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One Month In

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Legendary tennis great Arthur Ashe famously said…

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

I first read this quote in Katrina Rodabaugh’s Mending Matters, where she uses it to explain her approach to Slow Fashion.

For me, it’s great advice for all of us trying to live a bit greener.

Don’t be overwhelmed by how huge the environmental issues facing the world are. Don’t think that small changes can’t make a difference. Don’t get angry. Just start.

Start at whatever point your life is at. Use whatever skills and resources you have. Do whatever you can, even if it’s just separating your recycling out more carefully, or turning the printer paper over and using the other side, or setting your washing machine to the economy cycle. From experience, I can tell you that it’s like rolling a pebble down a snow-covered hill – once you see how much difference a small change can make, you’ll find it hard to stop.

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As most of you know, we began our waste reduction plan last year. Here’s the end of year review I wrote about our efforts, with links to all the earlier posts if you’d like to catch up on our journey. I’ve also collated them all on one page for easy reference. The most important thing we’ve learnt so far is that while it’s impossible to change everything, it’s easy to change a lot. And every bit helps!

Our waste reduction efforts are an ongoing work in progress, but this year we’ve also turned out attention to reducing what we bring into the house. Coupled with a slow, considered decluttering, it’s starting to make a noticeable difference. Here’s where we’re at, one month into the process.

. . . . .

Tidying Up (Reduce)

It taking a bit of time to figure out how to get the things we no longer want or need out of the house. I don’t want to just dump it on others – all that does is pass my problem on to someone else, and it eventually ends up in landfill anyway – so I’ve been carefully sorting the wheat from the chaff. My old friend Vicki suggested a strategy of getting one thing out of the house each day, and it’s been working well so far.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt this month:

  • Tidying just one shelf/drawer/file/space per day is enough for me. By going slowly, things are being dealt with thoughtfully rather than simply thrown into the rubbish bin. Some days only one small thing goes out, but I’m reassured that the balance is improving – more is leaving the house than entering it.

  • Officeworks will confidentially shred your unwanted documents for $3 per 500 pages. Don’t worry, they’ll estimate rather than making you count the pages. I’m slowly working up the chi needed to tackle boxes of old statements.
  • Reverse Garbage will take your quirky stuff, providing it’s in a good working condition. I was so happy that they took our old gaming unit, complete with games and joysticks – it would have ended up in e-waste otherwise. Make sure you ring and ask first though, as they’ll only take what they can sell.

  • Fiona posted this great article a couple of years ago, which includes a link to Support the Girls, a charity which collects bras, toiletries and menstrual products for disadvantaged women.
  • Putting the wrong item into recycling can contaminate the entire batch. REDcycle will take a wide range of soft plastics, including used polyethelene shopping bags (the square green ones from supermarkets), but it’s important to only put the correct items in their bins. Here’s a list of what they will and won’t take.

. . . . .

Use It More Than Once (Reuse)

This is a biggie, I think.

If we reduced the number of single-use items entering and leaving our houses, we’d make a big impact with that one step alone. It takes a bit of thinking ahead to remember to take mesh bags and reusable shopping totes, but it soon becomes a habit. As do KeepCups and refillable water bottles, cloth napkins and metal straws.

Although we bring virtually no plastic shopping bags into the house, it’s been harder to stop other bags coming in. These days, instead of REDcycling the thick plastic bag that the hazelnuts come in, we wash it out and use it to store loaves of sourdough in the freezer instead.

Too often we make the mistake of thinking it’s ok if an item is recyclable or biodegradable, but it’s important to remember that recycling uses a great deal of energy, so reuse is always the preferred option. And just because an item like paper is biodegradable doesn’t take away from the fact that it took energy and resources to make in the first place.

Glass is a confusing one for me. It seems such a high energy product to create and recycle, so we try to reuse it as much as possible. We end up with a squillion washed glass jars on the shelves as a result!

I’d love any suggestions you have for reuse – this is an area that we need to improve on. Thanks!

. . . . .

Mend and Make Do (Repair and Recycle)

After fourteen years of loyal service, our Miele front loader finally stopped working. It was very expensive to repair it, but even more expensive in earth terms to replace it. So we paid lovely Andy to put it back together again, and now it’s running smoothly, thanks to new shock absorbers and working valves…

The darning continues, and it’s extended beyond clothing.

Small Man’s runners were still in good shape after a couple of years of daily use (he’s an elf, remember), but he caught the side of one shoe on a nail recently. It was easy to darn the hole with strong linen upholstery thread that I found while tidying up…

Have you heard of the marvelous folks at Elvis and Kresse? I find them incredibly inspiring – in 2005, they set up a company in the UK to rescue London’s decommissioned firehoses which were destined for landfill. They have since expanded into rescuing leather, including the 120 tonnes of leather offcuts which Burberry will produce over the next five years. They even make their own packaging materials from recycled paper tea sacks.

This is my favourite video from their website

 

Segueing to another story…

30 years ago, my dad bought me a green Christian Dior satchel. I used it to death and loved it to bits, so much so that he got cross at how tattered it looked and demanded it back so that he could polish it. I haven’t used it in more than 20 years but I’ve never been able to bring myself to throw it out.


Last week, inspired by all the amazing work Elvis and Kresse do, I cut the bag up and turned part of it into a small zippered pouch. A section from the base became a key fob. It was hard going and I’m incredibly grateful for my industrial sewing machine…


The best bit of this story? As I was making it, smudges of green polish stained my fingers, a reminder of how much Dad loved us, but also of how heavy handed he was with things like that. The pouch is now used to store my bone conduction headphones, which means I use it every day. And think of my dad.

When we mend, reuse, upcycle and repair, we give our material things a second life. We save their old stories and give them an opportunity to create new ones. It can be a wonderful thing. ♥

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Reducing The Input (Refuse)

Unsurprisingly, the difficulty we’re having in getting rid of unwanted items is a powerful deterrent to bringing more stuff into the house. Before I buy anything now, I try to ask myself…“does this have an exit plan?” And I remember this lesson from Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff

In the last month, the only non-food corporeal items we’ve brought into the house are five pairs of new underwear for Small Man (who was down to less than a week’s worth) and ang pao wrappers for Chinese New Year. That’s it.  These items have an exit plan – the underwear will go into the rag collection bin when they’ve done their time, and the wrappers have already been used up to make lanterns for gifts…

There have been several occasions when I’ve been sorely tempted to sneak in an indulgent purchase. The goal isn’t to stop buying things altogether, it’s simply to buy them with consideration and awareness. Do I really need it? Can I use something else instead? How was it made? What happens to it when I’m finished with it? Does it have a story?

I’ve been both surprised and embarrassed by how much “stuff” my decluttering has turned up that I’d forgotten about or misplaced. I haven’t really needed to buy anything new in the last four weeks (apart from the underwear).

I’ll keep you posted on how we go – thank you for being here to keep me on track. I wanted to buy a David Goldblatt catalogue after visiting his exhibition at the MCA (it’s both inspiring and powerful, if you get a chance to see it), but my friend Anne reminded me that I was trying not to buy any new paper books (ebooks and audiobooks are my preferred options). So I sadly (but gratefully) put it back on the shelf.

. . . . .

I hope you’re all having a great weekend! And I would love any feedback or advice you have to share – I’ve learnt so much from all of you on this journey!  ♥

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Some folks go shopping, others read prolifically, but I like to make things.

In fact, I realised long ago that I’m only happy when I have a project on the go. Over the years, my hobbies (just to name a few) have included papercrafts, kitemaking, counted cross stitch, a brief dabble in screen printing, a recurring obsession with jewellery making, and a lifelong love of sewing.

Pete and I made this one metre facet kite and the ten metre snake kite in the background for the Festival of the Winds over two decades ago…

I’m still making vintage Swarovski crystal angels to this day…

And then there’s sourdough baking, of course…

I’ve always enjoyed a fast project, like these little useful bags

Last Saturday, my friend Les, who’s now 82, told me that he still uses the bag I gave him years ago to keep his sunglasses in. “It’s just so useful!” he said…

Over this past year though, I’ve learnt to love a slower paced project. Like this linen shawl I made from one of Pete’s old shirts…

The pieces were machined together and then hand embroidered with sashiko cotton using a basic running stitch..

My focus has also shifted to projects which utilise existing resources, like my upcycled denim aprons. This one was modeled by Monkey Girl under protest…

Placemats made from the seams and waistbands of old jeans cover our dining room table…

Occasionally I’ll sit and crochet dishcloths – it’s not a craft that I particularly enjoy, but my hands don’t like to be still…

My latest adventure into visible mending is still going strong – I’m enjoying it so much that Big Boy and Pete have started hiding their clothes from me.

Small Man though, my beloved eco-warrior, is happy to wear my repaired creations. His jeans had just a little life left in them – the denim was getting thin to the point of translucent – but they still fit, so I quickly hand mended them for him. The small holes were darned and the larger ones patched boro style.

He’s worn them out a few times since, so he must approve…

Ian’s old Wranglers came back for another repair – farmers are hard on their clothes! This time I added heavy duty patches sewn on by machine. They needed to be durable enough for shearing and moving rolls of barbed wire…

Last weekend, I turned a formal kimono into a lined poncho. This was actually my third attempt at upcycling this garment.

If you ever get your hands on one, please let me save you some grief now. Don’t wash it! It’s traditionally hand stitched and if it’s a vintage piece like mine was, the thread might be over 50 years old and very fragile. Also, the lining silk shrinks more than the black layer. The traditional method of cleaning is (are you sitting down?) unpicking the entire garment, washing each piece, and then restitching it.

Anyway, I did handwash it, because it was old and stained and a bit too grotty for me to wear. In the end, after much experimenting and unpicking, I ended up with a very wearable piece…

I sewed a sized-up shopping bag based on my recent Useful Bag pattern, complete with long shoulder strap. It’s made from an old Japanese banner that I picked up from Cash Palace Emporium a couple of years ago…

It carries a surprisingly large load…

Nearly twenty years ago, my wise friend Diana told me, “Celia, my father used to say that one of the most satisfying jobs has to be bricklaying, because at the end of the day, you can stand back and see the wall you’ve built with your own hands.”

In this fast moving digital age where things often seem less real, having a project on the go grounds me. It gives me an opportunity to create, and to enjoy the great satisfaction that comes from having created.

Are you a maker too? If so, thank you for understanding what I’m talking about, because not everyone does. I’d love to know more about the hobbies you enjoy, and what projects you’re working on the moment. ♥

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Peak Stuff

I’ve had an epiphany, and it’s making me uncomfortable.

At 53, I’ve reached “peak stuff“.

And my backup plan for downsizing – donating it to charities – has hit a hurdle. They don’t want most of my “stuff”.

It all started with our holiday viewing of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. The show was simultaneously inspiring and terrifying in equal parts. In one episode, the family who were decluttering sent 150 giant bags of trash to landfill. That’s just the stuff they weren’t able to donate – there was a mountain of bags going to charity as well.

Anyway, Pete and I were inspired to sort through our old clothing. We culled ruthlessly, ending up with six bags of good quality (albeit very dated) items to donate. And then we hit stage two, which was trying to find a place that would take them. The CEO of the Salvation Army might well berate folks for not donating, but he’s obviously never been knocked back when trying to donate to their North Parramatta store like my friend was last week.

Other friends fronted up to Vinnies in Leichhardt with lightly worn, undamaged clothing that their children had grown out of, only to be told that they weren’t accepting donations at that time. The charities are fussy because they have to be – they’re spending millions of dollars each year managing waste. We might feel good believing that our donated items are going to a worthy cause, but there’s a strong chance that much of it will be deemed unsaleable and sent to landfill. According to this article, more than 30 per cent of charity donations end up there.

I was already aware of this problem as a result of the rescued socks. I finally found a refugee support group who are incredibly grateful to have them, but none of the big name charities would touch them, even after I’d sanitised them to within an inch of their lives. Even those working with the homeless didn’t want them. The Exodus Foundation reluctantly took some last year and said they’d call me back if they wanted any more (they never did). Vinnies’ night patrol were happy to take the beanies we made, but they received a regular supply of new socks, so weren’t able to take any from us. It was a real eye-opener about how affluent and privileged a society we’re fortunate enough to live in.

Which leads me back to my epiphany. I have two difficult tasks ahead of me now.

Firstly, I have to be accountable for my stuff. I’ve never really done that before, but our waste reduction efforts this past year have focused my attention on this point. What happens to the things I own when they’re no longer needed? Throwing an item into landfill has to be an absolute last resort and only done after every effort has been made to extend its life.

An example – the base of our car phone holder broke recently, but the cradle was still fine, so we attached it to a shelf in the kitchen. Nothing lasts forever, but this will at least save part of it from the bin for a few more years…

More importantly though, is that I have to start buying things with a different mindset.

Whatever comes into the house needs to have an exit plan.

Will it have a long life? Can it be repaired? Donated? Repurposed? Recycled? Will it biodegrade, or live in landfill for eternity? What about the packaging it comes in? Asking these questions inevitably lead to…do I really need it? Do I really want it?

I have to work much harder at this. It’s far easier to type than to put into practice, because like most extroverts, I like new things. I am, however, trying my best to improve. Last year I assuaged my guilt by shopping mostly at op shops and places like Reverse Garbage, telling myself that I was already further down the landfill ladder by buying items that had already been used and/or discarded. But what the Kondo show made me realise was that even this stuff needs an exit plan. And I have to consider that before I think about bringing something new into the house.

Secondly, I have to figure out what to do with the things I already have. There is a room full of fabric and craft supplies that needs rationalising, and I want to do it in a careful, considered way. On the show, folks worked through their houses in a whirlwind fashion – the premise being that you start tidying and don’t stop until you’re finished – but I don’t want to simply throw out items without giving them a great deal of thought first.

I have a responsibility to do more than simply hold an item in my hands to see if it “sparks joy”. I have yards of boring green polarfleece (leftover from school jumpers) that I can turn into beanies for the homeless over the next few years rather than discarding for the sake of clear floor space. And having to buy something to replace a perfectly good item that I threw/gave away previously drives me bonkers.

I have to make a greater effort to repair and extend the life of items. In her book (I haven’t read it, but I’m quoting from this article), Kondo writes that “when a button falls off, it’s a sign that the particular shirt or blouse has … reached the end of its life.” I find that incredibly disturbing. Our goal is to repair for as long as possible – made easier if we choose well in the first place. Although I must admit that my sock repairs are starting to drive my poor mother to despair…

So those are my new goals for 2019. Tidying up in a careful, considered way. Minimising new purchases as much as possible. Buying only when necessary, with a view to longevity, and with an exit plan. It won’t be easy, but I’m going to try. ♥

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I was messing about with my denim stash yesterday and ended up making this little bag from the leg of an old pair of jeans. It was the perfect size for our neighbourhood bread deliveries.

It worked so well and was so quick to make that I started experimenting with other fabrics. Three hours and ten bags later, and I’m happy to share the instructions!

Start with two rectangles of fabric – approximately 15″ x 11″ (38cm x 28cm). Also, cut a strap 2½” (6½cm) wide by whatever length you prefer.  My handles all ended up different lengths, determined by whatever scrap I was using…

Place the rectangles right sides together. Cut 2″ (5cm) squares out of the bottom corners…

Sew the bottom and side seams, then overlock around the top. I overlocked all the seams just because it’s easier, but you could straight stitch and finish them if you prefer…

Now open up the fabric in the corners and match the side and bottom seams…

Stitch to form a boxed base…

Turn the top edge over and hem. At the same time, hem the long sides of the strap. At this point, down tools and go and iron everything as it will be harder to do so later…

Centre the strap over the side seams and attach it in place with two rows of stitching. That’s it, all done! Easy, right?

These bags are proving to be very useful! They’re the perfect size for one of my loaves…

…and for BYOing two bottles of wine to dinner…

I’ve made them in quilting scrap, denim, tea towels – just about any sturdy non-stretch fabric will work…

If you’re a bit more experienced and want to try making the bag from old jeans, you’ll need to make sure the leg circumference is wide enough (most skinny jeans won’t work). Make sure you have a sturdy sewing machine and walk the needle over the thick seams or risk breaking it (I learnt that the hard way).

Here’s how I cut the bag out of a jean’s leg…

I love how they turn out, but mitering the corners is a bit trickier. You could, of course, just leave that step out…

I love quick and easy sewing projects like this! The dimensions can be easily adapted as needed, so in theory the basic pattern could be used for everything from lolly bags to shopping totes (although the straps might need changing for the latter to provide more support).

I’ll be making them as bread and wine carriers, but I suspect we’ll find a multitude of different things to do with them.  I hope you’ll give them a go! ♥

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Hello lovelies, how are you all? Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

We’re just back from a glorious two weeks in Singapore to attend a family wedding. The first thing I did when I arrived home on Christmas Eve was to make a batch of sourdough (of course). Then I whipped up some last minute Christmas presents – and realised very happily that our attempts to reduce waste this year have seeped into every part of our lives.

Let me show you what I mean. I made feuilletine chocolates…and packaged them in cardboard boxes that I’d found in the bag area at Reverse Garbage (industrial surplus)…

A batch of our spiced nuts…packed into paper bags instead of the usual plastic ones. The bags were leftover from my friend Deb’s business, and she was more than happy to trade them for some of my chocolate truffles…

I made a mountain of beeswax wraps (tutorial is here) using offcuts of Sheridan sheeting…

…and vintage patchwork cottons, all sourced from Reverse Garbage

The wraps, as well as crocheted dishcloths, were wrapped in the rescued misprinted paper I bought earlier in the year

…and everything was tied together with saved ribbon from last year’s gifts!

. . . . .

So…as we end 2018 and our year-long waste reduction plan, here’s what we’ve learnt…

1. It’s impossible to change everything, but it’s very easy to change a lot.

And every small change makes a difference!

I hit a moment of uncertainty in the middle of the year when I was disillusioned by all the things that we weren’t able to change. Our medications come in non-recyclable packaging, whole raw chickens are only available in thick plastic, and our medicated shampoo and Sensodyne toothpaste come in bottles and tubes. The goal to be completely plastic-free seemed a long way away.

But then I realised that all our small changes had already made an impact. Our waste output has reduced from an overflowing red bin to just one small bag a week for four adults. Surprisingly, we’re also recycling less, because we’re bringing less packaging home – we try to buy things loose rather than boxed, and to cook from fresh rather than prepackaged and processed. Our water and energy usage is down on previous years, despite the extra washing, simply because I now select the “ECO” function on my machines rather than the standard wash.

I’ve been genuinely amazed at how much of a difference small changes can make! Yes, it is more work, but it’s truly not that much more. By storing my loaves in beeswax wraps, I’ve avoided using three dozen thick plastic bags this year. By switching to cloth napkins, we’ve saved 1500 paper serviettes. Mending and repairing everything from furniture to worn clothes has kept an office chair, an old laundry basket, numerous pairs of socks and many items of clothing out of landfill. Even better, we haven’t had to pay hard earned dollars to replace any of those items. It all adds up surprisingly quickly!

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2. It’s important to keep the momentum going.

We have to remind ourselves to constantly refuse-reduce-reuse-recycle. That’s important, because it’s easy to become complacent, especially when we start to notice improvements. But we’re a long way from perfect, and the planet needs us (all) to keep trying.

We were able to action most of the plan I wrote in January, but there were still some areas where we dropped the ball – most noticeably, in taking our own containers to shops and restaurants. We’ll have to work harder on that next year!

. . . . .

3. Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

Image source

There is a sale on Ebay at the moment, and I can get 10% off at my favourite Indian clothing store. And believe me, I was sorely tempted. But you know what? I don’t need any more clothes. Of all the steps in the green cycle, for me, the most important one to learn has been REFUSE. Because that’s my point of weakness and at 53, I’ve ended up with a house full of stuff.

I’m trying to improve. Over the course of this year, most of my day to day non-consumable purchases have come from the Salvos Stores or Reverse Garbage. I save my dollars to add to my fossil collection, or to indulge in traditional arts and crafts, like these gorgeous Iranian hand-beaten hand-painted copper plates from Isfahan (which I found in a wonderful shop at 64 Arab Street, Singapore, in case anyone is interested. Ask for Bobby!)…

As a society, we need to start thinking carefully about how we spend our money. Every purchase needs to be considered and challenged.

We’ve bought two big ticket items this year – Rosie the Smoker and Henry the Hotmix. Both were discussed and debated prior to purchase, and we’ve had enormous enjoyment out of them already. In budget terms, both were affordable because of the money we’d saved in other areas. It’s amazing how quickly the funds add up when “shopping” stops being a “hobby”.

. . . . .

4. Model behaviour for future generations

At 53, I’m the green equivalent of a reformed smoker. I still have a house full of plastic bags and excess goods. The changes Pete and I make now are important, but they’re not nearly as significant as the impact our children will have as they start out on their adult lives. That’s the true goal – to teach those coming after us that there is a better, more earth-friendly way to live.

Small Man was an eco-warrior from way back – he took to beeswax wraps and KeepCups like a duck to water. Bless him, he won’t throw an item into the bin without asking me first. He folds all the cloth napkins, wears patched clothing, separates out any recycling that’s inadvertently ended up in the wrong bin, and carefully empties his food waste into our often stinky bokashi collection bucket…

Big Boy is slowly figuring it out. He’s so busy with work that he’ll sometimes forget his mesh bags when shopping, or bring home a bubble tea in a plastic cup. But he’s trying – he too separates out his food scraps, takes his lunch in a beeswax wrap, recycles as much as possible and brews loose leaf tea in a pot. And when it’s his turn to take out the rubbish, he’s smart enough to notice how much less there is to throw away.

. . . . .

5. Spread the word

I wanted to make cloth napkins for all my friends for Christmas, but Pete felt that level of environmental evangelism was too much. “You don’t want to put folks off by giving them work they might not want”, he correctly pointed out.

So instead, I made a mountain of beeswax wraps and crocheted a dozen dishcloths, all of which were very happily received.

If our small changes have made such a huge impact on our waste output, can you imagine what it would be like if every house did the same? But I know from our own experience that the thought of making so many changes at once can be daunting. So we’re starting small – a gift of beeswax wrap might keep a few metres of clingfilm out of the ocean this year. And perhaps it might start others down the same path as we’re on. Fingers crossed!

. . . . .

Thank you all SO much for joining us on our waste reduction journey this year. It’s made all the difference knowing that you’ve been reading along and supporting our efforts!

♥ Wishing you and your loved ones every happiness in 2019! ♥

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Here are the posts so far on our Waste Reduction Plan:

27 Jan 2018  A Waste Reduction Plan

2 Feb 2018  A Long, Rambling Catch Up

15 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Progress Report

20 April 2018  Our Waste Reduction Plan – Fine Tuning

1 June 2018 Our Waste Reduction Plan – June 2018 Progress Report

13 Oct 2018 Our Waste Reduction Plan – October 2018 Update

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Tips and tutorials for making your own eco-friendly products:

Mesh Bags

Mesh Bags (pattern at the end of the post)

Furoshiki

Knitted Dishcloth

Crocheted Cotton Dishcloth

Crocheted Acrylic Dish Scrubber

Beeswax Wraps

Cloth Napkins (second half of post)

Sewing a Utensil Holder

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