Zero Waste vs Minimalism

It’s been slightly more than two years since my first post and I have learnt so much. The main reason why I started looking into the zero waste movement was to figure out how to save money since my job was unstable at the time. If I wasn’t getting paid regularly, I needed to figure out how to reduce my expenses to withstand irregular paychecks and I came across some youtube videos on zero waste. Along the way, I learnt about minimalism.

Sometimes I wish I knew about zero waste and minimalism in my twenties but then again, my experiences in my twenties have allowed me to appreciate zero waste and minimalism more. There are so many similarities between zero waste and minimalism but sometimes I come to a crossroad.

The Chicken Example

Chicken cost $1.29/pound at Costco and it is packaged in plastic but I can get it package free from the butcher at $2.99 / pound. Where should I buy my chicken from? In this example, I’m going to assume that the quality of the chicken is the same at both places. One can argue that it’s worthwhile to spend more at the butcher to reduce your trash because the zero waste lifestyle allows you to save money overall. Since my goal is to save money, I usually choose the money saving option.

Sometimes you should not just pay attention to the packaging but consider the overall environmental impact. For example, if you are already at Costco, it may be better to just buy chicken there instead of driving to the butcher just to buy chicken. In that example, you don’t bring home trash but you had to drive to the butcher. You really cannot blame yourself if companies do not provide you with environmentally friendly options. The alternative is to go without completely but then again, zero waste should not cause you to be deprieved.

Bar Soaps

I’m currently having the same problem with my soap. When I started with bar soap, I did not have any issues at all until six months later when I would break up into rashes all the time. The allergies went away when I moved back to body wash. I did not give up and i still tried looking for the perfect bar soap. Recently, I’ve been traveling and the weather change caused havoc to my skin. It was getting ridiculously dry and I’ve been applying olive oil which would work for a few hours but it would get dry again. My husband reluctantly moved towards bar soap but even he complains about how dry his skin is so instead of us having a bar soap and body wash, I gave in and we bought our first bottle of body wash in two years and I can feel my skin getting better. I did not buy the cheapest body wash but I bought one that has moisturizing qualities and is paraben free, phthalate free, cruelty free and biodegradable.

Shampoo Bar

Next comes the shampoo bar. It took me awhile to condition my hair so I didn’t have to wash it everyday. The transition period took several months and it included many days of greasy, itchy and stinky scalp. I finally got my hair adjusted when I started traveling a lot. This included squeezing every opportunity to swim and the chlorine started messing up my hair and I was back to shampooing my hair after every swim. When I did not have my shampoo bar with me, I would use whatever shampoo was available. Also, the hard water and soft water was messing up my hair. I’m tired of having to go through the transition period again so now I’m considering moving away from shampoo bars. Also, I would prefer if my husband and I could use the same shampoo to minimize the number of items in the bathroom. It would also be helpful for guests who stay with me and are not familiar with shampoo bar.

Beauty Products

As much as I want to go zero waste, I’m not getting any younger and anytime is a good time to start taking care of my skin. Instead of embarking on a 10 step beauty regiment, I have added additional items to my beauty routine. I can no longer get away with just soap and moisturizer. I have to add serum, eye cream and anti-aging moisturizer in an effort to try to look younger longer.  Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find these additional items package free. You can find these items in glass but it can get expensive so I tend to buy what I think is the best value for money. The trick is to stop wasting money by buying useless products and becoming your own pharmacy.

To keep or to throw

Minimalism tells you to keep only what you need. Zero waste tells you to avoid throwing anything in the landfill. If you are a zero waster, you will hoard glass jars which goes against the idea of minimalism. In this case, I go with the konmari method and only keep things that spark joy and that practical things fall into the spark joy category.

How do I decide?

Before I decide to buy anything, I’ll think about whether I really need it or if I can make do with what I have. If I have to buy something, I usually start by considering the zero waste option. If the zero waste option is too expensive or unsuitable, you should not feel bad about not taking the zero waste option. At the end of the day, you should make the best decisions based on your resources and what is available to you. As long as you do the best that you can, you should not feel any guilt.

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Make Your Business Eco-Friendly

Here are some suggestions on how to make your business environmentally friendly:

Office Supplies

  • Before purchasing office supplies, check if you have supplies at home that you can use. Since I started my own business, I bought very few office supplies since I have enough stationaries to last me a long time.
  • Buy paper products that are made from recycled materials and avoid envelopes with windows.
  • Avoid buying stickers and labels whenever possible. Consider printing addresses directly unto the envelope.

Paper

  • Avoid printing on paper whenever possible. For example, I generate invoices and email the invoices to my client instead of printing and mailing them to my clients. This saves me paper, stamp, a trip to the mailbox and my clients get the invoices the same day instead of 2 days later.
  • Set up a system to go paperless. You can either pay a service provider and save everything in the cloud or invest in external hard disk to back up your files. If your company has a few employees, you may want to consider setting up a server as an alternative to the cloud.
  • If you do print, print double sided whenever possible or save paper that has an empty side and print on the empty side. Make double sided printing the default setting.
  • Every time I receive paperwork from my clients, I will scan it and return the hardcopies to them. This allows me to use my filing cabinet for more important things.
  • Sign up for paperless billing whenever possible.
  • Pay your vendors using bill pay. It’s usually free, you will save on stamps and everything will be recorded properly in your bank statements.
  • Consider making payments and filings online instead of using paper.
  • Consider electronic signatures whenever possible.
  • When you purchase anything, choose electronic receipts instead of paper receipts.

Advertising

  • Stop giving out free pens and useless plastic gadgets. Consider giving out eco-friendly and reusable items and educate your customers about it.
  • Consider advertising using materials that are eco-friendly. For example, avoid printing cards and advertisements on glossy paper since it is difficult to recycle.
  • Support eco-friendly and sustainable companies that share the same values.
  • I considered having a simple reminder at the bottom of my email to remind people to print consciously but it’s actually wasteful because it adds data and email signatures replicate itself constantly when the recipient forwards or responds to the email and it takes up unnecessary space in the cloud or your hard disk.
  • When you start your business, you will get a lot of junk mail in your mailbox. Consider unsubscribing from junk mail. When you sign up for business license, bank account or any services, tell the account manager that you do not want your address forwarded to advertisers.

Technology

  • Dispose electronic waste responsibly. Currently, Best Buy accept electronics for recycling including wires and chargers.
  • I’m not sure about using toner refills from third party manufacturers but I buy high yield toner cartridges instead of the regular toner cartridges. I also avoid printing in color whenever possible and if I have to print in color, I will go to a third party provider. When the toner is done, I return the empty cartridges to Staples for recycling.
  • Consider deleting files that are no longer relevant or required. Even though data appears to be invisible, it still takes up space in your server / cloud so make it a point to declutter your data at least once a year.
  • Instead of jotting everything down on paper, consider using an app whenever possible. For example, use TripLog or MileIQ to keep track of your mileage, Quickbooks to keep track of your expenses, Google Keep to keep track of your notes instead of jotting everything down on random pieces of paper. Ideally, get apps that are able to sync with each other to minimize the need to transfer information across different platforms.

Furniture

  • Buy secondhand whenever possible. I am convinced that it is possible furnish the office with secondhand furnitures and still make it look nice.
  • To also consider doing without if possible. For example, there is no reason to invest in so many bookshelves or a filing cabinet system if everything is saved on a server/ cloud.

Resources

  • When doing research, I use online resources or borrow them from my local library. I try to avoid purchasing research materials whenever possible because these materials are expensive and get updated regularly.
  • If you work from home, it’s good idea to place your desk near the window so you can take advantage of natural light.
  • Also consider a second hand desk lamp if you need lighting for the desk to avoid lighting up the entire room just because you are working at your desk.
  • Since I work from home, a lot of my business is conducted by phone or email. Occasionally I have to meet my clients face to face and when I do it, I try to organize all my meetings on the same day to minimize travel whenever possible.

 

I’m Addicted to My Phone

Recently, investors have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads. This made me think about how I see children being entertained by some kind of screen in order to get through dinner without a fuss. Then you read about parents who are in the tech industry who do not allow their children to use iPads.

Being addicted to the screen is clearly a growing concern in this day and age and I have to admit that I am addicted to my phone. Sometimes I hear my phone ringing but when I check my phone, there is nothing. No missed call. No ringtone. Nothing. I’m not able to sit still. I have to always check my phone, read the news, play a game or watch a video. At the back of my mind, I know that there are better ways to spend my time.

This week, I resolved that I would do something about my phone addiction and here is what I did:

  1. Notifications – I changed the notification settings so the phone will automatically turn off all notifications from 11pm to 7am. I also changed the notification settings for the various apps so I don’t get buzzed each time there is a news update.
  2. Decluttered my Home Screen – I removed all the apps from my home screen. I only keep tools in my home screen and currently it consist of maps, calendar, notes, calculator, camera, email and messages. I still have other apps on my phone but if I want access to it, I have to intentionally search for it instead of having it at my finger tips.
  3. Uninstalled Apps – I uninstalled apps that I have not used in a while.
  4. Reduce my Social Accounts – I closed my Facebook account because it was a time waster and I did not bother to sign up for a Twitter or Instagram Account. I only keep social accounts which I find useful like Yelp, Open Table, Pinterest. I recently discovered Google Keep and if I like it enough, I may slowly replace Pinterest with Google Keep.
  5. No unlimited data plans. Currently, I have a fixed amount of data on my monthly plan. We usually stay within the data allocation unless we travel. When we are on the road, I get bored easily and I am constantly on my phone. I guess the plan here is to never move to unlimited data plan and find other ways to occupy my time. Maybe read a book or actually enjoy the view.
  6. No phones during meals / family activities. This can be tough especially if your partner is on the phone too. I guess we have to make a pack to only eat at the dining table and no devices during meals. I’m going to try and watch Star Wars without my phone and maybe I can finally understand what the hype is about.

It has been a few days since I started this and it’s getting easier day by day. The world has not ended. My mind is less stressed and I feel like I have a few more hours in the day. Today, I had time to tidy the yard and write this post once I was done with my appointments for the day. If you have other ideas to break my addiction, let me know.

Organizing Digital Files (ABC Method)

The biggest problem with going paperless is figuring out how to organize your digital files so that you can easily find it. Previously I organized my files based on categories,  sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. The problem is, sometimes I forget where I filed something so I end up creating a new folder with the same name and over time, I have multiple folders with the same name and each folder has different stuff in it.

You can definitely use the search feature on your computer but if you don’t remember the name of the file or if you were too lazy to rename the file (because you said you were going to do this later) and the default filename is just a bunch of numbers which is usually the case when you download bank statements or utility statements, the search feature may not be effective.

I was prompted to come up with a more efficient filing system when my husband was looking for a particular file on my laptop and he couldn’t figure out where to look because the categories worked for me and not for him. For example, I have a folder for each of the cats and it’s under the main folder entitled “Cats” but he was looking for a folder entitled “Pets”.

All this changed when I discovered the ABC Method. Here is a video on it:

In that video example, he has 26 folders but I created an extra folder entitled “#” for items starting with numbers. The idea is to be able to get to the file you want with the least number of clicks.

One can argue that you can get rid of the ABC folders and make the sub-folder the main folder because everything will be organized alphabetically but I like having ABC as the main folder because it creates a cleaner look. However, feel free to personalize it to whatever works for you.

I am hoping that if I can streamlined the way the digital files are organized, I can convince my husband that it’s OK to go paperless because he can easily find it on the computer and he can finally get rid of boxes and boxes of papers which are taking up unnecessary space in our home.

Happy New Year!

Hello 2018. It is time to clear the slate and make it a better year. Instead of coming up with resolutions which I will probably break in a matter of weeks, I decided to get ready for 2018. I started the process last week when everyone started going on vacation and it has kept me pretty busy.

Here are some things that you might want to consider doing:

  1. Speak with your accountant about tax planning. It’s probably better to take care of this before December 31st but there are still some stuff that you can do in January 2018.
  2. Declutter and simplify your life. I managed to come up with a few bags which I donated to charity before December 31. It’s never too late to declutter. In fact, this morning, I spent the time going through old receipts and I scanned the important receipts such as stuff purchased for the house, work related receipts, receipt for my marriage license and wedding dress. Everything else went straight to the bin. Digitize as much as you can.
  3. Deep clean the house. What better way to welcome the new year then with a clean and well-stocked house. There is an Asian superstition that requires a house to have a full bag of rice, sugar, salt, oil and water to ensure good fortune for the new year. Rice represents wealth, sugar represents sweet memories, salt represents experience, oil represents things going smooth sailing and water represents abundance.
  4. Prepare your business / career for 2018. Depending on the nature of your business, there are many ways for you to figure out how to improve/upgrade your business. Here are some personal examples:
    • When I started my business, my office email was free but I had issues with spam and clients not being able to email me because my inbox was constantly full of spam so I eventually signed up with a service provide to manage my office email. I lost at least 2 days of work because it took time to transfer all my work email to the new service provider but since then, my office email works beautifully. Spam emails are under control and there is no delay in receiving and sending emails. Besides privacy and security concerns when using free services, there are also other business applications that I can use when I signed up with a service provider.
    • Another example is my accounting. When I started my business, I keep track of everything using Excel spreadsheets but as my business grow, I realize that it’s becoming more time consuming to keep track of things using Excel spreadsheets so I am looking to sign up for an accounting software to replace my Excel spreadsheets over the next few days. It’s a small price to pay for all the convenience of not having to keep track of all the different Excel spreadsheets.
    • Occasionally, when I am in the middle of a project, I feel overwhelmed by what needs to be done. I wish I can hire an assistant to help me with the workload. In anticipation of having a better year, I spoke to my IT friend to figure out a way to set up my IT system so when I am in a position to hire extra help for my business, I am ready and I am not scrambling to take care of things in the last minute.
  5. If you are an employee, you can think about cleaning up your office / cubicle and figure out what you want to do to improve your professional life whether it means signing up for extra courses to learn / improve your skills or figure out a better way to do your work or signing up for a networking group to expand your network.

It probably sounds like a lot but there is still time to take care of things before work goes in full swing. In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and successful 2018.

 

 

DIY Face Mask

I cannot believe that my supply of face mask from my pre-zero waste days are finally gone. I saved the plastic packaging and mailed it to Terracycle under the Personal Care and Beauty Recycling Program. It usually takes forever for me to go through a tube of face mask and I had to throw away some because it started smelling weird.

My DIY face mask was inspired by the following video from Refinery 29:

What I do

For my DIY face mask, I used bentonite clay because that’s what I have at home and that’s what I use for my toothpowder. I put a 1/4 teaspoon of bentonite clay in the palm of my hand and I mixed it with a few drops of water. It’s important not to use stainless steel when working with bentonite clay because it causes some chemical reaction. I used my fingers to mix the water and clay in the palm of my hand. Slowly, I rubbed the mixture with both my hands and applied it to my face and neck. This saves me from having to wash a bowl.

It takes between 10 to 15 minutes for the mixture to harden depending on how thick your paste is. A 1/4 teaspoon of bentonite clay is really not that much. After applying the mixture on my face, my face looked wet but when it hardened, you can see a thin layer of gray all over my face and neck. I washed off the face mask in the shower and my skin felt smooth and tight. When I’m done with my shower, I pat my face dry and applied moisturizer.

Variations

There are many variations to this recipe. Mix bentonite clay with honey for a moisturizing effect. Mix bentonite clay with yogurt or apple cider vinegar for exfoliating purposes. I’ve seen some recipes require at least 1 teaspoon of clay. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to do a patch test first or reduce the amount of clay. For those with acne, your face may look worse after the face mask but that’s probably because the clay is drawing all the impurities to the surface of the skin.

The way I see it, the world is your oyster. So, feel free to experiment and do what works for you or try and work with what you have at home. I’m just lazy so bentonite clay and water it is for me.

Kale Chips

I love kale chips. I like anything crispy and I think it tastes like potato chips. However, I realize that there are people who do not like kale chips or even potato chips made from real potatoes. Oh well, you can’t always win, can you?

Anyway, here is how I make mine:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Wash kale thoroughly and dry it. You can use a salad spinner but since I don’t have a salad spinner, I dry it using tea towels / dish cloth.
  3. It’s important for the kale leaves to be dry so it can be crispy and not steamed.
  4. Tear the kale leaves away from the stalk and tear it into small pieces. This recipe does not require use of knife. It’s tempting to keep the leaves big but when it’s done, it gets crumbly and messy. The smaller the leaves, the less messy when you eat it. However, you may want to keep it large as food garnish if you are fancy schmancy that way.
  5. Next, coat the kale leaves with olive oil and some seasoning. Plain salt is perfectly fine. I used Lawry’s Seasoned Salt because it’s been in my pantry forever and I’m on a mission to get rid of it. I usually take this opportunity to massage the leaves with the palm of my hands since my hands would be coated with oil and seasoning. Massaging the leaves ensures that the oil and seasoning coats every surface area of the leaves since kale leaves can be curly.
  6. Next, lay the seasoned leaves on a baking sheet and make sure it does not overlap. If the leaves overlap, it creates steam which prevents it from going crispy. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes and it should be done. I tried 10 minutes but 15 minutes is ideal for me. I had to repeat this a few times because I only have 1 baking sheet. Repeat until your pile of seasoned kale leaves have turned into kale chips.
  7. Transfer the kale chips into a container for storage. I have no idea how long the kale chips will last in storage because it’s usually gone within 24 hours.

I hope you like this.

Kale Chips
Here is a batch of kale chips I made earlier today.

Stocking Up on Black Friday

I’m a firm believer in writing lists. If I want something, I usually write it in a list. That way, it gives me an opportunity to think about whether I really should get it or find alternatives for it. I have on occasions put something on the list only to delete it later on.

Just because you don’t sign up to the materialistic lifestyle and your goal is to lead a simpler life, you can still take advantage of Black Friday and stock up on your zero waste supplies. This year, I stocked up on bamboo toothbrushes and cloth pads because both items were discounted. I would have stocked up on soap and shampoo bars but I recently purchased enough to last me a few months.

The Package Free Shop is having a “25% off in store all day” in conjunction with Black Friday. Who says you cannot shop without appearing materialistic? The key is to shop responsibly.

 

 

 

Broccoli Soup

I may have bought a little too much broccoli and had to use before it went bad. I made this broccoli soup using Gordon Ramsay’s recipe and it was amazing. I can’t believe the brightness of the color and the creamy texture from just broccoli, water and salt. I stored the extra soup in mason jars and the color stayed vibrant the next day.

I have to admit, the first time I made it, I did not follow his instructions very well and it was a fail but I tried it again and it turned out great. Just a couple of tips:

  • Water must be a rolling boil so the broccoli cooks quickly without losing its color.
  • Salt the water and taste again after blending to see if it requires more salt.
  • Cover the pot to trap the heat and let the broccoli cook for about 4 minutes before checking on it.
  • Cook the broccoli until you can easily cut it through with a knife.
  • Just cook the florets and remove the stem.
  • When blending, do not add too much water if you prefer thicker texture.

Broccoli Soup.jpg

I figured that this would also be an excellent recipe (minus the salt) for babies to be introduced to the world of vegetables.

 

 

Organizing Paper (not entirely zero waste)

What do you do when you come across letters that are blank on one side? What about papers which you printed but no longer need? Remember to print on both sides whenever possible but mistakes do happen. I usually save these papers (“rough paper”) and use it to write notes or lists before it goes into the recycle / compost bin. Clearly the zero waste option is to do everything digitally but sometimes it works better when you write it down.

I use to  pile the rough paper using a clipboard that I had lying around but the paper would constantly roll up and it would get messy when I tried to pull one sheet from the pile. The clipboard was not ideal to keep track of invites, bills, appointments etc. Subsequently, I compiled my paper using a binder but that didn’t work for me because the binder was bulky, takes up a lot of space and did not work well with smaller sized paper. I then tried making my own notebook using cardboard and binder rings that I found around the house but it was flimsy, the pages did not flip over well and started falling apart in no time.

After several years of trying to organize all the paper that comes through the door, I finally found a system that I love. The dilemma was finding a zero waste option and setting up a system that makes me happy which subsequently motivates me to keep using the system. I tried the zero waste options and it didn’t work so I moved to the new system.

Now, I organize rough paper using the arc system by Staples. Instead of buying the entire notebook which includes paper that I do not need, I bought the arc puncher, arc rings and a set of hardcover. The rings and hardcover had plastic in the packaging so it was not a zero waste option and I wasn’t able to find these items second hand. I avoided buying the hardcover and made my own using cardboard but the cardboard was not thick enough to handle the weight of all the paper and something about the color turquoise makes me happy.

I’ve been using this system for months now and it’s the best system for me. Each time I get a letter, junk mail, receipts or whatever paper that comes my way, I scan the important papers and then punch holes and add it to the notebook. If it is a reminder about an event or an appointment, I would punch it and file it by month so when the month arrives, I’m reminded of the event or appointment. This system works on all sizes of papers and it helps me keep track of coupons, bills, appointments and various reminders. It’s also easy to flip from page to page and it’s easy for me to reorganize things.

Instead of having stacks of paper sitting in piles or hiding these piles in boxes, I now organize my paper into 2 piles. One as a notebook and another as a reminder. When the reminder is done, I move it to the notebook. Once I’m done with the note, it goes into the recycle / compost bin. It’s not an entirely zero waste option but this option prolongs the life of papers with blank sides before it goes into the recycle / compost bin.