This past July marks the fourteenth year in which I have not owned a car. I bought my first car when I started my first job (an elementary school teacher) and lived in a small town in South Western Ontario, where it was impossible to get around without a car, since there was no public transit. I faced a similar situation when I lived in Detroit, a city that is designed to encourage driving a car; which is not surprising, given the importance of the automobile industry in that city, and where public transit was limited. In Toronto, I hardly ever used a car, as it was much easier to get around with the subway and TTC buses.
When I moved to Halifax, I drove to work for the first few years, but switched to public transit. It’s not really possible to drive in Halifax without winter tyres, given how hilly the city is and how much snow and ice we get, but I couldn’t store tyres in my home. I started taking the bus to work and drove my car only on the weekends. I was never comfortable owning a car, given its carbon footprint, so once the lease of my latest car was up, I decided not to get another car. I had done a trial run for two months prior to this point to see how well I could manage without a car, and I found it surprisingly easy.
Fourteen years later, I can safely say that giving up owning a car was a splendid idea. I certainly don’t miss the lease payments, the insurance premiums, and the ever increasing cost of petrol. My employer subsidizes my year-long transit pass, which is also tax deductible. Not owning a car has saved me thousands of dollars a year. I live close to a car rental company, from which I occasionally rent a car for purchasing larger items, going on holidays, driving to the airport, and so forth. This rental agency allows me to pick up a rental from one location and drop it off at another without a charge (because I’ve been with them for so long), and I even get a discount through my employer.
While so many people can’t imagine life without a car and see not owning one as a burden, I enjoy the freedom and flexibility that being car-less gives me. I don’t need to worry about finding a parking spot, and when I go to a destination, I don’t need to circle back to where my car is parked in order to return home. I don’t have to go through the white-knuckle experience of driving through snowstorms and blizzards. Riding a bus allows me to observe the various neighbourhoods of the city at a leisurely pace, and I can catch up with my reading if I wish to. I also walk a fair amount, which is excellent exercise, and which allows me further time for self-reflection. I don’t ride a bicycle.
My shopping habits have been affected by my use of public transit. I need to plan my shopping trips more carefully, as it takes me longer to do them, and I can carry only so many things. This means as well that I rarely give in to impulse shopping trips. I have heavier grocery items delivered when I need to; this helps provide some income to the local delivery persons, and gives me the freedom to get that extra large bag of potatoes.
Owning a car is a luxury and a privilege that so many people take for granted. I recognize also that I am very privileged in my choice to not own a car; so many people do not have this choice. I am fortunate also to have a very good public transit system that allows me to get around the city. Not owning a car is the second most significant way in which I reduce my carbon footprint; the first is my vegan lifestyle. Being car-less is a choice I have never regretted.
Today I would like to discuss items we often purchase in the name of sustainability that we don’t actually need, and which could contribute to further waste.
At first blush, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with reusable bags; after all, they help us avoid using single-use bags. The problem is with the sheer number of reusable bags that we accumulate. How many times have we accepted reusable bags at conferences, for example, trade shows, and so forth? Reusable bags require a lot of energy to be manufactured, and most cannot be recycled (ironically, plastic bags usually can). You have to use reusable bags many times to mitigate their environmental footprint. During our latest COVID lockdown, I’ve been purchasing my groceries online from local vendors; in some cases, they have delivered the goods in their store-branded reusable bags, for which I have no use. I’ve now taken to adding a note in my cart to say “please do not put the merchandise in reusable bags, as I have enough of them. Paper bags are fine.” I have one set of BagPodz that is easy to carry and lightweight, and that can be washed very easily. I also refuse any swag or bags at any events. Seriously, how many pens do you need?
Reusable water bottles and travel mugs
This is another area where it’s so easy to accumulate a lot of duplicates; reusable water bottles and travel mugs are often included in swag, as well. I’ve been guilty of buying stainless steel bottles over the years, to the point where I have rather too many. One water bottle and one travel are enough. I’m divesting myself of duplicates as responsibly as I can, but I need to stop myself from buying or accumulating more of them.
I’ve been guilty of buying more than one set of travel cutlery. My first purchase consisted of a bamboo set; I quickly found that I hate the feel of bamboo in my mouth. I can’t stand dry, raspy textures (hello, microfiber cleaning cloths). I’ve purchased two different sets of stainless steel travel cutlery; I use one in the office, so at least it’s not wasted, but honestly, a set of cutlery from my kitchen would have been sufficient. The other “it’s so cute” set turned out to be too small for normal-sized hands. I’ve kept it very simple by buying a travel spork, which works well and hasn’t yet resulted in any accidental loss of blood, which did happen when I tried to carry my kitchen cutlery in my bag. This spork also doesn’t set off any alarms at the airport.
Matching mason jars
It’s very tempting to buy beautiful mason jars or glass vacuum sealed jars (let’s face it, Weck jars are beautiful) in order to have a sense of symmetry and beauty in one’s kitchen cupboards. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love both symmetry and beauty, but it’s so much easier to simply reuse glass or even plastic containers that previously held food. All my glass storage jars were formerly food jars (e.g., salsa, vegan mayonnaise, jams, etc.). They may not look pretty, but they work, and I use them to store dry goods such as legumes, leftovers, cleaning concentrates, as well as to freeze food. I’ve invested in two sets of plastic mason jar lids, since the standard metal ones rust very easily.
Reusable straws and their brushes
Again, there’s nothing wrong with reusable straws; it’s more a question of how many we actually need. You can buy reusable straws in multipacks, and they often come with those tiny brushes for cleaning purposes. Those brushes strike me as so wasteful. It’s so easy to simply run soap and water through the straw to clean it; if you’re very germophobic, you can soak the straw in boiling water. I put my stainless steel straw in the dishwasher as well. I do use a stainless steel straw at the office and at home, mostly to keep lipstick off my glass of water, but I don’t need more than two. Again, it’s the quantity of these items that we accumulate that is wasteful.
The 10×10 challenge is very popular in the slow fashion movement: You select 10 items of clothing that you wear for 10 days. The 10 items typically include shoes and outerwear. I’m still not happy with the amount of clothing I own; the number is at its smallest (55 pieces in total, not including lounge wear) it’s been for many years, but I find that this number is still too high. I’ve had many of these pieces for several years; some go back 10 years. I take very good care of my clothes, and I buy good quality, so they tend to last a long time. Some of my style preferences have changed since i bought many of these pieces. I have always preferred clothes in neutral colours (my neutrals are warm toned, such as cream, beige, brown, warm greens, and navy blue) and with no patterns, but I experminted with patterns for a while, especially in my dresses, and with colours that don’t flatter me too well, such as black and grey. I want to return to my preference for plainer neutrals, as I do find patterns to be a little overwhelming. I also prefer to work with a smaller number of clothes; I find I’m at my happiest when I travel with only hand luggage, as my choices are very limited and I get to repeat outfits. A full closet actually makes me feel overwhelmed; the more I whittle down my possessions, the more easily I become overwhelmed.
I want to strip down my wardrobe to the essentials, as I’m finding what I have to be too busy right now. After lots of trial and error over the years, I’ve narrowed my preferences to suit my colour palette, fabric choices, and body type. Further, I prefer to have a year-round wardrobe, rather than a seasonal one. A year-round wardrobe is more challenging in Canada, where we have a long and cold winter (the longest month), and three other seasons, but it’s manageable. I’ve found that tights, cardigans, and blazers can be used with items of clothing for the colder months. Here are the essentials that I have in mind
The palette above is a paint swatch, but it captures perfectly the colour scheme I love best. I would add to this navy blue, which is a wamer tone that I can wear, and preferably for the bottom (e.g., skirts and trousers).
My favourite fabric is linen. While linen is so often associated with warm weather, I think it can be worn year round, especially if it’s a heavier weight. Tencel is another good choice, as it’s very silky, and sustainably produced. Cotton is another choice, and my preference would be for organic, where possible. Cotton has a high environmental impact, so it would be my third choice.
I have an inverted triangle body shape: Broad shoulders (they are the widest part of my body), larger bust, not much waist definition, and straight hips. My narrower hips means that I can get away with pencil skirts and skinny jeans, but doing makes me look a little lopsided. My body type needs fuller bottom pieces to balance out the shoulders and torso, and v-necks and unfussy shapes to balance the shoulders.
The 10X? challenge
As part of the exercise to focus on paring down my essentials, I’m goint to do a variation of the 10×10 challenge. I will do this in different stages, working with 10 items at a time for a period, then switching to another 10 items. This will help me detemine which items in my wardrobe I really want to keep. I’m not counting shoes (I have so few), outerwear, or lounge wear, or layering pieces that I need to keep warm or to protect me from the sun (e.g., cardigans). It’s the end of May, and it still gets cool, and my condo can be very cold. I don’t have fancy closet editing software, so I will simply list the 10 items I will use for this first round. I will post my outfit of the day with these 10 items, but I don’t know for how long I will do this; I’m thinking two weeks at a minimum for now. These are the 10 items I will be working with in this round:
Natural v-neck linen top
Beige v-neck linen top
Striped navy v-necl linen top
Cream and brown blouse
Blue paisley tunic
Navy linen trousers
Cream linen trousers
Levis 724 high rise straight leg jeans
Navy blue cotton shirt dress
Navy blue cotton wrap dress (with reversible neckline)
I’ve discussed in previous posts purchase decisions that I’ve regretted. Today I want to discuss purchase decisions that I’ve been very happy with and that I would repurchase. These are items that have made life easier, so I consider them essential minimalist purchases.
I love sprouts, but you usually buy them in plastic tubs. I bought this class sprouting jar a few years ago and have never looked back. I buy sprouting legumes in bulk, such as lentils, mung beans, and chickpeas. I also buy some sprouting salad seeds in paper containers from one of the local food stores. It’s so much easier and cheaper to grow your own sprouts, and this jar is in constant use. I used to use a simple mason jar with a piece of cheesecloth wrapped around the top, but I made a few messes with this method, and have found this custom-made jar to be far less messy.
I love tofu and eat it almost daily. I am particularly fond of air frying tofu (more about this later), or grilling it. These two processes work best with tofu that has as little liquid as possible. I used to press blocks of tofu with weighted plates, but I broke a few things along the way. Some people freeze tofu to extract this liquid, but I hate the rubbery texture of frozen tofu. I invested in a tofu press. I normally avoid buying single-use products, but given how often I use it, this press has been a very good investment
Pull tab opener
I have arthritis in both my hand and wrists, and pulling open tabs from tins has become difficult and painful. I need to open tabs every day for my cats’ tinned food, which they get in the morning. This device has made my life so my easier, and it can be used as well to open screw-top bottles and smaller jars.
I despise cables and wires with every fibre in my body; they cause visual clutter that bothers me enormously. Wireless chargers have helped cut down on some of this clutter. I have one downstairs and one upstairs. I use them to charge my smartphone, and my bluetooth Galaxy ear buds. I love the fact that I don’t need to have different charging adapters. I wish that my Chromebook could charge this way.
I have a number of Dyson products. I had resisted buying them for a long time, as they are shockingly expensive, but once I did, my attitude for all of them was “I wish I had done this sooner.” My first Dyson product was the bladeless fan. I love not having to worry about getting my fingers caught in blades, and traditional fans accumulate a lot of dirt and are difficult to clean. My next purchase (on points, thanks to HBC. Canadians will get this) was a handheld vacuum, which I use to clean carpets, furniture, and stairs. I live with two cats and am a neat freak, so I use this device daily. My third purchase was the hair dryer. I really questioned by decision to buy this, as I let my curly hair air dry for the most part, but this process takes at least 5 hours. Most regular hair dryers, with diffusers, don’t work very well on my hair, as I don’t towel dry it, so it’s sopping wet. I use the Dyson hair dryer, with diffuser, for just a few minutes so that my hair doesn’t continue to drip down my back, let my hair air dry, then use the dryer again to scrunch out the gel cast (it’s a curly hair thing). The Dyson disperses heat much more efficiently, rapidly, and gently than any other hair dryer I’ve used. My most recent purchase was a Dyson vacuum cleaner. My older vacuum cleaner was still fine, but I was getting very tired of winding and unwinding the cord every time I wanted to vacuum (which is every day in certain parts of the house). I tried the new Dyson on my living room rug just after I had vacuumed it with my older vacuum and I could not believe what the Dyson picked up. Absolutely no regrets: Sir James has my heart.
This plastic olive oil sprayer is a gem. I like to make an oil spray that consists of one part olive oil to four parts water: This acts similarly to those canned oil sprays you can get and cuts down on the amount of full oil I need to add to foods. I’ve tried repurposing spray bottles do this, but the nozzles generally sprayed a direct line, rather than a mist, and they would often clog. This bottle works very well: It mists the oil (although the mist is generous and sometimes hits other surfaces, but I’ve learned to have a clear path), the nozzle never clogs, and you can tilt the bottle in any direction without affecting the spray function. I use this bottle every day.
Even though I love to cook, I keep my cooking equipment down to the bare minimum; for example, I have only one pot large enough to boil past and make soups; one saute pan, one small pot, one medium sized pot, and a vegetable steamer insert. I hesitated about getting an air fryer, as I questioned whether my oven was sufficient, but after a lot of research and pondering, I thought I would try one. One use was all it took to convince me that I had made the right decision. I use my air fryer several times a week to cook tofu, vegetables, and potatoes. I love the fact that you need very little oil and that things cooks quickly.
Electric pressure cooker
I’ve been using pressure cookers since I was a child. The one we had in our family home was the type that could explode, but when it worked, we loved it. When I had my own kitchen, I invested in a standard pressure cooker that worked on the stove top. These types of pressure cookers are very hit and miss, as a lot depends on the temperature of the stove top. When I discovered electric pressure cookers, I was over the moon, as I no longer had to fiddle with closing the sliding lid properly, finding the right temperature, and so forth. My first electric pressure cooker was too large (8 litre) for my needs, but it worked well, until I managed to lose the pressure valve, without which the cooker doesn’t work. I bought a smaller 3-litre Instant Pot and use it very frequently, particularly to cook risotto, dried beans and legumes, soups, and so forth.
I wear a lot of natural fibres that get wrinkled, such as linen and cotton. I understand that these fibres will wrinkle as the day goes on, but I absolutely refuse to start off the day with wrinkled clothes. I even iron my kitchen towels and dish cloths. I air dry most of my laundry, so items do get wrinkled. Fortunately, I love to iron; I find it very soothing. I’m probably the only child who would beg my mother to let me do the ironing, which she gladly did once she was reassured that I wouldn’t burn down the house. I’ve gone through a number of irons, but the Eurosteam is the best I’ve ever used. It uses pressure to heat the water and has no heat settings. You can iron any fabric with the same heat setting and can leave the hot iron on any fabric, walk away for hours, and come back with no damage to the fabric. In short, this iron is magic. It’s expensive and worth every penny. I’ve had it for years.
Juwel drying rack
I air dry most of my laundy, including my towels and sheets; the only things I put in the dryer are the mattress pad, and the slipcover of my sofa. Dyrers use a lot of energy and have a high environmental footprint. I have had an assortment of drying racks over the years, and would often need to use three at a time. When I discovered the Juwel Twist drying rack, everyting changed. This drying rack is very lightweight and folds. In the image above, you can see the two sides of the rack, which extend fully. The legs collapse as well so that you end up with something the size of a thick broom when it’s fully closed. When it’s fully open, I can place one sheet on each side, which shows you how large the surface is. This now the only drying rack I use. It wasn’t cheap, but I’ve had it for years and it has completely changed the way I do laundry.
I’ve always liked bidets, as I consider toilet paper to be very inefficient, wasteful, and unhygienic. I had considered getting a bidet attachment, such as the Tushy, but they seemed a little fiddly to set up, and I have heard they don’t work with all sizes of toilets. I bought a handheld Brondell bidet about five years ago. It took me five minutes to set up and works really well. This bidet, in conjunction with washable cloths, are all I need. I keep a small supply of toilet paper for guests, but I don’t use it otherwise. I have a portable bidet that I use for work.
Today I want to focus on small appliances. I did discuss some appliances in my kitchen post, but I wanted to keep an eye on the post’s length, so I thought it best to divide some of the content.
Air fry oven
One of my favourite small appliances is a countertop convection oven: I use it daily to make toast, bake, broil, make pizza, and so forth. These ovens are far more energy efficient than the large stove, especially if you need to cook only smaller amounts. I had a Cuisinart countertop convection oven for many years, but it was starting to lose some efficiency, so it was time to replace it. The model above caught my eye, as it had an air fryer function. The fact that it was very light in weight appealed to me, but this should have been a warning sign. This oven is made primarily of aluminium, rather than steel, hence the light weight; the problem, as I soon found out, is that aluminium is not durable and that it rusts. Within a year, this oven had accumulated a lot of rust inside, even though I did my best to ensure that I cleaned and dried it well. One year in, and it was already time to replace this oven. I invested in a much more robust Breville oven that works like a dream.
Floor steam cleaners
When I first saw floor steam cleaners, I thought they were a wonderful idea, especially since I had moved from a carpeted rental apartment to a condo with wood and tile floors. I was attracted by the concept of using only water to clean floors. The model on the left was one of the first on the market, and which I bought from a Canadian television shopping company: It lasted about six months. The machine’s water container tended to leak and spew water everywhere and by the six-month period, no more steam was released. I proceeded to buy the model on the right, made by Bissell, so I had higher hopes. This model allowed you to change the temperature of the steam, depending on the type of floor, which appealed to me. This model lasted for only about a year, after which point the steam function stopped working. I about to risk wasting money on a third model, and I was also concerned about the potential damage of steam to my new cork floor in the kitchen, so I switched to a manual Vileda spray mop, which allows me to add a little of the concentrated cleaner that I use for all surfaces, or simply water. I can use the mop in its dry state to sweep cat fur.
When you live with cats and have severe allergies to dust, you vacuum – a lot. Sweeping doesn’t work for me because of my allergies, and brooms don’t pick up the particles of litter cats always drag around with them. The Hoover vacuum above was a huge disappointment. I had grown up with Hoovers, a brand closely associated with vacuum cleaners; in fact, we used “hoovering” as a verb when I was growing up, so I had high hopes for this machine. I also liked the bagless featur, as the older models with bags aggravated my allergies. The machine worked well, but after two years, the hose connected to the bagless container came loose. I tried duct tape to keep it together, but the force of the suction kept ripping the hose off. I managed for as long as I could, but for the sake of my sanity, I invested in a Dyson. There was a significant sticker shock, but after one use I said “what took me so long?”
Soy milk maker and tofu maker
In my attempt to reduce the packaging that comes with buying commercial soy milk and tofu, I bought devices to make my own soy milk and tofu. The Soyabella soy maker came with very good reviews and allowed me to make both soy milk and almond milk. The machine worked very well for about a year, but at the end of the first year, it stopped grinding the soy beans correctly, which created a very thin liquid. The tofu maker turned out to be too fussy and hit and miss: I found that it didn’t work very well with my homemade milk, and I needed to have the coagulant shipped. The quality of the tofu simply didn’t match what I could buy from the store, and tofu is something I eat almost daily. I’ve learned over the years that some DIYs are simply not worth the time and effort.
I’m starting a series in which I examine honestly purchase decisions that I’ve regretted. I think it’s important to do this type of reflection, as it’s an important part way for us to consider our buying behaviours. As I continue to declutter my possessions and learn to live with less, I I want to consider also the circumstances that led me to make these purchases to help me better understand and monitor what I bring into my home. Buyer’s remorse is often associated with larger or more expensive purchases, but I’m applying this lens to a variety of items, as I think it’s too easy to say “well, that item cost only $5, so it’s not a big loss.” While $5 may not seem to be so important to some people, the fact remains that in many cases, I’m left with an item that doesn’t provide value and that I will likely need to dispose of, which leads to the generation of further waste.
The kitchen is one of those areas that lends itself easily to buyer’s remorse, as it can be very tempting to buy speciality items that look useful but that are rarely used. I love to cook, and kitchen ware stores are my siren song; I’ve become much better and walking away but, sadly, not always, as we will see below.
This may come as a surprise to many, but I regret buying my Vitamix blender. These blenders are hugely expensive and, in my case at least, not worth the money. My blender lasted for 8 years before the motor blew. Eight years may seem like a long time, but this company makes a point of saying how durable and long-lasting their products are. I didn’t overuse or misuse the blender; it simply blew up one day, leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Repairing it would have cost far too much and, frankly, I never found that it worked as well as advertised, and having to use a tamper frequently to move stuff around in the container seemed to defeat the point of a blender. I succumbed to the hype surrounding this “must have” gadget. I’ve replaced it with a much less expensive and, more importantly, a much better quality blender from my old-time favourite brand Kitchen Aid.
I eat a lot of vegetables, and slicing and dicing can be a little tedious at times. I saw this gadget a number of times in the store, and I thought it would be a perfect addition, as it would allow me to slice and shred vegetables. I really tried to like this product, but it was simply too fussy to use. I always had to remind myself which slicer was appropriate for which function. The chute through which you pass the vegetables always got clogged. Pieces of vegetables got stuck to the blades, which slowed down the process and made washing the blades difficult. Finally, I don’t generally use shredded vegetables that much, especially since this process tends to make some vegetables (e.g., zucchini) very soggy. Slicing by hand may not produce perfect results, but it’s faster. Besides, if I want to do a larger batch, my Cuisinart food processor has slicing and shredding discs that are clearly labelled and easier to use.
Yet another attempt on my part to find a more efficient way of chopping vegetables. This device runs manually: You pull the green ring up and it moves the blades around. You need to keep pulling the ring until the vegetables reach the desired consistency. The vegetables always came out in different sizes, and hence looked not much different from those I cut with a knife on a chopping board. I found this item a little hard on my hands, and, of course, I managed to knock myself on the head a number of times during the ring pulling part.
Mini food processor
At this point, I’m sure you can see a pattern here. Once I got rid of the manual devices above, I thought this mini food processor would be a perfect addition to my kitchen, as it would allow me to do smaller batches without needing to bring out my larger food processor. This mini food processor worked very well, and I have found that it’s hard to go wrong with Kitchen Aid appliances, as they are of good quality. The problem here is that I don’t need two food processors. It’s better to have one larger machine that can do more, than two items that duplicate each other, to a certain extent.
I’m shaking my head as I think of these scissors: What on earth was I thinking? I thought they would be an excellent tool to help me cut fresh herbs. Wrong. First, I tend to use dried herbs daily, rather than fresh herbs, as the former last longer and have a more concentrated flavour. Second, these scissors were such a nuisance to use. You had to hold the fresh herbs with one hand, while negotiating the scissors around the herbs with the other hand. The herbs came out in different sizes, always stuck to the blades, and were sometimes covered with blood from my holding hand. I’m back to knife and chopping block.
Whoever designed this garlic crusher has clearly never used it. It was a nightmare. Most of the times, this item failed to crush cloves of garlic and, when it did, left most of the clove behind, which resulted in so much waste. What makes this purchase particularly stupid on my part is that I had a perfectly good garlic crusher before, although it is a little hard on my arthritic hands, which is why I bought this crusher. Total waste of money.
In my defence, a jar opener is a necessity in my kitchen, as I have arthritis in both hands and wrists, which means I simply cannot open most jars any more without assistance. This particular jar opener was recommended by a few arthritis websites: The device did not survive the first attempt. This opener does not have a hinge, so it doesn’t fit easily over a number of jar tops. When I tried to fit it over the first jar, the plastic device snapped in half. I now use this motorized beast that works like a charm.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with juicers, and this Breville model worked very well. It simply was a hassle to use, as there were a lot of parts to clean after using it. The thought of having to clean this machine stopped me from using it often (it was also hard and bulky to lift). Further and, perhaps more importantly, juicing removes too many nutrients and fibres from fruits and vegetables, both of which end up in the pulp. I much prefer to eat whole fruits and vegetables rather than juice them.
Are there any kitchen items you regret purchasing?
Canadian company, Globally Local, started as a vegan restaurant in 2014, in London Ontario. So far, the restaurant has locations in Toronto, Windsor, and London; naturally, I hope this company will make it to Halifax eventually. This company is more than a restaurant, however, as it has a manufacturing centre where it makes its own meat and dairy alternatives, and conducts research and development. The company has gone public and is now on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The plan is for the company to have twenty locations across North America by 2022.
The restaurant offers a variety of breakfast sandwiches, burgers, wraps, and tacos. Their burgers are made from chickpeas, seitan, or tempeh, for example, rather than meat alternatives. The College Street location in Toronto is on my list when it’s safe to travel to my home town.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a shoe person. I keep my collection of shoes as small as possible. My favourite type of footwear is an ankle boot, but clearly this won’t do for the summer months. When I did my wardrobe inventory two weeks ago, I was down to two pairs of summer shoes: A pair of pink sneakers (the only pink thing I own), and a dressier pair of black sandals. I wanted to add a third pair in a brown shade. I’ve wanted to add a pair of Birkenstock-type sandals, but vegan versions aren’t easy to find. Birkenstock does carry some vegan sandals, but only in black, white, and light cream. Light cream shows dirt too easily, and I never wear white shoes. After some searching, I found exactly what I was looking for at Call It Spring, a Canadian company that makes only vegan products and is PETA certified. The Firewia sandal, pictured above, is exactly the colour I wanted, and comes in half sizes, which isn’t true for a lot of shoes. I’m not sure about the long-term quality of these shoes, but they do seem well made so far, and other shoes or boots I’ve bought from this company have served me well.
A popular topic in many zero waste social media sites concerns common products that people do not buy. I don’t particularly like following trends, but this topic is of interest, as it allows me to reflect on my progress in my sustainable lifestyle, and may inspire others to reconsider some of their shopping habits. In this post I will focus on common household items, related mostly to cleaning products and food storage.
Liquid dish detergent: I haven’t used liquid dish detergent for years. I use a 1 kilogram bar of Savon de Marseille to hand wash my dishes. For the dishwasher, I use earth-friendly dishwasher tabs that I buy in bulk from a local store.
Sponges or brushes: I use a Swedish dish cloth to wipe kitchen counters and cupboards. These cloths last several months, can be washed, are biodegradable, and can be placed in the compost once they become too worn for use. I use a locally-grown luffa to hand wash dishes; I simply wet it, swipe it over the bar soap, and clean the dishes.
Plastic wrap: I hate plastic wrap with every fibre in my body; it’s wasteful, frustrating to use, and unnecessary. I use my grandmother’s method of placing a plate on top of a bowl to store food, or use glass containers from jam, etc.
Plastic zip bags: I use the same methods as mentioned above under plastic wrap. I use glass jars to freeze food.
Aluminium foil: I use a reusable silicone mat to line baking and roasting dishes. I’ve used this mat as well to cover items in the oven (e.g., lasagna).
Paper towels: I use my wet Swedish dish cloth to wipe surfaces, and linen dish cloths to dry them. For messy spills, including cat vomit (cat guardians will understand), I used dish cloths that are very old and soiled, or simply rags made from old t-shirts.
Toilet paper: I use a hand-held bidet and small cloth towels. I’ve always thought that toilet paper was unhygienic and ineffective. A good way to think of it: If you smeared peanut butter on your arm, would you simply use a tissue to wipe it off? I have individual toilet rolls that I buy unpackaged from a local store for guests but I need to buy them only once a year.
Liquid soapand body wash: I’ve always disliked liquid soap and body wash, as I find them very wasteful. People generally use up far more liquid than they actually need. Instead, I use good old-fashioned bar soap.
Liquid laundry detergent: I’ve been using Tru Earth laundry strips for a year now and have never looked back. So much space and water are saved.
Fabric softenerand dryer sheets: I’ve never seen the point of these products. I air dry most of my laundry, including my bed sheets. I use the dryer only for the mattress pad.
Chlorine bleach: I don’t see the point of this product either. I’ve never been obsessed with sanitizing surfaces, as this lasts for only a few minutes. To whiten laundry, I use baking soda.
Specialty cleaners: I use Sal Suds concentrated cleaner to clean all surfaces. I simply mix a little bit of the concentrate with water in a spray bottle. Sal Suds is safe for all surfaces (and floors), including stone, marble, and granite. I clean windows and mirrors with a solution of 1 part water and 1 part isopropyl alcohol (which doubles as a disinfectant for cuts and scrapes). I use a simple combination of olive oil and lemon juice to nourish and polish my wood furniture when it needs it.
Bin liners: I don’t use bin liners in any of my kitchen or bathroom garbage bins; I simply toss items in the bins, then empty the bins weekly into one central garbage bag. I wait until this one bag is completely full before I toss it in the building waste container.
Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener’s catch phrase “I would prefer not to,” leads to extreme behaviour for the character, but I think we could learn a thing or two from this phrase, as well as Scrivener’s belief that “We must cultivate a relationship with inactivity, and not become disoriented or panicked at how unlike work, or being at some task, our leisure actually is.”
There have been many excellent articles and posts written about the culture of busyness. The growing number of such articles is an indication, perhaps, of how much this culture has grown over the years. I use the term “worship” in my title, because I think that’s become a very common approach to busyness: we worship at the altar of busyness like acolytes looking for validation of their worth and reward for their efforts.
Busyness has become a competitive sport; we all seem to feel the need to tell others how busy we are. How many times do you hear (or say) “Busy,” when people ask you how you are? In my professional environment, it seems that the number of hours we dedicate to work are seen a badge of honour: we list the number of evenings that we work, as well as weekends. We say we can’t not look at work email when we are on holidays because we will spend too much time catching up afterwards. We feel the need to take on tasks that fill almost every hour of our working days. Time and time again, people say how tired they are and busy, yet they take no time to rest, or to say no to tasks.
I say none of this to offend anyone; I’ve done all these things as well. As I say, busyness has become engrained into our culture. We are expected, it seems, to take on task after task and to work evenings and weekends. We are always connected and must respond at the drop of a hat. We are also to blame to some extent for people’s expectations; so, for example, I make it very clear to people that I’m not joking when I say that I don’t read or respond to email when I’m on holidays and I have found that people tend to send me fewer messages as a result. I think spending a few hours catching up with email when I return is a small price to pay for taking a true holiday from work.
How much of this obsession with busyness is tied to our fragile egos? Do we keep busy, and let others know how busy we are, because we feel the constant need to receive validation of our worth? Is our self worth tied so strongly to public perception (and our declaration) of our productivity? Do we unknowingly use our busyness as a way of showing that we are somehow better or more valid that others? If we aren’t busy, then we can’t be important and contributing members of society. In many ways, we have reduced ourselves to commodities.
Have we fallen into the trap of measuring our self worth with what we do and how much we produce? How many of us tie our identity do our professions and what we produce? Again, I’m pointing the finger at myself when I say this. One of the reasons I’ve embraced minimalism over the past few years is because I’m simply tired of being a rat on an endlessly-spinning wheel. I simply cannot and will not accept that who I am is defined by what I do for a living. Who I am is a combination of the principles, beliefs, values, and morals that I hold. My professional career is something that I do and enjoy, but it does not define who I am. It’s a cliche, I know, but there really is more to life than work.
I’m not going to get all new age and “intentional” on you; that’s simply not who I am. My brain is hardwired to always seek the most efficient and effective ways of doing things. I’ve extended this lens to the quality of my life, and working all hours of the day and over weekends is simply an inefficient way to live. Being constantly busy is actually a failure on my part to be efficient, because it means that I’m spending too much time on what I do for a living, and neglecting who I am as a person. Spending 12-14 hours a day on my work life (the what) means that I have little to no time to devote to me (the who). Neglecting the who is the ultimate inefficiency. The less time I spend on the who, the less efficient I am dealing with the what.
Every day, I carve out time for the who and guard it jealously. I’m an early bird, so I spend quality time on the who before I work on the what. The what takes a hiatus in the evenings and over the weekend. Does this mean I will produce less than others? Perhaps. Does this make me less self worthy? This is the ultimate question I need to deal with because of my emphasis on efficiency. I’ve learned, however, that efficiency and productivity are only loosely correlated. One can produce a lot of things; the quality of these things may not be that good, however. Even if the quality of the output is good, what is the impact on the who? I’ve seen what has happened to my health when I’ve placed the what above the who; this is the ultimate inefficiency and something I’m not willing to live with.
The more time I spend on the what, the less satisfaction I feel with the who. Ultimately, for me it’s the who that counts more. If I can’t take the time for the who, and to work on expanding my horizon and knowledge, I have failed my ultimate test of efficiency. Yes, the work I produce adds to my knowledge and, I hope makes a contribution to others, but this is only one aspect of who I am. I simply need more than this. And yes, I’m worth it.
What I’ve written above relates to only my reflections on what is important to me. I realize that other people’s lives, realities, and priorities differ from mine, and that the choices I make are designed for my well-being. I do think, however, that a reflection on the impact of busyness on our lives is worth the effort.