My Last N.O.W. idea: Get Inspired for the New Year!

Well, I did it. I wrote one post per week, all year long, as planned. And after two total years of blogging, I’m ready to call it quits. The life changes I’ve made will carry on, I just won’t be writing about them anymore. Thank you so much to everyone who has followed our adventures. Writing about Near-O Waste has been incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, and I’m excited to see what happens next!

My last N.O.W. idea of 2016 is…

Read through my year of ideas and try one that inspires you. There’s no better time to make a change. Don’t believe what you hear- you *can* stick to your New Year’s resolutions… if you truly want to! 

Where will 2017 take you?

Starting N.O.W. (Near-O-Waste): Gradual Steps in a New Direction: reflecting upon my first year of Near-O Waste and starting to share a new idea every other week, in hopes to inspire you to make less trash, minimize your possessions, and simplify your life.

N.O.W. idea #1: Bring Your Own Bag (for everything!): Reusable grocery bags aren’t just for groceries!

N.O.W. idea #2: Stop Drinking Bottled Water: get a reusable one

N.O.W. idea #3: Put Utensils in Your Glovebox: fork, knife, spoon, check!

N.O.W. idea #4: Bring Your Own Coffee Mug: keep disposables out of the landfill

N.O.W. idea #5: Switch to Cloth Produce Bags: swaddle your produce

N.O.W. idea #6: Read Zero Waste Home: inspiration from Bea Johnson

N.O.W. idea #7: Give Tare and Chance: get your jars ready

N.O.W. idea #8: Designate a Purse Napkin: make room for a new resident

N.O.W idea #9: Ditch Paper Towels: help save the trees!

N.O.W. idea #10: Make a Good2Go Kit: get your gear ready for action

N.O.W. idea #11: Dispose of One Disposable: add another reusable to your life

N.O.W. idea #12: Make Something “Packaged”: time for a little DIY

N.O.W. idea #13: Switch to Single TP Rolls: and be ready for a campfire!

N.O.W. idea #14: Reduce Paper Mail: no more junk!

N.O.W. idea #15: Love Your Local Library: and your kids will love it too

N.O.W. idea #16: Read the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: and then get tidying!

N.O.W. idea #17: Make Your Potluck Near-O: skip the plastic wrap and foil

N.O.W idea #18: Help Me Spread the Word About Near-O Waste: Thank you in advance!

N.O.W. idea #19: Be a Locavore: even if just for a week

N.O.W. idea #20: Pick a Category, Any Category (and minimize it!): start the process today!

N.O.W idea #21: Pack Your Trash: and watch out for that wind!

N.O.W. idea #22: Track Your Trash: pay attention to what you’re tossin’

N.O.W. idea #23: Give Near-O Gifts: please your loved ones with less waste

N.O.W. idea #24: Rethink Wrapping: what are the alternatives?

N.O.W. idea #25: Downsize and Digitize Your Memories: Welcome 2017 with a fresh, less cluttered start

And as always, I’m thankful for a brand new year!









The Love & The Loathe: My Final Public Thoughts (and Rants) on Zero Waste 

My experience with zero waste has had its ups and downs from the beginning. And with my blog coming to an end, I thought a little reflection would be appropriate.

I love that I started this blog and that I got in touch with so many other like-minded bloggers in the process. Thank you, Inge, for finding me. I know I reached a much larger audience because of your connections.

I loathe that whenever I see obscene amounts of trash on city streets (or even a little bit of trash at the beach) I lose all hope that “zero waste” will ever make a difference in the scheme of things.

I love it when people see me loading my jars onto the belt at the grocery store and compliment my shopping style. And even if they don’t, I hope it sparks thought.

I loathe that if I veer from my shopping/meal plan, I can’t just pop into the store on a whim because I won’t have the necessary containers.

I love that the people in my life know about my preferences and accept them.

I loathe it when I say “No, thank you” to freebies and get looked at like I’m stuck-up, rude, and/or ungrateful.

I love bringing my own coffee mug and containers when I go out to eat and I always hope it inspires others to do the same.

I loathe that so many businesses across the country still use plastic utensils, boxes, and bags (not to mention styrofoam!).

I love that I rarely make trash and no matter what anyone else thinks, I’ll always be proud of that.

I loathe that I can’t go anywhere without someone trying to give my kids a trinket, sticker, piece of candy, or other item that is ultimately trash. (Of course my kids don’t mind receiving these things, but it seems inescapable and it drives me crazy sometimes.)

I love that our children are aware of zero waste and know how to look out for the earth, even if they occasionally taunt me with their trash or don’t carry on my crazy ways in the future.

And since there’s nothing else to loathe… I love that I will have more free time as a blog-less woman, although I know I will miss writing *very* much.

Many thanks to everyone who has read my blog. I know I’ve made a difference, even if it was a very small one.

Make less trash, minimize, simplify, and BE HAPPY!

N.O.W. idea # 25: Downsize and Digitize Your Memories

Last year, I sorted through an attic full of childhood memories with my mom in an effort to minimize and de-clutter our life. We shared many laughs, and a few tears, as we reminisced about each and every item that we’d saved. Most of our keepsakes went down, down, and away, but the things I decided to salvage were given a new place in our house or a permanent home in my *one and only* memory box.

The sign from my childhood playhouse now hangs above my bathroom mirror…


I put small notes from my husband, my mom, and my dad in my purse…


A few of my grandma’s tea cups now live in my kitchen where they can be enjoyed…


And my mom got crafty with some shirts I didn’t want to wear anymore, but wanted to keep for their sentimental value.

If memorabilia overwhelms you, here are some ideas for confronting old keepsakes and preventing too much pileup in the future…

  • Photograph items that have importance but aren’t worth saving (like childhood stuffed animals or old bulletin boards/collages/posters from high school), then kiss them goodbye.
  • Photograph cards from loved ones before you recycle them.
  • Send VHS tapes to iMemories so they can be preserved without taking up physical space.
  • Organize your digital photographs in a Shutterfly scrapbook (I create and print one per year). They are slender and easy to store.
  • Keep digital journal entries for your kids and include them in the scrapbook. Combining written history and pictures eliminates the need for two separate books.
  • Display tokens of affection from your kids for a while before you put them into your memory box. (I keep a select few on the side of the fridge, so I can enjoy them while I’m cooking and still keep a clutter-free front.)
  • Stop collecting souvenirs. We put stickers on a map, representing each trip in a meaningful way- without trinkets!
  • Get a box and decided what’s important enough to go inside (and get rid of the rest). In the future, if it doesn’t fit in the box, it doesn’t stay!  (Or apply the “one in, one out” method to your box.)

I don’t want to stop collecting memories, I just want to stop accumulating things. My mind, my scrapbooks, and my box (singular!) are brimming with fond reminders of the good times and the best times.

A Makeover Story: Home (Minimization) Improvements

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I used to watch The Dating Story, The Wedding Story, The Baby Story, and The Makeover Story (back-to-back) on TLC when I was in college. Well, I’m done with dating, weddings, and babies, so the only thing left is a makeover. It’s not a makeover for hair, skin, or fashion (although I have given my wardrobe a lot of attention lately), but rather a makeover for the things in our house.

I first posted about minimizing a year and a half ago, and since then we’ve gone through a few more phases of downsizing and reorganizing. I thought it would be fun to do before-and-after pictures of areas in our house that have improved because we got rid of more stuff and ended up with more space.

LIVING ROOM: Our living room looks pretty much the same, except we did away with the indoor rug (our dog wouldn’t stay off of it so I finally solved the problem!) and we now keep our shoes outside. The small piece of artwork above the bookshelf has been moved to the kids’ bedroom and the dog leash now hangs in the bar. Our “monthly shelf” (below the bookshelf) is now a seasonal shelf, which allowed me to downsize from 12 storage boxes (January-December) to 4 (spring, summer, fall, and winter).

THE BAR: This was the old view of “the bar” when you walked up to it…


Here’s how it looks now!


We still have a few pint glasses and decorations inside, and it’s also where I keep my shopping bags and jars.


THE KITCHEN: Napkins have been moved to a drawer that we were able to clear out. The toaster is stored in a lower cabinet and the mixer in the closet. My meal plan calendar is now on my phone instead of the fridge.

CLOSET: This funky closet next to our clothes closet is where we have a filing cabinet (office supplies, kids’ dress up clothes, and packing material), yoga mats and weights, travel and emergency backpacks, and my husband’s guitar. It looks a little less cluttered now that the packing materials are in a drawer.

THE CLOSET: Way less clothes! 

THE PLAYROOM: This is the playroom several months ago…

And this is how it looks now: stuffed animals are in “sleeping bags” (pillow cases) on the kids’ beds, trucks have been donated or moved to a shelf, memory boxes are in the trundle drawer under the bunkbeds, the fire station was donated, other toys are in the toy shop, flags are on the ceiling in the attic (which is now an additional play space because it’s near-empty), and the red kitchen is used for Lego storage.

THE TOY SHOP: We went from three walls of shelves down to one. So much less! So much better!

KITCHEN CLOSET: It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this storage space has become much less crammed. I now have easy access to my crock pot, mixer, wok, large cake pans, cookie cutters, placemats, and fancy serving dish. I swear I’m a minimalist! (I wrote this post a few months ago and have since gotten rid of the ice cream maker and waffle iron.)

Oh, and I finally dealt with the tools, the camping gear, and the attic! This was one side of the attic before minimization…


And now… the makeover is complete!



N.O.W. idea #24: Rethink Wrapping

I used to love buying fancy wrapping paper, shiny bows, and gift tags at Christmastime when I was a kid. When we finished opening presents, my dad would stuff it all into a few huge garbage bags. Oh, how the times have changed. I no longer see the need for traditional wrapping supplies. I’d rather save the money, the mess, and the waste.

Here are some ideas for recycled or reusable wrapping:

  • Newspaper, kids artwork, or brown packing paper from an online order
  • Pillow cases and neckties
  • Homemade fabric drawstring bags
  • Sturdy, reusable decorative boxes with lids (my mom has a set that nests for easy storage).
  • Skip the wrapping altogether and give an unwrapped gift. 

I usually prefer gifts that go away, but for birthdays and Christmas, our kids get a few that stick around. And I don’t have to deal with a mountain of wrapping paper!


Now get creative and get wrapping!

A Year of Trash: My Jar Runneth Over

I started 2016 thinking I could limit my own personal landfill waste to just one jar. The year is coming to an end and the truth is I couldn’t. My trash since January fills one big jam jar, and then some. 

And considering I made a good deal of trash on a month of summer trips, I probably really filled three or four jars.

For our family as a whole it took four months to create ten pounds of trash (collected in a dog food bag). We filled another one mid-summer and a fourth is about to reach capacity. (Again, this is not counting our “road trip trash”.) I got lazy about tracking the recycling. I never weighed it, but I know we took seven 13-gallon cans of glass/plastic and six 13-gallon cans of paper to the recycling center this year. 

Our grand trash total for 2016 is approximately 40-50 pounds of landfill waste and thirteen (13-gallon) cans of mixed recycling. (The avarage American family of four creates 5,000-ish pounds in a year.) We didn’t eliminate as much recycling as I hoped we would, but at least it was recycling! And in any case, we reduced our overall waste drastically compared to the “pre-Near-O” years, and that’s the most important thing!

Looking back at our year of trash has inspired me to do an even better job in the coming year…

N.O.W. idea #23: Give Near-O Gifts

We just got back from a weekend in LA and I was shocked to see Christmas decorations up and down the coast. Although it’s way too early if you ask me, it’s *not* too soon to think about creating less waste this holiday season. 

I know it generally feels good to give and receive gifts, but if you’re giving a gift the recipient doesn’t like, want, or need then your kind gesture could create guilt, clutter, and potential waste. 

When I discovered zero waste and minimalism, I finally embraced my true feelings about gifts- with a few exceptions, I don’t want them!
And I’m guessing there are plenty of other people who, deep down, might feel the same. When I give gifts, I consider my own feelings about them and try to give things that aren’t permanent, in the tangible sense…

Gift certificates: Consider buying one to your recipient’s favorite restaurant, bakery, brewery, coffee shop, or grocery store. Another sure bet is tickets to the movies.

Consumables: Things like chocolate, wine, beer, and olive oil are perfect gifts for people who like them! And you can’t go wrong with soap; preferably unwrapped, pretty, and good-smelling. Last year we gave our kids’ teachers bulk snacks (they were able to choose their favorite jar from the collection). For children, sidewalk chalk (in a cardboard box) encourages imagination and creativity, eventually goes away, and the container can be recycled (but shop wisely; some brands use plastic wrap inside the box). 

Experience Gifts: I love giving kids “experience” presents like gift certificates to the ice cream shop, the roller rink, the ceramic lounge, or the climbing gym. 

Experience gifts are great for adults or families too. Last Christmas, my in-laws gave us a California State Parks pass, which has inspired us to keep exploring and has given us many memories. We recently gave ourselves the gift of joining a local art and history museum and have been *loving it*!


This holiday season keep it simple and consider giving “gifts that go away“. 



Keeping it Simple: Ten (Near-O) Amendments

I named this blog *Near*-O Waste because absolute zero is unrealistic, but getting near zero is possible. I thought it was a great premise for a blog and a less intimidating goal for beginners to strive for. But for the first year, I wasn’t really Near-O. I was more like trying-to-be-so-close-to-zero-that-I-would-occassionally-upset-my-husband,-spend-a-lot-of-extra-time-on-zero-related-tasks,-and-unnecessarily-complicate-my-life. 

After we adopted minimalism and began to simplify our life, I realized that some of my Near-O ways weren’t so simple. I still believe that achieving near zero waste is entirely possible. But because I want to sustain this low-trash lifestyle indefinitely, I’ve decided to make some compromises and actually strive for just *near* zero. In addition to the changes I made in the spring, the following amendments have further simplified my daily life, leaving me with more free time.

1. BUTTER: Although it’s fun to make, the entire process including clean up just takes time. (If the queen of Zero Waste buys it packaged, why can’t I?) And just when I thought the only downside was the waxed paper wrappers, I found pasture raised Organic Valley butter wrapped in (recyclable) foil!


2. PIZZA: Every month for a year and a half, I brought two large cake pans with me to pick up my pizza. I recently discovered a different pizzeria with organic options, but they won’t allow me to bring my own pans. So I decided to switch to their pizza (pan-free!) and compost the box.


3. TORTILLA CHIPS: I was buying these from the bulk bins but they’d always crumble when I tried to scoop them out, and they weren’t organic. I now buy bagged organic tortilla chips every other week and reuse the bags for trash pickup.

4. ICE: I rarely need ice at home. If I do, I can make some. But if we’re camping, you can bet I’m buying a plastic bag of it and avoiding the headache.

5. JARS: I saved yogurt, jam, and mustard jars for over a year. I used them for many purposes and also for bulk-snack gifts (an idea that I still love), but removing the labels was a total pain, and I’m over it. Our recycling bin will fill up faster, but it’s for my own sanity. (I still avoid buying anything in a plastic container.)


6. BEER: I used to fill two growlers every Friday at our local brewery (to avoid recycling bottles). This would require bringing ice packs with me at 6:00 am, freezing them at school, making a special stop to get the growlers when I got off, and keeping them in a cooler until I got home at 3:30. Don’t get me wrong; I love IPA. But it’s expensive, negates my workouts, and usually makes me tired anyway. I’m going to put my beer money into the travel fund for a while and save my drinking for special occasions.

7. TRAVELING: I finally decided to ease up when we’re traveling. There are still a few Near-O things I can’t leave home without, but for the most part, I won’t worry about it when we’re on vacation.

8. THE PACKAGED ITEM COMPROMISE: My original agreement was to buy one packaged snack per month, but now I buy one per week (alternating between tortilla chips, potato chips, and Annie’s farm animal crackers). I also buy one package of grass-fed hot dogs per month for a quick weeknight dinner. We’re definitely generating a little more trash, but my house is full of happy eaters.

9. BREAD: While the idea of popping into the local bakery for fresh bread in my organic cotton bag is idyllic, having an extra weekly errand is not. I’ve settled on locally baked bread (in a paper bag) from the grocery store, where I already stop twice a week.


10. ACCEPTANCE: And above all else, I’m not going to panic when I’m not in control. If a friend serves lunch on paper plates, I don’t need to fret about it. If my husband comes home with a slough of wrappers, I’m just glad he’s home. If we’re at a bakery and my kids race to the stack of plastic-coated cups at the water jug, oh well. I can only control grocery shopping, meal planning, and myself. And I’m good with that.


N.O.W. idea #22: Track Your Trash

The first step to reducing waste is analyzing your trash. When you’re aware of what goes into your bin, you can find ways to keep more things out of it. Try tracking your trash for one week, and go from there. I’m usually one for making notes on my phone, but in this case the easiest way is to keep a piece of scratch paper and a pen by the trash can and list everything that goes in (recyclable or not).


At the end of the week, analyze your list. Which things popped up the most? Are there any items you’re able (and willing) to reduce? Maybe it’s coffee cups. Can you bring your own mug? Maybe it’s razors. Have you considered one with a reusable handle? Maybe it’s water bottles. Do you know about plastic-free filters? Maybe it’s food scraps. What about starting a compost pile? Maybe it’s those cute little green strawberry baskets. Try leaving them at the store and bringing your berries home in a jar. Or maybe it’s something you’ve been thinking about cutting back on anyway…


I was very interested in analyzing our trash when I first started Near-O Waste. Over the past two years we’ve adopted reusables, unpackaged food, composting, and minimalism; all of which have reduced our trash output significantly. So… what’s in *your* can?

My Parents, Our Neighbors: Reimagining the American Dream

Nine years ago, when my boyfriend and I were renting, we decided to “save up for a house”. My parents offered us half of their house while we saved. A wall went up, and we moved in. When we got married and had our first son, we started realizing how lucky we were. My husband and I were both working part time (at steady jobs with excellent benefits) and had a lot of time to spend with each other and our new baby. Meanwhile we were hearing stories of barely-affordable mortgages and always-working parents. We knew we’d have to make more money and buy a bigger house if we had another baby, but before our second son was born, my parents (mostly my mom) wanted to downsize and rearrange the walls again, to give us more space. We refused. They insisted. We accepted. So there we were; 2 kids, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a cute little kitchen, an itty bitty playroom, and no mortgage… with my parents for neighbors.

Our satisfaction fluctuated for years. On the one hand we were stoked! Who gets a house as an early inheritance, gets to work part time, and still has money to save and spend on traveling?! (And don’t forget about built-in babysitters, an invaluable relationship between grandkids and grandparents, and being able to see my parents every day.) But there were phases of feeling inadequate. Weren’t we supposed to “earn it” like everyone else? We could buy a house… if we wanted to work more, see our kids less, and kiss our extra cash goodbye. Instead, we chose to stay and embrace the lifestyle we’d come to love.

I never planned on living next door to my parents. But I just so happened to fall in love with a man who doesn’t mind being a stone’s throw from his in-laws. My childhood home is now our home. Our children get to grow up beneath a mountain, under the redwoods, and close to the beach like I did.

We don’t yearn for more money or a bigger, better house. We’re thankful for our circumstances and happy with less. The time we have with our loved ones is a gift. We’re seeing the world, living and learning, pursuing our passions, and helping our children pursue theirs… all while being in the moment as much as we can.

We’ve made many conscious decisions that have allowed us to live simply. But the foundation of it all is literally the one beneath the house we were lucky enough to receive. I like to think of it as serendipity. My dad likes to think of it as his generosity. I guess it’s a little bit of both. Either way, I couldn’t be more grateful.