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My minimalist living space (I’d like to show you around…)

I often refer to the “tiny apartment” that I live in, and I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be nice to take some pictures and, well, invite you round for a (virtual) look.

But then I didn’t, because the flat was never quite tidy enough. Despite my constant quest to have less stuff, there always seems to be stuff cluttering up the place. It’s not that we have a great deal of stuff, but we also don’t have huge amounts of furniture or cupboard space to hide all our stuff like other people do. It’s a constant reminder to us that we have too much.

Another thing that put me off was that despite me calling our home the “tiny flat”, I realise that it is far bigger than many other “tiny” homes. In fact, there is a tiny house movement, and if you know anything about that you will realise that our flat in no way qualifies. Tiny homes are seriously tiny, and our apartment is palatial in comparison. I didn’t want to face the wrath of readers outraged that I have been making fraudulent claims all this time!

Lastly, I’m well aware that our flat is never going to be photographed for House Beautiful (or whatever those glossy home magazines are called). My eye for style goes as far as to recognise that some decor does indeed look pretty and stylish, and our flat has nothing like that in it.

We don’t have strategically placed cute retro teapots, or a surf board (why is it that every house I’ve seen photographed recently, no matter how far from the ocean, has a surf board?), or candles and flowers in all the corners. We don’t have quirky vintage antique stuff, we have old (and in some cases a bit tatty) stuff.

But then I got a grip on myself, and thought, so what? I like my house. Do I care that my house isn’t a interior designer’s dream? No. I like it. We like its simplicity. I like not having to dust all those quirky vintage nick-knacks.

Does it really matter that our flat isn’t the smallest house ever? Not at all. We are happy with the amount of space we have, so why would I compare it with other far smaller houses? They may be cleverly designed, inspiring and beautiful, but they would be too small for us at this stage in our lives. We need a space that we can live in, not one that impresses others with its tiny-ness.

Does it matter that it’s a bit messy and full of stuff? Well…I’d rather it wasn’t, or course… But we still invite our friends round, so why wouldn’t I take photos and invite my virtual friends round too? It’s just stuff, and it really shouldn’t have the power to influence my decisions!

So here’s the tour. It’s our attempt to live simply with less stuff; we have had some successes, but there are still plenty of areas we’d like to improve. It is a journey, and one that we’re always working on.

The Living Space

When you walk through the front door, you immediately step into the living space. There’s no porch or entrance hall. Our flat is pretty much a square, so from the front door you can see right the way through to the other side.

Livingspacefinal Livingspace2 LivingspaceothersideThere’s no storage aside from what furniture we have, which means lots of things can’t be put “away”, as there is nowhere to put them. My bicycle lives next to the dining table, and our broom sits next to the fridge.

This is our entire book and DVD collection. We don’t own a single DVD, and of this little stack of books, three are actually loans from friends. Who needs books and DVDs when you can borrow what you want from the local library?

Books are a minimalism success; my desk, however, is not. On a typical day, it looks something like this. That’s not to say that I’m not organised, because I actually know what’s on all those little bits of paper and always notice when they get moved. I just have a terrible habit of writing on the back of old receipts and old envelopes, and they accumulate. Mess and clutter are not healthy though, and I need to go paperless to get things a bit more zen in my litter corner of the room.

Messydesk

The Bedroom

It’s a bit more zen in here. There’s no space for any furniture in the bedroom, although we’ve had to squeeze my boyfriend’s bike into the small amount of spare space that we do have.

Bedroom Bedroom2 Fortunately we have an enormous built-in wardrobe…

closetcombined…and it is full to the point of almost overflowing! Yes, we have far too many clothes. No, they’re not all mine! Yes, I do have far too many pairs of shoes. Yes, they are all mine. Definitely an area I need to work on. But progress is being made. I’ve given clothes to the charity shop, and I’ve downgraded others to kitchen rag status. Last year I only bought a handful of items, and so far this year I’ve bought none. I don’t intend to buy anything else until my collection has at least halved. This is my compromise to myself, because I don’t want to send stuff to landfill, and there’s a lot in there that is too worn for the charity shop to take.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms in rented apartments are generally nothing to write home about, and ours is definitely no exception.bathroomsmallThere’s not too much clutter, but we do have a ridiculous amount of towels. (This isn’t even all of them – there were some hanging out on the line when I took the picture!) I’m reluctant to get rid of them; the charity shop won’t be able to sell them for much and I don’t want to send them to landfill. So another compromise – as they wear out they won’t be replaced. Right now, they (just about) fit into the space we have, and so they can stay.

towels

The Kitchen

I would love a bigger kitchen as I spend a huge amount of time here (you may have noticed that I like to cook?!). Learning to manage with what space I have has been hard, but I think it’s been good for me. Oh, and don’t judge us – we rent this flat and did not choose the lime green/acid yellow tiles ourselves!

Kitchen1 Kitchen2I’ve been able to keep the cupboards pretty orderly, and I only keep the things that we use regularly.

The pantry, however, is a different story! No matter what I do, I cannot seem to empty it out. I am pretty good at finding things in there, but my boyfriend does not fare so well, unless he knows there is a jar of chocolate spread… (I also don’t label the jars – surely everyone knows the difference between ground turmeric and ground cumin? Or rapadura sugar and soft brown sugar? They don’t? Oh. No wonder my boyfriend is reluctant to cook!) It’s cluttered, and awkward, and there’s been a few near-misses with almost smashing glass jars. But my love of food (and the bulk produce stores) means it never gets any less full. Any tips greatly appreciated!

PantryThose jars to the left of the pantry are there because they don’t fit in the pantry. Definitely a sign that I have too much in there!

Outside

We have a small space outside, which houses our two worm farms and various gardening-related bits and pieces I collected from verge collections. I then discovered we don’t get any sunlight so we can’t grow anything much here, sadly.

balconySo that’s the tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking around. I’d love to hear what you think, and if you have any tips for those areas that I need a bit of help with, please share them below!

Oven-Roasted Chickpea Recipe – a plastic free alternative to potato chips?

When we gave up buying food that came packaged in plastic, one of the hardest things for my boyfriend to give up was potato chips. He’d wander down the crisps aisle forlornly, rustling each packet and declaring I’m pretty sure this one is plastic-free! It feels like paper! See?

Sadly though, potato chips do not come in paper. They are all wrapped in plastic, even though the plastic is often cunningly disguised as paper, or foil (you can do the scrunch test to figure out if something is wrapped in plastic or foil. Scrunch it up; if it springs back into its un-scrunched position, it’s plastic).

Because of this we’ve had to find alternatives. I’ve not tried making my own from real potatoes yet, although I haven’t ruled it out for the future.

We found a bulk bin store that sells sweet potato chips, but they are very expensive and not something we buy often.

I’ve recently experimented with making kale chips (not as weird as they sound, although yes, they are made with kale), which are actually quite tasty, but you need a lot of kale for not that many chips, which makes them another costly option, and you can’t fit that many in the oven at once, so it’s quite a laborious process.

Our staple replacement is popcorn, made with popping corn kernels bought at the bulk bin store. It’s cheap, super easy/quick to make, and satisfying. Of course it tastes nothing like potato chips (it tastes like popcorn, obviously) but it meets that need for a savoury, salty snack that can be delivered by the handful.

Popcorn may be the current favourite, but there is now a new contender on the block – roasted chickpeas. I got the inspiration for this from a couple of places. I’ve seen them for sale in the bulk food stores, and if you’ve ever eaten Bombay mix or similar Indian-style snacks you’ve probably had them yourself.

Secondly, I always buy dry chickpeas and cook my own, usually 1kg at a time, as they freeze amazingly well and I try to avoid cans where possible to save waste. This always seems like a great idea, but when I’m storing the resulting 3kg of cooked chickpeas I’m thinking of novel ways to try to use them up so I don’t feel quite so intimidated every time I open the freezer door.

I’m not going to tell you that they taste like potatoes. Of course they don’t. I am going to tell you that if you want a salty, crunchy alternative that you can munch away by the handful, plastic-free, then roasted chickpeas are seriously worth considering.

They’re cheap and simple to make. Have them plain, or flavour them. I’m still experimenting with what flavours I like best, so I’ve given you a couple of ideas to get started.

chickpeasfinal

Recipe – Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chickpeas (380g approx)
2 tbsp macadamia oil
Spice mix: 3/4 tsp turmeric, 3/4 tsp ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp paprika (or omit altogether for plain chickpeas)
Salt and pepper

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Rinse chickpeas and spread onto a clean dry tea towel to remove excess water. Remove any loose skins and discard.

Put into bowl, add oil, spices (if using) and salt and pepper, and mix well until all the chickpeas are coated.

Line a roasting tin with greaseproof paper and empty chickpeas into tin, spreading out as much as possible. Place in oven and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and to ensure they cook evenly.

Remove and allow to cool completely. They will continue to harden as they cool (don’t be alarmed if they still feel soft when you take them out of the oven). Store in a glass jar if not eating immediately.

Chickpeas2 Spicemix1 Chickpeaspices1 chickpeas3 roastedchickpeas roastedchickpeas2 Enjoy! If you have a go at making them, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!

Success Is Not A Number

The last post I published was my 100th post. I did not realise this until I actually published the post – and when I pressed that button I almost had a heart attack because I hadn’t actually meant to publish it at all. I’d meant to hit the preview button. I still felt that the post was a jumbled collection of thoughts that was littered with typos, it was far too long; plus I hadn’t actually decided if I even wanted to publish it.

That’s never happened to me before – the accidental publishing – and I found it quite ironic that just as WordPress sends me a notification that I’ve published 100 posts I’m scrambling to delete that 100th post, or at least block it so I have a chance to actually tidy it up.

I decided that these things happen for a reason (and it was definitely an interesting learning experience for me!), so I decided to leave it published – once I’d checked the spelling and straightened it out a bit.

But it got me thinking about creating milestones and targets for ourselves, and how they don’t always serve us.

Let me explain.

When I first started blogging, I had targets. Well, I thought they were targets. I wanted to reach 100 followers in the first three months. After that, I decided I wanted to reach a new  x number in the next x months. But then I began thinking – is that actually something I can actually decide?

I have no way to control who comes to my blog, and likes what they read and decides to sign up. The only thing that I have control over is my writing. I can control what I write about, how I write and how often I publish posts.

I can’t make people follow me, so why was I setting myself targets for followers? I also realised that I love it when every single new person follows the blog, because it feels great to know that I’ve connected with a previous stranger. I love making friends here! As I write this post, I have 497 followers. I’m getting really close to 500, but the number doesn’t matter.

I want readers who like what I write about, who want to engage with me, and feel inspired as a result of reading what I have to say. That is what success feels like to me; the numbers aren’t important. Of course I love getting more readers, and being able to interact with a wider audience, but the 500th reader will be no more exciting than the 498th, and 499th, or the 501st.

The same applies for post numbers. When I started blogging, I decided to commit to writing 3 posts a week. I was unemployed at the time and I felt this was useful to provide structure, keep my mind occupied and give me a creative outlet. Once I got a job I managed to keep this up for a time, but during the month when my parents came to stay I found it too hard.

The way I saw it, I had two options – either keep up the target and write shorter, less thought out posts; or reduce the number, but keep up the quality.

It was an easy decision. I want people to enjoy what I have to say. I don’t want to be writing posts telling my readers that I don’t have time to write posts. Or telling people that I’m having such a great time that I don’t have time to tell them about it.

People are busy, they have inboxes that get bombarded with all kinds of information (and often far too much) and the least I can do is have enough respect for my readers to only write when I have something worth saying. There is no point in publishing posts just for the sake of numbers.

So now I don’t have number targets.

Instead I focus on what I do have control over – which is the content. If I have lots to say, then I will publish three posts a week, maybe more. If I don’t have anything to say… then I don’t publish empty space. I wait until I have the time and content to actually write something worth reading. Which is why my 100th post wasn’t any more significant than the others.

So I thought it was fitting that I made a mess of my 100th post. It was as if the universe was testing me, saying well you said it didn’t matter – so let’s shake things up and see if it does matter!

And no, it didn’t.

But imagine if I had attached some kind of meaning to it? I would have been disappointed, or angry, or upset – over something that was actually quite trivial and insignificant.

We can’t measure our success by plucking numbers out of the air. By doing so we create unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and then we feel bad when things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped they might. Success is about doing the best that we can with the time we have and the knowledge we have. It’s about making connections. How many isn’t important, what matters is how good they are.

Every trial we face is an opportunity

Do you ever have those days – or even weeks or months – when you feel like nothing is going your way, it’s all just a bit too hard and your dreams and aspirations for the future just seem to remain distant glimmers on the horizon?

Just over a year ago, I lost my job. I was actually made redundant in the previous October, but management made the decision to keep me on part-time on a casual basis until they no longer needed me… and at the end of January last year, I wasn’t called back.

It wasn’t my dream job by any means, and I was feeling pretty optimistic about getting a new job that I’d enjoy far more. I’d been in Australia just over a year at that point and felt a lot more informed about what was out there, what I wanted to do, and what I needed to do to get that job that I wanted.

Fast-forward six months, and I was still unemployed.

My initial optimism was long gone, and my confidence in myself and my abilities was lowering day by day. I felt like I’d explored countless avenues and each one had led to nothing. I’d dread the Skype chats where my parents would inevitably ask if I had a job yet. I was sick of being asked at events and parties what it was that I did. I’d look at my feet and mumble, or look to someone else to fill in the awkward silence.

At the time, I was beginning to feel like it was all a bit hopeless. And right then, when I just didn’t know where to turn next, I found a job. It wasn’t my absolute dream job, but it fitted with what I believed in and what I wanted to do, working with the community on a sustainability-related project. It was an possible opening to something better. I took it. And you know what? It was far more enjoyable than I expected. The team I got to work with were fantastic, the work was rewarding – and then an opportunity came up at the same place for work that was even more rewarding and even more along the lines of where I wanted to be. Right now, I’m loving what I do.

Reflecting on last year with the feeling of positivity that comes from doing a job I believe in, it’s much easier to look back in a positive light. Back then I felt like I’d wasted six months of my life. Now I can see that I learned some valuable lessons during that time. It may not have felt like much fun then, but now I realise that I learned a lot about myself during those six months, and I feel grateful that I had those experiences.

I wanted to share some of these lessons with you. You may not have the same experiences as me but I think the lessons are the same. Whatever crises we face in our lives, they are always opportunities to learn and grow stronger.

Lessons I’ve Learned

1. Don’t waste time on things you don’t believe in.

I wanted to work in the area of sustainability. I was interested in behaviour change, waste and education, working at a community level. Thing was, there weren’t a lot of those types of jobs around. So I decided to apply to all the low level admin jobs that I saw too, figuring that as I had experience in office management it would do for now.

So I applied for admin job after admin job, and did not get a single interview. Job applications in Australia can be incredibly laborious (no simple CV-sending with a hastily drafted cover letter here) so these took up a lot of my time, and it was very annoying to hear nothing back. I’m sure there were tears and tantrums. And then I caught myself saying “I’m pissed off that I didn’t get a job I didn’t even want.” I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with that sentence! Why was I applying for jobs I didn’t want, only to get upset when I didn’t get them? What a total waste of energy, emotions and effort. So I stopped that right away. It is so much better to focus on the things you do want to do. If your heart’s not in it, people see through you right away.

2. Make the most of the time you’ve been given.

Let’s face it, most of us spend our work days dreaming of holidays, what we’ll be doing at the weekend and the evenings when we’re not working and generally we feel like we don’t have enough time in our busy lives to do all the things we want.

So why is it, when we don’t have a job, we spend all our time trying to find a job and not taking advantage of the benefits that come with not being chained to a desk all day?

I know it’s not easy. Not having work makes us feel anxious, and the uncertainty of where the money is going to come from means we’re not always inclined to enjoy the free time we suddenly have. But I’m not talking about spending the time lunching or shopping. There’s so much we can do that will ultimately help us find work, through developing skills and gaining experience, volunteering or taking time to train in new areas, and this also gives us focus, a reason to leave the house and meet other people and generally stay sane. I had the chance to volunteer for some great organisations, to meet people doing fantastic things in the fields I am interested in and explore what I really wanted to do. Plus… I started this blog. I figured that if I wanted to educate people about sustainability and I couldn’t do that as a paid job, then I’d do it as a hobby and as a creative outlet.

3. We get new skills from everything we do.

Everything we do, every experience, is a lesson that we learn. Even when things seem pointless and frustrating, we will have gotten something from them. Even if the lesson was that this is something that we will never ever want to experience ever again! Everything we read, everything we hear, everyone we meet, helps to shape us into who will be in the future.

Each job application I sent off meant that the next one was that little bit better. Each rejection was a lesson in perseverance. Each new introduction to an organisation was an insight into the possibilities out there. This blog taught me the wonders of the internet, and connected me with like-minded people both in Perth and across the oceans. It gave me a creative outlet and a routine, and kept me focused.

4. If you need to push too hard, maybe it’s better to let it go.

There was an organisation that I really really wanted to volunteer for. I’d discussed it with them a few times; it was definitely on the agenda but a date was never set. They wouldn’t call, so I’d follow up… only for the same thing to happen again. That last time I called, I remember wondering if I should bother. But I did, and I did end up doing some work for them.

I quickly realised that the disorganisation of arranging the placement reflected a disorganisation that ran through the whole place. The work I did took a lot of my time, but I wondered whether it was actually going to be of any use to the organisation. There was too much chaos and disorder; too many ideas but no real structure. I finished what I’d been working on and chose not to continue with them.

They were grateful of the work I’d done…but I still wonder whether it was just shelved never to be seen again.

I did learn some valuable lessons, though. Including – if you have to push too hard at something, maybe it isn’t the right thing or the right time for you. Things should come naturally. Some things just aren’t meant to be.

5. Rejection means that the right thing hasn’t found you yet.

I find rejection hard. When I apply for a job I invest so much time and emotion into the application, and I really set my heart on it. I imagine what it will be like to have the job. So when I get the rejection letter (or deafening silence that follows the application), I feel disappointed. Initially it was difficult not to take it personally. That was something I had to learn to deal with. Now I’ve found the best way to look at it is to accept that it wasn’t the right thing for me, and a much better thing is right around the corner.

My six months of unemployment took this to extremes. I seemed to be waiting for that corner for an awfully long time. It was hard to keep thinking that something better was going to come along. But you know what? It did.

We can’t dwell on things that don’t happen for us. When I imagine how great it will be when I get all those jobs, those thoughts that I create aren’t real. I have no way of knowing what it would actually be like. Whilst it may seem devastating at the time to be rejected, when we look back with the benefit of time it’s much easier to see that the job wouldn’t have been perfect, that there were things that we didn’t really like about it – and that we wouldn’t be where we are today if it hadn’t been for the benefit of not getting that very job we were dreaming about.

The benefit of hindsight

With the benefit of having a job that I’m loving, I can look back at my experiences of the last year and actually feel grateful for everything that happened. That initial redundancy was the trigger for my involvement with the Less is More Festival, which I have now organised for two successive years. I’ve met so many amazing people through the Festival, I love being able to give something back to my community, and the Festival even won an award as the result of my efforts. I got involved with Living Smart, I started writing this blog and found a whole online community out there that I never knew existed before. I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew, developed countless new skills and feel like I’ve really grown as a person.

My contract for my current position finishes in April, so then I’ll be back to job-hunting. I spent last week updating my CV and I realised that despite that period of unemployment my CV looks stronger than ever, thanks to all the opportunities I was able to take up. If I’d stayed in that old job, it’s unlikely most of this would have happened.

Every trial we face is an opportunity to learn and to grow, and every cloud has a silver lining.

We’re all on different journeys

Last week I wrote a blog post about toilet paper. Eco-friendly, ethical toilet paper. Toilet paper that’s even more eco-friendly and ethical than the previous eco-friendly and ethical toilet paper I used to buy. It feels kind of absurd, really – writing blog posts about toilet paper. I pondered what friends I’ve not been in contact with recently might think if they stumbled across the post. I wonder what Lindsay’s up to these days? I’ll check her blog. Oh. She’s writing about toilet paper. Is that really how she spends her time these days? Does she have nothing bigger to worry about? Read more

Less than two weeks to go…

Exciting times…the Less is More Festival 2014 is less than two weeks away! There will be more than 23 presenters facilitating 30 unique workshops talking all things sustainable lifestyle-related. There will be drop-in sessions for hands on activities like deodorant and toothpaste making and sewing, there will be eco movie screenings, and for the first time there will be a whole day of kids activities too! It’s going to be awesome! Read more

An unexpected surprise in the mail

Checking the mail this morning, I found an unexpected letter.

LiM LetterjpgThe community event I organised last year has won an award! How exciting is that?! Read more

One last look at 2013…

We’re now into the third week of 2014, and so far on the blog all I’ve talked about is 2013. I need to get with the times, so this will be the final post I write that dwells on what is now behind us. Enough of living in the past, I say!

Holidays and the start of a New Year are great times to start making plans for how we want the next part of our lives to be. All the things we want to do, to see, to learn, to experience, to feel. I love to plan, and in previous years I would go charging ahead into dreaming and scheming. This year though (or last year, technically), I slowed down. I decided to spend some time reflecting on the year that just passed before I started thinking about what’s next. Specifically, I thought about all the things that I did that I was proud of in 2013. My achievements. Read more

Going Plastic-Free in Asia (Part Two – all the other plastic)

My goal was to travel around Thailand for four weeks without consuming any single use plastic. It’s what I do at home, so why should anything be different whilst I was away? I’ve already talked about how I avoided using disposable water bottles, which I thought would be the biggest battle. But there were other contenders.

The plastic straw

Thai people love straws. I thought the straw problem was bad in Australia, but there is a whole other level of straw-dependence over there. Every single drink seems to come with a straw. Of course the obvious smoothies and cocktails come with plastic straws. But less obvious drinks come with them too. If you buy bottled water to take away, it comes in a plastic bag and with a straw. If you buy a tin of fizzy pop, a straw is neatly tucked under the ring pull. Even tins of iced coffee and beer come with straws. It seems that the cultural norm is to drink your drink with a straw. Everyone does it.

Except, we didn’t want to use plastic straws.

I don’t know how to say “please don’t give me a plastic straw” in Thai. Fortunately, this didn’t matter, because I’d brought a stainless steel reusable straw with me from home. It was the single most used item on the trip. Whenever I purchased a drink, I’d whip out my straw and demonstrate that I had one, and no straw would come with the drink. I’m sure they all thought I was a crazy Westerner, but at least I was keeping to the local custom!

There were a couple of occasions where the staff forgot (there were two times that I can remember) and brought me a straw. I handed them back immediately unused, hoping that the straws would be washed and reused, but of course, they went in the bin. So usually I’d watch as staff prepared my drink, and if I saw any hands heading near the straws I’d run over, flailing my arms in the air until they panicked and handed the straw-free beverage over. I may have looked mad, but it worked.

straws

Our stainless steel straws in all their glory!

The plastic bag

The plastic bag is the other obvious contender, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it would be pretty easy to avoid these. Just say no when you buy something, right? But there were a couple of complications.

The first was laundry. In Thailand self-serve laundromats aren’t very common, and instead people offer a private laundry service where you pay by weight. You drop your laundry off and pick it up 24 hours later, smelling fragrant, neatly pressed… and folded in a plastic bag. It’s not like we could not use a bag altogether, because we’d have ended up dropping our underpants and socks all the way down the street. Fortunately we had brought a calico bag with us and we were able to use this instead.

laundry

Our freshly washed, neatly pressed laundry in the calico bag I’d brought with us. Plastic free!

The second was that Thai people used plastic bags as a vessel for food and drink. Literally. They pour cold drinks, hot soups, curry, sauces, coconut milk, you name it, into plastic bags, seal them up, and send you on your way.

plasticbagsThere’s no way I’d want to eat or drink anything served that’s been transported and stored in a plastic bag, even if I hadn’t given up plastic. Fortunately, our KeepCups served as containers for food, so the few times we bought something as takeaway, we didn’t need to use plastic bags.

deepfried

Battered, deep-fried sweet potato and banana – so delicious! We used our KeepCups rather than any disposable packaging.

The most important place to avoid plastic is at the beach. There are no bins so the options for rubbish disposal are taking it home, leaving it there or burying it. Of course, with the last two, it’s only a matter of time before it gets washed out to sea. Best to avoid disposable plastic altogether!

pineapple

Other Disposables

The main other disposable plastics that we were faced with were styrofoam trays (for takeaway food items) and plastic cutlery (for takeaway food items). We avoided using plastic cutlery by taking our own re-usable bamboo cutlery. The spoon was useful for ice cream and getting all the tasty coconut meat out of the drinking coconuts once they were empty, and I even managed to skin and chop up a whole mango with the knife!

cutleryAs for styrofoam, and any disposable food packaging, we avoided this by choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway. The food was fresher, we got to sit down and use metal cutlery and it looked so much more appetizing on a plate rather than stuffed in a plastic bag or cling-wrapped in styrofoam.

food

Imagine eating any of these out of a plastic bag… and yes the option was available!

Tips for Keeping Plastic-Free

There was a lot of plastic to avoid as so much stuff was packaged this way, but keeping plastic-free didn’t mean going without, it just meant looking a little bit harder for what we wanted.

I took a reusable straw, a reusable cutlery set, a KeepCup (which is a coffee cup with a lid that can double up as a small container), a cloth bag and my water bottle. All of these were invaluable. The only additional thing I’d take if I went back is a small sealable plastic container (Tupperware or similar), because the KeepCups were a little too small for most food.

bananasAmongst all the plastic out there, there were plastic-free options, which were exciting to find! These bananas were barbequed, pressed and smothered in coconut sauce, and then served on banana leaves. Plastic-free definitely makes things taste more delicious!

Going Plastic-Free in Asia: Plastic Water Bottles

I’ve spent the last 18 months committed to avoiding unnecessary plastic. My food shopping is almost entirely plastic-free, and I especially don’t buy bottled water. Why would I, when safe drinking water comes out of my tap?

In Asia, however, the water that comes out of the tap is not safe to drink. The locals don’t drink it, and tourists shouldn’t either. When we decided to spend four weeks holidaying in Thailand at the end of last year, I really wanted to keep our plastic-free commitment and avoid buying bottled water in disposable containers. A holiday is no reason to throw our values and beliefs out the window! I just wasn’t sure how achievable it would be.

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried! With a little bit of effort, avoiding using endless plastic drinking bottles on holiday was easy!

No expensive equipment required

Before we went away, I had a brief look at the water filters, water treatment tablets and other gadgets on the market. There’s plenty of options out there, from UV filters that zap bugs and parasites, to physical filters to remove debris, to the traditional water purification tablets. However, it’s not super straightforward. Ideally you need a bug-destroying filter and a physical filter, and the UV filters need recharging and will eventually run out. The traditional tablets involve using nasty chemicals so aren’t ideal for daily use. Plus these fancypants gadgets have fancy price labels too, and it didn’t feel right to buy more stuff that we’d use for such a short amount of time. If we had been going away for several months, or going into the wilderness maybe it would have been a worthwhile investment, but we weren’t.

And actually, we managed just fine without.

Be prepared

We didn’t buy any new gadgets, but we did take our two metal water bottles, two KeepCups and our two reusable collapsible plastic bottles – things we already had at home. I wouldn’t go anywhere in the Australian summer without taking my water bottle, so it made complete sense to take it with me.

bottles

It was a wise decision: all three were used regularly and if I went back, I’d take them all again. The bottles were useful right from when we arrived at the airport – both Perth and Bangkok airports had water filters once we’d passed through security so we could refill our empty bottles.

Make it a priority

Like most things to do with waste, it all comes down to convenience. There’s often an alternative way, even though it may require a little more effort than the conventional way. It’s all about priorities. So we prioritised, and made finding safe drinking water the first thing we did when we moved on to somewhere new.

We didn’t have too much planned when we jetted off, but I had booked our first night and last night accommodation in Bangkok, and I’d researched places that appeared to have genuine environmental policies and a focus on sustainability. This paid off: both places offered plastic-free drinking water, and we were able to refill our bottles hassle-free.

waterhotel

Find out what the locals do

Locals don’t drink the tap water, but they don’t all guzzle mineral water from plastic bottles either. So what do they do? In Thailand (at least in the places we visited), companies deliver treated water in big 20 litre drums to households and businesses, and the containers are returned for refilling once they are empty.

waterrefillsThese containers aren’t marketed to tourists, and the empty containers need returning to the seller, so some retailers were reluctant to part with them. The first place we found would only let us fill up our own containers using their funnel, so we purchased one plastic 6 litre water container and used this for refills. This was our only plastic bottle purchase of the trip! There was no way we would have managed without it, either. We used this to decant the water into our little drinking bottles so we didn’t end up spilling it everywhere.

The second place we needed to use these, we found a seller willing to give us our own bottle by paying a deposit, which we got back once we returned the empty container.

water8

20-litre water drum with the 6-litre water bottle we had to buy. Still, that purchase meant we didn’t have to buy any more plastic bottles on our trip.

Look for alternatives

If our water bottles were empty and we were away from our base and unable to refill them, we found we still had options, and there was no need to reach for the plastic. One alternative which comes in completely biodegradable packaging is drinking coconuts. They are very hydrating, refreshing and good for you, and in Thailand, they are available everywhere.

coconutLots of the cheaper Thai restaurants (which catered predominantly for locals rather than tourists) offer drinking water free of charge to patrons. We’d look out for restaurants with this service and try to use them where we could.

waterfreeWe discovered that a few restaurants sold water in glass bottles that are returned to the manufacturer for refilling. We did talk about buying water at these restaurants to fill up our water bottles if we ran out, but in the end we didn’t need to.

waterglassbottles

We did also see some water vending machines on the streets which filled empty containers. Our only issue was that the instructions were written entirely in Thai and we couldn’t understand how they worked. If we hadn’t found any other alternatives, we’d have popped some coins in the slot to see what happened, but as it turned out, we didn’t need to use these. It’s good to know that alternatives exist, though.

Reap the Rewards

We were completely prepared to pay extra in order to avoid using plastic; we figured it was worth it to limit our impact on the environment. Usually, a higher cost is something that we have to accept for “doing the sustainable thing”. Actually, it ended up being much cheaper! The 20 litre drums of water cost less than a dollar to buy, and many places charged more for a 500ml bottle of water, particularly outside of Bangkok. It was great not to contribute unnecessarily to landfill and keep our plastic-free pledge, and awesome to save money in the process!

Two people, four weeks away, and only one plastic bottle (reused several times before being responsibly recycled). Going plastic-free is just as possible abroad as it is at home if you put your mind to it!