How I Got Started

11.07.2017

0600

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San Francisco, it’s a beautiful city with so much history, it’s mesmerizing. This city made a significant impact on my life because my zero waste journey started with this city. I don’t share this story often, but I thought I’d finally give a background to how I started my zero waste journey seven years ago.

I had moved to San Francisco to attend graduate school. It was a big city with so many places, restaurants and activities to explore, I couldn’t even keep track of everything I wanted to do. At the time, I was working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for a large, and well know ambulance company.

Golden Gate Park

Fulton Avenue and Stanyan Avenue path into Golden Gate Park.

I had moved into a studio apartment in the Richmond District and it was on the third floor of a three story building. It was a beautiful studio. With hardwood floors and a cozy interior, I settled in. My building stood directly across the street from Golden Gate Park. It was an interesting location because on the weekends, the park was closed to cars on Saturdays, so the foot traffic was busy. I could also open up my windows on the weekends and I listen to the music performances from inside of the park. Since I was on the top floor, sunlight consistently illuminated my apartment all day and all year long.  I lucked out on that part because San Francisco can become very cold and foggy during certain seasons.

Golden Gate Park Entrance

One of the Golden Gate Park entrances off of Fulton Avenue. (at Fulton Avenue and Arguello Avenue)

I was raised and lived in the suburbs my entire life so living in a condensed large city was quite a new experience. All of my routines including grocery shopping, working out and even parking was new and took a bit of an adjustment. I parked on the street since my apartment didn’t have a parking lot. This is also how I learned to become a stealth car parking spotter. Understanding and knowing which streets you could park on in the city was a must in order to avoid parking tickets. San Francisco streets are each scheduled for street cleaning all week long on different days and at different hours, so you have to be careful of where you park, or you’ll get a ticket for blocking the street cleaner.

Living in San Francisco also introduced me to trash chutes. A trash chute is a smooth, open shaft in a multistory building, used to convey trash from upper floors to a collection room. My building’s trash chute could only be accessed from the exterior wooden staircase on the side of the building. From each floor, there was an door which allowed access to the staircase. The problem was that these doors were very heavy and never stayed open. It took quite a bit of effort to even open these doors and step out on the balcony in order to access the trash chute; it seemed that they were installed to slam shut. It could have been an issue with the spring on the door, but regardless, it took a lot of force to open the door and hold it open.

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San Francisco also separates their trash out into categories: trash, recyclables and compostables. Therefore, I had to separate my disposable items. This is where my problem lay. When I first moved into the apartment, I thought the trash chute was great. It was useful, accessible and being that I was located on the third floor, it seemed convenient for me. However, it only gave access to the trash bin, not the compost bin or the recyclables bin.

When I used the trash chute, my trash bag would bounce around the chute all the way down to the trash bin. It made quite a bit of noise and I thought that wasn’t appropriate since I didn’t know if my neighbors worked night shifts or slept during the day. So I would carry my trash all the way down the narrow exterior stairs. These stairs were very old and were designed to be very narrow. This meant I had to carry my three seperate bags directly in front of me. Some weeks this was not ideal since  my bags would be so full, so I had to take two trips. Taking two trips meant that I would carry two bags down together, let the stairwell door slam shut behind me, walk down the exterior stairs and throw my bags away, exit the side yard in order to enter my building from the front. I would then walk up the inside staircase to my apartment, and grab the last bag to repeat this routine. In order for me to throw away all three bags, I routinely had to exit my building twice and enter it twice; all the meanwhile walking up and down two sets of stairs. I didn’t like taking two trips just to throw out trash, so I decided that I had to eliminate one of the bags.

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This is where my zero waste journey began. In order to simplify my weekly “taking out the garbage routine,” I decided that getting rid of my trash bag would be the easiest solution. I had to first start swapping out all of my disposable items and figure out how to either replace the items with more sustainable solutions or eliminate them from my life completely. I decided to tackle all of my disposable items in the kitchen first. I started by swapping out my kitchen sponges for smaller washcloths, and then started buying food without packaging. That took a little bit more planning because I had to purchase glass tupperware and change my diet slightly. Changing my diet included giving up certain foods that came in packaging such as certain types of meat, candy, snacks and cereal. I switched those out for bulk snacks such as nuts, granola mixes, whole vegetables and fruit. I started eating whole grains for breakfast and really took solace in my progress towards a zero waste life.

Although swapping out disposable items meant that my laundry load would increase, it really didn’t increase by a lot. I went through my kitchen items and then moved over to my bathroom items. I paid attention to the materials of the items I was replacing my disposable with. I always tried to choose 100% cotton material, bamboo, stainless steel or glass. I then went through my clothes and started donating everything I didn’t need.

My journey to a zero waste life took about a year and half. It sounds like a significant amount of time, but if you think about auditing your entire life, there’s a lot of stuff to go through and get rid of. During my zero waste journey, I also started minimizing my life where I also implemented a minimalistic lifestyle.

I’m writing about this story of how I got started because truth be told, it started because I was lazy. That’s the honest truth. Each blogger has a story of how they got started and this is mine. A lot of bloggers tend to move towards this lifestyle based on their awareness of their own plastic use and it’s commendable that they started living with less plastic. I wanted to write my experience so that my audience may know that not all zero waste journeys need to start with fighting for the environment. Sometimes it happens on a fluke, a chance encounter, but that it’s very possible to live this way. I did notice the benefits of living a zero waste life as I dove deeper and deeper into it and the environmental impacts  became more evident as I continued on. But my story doesn’t start with an ethically conscious mindset. It started because the exterior stairs at my apartment building was too narrow to carry three bags down to the trash bin.

This is my story of how I got started to living a zero waste life. #truth

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Seeking Simplicity

02.07.2017

0800

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I think people in general will seek a level of simplicity in their lives. I know I  strive for my own simplicity. This may boil down to simplifying a routine or a room in my home, or simply clearing my mind of clutter. It makes living and creating memories much easier to accomplish and it frees up my time for activities that I want to participate in, rather than feel obligated to do.  I honestly work at this each day. Due to the ever changing winds that we deal with in life, I constantly reevaluate my routines and make sure that I’m not taking on activities that I either don’t want to do or know that it will complicate my life in ways that are unnecessary.

Sometimes the clutter in our lives will come in, even for a short period of time. But let it only stay for a short period of time. I found this article from Apartment Therapy, who outlines steps to Seeking Simplicity very clearly. I hope you enjoy it.

Seeking Simplicity: How to Start Living a More Minimal Lifestyle (from Apartment Therapy)

  1. Give yourself a clear, personal goal (and a timeline)
    1. What is your personal definition of a more minimal home and life? Is it to have only the bare minimum of objects? Is it to declutter a whole room of stuff you haven’t looked at in months? Is it to learn to live with less or stop buying things you don’t need? There’s no “right” way to be a minimalist; we can all have our own definitions of simple and stress-free. Just take the time to define it for yourself. Not sure where to start defining what you don’t want in your life? Focus on what you do want — what makes you feel alive, what you’re passionate about — and then begin to strip away the things (physical and otherwise) that are getting in the way of you doing more of what you really want to be doing.
    2. Give yourself a clear goal, with broken-down steps to attain (and remember to write down the things you need to complete those steps). And then give yourself a time frame to achieve each step (not just the final goal). Consider making alerts on your calendar so you are held accountable. And don’t just write down what the goal is — write down why you want to live more minimally (less stress, more money, less stuff to haul on your next move — it can be anything that means something to you).
  2. Decide how your home can help you live a more minimalist lifestyle
    1. Your quest for a more minimal lifestyle might point you in the direction of a smaller or simplified home. This is a big step for folks who own or rent homes, but not impossible. Again, start with a goal of what you want — be specific. Not sure what you want? Do some traveling — and look to stay in homes in the size range you’re thinking about. You’ll be able to visualize your future life easier if it’s a size you can downsize to. Or perhaps the size and type of your home is okay but it’s what’s in it…
  3. Declutter
    1. This seems pretty obvious, but it can be the most painful step for folks who have a real attachment to many of their items. Start slow and intentionally. Throw out or donate everything you obviously don’t need first. Then take and hide everything you think you could do without for a few months, to give yourself distance to be able to give them away. Then use that motivation to gather the courage to take decluttering as extreme as works for your dream, minimal lifestyle. Keep reminding yourself that stripping away as much stuff from your life will make it easier to achieve a more simple life and allow you to have more freedom. You don’t have to only live with a bed and a laptop; again, you get to decide what living more minimally means to you.
  4. Train yourself to live with less
    1. If you’ve been used to creature comforts for a long time, you might not be ready to take a minimal plunge all at once. Consider having comfort-free weekends or months, slowly eliminating comforts and luxuries (even as simple as pricey haircuts or weekly movie dates) and seeing what feels okay to lose, and what things are too valuable to your happiness to give up.
  5. Ask yourself “do I really need this?” all the time
    1. Before you swipe your credit card, ask yourself “Do I really need this?” And ask yourself all the time. At first you may easily justify purchases out of habit, but as the question sinks in, you might find yourself realizing you don’t need many of the items you impulsively buy.
  6. Be a re-user
    1. Another great habit to explore on the path to a more minimal way of living is learning to be a great re-user. Save packaging to reuse for other things. Learn to repair and fix things rather than replace. Use old clothing for scrap fabric for DIY projects. Be open to being creative to find ways you can reuse something you already have rather than buy something new.
  7. Invest in high-quality
    1. When you do have (or want) to buy something new, splurge on high-quality items that are meaningful for you. Remember that it might be nicer to have a sparse home filled with dreamy designs you adore versus full of things you just sort of like. But also remember that, again, you define what minimal means.
  8. Be clear about why you want to be more minimal (and remind yourself often)
    1. Go back to the first step above regularly, especially when things get tough, so you can remember why you’re trying to live more minimally in the first place.
  9. Forgive yourself and keep trying
    1. As someone who has given away everything they owned one and a half times now, I can assure you, we manage to acquire stuff at impressive speeds. And also sign up for a lot of work obligations, too. This is just human nature. But don’t give up on your quest to simplicity if you wake up one day and notice you’ve let a lot of unneeded stuff clutter up your home or schedule. Just start over at the top, breathe in, and keep trying.

Clutter Free Spaces

08.22.2016

0800

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It’s simple to keep clutter free spaces, but it means more than simply owning less. There’s a strategy and rules to live within to keep your spaces clutter free. It always looks easy, but even for veteran minimalists/zero wasters/tiny living folks, once in awhile- extra stuff creeps into your home. This may come during seasonal sales at stores, birthdays, holidays or maybe after coming home from a vacation. If you give yourself a set of rules, the decision to buy or not buy becomes easier and more clear. There can be even rules to consistently keep areas of your home clean and tidy. Here is my set of rules that I follow:

  1. Live within your means
    1. Let the size of your home dictate how much stuff you have, and not the other way around. If your closet is bursting at the seams, instead of dreaming of a bigger closet, why not try paring down your clothes to fit the space you have?
  2. Purge Often
    1. So set aside a time, a few times a year, to go through your things and get rid of the ones you don’t use anymore. You can even do this once a month or once every few months.
  3. Have a place and a purpose for everything
    1. ‘A place for everything, and everything in its place.’ Almost a cliche, but still some of the best organizing advice out there. If you have lots of things in limbo on tables or countertops or the floor and still haven’t been able to find a place for them, then maybe the answer is to purge it.
  4. Become a habitual putter-awayer
    1. I think the easiest way to make sure you put things away is just to do it, and then keep on doing it until it’s so habitual that you wouldn’t ever think of not doing it. When I accumulate items from around the house to use for a project, and I’m not done with the project yet, I’ll place the items next to the door. I do this so that on my way out to grab another tool/material, I pick up an item I know I can put away on the way to the room I’m headed towards. I do this or I gather all of the items that need to be put away by the door and then walk room to each room to put away each item to its rightful spot. It’s like ‘reverse shopping’, I’m just returning everything.
  5. Store items where you use them
    1. Be smart about where you store things. Store items by function and necessity. Not having to walk halfway across your home to put things away will make #4 that much easier.
  6. Stop clutter before it enters your home with a landing strip
    1. A landing strip consists of hooks and a small side table where you can place items immediately after walking in the door. Setting up a landing strip by the front door is useful because clutter has to come into your home somewhere, and you can stop it right at the source. This location can also be the location where you may place items you are thinking about returning, so that they may never find a place in your home.
  7. Go paper free
    1. Scanning all the documents you’ve been hanging onto may seem like a daunting task, but once you’re done, they’ll be easily searchable (plenty of apps, like Evernote, allow you to search scanned documents for certain words) and you’ll have that much less stuff to manage.
  8. Realize that life is about experiences, not things
    1. We’re constantly being bombarded with advertisements that try to convince us that a happy life is all about having the latest stuff: a new car, an outdoor kitchen, an ice cream maker. But studies have shown, over and over that it isn’t the things in our lives that make us happy: it’s our experiences that we treasure most. So the next time you’re tempted to buy more stuff, ask yourself if the money wouldn’t be better spent on a vacation or a nice night out.
  9. Forgive yourself and try again
    1. Remember that nobody is perfect, and nobody’s home is perfect. Even the homes you see in the magazines aren’t perfect — it took a whole team of stylists to make them that way. Try to stick to these rules each day and before you know it, these rules will become habits and part of your day-to-day life.