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.)