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Why Plastic Free July is Just as Important 5 Years On

Plastic Free July changed my life. A grand statement I know, but completely true. When I first signed up to the challenge of using no plastic in the month of July back in 2012, it was the start of a journey that I could never have imagined. (You can read about my experience after one year of plastic-free living here.)

From the very beginning it was about understanding that if I wanted the world to change for the better, I had to do something about it.

Not only that, but Plastic Free July showed me that this was possible: change was something that I could do. That we all can do. Starting today.

We all have the power to make a difference, and these little actions, repeated by millions of people, add up to mean real change. That’s why when July 2012 was over, I had to keep on going. There was no turning back.

Four years later, I’ve feel like I’ve got living plastic-free down to a fine art. It’s not something I really have to think about any more. Those new habits have become second nature.

I don’t have the dilemmas of the early days… I have new routines, and I’ve found solutions that I’m happy with. It’s taken time, and there have been many frustrations and learning opportunities along the way, but plastic-free is a way of life for me now.

Yet this year’s Plastic Free July challenge is just as important to be as it was back in 2012. Maybe even more so. Here’s why.

Plastic Free July 2016 Plastic Free Living Treading My Own Path

Plastic Free July is definitely about inspiring change on the individual level, but it is about far more than just us and our shopping habits. It about encouraging us to see things differently, to ask questions, to challenge ourselves (and others), and to find new ways of doing things.

It is about inspiring all of us, together, and creating a movement. That’s where the real change happens. Plastic Free July is the chance to get involved with something bigger than ourselves.

It is the chance to become part of a community with a united voice, saying that we want things to be different…and demanding change. Not only that, but demonstrating what that change looks like, and how it can be done.

I’m still very much a part of this movement, and every year, as July comes around again, I feel my excitement growing. I love the swell of energy that starts to build each June, as more people hear about Plastic Free July (and the idea of living plastic-free) for the first time, and latch onto the idea that they really can make a difference.

In 2012 I was there, feeling that it was possible but full of questions about where to start, or what to do, or how to do it. Now I feel like I’ve come through the other side, and I can share my story. So that’s what I do – I share my story. (I’ll be speaking at 6 events in Perth over the next month about plasitc-free living, so if you’re local please come and say hi! Details to follow.)

My message: yes, plastic-free living is possible, and you can do it do. I was just the same as you. There is nothing special or different about me. I simply believed in the ideals enough to work at it, and make it happen. It didn’t all happen at once; just one change at time. That’s all it takes.

You can share your story or your experiences too. Don’t feel like you don’t have a story to share, or that you’re just one person. That’s all any of us are.

There are many voices in the sphere, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. There’s plenty of room, and we want to hear you! You don’t have to be a blogger, writer or public speaker. You don’t need a website or a social media feed. You just need a voice…and you already have one.

Talk to friends. Talk to family. Talk to work colleagues. Talk to your local newspaper.

What can you do this Plastic Free July? Can you bring people together and start the conversation? Do you have useful or relevant information that you can share? Is there a local event that you can get involved in?  Can you even organize your own – a plastic-free morning tea, or a beach or river clean?

Plastic Free July starts with making personal changes, but that is only the beginning. Let’s not stop there. We all care about the world we live in – that’s what inspired us to make changes in the first place.

We start with us, but let’s not stop with us. Let’s make this about more than ourselves. This Plastic Free July, wherever you are in your journey, can you do one thing that helps spread the word, or starts the conversation, or builds momentum in your community? Can you add another voice to the movement?

Jane Goodall said it best: what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

You can find more information about Plastic Free July at their website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you been involved with Plastic Free July from the early days, or have you come on board more recently… or is this the first time you’ve heard of it? How has your involvement changed throughout the years? Are you still finding your way with making personal changes, or are you getting out into your community and sharing your story and spreading the word? What projects have you been involved with, and what positive impacts are they having? Are you thinking about the next steps, but are yet to take action? How has Plastic Free July (or living without plastic generally) changed the way you live? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Ah, Plastic Free July is over, and we can all relax for another year! Note I said relax, and not go back to old habits! ; ) For me, Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the word, share ideas and encourage others to adopt some plastic-reducing habits, and I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at some events this July.

As well as hoping to inspire others, talking about my personal journey and digging out old photos is a great way to reflect personally on how far I’ve come, and where I hope to head next in this journey!

The talks I gave during Plastic Free July were an overview of my personal journey in living with less plastic. There was a lot to pack in, but there was a particular part my journey that stood out for me. Not because it was the most interesting, or most surprising  – in fact I’m sure my audiences didn’t see this as any more significant than anything else – but it was definitely the most significant for me.

Plastic Free Sanitary Protection

Reusable DivaCup menstrual cup, and reusable washable GladRags sanitary pad

On the left is a reusable silicone menstrual cup, and on the right is a reusable washable sanitary pad. Both things I have adopted as part of my plastic-free / zero waste journey. Why was this so significant, though? Well, for two reasons.

Keeping with the Old…and in with the New

In terms of my plastic-free journey, these two items actually represent one of the first zero-waste habits I adopted…and one of the last. I first purchased a Diva Cup back in 2003, after reading an article in a magazine. They weren’t common at all back then: I had to order it from Canada and ship it to the UK. I was heading off on a 12-month overseas trip and had read that tampons etc weren’t always easy to buy in less Westernised countries. Plus this method was less wasteful, and in the long-term saved money.

I was sold from the start, and never went back. This photo is my second one (women’s hips widen with age apparently, so women over 30 need a different size), bought far more recently and from a high street chemist – I guess times have changed for the better!

The reusable sanitary pad on the right, is something very new… probably my newest zero waste habit! Even in March, when I wrote my Plastic-Free Guide to the Bathroom, I was yet to adopt reusable sanitary pads. In fact, this pad is only one month old! Back in March, I thought they were a good idea; I just hadn’t gotten round to getting one. Now I have one (a night pad made by Gladrags) and I love it!

But rewind two years, and the very idea made me cringe. Reusable cloth pads were something for hippies, surely?!

When I think about it, this cringing doesn’t really make sense. I’ve always believed in cloth nappies for babies. My mother used cloth nappies on me – I’m not sure disposable nappies were even invented back then. Is this really that different?

Why did the idea of a reusable pad gross me out, when cloth nappies didn’t? It’s not like walking around wearing an uncomfortable plastic sheet of dubious absorb-ability that sounds like a rustling crisp packet is really that pleasant, is it?!

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Talking to my audience about reusable pads, I was reminded of the very beginning of my my own plastic-free living journey. I always talk about seeing the movie Bag it! and how it was a life-changing movie for me, but prior to that screening was a talk by a local couple who were already living plastic-free. They were real hippies, making everything from scratch and buying nothing new.

I remember the audience asking questions, and one of the responses being about reusable sanitary pads. And I remember wrinkling up my nose! Thinking, there is no way I’d ever be wearing a reusable pad! That is a step too far for me!

Oh the irony, that three years later I was standing in front of an audience extolling the virtues of those very things I had dismissed as a step too far!

The irony didn’t escape me at the time, either. How intriguing that in three years I had gone from listening to that person who seemed so different from me, whose lifestyle seemed so removed from mine, to being that very person!

I think it’s a really interesting lesson. A lesson in how we change and grow, in how much possibility there is, about how unexpected life can be. A lesson that we should be open-minded, and open to change, and just because we think we will never be a certain way, life is far more unpredictable than we expect!

The other interesting thing is that I don’t feel any different. I don’t look any different (in fact, that’s especially true as my wardrobe remains virtually unchanged in the three years that have passed!).

Yet I am very different, in the way I choose to live my life now compared to then. It’s just so ingrained now that I really can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought I wanted to leave you with is that change can be hard, yes, and change can be confronting. Change can seem so removed from where we are now that we can’t ever imagine ever actually getting there.

Yet we change all the time.

It doesn’t matter now if we think something is too hard. We can focus on the things that are easy, the things we can change and the positive steps that we can take. I didn’t write off the whole plastic-free movement because I couldn’t imagine canning my own tomatoes or using reusable sanitary pads. I just made a few changes, then a few more, and kept on going.

Somewhere along the line, I became the person I never thought I’d be…and I’m glad.

Now I want to hear from you! How have you become the person you weren’t?! Are there any habits you’ve taken up that you never would have imagined a few years ago? What habits do you still think of as a step too far?! How has plastic-free or zero-waste living changed your mindset? Are you a convert to reusable sanitary pads or do you still find the idea kinda weird?! I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

As part of the event I spoke at last week organised by Plastic Free July, I was asked to talk about my own journey in reducing my plastic consumption. One of my favourite topics! It was a great chance to reflect on how my life has changed in the 3+ years since I gave up plastic.

For those of you that couldn’t come along I thought I’d share my story with you here too.

Back-track to 2012, and I thought I was doing all the right things when it came to being environmentally friendly. I diligently recycled everything I could. I was a master recycler, sorting the plastic PET and HDPE bottles from the TetraPaks and the polypropylene plastic packaging, and disposing of it all responsibly. I religiously took my own bags to the shops.

Of course, every now and then I took a plastic bag at the checkout – after all, I needed them to line my rubbish bin…

I first heard of the Plastic Free July campaign when I saw a flyer at my local library. I’d been living in Australia for just 6 months, having moved from the UK, and I was still finding my way around my local community. The challenge was to give up plastic for the month of July. Give up plastic for a month? I thought. Easy!

As part of the pre-Plastic Free July launch, there was a movie screening of the plastic documentary Bag It! I went along. It changed my life.

It was literally a lightbulb moment. A realization that plastic was a problem. A waste problem, a health problem, a lifestyle problem, a political problem and an environmental problem. And a realization that it was a problem that I could do something about.

I realised that if I wanted to see things change, I had to start with me. I also realised that giving up plastic wasn’t something that I was only going to commit to for a month. I was in it for the long-haul. Plastic-free was going to be my new way of living.

Going home that night, I was aware for the first time that plastic was everywhere. How had I not realised?! Had I been walking around with my eyes shut?! Everything was packaged in plastic! My pantry was filled with plastic-packaged products and my bathroom shelves were lined with plastic bottles. Shrink-wrap, bubble-wrap, plastic-wrap, plastic-lined, plastic-coated, plastic-sealed – arghh!

And so my plastic-free living adventure began.

That first plastic-free shop at the supermarket, I took home bananas, bread, apple juice in a glass bottle, pasta packaged in cardboard, toilet paper wrapped in paper and chocolate. The only plastic-free things that I could find. I realised that if I was going to commit to this, I had to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the first things I did to ease the transition:

  • Got hold of a reusable cup and reusable produce bags
  • Switched to bar soap and ditched the shower gel and hand wash
  • Looked up local veg box delivery schemes to avoid the supermarket packaging
  • Hunted around for bulk food stores – even places that sold a single item like olive oil
  • Headed to Farmers’ Markets to see what options were available
  • Dusted off the cookbooks and tried new recipes featuring ingredients that were easier to find in bulk
  • Learnt how to make my own yoghurt, bread, nut milk, dips, you name it!
  • Learnt how to make basic toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste
  • Talked to local producers / traders about selling items to me without packaging
  • Bought more things second hand and made use of the sharing economy – like using the library
  • Started using newspaper to line my bin rather than plastic bags!

In the beginning I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes! I bought plenty of things that I thought were packaged solely in paper or cardboard only to find sneaky plastic inside! I’d forget my reusable coffee cup, or my produce bags, or purchase random ingredients in silly quantities, like 3 kg of sesame seeds simply because I’d found them in bulk but without having the slightest idea what I was going to do with them! Like all things, you keep trying and slowly you get better. Habits form and it gets easier. Now it’s second nature, and I don’t really need to think about it.

The benefits have been enormous, and in plenty of ways that I hadn’t expected. The journey that giving up plastic has taken me on has been so much fun! I never though that giving something up would give me so much more, but it has.

Interestingly, I spend far less on food now than I did before I quit plastic. Partly because all the processed food comes packaged in plastic, all the junk food that adds up on your grocery bill but doesn’t actually fill you up. Plus I stopped buying into those deals that seem like great offers until you end up with packets of stuff you don’t really need.

My diet is a lot better. I shop locally so the fruit and veggies I buy are a lot fresher, I eat far more whole foods and a lot less sugar, and I have a lot more energy.

I learned so many new skills.

That was all in the first six months!

I began my plastic-free journey by looking at the actions I could take, the changes I could make so it was very much a personal journey. As my expertise grew, as I learned more and more about not only the problems of plastic but also the solutions, I was determined to spread the message and to inspire other people to use a little less plastic in their lives.

I started writing my blog, which has connected me to thousands of other people looking to live a similar lifestyle, has allowed me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm, and also learn so much more. I’ve also got involved in my local community, not just with Plastic Free July but also the Earth Carer network and Living Smart, and I also organized a Sustainability Festival called the Less is More Festival in 2013 and 2014.

What really gripped me right from the start about plastic-free living was that it was something that I could do. It’s something we can all do. Plastic is something that we’re faced with every single day. Multiple times a day. We can choose to use it, or we can choose to avoid it, and we make these choices every single day. We can make a difference. We just need to decide what kind of difference we want to make.

You’ve heard my story and now I really want to hear yours! How did you stumble onto the plastic-free path? What have you done to reduce your plastic consumption? What have you found easy? What’s been your biggest challenges? Whether you’ve been working on it for years or you’re new to the idea, please share your journey so far! Tell me your successes and your hopes in the comments below!

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

The people at my workplace aren’t the best at recycling. Plastic-free living and zero waste just aren’t on their radar. We’ve slowly introduced paper recycling, and I’m working on moving everyone away from those ridiculous pod coffees to a shared pot of French press coffee under the guise of being more sociable and team-oriented and  community-minded within the office (don’t laugh, because it’s actually working!).

But there’s still a fair way to go.

Last week I fished (excuse the pun) an empty tin of tuna out of the bin, gave it a rinse and left it on the side in order to take it home and save it from landfill. Someone went to throw it away and I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms and saying “no no no no no, I’m going to take that home and recycle it.

Cue raised eyebrows. I’m used to people thinking my ideas and slightly strange, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The people in my office are slowly getting used to my strange ways, but last week we had a guy working with us who usually works at a different site, and he probably has no idea that I’m a “bit of a greenie”, as they like to say.

“I could tell you something something about recycling, but I won’t”, he said.

“Go on, tell me!”

“No no no. I don’t want to upset you.”

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

Cue me persuading him to reveal his secrets. Eventually he relented. “Well, you know, I have a friend who knows a lot about these things. Of course, I recycle what I can, I do my bit, but he’s told me that recycling isn’t as good as people think.”

No kidding! Of course, I know a fair bit about waste myself, and having been to a number of waste recovery facility sites on tours and visits, I’m well aware that recycling isn’t the green solution that people think it is.

We compare notes, and bounce facts off of one another.

“In WA, only about a third of all waste generated is recycled at all.”

“A lot of the resources that are sent to recycling facilities aren’t actually recycled at all – their sent to landfill.”

“Anything that’s sent for recycling in a plastic bag is automatically sent to landfill – it’s too risky and time-consuming to unpack.”

“Any bottles, jars or containers that still contain liquid are not recycled but sent to landfill.”

“When people throw pillows, duvets, terracotta plant pots, light bulbs and even shredded paper into recycling streams it contaminates the waste and the whole shipment may get sent to landfill.”

“Glass is not recycled in our state – it’s either trucked to the next state or landfilled.”

“Most plastic and paper products collected at recycling facilities are shipped offshore to Asia for processing.”

I know that all of these facts are true. I’ve read enough reports, been to enough talks and seen enough with my own eyes not to doubt any of them for a second. It makes taking that small empty tin home seem like such a tiny drop in the ocean; such a small thing to do against the insurmountable problem of waste.

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

I’m not trying to kid myself. I know that waste disposal is a huge problem, and my recycling a single can of tuna isn’t going to save the world or make everything better. But what’s the alternative? Give up? I care about the planet, the environment and the people who live on it, and I’m going to take some responsibility for it. I believe that it’s the right thing to do. I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something, and focusing on what I can do is the best place to start.

There’s something else. I have hope. I honestly believe that most people simply don’t realise that we’re living in a system in crisis. They are so busy with their lives, doing the things that they’ve always done, that they just don’t know that there’s a problem. After all, there was a time when I thought recycling was enough. I thought I was being a responsible citizen, buying things in single-use disposable packages and then disposing of them appropriately in the correct recycling bin.

I believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, and others join in and do their bit, then eventually the tide will turn. I’m not just talking about recycling. We’re never going to recycle our way to sustainable living. But it starts with our personal actions. It starts with the choices we make, and it grows from there. To the conversations we have, to the alternatives that we share, to the ideas that we spread.

I’m not saying it will be fast, or simple, or easy, but together we can make it happen.

Reflections and Lessons from 2014

As we hurtle towards the New Year and 2015, it’s easy to get swept up in plans for the year ahead – all the things we’re going to do, all the habits we’re going to change and all the goals we’re going to accomplish. But what about the year that’s just been? The year might be (almost) over, but I don’t want to brush those lessons, achievements and experiences under the carpet in the excitement of planning the future. After all, this year (and all those lessons) will no doubt shape the coming year. Not only that, but in amongst the “could do better”s and “should try harder”s there’s a whole heap of other stuff – goals that I achieved and moments that I’m really proud of. I don’t want to forget about those in the excitement of what’s around the corner!

Rather than getting ahead of myself and blindly wrapping myself up in all my big dreams for 2015, I spent some time looking back at 2014. After all, this year was no doubt just as big a year as next year will be.

What Happened this Year?

Quite a lot, actually! The Less is More Festival happened again in February after many months of planning, and was really successful. My blog had its first anniversary; I was asked to write some guest blog posts; I was a finalist in the Waste Authority Infinity Awards; I spent time back in the UK, my family came to visit, I got married, started a new job and signed up to buy an apartment.

Phew!

It was by no means plain sailing. I spent a few months unemployed in the middle of the year, which led to a lot of soul-searching. I tried desperately hard to find a job in a field I’m truly passionate about, but alas, it was not to be. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it, does it?!

When we think about the year just gone, we always seem to start with the mistakes and plans that fell through, and proceed to beat ourselves up. I’m gonna turn this on its head and start with the things that went well; the things I’m proud of achieving this year.

My Highlights of the Year:

  • The Less is More Festival was awarded Community Event of the Year, and my second year as Festival Coordinator saw the event grow and attendees almost double to almost 1000! Not bad for an event with a total spend of $72! After achieving everything that I set out to with the 2014 event, I’m happy with my decision to step aside and let someone else take on the Festival and lead it down a new path.
  • My blog had its first anniversary and readership has steadily continued to grow. It’s so encouraging to know that I’m not the only one with a slight obsession with waste and a craving for a simpler way of living! Thanks guys : )
  • My wedding! Glen and I finally figured out a way to celebrate our marriage without generating too much waste, sticking with our values and not taking out a mortgage to pay for it : ) I’ll be writing about this in the New Year, so if you’re keen to know more, keep your eyes peeled!

What Fell by the Wayside?

Of course, it wasn’t all trophies and gold stars and roaring success. Here’s the not-so-good bits – the bits I hope to learn from and build on this coming year!

  • At the start of the year, Glen and I declared 2014 the Year of Exercise. It began well, with long walks and bicycle rides, and I got back into going to yoga regularly. And it felt good. However, the job, wedding and family visits meant exercise has completely fell by the wayside over the last few months. Definitely a priority for the coming months!
  • I still haven’t gotten myself a sewing machine, despite my many assurances to you all that it would happen :/
  • My plans to woo you all with awesome recipes on the blog this year fell apart when we moved to our new flat with an impossible gas oven. My last attempt at chocolate brownies required five hours of baking time. Five hours. And yes, they were still gooey in the middle after all that time.
  • The “no new* clothes” rule. No idea quite what happened there. What happened to my wardrobe minimalism pledge?! (*new meaning new for me)

What Lessons Did I Learn?

Quite a few! The main one being that we can’t do everything at once. Social media may make it seem like we can, but life is all about balance. Balancing health + exercise + working + chores + pursuing your passions + giving back + creating + learning new skills + relaxing + spending time with family and friends… that’s a lot to fit in! It turns out you can’t do all of it, all of the time. I definitely have a tendency to take on more and more until it’s too much, and then have to let go, and then start to build and build and build again… Compromise is something I’ve talked about on the blog a lot in the last year, and whilst things often feel like compromise, maybe there would be less compromise if there was more balance to begin. I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ll be working on in 2015!

What’s Next?!

My word for 2015 is… “b a l a n c e”. That’s the theme to guide how I’ll live my life in 2015. How I’d like to take care of my mind, body and spirit. Working on balancing my commitments with my desires, my needs with my wants, passion with practicality. What this means in real terms?! Doing all of the things some of the time. Choosing what’s important and building that around what’s necessary. With a good dose of what’s fun thrown in!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What were your best bits of 2014? Let’s focus on the good stuff – tell me what you achieved, what you’re proudest of, and what your favourite moments were in 2014! Were there any lessons you learned that you’ll be holding onto in the coming year? Any guiding themes or words to focus on? Please share them by leaving a comment below!

To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

I’ve been planning to write this since I wrote about buying an iPad. I received some criticism for it (which was to be expected, given the nature of this blog), and that got me thinking.

Did I make the wrong decision? Did I abandon my morals? Am I a bad person? Have I fallen off the wagon?

Trying to live in a sustainable, ethical way isn’t always easy. There always seems to be compromise. It isn’t so much about the right thing to do, but the least bad thing to do.

I remember when I first stopped thinking about doing more, wishing I could do more, and decided to do something about it. I started doing postgraduate studies in Environmental Decision-Making, and I secured an internship at a UK charity called Tree Aid. Whereas at my previous workplace I was sometimes referred to as a tree-hugger (getting an internship at a charity called Tree Aid in no way helped this!), now through study and work I was surrounded by people who cared as much about sustainability, ethical consumerism, social justice and the environment as I did. Maybe they even cared more.

As someone who was just beginning this journey, I was expecting the people I was now exposed to to be hardened “greenies” (although what I thought that meant, I’m not sure). Yes, everyone was passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated. What I found surprising though, was all of them did things that I didn’t consider to fit with this image I had created.

There were the vegans who didn’t use animal products for environmental reasons, yet drank soy (soy production contributes to rainforest destruction).

There were families that wanted to connect more with nature so lived in the country, but had multiple cars to make this possible, including a four-wheel drive for the many trips into town for supplies, school and social outings.

There were people who would not step foot inside a department or high street store, and only bought ethical clothing, yet would shop for groceries at the supermarket.

There were people who took regular flights to visit projects or attend courses or seminars, or to travel to remote places to reconnect with nature and feel re-inspired.

At first I felt a little indignant. How can these people call themselves environmentalists when they fly/shop at Tesco/drive a gas-guzzling car?! Then I realised…they weren’t calling themselves anything. I was the one labelling them. They were just trying to do the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

Another thing I’ve slowly come to realise, is that you can be passionate about many things, but often they are in conflict with one another.

  • Believing in Fair Trade, wanting farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair wage, and wanting to provide a market for these products…whilst also believing in supporting local producers and the local economy, and avoiding high food miles.
  • Wanting to support organic, sustainable farming practices with free-range, grass-fed animals, whilst recognising that a vegetarian/plant-based/vegan diet uses less energy and is considered more sustainable.
  • Flying uses huge amounts of fuel, has a huge carbon footprint and is a massive source of greenhouse gases…yet it enables people who do great work on sustainability to travel and reach wider audiences to spread their message. It also allows people to connect with nature and remote places, or see social injustice and poverty, and feel inspired to fight for them.
  • Electronic gadgets mean mining, manufacturing processes that use chemicals, questionable working conditions and end products with short shelf lives that contribute to landfill…yet they are the main means of communicating the in 21st Century; if people want to connect, to inspire, to teach and to learn, these gadgets are necessary.

When faced with conflicts like this, we have to choose. How we choose depends on our situation, our resources, our experiences at that moment. It doesn’t mean we’d make the same choice next time. It doesn’t even mean we made the right choice this time – after all, making mistakes is how we learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.

When I bought my iPad, I made a decision, and I was faced with a choice. I wanted to be able to connect with other people online, and be a part of the sustainability online community. I wanted to be able to work online outside of home, and the freedom this gives me. I wanted to be able to read books, magazines and articles electronically, to learn more and feel inspired. The decision was to invest in a tablet. My choice wasn’t about whether this was the most sustainable thing to want; it was whether I could achieve this in a more sustainable way. Looking at options, there was no ideal solution, just a “least bad” one. That’s how I made my choice.

You know what? Sometimes, that’s how it is. We have to compromise.

Having to compromise sometimes doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my principles (tweet this). It doesn’t mean I care less about living a sustainable lifestyle, Fair Trade, social justice, landfill waste or plastic pollution.

It means I’m not perfect. But I’m doing the best that I can.

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!

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#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!

How to Get Less Busy

We’re all busy. We all pack our days and our lives with things to do, places to be, tasks to tick off, people to meet, and then lament the lack of time for all the other things we want to do, the things we didn’t get round to. We curse ourselves for not having got half of what we wanted done. Does this situation sound familiar to you?

I recently got the chance to do some extra hours at work, and I took the opportunity, thinking the extra money would be useful. So, for the last few weeks I’ve been working full time. But outside of work, I didn’t want to change anything. I still wanted to write blog posts, and read what everyone else has been up to. I still wanted to cook everything from scratch, take my own lunch to work every day, and make sure we were eating proper meals at night. I still wanted to keep things plastic- and convenience-free. I still wanted to take photos to post on instagram. I’m also doing a short course, so I need to make some time for studying. Did I mention that my job has a killer commute? 2+ hours daily. Oh, and outside all of that, life was going on. Friends were having birthdays, I had friends to catch up with who were coming back from travelling, others who are imminently leaving to go travelling. There were interesting events happening in the community. Family commitments. My boyfriend (completely reasonably) wanted us to spend some time together.

Of course, I tried to do everything. On one level, I was relatively successful. I juggled a million things and micro managed my time so any spare second was filled with something productive. But I felt stressed out, tired, and fed up. My boyfriend and I seemed to have endless conversations about chores; who should be doing them, why they weren’t being done, whether the world would really end if we didn’t wash the tea towels for another few days, whether it was acceptable to eat the same thing for dinner five days in a row. I knew I was making less healthy choices, and that made me frustrated. How on earth does everyone else manage to cope, when I don’t?

Then it struck me (or more accurately, my boyfriend pointed out) that other people aren’t coping so much as compromising. When people are busy, they’ll go out for dinner, or get takeaway. They’ll buy convenience foods. They’ll put friends and family on hold, maybe. Or they’ll continue to try to manage everything until they compromise their health, or their relationships, or just burn out.

My problem was, I wasn’t willing to compromise. On anything. I still wanted to do all the things I did when I had more time, except with far less time.

As I wasn’t getting any more hours in the day, and I clearly didn’t have enough time to do everything, I either had to compromise, or drop something. They were my only choices. It may seem like a daunting choice, but you know what? Deciding what to do wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined.

Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Figure out what is important to you

This was easy for me. My relationships, my family and my friends. My commitment to living as sustainably as possible (no nasty plastic packaging or convenience foods). My desire to eat proper, healthy, balanced meals. My need to see things through that I start. Your priorities may be the same or they may be completely different to mine. Either way, map them out.

Step 2: Figure out how your spending most of your time

I was spending 40 hours at work, as well as 10+ hours commuting. Out of my week, that is a lot of hours… but working didn’t feature in my first (priorities) list. Neither did money. That’s not to say I don’t need to work at all, or that the extra money isn’t useful, but right now, neither of these are a priority for me. The part-time hours I was working before were enough to pay the bills, and we aren’t saving for anything specific, so those extra hours I was working weren’t doing much to improve my life. In fact, they were taking time away from all the other things that I wanted to do, and making me feel stressed.

Step 3: If they don’t match up already, take some steps to get them aligned

Are you spending the majority of time doing the things that you want (or need) to be doing – the things that you prioritised in Step 1? We should be spending more time on the things that are important to us. Once I realised this, I found it a whole lot easier to figure out what needed to be dropped, and where I needed to concentrate my time. Starting next week, I’m going back to my part time hours, which should give me an extra 10 hours to focus on what is important to me. Maybe in the future my priorities will change, but for now, this is how I’m creating space in my life for the things I want to do.

Your priorities and commitments will no doubt be different from mine, but the process is the same. If your situation is such that you can’t drop things completely, think about compromising. Devote more time to the things that matter, and let the rest take the hit.

Our time is precious. We can’t get any more hours in the day, so we need to use our time wisely.

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” ~Brian Andreas

The gift of giving (and what it has to do with minimalism and living simply)

Meet Grace. She’s 15 years old and lives in Uganda. She’s attending secondary school, thanks to a great little charity from the UK called ACE.

UWIMANA GRACEACE stands for Aid Conservation through Education. They are committed to supporting rural primary education in rural Uganda in communities bordering the national parks, believing education is the key to conservation and poverty eradication. Whilst primary education is free in Uganda, parents have to supply pencils, exercise books and uniforms. This is complicated by the fact that many children have been orphaned dues to the AIDS epidemic, so rely on more distant family members to support them. A single class may have more than 200 children, with only one teacher and no teaching materials. Classrooms and other buildings are often in poor condition, and without electricity and safe toilet facilities.  ACE help by providing equipment including books, desks and chairs, and funding repairs and construction of new buildings and latrines.

Back to Grace. She was a pupil at one of the primary schools that ACE support. She was one of the brightest pupils, in fact, but also one of the poorest. To go to secondary school in Uganda you have to pay, and it is unlikely she would have been able to attend… were it not for ACE. In addition to their core work, ACE run a sponsorship program for the brightest and poorest pupils to attend secondary school. Which means that someone like me can pay the fees and expenses so that someone like Grace can attend school.

Their sponsorship scheme is well thought out. ACE realised that pupils who board do better than day pupils, who have to walk long distances between the school and their homes and don’t have time to study in the evenings because of needing to help their families. They decided that all sponsored pupils would board at the school. So in addition to day school fees and equipment, I also pay the boarding fees.

The money they ask for correlates with how much they need to spend in Uganda; £30 a month (around $50). It costs what it costs. If people can’t afford to commit this much, of course they are happy to accept donations for their other projects, just not for the sponsorship programme. If you’re wondering how much it all costs, it is laid out below. Total transparency.

KisoroVisionAdmissionLetterIt’s not a fluffy ‘sponsor a child’ scheme with membership packs and yearly Christmas cards. They only have one paid staff member – in Uganda. They choose their pupils based primarily on exam results but also on the poverty level of the family; not by how photogenic they are or whether they’ll look good in a glossy brochure. They don’t do glossy brochures. Their website may not be flashy, and the children in the photos may not be all smiles and laughter (that we’re used to seeing), but it just makes them more real. After all, if I was 14 years old and leaving my family for the first time, having never been away from home before, and going to a strange new place, I would probably not be all smiles either.

Being part of this means I’m making an actual difference to someone’s life. To Grace’s life. Whilst I don’t know a great deal about Grace (she sends me letters three times a year, but English isn’t her first language), I do know that when she’s not at school she lives with her mother in a temporary house built from mud, poles and metal sheets, with no electricity, no running water and a single paraffin lamp for lighting. They are too poor to own any livestock. I hope her education will open up opportunities for her as an adult.

For me, this is another great benefit of minimalism, or living simply. By not wasting my money buying stuff I don’t need, I can give it to people who can really benefit. I don’t miss the money being taken from my account. I could easily spend that same amount on coffee or chocolate or an evening out every single month and not even notice. When I think about how far such a small amount of money can go, and what a real difference it can make to someone’s life, how could I not want to do something to help?

“No-one has ever become poor by giving.” ~Anne Frank

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