Going zero waste with kids

When we came out as a minimalists all those years ago, nobody really knew what to do with that. I didn’t blame them. It was a relatively new term for us, too, even though the more we researched it, the more Eric and I realized we’d been minimalists most of our lives — we just hadn’t had a word for it.

I didn’t talk about it a lot in real life (shocker, I’m sure), but I blogged about it … and my mother would talk to people about it. (Which is cool, Mom, no worries.) I remember getting peppered with questions at the church rummage sale my first year out: What did minimalism mean? (Less stuff, more freedom.) Did we have furniture and pictures on the wall? (Wait, what? And yes.) Was I giving up buying anything ever again? (I wish, it’d make my life easier. But that’s impossible.)

I don’t really have art for this post, so here’s a picture of our cats. Because if there’s one thing the internet needs, it’s more cat photos.

And my very favorite, asked almost defiantly: “Well, but what does your family think about this?”

Short answer: Eric is totally on board, Abby is on board unless you start talking about her books, and Johanna is basically a hoarder. (Or maybe it just feels like it because she can’t keep her room clean to save her life — she likes to see her stuff. Preferably all over her floor.)

It’s kind of been the same with zero waste: What about the girls?

And the short answer, again, is they’re fine.

But that makes for an incredibly short post 😉 , so here’s the longer answer:

I’d been trying to get us to go zero waste for a year or two before I got word that my Simple Year proposal had been accepted for Year 5. I hadn’t managed to get very far — I’d try and fail and get frustrated and totally give up, rinse and repeat — but I was using cloth bags and jars, and carrying around a travel mug for coffee. We were using containers to pack lunches instead of plastic baggies. So the girls were somewhat familiar with the concept.

Although, true story, when Eric and I broke the news to the girls about the project, they were both like, good job Mama, you’re gonna do so great!, which made Eric laugh and me feel sheepish when I had to explain that it was all of us on this train.

Cue the groans and whining and the questions about how long, exactly, do we have to do this? (I’ll let you imagine how well, “Forever, basically,” went over.)

But even with all the protests, they look back on it now and don’t seem too scarred. I just did a quick interview, and this is what they had to say:

Is it harder than you thought it would be? “Yeah,” said Jo. “Because I don’t get any peanut butter.” Yes, you do! “But it’s not, like, Jiff.” (Uh, we’ve never bought Jiff. No offense, Jiff, please don’t sue me.) Are you proud of yourself for doing so good? “I’m doing good?” Do you think being a minimalist makes it easier to be zero waste? “Yeah. Because we already got rid of everything.” (Well, that is actually true.) What would you tell kids whose parents want to go zero waste? “Eat all the ice cream you can before, I guess.” (Uh …) “It’s not so bad. But you don’t get peanut butter. (But) I’m happy I’m helping the environment.” Do any of your classmates think this is weird? “No. I don’t think they know.”

“No, it’s easier than I thought it would be,” said Abby. “That’s probably cocky. It’s probably harder for you because you’re doing all the shopping.” Explain. “I’ve gotten used to it. I like our peanut butter because it’s just straight up peanuts. I thought I was used to it but then I had some Jiff and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s good.’ But other than THAT … it’s not really hard.” (Where are they getting this Jiff? That’s what I should be asking.)

Are you proud of yourself for doing so good? “We’re doing good?” (What is WITH these kids?) Do you think being a minimalist makes it easier? “Yeah, I guess we’re already used to doing without stupid stuff, this just applies to food. I’m a minimalist — I can’t remember the last time I bought something packaged anyway. Maybe’s Jo’s Christmas present.” (Abby bought her a Barbie.) What would you tell kids whose parents want to go zero waste? “Stop whining. The old people aren’t going to save the environment, so you have to. Someone’s gotta do it.” (That kid cuts to the chase, yo. And also, yeah, us old people need young allies.) Do your friends think it’s weird? “It’s a little weird when they come over and I’m like, here, the only thing we have to eat is Mom’s weird granola bar, but I don’t know. I make popcorn sometimes.”

“Their friends don’t think they’re weird, they just think their mom is weird,” Eric just chimed in helpfully.

(What I’m getting out of this is that my kids feel very strongly about food. And that we need to concentrate on non-food items this last quarter. They seem to think that only food can be zero waste.)

Anyway, I think the moral is basically that kids are flexible. They can get used to anything — even not having chips and peanut butter — and they understand that their actions can help or harm the environment.

“It’s basically about making an effort,” Eric said. “And along the way, you have successes and failures, and you figure out what works and what doesn’t. I’m kind of with the girls: At first, it seems daunting, but once you get into it, it’s not as big a deal as you’d think it might be.”

This post kind of got away from me — the words are doing different things than I’d planned — so if anyone has specific questions about zero waste and/or minimalism and the kids, feel free to ask.

Next up: We’re on storm number whatever this is, which will probably mean we’ll be snowed in again. So I’ll plenty of time to write is what I’m saying, even if I don’t have a topic in mind. (Details. So boring.)

19 Responses to Going zero waste with kids

  1. Hello, Trisha! First of all, the “coming out” description is amusing but I’m with you! It’s sometimes difficult to encapsulate what your approach to life means. We need an ‘elevator pitch’!

    Getting the family on board is interesting. Depending on the age of the children, you can model behaviours (if they’re older) or embrace a new way of life (if they’re small, when they just accept it and get on with it).

    I was curious about your comment on buying Jiff. “What is this Jiff?” I wondered. It seems to be peanut butter, but my brain is telling me it’s cream cleaner for the bath (when I was little, Jif was what they now call Cif!).


    • Oh, wait, maybe it IS Jif? Details, so boring. I think we caught our kids at a good age when we embraced minimalism — they weren’t so young that they didn’t understand why we were scaling back, but not old enough to really have ideas about why that was a terrible idea. 😉

  2. And….

    We still buy bottles of e.g. peanut butter. My food processor just can’t cope with making nut butter, although I used to get good results making cashew butter, which was delicious. What we do, however, is recycle every glass bottle and lid. Our local refuse collection service includes a fortnightly recycling collection; the other week is for landfill waste that we have reduced considerably.

    I’d like to reduce waste more, but it’s tricky when you buy food and groceries online in the UK. Even bananas come in bubble wrap packages (which we recycle or reuse).


    • See, I’m incredibly lucky because we have two nut butter machines (almond and peanut) in our bulk section. So all I have do is bring a jar and push a button. But I think this is a good example of doing what you can do with the options presented to you.

  3. Off topic for this post, but on topic for zero waste…..I live in a small town on a small lot. I would love to compost, but how can this be done in a way that doesn’t offend the neighbors or attract the rodents? The ideas I’ve seen so far usually involve buying some largish plastic-y things for storage/aging of said waste.

    • Have you looked into keeping worms for compost? I understand that they compost faster and with less odor than traditional composting. My son is doing a school project on vermicomposting and says that it won’t stink if you add paper/brown stuff in addition to food.

    • Coming out minimalist sounds a lot like coming out vegetarian. “But what does your husband eat?” “But what will the kids eat?” “What about bacon?” “What about the PRO-tein?”

      Our house is weird, too. Everyone’s house is weird, just in their own way. (Even if they get Jiff! Which my kids don’t.) We don’t eat chips. We eat sugar rarely — and that’s not the vegetarian thing, that’s just me being weird.

      • Let’s hear it for weird households! And yes, I bet it is similar. I’m not sure why people feel the need to poke holes in something just because they don’t understand it.

    • I love off topic! But I actually can’t answer this one — don’t have a compost bin because I have a ravine (ahem) — so I’m glad Roberta could give advice!

    • That would be a dream come true! Great article, thanks for sharing! (Loved the photo of the store at the end. So pretty and calm.)

  4. I do have a question about the time you spend preparing meals. In October, my husband and I did one of those cleanse diets with no sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, no prepared food of any kind. I felt like I spent every waking moment in the kitchen preparing salad dressings and marinades….chopping vegetables, ….etc… to make sure everyone had lunch, breakfast, dinner and snacks. Not to mention the time spent researching things to make. Anyway, after we stopped doing it, I noticed a definite uptick in trash, because I do use commercially prepared salad dressings and marinades as well as some other misc. “stuff” (cheese and cheese related products mainly…and wine). Anyway, I know you must have to prepare EVERYTHING and was wondering about your daily (or maybe weekly) time investment for your family.

    • I generally come up with a meal plan on Friday night (I should be doing that now, but I left my planner at work and lack enthusiasm without it), go grocery shopping on Saturday, and then spend part of Sunday doing the bulk of my cooking and prep work. (And still have time to nap and read. Priorities!) I was used to doing a lot of scratch cooking/prep, I guess you’d call it, even before meal planning because my stomach is a jerk and I can’t eat anything with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, which kind of cuts out a lot of options just right off the top. 😉

      But I am very protective of my free time. So I pick what’s important to us: We do make our own salad dressings (actually, that’s Eric’s job) and always have a jar of herb/spice rub in the pantry (quicker than marinading); I make several batches of naan at once and keep it in the freezer for pizza Fridays; I cut up all our veggies for the week (because otherwise no one eats them) and put aside some for a stir fry at the same time; I wash fruit like grapes (or plums in the summer) and put those into jars; I’ll make a double batch of a main dish to keep in the freezer for emergencies; sometimes I’ll make bread, but generally it’s quick like biscuits or muffins or cornbread; I’ll make a big batch of, say, pinto or black beans and then freeze them in jars for later; and I always have “mom’s weird granola bar” because that is literally what I eat for breakfast every single day. Sometimes I cook meat and portion that up for the freezer. But I don’t have to do ALL of that every week. It’s on a rotating, as needed basis.

      (And if I’m tired and decide to just buy bakery bread instead of making it — for me, bread is Eric’s bye item — I’m okay with that. It’s exhausting having to make everything.)

      And I keep my meal plans very simple. No use reinventing the wheel each week. I’ll make something a little more interesting on Sunday that we can also eat Monday, and then we’re just rotating soup, stir fry, tacos, pizza, pasta, panini or frittata.

      If I had to guess, I probably spend 4 hours each Sunday getting stuff ready for the week. It saves a ton of time the rest of the week, so I don’t mind. But I’ve never really paid attention. Maybe I’ll time it this week? Now I’m curious.

  5. We are also on a zero waste mission. Last year I was concentrating mainly on our bathroom waste. This year I plan to focus on our food packaging waste, although I know it’s going to be a long process.

    Glad I found your blog!

    • Oh, that’s awesome — I’ve been mostly focused on food and need to do more on the bathroom / other rooms of the house front. Welcome to the blog!

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