Our zero waste pantry staples are the items that we buy unpackaged in bulk and keep on hand at all times. We have about half of a single under-counter cabinet for food storage, so we don’t keep much more than the basics. Our weekly shopping fills in the gaps.
Our Zero Waste Pantry Staples
1. Grains: brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa
2. Oats: thick-rolled and steel-cut
3. Beans: black, garbanzo/chickpeas, kidney
4. Nuts: cashews, almonds, sometimes peanuts (we tend not to store these since I can’t eat any of them. Instead, my boyfriend makes his own trail mix and takes the whole container to work with him.)
5. Flours: oat (easy to make at home as well), brown rice, white rice, tapioca starch, potato starch, xanthan gum.
6. Dried fruit: typically cherries
7. Coconut: Unsweetened chips and shredded
8. Chocolate chips
9. Seeds: chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, hemp
10. Baking: baking soda, sugar, brown sugar
11. Spices: We refill all of our empty spice containers with bulk spices including salt and pepper.
12. Honey: Okay, I haven’t done this yet. But when our current jar runs out we are planning to refill it at the grocery store. It’s also significantly cheeper.
Our meals typically build off of the rice or the beans. We use rice at least 1-2 times a week. A quart jar tends to last us 3-4 weeks depending on how often we eat it. (You can see some of our favorite fall/winter meals here.)
My two best friends recently went to a 45-minute meditation class together. My friend Noe, a mindfulness teacher and neurofeedback technician, loved it. She spent the class relaxed and fully into the experience. My other friend Meagan was a mess. She couldn’t sit still. At one point she got so nauseated she thought she might throw up. Her body freaked out and fought her hard (or something she ate chose the worst time ever to pick its fight, you choose).
I laughed and teased Meagan when Noe told me. I thought it was hilarious, and typical energetic Meagan, to fail at even sitting still.
It’s a whole lot less funny now.
Pretty Sure Meditation Shouldn’t Feel Like This
My first meditation this month ended as about 50 percent of my previous attempts did, in the overwhelming need to STOP.
As soon as the person leading the meditation practice says to pay attention to your breathing, my heart rate picks up. I immediately take control of my breathing, and then try to slow it down and calm my body while my heart slams against my rib cage. The teacher says to let go and let your breath flow without your influence, but I don’t know how you can notice your breathing without controlling it. Fighting it.
Now I’m supposed to be noticing my thoughts and letting them pass by, but all I can think about is how uncomfortable this chair is and how badly the tag at the back of my shirt itches. My arms start to ache, and I want nothing more than to readjust the way I’m sitting.
But I fight it. I try to just count my breaths and not lengthen them. I try to pay attention to how my body feels without giving into the scratching and fidgeting.
And then it gets worse.
Out of nowhere this intense tightness and overwhelming feeling wash over me. I feel like my nerves are on fire and the only way to put it out is to move. It spreads across my chest into my shoulders and my arms. I try to breathe into it, to relax, to fight the absolutely all-consuming urge to move.
It’s the opposite of sleep paralysis, trying to stay still instead of fighting the chemicals in your mind to let you move, but the panic and the oppressive feeling is the same. In both cases it’s as if your body is suddenly encased in concrete and it’s slowly crushing you alive.
Ah, meditation. So peaceful.
Daily Meditation Progress
To be fair, it has been getting better. On Wednesday Headspace paused without me realizing it and I accidentally sat on the brink of sleep and meditation for 15 minutes. Out of the past eight days, I’ve only had the searing need to move RIGHT NOW twice. That’s not terrible I guess.
I have always been particular when it comes to laundry. I carefully wash my clothes to ensure that they last as long as possible and have the smallest environmental impact too. I refuse to dry clean anything and instead either don’t buy things that can’t be washed at home or wash ‘dry clean only’ pieces anyways (I’ve never had a problem). My laundry soap is gentle on my clothes. I carefully separate regular loads from more delicate pieces and wash them separately. I’m the queen of stain hunting, a practice my boyfriend takes great care to keep me on my toes.
All of this is to say, I take laundry seriously, and not being able to air dry laundry is a deal breaker.
Our apartment is rather small, and we fit a lot in our downstairs area. The roughly 10 by 12 foot room is home to our office, living room, yoga/foam rolling space, entryway and kitchen. It’s a hardworking space that can quickly feel cluttered or claustrophobic, especially with two of us trying to get something done in the kitchen together.
I don’t say this to complain, we really love our tiny house, but rather to point out that even in our already filled space, we intentionally make room to air dry our clothes. The clothes drying rack takes up an enormous percentage of the space when it’s up. I feel like I am constantly adjusting it or dragging it around to try to get a little bit more space, but being able to gently dry our clothes no matter the weather is so worth it.
Why You Should Air Dry Your Laundry
1. Your clothes last longer.
Way longer. The dryer not only stresses the fibers with heat, but it also breaks them down with friction and stretching tumbling with the other clothes.
2. Clothes look better.
Air drying can help preserve color, prevent pills, and protect a piece’s shape.
3. Smaller footprint.
Despite intense farming practices, synthetic material production, and the thousands of gallons of water used to create your clothes, the majority of their impact comes from you washing and drying them over their lifetime.
Running a dryer can cost you up to $0.70 a load. That’s not a ton of money, but it adds up. And if you use a laundromat, skipping the dryer can save you $1-3 a load (at least in our neighborhood).
How to Air Dry Laundry in a Small Space
It is fairly easy to air dry clothes with very little space. A little creativity goes a long way.
1. Rack it up.
Clothes racks come in all shapes and sizes that will fit into even the smallest corners. My rack takes up quite a bit of space, but it also uses both its horizontal and vertical space well, so it’s worth it.
2. Make space.
Hanging clothes on hangers in doorways or off any other surface is another way to increase the amount of clothes you can dry at once. If you have a sturdy shower curtain rod and you won’t be using it in the next day or so, you can also expand onto that.
3. Spread out.
Clothes that are too tightly packed won’t dry effectively. Be sure that each piece can breathe. I generally try to make sure I can see between each hanging item. For smaller things like socks and undies, I don’t worry as much about them touching as long as they aren’t overlapping.
4. Stagger loads.
I can fit a full week’s worth of laundry on my drying rack. It easily fits everything (minus bed sheets) for one person, and about half of our total laundry for two people. 95 percent of my clothes air dry, while only 20 percent of my boyfriend’s do. We could easily air dry all of our clothes by spreading our two loads out over the week and drying them one at a time.
5. Take advantage of your space.
During the winter the heater in our apartment blows directly on our clothes. Not only do they dry faster, but the damp clothes also help add some much needed moisture back into the air. In the summer I open the windows, and on really hot days the ceiling fan makes quick work of drying.
6. Fold it up.
This guideline is twofold (see what I did there?). As soon as your clothes are dry, put them away! The faster you can get them out of your small space the better. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and cluttered. I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief every time I put all of our clothes away. Our space feels huge afterwards.
Once you’ve put away your clothes, hide the rack away. I keep ours under the couch in the living room. It’s completely out of sight that way, and it’s quick to set up when I’m ready again.
Quick Tips: What Should Air Dry
My rule of thumb: Towels and sheets go in the dryer, everything else hangs up. I’m slowly transitioning my boyfriend to hanging up more of his clothes, but he generally prefers his shirts, socks, and underwear to go through the dryer. We hang up all of his technical-fabric workout clothes and his jeans/shorts.
Daily meditation is one of those things that I’ve always known I should be doing, but never actually put in the effort to make it happen. Back when I was frequently running, I considered that a substitute and let myself off the hook. We meditate at the end of the yoga class I go to once a week. That counts! I’m done.
But January was a rough month for me (and most Americans). The political upheaval was constantly swirling in my mind. Headlines and New York Times notifications would keep me up at night.
My mind has been full – overwhelmingly stuffed with so many ideas and way too many worries. I can’t seem to get a grip or slow them all down. I’m standing in the middle of a Formula One raceway trying to slow my thoughts down without being run over or blown off the track.
I’m taking on meditation this month to try to get some peace and quiet in my own mind. I need to slow my roll and get back in control.
February Goal: Daily Meditation
Daily meditation has been on my list since for months, but I somehow, conveniently, never get to it.
Once I committed to doing a new goal every month this year in the hope of creating a few new habits that improve my daily life, I knew meditation would be one of the first I would try out.
For now, I will meditate every day after lunch before picking up work again. I spend the morning fully focused and allow myself to indulge in some internet reading while I take my lunch break. More often than not this leaves me feeling scattered and I have trouble coming back to my work day afterwards.
I can’t completely shut out the world for my entire work day – I have to stay up-to-date on the latest news and delve into the internet for my own writing. But that doesn’t mean that I have to spend more than half the day feeling overwhelmed and like my mind is just dragging me along for the ride.
The final push (or guilt trip) came from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. I picked up the book late last week, and I have been spending my morning reading time curled up with it. Just about every person highlighted in the book recommends meditation of some kind.
Daily Meditation “Rules”
I have to spend at least 5 interrupted minutes on intentional meditation.
Moving meditation counts, but I have to do it intentionally. I can’t just come home from a workout where I blasted music and sung along (in my head) or constantly repeated my to-do list like a mantra and check off my meditation practice for the day.
For the most part my daily meditation practice will consist of me sitting in a chair for 5-10 minutes. I plan on following guided meditations, especially for the first half of the month while I’m getting into the swing of things.
The indoor can fills up about every two weeks or so. It doesn’t smell at all since we compost all food scraps so we tend to let it fill up completely. But every time I toss something into it or take it to the curb I am flooded with sadness and frustration.
At least 75 percent of our total trash volume is non-recyclable plastic food packaging like chip bags, cracker containers, and the plastic film that goes around jars or over hummus containers.
What’s in our trash (by volume):
1. Chip/snack packaging
3. Plastic films and safety seals
I’ve known for months that we could cut our trash down by 50-75 percent just by no longer buying packaged potato and rice chips. At 4-8 bags per week, we are stuffing ourselves and the trash with junk. But the habit is much harder to kick than I anticipated.
How we can reduce our trash:
1. Ditch the packaged snacks.
In my dream world we buy crackers, chips, and healthy snacks from bulk bins. Our local bulk bins have nuts, granola, and cooking staples, but very few snacks. There are only 1-2 pre-made snacks that I could conceivably eat out of the bins since I am allergic to nuts and gluten-intolerant.
But that doesn’t mean we have to starve or overfill the landfill. A recent trip to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco gave me hope that we can find more snacks and staples in bulk bins – we just may have to travel a ways for them.
1. Buy tortilla chips from a local restaurant in bulk to replace our packaged rice/potato chips. This makes it more likely that we will skip the snack isle at the grocery store, and it helps us increase our daily calorie intake (important with our training schedules).
2. Make more snacks at home. In the past I have massively struggled to not only come up with zero-waste snack ideas, but also to then set aside the time to make them. When I did manage to make something like granolabars or homemade hummus, we quickly got tired of them and I’d have to find a new recipe and start all over.
The good news is that I now know we get tired of snacks every 2-4 weeks. We can plan a snack for each week and rotate them to keep things interesting. It’s time to dig into some of my snack ideas and make snack preparation part of our weekly meal prep/cooking dinner habits.
3. Eat more whole foods for snacks. In the past couple of months I’ve been eating salads as snacks. It’s an easy way for me to sneak in more greens and also not feel like I’m loading up on junk throughout the day. More options are veggies with hummus, leftovers from dinner, and hard-boiled eggs.
4. Schedule monthly trips to better bulk bins.
2. Use Handkerchiefs
This switch has been on my list for months. Due to allergies, I use at least a couple of tissues each day. After a ton of research and decision paralysis, I finally chose a pack of reusable organic cotton baby wipes to use at handkerchiefs. Well, the internet was wrong. They make terrible hankies.
My failure was disappointing, and I lost motivation. But I need to go back to my list and find a set that will actually work the way I want them to.
3. Compost Tissues
My boyfriend is less than enthused on the handkerchief idea. Since I make the bulk of tissue waste anyways, this isn’t going to impact our trash greatly. To make composting tissues easier, we can add a small paper bag next to (or inside of) our trash can to collect tissues.
Eventually we may switch to completely compostable floss, but for now we should start with reducing how much we use in the first place. Most of the floss we pull off the roll each night doesn’t get used. We need to use shorter strands each time. I might get super nerdy and make a guide for the smallest amount of floss for comfortable flossing so we don’t have to think about it each time or accidentally take too much.
How I spend my morning can make or break my entire day. It has taken me almost a year of working at home to hone in on what works for me, and what completely derails the rest of my day.
One of the most important things, I think, is how personal a morning routine is. Over the past few months I have tried different iterations of routines that people swear by: exercise first thing, clean out email, no email, reading, journaling, start working immediately after breakfast, and on and on.
Many of the things that are conventionally accepted or that highly productive people swear by were complete failures for me. Exercising in the morning, or even before 11 a.m., led to a minimum of three hours were I felt like nothing got done. Email quickly leads to me reading newsletters and then the entire internet.
Trial and Epic Failure
Working from home was a shock to my system. So much of my routine was built around getting to the office and settling in. When I no longer commuted and had the routines of the people around me to feed off of, I felt unmoored.
For the first month or so I completely threw out the idea of a morning routine. I was so excited to start over and do whatever I wanted. It felt like summer vacation after a grueling nine months of college. I slept in when I felt like it. I did whatever I wanted first thing in the morning. I went completely rogue.
I thought it would be glorious, but I ended up hating it.
I am a person who thrives on routine, especially a morning routine.
The right morning routine sets me up for a good day. It helps to make me feel grounded and present. My morning sets the tone for how I will approach my work and how I feel about the rest of my day. If my morning doesn’t feel productive, I often feel like the whole day is wasted. It doesn’t matter if the afternoon was actually wildly successful.
My Morning Routine
These are my general guidelines. Some of them are more strict than others, but in general they are meant to help me transition from a foggy, sleepy brain to a productive, creative mindset.
1. Wake Up
I wake up between 7 and 8 a.m. during the week. Most often it’s 7:30 am.
2. 9 Minutes to chat and check the weather
I got into a really bad habit of lying in bed for 15-20 minutes after the alarm went off. Instagram and blog posts would capture my attention, and I would laze about in a semi-conscious daze. The longer I was in bed the less motivation I would have to get up and get moving.
What I read could also completely alter the rest of my day. Some posts or stories could inspire me, or they could leave me upset and off-kilter. In the aftermath of the election I realized that reading the news from bed left me feeling unsettled. A single headline could change my mood for the rest of the day. All it took was me swearing off news for a week or two for it to really settle in.
Now I give myself the time of a snooze to talk with my boyfriend and accept the fact that I have to get out of the warm bed. Once the alarm goes off again, I need to be out of bed getting dressed (or you know, putting on the sweats I will spend the whole day in).
Important: The snooze is not for sleeping! I spend the rest of the day exhausted if I drift back off to sleep after the alarm goes off.
Always! I often wake up hungry in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Breakfast is essential and nonnegotiable.
4. Tea and 30 minutes of reading
For the past two years (at least) I have started every work day with a cup of tea and the internet. I loved to catch up on the news and my favorite blogs. But it often left me with dozens of tabs open that I felt compelled to finish before starting work. What I didn’t get to would distract me throughout the day. Minimized windows would sing their siren songs as soon as I sat down to work on an important task.
At the beginning of January I realized that this reading was the biggest detractor from my day. It left me with a busy brain full of facts and random thoughts that made it impossible for me to hear myself through. I couldn’t focus afterwards.
I hated starting the morning feeling overwhelmed with information.
Instead I have been experimenting with reading a physical book for up to 30 minutes. This gives me a chance to let my brain get used to thinking again while still leaving me relaxed and ready to work when I’m done.
I don’t know if this will stay, or if the time will change, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Fifteen to 30 minutes of reading in the morning has completely changed my mindset. I still feel like I get to relax and indulge a bit first thing in the morning without overstimulating or draining myself.
5. Five Minutes of Journaling
So far this bit is more conceptual… as in I haven’t really done it. But doesn’t it sound great? Usually I get started on a blog post or skip this little bit in favor of jumping in on first big work task for the day. I’m keeping it here because it’s still a goal for me.
But that quickly spirals out of control and before I know it it’s time for lunch and I’ve only done 30 minutes of actual work.
It took me months to realize that the morning is my best writing/working time. I get the most done during this time when I stay disciplined and give myself room to actually do the work. And if I get stuff done and feel productive, the rest of the day feels productive and successful. The mornings that I succumb to procrastination and time wasting end in frustrated evenings and late nights to catch up.
1 Productive morning = 1 Productive day.
Every day so far has been a fight to stay focused and not slip back into bad habits, but so far I haven’t slipped up.
Why Stick to a Morning Routine
I’ve known for months (if not the whole year) that my mornings were not going the way I wanted. But I finally decided I was ready for change when I realized:
When I waste the morning I struggle to regain momentum all day. I run out of time to get things done. My work bleeds into the evening. It pushes dinner later and later and causes us to go to bed late. Then I wake up tired, lay in bed too long reading, and put off work. It’s a vicious, stressful, disappointing cycle.
And I am breaking that cycle. One morning at a time.
Tracking your spending and frequently checking in on your monthly expenditures is key to sticking to a budget. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated and confusing!
I’m one of those people who loves a good budget and can easily tell you how much I spent on groceries in the past month (it’s a frighteningly high number). I should be a dream user for most budget and spending apps/services. But after playing around with a few of them I realized they were either too complicated, time consuming, or rigid. I needed a budget spending tracker that could easily fit my typical expenses and the random purchases that most apps don’t know how to categorize. And I really didn’t need all of the extra junk that just got in the way.
So I made one myself.
For the past four years I’ve been tracking my expenses and planning my monthly budgets in a simple Google spreadsheet. It’s not fancy or complicated, and it works great.
It takes me maybe 20 minutes a month to track all of my purchases, adjust my budget, and transfer my savings from one account to another. I used to spend more than that trying to get my purchases properly categorized.
All you have to do is open the link and copy the spreadsheet to your Google Drive. You can also download the spreadsheet and save it to your computer as an Excel doc under File – Save As – Excel.
Simple Budget and Spending Tracking Tips
I like to update my spreadsheet with my most recent purchases twice a month. Payday is a great reminder to update and check in. Once a week or even once a month would also work. But keep in mind that the more frequently you enter your spending into the tracker the easier it is and the more likely you will keep doing it.
2. Be honest.
A budget is worthless if you aren’t honest with yourself about what you are really spending and what you can actually save. It’s tempting to leave off purchases that you regret or didn’t have control over (like that insurance deductible), but this won’t give you a real picture of what you are spending.
3. Make it your own.
Change the categories. Create a new color scheme. Make fancy graphs. Do you.
Piles of wrapping paper. Broken Christmas lights and ornaments. Browning trees resting on the curb. When you peel back the wrapping, the holiday season sure is full of trash.
Americans create 25 percent more waste in the month between Thanksgiving and New Years. That adds up to an extra 1 million tons of trash that go straight to the landfill or end up in the ocean.
Celebrate the holidays without the waste or the clutter with these zero waste Christmas decorations.
Cranberry and Popcorn Garlands
Reading My Tea Leaves
Compostable garlands are great to decorate your tree or hang around the house. Erin from Reading My Tea Leaves used cranberry and popcorn to create beautiful, mostly kid-proof decorations.
Petite Rosemary Wreath
Spoon Fork Bacon
Whether you are using them as place cards or just sprinkling them around the house, these little rosemary wreaths from Spoon Fork Bacon can be made out of compostable materials. They will also add a lovely scent.
Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments
These clever ornaments or gift tags from Katy Elliott are made of two ingredients – cinnamon and apple sauce. They also smell divine.
DIY Eucalyptus Garland
Homey Oh My
Decorations don’t have to be overly complicated or heavy. This DIY garland from Homey Oh My is a beautiful addition throughout the winter.
I’m such a sucker for plush ornaments. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about them that feels cozy and inviting. These ornaments from Purl Soho will last for years, and you can make them out of repurposed felt. They also seem like a great activity for kids on a cold winter day. (These snowball ornaments from Purl Soho are also great.)
These aren’t the clunky snowflakes you made in elementary school. Jen and her family at IHeart Organizing made their decorations in a single night.
A Barefoot Day
Clippings make a great alternate to an entire tree. You can also take your tree trimmings and spread them around the house to enjoy the scent and the festivities everywhere.
Pine Cone Garland
The Sweetest Ocassion
My mom still has pine cones my brother and I painted in elementary school. This pine cone garland from The Sweetest Occasion is a bit more chic than those are, but the spirit is still there. Skip the paint to make these compostable and zero waste.
DIY Fresh Mini Trees
Next year I should make one of these adorable mini trees from Say Yes for our tiny house. Make these without the hot glue in order to reuse the base and compost the top.
Foraged Garland or Mantle Decoration
Style Me Pretty
Not only do you get a lovely winter walk in, but you get a free, stunning decoration. The incredible women behind Petal Floral Designs shared their tips for how to make your own on Style Me Pretty.
Design Love Fest
I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The results are stunning. I would imagine the downside would be that the flowers aren’t going to last very long resting in the tree without water. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take Design Love Fest‘s idea and use hardy winter berries or other longer lasting plants.
Cinnamon Stick Himmeli
You can’t beat the smell of cinnamon on a cold, dark day. Jojotastic created these beautiful decorations out of cinnamon sticks and twine. Use cotton thread and leave out (or save) the wooden beads to make these compostable.
I believe in treading lightly on the Earth and my feet. I hope to inspire and support you on your journey to live a natural, sustainable life.
All images and copy are original to Treading Lightly unless otherwise credited. Please be respectful when using material from this site and link back. I am not a doctor or a trainer – all of the content on Treading Lightly is my opinion and experience.