The Joy of Jars

Last week, I talked a little about some of my sustainability and simplicity efforts, but my most consistent attempt to reduce my footprint has got to be my love of reusing glass jars. Sadly, my husband (who, admittedly, does most of the dishes) does not share my love of jars and has even insisted that I curate my collection a bit in recent years. But I love a good jar, and trying to be more sustainable and low-waste has certainly reignited my desire to keep every jar I come across.

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First of all, I try to find things in glass or metal packaging where possible because the bulk of a jar can be more easily recycled than plastic. I’ve been quietly switching things over to glass packaging where possible in most areas of my life. But the other reason I love buying things in glass is because I love to save jars. Recently, our store started carrying a new brand of French custard, which is delicious (and comes in chocolate, rice, and salted caramel!), but also comes in the most adorable tiny glass jars that are the perfect size for my own homemade pots de creme. Of course, my husband, who does most of our dishes, has a slightly less glowing view of my collection of jars and made me get rid of all but the number of jars that fits one batch of custard.

Jars are so useful, though. Lately, since I’ve been trying to shop in bulk more, I’ve found even more use for my collection of jars. I throw a couple into our reusable bag each week when do the shopping. It’s simple enough to take them to customer service to get a tare weight, and then I can get nuts or pasta or beans or rice or any number of things without any wasted packaging. Our store even has bulk honey, olive oil, and vinegars available, so I can get those (the olive oil goes into a bottle) without having bottles that will need to be thrown out. And since the honey is local, it’s the most sustainable way to sweeten. I’ve been using bulk hazelnuts, bulk salt, and bulk honey (and tap water) to make a milk substitute for my morning beverage lately, without any extra waste.

But jars are also not terribly bulky, especially when I save smaller jars, like the jar I got some beans in a few years back. It’s the perfect size to carry some home-blended tea to work, or pop into the shopping bag to get a treat from the bulk bins instead of a wrapped candy or trail mix. And I even recently used one of my tiny custard jars to bring some loose-leaf decaf Earl Grey to a brunch at a friend’s house because I know my mother prefers that and my friends didn’t have any decaf tea on hand.

The one tip for life with jars that I have is this: Know that standard mason jar lids are not stainless/rust-proof. This was never an issue for years (except for the one time I tried to store vinegar in a mason jar) because we hand-washed everything, but since moving to a house with a dishwasher, we’ve realized that the lids that came with our mason jars have started to rust. So the one new jar-related purchase we’ve made is to buy stainless steel mason jar lids. The fit is a little fiddly, and they’re not appropriate for canning, but it’s nice to not have two pieces of lid when I’m trying to pack up pumped milk or bring a jar of soup to work.

What about you? I’ve started up multiple conversations recently with friends and acquaintances who share my love of jars, so I’d love to hear about your favorite jars in the comments.

On Simplifying and Civilized Sustainability

The other day, while walking out of a meeting, my coworker commented on how “green” I was because I hadn’t printed out the meeting document, in favor of bringing an electronic copy on my tablet, along with my notebook for any notes I needed to take. I showed him one better and showed that I’d also brought my own cloth napkin to have a treat during the meeting (this month’s treat was cupcakes) instead of using a paper plate and napkin. It was nice to have these little efforts recognized because over the last several years, I’ve quietly tried to make small changes towards a less wasteful, more sustainable lifestyle, including bringing cloths with me to work instead of using so many paper towels and napkins.

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Probably the biggest change to my life that I’ve been trying to make, with varying levels of success, is my attempts to reduce my overall consumption. Whether I’m changing my buying habits of new (or new-to-me) clothes, reducing the way I use personal care products, or making small changes to how we eat, simply buying less is always going to be the most sustainable thing a person can do. Rather than buying new linen towels (linen is very eco-friendly, didn’t you know?), we’re using the towels we have until they’re no longer serviceable. Rather than buying new clothes, I’ve bought second-hand or even taken castoffs and loaners from friends. And my beauty routine is slowly creeping towards something very different from the sprawling, globe-circling routine that I’ve shared in the past.

Really, there is something very civilized about simplicity sometimes. I’m not Kon-Mari-ing anything (although we have been doing some of the decluttering that should have happened before we moved), but I’m trying to make steps towards reducing the need for such a chore. And, really, I’d rather wear the same two skirts for work all week than spend more than a little time on the weekend doing laundry or clearing out my closet. People view it as “strong personal style” rather than “wearing the same thing every week.” Plus, I’ve been quietly transitioning my wardrobe towards entirely natural fibers, and then towards more sustainable fibers (like the aforementioned linen). It’s expensive, so the process will be slow anyway. I’m less engaging in minimalism as I am asymptotically approaching it by bringing less into my life.

And that’s the crux of it, and part of why this is a quiet effort and not one that I would really recommend to anyone, because it’s part of a very personal value judgment. For me, I know I can “get away with” wearing as much of my pre-pregnancy wardrobe as possible, and buy a few necessities, so that if I spend more money to buy from a seamstress who makes all her pieces herself and charges accordingly out of sustainably-grown fabric, it doesn’t matter that I can really only afford one new piece of clothing every month or so. Or if I decide to make my own new skirt for the coming cooler months, I can choose to order my fabrics carefully and spend a month sewing it by hand, rather than needing to get a fall and winter wardrobe all at once. But not everyone has that luxury.

Or in the case of my skin care. I’ve already spent years honing my skin care routine and determining my skin’s general likes and dislikes, so I can buy products with relatively confidence online, so when I want to transition from less plastic packaging, I can try a new facial oil or cleanser or hydrating serum without as much of the unknown looming. And it helps that my skin has calmed down incredibly since my pregnancy (touch wood). So far, I’ve transitioned most of my skin care to simpler products that are largely produced by small companies (or people I know somewhat personally, through social media) and are mostly packaged with less plastic. There are a couple things I know I cannot swap out, despite their plastic bottle, but I know where I can recycle those containers now. Once I’ve tested the last new potential product, I’ll do a skincare update, I think.

And I’m fortunate to have the support of my husband, who has made great strides in reducing his use of papers towels and coffee filters. We’ve now almost entirely switched over to using cloth towels instead of paper ones, especially for our napkins. Somehow using cloth paper towels was an easier leap than trying to use our stock of gifted cloth napkins because the napkins seemed fancier. Now we have an eclectic pile of napkins and towels that we use at meals or for small spills. And Dan uses a cloth coffee filter in his coffee cone every morning. It seems very civilized, but really, it’s just a way to make less trash. Like using a fountain pen: I see a way to generate less waste in the form of discarded pens because I can simply refill the cartridge, but also, it’s a fancy pen and I look fancy using it.

Of course, the quintessential civilized sustainability swap for me is my tea. Now, I don’t pretend that my tea is at all a sustainable habit. I get most of it shipped from halfway around the world in single-use packaging, despite my attempts to save tins and reuse them. The fact is that tea has to be sealed to prevent it from going stale. But using loose leaf tea with my tea ware (much of which is either handmade or secondhand) offers a bit of an offset, as I don’t create any additional bits of litter in the form of teabags. And I can have several cups of tea from one serving of leaves, rather than using many teabags per day. Plus, as far as hobbies go, sitting quietly and enjoying the outside with a cup of tea is far simpler than many others, and helps to quiet my mind so that I can find contentment with what I have, which is the ultimate sustainability.

A Holiday Gift Guide for the Excess-Adverse

Ever since I was a child, my least favorite day of the holidays was the day after Christmas. We would have descended on our piles of gifts, flinging wrapping everywhere, only to be left with a few discarded bits of paper, the candy in the toe of the stocking that we didn’t insist on eating right away, and piles of new gifts that had to be cleaned up and put away.

It was this feeling of letdown that ultimately led to my adult experiments with minimalism, even convincing my mother for a few years to have very frugal Christmases. It made me realize that my favorite parts of Christmas had nothing to do with gifts, except the enjoyment of choosing small gifts for others. One year, we exchanged our few gifts and then baked cookies for the rest of the morning. And the Christmas visits were always far more enjoyable than the debauchery of present-opening.

So I present my little gift guide, based on what I plan to give this holiday season. Rather than assuming I had to spend a certain amount or give a certain amount of things, I decided on something quieter and simpler.

  1. Homemade gifts: Never underestimate the appeal of a homemade gift. I like to make bath and body products and crocheted gifts. I think my absolute favorite gift experience in recent memory was one of the first years I joined Boyfriend’s family on Christmas Day. They had a family friend with them who had had a singularly rough year and I had not realized she would be with us until a day or two before Christmas. I spent the next day crocheting a very simple, quick beret-style hat with a flower motif. She was so touched that not only had I thought of her at all, but that I had made her something by hand, even though it was neither expensive nor particularly time-consuming compared to the other gifts I’d made. This year, I have an immense stash of soaps, lip balms, and a few scarves that I’ve amassed over the months. Handmade gifts transcend monetary value and are about as close as you can get to actually a physical representation of love and care.
  2. Local craft fairs: I am fortunate in that a nearby town has a two-day craft fair early every December where I can pick up any last-minute gifts. I also showed Boyfriend the joy of the craft fair this year. While it may not be the place to go to save money (although some of the crafters had very reasonable prices) I thoroughly enjoy handing my money to the person who either made the item I’m buying or is related to the crafter. Plus you can strike up all sorts of fun conversations. It’s where I met my friend who makes soap several years ago. Now she’s giving me advice about my own soap!
  3. Etsy: When I can’t make what I need myself and I can’t find it at a local fair, I turn to Etsy to find something handmade. I love that I can search within a given geographical area to save on shipping fuel, and I can communicate with a seller before buying. I buy much of my own accessories and clothing on Etsy, and this year, I bought a lot of handmade wooden soap dishes to make gift bundles with my homemade soaps.
  4. Gifts of time: They seem cheesy, but I love the idea of giving someone a coupon for something to do, either a walk or a hike or just a day where you do the cleaning. In fact, that would be a brilliant gift for me to give Boyfriend…
  5. Visits and (optional) Edibles: As I said before, one of my favorite parts of Christmas is paying visits to family and friends. Just spending time with someone who is often too busy or too far away to see often is a gift itself. And when I do visit, I bring homemade cookies or cake! I also have cookies and cakes on hand when others come to visit over the holiday season. I like to take assortments of cookies and freeze them so I can pop out a couple at a time and thaw or bake them fresh for company.

So there you have it: a gift guide for those who wish to be moderate in their giving. A few small, well-thought-out gifts will touch your friends and family far deeper than holiday excess.

A Very Bold Experiment

Despite having a very simple beauty routine compared to some, I sometimes wonder why I struggle a bit with acne while Boyfriend enjoys largely clear skin, despite the fact that he does absolutely nothing for it. A few weeks ago, I decided to change things in a rather large way.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone without any face or eye makeup at all and I wash my face only with water and a clean washcloth in the evening and water only in the mornings. It’s a lovely simple routine and I don’t have to worry if I occasionally forget to wash up at night because I’m not wearing makeup to clog things.

Going without products has taught me about my skin. I’ve realized that I actually have patches of dry skin when I put nothing on my skin. To avoid this, I use five drops of rosehip seed oil patted into my skin at night and Badger Balm rose-scented sunscreen during the day. It sinks in and prevents dryness without giving me greasy skin and it smells lovely.

Other than that, I wear my red lipstick. And that’s it.

Obviously, when I act, I still have to wear some makeup. As one show is in tech right now, I’ve been experimenting with using grapeseed oil followed by my homemade soap to remove the makeup. I think because I only wear makeup for a few hours at a time instead of all day, it doesn’t irritate my skin as much.

Perhaps I shall stick to this, or perhaps I shall need more come summer when the heat makes me sweat, but for now, I’m enjoying my simple routine.

Pursuing Less But Not Little

As I’ve mentioned previously, throughout my life, I’ve flirted with the idea of minimalism. I like the idea of a simple life with only a few possessions. When I travel, I take what will fit in a small bag. On a day-to-day basis, I stick to a capsule wardrobe that is practically a uniform, with makeup that requires only 4 or 5 items.

But I am not a minimalist. I will never again be the kind of person who tries to limit her possessions to an arbitrary number. Perhaps that seems a bit like a woman who believes in equality but says she’s not a feminist. But I truly believe I don’t belong among the ranks of true minimalists, who eschew accumulation of any kind (except perhaps snow).

Because I don’t count or trim. I clear out what needs clearing, but I enjoy receiving and buying when I need it. I may have 5 dresses, 5 cardigans, and a single pair of shoes that I wear to work almost every day, but I have a proliferation of scarves that I refuse to curate. I have jewelry that I receive as gifts or buy as it strikes me. I have probably a dozen red lipsticks because I still haven’t found The One (I think I’m close). And I still have little bits and bobs that I use to decorate.

But I avoid unnecessary indulgence. I live my life with less than I could. It started when I got my first job after graduate school. At a time when I was living in a room in a shared house, scraping together what I could to pay the bills while going through a divorce, all of a sudden, I found myself making much more money than I was used to. But I was still living like a poor student. And instead of going out and blowing all that money, getting a luxury apartment, and filling the space my new salary afforded me, I stepped back. I examined my finances, indulged in a few things, like a private, one-bedroom apartment, and some furniture (not enough, my family told me), and then put the rest into savings.

Less than one year after getting my new job, I crashed my car. I went three months without a car of my own, relying on carpooling, my bicycle, and public transportation, while I saved most of each paycheck. Then, I bought a car, paying upfront. And by the time I was two years out of graduate school, I had paid off my student loans from college. I was debt free fully eight years before I thought I would be.

But I still live in a house where I get one room entirely to myself, other than the bedroom I share with Boyfriend. We certainly have more space than we strictly need, and we could live more frugally without too much sacrifice. But the extra cost of a house with a yard is worth it when the weather is beautiful and I can plant herbs in the ground instead of in pots.

It is a quiet sort of cutting back, and one that rarely gets touted on blogs or websites, I think, but I think it’s worth sharing how I was a minimalist, but I’m not really anymore. And that’s okay. It’s peaceful to live my life in a sort of moderate minimalism, having neither an excess, nor a paucity.

Quiet Transitions

For those of us familiar with pagan holidays, we are nearing what is considered the pagan new year for many. Samhain (Halloween for most) is considered the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year. By an odd twist of fate, it is also when I am going to leave my current job for a new endeavor.

Transitions always come with a fair serving of self-reflection and attempts at self-improvement and perhaps re-invention for me. This time, however, I am perhaps a bit more comfortable with where I am. I don’t so much feel the need to re-invent myself, but instead to hone myself. Temper what I like with some shedding of the excess to emerge a stronger version of me.

Lately, I’ve realized I’ve amassed a lot of stuff over the last year. When I went through my divorce, I found Zen meditation and minimalism and threw myself into it. It helped that I moved around a lot and dislike moving all that stuff with me. It helped to downsize, but eventually I found myself missing certain things and realizing that I was unprepared for some of life’s events.

So I eased up, stopped policing my consumption unless it grew to obviously excessive levels. Little breaks, like my buying break earlier this year, became enough to rein me in. Or so I thought.

As I look at the boxes from the things I’ve bought recently, I’ve realized that needs to stop. I am not a minimalist, at least not in the sense of bloggers who count their possessions and live as stuff-free as possible.

But I am not happy surrounded by things.

So I’ve started to hone my wardrobe, realizing that I wear a tiny fraction of what I own on any given day. Also, I will have to rise earlier and be ready to go earlier with my new job, so I’ve started gravitating towards the idea of a personal uniform, at least for work. While I’m not quite there, I’ve put away a large portion of my wardrobe, just to see what I truly miss, and what I would only keep out of a desire to have backup clothing when I’m too lazy to do laundry.

I’ve simplified my exercise routine, as I no longer have morning daylight in which to run during the week. I still go to my aerials classes, and other than that, must satisfy my active urge with walking and whatever yoga and strength routine I can eke out of my pre-dawn self.

And fall has brought a return to simple eating. There is just not so much choice at winter markets for fresh veggies, and so I find myself gravitating towards hearty meals based around just a few ingredients.

It is a quiet way of improving myself, but I believe it may be better for me.