Seas and Trees: A Week in Pictures

Last week there was no writing. No posts about rubbish bins, or plastic, or having too much stuff. Instead, I was on holidays, journeying through some of the National Parks and other beautiful places that Western Australia has to offer. There is so much natural beauty, amazing scenery and incredible wildlife here to experience.

Sometimes we just need to get out there and remind ourselves that the world truly is an amazing, beautiful, wonderful place. We’re pretty lucky, living on a planet like ours, and taking time out to appreciate just how awe-inspiring it really is really re-ignites my commitment to working to protect it.

I thought I’d share a few of the pics I took in the last week with you. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired me…the earth is a beautiful place, and worth looking after : )

Bluff Knoll peaks WA

Bluff Knoll, Stirling Ranges National Park

Bluff Knoll landscape

Stirling Ranges National Park

Le Grand Beach Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Le Grand Beach, Cape Le Grand National Park

Cape Le Grand National Park Beach Esperance WA

Cape Le Grand Beach, near Esperance

Lucky Bay Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Hellfire Bay Cape le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Hellfire Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Flowers Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Shrub in Flower, Cape Le Grand National Park

Tourist Drive Esperance WA

Waves crashing on the rocks, Esperance

Tourist Drive Esperance WA Steps

Esperance coastline

Kapwari Wetlands Walk Esperance WA

Kapwari wetlands, Esperance

Boardwalk Wetlands Esperance WA

Boardwalk at Kapwari wetlands

Fluffy Clouds in Esperance WA

Fluffy Clouds

Stokes National Park Esperance WA

Stokes National Park, Esperance

Shark tooth wattle

Shark-tooth wattle

Bremer Bay Walk Bench

Moody Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay beach

Bremer Bay beach

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay Beach walk

Bremer Bay in the sunshine

Beach at Bremer Bay

Around the cape at Bremer Bay

Orange Bottle Brush Denmark

Orange bottle-brush in Denmark

Nature is amazing, and it makes my heart sing : )

It Began With Chocolate Brownies…

On Wednesday it was my boss’s birthday, and I decided to make chocolate brownies to take to work. These raw chocolate brownies that I originally posted the recipe for back in 2013. (They are extremely simple to make, do not require baking and are so delicious – you must make them!)

I knew the recipe was buried deep in the archives of my blog, and I managed to find it. I realise though, that if you didn’t know that the recipe existed, you wouldn’t have searched for it, and you’d never have known it was there. That’s an awful lot of people missing out on delicious chocolate brownies!

The same goes for lots of other things I’ve written about. They’re lost in the depths of the internet. It’s pretty rubbish, not being able to find something unless you already know it exists. I’d like to think that some of that information would be useful to people!

Feeling inspired (and with the extra energy given to me by eating too many offcuts of chocolate brownie) I’ve set about rejigging my site to make it easier for readers to browse through old content. It still looks pretty much the same, but now there are four tabs at the top that link to pages that showcase some of the old archived posts.

The four new categories are:

Minimalism and Simple Living

Real Food and Recipes

Zero Waste

Plastic-Free

They aren’t perfect (I’m not a website developer!) and they don’t list every single post I’ve ever written, but it’s a much more user-friendly way to browse the site. I promise I’m going to work on making the introductory text a bit more exciting!

I hope you like them. Now you have plenty of things to do to keep you occupied this weekend – reading and chocolate-brownie eating! What a perfect way to spend your time! : )

Please give me your feedback! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please let me know any idea or suggestions in the comments below. Do you find the new pages helpful? Are there any categories you feel I’ve missed? Is there any other information you think I could add? I really want to make this site more helpful and user-friendly for you, the reader – so tell me your ideas!

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

I mentioned at the end of last year that we’d been deciding whether or not to buy a car, and this drummed up quite a bit of interest from readers. Car ownership can be controversial from a minimalist point-of-view, a sustainability point-of-view, a zero-waste point of view... I thought I’d write about why we were contemplating buying a car in the first place, what our options were and why we ultimately decided to remain car-free.

Some Background – Our Changing Circumstances

At the end of September, I started a new job. My office is a ten-minute walk (through a park!) from our flat. Glen has been working in the CBD for the last 18 months, which was a 45 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 30 minute cycle ride. There is no parking. In November, Glen’s office relocated from the CBD to another suburb. His commute is now a 1 hour 20 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 45 minute cycle ride. Parking is free.

We’ve known about this impending relocation for a while. Our new flat (which we move into at the end of the year) will be much closer to the new office – probably a 15 minute bus or cycle ride. It’s the 12 months before the move that are the issue. If I hadn’t just found a job where we currently live, we’d have moved closer sooner, but that was no longer an option.

Commuting isn’t much fun, and doubling your commuting time (with no compensation – it was the office location that changed, not the actual job) means losing a significant amount of free time. Glen doesn’t want to spend his evenings sat at bus stops.

With both of us working, there is less free time for errands, and a car might make things easier. We thought hard about the options.

Option 1: The Electric Car

The electric car appears to fit with our values. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it raised a number of issues for us.

First up, electric cars are fairly new here, so there isn’t really a second-hand market. Buying a new car is expensive. One of the reasons I started working full-time was to save for the deposit for the flat. Buying a car would wipe out all that money. A new car would cost the same as my take-home salary for the year: they’d simply cancel each other out. Which rather defeats the point!

Secondly, there’s all that embodied carbon. Buying a new car is hardly a green option, whether electric or not. If we really needed a car, maybe we’d think differently, but this choice was more about convenience than necessity.

Thirdly, having an electric car without solar panels to charge it wouldn’t be ideal. The new house has solar but the current one doesn’t, so we’d need to plug it into the mains (powering it from fossil fuels). Our car port is not next to our flat, so we’d need cables and some ingenuity to manage to charge it at home.

All that convenience of having a car suddenly got remarkably inconvenient!

Option 2: The Conventional Car

What about a conventional car? We’d never even consider buying a brand new conventional car. Old cars are affordable (assuming they don’t keep breaking down) and older cars how a lower footprint, even when their fuel usage is less efficient. The embodied emissions of a car (meaning the energy used in the mining, transporting and manufacturing of the parts and the building of the car) are thought to rival the exhaust emissions over its lifetime. T

he older a car is and the more miles it has clocked, the better.

The thing is, we like living without a car. We’ve made it work for us, and we like the lifestyle. My husband feels that not having a car is part of his identity. You can justify anything to yourself if you try hard enough, but we felt that car ownership might be the start of a slippery slope away from the path we’re trying to follow.

Option 3: The Electric Bike

My husband was really taken with the idea of an electric bike. We have several friends who own them, so he was able to talk about them with people who could provide honest and helpful feedback. The appeal? An electric bike would make the 45 minute (each way) cycle ride to work faster, and less exhausting. The downsides: it’s still a bicycle.

There would still be days when it wouldn’t be practical. Going to meetings before work, or heading out after work, and the bike becomes a burden. If it’s pouring, you still get wet. if it’s a 45 degree day, you still get hot.

It wouldn’t be practical on the weekends if we were going somewhere together, as I’d still have my road bike. Buy two and the cost runs into a few thousand dollars. We have limited storage, they are very heavy and our flat is upstairs.

Option 4: Do Nothing

There’s definitely something to be said for doing nothing. It’s not about inertia or indecision, but about making informed choices. It’s a very minimalist approach to life – allow yourself to settle into your new situation before making decisions, especially if those decisions involve spending money and accumulating more stuff.

Rather than speculate that the commute would be too long, or the cycle ride too tiring, we decided that the best approach was to see how it actually panned out.

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

This year our focus is saving for a deposit on a flat, and spending money on other things is a distraction from this goal. Car ownership may give us increased convenience…but at a price. We’ve lived without a car for 3 1/2 years in Perth, and our circumstances have changed before, so there’s no reason why we can’t manage this latest round of changes.

My husband has embraced cycling to work. His current aim is 3 times a week, and whilst he found it quite tiring initially, he is definitely finding it easier. Rather than costing us more, his office move is saving us money (less bus / train fares), and his fitness is improving greatly! He is still contemplating the electric bike idea, but for now the pushbike is good enough.

Do you live car-free? Do you love the freedom it gives you, or find the inconvenience frustrating? If you have a car, is getting rid of your car something you’d consider? Would you contemplate getting an electric bike?! Please leave a comment below telling me your thoughts!

Minimalism: Things that I Don’t Have

One of the main lessons I’ve learned about minimalism, decluttering and simplifying is that you just have to keep chipping away at it. Change isn’t always easy. Slow, small steps are still steps in the right direction. It might not be lightning fast, but progress is being made. My unnecessarily large number of clothes tends to feature often on the blog, because it’s something that I personally find hard to declutter (although, however full my closet might look now, there’s definitely less than when I started). In other areas, however, I’m doing much better.

I spend so much time lamenting the failures and the not-quite-there-yet / work-in-progress attempts, but of course I have successes too. I thought I’d change the tone a bit today and focus on the things that I don’t have – meaning the things I’ve successfully decluttered and happily live without.

Things That I Don’t Have

  1. A car. We are a zero-car household, and use our bicycles or public transport to get from A to B. We hire a car if we’re going further afield on holidays.

  2. A garage. We have an open carport, which we don’t use because we don’t have a car, but we don’t have a lockable, sealed garage. Which means we don’t have any “stuff” stored in the garage either!

  3. A shed / storage locker. Ditto.

  4. A TV. Nope, we don’t have a TV. I’ve not had a TV for the majority of my adult life, and I love life without it. There’s no adverts selling me stuff, no wasted evenings starting mindlessly at the box. With the average Australian adult spending 13 hours a week watching TV, that’s a lot of free time to lose!

  5. A DVD player. Not much point without a television! Nor do we have an X-Box, Wii, Freeview box, VHS player, or any other electronic gaming or viewing device.

  6. A toaster. We use the grill. Not having a toaster saves on kitchen bench top clutter.

  7. A microwave. They take up valuable counter space, they have questionable safety, and I’ve never eaten any food that’s tasted delicious after coming out of a microwave. If we need to heat something up, we use a pan.

  8. A dishwasher. I wash dishes by hand. I’ve read arguments that dishwashers are more efficient in their water use than hand-washing, but if you take into account mining the metal from the ground, drilling the oil, transporting the materials, molding the plastic, manufacturing the dishwasher and shipping it to the store, I’m pretty sure had-washing is the winner. There’s a space in the new house for a dishwasher – it will be remaining empty.

  9. Storage crates. We just sold our last two storage crates (after ridding ourselves of the contents) on Gumtree this week (we’ve offloaded 8 crates in 3 years). I feel it’s quite symbolic – there’s no longer any boxed storage in our home.

  10. DIY tools. Aside from a screwdriver, we don’t have any DIY tools. On the rare occasion we need one, we borrow it. In the last year we’ve borrowed a drill, a hammer, a pedal wrench, a shovel and a rubber mallet.

  11. A printer. We have a laptop but we don’t have a printer. It’s vary rare that we need to print anything, but if we do we can use te printer at work or the local library.

  12. Any music CDs. These were one of the first things I decluttered back in the UK. I sold / gave away or donated every single one of my sizeable CD collection (I was a teenager in the 90s – we had a lot of CDs). I’ve not bought any since.

  13. Any DVDs. I was always selective about buying DVDs, even in my pre-minimalism days – who needs a huge collection of movies they will only watch once cluttering up the house? I owned a few of my favourites (Pedro Almodovar classics mainly) but I sold these before I moved to Australia. If we want to watch a movie, we borrow it from the library.

  14. Fiction books. I’ve sold, given away or donated the lot. I can use the local library – why would I want shelves of paperbacks I’ll never read again cluttering up my home?

  15. A dryer. Yes, we have a washing machine, but no, we don’t have a dryer. We have the sun. Far more environmentally-friendly!

  16. Chemical cleaning products. Switching to green cleaning is not only healthier and safer, it means less bottles rattling around under the sink! I use white vinegar, bicarb and a good scrubbing brush, plus a few essential oils. The first two also moonlight on the pantry shelves – you couldn’t say the same for bleach!

  17. Chemical beauty products. My bathroom routine is pared down to a minimum – bar soap and almond oil for my skin; bicarb and vinegar for my hair.  Do we really need to exfoliate, cleanse, tone and moisturise? Have a separate eye, skin and body moisturiser? Plus one for overnight? Or is it just marketing fluff designed to make us buy more? Hmmm. Plus it’s estimated that the average woman applies more than 500 chemicals to her body every day, so there’s more incentive than just  fewer bottles on the bathroom shelf.

  18. A hairdryer. I towel-dry my hair, then leave it to dry naturally.

  19. More than 4 dining chairs. This came to mind because we had a few people over for Glen’s birthday in January (there were 6 of us) and we only had 4 dining chairs. We used the char from the office, and a upturned milk crate with two cushions for the 6th. Job done!

  20. Credit card debt. I have credit cards, and use them regularly. There’s a number of reasons, including the security, rewards offered and the interest I can earn on the money before the bill comes. But I always pay the bill in full. Every month. I always have and always will.

Now I want to hear from you! How many can you tick off from my list as things you don’t own? Is there anything on here that you’d struggle to do without? If you were to write this list, what things would you add to it? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!

The Bicarb No-Poo Hair-Washing Controversy

I never even knew that there was a baking soda hair washing controversy. I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb and vinegar since last June, and I’ve had no problems. My hair looks and feels better, and I’m in love with the simplicity of it. So when I got this email from a reader, I was quite surprised!

“I was looking at the bicarb/vinegar hair cleaning idea and saw a couple of links like the one below about the pH levels etc. Just wondering if you’d come across this kind of feedback before and if so, whether you found it valid or not? I’m sure like anything there’s people for and against, just curious about the science behind this lady’s thoughts.”

The link she was referring to was an article called Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair. Punchy title, no? I hadn’t seen the article before, so I read it, and then a few more.

Here are my thoughts.

The Science Behind Bicarb and Vinegar Hair Washing

The pH scale measures whether a substance is acidic or alkaline, and runs from 0 to 14. 0 is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline and 7 is neutral (pure water has a pH of 7). The skin has a layer on the surface known as the acid mantle, which is a mixture of sebum (oil that the skin produces) and sweat. This acid mantle has a slightly acidic pH (around 5.5).

Most cleansers and shampoos are alkaline because these clean better than acidic products. Alkaline products will also open up the hair cuticle, as will hot water and hair brushing. However alkaline products can leave the skin and hair feeling dry, and if hair cuticles are left open the hair is more susceptible to damage. That is why conditioner is used after shampooing – to smooth the cuticles and protect the hair shaft.

Bicarb soda is a base with a pH of about 9. Vinegar is an acid with a pH of almost 2. Bicarb is used as a cleaner to remove dirt and grime from the hair; it is also an excellent exfoliant. The vinegar rinse (the vinegar should be diluted so it is not too acidic – I use a 1:4 ratio vinegar:water) restores the pH of the skin to an acidic level, and closes the hair cuticles.

Thoughts on Whether Bicarb and Vinegar Cause Hair Damage

I’ve never read that you should dilute the bicarb to make it less basic – to me that just doesn’t make sense! I use bicarb knowing that it is a base, and only mix with a tbsp water. If hair is wet and you’re in the shower, there’s gonna be some dilution going on, but bicarb is still alkaline.

I disagree that using bicarb and vinegar is like dyeing your hair twice a week. Hair dyes, which are also alkaline, are left on the hair and scalp for for ages, hours even. The bicarb goes straight on, wait a minute and then off. Not quite the same!

Most bar soaps are alkaline and can have pH as high as 10. Many facial cleaners also have an alkaline pH – that’s how they clean.  Alkaline products are definitely drying on the skin, which is why it’s important to moisturise or use facial oils. It’s also important that these finishing products more closely match the skin’s pH as these products will be left of the skin, whereas cleansers are washed off fairly quickly.

The principle is the same with hair. Using an alkaline product will help clean the hair but it risks drying out the scalp and hair if the alkalinity is not countered, wither with a vinegar rinse or other moisturizing treatment.

Remember too that plenty of other environmental factors play a role in the condition of our hair. Diet, medication, hair dyeing, pollution, sunshine, ocean water, chlorine from swimming pools and aging all have an impact of the condition of our hair.

It is clear that the lady who wrote the article has suffered hair damage. What works for some people doesn’t neccessarily work for everyone. In the same way that some people live using bar soap whilst others find it too drying, bicarb clearly does not work for everyone. I know several people who have used bicarb and vinegar for decades and swear by it; the internet will tell many other stories of people who didn’t get on with it.

My conclusion would be that it’s not dangerous, but its also not for everyone. If you can’t get on with it, it’s probably best to try something else.

Don’t Want Bicarb Drying Out Your Hair? Try These Alternatives

If you’re worried about bicarb drying out your hair, there are plenty of alternatives.

  • If you’re happy to stick to bicarb, you can use oils or other treatments (such as avocado, egg or honey) to moisturize your hair after washing.
  • Try using oil to restore moisture to you hair after washing. Try treating your hair with olive oil: After cleaning your hair, squeeze out excess moisture, rub a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your hands, and then rub evenly through into your hair. You can leave the oil on for as long as you like – even overnight (but you’ll need to wear a shower cap!) – the more dry or damaged your hair is, the more beneficial leaving it for longer will be. Wash the oil out after you’re done.
  • Another alternative is moisturising your hair with coconut oil before washing, to help protect the cuticles from damage.
  • After using vinegar ,you could always opt to use regular conditioner (choose one with natural ingredients and preferably some oils) to moisturise your hair.

Feeling less trusting of bicarb after reading this?

  • One popular alternative I found is using rye flour to clean your hair. You use it in the same way as bicarb, making a paste with a small amount of water and rubbing into your hair, before rinsing out and proceeding as normal. Rye flour has a pH of 5.5 so is slightly acidic. I haven’t tried this but I would expect it to be worse at cleaning, but I like that it is plant-based rather than mined. Rye flour has less gluten than other flours so should make less mess in your bathroom.
  • Another option might be to combine bicarb with rye flour so the mix is less alkaline. Again, I haven’t tried this or measured the pH – if you do this please leave a comment and let me know the results.
  • A third option is washing your hair with clay. (Yes, clay!) Meg from Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet uses Rhassoul clay and loves it!

I love the way bicarb and vinegar cleans my hair: I also love the simplicity and minimalism of it (no extra bottles cluttering up my bathroom!). I’m keen to try flour and even clay, but for now I’m sticking to what works for me.

How about you – have you tried bicarb and vinegar hairwashing? Did it work for you or did you never quite get on with it? When did you start using it and have you noticed any drying or damage? Do you have any other green alternatives to suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Last year I touched on one of the major reasons behind my decision to take on full-time employment. I’m a huge advocate for working part-time hours and one of the best decisions I ever made was going part-time back in 2010 when I first started consciously journeying towards simple living.

However, situations change and last year Glen and I made the decision to buy an apartment. It was not a quick decision – in fact it took us several months to finally commit and sign the paperwork. It wasn’t any apartment we were after, but a specific one… more on that in a sec. The decision to buy somewhere meant that I needed to find employment in order for us to save the deposit.

Taking on a mortgage seemed at odds with our commitment to live simply. One of the biggest attractions is the freedom that comes with having few possessions and having few financial obligations. Neither of us want to feel like we have to go to work just to pay for the stuff we’ve bought or to pay off debt. We’ve pared down our expenses so that we can survive on the salary of one person. It means that if one of us was made redundant (as happened with me a couple of years ago) it doesn’t have a life-changing impact on our spending or standard of living; or if one of us hates our job so much we want to quit, we have that choice. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that if you wanted to, you could walk away from it all.

However, a mortgage will potentially change all that.

What about the alternatives to house-buying? One of the big lifestyle ideas that’s come out of the simple living movement is the idea of tiny houses – houses that can be less than 10m². Often built on trailers, they don’t require a mortgage and provide debt-free living for converts. We love the idea, but neither of us have any DIY experience – I’ve never even put up shelves! We don’t have any land to park a tiny home. With temperatures in Perth exceeding 40°C in summer, I’m not convinced it would be a comfortable solution. Plus despite our minimalist intentions, we are not ready to fit into a space that small.

Tumbleweed Tiny House

A Tumbleweed Tiny House from the USA. And people do actually live in them!

Another option would be to carry on renting. And actually, I’m a big fan of renting. I find it frustrating when people say “oh, renting is just throwing money away!” How so?! You get somewhere to live in exchange for your rent money – sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Plus when things go wrong, it is someone else’s problem (and expense) to fix them.

So why did we choose to go down the house-buying path? Well, a lot of it was to do with the place we decided to buy. It’s an apartment…but with some differences. It’s part of a project called the Green Swing which has been set up by two couples in Perth. Fed up with the current urban design in Perth, which features huge houses and tiny courtyards, double garages with large driveways, and buildings not adequately designed for the Perth summer heat, they set out to do things differently.

Their focus is on creating small-scale inner city living environments that are high quality and made with recycled materials where possible, promote building community, make proper use of solar passive design to dispense with the need for air conditioning, and have other green features. They started with their own homes, building four dwellings on a block that are centered around a community garden (you can see two of these houses in the featured picture at the top of this page).

They are now working on their second project The Siding, and it is this one that Glen and I are buying a unit from. We first heard about the Green Swing just as the first project was being completed back in 2012 and were really excited that someone was out there doing things differently. When the second project launched on a block four doors down from the original, we wondered if it was something we should buy into…literally!

We thought about it for ages. I’d met Eugenie (one of the Green Swing owners) at a Community Garden open day in 2013 and invited her to speak at the Less is More Festival, which she did. We went to look at Eugenie and her husbands’ place a couple of times and had many discussions about what they are doing, and why, and how. The more we got talking the more we felt that their vision is similar to ours, and the project is one we want to be part of.

So what were our doubts? I’ve already talked about the mortgage. We also held back because it wasn’t… ideal? There are solar panels on the roof, but I wanted a bigger solar PV system. There is a rainwater tank, but it’s small and shared amongst the three units in our building so will only provide token rainwater. There’s no grey water system. The community garden area is smaller than I’d like (I’d have less houses and more garden!). But then I caught myself. Why did I want everything bigger and better? That’s not a very minimalist approach! Plus, whilst I might have done things differently, it isn’t my project. This project isn’t about being the most sustainable community-oriented project ever. Sustainable and community-oriented, yes, but within what’s practical and what’s possible.

Eventually we cast our doubts aside and decided yes. Whilst we like living in our current flat, we are ready for a change. We want to be able to grow our own food. We love the community aspect of the new place – and the whole suburb has a real community feel. Glen is excited that we will no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom. We love that it will have solar panels and rainwater and we won’t need to retrofit (something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought an older property). It has a 10-star energy rating. There’s lots of other great features like communal veggie beds and shared bike storage. And we’re really looking forward to having like-minded neighbours!

The Green Swing – The Siding

The project is still under construction, so we won’t move in until the end of the year. (Hence the new job – we’re saving hard for the deposit.) I’ll share some more info about the building and its green features once it’s completed and I can take photos. You can always have a look at the Green Swing website is you’re really interested (or nosy!)

What I will share is the site plan. Needless to say, I’m really excited about being to grow more of my own food! There will be lots of fruit trees. I’m even wondering if we can get some chickens on that patch of lawn!

Green Swing Site Plan

This is the site plan. Our unit is number 3, in block 2. It’s the ground floor flat. The orange blobs are the community veggie garden beds. It’s no coincidence that our unit opens directly onto it!

 What do you think? Do you like the new place? What about the balance between the desire to living simply and the need for money? What choices would you have made? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Our Simple, Sustainable Wedding (Part 2)

In my last post I talked about our ideas for a simple eco-friendly wedding, and what that meant for us in real life when we got married in November! Here in Part Two I’m going to talk in more detail about the things we did to try to keep within our simple / low waste / sustainable living philosophy.

Our Wedding Philosophy

Our wedding philosophy was pretty straightforward – keep things simple! Do I need it? Can I borrow it? Can I hire it? Can I do without it? – Only after these four questions came the question – should I buy it?

Some things (like food!) we had to buy. Where we could, we used what we had.  The venue had furniture, so we made use of it – why go to the trouble of hiring different furniture when there is some already there? We kept decorations to a minimum. We had very few preconceived ideas of how we’d like things to be, so this made it easier.

The Venue

We chose the bowling club because it meant people could be outside (and the view is stunning) and the bowls was a great way to keep people entertained. We wanted an informal space where people could spend time with the people they knew (no rigid seating plans required!) and get to know others freely.

Stationary

We didn’t bother with stationary – it seemed like a waste of resources. Invitations and envelopes and stamps, plus all that hand-writing (not to mention the time to to craft handmade cards)? No thanks.

Everyone has email these days, so we sent our invitations electronically (my delightful and talented sister designed them for us). We sent them via emails for those whose email addresses we had, Facebook for those that didn’t, and we printed two copies for the two people who didn’t have email addresses.

Simple, easy, quick. Job done!

Save the Date

Paperless Save the Date…

Lindsay + Glen Wedding Invite

…and Paperless Invitations

 The Dress

Ever since I was small, I never saw the point in traditional wedding dresses. I could never get my head around the idea of spending so much money on a dress you wear once. I’m not sure what horrified me more – the cost or the wastefulness! I definitely wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed about a princess wedding and a big fluffy meringue dress.

I had three ideas regarding dresses. Option 1 – find a second-hand wedding dress from a charity shop / eBay / vintage shop. Option 2 – find a sustainable eco wedding dress (a new dress but made with vintage or Fairtrade fabric). Option 3 – find a non-wedding dress that I was happy to get married in, but would also wear again.

Option 1 sounds like the most obvious sustainable choice. It also sounds like a lot of work… trawling around charity shops searching for wedding dresses in my size was not something that appealed to me. Dress shopping felt like a chore – I just didn’t want to spend that much time on it.

The shop I found in London specializing in sustainable wedding dresses cancelled the appointment i made a few months prior because they decided not to open on that day after all. Charming. That was my one and only flirtation with dress appointment booking.

I settled for the third option. I didn’t really have the time or inclination time to look for second-hand dresses. Instead, my sister and I spent a couple of hours in London looking in shops for a dress that I liked, fitted and I could wear again, and I bought my favourite. Yes, it was new. Yes, it was more than I intended to spend. No, it wasn’t vintage or sustainable. But I felt comfortable in it. I’ve already worn it for a second time. It’s off the shelf so it will be easy to sell for someone else to enjoy. Plus it only took 2 hours of my life to find it : )

Wedding Dress

The dress. Not recycled, or Fairtrade, but simple nonetheless.

 The Rings

Our rings are made with recycled metal. I found an ethical jewellers in London called Ingle & Rhode, who specialize in Fairtrade and recycled metal wedding and engagement rings, and conflict-free gemstones. We both have plain metal bands: mine is gold and Glen’s is palladium with a brushed border. Simple and ethical.

Ingle & Rhode Recycled Gold and Palladium Wedding Rings

Our recycled gold (mine) and recycled palladium (Glen’s) wedding rings.

 The Flowers

I didn’t want to buy flowers that had been flown from interstate or overseas, and I didn’t want flowers that were grown artificially in hothouses either. I just wanted some colour. The solution? Glen’s mum and aunt raided their gardens for everything they could find, my boss donated a whole heap of flowers from her garden too and we arranged them in old jam jars. There was no colour scheme to worry about – whatever was growing in gardens on the day would do!

Jam Jar Vases Flowers from the Garden and Hessian Table Runner

Freshly picked garden flowers in jam jars. Simple but effective. Some of our guests took them home afterwards so they didn’t go to waste!

I wasn’t going to bother with a bouquet, but a friend pointed out that it’s good to have something to hold. I do have a tendency to flail my arms about the place, so I relented. She suggested a single giant protea. As fate would have it, Glen and I stayed in an airbnb place before the wedding, and in a vase in the kitchen were 6 giant proteas! So I borrowed one and wrapped the stem in twine. You are meant to have something borrowed at your wedding, aren’t you?!

Total flowers spend: Zero.

Giant Protea Wedding Bouquet

This giant protea was my wedding “bouquet”, and I wrapped the stem in twine.

 Hair and Makeup

There was never any doubt I’d do these myself. I washed my hair with my usual bicarb and vinegar method. I made do with the make-up I already had – it’s not something I wear often, so most of it is pretty old, but it was good enough!

Bicarb and vinegar hairwashing and DIY makeup

Bicarb and vinegar hairwashing isn’t just for everyday – it’s good enough for weddings too! (My friend in the photo is also a convert)

The Decorations

The bowling club where we held the wedding reception was a dated building with a beautiful view. It looked like a bowling club. The simplest thing was to accept that it looked like a bowling club. Spending thousands of dollars on silks to drape about the place wouldn’t have changed the fact it was a bowling club.

So we accepted it for what it was, and didn’t worry about trying to transform it. We did do a few things to brighten it up, though.

A friend of mine was making white lacy bunting out of old tablecloths and curtains for her own wedding and kindly lent it to me for the day to hang about the place.

I used jam jars to put the flowers in – some from home, many more borrowed. I also used some old tins (fished out of the recycling bins at a local cafe – with permission!) that I wrapped in hessian ribbon and wrapped in twine. Some were used inside for flowers and others for cutlery.

Jam Jar Sorting for the Wedding Flowers

Sorting and cleaning jam jars for the flowers

upcycled tin cans

I sourced these old tin cans from a local cafe, wrapped in hessian and tied with twine to make flower containers and to use for cutlery.

upcycled tin cans with hessian

The finished hessian tin cans

One of the things I did buy was hessian. It was the most natural, undyed fabric I could find, and I thought I’d be able to use it afterwards – or compost it at least! As well as wrapping the tins, I bought two 6m lengths to use as table runners. My plan is to cut this up and sew two together to make place mats to use at home.

The other thing I bought was beeswax candles, made in Australia by a company called Queen B. The bowling club only had fluoro tube lights, which aren’t the most atmospheric! I didn’t want to buy string fairy lights. I found some zero-waste inspired beeswax candles in tiny glass jars that can be refilled with wax and reused again and again. They weren’t cheap, but they were sustainable, plastic-free, natural, reusable, locally produced…how could I use anything else?!

We hired tablecloths and tea cups to put pistachio nuts in. The end result:

Rustic hessian table runner with beeswax candles and jam jar flowers

Our minimal simple decorations: upcycled jam jars, flowers from the garden, a hessian runner and beeswax candles.

The Food

One of the first things we decided on was hiring a pizza oven. After all, who doesn’t like pizza?! I wanted cake first (it’s all about priorities) so we decided on cake at 4pm and pizza at 6pm. The savoury bits were added after a friend suggested that not everybody would want cake at 4pm (Really?! Is that true?! Surely not!). We didn’t bother with a wedding cake -far better to have normal cake that everyone wants to eat!

All the food was made by local businesses; our friend made the Indian treats as a wedding gift. Sadly we didn’t get a photo as it was all demolished by the time we got to the reception after the family shots – but at least it meant everything was delicious!

Wedding reception menu, beeswax candles and plastic-free snacks

No sit-down meal or fiddly canapes… Big slabs of cake, and pizza for supper.

Oh, and I made sure we brought enough containers so that any leftovers could be taken home safely – no food waste here!

The Drinks

To avoid packaging waste, we only served tap beer and cider (no bottles or cans). Wine was served in bottles (we made sure all the wine was produced in Western Australia), and soft drinks were served in jugs. No straws or other plastic in sight! We also had tea (loose leaf English breakfast in tea pots) and coffee. Plus we had a compost bin for the used tea leaves and coffee grounds!

Blackboard at the wedding

When Everything Comes Together

Keeping things simple meant that the lead up to the wedding was pretty relaxed. People kept saying to us: “oh, you must be so busy!” We’d feel slightly worried, and ask each other: “Busy doing what, exactly?!” But there wasn’t lots to do. We booked the venue, bought outfits, found catering, sent out invites… and got on with our lives. There was no stress – what was there to be stressed about?

It wasn’t the greenest wedding ever. It wasn’t the cheapest wedding ever. It wasn’t the simplest wedding ever. It was, however, everything we could have hoped for (I won’t say everything I dreamed of, because I’ve never dreamed about my wedding – I’m just not that sort of girl!). We weren’t trying to prove anything, after all.

We were just trying to celebrate our day in a way that reflected who we are – and that’s what we did.

Disclaimer: I loved the Queen B zero waste beeswax candles so much that I am now (since 2018) a proud affiliate. This means that if you click the link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated at no extra expense to you. I would never recommend a product I didn’t believe in or think that you, my readers, would appreciate. 

A Zero Waste, Low Footprint Wedding (Part One)

One of the main reasons I was absent from the blog for so long last year was that my family came over from the UK to visit, and the reason they came all this way was because they were coming to a wedding – mine! Long-time readers of the blog may remember that I got engaged last August, but blog posts about wedding preparations or wedding talk in general have been pretty non-existent. Actually, scratch that. They’ve been completely non-existent. That’s not because I’ve been busying away behind the scenes for months but decided to spare you the boring details, it’s because I actually find other things far more exciting/important than wedding planning…like plotting for a zero waste week and talking about the perils of plastic!

But there was a wedding, and it did involve some planning, so now it’s all done and dusted (is it appropriate to use that expression when talking about your wedding?!) I’d like to share it with you. Because it was important to us that we had a wedding that reflected our values and beliefs, meaning simple and meaningful and low waste, and yes, of course there was compromise!

I’m going to share in two parts. Here I’m going to talk about our ideas for a simple wedding, and what that meant for us in real life! In part two I’m going to talk in more detail about the things we did to try to keep within our simple / low waste / sustainable living philosophy.

Simple Weddings Aren’t That Simple

Our criteria was simple: somewhere with indoor and outdoor space, where we could provide our own food. Simple, no?! (Early on we thought about just doing a registry office wedding and going out for a meal for a few people straight after, but once my family said they were willing to fly to Australia to spend the day with us, we thought we should honour that and do something a little… grander.

Plus we wanted to invite our friends as well as family, and then numbers start to go up…)

The thing is, you can’t start planning a wedding until you have somewhere to hold the wedding! Everyone we knew told us about a really simple/cheap/meaningful wedding their cousin/neighbour/Auntie Susan had that was oh so perfect! Because so-and-so owned a farm with a lake and a rustic barn on the grounds, and whatstheirname is an award-winning chef, and suchandsuch is a professional florist with a background in photography and a side business in prop hire.

Great for them, but not very helpful for us.

Glen and I don’t know any farmers/professional chefs/photographers, so that ruled that out. We would have loved our wedding at a private house with a garden, but we don’t know anyone with such a place, and you can’t hire private properties like that here for weddings, it turns out.

Plus there just aren’t quaint old barns or rustic buildings available for hire, because Perth isn’t that old! Of the few halls for hire, many don’t have liquor licensing, and a dry wedding wasn’t what we were after!

After a few months we accepted that we wouldn’t be able to find a venue where we could do everything ourselves, and looked for venues which could accommodate our needs. We had a couple of misses with venues that seemed to fit the bill, until they heard it was a wedding and quadrupled the price. For exactly the same thing. Because, apparently, weddings are more demanding.

It was pretty disheartening, and we were about ready to give up when our friend suggested a local bowling club. It fitted the criteria. It still had availability. There was a park right next door where we could hold the ceremony. We booked it.

View From Edge of Mosman Park Bowling Club

This is the view from our wedding reception venue in Mosman Park…

 Our Wedding Philosophy / Making it a Simple (ish) Wedding

The first lesson was that simple doesn’t mean simple, but we also came to realise that simple doesn’t mean cheap. Actually, it would be far simpler to throw tens of thousands of dollars at a professional wedding organiser and get them to do the whole thing for you! But we didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars to throw, and even if we had, it’s not our style. No party is worth spending that much money on!

All over the internet you’ll find accounts of how people kept their wedding “simple” by devoting every Saturday for the preceding two years working on wedding stuff, or by using pebbles/rustic fabric/piles of vintage suitcases. However, I’m a great believer in the philosophy “we don’t buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our lives“.

If I wasn’t willing to spend the money, I also wasn’t willing to spend all that time hand-crafting napkins or growing succulents in order to give cute eco favours. For me, simple means no fuss – and devoting whole weekends to projects was out.

Also, just because things are vintage, rustic, or made of natural fibres, it doesn’t make a wedding simple (or keep the budget down). Scouring eBay or the vintage shops looking for finds was out (who has the time or patience? Who would set things up, style them nicely and pack them down? What do I do with it afterwards?)

Buying anything with the intention of only using it once was out. We decided if it was truly going to be a simple wedding, we needed to scrap the extra frivolities and focus on what mattered – that the people who came were comfortable, well fed and entertained, and were able to enjoy celebrating with us. No retro typewriter was going to change that, so why bother with it?!

Retro typewriters at weddings - not something we chose to do for our own!

Retro typewriters at other people’s weddings – not something we chose to do for our own!

Making it a Low Waste Wedding

Making our wedding as low-waste as possible was really important to both of us. After all, if we’re so dedicated to zero waste the rest of the time, it doesn’t make sense on the most important day of our lives to chuck our morals…in the bin, so to speak!

Firstly, we made use of what we had, and borrowed what we could to avoid buying anything new (or even second hand) – we didn’t want to be let with a heap of stuff to get rid of afterwards. If we didn’t have it, we had to decide if we actually needed it, or if we should go without. Not having something in the first place is the best way to avoid waste!

Making it a Low Footprint Wedding

It was also important to make our wedding as sustainable as possible. It needed to be a party we were comfortable with hosting! With one half of our family living in the UK and the other half in Australia, there was always going to be some flying, but we wanted to keep our wedding as local as possible for as many people as possible. Once we settled on Australia, that meant choosing somewhere in Perth rather than the countryside.

We didn’t want anyone driving long distances. We also chose to have the ceremony next to the reception so people could simply walk between them. We also wanted to use local suppliers and businesses. No drinking French champagne at a West Australian wedding, when the sparkling is just as good down under!

When It All Comes Together

In Part Two I’m going to talk about some of the things we did to make our wedding low footprint, low waste and simple. But for now I just wanted to share a few pictures and give you a snapshot of our day!

Wedding Ceremony Jabe Dodd Mosman Park Wedding Reception at Mosman Park Bowling Club Bowls at Mosman Park Wedding Reception View from Mosman Park Bowling ClubPlaying Bowls Wedding Reception at Mosman Park Bowling Club Bowling Club nighttime

My Meeting with the Minimalists

A couple of weeks ago, the Minimalists were in town promoting their book “Everything that Remains”, and held a free talk which I went to. The Minimalists, in case you haven’t heard of them before, are two Americans (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) who both had successful corporate careers, earning 6-figure salaries and living the American Dream (read – buying lots of stuff; gadgets, cars, huge homes, getting into debt) and who both gave it all up, becoming minimalists and embracing a slower, simpler, more meaningful way of life.

My husband has been following the Minimalists for a while. He feels he can relate to their story. He finished university and secured a good job straightaway, and progressed through the ranks. He spent his money on nice furniture and fine dining (he even bought a brand new car…and waited five months (!) for it to be available in the specific colour he desired). But despite the money and stuff, he wasn’t particularly happy. After getting rid of most of his stuff, travelling overseas and working as a volunteer (and meeting me!) he came to the same conclusion as the Minimalists – money doesn’t buy you happiness. Experiences, connections and living with meaning are what are important.

I can’t really relate to the Minimalists’ journey, because it has been very different from my own. I’ve never had the big six-figure salary. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever earned more than (or even the same as) the national average. When I got my first job after graduating, in 2005, I earned £12,000 a year. (In 2005 the UK national average was £22,411.) I never had the spare cash to spend on fancy gadgets. That said, I still saw shopping as a form of stress relief, and I still aspired to have/earn more – because more would make me happier, wouldn’t it? I had a few epiphanies in my late twenties and early thirties that have led me down this minimalist path – stories I’ll share with you another time. My conclusions have been the same as the Minimalists, however – stuff doesn’t make people happy. Neither does money. We may have followed different paths to get here, but we have the same philosophy.

Well…partly. I have my big zero waste/sustainability focus, which can be at odds with the minimalist philosophy. (Get rid of it. You can always buy another one if you need it. Something I struggle with!) A friend came with us to the talk. “Look around you!” she said. “None of these people are into sustainability!” People everywhere around us were clutching plastic water bottles and takeaway coffee cups. She was genuinely surprised. Another sent me a text: “Are you going to the talk by those Minimalist guys with the enormous ecological footprint?”

But minimalism isn’t about avoiding flights or bringing a reusable cup, it’s about living consciously. Living with meaning, rather than living on autopilot. Building relationships. Giving back. Recognising what is important – and what is important is different for each of us. Joshua and Ryan aren’t dictating a lifestyle. They aren’t telling anyone what to do. They are just sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others.

As someone very familiar with the idea of minimalism, the most inspiring thing for me was a room packed out with people who wanted to know more…but others were so moved they left in tears. It’s a reminder that each of us are a different point in our journey. I could easily have rocked up three years ago with a takeaway coffee cup in hand, without a second thought.

The Minimalists’ Perth talk was their 100th tour date – their final one. In the time they’ve been touring, their popularity has grown and there were a thousand people queuing around the block to see them. In order to avoid turning people away, they held another talk straight afterwards as the venue could only accommodate 400 people! I love that they genuinely tried to reach as many people as possible. Ecological footprints aside, these guys have a mission, and a great message to share.

The Minimalists have critics, of course. Not just my friends! People say it’s easy to eschew money when you’ve had it. If you’ve been rich, then isn’t it hypocritical? But minimalism isn’t about advocating poverty. It’s about recognizing what is enough.

Did the Minimalists come to a city near you, and did you have the chance to see them speak? What did you think? Do you like their message? Or is minimalism something that you just can’t embrace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below!

Change is afoot.

I mentioned last week that I’ve started a new job. One of the areas that this has caused me a little stress is in the wardrobe department. I don’t really own executive business-y clothes. Not enough to feed a full-time job, anyway. I’ve been lucky in the last few places that I’ve worked that I haven’t needed to dress up. In order to get this job, I had three interviews in four days and that really pushed my respectable outfit-wearing capacity to the limits.

The temptation with a new job is to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Well, it’s probably a temptation for many people, but not for me. I don’t want to spend my salary on new clothes I wear to go to the place I earn that same salary – what a waste. I’d rather spend it on necessities like food and bills, and save the rest towards a deposit for a place to live where I can grow my own food and install solar panels to save on bills. Then I won’t need to work! (Maybe I’m over-simplifying things a little…but I digress.)

About three years ago I began my transition to only buying second-hand clothes (I’ve found eBay great for this). Then when I began my decluttering/simplifying mission I tried to not buy any clothes at all. Neither of these rules are set in stone; they are more goals that I’m working towards. In fact, on my recent trip back to the UK, I bought not one but TWO new items of clothing. A bit of a setback, although they are the only two pieces of clothing I’ve bought since January this year. Not bad in 10 months. Still room for improvement, however!

I don’t want to unravel three years of good work by buying more. I wrote recently about how hard I found it to declutter my wardrobe, but slowly it’s happening. The last thing I need is a whole heap of new things! I’m hoping that what I have will be good enough. One thing I did need, however, was new shoes. A pair of flat, smart, comfortable shoes that a) aren’t falling apart and b) don’t smell.

Old shoes need replacing

My new shoes will replace these sandals, which are (almost) worn out. These were the last pair of shoes I bought, and they will be the last ones with synthetic soles.

Whether I should buy shoes second-hand or new is a bit of a dilemma. I’ve had amazing success and dismal failure (those smelly shoes? Yep. ‘Worn once‘ you say on your advert? Hmm.) Shoes also mold to the shape of a person’s foot over time, which doesn’t necessarily work out favourably for the new owner. Recently I’ve started becoming more interested in the end life of clothes, and particularly shoes. Most shoes you see in the shops have synthetic soles. By synthetic, I mean plastic. They aren’t going to break down, they are just going to end up in landfill. That doesn’t fit with my plastic-free lifestyle. Cutting out those and finding shoes made with natural materials second-hand is much harder.

I bought some new shoes.

They weren’t cheap, despite being in the ‘sale’. (Although isn’t everything always in the sale? Such a transparent marketing ploy.) However, they are made entirely of leather. Biodegradable and therefore zero waste, hopefully. (I wonder what the compost will make of them when the time comes…) That was what swung it for me.

New shoes biodegradable

Plastic-free shoes : )

Of course, there was compromise. I broke my second-hand clothes rule. They may be made entirely of leather, but I don’t know what dyes, glues or chemicals have been used. They came from a department store (not my first choice of company to support), which imported them from overseas rather than supported the local economy. There’s always a compromise.

Plus buying new also means all this excess packaging:

New shoes packaging

Of course, whenever you buy something new, you always get a ridiculous amount of unnecessary packaging with it. Most of this is cardboard and paper, but there is also a plastic rod. What on earth for?!

I’m still on the fence with second-hand shoes. I love the idea, but it’s not as practical as that. Shoes aren’t like T-shirts, they don’t just fit if you buy the size you think you are. They aren’t necessarily comfortable just because they look comfortable. For now, they remain an awkward exception to my rule. If I can get away with just buying one new pair of shoes for this job, then I think that’s a great result.

My second-hand clothes transition has a few other exceptions.

  • Underwear. Does anyone use second-hand underwear?
  • Tights. Ditto.
  • Jeans. I find it almost impossible to find jeans that fit. Hence I always go to the same couple of brands. I’ve looked, but I’ve never actually bought of second hand jeans. That said, the last pair of jeans I bought new lasted me 3 years, and I wore them nearly every day. Most of my other pairs have lasted longer than that. They get a good innings! Maybe my next pair will be second hand…

How do you feel about second-hand clothes and shoes? Are there any no-nos for you too, or does anything go? What about work clothes – do you make exceptions, or do the same rules apply? I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you have any tips for me! Please leave a comment below : )