zero waste = zero chance

I have to admit, I was intrigued, and then slightly impressed, when I watched a video of a girl pull out her mason jar of scraps only to then explain that said mason jar contained ALL of the trash that she personally had produced in the last five years.

Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 5.35.17 PM
Courtesy of BuzzFeed


I wrote off that experience as “nice” but “crazy and not for me”.

But I just kept thinking about that girl and her mason jar.

And then a couple months later I stumbled upon a #zerowaste hashtag on instagram (probably was correlated to some #slowliving pondering I was doing at the time) and I began to follow a couple of bloggers who post about their personal sustainability journey.  Everything from making their own toothpaste, to composting in their backyard, to buying food in the bulk section, to bringing reusable “to-go” containers for restaurants when they were ready to package up leftovers.

I just took it all in.  In admiration, mostly.

I was inspired by the highly sustainable lives these people seemed to be living, and wondering if I, too, could adopt their #zerowaste habits.

But I find it all very overwhelming.

Every time I throw away an eggshell, or some coffee grounds, or the end of a carrot, I think… I should compost this.

Every time I stroll through a grocery store, I notice all of the excess packaging… but I continue to buy the things with the most appealing packaging.

And every time my city’s recycling center refuses to take the tetra pak cartons… I think, what can I even do about this?

But it’s really beginning to sink in for me that sustainability doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing.  Rather, sustainability should be a “think about it and do what you can right now” thing.  For most people, “zero waste” is completely unattainable.  And if zero waste is the standard that’s set, it’s going to be really easy to miss the mark.

That being said, one of my 2018 goals is to generate less waste.


It’s ambiguous.

It’s not a “SMART” goal.

You can’t measure it in exact terms.

But you can tell that you’re making a difference.

This year, I’ve decided not to become overwhelmed by instagrammers who are documenting the nth year of their zero waste journey.

Rather, I’ve decided to make smaller steps towards continuously improving the sustainability of my lifestyle.

It’s a process!  And I’m excited to document as the year continues.

The first order of business?  Buy 20 mason jars.  The second order of business?  Join the local grocery co-op.

Actually.. a little backstory here… As I was contemplating changing our pantry from packaged dry foods to glass jars and buying in bulk, a friend told me that she was turned away from Whole Foods when she tried to use her jars from home to buy bulk products…  Something about the jars not being “organically clean” and that they would cross-contaminate Whole Foods’ plastic scoopers.  So at Whole Foods, if you want to buy bulk, you have to put your stuff in a plastic bag, bring it home, and put it in your reusable container.  Eye roll.  Luckily for me, there are several other “natural grocery” options in the area.  When I scoped out my options, the first question I asked was if I could use my own jars from home.  Thank you Ozark Natural Foods for being so gracious.

My first jar-in-store experience was minor, yet meaningful.

I had a few random things I needed to buy, like dijon mustard and almond milk.  But I also needed pumpkin seeds, energy bars, and granola (all which are available in bulk).  So when I made my final check out, my cart was half traditionally-packaged goods, and half jar-packaged goods.  It felt good.

But the coolest part?  One of the employees literally thanked me for bringing in my own containers.  Woah.  I wasn’t looking for a stroke of ego, but…

I felt like I was contributing to a little less waste in the world that day.

And I realized that a small change was an attainable habit.

Zero waste.. probably not in my immediate future.  Less waste.. we’ll see what journeys the year brings!

Being honest about what ‘sparks joy’ … the ultimate closet purge.

My closet, sometime last week.  Burgeoning.

You should know, I’ve combed through this wardrobe at least 4 times in the past 12 months, determining which pieces should stay, and which pieces should go.  A wonderful resale boutique with a solid mission opened last year in Fayetteville (Beautiful Lives Boutique) and that prompted me to donate a lot of clothes that I was holding onto for whatever reason.

But I still found myself left with a closet full of pretty things that I either once loved, or I loved in theory, but didn’t wear for one reason or another.  These are the hardest to part with.  But they sit in my closet, day after day, passed over for choices that feel more me.

Lots of research has been done regarding our emotional connection to our -stuff- and the symbols that our -stuff- represent to us.

This post isn’t about that.

This is a post about a girl who knows it is irrational to keep the things she doesn’t use, and that giving them away could allow them to be used and loved by somebody else.


When it comes to managing the clothes my closet, I think I’ve made progress over the years.  (Much of this progress comes from being more discerning at the time of purchase.)  But if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve still held back.

This is a post about pulling out the last stop, the konmari method, which is outlined in Marie Kondo’s books ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up‘ and ‘Spark Joy‘.

The essence is: keep the things that ‘spark joy’, move on from the things that do not.  The magic in this method is that decisions are made quickly; sparked joy happens on command when you consider how you feel about an item.  If you don’t immediately feel joy, and you have to negotiate your way towards joy, you shouldn’t keep it.  This principle can’t be applied universally (like to relationships with people) but it can be applied to the stuff that we own.

In the process, I let go of three pairs of jeans from college that I once loved but now fit a little funky, a black Jostens graduation gown (you know, from 5 years ago), and some highlighter-colored pieces that I bought from and of which I vastly mis-interpreted the colors on the screen.

I had 6 shopping bags to drop off at the resale boutique.  These were the last 6 bags of things that were emotionally holding me back from being more free and more content with the things that I own and love.  (And I will admit, I still own and love a lot!)

There’s something good about just being real with yourself… About admitting that the thrifted skirt wasn’t a good fit, or that you don’t like the way that brand name splurge makes your shoulders look.  It’s fine to count it a sunk cost and move on, without those things dragging you back.  I encourage you to try it!


a tale of a university parking permit and a trip to walmart

Earlier this week I picked up my prepaid parking permit for the University of Arkansas, where I begin my PhD career next week.  (I won’t get into how much the permit cost, or the economics of this lovely little side business that the University has, because that will only make both you and I mad at the beginning of what should be a light-hearted blog post.)

The day of permit pickup it was raining and I was hoping to find a close parking spot.  This didn’t happen, so I threw on my hooded rain jacket and bolted quickly to the overhang of the building where lines of students were waiting at their respective category of parking permits’ table.  When I reached the overhang, I slipped the hood of my rain jacket down (ah- peripheral vision) and was face-to-face with several young first-year undergraduate students, many of them with parents in tow.

In this rather small moment, I had a momentous realization.  Even though I have all of the excitement of a first-year student (because I am a first-year student at a new school pursuing a new degree), my life is COMPLETELY different than the last time I was a new student.  I might have the butterflies of a new school year starting, but I’m also a grown, married, home-owning, dog-owning woman, dancing in between the world of student-hood AND so many other responsibilities.

So much can change between 18 and 26.

This subtle observation was cemented when I traveled further down the road to the local superstore, where I needed to pick up approximately three things: light bulbs, paint primer, and Draino.  As I made my way through the aisles of the store, I passed college students pushing carts full to the brim of non-perishable foods and dorm decorations.  It forced a reminiscing of my own supermarket trip eight years ago to fill up a cart with dorm necessities.  (I also encountered a few young men trailing behind their parents as moms and dads placed well-meant Swiffer dusters and bags of apples in their carts.  Bless them for trying.)

The obvious in hindsight wasn’t so obvious to me a week ago: there is just a plain weirdness to this season of life.  Now that I’ve acknowledged that, I’m eager to learn what balancing aspirations and responsibilities looks like in this scenario.


“1%” is a charged figure.

When I see or hear “1%”, I automatically think of tremendous wealth and invincibility.  But in the light of presidential budget season, “1%” is taking on a new meaning for me: it represents the poorest and the most fragile populations around the world.  That’s because just 1% of the US national budget is spent on foreign aid.  That includes development aid, political aid, emergency aid, and foreign security aid.

Are you surprised to hear that?  I always assumed that about 10% of the budget went to such activities.  A recent poll shows that my estimate was far below that of most Americans, who generally believe that up to 30% of the total US budget goes towards foreign aid (Kaiser Family Foundation).

Over 20 US government agencies fund or execute foreign aid activities.  One of the primary agencies, USAID, shares the following mission:

To “partner to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.”

You could talk about foreign aid from multiple angles.  I’m inclined to support it based on aspects of humanity alone, but since this is a blog about consumption, I’ll focus there.

95% of the worldwide population lives outside of the US.  Many of these people are entrenched in poverty and poor health, unable to actively participate in a global economy.  Strong patterns of trade and consumption in a globalized society require wealth, resiliency, and democratic societies for all partners involved.


I can’t believe I’m being so pragmatic about this, but again, for the sake of focus here… investing in peace and security, global health, and basic humanitarian assistance makes sense from a global consumption point-of-view because it protects future business partners.  It protects (and quite frankly, creates) the global consumer class.

Foreign aid isn’t the best solution; strong economies and strong societies are.  Foreign aid isn’t meant to be permanent, but rather something that helps us get to strong global societies.  For the US, a society so driven by consumption (for better or worse, I won’t comment on that now), it seems like we would be eager to invest a mere 1% of our annual budget on building an atmosphere of healthy global production, trade, and consumption.  You know, not to mention promoting a healthy humanity worldwide.

Low tides leave no winners.





This article from Washington Post has some of the best explanatory graphics of the foreign aid budget breakdown, using 2016 numbers.

La La Land 6 months later ; and a late reply to ‘escapism’

I was about a month late to the La La Land party.  When it came out in early December 2016, I knew nothing about the film, except that it was some sort of technicolor spectacle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.  (My little brother happened upon their Red Carpet premiere in Paris and sent me a picture; they are seriously gorgeous people.)

I’ll get around to seeing it eventually, I noted.

And then one day in January, I scrolled down my facebook newsfeed to see a 60 second preview for the movie: the scene in which characters Mia and Sebastian (those names!) tap dance in Griffith Park during LA’s golden hour.  Swoon.  A friend and I had dinner plans that evening but I was tempted to change course.  I texted her: “just throwing this out there… we could see la la land tonight…”

She obliged.  A couple hours later, I sat in the plush theater seat with a jar of White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butter and a spoon (hey, everyone has their movie habit) as the opening, overly-cheery scene “Another Day of Sun” rolled by.  By the time the film’s name flashed across the screen at the end of the first number, I knew I had a decision to make.  Was I all in?  Was I going to do this?  Was I going to let myself get lost in this whimsical storytale?  La La Land was just what I needed.  I hushed any question of doubt because deep down, I loved what was happening.

Choreography from La La Land’s opening scene, “Another Day of Sun”. (credit: Summit Entertainment)

The days following La La Land were filled with lingering musings.  I was struck by the beauty of the storytelling and the tension of the ending.  I also felt an unusual boost of creativity.  La La Land is the kind of film that you don’t just watch and move on.  I wanted to feel La La Land over and over.  I almost immediately downloaded the soundtrack on spotify so that I could continually relive the experience.  I wrote poetry that week.  I took the dog for a walk without headphones, doing my best to take in the beautiful surroundings in a focused way.  I clumsily strummed on the guitar.  I tried my best hand at watercoloring.

As a part of my (I’ll just call it what it is) obsession, I also feverishly read reviews and interpretations of the film and its reflection of our current society.  This is when I discovered the wide-spread assertion that La La Land was merely a form of ‘escapism’; overblown and overhyped, and just what the collective “we” deserved.  (here, here, and here)

I had to think about that one for a bit.

So many things that we consume are to recover from the harder parts of life; the parts that take concentrated focus and attention; the type of focus and attention that loses effectiveness after constant grind.  When I watched La La Land, it was not to escape from life and never come back.  It was to pause; be inspired, feel creativity rush through my body, and jump back into society with new vigor.  I did not watch La La Land to run away and hide from anything.

Now, escapism in its truest form is scary stuff.  Early 20th century scholar Arnold Toynbee coins escapism as a key indicator of a disintegrating society, based on his research of common themes seen in 21 once-great world civilizations.   True escapism is when people in a society seek to avoid their problems [permanently] by retreating into their own worlds of distraction and entertainment.  True escapism marks a period in which consciousness is permanently adrift.  And I don’t think that’s what we have here.

“Escapist La La Land” is a misnomer.  If anything, La La Land, because of its insistent and emotional look at the connection between desire, choices, and outcomes, made me more conscious about my individual creative pursuits and the way those fit into society.

Six months after the US premiere, and as time continues to pass, I think it is hard to tie the merits of this film to merely helping  us through a dicey time in American politics. It is more stirring than just that.


Friday, May 19, 2017:

I roll the Mini off a busy suburban street onto an offshoot, a gravel road I literally drive by 5 times a week but have never noticed.  For nearly three minutes I slowly travel this winding gravel road to the main stand, taking in sights of the expansive farm: seedlings that would harvest in the coming months, followed by corn that was still low to ground, and finally sprawling greens that were vibrant in the early weeks of the growing season.

credit: Cobblestone Farm Project

I was here to pick up my first CSA.  (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.)

Here’s the quick version of how a CSA works:

credit: Kilpatrick Family Farm

In a world where I feel so disconnected from most of the products I consume on a daily basis, subscribing to a CSA is (quite literally) a breathe of fresh air.  Cobblestone Farm will be producing most of the food my husband and I consume over the next several weeks (until the final harvest in October).

I see the rise of the CSA as an extension of the farm-to-table trend that has taken foothold in American culture.   (My favorite local Fayetteville farm-to-table restaurants include The Farmer’s Table and Greenhouse Grille.)

For me, supporting local farmers with a CSA is a win-win-win-win.

  • I am consuming fresh eggs and vegetables all season long – and trying new things!  (During my first pickup I received, among many other things, a bundle of mustard greens – that’s new!)
  • I am investing in my local farmers by giving them funds at the beginning of their growing season.  This decreases their need for traditional debt and allows them to secure consumers early in the season, while they have time for such activity.
  • I am voting with my dollar for sustainable farming (what up, soil health.)
  • And since Cobblestone Farm, where I’m subscribed, has a focus on providing jobs and food for those in need (they donate HALF of all yields to hunger relief), I am supporting those efforts as well.
credit: Cobblestone Farm Project

Like most movements in America, the farm fresh food movement has come and gone – and come back again.  100 years ago, this is how everyone ate!  And throughout the past century as our manufacturing capabilities expanded, so did the variety of our food.  Some innovations like frozen food and mass produced canning provide many benefits, all of which I won’t get into now.  But as the new found food-manufacturing industry took hold, supermarket shelves began to contain more and more processed, food-ish products.  That innovation also has its place, but as many Americans have found, processed food alone will not lead to complete nourishment, which can in turn affect quality of life.  And so society swings away from these innovations and feats of food science and manufacturing – and back to the farm tucked off the (now) busy suburban street.

Maybe it’s the widespread consumer education efforts made by documentaries and books like Forks Over Knives and In Defense of Food, which begins: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” as a guideline for healthy eating.  Or maybe it’s that people are tired of food-ish things don’t fully nourish.  Or maybe, as some progressive food critics point out, farm fresh food is a only a fad for those who can afford it, driving a further wedge between the haves and the have-nots.  (Is anything in our culture NOT actually a complicated socio-economic-political issue?)  I would like to understand the consumer motivations here better.  But one thing is for sure: the farm movement is back, it’s mass-culturalized, and I hope it’s here to stay.

Plenitude and the creative process

A few years ago, I bought some paint.  Gauche to be exact.  I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me: I didn’t know how to paint.  And although I generally consider myself to be creative, I did not consider myself very artistic.  But that day, I just felt like painting.

So, standing in the aisle of the local craft store, I choose gauche.  Gauche is a forgiving and transforming medium, a mix between a watercolor paint and a heavier opaque paint.  The beauty of gauche comes from its ability to transform; the amount of water determines how far you can pull the paint across the page and how translucent it becomes, making gauche highly respondent to creative whims.

The first thing I decided to paint was a decidedly silly portrait of my then-fiance.  I enjoyed the process of mixing and layering paint, with very little skill or strategy or knowledge of fine art.  But somewhere in the middle of this creative venture, I asked myself – what is this for?  And I suddenly felt a weird sense of guilt… why was I using good resources (in this case, my mid-tier gauche) on something silly that had no purpose and wasn’t even beautiful?  I was consuming something to create nothing of real value.

I told myself it wasn’t meaningless; creative pursuits are worthy productions in themselves.  But I struggled to accept that.  I felt wasteful.

I decided to rationalize my new found pastime with a specific purpose.  And that’s what led me to hand-painting 200 invitations for my then-upcoming wedding.  With practice, I created a simple olive branch motif which would easily be replicated over and over.  By the nature of handpainting, each invitation turned out uniquely different.


In the midst of a stressful season, handpainting wedding invitations became a creative refuge.  I could enjoy the process of producing something beautiful that was also meant to be (at least marginally) useful.  While I found a small success

I’m currently reading a couple of books on the topic of ‘Plenitude’ (here and here).  Plenitude describes the difficult relationship our Western society faces: we technically have plenty of things (even if they aren’t distributed well, but that’s another topic), but there is an eternal desire to produce more things because producing things makes us happy.

This leads me to believe that in an age where we should be concerned with the effects of having plenty (or just plain too much), the process of making new things can get a bad rep, unfairly.  Production and consumption are not dirty words, like a contorted type of minimalism may make them out to be.   But how do we balance plenitude with the very nature of the creative process, which brings about more things?

Does everything we create have to have value?  Who determines value?  Who gets to benefit in order for something to bear the title ‘valuable’?

This is complicated stuff.  I propose a level of thoughtfulness in all production and consumption.  You don’t even have to justify your reasons to anyone else; the mere process of slowing down to bring a level of consciousness to our creations and our consumptions should suffice for now.

More questions than answers swirl around my head at this point.  To be revisited…