While I had started both of these projects separately, it has become clear that these two philosophies dove-tail so perfectly, that I thought I would reflect on how re-doubling my minimalist efforts through my shopping ban then embarking on an attempt to reduce waste work together beautifully. In a short amount of time, these two rather extreme ways of existing in the world have allowed me to live my life in alignment with my values, which feels pretty amazing! These are some of the things I have noticed.
Intention: If you spend any time in a yoga studio, you will probably hear the teacher discuss intention – setting an intention for your class and then also how you can carry that intention with you as you go out into the world. To me, this has very simply been a really quick way to summarize the idea of living your life in such a way that embraces your core values. In order to do this, you actually need to know what your core values are! This seems logical, but I think it is actually a very interesting and revealing exercise to spend a moment trying to enunciate the internal forces that shape our lives in a way that make sense. I found this tool from CBT to be helpful in guiding this exploration: Values Questionnaire. When I went through this questionnaire, I realized that both minimalism and zero(ish) waste helped me move towards living in a way that supported some of these core values – spending my time and money on “experiences not things” allows me to focus on connecting with others and the world around me. Reducing my stuff and saving money that would “leak” out has freed me to pursue adventure and creative endeavors, and learn new ways of doing things.
Impact: One of the ideals that is really important to me is realizing what impact our choices and behaviours have on others and the world. Even as just one person with very limited resources, I do have the ability to decide what to support, and have the opportunity to choose products and behaviours that tread lightly on the earth, that treat my own body with care, and that support artisans, producers, and individuals that align with ethical standards. So I do spend a little bit more to get fair-trade coffee and when I can I try to buy produce in ways that support local farms, preferring the fruits where possible that did not take an around-the-world flight before arriving on my plate. Minimalism and zero(ish) waste are obviously powerful ideologies in this, as it forces me to avoid questionably-produced fast-fashion products, made cheaply, often plagued by unethical labour practices. Zero(ish) waste has had me prioritizing getting what I can at the local farmers’ markets as my primary source of nutrition.
These rather extreme rules help me navigate several things that have always been a struggle for me.
Tidiness and organization: I am not great at cleaning and tidying. I feel like I am confessing to one of the deadly sins (and perhaps it is part of sloth as I tend to have a disinclination to spending time wiping, sweeping, and dusting). In the past, I will often get a surge of motivation to organize, but will get overwhelmed at the momentous task, lose momentum, and weeks later, the still untouched contents of my closet will be languishing on my floor. I have 40kg of “stuff” that I brought with me to my tiny sublet in Stockholm. Much of this is clothes, shoes, beauty products, and technology.
Last night, I completely unpacked and sorted all my carefully chosen things. Each piece selected for a reason and tucked away into a place. By the time I went to bed, everything had a place and I felt so satisfied with my little nest. These are nearly all of my things! Don’t they look pretty?!
I think the barrier to my organization has been having too much stuff and getting overwhelmed. This was an easy process, to distil down to my essential life things for a period of time, particularly as I didn’t need to make permanent decisions (I have a lot of stuff waiting for me back in the UK). But I think that having fewer things might actually allow me to live the tidy life I have craved but have not been able to achieve. I think I can only manage to keep so many things clean and sorted, and beyond that, things spiral into chaos.
Have I mentioned that I have a weird obsession with Scandi-style bathrooms? The practical, bright, tiled spaces are just everything I could possibly want. Budgeting and finances: I have never been a great “saver.” Growing up, my younger sister always mysteriously had stacks of cash, while despite my older age and usually more frequent employment, I was always running on fumes. This has not gotten much better as I got older. While I have been able to do some responsible things (pay down a bunch of my student loan prior to hopping back to school, save some money), I know this is an area that I still struggle with. Often just a leaky wallet problem – where I would purchase small things here and there, nothing too shocking, but by the end of the month, I would be baffled as to where my money went. My bestie is a personal finance guru and she has been trying to help me wrangle my spending. She has sent me helpful spreadsheets that “shame” me when I go over-budget in certain areas. However, as much as I love spreadsheets and tracking (I am an epi through and through), I hate tracking expenses. I find it very taxing, and after a few months of tracking, I lost all steam. However, I have been finding that the two goals of minimalism and zero(ish) waste has made a set of easy rules that stop the hole in my leaky wallet, but also don’t make me roll my eyes aggressively at budgeting spreadsheets. From the minimalism side, I spend much more thought in what I acquire, asking if I need it, seeing what it would replace. This one rule has helped me completely stop my compulsive habit of browsing fast fashion stores, where previously I would enter with no particular objective and leave with a handful of bling, t-shirts, or wacky bags. The zero-waste has come with some sneaky savings – bringing my mug to Starbucks bagged me a 20 pence discount on my coffee, I have already saved on the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags, and my efforts to cut out waste in my beauty products has helped me stay strong when in a drug store in order to resist purchasing new beauty products.
Forced healthy eating: I did my first grocery shop yesterday where I actively tried to avoid things that came in non-recyclable plastic. This ends up meaning there are many things that I cannot buy, but most of those also are the processed food-like items that are not whole foods. As I ate my quinoa (which came in a great cardboard box) and the assorted veggie stirfry, I realized that I had a far more nutritious meal that I normally would have after a day of traveling. I realize that there are some aspects of eating like this that will be a bit more pricey, but the investment in nutrition and health really aligns with how I believe I should eat and take care of my body.
Composting capers: Obviously composting is absolutely essential to living zero(ish) waste. To my dismay, I realized that the apartment building where I am staying in Stockholm does not collect compost. I have wandered around my ‘hood to see if I can find another compost depot to stealthily deposit my compostable goods. At first, I noticed that the neighbouring apartment complexes have locks on their garbage/compost bins, but with a bit more sleuthing, I found a nearby building which has an unsecured compost bin and I have deposited a giant load of organic bits in it this morning.
Confession corner: Zero(ish) waste fails:
Nail polish crisis: I flew two bottles of nail polish to Sweden with me, which promptly and thoroughly exploded all over my other liquids. I ended up having to power through quite a few nail polish wipes in order to remove most of the residue off my lotions and lipsticks.
Butter. I caved and bought the largest block of butter I could find. I know that the butter wrapper is not recyclable, but I can’t imagine life without butter. I know other zero-wasters have gone through great lengths to procure butter without any sort of packaging, and that it is possible but a big challenge. So I am gonna swallow this intentional bit of garbage. It goes down better with butter.
Tofu: At the best local grocery store of my life in Ottawa, I was able to buy bulk tofu that you fish out of a bucket of water and put in your own containers. Unfortunately, I have not found anything of the sort in Stockholm so far, and so I have bought chunks of tofu wrapped in plastic. I will keep exploring the markets in the city in the coming weeks to see what else I can find.
*I have been calling this a zero(ish) waste challenge because I have realized that there are a lot of areas where completely eliminating waste requires far more time and resources than I have available to me right now. From the plastic safety seals on bottles of soy sauce or plastic seal on the pail of yogurt I purchased. I know that I could be making my own yogurt etc etc, but I am trying to be realistic in terms of what I decide to take on, in addition to my already busy PhD life.
Somewhat arbitrarily, I have set my zero(ish) waste goal as trying to produce less waste in my 3 months in Sweden as the average person produces per day. In the EU, that is 1.42km/person.day (3.1 pounds) – OECD.