Cultivating Joy: Areas Worth Exploring

I’d like to switch gears a little with this post, and the direction of this blog. I’ve been writing a lot about what’s difficult, but what I’m realizing now is that I’ve left out a large part of the picture. The things that bring joy. So it’s with this idea in mind that I want to begin exploring the areas in my life and in general, that make us happy. It’ll be a little different for everybody, but we all have the capacity to experience joy. I’ll still be focusing on interpersonal and introspective topics about relationships, but I thought I’d throw in some positivity to balance out some of the heavier topics.

In the next few posts, I’m not sure how many yet, I’ll be going over some areas in my life that bring me a sense of ease, peace and joy. I’ll be exploring some of what motivates me and the ways I go about finding joy in the things I do. So let’s jump in with sustainability.

The Joy Of Sustainability

This is a big one for me. I’m not sure why I derive so much joy out of recycling, or using that one plastic cup at work for 2 months straight. But the feeling is a light one. Knowing that I’m doing my part to reduce my footprint and use fewer disposable products makes me happy. Also the feeling I get when I leave the grocery store with only a few containers that are all recyclable is satisfying.

I’d like to go over some of the habits I’ve picked up that are sustainable, my point of view as to why we’re so hung up on our “disposable” world, and how to change our frames of mind about the topic. So let’s talk a little about why we’re so attracted to a disposable lifestyle. Maybe we can get to the root of our filthy habits.

Disposable Lifestyle: Why it’s so Attractive

There’s no doubt that we are attracted to beauty. It’s advertised to us every day. In the ads we watch and read, to the shows we see and the trends celebrities are setting. But when you think of sustainability, do the words “cool” or “sexy” come to mind? They don’t for me. And let’s face it, there is nothing sexy about sitting in a fast food restaurant shoveling a most likely unhealthy meal into your mouth with a plastic spoon. But what if we made that the new sexy?

I’m joking, kinda. As I’m sitting in my room typing this post, next to me on my side table is a spoon rest that I saved from the garbage, with a plastic spoon in it. I use it to stir my tea when I bring a cup up stairs. At first, the sight of the plastic spoon felt trashy. I didn’t like the idea of having something disposable sitting at the ready to be used again. For me, I like the well polished look of a beautifully designed environment. But what changed my opinion about the spoon on my table are two very important people in my life.

Conviction is the New Sexy

I work as a baker at a local bakery. The owner of the bakery is one of the most driven, dedicated and practical people I’ve ever met. She works fifteen hour days and knows all of her regulars names and what’s happening in their lives. And she is also passionate about recycling.

I started working with her when they opened their business about two years ago. One of the things I remember from our first interactions was, that she used a disposable plastic cup for her coffee. This wasn’t so remarkable at first, but what really stuck out was, that she used that cup for about six months. That’s pretty impressive for a disposable cup! This made me think about the ways I use disposables in my life.

The other person is my step mother. She makes and brings her lunch to work with her everyday. And with her lunch, she has been using the same plastic utensils for as long as I can remember her going to work with a lunch. This is impressive, that she can make something “disposable” last so long.

I love sustainability and it brings me a great sense of joy, that’s for sure. But how sustainable am I really? When it comes down to it, am I ready to reuse that plastic cup I purchased a drink in? Does having a piece of “trash” around me make me feel cheap because it doesn’t fit in on the cover of one of my favorite design magazines? The answer to this question used to be a resounding yes. But I’ve come to change my opinion on this matter. Let me tell you what I’ve come up with.

The More Attention We Give to Something the More Special it Becomes

One day, I forgot my water bottle at my house when I went to work. So, I grabbed a plastic cup and in step with the owner of the bakery, I reused that cup. It’s actually still in use, and waiting for me the next time I go in to work. The same is true of the spoon I have on my side table. I can’t remember why I got it, but it’s been here ever since. Waiting to stir my tea.

What’s so strange about these items is, at first they were trash to me. I didn’t like the idea of reusing a piece of garbage. It made me feel cheap, like I was worth less for using them. But the more I used these items, the fonder I grew of them. It seems so strange to me now to think that I’m actually enjoying the plastic spoon that sits on my side table. But there is no denying, that that spoon now brings me joy.

I’m happy to be using something that would have gone into the garbage otherwise and it now feels like it belongs in my surroundings. The same with the plastic cup at work. Knowing that I’m reusing something that still has life left in it brings me joy. It also has my name with a little smiley face next to it, Adam : ). This also brings me joy : ) So my boss’s and step mother’s conviction for recycling has given me a new perspective on what I find to fit in with my image of beauty.

Tips & Hacks for Getting the Most Out of Your Garbage

I’d like to go over some of the habits I’ve picked up in the area of living a more sustainable life. Most of these suggestions aren’t new ones. But maybe they are if you’re still in the frame of mind that single use plastic is garbage. The suggestions below focus on how to get the longest life from the items we use daily, making our habits a little more sustainable and maybe even creating some joy along the way : )

1 .Public Transit & Walking

Due to some early childhood trauma, I have a condition where I dissociate on occasion. It started happening about seven years ago, and since I haven’t been able to drive. So, I walk. I walk or I take public transportation. Luckily for me, I live in a suburb of Boston. So the public transit system is first class. At first, I disliked taking the T, as it’s referred to in Mass. But the more I use it, the more appreciative I am of it.

I also have had to walk a lot of places as well. I used to be pretty sedentary in my former life. Now, I don’t think twice about walking somewhere that’s two miles away. I enjoy the exercise I’m getting and feel good about lessening my carbon footprint. This is a win, win in my book.

What I’ve come to realize is, that even when I’m able to drive again, I think I’ll still be using public transportation and walking a lot of the time. It’s reliable, it’s keeping me in shape and I’m doing my part to keep emissions down. Sure, the convenience of having a car is nice, but maybe we can switch out some of our normal driving routine to public transportation instead. Or carpool with friends and coworkers. Cars are nice to have, but they are not always necessity.

2. Reusing Single Use Items & Replacing Them with More Permanent Solutions

I’ve already written about the cup and spoon I’m currently reusing, but there are also other things we can reuse. For example, I always bring my reusable shopping bags to the store with me. But I also get and use paper grocery bags once every so often to use as trash bags in my room. I like them because they are recyclable and compostable.

The other side to the reusable single use plastics coin is, replacing disposable options with more permanent solutions. One that would help immensely is, switching to a water bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles. The bottle is a one time purchase, most places are happy to fill your bottle and you won’t be creating tons of waste. The same is true of portable coffee mugs. Brew your own or ask your barista to make your morning cup in your mug for you. Other swap outs include, woolen drier balls instead of drier sheets, making your own bandanas and handkerchiefs, if you use them, from old T-shirts. Here’s a link to The Good Trade and an article on making more sustainable swaps if you’re looking for more inspo.

3. Refusing Single Use Items

This one was a new concept for me. I was already concerned with reducing my plastic consumption, but what I was overlooking was, that you can refuse items as well. For example, when I’m out getting an iced tea, I will often times refuse the straw they offer. I don’t use one at home and it’s only when I’m given one that I feel compelled to use them. This is a no brainer now, but it took some time to come to this understanding.

Other items we can refuse are lids for cups if you’re eating in. Only take the napkins you need or use a handkerchief you’ve made yourself. Bring your own containers to the grocery store when buying bulk goods. Carry a backpack or tote with you when you go shopping for non-food items, so you don’t have to use the bag from the shop. Here’s a list of what’s polluting our oceans so you can steer clear of these top items.

4. Gardening & Composting

This is another tasty option to cultivate some joy. Especially if you love fresh food as much as I do. Starting a garden is a great way to cut back on food miles and eat fresher produce. You’ll also bee saving hundreds of dollars on veg. Not to mention how beautiful a vegetable garden is while it’s in full bloom. And if you don’t have a yard, not to worry. There are usually community gardens located in urban areas that allow access to land where you can grow your own. Usually for a small annual fee.

And if you do have the space, composting your kitchen scraps is a great way to recycle food waste. All while building your soil and adding extra nutrients to your harvest. another win for the planet. And if you really want to compost, but don’t have the space, there are companies that collect food scraps like garbage collection, to compost off site.

5. Visit Your Library

Your local library has so many resources, that it’s amazing more people don’t utilize it. You can loan books for sure, but also barrow movies, music, and there’s usually something going on that’s community focused too. Some libraries give tours of their facilities. Scheduling one may yield other hidden secrets that are just waiting for you to discover.

Remember it’s About What Brings You Joy

It seems funny to correlate joy with something as mundane as recycling. But if you enjoy the natural world, then taking care of it should definitely bring a sense of happiness. I know I feel better when my surrounding environment is at its best. So try working some of these sustainable habits into your daily routine. And hopefully, you’ll find a little joy along the way : ) Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “joy” by Ganesh K S is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Micro-Forests: New Growth in Environmental Trends

Micro-Forests are a new trend that has been popping up around urban areas. I was walking to a local shop a few weeks ago when I noticed a group of people working on a patch of land. They were planting a variety of wild, native plants in a small public space. The area wasn’t used for anything in particular and it was small. About half the size of a plot of land you could build half a city house on. It use to have a sign from a local business and a tree populating it. Other than that it’s sandwiched between two busy streets and not ideal for recreational use.

So planting a micro-forest seems a perfect fit for the town and it’s lowering emissions goals. Moreover, it seems a good fit for most towns and cities. So what exactly are micro-forests? And what effects do they have on our environment? It took a little digging, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

What are Micro-Forests?

In its most fundamental form, a micro forest is a densely planted area, of native trees, shrubs and other local fauna, so as to replicate what a forest would look like in the local, wild environment. This is also a solution to a lot of issues surrounding climate change.

From what I’m able to tell, the concept originated from Japan with a system known as the Miyawaki Method. This method uses local plant varieties to cultivate a densely populated forest in a relatively small space. Hence the term, micro-forest.

The method may have started in Japan, but its tenants are practiced world wide. One article I read said that micro-forests were being planted in countries such as France and India. Other articles have showcased these forests being planted in Australia as well as the United Kingdom. It seems that where ever you go, you’re bound to run into one.

Benefits of a Micro-Forest

Some of the benefits of these mini-forests are impressive for their size. This method plants about 30x the amount of trees than conventional methods yield. And a mature tree can sequester up to 45 pounds of Co2 annually. And with all these extra trees, they retain 30x the amount of Co2, compared with conventional forests. That’s a lot of Co2. There is loads of bio diversity in these small patches of land as well.

One micro-forest can contain a minimum of 300% the diversity, as opposed to conventional reforesting techniques. The root systems from the trees are able to clean and manage storm water run off as well. This helps to stop soil erosion.

And on top of all that, the forest is maintenance free after the first three years. In the start, the micro forest needs some attention. Weeding of invasive species, watering and pulling the material that didn’t survive the initial transplant. But after these first few years, the forest becomes completely independent. It creates its own nutrients without having to rely on chemical fertilizers. And it also lowers the over all ambient temperature of the local environment. Which could be helpful for cities that have these oasis in their midst.

Bio-Diversity

Another benefit of these forests is the diversity in which they collect. Not only the variety of plants and trees that are planted there, but from small mammals, insects and pollinators as well. As new animals that may not have been able to thrive in urban centers find their ways to the forest oasis, nature is in essence being reintroduced to the developed areas of our landscape.

These are all very compelling reasons to start planting more micro-forests, wherever we can fit them. So what’s stopping us? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Starting Your Own Little Forest

I would later read an article, about the patch I walked by on my way to the shop I spoke about in the beginning of this piece and how it was started by a local resident. She wanted to get involved so she got in touch with the city to find a suitable piece of land for her project. The city helped her find one through the “adopt an island” program and she was off and planting.

The project was totally funded by the city and provided some of the labor as well. There were a total of 15 volunteers who helped plant the nearly 600 seedlings. These cost the town a total of about $700 and were purchased locally. The town’s DPW helped turn the soil, uprooting the grass, and the forest was ready to be placed in the earth. The entire process took about a weeks time for the volunteers with little after care. The town agreed to water the patch for the three years before it becomes self sustained. After that, it should need no maintenance.

Where Are the Places in Your Community That Could Use a Micro-Forest?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that the micro-forest was planted in my town. But the fact is, it’s planted next to a stretch of woodlands. Also, the town I live in is fairly affluent. So, yes, it can definitely use more green space, but the neighboring city which is much more urban, could probably use it a little more.

The city I live next to is decidedly less affluent, has more concrete per square mile and is in need of a little TLC. So it’s with this in mind that I will be looking to replicate this idea where it’s most needed.

I’ll start by talking to the person who planted the one that sparked my interest and see how to replicate it in my near by, neighboring city. Hopefully enlisting the help of some friends along the way. While also hopefully sparking an interest in the community about a sustainable future. Win win.

Micro-Forests, Closer to Home

The question you may be asking yourself is, “how do I get involved”? I don’t have a great answer for this except, maybe search for someone doing it in your community. It seems that most of the micro-forests I researched have been built in the past few years. So the best action maybe to start your own. Talk to your local city council, see if there is something like our, adopt an island program, you could use as a starting out point. Who knows where a few well placed questions could lead.

Also, maybe your town or city has a farmer’s market or community garden. Asking around that community may yield some results as well. The point is, get involved if you feel so inclined. After all, the environmental mess we’ve gotten into won’t fix itself. We made it, we need to be active members in its solution.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be posting updates with more of what I find on this micro movement the more I learn. If you’re interested in more sustainable tips check out these articles to help keep your world a little greener. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

A More Sustainable Home

Black Friday : ( Green Friday : )

Environmental Self-Audit

Image Credits: “Micro Forest” by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

No Buy August: Using What’s In Your Cabinets to Save Money

I’ve been struggling to save money on my grocery bill for a long time. Actually, probably my entire adult life. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first” you’ll know that I’ve written about this before and that I use to spend upwards to $700 a month on my grocery bill. This is crazy to me now, especially considering I am still in student loan debt. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve pared my grocery bill down to a mere $265 a month, but I still have a stock pile of food in my pantry.

So with the intent to save money on my grocery bill, while also utilizing the groceries I already have in my pantry, I’m starting a “No Buy August”. This effort is mostly to help reign in my overspending, while also addressing my food hording problem. Hopefully when I’m done, I will have an empty pantry just waiting to be filled with fresh, new foods.

I’m starting this journey in August, but this post will probably be published sometime in mid-late August. You can start this challenge anytime you like. It just so happens that I was $125 over my grocery budget in July and wanted to do something about it next month. Hope you’ll Join me : )

The Goals, Save Money, Use Up Old Food Items

In recent months, you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been much better about my grocery buying habits. That being said, I still have a jar of potato starch that has been in my pantry for a few years. I most likely bought it for one recipe and used it ONLY for that recipe. Then the rest has been sitting in my pantry, waiting for the day it will be put back in the game.

So the first step for me was, to go through my cabinets and find what needs to be used. I started with some easy ingredients. I have two jars of shitake mushrooms that need using. So it looks as though vegetable ramen and risotto with caramelized shitake mushrooms will be on the menu. Risotto is another ingredient that made the list as well which means I’m finishing off two ingredients with that recipe.

So ingredient by ingredient, I’m going through my pantry, finding what needs to be used. Then I take those items, go to my favorite recipe sites and search their site by ingredient. A pretty straight forward plan. Full disclosure, I did go a little over my food budget this month knowing that I wouldn’t be going to the grocery store next month at all if things go as planned. I made a Costco run and got a few extra items at Market Basket in preparation. But it’ll be worth it to save almost 2/3 of my grocery bill next month. Money that will go straight to paying off my student loans : )

Search for Recipes, AKA Plan Ahead

The next step for me was, to look up recipes I had with the limited amount of ingredients I had on hand. I use Minimalist Baker’s site for most of my recipes. But Love & Lemons is also a great site and one my boss swears by. But cooking is as unique as the individual. So find a site you like. Or maybe you have a favorite cookbook or some family recipes. The point is to find what makes you happy. Cook from a book, site or recipe that you know you’ll enjoy the food you make.

Yeah, we want to save money, but we also want to enjoy what we’re eating. So searching for recipes by finding your favorite recipe sites and cookbooks is essential to making cooking for yourself an enjoyable experience that you want to keep coming back to. For example, I have my grandmother’s baked beans recipe that I’ve been making for years. I had to make them vegetarian, but they’re something I keep coming back to.

Also, I have a few staples from the restaurants I’ve worked at in the past. Recently I’ve been making a black bean soup recipe that I picked up in a Mexican place I’ve worked. I got the idea from Dave Ramsey when he says to eat, “beans and rice, rice and beans”. The recipe is fantastic and the price of rice and beans are super cheap. So if I eat black bean soup with rice every other meal, it only costs me around $10 a month. That’s half of my months grocery cost and is kind of incredible.

But Where’s the Varity?

People have gone to some extremes, all in the name of saving some money. And I suppose that eating half of your meals in the form of beans and rice is up there. But it’s not something I plan on doing forever. As soon as I pay off my student loans, I plan on cooking more of the foods I enjoy. Eating well will come with being debt free. After all, I got into debt by spending money at restaurants in the first place. It only makes sense that I now reign in my spending on what I used to have poor boundaries around.

But there are also other places in my meal plan where I work in some variety. For example, my self-care dinner is usually a new to me recipe. Something I find during the week that looks appealing. Also, family dinner Fridays are usually a pleasant surprise. We take turns choosing recipes for the week to keep the meals fresh and new. As I’m writing this, we are currently preparing a lentil curry dish that I found scrolling through my bookmarked recipes.

But even while I’m picking new recipes, my goal still is to save some money. So I’m choosing ingredients from my pantry first, while also seeking out recipes with cheap components. You’ll notice that the above lentil recipe has frozen peas and lentils as their staple ingredients. Both are cheap buys at the grocery store, making this meal budget friendly. So just because you’re looking for variety, doesn’t mean you need to spend loads of cash.

What am I Eating

Maybe you’re looking at your cabinets or eating habits and came to the same conclusion I have. That something needs to change. Also, if it’s one thing I’ve learned from dating site profiles, it’s that people spend a lot of time thinking about what they’ll be eating next. Which raises the question, what will I be eating throughout the day? Below I’ll go over a short list of the meals I usually prepare for myself. Or what a usual week looks like for me. Let’s start in the morning.

Brekkie

Coffee

A sure way to save money while deciding what you’ll eat for breakfast is, stop eating out. Yes, even the coffee you grab on the way to the office. If you were like I was, I was drinking upwards to 7 lattes a day. That’s a lot of coffee! I did work at a bakery where coffee was free at the time. So I wasn’t paying for all of my coffee consumption. But even if you’re only getting one coffee a day, the money still adds up.

Let’s say you buy one latte a day at $6. Even if you only get one a day for five days a week, making coffee on the weekends, the total for the year would add up to $1,560! That’s a lot of money for coffee. But if you make your own espresso, it’s about 45 cents for a double shot. using that math, the same amount of coffee would cost you $117 annually, not including the cost of milk.

If you add a gallon of milk a week to your shopping list at $3.19 a gallon, you’d still only be spending a grand total of $282.88 a year. Coffee and milk. That’s 1/5 the cost you would be spending if you bought out every day. And if you drink tea, it gets even cheaper. So stop buying coffee out! Buy a quality coffee thermos, I like this one by Yeti, and make your own. You’ll be saving loads of money in the long run. Also while cutting back on your plastic or cardboard waste consumption.

Breakfast Foods

If you’re not on a liquid diet, (and I definitely recommend that you not only drink coffee for breakfast) then you’ll be needing some solid foods to compliment your coffee. Processed cereals cost a lot of money. And we’ve already covered eating out. So for the price, you can’t beat oatmeal for the most cost effective meal.

I usually make overnight oats. I mix a large batch of the dry ingredients in a container and make them each night before work the next day. They usually consist of oatmeal, flax meal or chai seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, a pinch of salt, maple syrup and then I top it off a plant based milk (I add the flax or chai seed after so it doesn’t sink to the bottom of the container). I shake it all together in a pint sized mason jar and refrigerate overnight. I could use water and save some more money, but I like the creamier texture it gives. Also, you can add whatever you’re craving or what’s in season to the oats. Giving you some variety to your first meal of the day.

Lunch & Dinner

I group lunch and dinner together because I usually end up eating the same dishes for both meals. Whatever I’m eating for dinner, I usually eat as left overs for lunch. This way I don’t have to buy meal specific ingredients other than for brekkie. So what am I making for dinner?

As I said above, I’ve been making black beans and rice for half of my meals. But I find that I usually have a jar of lentils in the cupboard. Or like this month, for some reason I have two jars of cornmeal. So to save money in No Buy August, I’m making polenta.

This meal hits all the right notes for me. It’s cheap, simple, I almost always have cornmeal on hand and it pairs well with roasted vegies. And with the variety of veg you can roast, there are loads of possibilities to try. While we’re on the subject, simple, for me is usually best when it comes to preparing meals.

Minimalism in the Kitchen

One of the reasons I like Minimalist Baker so much is, Dana doesn’t use a lot of ingredients. And to make great tasting food, you don’t need a lot of expensive ingredients. Simple is usually better. Lately, my favorite combo of flavors is ginger, garlic and onion. If a dish has these three, I’m more than likely going to enjoy it. Throw in some coconut milk and in my opinion, there’s nothing better.

That was one of the reason the above lentil dish was so appealing to me. Curry, mixed with the magic three and lentils, that’s a win in my book. Plus I save money because all the items on my shopping list are super cheap. Or I already have them on hand, helping me to clean out my pantry. Win win.

And this is something I plan on making a new habit. I want to do a No Buy month maybe twice or three times a year. This way I can make sure I’m rotating through my food stores, but also save money while doing it. This way nothing goes to waste and I’m also finding new recipes and enjoying the food I’m making.

I’ll leave you with a burrito recipe that has the black beans I’m making in them. The burrito is great if you’re a meat eater. The beans are even better : ) Peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: Adam Sergott

Heading Image Credits: “Colorful veggies for sale in Daley Plaza” by wsilver is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

So Fresh, So Clean: Natural Cleaners & Cleaning Methods to Keep Your Home Tidy (And Smelling Great:)

I was looking up ways to make my own yoga mat spray a few days ago and finally landed on this video from Yoga with Adrienne. She uses witch hazel and essential oils to make her spray and I thought, “I should be taking this type of cleaning off the mat”. Maybe not that spray exactly, but I’m sure there are ways I could be making eco-friendly cleaners for my house.

I’m already using household items such as baking soda and vinegar to do some of my more thorough cleaning. So naturally I was wondering what else I could substitute for some of the harsher chemicals amongst my cleaning supplies. In the following, I’ll be going over some products, their cleaning properties and a few recipes I utilize these ingredients in. Hopefully helping you to make the more natural selection for your cleaning choices.

The Usual, Unusual Suspects

The Basics:

The following is a short list of basic cleaning ingredients you can use to start making your own natural household cleansers.

Vinegar: This is a basic and one of the heavy hitters in your cleaning arsenal. It’s slightly acidic which makes it great for breaking down stains and when mixed with other ingredients in this list, such as baking soda. It’s a great tool for cleaning up tough dirt and grime around the house.

Baking Soda: Sodium bicarbonate has long been used to absorb odors and clean messy surfaces. And when mixed with vinegar, not only does it do a thorough job of cleaning up messes by acting as a mild abrasive, but it also leaves behind what amounts to saltwater. How much more natural can a cleaner be 🙂

Lemons: Speaking of natural, this article from A Taste of Home says that lemons are a natural disinfectant and due to their acidic nature, are great at fighting stains. You can use them on anything from disinfecting your compost bucket to cleaning wood surfaces mixed with a little vinegar, warm water and castile soap.

Castile Soap: Castile is a soap made from vegetable oils. This article from Very Well Health says it’s safe enough to use as on your produce while also being able to be utilized as an all purpose cleaner as well. This versatile soap is cheap while being safe and effective on just about everything from shaving cream to washing your dishes. Pretty impressive for a simple soap.

Salt: Bacteria and other forms of microscopic life aren’t able to live under the harsh conditions that salt creates. So bacteria and viruses aren’t able to grow or survive on its surface. It can also be used as an abrasive while cleaning. And don’t you just feel cleaner when you get out of the ocean after a soak?

The Essential Oils:

Below I’ll be listing a few of my go-to oils for cleaning and listing their basic properties. Not only will these oils leave your home smelling fresh, but they also have antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic qualities as well as other cleansing characteristics that will keep your home clean and bacteria free.

Tea Tree: This industrious oil covers a lot of ground. As well as being known as a fungicide it’s also an antimicrobial, antibiotic and antiseptic. It has a strong pine like scent and can be overpowering if you use too much, so be sparing.

Lavender: Lavender oil not only has a soothing effect on our emotional state, but it also acts as an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, antiseptic and disinfectant. This oil has soothing floral notes, subtle and airy with a shade of green.

Lemon: Here’s another citrusy oil that’s packed full of cleansing properties. It’s most common trait may be of disinfectant, but it’s also effective for its bactericidal attributes, as well as antiseptic and anti-fungal. Plus it smells great to boot!

Eucalyptus: This oil has equally as many cleaning properties. Some of which are, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, antibacterial, antibiotic and antiviral. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most used ingredients in cough drops. One whiff will clear your senses with its slightly mentholated scent.

These are only a few of the oils that are available to use for cleaning purposes. I referenced Lather Lass for this short list of cleaning characteristics of these different oils. But there are about 150 listed on their site and worth taking a look at if you’re interested in learning more.

Some Recipes

Now that we’ve gathered the essentials, here are a few recipes, to utilize them in your cleaning routines. The recipes are basic. Which is good, knowing that you don’t need to be a chemist to naturally and effectively clean your house.

All Purpose Cleaner: Let’s start with the most utilized cleaner. An all purpose cleaner that is safe for most all surfaces is a simple combination of water to 1 teaspoon of castile soap. Pour them into a 16oz spray bottle, put the lid on and shake. This cleaner should be safe on wood, tile, metal, glass and painted surfaces. For an extra boost of antibacterial or anti-mold cleaning properties, try adding lemon or tea tree oil to your cleaner. Or both! about 10 drops of each should be sufficient. If you use lemon, you’ll also be disinfecting as well!

Bathroom Cleaner: This combination of 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar, 1 teaspoon of castile soap and 10 drops of lavender oil, does a thorough job of cleaning all the crevasses that could be harboring bacteria in the bathroom. Thanks to the acidic nature of the vinegar and the disinfecting properties of the lavender, your bathroom will not only be spotless, but have a soothing scent as well.

Baking Soda & Vinegar: Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. when the two are combined, they create a chemical reaction that is a powerful cleanser. Baking soda can be used on its own as an abrasive. And the acid in the vinegar works to dissolve the stain, breaking it down and allowing it to be washed away. You can use this cleaner on tough stains in the kitchen, bathroom or anywhere you find stubborn areas that accumulate dirt. For example, it could be used to remove stains on the wall next to your coffee maker. Or that dingy area in your bathtub that doesn’t seem to lift no matter what you throw at it.

Simple Cleaning Hacks

Using these simple ingredients above, you can clean most everything in your house. Below I’ll be listing a few ways of incorporating them in your cleaning routine to make your place shine. Let’s start in the bathroom.

Bathroom:

You can use baking soda to clean your toilet bowl by putting a cup of the powder in the bowl and scrubbing it with a toilet brush. The abrasive properties of the soda will scrub your bowl clean.

And to remove tough soap scum from your bathtub or kitchen sink, make a paste with baking soda and a little bit of water, rub it into the dirty areas of your wash bins, around the bottom where the tub may be a little discolored from the soap scum buildup. Then rinse with vinegar and let the two foam and dissolve while cleaning as it dissipates. This should leave your surfaces refreshed and sparkling.

If you’re interested to go a little deeper in your bathroom, this article from Real Simple has a great layout of how to clean it from top to bottom using natural cleaners. And it’s where I learned how to clean your toilet bowl with baking soda. Def a recommended read.

Kitchen:

The kitchen is where I spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning and just plain living. So naturally this room has a high priority on my cleaning list. These simple tricks will leave your kitchen looking its best.

If you have a large, wooden cutting board on your countertop, try sprinkling it with coarse salt and using the cut half of a lemon to scrub the board clean. The lemon and salt help to disinfect the board while the salt also acts as an abrasive to scrub tiny bits of stuck on food off. The lemon also lifts odors left over from veggies like onions or garlic. Leaving your board fresh and clean.

If you use cast iron in your kitchen, salt can help to get rid of some of the tougher bits of burnt on food on your pan. You can also use a wooden spoon, or alternatively, they make bamboo scrapers for just this purpose. rubbing the pan with salt to lift the rest of the oils and food debris while wiping it down with some olive oil will help you to avoid having to wash your pan with soapy water, which could strip the pan of it’s seasoning and do damage to your pan. Also, FYI never leave your cast iron pan soaking in water! They will most definitely rust and it will happen much more quickly than you expect.

Speaking of soapy water, you can use castile soap to wash your dishes. Mixing them with either lemon or eucalyptus oils to help disinfect while you scrub. Win, win.

General cleaning:

Wood Floors: If you have hardwood floors, it can be difficult to get the dirt that builds up in the corners of heavily trafficked areas. By using warm water and vinegar, you can loosen the ground in dirt from shoes and general use that slowly builds up. It will also leave your floors looking refreshed. It may take a few passes so be patient, and don’t forget the elbow grease! Perhaps one of the best cleaning tools in our belts ; )

Air Purifier: For cleaner air, try burning a beeswax candle. The wax releases negatively charged ions into the air, which attach themselves to positively charged particles like dust and pollutants. So the candle is literally cleaning the air you breath while it burns.

Diffuser: And finally, this isn’t necessarily a cleaning hack, but it helps to make me feel more at home. Using an essential oil diffuser can help to create a calming atmosphere to match your clean house. One of the elements for me that makes a house, feel more like a home. A friend of mine’s mother puts essential oils in her vacuum air filter. So while she’s vacuuming, she’s also freshening the air, leaving the room feeling a bit cleaner.

There are loads more cleaning tips out there for sure. If you have any that you swear by, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. Cleaning isn’t always easy to get to. Especially if you already have a full schedule and responsibilities that need your attention. But a well maintained house is satisfying.

Being organized in your surroundings, helps you to bring order to what’s happening inside as well. So burn a candle, put some music on, grab a cup of herbal tea or a glass of wine and appreciate what you’ve done for yourself. After all, cleaning your surroundings is another way to practice self-care. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Dishes Cleaning supplies” by wuestenigel is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Updated: 12/23/22

BPA: What You Should Know

BPA has been a buzz word the past few years, concerning our food and the potential health risks associated with it. I’m all for using less processed chemicals in our daily routine, so I decided to do a little research on the subject before I decide that BPA is the enemy. This is something I feel that we do too often. We find something new to hate, or rail on when there could be benefits to whatever it is that’s gained our disapproval. So in the following, I’ll be writing about the research I’ve done on the subject, and the changes I’ll be making to my purchasing habits, if any. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some of the questions around BPA for myself and others.

BPA: What is it?

BPA stands for bisphenol A, which is a chemical that is used to make certain resins and plastics. These resins and plastics are then used in the packaging that store the foods we purchase. They’re usually found in some plastic containers, or sprayed inside of tin cans that hold the food we eat. The primary concern with BPA is, that when the chemical is heated, it can then leach into the food that the container is holding. A reported 93% of Americans over the age of six have been found to have BPA in their urine.

BPA & Health Risks

This is a concerningly large percentage of people, if the chemical is detrimental to our health. If so, then it could have grave consequences. And according to this article from the National Library of Medicine, the effects of BPA aren’t wholly benign. Some risk factors include, “…BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility, precocious puberty, hormone dependent tumors such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders…”. That’s a long list of reasons to stay away from packaging containing BPA.

Other Perspectives

There is another side to the BPA story. One which suggests that the chemical is safe in the amounts that it is found in the items and food packaging we use everyday. This site, Facts About BPA, lays out an argument for the continued use of BPA in products.

The very title of the site states that this is the truth about BPA. While they may not be lying about how they are presenting their information, they skirt the negative and potential side effects of the chemical. It’s also worth noting that the people who own and operate the website are also the largest producers of the chemical. So it would be fair to say they have a vested interest in the positive disposition of their product.

So Which is the Best Choice, BPA or BPA-Free?

For me and my health, I’m leaning more towards the camp of BPA free. It seems to me that taking in any amount of chemical that is proven to cause a variety of healthy malades, seems irresponsible. Why take the risk? Even if the FDA is saying that there are “safe” levels that we can ingest. We’re most likely never going to completely avoid BPA. Though lessening our contact to it will certainly reduce the chances of the potential health risks.

This also gives us the opportunity to use fresher ingredients in our meal prep. Since BPA is mostly found in the lining of cans and in plastics, if we purchase fresh produce and proteins, we’ll be steering clear of the chemical. And our food will taste fresher in the process.

Avoiding BPA in Our Day to Day

Now that we have some idea of how BPA interacts with our bodies, my next question is, where it can be found and how do we avoid it? As it turns out, BPA is found in a lot of different products we use regularly. Here’s a link to “EWG”‘s site, which I found on “Eat This, Not That”. EWG has a pretty comprehensive list of foods that shows which packaging contains BPA. Just type the name of the food and brand into the search bar to see if they show up on their list. It’s stated on their site that there’s over 16,000 products containing BPA. So it’s worth checking out if you’re concerned.

Items such as plastic storage containers and water bottles, baby bottles are made with BPA and tin cans are lined with the chemical to protect its contents from the off taste of tin. Thermal register tape is coated with it, as well as certain types of dental fillings, and most plastics that are marked with the numbers 3 and 7. This article from NPR goes into some detail about how to avoid it.

Image Credits: “How to avoid BPA” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Using Fewer Processed Foods While Cooking

How I’m approaching this dilemma is, by cooking more of my foods from their more whole, natural states. For example if a recipe calls for black beans, instead opening up a can, I’ll use my instant pot to cook a batch. As far as I know, the plastic bags holding the dry beans don’t contain BPA and the beans are cooked to order each time.

Instant Beans

I used to cook black bean soup at a restaurant I worked in in my twenties. So I know the time that’s involved in cooking dry beans from scratch on the range can be lengthy. The instant pot is an incredible time saver. Here is a link to The Minimalist Baker’s post on cooking grains and beans using the instant pot. As I’ve said above, it is a great way to save time and definitely worth looking into getting one if you do a lot of cooking. Here’s a link to some product reviews of the different brands and types of pressure cooking devices from The Spruce Eats. They cover everything from stove top pressure cookers to electric ones, slow cookers and pressure canners.

Cook to Order

Another way to avoid processed food would be to purchase fewer premade meals. I know we’re not all afforded the luxury of time. And I recognize that I’m coming from a cooking background. So my knowledge level and cooking skills aren’t where everybody is, and that they save me time. But learning to cook is a great way to take care of yourself while also nourishing your body and creating stronger bonds with family and friends.

If you’re new to cooking, here’s a link to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Cooking School. It’s mostly online, and they have loads of resources for free. You can learn recipes developed by Christopher Kimball and his team, but you can also learn other cooking techniques. Their most recent class was on knife skills. A basic for any would be chef to learn for sure.

Farm to Table

And the ultimate way to use fewer processed foods, grow your own! I have many happy memories of playing in my father’s community plot and the park next to it as a child. Along with creating fond memories, and making a beautiful space to enjoy, you also can’t beat the freshness of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Not to mention the money you’ll be saving by growing your own.

Other Ways to Avoid BPA

Water Bottles

One of the big ones on the list for me was using a different water bottle. I use to use an old plastic Nalgene. Which according to this post from Healthfully, Nalgene hasn’t used BPA in the production of their bottles since 2008. And fortunately for me, I received a stainless steel travel mug as a gift and have been using it ever since. The water bottle I had been using was definitely older than 2008. So it was time for an upgrade for sure.

Stainless steel works well for my needs as I make a lot of tea during the course of the day. Especially since heat is what releases BPA into the liquid of what certain types of plastic containers are holding. So if you’re in need of a new water bottle, or you are picking up something at a store on your way somewhere, check the bottom of your bottle.

This article from The Berkey, says that any container marked with a 3 or 7 in the recycling symbol, or labeled as “PC”, may contain BPA and or other toxic chemicals, such as BPS or BPF, that could be dangerous to your health. “…even little concentrations of BPS and BPF may upset the capacity of your cells in a path like BPA”-Berkey. So it’s best to avoid these containers altogether.

Also, I do have a water bottle on the nightstand next to my bed. On the bottom of the bottle, there is an etching, stating that it’s BPA free. So when in doubt, check the bottom. Also, going to the website of the company that made your bottle may answer some of your questions about what’s in their products as well.

Thinning Out Your Plastic Collection

This may also be a great opportunity to go through your water bottles, weeding out any that could contain hazardous chemicals. But also a chance to look at your other kitchen storage containers, devices and appliances. Maybe the plastic containers you use to store leftovers, the ones that you picked up from that takeout place, are marked with a “3”. Or the bowl of your food processor has the letters “PC” on it.

This way you’re able to take inventory of what may need replacing. Or just put them in the recycling. For example, if you have a blender that has BPA in it, then every time you blend something right from the range you’ll be melding more than just flavors into your sauce.

Or you can do what I’ve done, which is make the switch from plastic storage containers to glass. I use quart sized Ball Jars for not only my dry goods, but also when I cook meal prep. I store all my meals in the same jars as well. And when I take lunch or dinner to work with me, I also take a glass lunch box with a bamboo lid. And for breakie, I use pint sized Ball Jars for my overnight oats. This way, no chemicals. And I’m also using natural materials that will be recycled or decompose when I’m done with them. Win win.

Buying Bulk

Also if you live buy a natural grocery, or have a store in your city that has a bulk product section, then buying your soaps and detergents in bulk, using eco-conscious, reusable packaging, is another option. There are two places that are somewhat close by to where I live. Both which sell items such as body wash and laundry detergent. And you can fill your own containers with their product.

How it works is, you bring your own container, or sometimes they have containers there for you to use. A communal container exchange where people leave old containers for somebody else to use. You tare the weight of your container, such as a glass jar, and write it down on a sticker you then apply to the jar or whatever you’re using. When you bring the item to check out, they weigh it as they would weigh produce at most grocery stores. They then subtract the weight of the container from the product weight.

The products are usually cheaper than most of their pre-packaged counterparts, because you’re not paying for the packaging. But also reduced shipping weight lessens the use of fossil fuels to get the product to you. Reduced packaging and avoiding toxic chemicals, less fuel being used and the same quality of product. What’s not to like? The only way to clean more green is to make your own products.

Wrapping Up… Or Unwrapping Rather

BPA has been linked to so many health concerns that even though the FDA says there are safe levels of the chemical to consume, my perspective is why take the risk? We have alternatives. And lucky for us, they’ve been around for millennia. There’s also the health benefits to consider, when we eat fresher and fewer processed foods. So if you’re concerned about the state of the food you’re purchasing, or just want to reduce the amount of plastics you consume, think about incorporating some of these changes into your shopping habits and life style. And you’ll inadvertently be creating greener and healthier habits in the process. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Plastic Bottle Waste” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/27/22

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