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Can you be Zero-Waste and a Minimalist?

They sound so contradictory, zero waste and minimalism. Zero waste seems to mean hanging on to everything, and minimalism seems to mean getting rid of everything. Surely you can’t get more opposing ideals?

Yet I feel that I belong in both camps. I aspire to zero-waste living, and I’m equally drawn to minimalism. What’s more, I don’t really feel an internal struggle between the two. Which means they can’t be so contradictory at all…can they?

Minimalism, Zero Waste – and How It Began for Me

Was I a minimalist first, or a zero-waster? I’m not entirely sure. I think both ideas were there, even before I became either. At Christmas and birthdays, I’d always feel confused about being bought presents. After all, I didn’t really need anything, so I’d suggest that the gifter found me something useful.

It didn’t occur to me back then to say I didn’t want or need anything at all, but I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Anything I did have I knew could one day come in useful, so I kept cupboards full of glass jars, and shelves full of old tins, and a wardrobe full of clothes I might need if it suddenly got hot enough to wear summer clothes / I lost half a stone / I gained half a stone / hot pink suddenly started to suit me.

The minimalism really took hold when I moved to Australia. I didn’t have anywhere to store stuff whilst overseas, and I didn’t know how long I’d be staying, so there was no point shipping my worldly possessions across the oceans (not to mention, I didn’t have the funds for that). Everything I brought with me had to fit in 1 suitcase.

I remember thinking, when I move back home, I want everything I own to still fit in that one suitcase. It was my first real experience of how liberating it is to have few possessions.

Once we found our first place to live, the things we owned started to add up… but slowly. Our first flat was so small we couldn’t fit a lot of unnecessary furniture. It wasn’t that we consciously tried to be minimalists, but circumstances led us to be that way.

Then, a few months later, I found out about the Plastic Free July campaign. Quitting plastic for a month? Sure! Up until then, I’d been an avid recycler. I’d save my plastic bottles up and traipse across the city to the only depot for recycling. I’d wrap all my tiny bits of aluminium foil into a big ball before putting it in the black box to ensure the machines could pick it up. I composted my scraps. I thought that was enough.

Quitting plastic was only meant to be a month-long challenge, but once we’d seen the devastation that plastic causes in the environment, and understood the health implication from exposing ourselves to plastic, how could we ever go back?

I gave up plastic, and switched to buying things in cardboard and glass. Both of these are noticeably heavier (especially when you don’t have a car to carry your shopping home) and I became aware for the first time of how much packaging I was consuming. Packaging that served the sole purpose of moving something from A to B, and then, with no further purpose, was thrown away.

During that month of Plastic Free July, I also found out that glass isn’t recycled in my state. Yes, it’s accepted in the recycling bins, but it’s either trucked to another state or sent to landfill.

My zero waste journey began.

Zero Waste and Minimalism are both about Simplicity

It’s easy to think that zero waste and minimalism are conflicting ideals. One seems to advocate keeping everything, whilst the other seems to advocate throwing everything away! Actually though, they are both much more similar than first appearances might have you think.

Zero Waste means sending nothing to landfill. Truly zero waste means sending nothing for recycling either. For most zero-wasters it’s an ideal we aspire to; a journey with a destination we may never quite reach but one we are always working towards. For me, the biggest realisation with zero waste is if I don’t want to send anything to landfill or recycling, I have to control what comes in through my front door.

Zero waste means simplifying. I buy in bulk using my own containers. It means I’m limited to where I can shop, so I don’t get dazzled by special offers or buy more than I need. I no longer have multiple bottles of toiletries cluttering my bathroom because I felt compelled to stock up whilst they were on 3 for 2.

If I can’t find what I want without the unnecessary packaging, I look for an alternative, consider making my own, or go without. Occasionally none of these are options, and I’ll make the purchase anyway – I am human after all, and that is why zero waste is an ideal! It’s not about deprivation, but making conscious choices.

Zero waste means I avoid shopping malls where beautiful models try to sell me clothes that I don’t need, or gadgets, or toys. I don’t go to the shops to browse, only when I need something specific. I think about the life cycle of a product before I buy it: what’s it made from, will it last, and how can I dispose of it at the end of its life?

Hang on…or is that minimalism?

Minimalism is about asking ourselves, what is enough? Keeping things that are useful or practical, and getting rid of the clutter. Getting rid of all those “just in case” items that fill our closets and spare rooms and storage space. Choosing the important things and ditching the rest.

What is ‘enough’ varies from person to person, so there are no hard and fast rules for minimalists either. Again, it is an ideal. It’s also a journey and one that requires constant work, because there is always more stuff. As with zero waste, one of the most important ways to keep clutter out of your home is to control what enters through the front door.

Minimalism is actually a huge complement to zero waste living, because it addresses the elephant in the room – or rather that huge big pile of stuff in the room that we’re keeping in case it might ever be useful. Well, that’s how us zero-wasters justify it to ourselves. Don’t want to send it to landfill, it might come in handy!

Look more closely though, and that pile of stuff is probably harbouring a whole heap of negativity. Things we bought that we didn’t need, or want, or use. Waste. Guilt. Things we received as gifts that we didn’t like. More waste. More guilt. Clothes that no longer fit. Further waste. Further guilt. As zero-wasters, we feel guilt even more, because we care about the embedded energy in these things.

The irony is, that as these things sit collecting dust and generally not becoming handy, they may as well be sitting in landfill.

Minimalism is confronting. It makes us question these choices. It makes us look long and hard at our shopping habits and spending patterns. Most importantly, it makes us buy less of what we don’t need – meaning less waste.

Can you be Zero Waste and a Minimalist? Yes!

Zero Waste isn’t about hoarding. Minimalism isn’t about sending constant streams of stuff to landfill. There’s only one key area where zero-wasters and minimalist thinking differs – convenience. Zero wasters are all about reducing what they send to landfill (and/or recycling). Minimalists are all about reducing clutter. Zero wasters are more likely to carry reusables;  minimalists are more likely to use disposables. It all comes down a personal decision as to what is “enough”, and different people have different values. There are zero-wasters who will never embrace minimalism, and minimalists who will never live a zero-waste lifestyle.

Then there are those of us who want to do both.

And yes, it is possible. Both ideals have so much in common. They are both a reaction to waste, to rampant consumerism, to buying more than you need. They are both about mindful living and making conscious choices; deciding what’s important and doing more of that, and less of the stuff that isn’t. Buying fewer things and choosing well. Making do or doing without. Simplifying.

Now I want to hear from you! Which side are you on…are you a minimalist, or a zero waster, or both? (Or are you neither?!) Which came first? Have you found one path has helped you on the other, or hindered your progress? What are your biggest challenges, and what have been your biggest realisations and triumphs? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments 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. 

Life changes, Soul Searching and Time to Reflect

It’s been silent on the blog for a while, and if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter you probably won’t have any idea why. (If you don’t like missing out, why don’t you sign up? It’s free!) If you are subscribed, hopefully you found my excuse a good one! You’ll have to wait a little longer for the blog posts relating to that, but stay tuned – they are coming!

The last few weeks have been interesting. Most of the time I feel like life is unfolding before me and I’m just treading my path and taking things as they come. The last month has not been like that. Choices have needed to be made. There have been big, black-and-white decisions. This path or that. Choose one. There’s been some soul-searching, and plenty of reflection, but the decisions are made and this is the path I’m taking.

Firstly, there was the job. There’s no doubt I need a job to pay the bills. I’ve tried for so long to find a job that is a real extension of who I am, that allows me to follow my passions to the full, but alas, these jobs are few and far between. Eventually the need to find work won over the quest to find the perfect job. That doesn’t mean I’ve sold my soul and gone to work for a big corporation. I’m working for a family-owned event hire business (and the owners are two of the nicest, fairest and most generous-hearted people you could wish to meet) and there’s no compromise in ethics or morals. Plus I like the role!

The need for a job came from the decision we made to buy a flat. I’ll write a blog post on this sometime soon but it wasn’t a decision we made lightly. We’ve been discussing it for months. We love renting and we love the idea of tiny houses, but in the end the ‘conventional’ house-buying won. Property in Perth isn’t cheap, and it means we will need to get a big mortgage. We will also need a big deposit – which is where the job comes in. We plan to move this time next year. The job and the mortgage and taking the conventional path seem at odds with how we want to live our lives – which I suppose is why it took so long to make a decision, and why there’s still some soul-searching going on now. I really want to write more about this soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Then comes the lack of free time to pursue my passions that comes with working. It’s like adding insult to injury – I’m not working in the sustainability or waste field, and I have much less time to pursue these passions outside of work too! It’s easy to wish I’d done more with the free time I had, but I don’t want to lament the past. Nothing lasts forever, and I’m sure there will be time to pursue all these things again! No doubt the world will still need saving when I’m less busy : /

The lack of free time has also meant that I’ve decided not to organise the Less is More Festival next year. This was a big decision. It’s been such an important part of my life for the last two years, and I’m so proud of how it’s grown and how many people it reached, but I feel like I need time out. Fortunately the Earth Carers, who supported me for the last two years, have decided to take the helm and will take on the running next year, so the event will still be going ahead. They have some plans to take it in a slightly different direction and their ideas are really exciting. Whilst I’m sad to be stepping back, I know in my heart it is the right thing to do.

One decision we are still grappling with is whether to buy a car. Glen’s office is relocating and whilst it will be very close to our new house, it is a painfully long and awkward commute from where we live now. My new job is just a few minutes from our current flat – and we have just renewed our lease. Buying a car could solve the commuting problem – but what about our values? We debated buying an electric car (expensive, and another step down the conventional corporate road?). We thought about buying an old banger (much less embedded carbon but far more polluting). We also thought about what buying a car would mean to our identities and how it fits with our beliefs. We are still trying to make the decision. I could write a whole blog post on this too (and plan to).

All these changes have meant taking time out to adjust, but really, of course, I’m still the same. My values haven’t changed. My passion for zero waste and plastic-free remains. My quest to minimalise continues. My obsession with vegetables (particularly sneaking them into desserts in a quest to make them healthier – chocolate avocado mousse anyone?) goes on unabated. My desire to connect and share and grow my community still burns as strongly as before. So I’ve made the obvious decision.

Get back to blogging! There’s still so many things to talk about, people to connect with, and ideas to share. I’ve missed you guys, and I’m glad to be back : )

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /

My Fridge vs The People of Africa

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting graph showing the energy consumption of some guy’s fridge. The owner of the fridge was Todd Moss, a senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Development. He purchased this new fridge for his single-person household, and was shocked when he compared the energy use of his fridge with the energy use of an average citizen in each of six African nations. He made a graph to show just how much more energy his fridge was consuming.

Here’s the graph (you can read his blog post here):

Source: Todd Moss |Centre for Global Development

Source: Todd Moss | Centre for Global Development

I think it’s pretty shocking that a single appliance uses this much energy. Imagine how much energy he uses when you add in all those other appliances! It got me wondering…how much energy does my own fridge use?

Ours is a 400 litre fridge which was given to us by my boyfriend’s parents when they bought a new one. It was originally purchased in 2002 when energy efficiency ratings weren’t so much on the radar. We were pretty sure it uses a lot of energy – but how much?

When we moved house our neighbour left her old fridge behind as she no longer needed it. At 180 litres it is significantly smaller than the other one, so we decided to try it out and see if we could manage with the reduced size.

Big Fridge Small Fridge

Our old fridge is the bigger one on the right (around 400litres), and the smaller one was our neighbours (around 180litres).

In addition to trying it out for size, I decided it would be an interesting exercise to measure the energy consumption and running cost of both fridges, and borrowed an energy meter from a friend.

How to Use a Home Energy Meter

The meter I used was a Power-Mate PM10AHD. You plug it into the wall, and plug your appliance or device into the meter, and you can read energy use via the screen.

Power Mate Energy MonitorWith a fridge or an appliance that runs continuously, you need to wait for 24 hours before reading the data as the energy use will fluctuate throughout the day.

The meter measures a few things, but the interesting ones are power (measured in Watts), time (hours) and energy (kWh – which means kilo-watts per hour).

It is possible to calculate how much an appliance is costing you to run if you know what your energy company charges per unit. (You can find this information printed on your bill.) My energy company charges me 23.55 cents per unit (a unit of energy is kWh), plus a carbon component of 2.36 cents per unit, which means I pay 25.91 cents per unit of energy I consume.

The meter I used had a handy function for inputting how much my energy company charge ($/kWh), and then it calculates the energy cost per hour, day, quarter and year for me. It’s a pretty simple calculation though: energy used for one hour x cost for one unit will give you the cost for 1 hour. Multiply by 24 and you have the energy cost for 1 day; multiply this by 7 for the cost of one week and so on.

The Results:

The Small Fridge:

The small fridge uses 0.0375kW per hour of energy.
The energy use per day is 0.90kWh.
The energy use per year is 328kWh.

The cost for running the fridge for a day is 23 cents. For a quarter it costs $21.27 and for a year it costs $85.11.

The Big Fridge:

The big fridge uses 0.0728kW per hour of energy.
The energy use per day is 1.75kWh.
The energy use per year is 639kWh.

The cost of running the fridge for a day is 45 cents. For a quarter it costs $41.32 and for a year it costs $165.29.

The Difference:

The big fridge costs an extra $80 per year to run at current energy prices!

Here’s a graph showing how my two fridges compare with Todd’s fridge and the 6 African nations:

My fridge uses more energy than the citizens of 6 African nations combined : (

My fridge uses more energy than the average citizens of these 6 African nations, and almost as much as the energy of all six average citizens combined : (

The smaller fridge still uses more energy than an average citizen in each of these countries, but is far more modest than the big fridge, for which the energy consumption is ridiculous. I’m quite embarassed that I have such a power-puzzling monster in my kitchen. Whilst it’s a big fridge, it’s not unusually big for Australia and plenty of people have double-door fridges which guzzle even more energy – not that I’m trying to justify it! My one consolation over Todd’s fridge is at least ours serves two people.

I would like to tell you that we decided to keep the small fridge, but it was just a bit too small. The way we shop, with our fortnightly vegetable box delivery, and my constant baking and making-enough-leftovers-for-the-rest-of-the-week way of cooking, it just didn’t quite work. The minimalist in me is not impressed. We know the big one is too big, but it still works and for the short-term we’re resigned to keeping it.

We sold the smaller fridge on Gumtree (with our old neighbour’s permission); they guy who bought it wanted a second fridge to go in the garage…as a beer fridge. Yep, a separate fridge just for his beer. I wonder what the people in those African nations would think of that?

Have you ever checked the energy consumption of your electric appliances? Were you surprised with the results? Or have you never even thought about it until now? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I’d like you to get to know me a little better…

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t want anyone to know it was written by me. I wanted to be anonymous. True story!

Why? Looking back now, I’m not quite sure either. But I was completely new to this online world of blogging. so I guess I wanted to dip my toes gingerly into the world; I didn’t want to get soaked and look stupid. I had no idea if anyone would want to read what I had to say, or even if I’d run out of things to say in two weeks. There was no plan. So nerves, combined with my English trait of shyness, and a hint of just plain daftness, led me to start my blog with no real mention of who I was – or what the blog was all about!

I’d like to say I realised early on that this wasn’t going to work, but I’m a slow learner it seems! It took an entire year for me to put a photo of myself on my site, to finally take ownership and say “hey, yes, this is me!” It is so much easier to connect with somebody when you know their name and what they look like, and whilst I realise that, because the people I connected with had names and faces, maybe I didn’t appreciate that it wasn’t reciprocal.

Adding my picture was the first step, but in the meantime, my hastily scribbled, vague paragraph that featured under the “About Me” tab remained. Did you know that the “About Me” is typically the second most viewed page on a website after the homepage? It’s really helpful then, if it has some clear information about the person, the organization, or the website. That’s the point, right?

However, if you read one of my posts, and wanted to know more, you could click on my “About Me” tab, and learn absolutely nothing about me or the blog.

Well not any more! I have finally updated my About Me page to reflect who I am and what this blog is all about. I’d love it if you could have a look and be sure to tell me what you think in the comments. It may not be perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than the old page!

LindsayMiles2a

It’s a hard thing, trying to get your personality on a page! So whilst I’m here, let’s share a virtual cup of tea together : ) In the spirit of you getting to know me a little better, here’s 15 other random facts about me that didn’t make the About Me page, but have helped make me who I am.

Here goes:

#1 I’m not scared of spiders or snakes. But I AM scared of frogs!

#2 I love board games (my absolute favourite is Agricola). I could play them for days at a time. The enthusiasm isn’t shared entirely by my boyfriend, but slowly I’m wearing him down!

Playing games

#3 When I moved out of home at 18 to go to university, I couldn’t cook at all. In fact, I had to get instructions from my mother on how to cook pasta. How things change!

#4 When I was 22, on a trip to Thailand, I bartered with a Hilltribe woman over the price of a cushion cover. I argued and argued until she agreed to my price. Afterwards, I realised I’d been arguing over 10p (7 cents) and I felt so ashamed. That was my fair trade awakening. I can still remember that lady’s face today.

#5 I love seeing things grow. Every time I see a seed germinate I am reminded of the wonder of nature, and I think trees are amazing.

trees

#6 As a kid I loved climbing trees, and I once climbed a tree wearing rollerblades. I then jumped out of the tree still wearing the rollerblades. Luckily I didn’t break my neck!

#7 I have a current obsession with sneaking vegetables into my baking. This chocolate mousse is the best, and I can’t wait to share my latest chocolate brownie recipe with you!

03_08brownies

#8 I love foreign language movies, and my favourite director is Pedro Almodovar.

#9 I once read that it takes 3 times the energy to make a paper bag compared to a plastic bag, so I always ensure I use any paper bags I’m given at least 3 times. Even if I have to turn them inside out!

bags

#10The last time I went back to the UK, I took my used Brita water cartridges with me for recycling (it’s not possible to recycle them in Australia). That’s dedication!

#11 I don’t have a favourite food: it’s all too delicious! But I don’t like celery, celeriac or barley. They are pretty much the only plant foods I don’t eat.

#12 I have naturally curly hair, which people find really intriguing. Sometimes when I’m out, people I don’t know grab my hair and pull it to see how far it unravels.

 

#13 I think Australian cockroaches are kinda cute.

#14 Despite being from England, I find the Australian winters freezing, and even in summer you’ll probably find me wearing a jumper. I think my core must be frozen.

#15 I can’t stand food waste, and if I’m in a restaurant with people who are too full to continue, I invariably finish off their food. About half the time it’s the food of people I’m with.*

Empty Dinner Bowl

(*Just kidding! For now at least, I stick to the plates of the people I know! Just wanted to see if you managed to make it to the end without snoozing!)

If you have the chance to pop over to my new About Me page, I’d love to hear what you think! Is there anything missing? Anything I should add? Did you ever read the old one? Please tell me your thought in the comments below!

Fair Trade: what it means, what it does, and how you play a part

Last Friday I attended the Fairly Fashionable? event, where local fashion designers created garments using Fair Trade fabric to raise awareness of ethical fashion. I was telling some new friends about it, and one of them asked me:

“What is Fair Trade?”

Good point! Whilst you probably know (or could guess!) it means that workers getting paid a fair price for the goods that they produce, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

What does “Fair Trade” Mean?

Fair Trade is all about better prices, yes, but it’s also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

The movement came about after people recognized that conventional trade wasn’t providing fair wages and sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. Poverty and hardship make these workers more vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their choices, access to markets and negotiating power.

The idea with Fair Trade is that farmers or workers are paid a higher price for their goods or services, and this cost is passed onto the consumer, who will pay more for a product that has been fairly traded.

There’s no one definition of Fair Trade; there are many different organisations who promote Fair Trade, and they have different standards and criteria. The 10 principles listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which Fair Trade organisations are expected to follow, are excellent for explaining what Fair Trade companies across the globe strive to achieve.

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability

Principle 3: Fair Trading Practices

Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price

Principle 5: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association

Principle 7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building

Principle 9: Promoting Fair Trade

Principle 10: Respect for the Environment

(You can read a full description of these principles here)

How does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade has existed since WWII, but was more focused on handicrafts in the beginning, with products sold solely from Fair Trade shops (also called worldshops) and churches. From the 1980s there was a shift towards the fair trade of agricultural products, and the idea of certification came about.

Certification was introduced in 1988; the first certified Fair Trade product was coffee.The idea behind certification was that it allowed consumers to recognize which products gave farmers a premium price for their crops and followed Fair Trade principles. This meant products could be sold in mainstream shops such as supermarkets rather than specific Fair Trade shops. Certification has allowed the reach of Fair Trade to grow massively, and more customers means more farmers can benefit.

How does certification work? An independent organisation certifies that the commodities used in a product meet Fair Trade standards, and manufacturers pay for the right to use a logo. This tells consumers that the product meets certification standards for Fair Trade.

The FAIRTRADE Mark

The FAIRTRADE Mark is probably the most famous Fair Trade logo: it’s currently used in over 50 countries and is attached to over 27,000 products. It’s an independent certification mark that guarantees a product has been produced according to international Fair Trade standards. It shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved.

Fairtrade logos

Certification schemes with logos that people recognize mean that products can be stocked in supermarkets where high volumes of products can be sold. It is estimated 90% of consumers trust the FAIRTRADE Mark – and this confidence means higher sales.

Whilst the FAIRTRADE Mark is the world’s biggest Fair Trade certification scheme, it’s not the only one. Different certifiers will have different standards and procedures, but all promote Fair Trade.

Different Fairtrade logos

Logos from Fair Trade USA (left and second left), the Fairtrade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization

Not all Fairly Traded products are certified, either. Remember that participating in a Fair Trade certification scheme costs money. Some organisations that work with small cooperatives to produce Fair Trade products may not have the resources to certify their products; but that does not mean they don’t adhere to Fair Trade principles. Most businesses selling Fair Trade products want to be as transparent as possible, so if in doubt, just ask questions.

What Can We Do to Support Fair Trade?

Buy Fair Trade products! Simple as that! The most common products are coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas, and you’ll be able to find these in supermarkets. Health food stores and independent grocers will probably have a wider range.

Start with just one product that you buy that has a Fair Trade alternative, and make the switch. Last year I switched to only buying Fair Trade chocolate. The market for Fair Trade products continues to grow every year, and the more we support it, the more this growth will continue.

Fairtrade InfographicFor more information on Fair Trade, and to see how you can support Fair Trade in your area, check out these great websites:

World Fair Trade Organization
Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand
Fairtrade Foundation (UK)
Fair Trade USA

Do you already buy Fair Trade products? Are you new to Fair Trade but willing to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

The best $199 ever spent?

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about living with less is to avoid looking at adverts. Tricky, yes, because they’re everywhere. I don’t have a television, and I don’t tend to read magazines or newspapers, so I don’t get exposed from these sources…

But I walk past billboards every day, buses and taxis drive past me with adverts emblazoned across them whenever I step out of the house.

I see them at shops, the cinema, in stairwells, on the back of public toilet doors. The internet is rife with them too, and I even get them delivered to my inbox hidden amongst other content.

Avoiding catalogues and brochures (both printed and electronic) is one way I avoid advertising exposure. These adverts are more dangerous – not only do they try to make you desire something, but they tell you the price and where to buy it too! If we do get any through our mailbox, they go straight in the recycling ( and I curse the fact I still haven’t got round to putting a “no advertising material accepted” sticker on the box).

If I don’t know what this season’s hot look or colour is, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I conform (which, no doubt, I don’t). It’s unlikely anyone else does either. Advertising works by making us feel inadequate; that’s what sells stuff. Let’s face it, these catalogues know how to get to our hearts, with their gorgeous models and flattering photography, and beautiful, clever and quirky products. It isn’t easy to just look and feel nothing. The mind starts to wander. Maybe my life would be better if I purchased a blue-and-white stripy themed dinner service. With the matching stripy napkins. So classic, and the nautical theme is just so…in! Hmmm.

Yesterday we had a whole heap of them stuffed through the door. (We really must get a “no junk mail” sticker.) I thrust them into the recycling. Then I noticed my boyfriend was reading one. I ask him what he’s looking at: it’s a sport’s catalogue. I frown. He has a bit of a penchant for purchasing bicycle accessories at the moment, so this could be dangerous. Then he hands it to me. “Here, check this out!”

I look at the picture, puzzled. “But it’s a box!”

“Yep”, he says. “And it costs $200!”

Plyobox small

How ridiculous. Really. A box made of plywood (or is the fact it’s called the Plyo Box a strange coincidence?) that costs $199. Do these fitness types really need such a box? Won’t the stairs do? Or a sturdy chair? Or a wall? For the man who has everything…everything, that is, except common sense?

I was thinking about this today when I was cutting up some crackers I’d made. I was using a knife, and I was thinking about pizza cutters, and how unnecessary they are – unless perhaps, you run a pizza shop. I used to have a pizza cutter, many years ago, and I used it on the few occasions that I ate pizza, until it broke. Then I had to cut my pizza with a knife.

I’m going to offer you some wisdom here, and I come from a place of experience – cutting your pizza with a knife does not affect your enjoyment of eating said pizza. A pizza cutter does not increase your happiness (but it will probably piss you off when it breaks). Profound, huh?! My knife, by the way, is still going.

That box and the pizza cutter aren’t actually so dissimilar, I realised, except one costs $199 and one costs $9. Both are completely unnecessary, yet price makes a huge difference to our perception: it’s a lot harder to justify spending $199 than to is to spend $9! What if we didn’t consider price at all – we only considered if something was necessary or unnecessary?

I wonder how many people who look at the Plyo box and laugh at its pointlessness are pretty sure they have a pizza cutter lurking at the back of their kitchen drawer? (I may not have a pizza cutter, but my kitchen drawer is no mimimalist’s dream, either. We have a cheese knife, I discovered the other day. That is possibly even less useful than a pizza cutter!)

Which brings me back to advertising. These ads are trying to sell us things we don’t own yet. We all have pizza cutters and cheese knives and other unnecessary items in our homes, but if we could just stop looking at adverts we wouldn’t keep buying more to add to them. How many times have you thought you needed something after seeing an advert? (Quick test: before seeing the advert, had you been lamenting that no-one had invented this item you now think you want? No? Then you don’t need it now.)

5 Ways to Keep the Ads at Bay

We can’t walk around all day with our eyes closed, but there’s a few things we can do to reduce our exposure to adverts:

  • Get a “no junk mail” sticker, and stop those ads reaching your mailbox. (Yes, point taken. It’s on the to-do list.)
  • Any catalogues, brochures and flyers that you do receive, throw straight in the recycling.
  • If you watch TV, try to avoid the ad breaks. If there’s too many, simply turn the sound off. It’s amazing how much less notice you take if you can’t hear them. Try it!
  • Do you subscribe to any magazines that you don’t really read? What about ones that are basically a big shopping advert? Can you cancel them? (Libraries stock magazines if you still want the occasional hit – and they take all the advertising material out!)
  • Unsubscribe from retailer newsletters, or anything else that tries to sell you stuff too frequently. You really won’t miss anything.

Next time you see an advert and feel yourself getting drawn in, just remember the Plyo box. Is it really going to be the best $199 you’ve ever spent?

Tell me what you think! Do you have any tips for avoiding advertising? Do you find it easy or are you swept up by the clever marketing tricks? Can you stick to only necessary purchases? Do you think I’ve got it wrong, and clearly the Plyo box is the best invention you’ve ever seen?! I’d love you to leave your thoughts in the comments!

We’re leaving the tiny flat…

After a little over two years in our tiny flat, it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve signed the papers and handed in our notice, and in just over two weeks we’ll be moving out.

It was a tough decision. We really like our tiny flat, especially in the Australian summer. It doesn’t get any direct sunlight so it stays relatively cool, even when it’s above 40ºC outside (and in Perth in summer, that happens often). We like living in a small space, and it’s been an excellent teacher in living with less and making do with what we have.

Plus we like the area; as we don’t have a car we chose this spot as it had excellent public transport links, and lots of facilities within walking distance.

However, last winter was brutal. When you live in a flat that doesn’t get any direct sunlight, with gaps in the doorframes that cold air blows right through, huge panes of single glazed glass and a bathroom window that actually has a 3inch x 25inch gap with no glass at all, it gets pretty cold.

Australia might be hot in the summer, but temperatures can drop to 0ºC overnight in winter. Brrr. Not only that, but when you have a cold flat, it gets damp. Last winter our bedroom (and everything in it) went moldy. Whilst we cleaned it up successfully (with no nasty chemicals) and the mould hasn’t returned, I was quietly dreading the possibility of having to deal with it again this year.

There’s a couple of other things that are less than ideal. Our toilet/bathroom is en-suite, which makes it awkward when visitors come to stay. It’s too small to have more than a couple of extra people over at one time, and we’d like to have people round more often. It would be nice to have somewhere else to keep the bicycles rather than in the way in the bedroom, where I manage to fall over it at least once a fortnight.

We ummed and ahhed about it for a while (it’s such a lovely place to live in summer that it’s hard to remember the horrors of last winter, but I remember saying at the time there was no way I could face another winter in this flat). The flat is inexpensive for the area, and moving is another expense. We decided that if the landlord didn’t put the rent up, we’d stay for as long as we could stand, and then hopefully find somewhere else.

The landlord decided to put the rent up.

We wrote to him to ask whether they would hold off for three months, to give us time to adjust. The job I was working on finished at Easter, so losing an income source on top of a rent increase was not ideal.

They said no.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have to start looking, and then something perfect came up.

The flat next door!

In our block of 16 units, only four are one-bed units. The others are two-bedroom, and our neighbour’s flat is one of these. This means it is slightly bigger, and the bathroom is not en-suite. It also has a big front balcony area with some natural light which means we might be actually able to grow some plants at last! Also, it’s not technically next door but across the passageway with a different aspect and far more natural light. In the 8 years our neighbours lived there, it never went moldy. Plus, it’s the same price!

The downside? It’s not in such good condition as our current flat. Most of the features are original (read dated and falling apart). The kitchen is even less spacious than our current (and fairly tiny) kitchen.

We’re really excited to be moving, though…and yet glad to be staying where we are. The best of both worlds. There’s nothing like moving house for the chance to declutter, either – and we intend to move with far less than we currently have. All those things that we’ve been keeping in case they turned out to be useful? Well, if they haven’t been useful in two years, perhaps now is the time to let them go.

Two weeks tomorrow and counting…

How I Quit the Supermarket

For a long time I was uneasy with shopping at the supermarket. I wanted to shop sustainably from independent producers, support local businesses, and buy ethically, yet quitting the supermarket seemed so… drastic. I wanted to divorce my supermarket. Split up with my supermarket. “That’s it! I’m leaving you!” Storm out of the door, dramatically, never to return. However much I might have wanted to, something held me back. Actually taking action seemed too overwhelming.

Yet I realised at the start of this year that I don’t really shop at supermarkets any more. As a couple, for every $100 we spend on food, we probably spend $1 in the supermarket. In the space of two years, I’ve gone from shopping there multiple times a week to maybe once a month. What happened?

I didn’t divorce my supermarket. There were no fireworks, no drama, no tears and regret. Things simply changed. We drifted apart. We had nothing in common. It was a gradual shift, so subtle that I didn’t really notice it, until one day I realised that we just weren’t doing things together any more, and I was free.

Here’s how I quit the supermarket.

The first thing was starting to buy my fruit and vegetables elsewhere. Supermarkets in Western Australia have very expensive fruit and vegetables, limited choice and almost no organic produce. I tried a few things – shopping at the local fruit and veg stores (cheaper but most produce was imported from China), before switching to Farmers Markets (more expensive but locally produced) and signing up for a weekly organic vegetable box delivery.

The second thing I did was to stop buying bread from the supermarket (it’s filled with additives, preservatives and palm oil) and start buying bread from a proper bakery. Nothing beats freshly baked bread! I also learned how to make my own sourdough, both to save money and so I could enjoy fresh bread when I needed it, rather than just on Saturdays.

Thirdly, I started shopping at bulk stores for grains, pulses, spices, nuts, and seeds. The prices here are far cheaper than the supermarkets and the choice is better. I have at least three very good stores close to me, and the more I look, the more I find.

Next, I gave up plastic. This meant not buying anything in plastic packaging. This was quite a big shift, and saw my supermarket consumption drop considerably. I found a local supplier of milk and yoghurt at the Farmers Market with products packaged in glass (and they collect empties for re-use). I also learned that is really simple to make yoghurt at home.

I discovered that it is possible to buy laundry and dishwashing liquid in bulk from the bulk bin stores by bringing my own containers. Rather than buy shampoo, conditioner and shower gel from the supermarket, I found a local artisan producer who used natural ingredients so I could avoid the chemicals found in regular brands. I now make my own deodorant and toothpaste.

You don’t need to buy expensive cleaning products from the supermarket either. Green cleaning solutions such as using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar work just as well, and are far safer than a lot of products for sale in the supermarket.

The next thing to go was switching from the supermarket service counters when buying fish, cheese and deli items. I found a local fishmongers; although the price is higher, the quality is infinitely better and the selection is amazing. We buy olives and cheese from a local deli rather than the supermarket.

From this point I was only stopping in at the local supermarket for odd bits and pieces, and the challenge now is to find alternative sources for these few things. We had a win recently with finding an alternative source for toilet paper, which was one of the last remaining supermarket staples.

Important note – this was not a quick process! It has taken me two years to get from where I was to where I am now! I started slowly and just chipped away until there was almost nothing left.

So…what is left now? There are a few things that I still go to the supermarket to buy. One is tins of coconut milk. I still can’t find an organic brand that I like, so for now, I sticking with the supermarket brand. It’s not a regular purchase though; I’ve probably bought 4 tins from the supermarket so far this year. I also bought a jar of black tahini recently as I’d read about it, wanted to try it and hadn’t seen it stocked anywhere else. Eventually I’ll find alternatives for these, too. There’s no point worrying about what is still left to achieve; it is far better to celebrate successes, and I’m pretty happy that I made it this far!

Have you thought about quitting the supermarket? Have you given it a go or do you find the whole idea of taking action a little overwhelming? Maybe you are you a pro with loads of tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!