One Small Step: buy less stuff

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For challenge 2 in One Small Step, our simple sustainability journey,  I ratcheted up the challenge level a few notches.

Because oh, my, if this one doesn’t get to the heart of the matter–on so many levels.

When we master this step, our impact spills over into all of the other sustainability goals that we may have (like generating less trash, using less fossil fuels, etc.). I’m not going to lie–this step is a doozy. And while I might have waited until we were a little more warmed up, today felt like the right time–especially as here in America, Black Friday looms ever nearer.

This week’s challenge? Buy less stuff. 

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Less clothing, less housewares, less gadgets, less toys–less stuff.

Because when we buy fewer things, both we and the earth benefit. We learn to make due, we learn to make repairs, we learn to make connections. And we lighten our impact on the earth in countless ways.

And when we buy fewer things we may just discover how little we truly need, and how–not surprisingly–we’re happier without all the excess.

Less things mean less resource extraction, less pollution, less human exploitation, less packaging, and less obsolete products heading to the landfill. It’s a win on every level.

But is it easier said than done?

Not if we shift our habits and think clearly about what and why we’re buying. And then start in earnest from where you stand today. You don’t need to become a zero waste master to participate. You only need to begin.

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Why we buy + the business of selling

Why we shop is a pandora’s box of human nature. Your reasons and mine are surely different, but for most of us it’s often more than just filling a tangible, physical need.

We’re not only buying necessities. And in most cases, the things that we buy leave our lives as rapidly as they came. Just 6 months after purchase, only 1% of the things we buy are still in use! 1%!*

So why are we buying–then tossing–so much stuff in America and western society in general? For most of us, one or more of the “why we buy” reasons below are at the root of their purchases. (Confession: even I relate to some of these.)

Why We Buy

  • Marketing makes promises that compels us to buy
  • Shopping is entertaining or fun
  • We feel an emotional lift when we buy
  • We’re in a hurry and don’t have time to seek out a more sustainable solution
  • We are disorganized and can’t find the things we already own
  • Convenience drives our purchases
  • We don’t want to disappoint a child or other loved one by not buying
  • We’re trying to buy the intangible (a feeling)
  • We don’t want to miss out

But when we find healthier ways to navigate our complex human emotions and look objectively at our purchases before we make them, we can unplug from the cycle of mindless consumption.

Only then can our purchases can be needs-driven, and can we can look more objectively at the stuff we welcome into our lives.

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The Business of Selling

When I was a business coaching client, one of the primary messages our coach drove home was this: You never sell a product. You only sell a feeling.

Happiness, belonging, abundance, beauty, love, relaxation, joy, freedom, fun, health. These are the feelings we are seeking when we buy new Ipods and jewelery, pressure cookers and blenders, dress shoes and gaming systems. And while there is truth that sometimes we buy things that deliver those feelings, mostly they miss the mark.

Because we can’t buy joy, belonging, abundance, or any of those feelings. We can only buy things that–for a fleeting moment–help us tap us into that emotion. Then the feeling fades and we’re searching (or shopping) once more, in an effort to regain it.

But when we keep our money in our pockets and find other paths to entertainment and connection, we are far happier than when we attempt to shop our way there. And the earth reaps the rewards when we make this shift as well.

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Buying Less: a simple how-to

Buying less is a deceptively simple challenge, because you decide how far you want to go. Do you have to be zero-waste and shun all things new? Of course not. In order to participate, all you have to do is begin. Then move as slowly (or as quickly) as you wish toward less shopping, less buying, less stuff.

The seven steps below will help you stay focused and mindful about the things you purchase, and ease your transition toward less consumption. (One afflink follows the irony of which is not lost on me). 

1. Use what you have

So often we’re lured by faster, fancier, newer, shinier. But is more really better? Before you buy, decide if you truly need that new item. Sometimes a one week waiting period will help cool your fire, and you’ll realized that you don’t need it after all (this is why most sales run for a short period of time, to seduce you into buying things immediately before you have a chance to think more objectively about your purchase).

Avoid items that only do one job (I’m looking at you, banana slicer), and extend the useful life of your belongings by repairing them when they break or tear (this booklet and this book have been such a gift for us for upping our mending game).

2. Borrow what you can

We all don’t need to own all the things that we use. Just last week, my daughter called up one of our friends to ask if we could borrow their angel food cake pan. We borrowed it for her birthday (the second time in six years), then returned it the next week when we were in the neighborhood.

Borrowing not only reduces the number of things we each must own, store, maintain, and clean, it helps build community and connection when we borrow from friends and neighbors. Win-win!

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3. Choose second hand

If you do decide you wish to own something (say, if I’m suddenly hooked on angel food cake, and baking one every week), seek out that item second-hand before buying new. Second-hand goods are an environmentally sustainable choice, because your purchase keeps someone else’s buying decision out of the landfill.

Thrifting the things that we need can take time and patience, so plan ahead. Keep an eye out for a suitably sized pair of snow pants before that blizzard hits, for example. I often thrift with a list of items we’re in need of, knowing that it might take a few months of patient searching before we tick everything off the list. When my kids were younger, I kept a list in my wallet of the items and sizes that we needed for future season’s clothing, footwear, and outerwear. It helped prevent me from buying duplicates, while stocking up for the months to come.

Yard sales, thrift stores, and even clothing swaps are all great options for picking up some low-impact, second-hand goods.

4. Make you own

While it is not always possible, there are many instances when you can DIY an item off of your shopping list (bonus points of you can use some upcycled materials). You don’t have to be crafty to follow a simply online tutorial for whacking together a shelf, knitting up some mittens, or stitching yourself a zip bag.

If you’ve never made things before, this challenge is a great opportunity to develop some of this skills that your great-grandfather and great-grandmother had. Learning to work with a hammer and saw, a sewing machine, or a needle and thread will give you a skill you can use for a lifetime. Connect with a crafty friend or neighbor to learn some new skills, or contact your local university extension or folk school for assistance.

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5. Where from?

So you’ve looked over the list above, and decided that you really do need to purchase something new. (It happens to all of us, more often than we’d like.) What now?

Before you dive in, consider where the item you purchase is from. Where it was made (and from what), where it has traveled, and where you choose to buy it all matter, and all impact the environmental footprint of your purchase.

Was your product made on the other side of the planet, or closer to home? Is it made of sustainable materials, or synthetics? Is it toxic or nontoxic? In each of these decisions, choose the past of lowest impact when your options and budget allow.

Remember, a high quality item will be more expensive today, but cheaper (and more sustainable) in the long run, because it won’t need replacement as soon as a cheaper model will.

Consider the packaging as well. If you have a choice that’s free of excessive packaging and another that’s shrink-wrapped, bubble-packed, and triple bagged, choose the first option.

And finally, if you have the choice between buying from a big box store (online or otherwise) or a small, locally owned shop, choose the latter.

6. Shop with a list

When you embark to make your purchase, let your shopping list serve as your force field. Don’t be distracted by the cute, shiny, fast, fancy new products that call to you with their seductive siren songs as you walk through Target. Buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. Jot down things that call to you, and come back in a week (or a month) if you really need them.

7. Give conscious gifts

And finally, give better gifts. Our kids don’t need more plastic toys, we don’t need more whirring gadgets. Don’t throw the planet under the bus because you feel obligated to buy a present. Instead, give mindfully.

One blog reader here mentioned that she’s gifting freezer meals to her loved ones this year. We handcraft most of our gifts, and also give our sustainable body care. Consumable gifts and zero-waste gifts are always a win. Or make thoughtful donations to organizations doing good out there in the world.

Need more ideas? I shared 101 toy-free children’s gift ideas here, and many of them are zero-consumption/zero-waste, to boot.

What would you add to the list above? How do you keep too much stuff from coming into your life, especially at this time of year? 

* Only 1% of items purchased new are still in use after 6 months. Did this statistic blow your mind like it did mine? Watch the full video below for more staggering facts, and inspiration on why less stuff is good for the planet (and for our happiness).

 

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts below.

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

 

One small step: Swap plastic bottles of soap for bars (plus a DIY liquid soap recipe)

One Small Step toward sustainability: swap plastic bottles of soap for bars.

Last week my 12 year old daughter and I jotted down a list of over 50 small, simple steps we all can take to change the world. We wrote down ideas for kitchen and bathroom, travel and housekeeping, dining out and gardening. So many fun, simple ideas to empower us all to make positive change.

But where should we begin this journey? Well, that was easy. Because our family runs a small, organic soap company. So why not start with the place that is nearest and dearest to our hearts?

With soap.

Nearly all of us have soap (or something like it) at our bathroom and kitchen sinks; in our showers or at our bathtubs. But have we given much thought to the type that we’ve chosen?

Because all soaps and cleansing washes are not created equal, and upping our sustainability game while we’re cleaning up is one small step toward a healthier planet.

Are you ready to dive in with our first small step? Me, too. Let’s get started.

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Kick the bottle

If your soap/body wash/facial cleanser comes in a plastic bottle, the first thing to question is that packaging.

Just 9% of plastic is recycled world-wide. That’s a tiny fraction of plastic produced, with the bulk ending up in landfills, and a smaller percentage either being incinerated or ending as litter in our communities, country sides, oceans and waterways.

Is recycling a better option? Absolutely. But even much of the plastic that we toss in the recycling bin (trusting that it won’t end up in the waste stream) ends up dumped in landfills anyway.

Recycling, the go-to environmental action of the 1990’s, is certainly a small step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Reducing our frivolous use of plastic needs to come first.

But there’s more to it than the impact of that bottle. Soap, body wash, and other bubbles sold in plastic bottles are made mostly of water. This adds to shipping weight, overall carbon footprint, and even the cost per use for you, the consumer.

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Bars are better

Doesn’t soap need to come in a bottle? No way. High quality bar soaps are gentle on the skin, long-lasting, and in most cases involve no plastic waste. What would your great grandma have used? Simple, natural bar soap, of course.  No bottle, no waste, no fuss.

Here at LüSa Organics, we even offer our bar soaps “naked”. These zero-waste bars come without any packaging at all. (A 100% post-consumer recycled paper box is a second option for most varieties.)

We also sell the scraps, end cuts, and imperfect bars instead of landfilling them, making for a soap that truly is zero-waste.

Not all bars are created equal

Before you head to the corner store to stock up on bar soap, be aware: many of the things we refer to as “soap” isn’t. They are actually synthetic detergent bars. So read those ingredients, lists, won’t you? If possible, avoid synthetic preservatives, fragrances, colorants, and added alcohol which wreaks havoc on sensitive skin. While these synthetic bars do lack the bottle, they can be harsh for your skin and the environment.

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Photo by Alyson Morgan

What about kids?

We hear a lot of concerns from adults about children mangling bar soaps at the sink. “We need liquid soap,” they reason. “Or my kid will trash a bar of soap in one washing!”

We hear you. We had a pint-sized soap-strangler in the house for years. (Yes, they outgrow it.) And while our solution was to provide them with a smaller scratch-and-dent bar of their own, our friend Alyson took things one step further for her littles. She cuts a full-sized bar into tiny cubes, just right for small hands.

These cute little bars stand up to poking and prodding, and create less soap waste than handing your toddler a full-sized bar in the bath.

Natural bar soaps like LüSa are a breeze to cut with a sturdy kitchen knife, but mass produced detergent bars as well as more heavily processed bar soaps can crumble under the knife. Test the bar you use to see if it’s a match.

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DIY Liquid Soap

Okay, so I haven’t convinced you to kick the soap bottle for good? Then how about you refill the bottle you already own with your homemade? All it takes is a scrap of good soap, some water, and a few minutes of your time.

Full disclosure: this liquid won’t lather like the store-bought kind, nor will the texture be what you’re accustom to from a liquid (it’s more viscous). But it will be a safe, healthy, plastic-free liquid option for those who want one–and if you use high quality soap like LüSa, it won’t dry your skin.

Ready to dive in? Here’s my how-to!

DIY Liquid Soap Recipe

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

  • 1 oz high quality bar soap (scraps or Scratch-and-Dent bars are great)
  • 4 cups of water

Equipment

  • Box grater or heavy duty kitchen knife
  • Cooking pot
  • Whisk

Instructions

  1. Grate or mince your bar soap. Weigh out 1 ounce of shreds. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, aim for 1/4 of a full-sized bar.
  2. Add soap shreds to a cooking pot with 4 cups of water.
  3. Place over medium heat, whisking occasionally until all of your soap chunks are dissolved. (I hurried this process along with a submersible blender, but a whisk alone will suffice.) Do not whip into a froth (though some bubbles are to be expected).
  4. Your soap solution will be very thin and milky in appearance. Cover and allow to cool overnight, or until the mixture reaches room temperature.
  5. The next morning, your soap mixture will have thickened considerably and will now resemble a pet jellyfish. Don’t despair! Grab your trusty whisk, and give it another vigorous whisking. Do not use an electric whisk unless you want to make roughly a gallon of shaving foam that you will never be able to convince to become a liquid again. Ask me how I know.
  6. Transfer your liquid to a repurposed soap bottle, and store the rest in a quart-sized mason jar until needed.

Note: you may need to shake your liquid on occasion, as some separation is normal. Add additional water if desired for a thinner soap, or dissolve in more grated soap for a thicker mix.

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How we make it

Just for fun, I wanted to share a peek into how we make our bar soaps here at LüSa Organics.

Because I think where the goods we use come from matters. And going back to how our great-grandparents did things (in some regards) is a step in the right direction.

Our process is low-tech, and begins with just organic, pressed oils (normally sunflower, olive, and coconut–never palm oil) and a carefully measured sodium hydroxide solution. These are combined, then gently stirred until the mixture begins to thicken. When it reached the consistency of pudding, it’s ready to pour.

If the soap is a scented one, now is when we stir in our essential oils, then the soap is poured into a butcher paper-lined soap mold. The bars are set to rest in an insulated room for three days.

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Here the soap continues to work its magic (aka: chemistry!) and it goes through a series of stages of exothermic heating, becoming a gel-like liquid, then solidifying. This moment is when it’s time to unmold the soap and cut the blocks into bars (by hand with our people-powered soap cutter) before it becomes to hard to easily slice.

The finished soaps are carefully shelved in our soap curing room where they mellow and harden for one month before heading out the door to sinks, tubs, and showers everywhere.

The whole process is simple, organic, and low-tech. What’s not to love about that?

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P.S. If you’d like to try LüSa bar soap for the first time (or if you already love us and would simply enjoy a little bonus bar), add a note of “kicking the soap bottle” to any LüSa Organics order and we’ll throw in a 2 to 3 oz. sample scratch-and-dent bar when we ship your order! With our thanks (offer valid through 12/31/19).

Have you already made the switch from bottles to bars? Was it challenging for your family? What do you love most about bars instead of bottles?  Leave a comment below sharing your experience.

Explore more statistics about plastic production, use, recycling, and waste here.

Scroll below to the green signup box, then add your email address. When I add more posts to the blog and the One Small Step series, I’ll drop you a note.

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Photos 2, 3, 6, and 9-13 by Ray + Kelly Photography.

onesmallstep

One small step: A year of small actions with huge impact

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I’ve been thinking a lot about our planet and our future lately, and the changes we need to make in order to shift our trajectory as citizens of this lovely blue sphere. It’s something my kids and their friends are thinking a lot about too. But so often progress feels painfully slow.

I’ve been contemplating how daunting change can be, even for those of us with the best of intentions.

Our lives are busy enough without adding “saving the world” to our daily to-do list. And so we look away.

We feel overwhelmed with where to even begin, and so we don’t.

But climate change, pollution, microplastics, global extinction, and looming environmental disaster is everyone’s problem–and everyone’s job to fix. There’s no more time to look away.

And while our governments need to step up globally and act with urgency and without delay, I believe that this holds true for each of us as well.

We can’t just wait for them. We need to do something, too.

And so I decided to take one small step of my own.

Over the next year, I am committing to post a small, weekly challenge that you can take up to help reduce plastic usage, combat climate change, curb fossil fuel dependency, or otherwise have a positive global impact. Small, manageable, dare I say enjoyable shifts toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

These weekly challenges can be tackled on your own, with your kids or partner, or with your community. I’ll share quick and simple swap-outs, easy DIYs, back-to-basics recipes, and other ideas that you can make your own and share with the world, reducing waste and reducing your environmental footprint.

In short, changes that would make your great-grandmother proud.

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These aren’t huge life changes, either. They are small, simple, and accessible shifts that almost anyone can make. Yet they add up to a meaningful formula for change.

Each week, a new challenge. Each week a new way to lighten your footprints on Mother Earth. Once a week, a little something to empower you to keep going, to keep transforming, to keep doing something.

To keep making change.

Together these steps will transform the way you look at your habits, your impact, your children’s future, and the world.

Because change needs to start now, and it needs to start with each of us. And when we add one small step to another, week after week our impact is magnified.

Share these challenges with your friends and neighbors, gather with community to tackle them together, and now we’ve created something. Now small is magnified exponentially and we’re generating change on a bigger scale.

Because it matters. The earth is ready for us all to take action–one small step at a time. indeed, she needs us to.  Because there is no planet B.

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Will you join me?

Sign up through the link below to be added to the LüSa Organics Blog email list. (Click here if you don’t see the link, then sign up with the green form at the bottom of the page.) Then each week when I post a new update, I’ll send you a link to the content. Join in the conversation in the comments below, challenge me when what I ask of you feels discordant or if I’m making assumptions from my place of privilege, expect the best of yourself and one another. And let’s do better, together.

Are you in?

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Be here, now.

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When my children were small, perhaps two and six, I posted on a local email list that I was in search of second-hand wooden toys for my kids. A local man, maybe 20 years my senior, responded and invited me to stop by for some things he had set aside.

Standing in his driveway a few blocks from my home, he handed me a box containing a wooden catapult and a few other 15 or 20 year-old treasures. I thanked him, and he nodded, then looked me straight in the eyes and said, “If I can give you one piece of advice in life it’s this: play with your kids. Get down on the ground, push them in the swing, run around in the yard. Because one minute you’re down on the floor, roaring like a dinosaur, and the next minute they’re grown and gone. And it happens in an instant. So just be sure you enjoy them.”

I never forgot.

Ten years later, I attended a friend’s wedding. The groom was his youngest son. I pulled the father aside after the ceremony, my strangely tall, suddenly grown children off on adventures of their own, and said, “Years ago you gave me some wonderful advice.” I reminded him of what he said, so poignant on that day, and we both cried a little. I thanked him for sharing his wisdom with me that decade before. We shared a few more tears and a hug, then went off to celebrate with the bride and groom.

So, friends, if I were to offer you what Robert offered me, it would be this small piece of advice: never lose yourself in the day-to-day minutia or the false search for perfection. Take care of yourself, and take care of the things that keep you sane. But then make time to laugh, to play, to roar like a dinosaur.

Because before you know it, the world will have tilted on it’s axis once more, and there will be no small ones occupying your arms.

Be here. Right now. Sharing peals of laughter with these little ones who adore you; these humans who are so lucky as to have you by their side, while the stretch their wings and soar.

Are you mother enough?

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Sometimes you wonder.

After the hard days.

When you were not at your best.

You wonder, in secret, where no one will hear.

Am I mother enough?

Because you see them around you. Those other mothers. In your town and on your screen.

Gentle.

Peaceful.

Patient.

Kind.

They parent with grace and with joy.

Always.

In the flow, harmonious. Children smiling and holding hands, while your kids whine and fight.

And your baby cries.

Again.

And you question if you even know what you’re doing.

Because if you did, the children wouldn’t argue. And the baby wouldn’t cry.

Constantly.

So you must be doing it wrong.

Of course you’re doing it wrong.

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And so you wonder. And you doubt.

Am I wearing her enough? Am I breastfeeding enough? Should we co-sleep more?

But sometimes you’re all touched out.

Am I patient enough? Present enough? Nurturing enough?

But sometimes you just need a damn break from it all.

Am I good enough? Am I strong enough?

Am I enough?

And then, probably, you decide that you are not.

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Because sometimes you yell. You say words you regret. Because you didn’t babywear or breastfeed or co-sleep at all. Because sometimes dinner comes from the drive-thru, and they watch too much TV.

Because sometimes the thoughts in your head are dark and shameful.

Because every day ends with regret.

And all around you are those mamas who make you feel inadequate without even trying. Those mothers with stardust in their eyes. And when you look at them you measure yourself and you know what you suspected all along.

You are not enough.

Sometimes you curse this life you made and all the smallness that surrounds you.

But mostly you curse yourself for your shortcomings.

And then the baby cries.

Again.

Or your children set to arguing.

Again.

And you know you’re right.

Of course you’re right.

You’re not enough.

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Oh, but sister. Hear me when I say:

You are so much more than enough.

You are good enough.

You are loving enough.

You are mother enough.

 

You are brilliantly, beautifully – yes! – the mama your children came here to find.

No, you aren’t perfect. But none of us are.

No one has it all dialed in. We have all made mistakes. Even the “Dali Mamas” around you. This I know is true.

And every day you are learning and growing and evolving. You are becoming.

And you are their mama.

The one they came here for.

And for all of your flaws, they are sheltered by you.

They know love because your love is fierce.

And they learn to get up when they fall and try again by watching you.

And best of all, they know they don’t have to be perfect to be enough.

What a gift that is.

And also know this:

As that mama who seems to have it together, I have never been more humbled in my mothering than when I see you keep your head just above water as the rapids around you churn.

 

Yes, mama. I see you.

And I’m humbled.

Now it’s time to see yourself.

So are you enough?

Heck yes you are.

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More inspiration…

There is no label for what you do.

Stop comparing.

What I need.

Ten ways to rock your parenting, where ever you are.

What I did not know: reflections on motherhood.

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Originally published on my personal blog, Rachel Wolf Clean, in 2013