This is the year

Week Six Update

My home made all purpose cleaner and new microfiber cloth. Also featured: The table top lawn from last week's challenge!

I realized only after I wrote this week’s challenge that after I made a bunch of homemade cleaning solution I would actually have to clean something in order to test it. I kind of forgot about that half of the equation and totally slacked off until Wednesday afternoon when I realized I was having people over on Thursday and should probably make the place presentable!

The first solution I made was an all purpose cleaner: ¼ cup of vinegar in 2 liters of water with a dash of baking soda added as per directions I found on the internet. I feel kind of dumb that I went ahead and did this in a too small container and not over the sink. Apparently the science portion of my elementary school education was lost somewhere in the last 20 years. Oops. The good news is I was able to use the ultra foaming action of baking soda to get in all the little cracks of my bathroom tiles! (I believe the scientific term for this kind of accidental discovery is,Eureka!) This mix also worked just as well as the store bought cleaner I replaced with it on pretty much everything and it left no lingering vinegar smell like I was worried it would.

I’ve also picked up a few micro-fiber clothes to replace the disposables in my cleaning kit. I’d been hearing a lot about them for quite a while and while I was skeptical I brought it up to my husband who works in a mechanics shop and instantly seconded all the praise for these clothes. Apparently they are used on everything in the shop and so he brought some home and I have to say I am totally convinced. They pick up everything and instead of just tossing them in the garbage they go to the laundry instead.

The third thing I want to tackle is the hideous carpet in my apartment. It’s old, as most cheep apartment carpet is, and it was already in need of replacement when we moved in three years ago but with a vacancy rate of .05% when you find an affordable apartment in a good neighbourhood with a working dishwasher and a balcony large enough for a small container garden you force yourself to overlook things. But I digress; the carpet in my apartment was already gross before there was a toddler living here, so you can imagine what it looks like now. There’s even carpet in the dining area. Gag. I have found a recipe for ‘heavy duty’ carpet cleaner: ¼ cup each of salt, borax, and vinegar, which is meant to be left on stubborn stains for a few hours then vacuumed away. I am trying to devise an easy way to do this to my entire home after the toddler goes to bed, but a few smaller areas may have to do.

I’ll be sharing more recipes and photos on the Face Book page on the weekend so keep an eye out. How is your ‘spring’ cleaning going this week?


I know it’s not exactly spring but since last week I was focusing on keeping the winter blues away I’ve been looking for spring-like things to do in my spare time, like spring-cleaning, to trick myself into thinking spring will come sooner. Of course it was so warm today the snow in our yard was melting and I can see grass so maybe it’s working on some weird mind over matter level or something?

I started this year with a challenge to myself to de-clutter my life. I have done this and I am really happy with the results. I don’t miss a single thing we gave up, even the things I had trouble letting go of, in fact minimalism has become a new pastime. Moments of boredom often result in me looking around for things that don’t need to be here and every week there is more and more to give away. The best part about the whole thing is that my apartment is suddenly a thousand times easier to clean. Looking at my cleaning kit, though, I feel like it leaves a lot to be desired. I have plenty of products that are labeled eco-friendly, but I always have to wonder to myself how many of them actually are.

One brand that I rely on heavily earned praise from a lot of people I know for listing all of the ingredients in their products right on the package and supporting many worth while organizations dedicated to preserving natural resources and ecosystems. I was totally sold by this and immediately switched over to said brand as my other cleaners started to run out. But until yesterday I never actually used the information on these labels to find out what was in the products I was buying. Any company who broadcasts that kind of thing can be trusted right? Sort of.

As it turns out, while many of this brand’s products are on the level there are also some that are really no better than the brands I was buying before. The only redeeming feature of my toilet bowl cleaner for instance was that it did not contain any dyes or perfumes, but the rest of it was pretty toxic all on its own. I had a similar misadventure regarding carpet stain remover a while back.

Aside from the chemical products I’ve been using there is also the matter of paper towels, disposable sponges and chemical laced scouring pads. I am not proud of the amount of these items that I use despite the fact that I know so much better. They are an addiction, and now that I’ve taken steps to reduce some of the other waste we produce this addiction is staring back at me from the trash bin quite clearly.

This week’s challenge is all about cleaning up the way I clean up.

Make my own: Not long ago I tried to cut soy out of my son’s diet because I suspected an allergy and found out the hard way that the only way to insure I knew exactly what was or wasn’t in any of our food was to make it myself. The saga with the listed ingredients on my cleaners and the green washed carpet cleaner has driven home that the same can be said for pretty much anything.

The nice part about making things yourself? It’s almost never as hard to do as you think it’s going to be, and you always save a TONN of money. So how bad could it be? Armed with an industrial sized jug of vinegar and a few other ingredients I plan to conquer the grime in my apartment.

Added bonus: because I don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals in my home made cleaners I can have the toddler ‘help’ me with this project. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Make myself an UNwanted poster. I imagine that there will be the occasional mess I may want to clean up with a store bought cleaner and when that happens I want to be ready to face the toxics aisle with confidence. I am starting HERE in my research but I won’t claim to have read enough to put together a complete list of ingredients I want to avoid. When I do I will make sure a copy comes with us each time we shop.

Choose unscented. There seems to be quite the market out there for making people believe that for something to be clean it needs to smell ‘clean’. The reality is that clean things have no smell at all and that ‘clean’ smell that’s being sold is the smell of complicated chemical cocktails that are not particularly good for you or the environment. If you’re not into making your own cleaners like I plan to or if you are having trouble deciding which ingredients to avoid in store bought products, I would bet that simply cutting out the perfumes would go a LONG way.

The trouble with this is that actually finding a product that doesn’t contain any perfumes is much harder than one would expect so make sure you leave some time around your next shopping trip to really search.

Avoid disinfectants. Disinfectants, referring to product and cleaners which include antimicrobial ingredients, are their own special breed of toxics in my opinion, but according to everyone else they’re simply pesticides. Pesticides that kill both good and bad microbes without distinction, some of these pesticides are known to be carcinogenic, and all of them are, by definition, poison. I am all for the use of disinfectants in hospitals and maybe public washrooms, but in your home they are probably not necessary and they can reek havoc on natural ecosystems.

Whenever I talk about the fact that we don’t use disinfectants I get at least a few raised eyebrows. I’ve been asked if we get sick a lot, I’ve been asked if that means my home is dirty, I’ve been told my child couldn’t play with another child because of it. But honestly, if you are skeptical just look into it a bit and at least think about it (here’s an easy starter article). For the record: my family hardly ever gets sick, my housekeeping skills are passable though certainly not perfect, and I am obviously no longer friends with the germ-snob.

Unfortunately, like unscented cleaning products, finding cleaning products that do not contain any of the common antimicrobial chemicals is getting more and more difficult but finding products that do not contain these chemicals could go a long way in limiting the impact your cleaning habits have on the environment and your own health.

Reusables: There are plenty of really convenient products out there that people rave about but many of them are, or have components that are, disposable. This week I am going to be trying some reusable alternatives, many of which can be made with a little know how, and plenty of which can be found fairly easily. However I also want to remind myself that before Sw*ffers people got along just fine with a regular old broom and so can I.

 I am really excited to get started on this project. I’ve wanted to try my hand at making my own cleaning products for ages and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Have you made your own cleaning products before? Any tips for a beginner like me?

The sun came back out this week, as did a groundhog who supposedly said something about spring being on it’s way so I am feeling about a bit better about the tail end of winter.

My lap lawn has been planted and my son and I check it almost hourly for sprouts, nothing yet but hopefully soon. I used a small kit that included a planting medium and container, it looks as though it’s mostly some kid of vermiculite and fiber mix and I have to say I am missing the look, feel, and smell of good old earthy potting soil.

Oliver and I at the Regina Floral Convervatory (Photo credit: Rhonda Young-Pilon)

Daily nature walks have been daily and delightful, play groups and meet ups have been great and we’ve even made some new friends this week. I also remembered about a little place here in town where we had our photos taken by a friend not to long ago: The Regina Floral Conservatory is like a little slice of summer warmth in the middle of the wind-blown winter prairie and we have plans to visit on Monday.

I have also been incredibly productive without the pull of the television sucking us into the couch. I’ve started a few projects, written posts for other blogs that have been due for ages, caught up on house work, had countless fun conversations with my suddenly-articulate toddler, filled my freezer with quick and easy meals, completed mundane tasks I’d been putting off in regards to my business. I am pretty much on fire.

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?

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!

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?

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?

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