Environment

Summer Goals: Stop Wasting Food

Perhaps the greatest joy of summer are the long, wild weekends spent exploring, connecting with friends, disconnecting from the daily tangle of the interwebs, celebrating birthdays and weddings, and visiting with my ever-growing (taller) and every-expanding (#5 arriving in September!) pack of nieces and nephews.

Sure, we come home each Sunday night with clothes covered in dust and reeking of campfire. And somehow miscellaneous sticky substances always end up caught in Bodhi's fur. And lord knows the transition back to work on Monday morning isn’t always easy. 

But the hardest thing about these weekends away is that we tend to waste food. Sometimes a lot of it.

All seasons require transitions: from what we wear to what we eat to the time of our pup’s sunset walk. While I’ve gotten much more accustomed to enjoying seasonal food, I struggle with the requirement of the summer season: having just enough in our fridge to last the 4 or so days between our adventures. 

I've tried to pack up the whole fridge's contents into our cooler if we’re driving and have learned a number of lessons (mostly involving smashed, spoiled, or "freezer burned" produce from packing, moving, and direct contact with melting ice:).

I felt a twinge of guilt when we returned home from our first long trip in May and had to remove a bunch of produce from our stinky fridge. But then I'd shrug my shoulders and reassure myself, It's ok, we will do better next time. At least we compost!

But this stinky fridge/food waste has happened now several times. It seems to a habit we (and by we, I mean I) struggle with breaking: buying too much yummy food and the leaving it to go bad. 

If it's a priority, you can make the time.

I learned from my wise little sister a trick that has had a profound impact on me: don't ever say "I'm too busy." We all have the same amount of time each day and the truth is that the things that are most important to us somehow always get done. So instead of giving the excuse "I'm too busy" try out stating this more honest reason something didn't get done, "It's not a priority." 

If that feels fine to say, then voila! You can cut out that commitment/habit/obligation/activity without guilt. Such sweet clarity!

However, if that feels icky, this act of saying that something isn’t a priority, then you know you need to make a change. 

The truth is that not being wasteful is a priority for me. A very big one. 

I can't even get out the phrase "Not wasting food isn't a priority for me" without my palms getting sweaty and my anxiety spiking as I picture tossing out my local farmer's precious tended to crops (and wasting all the energy used to grow, transport, purchase, clean, and store it). 

So it's clear what has to happen: I have to stop wasting food asap. I'm a few weeks into my waste-free experiment and I wanted to share what has worked for me so far.

 

My 4 tricks for a (food) waste-free summer:

1) Meal plan. 

As with most things in life, having a plan reduces all kinds of waste. If we know we're home for only 4-5 days, Cam and I now plan out and shop for 3 dinners as well as basics for breakfast and lunch.  We find that three meals can often leave us with leftover ingredients or meal leftovers, both of which make excellent lunches or dinners for that week. For breakfast Cam and I each always have the same thing—omelette for him, green smoothie for me—and we know exactly what 4-5 days of each require ingredient wise. Precisely that (plus a bag of salty snacks and a sweet desert) is now all that ends up on our list. 

2) Get creative/be flexible. 

Many artists will tell you that working with a restricted palette helps to expand their creativity. The same rule holds true for cooking with a limited amount of ingredients—you'd be surprised how much fun and how delicious experimental meals can be! Yes, you might end up eating goofy combos (asian stir fry and quesadillas anyone?) or having breakfast for dinner, but some rules were simply meant to be broken.

3) Find adaptable recipes. 

Some types dishes are simply more forgiving than others. Think of the thousands of ways you can eat pasta or breadth of items that can be savored in a salad—these types of meals are your best friend the night before you head out of town. Personally, I find that a base of quinoa with some salad greens goes well with just about anything that might be lurking in my produce drawers: fried eggs, teriyaki tofu, roasted or fermented veggies, all kinds of fruit. You can't go wrong. 

4) Keep a few crucial staples on hand...

There are a few items with longer shelf lives that I always keep around: garlic and onion, a grain or two (rice, quinoa, pasta), a few cans of tomatoes, and dried or canned beans. A very simple meal couple be made out of just these items and the very dredges of your fridge.

5)... And a frozen meal for when times get desperate.

We also always keep a couple of Amy's frozen meals or burritos in the freezer. These guys come can be lifesavers when we're busy packing or arrive home late and have an empty fridge (success!). 

What are your tricks for dealing with food when you go out of town? Are you someone who travels a lot year round? What habits have you adopted for longterm success?

Please share!

What is "Waste"?

image // via 

"I can't get rid of that! It's in perfectly good shape—I don't want to waste it."

I couldn't begin to count the number of times a lovely client has said some version of the line above. Kyle or I will be holding up an object and encouraging the client the consider donating it, but the powerful urge to "not be wasteful" prevents them from letting go.  

Mind you that most of the items in question are unused, often never-used. Sometimes the items  are still in their original boxes or still have their tags on. Frequently they're covered with dust, so far in the back of the pantry or the bottom of the closet that the very same client did not realize they still owned that item until we excavated it for them.  

These unneeded belongings take up precious physical and psychic space in our clients homes and yet they seem to hold some power over otherwise very astute and self-aware people.

Why would we rather keep items we never have and almost certainly never will use—things that are only in our way, clogging our homes and weighing on our minds—than let them go?  

Why is it viewed as wasteful to donate something that you don't need, but it's not wasteful to let that same item expire in the pantry, dry up in the cupboard, or go out of style in the closet?

The most thoughtful and comprehensive answer I've ever heard to that question was shared with me by a ZenDesk employee when Kyle and I spoke at their headquarters last month. 

This gentleman grew up in rural seaside Scandinavia where there simply wasn't opportunity to acquire many possessions. Items were hard to come by and expensive, therefore objects that were purchased were done so very mindfully and items owned were taken care of and mended exquisitely. 

Even as greater wealth and connection to commercial centers rose throughout his childhood and early adulthood, his culture's way of relating to objects did not change: things were to be acquired only with great intention and taken care of with great thought. There was no mindless online shopping, no shopping as hobby or habit, no President's Day Sales binges. He was taken aback when he moved to America; shocked by the constant high level of acquisition we seem to be in, even as our homes already overflow with stuff. 

Through his observations of his friends and co-workers he arrived at the following conclusion: in America it's viewed as wasteful to give up "perfectly good" items that you've already acquired, while in Scandinavia it's viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

In America it’s viewed as wasteful to give up “perfectly good” items that you’ve already acquired, while in Scandinavia it’s viewed as wasteful to acquire things beyond your needs to begin with.

We need to redefine "waste" and our relationship to it.

At New Minimalism we fully support our clients' noble desire not to waste. In fact, we want to strengthen and emphasize that no-waste muscle—we also want to apply it earlier in the consumption lifecycle as the Scandinavians do. 

By the time an item enters your home, most of the wastefulness has already occurred: money has been spent, resources have been used up, and an object we never needed gets added to the pile of underutilized items. 

Typical donations haul from a single day session with a client. 

So let's all go Scandinavian.

Americans are already in love with Scandinavian design and the cozy, candlelit hygge trend. What if the quickest way to live this lifestyle is not by buying more flannel blankets or wishbone chairs but by embracing the root cause of this elegant, refined way of life: greatly reduced, intentional, kind consumption?

Maybe is was embrace that Scandinavian definition of waste—instead of acquiring, storing, tending to, paying off so much stuff—we too will have time to light a dozen candles and have a relaxing weeknight meal with friends!

The Great Unsubscribe, aka: Dealing with Junk Mail

I tend to prefer my paper to be in the form of trees.  Image via.

Since moving to Idaho, I've become even more passionate (read: fairly obsessed) with the idea of creating a zero waste home.  

This is somewhat ironic considering that I just left the epicenter of green living for a state that bleeds red.  The godmother of the zero waste lifestyle, Bea Johnson, lived just ten minutes from me in the Bay Area.  Grocery stores were optimized to reduce packaging.  San Francisco set a goal that as an entire city to send NOTHING to the landfills by 2020.  

They made this habit easy on residents and stores by providing recycling and compost bins which they picked up weekly alongside our dwindling trash bins.  

So how fitting for my stubborn, rebellious little green soul to decide now that I live in a city that doesn't recycle glass that I want to seriously zero waste-ify my home.

And yet, of course, the timing really does make sense.  Part of why I loved San Francisco so much was being surrounded by people who shared my environmental sensibilities.  It was made easy for us all to live lightly.  Heck, an entire terminal at San Francisco International airport only served food in compostable containers -- "If you bought it here, it can be composted" read the signs.  

But part of what happens when you are surrounded by compostable, post-consumer recycled objects in a city of hippies is that you get lazy.  Or at least complacent.  You don't necessarily have to try that hard to live lightly.  And you get to be a judgy little a-hole when you go to a *gasp* non-coastal city who isn't quite as innovative in the green arena.  Long story short, it's easy to eco-friendly in the Bay Area.

I figure that if I can be zero waste in Boise, Idaho -- a state equally known for it's love of potatoes, the second amendment and fly fishing -- then it can be done anywhere.

First up on my list of things to tackle: Mail.  

#RUDE

It appears that the absolutely lovely people who owned our home before us liked to shop by catalog as a new one pops up at our door daily.  Literally, every single day.  While my specific goal is to produce no trash and paper can of course be recycled, it nonetheless feels obscenely wasteful to get a hundred pages of paper in the mail each day to only be placed straight in the blue bing.  

It also appears that USPS must have sold our new address info to a million and one home goods and supplies stores, because we are getting non-stop flyers and coupons for every store in town.

And on a related note, the ultimate asshat award goes to: Restoration Hardware who sent me TWO separate thousand-plus-page catalogues, all wrapped up in plastic.  Apparently they've been doing this since 2014 and have continued even after receiving repeated complaints.  #nevergettingmybusiness #notthaticouldaffordyouanyways #dicks

HOW TO ZERO WASTE: YOUR MAIL

1) Catalog Choice.  This amazing, free service allows you to create a profile for yourself (and any past residents of your home) in order to rapidly unsubscribe from catalogs and other mailings.  I've been using this service for years, but it's come particularly in handy with our most recent move.  (Pro tip: create profiles for "Current Resident" and "To Our Friends At" to stop those generic mailings as well.)

2) Call them up.  There are a couple of companies whom CatalogChoice isn't able to help with unsubscribing from.  For those companies, simply find their number on the back of the catalog, call them up and ask to be removed from their mailings.  When asked why I no longer wish to receive their company's catalog, I usually say something along the lines of, "I do all of my shopping online and don't want to waste precious paper."  The super sweet workers at L.L. Bean seemed to appreciate that:)

3) Fill out change of address forms for former residents at the Post Office.  If you, like us, have really kind former residents and you happen to know their new address, you can do this for them.  Otherwise you can write "no forwarding address."  The good news is that this tends to be implemented rapidly (unlike catalogs which can take 6-8 weeks).  The bad news it that this only applies to First Class mail, while Third class mail often doesn't get forwarded.

4) Get it by email.  For mailings that you still want to receive -- not that you want to get your bills, but you know what I mean -- sign up for electronic mailings.  Every single one of my providers in Idaho has an e-delivery option, even the city's recycling program.  It takes a minute or two to create an online profile and account, but it's worth it.  You can also often sign-up for automatic payments ensuring that you never miss a bill in the future.