Where Did All of Your Stuff Come From?

This post is part two of a response to the nationwide, nay, worldwide, sudden motivation to declutter brought about by one powerful force – Marie Kondo.

Do you ever get overwhelmed looking in your closet feeling that you have too many clothes but nothing to wear? That is a common anxiety, especially for women, because shopping has become incredibly easy and cheap, meaning that it is guiltless and painless to buy, buy, buy. Purchasing a new top for $3 often feels like a reward, a treat, that gives the mind and body a rush of good feelings which is how all closet spaces, wardrobes, and drawers in our homes got so full of clothes on top of clothes. Did you ever wonder how you ended up with so much in the first place and where they came from?

Well, to answer where they came from and in a roundabout way, how you ended up with so many – all of those clothes came from lands far away. Places where industries are free to do as they please, to pollute waterways with dyes and chemicals and to pay labor as they wish. A much longer answer could be dug into, which will be done here, but not so much a big dive as a scratch on the surface. The thread from which your overflowing closets and drawers’ items came from is a long and winding one. There is a great telling of that story, where clothes come from, by NPR’s Planet Money from 2013 where the program followed a T-shirt that they created from seed to owner. If you have 30 minutes, sit down and watch all of the videos, it really is fascinating where our clothes come from.

In two words it is known as fast fashion, which is to say that is how the way clothes are produced today, in an industry that is forever producing in developing nations at low costs to producers and consumers, but at very high costs to the human beings doing the actual work. Most are women that are paid less than a living wage. Many of our clothes today are made in Bangladesh where workers were just granted a minimum wage raise for the industry of around $3.16/day, up from the previous $2.10/day. This rise in wages only just took place in December 2018.

Cheap products behave like cheap products. Shirts made from poor material with low quality stitching tend to come undone more quickly than durable, natural fiber materials, sewn with the purpose of a lasting product. Have you ever noticed that a cheap, fast fashion top doesn’t last too many washes before it pills or has a seam come out?

In a nutshell, the way that we consume now was changed by international trade laws, free trade, and outsourcing. Sending American jobs across borders to laborers who are paid less, although not always enough, as outlined above, and where lax environmental regulations equate to cheaper means of production, but with long term costs. This is not only true of clothing that stockpile up in closets, but of almost everything found around our homes. Cheaper, in all meanings, decor, utensils, furniture, etc.

A good sale feels like a win, but if the item bought quickly breaks or deteriorates then the value is lost, and honestly, how much value can be put on a cheap $3 top? Probably not much, which is why it got lost at the bottom of the drawer in the first place, it had no value. Plus, it cannot be ignored that, in terms of clothes, Fast Fashion items are not actually cheap, they have those, high costs that are felt by the laborers (mostly women in developing countries) who work long hours for little pay and have health risks from chemicals, dyes, and unsafe working conditions.

Learning the negatives of where things come from is not generally fun, but it might change consumer habits, so you’re not back to asking if this or that sparks joy in another 12 months. If you walked into the kitchen of your favorite kitchen and saw rats all over, you’d probably stop eating there, the same goes for the clothing industry and others. There are alternatives to modern shopping – clothing swaps, thrifting, and getting by with what you have. Those same principles can cross over to other home items and you get to keep your money in your wallet.

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This site has many more resources on fast fashion, just type fast fashion into the search bar to read more on the topic and how to shop in a more ethical, sustainable way.

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Where’s All of Your Marie Kondo Stuff Going?

It’s all the rage to declutter and minimize your living space all thanks to a charmingly cute Japanese woman named Marie Kondo. She first came out with a book, ‘the life-changing magic of tidying up,’ three years ago and only recently did Netflix release a series on her philosophies and techniques. The series, ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,’ came out on New Years Day, the perfect time of year to make positive changes in life.

You’ve likely seen the series or heard about the phenom through news or social media. No doubt you have friends who have posted on an image of all of their items that they are letting go of bundled up in large, black garbage bags stacked in a big pile preparing to exit your friend’s house and life; or maybe that describes how you just spent your Polar Vortex weekend.

All I know is that there are piles and piles, mountains and mountains of stuff/junk/garbage/waste/clothes being taken somewhere as the realization has just struck that many meaningless things in our living spaces serve little to no purpose. You may have felt a slight anxiety looking around your closets and basements to discover that you yourself, to some degree, have the same problems as the clients on the Netflix show, trust me, we all do. Things acquire and it’s hard to let go.

In fact, most of us have that very same problem of having too much stuff, so much stuff that although an initial hit of happy-feeling oxytocin  is received when initially purchasing said too much stuff, that after some time we forget about it and the individual item gets entirely forgotten about because it is buried in a closet of hundreds of other items.

After piling up your clothes, books, knick-knacks, etc. and holding them close to you and questioning whether they spark joy, Marie Kondo’s signature philosophy, and you find that the majority in fact do not spark joy, then what happens to those poor, unloved things?

In the second episode of the Netflix special the family reported that around 150 garbage bags of stuff left their house – that is a lot of stuff… but where did it go? NPR reported that a lot of that stuff has been going to thrift stores.  That can be good, but thrift stores before the effects of MK were drowning in our used clothes, most of which gets put on clothing racks for sale for a while, weeks or months, and then sometimes gets shipped abroad to developing nations to be sold there, or sometimes is processed into secondary items for sale such as industrial cleaning rags or is shredded up to be used in homes as insulation.

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Both of those outcomes can be viewed as positive for the environment, but they are not the only results of people shedding their unwanted junk. According to this article in the Saturday Evening Post, Americans on average throw out 81 lbs. of textile waste (clothes) per year. That’s per person, per year. And that was before the Marie Kondo Effect, imagine the amount of waste being sent to thrift stores and landfill just in January 2019 alone, thre result of those that have taken inspiration from Netflix.

As you prepare to purge your closets and storage spaces, please be aware of where you are taking your items, for they may spend the rest of their days there, and their days are long if they are made of plastic or from plastic. Most clothes are synthetic these days, or at least partially, meaning they have a lifespan of possibly hundreds of years. That goes for your home goods, too.

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Follow this site for the next post about how you ended up with such a packed closet in the first place and life changes that you can make so that it doesn’t happen again.

Two Plogging Events, One Post

If you haven’t heard of the craze of plogging yet then you can learn about it in our previous post WTH is Plogging? which was posted to teach people about a Plogging & Yoga event hosted by Kara Bemis Yoga the day before Earth Day. That same week, Kara’s twin sister, Kayla, attended a Plogging event in DC. This is a special joint review of those two events co-authored by Kara & Kayla, and if this post inspires you and you’d like to stand up against single use plastic for the ocean, then keep your eyes out for events taking place in early June for World’s Oceans Day, June 8th, such as March for the Oceans in DC on June 9th.

Plogging & Yoga Event – Jamestown, NY

This event was promoted a lot leading up to the day of the event and due to the fact that it was free, was anticipated to have a number of guests. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the event was under-attended. Initially this was a sad slap in the face, but two people did show and those are two more people who now know more about plastic pollution, why it’s a problem locally and globally, and how to change habits.

5gyres_ambassador_rgbThe most important aspect of this event was the 5 Gyres plastic talk, followed by the physical act of collecting litter, and lastly the yoga. The talk was rooted in a 5 Gyres power point that included visceral slides and facts and statistics on the importance of the oceans and the detriment of plastic. Although there were only three listeners to this talk (my husband made it to the event just in time) it was a positive experience to give my first talk on plastic.

The four of us collected an impressive amount of litter in a small radius near the Chadakoin river in downtown Jamestown, NY. It was a sunny, warm day so walking and talking while picking up garbage was an enjoyable task, seeing how much we gathered made it even more worth it.

 

 

The yoga itself was initially planned to be very beginner friendly as I was expecting yoga newbies to attend, but since all of the participants were returning students the yoga I taught was intermediate. The class was nature based including animal and insect poses. Of course vrksasana/tree played a part.

Moving forward from this event I plan to host more Plogging and Yoga events and offer the plastic talk to any group or individual who wants to hear it. Science classes, environmental groups, strangers on the street, anyone.

Plogging Event – DC

The event that I attended was presented by the DC Parks and Recreation (such an under appreciated governmental resource!) and a local gym called VIDA Fitness (VIDA) located on U Street. On the morning o Earth Day registered participants met at a recreational facility in my Petworth neighborhood. Attendance was high, nearly 40 people, which is not surprising considering that DC is the second healthiest city in America. Minneapolis stole our first place stance in 2017, hence the increased DC Parks and Rec events throughout the capital – we can win it back!

To begin, our hosts, VIDA’s Membership Consultant and a representative from DC Parks and Rec, gave an overview of the day, offered a guided stretching routine and gave an informative talk about litter control in DC. Most memorably, we practiced squatting for healthy trash pick up to preserve our ankles, knees, and backs before taking off. The DC government representative spoke for a new initiative at most DC park facilities, in which plastic trash and plastic recycling bags are available for year round plogging enthusiasts to utilize.

Each attendee was furnished with bags and plastic gloves, including a few clear recycling bags, which I was able to score. My boyfriend and I took the mission to heart and split a pair of the plastic cleaning gloves, wearing a single glove on our right hands for trash pick up and keeping our left hands air-accessible while holding our bags. The group ran, jogged or walked through our predetermined path grabbing litter along the two and half mile route. There was even some media coverage at one spot, check out the video here.

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In addition to the fresh air, meaningful community/neighborly time, environmental impact, health benefits and an increased feeling of well-being, I truly felt that our group was an inspiring view for those driving by or viewing us from their stoop. It was fun to feel uplifted by working towards a common goal with other environmental Washingtonians, and to see others smiling at our noble cause. Perhaps we influenced those spectators to do their share by snagging a few pieces of trash on their morning jogs or commutes.

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It was a really enjoyable way to spend a sunny day outside and honor the planet. I hope to see other similar events pop up in my lovely city over the coming months. In the mean time, I encourage everyone to independently do their part by plogging, decreasing their plastic consumption and trash creation and especially by participating in March for the Ocean (M40) on June 9, 2018, in celebration of World Oceans Day. Visit marchfortheocean.org  to find a rally near you, or for information on donating to help in protecting our planet and in efforts to eliminate plastic use.

WTH is Plogging?

The next event that Kara Bemis Yoga is hosting is a Plogging & Yoga event which might have people scratching their heads. WTH is plogging? Essentially it is a newly invented word that means collecting litter while on a jog. It is said to have originated from Sweden in 2016 and has since gone global via social media, so it seemed like a good idea to ride the trend and get local people interested in cleaning up their neighborhoods.

If like many people you are slightly averse to jogging and prefer walking and are also highly averse to seeing garbage scattered around your walking route, then have no worries because plogging can easily be translated into an event that takes place during walking or hiking at your nearest state park.

Before there was a trendy Swedish term for it, I have been unknowingly ‘plogging’ for years. It started while living in Costa Rica. My then Tico boyfriend picked up litter while we were on a walk at the beach and initially I thought it odd, to touch someone else’s ‘dirty’ litter, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t odd at all, and that if we were to all clean up beautiful places then the idea might spread. Maybe others would begin to do the same, heck maybe the people who mindlessly and selfishly through their trash on the ground to begin with would change their ways.

Is it dirty to pick up others garbage? Short answer no. More often than not the garbage is plastic. What’s the difference of picking up a plastic fork lying on the ground and touching a straw at a restaurant. Sure the straw at the restaurant is ‘new,’ but it’d likely had been handled by others before reaching your hands. It was handled in production, packaging, distributing, and from the restaurant employee to you. Same with a plastic bottle or bottle cap. What I do consider as dirty litter to collect is cigarette butts. Those are nasty little things, they’re called butts after all. They’ve touched others hands and lips and what is even nastier is that they are made from plastic, so everytime a smoker flicks their butts out of the car window they are littering. I wish police would enforce litter laws with all, but especially smokers, I think that they it is harmless to flick them out  of their hands and onto the grass, but who is going to collect them? Plus, they easily make their way down street drains and straight out of the outlet to the nearest river, lake, reservoir, sea, or the ocean. For cigarette butts I would recommend wearing cotton gloves to collect, such as gardening gloves.

If you have an interest in making  a change in your local area, start plogging today! If you live in are around Jamestown, NY, then join me next Saturday for a community plogging event that will include a free yoga class (taught by yours truly.) Wherever your walking path may be: a sidewalk, in the woods, up a mountain, or on the beach have a two minutes cleanup and share your little victory on social media by using #plogging to spread the movement.

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New Ways to Give Up Plastic

Most people are familiar with the fact that plastic is ubiquitous and highly damaging to the environment. It’s not hidden knowledge what the most common single-use plastics are and how to cut back on them, such as switching to reusable bags instead of taking plastic bags from stores, using a reusable metal water bottle instead of buying bottled water, and saying no to plastic straws at restaurants and cafes.

These three examples are very good places to start when cutting back on single use plastic. With a little bit of time and effort, it is possible to give up those three forms of polluting plastic all together. After changing your habits in those simple ways, you can begin to look elsewhere in your life and see where polluting plastic is lingering around (for its short lived lifespan) and ways to replace it or stop using it all together. Below are three ways that I have reduced my plastic use in my daily life. Check ’em out and share how you cut back with me. We can do this together.

Floss

Do you floss? Maybe you do, but not as regularly as you should; however often you are flossing, you are probably flossing with plastic. It is obvious that the thin, string-like hygienic product that we keep in our medicine cabinets is made from plastic if we take a second to think about it. What else would it be?

To be honest, I had not considered what my floss was made from until I stumbled upon silk floss (let me repeat that – silk floss – how luxurious)   in the supermarket aisle one night. After taking a moment to read about the product, I was instantly sold. Never again will I buy plastic floss. Silk floss does the job perfectly and is biodegradable. It costs a little more than cheaper, average floss, but it is worth the cost because it lasts for a long time and doesn’t come with any plastic polluting guilt, however, as you can see, the packaging is sadly plastic, but has a plastic 5 recycling lable so will be recyclable when the product is all used up.

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Sponges & Cleaning Products

Colorful sponges that come in four packs of bright yellow, pink, and blue can be made from polyurathane, a plastic and what makes that even worse is that they fall apart. Have you noticed that after a couple of weeks of use that bits of the sponge begin to break off into your dish washing basin? Where do you think those bits of plastic end up going once down the drain? Even if you pick out the bigger pieces, there are bound to be smaller ones that make their way down your kitchen sink’s drain and into the water system.

Instead of using those Spongebob-yellow sponges I have been using wash cloths. I also found more durable sponges made out of natural cellulose with a fiber on top that resembles coconut husk (it is not, but the packaging does not tell me what the top is precisely made of, it does say however, that the entire sponge is 100% plant-based).  I have used these sponges for my bathroom cleaning mostly and am happy to read on the labels that the sponges can be boiled to sanitize and that they are top rack dishwasher safe, plus It scrubs better than the cheap sponges.

For cleaning products I primarily use a simple vinegar and water solution to which I add essential oils. I also found a blog listing secondary uses for lemon peels; soak them in vinegar in a sealed jar for two weeks and add to the vinegar spray for an added fresh scent and as a way to get more life out of the lemons. When life gives you lemons… make lemonade, and then make lemon scented vinegar from the peels!

I also use borax for more heavy-duty soap scum. Used together with the fibrous sponge brings a smooth shine to my bathtub without any harsh chemicals lingering around to contaminate my next bath.

Tea and Coffee

I mostly drink tea, but sometimes coffee, never, ever do I drink Keurigs – those little pods are completely wasteful, prime examples of single use plastic waste. I thought I was doing pretty well with tea and coffee, buying organic and fair trade when my budge allowed, but taking a closer look at my tea bags I realized that my tea often came in little, individual plastic packets (even the organic kinds sometimes). And if the bags aren’t wrapped in plastic then they are sometimes wrapped in aluminum or paper. Even the expensive triangular tea sachets upon inspection are most definitely made from plastic.

It’s impossible to know what the tea looks like inside the box, so I choose to buy a certain brand of tea that comes in a wax lined paper pouch, all 20 tea bags in one pouch, and no staples, strings, or labels. Limited waste. Even better is loose leaf teas bought in bulk. The brand that I prefer from a box is Celestial Seasonings. For bulk tea I buy from a local grocery store. It has to be said that herbal tea grown from the garden or collected from a wild source, dried, and put into glass jars is the least wasteful form of tea and the most pranic. Herbs and flowers for collecting include mint, nettle, chamomile, Calendula, and lavender to name a few.


Plastic is a vital and necessary part of modern life. It is in our phones, computers, cars, almost everything. There is no doubt that plastic will be a part of our daily lives, but certain types of plastics can be cut out of regular use – single-use/disposable plastic. This type of plastic is overused and has a minute lifespan of sometimes only minutes (think about the plastic spoon used to eat greek yogurt, out of a plastic tub, it only takes minutes to eat that snack and then the spoon and the tub are waste.) Start becoming aware of plastic’s detriments and then decide to abstain from using it and encourage those around you to do the same.

 

Good News in 2018

It’s only mid-January, and all ready there have been some big, positive announcements around the globe regarding decreasing the use of single use plastic and climate change in general. With natural disasters becoming more and more common and devastating (this past year in the U.S. alone was a record setting and expensive year due to natural disasters – hurricanes and wild fires) legislation and commitment by cities and governments is some positive news that is welcome to start out 2018.

The four big news stories that I have seen in the new year came from Montreal, New York City,  China, and England.

Montreal has banned plastic bags. The ban went into effect on January 1, 2018 with penalties to shops who do not follow the law going into effect on June 5, 2018. I visited Quebec just before learning about this ban for a short trip between the Christmas and New Year holidays, while there I noticed that all stores charged 5 cents for each plastic bag, but local Québécois  that I asked were unsure if this charge was local, province wide, or in all of Canada. When I returned home I tried to do some research and in google searching I found the article about the plastic bag ban in Montreal.

In my opinion, plastic bags are utterly useless; they are not strong, therefore they break easily and most people toss them straight into the garbage they live their life cycle of just one use between the store, the car, and the cupboard. People casually toss them straight into their garbage, most people that I have witnessed in my area do not even recycle them. Some stores have recycle bins at their entryway in which to collect used plastic bags for recycling, but they have to be clean and dry, and of course people would have to collect them and remember to bring them with them to the store to drop off, and not all stores have these containers, so it is not convenient.

Rather than go through the process of recycling plastic bags or pollute the oceans by throwing plastic bags in the garbage, why not buy a couple of reusable bags from your local grocery store and use and reuse those for shopping? I wish more major cities would set a standard of banning plastic bags which would encourage states/provinces and countries to do the same. It is a big shift to make, but I am so glad that Montreal is leading the way in doing so in 2018, really proving that they are French Canadian, in the fact that France banned plastic bags as a country in the summer of 2016.

A couple of weeks after Montreal’s ban went into effect, New York City announced that it will be divesting from fossil fuels in the city’s pension funds and that it will begin the process of suing five large oil companies for the negative impacts that their actions have had resulting in climate change and damage to the city – hurricane Sandy, for example. This is big news, especially since it completely contradicts the view of the president, who would rather invest in coal than renewables and whom does not even believe in climate change. Thankfully, some cities and states have vowed to take action against the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; Mayors and governors around the Unite States took a stance to pass their own laws that were in accordance with the Paris Agreement after Mr. Trump pulled the United States out to show that US Americans do believe that climate change is a real and imminent threat and that as individual cities and states they will not sit back and do nothing.

Possibly the biggest news that started this year off in terms of plastic pollution was that China has banned the import of other countries’ waste as of January 1, 2018.  A lot of people are unaware, but much of the recycling collected in the U.S. and Europe does not get processed in the countries where it is collected. About a third of the waste produced in the U.S. is exported, sent to other countries for them to process or bury. Much of it gets sent to China, but no longer. That’s a lot of waste that has nowhere to go now. This news is good in that some of the waste that was exported on container ships would blow off and end up in the ocean creating ocean pollution. But now what will happen to waste at home in the U.S.? Of course the answer should be that the U.S. will have to handle our own waste, and we should, and by facing the waste problem straight on, would give more thought to using less packaging and creating less waste. Likely however, it will get sent to another country because the U.S. does not have the facilities to handle it all. Another negative effect may be that recycling centers say that they can no longer manage recycling waste and therefore may put them instead in to landfills (see the hyperlink earlier in this paragraph.)

 

 

The final big news that has come out since the start of the new year came from Teresa May just this past week. The PM of England declared that England’s newest environmental plan includes a goal of stopping all UK plastic waste by 2042. That is a few steps forward of Montreal’s plastic bag ban, but as some critics have said, it is too far in the future and her plan lacks clear guidelines, but it is a good start to move the conversation towards reducing and eliminating plastic waste.

There has been talk that many UK politicians are getting behind environmental movements due to the Blue Planet II series with Sir David Attenborough. The series is beautifully made, awe inspiring, and full of fascinating information. The fact that a TV series can educate so many worldwide on the sate of the oceans and the wildlife that habitats them is better still if it moves politicians into action.

Although the devastating, recent mudslides in California along with the multiple natural disasters of last year weight heavy on all of our hearts, it is a small comfort to know that governments around the world are beginning to make changes to combat our negative impact on our planet. As information becomes more widespread and people demand change by their leaders, there is hope that governments all over will pass similar laws and will overpower the attempts of some politicians (ahem, Mr. Trump) to take us back in time with environmental regulations. The future looks bright, albeit with a lot of hard work in the process.

Bye-bye 2017, Welcome 2018

Well, that was fast. It doesn’t seem possible that 2017 is coming to a close and a new year will be here full of hopes and goals. This year was a big year for me personally and quite the roller coaster around the world. In this post I want to reflect on my past year in terms of my personal life, yoga, & sustainability, as well as use this platform as a way to commit to a few goals for my 2018.

My previous year was full of primarily of weddings and green cards. On Earth Day 2017 I married my love in our down to earth civil ceremony. The choice to marry on Earth Day was intentional as was the entire day and the way that we designed to tie the knot in the most sustainable way that we could. You can read here for ides on planning your own DIY, sustainable wedding.

My husband I again got married in September which was the big shindig with my large family and friends the came from near and far to celebrate with us. This event we also planned to be as DIY and sustainable as possible. I have not written about our wedding in any blog posts yet, I will post tips bit by bit during 2018 as wedding season gets nearer.

As mentioned above, my year was full of our two weddings and a green card, which belongs to my husband (finally). That was a stressful, long, and moderately pricey endeavor, but it was well worth all of the hard work and sacrifices that we both had to make so that he could settle with me here in the U.S. We completed the entire process with some advice from a few friends whom previously obtained green cards, yet without the assistance of an attorney. Coming in 2018 will be a few posts with tips for others who are going it alone to get a green card.

In terms of yoga, my year was both quite and busy. Unfortunately, I did not attend any trainings in 2017 save a few workshops with my dear friend Mindy and some classes here and there at local studios and during my travels. It is a serious goal of mine to attend a weekend or week long retreat in 2018 and to seek out a YTTC in the next couple of years to continue to build my teaching tool bag.

This past year, however, was busy for me as a teacher. I taught in studios and increased my corporate schedule. I continued to teach vinyasa, designing classes appropriate for my students, hatha classes for the corporate students, and some fun workshops and seasonal classes. My 2018 teaching goals, besides training in classes, workshops, and YTTCs, is to push myself more and more to therefore safely push my students to their abilities and beyond as well as to force myself to become more creative with workshops and collaborations.

Finally, and most importantly, I have had some great experiences in my local area, attending educational events on the environment and sustainability. On a personal level I have tried my best to cut back more and more on plastics and have continued my slow fashion lifestyle. Looking towards the future, I am excited to have been accepted as a 5 Gyres ambassador, a title that means that I will host some educational events in 2018 and into the future in which I’ll share the damaging effects of plastics on our oceans. Being an ambassador is a commitment to learn and share and by having an association with their name I have more weight when sharing information with the public as opposed to standing alone on my soapbox. Many people are already aware of the dangers of plastic, but many more are not, and to ask someone to change their daily habits for fish can be seen as a stretch and annoyance, so I am looking forward to utilizing 5 Gyres resources to give myself more credibility.

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This time of the year is an excellent time to reflect on goals and lessons learned from the past year’s experiences and an even greater time to dedicate yourself to personal goals and resolutions. I can’t wait to give 2018 my all and hone my skills and craft with each passing month and year. This yoga thing is such a journey, as is life as a whole. Each new pose is a practice to get there and each teaching experience is an opportunity to obtain more and more knowledge to benefit my students of the present and in the future.

Upcycled Gift Wrap

This holiday season alter your wrapping style from wasteful to thoughtful and hand crafted. Why? Because gift wrapping has an extremely short lifespan and ends up in the garbage seconds after being torn apart. It is a complete waste.

Instead of being tempted by the sparkly, shiny papers and bows at your local box store choose instead to upcycle things already at hand in your house. Use items that are on their way to the recycling center such as newspaper, brown bags from the grocery store, or other paper products like calendars, maps, & magazines and catalogs.

In order to be more sustainable you must think and plan ahead. The same way that you have to remember to bring your resuable bags from the car into the store and to take your tumbler with you in the car before you stop for a coffee, you’ll have to plan to hold onto newspaper and other things to be used for wrapping. This takes foresight, but you likewise buy and keep store bought wrapping paper and bows, so it should be an easy shift to begin storing newspapers and brown bags for wrapping in the same location and stock up for upcoming birthdays and holidays. It’s not that common these days to receive a newspaper since most people consume their news from online sources, so you may have to acquire newspaper from your place of work or from a relative who still gets a daily paper. Junk mail and advertisements that come are another source, for me it is the local penny savers that I keep to use because they are abundant where I live. We must have 3-4 placed in our mailbox weekly.

To jazz up your gift wrap have a search on pinterest for upcycled wrapping ideas, there are many. You can paint the wrap or stamp it with a homemade potato stamp which could make for a great winter craft night in. Here is a detailed blog on how-to make potato stamps. You can also make bows out of newspaper. There are a lot of different styles and techniques to make different types of newspaper bows. A quick google search brings up half a dozen styles that you can create so that your gifts under the tree are unique and look as snazzy as purchased bows made in China. Here is a good blog tutorial to make bows out of newspaper or, a neat idea for those with little ones in the house, to make the bows out of children’s scribbles.

Creating bows will take time, but as I find with most things that I do with my hands to create something, is in the end satisfying and meditative. You’ll need simple household items such as scissors, glue, and tape. Making a patter first for your bows may quicken up the process.

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Other embellishments can be added like twine or other festive string, using twine and other string as ribbon is not necessarily waste free, unless you hold on to previously used string and give it a second life as gift wrap, so I cannot say completely that the gifts that I wrapped are absolutely zero waste, but they are more ethical than plastic based ribbon sold at stores. A more eco idea is to use sprigs of pine tree snipped from the back of your Christmas tree or from outside. If you’re wrapping during another season, for a summer birthday perhaps, then you can use other seasonal plants. Check first to be sure that the plant is not harmful – don’t give your friend a gift with decorative poison ivy on it, for example. This blog has a lot of different ideas including using bits of plants and more.

Crafting your own gift wrap is not hard, it just takes time, so put the kettle on, sit in front of the heater and get creative. The best part about upcycled and DIY gift wrap is that on top of being unique and personalized, it utilizes materials that are easily recyclable as opposed to store bought wrapping paper, which often IS NOT RECYCLABLE and sadly ends up in the landfill.

Plastic Free July

It’s the end of July 2017 and to your knowledge or not it is the end of another annual campaign to cut back on plastics use. Plastic Free July is a worldwide campaign that began in Australia a couple of years ago. I mention that you may not have been aware of the movement because sadly it is still on the fringes of public awareness. My feeds are sprinkled with posts and hashtags, but yours may not be. Mine are because I am a known plastic hater, I seek out information on how to cut back on use and what other’s are doing around the world to make a change to the mindless use of single use plastics.

Plastic Free July is a challenge simply put and you don’t have to think too far out of the box to get a sense of what it’s all about. Of course the challenge is not to cut plastic out of your life for a month 100%-completely, that would be impossible. Plastic makes up the computer I type on, the fibers in the carpet I lie on, the watch face of the sports watch that I wear and never take off, and almost everything else in the room that I am in at the moment (fan, lamp shade, parts on my bike, my phone, my phone case, the list goes on.) No, it would be very close to impossible to give up plastic totally, instead what the campaign is about is cutting back on single use plastic.

Single use plastic make up big portions of our day-to-day lives in the modern world, but unlike what was listed in the last paragraph, single use plastics can (and very much should) be cut from your life.

To the point, single use plastics are described in the name but if you can’t think of an example  then let me list a few: plastic forks, knives, spoons, plastic zip lock bags, plastic bags at any grocery store or shop, saran wrap, straws, lids on to go cups, plastic cups, lids, and straws for cold beverages, most packaging of processed foods and many vegetables at grocery stores, etc. These are things that have a life span, or a use of roughly 20 minutes which is said of plastic shopping bags and straws. Oh how I hate plastic straws. Those little buggers get given to us without thought or question at restaurants and cafes. If accepted they’re sipped out of for a few minutes or at the most for the length of the meal at the restaurant which may extend to be an hour or so. After the meal or smoothie is finished they’re tossed in the garbage can – they are not recyclable – from the bin they are put in the dumpster, taken to the landfill, buried underground or possibly first put on a container ship and shipped to another location where they may make their way into the ocean on their way and stay there for quite sometime. Whether in the landfill or the ocean that little straw that was useful for less than 30 minutes will then stay on this earth for up to 200 years.

Think about that. Two-hundred-years. That is a long time for an item that has a life cycle of five minutes from opening the wrapper to tossing in the garbage. If John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the Unite States, had enjoyed his beverage of choice with a straw, it would still be here today. The next time you’re at a restaurant, cafe, or bar, look around you and notice all of the straws in use there. I bet it’s a lot, and those are just the straws in use while you’re there, think of how many were used during that entire day, week, year… all of them will be around for a very long time.

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It doesn’t take me long to collect straws on my morning walks,.

Straws are almost the worst of the single use plastic items in my opinion because at least with a plastic bag you can recycle it when you return to the store (although I’d argue that most people don’t – I have dug many plastic bags out of other people’s garbage cans) if you don’t recycle them you can use them as trash can liners (which is what I do with all of the plastic bags that I rescue from trash cans.)

To give up single use plastic for the month of July you have to think ahead. You have to remember to bring your reusable bags to the store. You have to tell the waitress when you order your drink that you do not want a straw. Everywhere you go you must carry your water bottle with you – to work, in the car, to your yoga class.

And why? Why do all of this hard work to not use plastic? The dramatic answer is to save the world. Or at the very least to save the ocean and her inhabitants. And if you’re like me and you live hundreds of miles from an ocean so may think that floating plastic islands the size of Texas in the ocean are not only unfathomable to you but do not really affect you living in the middle of a big country, think again. Those plastics break down in the sun, are consumed as food by fish and other sea life, we consume that fish which has chemicals from the plastics inside it’s body, then the plastic is inside of our bodies and they cause a lot of disruption in there. If you don’t like seafood, do you drink bottled water or soda from a plastic bottle or iced coffee from a plastic cup? If you answered yes then the same chemicals are making their way into your system, too.

Plastic is for sure a convenience in our lives, we almost cannot live without. It’s in everything, likely even the clothes that we wear (if you’re wearing synthetics), but single use plastics can be avoided and refused. Learn to say “No straw” at a restaurant and “I don’t need a bag” at the checkout. Those are the best places to start.

The month of July will be over in a few days, whether you knew of the Plastic Free July challenge or not, I encourage you to try the Plastic Free Life from now on. Habits are hard to change, but with effort they can be altered.

DIY – Sustainable – Low-Budget Wedding

There are many reasons to want to have a low-cost and simple wedding, you may be loaded with student debt, don’t see yourself in a princess gown, or like us, need to rush things along for a foreign-fiance visa. If you are a bride or groom looking to save your pennies on your big day, then there are short-cuts that do not take away from the magic of the day. As just stated, my situation was that my foreign-fiance and I needed to tie the not in a three month time frame from his arrival on U.S. soil so that he could fulfill the requirements of his K-1 visa. We knew all of this after months and months of research and luckily neither of us are very fussy or uppity, so a shindig planned in a couple of weeks neither stressed us out or meant that we had to give up big dreams of violin quartets or three tiered cakes. We were however, quite stubborn about our special day being waste-free, ethical, and sustainable – meaning little waste, lots of second hand finds, and DIY.

Here are how we managed to make our Earth Day wedding as down to Earth and friendly to her as possible.

The Dress

18156349_1268217376630846_7658297236323043971_oI am no Bridezilla, but I know how important the dress is and after dress shopping with my mom and twin sister, I know now too just how fun and flattering wedding gowns can be, I cannot however, justify paying hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn just once, especially not for the garden, civil ceremony that we had. Therefore, while my fiance was across the pond spending his nights researching immigration documents, I was browsing the internet for the perfect civil ceremony dress (don’t worry, I helped with the legal research, too!)

A company had been stuck in my mind since watching the eye-opening documentary, The True Cost, the company is People Tree, which I instantly fell in love with when I watched the film. They are a U.K. based, fair trade, and sustainable company. After browsing their site, I found the dress. A cream dress with a navy, red, and carmel floral print, boat neck, knee-length, vintage-style, organic cotton beauty. I shipped it to my beau, and tried it on for the first time a few months later after he landed here to be with me – and it fit! If you are planning a laid-back wedding or will be married with a civil ceremony, then looking at dress shops instead of bridal shops will save you hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores or a friend’s closet will cut the cost even more. My dress is of a much higher quality than most low-end wedding dresses (which are priced mostly for the “w” word,) because it’s made of a thick, organic cotton with strong stitches at the hem whereas many wedding dresses are of polyester and are likely made in factories in developing nations where the women who sew them together are not paid fair wages.

The Rings

My engagement ring is a family antique from my husband’s side, no blood diamonds for us! I can’t state how much I love the fact that the ring that began our lives together forever comes from his family history and not from a store (which really came from mining, which when you think about, is blowing up a mountainside in order to pry out it’s natural resources.) Not to mention, the idea of needing a diamond engagement ring is a relatively new one, women around the world got by without a shiny rock on their fingers for hundreds of years prior to the late 1940’s, but now it’s the norm – good for De Beers, not always so good for the savings accounts of young couples.

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My wedding band is likewise not from a big-name jewelers, instead it is from a smaller producer in California that I found on Etsy. My husband’s band is also from Etsy. They don’t match at all, but they are what each of us liked and they did not break the bank. In order to know my ring size for ordering I went to multiple jewelry shops to get sized, playing that I was browsing there, I then ordered from Etsy. The seller was quick to respond to my order and even asked when the date of our wedding was so that he could have it to me in time, which it was, and I only ordered it a few weeks before our Earth Day wedding. My ring came from this seller. Pictured is Freddie, practicing being ring-bearer with the pillow I had stitched him.

The Cake

I made it! Yes, it was slightly stressful to be making homemade frosting to then frost my chocolate, Greek yogurt cake with only two hours before walking down the aisle, but it was better, in my opinion, to make a healthy,  homemade cake than to make one from a box or get it from a shop. I used all natural ingredients and made it to out specific taste – rich chocolate. It must be said that making my cake myself was possible because I only expected a total of six people at my ceremony, that’s including the bride and groom. For a larger shindig it may not be so do-able, but a local bakery would be better than a grocery store if ethics and health is on your mind, however a grocery store cake would do just fine for a large crowd and a small budget.

I also made my cake topper which was Pinterest inspired. I used burlap ribbon, embroidery thread, and paper straws to hold it up. It was made with the same burlap ribbon I used to make my ring bearer’s pillow, so tied it all together, plus the colors matched the print of my dress. By making my cake and having a low key venue of my grandmother’s garden and kitchen, I was also able to ensure that our cake-cutting was absolutely zero-waste – no paper plates or plastic forks. (The cake topper we kept and it is now adorning one of our house plants.)

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Flowers

My mom and I researched wedding bouquets at local florists, but in the end I decided to go with a simple bouquet of tulips bought from a local grocery store. I would have liked to have supported a local florist for their skill and work, but it seemed to me that just like wedding dresses, wedding flowers are pricey because they are labeled to be for a wedding. The twelve tulips cost $12, the cheapest bouquet I could find online was around $40, and to make them fit in with our earthy theme I cut the wrapper down and wrapped twine around the stems. By the end of the ceremony they were very droopy, likely because they traveled in the car out of their vase, I suggest keeping your flowers in water as long as you can to avoid this.

The Groom

Rather than go out and buy a new suit or rent a tuxedo, my fiance wore khakis, a navy button up that matched my dress, and dress shoes which were all purchased from second hand stores; costing a total of roughly $10, but to be honest, that’s probably a high estimate. Everything that he wore he had bought prior to our engagement except for the shoes which we lucked upon about two weeks before the wedding. Yes, your wedding ceremony is a special event and a special day, but if you can come to terms with you and your groom wearing items already owned, then you can save yourselves hundreds of dollars.

There are many ways to save money on your wedding, especially if you have a civil ceremony with a low number of guests. Make your special day uniquely you by adding special touches that match you as a couple. Keep your eyes out in the months ahead at thrift stores and estate sales, or your friend’s and family members’ houses for items to borrow and return. May your civil ceremony be as romantic and cheap as mine, the two can definitely go hand in hand.