So, I’ve been at this for nearly a year now, and I am often asked, “What is Mindful Life, anyway?” Mindful Life is about making decisions about the way we live our lives. It is about doing something because it is what we want to do instead of something that we do out of habit or just because we are following suit. For my family, it is about choosing to be healthy, live sustainably, be respectful, and be kind and loving. It involves the food we eat, the medicines we take, the chemicals we contact, the clothing we wear, the way we talk, and the hobbies we keep. It is about making every day purposeful, so that the everyday is extraordinary. This is what mindfulness is in our lives.
One of the first things that our family did when we began making the decision to live more mindfully was to lower our use of disposable items. Looking back, it has been very amusing to me that we spent so much money on disposable products. Paper towels, paper napkins, zipper storage bags, foil, plastic wrap, toilet paper, tissues, sanitary napkins and tampons, cleaning wipes, notebooks, plastic bags, and on, and on. I saved money by buying off brand. We bought our food at cut rate grocery stores. And I was so proud of myself for the money I saved us! And that was before children. After we had the Bean, you could add on the diapers and wipes, and a several more rolls of paper towel. When I started down the route of the reusable, instead of the disposable, I told myself that not only was I helping the environment, but I was saving us money. Now, I laugh that it would have saved me time and energy, back then, to just take the cash and throw it immediately into the garbage can instead of wasting my time driving to the store to buy the disposable products to begin with! Now, we use Not Paper Towels which are reusable rags that are the same size and shape as classic paper towels, but can be used repeatedly and then washed. I haven’t bought a paper towel – store brand or otherwise – in about 3 years now. We use cloth napkins. We use glass canning jars, glass refrigerator dishes, Pyrex and Corelle dishes to store leftovers and snacks. We have stainless steel lunch containers and reusable lunch sacks, dishes and baskets. We do still use the occasional zip bag, but they are BPA free and we go through a box of 15 about every 2-3 months. There is no more plastic wrap in the house. Papa still has an affinity for his occasional foil, but the kids and I nearly never use it (and the foil we buy is made of recycled material and gets recycled when we are done with it). Cleaning is done with reusable rags. Noses are wiped on hankies. Most of us in the house use family cloth, or reusable wipes instead of toilet paper. I use cloth pads instead of disposable sanitary napkins, and wash them with the cloth diapers and wipes. We use the computer more and paper less. We also recycle as much as possible. The impact is huge. Our family of four, which includes a 3 year old and a 1 year old, uses about 1 kitchen size trash bag per week. That is pretty darn good, considering that the average American throws away about 4.5 lbs of trash per day.
If you are looking for a good hopping off point for being more mindful, generating less garbage is a great way to start. It is really easier than you think. Stopping the disposable train is a really easy way to start. I’ve heard lots of reasons why people don’t do the more environmentally friendly options, but a lot of those are really just what we’ve been conditioned to think. People often marvel at the amount of laundry we must do. Admittedly, there is a fair amount of laundry in our lives, and we certainly take our ability to do laundry easily into consideration when doing things like choosing a new house or vacationing. However, It takes about the same amount of time to start a load of laundry as it takes to empty the trash. Our laundry is on the first floor, right off the kitchen, and is actually more convenient than hauling out a load of trash. Dishing leftover food into a glass jar is just as convenient as dishing it into a zip top bag, or throw away container. Packing your lunch in a reusable container is just as convenient as packing it in a throw away container, and putting it in the dishwasher when you get home takes about the same amount of time as hauling the container to a trash receptacle would. You do have to remember to keep track of your container and bring it home with you, but we are working towards mindfulness, here! And wiping up messes of any sort is much nicer with a nice, thick wipe than with a flimsy piece of paper masquerading as a towel.
Other ways to save space in that trash bag are:
* Compost – you don’t need a fancy bin. A pile on the ground will suffice! Throw in your leaves, twigs, grass clippings, weeds, fruit and vegetable peels and scraps. No meat, no dairy, and no oils or fats. Other than that, toss it on in! Stir it up every now and again (the more you stir, the faster it composts), and not only have you reduced your trash, but you have made yourself some lovely mulch or fertilizer! Composting is about as low impact on the planet and your wallet as you can get.
* Recycle – paper, aluminum, metal, most plastics, cardboard, glass, batteries, cell phones, plastic bags, junk mail, newspapers, phone books are all among the list of recyclables that our recycling center accepts. Everywhere is different, so check and see what you can recycle in your area. If there is no recycling in your area, maybe you could work to get it there.
* Freecycle – http://www.freecycle.org/ If you have something that you no longer want or need, you can post it in an email to freecycle and someone will come pick it up and take it away for you. If you need something and don’t want to or can’t buy new, place a wanted ad on freecycle and someone may have one they were going to get rid of. Check out the link for a freecycle group in your area. If you can’t give it away to a person, give it to a shelter, second hand store, or another service that unites quality used merchandise with people who need it.
* Buy less and use more – know how much you actually use of things and conserve them. If you don’t finish all of your meal, save the leftovers instead of throwing them out. Better yet, figure out how much people actually eat and only serve that amount. Then, there are no leftovers to waste. When you buy something, buy the best quality you can afford, and keep it longer. Cheaper items generally don’t last as long. Clothing, toys, household decorations, cooking utensils, and many other items are often better made for just a few more dollars. Reducing broken items in your trash will greatly reduce the amount of trash going out every week.
* Reuse what you can – I love canning jars. Love them. But, a glass peanut butter jar with a lid is definitely not going to hit my recycle bin any time soon. Especially if it has a metal lid. I can find about a million uses for them! There is one on the bathroom shelf for my hair clips. One for the Bean’s. And a babyfood jar for her little rubber bands. The same jars are used for leftovers, for shaking my morning green drink, and for rinsing paint brushes. With holes poked in the lid, these jars are shakers for diatomaceous earth or baking soda. Why get rid of something at all if it can still be used?
* Use less product – You don’t need 12 different cleaning products on your shelves. Soap and water will clean nearly anything. Baking soda and vinegar will clean anything that soap and water can’t. I splurge and buy window cleaner and enzyme carpet deodorizer for the times that baking soda won’t do the trick.
* Buy things with less packaging – Buying used is a great way to make this happen. When that isn’t an option, chose the most responsible packaging option you can. We do our best to avoid Styrofoam, for instance, because it can’t be recycled in our area. Buy as much fresh or bulk food as you can to avoid the food packaging.
I’d love to hear other ideas about how to minimize what we throw away. Please, tell me about how you minimize your trash!