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A Christmas Gift-Giving Guide for Minimalists…and their loved ones

Christmas always seems like the hardest time of year to explain to people that you have enough stuff, and you really don’t need any more. Family, friends, colleagues…for most of the year they seem to accept (or put up with, at least) our plastic-refusing, stuff-avoiding, minimalist and zero waste ways, but somehow, when it gets to Christmas time, the message seems to get lost.

“But it’s Christmas! How about I buy you some eco-friendly stuff? Some reusable bags? A book about decluttering?” We don’t really want or need any of this stuff, but it can be hard to say no, or to explain how whilst you may have loved gifts as a five-year-old, times have changed and so have you.

Of course, we don’t help ourselves either. In turn, we try to push our own agendas onto our loved ones. We buy them cards from charities letting them know that rather than a present, we’ve donated money on their behalf to a village in Africa. We give them the eco-friendly gifts we like to use, like reusable bags, in the hope they will embrace our zero-waste ways. Or we give them nothing, thinking they will understand because they know that we don’t value presents ourselves.

Except often, they don’t.

We end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need and don’t want, our loved ones end up with something they don’t want or appreciate (or worse, nothing when they did expect something) – and everybody feels misunderstood and unappreciated.

The truth is, gift-giving is complex, because giving gifts mean different things to different people. It took me a while to understand this. I was constantly puzzled why I would receive gifts despite asking for no gift at all, and that my close relatives would be offended because I hadn’t bought them a gift.

I thought that acting in the way I wanted to be treated would help them understand, but really it only brought resentment. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why my requests were falling on deaf ears, and I was left feeling guilty, with all this stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, most of which ended up being donated.

It was a book I read that made me change the way I thought about gift-giving. It suggested we connect emotionally with others in different ways, and we feel appreciated in different ways… and one of those ways is through gifts.

Most people appreciate gifts, sure, but the idea that gifts could be someone’s main emotional “love language” – that it was the main way they felt appreciated and understood – was actually somewhat of a surprise to me. I assumed it was something we could all just “do without”. As someone whose major love language is “quality time”, I enjoy the festive season for the chance to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, eat good food and have long conversations.

For me, presents don’t need to be a part of that; I’d assumed it was the same for everyone else. I didn’t realise that for some people, presents are genuinely a big part of Christmas.

Once I’d understood this, I began to realise why I was receiving gifts I didn’t need or want. If receiving presents is the main way a person feels loved and appreciated, then it makes sense that they would want to give gifts in return. To them, it’s more than a bunch of stuff; it’s an emotional currency.

I thought everyone liked sitting around after Christmas dinner chatting and setting the world to rights, because quality time is my emotional currency, but I’ve learned that others (my husband’s family, for example) don’t get the same pleasure out of this at all! It’s easy to assume that what works for us works for others, but it doesn’t always.

With this in mind, I’ve relented on my hard-line “no gifts for anyone” policy. Remember, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean “stuff”. Being respectful of others’ needs doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of things.

Gifts can be experiences: meals out in restaurants, tickets to shows or concerts, a day out at a museum, time spent together as a group. They can be homemade (I prefer to stick to edible gifts with this; not everyone will appreciate a tie-died hankie), or homegrown (vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and seedlings all apply). They can be in the form of favours and sharing of skills (an evening of babysitting, an afternoon gardening, walking the dog).

I try to keep bought gifts to an absolute minimum, but if I decide that a physical gift is more appropriate, I opt for second-hand: charity shops and also vintage and antique shops, or online auction and classified ad sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve got it completely right…it’s been a process of learning and understanding over the last few years. After all, for many years I gave and received gifts willingly. This is still new territory for us and our families.

It has been somewhat of an adjustment for friends and family to learn to accept that when we say no gifts, we really mean it, and for me to understand that just because I don’t want anything, applying this rule to everyone else may result in offense being taken (learned the hard way).

Initially, I suspect that our families thought this way of living was a phase that wouldn’t last. We probably thought that we could bring them round to our way of thinking. Now we’re all learning to find a happy medium. Slowly they’ve become more sympathetic to our different values and needs. Whilst they may not agree, they have begun to accept. Likewise, so have we.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you dealt with conflicting ideals between loved ones at Christmas? Have you learned to compromise, or reached a mutual understanding? Is it a compromise you’re happy with, or do you still think there’s work to be done? Do you stubbornly refuse to back down – or do they?! Is gift-giving still a source of conflict during the festive season? Have you had good experiences, bad ones..or both? What lessons have you learned? I really want to hear your insights on this so please leave a comment below!

A Beginner’s Guide To Aquafaba

You know when you cook chickpeas (or other beans and pulses) from scratch? You boil them on the stove top for an hour or two, and then you drain off the cooking liquid? You gotta stop throwing that golden cooking liquid down the drain!

I’m serious. Yes, I’m talking about that stinky, kinda slimy, smells-a-bit-like-old-trainers liquid that disappears down the plughole when you strain your freshly cooked chickpeas. Because it is a magical ingredient. I kid you not.

It turns out that chickpea water (chickpea brine), which alternatively and rather more glamorously is also referred to as aquafaba, is a miracle ingredient… something that isn’t waste at all, but is actually very useful! You can whisk it up like egg whites and use it in baking to make cakes, icing, macaroons and meringues.

It’s taking the vegan world by storm because it’s making the impossible possible, but even if you’re not vegan and you eat eggs, the chance to use a waste product to make something edible and delicious can’t be scoffed at!

This yellow liquid is what you get when you cook chickpeas and strain (and keep) the water

I first heard about aquafaba when I posted a picture on Instagram of a big batch of chickpeas I’d cooked, and somebody asked if I was saving the liquid to make meringues. It sounded crazy (and unfortunately I’d just tipped 2 litres of it down the drain) but after seeing some pictures suggesting it could actually be done, and in spectacular style, I was sold.

There might be a lot of beautiful images out there showcasing the miraculous things that can be done with aquafaba, but as a beginner, I had absolutely no idea where to start. Lots of the recipes refer to using the aquafaba from tinned chickpeas, but I cook my own chickpeas, so I wanted to know how to use this kind of aquafaba.

Not being able to find this information on the internet, I spent an entire weekend whisking and testing this chickpea water (and eating far more meringues than I care to remember) and as a result, I think I’ve mastered the basics.

First Up – Cooking Your Chickpeas

If you’re still buying chickpeas (or other pulses) in tins, you are seriously missing a trick. Pulses are super cheap to buy, you can find them in bulk (so packaging free), they take up hardly any space in the pantry and they last forever. You can cook them up in bulk and they freeze really well. Cans are bulky, BPA-lined (meaning chemicals leaching from the plastic into your food), the brine often contain added salt and sugar, plus they are pretty resource-heavy being made from metal, and use a lot more fuel to transport than their dried counterparts. Make your own – it’s easy!

Ingredients: dry chickpeas, water

Soak your chickpeas in water, ensuring they are in a big bowl with enough water covering them as they will expand (depending on the variety, up to three times the original size). Soak for a minimum of 8 hours (overnight). I tend to soak mine for 24 hours or more (changing the water every 8 hours or so) until white bubbles appear in the water. Be sure to throw this water away – it is not the aquafaba!

To cook, place in a large pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and cook for 1.5 hours. You want to ensure the chickpeas remain covered (you can top up with a little extra water, and keeping a lid on the pan will stop as much evaporation) but try to ensure there isn’t too much extra water. As you cook, white scum will come to the surface. Scoop this off and discard.

After 1.5 hours, drain the chickpeas ensuring you keep the cooking liquid – this is the aquafaba!

I usually cook dry chickpeas 1.5 kg at a time, meaning I end up with about 4 kg cooked chickpeas, and this makes around 2 litres of aquafaba. Chickpeas freeze really well. Decant into glass jars and once completely cool pop into the freezer. Wait until completely frozen until sealing with lids. I use regular glass jars and I have never had one crack.

Aquafaba will keep in the fridge for up to a week so don’t feel like you have to use it straightaway. If you don’t want to use all the aquafaba at once, this freezes really well too. Pour into an ice cube tray and once completely frozen decant into a glass storage container and keep in the freezer.

Aquafaba: How to Turn the Yellow Liquid into White Fluffy Stuff

What you’ll need: a good whisk, and a big bowl…plus a little patience ; )

Pour the yellow chickpea liquid into a big bowl, and start whisking. The bowl needs to be big because as it fluffs up, it will expand to more than 5 times its original volume – so be prepared! You will also need a good whisk. A hand whisk isn’t going to cut it. Neither is a food processor or blender, even a high powered one (I tried). I have a stick blender with a 700W motor, 5 speeds and an additional turbo button, and this just about managed, although the motor did get uncomfortably hot. I would recommend a hand held whisk with two beaters, or a mixmaster or something with a little more power.

Whisking Aquafaba Some More

This is my aquafaba before adding cream of tartar. Because I don’t have a super powerful whisk, I found cream of tartar helped form the stiff peaks you need for meringues.

Chickpea water needs to be whisked for a long time. (Long being relative of course, but in the age of electric gadgets we expect instant results, so be warned!) You will need 10 – 15 minutes of constant whisking to get the aquafaba to full fluffiness and stiff peaks. On the plus side, you don’t seem to be able to overwhisk aquafaba like you can egg whites, and if you need a break from holding the hand whisk (or like me, are worried about burning out a stick blender), it seems fairly forgiving to stop-starting.

Lastly, don’t be too worried about how concentrated your chickpea water is. Remember, egg whites are fairly runny before you whisk them, and aquafaba is the same. If you think your liquid is really watery you can reduce it a little in a pan, but don’t be too worried about this. I reduced 2 cups of aquafaba to 1 cup in a saucepan by simmering, and then whisked, and actually found it fluffed ever so slightly less than the original non-reduced aquafaba. The main thing will be a good whisk, and enough time.

How to Make Aquafaba Meringues

I based my experiments on this basic aqaufaba meringue recipe. Far more meringues than I actually wanted to eat later, I think I’ve mastered the basics. My next challenge is to improve the shape – something I think I will achieve with a slightly better whisk, and probably a little more patience!

Ingredients: 1 cup aquafaba; 1.5 cups granulated sugar, ground into powdered sugar; 1 tsp vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp cream of tartar.

Whisk the aquafaba into stiff peaks. Ideally you want a mixture so stiff that if you turn the bowl upside down, the aquafaba won’t fall out, but my hand whisk isn’t up to beating quite that well. (If yours is, you may not need to cream of tartar.)

Once the peaks are as stiff as you can get them, add the cream of tartar, still whisking. This will help firm up the peaks. Next, add the sugar slowly. This is important… you don’t want to deflate the bubbles you’ve created. Add 1 tbsp powdered sugar at a time, whisking continuously to incorporate. Yes, it takes ages, but rush and you’ll flatten your meringues.

Whisking Aquafaba Before and After Adding Cream of Tartar and Sugar

The bowl on the right is the aquafaba once the cream of tartar and sugar have been added. The sugar gives a shiny gloss to the aquafaba.

When all the sugar is incorporated, add the vanilla essence.

Turn your oven on to the lowest temp. Recipes state the temperature needs to be between 80 – 110°C. My gas oven actually doesn’t go below 120°C but as it never seems to get to temperature anyway, it didn’t matter. Line baking trays with baking paper, and blob the meringue mix onto the paper (I used a soup spoon, and the blobs were about 4cm diameter).

Aquafaba meringues

Aquafaba meringues about to go in the oven. I still haven’t mastered how to keep the shape once they go in the oven…that’s the next challenge!

Pop the meringues into the oven, and leave for 1.5 hours minimum. You aren’t actually trying to cook the meringues but dry them out. If they go brown, your oven is probably on too high.

To test if they are ready, see if you can remove one from the baking paper (ideally without taking the tray out of the oven). If it still sticks, leave in the oven. Keep testing until the meringues can be removed cleanly from the paper. When they are ready, turn the oven off, open the door slightly and leave to cool completely before removing. You’re better off leaving to cool in the oven overnight rather than putting them in a container whilst still slightly warm.

Store in an airtight container if not eating immediately.

Aquafaba Meringues on a Cooling Rack via Instragram

What’s Next – Aquafaba in Baking

If you’re interested in seeing more amazing creations with aquafaba, there is a great Facebook group called Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses with lots of recipes to try when you’ve mastered the basics. It’s also a great community and a brilliant source of inspiration!

I’m hoping to spend plenty more time in the kitchen experimenting with this stuff! I’ve already attempted making chocolate brownies using aquafaba and was really pleased with the result (especially as it was a first attempt), and with a few more tweaks I’m hoping to perfect this (update! Recipe for aquafaba chocolate brownies has now been added.).

I’m also keen to try macaroons. Playing with aquafaba is so much fun!

Aquafaba chocolate vegan brownie aerial view Aquafaba chocolate brownie slice Chocolate Vegan Brownie

Now it’s your turn to join in! Tell me, have you heard of aquafaba before? Are you tempted to give it a go, or is something holding you back? Have you already experimented with it? Have you created aquafaba masterpieces or struggled with a sticky mess? If you’re a pro, do you have any advice or tips?  Do you have any questions or need any beginners tips…especially in what NOT to do? (I’m no expert, but I’ve had my fair amount of failures in the last couple of weeks!) Or are you totally grossed out by the whole thing?! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Wardrobe Minimalism: Progress in Pictures

It’s no secret: I struggle with wardrobe decluttering. In my minimalism journey, this has been the hardest area for me to let go. I keep at it, because I know that practise makes perfect, and that decluttering gets easier with time (flexing those decluttering muscles is the only way to make them stronger). When I’m finally finished, the taste of success will be oh so sweet!

About this time last year I undertook a mammoth wardrobe decluttering session, and I photographed everything in my wardrobe. I say mammoth not because of the amount of items I discarded, but because owning so many things made it a big job! I removed every single item of clothing I owned from my wardrobe, shelves, those items hanging behind the door, languishing in the laundry basket and generally distributed about the flat, and made a big pile in the living room. Techinally, several piles.

I lay a sheet out on the floor and category by category, grouped together everything I owned, took a photograph and then considered what I could do without. Once those items were decluttered, I took another photo for prosperity.

I really recommend this process if you want to reduce your wardrobe. Of course, you’d think it would be easier to just look at everything hanging on a rail and make choices from there, but physically moving your things is so much better for a number of reasons:

  • You can be really clear about exactly what you own.
  • You can group things together so you can see exactly how many of every different type of item you own.
  • Physically moving everything makes you realise exactly how much you have. Clothing is surprisingly heavy, and actually lifting and feeling this is much more powerful than glancing at a rail of hanging items.
  • It’s harder to ignore something when it’s in your hands. You can’t miss it, or skim over it, so you consider every single item independently.

Originally, I took photos to write a blog post, but I found it very useful as a tool for helping me see what I owned. I think being able to visually see everything is actually far more helpful than a list. 10 skirts sounds like nothing, but when I see 10 skirts in an image, I see that is far too many! It’s also helpful in working out what goes with what, far more than a list will.

One year later I’ve repeated the process. These pictures show the journey from August 2014 (pre- and post-decluttering), and my progress in October 2015. Remember that my wardrobe decluttering journey actually began 2 years prior to the first pictures in 2014, and clearly I still have quite a way to go!

Smalls decluttering

Smalls Pre-Decluttering August 2014

Smalls decluttered

Smalls post-decluttering August 2014

Underwear Cull Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls pre-decluttering in October 2015

Underwear Cull Take Two Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls post-decluttering October 2015

Wardrobe Minimalism Marie Kondo Folding October 2015

And this… folded smalls Marie Kondo style! These boxes sit in the shelf in my wardrobe where the heaped pile of mess used to be, and in 2 months it has not got remotely untidy. Folding works!

More Tops Decluttering

Tops and shorts pre-declutting August 2015. I can’t believe looking at this that I used to own so many tops!

Tops decluttered

Tops and shorts post-decluttering August 2014.

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts pre-decluttering October 2015 – a new (second-hand) one has even snuck in! This was a concious purchase – I needed a green top to go with a skirt I own. I have worn it plenty of times. Unlike some of the other tops in this picture…

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Final Cull Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts after decluttering October 2015

Tops decluttering

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering August 2014

More Tops Decluttered

Shirts, blouses and other tops post-decluttering August 2014

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism Pre Cull October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering October 2015. The thick British shorts are gone, and the green top is a cycle top which helps avoid sunburn when out on my bike.

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops after decluttering October 2015.

Skirts decluttering

Skirts August 2014. The pre- and post- images are exactly the same as I only got rid of one (the denim one at the front). How many did I wear between then and now? Honestly? Less than half.

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Skirts October 2015

Skirts decluttering October 2015. One of the yellow skirts wore out, I donated the other denim skirt when I went back to the UK, and the coral skirt ended up in the charity shop pile before I took this picture.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

Jumpers pre-decluttering August 2014. Woah, that is a lot of jumpers for someone who lives in a city which has 40 degree summers!

Jumpers decluttered

Post-decluttering August 2014. Well, I say post-decluttering, but there’s not much difference!

Jumpers Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Jumpers Decluttered October 2015. The cream cardigan on the right is old and somehow escaped the August photos – it must have been in the laundry. I decided to donate the black cardigan right after taking this picture.

Dresses decluttering

Dresses pre-decluttering August 2014. Looking at this image now shocks me – how can I have owned so many dresses that I wore so little?!

Dresses decluttered

Dresses post-decluttering August 2014. Good effort, but a long way to go! Two of those dresses weren’t worn the entire summer in between 2014 and 2015.

Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism Dresses October 2015

Dresses post-decluttering October 2015. Two gone, but two new ones have taken their place. Hopefully these will get the wear they deserve!

Trousers decluttering

Trousers August 2014

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Trousers October 2015

Trousers October 2015

Final Bits and Pieces Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism October 2015

Other bits and bobs October 2015…nothing new since 2014 though : )

Tops and Jumpers Underwear Tidying Marie Kondo KonMari Minimalism

I’ve taken Marie Kondo’s advice to fold jumpers and t-shirts. They are easier to find, don’t take up as much space and folding means I’m more aware of their condition (spills, rips etc). Love this approach!

Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015

My newly decluttered and Marie Kondo-ed (meaning folded neatly) wardrobe October 2015. I’ve also switched sides: I realized it made more sense to adopt the bigger half as I have the most stuff. For now! But the decluttering will continue…

Since taking these photos, and writing about my minimalist wardrobe struggle back in October, I’ve had a bit of a wardrobe minimalism breakthrough. Yes I have! A large part of it has to do with all the helpful comments that you left with advice and tips. They didn’t fall on deaf ears, quite the opposite, and I want to thank you all for providing well needed advice. Stay tuned, because I’m looking forward to sharing the next chapter with you shortly!

Now it’s your turn, and I want to hear from you! Now you’ve seen my wardrobe in all its, er, glory…I’d love to hear what you think! Any areas for improvement? Any glaringly obvious mistakes or inappropriate (mis-matching, for example) items? Anything I could add to make what I have much more usable? Any colours missing or over-represented? Any parallels with your own wardrobe minimalism struggle? Anything else you’d like to add?! Please keep the advice coming in the comments below!

Zero Waste Strawberry Recipes (And None of Them Are Jam)

A small miracle happened. I went to the Farmers’ Market…and found plastic-free strawberries! Oh the excitement! The elation! I haven’t bought strawberries in 4 years because I won’t buy them in plastic packaging, and let’s face it, that’s sad, because seasonal freshly picked strawberries are delicious. There was just one catch. They came in the hugest box you’d ever seen. Sold as “jamming strawberries”, there must have been the equivalent of 20 punnets there. I kid you not.

Of course, at the time it seemed like a great idea. I marched home with a massive box of jamming strawberries (which means all those berries that are misshapen, blemished, slightly too ripe, and a couple that were starting to sprout furry bits). It was only then that I realised the enormity of the task ahead: washing, chopping, planning and eating these 20 punnets of strawberries before they expire! As we all know, fresh strawberries do not last long!

Luckily for me I like a challenge, especially one that involves food. After spending a weekend with these strawberries, I have some great ideas for how to use up a glut of strawberries…without making jam.

First Things First: Freezing Strawberries Successfully

Strawberries actually freeze very well. I wouldn’t trust them not to be mushy when defrosted, but they are perfect for adding to smoothies or using in baking. The trick is not to chuck them all together in a bowl, or you’ll be left with a giant frozen mass that can’t be separated. Instead, after washing, chop into quarters and lay out on a baking sheet lined with a tea towel. Pop into the freezer for a few hours. Remove when frozen, pop into a container with a lid (I use a glass Pyrex container but a glass jar would work too) and keep in the freezer until needed.

Preparing Strawberries for the Freezer

How to prepare and freeze strawberries

Strawberry Sorbet (Contains raw egg)

Ingredients:

400g strawberries, chopped and frozen
200g ice
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg white
50g icing (superfine) sugar

Method:

You will need a high-powered blender or food processor for best results.

Blend ice, frozen strawberries lemon juice and icing sugar together until smooth. The smoother it is, the less ice crystals will remain – however the longer you blend, the more it will heat up (and melt). If your blender is struggling, pop the jug into the freezer to cool and resume once refrozen.

For best results, use a whisk attachment for this. Add egg white and whisk for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Eat straightaway. You can freeze leftovers in a glass container however remember that this sorbet contains raw egg, so it’s best not to defrost and refreeze.

Strawberry Sorbet

All light and fluffy!

Strawberry Sorbet in a bowl

Dairy-free strawberry sorbet (contains raw egg)

Strawberry Sorbet (Vegan)

Ingredients:

400g strawberries, chopped and frozen
200g ice
1 cup aquafaba (liquid left over after cooking chickpeas)
50g icing (fine) sugar

Method:

You will need a high-powered blender or food processor for best results. Blend the frozen strawberries and ice until grainy, and add the sugar. Blend to combine. In a separate container whisk the aquafaba for several minutes until soft peaks form. Using a whisk attachment with your blender, add the aquafaba slowly to the mix and beat for 2 minutes until fluffy.

Eat straightaway, and store leftovers in a glass container in the freezer.

Strawberry Aquafaba Vegan strawberry sorbet icecream

Aquafaba (water drained from cooked chickpeas) can make sorbet fluffy too!

Vegan Strawberry Sorbet Aquafaba

Dairy-free vegan sorbet.

Strawberries on Toast

This was conjured up out of desperation, but actually, it was such a hit that I feel it could become a summer regular. It’s not just me that thinks so either; it’s been one of my most popular pictures on Instagram!

Method:

Quarter equal numbers of strawberries and cherry or baby plum (grape) tomatoes. Mash some avocado onto sourdough or other good quality bread or toast, squeeze some lemon juice on the avocado and add chopped fresh herbs if you have them(coriander or parsley would both work well).  Top with strawberries and tomatoes and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Strawberries on Toast

Strawberries on toast. Trust me, it works!

Strawberry Smoothie

I don’t think smoothies should be dictated, they are more about using what you have on hand. I find almond milk a great base for smoothies, and it’s really simple to make your own.

For the almond milk: soak 1 cup raw almonds overnight. Rinse and blend with 4 cups water in a high powered blender for 2 minutes. Strain using cheesecloth (you can freeze the pulp).

For the smoothie: Blend 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup strawberries, a handful of hemp seeds and a handful of blueberries together until smooth. Add sweetener to taste.

Strawberry Blueberry Hemp Almond Milk Smoothie

Strawberry smoothie. In a jam jar. Just because.

Strawberry Oat Bake

Ingredients:

165g strawberries
35g coconut oil
25g cacao butter (if you don’t have this, substitute for more coconut oil)
2 tbsp macadamia or other vegetable oil
75g honey or other sugar
220g oats
55g almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

Blend the strawberries with the vanilla essence until smooth and set aside. Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a pan, add the sugar and mix until combined. Stir in oats, ground almonds and lemon zest. Mix until coated.

In a square tin (I used a loaf tin but a square tin would work much better) spread out half the oat mix, and press down with the back of a spoon. Add the strawberry mix and spread over the oats. Top with the final layer of oats. (If you have them, add a handful of chopped nuts into the remaining oats or sprinkle on top. I didn’t do this and wish I had!)

Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes until golden on top. Leave to cool completely, then place in the fridge. Cut into squares or slices once cooled (it will be less crumbly this way).

 

Strawberry Oat Bake

Half the oat mix spread into a tin, then the strawberry mix spread on top.

Baked Strawberry Oat Slice

Strawberry oat bake.

Strawberry Oat Slice Baked

Strawberry oat bake.

Chia Strawberry Jam

I know, I know. I told you I wouldn’t include jam recipes. But this isn’t jam in the traditional sense. By traditional sense I mean adding 400kg refined white sugar to your strawberries, boiling for half a day and then storing in the pantry for all of eternity. This is fresh, it won’t keep more than a couple of days in the fridge, and it’s got all the goodness of fresh fruit. Think of it more as “strawberries that spread”.

Ingredients:

1 cup strawberries, chopped very small
2 tbsp water
2tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp maple syrup or other liquid sweetener (or more to taste)
Couple of drops of vanilla essence

Method:

This is so ridiculously simple it doesn’t really warrant a “method”. Stir all the ingredients together in a glass jar, put a lid on and leave in the fridge overnight.

Strawberry Chia Jam

Strawberry “jam”, made with chia seeds and fresh strawberries.

I had so much fun with these strawberries that I’m actually relishing the chance to buy another box and experiment some more! The strawberry season isn’t long, and seasonal produce is far more delicious than its imported cousins, so I think it’s worth indulging in the glut whilst it lasts : )

Am I Really a Minimalist? I’m About to Find Out…

Since returning from the UK at the end of September, I’ve had a renewed enthusiasm for decluttering. Partly this was inspired by the success I had in finally letting go of old possessions stored at my parents’ house, and realising how far along this path I’ve now come… and that there is an end in sight. Partly it was inspired by Marie Kondo, whose book about the magic of tidying-up even managed to spark enthusiasm in my husband, who for all his dislike of mess and clutter, is never quite as keen to do anything about it as I’d like!

This enthusiasm has meant that every weekend since we have been back (4 so far) there has been some mention of decluttering, some effort made to donate / sell / fix / discard things that we no longer need, want or use. There has been much discussion about whether things are useful or not, needed or not, wanted or not. To be honest, whilst the idea of a clutter-free home is very exciting, the groundwork needed to achieve this is rather less so.

You may remember a few months ago that I mentioned  we were planning to move at the end of this year. We’re buying a flat in a community we love and can’t wait to move in. The only thing stopping us is that it isn’t quite ready, and we’re still unsure about whether it will be ready at the end of the year. We’ve renewed our current lease a couple of times on short term contracts, and the current one is due to expire on 21st December.

We’ve been wondering what to do next, and whilst faced with (yet another) weekend of thinking about decluttering (because the “thinking” part seems to take up far more time than the actual “doing” part), I had an epiphany. Decluttering will take as long as we have. Whether that’s two weeks or six months, it will expand to fill the time and deprive us of spending that time doing fun stuff. What if we set ourselves a deadline…and don’t renew the lease?!

Moving the week before Christmas might not conventionally be the best time, but actually we won’t be doing any last minute Christmas shopping, we won’t be decorating our home and we won’t be having family or friends over, so really it’s the ideal time! There’s just one detail missing…where will we move to?

And that detail is the beauty of it.

What first attracted us to minimalism was the freedom it promises. The freedom of a life not enslaved to stuff. The freedom to spend our time doing the things we love, enjoying the company of our friends and family, taking the time to explore the country we live in. Our possessions restrict us. They take up space and they take up time. We’ve been working to reduce our possessions to just the essentials (meaning the things that we personally need…essentials of course, are different for everyone), but moving out with nowhere to go? That is the ultimate test.

The truth about moving, is that whilst we always tell ourselves that we’ll get organised beforehand, what actually happens is we run out of time and shove everything in boxes, which we move at great effort… These boxes then languish in storage until we (finally) get around to opening them, at which point we wonder why we ever bothered to keep all this stuff (having forgotten that we even owned most of it) before taking it all to the charity shop after all. That isn’t going to happen this time. That can’t happen this time. We will move the essentials. The superfluous will go.

Strictly speaking, we have somewhere to go. The other advantage of moving out at Christmas is that people often go away, and we have friends and family whose homes we are welcome to stay in. The emphasis is on “we”. There may be room for us, but there is no room for lots of stuff.

Is this really a good idea?! I don’t know. Maybe I’m wildly underestimating how much stuff we own, or how easy I will find decluttering. Part of me wonders what will happen if our new place still isn’t ready when our friends and family come back from their Christmas holidays and no longer want us squatting in their homes. Only a small part, though. A far bigger part of me is relishing the adventure. That’s the fun part of life, isn’t it? To explore the unknown, to take risks, to accept challenges, to have experiences…and learn and grow from them, whatever happens and however things turn out.

That’s why we chose minimalism, after all. To set us free.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Does this appeal to your sense of adventure, or would you balk at the unknown? Have you ever experienced something like this yourself, and did you have far more stuff than you realised? Or have you moved recently and discovered that you are far more minimalist than you thought? Freedom is one of the things that appeals to me most about minimalism – is it the same for you? Or are there other motivations for you to live with less? Please join in and leave a comment below!

A Minimalist Wardrobe: The Ideal…and the Reality

When I think of the contents of my ideal wardrobe, I picture something like this: I open the doors to a neatly hung and folded small selection of clothes, all of which I like, all of which I wear, and all of which I have worn recently. I have a clear idea of what matches what, and actually most things match a number of other things. Choosing an outfit is easy. I enjoy wearing the things I own, and they make me feel good.

This, however, is my reality: I open the doors to a wardrobe with shelves stuffed with messy piles of various clothes that I can’t really see, plus a rail with a jumbled assortment of things. I have only worn half the items I own in the past 9 months. Many of the items are too small, the product, I suspect, of working long hours behind a desk for the first time in my life, which hasn’t fared well with my love of baking (and eating). I’m never entirely sure of what goes with what, and I spend far too much time trying on and discarding outfits, before leaving the house flustered and grumpy. Most of the time I imagine I look like I’ve pulled an outfit together from the jumble sale, and that doesn’t make me feel great.

Wardrobe Pre Decluttering Oct 2015

The contents of my “minimalist-in-the-making” wardrobe October 2015.

I’m very clear about what I want, but how to get there? This is my ongoing struggle. It’s been a while since I tackled it, and feeling inspired by my recent decluttering success I decided I needed to make the most of the momentum, and give it another shot.

At the start of the year, I conducted an experiment to find out how much of my wardrobe I actually wore. The idea was, I tied a scarf to one end of my wardrobe and as I wore things I put them the other side of the scarf. I was planning to review it after 3 months, but then it was autumn and the weather was changing…and I hadn’t worn much of what I owned, so I extended it by another 3 months… and then a bit more, it seems. It was 8 months when I finally looked at the results.

Wardrobe Minimalism Scarf Trick

The starting line…

Scarf Experiment Wardrobe minimalism 9 months later

…and the finish. Everything on the left of the scarf has been worn, and everything on the right has not.  You can clearly see I haven’t even worn half of the contents : /

It’s clear from this that I probably own twice what I actually need. I only wore half the items in my wardrobe! When I started the challenge I had the idea that I’d discard what lay beyond the scarf, but then another idea came into play.

On holiday I finally read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s not a book about minimalism but it is still very inspiring, and I particularly liked her views on clothing. She has some great ideas about folding, and also on letting go of things that no longer serve us. I suspect that Marie Kondo is someone who enjoys shopping, and is less concerned with waste, but many of her points are relevant whether this is true for you or not. (If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend reading it.)

Marie Kondo says you should only keep things that “spark joy”. As someone passionate about zero waste, I think I have a different idea about of “sparking joy” to someone who enjoys shopping and puts great pride in their appearance. That said, it did make me realise that several items in my wardrobe that I wear regularly do not spark joy. I don’t feel good wearing them. They sap my confidence. I keep them only because I don’t want to send them to landfill.

I also realise that many of the items in my wardrobe that do spark joy no longer fit. (Or maybe I mean did, and would.) If you told me now that I’ll never slim back into them, I’d probably get rid of a quarter of my wardrobe. I know you should never keep clothes that you intend to slim into as it rarely happens…but I really want to believe it will with me!

Then there’s the question: if I remove everything that no longer sparks joy, and everything that no longer fits, I am left with very little…can I trust myself to buy the perfect capsule wardrobe? Can I face the idea of buying so many things at once?! (Answer: of course not!)

I’m still deciding where the balance lies. The weather here is just changing to summer, so there is still the opportunity to wear winter clothes for a few more weeks. I want to give myself the benefit of the doubt that eating less cake will mean my summer skirts fit once more. I didn’t let the excuses stop me from going through everything in my closet, however! I removed another 30 or so items from my wardrobe: the things I disliked the most (even if I still wear them) and the things I know in my heart I will never fit into, or actually wear even if I did. That means my current wardrobe count is around 105 items, including underwear, socks and sportswear. This time last year it was 139, after a big decluttering effort reduced it from 169.

What I do know, is that decluttering definitely gets easier. Getting rid of 30 items a year ago was far harder than getting rid of 30 items today, even though I had less to choose from. Maybe the next 30 will be a breeze! ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is wardrobe decluttering something you struggle with? What are the reasons you hold on to things? Are there any excuses you tell yourself? What are the best tips you’ve found for letting go? Or do you have a minimalist capsule wardrobe? How did you do it? What are your tips? Anything else you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Decluttering Tips for Letting Go (What A Difference a Year Makes!)

This time last year I was back at my parents’ house in the UK, being forced to confront all the stuff I’d stored there for “safe keeping”. It was an interesting lesson in why hoarders shouldn’t get second chances, and I got rid of a lot of items, but I’m sorry to say, there were still several boxes remaining.

Everything that remains in storage

Everything that remained in storage at my parents’ house as of September last year. Yes, after the decluttering took place!

Fast forward a year and I’m back at my parents’ house (we went back to the UK for my brother’s wedding). My parents’ house is absolutely full to the brim with stuff, and as I’ve learned to let go of more and more, I find the amount of things they have more and more noticeable. It should be noted that whilst I always say that it’s far better to lead by example when trying to encourage change in others, and we shouldn’t preach or tell or instruct, I always fall down on this when it comes to my mum. Somehow the rules don’t apply! Maybe it’s because I only see her once a year, I feel I haven’t got the time to spend demonstrating change and waiting for it to catch on, and need to get right in there… or maybe it’s because I internalise all my preaching and bossy-ness and have to let it out somewhere! I hadn’t been back there two minutes and I was trying to persuade her to begin decluttering. (They tell me they like the clutter. Well, my dad does. I’m not completely convinced.)

Of course it wasn’t long before my parents pointed out that rather than declutter their stuff, I had a whole load of stuff of my stuff in their house that I should be focusing on. And they were right.

Well, what a difference a year makes! Sometimes it feels like we’re plodding away and not much is changing, but being put in exactly the same position a year later really made me realise how far I’ve come. Somewhere, in this past year, there’s been a shift. I didn’t notice it happen – maybe it was gradual there was nothing to notice – but it has happened. This time, when faced with decluttering, there was no internal struggle. There was very little debate. This time, I was ruthless.

Why was it so much easier this time round? Probably because decluttering is a skill I’ve been trying to master for a while, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

1. Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances.

Anything that’s been in a box for a year (or really in my case, for almost 4 years) cannot be needed. Rather than opening boxes with the excitement of seeing what’s inside (it will cloud your judgement!), remember – you’ve long forgotten what’s inside. Instead, focus on the best way to pass these items to good homes. Stay detached. If you’re really brave, don’t open at all. Send straight to the charity shop!

2. If you’re passionate about zero waste, you can’t keep stuff in storage long-term (especially at someone else’s house).

Sometimes we find things in boxes that we like, that we remember fondly or we wish we had use for. That doesn’t mean we need them. If we liked them or needed them that much, they wouldn’t be sat in a box! If you really want your items to have value, give them to someone who needs them and will use them. Sell them on eBay or give them away on Freecycle or to the charity shop. Items sitting in storage gathering dust is just as much a waste of resources as sending something to landfill.

3. “Just in case” rarely happens.

Keeping items “just-in-case” is a waste of time (and space). Especially if the “just-in-case” items live in a box in storage. If you suddenly need the item, will you even remember where you put it? Let someone else get good use from your items. If you really need something you previously got rid of, you can borrow it, or buy another one second-hand when you need it. Chances are though, you won’t.

4. We live in the present, not the past.

Old photos of places we no longer remember, diaries and letters from years ago and other collected paraphernalia remind us of the people we were, but don’t necessarily represent the people we are now. If they bring up feelings of regret or sadness, are completely cringeworthy, or evoke no feelings at all, they have served their purpose. Let them go. We don’t need to be reminded of who we used to be! We live in the present, not the past. We should be creating new happy memories and living in the moment!

5. No matter how hard you find letting things go, if you keep trying you WILL succeed.

I was a natural hoarder. I’d collect, and accumulate, and hang on to things. It was how I was brought up, I’ve realised – there was always the option to store something if I wasn’t sure what to do about it. As a result, I never learned the art of decluttering or letting go. It’s been a hard lesson to learn. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. But like all new habits, the more you practice the better you get. Keep flexing the decluttering muscle, and each time it gets a little stronger. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve come a long way simply by not giving up.

So… what became of that pile of stuff? Most things went straight into boxes to the charity shop. A few (more specialist)  things went onto eBay…I felt there was more chance of connecting them with a better owner this way.  A couple of things came back to Perth with me (they may yet be decluttered). Those old diaries of my early teenage years?

Shredded Documents

Pages of paper filled with teenage angst are memories I’d rather forget! Those diaries served a purpose at the time, but their job is done. I felt rather excited that these pages will begin a new life as compost, and I will no longer be weighed down with awkward memories.

Shredded and added to the compost pile, and along with them a lot of teenage angst I’d rather forget!

With every item given away, sold, donated and shredded, I feel lighter. Stuff weighs you down. It’s a burden. Especially stuff spread across continents, and stored in other people’s houses.  It’s a relief to know next time I visit my parents for a holiday, I won’t be crawling through the storage space hunting down boxes to sort. I won’t be wasting time contemplating whether to keep things I’d already forgotten about. There will be no guilt at items left languishing.

It’s been a long road, this journey to a life with less stuff, and it’s been hard work, but I finally feel like I’m turning a corner, and that I’m seeing the benefits. Benefits like more time. More freedom. It makes me wonder… why did I ever think a bunch of stuff was more important than these?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Confession time… do you have boxes languishing in storage, in your attic, garage, spare room, or worse – a relative’s house?! How many of them are filled with “just-in-case” items or stuff that you can’t even remember?! what is your biggest barrier to letting go? Or are your closets free of clutter? If so, what tips do you have for letting go of items? What has worked best for you? Anything else you’d like to add to the conversation? Please leave your thought in the comments below!

Food Waste That You Can “Re-Use”

It’s Zero Waste Week this week, and the theme is “re-use”. I talked last week about household items I use to generate less waste, particularly packaging waste. That got me thinking about food, or more specifically food waste. There are so many food “waste” items that can actually be re-used that I thought I’d write a list, to encourage you to think twice before committing something straight to the bin (even if it is the compost bin).

10 Food Waste Items that you can Actually “Re-use”

1. Spring onion roots

Those end bits you chop off of a spring onion with the roots still attached don’t need to go in the bin – they can be replanted and will re-sprout! Celery will do the same thing. If you grow your own you could cut them at soil level rather than pulling up, and leave the roots in the ground to re-sprout!

Zero Waste Spring Onions in Egg Shells

Spring onion bottoms re-sprouting on the window sill : )

2. Vegetable peels

If I can avoid peeling my vegetables then I don’t do it, but occasionally peeling them is required for a particular recipe. Make sure the skins are scrubbed first, then save the peels, toss in a small amount of oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and spread out over a baking tray. Bake for around 10 minutes on one side, turn over and bake for another 5 – 10mins at a medium heat. Voila! Your very own zero waste vegetable crisps! I’ve made these using potato peels, as well as parsnip, carrot and beetroot peels – and they are all delicious : )

Zero Waste Week Making Crisps from Vegetable Peels

Potato and beetroot peels make great vegetable chips – just brush with oil and pop in the oven.

3. Veggie scraps

Rather than making vegetable stock with new vegetables, I save up scraps in my freezer in a big glass jar, and once the jar is full I use these. I use the tops and tails, stems and stalks, and the outer white layers of onion that aren’t suitable for cooking with. I tend to avoid using cabbage as it can be overpowering. Recently I’ve started separating in the freezer, so I have a big jar of onion tops, tails and skins, and a smaller jar of other bits and pieces, so I can make the stock into the flavour I want more easily.

4. Lemons (and other citrus)

Lemons are made of so many good parts, it just doesn’t make any sense to use one of them and throw the rest away! Before juicing a lemon you can zest it (remove the yellow skin) with a grater or zester, or even a potato peelers – just chop afterwards. The zest can then be frozen, or dried in the oven at a low temperature and stored in the pantry. The juice can also be frozen too (I use an ice cube tray, then transfer the frozen cubes to a glass container).

If you don’t want to zest them, the peels can be made into candied citrus peel. A final resort is to add the peels to homemade household cleaners (like vinegar) to give a citrus fragrance.

This isn’t just true for lemons – it’s perfect for all citrus fruit.

Zero Waste Week Re-Use Lemons Citrus

There’s no need to use just one part of the citrus fruit – use all the bits!

5. Egg Shells

This isn’t one you can eat – well, not one that I eat – but I think it’s worth mentioning as egg shells are one of those things that don’t break down well in compost or in worm farms. Not whole, anyways. When I’ve used eggs, I rinse the shells and leave to dry, and then pop into a jar. Once the jar is reasonably full (you can squish them to fit more in) I add them to my food processor and grind to a powder. If you don’t have a good food processor you can use a spice / coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or even a bag (reusable of course!) and a rolling pin. The powder can then be added to compost, a worm farm or even directly on the soil.

Zero Waste Week Reuse Egg Shells

Egg shells can be ground up to make a great soil additive.

6. Coffee Grounds

This is another food waste item that doesn’t need to go in the bin. Coffee grounds are great for the soil so even if you don’t have a compost bin or worm farm, emptying your coffee pot directly under a tree or shrub adds nutrients to the soil and saves waste. The caffeine in the coffee is also thought to act as a slug deterrent – hurrah!

Another use for coffee grounds is to make your own DIY body scrub. It’s a natural alternative to those plastic microbeads that are so damaging to the environment, and one that uses a waste product! Whether you just use the grounds on their own or mix with oils or other ingredients depends on your level of patience (I am all for the simplest option) but one thing is required – get a filter for your plughole or you’ll end up blocking your drain!

7. Carrot Tops

It just doesn’t make any sense to chuck the lush green tops that come with real carrots. I find that they make a great alternative to basil in pesto. You can use any pesto recipe and sub some of the basil (from half up to tho-thirds) with carrot tops. I still use basil to keep that distinctive flavour, but you can make it using carrot tops alone if you prefer. You can also use the leaves in salad.

It doesn’t have to stop at carrot tops either – beetroot leaves, celery tops, in fact, most other leaves can be eaten raw or cooked with. You just need to get creative!

8. Juice Pulp

Juicing vegetables and fruit can be delicious, but so much waste is generated. The great news is, it can be made into food of its own! I make flatbreads using the pulp from juicing carrots and the same recipe should work with beetroot. You can also incorporate pulp into baking, or search for other recipes on the internet. It takes a small amount of preparation beforehand such as ensuring cleanliness, removing pips or seeds, and peeling if necessary (eg fruit such as apples). If you’re not sure what to do with it, you can always freeze until you have enough or you’ve found a recipe to try.

Carrot pulp crackers with hummus

Cracker flatbreads made with leftover pulp from juicing carrots.

8. Nut Pulp

If you make nut milk, particularly almond milk, then straining will leave you with a large amount of almond pulp. I can’t believe anyone would throw this in the bin! Nuts are expensive, but also full of goodness. What a waste! Again, there are hundreds of recipes out there for using nut milk pulp. The simplest is to mix with s0me olive oil and a little salt, roll out, score into squares and bake – and you have crackers! There are plenty of both savoury and sweet recipes to try.

Whilst the pulp is freezable, another option is to dry out and store in a jar in the pantry. Spread on a baking tin and put into the oven on a low  heat, checking often. Once it dries, pop into the food processor to whizz into a powder, and finish in the oven to ensure no damp bits remain. The resulting powder is more of a flour as the fat has been squeezed out to make milk, leaving the fibrous part, and is great to use in baking.

9. Bread Crusts

Those dry scrappy bits of bread that have slowly turned into rocks don’t need to go in the bin. Ditto old bread rolls. Chuck them in the food processor, grind into breadcrumbs and freeze. Actually, they will keep in a jar in the pantry for a few weeks if completely dry (you can dry out in the oven first to be sure).

Zero Waste Week Breadcrumbs

Use stale bread and old crusts to make breadcrumbs.

10. The Liquid from Cooked Beans / Pulses

This can be the liquid from tins of beans, if you buy those, or the liquid from cooking your own. It has its own name – aquafaba – and it can be used as an egg replacement in baking as well as an egg alternative to make meringues and macaroons. Don’t just take my word for it though – check out the Vegan Society’s Aquafaba article to see what I’m talking about. I am completely fascinated by this – the idea of using something that you’d pour down the drain to make actual delicious food! You don’t need to be a vegan to think this is a great idea! So far I’ve eaten meringues made this way (not by me, by the accountant at work – she was as mystified and intrigued as I was!) and I was very impressed. Stay tuned for some experiments later in the year!

There you have it – 10 food items that you can re-use. Even if you’re a committed composter, it’s always better to find a way to re-use something than to rot it!

Now I want to hear from you! Things always seem obvious after the fact, but several of these were real “a-ha!” moments for me when I first came across them. I’m sure there are plenty more that I haven’t come across yet, and I need your help! I want to know what food waste items you re-use, and how. Have you had any great successes? Any fails? Any recipes you’d like to share? Please share your thoughts, experiences and tips in the comments 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!

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

My plastic-free (and later, zero-waste) journey has been such an adventure, challenge and learning experience and brought so much enjoyment that I can’t help but want to share it with the world. There’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with discovering new (or more often, old) ways of doing things, being more mindful about the way we live our lives, and of course, reducing landfill waste!

The longer I pursue this lifestyle the better I become at avoiding plastic and generating waste… but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Of course not! It doesn’t mean I’m completely zero-waste. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be completely zero-waste. It’s a journey, after all… and that’s the fun!

Ah, the fun. Successfully making a recipe from scratch for the first time. The jubilation of finding a new ingredient in bulk for the first time. The smugness of remembering your reusable cup, and water bottle, and cutlery, and produce bags when you actually need them. The excitement of finding someone all the way across the other side of the world who thinks the same way we do. The excitement of finding someone just down the road who thinks the same way we do!

The satisfaction of setting a personal waste-free goal and then achieving it…

That’s the thing about plastic-free and zero-waste living. It’s a very personal journey. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. People will find their own path. There is no such thing as the plastic-free police, nor the zero waste police. How can there be, when there’s no rules except the ones we choose ourselves?!

There are, however, some people out there who think they can “catch us out”. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect it’s because they don’t know the rules we’ve chosen!

To avoid any confusion, I thought I’d take the trouble to explain my personal plastic-free / zero waste living philosophy. Just to iron out any misunderstandings ; )

Here’s my “rules” for living plastic-free (and zero-waste).

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

The best place to start is to explain what I mean by these terms.

When I say “plastic-free”, what I really mean is: I-try-to-live-my-life-as-plastic-free-as-possible-but-I-don’t-claim-to-own-nothing-made-of-plastic-nor-do-I-avoid-every-single-piece-of-plastic-entering-my-home-for-example-I-still-buy-ibuprofen-and-glass-bottles-with-lids-lined-with-plastic-and-I-still-receive-items-in-the-post-in-envelopes-with-plastic-windows-and-I-still-make-mistakes-more-on-that-in-another-blog-post-but-I-really-really-really-try-my-best-to-not-purchase-anything-with-plastic-packaging-or-and-I-try-to-buy-second-hand-but-I-still-own-a-computer-and-a-collection-of-biros-and-a-reel-of-sellotape.

Now I find that rather a mouthful, so I tend to use the term “plastic-free”.

When I say “zero-waste”, this is what I actually mean: “all-that-stuff-I-said-above-except-trying-to-reduce-my-landfill-and-also-recycling-to-the-absolute-minimum-and-when-I-say-minimum-I-mean-minimum-for-me-where-I-live-now-doing-the-things-I-do-which-isn’t-the-same-minimum-as-it-would-be-if-I-lived-in-a-cave-and-wove-my-own-clothes-but-small-steps-you-know?

Again, it’s easier to say “zero waste”. I also love the term “near-o waste”, which is far more accurate (!), but I guess zero waste is the end goal. The destination. Maybe I’ll never get there.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

The next rule, it isn’t about how much better I am compared to the next person, or how much worse. As someone who hates waste, I’d far rather everyone was better than me! The only competition I have is with myself, and it’s a friendly competition as we’re on the same side ; )

Everyone’s Limits are Different

Everyone has their own set of limitations, circumstances, restrictions and other things going on in their lives, and it’s important to remember this! I’m happy to wash my hair with bicarb or rye flour, bought in bulk, and rinse with vinegar, also bought in bulk (no-poo hairwashing instructions here). It suits my curly hair. However, it doesn’t suit everyone’s hair, or everyone’s skin. Bicarb especially can be a skin irritant.

Similarly, I’m happy to forgo make-up because I just can’t be bothered trying to make it.

[Actually, I did try making mascara. It involved burning almonds, many matches, beeswax, blackened kitchen utensils, far too much washing up and plenty of swearing. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…but it’s unlikely to be part of my beauty regime]

However, I’m not prepared to go without baking paper. I’m really not sure I could get by with just one kind of baking tin, either. I love to cook, and this gives me better results. It’s staying.

I may not be winning the zero waste trophy this year, but I’ll be eating much better chocolate brownies ; )

There Will Always Be Exceptions

(See comment about living in a cave, earlier.) There are things I have chosen to buy in plastic. Yes, I call myself plastic-free and I buy things in plastic!

Ibuprofen tablets and prescription medicine (antibiotic ear drops for an ear infection), a diary refill, a kilo of hemp seeds.

I rarely buy glass jars but when I do the metal lids have plastic linings. My husband drinks cows milk and these glass bottles have the same plastic-lined lids.

The thing is, I choose to be part of the real world (for now). In the real world, plastic is everywhere. I do my absolute best to reduce what packaging and plastic I consume.

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

It’s very tempting when starting out on a zero-waste or plastic-free journey to want to tell everyone about it…and also tell everyone what they were doing wrong or what they could be doing better! Thing is, most people won’t appreciate this. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! No-one likes to be told what to do.

Now  I try to show people how I live, help people who come to me with questions or looking for ideas, and strike up conversations where I can in the hope to inspire people to make changes to their lives. I’ve found it works far better.

Often when ideas are new to people it takes a little while before they’re ready to make changes, even when they want to. I just hope that I can plant a seed. A seed that grows into a really big tree : )

I try to keep my opinions to myself the rest of the time (it can be a challenge, and I’m not perfect!) …unless asked, of course!

Just as I’ve learned that people respond better this way, the same applies to me. Sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes there’s a better way of doing things. I’m always open to suggestions and I love hearing about new ways of doing things, but I much prefer it when the conversation is kept friendly and positive : )

There you have it – my five rules for plastic-free (and zero-waste) living. Plastic-free police vigilante wannabes, please read this first : )

Now I’d like to hear from you! What rules do you follow? Are there any you’d like to add? Any you’d like to remove? Have you had any near-misses with voluntary members of the plastic-free police giving you their two cents?! What are the best ways you find to handle disagreements and differences in opinions? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this so leave me a message in the comments!