Minimal waste challenge

And then it was 2018! I don’t know about you, but I’m quite excited for this new year. I have this feeling that some long anticipated things will finally come to fruition. And I have some ideas of what I would like to do over the next twelve months. What I don’t have, are new year’s resolutions. Ten years ago I decided I would no longer make them for they tend to have failed by the third week of January. But I do like a good challenge every so often. So I set one for 2018.

The first time I set a challenge for myself was four years ago, when I stopped working for the company I had worked on and off for since 2006. When my seventeenth birthday was rapidly approaching, I realised I never had a job apart from babysitting for many different families. At that point  I would move halfway across the country in two years’ time, and I figured I needed a little more varied experience if I wanted a side job to help me finance my education. So I made up my mind about what I wanted to do, and working in fashion it would be. The process of finding a job went rather smoothly: I filled out one application form, I received one phone call, I had one interview, and I was hired. For the next two years I worked there every Saturday, and every other moment I was asked and didn’t have to go to school. It turned out my gut feeling was right: this experience did come in handy once I moved away. The next five years I worked for different branches of this very company. Every single time I was hired based on my previous experience. Until I was twenty-four, when my contract was no longer renewed for I was too old. That is not a legal reason to not hire, but to be honest, I wasn’t that sad to close this door. So the last day of December 2013 I left, not only with nice memories, but with a wardrobe good for a new outfit every day of the week for at least two months as well. One of the perks of working for this company was that I could buy the latest fashion for a decently reduced price. Depending on the state of the economy, my discount had been somewhere between 40 and 60%. And with collections changing every other month, me working more than once a week, and new items coming in every other day, imagine what that adds up to. So on the first day of January 2014 I started a challenge: I wouldn’t buy clothes for one year. A huge shift from buying clothes whenever I liked an item. I needed this change, because shopping had become twice as expensive overnight. However, I knew that I wouldn’t succeed without a little support. So I made a bet with Matthijs. If I would make it through the year without buying new clothes, I would get €150 to go shopping (this was his idea). Exceptions would be allowed for underwear, socks and tights. In the end it turned out quite an easy challenge. So, needless to say: I won the bet. And no, I didn’t run to the shops first thing in 2015. My favourite thing about this challenge is it changed my behaviour towards clothes. It made me more relaxed. Now I go shopping twice a year, when the spring and autumn collections are in for those colours suit me best, armed with a short list of items that would complement my existing wardrobe. The other 363 days of the year I can walk past all the fashion stores without feeling that I’m missing out on something. And if I feel like changing something in between I make new combinations with the items I already have.

Over the past months I have been thinking about a new challenge. It is somewhere along the lines of the old challenge, but this time my motivation is a little different. And I’m not going to do it by myself. Matthijs will join me. We are trying to live as environmentally friendly as possible: we don’t own a car, we mainly travel by bike and train, we don’t fly too often, we only turn on the heater when it is really cold, we buy organic produce when our budget allows for it, and we separate our waste into glass, paper, plastic, and ‘other’. Unfortunately where we live it isn’t possible to separate our compostable waste, so that categorizes as ‘other’ as well. Except for the fruit and vegetable scraps we can give to our three bunnies. Because we separate our waste, we have a pretty decent insight in the amounts we throw out. And especially the amount of plastic bothers me a lot. When I discussed this with Matthijs, it turned out we share this feeling. Therefore in 2018 we will do a minimal waste challenge. And to stick to this challenge, we made up a list of five things that we think will help us reach our goal of reducing waste:

* We will bring a coffee cup, water bottle, and cutlery wherever we go;
* We will buy (plastic) package free food wherever possible – we found two bulk stores in our area and they are fine with me bringing my own bags, bottles and containers (I asked);
* We will prepare food at home and bring it, so we don’t have to buy something to eat every time we’re out;
* We will avoid buying online as much as possible; and
* We will avoid buying stuff as much as possible anyway.

It is no coincidence that many of this bullet points include the word ‘possible’. In order to succeed we feel we need to give ourselves some leeway. I think one of many reasons new year’s resolutions never see the end of January is people been too strict, and being too harsh on themselves, giving up when they made one tiny slip up. But change doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s not fair to expect it will. I think it works best to be more gentle with your intentions, and sticking with them through trial and error will eventually change your habits. So we won’t go out of our way to make this challenge happen. To be honest our first fail already took place on the first day we started. But instead of deeming this as some impossible thing to do, I choose to look at this miss as some additional research. And we will change things according to the outcomes we come across. For example, bring your own fork to Starbucks, doing our groceries at different stores, order books in the bookstore instead of online, and not go to some shops because we aren’t able to leave them empty-handed. During the year we will see what changes we can add to these to reduce even more waste. I’ve been thinking about composting our food scraps for a couple of years, but it didn’t make sense because I had no use for compost. But now I have a fruit and vegetable garden on my balcony, so I might start composting this year. But not immediately, for that would be too much change at once, making this challenge too complicated. And then we would risk failing the challenge all together.

This might seem like a lot, but these are all things we have been already working on. They are important to us. And they will slowly become second nature. Writing goals like these down sets them firmer in my mind, and gives me the opportunity to turn to them on days I forget. When I ‘slip up’ I can gently remind myself of these intentions and work on them until I’m no longer aware I once had to consciously work on them. And to me that’s what new year’s resolutions should be about: little by little reinventing yourself.

Happy new year!

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