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.
Last year’s books were all so good that I was feeling a little uninterested in reading for parts of this month. I didn’t want to be dissapointed. (There isn’t anything quite like following an amazing book with a lackluster read. It feels like such a letdown.)
I shouldn’t have worried. While not every book blew my mind this month, I have regained my insatiable hunger for books. Despite not feeling it for a while I still ended up reading eight books this month. Not too bad.
What I Read In January
I’m all for packing light, but I never considered taking no bags at all. No Baggage is the story of a woman’s (real) travels through eight countries over three weeks. More than the story of her trip, I appreciated her openness about her struggles with depression in the years before her trip and what it was like to finally make it out of that. Also, their extremely light travel made me think hard about what I will pack for my next trip. (Spoiler, I’m definitely still going to travel with layers and tooth paste, even if it means I need a bag. Sorry, Clara and Jeff.)
The 4-Hour Body
Tim Ferriss recommends just reading the 150 pages that interest you the most in his massive book. Well I hate being told how to read a book. I read the whole damn thing, index and appendix included. So there, Mr. Ferriss.
I doubt I’m going to “lose 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise,” “increase fat-loss 300 percent with a few bags of ice,” or gain “34 pounds of muscle in 28 days without steroids.” But I didn’t read it for those things anyways.
Things I didn’t like about The 4-Hour Body:
It often feels gimmicky and too good to be true
It’s based on self-experimentation and the experiences of a select few people
The advice is often contradictory depending on what outcome you are going for (losing weight vs gaining muscle vs just being a stronger, better athlete).
So many supplements and unnatural substances!
Things I liked:
I really appreciate Tim’s self-experimentation beliefs and his encouragement to find your own answers. It’s refreshing to have someone remind you that you know your body best and you are your best hope of figuring out what works for you.
His chapter on injury prevention and finding imbalances was right up my ally.
The book was a nice reminder to find your minimum effective dose, but things often felt too reductionist. Sure, maybe I could increase my strength or muscle mass in less than 2-hours a week, but that completely leaves out the other benefits of exercise like enjoyment and stress relief.
Bottom line? Tim was probably right about only reading the parts that you are the most interested in.
I picked up this book after hearing Emily Witt talk about writing it on the Longform podcast. I expected an open-minded, curious exploration of the ways that people seek out and experience sex. And it was sort of that, but it was also a snaking journey of her realization that she may never have the life she thought she wanted.
Future Sex left me feeling depressed and like her searching was still unresolved.
Come as You Are
Through sheer fate of the library request system, this month turned into a bit of an exploration of female sexuality. Overall Come As You Are was interesting, but not life changing. It was definitely geared toward women who were experiencing particular problems or frustrations. It was relatively interesting, and I certainly learned things, but I don’t think this is one I will be widely recommending to my friends.
Designing Your Life
Designing Your Life left me with mixed feelings. I expected to feel uplifted and ready to create the life I want. Instead they (unintentionally) destroyed my fall back plan and added a lot of items to my to do list.
Overall, I really recommend it. They lay out clear steps toward creating a life that will leave you fulfilled and happy. Just be ready to do a lot of work and not have them hand you any easy answers.
So good. If you can set aside Harry Potter and try to forget about how magic works in that world, Carry On will suck you in. I never read fantasy, despite reading it as a child. I only picked this up because I can’t get enough of Rainbow Rowell, and it was the story the main character in Fangirl writes fanfiction about. Even the boy, a master fantasy/sci-fi reader, enjoyed it.
This was a rough way to start the year. I finished Homegoing on New Year’s Day, but it stuck with me long after that. No part of this book is easy. I had to take breaks and come back to it when I was ready to absorb more. People do horrible things to each other, and it’s a lot to take.
The writing is beautiful. I love the structure of the book as it follows the decedents of two half-sisters. You hear from so many people, but the story feels like one. Read it, but be kind to yourself and know when you need some space.
Female Chauvinist Pigs
In an effort to read some of the books that I added to my to-read list in 2012 (or before…), I picked this up before the holidays. Originally published in 2006, Female Chauvinist Pigs felt almost nostalgically dated and also a little too relevant. It’s a bit too outdated to be a really important read, but in a way it felt like a precursor to Girls and Sex.
By Mandy | Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Posted In: Books
This winter I have been waging a battle against some resilient mold in the bathroom. We replaced leaking, cracked calk around the tub of our shower this summer, and since then it has been slowly growing a pink mold. I’m not about to rip out the calk and do it all over again (although it has crossed my mind!), but the mold is driving me crazy.
I scrub our entire shower weekly with castile soap, but the mold kept coming back until even the castile soap didn’t seem to do much at all. Recent heavy rains in California meant our grout also started to grow black mold in some patches along the calk. (Lesson learned, always pay extra for the mold resistant calk.)
I finally got fed up and doused the entire shower with undiluted vinegar. When I stepped in the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised! While it was a bit extreme, it gave me a nice starting point.
DIY Mold Cleaner Recipe
1 part white vinegar
2 parts water
This is a strong solution. After the first few rounds of using the cleaner I would recommend reducing the amount of vinegar for maintenance. You can just add some more water to your partially-used container.
How to Use the Mold Cleaner
I filled an empty (completely rinsed) dish soap container with 1 cup of vinegar and 2 cups of water. After a couple of shakes I squirted the liquid onto the grout, tile, calk, and our reusable shower curtain. Then I Let it sit overnight or until completely dry.
Our reusable, fabric shower curtain still has quite a bit of mold trapped in the hem at the bottom, so I have been drenching the bottom with the solution and letting it sit overnight after every shower (every two days or so). The mold is almost completely gone, and the vinegar has been slowly removing old mold stains as well.
If you are applying the liquid to your entire shower, the squirt bottle works great. For everything else, I would use a spry bottle. It’s less wasteful and makes it easier to apply to smaller areas. While the squirt bottle works well, it also floods the whole area with more of the cleaner than necessary. I will eventually upgrade to a spray bottle.
Once you have let the vinegar dry completely, you can add more of the cleaner and scrub with a microfiber cloth to remove any surface mold and soap residue.
It’s important to let the vinegar sit until it’s dry. This allows the vinegar (an acid) to slowly remove the mold on the surface and deeper into the fabric/grout/surface. I leave it overnight because it’s easy and it has been too cold and humid for it dry quickly.
Do not use this on natural stone! Vinegar is too acidic and may permanently etch the stone.
Your entire bathroom (or house/apartment if it’s small like ours) will also smell heavily of vinegar until it dries. It’s best to apply it before bed so the smell is gone by morning. You could also add some essential oils like tea tree oil or lemon essential oil to help reduce the intense salad dressing scent and help boost the mold removal process.
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.
I love tea. I drink it year round with at least a cup in the morning as I settle into my workday. Some days, especially in the winter, I have another cup after lunch.
But tea has a big impact.
Tea is a mono-crop, and it comes with the heavy pesticide and herbicide use that mono-cropping is known for. The industry has a long history of worker exploitation, poor working conditions, and unequal profits for growers and distributors that lead to unlivable, low wages. Child labor is still widespread, and the tea industry is ripe with trafficking children and women. Deforestation, lack of natural biodiversity, and soil erosion are also rising concerns with an industry that is both growing and being pressured by climate change.
It’s important to me to fill my cup with something I feel good about.
There isn’t a way to know the true impact of the tea I drink and if it contributed to any of the horrors above. But I still think that looking for certain certifications is a start.
I only buy organic teas because it’s better for the workers who pick and process the leaves, for me, and for the environment. I do my best to also opt for fair trade when available. Thankfully fair trade tea is getting a lot easier to find.
Coincidentally, every company featured below is a Certified B Corporation. This means that they are a for-profit company that “meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” It’s an easy way to know if a company is invested in social good, especially in the locations that they do business.
My Favorite Fair Trade, Organic Teas
Quick note: While I am trying to transition to loose leaf teas only, some of my favorites still only come in bags. (If you have a favorite loose leaf please share!) I am still searching for a good local source of loose leaf, fair trade, organic teas in bulk. (Bay Area friends, do you know a place?)
1. Numi Decaf Ginger Lemon
Taste: This is the one of the two green teas I like. Okay, I haven’t tried a ton of them, but once I had this one I couldn’t see why I should bother switching. The flavor is light and not at all grassy. A squeeze of lemon juice makes this tea divine and a nice wake-me-up in the morning.
To put it frankly, I trust Numi. They don’t use any ‘natural’ flavors or perfumes. They instead rely on high quality spices, herbs, and teas. I know exactly what I’m drinking when I make a cup.
Impact: Fair Trade. Organic. While I wish this tea came in loose leaf, its bags are made from unbleached hemp paper. They are biodegradable and can be composted at home. The boxes are made from recycled cardboard with soy-based inks, and they don’t use any plastic wrap. They are actively working to create home-compostable, plant based wrappers for the tea bags, according to their website. (Their current wrappers have to be sent to the landfill, a fact that many tea drinkers like me take issue with.) They purchase carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates to offset their production emissions and energy use.
2. Numi Golden Chai
Taste: A hot, spicy chia can turn any day around. Once you start making your own chai, you won’t go back to the boxed, concentrated shit they sell at most coffee shops.
I’ve had a lot of chais in my life, but this one is by far my favorite to make for myself. It’s robust and spicy, and it holds up great when flooded with milk (or made entirely with milk instead of water). You can add a sweetener if you like, but for the most part it really doesn’t need it. Take note! The Numi’s loose leaf by far is more flavorful than the bags.
Impact: Fair Trade. Organic. Loose leaf and bags (although the loose leaf is superior in every way).
3. Traditional Medicinals Green Tea Lemongrass
Taste: In case you haven’t noticed yet, I love citrus flavors, especially in tea. This tea is refreshing without letting the lemongrass overwhelm the green tea. I feel virtuous with a cup of this in hand.
Impact: Organic. Fair trade. Certified B Corp. 100 percent of their electricity comes from local renewable sources. Traditional Medicinals supports many social good projects in India including building schools, helping provide water security for 3,100 people, increasing opportunities for girls and women, and more.
4. Numi Breakfast Blend
Taste: This tea is as smooth as breakfast teas come. It’s not bitter or astringent, and it pairs perfectly with a splash of milk or cream.
Taste: Minty with a subtle sweetness, this tea is great for curbing a sugar craving or giving you a little after-meal pick me up. I’ve been in love with this tea for years, and I finally bought it in bulk. It turns out a pound of this mint tea goes a looooong way at 1/2 tsp. per cup. I gave it out for Christmas gifts and still have at least a half pound leftover.
Taste: This strong ginger tea used to be my secret weapon when I had a sore throat or an upset stomach. These days I drink it even when I’m not sick. The spicy ginger flavor has grown on me. The lemongrass helps add depth and smooth out the ginger taste.
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.