Five things challenge

This week I’ve been working on a simple decluttering challenge: Five things a day, out the door.

Doesn’t that sound so manageable and innocent?

I’m keen on this project because we’ll be hosting a couple of middle school Japanese students next week. Nothing like strangers staying in your house to make you look at it with fresh eyes. Plus Eric and I have always done our best cleaning when guests are involved.

We’re minimalists and aspiring zero wasters, but we still have stuff. Some of it is from before we knew better; some of it we should have known better than to bring home but we did anyway. Some is because someone else didn’t know better. 😉 And of course, we’ve got three people in the house fulltime, and all of us have different ideas on what minimalism and zero waste means.

So paring down five items a day seems like a great challenge — it doesn’t take a lot of time but you can still see results. I gleaned this from my friends at Nourished Planner (okay, imaginary friends); they suggested putting a box or basket someplace inconspicuous, adding items each day and, at the end of the week, taking the whole ordeal to the secondhand shop.

Um, I’m not quite doing that.

I am loathe to admit this, but most of my five items each day are ending up in the recycling or … the trash.

Here’s why it’s happening:

  1. There are items I should have recycled or  thrown away ages ago, but didn’t because of environmental concerns.
  2.  Um, I guess that’s pretty much the only reason.

It’s an easy thought process: If I don’t throw things away, then they don’t get added to the landfill. If I don’t recycle, but simply reuse, those items also don’t get added either. *

And yeah, I mean, that’s one way look at it.

The problem with this approach is that my house is being taken over by stuff we don’t want, don’t need and don’t use. (Hello, glass jars from my sunflower seed butter!) Mentally, I also do better when I don’t have a lot of clutter, or projects, or anything, really because “things” tend to trigger my anxiety — when things are crowded or left undone, I can’t breathe.

So there’s some landfilling going on in my house this week. Case in point: Five kitchen towels that have seen better days. And the last time I was at Goodwill, I asked if they took rags and was told in no uncertain terms that THAT is a lie. Okay then. Trash it is.

I’m disappointed in this result, the landfilling of items. I’m disappointed in myself. But … I came to the conclusion long ago that there are no best-case scenarios when it comes to environmental solutions — we’re just making the best choices we can from a list of really bad options. That doesn’t mean I just toss things into the trash without thought. I’m just not sure what to do about it: Continue to hoard it and delay the inevitable, or get on with it and appreciate a clutter-free home.

I’m going for the latter. And feel like a jerk. But wow, my anxiety is doing awesome!

* HERE is a rather depressing article by The Atlantic about the recycling situation in the States right now. Recycling pretty much equals throwing away at this point.

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Stories that are so important I almost forgot about them

I’m writing this in a rather noisy gym, keeping half an eye on Johanna and her teammates as they go through basketball drills at practice. I’m not necessarily feeling antisocial, but I also learned last month that if I pull out my laptop and start typing, everyone assumes I’m writing a newspaper article and they leave me alone.

And it’s too convenient not to utilize. It’s been a long day.

Anyway, now that I’ve shown what a jerk I am, let me tell you a couple of minimalist / zero waste stories that I forgot to write about earlier.

Story one: Bulk aisle connection

Once upon a time, I was in the bulk aisle of my favorite grocery store. It was, I will admit, an unplanned trip, so I didn’t have any of my jars with me. I was purchasing items in paper bags, as paper can be reused, recycled AND composted. The only downside: They’re made from trees.

Anyway, OF COURSE I noticed someone filling their jars. A man had several that he was systematically filling and putting into his cart. On one hand, I was so jacked — seeing another kindred soul was rather thrilling. On the other, I’d forgotten my jars, which made me feeling like a failing failure.

Still, I couldn’t help but talk to him a bit about zero waste. I told him I was happy to see him filling his jars because usually it is only me with mine, even though I’d forgotten mine that day. He was grinning, so I decided I wasn’t being too weird. (Yes, I get the irony that I am the sort of person who will talk to a stranger in the bulk aisle, but here at basketball practice surrounded by friends, I am pretending to be working. I’m a complicated woman.)

He said that what he liked most about bringing reusables to the grocery store is that, when he gets home, he just has to put them in the cupboard — there’s no decanting. I agreed. That is definitely the best part about the whole ordeal. No packaging to deal with later is another big plus.

Spoiler alert: Just as I wrote “I agreed” above, a friend came over and told me to quit working and be social. That made me laugh. Anyway, now I’m back at home to finish this thing up.

Story two: New old dish towels

When Eric and I got married … 23 years ago … my great-aunt gave us a set of seven hand-embroidered dish towels that she’d purchased from a craft sale. They were adorable (kittens!) and I was young, so instead of using them, I stuck them in my cedar chest and forgot about them.

Last month, though, when I took all the crap out of my chest and made it into blanket storage (a dream come true, I’m still thrilled with myself, post HERE), I found those towels. And I washed them and put them in a drawer in the kitchen and we’ve been using them ever since.

A couple of them are already stained by paint because my artist in residence, aka Johanna, would apparently rather use a pristine towel than one of the thousands of rags we have when she’s creating her masterpieces. Well, kids are terrible. I’m trying to remember that we live in a house, not a museum, so who cares anyway.

Story three: Goodwill, bad vibes

Forty-six going on … 55, apparently.

I took January 2 off from work to eat up one of the vacation days I’m about to lose. I’d planned to hang out with my girls, but instead I found myself at home alone and decided what I really wanted to do was take a trip to the next town over and check out their Goodwill.

I’ve been wanting another pullover sweater because DAMN this winter has been cold. I also wanted to see what they had in the way of standing light fixtures, as I am looking to add a reading light to the living room. I never have complete luck when I go to Goodwill — I think it takes a patience and perseverance that I lack — but I was exited to try.

And lo and behold, I found a pretty awesome gray pullover that fit well and rocked my world. Feeling rather cocky with my sweater success, I took a spin around the furniture section to see if I could find a suitable lamp (and then the houseware aisles … all those homeless coffee pots make me so sad). I did not, so I made my way to the checkout line.

The girl behind the counter thanked me for my patience (the line was looooong) and asked if I’d found what I was looking for. Then our conversation took a rather interesting turn:

Checker: So do you qualify for our 55 and older discount today?

Me: Um … no.

Checker: Not yet, huh?

Me: I’m … 46.

Checker: …

Me: …

Me: … I don’t need a bag, incidentally.

Oh, lord, it was so awkward. She had no idea what to say to me after that, and it was all I could do to keep it together — not because I was angry, but because I was afraid I’d start laughing and that would make it worse. Well, that answers THAT question, I said to myself as I got into the car, and then I really did let myself laugh it out. Ah, I needed that.

Look, I do not dye my hair, so my bad, really. And I had a great time relaying that story to my coworkers, especially since I had JUST had a conversation with two of them about how, despite my graying hair, I do not look “old.”

Uh, apparently I do …

And that concludes our three thrilling tales of awe and wonder. I know. Sometimes I can’t believe this is my life, either.

The end.

From NPR: European Parliament Approves Ban On Some Single-Use Plastics, Reduction On Others

Heard this on the radio last week and wanted to share. Story link HERE.

From the article:

Consumption of single-use plastics “for which no alternative exists,” such as single-use food boxes or containers for fruits, vegetables or ice cream, must be reduced by at least 25 percent by 2025, according to the legislation.

The measure also cracks down on fishing gear, such as monofilament fishing line, and tobacco waste. It seeks to reduce waste from tobacco products and cigarette filters containing plastic by 50 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2030.

This is just so damn great. I mean, China is probably the worst offender and the US is probably second, and I would love it if America would follow suit (fat chance under this presidency) … and we’re talking seven years from now … but considering that our oceans are filled with plastic, this is such a huge step in the right direction.

Yay good news!

Trisha-friendly

It’s been a hell of a week — Eric was hunting in central Oregon (the elk continue to survive), Johanna has a ridiculous activity schedule, and work can best be described as “challenging” at this particular juncture in time. But I DID IT. And I only had one anxiety attack, which is a miracle. Because I am a creature who lives by her routines, and they were completely disrupted all week long.

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I don’t really have art for this post so here’s some pumpkins and apples.

I credit a couple of things to this:

I have been eating very, very well for my gut — more on that below — and I have been very, very good about keeping to the parameters of my social media habit re-do. Both of these have contributed to an overall sense of well-being.

For me, social media is a gateway drug to wasting time online. I have unfollowed and unfriended (and hidden when neither of those were an option) so. many. people and sites. and it doesn’t take long for me to actually go through any of my accounts — a quick check to see what Thoughts of Dog is up to and what hilarity can be found on Man Who Has It All on Twitter, then over to Instagram for pictures of kittens and babies, maybe a scroll through Facebook … but after THAT, it’s like a free for all. Any new emails at home? No? How about at work? What’s going on in the news? I’ve been meaning to look for a new book … which is why I’m over here checking out weather reports and what new pins Pinterest has chosen for me and laughing at cat memes.

And then three hours have passed.

But not this week! I was a tiny bit afraid that while I waiting for Johanna at her various activities I’d turn to social media just to kill time, but I solved THAT problem by leaving my iPod at home. BOOM. Also, introvert tip: If you pull out your laptop and open a Word doc and start typing, everyone leaves you alone because they think you’re working.

As far as the food front goes, I have made some progress since my rant a couple of weeks ago. I have learned that spelt tortillas are not for me, but I have also learned that butternut squash soup IS.

And what is a Trisha-friendly butternut squash soup? Observe:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 chopped medium onion

Saute the onion in butter until translucent, then add:

  • 2-3 pound butternut squash, cut into 1-inch chunks (or, like, whatever my knife deems appropriate, details are boring)
  • 32 ounces of chicken broth

Add butternut squash and broth to onions and simmer 15-20 minutes or until tender. Puree and add back to pot; season with:

  • Nutmeg, salt and pepper

… To taste.

I mean, that’s pretty boring and basic, but my gut seems to think it’s awesome, and it tastes good, too, which is more than I can say for a lot of what I eat. AND it’s low waste as far as trash and plastic go, so even better.

I made this again this weekend and froze three 2-cup servings. I have learned that having a stash of meals is important and necessary. And it also means that Eric and Johanna can have pasta for dinner and I’m not tempted to compromise because I’m starving.

I also made hamburger patties and baked sweet potatoes for another couple of freezer meals. I’m not a big meat eater, but beef, chicken, pork and eggs are all safe, so … I guess now I am a big meat eater. We’ll concentrate on the fact that THAT is also low waste (meat counter visit with a container, bulk sweet potatoes) to ease my conscience.

So we’re getting there is what I’m saying.

Baby steps

Every adult I know — or at least the ones who are depressed — continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder.

— From “How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined the Modern World” by David Wong

I’m struggling right now with my diet. Not the kind of diet you’re thinking — the sort of diet where I have to be exceedingly careful about what I eat because if I don’t, I’ll wind up with a gut ache to end all gut aches (you don’t need more of a visual than that), at the end of which will take me a full week to recover.

It’s just … disheartening.

Coming across the above quote recently (that’s a hilarious article, incidentally, but don’t click the link if you’re opposed to swear words), it made me pause and think not only about why I’m currently struggling, but about what I’ve had to work through in the past.

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Minimalism isn’t all naps on the hammock.

Once upon a time, minimalism was something I only dreamed about.

There was a point where I thought going zero waste as a family and in our small town was impossible.

I didn’t even start my current job as a newspaper reporter … I began as a half-time receptionist.

Fast forward to this very second, and I am not only a minimalist, but a seasoned zero waster AND a full time reporter. But all that didn’t happen overnight.

Before I became a minimalist, I read a lot of articles to get it sorted out in my mind, started decluttering the kitchen (and would actually have to do that two more times), began on the rest of the house, saw Eric come onboard and then the girls, and realigned our value system.

Before I became a zero waster, I read a lot of article (I mean, that’s my go-to whenever I start something new), tried and failed and tried again about a dozen times, sent in an application to The Simple Year and got chosen as its Year 5 blogger … and then had to actually follow through, figure out how to reduce waste where we could and get the family to accept a lifestyle change.

And before I became a reporter, I took on small tasks that the editorial staff didn’t have time for (mostly typesetting public record logs), which led to writing short articles, which resulted in (after three years of that) getting editorial hours tacked on to my front desk hours, which eventually led to being full time “in the back” writing articles.

From here, it all looks simple. From THERE, it was not. It was a lot of mis-starts and missteps, blind luck and not really knowing what it would take to get from Point A to Point B. It was 20 times harder than I thought it would be. And it took a hell of a lot longer than I anticipated.

From HERE, my diet is a mess. I can’t eat anything and I’m angry about that. I want this sorted out now. I want to be divinely inspired or something and have it all magically done already so I can get on with it.

HA HA HA. That quote was like a kick to the head — talk about unrealistic expectations.

The point of this, my dear internet friends, is that what we set out to do takes time. Reducing waste takes time; decluttering takes time; lifestyle changes take time; dreams take time. And it’s going to be so much harder to accomplish what we’ve set out to do than we expect.

Baby steps.

I am reminding myself this practically hourly as I sort through my dietary restrictions and turn my digestive system into one great big science experiment. I’m reading articles (duhhhhh) on various foods, experimenting with a new food every couple of weeks and keeping extensive notes so I don’t forget all of it (because I will. I am an incredibly slow learner). I am remembering that what is worth doing is hard, that at this time next year, I will have so much more control over my gut — and my diet will be so much more varied.

In short, I’m embracing (or trying to, let’s not get carried away) the fact that this is hard and will take time.

I mean, we can do this, right?

In which I go to Eric’s family reunion with only a plate of deviled eggs

Life has been interesting lately in the Walker household, and by “interesting,” I mean “busy” and “stressful.” Eric has taken on an expanded role at his office (hopefully just until the end of the year because he’s essentially doing two jobs) and the newspaper has instituted deadlines that are impossible to actually achieve … unless you’re okay with living in the office, sleeping under your desk and ignoring absolutely everything that makes life worth living

I’m not okay with that.

Coincidentally, I’ve been working on pacing myself this year, both at home and at the office, as well as instituting boundaries. I need a certain number of introvert hours each week or I get cranky as hell. It’s like I’m 3 instead of 46, and that’s just embarrassing for everyone.

Both the pacing myself and the instituting boundaries strike me as fairly minimalistic practices, although really it’s just self-preservation. I cannot do everything and I cannot have it all. That was a hard lesson to learn, but it’s made life so much easier since I’ve embraced the fact that work-life balance does not exist and perfection is unattainable.

I’m either at work or at home. I’m either writing articles or filling inside pages. I’m either cleaning my house or prepping/cooking meals. I’m either focused on self-care or focused on my family. I get to pick one off that list at any given time. I’m skating through an obstacle course, and most of the time I’m brushing myself off after taking a terrific spill, but the point is that I get up again.

I guess?

Anyway, all of that is to say that, coming off a stressful week and into a busy weekend, I decided to take care of myself first and my duties second.

Um, which is how I ended up at Eric’s family reunion with only a plate of 12 deviled eggs. (Or six actual eggs. I didn’t even double the recipe.)

I let Johanna decide what we were going to bring. She requested a raspberry salad — one of those 1950s kind of things with a pretzel and sugar crust, a cream cheese and whipped cream center, and raspberry gelatin on top. It’s her favorite. I love my child, but I did not have this particular dish in me, so I asked her to pick something else. She did, and good naturedly, too. I hit the jackpot with that kid, honestly.

Because Johanna has an eye for detail and is always up for a project, she did most of the work on putting the eggs together. She did a beautiful job, not that I’m biased. And also not because I didn’t have to do it myself.

I’m not going to lie, I had second thoughts as the reunion time drew closer Saturday, but it was too late: All I had was my plate of deviled eggs, the lunch I’d packed for myself* and our reusable tableware. I had to push down the negative litany running through my head — I should have done more, I should have planned better, I should have picked something more substantial, I’ve embarrassed Eric, everyone is going to think I’m a loser — and remember that I DID THIS ON PURPOSE because, hello, I HAVE BOUNDARIES.

All caps so you know I was serious.

Yes, I chose sleeping in and reading to killing myself on a dish I can’t eat just to impress a bunch of people who aren’t going to judge me anyway.

So I shook my head, decided it was all just immersion therapy** and walked into the reunion with my head held high.

And here’s the thing: The deviled eggs looked right at home on the buffet table. They all got eaten. No one commented about it at all. Eric was certainly not embarrassed. And Jo was super pleased to be able to enjoy deviled eggs that weren’t “ruined” by the addition of relish. (She’s a purist.)

It was a good lesson, really.

*To review, I have sensitivities to wheat, gluten (and gluten free items, which I find slightly hilarious), corn, cane and maple sugars, lactose (but not dairy, explain that to me), nightshades, yeast, peanuts and almonds, and anything artificial. Even things like apples and pears, which is a major bummer. So a potluck situation was not happening. Yeah, I could have made a dish I could eat instead of just packing a lunch … but why punish everyone else?

**Every time I get into a situation where I start to feel anxious, I pretend it’s immersion therapy a la “What About Bob?” (Actually, I think that was death therapy, but let’s not go nuts.) Eh, it works.

‘Piling up: Drowning in plastic’

“There is plastic in your food. Plastic in your sea salt. And there is plastic coming out of your tap.” — Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Barbara

Eric and I just watched “Piling up: Drowning in plastic” on CBS Sunday Morning, reported by David Pogue, and I knew I had to share (HERE — both video and written story).

This is a comprehensive look at why plastic is such a problem, not only in the United States, but worldwide — how plastics got their start (I had no idea it was invented in the ’50s), how they’re recycled, why China stopped taking co-mingled materials, plastics in the ocean, how much is recycled …

It was eye-opening, and I consider my eyes pretty wide open to begin with.

It ended on a hopeful note, which is another reason why I knew I needed to share. From our buddy Professor Geyer, above:

“We banned leaded gasoline; we managed to tackle ozone depletion successfully. So, I think humankind has a long history of creating big environmental problems, but I think we’re also starting to have a track record of solving environmental problems.”

The takeaway: There ARE solutions. We need to take personal responsibility for the plastics we consume, but corporations do, too, and many already are (which means it’s more likely to succeed). And it’s not a hopeless situation (although when I see photos of plastic “islands” floating in the ocean, it certainly feels that way).

If you watch/read the article, let me know what you think. I’m all hyped up about this.