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sustainable living

Simple gifting ideas for an eco Christmas

Craft Tutorials, Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment
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Let’s be truthful here, if we wanted to have a truly eco Christmas we’d probably not even celebrate at all… but I love giving gifts, and I love any excuse for family to gather around a special meal together. And if once a year we all make the extra effort, perhaps it’s worth it. Also - it’s absolutely and totally possible to celebrate without forgetting the ethos that you live with the rest of the year, and also a great time to share that with others in your family through your choice of gifts (that you either give or ask for).

I thought I’d share a few ideas of what we work through each year. And to be truly honest here… every year is different, some years I get it more right, other years I throw up my hands and let some things go. Every year is a learning lesson for me, in being more humble in my opinions, guiding my children through the crazy drama of the world, and their expectations, and other people’s expectations. In learning what to push my ideals and wishes on, and what to step back on. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you might work through it too - in a gentle way…

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Gifting:

  • Make something. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you make, it’s the made item that really matters. That fact you took the time to create something with your hands and heart, rather than picking something off a shelf. It’s a good way to talk about your environmental, political, socially-responsible ethos with friends or family… perhaps a simple note on the gift, so they could look into it later, rather than heated discussions on special days.

  • Gift special food items - jams, chutneys, pickles. If you can’t make your own, don’t worry, there’s lots of little markets around at the moment where people are making lovely things to share like that. This way you’re also supporting someone else in their making. Imagine a whole box of cherries, mangoes or stone-fruit gifted - something that might be out of the financial reach of your giftee.

  • Buy handmade, from a local market or artist or gallery. Or find a local online person - searching on Etsy local is a good way to find your community.

  • Gift an experience or a voucher to help them around the house or garden, or the commitment to take them somewhere special - even a picnic at a local creek might be something they don’t do very often.

  • Plants are always a beautiful gift, in my mind. Think about the space they live in, and what time they available to care for the plant. Sometimes a pot of living herbs is enough, or a fruit tree and the promise to help plant it.

  • A family photo or art work by your children - framed perhaps. Older family members often don’t need more things, and artwork is a beautiful and special memento for them.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The best gifts, in my heart & mind, are the ones thoughtfully gathered for that person, rather than the mad dash to a shop to meet a specified budget. (I used to work in retail, and saw way too many people on Christmas Eve doing that horrible mad rush - it made my heart sigh and huff while I tried to guide them to the best options on the almost empty shelves).

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Gifts to ask for:

While it would be ideal sometimes to not have to give gifts, I know my children would not be happy with that option. And my in-laws love giving gifts too. And, actually I love gifting things as well. So.. if you know you or your kids will be receiving gifts, then pre-empt the plastic throwaway junk, by getting in early with some suggestions.

  • Beach towels

  • New sheets - send links to beautiful organic or thoughtfully made items, rather than a vague suggestion

  • An experience or membership to somewhere.. local art gallery, museum, music, drama or sports lessons for a year (or a term), a ticket to a concert or live performance

  • A voucher to an art or book shop - let them know the details of your local shop, so you can support local businesses

  • While it’s not entirely personal, teenagers often seem to want vouchers for music downloads

  • We asked for a tent as our family gift one year - so think about one big purchase that would help your whole family

  • And if you know they’ll want to purchase a toy or a ‘thing’ let them know about easy options for places that fit your ethos. Biome* is a great online site with so many options for everyone in the family. I particularly love many of these wooden toys.

  • Or suggest something very practical, from a shop they’re more likely to feel comfortable shopping at, such as a trampoline which will last for years and be a great addition to any family garden.

Wrapping gifts:

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I’ve shared a few ideas here, that will guide you along a more sustainable path, but also make for unique and beautiful gifting. And it’s likely you or your children will receive cheap throwaway wrapping paper and cards - a few options are to try and save the paper to reuse (talk with your children about how to carefully unwrap gifts prior to Christmas Day), or make sure that it’s recycled rather than lumped into the rubbish bin with everything else. A few extra moments to remove sticky tape and plastic ribbons, and put them in the right recycled boxes or bins depending on your local council. Sometimes you doing this, quietly in the corner on Christmas day, sparks a conversation that might make a small change in others.

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Food Waste:

I suppose the simplest I can say about this is; if you’re part of deciding what food you’ll have for your family or friend celebrations remember that less can be more. Choose locally grown where possible, less packaging, order organic meats from your local butcher (we don’t eat meat - but I know that lots of butchers have this option, if you keep on asking them), make less food.

Make a menu plan, and talk with your family about who will bring what. Don’t over cater - children seem to eat less when they’re running around playing, and adults seem to overeat when there’s too much food sitting in front of them.

If you do have left overs, keep in mind the excess plastic that many people use for putting food away, and look into these alternatives - beeswax wraps (buy these beautiful handmade ones here, or learn to make your own here), or invest in some reusable containers. Or simply put things in the fridge, in a bowl with a plate over the top. Or I love the idea of these linen covers.

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Simple Days & Slow Moments:

The lead-up to Christmas and the final weeks of school term, and even the year, can be full with events, gatherings, stress of things to buy, places to go, things that we need to do. Try to look at your diary, and say no to some things. While there might be some guilt around not going to the neighbourhood party, it’s also important to be gentle with yourself and give yourself and your family quiet down-time. A Do-Nothing Day really is the best thing for everyone in these full and busy days. Especially if you live anywhere near me, where it’s hot and tiring and the weather seems to sap all energy from you.

Choose what feels most important to you, and work with that. Don’t be forced into a full 24-day Advent Calendar of events, perhaps try a simple tree of moments instead (I’ll share more about this soon… my girl is making one this weekend). Write letters and cards, rather than needing to drop in on everyone in your address book.

Hop off devices for a little while, and spend time in the garden or looking through books for inspiration. Sit and make some gifts, instead of spending every weekend at the shopping malls - I promise that you can make gifts almost in the same amount of time as it takes you to drive, park and trawl the aisle of the shops… And you’ll be much saner for it.

And if finding / making / creating time just isn’t happening - remember to breathe. The simple, yet often rushes past, practice of deep breathing nourishes our bodies in the best way. Breathing through your nose, gently and deeply slows our bodies and minds down, and allows us to think clearer and be a little more peacefully in the moment. Exhaling, though your nose (not mouth) in a mindful intentional manner let’s go of so much pent up stress and energy. Try it at the supermarket, when you’re in the middle of a busy stressful morning or  ‘negotiation’ with children, or when life is making you feel overwhelmed and anxious. It’s the simplest way to reset yourself.... I’ve been practicing it more than usual lately and feeling the benefits immediately. 

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 *I receive a small commission if you purchase through this link; it doesn’t affect what you pay, it’s just a way for Biome to thank me for spreading the word about the good that they do. Thank you for supporting me in this way. 

plastic free July : simple easy ways to start your low-plastic journey now

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment

Are you joining in Plastic Free July this year? Even though we live a relatively 'plastic-free' lifestyle "compared to regular people", I know that there's so so much more we can do in our family. Little changes to make big differences.

The aim of #plasticFreeJuly is to reduce or refuse all single use plastic during July. Of course, the hope is that you'll start on a new journey of seeing how easy it is and continue on. But having one month to reset your ideals is pretty cool - cause I find despite my best best intentions we still end up with single use plastic in our shopping and home.

I've got some really cool and easy tips to share with you

it's almost Plastic Free July again.... are you ready for the challenge?

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie Beck3 Comments
Ellie Beck Petalplum butterfly in hand

Plastic Free July has been the catalyst for many people to change their whole (plastic-free) lives, or has simply been a wonderful and easy way to create small change within your life. For me, I grew up minimal-plastic (not zero or free), and live with less plastics than many but more than some. I enjoy using Plastic Free July as a great way to reset some of our ways, to challenge ourselves to take a step further along our journey and also to spread the word about how easy it can be to start the plastic-free / low-plastic living.

As everything, it's a scale of what feels right for you and what fits into your life, your family, your home, your work. It's about doing what you can without feeling guilty that you're not doing more.

This year it's good to remember to start slowly and simply. Often it's super overwhelming trying to do it all at once - so choosing 1-2 (or 3-4) things is a really great way to ease into what can be a big change at the time, but soon will feel simple and everyday. Rather than trying to do it all at once, choosing one or two things for you to reduce will make you feel like you've succeeded rather than failed the challenge.

Remember that every small action has a reaction - your small tiny steps create a revolution in your life. The little (environmental) things you do DO add up. I know. And when you start this journey, you're likely to talk about it with people - and spreading the word is the best form of environmental revolution, isn't it!

A few myths about going plastic free:

  • You need to throw out everything you own that's plastic! Nope, don't do that.. that's silly. Going plastic free is about making small changes over time. Replace things with a non-plastic option as they break or wear out, but don't throw it all out at once.
  • It's expensive. Yes I guess it can be, in some ways, but it can be cheaper in other ways. It depends on how you look at it, what products you choose to buy or not buy, and how you generally live. I'm going to talk about that next week.
  • People will think you're crazy! Maybe they will - that's ok "all the best people are crazy" - Alice in Wonderful (spoken by Alice's father). But maybe they'll be inspired to make changes themselves.
  • It's hard and you'll fail. Like anything it can be as easy or hard as you make it. With the right attitude and mindset it's not hard, with the right help and advice it's not hard. Some aspects might be hard, but you won't fail.
  • Your kids will hate you for it. Hmmmmm perhaps there'll be a few times they're a little disappointed that you said no to their usual plastic toys / packaged food / etc, but it's our role as parents to guide our children and show them alternative ways of living. Ultimately they'll come to agree with you and happily convert. Read this to give you hope.

I've talked about simple plastic free tips in the past here, so today I wanted to open the idea of starting the challenge and seeing if you're up for it. And most importantly what hand-holding help you might need. I want to work directly with you - via email or Instagram or comment below - as a helping guide for you along the way. So, please reach out with any anxious thoughts you might have about starting a plastic free journey.

To begin choose just one thing you're going to give up. Of course you can choose more if you feel comfortable with that.

Anything from the "top 4 plastic baddies" is a good place to start:

  • Plastic Water Bottles:  Buy yourself a a reusable drink bottle and take your own water with you. Not only will you be saving the money, but you'll be saving thousands of plastic bottles from landfill. My kids all have their own, including River, who loves having his own special bottle. It also seems to make us remember to drink more water. Choose from any of these pretty designs available. We use stainless steel ones, but Ari recently got one of these glass bottles and he takes it to school everyday. Make sure you choose stainless steel or glass, or if you do choose a reusable plastic one check that it has no BPA - and please don't reuse the throw-away bottles because the plastics in them leach out and aren't designed to be reused.
  • Plastic Shopping Bags: This is one that drives me crazy. How many times do you see someone buy something from a shop, walk outside then throw the plastic bag in the bin! Why didn't they say "no thanks, I don't need a bag". Or you get home and unload all the shopping - simply throwing the plastic bags into the rubbish (straight into landfill). What it takes is a few simple tricks for reminding yourself: + Put your shopping bags straight into your handbag, car, pram or bike basket as soon as you unpack your shopping. + Put a reminder notice at your front door so you don't forget as you're walking out the door. + Practice saying NO to plastic bags - if you only have a few items carry them in your hands if you've forgotten a bag. + Remember to say No bag at the start of the shopping transaction, and often you'll have to remind the sales person again at the end (especially at clothing or boutique stores more so than supermarkets). + Use reusable produce bags as well as shopping bags.
  • Takeaway Coffee Cups: There's so much about our takeaway coffee industry that makes me mad and sad. When did we become so busy that we can't sit down to sip our coffee? Did you know that takeaway coffee now accounts for almost 40% of coffee sales? Woah hey! What can you do?! Firstly plan to sit in and use a proper cup, and really take time enjoying your coffee not having to sip it on the go (or re-heat it in the microwave as I keep hearing people doing). Secondly if you do need it takeaway then get your own reusable coffee cup and use it. Keep it in your handbag or with your car / house keys so you never forget it. Many coffee shops actually offer a discount if you use your own cup, so ask your local barista to join the War on Waste by supporting the use of reusable coffee cups.  I particularly love these glass coffee cups (and have never broken one in my bag!), and these glass tea flasks are excellent for taking your own tea from home.
  • Plastic Drinking Straws: This to me seems outrageous that such a tiny and so briefly used item can create such a massive impact on our environment. These, out of any of the top 4 baddies, are simply laziness, habit or appearances. I mean everyone wants to look like the cute girl in the soft drink ad..... Say no to plastic drinking straws, and put the cup up to your mouth! Or if you do really like using a straw, and sometimes they are handy with a small child, you can get sweet stainless steel ones here or these fun bamboo ones (we've tried these are a market stall once, but don't have any ourselves - though I really like the idea of them). Make sure you also get a straw cleaner at the same time.

If you've been on a plastic free journey for a while, these might already be on your no list - so I'd love to hear what plastic you're saying no to this year. We're aiming to cut down even further on our food purchases - particularly cheese and tofu packets, and other things that mostly occur when we're not planned or prepared. Most of our plastic purchases seem to happen when time is stretched or we're out of the ordinary - such as camping or we're sick and running low on parenting energy.

A Few Plastic-Free things you might choose to give up this month:

  • Toothbrushes - try these bamboo ones instead.
  • Biscuits in packets - make your own
  • Individually packaged chips or popcorn
  • Individual mini yoghurts or cheeses
  • Soft drinks in glass instead of plastic (or give up soft drink altogether!)

Let's do this together, help each other out and create the change we want our children to grow up watching. One of my favourite quotes is:

"Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals will make a difference, Indeed they are the only ones who ever do" - Philanthropist Margaret Mead

* some links in this post are affiliate links - that means I earn a small percentage if you purchase anything. Biome is a shop that I wholeheartedly love supporting, purchasing from, and recommending. They walk the talk in a way that many businesses don't - right down to sending their postage orders with as minimal plastic packaging (and lots of recycled boxes); which just feels right to me. I love that they have an affiliate program to support bloggers as well. Thank you! {Even if you're a returning customer to Biome, they still give a slightly smaller % to me - so I truly value you using my links to buy your lovelies}.

The Kids are Alright :: Living a low-plastic lifestyle & not feeling deprived

Motherhood, Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment
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For years I've been guiding my family on a low-plastic journey. Taking small steps, but in the fashion of being my mother's daughter, being passionately forceful at times. Often my family - husband including kids - tolerates it slightly more or less so depending on how desperately they wanted the plastic (or throw-away) item they asked for.

But the past few months have brought a change, a shift. And yesterday I asked the kids "do you feel deprived not having certain things in plastic"? Both of them answered without hesitation "No!". Whereas previously they'd said things like couldn't we have normal things like normal people.

(You can probably guess my reply to that!). Why would you want to be normal! We're not normal people, normal is boring... blah blah blah.

So when they answered that, with such emphasis and assurance - that they didn't need the biscuits in the plastic, the cereal with twice the packaging than necessary, the extra treats, the individually wrapped cheeses or special breads in plastic - I smiled.

I probably would have jumped up and down and danced with joy, except I'm sick and that sort of movement would hurt my head. Instead I kept on nibbling my homemade pie; of course you guessed it made using homemade pastry and homemade filling.

How did the kids became swayed - or my husband for that matter? I'd like to say it was all me and my incessant influencing and constantly reminders. But I actually think them watching The War on Waste (on iview catchup) was a massive help. Showing those visuals of plastic towers, even though they'd seen them all before - somehow that sunk in deeper than the rest. I'm sure my years of moaning have worn them down.....

And you know. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how or why, what matters is they're now ok with me saying no. They now agree. And don't feel denied of all the things "normal" kids get. They've stopped asking for certain things. They know I'll say no, and they don't want them any more anyway.

As a mother, I suppose what I always hope is that my kids will learn the lessons I'm teaching. But I keep being reminded the lessons are learned not by force but gentle reminders, by offering an insight and way forward, while still allowing them to make up their own mind. By being educated but not indoctrinated.

The kids have been asking for corn flakes lately, and one day at the supermarket (when we were shopping for the camping trip that never eventuated) they got to get corn flakes from the supermarket. In plastic packaging, and yes one of those brand names I don't love. I told them I wanted to get it bulk from the health food shop, which they agreed to. Alas our health food shop only has corn flakes that aren't organic and say nothing about being gm-free or not. Their organic ones were in a big plastic bag too.

We can buy organic popping corn bulk, but not corn flakes (maybe I'll have to roll my own!). Anyway - I asked the kids and they were happy to compromise and get something else entirely that was organic and bulk. Part of not feeling deprived about giving up plastic means being happy with compromise. Having the kids be happy with this is a big big step forward.

Last year all Ari kept asking anytime he had some pocket money (thankfully not very often), was to spend it on another Dr Who Pop. Uh-Huh! Those ugly things that mean nothing, plastic trash sitting there looking cheap and made-in-China-ish. I hate them. Earlier this year he decided that he wanted a camera.

He saw the real value in saving his money and not spending it a Pop here a Pop here. Now he has a beautiful second-hand camera and a healthy new habit of learning to be a photographer. And he doesn't want to buy all those trinkety little anymore. (Of course the trinkets for cameras somehow are way more expensive!). {Proud mama moment: you can check out his Instagram account here: A Discovered. Also, even prouder moment - his photo has been selected to be part of this year's Olive Cotton Photographic Competition.}

Anyway - what I was saying is that sometimes when we're trying to get people to join us in a new way of thinking, living, being it can feel hard, and tiring. It can take time. And sometimes we wonder if we should give up. Don't give up. People will follow if you're passionate about it, if you guide them and don't push them.

We're about to start Plastic Free July again officially. And I'm consulting with them on what we should do, how we should keep challenging ourselves, how we can educate others around us without guilting them or creating rifts between relationships. Which can somehow happen around family and shopping / cooking / food. Somehow being plastic free seems a religion on it's own, or opposing political opinions, and creates animosity. But it needed be..... a few simple, yet gentle approaches can help. And also ( as I keep learning in regards to extended family) sometimes you have to let others walk their path while you walk yours.

Are you joining in the Challenge this year? I'd love to know if you are - is this your first year, or is this (like us) a chance to delve deeper and look closer at how you live. What have been your biggest challenges in the past, and what about your biggest wins?

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what does simple living mean to me? and how you can bring it into your life

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie BeckComment
Ellie Beck Petalplum blog simple living

My simple slow life does not look like what I've seen on Instagram or in a Kinfolk magazine. Mostly it's a mundane-ness that just happens and exists, and while extremely beautiful isn't always particularly photographable. But I think we need more of this to show the realness, the rawness, that the messy creates beauty. I thought I'd share some of the things that mean slow & simple to me; perhaps you've been wanting to move towards a simpler way of living but unsure how to move past the busy and messy and overwhelm.

Firstly - simple living doesn't mean white walls and minimalist furniture. It can, but it doesn't have to. Our home is rich and full of patterns and texture and colour, and anything but a minimalist home.

Simple living to me means a mindfulness and a slow way of being. A connection to the rhythms of life and our days, a slowing down of our outside activities. It's about our buying habits and purchases. About our eating and composting and disposing of waste. About our spending time as a family more importantly than wasting time being something that people expect us to be. It's about the things we choose to do instead of the things we feel obliged to do.

Some of The practical things of simple living are:

  • Choosing our purchases wisely, and not buying things just because. Before you buy something new see if you can find it from your local op-shop, buy-swap-&-sell group, ebay, gumtree / craigslist or perhaps your friends or family have one they no longer need. We haven't bought a new toaster for quite a while - I found an excellent and perfectly working toaster on the council throwout pile one day, and when that stopped working we found someone giving away quite an expensive toaster through buy-swap-&-sell facebook group. We've recently purchased 2 kids' beds from this online local group for much much less than the cost of a new bed. Before we buy anything new we make sure it's going to be used regularly and is needed in our home.
  • Clothes shopping is not a weekend hobby. Before we go shopping for any new clothes we make sure there's no hand-me-downs packed away, or hidden extras at the back of the cupboard. And we talk about if we really need it, or we simply think we want it. In our family we don't go clothes shopping because we're bored or killing time or it's our weekend hobby.
  • We make do & reuse. Some of the things that I use over and over again before throwing out might surprise you. For example baking paper - I buy a non-bleached recycled baking paper from the health food shop, perhaps it's a little more expensive than the regular bleached trees-cut-down one from the supermarket. But I use it over and over again for my baking until it's no good any more. Then it goes in the compost. I don't ever buy plastic wrap - these beeswax wraps are great to use or metal containers that can be used over and over again - or if for some random and rare reason plastic wrap comes into our home we fold it up and use it again. Once my daughter brought home a paper bag she'd had popcorn in from school canteen for us to re-use : that made me smile big time! I make washcloths for the kitchen myself either by crocheting the cloths or cutting up old worn out towels / tea towels.
  • We stay home. For me the best weekend plans are no plans. Staying home and working in the garden or pottering about in my studio will pretty much out weigh a whole lot of activities that many people seem to do all weekend long. I'm happiest being slow and quiet. Friends or family for lunch or a picnic by the beach is often less stressful and more fun than going to a cafe.
  • We spend less money. Means we work less. I love that balance. We've chosen to work less hours so we can spend more time with our children or working on our art practice. Things we don't buy very often - magazines, new books, dinner & the movies, clothes, weekly flowers, new jewellery, cushions, ornaments & trinkets.
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Part of the journey of simple living is realising that it's not always simple. Sometimes it's tricky and you have to walk a fine line of wants & needs - especially with children. But when we come back the mindfulness of our Self I realise again and again where I want to be putting my money, my time, my thoughts. I want to actively choose how I spend my days - and you can too.

Ways for you to start a simple living journey:

  • Say yes to the things that bring you joy. Say no to the things that society (magazines, social media, your colleagues or family or school friends) tell you you should be doing.
  • Re-think the way you re-use what you have. Simple living means carrying a bottle of water with you everywhere you go and a re-usable coffee cup rather than buying & throwing away that plastic every day. Simple living means taking your own shopping bags rather than using plastic bags. These things take a bit of getting used to; re-wiring your brain and being a little bit more organised, but it won't take long if you're eager to make the switch.
  • Stop buying things! Yep - I mean it. Try a week without buying anything except food and transport needs. No magazines, no takeaway coffee, no pretty little scarf that you just needed to have. Just try for one week and see how that feels. You don't need to quit buying everything, but this might reset the way you think about what you do buy.
  • Stay home for one day this weekend. Give is a go. The kids might complain that they're bored, you might start to get a bit itching that you need to go something. JUST DON'T. Don't get in the car, don't walk down the street. Just see what it's like not doing anything much at all. That's part of my simple living.
  • Go to a farmers market for your weekly vege shopping. It's much more enjoyable than the supermarket, often cheaper because things are in season & local and also because you're not swayed to buy all the other things at the checkouts. It's less stressful and more mindful. And you could even manage a pretty sweet Instagram snap from a farmers market visit!
  • Cook more food from scratch -but with simple ingredients. Try using no cans or packets (less packaging and less cost), or minimise what you do use. I'll be sharing our delicious humous recipe in a few days - I make it from dried chickpeas no plastic in sight, yet it's an enjoyable process that doesn't take too long. Simple cooking is about wholesome meals, cooked with love, but they don't need to take up all your day to create them.

I'd love to hear how your simple living journey is going. You can read more here on my slow simple living posts.

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Continuing the plastic free journey - 5 simple tips you can implement

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie Beck3 Comments
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So Plastic Free July is over, but that doesn't mean you need to quit all the good that you've started. In fact, now is the time to really reassess how you went and how you want to continue. To look at the challenges you came up against, as well as the wins that you had. Yay! Don't stop the conversations in your family, with your friends or even at the supermarket. Keep on working towards less plastic use in your life every single week.

I wanted to share with you some of the simple ways that we reduce plastic. These become everyday ways of living, so you don't need to think about it too much. I believe that we're all going to have the best chances of change if we don't make it too hard for ourselves.

The reality is we're all busy, stretched as it is already past the extra time we have to make everything from scratch, go the extra distance to get food from a different place, or re-think everything we eat, wear or do. It has to be simple otherwise it won't last, it has to fit into our lives in a semi-streamlined manner. That's not to say it will always be easy. Sometimes it'll be hard.

My kids keep challenging me, I keep challenging myself, regular everyday stresses of life keep challenging me. I find that the times we fall down are when we're extra busy, tired, stressed, over-worked. We buy things we wouldn't normally - to treat ourselves when we're feeling down, or to make the evening a little easier for that day only. That's ok - remember. That's ok.

Our current society isn't geared towards plastic free. Some days it's seriously hard to push against that, to live a different way, to say no to the children (or ourselves) and not buy the plastic things. Some days I just give in, wearily.

  1. Be Organised, Write a Plan - I'm writing this for me, because it's when I haven't planned our week out then we fall down. When we are rushing or tired or there's no lunches for the kids that I let go a little. Setting plans of what day you'll bake the biscuits  or bread (instead of buying them), what day you'll soak & cook the legumes (instead of buying them), planning the farmers market shop into your regular weekly shop. What are your kids having for school lunches for the next 2 weeks?
  2. Arm yourself with great, yet easy, items to help you on the way. Saying "no" to plastic bags at the supermarket, or even the farmers market or fruit shop, is SO much easier when you have a system of what to use instead. You can't be carrying an armful of tomatoes every time you forget your bag. These produce bags are designed to make it easy for you to remember to take them with you, to use them, and they weigh less than 1g on the scales. In fact they're made from recycled plastic themselves, so there's a double yay! Make sure you always put them straight back into your basket, reusable shopping bags or your handbag so you already have them when you're out.
  3. Embrace the plastic free living with lovely reusable items - coffee cups, water bottles, straws and disposable cutlery are some of the worst offenders in the plastic world. Seriously you use a coffee cup or straw for less than 10 minutes and then it hangs around in our environment for eons and eons. Taking your own glass or metal drink bottle and reusable coffee cup is easy, and people don't look at your strangely at all. Taking a straw, fork or spoon does take a little more pre-planning. I carry little spoon-forks in a fabric zippered purse I made, and metal straws are easy to slip into my handbag too. Often you have to pre-empt people giving you straws & forks, as it's so automatic for them. When you're ordering your milkshake just remind them gently a few times.
  4. Set yourself some goals and what items are non-negiotables in terms of what you'll never buy/use, as well as what items you know you can't replace (even if for the short term). I very rarely ever buy tinned veggies, beans, etc . I never ever get water in plastic bottles; if we're out and forgot our drink bottles we'll ask for water in a glass or get juice in a glass bottle. I'll never ever get plastic bags at the checkout. But I will buy my kids occassional treats in plastic packets. We do buy cheese, coffee & milk (when necessary) in plastic. Sometimes it's about some give & take, what you can each day. If you're making changes then even small steps are much better than no steps.
  5. Be gentle on yourself. You'll slip up, I know it. Well - unless you're some version of perfect, then please tell me your ways. But the truth of anyone I know on the plastic free/ low plastic journey is that there's some items you simply can't get plastic-free, and some things it's really hard to compromise on. I wrote a list here of some things; this is the reminder to be gentle on yourself. Forgive yourself and move forward.

I'd love to know where you find  your inspiration for plastic free living - online forums, magazine articles, friends in real life who can motivate and encourage you. And of course online friends. I have great conversations on Instagram about plastic free living, slow living and the journey towards it all. Let me know what blogs you're reading or what books. If you want to read some more, check out my sustainable living posts.

Are you on the plastic-free journey for life? Do you think joining Plastic Free July helped you start, or have you been living plastic-less for a long time? I love that it's a growing conversation in our communities (both in real and online). Having these real discussions, sharing advice, tips and products to use really helps to make it easier.

going plastic free ~ overcoming the challenges

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie Beck2 Comments
Ellie Beck Petalplum blog Homegrown veges peas in a pod and purple carrots with childs hands

We're a third of the way through Plastic Free July, and I'm shyly admitting that we've failed in more ways than expected. Actually, we've failed worse than a regular month - which, *if I do say so myself*, our regular living isn't entirely that bad.

On the first of July I had to buy supplies to top up my workshop kit for my natural dye classes… rubber gloves in plastic packets. Cause not everyone wants blue hands like me! And then I ran out of time (and gas for our oven) to bake a birthday cake for my Grandma and horror of all horrendous horrors had to actually buy a cake. {I'm whispering that, because I never ever ever buy cakes. I always make them. I don't think I've ever bought a shop cake in a plastic packet ever}. And one time I was so tired after a whole day out - working or school-event-planning or something I can't even remember - and we were home late and we bought those little spinach pies in a packet to bake in the oven. These are things I don't buy very often - and you know, especially not when I say let's join #plasticfreeJuly.

I told my dad we were taking part of this annual event, and he half snorted - because my dad is the sort of person who lives his own quiet life doing his own thing that just so happens to be the sort of slow living, quiet plastic free, back to basics, living a regular but whole real life. He does not have an account on Facebook, nor Instagram - he does not even have a mobile phone. He's not a full on hippie, but just a regular living guy - living a meaningful life. He also laughed slightly scornfully at the new trend for 'mindfulness' and 2 minute meditation...... This whole hashtag slowliving thing does sometimes go a bit too far.

So - the 'not doing so well' at Plastic Free July got me thinking about the challenges we face in making changes to our life, and the way it sometimes seems the whole of society is geared towards making it not work. Buying milk in Australia without plastic is really hard - earlier this year almost all the cardboard cartons were replaced with plastic bottles. Previously we had been buying 1L milk in a cardboard carton, that brand now only offers plastic for ALL their sizes. There are still one or two cardboard cartons available, but only from Coles and not from our local IGA or even the farmers market, plus it's at least twice or more the price.

Other things that we eat in our everyday meals are cheese, coffee, yoghurt, tofu, and the occasional organic meat that Sam eats (us others are vegetarian) - these are our biggest and hardest to not get in plastic. I know that I should be making our own yoghurt, and it's on my list when life gets less busy…(haha). I haven't done a full stocktake of our plastics list, but

the things we don't buy include:

  • margarine - we only ever buy butter wrapped in paper
  • plastic bottles of drink or water - we drink our tank water (filtered) and very occasionally buy juice in glass bottles
  •  frozen berries in plastic packets
  •  biscuits, crackers, popcorn, chips in individual bags (we do occasionally buy chips when we're on car trips, and corn thins cause baby likes them!).
  • pasta in plastic packets (we buy the one in a cardboard box, and compost it) or pasta sauces
  • dips, hummus, etc in plastic tubs (we make our own hummus from cooking our own chickpeas)
  • tinned veges
  • oils, vinegars, dressings in plastic - we buy Aust olive oil in a big tin and vinegar in glass and make our own salad dressing
  • lettuce or fresh veges in plastic wrap or packets - we shop at the farmers market each week, or the local fruit shop and choose to not buy the plastic wrapped/bagged items.
  • throwaway cleaning cloths, plastic dishwashing brush or single use wipes - we use hand crocheted fabric cloths in our kitchen and a wooden dishbrush. We also keep old toothbrushes for cleaning little things or rubbing at a spot on clothing once I'm dressed (I have a 20month old - there's always a spot on my clothes!).

Oftentimes it might mean we go without - my kids are very regularly telling me I'm mean and horrible and why can't I be like the other mums, but I refuse to buy the convenience prepackaged lunches or the snack pack treats. I simply say no and we just don't have them in our home.

Also....I could write a whole blog post on the plastic things that do come home. I'm the only one who uses a bamboo biodegrade toothbrush, the others don't like them and my persuasive skills aren't that good!

BUT - I know the biggest challenge is time and finding the time to make alternatives. Because not as many families as mine are happy to put up with not having the items - my husband is ok to live this way, but I know some husbands aren't. Which makes it super hard for one mum to make a difference in her own home.

So, my advice if you're on the plastic free journey is:

  1. Be gentle with yourself - don't try and cut back on everything straight away if it's going to mean mutiny
  2. Start slowly - make changes to the things that you can do without, but slowly. Don't guilt yourself or others around you, and don't let other "perfect" zero-wasters guilt you either. What you're doing DOES make a difference.  You not taking plastic does change things, even if the whole rest of your street uses plastic. I can't help but hope that our small changes will slowly but surely change people's perceptions, and the possibilities for our future. And if we aren't prepared to make a few sacrifices for our children's future...well….

How are you going with plastic free living - is it a massive challenge, are you only cutting out the top 4 plastics (straws, coffee cups, water bottles &  plastic bags), or eliminating all / as much plastic as you can?