Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lifestyle Reboot - December: Gifting Responsibly

All right, friends, this is it. The last challenge of my year. I had kind of hoped to be ready for a completely zero waste month by this point but I'm honestly just not there yet. The thought of trying to do the holidays waste free was a bit too overwhelming. My family is very supportive but old habits die hard and this is not the time to make a thing of it. So, at some point in 2017, I expect to get there, but for now I am continuing to focus on making better choices from where I'm at.

For December I decided to do my very best to gift responsibly, trying to find something for each person that still fits within my personal ethos. My goals were to shop locally and sustainably as much as possible, buying secondhand or making things where possible.

Overall, I was pretty happy with how everything came out. I was able to find local sources for almost everything and half of my gifts were food that I know will be enjoyed, rather than items that will simply be tossed out in a couple years. Honestly, I am actually kind of proud of myself. I put a lot of thought and effort into each gift in order to find something that would be appreciated by each person on my list while sticking to my values.

The downside of all of that thought and planning was that it made the whole process kind of stressful and rather time-consuming. Homemade gifts are awesome and I really enjoyed making them, but it takes a bit of time to gather all the materials and then actually make the gifts. I also ran into a little bit of trouble shopping at local small businesses because they didn't always have the things that I wanted when I needed them, which meant trying several stores around town and rethinking some of my gifts.

While I feel really good about my choices and I think they were very much appreciated, it was kind of a big hassle. I'm not sure how I would have made it work if I had a family to take care of and without the added benefit of winter break (perks of being a teacher). The whole thing sounds great in practice and I'd really like to continue to gift in this way, but the experience really made me appreciate the convenience of stores like Target, where everything is in one place and you can know, with reasonable certainty, before you even walk in the door if they are going to have the things you need. That seems like an incredible luxury.

All in all, I think it's worth it. I think that the extra thought that went into each gift was appreciated by the receiver and I think it's important to vote with my dollars, so to speak, and spend them supporting the businesses that I want to thrive, no matter what I'm shopping for. However, I appreciate the need for balance. It's going to take some time to find the places in town that do consistently carry the things I need, so that it isn't a hassle every time. And there are some things that I'm just not going to be able to get locally. Which means that, if it's really something I can't live without, it's ok, every now and then, to just run to Target. 

Lifestyle Reboot - November: Sourcing Responsibly

There are a lot of things about living in the Midwest that I really appreciate. Low cost of living, not a lot of traffic, generally helpful, friendly people - these are all things I love. It is not, however, the most progressive part of the country, which means that, as I've mentioned before, I sometimes struggle to find sustainable options for things locally.

After spending almost the whole year avoiding fast fashion, I have had to accept that shopping exclusively secondhand in my city is probably not a sustainable long-term option. There aren't very many options outside of traditional thrift stores like Goodwill, which means that I often end up spending many hours searching at several different stores for the things I want and sometimes I can't even find them at all. At a certain point, it's just not really a feasible option, so I decided to devote this month to finding some acceptable alternatives.

Since I've already committed to avoiding fast fashion for the year (and, really, the foreseeable future), there wasn't a clear daily goal or restriction for the month. Instead I made a point to spend time throughout the month researching brands and companies that have solid policies for sustainable, low impact sourcing and manufacturing.

My main focus right now is replacing bras and undies. A very cursory search for sustainable intimates reveals a wealth of options, including several round-ups of ethical brands. Here are a couple that I found helpful in my search:

There are a lot more and each company has its own focus and sustainability practices, so do take the time to read about a company before ordering to make sure it meets your own criteria. I wasn't able to find what I was looking for in the bra department, but I did order some new undies from PACT Organic that I am pretty happy with. They focus on organic cotton, so they also sell socks, hoodies, leggings and tops for both men and women. It's a great option for sustainable basics. I found that a lot of the brands on these lists sell more than just underwear, which is awesome if you find a brand you really like.

Other clothing brands I discovered this month that I'm interested in:
Icebreaker - merino wool outdoor and activewear
Satva - organic, sustainable yoga clothes and basics
Tonle - uses remnant material from fast fashion to create limited edition lines of adorable clothing

I am also in the market for some new shoes. My current fast fashion options are wearing out and I'd like to replace them with more high quality basics that will stand up to changing fashion trends and can be repaired as needed. I haven't ordered any yet, as I think I can make it through the season with what I've got, but I did find several companies that have some great options when I am ready to pull the trigger.
15 Ethical Shoe Brands for Every Occasion

Overall I was glad to find that there are so many options out there. Not every company meets all of my criteria, but I'm glad to see how many organizations are trying to do better. I was disappointed to find that there are still some things I just can't find. In those cases I plan to do the best I can and then try to take care of what I buy so that it doesn't have to be replaced very often. I think that the main take aways are just to take the time to actually read about what practices are being used by a company before supporting them.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lifestyle Reboot - October: Thank you and you and you...

This year I decided not to wait until November to get on the thankfulness bandwagon. At some point toward the end of September I rediscovered the stack of Thank You notes I had acquired over time and decided that it would be a good idea to put them to use, thus spawning October's challenge.

My goal for the month was to send out 2 boxes worth of Thank You notes to people in my life, essentially thanking them for being in my life and for the role they've played in making me who I am. I have been trying to make a point generally to actually share with people more of the things that I think and feel about them. Things like, "I'm proud of you." or "I appreciate you." or "You did that thing really well." I think that so often we think these things but they never get communicated to the other person, which is a shame because they are so nice to hear and can be so meaningful. I liked this challenge as a very concrete way to continue to push myself in that direction. 

In the end I wasn't quite able to finish out both boxes, though I got very close. It was an interesting exercise to think about who in my life I appreciate enough to send a card to that also wouldn't find it socially awkward. It can be a fine line. At any rate, it was really nice to spend the month on the lookout for things and people to be grateful for. It also felt really good to explicitly tell people why I am grateful for them, especially people that I've never really told in person. It feels good to know that they know now. 

Overall, I would consider this month a success. If you're looking for something geared toward being more mindful and developing a more positive attitude in your life, I would highly recommend some kind of gratitude practice. Even just looking for small things to be grateful for can have a big impact over time as your biases start to skew towards noticing more and more of the positives that are often overlooked in favor of focusing on the negatives. Confirmation bias, it's a thing and it, like any other power, can help or hinder in our lives, so we might as well use it to our advantage. Consider it a brain hack.