Upping my Zero Waste game

market shopHello! Life is full of little obsessions.  Lately mine has absolutely been about reducing the amount of plastic coming into the house. I was inspired by the recent ABC Four Corners documentary on the failing recycling industry in Australia, particularly the recycled glass market, and the mass warehouse storage facilities filled with broken glass waiting to be recycled.  I also heard an alarming statistic the other day – in the first ten years of this century we have produced more plastic then we did in the ENTIRE LAST CENTURY. Finally the science is out on how long it takes for plastic to breakdown, but a known known is that it at least takes longer than our lifetime.  So every piece of plastic I buy/use, I am sending to landfill for my children’s lifetime and beyond. It really got me thinking about how complicit I am in all of this excessive plastic production.

The primary plastic culprit in our house is groceries. And I am the grocery shopper, so it is really up to me to lift my zero waste game.  My theory is if I reduce our supermarket intake (processed foods) , and increase my market intake (unprocessed and likely to be unpackaged, food) then we will reduce our plastic consumption.

In our early, pre-zero waste days I would say the ratio would be 3:1 in the supermarket’s favour, in terms of quantity.

A couple of years down the track, and this week when I went shopping, our ratios completely reversed.  It did not take long.  Every month or so, I look for some new alternatives.  For example, with a bit of research, I located a deli that sold cheese cut from cheese rounds (like a beautiful triple cream brie) as well as tasty cheese – that was not pre-wrapped in gladwrap. The deli just wrapped it up in paper and I bought it home and put it in a cheese cloth. I bought some fresh pasta in a stainless steel tin – they just “tared” my tin (put it on the scales and pressed reset so I did not pay for the weight of the tin).

I then went to an organic butcher and purchased my meat in old Tupperware-types of containers. I know this is still plastic, but I also don’t believe in throwing everything away if it still has a useful life  – it’s going to end up in landfill in any event. Finally for mince, I reused some cereal bags that my husband eats – great for mince and they will be washed and recycled at the REDrecycle facility at Coles.

And they beautiful thing about it all – my early retirement plans were not compromised. The entire food shop came under budget, and I bought all organic meat, including two chooks, a leg of lamb, lamb and chicken mince and chicken breasts.

Strangely when I cooked with some of the meat last night, I treated it differently.  Call it psychological but I found myself not just dumping the meat to brown (or stew, when I try to do things too quickly!) but cooking it in batches, looking for the browning meat and making sure not to overcook it. I put way more love and care into my food last night.

That could also coincide with the fact that I now have more time, as I am working two days a week but hey, it felt great.  I enjoyed every mouthful.

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Zero food waste fridge set up

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The ABC’s War on Waste has got me supercharged about food waste.  According to the show, and NSW Government data, the average Australian household throws out 345 kilograms of food waste a year. If you think about that in dollar terms – assume an average of $5 per kilogram of food – that is $1725 a year! Let alone the cost to the environment of the food that ends up in landfill centres.

I have a natural aversion to food waste and like to get creative.  For example this week I was invited to my mother in law’s house for a beautiful roast leg of lamb.  She generously packed us off home with some leftovers “for sandwiches” (what a sweet).  Knowing that sandwiches were already made for the week, I made a middle eastern lamb “pizza” for dinner the next night, using the cooked lamb, peas, mint, fetta, hummus and a smidge of pomegranate molasses that I had in the cupboard, all on puff pastry. YUMMO.  Crunchy deliciousness and no food waste.

Despite my commitment, I felt like I was still finding food that was past its useful life up the back nether regions of my fridge and so I decided to take action. I needed a new system that would enable me to use my fridge like a well ordered machine that would tell me what foods I needed to consume  now or soon.  The obligatory before shots:

I reuse the plastic bags for vegs that I buy and wash in the mesh bags when I get home – this keeps the veg fresher for longer. Bit of a mish-mash of all sorts of things right there in the fridge as you can see.  There is food behind the front row too, because our fridge is quite deep.  And there is no recognisable system of organisation in the fridge door full of condiments etc.

So I planned the system.  Really I wanted my fridge to tell me what I needed to use today, this week or this month.  I wanted to know whether the condiments needed to be used in the next three months or would keep for longer. I wanted to be able to look into my fridge and decide what to shop around, for the next grocery shop.  What needed to be used up next?

A couple of containers from the dollar shop (Home Base in Australia), my labeller and voila. System complete (apologies for poor photo quality – fridge light interfered….):

 

For a little closer look at the labelling:

Have you got any other fridge food waste hacks that I could implement? Hope you are all well.

 

 

 

 

Not dead – just sorting a few things out

potatoesI’m not quite sure what happened to the last six months, but it sure has not been happening on iheartsimpleliving….

We have had some big family shifts and changes and the sum total is that I now work three days a week as of last week and my time for recording our journey has now increased exponentially.

I’ve been obsessed with financial independence of late and have been madly spread-sheeting (again) to see when my husband and I will achieve financial independence. It is seriously now a few years away – more on that in a later post, but for now, I have discovered many resources and other writers on this very important topic that I am looking forward to sharing with you all.

And of course, we have a newly renovated house and have reaped the summer harvest. I’m now preparing the soil beds for winter plantings – an expanded garlic crop this time.  If you have never grown garlic before, buy some organic (non-supermarket) variety – I got mine from our local farmer’s market) and pop single cloves into some well-composted soil, in a sunny position  Water regularly and about (yawn) ten months later you will have beautiful cloves of garlic. My friends Chloe and Paul introduced me to home grown garlic and oh my, I have never gone back.  THE tastiest stuff ever.

Hope you have all been well and are tucking down your homes and gardens as we approach the winter months.  David bought me a book on Hyggie and I have just loved getting the house ready for a cosy winter by the fire.

Renovations are making me minimalist….

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My husband came up with this nifty phrase to describe our family the other week – the accordion family – which is how we came up with our renovation plan a few months ago – to create a cosy, energy efficient space that works for my husband and I while the kids are at their other homes; and a large family home when the kids are all here.

Next week, the kitchen is pulled out and we are without a working kitchen for four weeks. Scary.

Today, in preparation for this huge food shift, my daughter and I made six freezer meals. We will be eating lots of bbqs and slow cooker meals to the extent that it works for the four weeks after next. I started packing up our utensils and cookware today, just leaving out the essentials for the next four weeks.

It feels like accidentally we are taking up the packing party challenge that The Minimalists advocate – packing up your things for thirty days and then removing only what you need from your boxes over time.

So for the next four weeks we will live like real minimalists in the kitchen and hopefully, I can restrain myself post the kitchen renovation to only unpack the things that we need.

Of interest to me today is the pantry. We are now in the process of eating everything we have in the pantry, so I don’t have to pack it into boxes. It is inspiring me to be creative in the kitchen. The 2 cups of dried chickpeas will be made in hummus tomorrow after being soaked overnight. My daughter made three lots of tuna curry to use up three cans of tuna and two jars of mayonnaise. The half packet of French onion soup will be combined with the cream cheese in the fridge for a dip when my mother-in-law comes for dinner tomorrow night. Dinner tonight is chicken breasts with half of the left over potatoes and the last two cups of couscous, with roasted vegetables. My overwhelming concern of wasting food means I am looking at the pantry and its contents in a new way.

The new kitchen also gives me an opportunity to start again. A new simplistic, minimalist approach to food, and a chance to use up the food that we have. I love the way that Bea Johnson, from the Zero Waste Home has only one type of dried legume at a time, and one type of pasta – there is only one pasta jar and one dried legume jar. This approach to food requires you to use what you have, and to not waste food.

 

Simplifying our home

scalesI find it really interesting how people use the space in their houses, particularly blended families like us.  We have seven children and adults every second week, but every other week it is just my husband and I, rattling around in a very large home.

My husband has recently taken a break from work, and it got us thinking. We wanted to use the time to plan out a more simple home to meet our needs, as well as take care of a few renovation projects that were long overdue – our home is showing age and wear in a number of places (bit like me, really….)

To overcome the feeling of too much space every second week, and to create a cosy simple home, we are renovating our living area and kitchen to create a relaxed living space, that together with a our bedroom will be like a little one bedroom apartment. We have organised the zoning of the heating and cooling to move from large house to small apartment; and we are creating a family living area for the big house and a smaller cosy living area for just the two of us.

So with much excitement you can watch our progress over the coming months. We have started in the living area and have pulled up our slate floor, replacing it with a smaller space gas heater.

Here are some before and after photos:

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This was a rarely used area of our house that seemed to be the room for the front door! We have installed the fire and the television with a sound bar, to remove the need for a large stereo and cabinet. Work to date looks like this:

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The fire is calming and relaxing. The set up will enable us to enjoy many warm nights by the fire and appreciate the space. And my husband as the head space to really think about each piece of the renovation plan, building and modifying the home to meet our needs.  It’s fascinating really – while we were both busy work with a crazy out of control life, the house was where we put our bags and keys and lay our heads at night.  Now, with only one of us working, it feels so luxurious to think about each individual room, it’s purpose, personality and to make our house a home.

Empties update

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Hi all – long time! I have been working full time over the past two months to pay for some home renovations which has meant time has been in short supply. We are trying to do a lot of the manual labour ourselves so every waking moment has involved either working or pulling up slate, painting windows and thinking about kitchen plans – hardly a simple life!

But for me the opportunity is in really thinking about each living space and how we can enjoy it as a family. Our kitchen renovations will enable more food preparation space, to work with the increased volume that will come through the veggie patch that we have expanded. It will mean better organisation of kitchen items and another opportunity to purge as we pack up the old kitchen before it gets knocked down. It will mean more outside family dinners in summer as we open up our living space onto the entertaining area outside. Summer this year will be filled with beautiful family times.

In the meantime, we will be enjoying the fun of doing hard manual labour together and planning living spaces to suit our lifestyle.

I just thought I would update you on my empties that I posted about six months ago. I had this horrible obsession of responding to every gift with purchase opportunity that arrived through David Jones in my letter box and I had a horrendous amount of small cosmetics, umpteen lipsticks and many makeup items that was never going to use.

So I sorted them into things that I would use, things that I would give my teenage daughters and things to recycle/discard.

The things that remained, I committed to using. Slowly but surely over the last six or so months I have used them. I have barely anything left, except for about ten lipsticks which I will continue to work my way through. And I have committed to replacing my cosmetics and skin care products with only things ethically produced or largely natural – only when the run out.

Above is the evidence of the last six months. I’d recommend it. You don’t need to buy doubles and triples of things, or items that come with a gift. Most of the stuff you don’t wind up using and if you are like me, you forget you even purchased them in the first place!

 

 

We are home! Slow travel lessons

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Hello everyone we are back and alive! After a month of being in Italy, Switzerland, Paris and Singapore we are back into reality.

It was such an experience and everyone was definitely fabulous. We didn’t miss a bus or train or subway thanks to my detail-oriented husband, and we didn’t lose anyone.

So as for the slow travel/minimal suitcases – I have to say that I am hooked. Taking cabin luggage only meant that:

  • We did not over pack. I packed:
    • Three pairs of pants
    • Two pairs of shoes
    • Three t-shirts
    • A coat
    • Two jumpers
    • Underwear and light pjs
    • Minimal makeup – eyeliner, mascara, bb cream, two lipsticks. We took a risk that in most places we would have access to a hair dryer and otherwise we would tolerate holiday hair.

* Reality test: we are wearing the same clothes in most photos. We didn’t mind. We also took a small portable washing line and hand washed underwear when we could not find a local laundromat.

It also meant that we did not buy a heap of things that we would not really need at home. You know that feeling – I must be this leather jacket/piece of jewellery/touristy ornament because I am never going to be back – is such a holiday spending trap. My husband brought a small foldup light bag that we put extra purchases in, but it was across the seven of us, so really we couldn’t buy much. The photos and memories have been the things that we have come back to the most, since being at home, not the things that we bought.

  • We had accommodation in apartments where we could cook our own food for breakfast and sometimes lunch/dinner. We could buy and store snacks and fill up our water bottles.
  • We did not try to do everything. We visited a major attraction each day (Roman ruins, Eiffel Tower etc) but also had plenty of down time in cafes or in apartments reading and watching the world go buy. It was such an exercise in people watching.
  • Two other slow travel tips – for the foodies, a food tour in each new city is a must. You get to learn about the local places to pick up the best cheese, baguettes, charcuterie and wine. Then for the rest of the stay, those places become your favourite local haunts and you avoid hit-and-miss food experiences.
  • Secondly – we had eight busy days in Rome and Florence and headed to Lake Como. Nothing to do there but relax, look at the lake, go for a boat trip, drink cocktails and read books. It was such a great “down time” part of the trip in an absolutely stunning location (see view from our hotel – you get what I am saying).

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It would be remiss of me to say that yes, we were fleeced on this trip. Our accommodation was sub-standard, over-priced and next time I would not use a travel agent to make the accommodation bookings. I was nervous taking seven people over and just wanted the certainty of a travel agent booking.

Next time, I will have the confidence to do it myself, and save quite a bit of money. I will still look for apartments in the hearts of the cities we visit, but will do a lot more research on Trip Advisor and make the bookings myself.

We also have a funny Trevi fountain story – we came up from under the subway, saw a small, understated fountain and thought – hey there is a self-stick seller lurking around – this must be it! Kids crammed into a photo and threw coins over their shoulder, made a wish, and we went off on our merry way.

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Until we found this:

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We just laughed so hard I thought I was going to wet myself. Ohhh the joys of being one of those stupid, uncultured travellers that I’m always complaining about at home….

Now that we are back, my husband and I are in the process of making some exciting lifestyle choices about work, our family and projects that we want to complete here around our home. I’ll write more about that next time. Hope you are all well and taking steps towards your slower paced life.

Transitioning to zero waste part 3 – in the workplace

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The key to reducing waste and consumption is to …well.. reduce waste and consumption. And generally that sounds like it might be about a whole heap of planning and organising –  a bit of an onerous task.  The reality is that it requires both organisation and time, but makes me feel generally more on top of things for the week and is totally worth it.

I’m really enjoying The Simple Home by Rhonda Hetzel and you know I’ve already skipped ahead and read until June, but it’s great to have these month by month books to read to remind you of the schedules and systems to set up during the course of a year, rather than meeting the world of chaos with your own brand of it, through a lack of organisation.

In The Simple Home, Rhonda reminds me to have a look at my schedule on an annual, monthly or weekly basis and see if my auto-pilot routines are working for me and my family.  In fact, with every new activity or event in your family, taking a look at your regular routines is a fabulous way of ensuring that your go-to routines are working.

Transitioning to low waste is a very good reason to take a look at our routines.  Like how what I buy for the kids for their lunches, how it needs to be stored and how they will transport them to school.

Same applies to my lunch.

So we all now have colour coordinated lunch boxes that we take each day. One colour for each child (sandwich, fruit and snack boxes) so I can tell who is leaving their containers at school…. That’s how I solved the plastic container mystery that has plagued me for a decade…..

These containers are fine for now and BPA free and when I can afford it, I’ll replace these with stainless steel, compartmentalised lunch boxes.  In the meantime, my lunchtime routines for all of us are to:

  • Do a weekend cook up of our lunch mains.  This could involve baking bread and making a whole heap of sandwiches, to bacon and egg cups, pizza scrolls or today – using up some leftovers, I made Asian steamed pork and egg ramekins that I can now take for the three days I am working this week. Last night’s leftovers also make awesome lunches for the next day and I pack them straight after dinner.
  • I take my own utensils to work.  For two reasons – there are never any forks in the work kitchen drawer ever!  I could do a PhD on this – every workplace I have ever been to always has heaps of knives and spoons, but the forks seem to be the first to disappear – I wouldn’t be surprised if a small sample of 100 working households had a hodgepodge of mismatching forks in the utensil drawer……Secondly – I can wash it and reuse it the next day.
  • I take a napkin, so as not to use the disposable paper towels.
  • I take a piece of fruit and some nuts and these are contained in my neoprene lunch container which is where I put all of my empty containers home for a wash.
  • I have a stainless steel canteen 1 litre drink bottle which I refill with water – keeps it yummy and cool. The kids too have water bottles and they know my deal if we are out and about shopping or at a function – I won’t be buying them a soft drink or bottled water (grrrr) – they need to carry their drink bottles with them too.
  • Finally, I take a keepcup for my coffee in the mornings and this has been such an easy thing to incorporate into my work low waste routine because I leave it in the workplace and just wash it out each day.

For the kids, one of my teenager daughters loves to bake, so she bakes a little sweet biscuit or cake each weekend for the lunches (the upsides of having kids who like to be independent).

In terms of organisation – it does mean that I use a little bit of time each weekend to prepare, but then each morning it’s a quick grab and go kind of affair to get ready for work or school in the morning with no kids moaning about there being nothing to eat for lunch.

The areas that I am looking to reduce waste are my husband’s sandwiches, which he makes each weekend and freezes, but then pops into snaplock bags – I have to find him a better low waste alternative.

The last low waste thing I think about in the workplace is printing reading materials. I have just purchased a laptop that doubles as a tablet (my old lap top was on its last legs – particularly after I dropped it on the slate floor……will need to think of a low waste disposal for it..) so I am trying to bring my laptop to work to reduce the need to print out material for meetings.  As a result I have the cleanest desk I have ever had in my working life… but there is still room for improvement.

Now you may be wondering why the picture accompanying this post is one of six small cabin-sized suitcases…….WELL…..We are taking the whole family to Europe for the next month!  Eeekk! We are very excited.  And we are only taking cabin luggage, to simplify our experience. I’ll let you know on our return how that little experiment goes.  One of the upsides of having a simple life and not consuming so much is that we have been able to save for an amazing four-week trip to Italy, Switzerland and France. I’m beside myself, so are the kids and it is just so wonderful to be able to offer the children an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, rather than – say – a new family car. The old one will do just fine for a while longer and in the meantime, I’ll have a glass of Italian wine in Florence for you all…Ciao.

 

Transition to zero waste part 2

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Today in the Low waste series I wanted to talk about being low waste in the work place.

For a typical worker, this usually comes down to three things:

What you wear to work

What you eat at work

How you manage your work flow

For today’s post I will focus on what to wear. Like many of us I have struggled with a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear. Prior to adopting a simple lifestyle I’d hazard a guess that nearly 80% of my disposable budget went into clothing, shoes and handbags. My habit was shopping. I shopped if I was sad, bored or needed a pick me up. I shopped to celebrate and to spend time with friends. My kids knew that on the weekends they were with me, we shopped for fun. We joked about how many bags we bought home. Looking back I’m pretty ashamed. I’m also ashamed at the opportunity cost of buying all those clothes the time and the wasted money. Money that could have been devoted to financial freedom. Anyways, onwards and upwards from here

So my approach to my work wardrobe is very different these days. Now I look at clothes as a means to an end. I need to look professional at work, but really every dollar I spend on having multiple wardrobe options is another two dollars that I have to work, and it stands between me and not having to work for an income at all!!

If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

So I know approach my work wardrobe using Courtney Carver’s Project 333. I raise eyebrows at work when I mention it, usually followed by a comment that people haven’t realised that I have worn the same thing twice.

The approach is simple. Thirty three items for three months. It involves sitting down and being really deliberate about your wardrobe for a few days. It starts with:

What are the basics that I need in my work wardrobe? For me its ten dresses, two suits that have skirts and shirts. To keep things matching, I usually chose complementary colour schemes. This summer it’s been black, navy and grey.

Then I need a couple of layer pieces like some cardigans and perhaps a scarf or two.

I then turn to mind to what is going to delight me this season – thinking about your fashion interests that season what are a few nice pieces to update my wardrobe and make me feel contemporary

Finally a couple of statement jewellery pieces and a great bag

I have to admit that I am not an op-shopper, but to keep my waste low, I limit the clothes that I buy, and then donate clothes once I have finished with them so that other people can enjoy these pieces that I have enjoyed.

Do I get sick of the same old same old? Sure I do. But I also think about whether it’s worth me having multiple work looks, compared to a life of no work and independent income streams. That keeps me satisfied with wearing similar clothes over and over again for sure.

 

Book Review – A Year of Practiculture, Rohan Anderson

 

Book Review: A Year of Practiculture by Rohan Anderson

There is nothing like the passing of a close loved one to sharpen your focus on living a simple life.

My husband’s father passed two weeks ago and we are still coming to terms with it all.

At the same time, I’ve been doing some contract work and while the work is meaningful, it’s challenging and I don’t have the internal resources to do that job well and continue to live simply.

So – I’ll be finishing up work in six weeks before we head overseas and I’ll head into another stage of simple life re-evaluation. Life is too short. Loved ones need to be loved. Life is to be lived and not endured.

So as a little break from my low waste journey, I thought I’d review a book that makes me happy. A Year of Practiculture by Rohan Anderson is just that book. It’s so many things! It’s a:

  1. Biography of one man’s journey from office worker to self-sufficient simple lifer. It’s a great story of how you can prioritise your health and have a meaningful, nearly self-sufficient life.
  2. Funny book. It’s hilarious. If you have a teenage boy sense of humour like I do, you’ll be chuckling the whole way through this book.
  3. Recipe book. It’s got 100 no-fuss recipes from Rohan, his garden and things he hunts. AND THE RECIPES ARE DELICIOUS. Fancy some lamb-neck with summer broad beans anyone? It’s a wonderful seasonal recipe book that you can use as your garden produces fresh, bountiful crops.
  4. Practical how-to in the garden book, written especially for Australian conditions. I love the way he makes mistakes and records them so we can learn from them. Like investing too much of the garden bed in a crop that didn’t produce (corn) and the precise calculations you need to make when surviving off the land.

I have a major confession. I am only half way through the book. I made my kids buy it for me for Christmas, and I greedily started zooming through the pages, sneaking little moments to read a little bit more. But then I realised because this book gives me such pleasure, I will eek it out through the seasons. I read Spring; Summer has been read, recipes tried and now I will wait until Autumn to dive in again to my favourite book. In the meantime I might re-read Spring and Summer again. Thanks Rohan for producing amazing material and inspiring us to grow our own, and live a simple life.