for all that packaging, not to mention the nutritional value of fast food.

Also, I’m not sure why, but the magic number of napkins seems to be 6.  Why do I need 6 napkins with a sandwich?  Do I look that messy?  If they give out 5 extra napkins per person, with an average customer count of 450 a day, that’s 2,250 napkins that go in a landfill.  And that’s just napkins.

I’m not saying I will never eat fast food again (although I’m leaning in that direction), but I will be doing it even less now.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat fast food either.  We should all be aware of the effects of it though.  There are times where the fast food meal is not a bad idea, but doing it regularly will cost you a lot of money, aid in destroying our earth and eventually will break your heart.


Apr 2 2011

what? it’s only $1,074 [day 310]

Deciding to get a pet of any kind is a big decision, not only for the responsibility associated with them, but for the expenses you will incur.  A couple of weeks ago we adopted Zuri, a 6 month-old kitten.  She’s precious and is the perfect fit for our family.  Although we adopted her from the Humane Shelter, we had to pick her up at PetSmart.

Now, adopting a pet means shopping for pet supplies.  Under the challenge rules, I can buy her food and litter, as those fall under the toiletries and groceries categories that are allowed.  I was going to need at bare minimum, a food bowl, a water bowl and a litter box with a scoop.  I was prepared to get creative.  I have bowls and lots of them.  I’m quite sure I could modify some plastic container in my garage for a litter box.  The scoop I had to ponder a little longer.  Old kitchen utensils?  Something in my garage?  After an intense thought process, I decided I would be able to make one from old coat hangers.  Yep, we were ready for a cat in every way possible.

When we went to pick up Zuri, we also picked up my friend E. because she adopted Zuri’s sister a week earlier.  As I was walking though the pet store, I had to stop and look at the senselessness of what I saw.  Gourmet canine cookies.  My kids don’t eat stuff this fancy or expensive.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to treats for pets, but this seems a bit excessive to me.  Does Fido really care if he gets the pretty little treats shaped like dog bones, dipped in colorful icing?

How about pet fashion?  Yes, Martha Stewart has come to the rescue, not only to help your pet in the fashion world, but to stylistically incorporate pets into your home.  Again, I have no problem with pet supplies, what I’m saying is this seems excessive.  Yes, a pet bed is good if they’re not sleeping in your bed.  Yes, they need bowls to eat from.  Yes, they need a toy or two.  But do they really need all this stuff?  Let’s say I bought one of everything for my new kitten.  I’ll choose middle of the line items.

My list includes such things as a UV light cat pee finder, and cat sitter DVD, a mid-sized cat scratch tower, cat repellents to tell them where they don’t belong, a bed and much more.  The total?  $1,074. And once you’ve spoiled your pet and there’s nothing new left to buy, there’s now kitty anti-depressants. Continue reading


Mar 30 2011

I don’t need no stinkin’ plastic liners [day 307]

I quit using plastic garbage bags, or any type of plastic lining in my trash cans.  Why?  I just don’t see why we need to place trash in plastic bags, taking much longer for it to decompose in a landfill.  I thought back to my kids earlier diaper days and the Diaper Genie.  I had one and used it for about a week, but I never understood why it was a good idea to turn dirty diapers into plastic sausage links.  It made no sense to me whatsoever.

I have, what most people consider, a very small trash can and recycling bin in my house.  They’re so small they fit under the sink cabinet.  They’re both plastic bins, making them easy to wash and they don’t leak.  Also, the small size makes them easy for my kids to empty into the outdoor containers.

I ran out of plastic liners a few months ago.  I decided to try going linerless.  It felt a little weird at first, but soon I started to wonder why I ever used plastic liners in the first place.  They really don’t do anything other than make the trash less biodegradable.  If I have some wet trash, typically food, I can place that in another piece of trash like a plastic wrapper from another piece of food.  This new system has been good.  No issues to report.  Buying things to purposely throw away is making less and less sense to me.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned in this process and a few tips I’ve picked up in researching this topic.

Biodegradable garbage bags. These bags cost a bit more, but if you absolutely need a trash liner, this is a good way to go.

Repurpose shopping bags. Instead of buying bags, reuse the ones you get from shopping.  They’re usually not big, but just consider it a motivation to cut down on the amount of trash you produce.  Use these for the ‘wet trash’ only when needed.

Learn what can and can’t be recycled. You would be surprised at the list of what can and can’t go into the recycling bin.  Pizza boxes?  No, because they have grease on them.  Styrofoam?  Yes, they started recycling this a couple of years ago.  I’ve found that most waste can be recycled.  We fill up our recycle bin way before the trash bin.

Separate your trash into bins. Some people have a compost-type bin for food trash, separate from the regular trash.  I have a separate bin for plastic caps so I can take them to Aveda for recycling.  I don’t do composting yet, but the change in our grocery shopping habits yield way less waste and trash.

Consider composting. I’m still considering it.  :)

Repurpose you trash.  If you need a liner for something, use a bread wrapper or potato chip bag.  You’re not adding anything to the trash and you’re not spending money buying fancy plastic liners to make your trash more attractive for the garbage truck.

Use plastic washable containers. Get rid of the metal trash cans, use small plastic ones, then you won’t need liners.

If you’re not sure about this, try it for a week.  You can always go back to using liners.  If nothing else, you’re saving money on trash.

 


Mar 26 2011

grocery shopping update [day 304]

I’ve gotten a few questions on my new grocery shopping plan.  I shop more frequently, but buying less, limiting myself to 25 items or less.  You can read the story about the downsizing and new shopping plan that was published in early February 2011.  Take a look.

Here’s the before and after photos of my pantry.  The after was taken a couple of weeks ago and even has less in there today.  I don’t have photos of the refrigerator or freezer, but they are sparse as well.  Here’s some of the results or the new way of shopping.

Money savings.

I started shopping at Aldi versus Kroger, Tom Thumb, WalMart or Target.  That, coupled with the 25 items or less, has produced the following monetary results.  These amount reflect groceries, the occasional toiletry items and some wine.

February 2011: $268.95

March 2011 (so far, 1 week left): $149.89

I started this in mid January, so I didn’t look at that month.  Here’s what I spent the 2 months prior.  Continue reading


Mar 26 2011

it’s alien poo out of an alien dumpster! [day 303]

Maybe I’m a mean mom, but I make my kids try new foods.  I don’t make them eat it if they don’t like it and I don’t go out of my way to get things that will gross them out.  Both of them like pistachio nuts so I thought I would make some pistachio pudding for dessert.  Here’s what happened.

Let me just defend myself here.  I have never fed my kids anything out of a dumpster.  I get food from grocery stores and I don’t know any aliens.  I don’t like food waste, so I bought just one box of pudding, however my timing on it wasn’t great.  I was going out of town the next day and since nobody liked it, it sat in my fridge for 5 days.  I guess the aliens came in peace though, as this is the shape the pudding cracked into.

Okay, so I added the little piece at the bottom between the two small lines, but it looked like a peace sign when I pulled it out, as the other 3 lines were cracked in.  So what’s the best way to avoid food waste with kids?  Here’s a few tips.

  • Small portions. When eating out, I sometimes make them share or order small quantities because we can always order more.  At home, I let them fill their own plates with the understanding that they must eat what they put on it.
  • Plan leftovers. If you go out, don’t get food that will taste bad as leftovers.  French fries are just gross as leftovers.  Order something that you or your kids will eat the next day.  At home, make extras of the foods that will keep well as leftovers and cook only what will be eaten on the right-now foods.
  • Let your kids cook. I don’t do this often enough, but if they help in the meal planning and cooking, they’re more apt to eat it.

This won’t eliminate waste, but it sure will cut it down to an extreme minimum.  It also never hurts to communicate your grocery budget to the kids and let them shop.  Keep in mind this can backfire when your 10 and 11 year-olds go to the neighbors house and tell them they’re spending way too much money on groceries, telling them everything they know about saving money when buying food.  I’ve found that works better than the ‘starving-kids-in-other-countries’ talk.  If we’re less wasteful, we’ll have more resources to help others.


Feb 26 2011

the minimalist challenge update [day 275]

I have to say, I never thought I would call myself anything related to being a minimalist.  I was raised in a very materialistic home and placed a pretty high value on having stuff.   So what exactly is a minimalist?  Here’s the dictionary definition.

minimalist

[min-uh-muh-list]

–noun
1.  a person who favors a moderate approach to the achievement of a set of goals or who holds minimal expectations for the success of a program.
2.  a practitioner of minimalism in music or art.

–adjective
3.  of, pertaining to, or characteristic of minimalism.
4.  being or offering no more than what is required or essential.

Every day, within my normal routine, I’m finding a lot of material possessions that I just don’t need, want or even use.  I have a basket set up as a staging area to get these things out of my house.  Not a day has gone by, within the last week, that I haven’t placed at least one thing in there.  I open the kitchen drawer and realize I have extra hot pads, I walk by a shelf wondering why I have a cluster of too many vases on it, do I really need that stack of books… you get the picture.  I like this new mentality.  It’s that same one that keeps me from buying impulse items, shopping for no reason and buying things just because it’s a good deal.

I suppose if I look at this, applying the definition, I din’t know how many people would say I’m striving to be a minimalist.  When you look at the part that says “required or essential”, does that mean for us to live or to live in our society?  My minimalism would be considered the latter of the two.  Clearly, I don’t need a car to live, I don’t need that cute art bowl on my table to live, nor do I need the most awesome hot tub in my back yard to live.  Comparing these items to our basic necessities of food, water and moderate shelter, it’s extravagant.  When compared to a middle class family, it’s the norm.

My house is considered small in the higher income, affluent city I live in.  I’ve thought about downsizing.  I even had a nightmare about it last night.  Worse yet, it’s a recurring one.  I bought a new, bigger house about 30 minutes north of where I live.  I got a good deal on it, so I bought it with the intention of selling my current house.  In this dream, I always forget I have the new house until the 1st mortgage payment invoice shows up.  I haven’t sold my house, I’ve lost the key to the new house and I’m not even sure exactly where the new house is.  I usually wake up from this nightmare in a panic, clenching my teeth, stressed out about something that never happened.

As Madonna says, we’re living in a material world, but I don’t want to be a material girl.


Feb 19 2011

dust, downsizing, donations and discards [day 269]

The Boyscouts are collecting food items in my neighborhood today to donate to our local food pantry, Frisco Family Services.  I want to help, but I just cleaned out my pantry a couple of weeks ago and drastically changed my shopping habits to not have too much extra food in the house.  I realized that I actually accomplished this when I had a friends kids over and I had to cook for 5 people.  Most of the things I had to cook would not feed 5 people.  As I was going through my pantry this morning, pulling out some things to donate, it hit me.

A flood of memories absorbed my thoughts as I reflected back to a few specific times when I was taught a lesson, yet I didn’t fully learn it until this morning.  My first big flashback was Hurricane Andrew.  I worked in Miami, and although my home in Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t hit, I knew many people that were homeless after the storm.  (It gave me a new appreciation for my one-way 62 mile commute to work)  My workplace was demolished.  The large retail company I worked for placed me in charge of coordinating relief efforts for their employees, which was approximately 150 families.  Other stores from all over Florida donated stuff, the company had it all sent to us in a semi truck.  As we opened it in anticipation of receiving some things that were desperately needed, that excitement turned into sadness as we saw the contents of the neatly stacked boxes from inside the truck.  It was filled with clothing discards, boxes stuffed with unorganized clothing chaos that looked as though it had been loaded into the boxes with a dump truck.  There was very little food or toiletries, the things that were really needed.

Next, were my thoughts of working in the FFS food pantry.  I enjoyed this time, and I learned a lot.  Although many people gave some great food items, at least once or twice a day we received the bags of very expired “I-finally-cleaned-out-my-pantry” food.  I saw food cans that had so much dust on them, we had to wipe it off to see the date stamp.  I worked there in 2010 and I saw a bag of food where most had expired in 1994.  These donations fill absolutely no need at the food pantry.  They cannot give out expired food.  When it gets close, or is only right after the expiration, they give it away on the free shelf, that requires no voucher, and is not applied toward their allotted amount.  I was afraid to ask what happens to the really old food like that, as I’m sure they have to throw it in the trash, but I just didn’t want to hear that answer.  Some things are better left unsaid.

My last thought was how many times I might have donated expired food, feeling good that I’ve helped people in need, yet was basically making life difficult for the volunteers at the food pantry and never helping anyone.  I was helping with good intentions, as I think we all do, but I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons.  Helping people is not an opportunity to get rid of my expired, unwanted food or to get rid of clothing that’s hideously out of style.  Helping should be an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, filling a need they have at one of the lowest periods in their life, in many cases.  Yes, others can be blessed by us donating some things we don’t need or want any longer, however the thought process should be that of, “What if I was on the receiving end?  Would I like this or want this?  Would I need this?”  As my friend Amy just said, “Sometimes your trash can also be another person’s trash.”

I filled a bag this morning in a completely different way.  It has food that I like and bought for me and my family to eat.  It’s not expired, nor is it stuff I don’t like.  My minset is this, if I’ve been blessed enough that I can feed my family with no problem, I should pay it forward.  I can easily replace this food.  Every so often we have, and will do more often, shopped specifically for food and toiletries to donate.  I’ve done this in the past to teach my kids about helping people in need, and just how important it is to do it for the right reasons, so how did I miss all the lessons?  My bag of food for the Boyscouts is not a big one, but all of the items are current and mostly things I just shopped for last week.  Geez, how many other lessons have I chosen to ignore?  Maybe I should keep one, dusty, expired can of some sort of gross food so I don’t forget.


Feb 17 2011

dual purpose get-togethers [day 267]

Several months ago, I conducted a Photoshop training class at the church where I work.  It was something I did for fun, and for free.  All I asked is that people bring something to donate to the local food pantry or a thrift store.  The photo is of the food that was donated, however there were many more bags with housewares and clothing.

I hosted a Super Bowl party at my house a couple of weeks ago.  It was mostly our singles church group, but lots of other good friends as well.  Since I’ve been encouraging everyone to clean out their spaces and donate what they don’t need or want, I thought it would be a good idea to have them bring it, and I would get it donated.  I can’t believe how much stuff people brought!  It was cold, so I put it in my garage, adding it to a pile of coats and blankets, recently donated by a lady at church, whom I think did the same thing, collect stuff during get-togethers or locally in your neighborhood.

On your next evite or get-together, ask people to bring something to donate.  This is a great way to build community, get people thinking outside themselves, get some unwanted stuff to people who will be blessed by it, feed some hungry people and have a great time with good friends.  It’s a win-win-win-win-win?  ;)

[All of the donations have been taken to the appropriate donation destinations, all of the stuff much appreciated!  My garage is quickly becoming empty and can now safely be used as an exit.]


Feb 14 2011

I’m the ugly neighbor [day 263]

I know my neighbors must cringe when they drive by garage when the door is open.  I’m clearly the ugly neighbor.  Since I’ve been downsizing in the cold weather, everything was pitched out into the garage, in anticipation of some warm weather to get everything to the appropriate places.  Where are those places?  Anywhere but a landfill… the thrift store, the food pantry, craigslist, and last but not least, freecycle.

I needed to not only get the stuff out, but I needed to find one specific can of paint in the vast mountains of paint cans in my garage.  Well, after pulling all the paint out onto the driveway in preparation to give it away, I could not find the one can I needed for my kitchen ceiling.  Seriously?

I didn’t count, but I know there was well over 100 cans of paint.  I got rid of 99% of what I had.  I really wanted to do something fun and creative in the process of getting it out of my garage, but I found myself in gridlock, paralyzed by the sheer amont of stuff in my garage.  There’s just no time to creatively get rid of my stuff, so I started placing all of it on the driveway and listing it on freecycle as I cleaned it out.  About 80% of the stuff is gone already, in less than a day.

I collected coats, blankets, food and miscellaneous stuff from friends an neighbors to donate to the homeless and impoverished.  All of that is in my car and will be delivered to the appropriate destinations today.  It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.  Less stuff feels good.  And just so I’m not tempted to collect more junk, I gave away the shelving unit that I cleared off yesterday.  No empty shelves to refill, just nice, clean empty s p  a     c         e.   Continue reading


Feb 7 2011

downsizing the kitchen & food supply [day 256]

I’ve been doing a lot of downsizing lately.  Right before snowmageddon, I decided to clean out the kitchen, not just utensils and cabinet crap, but food.  I don’t like being wasteful, and although we waste a lot less than the average American family, I felt that we needed to make some changes.  We made some radical changes and some subtle changes, and the results are proving to be really good.  I’ll share the overall goodness of this, the process of cleaning out the kitchen and a couple of mini-challenges.

The big picture.

We haven’t died of starvation. Again, we started this a couple of weeks before the ice storm.  We have much less food in the house, but we had plenty to eat during the 4-5 days at home.  I didn’t buy extra, in fear that we would starve and have nothing to eat for a week.  I bought a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread the day before the storm hit.  We had plenty, and I was even able to feed the two painters working in my house a couple of times.

Airstream… I mean streamline. Okay, I want an Airstream, but that has nothing to do with my kitchen.  The tasks of cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the kitchen is much easier.  Cooking is easier, as there’s less stuff to shuffle around and I know what ingredients I have on hand.  Grocery shopping is easier, again, because I have less and I know the few things I need.  Cleaning is easier too, as I have a lot of extra pantry and cabinet space.  So much extra, that I was able to move all of my pantry items into empty cabinets while the oil paint takes 5 days to dry.

Here a snack, there a snack, everywhere a snack snack. My kids will open every bag of everything we buy at the store.  We could have, and have had, a pantry overflowing with food, and yet the kids can’t find a thing to snack on.  With much less in there, this is not a problem anymore.  It’s easy to see we have two open bags of crackers or pretzels.

Waste not, want not. We are wasting very little food these days.  Not that we wasted a lot before, but it was still more than I was comfortable with.  Waste is unnecessary, and by making some small changes to lessen it allows us to save a little money, be better to our environment and enables us to help others that don’t have enough to eat.

What did we do?

Downsized the pantry. If you have a smaller house like mine, the pantry is a small closet.  The picture is my “before” picture.  I don’t have an after right now, as the oil paint is still drying.  Whether your pantry is large or small, stuff always gets hidden in the back.  My pantry wasn’t horribly unorganized, it just had too much in it and could use a little more a system of “first in, first out”.  We took everything out and carefully selected what would go back.  I had cedar balls that didn’t smell like anything anymore.  Out.  Ridiculously expired stuff?  Out.  Open bags of stale crackers and chips?  Out.

We broke down the boxes and recycled them.  We couldn’t see all of the food behind the big boxes of crackers and cereal.  The boxes take up a lot of space.  I found it best to use see-through containers and baskets as much as possible.  Most of the stuff I didn’t know I has was in these black plastic crates and could not be seen. Continue reading