Sustainable Clothing: Is it Better to Buy Cotton, or Recycled Polyester?

I was looking for a new hooded sweatshirt a few days ago when I realized I only have two that aren’t exercise clothing. One being two sizes too large for me and the other getting used almost every day. It’ll only be a matter of time before the one I wear everyday becomes threadbare while the other is comically large on me and only wear it around the house. So I went to the website of a company I’ve bought from in the past and was shuffling through their products in search of a new sweatshirt.

I liked some of their clothing, the style and simplicity, so the next step was to look at the materials label. The company prides itself on being sustainable, so I figured I’d have nothing to worry about. But when I checked the labels, it said that they were made with recycled materials. I knew this meant polyester to some degree and I was wondering what the ramifications are of using plastic, even if it’s from recycled sources, as the main material component.

My instinct is that using plastics to any degree, including clothing, perpetuates the cycle and need to rely on petrochemical materials. The idea of having more plastic floating around in one form or another is unsettling to me. I’m not saying that all plastic use is inherently bad. I appreciate that plastics have been used to change many people’s lives for the better. But it seems to me that we first need to get our collective plastic consumption under control before we think about expanding its use into more aspects of our day to day lives.

As far as my clothing goes, I’d like to lean towards more natural fibers, such as cotton and wool. I know that at least with cotton, the material will eventually decompose, and more than likely in my lifetime. And a quick Google search tells me that wool will decompose in six months under ideal conditions. But plastic however will stay around for quite some time and breakdown further into smaller pieces, causing all sorts of environmental hazards.

Both small and large aquatic animals mistake plastics for food. Certain whales for instance have been found with many pounds of plastic waste in their stomach. But one of the reasons that plastic clothing in particular is such an environmental threat is that when washed, the fabric degrades, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers into the aquatic environment. There they are consumed by marine life, fresh and saltwater animals alike, as it makes its way up the food chain. As Lisa Messinger from The Guardian put it in her article, “How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply“, when a professor cut open a fish from the great lakes, they found thousands of microfibers weaving their way in and around the gastrointestinal tract of the freshwater dweller.

This is concerning to say the least. According to Greenpeace, 30% of plastic pollution could be caused from microfibers. In their article, “what are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans?“, “Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.” More disheartening news. And the older the garment is, the more fibers it releases, according to a study paid for by Patagonia.

The more I continued to read about the effects of microfibers on the environment, the more I realized that there wasn’t really an option. If I want to live a more sustainable life style, I need to stop buying clothing made from synthetic materials and switch to a natural option.

With all this new information swimming around in my mind, I was left with my new plan, to buy more sustainable clothing, but without much direction. The brand I was originally looking to for my new sweatshirt purchase, had a bullet point under the specs of their hoodie that it was made from, “bluesign approved materials”. This caught my eye, and could possibly be some of the direction I was looking for. So I headed over to their website to see what they are all about.

From what I was able to gather, the Swiss company is an independent resource, with the focus of advocating for better working conditions for employees and a more sustainable way of producing goods during every aspect of their production. A noble cause indeed, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100% sustainable. After all, the sweatshirt I was looking at was made with 60% recycled polyester.

That’s not to say that the company isn’t doing important work. Just because I’ve set my standard at wanting to purchase natural materials for clothing, doesn’t mean it’s the most important one by any means. They also focus on working with companies to reduce the amounts and toxicity of the chemicals they use. As well as focusing on the human element of the industry with fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. All important aspects to investigate and consider when purchasing from a company.

The next group of businesses I stumbled across in my search for sustainable clothing was Certified B Corporations. Another company focused on the ethical production of goods and their effects on workers rights, consumers rights and the environmental impact of the products each company produces.

At first glance, the company looks good. Some of the companies that are certified provide services such as opening jobs to people who have been incarcerated in the past. I used to work at a local bakery with a friend of mine. She was looking for help, and we had worked together at a bakery previously so she asked if I wanted to come help out. I agreed, and while I was working there I meet a bunch of great and interesting new friends. One of them happened to be just in the position I mentioned above. He was recently released from prison and was looking for work.

From what I could gather, when you are released from jail, your hireability gets reduced to zero. He told me how difficult it was for him to find a job in his previous industry and that most people wouldn’t even give his application a second glance. This was sad because he was one of the most endearing people I’ve met. He made some bad decisions for sure, but we all do at some point. That shouldn’t mean that the person’s life should be scrutinized from then on, blocking opportunities for the rest of their life.

This reminds me of another business that I used to go to who soly employed homeless persons. I’ve often heard in the past that all the homeless really need to do is to get a job. Though I imagine it would be difficult for a number of reasons for a homeless person to complete an interview successfully, let alone maintain a job! From finding clean clothes and a place to shower, to printing out a resume and not having a stable mailing address or reliable transportation, the homeless person has a mountain of obstacles to overcome!

So from the perspective of protecting employee rights, I can understand and appreciate the work that is being done from B certified corporations who fit this bill. They also have a blog where in one post they explore a few companies in the fashion industry, and how they are making a difference. One of the companies, Bombas, is mentioned as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold. This is a stellar way to give back to the community. One of the most requested items at homeless shelters are socks, so they’re definitely helping a lot of people.

The one area that wasn’t clear was the research they did, and the numbers they used to score each company. There was general information about what the practices they are evaluating were, but they did not go into detail on the information they used to evaluate the practices. Upon further reading, the information explained that these evaluations were taken by the corporations themselves.

Does this mean that a company is giving itself a self assessment of how they perform in these categories, or is there a disinterested third party that is evaluating the company and its results? I’d like to believe that these companies are honest and accountable for their actions, but with so much ambiguity, it would be nice to know for sure they are being held accountable.

A Wikipedia article explains that B Lab is the company that gives out certifications to companies that meet a certain standard of “transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance”. But again, how B Lab comes up with the standards by which they grade these companies is not totally clear from my research.

From what I understand of the B certification, it is something that a willing company takes as a self assessment, evaluating their performance using B Lab’s standards, and creates a plan around where they find weaknesses in their company. This is definitely better than nothing, and it’s at least comforting knowing that there are corporations out there that are willing to take a look at their practices and willing to make a change for the better. I only wish that B Lab was more transparent with their evaluation methods.

There are few places that I could find that gave ethical reviews on companies, let alone clothing companies. There was however one website that showed some promise. The Green Stars Project. This is a project that empowers people to write reviews of and rate different companies using a system based on a series of criteria that covers topics from fair working wages to the environmental impact the company has on our resources, to the ethical treatment of animals to how a company impacts a community. The list is only limited to the knowledge that individuals feel is important to their ethical standards.

The only downside to this is that it relies on individuals to write these reviews in the review section of a particular item. It’s decentralized, which is nice because it’s coming directly from the consumer and their knowledge base, but from what I understand of the system, there is no way to search for products by their Green Star rating. So if I was looking for an ethically sourced piece of clothing, I would have to do the research to find the company and product, then write a review or hope that there was one already written. There is no database of products that have Green Star ratings available to browse that I’m aware of.

The Green Stars Project does however have a resources page where they list a few sites that do have lists of companies that have done some research on ethical businesses. One of the sites is Better World Shopper, where you are able to search companies by category and grade. Here I found some clothing companies that are listed by grade. So I could easily tell which companies are more ethically focused than others.

Even with the grading system, if you are looking to replace synthetics with natural fibers as I am, you still need to read the labels. But it’s nice knowing that there are people out there doing the work and looking for ethically and socially responsible companies. And that we have a place to at least start our search for better buying choices.

Some of the companies that I’ve come across in my search for ethically sound businesses are very specific in what they offer. For example there are many companies that focus on socks and underwear. So when I stumbled across this post by Whole Body Diary, on sustainable clothing lines, I was excited that there are more people out there searching for more ethical ways to purchase different types of clothing.

Kezia from Whole Body Diary brings up a good point, and one that I am struggling with a little. Many of the companies she lists on her blog are not 100% sustainable. This brings me back to my original question, is it better to buy cotton or recycled plastic. But as Kezia says, not every company is going to hit every sustainable mark. Some may focus on organic cotton, like Nudies Jean company. While others help the larger community, such as Bombas, who I’ve mentioned above as donating a pair of socks for every pair sold.

So our search for sustainable isn’t going to be a perfect one. But if we choose to search for companies that are trying to make a difference on some level, at least we’re supporting the larger whole of the mission, to buy from and support more sustainable businesses.

And there are some companies that do hit a lot of the marks as far as making sustainable clothing goes. One company, and the one I’m probably going to buy my sweatshirt from, is Pact. This company provides a wide variety of organic cotton, sustainable clothing. They are environmentally conscious of the production of their clothing by using sustainable materials as well as organic fabrics, as well as focusing on the well-being of their employees and work closely with the Fairtrade certified organization.

The Fairtrade certification means that the business is working to sustain the safe working conditions of the employee, that the company is protecting the environment, helping to pay sustainable wages for workers, as well as community development funding, according to their website. This is a huge step forward in helping to reduce not only the environmental impact of a company, but also the fair treatment of the employees and workers rights, while building healthier communities.

With this knowledge, finding clothing companies with a focus on reducing the overall harm they could be causing became much easier. I also had to accept that all companies aren’t going to reach the unachievable standard of being 100% sustainable. So the search for companies that are causing the least amount of harm became my new goal.

In this article published by The Good Trade, they cover 35 different companies that have ethical and sustainable practices! This is an exciting find. To think that there are so many companies that are willing to put the effort into making sustainable products and work towards the betterment of workers and the environment. Knowing there are more options when looking for sustainable ways to fill your wardrobe, feels like there is less of a burden knowing we are helping to lessen our impact on workers well-fare and the environmental costs.

I will add that some of these clothing lines can get pretty pricey. One of the clothing companies I mentioned above, Nudies Jean Co, has jeans that range from $185 to $400. That’s a lot of money for a pair of jeans no matter how you look at it. But according to The Food Diary, they last longer than other brands of jeans. Kezia said that her husband’s pair of jeans have lasted four years now and they are still going strong. The website also has a repair service. So if there’s been some damage done to your jeans, you can fix them up instead of throwing them away. So the lifespan of the garment is something to consider when looking at the price tag as well as the production methods.

Something that has helped me along the way, with purchasing clothing on a budget, is to establish a sinking fund for new clothing purchases. I don’t buy clothing often, so when I need something it’s usually small, like a package of socks or underwear. But if you need to replace a winter coat, or a pair of boots, this can get pricey.

A sinking fund is a good way to have a certain amount of cash on hand in case you need to replace items in your wardrobe. If you’re not familiar with the term, a sinking fund is where you set up a savings for a specific item, in this case it would be clothing, and contribute a set amount of money each week or pay period. This way you have what you need, when you need it and don’t have to scramble to find $300 dollars to purchase a new winter jacket that you may have lost on the slopes.

I contribute $25 dollars a pay period to mine, and I’ve decided to cap my fund at $400. This way I won’t look at my fund one day and realize I’ve amassed thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t require that much money! This way I can replace the most expensive article of clothing in my wardrobe while still feeling confident that I can take care of the basics when I need them.

So in the end, some companies that use microfibers that are polluting our oceans, are still leading the way in other areas of sustainability. It may come down to what your personal preference is for buying and supporting sustainable clothing. For me it’s buying organic cotton or wool when I have a choice, and recycled fibers if it’s something that requires them, like a raincoat or winter boots.

And for me, knowing that I’m supporting workers rights, and lessening the environmental impact my clothes are having is something that I can feel good about supporting. Knowing that I’m not just pushing off the problems of today onto the next generation is something that helps me to rest a little easier. And with projects like The Green Star Project, it’s exciting to think that there could be an independent source of a knowledge base, coming together to create a more ethical way to purchase clothing.

And it nice knowing that companies such as B Certified Corporations, Bluesign and Fairtrade out there, putting the work in to help lead the way in helping companies produce their goods in a more sustainable way. And while helping consumers know which companies are doing the work, is also comforting to know. I’ll be linking some of these companies in my community page for those who are looking to make their wardrobe a little greener. And I’d love to hear about the companies you’ve found that are doing good work as well. This is where I leave you good reader, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Nature’s Coatrack” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Not Talking About Money: Why It’s Dangerous to Neglect the Financial Sector of Your Family

I grew up in a family where it wasn’t just improper to talk about money, it was considered a personal insult to ask questions about the subject (which was the case with most topics really.) When I was young, money was something that was scarce, and not to be discussed. This lead directly to me having absolutely no understanding of how money worked. This seems crazy to me now, considering my father worked dealing directly with currency, and the amount of time my mother spent shopping, I was surrounded by all degrees of it. Water, water everywhere…

I recently read this article, sent to me by the only friend I talk to about finances, on the “hollow middle-class” and it really hit home. They spoke about how both the rich, and poor, talk about money often, but the middle class seldom breach the subject. This is true from my experience, and something that left me in the dark when it came to making the major financial decisions that have come up in my life.

How I’d be making a living was probably the first, but also how to negotiate salary, ask for raises, ask for benefits, know what my monetary value as a worker is… The list goes on and on. All I knew was that I needed to work hard, make sacrifices, and to just be thankful that someone was giving me money and that I had a job. There was a sense of not having any value, or inherent worth in my family, regardless of how hard we worked or how well we did our jobs. No matter what we did, it was never enough.

So it was with this mindset that I entered the workforce, and subsequently, earned below my capacity and under achieved in my jobs. I never thought of myself as having a career, because careers were something that were had by responsible adults. And for all intents and purposes, I still very much felt like a child being thrust into the workplace, under prepared and scared of not only not knowing what to do, but also of asking any questions for fear of seeming like I didn’t belong, wasn’t the responsible adult I was pretending to be.

There were few mentors along the way, and I’m not sure I would have recognized them through the fear had they presented themselves. Which also raises the question, if you’re not talking about money at home, and you’re too scared to ask questions about the subject at work, from whom or where are you supposed to learn this skill? I was raised in a world before Google, so the realm of knowledge laid squarely in the pages of books or with people who had experience. There are those who succeed even in the face of this type of adversity, but they are usually celebrated for being the exception not the majority.

So how do we find out how to talk about the value of our time? We spend so much time at our work, our jobs, that if we’re scared to talk about compensation, or scared to take time off for fear of seeming not dedicated, or as though we are easily replaced, this can make for a miserable work experience and breed a sense of resentment for feeling under appreciated. One place I started, was with Dave Ramsey’s podcast.

Dave helps people to get out of debt, something I had a lot of, still do, with thinking my self worth was contingent on how high my credit score was and taking out student loans at the height of the lending and tuition increase. Without any guidance, it was and is so easy to get caught up in the spending mindset and before you know what you’ve done, you have eight open lines of credit and are up to your eyes in debt. Dave was a good resource, not only for his pragmatic advice on money issues, but also for the sizable community he’s created. It’s easy to feel supported listening to and reading the stories of others in similar situations. And with three hours a day, and a huge library of past shows and a large community on social media, it’s easy to feel that support and get some sound advice too.

Finding people to talk to about money is also so important. As I said above, I have one friend who I speak with about my finances often and at all. If it wasn’t for him, I would have zero real life support. His wife works for a small investment firm so just having him to hear about his path to setting up a retirement savings has been a huge resource to helping me forge my path. Once I realized that money is a tool, something we use to accomplish things like retirement or a better quality of life, I was then able to demystify it as something relegated to the famous or hip-hop artists and utilize it in my own life.

And you are not defined by your wealth just as a carpenter or gardener aren’t defined by the tools they use, but rather the buildings they build or patches of land they tend to. As I said above, money is a tool and only a tool. It carries no other inherent power to define us than the power we give it.

While I was working on increasing my credit score, I really couldn’t think of another use for money but to spend it, accrue interest, pay it back and do it all over again. It never even crossed my mind that I should have an emergency fund, savings or a retirement fund! I was living paycheck to paycheck, completely oblivious to how close I was to economic ruin. I look back and shake my head, but at the time, with no one to give me any guidance, how did I expect to know or act differently? The short answer is, I just didn’t know any better. This was a lesson I should have learned from my family.

There is some merit to the idea that these basic skills should be taught in school, asides from the semester course they may or may not still teach in home economics on how to balance a checkbook. And schools are a great place to do this, since children have to go, and it’s the staging place for the plans we make for living the rest of our lives.

But if you were someone like me, who was already checked out of school due to lack of support at home, the schools would be better off with a platoon of social workers, poised to catch those children from falling through the cracks and catch those neglected. An updated curriculum with focus on basic life skills would be a great avenue to explore, but making sure the kids are safe and set up to succeed should be first priority.

But also, that’s when it’s so important to teach these life skills. When we’re still young and learning what life is all about. Learning how to care for all aspects of our well being, money being one of the more important ones seeing how it has the capacity to do us great harm if not managed carefully. Knowing that we have the ability to care for ourselves, by taking care of our basic needs, should be parenting 101. But too many of us never learn how to create and stick to a budget, what it looks like to plan for the future, as it was in my case. And I also recognize that it wasn’t my caregivers faults’. they weren’t given the guidance they needed to succeed in the same ways I wasn’t.

And if ignorance is handed down generationally, then how do we break free from the cycles of financial insecurity? I don’t exactly remember how I started on my path, but be it grace of God or whatever, I was ready and took to it with tenacity. And once I started bringing order to my financial house, I started telling everybody who would listen. I told my friend, and he took to it, and anytime the subject gets brought up, I try and add my two cents, for people who may not know where to look or are looking to make a change.

Regardless of whom you tell, it’s important to talk about it. Maybe you have a group of friends you’re close with, bring it up while you are just hanging out. Or if you have couple friends, it could be worth looking into retirement plans together, or make a plan to get a consultation from a financial adviser and then go out to dinner to talk about it. You may have a niece or a nephew, cousins or in-laws that you’re close with. Check in with them every once and awhile, see if they’re reaching their financial goals. And don’t forget to talk with your S.O. about your shared plans. I know from experience that shared money doesn’t work without shared responsibility. Make it a date night, or schedule budget meetings. Whatever it takes, just remember to check in often.

Whomever it is that you talk to about finance, talk about it often. Check in and bring a sense of caring and levity to it. Finances are scary enough without being afraid we’re gonna screw ’em up in some way. And the more awareness we can bring to understanding how to care for our financial needs, the better the odds are that we will break the cycles of financial neglect in our families, and with those whom we care about.

I’ll be putting some resources I found to be useful when dealing with money on my resources page. Mostly budgeting tools and a link to Ramsey Solutions. Also, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to pay for most information, and there are a lot of free apps and finance blogs to explore. Spending money can seem counterproductive when attempting to reign in your finances, so do your research first before spending any money, and only if it feels right. I don’t think I spent any money on the tools I use. It helps that I have a written budget that I keep in my bullet journal.

So regardless of where you are on your financial journey, whether you’re just starting out, learning how to care for your financial needs, or have been involved for some time with this area of your life, don’t forget to find and foster a place for this with your close relationships. Because in this case, spreading knowledge could be akin to spreading the wealth and something everybody could benefit from a little more of :]

Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image credits: “Home budget. Calculating monthly expenses for rent, electricity, phone, grocery and food” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Can We Buy vs. Make? Sustainability Meets Budgeting.

I like to make things. Things I need, that look pretty. That I’m able to eat, are functional, sometimes not functional. Whatever it is that I’m making, I enjoy the process of bringing something new into my life and the world. I also like to budget. When the numbers all come together, and I’m slowly but surely achieving my financial goals, it feels good. Good because I’m attuning to my own needs. Needs for security, if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or needs to live sustainably, if it has to do with me paying off my credit card debt. But when these two areas come together, when I make something that would otherwise cost me time and or money, the feeling is exceptional.

It’s for these reasons that I often look for things to make that are of interest to me, or items and food that I use or eat day to day. It is in this vein that I will be going over some of the ways I make the things I would normally buy. Or turn something already owned that may be on its way to the garbage, into something of practical use. Nothing I’ll be listing here is new by any means, but it may be helpful to get a run down of how someone else puts sustainable, practical, practices into use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s get started!

Most of what I make is related to my food consumption. I’m a baker by trade, so I don’t make a lot of bread at home, but I’m always looking to create something delicious to snack on or drink. I made a lot of beer in my early thirties. Clones of brews I liked, some that were staples, like IPAs and Belgiens, and some seasonal. They usually came out pretty good, and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

I don’t drink quite as much as I used to, but there’s something about opening up a bottle of a beer you crafted that feels special. The time, thought and energy you put into its making, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the home brewer to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is comforting. Plus they’re great little gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of homebrewers out there willing to help one another along the way. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk, there are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer.

Also, the time spent making it has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. The science meets art aspect of brewing is appealing to me because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting the senses to bring it together the way you would your favorite meal. The elements, fire and water, but also the equipment and live cultures of yeast bubbling away that will soon turn the wort into something satisfying to the taste buds, that bring the whole experience together. There’s also the added benefit of its cost.

For the quality of beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on, and if you drink occasionally, then it’s a great way to have some quality brew on hand for when you have company over, or to get in the habit of having a rotating selection of seasonal brews that will bring another dimension to your enjoyment of the time of year.

There is a lot that goes into it, so be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to dive in. I once had a batch explode on me. Luckily it was in the closet, but I found shards of glass sticking out of the wall. They call those bottle bombs, which happens during the bottle conditioning phase if you put too much priming sugar in before bottling. I’m not saying this to deter you in any way, just as a reminder of how important it is to become familiar with the process.

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience. If you have a few tools and the creativity to see new purpose for old pieces. I was rooting around in my basement not too long ago when I found the bamboo bottom of an old dish strainer. I was going to throw it away when I realized it was durable, water resistant, and made for drainage. So I thought I’d use it to some degree for my house plants. I brought the piece upstairs, left it on a chair, didn’t have time for the plants and the bamboo strainer started collecting things, as things that lay around are apt to do.

It was collecting linens, towels and face clothes, to be more specific, and I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on the bamboo “shelf”. So I decided to keep it as a linens shelf and find similar pieces to create an open storage concept. With the light wooden tones that remind me of a spa, a piece of “would be garbage” turned into something aesthetically pleasing, and functional as well. All I need are a few candles, a diffuser and some ambient lighting and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa.

Something else I’ve been making a lot of are bandanas. If you’ve read my post, “Read the Labels, No New Clothes, Well Maybe…” you’ll know that I wear a lot of bandanas. For my working life I’ve pretty much always worked in the food service industry to some degree. And as a result I have always had to wear a hair covering. Since I was already wearing bandanas, being a hippy, I just continued to wear them during work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I used to wear paisley bandanas exclusively. I even made a window covering by patchworked together a few dozen. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment when I was 19. It was enjoyable from what I remember. But the bandanas I make nowadays are of a solid color and much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, and made them with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to some local thrift shops to look for old Tee-shirts that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

If you are handy with a sewing machine, or want to learn how to use one, a project I have planned is to take some of my old articles of clothing, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to (that’s normal, right?), cut them into squares and make a blanket from them. A sort of patchwork quilt, where your memories are embedded into their very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and you’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Another project I enjoyed putting together was a wall of windows I created. By making a frame out of 2″x 4″s, and hanging old windows I found and collected over time inside the frame, it created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have been garbage along the way. This isn’t the most kid friendly piece of furniture so if you decide you’d like to try it, find a place where it will be out of reach of the little ones in your life.

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. You’ll need some fermentation vessels. I use mason jars as they are a convenient size and shape for storage and easy to sterilize. I made this recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago, Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut.

Pickled cucumbers and other veggies are just as easy. You can use the same mason jars and you need only make a brine for the veg you want to pickle. More sterilizing and pour the brine over the veg and either can them, which involves boiling them in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet, there are few things more gratifying in life. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses. I like leafy greens such as kale and collards. I use these vegetables often. Two to three times a week, so I like to have a few plants going to harvest from.

Other varieties, such as cucumbers and squash, are prolific producers. So if you plant some of theses guys, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the veg you will be reaping! Other treats, such as watermelons, produce once towards the end of the season. So make sure you are watering and tending to your plants with diligence.

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bred to believe however that we often must buy the things we desire or need. And if you think about it for any length of time, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes to the laws that we see fit as a community or on a societal level, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely being earned at the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The prase, “vote with your dollars” has always struck a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars by embodying a thriftiness, making the things we need or shopping locally to support our local community, the better we will be at not buying whatever’s popular or trendy because we saw so and so eat/wear/use brand X. And we will embody the spirit of community that’s connected and built from a sustainable place. One that values craft and diligence in the items we use, above those of being disposable and/or with ease of use.

I’m not saying that everything disposable and easy to use are inherently bad. But that’s another topic for another post. What I feel is most important about making the things we use and need is the sense of capability in caring for ourselves and those that we love. And in so doing, creating a deeper sense of community and connection.

So go make things! Enjoy the process. Start a project you’ve always wanted to do or find something you use or drink everyday and see if you are able to make it at home. Instead of saving up for something that’s on your wish list, why not see if you can make it yourself. Who knows what a little research may yield. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor feel.

Image Credits: “Tools” by shoesfullofdust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reparenting: Money, What’s its Real Purpose and How do we Avoid Collecting it Just to Feel Safe?

Money, another big topic (I guess I like the bigger issues). Amassing money is one of the most ubiquitous goals we have as humans, and is connected to a lot of different emotional states. Safety is a big one, and not without some wisdom. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on how we relate to money from a perspective of how it may make us feel safe. There are numerous reasons to want large sums of money to be sure, but if I don’t narrow it down, we’d be here for a while!

My views on money are not entirely in the camp of, the root of all evil. For example, without money, or some form of interchangeable, fluid asset, I more than likely wouldn’t be wearing clothes, because I don’t know how to create a bolt of cloth on a loom, or really know how to grow cotton. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be cautiously skeptical of the accumulation of wealth and the power and influence that it may yield.

There’s a lot of area we could cover to be sure. But let’s look at how it’s correlated with our feeling fearful if we aren’t on our desired financial track, and is more always better? In the way we have society set up now, you reach a certain age after working a specific amount of years, and then hopefully you’ll have saved enough funds to comfortably live out your plans for retirement. If we don’t have enough, we could become destitute, living hand to mouth and relying on government subsidies in low income housing. Or so I imagine many of us who fear not having enough feel our future will look if we don’t save as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

I had a wake up call not to long ago, when I went through a divorce. I found myself with no savings, no assets and a daunting amount of debt. Mostly in the form of student loans and credit cards at the tender age of 34. I was pretty normal, as Dave Ramsey likes to put it, and yeah, I was scared for sure. I had images of being homeless, begging for handouts because I felt like I had no resources to change my future for the better. With nobody to guide me along the way I felt lost. Luckily I have a father and stepmother who have been with me every step of the way since I woke up. Without them, I don’t like to think where I’d be.

That’s when I started to aggressively pay down my debt and set up an emergency fund for six months. So that I would be taken care of should I be unemployed for a long stretch of time or any other unexpected financial troubles. After I reach those goals, I will revisit what my retirement goals will look like. But I had no idea where to even begin. And speaking of no idea, if you read my post on being a part of someones solution without solving their problems, you’ll know that I had absolutely no parental guidance as to how to eat properly, let alone balance a budget and how to diversify my retirement portfolio (which I’m still a little fuzzy on :)! So at 34, I was close to 100k in debt, nowhere to live because the woman I left my wife for just kicked me out of the apartment we were sharing with three other people, with no real job prospects or stability.

That’s when I found Dave Ramsey, and his baby steps to getting out of debt. I’ll begin by saying, he’s not for everybody. He can be a bit overbearing. But for someone like me who was given nothing in the way of personal boundaries, he was just what I needed. What I like about the steps and the ways he lays them out is: when you are so used to debt being an abstract number so big that you can’t possibly see your way out of it in your lifetime, you need the small wins of completing a step. Or even paying down a smaller bill. That way you begin to understand that you are the one who is in charge of getting you out of your current situation. Not only that, but it’s obtainable!

And for a long time, I felt as though I were a passenger in the journey of my life. Not the one who was behind the wheel. When you’re the passenger, it’s easy to get into debt, because the numbers don’t really mean anything. It’s not until you know your agency, know your power and the effect you have on your life, that you are able to take control of your situation. And are able to make the decisions and choices that keep you on the right track. Be them financial, or healthy eating and exercise habits. Every choice you make in regards to your goals are what either drives you forward or sets you back. So if you decide to stop eating out to save money on your food budget, that’s a commitment you make to yourself and a choice to stay on the right path.

And of course, it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be financially stable. But you need to show up everyday. Even when and especially when you don’t want to. The phrase fake it till you make it exemplifies this mindset well. Because it focuses on the need to cultivate discipline in order to make the transition from achieving lesser goals to larger ones. The reason I like the saying so much is that, obviously it shows us that we can make mistakes and learn how to, while we do, but more so for the perseverance element. You keep trying, keep “faking it” no matter if it looks like you know what you’re doing. The point is to keep doing.

And it’s this motivational aspect that will keep you rooted in achieving your goals. You need to find your why of course, or as we say in the yoga community, find your drishti. Your drishti is your focus. And it usually refers to a point of reference to focus your gaze while you attempt a difficult balancing pose. For me, it was a combination of fear of being destitute, mixed with a longing, almost a romantic idea, that my life could be the most interesting and gratifying endeavour I could undertake. But this motivation, this drishti, if left unchecked, could perpetuate the fear of not having enough rather than satiating it. Once we’ve reached our financial goals, we could take this motivation and desire for more and more, all under the guise of feeling safe, for ourselves and others.

This type of accumulating wealth under the pretense of safety, is akin to hoarding. If you already have enough, then no matter how much more you feel you need to collect, it’s still extra, too much. If you already have enough, and you keep collecting, the questions you need to be asking yourself are, why are you still collecting? Is it out of fear based thinking that you are collecting? Are you feeling you need to take care of those you love? Why are or aren’t you giving your money to charities, or helping the greater good in some way with your resources? Be they time or monetary?

It’s the answer to these questions that will help you to understand your relationship with money, and whether you own it, or it owns you. Because there’s nothing wrong with earning high wages, or even amassing a large sum of wealth. The issue is when it becomes your drishti and correlated with your safety.

So how do we keep ourselves focused and humble, while dealing with something that can be hazardous if handled without regard for the power it is capable of yielding? I should probably mention here that I don’t make boatloads of money, so I may not be the best qualified to answer this question. But I can draw on some parallels to how we react in moments of crisis or panic.

When I first heard about Covid, and how potentially deadly it could be, I was not one of the many who ran to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper and bottles of water or bags of flour. As I’ve said before, I’m a baker by trade so I get enough baking in while I’m at work. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t frightened at times. Pandemics, no matter how you package them, awakens a primal fear that few are exempt from. So if I was afraid, what allowed me to focused on the calm in the face of fear based reaction?

I owe a lot of my steadiness to my meditation practice. I know that if I react to the unknown with fear, I will more than likely make poor choices. If I take the time to sit with the fear, and ask myself, “how do you want me to be with you?” Then I will usually make healthier decisions. And again, I’d like to reinforce that this is not easy to do. Our fear is driven by millenia of evolution, telling us to protect ourselves in the face of danger. And rightly so! But when our decisions are made from fear based thinking, panic sets in and that’s when we are prone to use violence or make choices that exclude others for our own benefit.

In the case of a pandemic, if we’re lucky, this type of fear based thinking may lead us to purchase large amounts of pantry staples and toilet paper we may not need. But if we are scared and focused on money, a six month emergency fund may not seem like enough, which then turns into a year or more. But then that may seem too little, and now your focus becomes broader. How much can I get, who do I have to take care of and for how long? These are valid questions, but if you already have, or on track to have enough, the more you have won’t make you feel any safer. And what’s more, this constant growth state isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, whether we realize it or not, no matter how much we have, safety is not intrinsic to money.

So how do we feel safe, safe enough to not collect what we may not need because we’re reacting from a place of fear based decision making? From my experience, this happens when we face our fears. And this is as individual as each person is unique. But there are some resources that we may all be able to rely on.

First is community. Friends and family, a group of trusted people experiencing something similar to what we’re going through. People to ask advice from and to lend a hand when we’ve gone through something another is struggling with. For me, while paying off my debt I had close friends I could ask advice from, and share resources with, such as Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. The Ramsey community is also a great resource, providing feedback on a number of budget related questions and also moral support and enthusiasm. Which is definitely needed when you’re in the midst of such a tremendous task.

Second, finding a mentor, someone who’s forged a path and knows some of the road you are about to travel. How you may get stuck along the way and resources to get you back on the right path. Again, this is something I learned from the Ramsey community. I didn’t know how to put a budget together before I was 35. Which is embarrassing to admit, but no one ever showed me, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I learned how to use an envelope system which, in brief, is as it sounds. A variety of envelopes with cash allocated for each category of your budget for the month in them. And when you run out of money, that’s it until you refill the envelope next month. This can be a bit of a wake up call if you’re not used to budgeting cash this way so be forewarned and be vigilant! You don’t want to run out of grocery money in the first week of the month!

Third, trusting your own truly good nature. To be the person you envision as being your best self. The person who can deal with and handle unseen situations as they arise. Follow through with your plans that are in your own best interests and be trusted to know what those are.

The more often you make these decisions that affect you for the better, the greater the trust you build with yourself. And really, that’s the goal. To build a trusting relationship with yourself. To know that you are able to rely on yourself when the important decisions need to be made.

If we’ve spent a lifetime making questionable decisions about our future or present, then we may have some work to do to regain the trust we once had. Not every decision is going to be without uncertainty. But the more we show up for ourselves and forgive ourselves for not knowing the way, the greater the trust we cultivate in our core. And trust is definitely correlated with safety. The greater the trust we have in our actions from the day to day, the ease of knowing we have our best intentions at heart will give us the cussionning we need to feel safe if we do stumble and fall along the way.

Working to build trust with yourself is priority for a sense of safety. And we build it by making sound decisions from a calm, non-fear based, mindset. Dealing with the fears and insecurities we have, as they come up by talking them through with trusted friends and family. Or a community of like minded people who are experiencing similar situations, will help to calm these worries, and reset our focus on what’s important. The sense of wellbeing we gain from setting an intention to complete our goals, by following through in a calm, consistent manner. Not by grasping fearfully onto what we feel will solve the “problem of our fear”. I.e. lack of money and the more is better mindset.

So friends, it is with this that I leave you. Do not fret, the path is difficult at times, but we are here for one another. You are strong, you are wise. Everything you need, you have in you already. All you need do is call upon it. I’m here if you need a moral boost, but just know, you got this :] Be well, and peace.

Image Credits: “Money” by aresauburn™ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Self-Care Physical: Read the Labels, No New Clothes Well Maybe

Off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or something to read or a new type of soap. But I always feel a bit weird walking into a store that’s trying to sell an image. The sleek lines and the bass driven rhythmic thumping of music. The smell of slick cologne or perfume laying heavy in a thick haze across the open concept display rooms.

Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to go into one of these stores once and a while to get the experience. But for me anyways, it only lasts so long before the fatigue sets in. If you’ve read my Mission Statement you’ll know where I’m coming from when I say I’m slightly nostalgic for this experience in a borderline unhealthy way.

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plan with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazend across the front or back. I have a shirt that sports the name of the city I live in, one with the name of a place I went to while on vacation and a few others for sure. Oh, the “MT. WASHINGTON 6,288′” shirt I got when I climbed Mt. Washington. But most of the clothes I own have little to no visible brand name affiliations. What can I say, I like plain clothing.

Recently on my way back from an appointment in a neighboring city I stopped into a thrift shop. The shop supports a sober living community and I stopped in to look at some clothing while waiting for my train home. I bought a pair of jeans that would have cost 70+ dollars retail and a sweater equally as expensive for about twenty dollars. I felt good afterwards. Not contributing to the cost of generating new clothing and feeling as though I helped in some small way, the mission of keeping alcoholics sober. Not to mention I saved a bunch of money to boot!

Also I realized that I hadn’t shopped for second hand clothing since high school. This seemed strange because one of my life goals is to live as zero waste as possible. Shopping second hand just seemed like such a no-brainer that I’m surprised I haven’t started doing it much sooner.

So what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing we don’t go shopping where we are supporting big, name-brand clothing companies. But instead why not buy from one another in the form of thrift markets or online used clothing markets like Ebay, Poshmark or Swap? Or how about going out to a good old-fashion yard sale. This builds community by connecting individuals whom are trying to express a facet of their personalities while also repurposing old clothing that would have gone to a landfill. And the need to purchase new clothing would perpetuate the unhealthy cycle of consuming for the sake of keeping up appearances. So it’s a way to recycle and break some of the fast fashion trend.

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to buying and selling clothing. Another versatile use for thrifting is sustainably gifting. This past Christmas I was thinking about going to various thrift stores and buying people convenience kits. Something that would be useful everyday and practical while maintaining a sense of the person’s style. Like in one kit for my stepmother I may buy a travel coffee mug, water bottle, cloth bag, a pair of sunglasses, a book and a pair of gloves if I’m giving it in the winter. Or something summer related for a summer gifting.

With seemingly unlimited options the list is only limited to the stuff that people have donated. Not by a season or a product line. I know from my own experience that I’ve donated thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff over my lifetime. Odds are someone found a good home for the things I traded in. And that’s a nice way to think about it because I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I get a little sentimental over inanimate objects.

I’m also a big fan of upcycling clothing. Like old tee-shirts into bandanas (some self disclosure: I wear a lot of bandanas). There was a period in high school when I made my own patchwork corduroy pants that had 36″ cuffs. Asides from them being comically big on me, it brought me such a sense of joy and accomplishment from making something that I wore every day. It helped that I was a dirty hippie and often wore articles of clothing over and over without a wash 😀

Self expression is about finding what it is about you that makes you shine. If it’s clothing, why wouldn’t you want something that had your name written all over it instead of some designer you don’t know. And who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at the price of others? And in some cases, the environment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy the clothing we like new, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. Let’s try to get back to what matters, connections and curating something that makes you more you 🙂

Me in High-School
Evidence of my bandana wearing hippie ways in my early years. Me (on the left) with my then girlfriend and friends on the front page of our town paper complaining about how strict the school was that year 🙂