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My new minimalist living space (the confessions of a hoarder)

I decided to take a week off from writing the blog in order to clear some space in my life (both the tiny flat that I live in, and also my schedule) and create some order. Now I would like to return triumphantly with reports of dazzling success, a new minimalist living space and feelings of serenity and calm.

Alas, that isn’t exactly what happened.

Last week I set myself the challenge of ridding myself of 100 things I no longer wanted/needed/used by the end of the month. I was committed. I was willing. I hadn’t decided what 100 things, but that was just a minor detail. To make it even easier, the weekend was a long weekend with a public holiday, so an extra day for sorting.

But despite my best efforts to sit on the sofa whilst willing the decluttering to miraculously begin, berating the general lack of action, and chastising my boyfriend every time he settled down to read a book/magazine for not helping, we didn’t manage to clear out anywhere near as much as I’d hoped.

We managed to fill a box with stuff to take to the charity shop. We also managed to get rid of two wastepaper baskets of recycling. I wish I could say it was a commendable effort, and a good first attempt, but in three days, I think I should have managed a bit more. I think I should have managed a LOT more. I like the idea of the stuff being gone, but actually doing the tasks that make it happen is another thing altogether.

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This one box was the result of three days of sorting. I think it demonstrates quite well how most of the ‘sorting’ actually consisted of (me) moaning about the sorting, and (me) talking about how great it would be once the sorting was actually done, rather than actual genuine sorting. We (actually, no, my boyfriend did that) did put an additional couple of things on eBay and Gumtree, but actually, they’d fit inside this box too, so no extra points for those.

And that’s the thing. It’s me that’s stopping the process. I just can’t get rid of anything! Every time my boyfriend threw something in the bin I scurried over and fished it back out. He tested a drawer full of pens and threw the ones in the bin that didn’t work, but even then I was tempted to get them back out and test them myself just in case one of them could be saved. Why?! We have a million other biros that work and we don’t need those either.

And then on Monday evening when we went to bed, I said that I wished we’d got it all finished, and he looked at me in amazement, and said “but it’s not a job that’ll be finished and then you’re done. It’s a job that you’ll always need to keep coming back to.”

What?!?!?!? How can that be true?! Surely I can spend three days sorting out my things and then I will rejoice in my clutter-free space and will never need to declutter again? What if I declare never to buy or acquire anything ever again? What does he mean, I’m going to have to go through this all over again in a few months time?!

Of course, he’s right. Maybe some people could do it, but I am never going to be a true minimalist. I’m probably never going to be close! I hate waste too much. I have three pairs of shoes in my closet that I haven’t worn for over a year – in fact two of them I haven’t worn in two or three years. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.

I think when people accumulate stuff, and the stuff starts to get in the way of their lives, they have two choices. They either get a bigger house, or more storage, in order to assimilate their possessions and not have to really think about them. Or they decide to have a clear-out, in which case they have to face up to the money they’ve wasted, the dreams that never quite came true (even though you bought the book on paper maché crafts or the home candle-making kit or whatever new hobby, you just never quite got round to it), and the emotions which come with that (be it guilt, anger, resentment, or simply frustration at having too much stuff). Maybe some people really don’t care, they happily just chuck it all in the bin and head back to the shops to get a load more shiny new stuff, but for me, I find this second option really confronting.

What it means, though, is that on the public holiday weekend, whilst friends of mine are spending a few days relaxing in the beautiful Margaret River region down south and having a glorious time, I am at home fishing things out of the dustbin. That is the consequence of my having too much stuff. And it’s rubbish – literally.

So I’ve decided I need to rethink my challenge in order to actually make some progress. I think it’s going to be easier for me if I break my goal of 100 things down into bite-size chunks. I’m going to commit to getting rid of 5 things every day for the next 20 days. That will take me to the 24th June. Hopefully if I’m on a bit of a roll, I’ll be able to keep going until the end of the month.

I think spending a few minutes every day is a much better option than dedicating three days to achieving greatness, and then feeling miserable about my lack of achievement. And as that didn’t work anyway, I’m not going to spend another weekend floundering.

So, small steps. I’m off to find my five things to get rid of today. Wish me luck!

My 100 Things Challenge

I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed this week. It started with the washing. But it’s been a busy week too. I’ve had meetings, I’m currently participating in a course, I’m working with a couple of organisations on two different projects, I’m presenting next week on sustainable transport, all on top of all the regular stuff I need to do and all the things I want to do. I like to fill my time, get involved and keep busy, but then sometimes I stop and look at everything I’m planning to do, and I get that ‘whoah!‘ feeling where I don’t even know where to start.

And if my schedule is feeling cluttered, so is the physical place of my life, my tiny flat. I think, maybe, that when one aspect of your life is busy or cluttered you look for solace in the other parts. Well there’s no solace in the tiny flat! I talked a bit on Monday about how slowly I’ve been accumulating clothes, but it’s not just clothes. Yesterday we picked up our new sofa. It’s not actually new, but a bargain find from the Salvation Army charity shop, and we’d needed a new sofa since we sold the old one. (The old one had to go as it took up half the flat, literally, which I hadn’t realised when I bid on it on eBay because I didn’t actually bother to check the dimensions.) The new sofa allows us to seat people whilst leaving enough space in the tiny flat to fit in some storage so we no longer need to keep piles of things on the floor. Since losing the old sofa we got also got a set of drawers to put all the stuff in. Which is great…

Except the piles of stuff are still sitting around the place, or shoved in the drawers. They’ve not been sorted. I have that uneasy feeling that comes with not being entirely sure where any of your stuff is.

And the other thing that makes me uneasy, is this word ‘need’. We ‘needed’ the sofa. We ‘needed’ the drawers. We ‘needed’ the glass pyrex storage containers that I bought last week because we don’t have enough food storage. I feel like I’ve been spending like crazy and accumulating stuff, and when I look around the flat and in the cupboards I see too much stuff. It’s so easy to justify everything, to think it will make your life better, or easier. But all that stuff needs sorting, and tidying, and cleaning, and finding again when I’ve tidied it away and don’t remember where away actually is. And for all the new stuff that I ‘need’, there’s plenty of stuff that is no longer useful.

I love the idea of simplicity, but I am a natural hoarder. It’s a constant battle. I want to believe that those things will become useful again. Something has to tip me over the edge and push me into action. Well this week, that has happened. So whilst I’m still in the moment I’ve made a pledge. I’m going to get rid of 100 things.

I have no idea which 100 things. I have no idea if that’s a lot, or once I get started I’ll be able to get rid of 300 things. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!) All that stuff in the kitchen cupboards that I haven’t used since we moved in? That’s going. The clothes I haven’t worn since arriving in Australia? Out. The stuff in the bottom of the boxes that never got entirely emptied when we moved in? It’s not staying.

I’m going to give myself a month. And I’m putting it out here in a public forum because it should motivate me to actually go through with it! I’m hopeful that less clutter will mean a more positive environment, less stress, fewer chores (more time!) and more freedom.

Remember the film Fight Club? My friend and I were obsessed with it in school, particularly because of all the great quotes (there are many). Even now, I can remember many of them. I wanted to finish with one because I think it’s so true. It’s another reason to de-clutter your life.

“The things you own end up owning you.”

The weekend and the washing

laundryjpgI had a really great weekend. Friday night sushi and a rare trip to the theatre with my boyfriend (Death of a Salesman by the Black Swan State Theatre Company), a Saturday afternoon afternoon trip to Fremantle then dinner with friends on Saturday night, and lunch with family on Sunday afternoon. Busy, fantastic company, amazing food, loads of fun. Read more

How to Make Cashew Nut Milk (A Recipe)

Cashew nut milk is a non-dairy alternative to cow’s (or other animal) milks. Of course it’s not a milk as such, but a blend of cashew nuts and water that has a similar consistency to milk and can be used as a dairy milk replacement in some instances.

It’s got a completely different molecular make-up to dairy milk and won’t respond in the same way to heating, but it’s a great replacement for cold milk.  As I’ve said before though, I’m not a vegan, so what am I doing making cashew nut milk anyway?

Well, I’m passionate about real food. And when that comes to dairy milk, this means non-homogenised, full fat milk with A2 proteins that comes from grass-fed cows, preferably organic or biodynamic. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you should probably read this post, which explains the terms and also the health implications in a little more detail).

This milk can be hard to find – in Australia you won’t find it in your local supermarket – and is much more expensive than the mass-produced stuff. Consequently, I buy less than I used to.  Coupled with the fact that I’m quite curious about food anyway, this means I have become more open to alternatives.

Before I stopped buying plastic I used to keep a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for emergencies. However those cartons contain plastic and aren’t recyclable, so I don’t buy them any more. Now I keep a jar of cashew nuts in the cupboard instead.

Raw cashew nuts are minimally processed and highly nutritious. They contain 80% unsaturated fat which is predominantly oleic acid and also linoleic acid, an omega-6. Cashews also contain a number of vitamins and minerals including iron, phosphorus and calcium. (Have a look here for complete nutritional information).

My main uses for cashew milk are as an ingredient in smoothies, a dairy replacement for muesli and in some dessert recipes, and as an emergency in case we ever run out of cow’s milk, or it sneakily goes off. (Because it only ever goes off when ALL the shops are shut.) You can add cashew milk to tea and coffee (and it won’t curdle), but I prefer dairy milk for that.

How to make cashew nut milk

This recipe makes 750ml milk. You will need a jug-style blender for best results.

Ingredients:
1 cup raw cashew nut pieces (125g), soaked in water for a few hours or overnight
3 cups water (750ml)

Method:

Drain and rinse the soaked cashews.

Put cashews in blender with 1 cup water.

Blend until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups water to the jug and blend briefly to combine. And that’s it! No need to strain.

You can use immediately or store in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for up to 5 days.

Tips:

  • The higher the quality of your blender, the better the results.
  • The longer you blend the milk, the smoother it will be, but the heat from the friction of the blades will gradually cause the milk to warm up. If the nuts are heated too much they may go rancid.
  • Use chilled water if possible, and chill the soaking cashews to help prevent the milk warming too much whilst blending.
  • My blender is made of glass and I find it also helps to chill the jug in the fridge before using.
  • I have tried making this is a food processor and it works okay if you have nothing else, but you will get a much smoother result with a jug blender.
  • If you store your milk in the fridge, remember to shake before using.

If you need more convincing, I’ll be posting some recipes that use cashew milk on the blog in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Sustainability and ceramic cups at the Mosman Park EcoFair

This Saturday my boyfriend and I went to the Mosman Park EcoFair, which was just a few suburbs over from where we live. The fair takes place in the beautiful grounds of St Luke’s Church and community garden, and was a mix of stalls selling organic and fairtrade food, traders selling eco goods, seedlings, vintage clothing and all things green, and some great demonstrations and workshops. Combined with the perfect weather and fantastic atmosphere it was a really fun afternoon out.

I saw a great ‘Food Theatre’ workshop run by Chris Ferreira from The Forever Project and Hannah Sfornica from A Foodly Affair which combined sustainable (and water-wise) gardening with cooking and talked about the importance of good soil, the importance of organic and locally sourced food, how what you eat is made from what you put in the soil and your body is fueled from what you eat. Sustainability and real food, two of my favourite subjects! Hannah made the most amazing raw pumpkin soup for the audience to try. Both Hannah and Chris are fantastic presenters, and Hannah is both an inspiration and a wealth of knowledge and practical advice regarding ‘mindful’ eating, as she likes to call it. I would thoroughly recommend attending the workshops they run if you’re in the Perth area.

But my absolute favourite thing about the fair was that there was no disposable single-use plastic – no plastic bags, no takeaway cups, no plastic straws, no plastic water bottles and no plastic throwaway plates. And this was achieved in such a simple way – by having a washing-up station! All of the food stalls used ceramic plates and mugs, provided by the Church or sourced from various op shops, which were happily washed up by a team of dedicated Western Earth Carers volunteers.

It’s such an obvious concept really, doing the washing up, and the people who volunteered seemed to be having a great time in the sunshine, chatting to everyone that passed by and doing an awesome job of raising awareness of single-use plastic, and how easy it is to avoid with just a little bit of thought and effort.

And the result of their efforts was fantastic. The organizers were told they would need 20 bins for the size and length of the event (with over 65 stalls plus other activities over 6 hours) but instead, for the whole day, the waste that was generated filled just three recycling bins and one landfill bin. Result!

Myths about coconut oil

I love coconut oil and recently published this blog post detailing some of the reasons why. I’ve read so much in the past few months about coconut oil having awesome health benefits, but when I was researching for the blog (and I did a lot of research) I realised that there’s also a lot of information out there that’s misleading, inaccurate, and just plain wrong. I thought it was worth writing a quick post on some of these. Don’t mistake me, coconut oil is great, but let’s keep to the facts when making claims!

Three myths about coconut oil

  1. Coconut oil can withstand high temperatures

I have read a great deal about coconut oil being excellent for cooking, particularly roasting vegetables and frying. Not quite true. Coconut oil might be slow to oxidise, but it has a relatively low smoke point. This is the temperature at which oil produces blue smoke and breaks down into glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be further broken down to acrolein (which is that ‘burnt’ smell that you get when you overheat oil) and other aldehydes. Aldehydes are irritants, and they’re also toxic.

The smoke point of virgin coconut oil (the type with the health benefits) is 177ºC. By comparison, virgin olive oil is 199°C and rice bran oil is 254ºC (click here for a list of the smoke points of other oils). So this means if you’re heating your coconut oil at low temperatures it’s perfectly safe, but over 177ºC and you’re turning it into toxic chemicals. Not so tasty.

(I found this great paper which looks at the emissions of aldehydes from cooking oils including coconut oil if you’re interested or want some more information.)

  1. Coconut oil is packed with nutrients and vitamins

I’ve read so many articles stating that coconut oil is ‘packed full of vitamins and minerals’, but when I came to look for the evidence, I couldn’t find any. Coconut oil does contain vitamin E (tocopherols) but in relatively low amounts of 50ppm (parts per million), which means 0.005%. By comparison, sunflower oil has 450-1520ppm, and soyabean oil can have up to 3340ppm. (Check the statistics out here.)

In even lower amounts, coconut oil contains vitamin K (phylloquinone) at levels of 0.005ppm. That’s 0.5 micrograms per 100g, or 0.0000005%. And the only mineral present in coconut oil is iron, at levels of 0.4ppm or 0.0004%. (If you’re interested in the nutritional breakdown of coconut oil, read this for more details.)

So there are very small amounts of a couple of vitamins and a mineral in coconut oil, but it’s not exactly packed with them.

  1. Coconut oil and human breast milk are both high in lauric acid

I keep reading articles comparing coconut oil with human breast milk, because they both contain lauric acid. But the quantities they contain are completely different.

Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fat, and lauric acid accounts for around 50% of this total (details here). By comparison, only 4.4% of breast milk is fat. (This makes sense if you think about the full-fat milk you buy from the shop, its fat content is also around 4%.) Of this 4.4%, lauric acid accounts for just 6.2% of this (originally there was a reference link here, but it is broken and has been removed). This means the lauric acid content of breast milk is around 0.27%. (I have seen this misquoted in several places with claims that lauric acid is 6.2% of the total, not 6.2% of the total fat.) Whilst the fat content of breast milk fluctuates, and increases over time, this research demonstrates lauric acid content never exceeding 5%.

One of the reasons that this claim is made could stem from the fact that lauric acid is actually fairly uncommon in nature. In addition to coconut oil, it is only found in palm kernel oil (not the same as palm oil) and some other plants not used for food production as well as milk of lactating mammals. As a food source, breast milk may contain the third-highest source… but that’s only out of three.

Of course there’s a great many claims made about coconut oil that are backed with evidence, and coconut oil is a fantastic ingredient with some amazing properties. Just take some of the claims with a pinch of salt, especially if they don’t contain references that back them up!

The perils of takeaway coffee

I’m a coffee fan, and I like to treat myself to a proper coffee-shop coffee now and then. Nothing beats a decent cup of coffee served by a barista – and unless you have a coffee machine in your kitchen that cost the same as a small car, it’s just not something you can recreate at home.

I’m generally more of a dine-in kinda girl. I like the experience of just sitting there, maybe reading the paper, chatting with friends and family, watching the world go by. But there are times when I get takeaway. When there’s no tables, for example. Or no papers. Or I want to take my coffee with me on the train, to my desk, or to the park.

I’ve always been suspicious of takeaway coffee cups. Even before I knew about plastic, I wasn’t a fan. With their lids that often don’t fit properly, their flimsiness (squeeze too hard and you’re wearing the coffee) and their non-recyclability, nope, I wasn’t a fan.

But bio-degradable takeaway cups? Now they seemed different. Made of renewable resources, and with their promises of sustainability and compost-ability, they seemed to be the answer.

But then I looked into it a little more.

From a environmentally-responsible and sustainability point of view, traditional takeaway coffee cups are bad. At worst, they are made of styrofoam (polystyrene), which is a plastic foam packaging that is rarely accepted for recycling. Even the takeaway coffee cups that are seemingly made from paper or card contain plastic – they have a polyethylene lining – which makes them non-recyclable. (How else could they be waterproof?!) And plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels like oil.

So what about biodegradable takeaway coffee cups? Well these are free of plastics made from fossil fuels. One company that make these cups is BioPak: instead of using plastic from fossil fuels, they use a plastic called PLA made from cornstarch, and state ‘compostable and biodegradable’ on the packaging.

However, actual compost-ablility of some of these brands is questionable. I have friends who have tried composting these ‘eco’ cups and putting them in worm farms, and months later they are still completely intact. But even for those brands which will compost, they won’t break down if they’re sent to landfill. The conditions of landfill sites mean there is no oxygen, so microbes cannot break down anything that would normally be biodegradable. There’s nothing sustainable about using a compostable cup unless you are actually going to compost it. In fact, on their website BioPak acknowledge that their cups will only break down in a commercial compost facility, and are more likely to end up in landfill.

So the main benefit to using these cups is that they aren’t made of plastic from fossil fuels. They use other virgin materials though, it’s likely they still use fossil fuels in their manufacturing processes, and they still cause the same problems with landfill. And another interesting thing I learned from the BioPak website, is that PLA is made from genetically modified corn. So this raises other environmental issues. Whatever they may claim, it’s hard to think of these cups as a real environmentally responsible solution.

But what about when you want to buy a coffee?

Ask yourself, are you really in a hurry? So much so that you can’t spare five minutes to sit down, drink your coffee and then go on your way? I’ve seen so many people buy a takeaway coffee and they’ve drunk the entire thing on the two minute walk back to the office before they’re even back at their desk.

Oh. You are in a hurry.

So what’s the solution?

Buy a reusable takeaway coffee cup.

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There’s a few different brands on the market, but I bought a KeepCup. Yes it’s plastic, but it’s durable and I’ve used it numerous times. (I bought it after I gave up single-use disposable plastic, but before I started questioning the other plastic in my life.) I love it because it’s the same size as the standard takeaway coffee cup sizes, meaning it is accepted everywhere, I don’t get short-changed at the shop, it keeps your coffee warm longer than disposable takeaway coffee cups do, and it’s waste free!

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A sustainable coffee-shop run at the office! (And the cardboard tray has been reused too – extra points!)

I would love it if they brought out a stainless steel version, but they haven’t as yet. If you don’t want to buy plastic, there are other companies which sell ceramic and stainless steel alternatives, although the sizes aren’t standardised.

I aim to take my KeepCup with me whenever I go out. Even if I don’t want a coffee, it’s useful for using at water dispensers to avoid plastic disposable cups. And what if I want a coffee and I’ve forgotten my cup? I dine in.

How to Make Labne (Cheese) and Greek-style Yoghurt

I recently started making my own yoghurt (you can read about it in this post). The next part of my yoghurt adventure is making Greek-style yoghurt and labne. The great news is that making it requires no additional ingredients and no cooking either!

In case you’ve never heard of it before, labne (also spelled labneh or lebni) is a simple fresh-tasting cheese made from yoghurt that originates from the Middle-East. It is made by straining the yoghurt to drain off the liquid (whey) and leave the solids (curds). The longer that yoghurt is strained, the firmer the consistency. Labne can be made after 4-6 hours and up to 3 days; thickened Greek-style yoghurt is the intermediate product formed after straining for 2-3 hours.

How is this different to shop-bought Greek-style yoghurt?

There’s no additives! Real natural yoghurt is fairly thin and runny. Draining the liquid off is the natural way to make the yoghurt thicker, but the final volume is much smaller. 1 litre of milk will make 700ml yoghurt, which if strained for several hours will result in around 350ml Greek yoghurt. To save money, instead of straining yoghurt, manufacturers may leave the whey and use additives to bulk and thicken the yoghurt artificially, including gums, gelatine, starch and milk powder. In Australian supermarkets it is almost impossible to find any yoghurt for sale without one or more of these additives. In the UK the market is much better and natural Greek-style yoghurt is more readily available.

 

Let’s get making!

You will need: 1 litre yoghurt, muslin (cheesecloth), a bowl and a sieve or colander. If you don’t have any muslin, you could improvise with other (very clean) material such as an old sheet or tea towel.

How to make thick Greek-style yoghurt

Fold the muslin so it is 4 layers thick and place in the colander. Place the colander over a bowl.

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Pour the yoghurt onto the muslin. The whey will begin dripping into the bowl below straight away.

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Leave for 2-3 hours until thickened.

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Place in a glass jar and store in the fridge. The yoghurt will last for several days.

Note: if your room is not too warm it is fine to leave out on the side whilst the whey drips out. If it is a particularly hot day or you would prefer, place the bowl in the fridge instead of leaving at room temperature.

How to make labne

This is a lengthier version of the previous recipe, and it starts in an identical manner. By leaving the yoghurt for longer you will make labne instead of Greek-style yoghurt.

Fold the muslin so it is 4 layers thick and place in the colander. Place the colander over a bowl.

Pour the yoghurt onto the muslin. The whey will begin dripping into the bowl below straight away.

After 2-3 hours, take the four corners of the muslin to make a parcel, and hang over the colander to aid dripping. I used a clothes peg.

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After 6 hours, the yoghurt will have thickened enough to make a soft cheese. You can leave this longer if you want the cheese firmer – leave for up to 2 days in the fridge to make a really firm labne.

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This is how my yoghurt looked after straining for 6 hours.

When you are happy with the consistency, remove the curd ball from the muslin. You can eat it straightaway or store covered in olive oil in a jar in the fridge – it will keep for up to a week.

Storing your labne with herbs and olive oil:

You will need a clean glass jar, olive oil and some fresh herbs.

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Cut the curd into pieces and shape into walnut-sized balls with your hands.

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Add the balls to a clean jar along with some herbs, and cover with olive oil.

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This will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Using what’s left – the whey

I used 700ml yoghurt to make my labne, which made enough cheese to fill one small jar, and I was left with 350ml of whey.

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This cloudy yellow watery liquid (which has a similar taste to yoghurt) contains proteins, minerals such as calcium, potassium and B2 as well as friendly lactobacteria, making it a great probiotic. Don’t throw it away!

So…what should you do with it then? Well. It can be drunk as a probiotic drink. It can be used to replace the water when making bread products, or to replace the buttermilk in other recipes. You can use it to soak lentils and grains. Apparently. I wouldn’t like to recommend any of these things without trying them out myself first though, so expect a follow-up blog post in the coming weeks with some helpful tips with what to do with all the leftovers! In the meantime, you can leave it in the fridge in a sealed glass jar for several weeks.

Two simple recipes for do-it-yourself toothpaste

This weekend we finally finished off the toothpaste we have been using since last year, purchased before our plastic-free adventure began. We had a bit of a stockpile of the old stuff to use up, but now the last little bit is gone, and from now on I’m gonna make my own.

I’ve been suspicious of conventional toothpastes for a while and stopped buying them 18 months ago. Conventional toothpastes are full of cleaning agents, detergents, preservatives, anti-microbial agents, and thickeners, and many of these ingredients are questionable in terms of their effects on the body.

Three Nasties in Conventional Toothpaste

Sodium lauryl sulphate
This is added as a foaming agent and detergent. It is a known irritant.

Sodium fluoride
This is added to toothpaste to help prevent cavities. However it is toxic by ingestion and can be fatal. It can affect the heart and circulatory system. In younger children too much fluoride can cause fluorosis, which is when the enamel of the teeth is discoloured and the teeth have brown markings.

Triclosan
This an anti-microbial and anti-bacterial agent used in toothpaste to help prevent gum disease. However, it has a number of other impacts on humans and the environment. For example, triclosan is fairly stable and fat soluble, meaning it can accumulate in the body. It has been found in blood, urine and breast milk. It is a demonstrated endocrine disruptor and has potential links to breast cancer.

Despite its stability, it can react with chlorine in tap water and sunlight to form toxic intermediate and breakdown products such as dioxins, which are highly toxic, and chloroform, which is a carcinogen. Triclosan is also toxic to aquatic bacteria, phytoplankton, algae and fish. (This fully referenced fact sheet is great if you want more information.)

There are also concerns that its widespread use may cause resistance in bacteria similar to the way antibiotic-resistant bacteria developed.

So what are the alternatives?

You can buy natural toothpastes but they are expensive (and some still contain questionable ingredients), and they almost all come in plastic packaging. Making your own safe, inexpensive, packaging-free toothpaste seems to be the best solution.

How to Make your Own Toothpaste

You can make your own toothpaste simply in just a couple of minutes using only a handful of ingredients.

Bicarb soda – is an abrasive agent that removes dental plaque and food from teeth. It also neutralises stains and odours.

Sodium chloride (salt) – is a mild abrasive and also has anti-bacterial properties.

Glycerine/glycerol – is a sweet-tasting colourless odourless liquid that makes the paste smooth, provides lubrication and acts as a humectant, helping the toothpaste retain water. You can buy glycerine at a pharmacy.

Peppermint oil – this gives the toothpaste its minty taste. You can also use other essential oils but ensure they are food grade.

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Ingredients:

4 tsp bicarb soda
1 tsp sodium chloride (salt)
3 tsp glycerine
8 – 10 drops peppermint oil

Method:

Measure dry ingredients into a bowl. Add glycerine and stir to form a paste. Add essential oil.

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Alternative Recipe – Glycerine-Free Toothpaste

There is a lot of information on the internet regarding  glycerine in toothpaste. It all seems to come from one source, Dr Gerard F. Judd, who wrote a book called ‘Good Teeth, Birth to Death‘ published in 1996 in which he claimed glycerine coats the teeth and prevents remineralisation. I have not read the book but if using glycerine in toothpaste is something that concerns you, you can replace the glycerine with coconut oil.

Coconut oil has anti-microbial properties and because it is solid below 25ºC it works well as a glycerine substitute.

To make this version use the recipe above but substitute 3 tsp glycerine for 2 tsp coconut oil.

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The Taste Test

Neither toothpaste willtaste like conventional toothpaste, so don’t be surprised! Bicarb soda and the salt make the taste very salty. The glycerine version is slightly sweeter and has more of the texture of conventional toothpaste. It has a higher melting point, whereas the coconut oil will melt in your mouth – literally – and has a mild coconut taste and the texture of oil. If you’re not worried about glycerine (and if you’ve been using conventional toothpaste you’ve probably been using glycerine in that) I would recommend starting with that, and once you get used to the taste you could consider making the switch to coconut oil.

Deodorant: why natural is better and how to make your own!

Before you roll your nose up at the idea of making your own deodorant, let me tell you that is exactly how I was about a year ago. So what changed? Why would I want to make my own deodorant anyway?

Well… the first thing was that I became increasingly interested in what ingredients go into beauty products. I learned that some of the ingredients used in regular products are not good. And when I say ‘not good’, we’re talking carcinogens, neurotoxins, irritants, even pesticides.

Conventional anti-perspirant deodorants (the kind you buy in chemists, supermarkets and beauty stores) contain, among other things, aluminium salts. These have been linked to breast cancer. There is a LOT of info about this on the web; studies have been carried out that ‘prove’ they do with just as many that ‘prove’ they don’t. Whilst the verdict is still out, why take the risk?

The second thing that made me want to stop using conventional deodorant was learning about the way aluminium salts work. Aluminium salts are what makes a deodorant ‘anti-perspirant’, and they work by blocking the pores, or more specifically the sweat ducts. Sweat is still produced by the sweat ducts, but it cannot escape. Sweating is a natural process that has two useful functions – it regulates our body temperature by cooling us down, and also allows us to excrete toxins. (The skin is an excretory organ.) If we’re blocking our sweat ducts, then the toxins cannot be released, so where are they going? My view is, that if the body was designed to allow us to sweat, it’s probably best to let it do it’s thing.

These two reasons were enough to convince me to stop using conventional deodorant. However, I had mixed results with store-bought natural deodorants. They are often expensive, almost always come in plastic packaging, and I would say half of the ones I’ve tried don’t actually work. Let’s face it, the reason we use deodorant is to prevent ourselves from smelling bad. I’m willing to give up aluminium salts, but only if I’m exchanging it with something that will actually work. Natural and useless has no appeal.

So not being completely satisfied with the natural products on the market, I contemplated the concept of making my own. But what actually convinced me to make my own deodorant was meeting other people who made their own deodorant…and didn’t smell! For me that was the final reassurance I needed to jump in and give it a go…

Super Simple DIY Deodorant

This is a really simple recipe that only requires 3 ingredients and will take you about 5 minutes. What’s even better is that the ingredients are cheap, being things that you’d find in your grocery cupboard and are all safe enough to eat!

Makes enough to fill a small jar. Effective enough to last all day without reapplying!

Ingredients:

1 tbsp bicarb soda
4 tbsp cornflour / arrowroot powder (sometimes called tapioca flour)
2-3 tbsp coconut oil
optional: essential oils (therapeutic or food grade)

Mix bicarb soda and cornflour together in a bowl.

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Add 2-3 tbsp coconut oil. (Coconut oil has a melting point of around 25°C, so it will depend on the temperature of your kitchen whether it is solid or liquid. If it is solid, immerse the jar in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and the oil will melt.)

Stir to form a paste.

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This looks runny because I had to warm my coconut oil slightly to melt it. As it cools it will stiffen to form a paste.

Add a few drops of essential oil if using (if not the deodorant will have a mild and pleasant coconut smell.)

Pour into a clean jar.

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How to Apply

Apply a small amount with fingertips  to underarms and rub in well.

How to store

I keep mine in the bathroom, where usually it maintains a good consistency. If the day is particularly hot and the deodorant completely liquifies, stir with a clean teaspoon and put in the fridge to harden. If it is too stiff, put the container in a bowl of warm water to soften.

Tips

  • Some people are sensitive to bicarb soda. My boyfriend has particularly sensitive skin and so I use the ratio 1:6 bicarb to cornflour. I tried the ratio 1:8 but found it was only effective for 6 or so hours after applying. I have also made it for myself using 1:4 with no problems, and I know people who use 1:1.
  • Everyone is different, so if you find my recipe doesn’t work for you, try tweaking it by adding more bicarb.
  • The amount of coconut oil you need will depend on the temperature of your house. I use less in summer and more in winter because our bathroom temperature fluctuates to maintain the same consistency.