Monday, October 8, 2012

Hello again!

So if you read this you might have noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately- actually not at all.  I was off for the summer and now that I am back I have been getting into the swing of things so haven't had much time to blog.  Now that things are more routine I thought I would start back up.  Luckily, I don't think many people read this so hopefully no one was devastated by my online absence.
Here's the latest.  I failed miserably at not spending.  I am thinking of trying again... so I will keep you posted.  New things include tracking our trash and recycling as a first step in starting to cut down.  My husband is in charge of this and he is doing a great job.  Soon we can analysize the data and start reducing.  I would like to compost more and we have a compost system but need to collect more kitchen scraps and take them outside to compost.  I thought about one of those counter top buckets for compost but I think they attract fruit flies and we already have a fruit fly problem because we like bananas.  Instead I am opting for a pyrex container with a lid.  We had one out but then didn't use it so I need to start again.  Sometimes progress is slow in our house.
Also new is that we are trying Chagrin Valley soaps.  I was using Lush bar shampoos but looked at their ingredients and they have a lot of dyes and parfums.  Additionally, they do not say their scents are phalate free and I noticed that they add parabens to their cosmetics so I am not inclined to trust them.  Per Beth Terry's recommendation in her awesome book Plastic-Free I ordered from Chagrin Valley.  I have yet to try the shampoo bars because we have some Lush we are using up but I will let you know.  I really like that they have castille soap for babies that is very pure.
In the bathing department, I have been looking for a plastic-free alternative to my bath pouf.  This has been mostly unsucessful.  I wanted something that would be small, lather well with bar soap, and not be gross.  I tried loofahs but they were too scratchy and I have sensitive skin.  Then I got a cotton crocheted bath pouf but this because a dense wet lump.  So I tried a ramie bath pouf from Amazon but the same problem.  And then I looked into ayate washclothes but they too didn't dry between showers, were too big for my small hands, and didn't lather up.  Natural sponges have been the best bet and I may go back to them as I tried them once before although they attract my long hair like a magnet.  I ordered a Vics washcloth from Amazon and cut it into four smaller pieces so I will try that on my face.  If anyone has recommendations let me know.  I am looking for something that makes a good lather and is not a big wet mess.  I found a recycled plastic pouf but sadly it is #4 plastic and so I can't recycle it where I live.  So the hunt is still on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And so it starts...

I read Thrifty Green and then I read No Impact Man and both books say that to truly help the environment you should buy less.  Not just green, environmentally-friendly products, but less stuff altogether.  Well this is hard for me... I think almost any shopping is fun.  I do it a lot for just about anything from groceries to clothes to baby products to books to kitchen gadgets to shoes to... as you see it goes on and on.  But after a recent spending spree, I feel the need to cut back.  The crazy thing is that I am not buying a Marc Jacobs handbag or Prada shoes.  No, I am buying toys for my toddler, home improvement supplies, and some books... but the little things add up quickly.  Toss in a few lunches out and there I am in debt.  I want to do better but the organic tea calls to me and so does the cute kid's book that in the moment I think my daughter will love (actually, she will look at it once if I am lucky).

In the last few years I have tried things such as budgeting, tracking my spending, and shopping hiatuses.  These work... temporarily.  Controlling your spending was not a habit I was taught as a child and I will try to teach me daughter because it has been a hard thing to try to learn as an adult.  Don't judge me too much when I tell you that it was only as an adult that I learned that people paid attention to what things cost at the grocery store.  As the only child of middle class parents and a picky eater, I think my mom must have thought that if I would eat it and it appeared healthy then we should buy it.  So I was floored when an ex-boyfriend asked me what something cost at the grocery store.  How should I know... that wasn't a criteria I used in grocery shopping.  In other things yes, but food, no.  This is my winding ramble about how I am just not that good with money.  Thanks to my thrifty husband, I am a bit better.  I know I have a problem. 

So with my recent shopping bill on my conscious I decided to try again for the shopping hiatus.  A cold turkey effort.  These are helpful in that I think about purchases and if I want something during this time, I write it down to think about after the hiatus is over.  It is suppose to prevent impulse buying that generally leads to things that go to Good Will anyway.  And I was pretty disturbed to watch The Story of Stuff where they talk about how much of the things we buy just get thrown out to clog our landfills.  In the past I have done a week or one time two weeks, but this time it's a month.   This means groceries, necessary supplies, but no clothes, toys, gadgets, shoes, cute purses, etc.  It started 6/8.  So far I am doing okay.  I bought a $15 skirt on sale at Target.  I blame my husband for this because being the very nice man that he is, when I told him I was on a shopping hiatus, he said "It's the effort that's important."  And then I was in the store and I thought about not buying the skirt and then thought "It won't be there in a month.  And it's the effort that counts."  As you can see I have a ways to go.  But I remind myself that each day is a new chance to start over.  Hopefully, it will get easier as the month goes on.

And I think too that it matters that we try.  Less stuff, less materialism, less demand on earth's resources are all good things.  As a nation, we are in rut where we buy, buy, buy- we do it to socialize, we do it for fun, we do it to destress, we do it to feel better after a bad day.  But when I think about this, it is a bit insane.  There are other things to do.  And I feel better when I use shopping time to exercise, or read, or be outdoors.  Unfortunately, with conditioning and social pressure, this is a difficult habit to break.  And as my husband, a marketing professor, told me, Target is designed to make me want to buy things.  Like they studied 30+ year old women with kids and said this is the kind of store they would like and these are things they would like to buy and this is how we set it up to get them to buy what we are selling.  Crazy!  It's a giant trap.  We average women are like flies to the tasty-smelling, deadly flytrap. 

Wish me luck!  Today is a new day to try.  And maybe I can save the earth a little and save some money (a little).

Friday, June 8, 2012

Recycle more... even the little tiny tags

I used to live in an apartment and it was small and cozy and the recycling bin was always just a few steps away.  At first I recycled the normal things like cans, water bottles, etc.  But because it was so close I started recycling anything I could.  Tags from new clothes, receipts, shampoo bottles, absolutely anything that could be recycled no matter how small.  So then I got married and we bought a house.  I moved my old recycling can into the kitchen.  But I hate clutter and the recycling bin was so far from the bathroom that it was easier to just throw things away.  Shame on me!  So I got a plastic bag... one of those ones I am trying to avoid but still get sometimes... and hung it on the door handle in the master bathroom.  Now I can again recycle all the little things.  It takes away the temptation to throw things away just because it is easier.  Once the bag is full I take it downstairs and recycle it in the outside bin.  This is just a little idea but it does help me so I thought I would share.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shower less?

I am toying with timing my shower to see if it's five minutes (unlikely).  I haven't quite gotten there as I love my hot shower and want to enjoy it as much as possible.  And since I'm in confession mode and to show you how much I love my shower, we did have a double shower head until recently, when the plumber told us that was why we kept running out of hot water :)

So the reality is that water conservation is a struggle for me.  And since I love to shop, I decided a while ago that we would try to create less physical waste from showering.  This means we switched to bar soap, preferably local with only a paper wrapping or no wrapping.  Also we switched to bar shampoo.  There is a cool company from Britain called Lush that makes awesome bar shampoo.  They are the best I have found for giving a good lather like liquid shampoo.  Sadly, I think their Squeaky Green bar is a bit of a waste of money as it has lots of herbs in it and they make is go faster- and they leave a mess in your shower.  But their other varieties are great. 

I was in a bit of a dilemma as to what to do with the liquid shampoo and body wash I already had as I have a tendency to stockpile (because I'm slighty paranoid about natural disasters).  In the end I decided to use them up unless they had BHT or parabens- more on this later.  Changing shower products has been an easy switch.  A bit harder was trying to find a sponge I like cause I don't know if getting a natural sponge is any better than a synthetic one as they never seem to say if they are sustainably harvested.  Of course this is a bit of a procrastinating distraction from taking shorter showers, but I'm getting there... really.

Note:  Another shower change that is not so bad is to wash your hair every other day.  I do this off and on and don't feel too greasy.  If you really like to shower daily but want to shower less, you can bathe one morning and then bathe the evening of the next day, which is what I do.  Now you know my *dirty* secrets so I expect you to keep them to yourselves :) 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bags, bags, and bags

Reusable bags.
Reading this topic you may think... there's an idea that's been around awhile.  It's so mainstream that almost every major grocery store chain will sell them to you.  In fact they have been around long enough that the other day in the grocery store I noticed that they sell reusable bag cleaning spray.  An accessory for your accessories- really?

But if you are just starting to be more eco-friendly or even if you are not, I still think this is something to talk about.  First because this is a good thing to do and people who do it all the time should get some kudos.  And secondly, because it's hard to do.  I have read lots of books where people get reusable bags as part of an environmentally friendly movement and sometimes it is just stated like an easy change.  But in my experience it's not.  This is something that takes effort.  I have grocery store bags and I can't count the number of times that I have been in the grocery store and not remembered them.  Or I even brought them but then got more groceries than would fit in the number of bags I selected to bring.  Having a toddler with me or being short on time exacerbates this problem.  Now I keep them in my car and am making a concerted effort to remember them every time.  My goal is not to come home with plastic bags ever, but I am still working on it.  In the meantime I use the plastic bags for cat litter, dirty diapers, trash bags, lunch sacks, package padding, etc.  They are pretty handy at times so if you get them don't despair.

One of the best items I ever bought was a reusable bag that folds up and can be kept in your purse.  This is good for most women although if you are a guy or carry a small purse it might not work for you.  Personally, this has saved me on many occasions.  But I still have to remember to use it.  And salespeople are quick with the plastic bags.  Sometimes by the time I've remembered they aready have it all bagged up.  I try to refuse a bag at all at times.  The other factor here is embarassment.  At the grocery stores around me bring your own bags is not unheard of.  I feel pretty comfortable doing this.  Except the time I pulled out my stack of bags and as the lady bagged my groceries she noticed that I had not one, but two reusable six-pack wine carriers- so I felt like a total lush.  Sort of like yesterday, when I bought beer on a grocery run with my toddler.  But I digress...  At other stores, like clothing stores, they give you funny looks when you pull out your own bag.  Not that this should stop you, but if you are shy like me it's definiately something you have to deal with.  I still am.

I encourage you to get a foldable, reusable bag and use your reusable grocery bags.  It is a big step, because it takes some memory and habit changes.  If you do this all the time, please share tips on remembering your bags. 

Step 1: Easy Changes

Since I've been a teenager I have been interested in "saving the animals" and "helping the environment" but I didn't really know what to do and as I became an older teenager and then college student these ideas were pushed out of my mind in favor of boys, friends, and getting a job.  After living on my own for awhile I started to think about choices I made at the grocery store.  This was the first step for me.  Standing in the grocery store aisle looking at the paper towels and thinking, "I guess it would be better to buy the recycled ones."  It was a very small step, but when you are just starting out it is a step in the right direction.  Eventually, I switched to recycled paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and paper napkins.  Currently, we are thinking about trying to be even better about some of these products and maybe doing things like making our own tissues, but that will come later. 

I tried buying biodegradable trash bags, but that was a fiasco!  If you use these corn-based bags and go away for a few days with trash in them, they will start to biodegrate- right there in your trash can- and that is a big mess!  So I gave up on that for the time being. 
Other small and basically painless steps were to buy environmentally-friendly cleaning products.  In the end I have learned that a better step is to go to cleaners you make yourself. 

Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean most things and they are cheaper than products that are say they are good for the environment but may have questionable ingredients and are also at a premium price.  Over time I have learned that even green products are not always as green as they say and often have ingredients that you don't have a clue what they do.  Vinegar and baking soda are pretty straight forward and I have faith in the idea that they have been around a long time and I have yet to read that they cause toxic mutations to our DNA :)  If you are interested in this, there are lots of recipes on the internet about make-your-own natural cleaners.  I will say that we keep straight vinegar in a spray bottle to clean up the kitchen, although I do use bleach if we have meat.  It works great as a fabric softener and to clean your glasses as well as a floor cleaner.

Reality check:  I will include my own foilables and admit that I give in to the marketing glitter at times (or many, many times).  Recently, I gave in and bought fabric softener because our laundry was a bit musty.  This happens when you get busy and forget to change the loads- shame on me.  So I got what I thought was Method Fabric Softener and was adding it to the clothes.  Until today when I realized I has bought detergent (the Method bottles look pretty similar and I got confused).  The end result was that I was adding double soap to the loads.  Now I feel pretty dumb and think I will go back to the vinegar.

Also instead of softener or in addition to it, you can buy wool dryer balls.  These are awesome because they are quieter than plastic ones and also I think that plastic gives off weird chemicals when you heat it up.  I have three and that is a good number for an average load.  I have heard you can take a wool dryer ball and add a few drops of essential oil and then put it in an old sock.  This way you can have a nice smell to your clothes and the sock protects your clothes from getting oil on them.  I have not tried this yet so please let me know if you do.

Product endorsement:  I don't get any money from any companies to say I like stuff so this is my true opinion.  I will tell you actual products I think are good from time to time.  This one is for the Rubbermaid Reveal Spray Mop.  It's $36 at Amazon athough I got it at Target.  I like it because you can use your own cleaning solution (we use vinegar).  It has pads for sweeping and for wet mopping.  Personally, I think the sweeping pads have not been that great.  The wet mop pads work well for both.  We just dry mop up the crumbs and then dustbust up the pile at the end.  It is a lot better than the Swiffer disposable pads.

Stay tuned for further ideas from this environmental/ shoppaholic/ materialistic-tendency-fighting girl  :)

Why the Green Apple?

So what's this blog about you may (and probably will) ask?  Well for awhile now my family and I have been trying to be more environmentally friendly.  We have read books about it, changed the way we eat, changed what we bought, and we continue to struggle with being green(er).  In reading books about people trying to be green, I have found that some people (mostly the ones trying to sell books) make some drastic changes and they stick with them for awhile but then it is too much and they backslide.  And that's totally understandable if you are trying to live off the grid or get rid of your frig or make no trash... that would be hard to keep up.

I wanted to try for permanent changes that we can keep up long-term.  And I thought that there must be other people trying to be more environmentally friendly but also trying to live in the real world.  So this blog will be about changes my family has made or is trying to make and how they work and how much we stick with them.  I will be truthfull about things that just don't work and while I like the idea of being less materialistic, I won't tell you that I will give up shopping.  Instead we will work on buying products that are better for the environment or buying less or making our own.  I want to make a lifestyle I can live with and share my ideas about this with people who are also trying to do this but at the same time not go crazy.  I hope through this blog I can give you ideas that are green but also sustainable for us and the planet.

P.S. The Green Apple is because my toddler daughter loves green apples :)