This is the year

Archive for January, 2012

Week Five Challenge: Banishing The Winter Blues

To be completely honest this last week has been hard for me. I kept my challenge pretty easy for myself and laid low because I knew it would be. This time of year is never easy for me. I love autumn and I get along ok with early winter. November through January I can pretty much forgive the weather and the darkness because it is easily overshadowed by the excitement of the holidays. But late winter? Forget about it. February through to April or sometimes even May is like running a gauntlet where all I can think to do to keep my head above water is escape into some brain numbingly easy to read book series and not come out until spring. This year it started early out of exhaustion. I took on too much, I had a little burn out, and the end of my winter honeymoon came a few weeks early.

Of course this all means that I would like nothing better then to give up on writing this post and keep reading by book and messing around on Pinterest. I have next to no motivation to do anything beyond meeting the basic survival needs of my family. BUT I am not going to do that because one should, at all costs, avoid feeding the beast that is the mid-winter blues.

That in mind my challenge this week will be to focus daily on staying upbeat, positive, and motivated. Some people do this by taking vacations this time of year. Pretty much every social media feed available to me at the moment has been flooded with pictures of sandy beaches and pool side bars, a trend that will surely continue right through February and into March. I however, will not be taking any such vacations so I am just going to have to find a simpler, more earth-friendly way to nurture myself and work through these winter blues.

Daily Nature Walk:I mentioned this is one of my very first posts. Regular direct contact with the outdoors is good for us, and it helps to connect us with the very nature we are hoping to preserve by taking on these weekly challenges. Each day; rain, snow, wind, or occasionally sunshine, my son and I take a walk outside. This walk isn’t anything fancy, it is a toddler paced walk through our neighbourhood that sometimes ends up at a play park a block away but more often ends up as forty-five minutes getting distracted by a nice rock or pretty tree.

I feel better when we stick to this routine. My son feels better when we stick to this routine. Yet I’ve been letting it slide over the last two weeks, cutting walks short or supplementing with walks to do errands instead of enjoyable wanders, so writing this is my reminder to myself to get my butt in gear and keep it up!

Shots from recent nature walks

Limit the brain candy: If getting outside and being physically active can help to prevent depression then it just makes sense that the same would go for brain activity. This week I am going to stay away from brain-sucking activities that don’t require the creative use of my mind like watching television and playing Angry Birds, while keeping myself entertained with activities that make use of my mind and imagination like writing, playfully debating inane facts with my husband, reading, listening, creating, and playing with my son. Not only do these things involve less power but their entertainment value is far greater in my opinion.

Plant something: I know I mentioned this last week as well, I think I am just getting impatient waiting for gardening season. Either way, in further attempts to ward off nature deficit and my winter blues I am bringing some lush green plant life into my home by way of planting some grass in a shallow container, like a little piece of soft summer lawn in the middle of my dining table. I chose cat grass because it is easy to find year-round and grows really fast. I also have experience with it as last spring I planted it directly into my son’s Easter basket as an alternative to that plastic ‘grass’ bedding sold in stores. We’re also planning on getting a few pepper seeds germinating this week in hopes of getting an early crop for barbeque season.

 

Meet up with a friend: Some people are energized by social interaction. Some people are not. I fall somewhere in between. I am easily over-stimulated by large groups of people and I tend to prefer doing my own thing in my own way at my own pace most of the time. However, I am also inspired and motivated by meeting new and interesting people when I summon the energy to go out and meet them. This time of year when my motivation to do much more then is absolutely required of me is waning; the first thing to go is my social life.

I’ve been doing alright this year, but I can feel myself loosing enthusiasm for social events I would normally be excited for so I am making a point of getting to them. I almost never regret getting myself out once I am there, just getting there can be tough.

Does anyone else experience seasonal blues like this? How do you work through and stay motivated?

Week Four Challenge: Food Packaging

Last week I managed to cut down our food waste by a surprising amount just by planning ahead. To make sure I can sustain this I have come up with a system of organizing my recipes into groups which use similar ingredients, this way when I am meal planning I can quickly grab two recipes from one grouping and know that I will be able to use all or at least most of the ingredients we buy. As I play with this system I am hoping to make it even easier by creating several pre-written super efficient shopping lists that accompany specific meal plans. All of these lists can then be cycled around to give us variety while still being easy. Pretty brilliant no?

As I unpacked my groceries from this week I was feeling pretty good about all this. Each item has a purpose and very little of it will go to waste. (Except of course the stuff the toddler will inevitably throw to the ground. Perhaps we need a dog.) But it also reminded me of the other kind of food waste we have around here: All that packaging!

This week the challenge is to find some way (small or large) to reduce the amount of food packaging you throw away.

BYOB: Bring your own bags. I suck at this one. For some reason I have no trouble remembering my reusable bags if I am just zipping out for something small, but when it comes to our big shop every week we forget every time. This last week after I packed away all of our food and was storing the plastic bags to reuse later (They almost never get reused, the bag of bags is always full!) I finally said no more and took our stash of reusable bags down to my husband’s car. Hopefully this will help. I’ll let you know.

Also keep in mind that the bags you tote your food home in aren’t the only bags that can be avoided. This week I am going to be on the look-out for a good DIY produce bag so that those little plastic sacks for carrying produce and bulk items in can stay on the roll and not around my food. (Fair warning, I may opt to buy these instead but I’ll still try to find and post a DIY tutorial for anyone feeling a bit more ambitious this week!)

Processed Vs. Fresh apples

Eat fresh food as much as possible: This is not only a healthy option for you but also for the planet. The more processed a food item is the more packaging it requires. Processed food also carries other concerns for both the planet and your health including synthetic ingredients and fillers, energy intensive preparation, preservation, and/or transportation, questionably farmed ingredients, and so on.

Of course processed and prepackaged food has the allure of being ‘convenient’, but eating fresher food doesn’t have to be hard or even time consuming. Grabbing an apple on your way to work is just as easy as grabbing a packaged granola bar, and with a little planning and preparation on weekends or some clever swapping or ‘meal pooling’ with friends or neighbours, popping a home prepared casserole into the oven, after work is just as easy as popping in a pre-packaged frozen lasagna.

Sometimes I buy those packaged frozen vegetable mixes so that we have the option to throw together a quick stir-fry if we’re not feeling like cooking much some evening. I got the brilliant idea to pre-chop fresh ingredients and make a good sauce then freeze them into several individual meals. Genius right? I’ll let you know how it works out.

Ditch the take-out. This one is pretty self explanatory, burger wrappers and Styrofoam cups, greasy boxes and foil containers. These are all on a one way trip from the take out counter to your garbage can.

My family is getting a lot better about this one, since our son started eating solid foods we have limited our take-out quite a bit to set a good example and save money but we still occasionally indulge. Writing this is a good reminder for me to keep working to eliminate it even more. All the meal planning and organizing I am doing is really helping to keep us on track the last few weeks, and I hope we can keep it up.

Pack a litter-less lunch: Before my at-home-mom career I spent a ridiculous percentage of my monthly food budget on lunches. I worked within walking distance of about a million different fast and easy restaurants that were like little mini vacations from my workplace. I totally get the awesome of going out for lunch when you’re at work. The problem is that it gets really expensive really fast and it creates a huge amount of trash. Try your hand at preparing a lunch at home using reusable containers to make it totally litter free. It takes a bit of planning but it can be just as good as eating lunch out, and there’s nothing that says you have to eat your bag lunch in the break room. Go outside and/or find a quiet spot somewhere nearby!

I am going to try this the next time I am on call for doula work. I usually throw a box of packaged granola bars into my go-bag to sustain myself while at a birth but I am perfectly capable of making my own, I make them every few weeks for my son so why not put the same effort forward for myself?

Another option is to simply go home for lunch if you can, I know not many do anymore but if you live close to your office you may as well. My husband does this as he only works a couple blocks away from home and we love getting to spend that half hour with him in the middle of a long day.

When you can’t avoid, recycle: The great thing about modern day grocery stores is that they have a lot of options for you to choose from. If you are contemplating an item that needs to be packaged, like eggs for example, try to choose packaging that can be easily recycled like cardboard instead of Styrofoam, paper instead of plastic, or glass containers you could reuse over cheap bags or tubs (We recently started making our own stocks and old pickle jars are proving very useful!)

Sip a home brew:  Those in-store coffee shops popping up in most grocery chains will be the death of me. My son, being at the media sponge age every marketer loves, recognizes the logo of a certain coffee shop and associates it with delicious ginger molasses cookies and a mother who is always so much nicer with a caffeine fix in her hand. I, of course, encourage this behaviour by being horribly addicted to fancy caffeinated beverages. I don’t treat myself to much but when I do that’s usually it, so I say ‘yes’ way more then I say ‘no’ when my son points out the coffee counter. That paper cup and that paper cookie bag get tossed right into the trash on our way out of the store. Next week I plan to try bringing my own coffee or tea in a travel mug and a home made snack for my little guy to munch on as we shop. (This may develop into its very own challenge later in the year because there is a whole lot more to this coffee issue.)

Grow your own:This will also become its own challenge at a later date, but seriously, think about it. Even in a small space or with limited resources it is really easy to grow even one small staple item in your diet. From the plant to your belly, no packaging or travel required.

This obviously won't be happening in Saskatchewan this week, but start thinking about it!

 

I am sure there are about a million other ways to reduce the amount of food packaging in your cart that I simply haven’t thought of. Please share your ideas with the group and let us know what your goals are for this challenge!

Week Three Challenge: Use What You Have

According to Stats Canada, in 2004 Canadian households created 13.4 million tonnes of waste. Only about a quarter of this waste was recycled with 73% of it going straight into Canadian landfills. When I read this my jaw pretty much dropped and I couldn’t help but wonder how much my family was contributing to that number.

The easiest way for me to figure that out was to simply keep track. I started out rather smug but after holding onto our bags of trash for one week and looking at how much we were actually throwing away I was reaching for a hefty helping of humble pie. Before I started keeping track I would have guessed my family threw out about 2 bags of garbage per week if not less. It was more like 3-4 depending on the week, that’s at least a bag for each of us. I honestly didn’t know this, I am generally not the one who hauls our trash out to the dumpster and even if I was it’s hard to really grasp the amount until it’s sitting in front of you all at once.

When I examined what we were throwing away the experience was, again, rather humbling. I realized that most of the things we were throwing away could easily be avoided. Not just by recycling or composting (keep an eye out for those in later posts) but by simply using things up.

This week’s challenge kind of overlaps with last weeks challenge, but I really wanted to keep the focus here another week for one very important reason. My family throws out A LOT of food.

Some of it is unavoidable, there is just no saving-for-leftover-night after a toddler has rubbed his dinner all over his runny-nosed face but declined to actually eat any of it. There is, however, a great many things we throw away that CAN be avoided.

Embarrassing examples of things I’ve thrown out in the last week (by no means a comprehensive list!):

  • An avocado I forgot we bought
  • A quarter of a carton of buttermilk past it’s expiration date
  • Partial leeks, onions, peppers, and other produce
  • 1 can of chipotle puree minus about 3 tablespoons
  • Half a can of coconut milk
  • One partially used tub of sour cream also passed it’s expiration

Most of these items went bad and were discarded for no other reason than they were purchased for a specific recipe and the remnants went unused afterwards; basically bad planning on my part.

Another 52 week challenger mentioned this very same problem on the Facebook page not long ago, only in her case she was concerned about the leftover bits of beauty products that are thrown out when she buys replacements. For you it may be cleaning products, or ink cartridges, or notebooks that never quite get filled up before you move onto the next shiny new crisp clean one (Ok that one is mine too). Whatever it may be this week your challenge is to come up with a strategy to put every last bit of the things you buy to good use.

Planning: This is the obvious answer to my dilemma. This week I will be organizing our menu plan to make sure ingredients get used. In the case of the sour cream, for example, it was used to bake a banana loaf, if I had planned to make perogies or tacos the next day it would have been easy to use up the rest of the container but I just hadn’t planned for it.

Plan to use less: If you find you are throwing something out simply because you have more then you can use, find away to purchase or make it in smaller quantities. Don’t get sucked into the idea of bulk buying when it may not actually be beneficial to you. There’s no point in getting a better dollar/unit price if you don’t actually need large quantities.

Share with a friend: If you are having trouble finding items you often end up throwing away in smaller quantities, or if you still want to get the best dollar per unit price but don’t need large quantities, then maybe a friend or family member can make use of what you don’t. In my case I think I may be looking for someone to swap freezer meals with. This way I can still save money by making things in bulk batches but my family doesn’t get sick of eating the same chili for weeks on end and then toss the rest.

Think about packaging: In the case of old beauty products I think I can guess why the ends so often don’t get used up. Those little packages make it really difficult to get the last little bits out in order to use them. I have this same problem with lotions or soaps that come in hand pump containers. I have also noticed that many packages are designed to look nicer when full. Consciously or otherwise we as human beings want the pretty package and get tempted to replace products earlier then needed for this very reason. If we make a point to avoid this kind of packaging (or packaging all together) it may help eliminate these problems.

As always I look forward to hearing about what others are doing this week. Do you have trouble using all you have? How will you be trying to reduce the unused items that end up in your trash?

Midweek Update: Getting My Thrift On

At this point in the week, I am not sure whether or not I’ll be able to call this challenge a success.

In case you missed it, this week my family was focusing on reusing things and buying second hand whenever possible. I had two major goals at the beginning: Recover my living room chairs using repurposed materials therefore breathing new life into them while not adding to my footprint by buying something new, and find a new home for George the sucker fish and his friends who normally live at the Regina Children’s Library.

I have a half dozen or so leads on the fish tank. I am actually surprised that it was so easy to find so many for sale because the person I’d talked to at the library had made it sound like they already looked and couldn’t find anything. Now it’s just a matter of talking to who I need to talk to and getting the ball rolling. This will be my focus tomorrow.

The chairs are another matter all together.

My first stop was the Free Cycle Network I linked to in my week 2 challenge post. There is a LOT of fabric looking for new homes in and around theReginaarea so if you are thinking of a project be sure to check there before heading to the fabric store. Unfortunately there wasn’t much that would work for my project so I posted a ‘wanted’ ad and have gotten a few emails with helpful suggestions but no one who actually has the material I am looking for. So while not particularly helpful for this project I will definitely be using the free cycle network again in the future, the people I have emailed with so far have been delightful and the site is both easy to use and to navigate.

Second stop was an actual thrift shop where I found a huge piece of brown pinstriped cotton that is both soft and fairly attractive for less than five dollars but when I got it home I realized it wouldn’t quite be big enough for both chairs. Bummer. But the fabric is definitely nice enough for another project so I’ve stashed it away.

My next stop wasn’t really a stop. It was a text message from a friend who read my post and had some old canvas curtain panels that would be perfect for my project. A great example of how having a community of awesome people around you can be infinitely helpful. The only problem with the fabric is that it isn’t my first choice for colour. I haven’t ruled it out yet but I decided to look around to see what else was out there.

My search then brought me to the studio space of another friend who invited me over for tea and conversation while I rifled through her boxes upon boxes of recycled fabrics. Again, community makes things so much easier. She didn’t have anything big enough for this project but I did snag some fun fabric which I’ve decided will become, with the help of my husband’s wood working skills, cute little festival chairs for the coming summer. I also got a chance to look at her project for this week’s challenge. She is also recovering a great little armchair in some really nice black damask print fabric.

For those of you keeping score on the chair recovering: recovered chairs – zero. Scrap fabric for my craft box which I JUST finished de-cluttering – 2. Oh well. There’s still time.

But my thrifting wasn’t a total bust. I did get a really cool baby-wearing coat second hand from a friend. It will keep both me and my son toasty warm on our adventures around town.

 

Now the cold won't slow us down one little bit

How is this week’s challenge going for you?

Week Two Challenge: Get Your Thrift On

Now that my family has painstakingly sorted through all of our worldly possessions and done some soul searching about which items were actually useful to us we have to figure out what to do with all the stuff that didn’t make the cut. After all; it would be kind of ridiculous if, after all that talk of reducing waste and conserving resources with simplicity, I hauled all the extra stuff complicating my life to the dumpster.

The most logical answer is to call around to all the local charities and see who needs what in order to help the people they serve. I’ve done that. A large majority of the things we had no use for will find homes with people who need them through the Carmichael Outreach program and our local YWCA. There were also a great many things that were needed or wanted by friends and family so went on to find good homes with them. But I also sectioned out a bag of clothing and accessories for my local thrift shop.

Why do I want to support my local thrift shop? Well, last week’s challenge was all about REDUCING the resources we consume, and everyone knows about RECYCLING (though we will still get to that one soon!), but I think there is a negligently little amount of attention paid to the second of the 3R’s. REUSE!

acquiring things second hand instead of new has so many benefits; It’s cheaper, it’s fun, and it’s about a jillion times better for the environment then buying new (that’s a true fact fancy scientifically calculated number, I swear!). When we get things second hand we keep them from ending up in a landfill, depending on where and how we get things second hand we support our local economy, and we are not buying new items which required new materials and resources to build, ship, stock, and sell.

Yet there is this really subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) message out there that second hand items are only for people who can’t afford to buy new or  reserved for your quirky cardigan-wearing hipster friends because only they could really pull it off. And where the stigma against thrifting is a bit of a bummer, try uttering the words ‘free cycling’ ‘swapping’ or ‘bartering’ in the wrong crowd.

Other forms of reusing like repairing and repurposing are becoming more popular, especially in terms of home décor, but even then there is this idea that doing projects like these are difficult and time consuming so most home stores you go to have items that look repurposed but are, in fact, brand new from the factory. How messed up is that!?

This week’s challenge is to reconnect with some trash by thrifting, free cycling, repurposing, refinishing, fixing, or otherwise breathing new life into something destined for the dump. Think of something you need, anything (well maybe not anything). And go out to get it (or build it!) without simply walking into the nearest big box or department store.

Don’t forget our challenge from last week while you head into the racks! Think critically about the items you choose and make sure you aren’t acquiring things you don’t really need.

We have decided to keep an eye out for two things this week. First we would really like to revive our (very) old living room chairs so we’ve been looking at fabric and covers, which are somewhat hard to find second hand but not impossible (I am hoping to stumble upon some really great vintage beanbag chair covers to repurpose). We also discovered last week that the fish tank at our local children’s library started leaking over the holidays and they are having trouble replacing it. We were heartbroken. George the sucker fish and all of his friends are the highlight of our weekly library trips.  We talked to the librarian about it and she said the fish had been saved and are now living in someone’s personal tank. We asked about what kind of tank they needed to get George and friend’s back and will be scoping out second hand fish tanks to try and help them out.

If you’re not quite sure where to start your reusing journey here are a few suggestions that may inspire you:

Host a swap: This is a great option for anyone who may be uneasy about using 2nd hand items from strangers. It’s really easy; just figure out what you want to swap (clothing, books, music, video games, kitchen wares ect). Invite a bunch of your friends to bring all their unwanted items to your house and see what you find. It’s always been my experience that swaps like this are really fun and you end up with new-to-you things you love that may have otherwise ended up getting tossed. Any unclaimed items left over at the end of the night can be donated to charity.

Freecycling: is a movement that aims to create free exchanges of unwanted items to conserve resources. Local ad sites are often a great place to connect with people trying to sell their junk but you can usually find a few freecyclers and swappers there too. Also check out FreeCycle.org to find listings of offers and wanted ads from your area. Things like building supplies and other materials can often be found when businesses are renovating or closing down. If asked many companies will let you take materials they would otherwise need to pay to have hauled to the dump free of charge.

Find a thrift or consignment shop: In my experience, smaller thrift shops are choosier about the items they take so while the selection may be smaller then a bigger shop the quality is usually better. Consignment is kind of like thrifting only the shop owners, instead of selling donated or found items, act as a middle-(wo)man of sorts between people who want to sell their second hand items and people who want to buy them while taking a cut of the profit. This system works wonderfully to weed out poor quality items as the consigner won’t waste space and time on items they don’t think they can sell but it also drives up the price a bit.

Communal goods and Co-ops: The most obvious example of communal goods is a library. Instead of a few hundred people each buying their own copy of a book, movie, or other media, a few copies are available to share amongst the community. Depending on where you live you may also be able to find other communal items. I have heard of car co-ops, art supply co-ops, lend-a-bike programs, seed co-ops. The list goes on. So if the item that you want to find this week is something that you will only need to use for a short time or not on a regular basis you may want to consider this option.

Fix or repurpose: Before you get ready to go treasure hunting, consider whether or not you can fix or repurpose something already in your home to fit your needs. The art of fixing things is a dying one it seems because things are becoming so easy to replace. But do you really want to live in a world where everything is replaceable? Where the really great feeling of pride you get from building something with your own hands and good old fashioned ingenuity doesn’t exist? You don’t need to be a great sculpture, or a mechanic, or an engineer to have this feeling, you just need a sense of adventure, a Sunday afternoon, an owners manual or tutorial you found online (optional), a few common (possibly improvised) tools, and possibly a bit of change for your swear jar.

There are a lot of options here and I hope that we can all find some version of this challenge to apply to our unique situations. I hope that many of you will have fun with this challenge, it has so much potential for some wild creativity.  I can’t wait to hear about what you all are doing!

Mid-Week Update: Simplicity

As you know, the part of my life I was hoping to simplify was all the stuff my family had lying around. So far we have completely filled our “supposed to be the baby’s room but he never actually slept there” room with odds and ends that we were holding onto for reasons none of us can quite remember. The rest of the week will be spent sorting it all out and dividing it into boxes depending on where it all needs to go (more on that in a later post).

But there is one area of my life that I just can’t seem to let go of and that is my books. I don’t really have that many any more. I had two big boxes of books ruined in a basement flood a few years ago as I was packing to move, it was so heartbreaking I can barely bring myself to speak of it, but the books I do have I am having a tremendous amount of trouble pairing down.

So far they have all been divided into major sections: pregnancy/birth/infant care books, novels, university text books, non-fiction, and other people’s books (If I borrowed a book from you and forgot to return it, call me, I likely have it here!). The next step was to select un-needed titles from each section to give away.

I started with the pregnancy/birth/infant books, but I can’t really get rid of any of those because I am still working on my doula certification and I never know when I will have to go back and reference.

I moved on to novels, but I only buy novels when I have run out of time on my library borrow and really want to finish them. I have this weird guilt about renewing things; what if it’s on hold by someone who really wants to read it too? This means that I really like all of the novels I own and what if I suddenly get the urge (and miraculously the time) to read them again?

Text books and other non-fiction books were next, but I wrote notes and funny comics in all of the margins so I can’t sell them. Besides, you never know when a friend of yours will say something totally false and you’ll need to invite them back to your house to prove them wrong over tea.

Then there are the books I’ve borrowed and forgotten to return over the last who-knows-how-long. But chances are I haven’t returned them because I no longer speak to their owners and there’s got to be a reason for that right? (Just kidding. Kind of.)

As you can see self motivation will get me nowhere with these books. My heart literally aches to think of letting them go. No lie. Just last night I had a dream in which empty shelf space swallowed me whole. I’ve decided that what I need is a book snob.

A book snob is basically exactly what it sounds like. You know those people who have nothing nice to say about any book ever written or any author ever published because they are entirely too cool and well educated to like anything at all? I need one of those. I need them to come to my house and tell me how poor my taste is until I cry from humiliation at having been caught with such filth in my literary repertoire, then I need them to hand over a box for me to pack up my shame and ship it out.

Or maybe, instead, I can accept that this particular part of the challenge is too much for me right now. I did an insanely good job clearing out my storage room, my kitchen, and my closet. I even gave away half the furniture in my living room because my husband and I have been locked in a battle of wills since we moved in together over whose furniture should go and whose could stay and I finally conceded that mine could go. Along with the de-cluttering, we haven’t gone shopping (aside from groceries) or watched television and those things feel good. But I think that I can stop at my books, because I am just not ready and this is supposed to be fun.

This goes for everyone. As we kick off this green up, remember to keep these challenges fun and do what you can. Set realistic goals for yourself and adapt the challenges where you need to so that you don’t ‘burn out’ a few weeks or months in. We won’t build any enthusiasm or be available to help support others in this little community if we are overburdening ourselves to meet the ‘requirements’ of the challenges and our personal goals. No one is ‘grading’ you but you, and if you are happy with your contribution at the end of the day then that is really truly all that matters. Even the littlest changes can make a big difference.

Week One Challenge: Simply to Simplify

Voluntary Simplicity; It’s the frugal sensation taking over the nation and it’s not just good for you and your pocket book, it happens to be really good for the environment.

Voluntary simplicity is a term that basically describes a lifestyle based on the motto ‘less is more’. It isn’t necessarily about going without, it’s about getting more out of what you have and having only what you really need. It’s not just about consuming less and being frugal, but also about finding balance and living a more healthful and mindful existence.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of voluntary simplicity for a few years now. The whole movement just makes so much sense to me. By definition sustainability is about living within your means. When we take into consideration that our ‘means’ includes the limited resources of our planet there is no doubt that living simply is good for the environment. If we consume less then we create less waste and use less resources.

I could spend the next thousand words or so talking about what voluntary simplicity is or isn’t but I am not even sure I am qualified enough just yet, and it’s all been said a lot better by other people. Here is my favourite blog about voluntary simplicity if you’d like to learn more. http://www.choosingvoluntarysimplicity.com/

When I was thinking about starting this group, I was really concerned about what kind of challenges people would be expecting and whether or not I could deliver. I am not all about the kind of eco-friendly lifestyle you can buy at the store. I do not believe that you must replace everything in your home with ‘better’ items labeled ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ in order to help the environment. I will, at no point in any of these challenges ask you to go out and buy something. Instead I want to embrace the spirit of voluntary simplicity and pose fun and easy challenges you can do without having to buy anything you couldn’t find, recycle, repurpose, make, or barter for.

With that in mind I think a logical first challenge will be simply to simplify. The motto “less is more” will be our mantra this week. I took the liberty of cruising the internet for tips about starting a life of simplicity and have created a mash up list of suggestions for ways you can embrace simplicity. Take some time to reflect on these things and your lifestyle and try to come up with at least one way that you will simplify this week. If at the end of the week you feel like this whole simplicity thing is for the dogs that’s quite all right, it’s not a requirement for the rest of the challenges, but there is certainly no harm in trying.

Slow Down:

How many of you read my motivation mini-challenge to go outside every day and said to yourself ‘I just don’t have time for that!”? No one ever has time for anything these days it seems. But what if you started thinking about your time as a resource, a limited one with great value. How would that change the way you spend it?

With every item on your schedule comes a cost, maybe that cost is the fuel it takes to get you where you need to be, or the energy you consume participating in that activity. Maybe the cost is less time to cook or enjoy a meal, or less time with your family. Whatever it is, have you really thought about whether or not it’s worth it?

Try a Shopping Embargo:

Every year Ottawa mother and blogger, Andrea Tompkins, at “A Peek Inside The Fishbowl” puts her family on a post holiday shopping embargo. For two months they purchase nothing but essentials and focus on mindful spending over recreational shopping. Check out her post here for tips on how to simplify your spending habits.

If you’re not into participating in this embargo for two whole months like Tompkins suggests, maybe pick one day this week and challenge yourself to buy absolutely nothing. I don’t mean see something you like at the store and go back for it the next day, I mean really be mindful of the things you want to spend money on and simply choose not to buy them. The results may surprise you.

Limit your media:

The more time you spend in front of a screen with an internet or cable connection or any other kind of media the more energy you use, the less time you have for other things (remember that your time is a valuable resource), and the more time advertisers have to convince you to buy things you don’t need.

All forms of media have their uses, and I am not at all against any one of them entirely. But I feel like the amount of time we spend in front of various media (myself, the smart phone junkie, included) gives that media a lot more power then it should have. Spending a reasonable amount of time unplugged is so important for our health, our wellbeing, our relationships and I for one hope to embrace that a little more this week and the rest of the year.

D.I.Y.:

Every time we purchase a service or item from someone there is a hidden cost to the convenience for both ourselves and the environment. The more we do for ourselves the more certainly we can say where our materials came from and how they were handled, whether or not all parts were ethically sourced, and we can spend less money.

A large portion of my goals this year revolve around doing things for myself. It may not sound simpler but on some level or another it really is. For example: last year I started making my own bread. The first few weeks this seemed like an awful big chore but once I fell into a routine I hardly noticed the extra effort at all. We saved a ton of money and I avoided a lot of excess sugars and additives in my family’s diet.

Doing things yourself is really rewarding and often comes with learning new skills or honing long forgotten ones. It can also be a great way to bond with family or friends and give you a new appreciation for the convenience items and services you rely on.

De-clutter:

This is the one my family is focusing on right now. I have this theory that stuff begets more stuff. The more you own, the more you need to maintain what you own, the more tools you need to maintain it, the more stuff you want to own to go with all the stuff you already own.

More than that, an excess of stuff can just generally bog us down both physically and mentally. Sometimes I look around at my family’s two bedroom 600 square foot apartment and I feel claustrophobic. Not because it’s a 600 square foot apartment inhabited by three people, we have plenty of room to play, eat, bathe, and sleep, but because the stuff the three of us have accumulated over the years litters every available horizontal surface of our home.

A wonderful thing happened last week when I started to sort through all of this stuff and really critically think about what is necessary and what I was holding onto for no real practical reason. I started to feel lighter, more energetic, and hopeful. I shook off all of this stuff and realized that underneath it all was simplicity so awesome I very nearly wept. For realsies. (That was probably the annual winter depression lifting, sorry for getting all gooey on you)

The most wonderful thing though, is that the more stuff we get rid of, the more I really like being free of it, the less I think about buying other things or lust after luxury items, and the less I actually buy. My family and I keep things pretty simple as far as not buying things we don’t need, but there’s always something you don’t really need that advertising and a little envy will convince you that you do and resisting those temptations has become a whole lot easier since we’ve started embracing minimalism.

I am in no way suggesting that you need to finish reading this post and go burn all of your earthly possessions on the front lawn. (Although some friends of mine once sold all theirs and moved into an old camper trailer to live on the west coast like coom-by-ya singing hippies and I was so totally jealous of them) Going to any kind of wild extreme right out the gate has the potential to back-fire into feeling deprived and then binging on retail therapy. I am, however, suggesting that maybe you have some things you aren’t using that could be better used by others. Or maybe you have some things that were gifted to you and you kept them out of politeness and loyalty instead of actual want. Perhaps you have some things that will give you a good laugh (or cry) to go through and then some relief when you finally let go of them. Give it a try and see what happens.

The logical reasons I had for starting the big de-clutter in our house seem pretty secondary now but it has also given me the space needed to do some pretty exciting challenges over the coming year!

What do you think fellow challengers? What areas of your life could use a touch of simplicity? Please share your ideas and insights with us!

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