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Plastic Free Zero Waste Natural Sun Cream

I’m a fan of sun hats. I’m a fan of long sleeves. I’m a fan of staying in the shade. When it comes to facing the sun, I’d much rather do any (all) of these than apply sunscreen.

I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals in store-bought sunscreen being absorbed through my skin, and for the longest time, I’ve played Russian roulette with the sun. I didn’t apply sunscreen, and I tried to avoid getting burned. This means all of the above, and trying to dodge the sun between 10am and 4pm.

The truth is, that’s not always possible – when the weather is beautiful, I want to be outside!

Living in Australia with its fierce sun and hole in the ozone layer is very different to living in rainy England… and it means if I do get caught out and I’m not wearing sunscreen, I get burned.

Getting sunburned is not clever. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, and skin cancer accounts for 80% of newly diagnosed cancers every year. After being caught out and sunburned one too many times, I realised that I needed to embrace using sunscreen.

I still advocate the hat, the long sleeves and the shade, but in the times when that isn’t enough, sunscreen is better than sunburn. Chemicals aren’t good for us, but sunburn is definitely not either!

I wondered, is there a way to protect ourselves from the sun without all the chemicals… or the packaging?

Chemical Blockers versus Physical Blockers

There is a huge difference between the regular “conventional” sunscreens, which use physical and chemical blockers (and are a cocktail of synthetic chemicals), and the “natural” alternatives, which use only physical blockers.

The physical blockers used in sun cream are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Zinc oxide blocks both UVA rays (these are the deep-penetrating rays that cause skin cancer) and UVB rays (these are the ones that cause redness and sunburn, and are the ones that SPFs are rated against). Titanium oxide is a good UVB sunblock but is not as effective as zinc oxide in blocking UVA rays.

Conventional sunscreens may also use zinc or titanium oxide as a physical blocker, but use chemical blockers too. Most chemical blockers only protect against UVB rays. These chemicals don’t sound natural or healthy, and in many cases, they’re not. Some chemicals in sunscreen are hormone disruptors, for example.

We’re not just exposing ourselves to these chemicals either – these sunscreens wash off and the chemicals enter our waterways and the ocean.

Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Alex Blajan

Hats are an awesome physical blocker for sun protection – but even the widest brimmed hat can’t cover everything!

Sunscreen and Nano Particles

Traditionally zinc oxide creams were very thick and created a white barrier on the skin, meaning they were hard to apply (and looked a bit silly).  By making the zinc particles smaller, newer creams have come onto the market which absorb more easily and don’t leave white residue. These creams contain smaller zinc nanoparticles (classed as particles smaller than 100nm or 0.1 micron) and microfine particles (usually ranging from 0.1 micron to 2.5microns (100nm – 2500nm).

The concern with these is that they can be absorbed through the skin, and the smaller the particles, the more easily they are absorbed.

Suncreams containing zinc oxide usually state that they are “nano” or “non-nano”. Studies show that zinc oxide particles between 4nm and 20nm have the potential to be absorbed into the skin, and will be absorbed through damaged skin.

Anything smaller than 4nm will definitely be absorbed, and anything bigger than 45nm will not be absorbed. (You can read this study here.)

Conventional sunscreens use nano particles sized between 5 – 20nm – small enough to be absorbed through the skin. Non nano zinc oxide particles are larger than this and fall outside the absorption range, although some nano particles may still be present.

Most eco and natural brands use non-nano particles in their sunscreen.

Can I Buy Zero Waste Sunscreen?

Because sunscreen is heavily regulated and each batch requires testing, most small producers shy away from making their own. This makes it hard to find locally produced sunscreens that avoid the excess packaging. There is an American brand called Avasol who make a natural, non nano sunscreen packaged only in cardboard, with an SPF of 30. This is the best zero waste alternative I’ve come across. I don’t use it myself but I have friends who do.

Avasol Plastic-Free Sunscreen

Avasol sunscreen is an American brand that comes packaged in a cardboard tube.

What About DIY Alternatives (and how do I know the SPF)?

Yes, it is possible to make your own, but there are two things you need to know.

  1. You will not be able to calculate the SPF. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor: it is a  measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen against UVB rays. The higher the SPF, the more protection against sunburn the sunscreen offers. The number (SPF 20, SPF 30 etc) means how many times longer a person can stay out in the sun without getting burned relative to how long they can stay out with no sunscreen assuming 2mg per cm² is applied. Sunscreen is tested in vivo by volunteers who apply sunscreen to their skin and see how long it takes to burn (ouch). In vitro tests use a spectrometer. It is not a case of adding up the SPFs of various ingredients. The only way to find out how long homemade sunscreen will protect you for is to test it yourself.
  2. You will need to use a physical barrier – either zinc oxide or titanium oxide – for it to work effectively. Many plant oils have low SPFs (coconut oil and olive oil have a natural SPF of up to 7, and other plant oils have SPF properties) and applying these to the skin may help you avoid burning if you have olive skin, don’t burn and only expose skin to sun outside of the 10am – 4pm (and you live outside of Australia). Combining ingredients does not increase the overall SPF, and there is no magical high SPF plant oil. Also, their effectiveness against UVA rays (the ones that cause DNA damage and cancer) are unknown.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen: My Recipe

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen in Jar
My solution to the issues of chemicals, packaging and sourcing products locally was to make my own. I’ve been able to source all of these ingredients without packaging, but I realise that this may not be possible for everyone. If you can’t find ingredients sold without packaging in stores, find out if there are any local skincare producers or soap makers close to you who may be able to sell you some ingredients without packaging (that’s what I do).

You can also try switching up some of the ingredients if you have other options available to you. Whilst some ingredients can be subbed, zinc oxide is a non-negotiable – that’s what makes it sunscreen! If you need to buy ingredients in packaging, look for one that is recyclable, and remember – one container of zinc oxide will create many containers of zero waste sunscreen.

Important: this sunscreen has worked for me, and I am sharing my personal experiences. Do a small patch test when using for the first time. Avoid going in the sun at peak times and wear a hat and long sleeves. Sunscreen is a last resort, not an excuse to lay in the sun for 8 hours!

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Ingredients Treading My Own Path Plastic Free July

Ingredients for zero waste plastic free natural DIY sunscreen.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup almond oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup beeswax
2 tbsp (27g) shea butter
2 tbsp non-nano zinc oxide powder
1 tsp vitamin E oil

OPTIONAL: 20 drops of essential oil (check this list first as some essential oils are phototoxic and can assist burning!)

More info on the ingredients:

Almond oil – I used sweet almond oil as that is what I use as my standard moisturizer. It is a great oil for the skin. However, it’s also far more expensive than olive oil (and according to in vitro tests, has a lower SPF of 4.7 versus the olive oil SPF of 7.5) so next time, I’ll be using olive oil.

Coconut oil – this oil is solid at less than 25°C and helps the lotion hold its form. It is very moisturising and has a natural SPF of around 7 – two properties that make it a great oil to include in sunscreen.

Beeswax – beeswax helps make this into a lotion at room temperature. This means no need to store in the fridge – handy if you want to take your sunscreen with you! It also helps make the sunscreen waterproof. Even if we’re not going in the water,the sun makes us sweat and we don’t want the sunscreen to wash off.

Shea Butter – is highly moisturising and good for dry and aging skin. It is a solid at room temperature but melts on contact with the skin, making it a good base for lotions. Look for shea butter that has been naturally processed rather than refined with hexane (a solvent).

Zinc Oxide Powder – this is the active ingredient. Zinc oxide is a physical blocker that works by reflecting / scattering UV light. It is non-irritating and suitable for sensitive skin. Zinc oxide sunscreens leave a white tinge on the skin – the bigger the zinc particles, the whiter this will be. The zinc oxide powder I used was 0.3 – 0.85 microns.

Vitamin E – this vitamin is often found in skincare products and is believed to have antioxidant and skin-healing properties, although evidence is limited and studies are ongoing. It helps prolong the shelf life of the other oils in the lotion. I used it because I have it, but you could do without.

Method:

Overheating oils can damage their properties, so I tend to melt mine one by one, starting with the most heat-resistant and working down to the least.

  • Place a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (a double burner) and add the beeswax. Stir until melted, and add the coconut oil. (If your coconut oil is solid, the beeswax may solidify again on contact, but continue to heat and it will melt.)
  • Turn the heat off, and add the almond oil (or olive oil), using a whisk to combine. Once this is mixed in, remove the bowl from the heat.
  • Add the shea butter to the bowl and stir to combine. Once it has melted, whisk the mixture. Continue to whisk until you notice the mix beginning to cool, lose transparency and change to a golden colour.
  • Once the bowl feels cool and the mixture looks golden and opaque, add the zinc oxide powder using a whisk to combine.
  • Add the vitamin E and essential oils, if you are using.
  • Pour into a clean and dry glass jar, and seal with a lid.
Melting beeswax in a double boiler

Melting the beeswax over a double boiler (a glass bowl on top of a saucepan with water in it – the water is heated and that is what warms the oils)

Melting oils in a double boiler

Melting the shea butter. (The beeswax, coconut oil and almond oil have already been added.) The oils look golden and transparent. Once they begin to cool, they lose the transparency and begin to look opaque.

Melted oils before adding zinc oxide powder

Once removed from the heat, the oils will cool and lose their transparency. Keep whisking to keep everything combined.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Mixing Zinc Powder into Oils

Once it’s cloudy and does not feel hot, add the zinc oxide powder. Stir in with a spoon and then whisk to combine. The powder will mix but will not dissolve so there will be some white specks.

Melted oils before after adding zinc oxide powder

Cream after adding the zinc oxide powder and whisking.

Zero waste plastic free sunscreen Whisking ingredients together

Now add the vitamin E and any essential oils, and whisk to distribute thoroughly. Pout into a clean glass jar and leave to cool completely.

Rubbing Non Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen into the Skin

When applying to the skin, it appears white. The more it’s rubbed in, the less white it appears. I like the white sheen that remains as it helps me see where I’ve applied the cream and which bits I’ve missed!

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen in Jar

Zero waste plastic free sunscreen: the finished product.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen on a teaspoon Plastic Free July

You can see from the spoon that the consistency is fairly thick. Changing the oil and wax combinations will change the consistency.

If you think this seems a bit complex (and I’d love to simplify it at some stage) then there is an even simpler solution. Simply mix some zinc oxide powder into your regular moisturiser. Job done ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you made sunscreen? Do you have a recipe you’d recommend, or any great ingredients you think should be included? Have you had any recipe fails, or do have any important “do-nots” to share? Are you unsure about making your own? Have you found any great zero waste or plastic free sunscreens available for purchase that you’d like to share? Have you tried Avasol and what did you think? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!

Zero Waste Living: What about Recycling?

The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. That does not mean buying everything in recyclable packaging and simply recycling it, however! Recycling is not a perfect solution, and still uses huge amounts of resources and energy.

Many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled either, but downcycled, meaning they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further downcycled, and eventually downcycled products will end up in landfill.

So no, the zero waste movement is not about recycling. Recycling is a last resort.

However, to create zero landfill waste and zero recycling would be a mean feat indeed, and I have not heard of a zero waster who does not recycle at least a little. We all do our best, and aim to recycle as little as possible, but it is extremely hard to produce no waste at all! (And yes, I do see recycling as waste.)

Whilst people living zero waste lifestyles often share pictures of their landfill trash (or lack of it!), sharing recycling is less common. It is, however, something that I (and I’m sure it’s the same for other zero wasters) get asked about a lot.

How much recycling do I produce in a month? Good question. I always say it’s the equivalent of a couple of waste paper baskets, but what does that actually look like – and what type of recycling waste does our household produce?

Well, let there be no doubts or misunderstandings! This is our entire recycling waste produced in one month – from 1st to the 30th April. We didn’t do anything differently; we didn’t set ourselves any challenges – although our observations did change our behaviour slightly, as you’ll see!

How Much Recycling Does a Zero Waste Home Produce in a Month?

As I said, I do not know how this compares to others, and I’m not particularly interested in comparisons. I want to do the best I can, and I’m always trying to improve. I’m definitely not perfect!

Days 1 – 10:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 1 to 10 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home: Recycling Days 1 – 10

Looking at this you’d think all we consumed was beer, chocolate and toilet paper, wouldn’t you?! I feel I must defend myself. Except there is no defence!

  • Yes, my husband and I did actually eat all 5 of those chocolate bars in 10 days (plus some bulk chocolate too, I’m pretty sure).
  • The beer (which my husband drinks; I don’t like it) is a work in progress. There is a great little shop really close by that sells beer refills, and my husband does go there, but he still has a tendency to buy beer in packaging. Whenever I question him about it, he points out that he didn’t sign up for zero waste living, only the plastic-free part! One of his favourite brands has recently been made available in aluminium cans, which is great from a recycling point-of-view (all glass in WA is crushed into road base rather than being made into new bottles). However, lots of cans are BPA-lined, so the health aspect isn’t great. Although that could be said for drinking beer…
  • No, we didn’t actually use that much loo roll in 10 days! I keep the paper for other uses, but my husband had a clearout of the cupboard. The two cardboard tubes are a more accurate! (I tend to keep these for planting seedlings, not sure why these are here.)
  • The rest is a couple of invoices, a business card (nowadays I hand these straight back so this must be an old one) and a couple of scrappy bits of paper. The gold paper is from one of the chocolate bars (the others had aluminium foil, which I’ll come back to later).

Days 11 – 20:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 11 to 20 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 11 – 20

This period is better! I’ve controlled my chocolate consumption (I was a little shocked at the previous picture).

  • Three rolls of toilet paper and their wrappers. Some zero wasters use “cloth” which means reusable fabric; my husband and I don’t – and there is no way I’d ever be able to persuade him to make the switch! (I’ve talked about this decision on more detail here.)
  • More beer – this time in glass. The glass will get crushed and turned into road base which is a little depressing.
  • One chocolate wrapper, one envelope that came in the mail and a receipt.

Days 21 – 30:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 21 to 30 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 21 – 30

This looks like a lot (and it is).

  • The big stack of papers on the top row in the middle are the result of my going through all of our folders. I do this every 6 months or so to remove all the unnecessary stuff. The pile is about an inch thick and contains old statements, letters, documents, notes, papers from some workshops that I ran, and receipts/invoices.
  • The local newspaper – no idea where this came from but my husband is a fan of the community newspaper, so I guess he picked it up to read.
  • An insurance brochure – uncovered whilst going through our folders.
  • Random bits of cardboard packaging and instructions from when we moved in to our new home, including the packet the keys were in and instructions on how a draining board works. Useful stuff!
  • A very old ibuprofen packet.
  • A “Thank You” card that I didn’t have the heart to give back.
  • A list, a post-it note and a loyalty card for somewhere we haven’t been since forever.
  • Another toilet paper wrapper.
  • The labels from my tent which were still attached to the bag – and I bought this in 2003!
  • A small handful of receipts. I generally decline receipts but sometimes we need them and sometimes they sneak in.
  • Two envelopes from mail that we received.

So that’s it – how much recycling we produced in 30 days. Except that’s not quite it. This is the stuff that was put into our bin for kerbside collection. There’s a little more that wasn’t… yet.

Aluminium Foil:

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling from February to May

You may have noticed that I do have a small chocolate bar habit, and with each bar comes an aluminum wrapper. Aluminium can be recycled but single wrappers are a bit small for the machinery.

I save mine up until it’s a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and then I place that ball in the recycling. This is all the foil we’ve collected in 3 months (Feb – May). Once the ball is big enough it will go out for recycling.

Steel bottle tops:

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops for Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops in April

Because my husband is switching to cans we have less of these. They can be recycled, but are so small that a single one will slip through the process. To recycle, collect in a tin can, and once the tin can is half full squish it in the middle to stop the bottle tops falling out. The can can then be put in the recycling and the tops should be recycled.

Soft and noisy plastic:

Zero Waste Home Soft Plastic Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Soft and noisy plastic recycling Feb – May

Soft and noisy plastics can be recycled (or rather, downcycled into garden furniture) but they are often not recycled by kerbside collection systems. In Australia there are bins inside Coles supermarkets where these can be deposited.

I dislike plastic with a passion and try to avoid buying any, but the odd piece comes my way. I save it all up and then take it to the supermarket – usually a couple of times a year.

This is what I’ve collected since February (so 3 months) – it weighs 54g. It’s more than usual because when we moved in to our new home, the draining board, draining rack and chopping board were all wrapped in plastic.

What I’ve landfilled:

Zero Waste Home Landfill Waste Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Two months of landfill waste

For completeness, I thought I’d add a picture of my landfill waste. I’ve been collecting it since March 1st this year. Previously I was reluctant to as I thought it was really gimmicky – but then I realised that it would be a useful visual prop when I give talks.

So this is two months worth of landfill. It contains: the backing from a sticker, a piece of pink tape (that was used to seal the thank-you card above), an old phone SIM card, an elastic band entwined with nylon fibre, an ibuprofen blister pack, an old credit card, two plastic bottle lids that have broken and some packing plastic binding.

There you have it – my complete recycling waste and landfill waste from my zero waste home for the last 30 days.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be.

If you can do better that’s great – and I’d love to hear your tips! On the other hand, if you think this looks impossibly inachievable, remember that I began my journey four years ago.

It’s taken me 4 years to reduce my waste to what I’ve shown you here. Personally, I’m pleased with how far I’ve come, and I hope that in the future I can reduce my waste even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what did you think? Do you have any ideas how I could reduce my waste further? Can you spot any glaringly obvious areas for improvement? (Please don’t say “eat less chocolate” – I’ve already figured that one out!) Do you have any ideas where I can recycle the things in my landfill jar – particularly credit cards and sim cards as I suspect I’ll have more in the future? What do you think about the idea of people sharing their waste? Do you find it motivating or disheartening? Do you share your own waste progress (if so, tell me the link so I can have a look and maybe learn something new)? Any other thoughts? I really love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

5 Lessons on “Enough” Learned from Minimalism

At the very core of minimalism is the idea of embracing “enough”: figuring out what is truly important and useful, and letting go of the rest. We often think about this in terms of the things we own, but actually it’s more than that. Minimalism is not just about having enough. It’s just as much about being enough.

Being enough means finding contentment and acceptance with our lives the way they are right now, in the present moment. That’s not to say we don’t want things to be different, nor is it dismissive of the fact that change can be good and worthwhile; it’s more about letting go of expectations.

It’s about finding happiness in the present, rather than pinning it on the future (I’ll be happier when x). It all comes down to enjoying the journey rather than focusing solely on the outcome – which may or may not happen as we’d like it to.

That’s not to say it’s easy! We’re hardwired to dream and scheme and plan, wish things were different, imagine what the end result will look like before we’ve actually done the work, and compare ourselves to others.

Unlearning those habits is a big task. Being aware is a much easier first step.

Here are 5 lessons that minimalism has taught me about “enough”.

1. “I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.”

There is so much that needs changing in the world, and of course I want to do as much as I can to help make it happen… but I can only do so much. I used to lament about how I should be doing more, but I’ve realised that this made me stressed and ultimately more unproductive – I was almost frozen with fear and doubt.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something… and that is a whole lot better than nothing. That is a great place to start.

Whatever I do, I am content that at this moment, it is enough. When I was worked up about not being able to do everything, even one extra thing seemed like a huge burden. I’ve noticed that when I feel more relaxed that what I do is enough, I start to notice these things as opportunities to do just a little bit more.

2. Comparisonitis is a waste of energy.

I love using social media as a way of spreading my message, and sharing the messages of others. But I’m also aware that it can be a slippery slope towards getting comparisonitis… which is where we start to think we aren’t enough. We start to feel bad, and think about what we can do or buy to make ourselves better, rather than accepting that we are the way we are.

Remember, the images and stories we share on social media are (usually) a curated snapshot of the best or most interesting things in our lives. When all these images are put together, the feeds we see can be overwhelming. Being exposed to a constant stream of how much fun everyone else is having (which isn’t so much the reality as the perception) can negatively impact our feeling of self-worth.

I try to follow only people I find inspiring, who keep things (mostly) positive and have a practical focus. I keep the aspirational lifestyle stuff to a minimum. I also avoid checking social media when I’m feeling grumpy or stressed. It helps keep comparisonitis to a minimum.

3. You don’t need likes, follows or shares to be complete.

It’s great when other people like and comment on our feeds – it’s confirmation that we’ve touched someone else with our thoughts or images. Who doesn’t enjoy those shared connections? But chasing approval shouldn’t be the focus or the why. There’s enjoyment and satisfaction to be found, regardless of the approval of others, in the process of writing, creating and sharing.

Personal satisfaction keeps us going when the things we share maybe don’t have the responses we’d like. Worrying about winning the approval of people you don’t even know is a distraction.

Appreciate the likes and comments and shared connections that you do have, and be thankful for them, because behind the likes and emojis are real people who genuinely care about what you say.

4. Do what feels right.

This is as much about gut instinct and intuition as it is about figuring things out on a completely practical level. Just because someone else does things a different way, that doesn’t mean that’s what is best for you. For example, I’ve read articles that have told me that the ideal blog post is 500 – 700 words. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to squeeze what I want to say in so few words! And guess what – people still read what I write!

For me, that was less than enough. I am comfortable with a little more. Another example: I cannot fit my entire possessions in a suitcase, and I have more than 100 things. But I don’t feel that I am tripping over things I don’t need, so I am not chasing less. I am happy knowing that for me, this is enough. It is not a competition.

5. Don’t let feelings of less than enough hold you back.

Our own journeys and our own stories are just as important as anybody else’s. When I first started contemplating blogging in 2012, I nearly didn’t start because I saw Beth Terry’s blog and thought: well, she’s already covered everything so well, what more do I have to offer?

Later (once I’d started blogging, but still in the early days) I began embracing minimalism, and I wasn’t sure whether I should write about that because people like Joshua Becker already do an amazing job.

But then I wondered: maybe there’s a place for me, too?

Maybe I don’t know everything about living plastic-free, and maybe I have too much stuff to be a minimalist, but I still have something to add to the conversation. It’s not about being the best.

If I’d worried about not being the best, I’d never have started, and I’d have missed out on so many great experiences, lessons and connections.

Minimalism is about far more than simply getting rid of a bunch of stuff: it’s a whole new way of thinking. I’m not perfect at any of these, and I still slip up, but being more aware of finding “enough” within myself has made me more positive, boosted my productivity and increased my happiness.

I never realized when I first decided that I had too many possessions that the journey I was about to embark on would be so rewarding, and have such an impact on my life. But it has, and I’m grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the idea of being “enough”? Do you associate minimalism with the idea of being enough, or do you focus on the idea of having enough? Do you focus on another idea entirely? Where do you sit on the positivity-and-acceptance-of-yourself scale? Do you focus on the successes you’ve had, and the satisfaction that you get from just doing? Do you get bogged down with comparing yourself to others, or wishing things were different? How do you deal with the knowledge that there’s always more to be done? Have you any experience of using mindfulness techniques, and have they helped in your journey? I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

DIY Sourdough Starter + Zero Waste Crackers

Making a sourdough starter from scratch is one of the easiest things you can do, and it doesn’t need any special ingredients. Literally all that is required is flour, water, a bowl, a spoon, and a little bit of patience. Even if you’re not sure you want to start baking sourdough every week (although I assure you, once you start, you won’t want to stop!) the sourdough starter can be used to make sourdough crackers.

Crackers are far quicker and simpler to make than sourdough bread, but equally delicious… plus crackers are one of those things that are impossible to find zero waste or plastic-free in my experience. Homemade, simple, delicious, waste-free… what’s not to love?!

To make a sourdough starter from scratch, we utilize the natural yeasts and lactic acid bacteria present on the flour. Another term for it is wild fermentation – how cool does that sound?! That’s how people made bread and other fermented products for thousands of years, before commercial yeasts were available. They harnessed the power of nature.

If we’re going to use the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the flour, then I recommend buying the best flour that you can find. Once your sourdough culture is established you can relax a little, although I’d always recommend buying the best ingredients that you can afford. If your tap water is chlorinated, fill a bottle and leave at room temperature or in a sunny place for a few hours to let the chlorine gas dissipate – you don’t want to kill the starter before it’s started!

How to Start your Sourdough Starter

Mix together 50g flour with 50g water in a bowl (1 gram of water is the same as 1 ml water). You can use more but don’t use too much less as it will be much harder to work with. However much you use, you want the flour:water ratio to be 1:1.

At this point it will look like a dough, and it will smell like wet flour. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave on the side at room temperature (if you’re home is cold or it is winter, a warmer place will help get it going faster). Stir every few hours. If a skin forms on top, simply stir it in.

It may not seem like much is happening at the start, but if you pay attention to the smell you will notice that it starts to smell less like flour and has developed a sour smell. This is a sign that it is working. Hurrah! Look out for bubbles forming in the dough. In the beginning there will only be a couple, but it’s another sign that your starter is beginning to do its thing.

After a couple of days of stirring, you will need to feed your starter. Even if you’re only noticing a couple of bubbles, the starter will dry out over time, and as it sticks to the side of the bowl and hardens the volume tends to decrease, so feeding helps refresh it. Take another bowl, add 10g of your starter to it, and then add 50g flour and 50g water to this (you can use other volumes, but the ratio should be 1:5:5 starter:flour:water). Stir thoroughly, and cover with the tea towel.

Leave the remaining leftover starter in the original bowl, cover with a plate and store in the fridge. This will be used for making the sourdough crackers later.

Keep stirring the new starter every few hours (this doesn’t need to be exact, just whenever you remember). You should notice that the bubbles are becoming more frequent (you may not see a lot, but more than you saw at the start). Depending on how active your starter is getting, you can either feed again in 24 hours, or leave for a couple of days.

To feed, repeat as before. Take 10g of your active starter and add to a new bowl with 50g flour and 50g water, and stir well. Any leftover starter can be poured into that bowl sitting in the fridge with the original starter.

Each time you feed, you should notice your starter getting a little more active. You’ll want to feed it at least 5 times, once a day (timing is not that important) before it’s ready – and by ready, I mean active.

Sourdough Starter from Scratch Treading My Own Path

The four stages of starting your own sourdough starter from scratch. Stage 1: mix flour with water. Stage 2: cover with a tea towel or gauze – you want air to get in, but nothing nasty! You will need to stir every few hours. Stage 3: you will notice bubbles begin to appear. Your starter will begin to dry out a little. Stir the drier parts in, but as it gets drier you’ll need to feed it. That means taking a small part of this and mixing with fresh water and fresh flour (save the discard to make crackers). Step 4: after a week and a few feeds, your starter should be bubbling away quite happily.

Maintaining Your Sourdough Starter

Once your sourdough starter is ready, you can either store on the kitchen counter, or in the fridge. Store in a jar with a loose-fitting lid, or with a fabric circle secured with an elastic band. You want air to get in, but no creepy-crawlies. If you keep it on the kitchen counter you’ll need to feed it every day. If you keep it in the fridge you can feed every 1-3 weeks (once a week is best, but it will be fine if you feed it every three or so). I keep mine in the fridge.

When you want to feed your starter,  allow to return to room temperature if it has been in the fridge. Keep the ratio the same 1:5:5. Keep the discard in the fridge until you are ready to make crackers.

Zero Waste Sourdough Crackers

Sourdough Crackers Treading My Own Path

Homemade sourdough crackers – simple to make, zero waste, plastic-free and no nasty additives. What’s not to love?!

Once you’ve made your sourdough starter you should have a bowl of discarded starter sitting in your fridge, waiting to be made into crackers. I have to thank the Zero Waste Chef for this idea, as previously when I had excess sourdough starter I’d throw it away. It felt so wrong, but that’s what all the recipes tell you to do. Turns out, they are all wrong! Throw nothing away, and make crackers instead. Thanks Anne-Marie!

This recipe is a combination of the one by the Zero Waste Chef, and also some notes I have from a Plastic Free July workshop back in 2012 which has no references except a comment that the writer was called Katie.

Ingredients:

215g discarded sourdough starter
3 tbsp olive oil (30g)
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp bicarb soda

Extra olive oil and salt to top.

I found that when I made a starter from scratch, feeding every day for 5 days left me with 215g starter. But you change change the quantities of flour to starter, they don’t need to be exact – just remember it’s approximately twice the starter to flour. You want to make a dough, so if it is too sticky add more flour.

The moisture in the starter also varies depending on how fresh it is. If you need to add more flour, do so!

Method:

Mix the olive oil with the starter and stir until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the starter / oil mix and combine first with a spoon, and then with your hands. If it is still sticky, add flour in small quantities until you have a dough. Knead to ensure it is smooth.

Place in a glass bowl, cover with a tea towel or a plate (or both!) and leave to rest at room temperature for 8 hours (or overnight). This allows the dough to sour and develop flavour.

After 8 hours, divide the dough into 4. One at a time, roll the ball out onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper using a rolling pin (yes, my zero waste kitchen contains baking paper. I re-use each piece several times. You can read more here). The reason for the paper? After waiting 8 hours, I don’t want to take the risk that my crackers will stick to the metal tray and burn.

Roll the dough out to between 3 – 5mm thickness, trying to ensure it is even. Trim the edges, and cut into rectangles with  sharp knife.

Brush with olive oil, and then sprinkle salt on the top.

Bake in an oven at 150°C (350°F) for 8 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 8 minutes. You will find that the crackers on the edge cook a lot faster than those in the middle, so if you want to remove those sooner you’ll avoid them over-cooking. You want them to look golden but not too brown.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

TIPS:

  • 8 hours in the ideal, but this recipe is really flexible. You can make the crackers after only leaving the dough for 30 minutes (but longer is better). If you forget and leave them longer, you will still have good crackers.
  • The dough can be frozen or refrigerated if you want to make a big batch of dough and keep some for later.
  • I would guess they would last a week, but I’ve never been able to find out as they all get eaten long before! They don’t lose their crunch after storing so they are definitely something that can be made ahead.
Sourdough Zero Waste Crackers FINAL

Zero Waste Sourdough Crackers

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Do you make your own sourdough, and have I tempted you to give it a go? Do you already make your own crackers? Do you have any recipes and tips you’d like to share? What toppings and flavours do you think would work best? Please tell me your thought in the comments below!

8 Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Zero Waste Living

If you speak to any zero waste or plastic-free living advocate, and ask them about their experiences and their journey, at some point in the conversation they will say to you: with hindsight, I would have done things differently. Oh, the benefit of hindsight! As someone who has been living plastic-free for almost four years, and working towards zero waste for most of that time, I can tell you that the mistakes I have made and the lessons I have learned have been many!

It’s very easy, four years down the track, to make it sound like the journey has been effortless and the changes have been seamless. That’s not deliberate: there’s plenty of journey behind me for me to pick out the good bits. Plus I like to focus on what has worked for me and the successes I’ve had rather than dwelling on the struggles. I want to inspire others to make changes, not put their heads in their hands and declare it all to be far too hard! (It’s not, and if you keep going you will get closer, I promise.)

Then again, I never want to give the impression that I haven’t had my moments or my challenges along the way. Of course I have! I still make mistakes now. Nobody is perfect. We’re all trying to do the best we can. That’s all we can ever do, after all.

Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first four years of zero waste living. No doubt there are plenty more lessons to come in the next four years!

1. The first solution is not always the final one

You won’t get it all right first time round. Some things will work perfectly for you, and others, not so much. Different solutions will present themselves, and you will find better ways of doing things that fit with your lifestyle.

When I first stopped buying shampoo and conditioner, I found a health store that sold bulk products where I could refill my jars. The products were bright green, and when I first used them, the smell was so overwhelming that I was convinced I’d accidentally bought toilet cleaner. (I even went back to the shop to double-check I hadn’t bought toilet cleaner.)

Could they have mis-labelled their bulk containers?

Unlikely, but I did not enjoy using those products one little bit. Needless to say, I used them up (probably far more liberally than usual) and never went back there again.

I found another retailer whose refills had a smell I could stomach. Eventually the effort of going back and forth to refill my jars made me revisit this, and I tried using bicarb and vinegar. This worked well for my hair, and was easier than getting the refills.

One more change from bicarb to rye flour, and I’m content with this.

Rye Flour Shampoo Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

Rye flour is now what I use instead of shampoo… but there have been a few changes along the way!

2. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing (especially if it doesn’t feel right for you).

There are two iconic items of the zero waste and plastic-free movements: the glass mason jar and the bamboo toothbrush. Glass jars, I love. They come in all sorts of sizes, they are easy to store, easy to clean and you can see what’s inside them when you use them as storage.

The bamboo toothbrush, however, I struggled with. It was one of the first switches I made when going plastic-free, but I couldn’t bear the bristles coming loose in my mouth or worse, being washed down the sink. The brushes never seemed to last more than a few weeks.

When it came to disposal, I didn’t want those bristles ending up in my compost, ether. The bristles for many bamboo toothbrushes are currently plastic (despite what the companies might lead you to believe).

I came across another brand, with a conventional plastic handle but with reusable heads that need replacing every 6 months. The heads can currently be recycled by Terracycle, along with the packaging, so I’m not adding anything to landfill. This seemed far less wasteful than the bamboo forests I felt like I was chopping down to clean my teeth (I was constantly buying replacement brushes).

Bamboo toothbrush parts

Gah! More plastic bristles in my mouth and washed down the drain! Plus these bristles are plastic and I don’t want that in my compost.

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

These toothbrushes have replaceable heads (and it is literally just the head) that need replacing every 6 months. The packaging is minimal. It may not look as trendy as a bamboo toothbrush, but it’s working much better for me. And at least I can recycle these used heads responsibly.

Of course, my bathroom would look much prettier if I used bamboo toothbrushes. Ultimately though, what matters is whether my teeth are clean, and that I can dispose of the product I’m using responsibly. My toothbrush may be plastic but my conscience is clear.

3. You will make mistakes (and that’s okay, it’s all part of change)

One of the first things I bought in 2012 (the year I went plastic-free) was a reusable KeepCup – made of plastic. I didn’t think about the fact that plastic doesn’t really last, whether it’s labelled as reusable or not; nor did it occur to me that it isn’t healthy to use plastic with hot liquids like coffee.

I also learned through using it that over time, the plastic becomes tainted with whatever you put inside in a way that glass and stainless steel never do.

I bought a glass KeepCup in 2014. I wish I’d gone straight for glass and never bought the plastic one, and now I wonder how I ever came to that decision, but that’s all part of the journey.

keepcupjpg

Plastic KeepCup, purchased 2012. Oh, the benefit of hindsight…

Glass KeepCup Treading My Own Path

This is my replacement, purchased 2014. It’s made of glass and has a cork band. It’s far more versatile and easier to clean, and 2 years on it still looks as good as new – unlike the plastic one.

4. You don’t need to buy a brand new toolkit on the first day

To go completely zero waste, there are a few things you need. A water bottle, some reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, some kind of lunchbox, maybe some sandwich wraps, a reusable coffee cup – this all depends on your situation and your lifestyle.

The most common mistake that people make when embarking on the zero waste lifestyle is buying all of this stuff brand new on the first day, without thinking first whether they already own something appropriate, whether they really need it at all, and whether these products are built to last – and if they’re not, how they will be disposed of.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

This zero waste kit was built up over a number of years as I realised what my needs were. The water bottle and reusable produce bags came first; other things came later as I realised they would be useful – and well used.

It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, we’re excited about making changes to our lives, and there’s not much we can do on day one except buy stuff. Changing habits needs time and shopping doesn’t; buying stuff feels like we are taking steps towards our goal.

If you can, hold back from buying anything new. Get a feel for what you might need, and make do with what you have. Give it time. That way, when you come to buy the things you do need, you will make better choices.

5. Do not get rid of perfectly good things for “better” things

Zero waste is all about not wasting stuff, right? So replacing stuff that you already have with stuff that’s a little bit “more” zero waste really doesn’t make any sense. I’m talking about replacing old jars that you already have in the cupboard (the ones with the store labels still attached) with brand new jars with metal lids; replacing plastic laundry pegs with wooden ones; that kind of thing.

If there’s a safety issue (and I personally do not use plastic for food preparation or storage for health reasons) or it’s broken and can’t be fixed, then it’s completely reasonable to get a replacement. Otherwise, can you really justify the waste you’re creating?

If your passionate about zero waste, then your goal should not be to have your home looking like a magazine cover, your goal should be to reuse what you have, repurpose what you can and to buy as little as you can – and second hand, if possible. Don’t get swept up in the beautiful “zero waste” things for sale on the eco websites.

IMG_0360

Possibly not Pinterest-worthy, but a far better use of resources ; )

6. You get to set your own rules

The great thing about your life is that you get to make the rules. How you live your plastic-free or zero waste life is unique to you, and the rules you decide to live by are up to you too. There’s no specific rules that are set in stone that you have to follow; there’s no membership or entry rules. Entry to this way of living is free!

The only thing you need is the desire and passion to do what you can to make a difference.

For me, zero waste is about sending nothing to landfill. I buy everything I can without packaging – food and toiletries in bulk, other items second hand. I would love to create no recycling either, but at this stage in my life, it isn’t possible.  I try to keep my recycling to a minimum: my husband and I fill a bin about the size of a wastepaper basket (well actually it is an old wastepaper basket) with recycling about once a fortnight. Mostly that’s paper and card, with the occasional beer or wine bottle.

Of course I could compost my paper and card, but it’s a better use of resources to recycle it. I don’t burn any of my waste.

That works for me, and also my husband, who always tells me that whilst he was happy to sign up for plastic-free living, he’s fully on-board with and enjoys living plastic-free, he doesn’t remember agreeing to the zero waste “thing”… Those few extra recyclables are our compromise.

7. There may be exceptions to your rules

When I say I buy everything I can in bulk, I must confess that there is a food item that I choose to buy in packaging. Chocolate. I do buy bulk chocolate sometimes, but it is simply not as good as the bars of deliciousness that come pre-packaged. I’ve tried to give it up, but I can’t.

I can recycle the foil and the paper/card (I’d never buy chocolate wrapped in plastic) but it isn’t quite zero waste living. This is my work in progress.

chocolate

Chocolate bars are my zero waste work-in-progress. I buy chocolate in bulk, of course, but I just can’t quite shake the chocolate bar habit…

8. You don’t have to keep your waste in a mason jar

There’s no rule for keeping your waste in a mason jar. I resisted this for ages, because I felt like it was gimmicky and unnecessary. I’m meant to be a minimalist! Storing a jar of rubbish is definitely not a minimalist thing to do.

In the end, I changed my mind. It was a conversation with a journalist that made me look at it from a different perspective. She was asking about how much waste I produced, as I don’t have a bin, and I realised that it is a hard thing to explain. Saying “nothing” isn’t quite the same as being able to see what “nothing” is!

She suggested that having a jar is a really good way for people to visualize what zero waste is. As I do run workshops and give talks, this is a valid point, and the jar collecting began.

If you want to collect your waste, if it works for you, if you enjoy looking at it and seeing your progress, of course collect your waste. If you just think it’s another chore, and you really can’t be bothered, then there’s no need.

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What lessons have you learned on your zero waste or plastic-free journey that you want to share? Do you have some new ones to add to the list? Do you disagree with any of these, and if so why? Are there any favourites that stand out for you? Do you have any exceptions to your rules, as if so, what? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only one…) I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

My Chemical-Free, Natural (and edible) Skincare Regime

My husband remembers the time, way back in our very early days of dating, when we took a holiday together and almost half of my luggage consisted of toiletries. I would like to tell you he remembers this fondly, but rather he shakes his head at the memory and tells me he was thinking: “who is this girl?!” Such was his despair (although I didn’t know it at the time) that it’s probably a miracle our relationship made it beyond the holiday…

The skincare and body products I use today are such a far cry from back then that now I find it hard to believe myself. In those days, I bought into plenty of the marketing ploys. I figured expensive products were better for me. I reasoned that beautiful celebrities endorsing a product was a reason for me to buy it. I trusted the assistants that told me I needed several different products to do the same job. What this really meant: I gave big multinational pharmaceutical companies my money (far too much of my money) in order to purchase (mostly) unnecessary products with questionable ingredients. I consumed a lot of wasteful packaging, and my bathroom was always cluttered. I was locked into a cycle of buying and stockpiling products.

Today, I’ve reduced what I use to the essentials. I’ve simplified. Mostly I use ingredients, and I can find almost all of them at the grocery store, and at bulk stores. I tend not to buy pre-made products: nothing I use has more than a handful of ingredients that I mix together as I need. There’s no pressure. Ingredients are rarely on sale or marketed cleverly in an attempt to make me buy more, so I do not buy more than I need.

My Chemical-Free (Edible) Skincare Routine: Then vs Now

When I talk about chemicals, I’m referring to man-made, synthetic and petroleum-derived products. For me, chemical-free means natural and safe. Not everything that occurs in nature is safe, of course. My rule is: if it’s edible, then I use it. If it’s not, then I don’t.

Skincare: Face

THEN: Back in my pre- plastic-free and pre- zero-waste days, I used eye cream, a day moisturiser and night moisturiser, usually purchased from one of those fancy counters in the shopping malls. I used cleanser and toner. Occasionally I would be persuaded to buy some other nonsense product by the sales assistant like skin brightener, or serum, or whatever they were trying to plug that month. I often had random packets of “free sample” cluttering my space that I rarely used. I used a face scrub to exfoliate, usually purchased from a chemist or supermarket. I purchased lip gloss, but rarely used it.

NOW: I replaced all of the moisturizers with a single product: oil. Moisturisers are made with oil, water and emulsifier to bind them together, whereas oil is just that – one ingredient. Water-based products like moisturisers need preservatives to stop them going bad, whereas oils are fairly stable and do not. Almond oil is my staple. If I’m away from home, or I have run out of almond oil, I will use olive oil or coconut oil.

To clean, I use bar soap. I don’t make my own, I buy from a local lady who specialises in natural skincare. It’s made from a blend of coconut oil and olive oil and doesn’t dry my skin out. I don’t use a product to exfoliate, I use a flannel. It works much better, I find.

Bulk Soap Chopped Into Bars Zero Waste Natural Beauty Treading My Own Path

I buy soap in 2kg blocks because this way it is packaging free and I can cut the bars myself to a size I like. All you need is a knife: soap is very easy to cut.

Bodycare:

THEN: I used store-bought deodorant, body moisturiser or lotion, a razor with refillable blades and shaving foam. I used handwash to wash my hands, and shower gel to wash in the shower. I had a separate hand & nail moisturiser. I used store-bought toothpaste to clean my teeth.

NOW: I make my own deodorant using bicarb, corn flour, coconut oil and essential oil (you can find the recipe I use here). I never had much luck with store-bought chemical-free brands but this stuff actually works! (Added bonus: I can buy all the products packaging-free.)

I no longer have a separate body lotion or hand lotion and use almond oil. Ditto with the shaving foam. I use an epilator mostly which is used on dry skin, but if I use a razor blade then I use almond oil. I use a body brush to exfoliate rather than products with “exfoliating properties” (usually plastic microbeads).

Dry Body Brush

A body brush replaces the need for exfoliating products. This one is made of FSC wood with natural bristles. I’ve had it for almost four years and it still looks (almost) like new.

I use bar soap (the same as I use to wash my face) to wash my hands and body.

I make my own toothpaste using very similar ingredients to those in the deodorant (you can find the recipe I use here, and it has been approved by my dentist). When I first made it I used peppermint essential oil, as I do with the toothpaste, but I’d get confused which container was which, and I didn’t enjoy smelling like toothpaste, so now I use a different one.

DIY Homemade Toothpaste Zero Waste Plastic Free Treading My Own Path

I used to make toothpaste with glycerine, but now I use coconut oil as I couldn’t find glyerin in bottles without a plastic lid, and I already use coconut oil for many other things. This kilo of bicarb has lasted a couple of years, but I can now buy in bulk so won’t need the box – or to buy a kilo at once! The essential oil bottles I get refilled.

Hair Care:

THEN: I used Herbal Essences shampoo and Herbal Essences conditioner (the one in the yellow bottle). They changed the packaging and then tried to discontinue the product at one point, and I remember trawling all of the discount chemist stores in a mild panic trying to stock up on these two products. I used a hair serum that was a salon-owned brand only available in the UK and only at the salons, so getting it was a real pain. When I moved to Australia I purchased 6 bottles to bring with me, and when my sister came to visit she brought some with her too (this was all pre-Plastic Free July 2012). My haircare routine caused me so much stress, but I was terrified that my curly hair would be unmanageable without these products. I did use Frizz-Ease serum on special occasions, too. I guess you’d say their marketing campaigns were very effective on me!

NOW: I wash my hair with rye flour, and I use white vinegar as a conditioner. It makes my hair soft, shiny and manageable, without the need to apply any other products. I have used bicarb soda in the past but I prefer rye flour – it’s plant-based (bicarb is mined), has a gentler pH, is easier to make a paste in my hand, and makes my hair shinier than bicarb. If rye flour is not available, I switch to bicarb. I prefer white vinegar to rinse my hair over apple cider vinegar. The smell dissipates far more quickly, and my hair feels and looks better. White vinegar has a lower pH than apple cider vinegar (meaning it is more acidic) so I dilute white vinegar with water more than I would dilute apple cider vinegar with water before using.

Rye Flour Shampoo Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

I buy rye flour from the bulk store, and I sieve with a tea strainer before using in my hair to remove any big flakes. I also find towel drying my hair removes excess flour. When it’s dry, I give my hair a good shake to remove any flour that might remain.

I don’t use any hair serums or gels. I find the vinegar does a good job on its own. If my hair was particularly frizzy I would just rub a little almond oil in my hands and run my hands through my hair.

A summary of all the ingredients I use now:

Skincare Regime Zero Waste Bathroom Products Treading My Own Path

Some of the products I use in the bathroom. From left to right: a jar of rye flour (for shampoo), white vinegar (refilled using an empty wine bottle), homemade deodorant and almond oil. Below left: a bar of soap. Below right: a towelling pocket I use when the soap is too small to pick up. I pop the scraps in here and use as a flannel to ensure none of the soap is wasted.

The products I use in my bathroom are: rye flour, sodium bicarbonate, white vinegar, corn flour, essential oil, coconut oil, almond oil and bar soap. Just a handful of ingredients (8, in fact) that do the jobs of a much bigger handful (or small suitcase-full) of products, all with many ingredients of their own. Most ingredients I use live in the kitchen, where they are also utilized, and my first stop when I run out of something in the bathroom is always my own pantry.

And the benefits? I could tell you about not using chemicals, about supporting the local economy rather than the big multinational pharmaceuticals, about stepping off the consumer treadmill and no longer being sucked into the marketing campaigns. I could talk about no longer buying more than I need, and the reduction in clutter in my bathroom. I’m going to tell you the most surprising benefit of all: simplicity and freedom. When I first gave up plastic and began looking for alternatives, I thought I’d have to learn how to make my own shampoo and moisturiser. I thought it would be difficult, and time-consuming. Rethinking what I was using, and why, and then looking for suitable alternatives made me realise it was only as complicated as I made it. Ditching all the products that were unnecessary, and choosing the simplest options for what remained was all I needed to do.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a natural and chemical free skincare routine? Can you eat your beauty products? Do you make any of your own products and would you like to share the recipe(s)? Have you had any dismal DIY fails or bad experiences along the way and want to share the lessons you learned?! Do you find it hard to let go of those store-bought products? Is there a particular product you struggle with replacing? Tell us your experiences and please leave a comment below!

Suitcase Minimalism and 5 Things I’ve Learned

We gave notice on the flat we rented at the end of November, hoping to be able to move into our new flat but knowing that if we couldn’t, it would be an interesting lesson in minimalism. In the end, the new place wasn’t ready. Obviously we needed those lessons! On Christmas Eve we moved out of the old place and with nowhere to call our own, began relying on the kindness of friends and family. We stored some of our stuff in a friend’s garage and have dragged the rest back and forth across town as we sleep in various spare rooms made available to us.

We’ve been couchsurfing across the city for a month. It’s been novel. It’s been exasperating. It’s been fun. It’s been draining. It’s been challenging. And of course, I have had some interesting insights into my relationship with stuff.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Minimalism for minimalism’s sake misses the point.

We have put stuff in storage. A few bits of furniture, kitchen stuff, a couple of boxes of things. Most of the things in storage are not things we couldn’t bear to part with, but items that were convenient to keep. We are only moving a few suburbs away and we are not paying for storage, so why give items away only to have to buy them again later?

We could have got rid of everything, but what would that have achieved? What point would it have proven? I want to move into our new place and get straight into planting the garden, not spend the first few weekends re-accumulating all the stuff we gave away. Minimalism is about finding out what is enough and getting rid of the unnecessary, not getting rid of everything.

2. Minimalism is not about counting your stuff.

There are minimalists who have less than 100 items, or who can fit their entire personal possessions into a single bag. This is not me. I have no idea how many items I own, although I’m sure it’s more likely to run into the high hundreds or even thousands. And actually, I’m not interested in counting them.

There are plenty of minimalism counting challenges out there based on numbers: Mins game (where you get rid of 1 thing on the first day, 2 on the second, 3 on the third and so on all the way up to 30 – which means 465 things in total) or Project 333, where your wardrobe is 33 items of clothing for 3 months, or the 40 bags in 40 days challenge (actually, this would probably wipe out everything I own – I have nowhere near that amount of stuff in total, let alone that I want to get rid of!) are just a few I’ve come across. Counting the stuff you’re getting rid of, however, is different to counting what remains.

When we left our stuff in the garage, we didn’t count it. We felt everything in there was useful and we needed. What does it matter what that number of things is? What would we use the number for? To compare ourselves to others? Minimalism isn’t a competition.

Minimalism is a personal journey: finding out what is enough for you. Enough isn’t a number.

3. The less you have, the more you can focus.

It has been a revelation to me how much easier it is to get stuff done when you remove most of the distractions: and by distractions I mean stuff. With most of our stuff packed in boxes we are operating out of a few bags filled only with the basics, and it’s been surprising how productive I’ve been.

Jobs that I’ve been putting off that come under the “need to do but really can’t be bothered because they are boring” category, like finally tackling my ridiculously non-minimalist inbox, laptop saved files and hard drive and filing / organizing / deleting thousands (yes, thousands) of unnecessary emails and files. Tedious but oh, it feels so good to be onto it!

Also the jobs that come under “procrastination central”. The things I’ve been saving for when the time is right… which of course, it never is. When you completely run out of distractions the only thing for it is to stop procrastinating and start getting stuff done!

4. Too little stuff can stifle your creativity.

It’s been great paring down to the absolute basics. On the plus side, I’m getting lots of stuff done. On the downside, I can feel my frustration rising because of the limitations I have.

By limitations, I don’t mean distractions. I mean the things I love to do that I can no longer do. Like baking and cooking. I can cook still cook dinner, sure, but without utensils and ingredients and storage space, we’ve had to stick to the basics. We ate the same vegetable lentil ragu for dinner 4 days in a row. I miss my kitchen.

Getting stuff done is fantastic, of course. But I’m not a robot. I can’t just work at 100% capacity all the time. I need rewards and down time – and that is what cooking is for me. It nurtures my creative side. It gives me happiness.

Finding “enough” is finding your sweet spot, when you don’t feel frustration because you are constantly looking for / maintaining / cleaning your stuff, but you also don’t feel frustration because you don’t have what you need. Living out of a couple of suitcases has made me realise that a couple of suitcases is less than my “enough”.

5. However many clothes you have, it’s (probably) still too many.

Okay, so I don’t know how many clothes you have. But I know how many I have…and it is still far too many! I’ve written about my wardrobe decluttering struggle many times, but after posting most recently back in October I had a major epiphany and decluttered a whole lot more. I didn’t think I was done, but I thought I was getting close. Now we’ve moved I’ve observed I still have too many clothes. It seems you really don’t need to own that many outfits at all!

The main reason I’ve found this out is that there is very little wardrobe space where I’m staying currently, so most of my clothes are still in my suitcase. Being lazy, it’s far easier to wear the things on the top, wash and repeat. Which means I’ve probably been rotating the same 5 outfits over the last 2 weeks. Which means I could probably manage with 5 outfits most (all?) of the time. Not that I intend to cut it back that far (yet) but I’ve noticed that I haven’t felt restricted, or lacking in choice. In fact, it’s been super easy to get dressed every morning!

Post writing that October article, I thought I’d made great progress. Now I know I could get rid of more. I’m rather looking forward to unpacking when we finally move and seeing what else can go. Maybe Project 333 (which I’ve always considered completely impossible) may be within my grasp after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried to find your “enough” sweet spot? What did you learn about yourself? What was “more than enough” and what was “less than enough” for you? What would your one thing that’s you’d never want to let go be? Have you ever tried living out of a suitcase? Tell us about it! What did you love and what did you struggle with? Any other insights you’d like to tell us? Please write a comment in the space below!

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

My Intention for 2016: Stop Thinking, Start Doing

A couple of years ago, I did away with New Years Resolutions in favour of setting an intention for the year ahead. In 2014, it was “movement”. In 2015, it was “balance”. In 2016, my intention for the year is “do”.

I don’t generally think of myself as a procrastinator, but there are always plans and plots and schemes bubbling away in my mind, things I want to learn and see and do and create and get involved with. Far more than I have hours in the day! Often these things get pushed aside until I have the time.

2016, I have decided, is the time.

My intention in 2015 was “balance”. At the end of 2014 I re-entered full time employment in a field unrelated to sustainability. I’d spent 6 months unemployed, and I needed to pay the bills. With my experience in behaviour change, community education and waste I’d been sure I would be able to find work in the sustainability or waste education fields, but six months later I’d had no success, just plenty of rejection letters.

I felt frustrated and disappointed. I felt like I’d failed.

Working full-time was a bit of a shock to the system, and not just the hours it took up. It is a high-pressure, stressful job with no downtime, where unpaid overtime is an expectation…and even taking your 30 minute lunch break away from your desk raises eyebrows.

That said, I liked the work. I disliked that it was taking me away from the things I wanted to do.

After three months of working, sleeping and little else, I realised that I needed balance. I needed my job, but I wanted to write, to grow, to share my experiences and to inspire others. I had to continue working towards what I believed in. That is what 2015 was about, for me.

I haven’t written as much as I’d like. I haven’t volunteered as much as I’d like. I haven’t exercised as much as I’d like. I haven’t eaten as well as I’d like. I haven’t spent as much time with my friends as I’d like. I haven’t given back as much as I’d like. That said, I did find balance, and 2015 was a great year. I published my first book. I ran my first sustainable living course. I was invited to talk to several different groups of people about living without plastic.

I saw orca whales at the Bremer canyon. I learned how to ferment vegetables. I bought the sewing machine I’d been talking about getting for two years. I finally mastered the art of decluttering. I went to workshops, met and hung out with like-minded people, and got inspired all over again.

What I did realize in my year of seeking balance, is that doing all of these things is what fires me up, stirs my soul, nurtures my creativity and pushes me to be a better person and help create a better world. This is what I love to do.

This can’t be the thing that I do after I’ve spent most of my week at a job that does none of these things. I can’t be fighting for scraps of time amongst the chores and errands after I’ve expended most of my energy working to build someone else’s dream. I have my own dreams to act on.

Working part-time would be ideal (I still have bills to pay, after all) but my current workplace doesn’t support part-time hours. I knew this but I asked anyway. They said no. Maybe I’ve been reading too many motivational quotes on Instagram, but I feel like life is too short not to do more of what I love. I quit my job. My last day is this Thursday.

So what does that mean?! It means exciting times ahead! It means the chance to do all of those things that have been waiting in the sidelines. I’m already committed to running another sustainable living course in February, and I’m in talks to possibly host another after that. It’s only January and I’ve signed up to do three talks about plastic-free living for various Plastic Free July events.

I’ve joined our local community garden and have been allotted a veggie bed… plus soon I’ll have my own garden to plant. I’ve begun researching sewing classes. I’ve been looking into a few volunteering opportunities locally. I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen, either.

I’m really looking forward to sharing what I learn with you, too. I can’t wait to get back into writing more, and I have some big plans to create content this year that I’m hoping you’ll find really useful. After the success of my first book, I’m also thinking about writing another ; ) You can probably tell the cogs are whirring and my mind is working overtime right now, so I need to have a think about what I want to prioritise (I don’t want to be burned out by February, after all! – and I clearly can’t do everything I dream about) but stay tuned because exciting things should be coming this way!

I can’t say I’m not going to need to find another job at some point. Book sales are steady, and with the courses and other bits and pieces that bring in income, plus the savings I’ve made whilst working, it means I can commit to taking some time out. Longer term, who knows?! The time is now. I need to seize the opportunity I’ve taken and make the most of time I have; it may not last forever. Stop thinking, and start doing. Finding out where that takes me will be a great adventure!

Now I’d really love to hear from you! What are your intentions for 2016? What are your hopes and dreams? What will you do to get that little bit closer to them? Are you struggling to find balance between the things you want to do and the things you have to do? When you reflect back on last year, what stands out for you? Did you have any intentions for 2015, and how did they work out? What were your biggest achievements, best lessons and favourite moments? I’d really love to know your thought so please leave a comment below!