Ecohack 6 – Op shopping.

I love op shopping, and I have become something of an expert.  Op shops, short for opportunity shops are variously called charity stores or thrift stores depending on where you live.  I’ve been going to the Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies, (St Vincent de Paul), Lifeline and The Smith Family stores for decades! When I travel, I always visit the local charity stores.

I even created a blog The Op-Shop Queen back in 2011.  It was based on giving op shops reviews and buying a complete outfit, not including shoes, for less than $20. It’s archived and no longer accessible although I may resurrect it.Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.16.06

Why Op Shops?

I earn enough to buy new stuff but don’t for several reasons,

  1. I’d rather spend that money on other stuff.
  2. I like the challenge of building a wardrobe from the quirky pieces you can find.
  3. The quality is often better. I’d rather pay $10 for a second-hand designer brand than $2 on a piece of crap made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions. Mind you the designer brand may also have been made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions, but it is likely to be better quality material and hence last longer.
  4. The feel-good feeling it gives me for keeping clothes out of the waste stream and doing my bit for the environment.
  5. It fits in with my buy-nothing-new-unless-there-is-no-other-way philosophy.

Keeping clothes out of the waste stream.

There are plenty of stats about the impact discarded clothes have on our waste stream. Fast fashion which is fuelled in part by social media, is an ugly trend where people wear an item once and throw it away. The desire to be seen in something new for every insta-moment is a real thing for many consumers.

Me? I have never really been into fashion. Ooops back up a bit there! I did wear shoulder pads and peplums back in the 80s, and I am conscious of not looking like an utterly uncoordinated bag lady. These days I try to go for a classy, elegant, timeless look that will withstand the “what colour is on trend this week” trend. If you keep things long enough, they’ll cycle back around anyway.

Keeping clothes for longer means that energy and resources used in making them is saved. We should be aiming for more wears per item.

 

Picking up a bargain.

I buy everything from op shops. Clothes, kitchenware, shoes, towels, stationery, books, magazines, storage containers, toys for my grandson. If I need something I go there first. My best buy to date is an evening dress which was brand new, with tags and still in the shops (i.e. it was still in season). The labelled price was over $900, I got it for $100. I even bought my Iains from op shops!

I am lucky my home town of Wollongong has several substantial op shops which are clean and bright.

You never know what you might find! A year or so after I got divorced, I went into my favourite op shop to find many of the items from my own kitchen on sale! The items that had been part of his split. I was a bit peeved that a lovely fruit bowl which was a wedding gift was there for $10! (I knew it was mine because of a unique sticker on the bottom). I decided not to buy it back.

Op shopping is now on trend!

Op shopping is becoming so popular that it is getting harder to get bargains. The charities who run them obviously want to make money, and I have noticed there has been a rise in prices. Back in the old days, designer brands were on the racks cheek by jowl with the Kmart stuff. Now, most stores have these items in their own section with much higher prices. I guess getting an Armani cashmere jumper at $30 is still a bargain.

I used to hide the fact that my clothes were from op shops. When someone asked me where I bought that fabulous dress or whatever, I’d say “Oh just a little place in Wollongong.” Now I reply “from my special shop” which my colleagues know means the op shop!

Decluttering trends and the time made available for decluttering by the COVID lockdowns have meant that many op shops are packed to the rafters with items discarded by others. Now’s a good time to start op shop if you’re not into it already!

Photo 25-04-13 12 06 54
That entire outfit not including shoes, socks and undies was less than $10

My tips for op-shopping.

  1. Remember that the clothes are there for a reason. The previous owner did not want them anymore. This could be because they are slaves to fashion, have put on or lost weight, gotten older and the thigh-high split skirt is no longer part of their look, or they died. The items could be damaged or stained. There could be buttons missing. CHECK them out carefully. Turn the items inside out and have a look for moth holes, rips, broken zips, missing buttons, stains. I need to improve on this front.
  2. The clothes are checked by the staff before being put on the racks, but they are not washed. There may be stained items. Make a decision if you think the stain will be treatable, otherwise leave it on the shelf.
  3. If it is missing buttons or is ripped is the item worth fixing? If it’s a beautiful item that suits you, maybe you could replace all the buttons, or put a cute patch over the rip. There are some good books about mending available.
  4. Try it on!! This is my biggest downfall. I too often buy things without trying them on, and they end up back in my own donations bag when I find they don’t fit or look terrible.  And while yes, I haven’t wasted much money and I have not contributed to the waste stream, it is still a waste.
  5. Be adventurous, try different colours and styles.
  6. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need because it is cheap, and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Overconsumption is still overconsumption whether it’s brand new or second hand. You still have to find a place to store all that shit when you bring it home! Buying things just in case is still a waste.
  7. Challenge your family to do op shop gift-giving, where all presents have to be either homemade or second hand. Use scarves or other fabric found at op-shops to wrap your gifts. There are usually plenty of used-once gift bags available too.
  8. If you are a super bargain hunter op shops often have colour coded tags and these may attract a discount. Look out for signs in the store. Eg “all green tag items 50% off today” or “all pink tags only $2”. Some shops like the Salvos, have bargain days on Mondays and Tuesday where all items under $15 are only $2 and other items are 50% off. Since I work full time I can only get along to those days in the school holidays.
  9. Remember to take your own unwanted and no longer needed items to the op shop when you’ve finished with them. But don’t take your junk. Op shops have to pay to get rid of any unwearable, unusable items dumped at their doorsteps. This reduces their profitability and how many people they can help. It’s not the tip, so please dispose of real rubbish thoughtfully.

Plans for the future

I have written a post before about my inability to travel light! I have had an idea on how to solve this problem. Next time I travel, I am only going to take two changes of clothes and buy everything else from local op shops as I need it. This, of course, will depend on IF I travel internationally again. Who knows!

Don’t be scared, op shops are no longer smelly dank places where only the homeless people hang out! The car park is full of Lexus and Range Rovers and people snapping up bargains while doing their bit for our planet! 

 

Eco-hacks – Episode 4: Meal Planning

Meal planning saves money and resources.

You well may ask, how is meal planning an eco-hack? Meal planning reduces your global environmental footprint AND saves you money because if you do it properly, it will reduce food waste.

If food waste was a country it would be the third biggest emitter after the US and China.

FAO 2013

It is an oft-quoted stat that Australian families waste approximately 20% of the food they buy. Put another way, one in every five bags of groceries you lug into the house could end up in the bin!

It’s not just a waste of money (the average family wastes $1036 p.a!!!)  but also a waste of valuable resources. Apart from the food itself, there is wasted energy in materials in the growing, processing (even lightly processed foods), transportation through the various stages. Next, you have to get to the shops and back,  cart the food home, store it and cook it.

The BIG issue apart from the economic waste, is the contribution that rotting food adds to greenhouse emissions. Unless you live in a place where you can compost ALL your food scraps, or are lucky enough to live in a council area that does FOGO, it’s likely your food waste will end up fermenting away underground in a landfill site. This anaerobic fermentation leads to the production of methane gas which is right up there in terms of greenhouse gases. You can calculate how many kilograms of methane gas you are contributing from food waste at this site.

It makes good economic and ecological sense to reduce food waste.

This graphic from the Sustainable Table gives some facts about food waste. Lack of planning is the most significant cause of food waste.

Why I plan my meals.

Meal planning is one of my happy places! Sad, I know, but apart from the joy I get from being organised and being able to draw up lovely lists, it genuinely makes my life easier. I like cooking, I love trying complicated recipes, and I am very committed to eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

While I have always planned my meals in some shape or form, I have upped my game considerably over the last two or three years.  The fact that it contributes to reducing waste is a bonus.

I  was originally spurred on to be more proactive about meal planning for four reasons:

  1. To reduce decision fatigue. What to cook for dinner is a vexed question even in a household of one! Coming home after a day of work and thinking what the f$%# to cook for dinner was a drag, despite my love of cooking! It also makes shopping easier. More on this later.
  2. To ensure I eat properly. After my divorce, there was a time when I survived on potato wedges and wine. (Oh and BBQ sauce!) I couldn’t be bothered cooking, and my nutrition was suffering. Meal planning helped drag me out of that hole by giving me something concrete to concentrate on. That, and the blood test result that showed my liver was starting to revolt!
  3. To save money. By planning my meals, I only buy what I need and don’t have mystery ingredients in the fridge getting slimier and slimier! I make sure I use up what I have before I buy more and I use a shopping list.
  4. To save time. These days I only cook a couple of days a week and make sure I cook at least four servings each time. One for the current meal, one to take for lunch the next day and two for the freezer. I use the frozen meals for the remainder of the week. I usually try and put a week between the time I cook it and when I eat it, so I am not eating the same thing every day. This meant that I have had to buy some more freezable food containers, but these have come from the op shop. (BTW flatter, skinnier containers freeze quicker and allow you to play better freezer-Tetrus)

How I plan my meals.

Now that I am on a money-saving kick, I have changed my planning a little. In the past, I planned the meals and then went shopping. Now, I do it the other way around. I go to the fruit market and look at what is in season and cheap and buy that. I’ll then build the week’s plan around these foods.

For instance this week, pumpkin, parsnips and beetroot were super cheap, so I bought those as well as the usual staples of tomatoes, onions, leafy greens etc. Then, I come home and use either the recipes I have stored in my head or sites like Delicious, Yummly and others to come up with recipes.

This week, the beetroot got turned into beetroot risotto and a warm beetroot and lentil salad. The parsnips will get turned into parsnip mash, some of which will be frozen and some parsnip chips and the pumpkin was turned into pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins and three meals worth of pumpkin gnocchi.

Spreadsheets, of course!

You will not be surprised to know that I have some meal planning spreadsheets! Several! Feel free to copy and adapt as you like.

  1. A general weekly guideline: this is the blueprint or skeleton from which I start. I don’t stick to it rigidly, in that I will only eat lentils on Tuesdays but rather that within the week I make sure I have at least one lentil-based meal. This is a static document. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.56.33
  2. A weekly meal plan overview: On this sheet, I consider things like
    1. what’s already in the freezer,
    2. what food I need to use up  (Priority ingredients)
    3. if I have any social/work things on where I will be eating out.Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.55
  3. A blank weekly plan: The final level. Here, I write the actual meals I have decided on and what recipes I’ll be using. If there is a web-based recipe, I copy the URL and add it to a note on Google Keep, so it’s easy to re-find. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.41
  4. I use an app called My Shopping List on my phone. I am sure there are plenty of others, but this one works for me.

It takes me about half an hour to plan out the meals, and I think it’s 30 minutes well spent with a cup of tea and my iPad!

From a logistics point of view, I think a larger freezer is a must for successful meal planning and reducing food waste. However, be careful it does not become a morgue full of forgotten food! Label your items with the contents and date.

Thankfully, my Council has just announced that it is introducing FOGO from November. Even with a concerted effort not to waste food I still generate more peelings etc than my worm farm can cope with.

My contribution to reducing climate crisis may not be much, but every little bit counts!

 

 

 

 

Ecohacks – Episode 3 – Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are pieces of cotton fabric which have been soaked in melted beeswax. When the beeswax hardens, the fabric becomes water-resistant. The wraps function to replace plastic film in most, but not all situations. This helps reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use. It won’t save you much money, but you can feel good about making the swap and reducing your impact on the planet.

How to use the wraps.

Because the wax melts at a low temperature you can use the heat of your hands to mould it around the object you are wrapping.

You can not use the wraps for food that is:

  • Very wet or sloppy – they are water-resistant not waterproof.
  • Likely to leak. They do not form a very close seal with the edge of a bowl or plate so you can not create a leak-proof barrier.
  • Intended to be stored for a long time. The barrier is not perfect, bread for example will dry out after a few days.
  • Hot – the wax will melt.

Beeswax wraps are perfect for

  • Wrapping the sandwich which you make in the morning for your work lunch.
  • Covering a plate or bowl of food in the fridge for a day or two.
  • Wrapping up some crackers or popcorn.
  • Wrapping up things like muffins and bread rolls.

Do it yourself Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are super easy to make in your own kitchen and there are lots of YouTube videos to show you how.

Essentially the process is

  1. Pre-wash and iron the fabric before you start. This will remove any sizing or other chemicals that are lingering on the surface.
  2. Cut your fabric to size using pinking shears. I find a good mix of sizes is 25 x 25 cm, 30 x 30 cm and 35 x 45 cm.
  3. Preheat the oven to about 80 – 100ºC. If you can set it at 70ºC that would be better. The wax melts at around 60ºC. If the oven is too hot you will burn the wax.
  4. Line a deep baking tray with baking paper or foil (keep this to re-use)
  5. Lay the fabric in the tray and sprinkle with wax pellets. Approximately 1 pellet per 2 cm².  Another guide is about 15 g of wax for a 25 x 25 cm square.
  6. If the fabric does not fit in the tray, you can fold it over and sandwich the wax in between the folds.
  7. Place in the oven and keep a close watch. It takes about 2 – 3 minutes for the pellets to melt.
  8. When the wax melts, take the tray out and use a brush to spread the wax evenly.
  9. Pick up the fabric carefully by the corners and let it drip into the tray for a few seconds.
  10. Lay it down somewhere to cool and set. Repeat.

A few tips for your DIY:

  • Use lighter colours rather than dark colours. The folds in the fabric turn the wax white and you get ugly lines in your wraps.
denin wax wrap
This is a wrap I made with dark blue denim. Not recommended! Still works but it looks gross!
  • Use lightweight fabric like lawn or gingham. Denim is too thick and soaks up too much wax making them uneconomical. Do not use synthetics.
IMG_6012
This is made with organic cotton. The lines might still be there but you can’t see them.
  • Use pinking shears to cut your fabric. This, in combination with the wax, will stop them from fraying.
  • If you are going to make lots of wraps,  buy a 1 kg bucket of wax pellets, don’t buy the block. The block is cheaper and yes, you can grate it, but it takes ages and is very tedious. I buy mine from Australian Wholesale Oils or Happy Flame.
  • The organic wax is yellow and will change the colour of your fabric. The refined wax is cheaper and whiter.
  • Put a big sheet on the floor to catch the drips of wax. Believe me, you’ll be grateful you did. The wax is hard to clean up.
  • Put a towel or another sheet on your workbench to catch crumbs of wax.
  • Buy a silicone pastry brush to help you spread out the melted wax.
  • Some recipes use pine rosin. I don’t. The pine rosin makes the wraps stickier but some sites say the pine rosin is carcinogenic. It is also expensive and hard to get.
  • Make a big batch and give as gifts.  You’ll get a bit of a production line going.
  • If you want to earn extra eco-warrior points, use pre-loved fabric. The material used for men’s shirts is a perfect weight. I have also bought old serviettes and used them. They are already pre-cut and hemmed.
  • To care for your wraps, wipe down with warm soapy water. You should not wash them.
  • Some recipes also call for jojoba oil. I bought some and used it but to be frank couldn’t tell the difference.
  • I have also tried using the iron to melt the wax. I sandwiched the fabric and wax between sheets of baking paper. It worked OK, but made a bit of a mess! It was however very quick! If you have an old iron and a spare ironing board cover it’s worth a try.

I have been using beeswax wraps for 3 IMG_6009years. I have made lots, with the intention of selling them.

I have discovered that after a few months of use, the wax wears off. I have re-waxed these ones to rejuvenate them rather than making new ones. If they are really past their best you can compost them. Vegans can make wraps using soy wax, but I have never tried that.

 

 

 

PS if you don’t want to make your own, you can buy some of mine! Most of the wraps I have seen at markets are very ‘girly’. I have used more gender-neutral colours and patterns. I call them KingBee wraps. Cute hey! You can leave a comment or click on the contact page to arrange to order.

 

KingBee2

Eco-hacks- Episode 2 – Toilet paper trade-off

Category: Reducing single-use items.

It seems like another lifetime ago, but in March 2020 things went wonky in the supermarket aisles. The shelves were empty; denuded of basics like rice and pasta. If you had canned soup on your shopping list? Think again, there was none available! The lack of food staples was nothing compared to the hullabaloo happening away from the fridges and freezers, away from the breakfast cereal and flour.

Over in the paper goods aisle, there was some really serious shit going down.  People were panic-buying toilet paper in preparation for self-isolation. They were fighting over the last eight pack. Enraged shoppers were swearing at the cashiers. Rumours were fueling rushes on shops. “Coles at Figtree has toilet paper! Quick! Too late!”

The world went genuinely crazy! Over toilet paper? Yes, over toilet paper.

IMG_4764
Empty shelves: Woolworth’s Figtree March 22nd 2020

NOT ME! I was sitting pretty, because, in January, ignorant of the impending doom of Corona, I had bought a year’s supply of toilet paper (and paper towels, toothpaste and all those non-perishable, non-food type things) as I intended on only going to the fresh food market. I planned to stay out of Woollies for the year and save some money. I had made my estimates, done my calculations and bought in bulk. It was all part of my big Year of Zero. My plan to cut back, par down and save money.

Worth its weight in gold?

Bazinga!

I had a goldmine in my linen press! I decided not to cash in. In fact, I went the other way and thought “well how can I make what I have last even longer”? I was spurred on by an article in the Guardian about reusable “toilet paper” or rather, washable wipes that can be reused and potentially eliminate toilet paper from your shopping list and our environment.

Ever resourceful, I got a large towel from the op shop and used my overlocker (serger) to cut it into small strips about 12  x 8cm. From one $2 bath towel I got 66 little tiny towels. I bought a small flip-top bin with a well-sealed lid for $8 and I’m set. That ten measly bucks sets me up for the next five years! (or until I need to replace them)

I will still use some toilet paper because I am not gutsy enough to use the tiny towels for faeces, only urine. (Thank god I hear my friends sigh!) The used wipes get tossed in the little bin, and I wash them with non-clothes items like towels or sheets and hang them in the bright UV-laden Australian sun to dry. It turns out these small reusable towels are called “family cloths” and are big business on Etsy! Family cloths sounds a bit ooky to me, so I’m sticking with tiny towels.

I’ve used two double-length rolls of paper in the last six months. I hasten to add that my bathroom habits are… umm… shall we say, healthy and regular, so I’m not under-using my stash.

On top of the financial benefits, there are loads of eco-warrior princess points to be won here. Toilet paper typically comes packed in plastic, uses high-quality virgin paper and water in its manufacture. Although it breaks down quickly in the sewerage system it is still a single-use product that is chucked out. Sewage treatment is a significant drain on our community’s coffers and not one we can scrimp on if we are to keep safe and healthy.

Toilet paper is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it takes just one virus to bring us to our knees and create chaos.  I wonder how many people have got a truckload of unopened paper in their garage?

Toilet Paper Hoarder?
It turns out this buyer also bought the stash before COVID. Incorrectly ordering 48 boxes instead of 48 rolls. Image from Courtesy US NEWS and Report.

The history of toilet paper

This sort of crisis gets you (well me anyway) thinking about what did people do in the olden days before the invention of snowy white toilet paper?

Sticks and stones as it turns out. Snow, seashells, wooden scrapers, communal sponges on sticks, flat rocks, leaves, moss, lambswool and fingers have all been or are still used as cleaning/drying implements after the business is done.

Ewww,  if the thought of washing a little tiny towel grossed you out, think of those alternatives!

Toilet paper, as we know it is a relatively recent invention. The first commercially produced toilet paper landed in the grocery store in 1857.

If you’re interested, these websites have some interesting stories on the history and commercial development of toilet paper.

https://www.history.com/news/toilet-paper-hygiene-ancient-rome-china

http://www.wonderbarry.com/TP%20Site/index.html

So how much will I save?

Back in January, I calculated that I was buying a four-pack of double length toilet paper every month. So I figured I’d need 48 rolls for the whole year. I paid about $6-7 a pack. So my upfront expenditure was about $90 tops for the year. My current rate of use sees me using 6 rolls over the year, let’s say $10. Over 5 years I’ll save ~ $400. (Maybe)

It’s not really about the money; it’s about reducing my footprint. In terms of eco-princess brownie points, this is right up there! I’m doing my bit to save trees, water and electricity and come the second wave I’ll be doing fine!

Toilet paper cartoon
A hot commodity?

Yuck factor?

The title of the Guardian article referenced above refers to the ‘yuck factor’ of reusable solutions to cleaning or drying ourselves after we have been to the toilet.

Now, for you fellows out there here is a bit of private women’s business. We use toilet paper every time we wee. All things going well, it’s really just a little dab to wipe a few drips. For this little bit of liquid I have known some women to use more than ten sheets! What a waste!  Why have we become so separated from our bodily functions?

Personally, I am still not ready to go commando and use the wipes for faeces as well. I am not done analysing the reasons why as I was a cloth nappy mum and it’s not the poo that worries me…just my poo I guess. I have also proven my poo-brave face by doing voluntary faecal analysis to see what bugs I have in my gut and for a bowel scan. Maybe I’ll get there but I won’t tell anyone.

Anyways, if using your own reusable wipes is a step too far, at least switch to a more eco-friendly option. Seek out paper made with at least some unbleached, recycled paper in paper wrapping. Bidets are also a very good alternative if you have access to one. The water used in the bidet is a fraction of that used in the manufacture of paper and the washing of tiny towels.

Check out “Who gives a crap” a socially responsible company who makes good toilet paper and gives back to the community. It’s not white and snowy but then neither is your bum!


PS: Visiting friends and family? Don’t worry; the guest bathroom is stocked with the real deal!

 

Eco-hacks – Episode 1: A decent cup of tea.

Today I am launching a  new and possibly short-lived series about eco-hacks for the Sunday Post! Coming up with two extended posts a week is hard! So I am trying to reduce some decision fatigue, ensure my posts are as high a quality as I can, and still post frequently. Quick, themed tidbits are the way to go!

Hence,  the  Eco-hacks Series!  This is the little something I am adding to my daily routine to help reduce my global impact, which is part of my Year of Zero project. Not meant to be earth-shattering news, but, hey, every little bit counts!

Category: Reducing single-use items.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE! I have switched from using single-use tea-bags to loose-leaf tea. The tea leaves themselves are still single-use but the packaging and bag part are now banished.

Benefits of loose leaf tea:

1.  Nicer tea! I have been splashing out and buying some nice Earl Grey tea through A Decent Cup Of Tea. I managed to get a Bodum in cup diffuser from the op shop for $3 and I already had a teapot. So I am actually enjoying the tea more than teabag tea. I also get to use the cute little tea cosy I made. I also like putting the milk in the cup first, which I can with tea leaf tea.

2. Less waste. Even though theoretically the tea bags are compostable, there is still the energy and waste that must go into their manufacture. I dump the used leaves into my worm farm or on the garden. The worms seem to like the tea leaves. I wonder if they are getting a bit high on the caffeine?

 

Eco Hacks: Use Tea posts and diffuers to make a better cup of tea.
My current tea making tools!

Cons of loose leaf tea:

1. It takes more time to make a cup of tea. Not so much a problem at home but at work, yes.  I have taken a small teapot to work and have been brewing a pot of tea in the morning. I also have to toss the leaves in the bin and this gets a bit messy.

2. Not so travel friendly: Tea bags are great to keep in your handbag for when you are visiting people who don’t have Earl Grey tea (my fav).

3. More cost? Marginally. I don’t know exactly how many cups of tea I’m getting out of the 100g packs I am buying so I can not compare accurately.

  • 200 g of tea is lasting me about 3 months. Which pans out to be about $12 a month.
  • 100 tea bags were lasting about a month at $10 – 11 a box.

So there’s not much in it really and not worth worrying about.


SIDE NOTE: There is a great deal of ritual and rule-making around tea making. In my opinion to make a decent cup of tea:

  • The water must be BOILING, like rolling boiling, not just hot.
  • Fresh tea – don’t let it linger in your cupboard for too long
  • You absolutely cannot make a good cup of tea in the microwave so don’t even try! Get a kettle! Or a jug as we call them in Australia.
  • Use glass or ceramic teapots and cups
  • Leave it to brew for at least 3 minutes and use a tea cosy to keep it warm.
  • Milk, if you use it, goes in first.

Stay tuned for more eco-hacks in the coming weeks.

Have you got any favourite eco-hacks you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Saving the planet – one pair of socks at a time.

I am balancing precariously on the intersection of two conflicting intents. The conflicting intents? Saving money so I can retire and saving the planet.

Personal savings intent:

I am 59, and I have a huge mortgage as a result of getting divorced and needing to start again. I don’t want to downsize as I am already in a small villa. I want to retire by 62. I have set myself a goal of saving a little over a third of my net pay for the next four years. This should get the mortgage paid off and means I won’t end up homeless.

I am achieving this through a number of strategies which I set out in my Year of Zero Post. Essentially I’m saving money by:

  1. Placing an embargo on buying new things and only replacing stuff if it gets broken or wears out.
  2. Being much more frugal in terms of food, entertainment and lifestyle in general.

Saving the planet intent:

I want to be a more sustainable and ethical buyer. I want to buy from smaller companies, not multinationals. I want to buy local more often and hyper-local wherever possible. I want to buy from people who have bonafide planet-friendly strategies. I want to buy Australian made and Australian owned.  I want to buy from those companies whose triple bottom line includes, profit in terms of money, environment and people.

My dilemma? I need new sports socks. The ones I have are disappearing inside my shoes as I run.

Weighing up the options

I can go to the local chain store KMart, and get three pairs of socks for $2. I won’t buy those because I know they won’t last long and are probably synthetic and will end up smelly. I can afford to splash out and get 3 pairs for $12. KMart has an ethical buying commitment. They are establishing a framework to ensure their suppliers’ employees are paid a living wage.   Their sustainability policy concentrates on sources of cotton and cocoa, social responsibility and saving energy by installing LED lighting. Their environmental bona fides are not great, but they are working towards it. They’re are thinking about it, but they are not there yet.

On the other hand, I could buy from a company like Boody. Boody is an Australian family company which manufactures underwear and socks from ethically and sustainably sourced bamboo. Their environmental credentials are impressive. The bamboo is grown and treated in China. Some of their products are made in Australia, but from their website, it is hard to tell where the items are actually knitted or stitched together.  They employ local people, pay a living wage,  and have a close to zero waste production cycle. They give to planet-friendly charities. They tick the environmental boxes but not the manufactured in Australia box.

Given the KMart socks are also not Australian made, this factor can be cancelled out.  BUT one pair of bamboo socks will cost me $10! I can get a discount if I buy five pairs. This brings it down to $8.80 a pair.

The Decision?

And here is where I get stuck. This is, I fear is where most people get stuck. Do I spend 400% more buying the eco socks or stash the cash in my own account? What wins? The now or the later? My economic future or the future of the planet? What legacy do I want to leave?

The answer becomes clearer when it’s personalised, and I think about my own family. What impact will my actions have on my offspring? What impact can I have as one person?

The journey has to start somewhere, and this time I am going to give the eco-socks a try. My desire to ensure that this one planet remains liveable and viable for my grandson has won the argument.

DISCLAIMER: I have no connection to Boody. They just came up when I searched Google for ethical and sustainable socks.


Nearly $60 later; the socks arrived, they’re soft and fluffy and good quality.  They are labelled “Made in China”. I hope they last!

 

Go Solar!

In my quest to reduce my carbon footprint I am seriously considering installing solar panels. I am coincidently doing a unit of work on energy with my Year 7 Science class.  Since our school is “learning from home”,  I  had time to play with some new apps and techniques to prepare a lesson for remote learning, I put this clip together as a bit of fun. Three parts learning new skills, 3 parts lesson prep and 4 parts just fooling around!

Video footage using my iPhone, screen capture using Loom. Music from Purple Planet. Adobe Sketch with an Apple Pencil and iMovie to put it all together.

 

To-do list or ta-da list?

A to-do list is helpful, right?

Have you got a really long to-do list of all the things you should be doing in this Age of Corona? Now you are not commuting every day because you’re working from home or your place of work has closed down, you’ve got heaps more time! Right? You might have more time because you are not going out to the movies or drinks with friends and EVERYTHING in your calendar has been cancelled? Right? You should be using this time productively, right?

Empty Calendar
No events! The P&C meeting was cancelled too!

Is this to-do list making you feel guilty as you sit in front of the TV and watch one more episode of the latest binge-worthy show? Just one more and THEN I‘ll go to bed! Promise!

I started off ISO with this big to-do list. It ran to three A5 pages. I wrote it before the lockdown started in an effort to avoid getting to the end of this and thinking “oh darn that’s right! I should have done….XYZ.” XYZ being whatever the really important thing that I could have been doing but didn’t get done! I also have to keep in mind my overarching year-long plan – the Year of Zero.

The list became a yoke across my shoulders. A burden to bear. One that didn’t allow for the contingencies and emergencies of daily life. It didn’t allow for the weather. It didn’t allow for my mood.

From to-do to ta-da!

So I put that list aside for reference and created a new one. I have simplified and broadened it considerably. Now my list has only four things on it. It is flexible, adaptable and infinitely adjustable.

Here is my daily to-do list:

  1. Learn something.
  2. Create something.
  3. Organise something.
  4. Move everything! (as in exercise)

So for instance today,

  1. What did I learn? I watched a lecture about sustainability and learnt that if we returned to a 1970’s level of consumption (of goods and energy), we could work 80% less.  The 1970s wasn’t too bad, we just didn’t have as much STUFF. The lecture does not suggest we return to 1970s technology (or fashion!) just the level of stuff we accumulate. It’s the first of 12 in a series from The Great Courses which I accessed for free through Kanopy. Kanopy is a video streaming service which I get for free with my library membership. Lots of public libraries offer it. Check to see if yours does.
  2. What did I create? Well, this post for my Sunday Post series for a start! I also finished off some of the tea cosies I started the other day.
  3. What did I organise? I am working on a document called “Death Admin” which has information for my family if/when I die. This was triggered by a podcast  (The Pineapple Project) I listened to recently.  I am getting together the information and documents I need for that.
  4. Did I move? Yes! Before breakfast, I did a 30-minute online exercise class which has been provided by my (closed) gym. Later today I will do a Zoom session with my sister, the personal trainer. While I was watching the lecture in Point 1 above I stood up and stepped from side to side and did squats and all sorts of in-place moves so I wasn’t sitting on my bum for another 30 minutes!

My to-do list is now a ta-da list! I can shrink or expand the items to suit the day, the mood and the life that gets in the way!

Smoke and mirrors maybe, but it’s making a difference to how I feel!

Year of Zero Quarterly Review

Edited to Add 22/3/20: I wrote this post in early-February when things were a little less dire than they are now.  Australia was yet to be placed in lock-down due to the Corona Virus. Last night our Government announced Stage 1 of the process, with most public venues being closed down. I feel like an oracle or at least the start of a conspiracy theory. Here I was thinking I was doing something novel when a novel virus comes along and means EVERYONE is having a Year of Zero forced upon them. Hope you are all OK.

Stay safe, stay away and wash your hands! 


At the end of last year, I announced my big project for 2020, The Year of Zero. My aim is to spend as little as possible, save up plenty of zero’s and try to live a less wasteful lifestyle.

Three months are up and here is my first-quarter report.

1. No Overseas Travel

Tick! Nope, no international travel! I have been nowhere!

Score: 10/10

View in a car's rear view mirroe
No road trips this year! Or plane rides.

2. No extended travel within Australia

The only places I have been to were not at my expense and were part of my volunteer response to the devastating bushfires in NSW in January 2020. So tick, done!

Score: 10/10

3. No new stuff

I bought a handbag. It satisfied the rules for purchases as it was replacing a worn-out item and was second hand. It’s a stylish leather backpack that fits my zero waste kit in it (more on that later). I did get a few NEW new things for my grandson including two train sets.  I  bought some glass jars to make kombucha kits. I am hoping to sell these on.

A major expense in this quarter has been getting my dining chairs reupholstered as the crappy vinyl was peeling off and shedding everywhere. Kudos needed though! I repaired rather than replaced even though it was cheaper to buy new!

Score: 7/10

 

4. Reduction in Expenditure on Groceries.

I decided to cut my fortnightly budget by  40%. I thought I would struggle.  For the last three months I have been:

  1. Carefully planning meals and batch cooking after checking what’s in season and cheap.
  2. Following a frugal flexitarian diet  – Plenty of lentils and no fresh salmon fillets!
  3. Shopping from my cupboard – and it’s still not empty!
  4. Making use of the chest freezer that has been sitting empty in my garage for the last 6 years.
  5. Buying in bulk.
  6. Not shopping at Woolworths.
  7. Tracking my expenditure using an app.

These strategies have meant that most fortnights I actually have money left over even after the 40% cut. I have an inkling that a large proportion of the saved money would have previously been spent on booze as “booze-drunk-at-home” came out of the grocery allocation.

I am no longer buying the treats I used to buy, only having meat if I eat out and I’m making nearly everything from scratch.  Comment: Pasta is not worth making at home. Preserved lemons, on the other hand, are totally worth it! (A post about that soon)

Score: 10/10

5. Side hustle happenings

This is coming along slowly. I launched a photography business – OCE Photography – but have no bookings yet. I ran a couple of courses at the local community college and I sold all my 2020 calendars!! That’s good news because last year, I had 20 left over and lost money.  I have listed some greeting cards on my Etsy site

The most exciting news though is that I have had my first freelance article for money accepted.

I’m heading in the right direction but not about to replace the day job just yet!

Score: 5/10

6. Only sign up for Free Courses

In 2019, I spent a lot of money on courses and I have vowed to do only free courses in 2020. I have discovered Future Learn which has great courses.  It has a paid option as well, but the free version is working for me. I don’t want a certificate. So far, I have completed a course on Upcycling and Humanism. There are enough courses to keep me busy forever!

Score: 10/10

7. Sell some of my stuff

With the double aim of getting rid of clutter and making money, I plan to hold another garage sale. This has not happened yet.

Score:  0/10

8. Concentrate on free activities

Not sure what to report here. I didn’t spend much in the most recent school holiday period as I was assisting with fires. I generally go out with a group of friends once a week to trivia and since I’m not drinking, it’s a very cheap night out.

Score: N/A

9. Rewrite my 60 for 60

My revised 60 for 60 plan includes many expensive activities, mainly travel-related, which are now in conflict with my new goals. I have not rewritten them yet. I have completed 22 of the items on the original list.

Score: 0/10

10. Zero-waste eco-warrior.

I have been doing lots of reading and signed up to some blogs, newsletters and podcasts. However, I am still struggling with getting rid of plastic packaging. My worm farm is already at maximum capacity in terms of dealing with my food scraps. I need to get a compost bin too.

Wins on this front are much less food waste and creating a zero-waste kit which I am carrying around in the “new” backpack. This consists of a reusable coffee mug, cutlery kit, reusable bags and metal water bottle.

I feel I can do much better in the eco-warrior princess department.

Score: 5/10

11. Year of Zero Booze

Although not declared as an aim at the Year of Zero launch, I decided to stop drinking alcohol as a way of saving money and looking after my health. So far no booze since December 29th, 2019. I am aiming to do the full 12 months.

Score: 10/10

three bottles of kombucha
Brewing my own Kombucha saves a packet!

My overall score on a very arbitrary scale is 67%.

I’ll report back at the end of June for the half-yearly review.


Let’s hope the curve is flattened by then! And I think pasta has now become worth making at home!