Some of the holidays may have already passed, but that doesn't mean there aren't several occasions throughout the year to give a gift. If you're like me, the stress of finding the perfect gift can be overwhelming. Ideally, I want to give gifts that people will use versus collecting dust in a closet or attic. There's plenty of waste in the world, so today I have some tips that ought to make your next gift green and spectacular.
Get them something perishable.
Whether it's food or a fragrance, or really just anything with an expiration date, this means your friend can't just set this gift aside for later. Food is something everyone needs, and, in my humble opinion, an understated gift. It's not just the thought that counts, but the time, creativity, love, and all the cooking and cleaning done for you!
Try making something.
If you're short on cash, but you want to give something special, why not look around your own home? Chances are you'll find a few things that could turn into a thoughtful, creative gift. Have some paint and extra glasses hanging around? Why not make them some decorative glasses? Found a few nice jars or boxes? Tidy those up, and give them something nice to store their knickknacks in.
Have a few photos of them? Frame a nice collage!
Personally, I think this one is a win-win. You give them something nice while you get to declutter your own home. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse! I love going to Goodwill or really any resale store—it's amazing what you can find. There's something even more amazing about giving a gently used item another chance versus buying something brand new that won't ever be used. Try browsing through a Goodwill, and be amazed at how many great gifts you can find–anything from clothes to furniture to kitchenware.
Give them something that can't fit into a bag or box.
Whenever my birthday or a holiday comes up, I find myself looking forward more to the time spent with friends and family than to the gifts I may receive. Spending some valuable time with someone is a gift everyone enjoys. Good times with good friends are something that can't be wasted, only cherished. I hope these tips may help, and just remember to take a deep breath. Everyone appreciates receiving a gift.
With all of the information available to the general public about our favorite stores and companies, it's clear that there is less accountability regarding product waste than ever before, and we are scrambling to find ways to counteract this irresponsibility in a fast and viable way. One of these ways is a movement that has been coined "freeganism." The word freeganism stems from the lack of money that participants allocate for their diets; everything they eat is free of cost. Essentially, an individual or group attempts to fight the elimination of edible food from stores by picking up what is discarded. These "freegan fighters" can be seen stealthily tracking waste receptacles behind the scenes of major grocery stores and restaurants to recover the usable waste left behind. They won't submerge themselves in the dumpsters or trash; they merely scan the tops of what is thrown away, looking for what is most recently cast aside so that they have the best chance at recovering the freshest materials.
Due to the powers of supply and demand, companies are forced to throw out recently expired or even physically unappealing foods. This includes fruits and vegetables that are misshapen or that vary slightly in color. The potential for consumable food to be discarded rests on a physical criteria spectrum that leaves little to no room for difference. Essentially, a perfectly edible tomato could be thrown into the trash because it takes on a more yellowish hue or has less of a spherical shape than the average tomato. This is where the freegans come in. With the hopes of softening the impacts of wasting food, they choose to revolve their diets around these wrongly rejected foods. Many of the people who choose to follow this lifestyle also find that a vegan diet complements the way they live most effectively. This is due to the fact that the shelf life of produce greatly outlasts that of meat and dairy when they are removed from a preserved environment.
It is not recommended to take meat or dairy (or even produce) from a trash receptacle because of the potential for cross-contamination of microorganisms and various harmful bacteria. However, education and caution go a long way in this process, and some individuals have discovered that they can live a frugal and productive lifestyle that falls in line with this negation of waste. Whether it is considered to be a decision of ethics or publicity is yet to be seen, but with all of the controversy and questions that freeganism generates, this movement arrives on the scene as a considerable option in the fight for a more sustainable world. To learn more about freegans, click here.
When I first came across someone with a personal mission statement, it made quite an impression on me. I had always formed mission statements for my business purposes, and had always yearned to make a difference in life with the work I do, so having a personal mission statement made perfect sense to me.
Why not create a personal mission statement before writing your business mission statement, choosing what company to work for, choosing a volunteer position, or starting a hobby? If you create your personal mission statement first, then every other choice you make in life will be easier because you can test it against your bigger goal to see if it is in line with your purpose in life.
Everyone probably has some idea as to what they want to do in life and why, but sometimes you need a few tools to dig the gold out from your subconscious vault. I find that quiet contemplation in an outdoor setting like the forest or an ocean beach works well. I start out just thinking to myself, and then start to write things in columns that are important to me in each area of my life.
After making the lists in columns, I contemplate about the bigger picture and think about what I would like to see myself doing in the future. From there, I usually come up with jobs, hobbies, and volunteer activities that will fulfill my life's goals. After coming up with that list, I concentrate on coming up with a sentence that describes my purpose in life in the form of a personal mission statement.
Because I am proactive, and like to effect change by taking action, I tend to start out by putting things I would like to do on the list first. To me, however, a personal mission statement should be about a way of being in life, so my mission statement usually has a sense of purpose. My finished statement is usually more of a one-sentence philosophy on life, but I have the list in my head of the action items that support it. Your creative flow process may work differently, but this is the direction my thought process seems to always take when I am trying to be my authentic self.
As I grow and change, I find myself renewing my goals throughout life and forming a new version of a personal mission statement about every decade or so. I find it refreshing and invigorating, and it puts me back on my authentic, intended path, reminding me of who I am and who I want to be. It helps me to celebrate the good things in life, and ensures that I feel good about the projects I'm doing. I think it's time for me to try this once again!
I was an early cell phone adopter. I remember a James Bond movie that featured the smallest ever Ericsson cell phone, and I had to have it. One day, after getting it, I received my first call while out and about. It was my father calling, and I told him I was at Fry's Electronics. "What do you mean?" he said. "I'm calling you, so you must be at home."
Those were the good old days, the days when life was simple and free from the distractions of constant digital communication. Before cell phones were adopted by the masses, you knew that people were at home when you called. You also worked your plans out carefully because you did not rely on texting, emailing, or calling at your destination. You also didn't know whether someone would be home or not when you called again, so you cemented your plans while you had them on the line.
When the Treo came out with email capability I bought one, but didn't use it for email, as it was too small and impractical for that use. The salesman asked me why I wanted it if I wasn't going to get the data package, and I replied, "Because I am carrying a cell phone and a pocket PC, and this combines the two into one device for me."
Then the ad for the Apple iPhone came out, and I thought it looked like a fabulous device, but wondered how useful the finger-scrolling motion would be. I was used to having buttons to press, and I was fine with that. I ended up buying a candy bar-sized Blackberry. I liked the small size of it, but it ended up being a poor replacement for the Treo, so I bought the first iPhone a month after it came out. Here I was, an early adopter of the first smartphone. At $400, it seemed like I paid a fortune for it back then. I then bought the second iPhone, but disliked it, so I sold it.
I became addicted to the "ding" when my email would load every 15 minutes. I couldn't help but pick it up and read. I eventually learned to change the setting to eliminate this disruption. Cell phones were becoming more and more popular, and now I was answering long calls everywhere, for my business and for social purposes. The phone had gone from being an occasional tool to being a constant interruption, and to accommodate it all, my phone bill was $110 a month to avoid getting overage charges.
Then, one cell phone company started putting cell phone panels in front of homes and businesses on power poles all over town, and I decided that was enough, and dropped my cell phone service. The end of the constant distraction was marvelous until I realized that my iPhone did almost everything it did before without cell service! So I continued using the iPhone, adding the Skype app. I could now call anyone from my iPhone or computer as long as I was on internet service.
Apple upgrades its software quite often, which means that its devices become obsolete after a few years, so about four years after buying the iPhone 1, I replaced it with an iPad Mini. The iPad mini was big enough to use as a computer to show website design at meetings, and I could also make calls on it. I liked the smaller size, and it will run almost every app you can on an iPhone, including Skype. The iPod Mini wasn't pocket-sized enough for me, so I ended up buying an iPod Touch the next year as a carry-around mobile phone.
This brings me to the present day. I have been considering buying a cell phone again. The times when I really wish I have one are when I am on vacation, visiting my family. So I made a visit to the Apple Store to see the new phones. After viewing the phones and comparing prices of monthly services, I decided that I don't really want one right now. I like the freedom of leaving the house and choosing whether to carry my iPod or not. I fear that if I got a phone and paid that much for service, that I would feel obligated to always carry it.
I pay a lot for internet service each month, and now that they have expanded their service to every corner in town, I can pick up wifi to make a call almost anywhere in town. At this time, I just can't justify adding a second monthly bill of almost the same amount as my internet bill just for the convenience of an occasional connection while traveling.
I think that having another cell phone is in my future for when I am a senior, but for now, I've decided that I really don't need a cell phone. Who knows? With the growth of the new "Scratch phone" services, I could be on to a new trend again as an "early adopter."
Minimalism has gotten a lot of airtime lately. The tiny house trend, environmental concerns, advances in technology, and the millennials (who—gasp!—don’t want their great-grandmother’s silverware) are definitely feeding the fire. Books, podcasts, and blogs about minimalism are readily available, and there are even courses on the topic.
Many people think minimalism comes down to the number of “things” you have. It’s true that many minimalists proudly report their numbers, pondering whether pens and underwear equal “one thing” or “multiple things” in the process of counting their “things.” But the driving philosophy isn’t about a number. Minimalism is about prioritizing what’s truly important so that you can spend more time doing what you love.
In April 2013, my partner and I sold almost all of our belongings and left Portland, Oregon, for a year-long worldwide adventure. Neither of us was particularly attached to our “things,” so it wasn’t hard to watch our cozy two-bedroom apartment go from this:
… to this, in a matter of weeks:
A few boxes of things holding emotional attachment were stored with family and friends; the rest was sold, given away, or, as a very last resort, trashed (shockingly, no one wanted our half-used condiments). One of my favorite moments during this process was at our “estate sale,” when a stranger asked us why we were ditching everything. I told her, and she replied, “Wow! A year of travel is so much better than stuff!”
We agree! Selling our things funded gas station stops across Canada during the four-month, 10,000-mile road trip that kicked off our trip. Along the way, we ditched more items we didn’t need, and picked up a few that we did. Carrying almost everything we owned was quite freeing; spending most of those four months in nature constantly reminded us that we really didn’t need very much.
When we reached the East Coast, we stashed the car and most of its contents, shoved the bare minimum of clothing and electronics into our backpacks, and headed overseas for 19 months.
Of course, we still brought way too much stuff, so along the way, we continued to downsize, purchasing only items we absolutely needed. When we eventually got back to the East Coast and unpacked the clothes we had stashed, we were overwhelmed by the options.
(On the left: what I carried in my pack for 19 months. On the right: the rest of my clothes, stored while we were overseas—still way too much stuff!)
In our travels, we spent time with people living with far less than the average American. We noticed that these people typically spent more time with their families and their communities than the average American, and they also seemed to be enjoying life more than the average American. That was a powerful lesson.
We’re back in Oregon now, still transient, but on a local level. The question of “need” versus “want” has come up numerous times over the past several months. A particular challenge has been helping our parents downsize their homes. In the process, we’ve accumulated nostalgia—my mother’s sewing machine and his grandmother’s hand-woven rugs, among other things—things that are important to us, and that we will use and enjoy someday, but that have no place in our current life. We’re keeping them.
We’re also keeping the spice rack my father made me, our rafting shoes, and a box of CDs that got us through our Canadian road trip. We haven’t used these things in years, but when we did, we enjoyed them very much. One day, we might pass them on, but for now, we’re keeping them.
Our total possessions fit into about two carloads (not that we’re counting!), and we’re okay with that. We’ll have lots more stuff again someday, and we’re okay with that, too. Because minimalism isn’t about a number; it’s about focusing on what brings you joy, and getting rid of everything else that doesn’t.
After countless moves and my most recent travels, I’m a firm believer in the idea that “the things you own end up owning you.” I realize this lifestyle isn’t for everyone—maybe you’re not one of those people who can live with just two carloads of things, and that’s fine! But I do encourage you to take a look around you, right now. Are there things you could live without, things that take attention away from what’s important to you? If so, what would it take for you to let these things go?
Many people are turned off by the environmental movement due to its rap for being time-intensive, money-intensive, or just generally unrealistic for the busy person. However, that view is totally false. The best thing you can do is to do less! Use fewer resources, spend less money, etc. etc. Here are some examples where opting out or taking some time off is the best environmental policy. Not all of these are feasible for everyone; you know your time and ability better than anyone else, but I would encourage anyone who is able to, to at least try avoiding one of these ten things in order to help the environment:
1. Buying scented home products.
Buying air fresheners, wall plug-ins, or any other scented products not only harms the environment; it can also harm our health. Scented products in aerosol cans release VOCs, which can worsen or even cause respiratory illnesses like asthma. Studies show that our indoor air tends to be more polluted than the air outside, sometimes as much as five times more. If you’re concerned about an odor, find the source and eliminate it, or if something is preventing you from cleaning, open a window if the weather allows. Many of us have been led to believe that "clean" smells like scented laundry detergent, or pine-scented cleaner, or bleach, but actually, clean smells like nothing.
2. Unnecessary yardwork.
Instead of spending countless hours trying to maintain a perfect, clipped look, why not let some of it grow? Plants clean the air for us, so keeping them small for aesthetic purposes seems counterproductive. If you have a bigger yard, some suggest leaving a far corner “wild” to see what plants and animals show up. Also, try to acquire plants that naturally do well in your climate. The better adapted they are, the less work you’ll have to do!
3. Everyday errands.
Instead of taking trips to the store every day, try to combine more of them into one trip, or see if you can combine errands with a friend someone in your family. Of course, emergencies or true necessities may come up, but taking fewer trips saves time and fossil fuels.
4. Owning a number of different cleaning products.
The idea that each surface needs a different type of cleaner is false; to keep a clean home, you really just need a few. You could try keeping one all-purpose cleaner, like vinegar, and one soap-product, like castile soap or dish soap. Somehow, advertisers have put it into most of our heads that we need to constantly “sanitize” everything in order to keep a healthy home, but in reality, toxic cleaners contribute to poor health in the same way that air fresheners do. The Environmental Working group states that “Fumes from some cleaning products may induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals."
5. Washing your hair, and/or showering every day.
Taking hot showers every day harms our skin by causing dryness and itching, and washing hair too frequently can dry it out, as well. I recently switched to taking a shower once every 36 hours, which means I shower twice every three days, instead of once every day. I know people who shower every other day, but if they didn’t tell me, I would have never known based on their apparent hygiene. As long as you wash with a washcloth when necessary, it’s fine to skip the full shower sometimes. For me personally, I just wait to wash my hair until it appears to need it. For some people, that may be every other day, and for someone like me with dry skin and hair, it takes about four to five days before any greasiness appears.
6. Washing your clothes after every wear.
If there are no smells or stains, you could hang up the item to air it out, and re-wear it another day. Many people already do a version of this, but let me say that the hanging or putting away—rather than piling clothes on a chair or bedpost—is a key aspect to airing out your clothes and keeping them organized. You could also designate one shelf or drawer for pre-worn items. Also, reconsider how often you need to iron, as most things don’t necessarily need it. Avoid wrinkles by taking your clothes out of the dryer as soon as they're done, and hanging them or folding them immediately.
7. Buying disposable products.
Advertising tells you they’ll save cleaning time, but buying disposables takes up time because you need to purchase the items in the store, carry them to the car or by public transit, transport them home, carry them inside, and then, ultimately, carry out the trash they create. For me, washing a reusable item like a cup when I’m doing dishes, or tossing a cloth napkin or rag into a pile of laundry doesn’t add any extra time to my routine, and I save money (and resources) in the process.
8. Buying physical gifts.
An online gift certificate for an experience or service such as dining out, museum or movie tickets, a green spa or salon, or an eco-friendly housecleaning services is the best kind of present! If you join the person for the special event, you’re giving the gift of your time and presence, as well. The memory of your day together will last forever, and will never take up any resources or storage space! Studies show that in the long run, experiences rather than things give people more happiness and satisfaction.
9. Paying for monthly subscription services
It was initially difficult to let go of my monthly makeup subscription box, but when it came down to it, acquiring five small pieces of plastic filled with what was likely a toxic product, plus all the exterior wrapping every single month, does not align with my values at this point. That’s $10 I can save every month instead, and iI don’t have to figure out how to fit more things in my already-cluttered bathroom. If you’re a makeup person, read reviews of the monthly subscriptions, or watch them on YouTube (there is an infinite number of these sorts of videos) and buy one special product when you need it.
10. Buying new things for every special occasion
At the last two weddings I attended, I wore a dress that I already owned, and both times, I was complimented on it at least once. Let go of the idea that every special event needs a brand new item of clothing, and instead wear items that you know fit well and look good. It will save you some money, a shopping trip, and the resources associated with buying new things. Also, if you successfully decorated your home for a certain holiday last year, you should be able to do it again this year without buying anything new! If you really do feel you need more for your space to feel festive, consider decorating with compostable or consumable items from your garden or the grocery store: pumpkins or gourds for Halloween and thanksgiving, pine or holly branches for winter holiday celebrations, or potted plants or flowers anytime of the year.