Beauty in Simplicity: Kitchen Storage

Zero-Waste-Kitchen-JarsLast week, I wrote about how how though my “Unbranding” experiment, I stopped focusing on brands, and instead look to the source and quality of the food and merchandise I purchase (or make). As I started out on this project, I realized that as much as I appreciate good design, the look that I prefer in my own home is one of simplicity without logos and labels. I buy in bulk because it’s better for the environment to take packaging out of the equation, but I found that a lovely and humble aesthetic was a welcome side effect of this new lifestyle.

All you need to do is to save jars from food that you’ve purchased or that you’ve been gifted, and remove the labels. You don’t have to buy a box of perfectly matching mason jars, but rather just collect them over time from anything you’ve bought that comes in a glass container– pasta sauce, jam, mustard, olives, maple syrup, etcetera. You can also ask your family members or friends who live nearby to save their used jars for you if you want to build your collection more quickly. Removing the labels can be a trial-and-error process, as not all labels are affixed equally. Sometimes it takes a good soaking in hot water, or scrubbing with steel wool, or using soap or lemon oil to remove the adhesive. Once the labels are removed and the jars are free of any lingering scent of their original contents, it’s fun to think about how to repurpose them and how to label them. To create the labels, you can use a chalk marker like I did, make labels using a label maker or washi/masking tape with a permanent marker, or your can simply leave the containers label-free if you prefer that look. The marker I used has a slight tendency to smudge, but therefore it is also easy to wipe off and re-label if I want to change the contents of the jar.

One caveat is that while I’ve switched to the package-free method with a lot of my groceries, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. What you don’t see in this photo are the dried papaya slices and pretzels in the plastic bags, also in my cupboard. Nobody’s perfect. You don’t have to be rigid– just do what you can with the resources you have and continue to improve as you have the time and new options become available in your local stores.

If y’all like this Beauty in Simplicity idea, I’ll plan to show you other areas in my house where I’ve followed this same principal, such as the medicine cabinet, skincare, and cleaning supplies.

Where in your home have you found ways to simplify? 

 

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Unbranding

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For the longest time, on the blogs that I wrote before this one, I constantly featured brands. All of my pictures of products were focused in on the packaging and label of whatever the item was, whether it was tea or body lotion. In the past few years though, I’ve noticed a shift in my values from the brand to the thing itself– the herbs in the tea, the beautiful color of the beeswax candle, etcetera. This may sound laughably simple, but younger me never really stopped to think about about things like the fact that the face mask that I bought for $30 was really just French clay and essential oils. Or the fact that if a brand’s logo is on my shirt, I’m a walking advertisement. At some point, I started wondering, what would happen if I stopped defining myself by the brands that I use, and just enjoy the sensuousness and simplicity of everyday objects? Don’t get me wrong, I *love* supporting small businesses and makers, and I’ll gush about an ethical brand to anyone who will listen. I’m not suggesting we go without brands all together, but just cut down on the amount of packaging and manufacturing steps in areas of our lives where it makes sense for us each personally. Here are some insights that materialized as a result of this unbranding experiment.

Beauty

I work in the design industry, and oh boy do I appreciate a strong brand and attractive packages. I’m that person who judges books by their covers. But what surprised me as I shifted my focus away from brands is that when it comes to my own personal style, what I actually find most attractive in my home are simple jars that let the contents shine. You can buy lentils, rice, nuts, produce, oats, flour, spices, and many other pantry staples in bulk if you like from the grocery store or local food market, to be stored in glass containers (up-cycled pasta sauce and applesauce jars are my favorites). Making labels for your jars can be fun, too, whether you use washi tape, a label maker, or a special marker. Soap can be purchased at health food stores or at local apothecaries without any box or plastic– I buy bars unwrapped and keep them stacked in an old square florist’s vase in our linen closet. It’s a creative project to think about how you can remove the packaging and in the process make your surroundings more beautiful.

Wallet

We don’t all have the time or interest in DIY-ing everything. For example, I have tried knitting and despite my best efforts, I do not have the patience for such an activity, so I plan to continue to purchase my winter woolens from local shops. And furthermore, not all DIYs will save you money. My husband brewed beer to give as Christmas gifts this year, and although he had most of the equipment he needed already, he managed to spend more on supplies and ingredients than he would have just buying the beer at a brewery. But there are areas where my unbranding experiment definitely helps fatten my wallet, and gives me something satisfying to do with my hands. Skincare and food items are two of those areas. I now bake my own bread when I have the time, which saves us a few dollars per loaf. There is actually a loaf in the oven as I write this, as today we are riding out the so-called Bomb Cyclone Blizzard at home. I also buy ingredients like jojoba oil and essential oils to make my own skincare concoctions. Nothing like having a tailor-made item made just the way you like it! Aside from DIYs, when you buy items package-free and in bulk, you usually save some pennies because you aren’t paying for the cost to make the box, jar, or container, as well as all the design and branding of the product.

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Earth

This is obvious, but still worthy of saying out loud. The less packaging we use, the more jars we can upcycle, the more clothing purchased lightly used, the more things we can make ourselves, the more groceries we can buy in reusable muslin produce/bulk bags, the smaller an impact we have on the planet. Often, less fuel is used carting the product from the harvester to the processor to the packager. Plus, you save all of the energy that would have been used to manufacture the packaging, and you save the packaging itself from the landfills if they are not recyclable. And consider the fact that every time you make a purchase, you are voting with your dollars. If there is a higher demand for package-free products, then companies will continue to expand their earth-friendly offerings to meet consumers’ preferences. My favorite place to buy package-free foods is at the farmer’s market. I just put the carrots, the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the baked goods, directly into my cloth shopping bags– no plastic required!

Most of all, have fun with your Unbranding experiment and be creative with it. 

Have you gone package-free? What are your favorite areas of your life to forgo the packaging, and what do you do instead?

To Be of a Place / Loving a Land

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A great wound today’s global society, I believe, is that we as a people do not put down deep roots in a single place. We travel around from suburb to city to country throughout our lives as we relocate for jobs, settle in an empty house and take care of the building’s maintenance and the decor, but not really knowing or loving the land upon which it sits. When is the last time you thought to go outside and pick some herbs to cure a small ailment like a rash or tummy ache, or just sat and watched the wildlife in the trees, noticing their activity patterns throughout the day? One of the most gratifying and reciprocal relationships a human can have in our lifetime is with the land that sustains us, but in today’s culture in the country where I live, we are not even made particularly aware that it is something that we’re missing, leaving us to discover it on our own.

The forest, plains, and ocean provide wild plants, fungi, meat, fish, wood for shelter and warmth, water to drink, each region with its own fruits to offer. In the age of the massive supermarket, though, we are not often sure where our food comes from and virtually anything you can imagine is at your fingertips 365 days of the year. Somewhere along the way, the responsibility that we feel for taking care of the land where our ancestors are buried, and where our children will grow up, was lost. Why bother to be a steward of land in a place that you only moved to last year, and plan to leave in five more years when a new job offer arises?

In past centuries, people were generally indigenous to their land where many generations lived in one place. They learned the language of the rivers, the weather patterns, what it means when the crows get agitated, or the peepers start singing in the spring. Of course there are many advantages to globalization such as the sharing of information, the colorful tapestry of different cultures in their foods, customs, etcetera. I’m not necessarily arguing for things to be entirely different, just a widening in perspective and taking ownership as a steward of the land over a lifetime. Getting to know it on a deep and meaningful level, eating the food that is grown locally, and considering planting roots with the intention of building a life on ground that we love.

When kids grow up and continue to live in their hometown, people often see them as simple-minded, naive, or lacking in current expectations of success. As someone who moved back to the state of Maine where I was raised after living in different places in my twenties and traveling, I’ve received criticism saying things like, you’ve got go spread your wings and go make a life for yourself somewhere new, not clinging to the past or staying close to home. I can see the appeal of starting fresh for some people, but what brings me the most joy is knowing that I am planted here by the salty sea amongst the pines, each year getting to know my homeland in more meaningful ways. My heart swells when the phoebes and ospreys return in the spring, when the red maples first bloom in April, and my friends tap the maple trees in March making syrup to nourish us through the last cold stretch. Here, tending the land and doing everything I can to make it a healthy place appreciated and cared for by its people. We take care of the land and it provides a cornucopia of nourishment and beauty for us in return.

So, how can we reconnect with the land? There are so many avenues. Keep a journal throughout the year of when certain events occur (first frost, etc) and things that you notice on the land where you live (such as the fox that passed through your backyard). If you set it up like a grid, you can even compare from year-to-year and really become an expert. Participate in clean-ups such as picking up trash along the beach or on a park path. Support your local organic farmer when you can, and ask them about the food that they are growing. Grow some of your own food if you are able. Learn about the plants that grow wild and are native to your area, and learn about how the indigenous people use them as medicine. Cut down on your waste through recycling and compost. Go to the town meetings when things like pesticide rules or sustainable developments are on the agenda. Meditate on your back patio at sunrise.  It can be serious work, but it is also where we can find fun, joy, lightness, and fulfillment.

Do you consider yourself to be of a place?

What do you appreciate most about the land where you live, and how do you tend it?

 

**I want to give credit to Milla Prince and Asia Suler for first inspiring me to think of the land in this way. Definitely check out their blogs if you have a moment!

Settling in for Winter

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This season is a period of quiet, of dark, of contemplation. Before the invention of electricity and means of global travel, people lived in sync with the cycles of nature, much like animals do. The spring was time for creating, working on getting those seedlings in the ground; summer a time of bounty and a flurry of activity during the long days and warm nights; autumn a time to harvest, gather, and to stock the pantries for the coming months (like the chipmunks with their acorns); and winter to rest, hibernate, reflect, and rejuvenate so that we may lay the groundwork for the cycle to begin again.

Many of us in the north have a hard time with winter. It is bitter cold, our bodies feel stiff, an it can be difficult to keep up life’s momentum. Just shlepping yourself, your lunch bag, and your laptop to work on slushy roads after spending an hour shoveling snow can be a challenge, not to mention if you have to bundle up your children, too. Just daily survival can be a lot to handle.

So let yourself rest. Don’t force it, have empathy for yourself like you would for your sister or best friend. If there is something you have been beating yourself up about or agonizing over, such as finding a new job, buying a house, whatever you are pressuring yourself about, ease up. Take steps toward your goal if it feels right and flows, but let yourself rest in healthy ways that feel good — do the yoga, get the extra sleep, bake the bread, read the book, use the snow shoes, snuggle the dog, break out those paints that you never have time to use. Allow yourself some time to play and explore whatever whim sounds like a pleasurable thing to do on a cold winter’s day. Watch the birds in the backyard, take time to look at those tiny little miraculous snowflakes, light candles in the evenings sometimes instead of having all the lights on in the house, make tea from the pine trees growing in the backyard, take long walks around the neighborhood before dusk when everyone has their stoves burning and the air smells like woodsmoke, enjoy the soft peach and lavender sunsets even though it gets dark at 4 p.m.

A Steaming Bath

Etta-+-Billie-and-Herbivore-BotanicalsWarm, running water during a time when everything is frozen solid can do the body and spirit some good. In a clean, dry container (reused jam or applesauce sauce jar works!), combine Epsom Salts, 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils (I like frankincense and lavender. If you are under the weather, rosemary and tea tree are nice) and, if you wish, some dried plant material such as lavender flowers or pine needles. Store in the jar until you are ready for a relaxing bath — perhaps on a day when you are snowed in at home– and pour a bit into the steaming hot bath water. Or if you don’t want to make your own, any bubble bath, bath oil, or salts will do the trick!

Candlelit Glow

20161224_6947Try turning the lights off in the hours after supper and lighting candles. My favorites are simple, inexpensive unscented beeswax candles that I buy at the local natural foods store. Something about the warm glow of the candles can help us feel cozy, cared for, restful. I enjoy journaling by candlelight in the evenings or just sipping cocoa and talking with my husband.

A Warm Mug

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If you’re having trouble focusing on a task at home such as paying your stack of bills, watching the lessons for an online class, or writing your term paper, try making a steaming beverage to enjoy while you work. One thing to try is gathering fresh White Pine Needles and infusing them in hot water to make tea. Natives and early settlers used pine as a source of vitamin C, and its scent can also do wonders for uplifting your spirit and clearing your lungs. But any tea or coffee of your choice is perfect, too. If you love cocoa, but want a fair-trade, organic, and healthier option, try Apotheker’s Kitchen hot chocolate mix made sweetened with maple sugar. They also make marshmallows using actual marshmallow root!

Embrace the winter, savor the long nights and the candlelit glow.

Minimalist Makeup Bag

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If you had seen my makeup bag (or really more like makeup cabinet) ten years ago, overflowing with eye shadow palettes, lipsticks, mascaras, and other products, you’ve hardly believe that this one here belongs to the same person. When I hit my late 20s, something shifted, and I started paring down my collection, getting rid of unused or expired products, and items that weren’t made from natural ingredients. While I liked the way I looked with makeup on, the prospect of having to pat on the eye shadow, blend, perfectly apply the eye liner, just felt like such a chore in the morning. It added unnecessary stress to my life and cost me so many pennies in emotionally motivated shopping, not to mention that it was wasteful. I now avoid eye products aside from mascara all together, and it takes me less than 5 minutes to do my makeup in the morning using a total of 6 products, and 3 tools. Many days I don’t wear any at all. My skin is much happier wearing the mineral foundation, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’m wearing a mask. By paring down my bag, I save time, money, and I feel more like myself without layers of product on my face. Yes, you could make a strong argument that a *real* minimalist doesn’t ever wear makeup, but everyone has their own level of simplicity that they enjoy.

Here’s what I use (I’ll include links for things that I highly recommend):

  • Loose-powder foundation
  • Concealer – This one has coconut oil in it, so it’s not drying at all
  • Blush – I use a warm color rather than having a blush and a bronzer
  • Lip balm – You can find a good one at the local health food store for $3, or even make your own.
  • Lip stick – Rose color appropriate for all occasions
  • Mascara – It’s from the drug store, but next time will get a non-toxic one in refillable packaging.
  • Tools: Foundation brush, blush brush, eyelash curler
  • Sometimes I wear perfume if I’m going out for a nice dinner or to an event.
  • The bag was handmade by the Wahl Sisters, who periodically have pop-up shops on Etsy.

I’ve been wearing some combination of products like these for the past three years, but the most recent change I made was eliminating nail polish, deciding that I didn’t want those chemicals in my house or on my body, not to mention acetone nail polish remover. Right now, they are in a box waiting to bring to my town’s once-a-year hazardous waste disposal because they are so toxic that you can’t put them in the trash can! Yikes.

If you enjoy these types of posts, let me know, and I’ll do one about the few skincare and hair products that I use, including some that I make myself. There will be many more posts coming about simple living in general!

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Pining After Plants – Finding Nature in the Suburbs

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Do you feel an affinity for plants, and daydream longingly of a bountiful garden in your non-existent backyard, or dream of having a 100-acre wood next door to explore? Maybe feel some resentment, disconnection from nature, and feel stifled by not being able to experience those things from your condo in the suburbs?

I used to feel all those things and more. I felt sorry for myself, that I couldn’t plant a garden in the backyard space due to rules of the condo association where we rent, and this land has sandy soil anyway. I longed for the days that I lived near a nature preserve, wandering the trails as a girl, not realizing how lucky I was to be able to follow the bubbling stream through the mossy forest, to see the beach roses by the stone wall bloom and turn to rose hips, to walk the fields full of golden grass, to say hello to the barred owl that frequented the tree outside my window. Without the funds to buy land of our own, I was convinced that I was just stuck and had to delay my dreams of nature until a distant day in the future and cherishing memories from the past.

This year, something changed. I got tired of waiting for someday, and decided to see what I could do to bring these values and interests into my life where I am. I could say, “I live in a cul de sac near a busy road that is scarred with gas stations, dealerships, motels, and asphalt.” Or, I could re-frame and say, “Our apartment is at the edge of a small forest, and we can look out our windows and see an abundance of green. We have a deck where we can plant a container garden. And you don’t have to drive far to find wild places.” Both of these statements are true. It’s all about what you tell yourself.

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The most fun and eye-opening thing that I’ve done is to just look outside around our front door and our neighborhood. Once I started really looking, I realized how much there is to see that I never noticed before. The monstrous pine trees that surround our parking lot house so many birds and critters, and their tippy tops turn a beautiful shade of gold when the sun goes down, before the whole neighborhood turns dark. There’s a raccoon who sometimes passes through and makes a bed on the branch of one of these pines. A hawk hunts and frequents the treetops. This spring, there were rhododendrons blooming outside our living room window, and the bumble bees were busy buzzing from bloom to bloom. Where is their hive, I wonder. Every day after work, I make it a game to go outside and see what new plants are growing, plants I had been blind to before. Wild rose and honeysuckle grow at the edges of the forest, both are non-native varieties that tell a piece of the story of settlers who came before us. In-between the scheduled mowings, I was able to see dandelions, clover, bluets, and self-heal sprouting up in the grass.

With the changing seasons, there is always something new to see. Right now in late July, on the edges of the parking lot, you can see morning glory and orange jewelweed. Like little triumphs, I congratulate myself every time I identify a new plant and learn about its history. With its exotic blooms, I would have thought it was an invasive species, but no, the native peoples once used it to cure rashes. Learning about my habitat is the most fun I ever had without leaving home. Someday I will live on land where I can plant a lush garden. Until then, I’m blooming where I’m planted, thank you very much.

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In addition to exploring your doorstep, there is so much you can do to connect with nature, even when you don’t live in the middle of the woods. Don’t wait for ideal circumstances to follow your love for flora and fauna; think about what you can do where you already are. Here is a list to help you get started.

  • Identify the flowers, trees, herbs, shrubs that grow in your neighborhood. Research their history and uses — are they native? Who may have planted them? What animals eat them? Are they edible? What medicinal uses do they have?
  • What is growing outside your workplace? Once you stop and look, you might find more than you expected!
  • Take a class at a community garden, nature center, or herbal apothecary in your town. Or take an online botany class if you prefer.
  • Volunteer at a nature-related nonprofit.
  • Drive somewhere where you can go on a hike or camp.
  • Sign up for a plot in the community garden.
  • Read nature books.
  • Plant some indoor plants, or grow some herbs or flowers on your deck, balcony, or patio.
  • Buy fresh cut flowers at your local farmers market
  • Learn to make your own cleaning products and skin care using plant ingredients and essential oils.
  • Cook with local, seasonal vegetables, herbs, and fruit
  • Exercise outside. Yoga on your deck? A jog outside instead of at the gym?
  • Rent a cottage in the mountains, by the sea, etc. for your next vacation

What are your favorite ways to connect with nature?

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