Life in the zero waste lane

Let’s start out on a tangent: When I was in 7-8th grade, my social studies teacher was fond of saying, “That’s life (huge pause) in the fast lane.” We thought it was hilarious and we quoted him all the time. Incidentally, he’s also the one who taught me how to properly fold a map.

Whew! Now that the words have gotten that out of the way, maybe they’ll let me stay on track. Oh, who am I kidding? The words will do what they want.

I don’t really have art for this post, so here’s a photo of the cherry orchard next door.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately how much our lives have changed in the past year. Some of it is just typical family growing stuff: Abby was a junior when we started, now she’s THIS CLOSE to graduating from high school; Johanna was in fifth grade, and now, in sixth, she’s not only grown taller (well, that’s a given with parents who are 6’2″ and 6′), but has grown so much as a person — middle school is amazing like that; we started the year with one cat (miss you, Skilly) and are ending it with another (hey there, Pearly), with hearts broken over a third (Beary, I’m so sorry!) — and Pearl herself has undergone some changes, settling in and calming down and generally being much happier; my hours at work are ever increasing (I’ve gone from 32 to 37) and hey, I even got a raise; and Eric’s yard projects mean that our almost-acre in the country is that much closer to being tamed.

But a lot of it is related to the project. We’ve been minimalists for several years now, but really focusing on reducing our trash has taken things up a notch. Decluttering the house and the hassle of that made me more careful about bringing in items — how am I going to get rid of this later? — but now I also think about what “getting rid of” means — is this going to be trash? Will I be able to reuse, recycle or compost it? Is anyone actually going to want this if I donate it?

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, to think about that kind of thing upfront, but it does take the joy out of being a consumer. 😉 If you are forced to take personal responsibility for an items’s life … well, that’s just not fun. But it is good to think about.

My mindset further expanded after reading Conscious consumerism is NOT a lie — this is so dumb, you guys, but it never occurred to me that I should be mending items and using them up rather than relying on donating them once I don’t want them anymore. Totally challenged my worldview. Anyway, I’m looking at everything in my house in a different way now.

And I’m much better about consistently using durables rather than giving myself a pass if I forget — no disposable coffee cups, no one-use plastic bags or take out boxes. Before the project, I was pretty good about it, but if I forgot, I figured “one time” wasn’t going to hurt. Now I just do without. And I usually don’t have to do without because I’ve got my bases covered. It’s nice to be on autopilot with that kind of thing.

Our zero waste year has made Eric more mindful as well. Again, as minimalists, we don’t bring in a lot anyway, but he’s really stepped up his game at the store. Using cloth bags — or no bags — for produce or getting meat in a jar doesn’t faze him. I’m actually really touched by how Eric has embraced this — he knows it’s important to me, but he’s taken it on for himself. He might not be as thorough about it as I am — he brought home a new covered litter box recently for Bear because that poor cat was making such a mess — but for the most part, he’s on it. (And, in defense of the litter box, I’m not the one who has to clean it, so …)

I’ve said this before, and it continues to be true: The girls are great about zero waste when it’s easy for them — reusable lunch containers, water bottles, lunch bags, and general systems already in place — and less great when it’s up to them — Johanna’s art supplies, Abby’s tendency towards convenience. Minimalism has been much easier for them to embrace, maybe because we’ve always leaned that way and they grew up with that. Instead of gnashing my teeth and worrying about their zero waste futures, however, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these lessons have made an impact deep down and, when they’re out there on their own (oh my God, is Abby really graduating?!) they’ll take it on more for themselves. The world is going to look very different even a decade from now; it will be interesting to see how they fit into that picture, just because what’s normal to them isn’t normal to most of the world.

Oh, P.S., Johanna went to a joint birthday-slumber party this weekend, and instead of buying gifts, she made them — reused a canvas to make a multi-media kind of extravaganza for one friend, and made a (rather adorable and remarkable) jewelry box for the other using a cereal box in the recycling closet that she covered in paper, then added one of her homemade charms inside. Totally her idea. That’s a perk of having an artist in the family.

Our zero waste year has even spilled over to my parents (hey, parents!) and in-laws (hey, in-laws!). I love hearing about their little victories, and appreciate so much how they keep our lifestyle in mind — the Easter leftovers in my mother’s containers, the adorable reusable shopping bag my favorite mother-in-law brought me from their trip. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t expect such an openness to the project from those we know in real life. I so, so appreciate it.

Next up: More ramblings and thoughts. We’ve got this week, and probably next, and then The Simple Year will turn over to our new blogger, so I’m trying to tie up loose ends. Including why V’s canned tomatoes tasted metallic. (I haven’t had much luck with my experts getting back to me. I’ve thought of a new route.)

11 Responses to Life in the zero waste lane

  1. Ok, so maybe I’m just being nosy, but I’ve been wondering what Abby is doing next year? I have a freshman, but we’re already looking at college for him, and I’ve been wondering what is ahead for Abby. (If I’m too intrusive, you don’t have to answer!)

    • Not at all! Abby will be in the school of nursing at a Washington university starting in August, I think. (I’d rather not give the name in a public forum, but I’d totally email it to you.) She’s really excited. She also just started a summer job, a little early, and that’s been a bit of a struggle because her classes this year are HARD and she’s trying to juggle both. (She just needs to adjust her hours until summer hits. What is obvious at 44 is not obvious at 17.)

      Looking at colleges is fun! Santa Clara was on her list for a while, so we went to visit a couple summers ago. She decided it was too sunny (!). We thought it was gorgeous, but hey, if she wants to stay in the Pacific Northwest, who are we to deter her? 😉 We also visited Stanford, not on her list, but we were in the area. Sprawling!

      • Thanks for letting me know. Nursing is a great field — I have a niece who is just finishing up her degree in nursing, and she is thrilled with both the study and her options upon graduation. After a year, I feel a little bit invested in how your kids are doing. (I understand too sunny. We dream up moving up to the Pacific Northwest for the rain and the green.)

        • We have a niece who’s a nurse and she’s found it very rewarding, and was able to get a job without a lot of trouble. That’s kind of why Abby picked it … she wants to do something in the medical field, but doesn’t want to be a doctor because it would take too long. (Our friend Alex, who passed in February, was trying to get her on a physicians assistant track — that’s what he was — but so far she’s held firm on nursing.)

          I’m a big fan of the Pac NW. Lived here all my life though, so I am perhaps a tad biased.

          • Good for Abby! Nursing is so flexible, so many options and opportunities. I’m going to miss your voice on this blog, but hope to meet up in HR or Portland!

  2. Heh, can’t believe you remembered that!

    I’m sure there will be more chances to say it, but I just wanted to put it out there now – your year has been an absolute delight to read. Thank you.

    • I can’t believe it’s taken me so long! No one seems to know, but I have one more person I can talk to.

      And thank you. I appreciate that. It’s been super fun!

  3. I also want to say how much I have truly enjoyed reading your posts, thank you so much for allowing us into your life, your posts have been so inspirational. Oh I’m gonna miss hearing from you! I just thought I better say a few lines now while I have a moment. Thanks again for an entertaining and inspirational year and I would be so interested to hear in a year or two how the girls have taken (or not) all of this on board!

  4. This is something I am hoping to start. Our bins, both refuse and recycling are always overflowing and I’m sure there is a way I can reduce this I just need to start small. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Starting small is smart — it’s too easy to get overwhelmed otherwise. If you’re looking for advice on where to start, taking a reusable mug or water bottle, or making a lunch in reusable containers yields quick results but isn’t a lot of work. Good luck!

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