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.

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Utensil Roll

Lately, I have been forgetting to bring my utensils. I would put them in my pouch and when it gets dirty, I would put the dirty utensils in the dishwasher and forget to put it back in my pouch. There are times when I forget my chopsticks or my straw. Also, I have lost a few utensils because it was accidentally removed from the table when I was not paying attention.

Today, I decided to make my own utensil roll. Hopefully, this will help me keep track of my utensils. Since I’m rubbish at sewing, I made my utensil holder from a napkin which I already have. This means that I didn’t have to worry about the edges of the fabric which is the hardest part and I only have to sew a couple of straight lines. I did not even bother to iron the napkin because I was lazy.

I designed the utensil roll in such a way that it becomes a placemat when it is unrolled. I arranged the utensils so that the fork and straw is on the left and everything else is on the right. When I need to put this away, I fold the top part of the napkin downwards (see top right photo) and I roll the utensils from both ends into the centre. I couldn’t find a ribbon at home so I used a hair tie instead.

I’m going to see how this goes. If it works out well, I might make a few and leave one in the car for those unplanned trips to the restaurant. It’s also a good idea to have extra for when this utensil roll is in the laundry basket.

 

Vermicompost

I give up! I bought a worm bin. I was trying to save money by making my own worm bin but eventually the plastic cracked and I found it difficult to separate the compost from the worms. I’m lazy and it got too stressful so after a year of experimenting, I bought a worm bin.

Attempt #1
Compost Bin

When I started composting about a year ago, I started with this. I found this bin lying around so I cleaned it, drilled holes and filled it with dried leaves, twigs, dirt and food waste. It didn’t take long to fill up the bin especially in the fall. I even watered it every once in a while but I was not seeing any results.

Turning the stuff around in the bin was a bit problematic. After a few months I decided to find another way to compost because this was taking too long. I now use this bin to store leaves collected in the fall. It’s my storage bin for brown stuff. When you start composting, you will know that it is important to have a balance of green and brown stuff.

Attempt #2

Worm Bin 1

My second attempt was to use a different type of plastic bin. When decluttering, I found two opaque plastic bins and I decided to make this one instead. Eventually the bottom bin collapsed when the plastic became brittle and it could not handle the weight of the top bin.

Problems:

  • The plastic bin is relatively deep so there is a tendency to overfill the bin which may be a problem for the worms.
  • I find it difficult to separate the compost from the bin.
    • One method is to transfer everything into piles and slowly remove the top of the pile as the worms move to the bottom of the pile. It takes a while for the worms to move to the bottom of the pile and it can get pretty messy.
    • Another method is divide the bin into two sides. Bury the food waste on one side of the bin. Leave it for a few weeks so the worms migrate to the other side and you can harvest the compost from the opposite side. It’s not as simple as that because some of the worms in the opposite side were still not done eating food waste from several months ago.
    • Another method is to sieve the compost from the worms and the eggs. That’s too much equipment and I’m too lazy to bother with this.
  • Forget about installing a spigot. I don’t have the equipment, skill or energy to do it.

Introducing, my latest attempt.

Worm Bin 2

I wish I bought this sooner. This is the Worm Factory 360. I bought this because it was the largest capacity and it gives me the ability to expand up to eight trays.

The tray is of the right height so it is unlikely for you to overfill the tray. The design of the trays makes it easier for me to sift the compost from the worms. It comes with a thermometer to gauge whether the worm bin is too wet or dry.

I’ve since transferred the contents of my previous worm bin into this worm bin and I’m looking forward to harvesting compost without any fuss.

If you live in Los Angeles County, you can buy cheaper worm bins at their Smart Gardening Workshop. I decided on this model because it was easier to buy extra trays or parts if I ever need it. Also, I scored an Amazon gift card which helped me purchase this.

DIY Oil Warmer

There are maDIY Oil Warmerny products in the market to make your house smell good. I finally ran out of scented candles and decided to stop buying more because some of these candles have harmful chemicals.

I tried slow cooker potpourri but it did not work out for me which I find bizarre because when I make beef stew using the slow cooker, the entire house smells like beef stew but when I put oranges and cinnamon sticks, I can only smell it when I’m over the slow cooker.

I thought of getting an oil warmer but I could not find anything that appealed to me so I decided to make my own. Here is a photo of my DIY oil warmer. I made it using a candle holder, unscented candle and bowl that I already own. I filled up the bowl with water and some drops of essential oil and it works great.

Christmas

I love Christmas and it is hard to decorate for Christmas without generating any waste. There was a time when I was in a Christmas frenzy and I would buy all kinds of Christmas decorations. I had a lot of leftover decorations from my previous life which I continue to use today because there is no point in throwing something that is perfectly good.

Music

The best way to get into the Christmas mood is play some Christmas music. There are tons of free music thanks to Spotify, Pandora and YouTube.

christmas-wreath

Wreath

Last year I bought a Christmas wreath from the farmers market. Eventually, the wreath dried out and went into the compost bin. I saved the frame. This year, I was tempted to buy something similar but I decided against it because my new place does not have composting facilities and I am not sure about feeding pine leaves to my worms. So, I decided to make my own wreath with existing materials that I have at home.

Cards

I like receiving cards for my birthday or for special occasions. It makes me feel special. I use the cards as decoration and eventually I would scan the card for memories (where possible) or recycle the cards. I’ve also started a new business and decided to send out 2017 calendars to my friends, clients and business associates. I am hoping that they will keep the card for the entire 2017 instead of throwing it away after the holidays. I also chose non-glossy cards so the cards can be recycled or composted when they no longer want it.

Ornaments

I collect Christmas ornaments from my travels. Every year, when we set up the Christmas Tree, we would reminisce about the trips and how or why we acquired the various ornaments. I am not a fan of baking sourdough ornaments. It is much too time consuming for a lazy person like me and I feel bad about throwing away the ornaments when the holidays are over. I am also not interested in ornaments if there is no story attached to it.

Scent

We use to buy Christmas scented candles but since the candles are gone, I told Husband that we will no longer be purchasing scented candles. I have to admit that the candles are pretty and it gives out a nice smell but candles can get expensive and potentially toxic. I tried looking for some zero waste methods to scent the house and I’ve decided that homemade potpourri is just too much work for me. Since I will be hosting a Christmas Lunch, I’ve decided to use our slow cooker to simmer some cinnamon sticks with clove and orange slices. Will see how that goes. I’m doing it in a slow cooker because I cannot trust myself in making sure that the water doesn’t dry out on the stove top.

Presents

This year, I have decided that I was going to shop for Christmas presents around my house or if I do purchase something, it would be in the form of experience or something that can be consumed. This year, I made doughnuts for my neighbors. I’m also thinking of movie tickets for the upcoming Star Wars film and you can almost never go wrong with a good bottle of wine. I also made Christmas ornaments for my close friends using existing materials that I have at home.

I actually hate giving or receiving gift cards because I think there is no thought that goes into that. I’ve had gift cards that I have held on to for years because I cannot figure what to use it on. I’d rather give or receive cash, Visa or Mastercard. However, I do buy gift cards for those I know who will use it and it’s usually gift cards for a grocery store which they frequent. I also did purchase a laptop as a Christmas present for my best friend but it took about a month to raise the necessary funds and coordinate the group effort.

As for Hubby, I’m not planning on buying him any presents this year. Last year, I bought him several Christmas gifts and he did not even bother to use any of it so it was a waste of money. This year, I’ve decided to organize a Christmas Lunch with his friends. I know he is looking forward to having his friends around. It’s an excellent excuse to deep clean the house. I’m also planning to get tickets to watch the Nutcracker and the Newport Beach Christmas Parade. I’m sure he will enjoy that too.

Lunch

I’ve invited Husband’s friends over for Christmas lunch. I’m actually looking forward to it. I told them not to bring any gifts but they can bring alcohol. I also told them to skip the gift bag and wrapping because I’m just interested in the contents in the bottle. We are planning to play board games after lunch and I am sure it will be lots of fun. Trying to organize a zero waste Christmas lunch is going to be a challenge.

Handkerchiefs and Napkins

Handkerchiefs

I considered buying flannel handkerchiefs since it’s great for sniffles but it can be expensive. I decided to make my own. I went to a fabric store and bought 3 yards and a bit of flannel. The fabric was on sale and you get an extra 50% discount if you buy the tail ends that do not come to a yard. The good thing about sewing your own handkerchief is that you can make it whatever size you want and I wanted big handkerchiefs.

Since I’m lazy, I tried cutting flannel with pinking shears but it frayed like a big ball of mess when I laundered it. I went on youtube to find out how to make handkerchiefs and when I saw ironing involved in making the seams, it turned me off. I even contemplated sewing my handkerchiefs by hand but then, I would be sewing for a whole week. I then saw a clip on using hemming foot to make small hems. That was it. It took me a while to do the hems until it looked neat. I still have difficulties with the corners because the flannel can get too thick for the sewing machine. My goal was to stop the fabric from fraying when it gets washed. I will not be selling handkerchiefs on Etsy. After a whole day of sewing, I came up with more than 20 pieces of handkerchiefs and learnt a new skill. I store my handkerchiefs in a glass jar. Kind of like a tissue in a tissue box.

In the meantime, Husband is grossed out by the handkerchief idea. We still have napkins from a Christmas party 3 years ago and Husband occasionally comes home with napkins when he orders takeaway. All the napkins would go into the glass jar for Husband and guests who visit and in need of tissue. We have since stopped purchasing paper towels and facial tissues.