Peeling carrots in Zambia

It is in the moments of lack that I am the most creative.

Don’t have baby wipes to clean up muddy feet? Strip baby, wet dirty clothes with water bottle, wipe away mud. Brilliant!

Don’t have a book or toy for the restaurant wait? Build salt shaker towers, play guessing games with the menu, and tell stories together. Genius!

But, I live in upper-middle class America. We have plenty of wipes, books, and toys; I just forgot to pack them. We are rarely lacking in anything. Not only do we have everything we could possibly need, but almost everything we want.

What a sad state we are in. Without lack, there is no need for creativity. Without need for creativity, we forget we have the capacity to be creative.

If you’ve ever seen or used a gift registry you know that there is so. much. stuff. we. think. we. NEED. How could you get married and not receive a panini press? And it would be impossible to raise a child without at least 2 SwaddleMe blankets?  Right?

The consumeristic American lifestyle has brainwashed us. Looking over the baby and wedding registry checklists online I realize just how many of these things I have and just how many of these things I use and just how many of these things I am convinced truly are essential. But they’re not! Barely any possession is truly essential.

I will never forget being handed a carrot while in Zambia and (as a full grown, married woman) having no idea how to peel it. My host didn’t have a vegetable peeler! I hesitated awkwardly, carrot in one hand and paring knife in the other. Maybe Zambians didn’t peel their carrots…Without my kitchen drawer full of registry items, I was at a loss. Thankfully, my wonderful, patient, Zambian host showed me how a simple angling of the paring knife could turn it into the perfect peeling tool, scraping off just the carrot’s exterior layer without losing large slices of the carrot. One tool for two jobs?! Astounding!

So, I have a challenge for my fellow Americans. Let’s recapture the meaning of “need.” Go through those registry lists again or simply look around your house. Not with your “American brain” but with your “creative brain.” Look at each item and ask yourself- “Do we really need that? What could be a creative alternative?”

Then (after you retrain your brain) ask yourself these questions at the store BEFORE you buy something. Think of the money you’ll save, the junk you’ll avoid, and the creative genius you’ll turn into!

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Frugal use of paper towels

We strive to be a frugal, resourceful, and environmentally responsible family.  Sometimes we do this remarkably well. Other times I find myself lapsing into lazier patterns of spending, waste, and over consumption. I think I finally figured out why.

Let me tell you a story about paper products.

2013_02_25-papertowelsDuring the Summer months, we host Friday night cookouts in our backyard for friends and neighbors. Some nights it’s a small group and some nights we get quite a crowd. Over the summer, we dole out a lot of burgers and hot dogs, so we have made the decision to use paper products for these meals.  And I’m totally okay with the Friday night consumption of paper products. But, I have noticed something lately…

First, the tray of paper plates, cups, plasticware, and paper towels from Friday night will often remain on the kitchen island until Sunday. (Or Monday. Clearly, I’m not a neat freak.)

Second, because the paper products are there, I continue to use them. And use them. And use them.

The weekend goes something like this…You know what? Let’s just throw those Saturday morning waffles on paper plates.  We can keep the sink free of dishes! Baby dropped some food? The paper towels are right here, I’ll just scoop it up and throw it away. Need to wipe a face? Paper towel. Need to clean up a spill? Paper towel. Need to make a list? Paper plate….Just like that the excuses come and the resources are wasted.

Turns out, if it’s there, I will cave.

Conversely, in moments of lack I find I am quite resourceful. If my drier was broken I’d use that wash line every time. If I was out of paper towels, I’d go for the washcloth, dish towel, or cleaning rag instead. When I don’t have baby wipes or disposable diapers, I go back to the cloth diapering supplies. So, why don’t I make the wiser choice every time???

Before I get distracted by every single area we could save money or be more environmentally conscious, let me focus on the one that I started with. Paper products. I buy these things for the exception (like Friday night cookouts and special occasions and puke. Because who wants to wash vomit out of more fabric than is absolutely necessary? Not me. Pass the paper towels.) but once they are in the house, paper products too easily become the norm.

The secret? Having them available does not mean they need to be easily accessible

Two simple adjustments can make a world of difference:

1.) Put the paper products away and out of reach

2.) Create visible homes for reusable alternatives. Bonus points if they are on display in a cute Pinterest-y way.

Simple, huh?

We’ll deal with saving water and electricity another day. Today, we save trees and money.