Spotlight On: Want Less

Spotlight On - Want Less - Jeffery

Sporty and I thought it would be really interesting to shine a spotlight on other minimalists to see what their lives look like.

We came up with a set of 10 questions (the last of which we believe to be the most important) and we’re asking everyone we feature to answer them.

Same questions, different answers. It can only make for interesting reading.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out our inaugural post featuring Al and Shelly, the house-sitting duo behind Sell All Your Stuff.

Spotlight On: Want Less

In this edition of Spotlight On we introduce you to Claire (well, her feet anyway) from Want Less, a blog about beating debt and simplifying a chaotic life. The reason we only get to meet her dew-beaters and her Dachshund, Jeffrey, is because Claire is prone to occasional bouts of financial underpanty airing. In these instances she’s found anonymity serves her well.

What Was Your Tipping Point?

What prompted you to say, “Screw it, let’s just sell everything!”?

Ha ha, I love this question! Well, it all happened on a sunny beach in Thailand two years ago this summer. I was on honeymoon with my wife, who is a bit more of a hippie than I am and who had brought along a book called Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn.

Perhaps it was the tropical heat going to my head, perhaps it was my zen-like surroundings or perhaps I was enjoying living out of a suitcase without being surrounded by all my crap, but something about that little book just clicked. I really liked the idea of the calmness and freedom that having fewer possessions promised, and I knew that once I got back to the UK, my cluttered-up days were numbered.

Ironically, although it was my wife’s book, it’s me who has really taken to the idea of minimalism, while she has been more take-it-or-leave-it about the whole thing. She has been incredibly tolerant of my dramatic about-face, though.

Spotlight On - Want Less - Thailand

Claire’s feet becoming minimalist on a beach in Thailand

How Do You Earn a Living Now?

Is it different than to your pre-minimalist days?

I’m still in the same media-based job as I was before all this kicked off. Some minimalists find they can afford to quit their well-paid but soulless jobs once they stop buying everything in sight but this hasn’t really applied to me because a) I enjoy what I do and b) it’s not very well paid! That’s not to say that the idea of jacking it all in and travelling the world one day doesn’t appeal though…

How Much Stuff Do You Own?

How much of it do you travel with?

Well, I still own a hell of a lot of things. I haven’t counted them because I would surely lose my mind in the process. But on the other hand, I have now got rid of thousands of items. I’m guessing about a third of my stuff in total has gone, while another third I use regularly and the last third is a work-in-progress!

As for travelling, I love travelling light! Hand-luggage all the way.

Is There Anything You Regret Getting Rid Of?

I was thinking the other day about whether I regretted getting rid of my Xbox, just because I do enjoy a cheeky computer game every now and again. Then my wife and I went to an arcade at the weekend and I got it out of my system as we shot baddies with a gun in a silly two-player booth.

What are you happiest about no longer owning?

There was a shelving unit in our living room we affectionately called the five tiers of shit. It looked awful. It was just piled high with stuff that didn’t have a better home to go to – board games, fruit bowls, bills, miscellaneous junk.

Then one day, after months of decluttering, we realised we just didn’t have that much stuff any more and we could just get rid of the whole thing. We took it down to a charity shop and now in its place stands a lovely, big houseplant. I smile inside every time I look at that corner of the room now.

Spotlight On - Want Less - Decluttered living room

Claire and co’s living room sans the five tiers of shit!

How Do You Handle Gift-Giving?

For each other, friends, family, etc.

When I buy gifts for friends and family, I now tend to ask people what they want, or buy them stuff that they will use up, like booze or food. In terms of receiving gifts, this is really an area I need to master. I have found that asking for something specific, rather than telling people what not to buy me, works best.

Most of my close family and friends know now I’m not as into ‘things’ as I once was, and I can ask for gig tickets or a nice bottle of wine or something. But as for less close friends and relatives, I’m not great at awkward conversations and I do not want to look ungrateful, so I’m now in an uncomfortable place of accepting gifts and then often donating them. I realise this is not the solution!!

What’s your debt story?

Do you have? Did you ever have? How did you deal with it?

Do I have debt? Do I ever?? Yeah, so the debt thing was a really big influence on my decision to change my life. I got in a whole HEAP of consumer debt in my twenties, which reached nearly a year’s take-home salary at its height.

Minimalism has helped me quell my spending habits big-time. I can now go into a homewares shop (my weakness!) and tell myself that just because I like something, it doesn’t mean I have to own it. I still have some debt now, but I hope to have it paid off within the next 12 months.

Sporty and I Eat a Plant-Based (Vegan) Diet

Is this something you could see yourself doing? Tell us about the kind of food you enjoy.

Well, you guys have my utmost respect. I haven’t tried being a vegan but I have tried being a vegetarian before, when my then-housemate challenged me to give up meat for as long as she could give up smoking. I was doing soooo well for a few months, then I cooked a roast chicken dinner for the whole household.

I didn’t touch any of the chicken, until I started the washing up and found myself basically stuffing mouthfuls of the leftovers into my face. So, I learnt something about myself – that I don’t deal well with the idea of certain foods being off-limits. (Unbeknownst to me, my housemate had been secretly smoking when I wasn’t around anyway – scandalous!)

My wife and I are now meat-reducers. We eat meat or fish maybe once or twice a week, and rarely eat red meat. There’s a great TED talk by Graham Hill (a champion minimalist, by the way) about why he’s a meat reducer, in which he argues that if everyone ate half the meat they currently do, it would have the same effect as half the world going meat-free.

What Does the Term ‘Carbon Footprint’ Mean to You?

Something I need to get better at dealing with! One thing I really hate is the idea of waste. During the process of reducing my things, I have sometimes felt so paralysed with dread at the idea of something ending up in a landfill that I put off getting rid of it.

I had this yesterday while looking at an expensive glittery lip-gloss someone had bought me, that I had perhaps used once. Can’t recycle, can’t donate, don’t want but don’t want to waste either – aargh! I guess the thing I need to remember is that I won’t be repeating this wastefulness now I’m buying less in the first place.

Do You Like Peanut Butter?

I will eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon if given the chance. We were never allowed it in the house when we were growing up, because my mum hates it with a passion. My dad once hid a jar at the back of a cupboard, but within hours my mum sniffed out the closed jar through the cupboard door and threw it away in a fit of disgust.

I’m making up for all that now. Peanut butter is also a great treat for dogs, so we have a separate jar for our (very naughty) sausage dog, that we can smear inside toys for him to keep him out of mischief for a while. All in all, this is a very peanut buttery household. No palm oil, mind. My wife’s dad, who is very environmentally conscious, has drilled that one into us.

Spotlight On - Want Less - Jeffrey

Jeffrey the peanut butter lovin’ Dachshund

The Geography of a Misplaced Minimalist – Part #1

Sporty & Linus

Ed: First, kudos to Sporty. This is her first blog post here on Mostly Mindful. Normally a behind the scenes team member, Sporty has opted to step ‘in front of the camera’ to regale us with anecdotes from her current house-sitting gig.

Second, apologies for Eric Weiner for the title of this post. It’s meant purely as a tongue in cheek hat tip and nothing more. I swear. 

For those of you not familiar with Eric’s work (clearly you’ve been living under the same rock we only recently crawled out from under), I’ve included links to all three of his books below.

I’ll be writing reviews on each of them on our soon to be published ‘We Love’ page. In the meantime know that I highly recommend all three! Enjoy.

The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine

Over to Sporty…

Given my current self-inflicted circumstance, Ang and I thought it would be highly informative as well as rather amusing to keep you, our readers, in the loop.

I am an ardent lover of all things living and have a soft spot for domestic pets. So it went without saying that I’d offer my services to house-sit when I heard my friend Sasha and his family were leaving for a 5 week trip to the US and had not settled on a solution for Linus, their very sweet and rather long in the tooth pooch.

My normal house-sitting gigs have entailed me moving in with my bicycle and carrying on as usual. After agreeing to the task without doing my homework (this hardly ever happens, unless there is a stranded pet involved), I discovered that the location of this house is in an area that is only navigable on a bicycle if you have legs like my wife. Not to mention, miles away from any kind of grocery store.

Sasha and co. kindly left me the family van so I could take Linus for longer walks if I wanted to. At the time I sniffed condescendingly in their direction and mumbled something along the lines that I would probably only use it to take him to Long Beach (on the opposite side of the Peninsula).

So here I find myself, on day three of my 36 day house-sit. My bicycle is still at home and I have not used a bus or my feet since I got here. Family van all the way. Eating my hat, I dare say! The area is such that one cannot even run from home for any great length before one hits “mace-carrying” country in all directions. Therefore; family van down to the coast, run, family van back up into the hills.

Now that you understand the predicament I have put myself in, let me share with you what it is like being transplanted from a minimalist lifestyle directly into a full on suburban family existence.

Traffic

This is something that almost never affects us anymore (unless we’re in a bus or taxi). It reminded me of a saying I once saw: You’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic. Ironically, I got stuck in traffic on my way to the mall. I also got stuck at a faulty traffic light, which in Cape Town is particularly nightmarish as locals have no concept of the idea of a 4-way stop.

Venture into the intersection at your peril. In this case the crossing traffic was such that we all just stood there for 10 minutes and then after a lot of angry hooting the two of us in the front of the queue clearly had the same “aaaw eff it” thought at the same time and screeched across the intersection through a red light with everyone in tow!

Parking

Aaaah parking, my old friend. Yet another thing the carless minimalist does not have to worry about. It’s expensive, but that’s not the worst of it. The really annoying thing is that the majority of places only accept cash, a rare commodity that we no longer have much use for. Plus, because so many people drive, there are almost always queues at the pay stations.

I’m a systems person, but this only works when I do something on a regular basis. I quickly discovered (after leaving one parking ticket in the machine and nearly losing another) that I need to put some systems in place pronto.

I was also reminded recently why nobody bothers with the roof parking (aka nosebleeds). Firstly, it takes about three hours to get into the actual shopping centre and secondly, the route invariably involves stairs at some point, which immediately rules out shopping carts.

One final gripe on parking and I’ll kick this particular soap box back under the bed. I got stuck in a parking garage the other day because a stubborn old bat driving a vehicle that was far too big for her refused to move even when all evidence clearly indicated that she wouldn’t be able to fit her ‘heff-mobile’ into the space she was after. Driving a car does not bring out the best in us!

Shopping

Yet another area where car owners and ardent minimalist differ greatly: shopping. We live in a studio apartment with a bar fridge and we either go shopping on foot or by bicycle (Ang’s bike has a basket on the back). We don’t buy a lot of groceries in one go. Generally we shop for three days at a time and this works well for us.

Now, living in a house that’s located four days by donkey from the nearest supermarket means I have to change my approach somewhat. For starters, it doesn’t make sense to only shop for a few days at a time when I have a gargantuan kitchen with a regular sized fridge. Not to mention the car at my disposal to transport said shopping home.

Sounds fantastic doesn’t it? No, not really. For starters there’s the pressure of choosing fresh produce for an entire week (how do I know on Sunday what fruit I’ll want in my smoothie bowl next Saturday?), plus there’s the aforementioned problem of parking in the wrong place and not being able to get the trolley full of groceries all the way to the car.

Nope, I think I’ll stick with our three-days-at-a-time-bicycle-shopping approach thanks very much. It’s far less overwhelming (even if it does mean tying a shopping bag full of toilet paper to my handlebars).

Road Rage

Okay this one really took me by surprise. I’m even a little embarrassed to admit it, but as Ang would say, “When you’re airing your underpanties online, go big or go home.”

So in the spirit of over-sharing I’ll come clean. I was merrily driving along the other day, minding my own business, when some putz went and cut in front of me. I immediately started yelling at him. I won’t go into exactly what I said (there’s over-sharing and then there’s over-sharing), but suffice it to say, it wasn’t very ladylike.

In that moment I experienced a strange almost out of body experience, where I was yelling and at the same time watching myself yelling and thinking, “What on earth are you doing? You get that he can’t hear you, right?”

Everyday, as we commute on foot or by bike to work and back, Ang and I are amazed by how angry everyone is. Everyone driving, that is. Now I get it. I think after three plus years without a car, I’d completely forgotten what a frustrating and unrewarding experience driving can be.

Right, part one of this series looked at the trials and tribulations of driving and everything that it involves. Next we’ll look at the differences between living in a 30 square metre (323 square foot) studio apartment versus a five-bedroom house replete with garden, garage and pets.

And on that note I’m off to clean the bird cage and fish bowl.

Sporty Linus and BA budgie

Linus, Sporty and the full of shit budgies (there’s a second one hiding behind her head)

Linus

Linus on his way to the promenade for a walk, hence the happy face!

Today is World Meat Free Day

World Meat Free Day

Today is World Meat Free Day: a global campaign trying to get people around the world to change their diet for just one day. The aim is to highlight the positives of eating less meat and show how it can result in fairer food systems and better results for our planet.

Cowspiracy

To fully comprehend the massive impact our eating habits have on the environment you need to watch Cowspiracy. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and touted as the film environmental organisations don’t want you to see, the documentary follows filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today.

What if You Can’t Give Up Meat Completely?

As much as Sporty and I would love it if the whole world were vegan, we know that’s not going to happen. There are alternatives however, and if everyone took part our planet and its inhabitants, would be far better off. One popular idea is Meat Free Mondays. As the name suggests you go vegetarian at the start of every week.

Let’s face it, Monday has a bad rap, so why not make it better by doing a good deed? Or, if you’re more of a glass half empty kind of person (sorry!), then you could say: What the hell, it’s such a shitty day anyway, I’ll just make it worse by not having any meat! Plus, it’ll mean Tuesday is going to be awesome.

If you’re feeling like you might be up for more than a one day a week challenge, then how about following Graham Hill’s example and become a weekday vegetarian? Both are a great start and who knows, you could end up a lentil lovin’ urban hippie like the person writing this blog post.

“The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?” —Jeremy Bentham

Spotlight On: Sell All Your Stuff

Sell All Your Stuff - Al & Shelly

Minimalism isn’t a one size fits all label describing everyone who eschews the hedonic treadmill in favour of a more meaningful experience-based life. I go into it in more detail on our about page, but essentially we’re not all a bunch of urban hippies with less than 50 possessions to our name.

Some of us have more, some less.

However the overarching theme in all our lives is the same: less stuff, more doing. For us, experiences are what matter. That being said, our individual lives differ vastly. Some minimalists live out of a carry-on and travel the world, while others have a house and kids and live in the ‘burbs.

Which is why Sporty and I thought it would be really interesting to shine a spotlight on other minimalists to see what their lives look like. We can definitely learn from the experience and besides, who doesn’t love a little rubber-necking, right?!

We came up with a set of 10 questions that we plan on asking everyone we feature in this series, the last of which we believe to be the most important. So much so we initially considered vetoing anyone that doesn’t answer yes. (Who knows, maybe we still will.)

For our inaugural Spotlight On post we’re super excited to introduce you to Al and Shelly McCullough from Sell All Your Stuff. Their journey kicked off in 2014 when they bid adieu to their cubicles and buggered off to Panama. Originally from Toronto (my second favourite city in the world), the pair now spend their time house-sitting their way around Canada.

Sell All Your Stuff

What Was Your Tipping Point?

What prompted you to say, “Screw it, let’s just sell everything!”

There wasn’t one specific event that triggered it. We wanted to ‘retire’ early. So we started getting our debt in order, including our costs. Our plan went from Freedom 50, to Freedom 45, to Freedom 40, to: “Screw it, let’s just go”.

Shelly was getting bored of her job and career in general, and I seemed to have an unlucky streak with I.T. jobs – downsized, restructured, company closed. I guess it was a sign to do something different.

How Do You Earn a Living Now?

Is it different than to your pre-minimalist days?

TOTALLY different! Actually, we don’t earn as much, but without bills to pay we can live on less. Living in Panama helped us get back to cash as well, because it’s a cash-based society. They have credit and debit, but the surcharges for us would have been insane so we stuck with cash.

Before our move we used to put things on a credit card, then payoff the monthly balance. GIVE ME THE POINTS BABY! Having been back in Canada where we don’t face the ‘international surcharge fees’ they tack on. It’s all too easy to fall back into that line of thinking. But as people who travel, we can use points to help fund travel. It’s definitely a catch 22.

But when we do put stuff on a credit card we NEVER carry a balance. So if you have a card, and you have a balance, your number one goal should be to eliminate that balance.

As for earning a living, we have a few clients with our social media management company, Shine Socially, and our Sell All Your Stuff series of eBooks help cover a few monthly expenses too. It’s not a lot, but every little bit helps.

How Much Stuff Do You Own?

How much of it do you travel with?

We live out of two medium-sized wheeled duffels. Oh, and we have two yoga mats on top of that now. We also have a few things ‘stored’ at relatives, mainly cold-weather clothing and Al’s tools. You don’t make much selling your tools. People want to nickel and dime you with pricing, so we kept them because we know Al will eventually need them again at some point and buying them all over again didn’t make much sense. As for the clothes, mostly just thicker/heavier jackets/sweaters and boots. They don’t travel well, even if you use vacuum bags, which we recommend for traveling.

Is There Anything You Regret Getting Rid Of?

Yeah, exercise bands while in Panama and Shelly’s Himalayan salt-lamp. We should have just given the salt-lamp to a family member. Shelly loved that lamp and took about a quarter of what she paid for it because she just wanted stuff gone. We felt bad, it was one of those lamps that has good energy and made one of our rooms super tranquil. As for the exercise bands, we just got carried away with traveling light. They weren’t in the best shape though, so not a total loss.

Actually, as we write this we’re talking ourselves out of thinking they were that important! We’ve since discovered we need to get to a gym instead of trying to work out at home. We used to own everything for working out: squat rack, bench, dumbbells, bands, SB balls, elliptical, bike, numerous videos, etc. But we didn’t work out of the house back then, so we would wake up, workout, go to work.

Now, we’re too easily distracted if we don’t set aside time to get out and hit the gym, or for Shelly, the yoga studio. We’ve been able to take advantage of things too, like free trial passes for weekly and monthly specials. Al just joined the YMCA for our most recent house sit here in BC. They had a special on for $20 and it’s good at two facilities. That’s a good deal and when it comes to your health you need to spend money sometimes.

What Are You happiest About No Longer Owning?

TV. Holy crap what a time-waster. Before selling it we had the cable package with everything but the movie channels. It cost $65/month, which is peanuts compared to some people’s bill. We realized we didn’t need all these channels, as we spent more time on YouTube watching cat videos (among other things you somehow end up watching on YouTube).

We called our cable company and downgraded to ‘basic’ cable. No specialty channels at all. It was under $30/month. Then a few months later we got a notification saying rates were going up to ‘upgrade network infrastructure’. We were livid. We called and said “cancel our cable”. They offered us all the same packages we used to have for the same price as basic cable. They didn’t want to lose a customer, but it was too late. We were done with TV.

How Do You Handle Gift-Giving?

For each other as well as for friends, family, etc.?

We don’t buy each other gifts, or if we do it’s a practical gift. Actually, we’ve always bought practical gifts. We remember receiving things from other people that weren’t practical and we’d have that sinking feeling of disgust: “Why? Why did you get us this? What a waste!” We got so tired of this type of thing we just said to family: “No more gifts.”

If we do want to celebrate an occasion, we’ll spend money on an experience. Actually, that’s how we’ve always done things between us. Our birthdays are three weeks apart and our anniversary is two weeks after Al’s birthday. So we often just say: “Let’s do something fun” and bundle our ‘gift’ as one enjoyable experience. We’re both okay spending money on experiences. You’ll remember an experience more than a trinket.

What’s Your Debt Story?

Do you have? Did you ever have? How did you deal with it?

Oh yeah, an overwhelming majority of North Americans fall into the ‘stuff’ trap. Our struggle came when we bought a house. We had a few renovations to do, and then we had to buy stuff for the house because it would have looked empty otherwise. Next thing you know we had a few credit cards with several thousand dollars on each of them. We both caught it at the same time and said: “This needs to stop.”

We took advantage of balance transfers on one card, where you didn’t pay interest for X months. Then when that was up we balance transferred to another card offering a similar deal. It was two years of juggling debt, but we got out of it in time for Al to lose his first job. And that’s the thing – you never know when something like that is going to happen, so not having debt will help you keep your head above water in dire times.

Sporty and I Eat a Plant-Based (Vegan) Diet

Is this something you could see yourself doing? Tell us about the kind of food you enjoy.

Shelly was vegan for a while, about six months I think. Al’s never been able to go the full way. Not gonna lie, we both enjoy a good steak or lamb once in a while, but we could probably count on one hand how many times a year we indulge on red meat. It’s expensive to eat meat. Living in Panama we would buy a whole chicken and roast it. Then we’d boil the carcass like grandma used to do get some extra meat and Shelly would make soup from the stock.

When we got back to Canada we were outraged at the cost of chicken – double the price of Panama and the USA. So we don’t eat it as much. Same with dairy. Shelly saw a Naturopath several years ago, did a cleanse and went vegan. We cut out dairy and were surprised at how much money we saved. Yogurt, milk, cheese – that’s expensive stuff.

Al would totally try vegan or at least vegetarian, he’s just not very creative in the kitchen so things would have to be pre-made or meals pre-arranged or have instructions on how to make something and when to eat it. So…basically he’d need a meal plan! For him, that’s part of the struggle. We grow up eating things like pork chops, BBQ, burgers – things that are so easy to prepare, like boxed meals. It’s steering away from that mindset and actually making food again; moreover, finding alternatives to what we’re used to.

What does the Term ‘Carbon Footprint’ Mean to You?

Well, to us it’s how much of an impact are you having on the environment. Before we sold our stuff and moved to Panama we recycled EVERYTHING! We had a green-bin food waste program. You could throw almost everything in that green bin. Bones, paper towels, dog poop. The green-bin waste is turned into fertilizer and resold so it helps pay for the program…at least that’s what they tell us.

Living in Panama was horrible in that regard. Very little is recycled. This definitely had an effect on us when we returned to Canada too. We forget how much was recycled there and caught ourselves tossing things into the garbage that should have been recycled.

We also rode our bikes to work in the spring/summer/fall. The issue with Canada and the USA is that things are so spread out you need a car to get many other places. Public transit doesn’t work in a lot of the smaller cities because of that. And then there’s the cost of transit too. It costs less to drive downtown Toronto and park then it would to take transit from the suburbs. That’s just wrong.

Do You Like Peanut Butter?

Of course! We only like to eat the natural stuff though – no sugar or salt – basically just ground peanuts. Shelly and I were just saying the other night that it’s sad kids can no longer enjoy PB sandwiches at school because of all the other kids with allergies. Never was like that when we were growing up.

Some Pics of the Traveling Housesitters

Lake Louise, Alberta

Al at Lake Louise in Alberta. It was around here that Ang saw her first (and only) moose and very nearly soiled her britches.

Sell All Your Stuff5

Al and Shelly are on their way to BC, where their next housesitting jobs awaits. 

Al & Shelly in Saskatchewan

From the look of the grins on their faces, Saskatchewan seems pretty nice (though no doubt there will be moose lurking there too).

Shelly And Al from Sell All Your Stuff

Shelly and Al looking super delighted with their new life. Makes us want to sell everything and move to Canada (and we totally would if it weren’t for the aforementioned moose).

Environmentally Friendly Shopping Tips

Environmentally Friendly Shopping TipsOne Sunday morning Sporty and I drove to the start of a new trail we’d discovered (this was back when we still owned a car).

Set about a car length in, a locked boom at the start of the jeep track had inadvertently created the perfect parking spot.

I pulled in immediately, happy that I’d found such a convenient place to park. We grabbed our backpacks out the back and headed off.

We’d barely gone a few metres when a guy called out to me from across the way.

“What happens if an emergency vehicle needs to get up there?” he asked, pointing at the road I’d happily blocked with our little Hyundai Atos.

Only once he’d pointed out what I’d done did I realise how thoughtless I’d been.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t think about that.” I said and quickly ran back to move my car.

We don’t intend to be rotten humans, we just don’t think through the details.

We’re all so caught up in our own worlds, that things like buying food, paying the bills, earning a wage and finding the most convenient parking spot take precedence over everything else.

Life is busy. The things that are important, like being aware and noticing what’s going around us, are relegated to the back seat, when what they should be doing is riding shotgun.

So how can we step up and be better humans?

South African conservationist and adventurer, Braam Malherbe, challenges us to Do One Thing and Mother Theresa summed it up beautifully when she said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

All actions, no matter how small, make a difference.

And there are so many ways we can make a difference. One place in particular where we can make a real and lasting impact is by making better choices when we shop.

The Plastic Pollution Problem

About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Right now there’s at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans, a third of which is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

At least one million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution. The survival of at least 100 species, including the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Loggerhead Turtle, could be jeopardized by plastic debris. —The Ocean Cleanup

Fresh Produce Bags

You know those clear plastic bags you get in the fresh produce section at the supermarket? Well nine times out of ten you don’t actually need them, you’re just using them out of habit. If you’re buying, say, loose lettuce leaves or cherries then it makes sense to put them in a bag.

But most of us use them for absolutely everything, from one banana to a head of garlic to a pineapple or orange. They’re not going to get lost or suffer any irreparable damage if they’re not in a bag, so don’t put them in one.

Reusable Shopping Bags for Groceries

More and more people are using reusable bags when they do their grocery shopping (kudos if that’s you), but an alarming number are still buying plastic bags at the check-out.

Sporty and I have way too many reusable bags, because the rule in our house is that if we forget to take bags with us then we have to buy new ones. No plastic, no matter what!

Recently the pile of bags teetered so high it looked like they were going to stage a coup. Not willing to take the risk (and because we’re minimalists), we rehomed a few of them.

Reusable Shopping Bags for Clothes and Shoes

Here again I think most of us just act out of habit. We’ll go grocery shopping and diligently take our reusable bags with us, yet when we go clothes shopping we’ll still accept a plastic bag. We need to stop doing that. And unless we’re planning to use it for something, say the Santa Shoebox Project, then we also don’t need to take the shoebox when we buy a new pair of kicks.

Earth Friendly Products

Typical of anything non-mainstream, earth friendly products are generally more expensive than the regular alternatives. But more and more, we’re finding earth friendly options that are affordable.

If you can afford to buy them they’re definitely the better route to go. They’re free from harmful toxins, which means the little guys in your house (human and animal) are safe. They’re better for your skin, they’re not strong-smelling and they’re not tested on animals.

Bottled Water

Instead of buying bottled water, Sporty and I filter our own. It’s cheaper, more accessible and much better for the environment. At home we have a Brita jug and when we’re out and about we just fill a gym bottle and take it with us.

When we go out to eat we just drink tap water. I know most people would be horrified at the thought, but it tastes fine and it hasn’t killed us yet. Obviously this logic doesn’t apply to countries like India, but I’m assuming since you’re reading this blog you must have at least a modicum of common sense.

I used to have a Bobble water bottle for gym etc. but I found the shape a bit clumsy. It works like a charm though, and what’s especially cool is that you can fill it up anywhere. (Hmmm, maybe I should get myself one again.)

Seasonal Produce

Nowadays food is imported and exported all over the world, which means we can get our favourite fresh produce all year round. Here in South Africa, for example, we’re heading into winter and yet we can still enjoy asparagus and figs (thanks to Peru and Israel).

The are lots of benefits to eating what’s in season. Most notably, it supports your body’s natural nutrition needs. In winter we need the rich doses of vitamin C found in citrus fruit, while winter vegetables are the perfect addition to the hearty soups and stews we crave for their warmth and comfort.

However another equally important reason to eat what’s in season is because the carbon footprint of something grown locally is much smaller than that of its imported counterpart. Think Tinkerbell versus Yeti.

Local is Lekker

We have a saying here in South Africa: Local is lekker. ‘Lekker’ is the Afrikaans word for candy and it’s also what we say when something is really nice.

Try and shop local as much as possible. Some things, like coffee for example, might not be grown locally where you live. If you’re a caffeine addict (like we are) then go ahead and use your mostly mindful get out of jail free card*.

With clothes it’s trickier, since so many brands are manufactured in China or Indonesia where labour is cheap. However there are more and more Indie labels popping up, so make a point of finding and supporting them.

*The whole idea about being mostly mindful is that you find a balance between living mindfully and living i.e. enjoying life. It’s different for everyone, so do what works for you.

Beauty Without Cruelty (Look for the Bunny)

For Sporty and I this one’s non-negotiable. If a product doesn’t have the Beauty Without Cruelty bunny on it or clearly state that it’s not tested on animals then we won’t buy it. Even if you’re not vegan, this is one area where you can be more mindful when it comes to animals and their wellbeing.

You can go one step further and make sure the product doesn’t contain any animal products either. It’s crazy what people will put into products these days, so be sure to scan the label for any untoward ingredients.

Beauty without cruelty extends beyond lotions and hand-creams however. Things like clothing and bedding also come into play here. Make a point of informing yourself before just willy-nilly buying something just because it suits your needs. By way of example, here’s what it takes to make your down coat ethical*.

*Personally, we believe the only ethical coat is an entirely synthetic one, but if you have your heart set on a down one then at least make sure it’s cruelty-free.

Recyclable Packaging

Look for packaging that’s recyclable. Sporty and I eat a plant-based diet, which means we buy an enormous amount of fresh fruit and vegetables. Because we’re limited to shopping at Pick ‘n Pay we’re not able to be as mindful as we’d like, but as far as possible we avoid non-recyclable packaging.

So for example we’ll buy unripe, loose avocadoes rather than the ripe ones housed in clingwrap. We also buy loose bananas, even though the bagged ones are packed in recyclable bags. If there’s a choice we’ll always go the non-packaged route. They’re considerably cheaper too and I’m a big fan of being frugal wherever I can. (In our house I’m known as Bargain Betty!)

Sporty: or Frugal Frannie when Betty gets unreasonable 😉

Farmers’ Markets

We’re lucky to have a Saturday market around the corner from where we live, so we do some of our shopping there. For the most part everyone there is super mindful of packaging, opting for brown paper bags as far as possible. It’s also a great opportunity to support local growers and artisan traders.

See what’s happening in your area and if you have a local market nearby then make a plan to support them. Aside from making a difference, it’s also a really fun way to spend an hour or two since most of these places invariably sell food and coffee as well.

Hopefully we’ve given you something to think about and maybe even inspired you to make some small changes to your shopping habits. Leave a comment below and let us know. If the post resonated with you please share it far and wide.

Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change.
—Barbara Mikulski