Tis the season for sustainability

Fairy lights. The Rat Pack Christmas album.Endless boxes of chocolates. Regressing back to children at our parent’s house. Cosy PJs and Home Alone on the TV.

Christmas means different things to everyone but for most, it’s cosy and familiar and winds up mostly the same year after year.

It can be really challenging to rock the boat and suggest something different so for a lot of us who have been making more of an effort towards sustainability, the holiday season can be a bit nerve wracking.

For most of this list, it’s really helpful to ask yourself “do I buy/do/use this ‘just because’ or is it something that feels integral to this time of year for me?

Get rid of the “just becauses”! It will save you money and cut unnecessary waste.

For the rest, think creatively about how you can adapt them to keep what you like about them but without as much, or any, waste.

This is kind of a long one so grab yourself a mulled wine and a comfy seat!

We often feel under so much pressure this time of year to be at every party, wearing a new party outfit, eating and drinking and often with a pile gifts in tow. It’s can be a time of huge excess and over-consumption.

To help keep the waste, and expense, to a minimum here are some eco swaps and money saving ideas for the holiday season.

Tree

To understand the sustainability of our Christmas trees, this Solancha article suggests asking three important questions:

  • What are the inputs in your Christmas tree?
  • How long will those inputs last? In other words, for how long can you use that Christmas tree?
  • How will you dispose of your Christmas tree eventually?

Bearing this in mind, both real and artificial trees can be very unsustainable. The most eco-friendly thing you can do is create a tree from upcycled materials so if you are the crafty type this is the perfect time for you to get really creative. Check these out for inspiration – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/GreenEcoServices/upcycled-christmas/

Up to 8 million Christmas trees are bought every December in the UK alone. That’s a lot of intensive production, and potentially a lot of waste.Friends of the Earth

In order to mitigate some of the damage done by our carbon emissions, we need to plant more trees basically everywhere. They are also an important habitat for animals we need to protect for biodiversity. Cutting millions down every year just to put them in our living room for a few weeks, and then have them end up in landfill, has to stop.

Artificial trees may last for years but require lots of energy to produce and are just more plastic to dispose of. If you have one already, keep using it and take care of it – make it last as long as possible. If your situation mean artificial is the best option for whatever reason, you can try to buy a second-hand one on Schpock,  eBay  or Gumtree.

But all is not lost! If you, like me, love the smell of a real tree as one of the best things about Christmas then you will love this alternative options!

Tree rental – Get a pot-grown tree, water it and then send it back to be replanted in the tree farm for the following year. Genius!

https://www.londonchristmastreerental.com

Use (or grow) your own – If you gave garden space you can do the same thing at home by using or buying a tree with roots so you can grow it outside and use it again each year.

Tips for looking after them inside here – https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=374

Presents

One of the most effective strategies for staying in budget when buying Christmas presents is to have a Sinking Fund which you spread out across the year and contribute to every month. When the season approaches, you use the savings to buy presents. 

Low Waste Gift Ideas:

  • Experiences – this is my personal favourite! It’s big bonus if it’s something you can do together because then you are also gifting them some quality time. 😊 Some other ideas are dinner, concert tickets, comedy event, a museum exhibit or a class in something they’ve always wanted to learn. Eventbrite is an excellent resource for events and classes and a whole range of prices as well for every budget.
  • Crafts – make something at home. Cookies, cakes, hot chocolate jar, homemade beauty products – you can decorate and personalise them as well to make them even more special.
  • For the coffee lover who you keep seeing with single use cups – Keep Cup (it’s also great for wine!)
  • S’well Bottle – some people are STILL buying plastic bottles. Gift them a beautiful reusable and they’ll never want to drink out of anything else.
  • Plants – who doesn’t love plants? They look amazing, clean the air and have a calming effect.

*I’m not being paid to recommend any of these, I just genuinely love them but I would absolutely accept payment if they offered!

Wrapping

I cringe when I see people ripping open wrapping paper and bits are strewn all over the floor. There are better options than single use wrapping paper.

Most of us love a bit of festive decoration and fancy wrapping, and who doesn’t like getting Christmas cards? But research suggests that the paper waste over the Christmas period is equivalent to 5-12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times. – Friends of the Earth

  • Gift bags that get used over and over are the best. Re-use ones you’ve been gifted or invest in some you know can be reused. Avoid writing on the label so it looks as good as new.
  • Get creative – you can use magazine and newpapers to make gift bags or as wrapping paper. 
  • Please don’t buy any wrapping paper with glitter – it’s basically just a load of micro plastics! Besides, it’s impossible to stick anyway. 

Food

Tis the season of overindulgence. And obscene waste. It’s estimated that we waste up to 30% more at this time of year. Please, only buy food you intend to eat. 

  • Leftovers are always the best part.
  • If you have too much – freeze some portions to have later on.
  • Go veggie (or even better, vegan!)
  • Bake your own mince pies
  • Visit your local ‘zero-waste’ store for package-free chocolates and treats

For more on reducing food waste, see my previous post.

Booze

Mulled wine, baileys coffees, hot whiskeys. Mmmmmmm. Festive drinks are one of the best things about the season. Luckily, most alcohol comes in glass bottles so you don’t have to navigate a plastic minefield here!

To find some cheap deals, check out Approved food.

To reduce waste these are my top tips:

  • Try to buy organic
  • Repurpose or upcycle the bottles (Pinterest is your best friend here).
  • Make sure you recycle everything you can (class bottles, cans, recyclable plastic.

Clothes

Around this time of year, you will probably be inundated with emails and seeing ads everywhere for ‘party wear’. Have you ever noticed that it is the same stuff every single year? Sparkly and jewel colours, Every. Single. Year. 

Avoid falling into the trap of buying yet another dress basically the same as the ones you’ve bought every year. Here are some tactics you can try instead:

  • Buy from a charity shop.
  • Swap with a friend.
  • If you love the ones you have in your wardrobe – wear those!
  • Add some festive accessories to a basic black dress. 

Fast Fashion isn’t free, someone somewhere is paying the price – Lucy Siegle

The fashion industry is the second biggest producer of carbon emissions after fossel fuels! Avoid adding to the madness this Christmas.

Cards

According to research 1.5 BILLION Christmas cards are thrown away in the UK each year.

Save trees, and money by forgoing this tradition. Send an e card in stead or better yet, video call and wish them a Merry Christmas face to face!

A zer-waste, or even low-waste, Christmas will be hard! Christmas is a time to spend with family and not everyone is on the same wavelength as you so compromise is important and enjoying each others’ company is the priority. Do what you can to reduce your own waste, be patient with curious (or even judgemental!) enquiries and maybe next year you’ll see some of your loved ones taking a leaf out of your book!

Low waste (and low cost) skin-care swaps

In my quest to create less waste and spend less money, I’ve actually discovered several skin care swaps that have my skin feeling better than ever.

Ice roller -> lavendar infused ice cube

Ice rollers or jade rollers have been popping up on social media a lot of late with beauty bloggers swearing by them. The supposed benefits include

•reducing puffiness

•increasing bloodflow

•reducing appearance of pores

I have no idea if any of that is based on fact but I kinda loved the idea of rolling something cold all over my face! 🤣

A “sustainability influencer” suggested making your own by adding a drop of essential oil into ice cubes so I tried it and loved it. I use it every morning now. It helps me wake up and I feel like it reduces any puffiness. Also, smells amaaaazing. Cheap and easy to do but it feels like a luxury!

Oil-based cleanser -> Almond oil

Every night, I remove my makeup up (which is typically just tinted moisturiser and mascara these days) with Sweet Almond Oil and a hot face cloth. Just work the oil into your skin for a minute or two and then remove with a face cloth (mine are bamboo)you’ve run under the hot water tap. It’s dreamy!

After that, I wash with a facial cleansing bar to make sure my face is properly clean.

Then, cos I’m fancy AF, I spritz my face with some Rosewater.

Serum -> homemade oil blend

Instead of a super expensive serum, I made my own blend of Sweet Almond Oil and Argan Oil (50/50) with a couple of drops of frankincense. I read that frankincense has anti-aging properties and I have no idea whether or not that is total bullshit but it smells good and I cross my fingers!

Homemade scrub

Once a week, I exfoliate with a homemade honey and brown sugar scrub.

It’s so cheap and easy to make and if I accidentally get any in mouth, it tastes fab!

Homemade body butter

For years, I just used Palmers Cocoa butter and it was the only thing that I felt worked. I have pretty dry skin especially here in London where the water is really hard (I actually really miss the humidity of Taiwan!).

That was until I tested out this recipe that I came across on Instagram over the Christmas holidays.

You take equal parts;

• Shea butter

•Cocoa butter

•Coconut oil

Put them in a glass bowl and place over a saucepan of water. Boil the water and wait for your mixture to melt. Once it’s melted, let it cool for a few mins and then pop it in the freezer to solidify it a little. When it’s started to solidify around the edges, take it out and use a whisk to whip it up. When you have a nice fluffy consistency transfer it to a jar. I use a salsa jar because I eat chips and salsa at an alarming rate and always have a ton lying around my kitchen! You can also add a couple of drops of essentail oil if you want to make it scented.

Tranistioning from “normal” moisturiser to oil did cause some breakouts for a couple of weeks but I’ve now followed this regime since last summer and my skin is happier than it has been in years!

Let me know if you try any of these and how you get on with them.

Breaking Up With Fast Fashion

 

What’s in your wardrobe?

It’s time to break up with fast fashion and here are some of the top reasons why:

  • 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry, which is more than shipping and aviation combined!!
  • 77% of UK retailers believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery in their supply chain

First, take stock.

The thing is – you probably don’t need any new clothes. You likely have lots of beautiful items in your wardrobe you have forgotten about so, have a look in your wardrobe and fall back in love with what you already have. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the number of clothes you have, spring is the perfect time to cull your wardrobe!

Get everything out and pile it all in one place, Marie Kondo style, and sort it into categories:

  1. Keep – pretty self-explanatory! These are the clothes you love to wear often.
  2. Repair – many items in your wardrobe can be revived by fixing a zipper, letting a seam out or having the hem taken up. About once a year, I go through my wardrobe and see if there is anything that needs repairing.
  3. Sell – make some extra money by selling things with tags that you are never going to wear or some of your more high-end items that will get a good resale price on eBay, Schpock or Depop.
  4. Donate – for clothes that are in great condition, consider donating them to a charity shop where they can be resold. For things like winter coats and warm clothes, you might want to donate those to your local homeless centre. For torn or unwearable clothes, you may be able to donate them to animal shelters where they can be used as bedding for the animals. When in doubt, give the charity a call to see what they can accept.
  5. Recycle – for anything you can’t donate, find a local organisation that can properly recycle them like Terracycle.

Find a uniform……and then add your personal style

A lot of highly successful people have a ‘uniform’ that they wear every day. Mark Zuckerberg wears a grey t-shirt and jeans. Steve Jobs always wore black turtleneck and jeans. Arianna Huffington is a huge advocate for work uniforms and ‘repeating’ outfits.

If you find deciding what to wear in the morning causes you stress or you just can’t be bothered with the extra steps, a work uniform is a great option. (And if you’re lazy like me, you might also have a non-work uniform!). There is a lot to say for creating a capsule wardrobe of good quality basics that last a long time and fit well. For more on creating a capsule wardrobe, check out Project 333.

Simple, basic and capsule might sound kinda boring but they really don’t have to be. You can make any outfit more interesting with your choice of accessory(ies). Lipstick, jewellery, sunglasses, glasses, hair accessories, nail polish.

Slow fashion

Last year, I started seriously thinking about the impact our fashion habits have on our mental health, our finances and the planet. After watching The True Cost on Netflix, I couldn’t be willfully ignorant any more and I knew that I needed much more sustainable habits, both for my bank balance and for the environment. And as a proud (loud!) feminist, I also knew that the primarily female garment industry was exploiting women in low-income countries.

1 in 6 of the world’s workers are employed in the fashion industry and around 80% of those workers are female.

In January 2019, I finally made the choice not to buy any more fast fashion. So what are the alternatives?

  1. Repair what you have – there is a growing “mending” movement online and you can find amazing tutorials and inspiration.
  2. Swap with and borrow from your friends 
  3. Buy second hand – there are so many secondhand clothing resources in the UK.
  • Charity Shops – you’ll find these on any high street and some bigger organisations, like Amnesty International and Oxfam onlines stores as well.
  • Vintage – there are a lot of incredible and affordable vintage stores like, Rokit .
  • Peer-to peer – buy and sell pre-loved items on apps like Depop, eBay and Schpock
  • Secondhand designer – Vestiarie Collective is my newest obsession – full of beautiful pre-loved designer clothes.

4. Sustainable brands

When buying new clothes, have a list of questions you ask yourself:

  • Is this an ethical brand?
    • I use an app, Good On You, which rates brands on their Labour, Environmental and Animal policies.
  • Is this item going to last a long time?
  • What fabric is this item made from and can it be recycled?
  • If you feel the impulse to buy something, wait 30 days to see if you still want it. Instagram makes EVERYTHING look good and half the time, you will totally forget.

Be aware of “greenwashing”

Companies are aware of the emerging demand for more environmentally friendly and ethically sourced goods. Many will throw in terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’ and ‘vegan’ into their marketing without any transparency. These terms have no legal definition and absolutely no accountability. I’ve found Good on You to be a great resource for sorting through the bullshit.

Read: Project 333 EcoAge , Mending Matters

Download: Good On You app, Depop app

Follow: @fash_rev @venetiafalconer @ajabarber 

Watch: The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj – The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion, The True Cost

How I Got Out of Debt

When I moved to London, I had some savings but not very much and I quickly burned through what I had.

Up to that point, I hadn’t learned very good habits with money but I had also never needed much for what I wanted to do. I travelled a lot and the cost of living was always affordable wherever I landed.

Getting into almost £10k debt was a combination of learned behaviours and a big change in living situation. I’d just spent four years in Taiwan, city with a low cost of living and great wages (for foreigners), and arrived in London which has pretty terrible pay comparatively and a sky high cost of living.

I had a number of core beliefs about money and about how I ‘should’ be living. To me l, money was never abundant and the lack of it a constant source of stress. My belief was that there would never be enough of it and making ends meet would always be a challenge.

When I arrived in London, I was about to turn 30 and wanted to to appear to be living a lifestyle of a 30 year old and not of a broke student. In Taiwan, I’d lived comfortably and still been able to afford to go on holidays and go out every weekend. In London, my first job was as a temp and I wasn’t even making enough for rent!

I had to buy winter clothes when I arrived because I didn’t have any and quickly developed a shopping habit I couldn’t afford. In hindsight, I think I believed looking the part of a 30 year old who has it all together would help me get it together!

On top of that, I didn’t have many friends and was struggling with loneliness missing my friends in Taiwan so I had to get out and about. I felt like I had very few choices; I could stay in and save money alone and depressed or I could go out and try to make friends and end up in debt and also be depressed. I opted for the latter because being depressed and lonely is worse than being depressed and broke but with some friends and fun included!

It was all an absolute shit storm for my mental health and I had worse anxiety and depression than Id ever experienced. I felt trapped in my job, trapped in my living situation and full of resentment towards anyone and everyone who appeared to be thriving in London.

Before I knew it I’d managed to get myself over £9k in debt and also needed a dental implant that was going to cost me over £2k. 😮

I had a maxed out credit card, a maxed out overdraft and two loans I’d taken out in attempts to consolidate the debt. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing!

So how was I going to get myself out of it?

I first had to admit that my relationship with money wasn’t healthy and that it needed to change. Second, I needed to get really focussed and disciplined about cutting back and living well within my means.

I had to admit that one of my main problems was that I bought too many clothes and I couldn’t blame everything on London prices or charity work being relatively lower pay.

I had to earn more money and spend less.

So I made it my business to learn as much about money as I could. As soon as I started reading, I realised how little I knew and how empowering getting my finances under control could be. I read blogs and articles, followed IG accounts and listened to podcasts. I probably became really annoying because once I’m interested in something, I get a bit obsessed!

My anxiety reduced almost immediately when I realised that I did have the power to get myself out of the situation I’d put myself in. There were lots of resources and groups out there to help me and there were 100s of things I could do to save money and make extra cash.

How I did it……

First things first- Get a full picture of your finances

Write everything down!

Calculate your total debt

It can be scary but if you are going to pay it off, you need to know what you are working with.

Calculate all your income

Salary + any additional income you have coming in

Calculate all your expenditure

Every penny. You need to know how much you spend on every single category so you can see where you can easily cut back. There may be some really easy ones to get you started like daily coffees and other little things that add up fast.

Spend less – Cut back where you can

Separate your expenditure into two categories: Essential and Discretionary

1.Essentials

Essentials are things you CANNOT avoid. Not Starbucks coffee on the way to the office 😂

Rent

Phone bill

Utility bills

Transport/car expenses

Loan payments

Medical bill or prescriptions

Groceries

Can you save on any of these?

Could you move to a smaller place and save on rent?

Could you save by selling your car and downsizing to a cheaper model?

Are you getting the best deal on your utility bills? Or phone provider? (I saved £20 a month on my bill AND got a new phone by finding a better deal through moneysavingexpert.com and switching providers).

You can save a lot on your groceries by planning ahead what you are going to cook and what you need, making a list (and sticking to it!), swapping name brands for supermarket own brands, going to the shops with a full stomach

2.Discretionary

Discretionary spending is all non-essentials. If you are in a lot of debt and struggling to make ends meet, you might have to cut most of these back for a couple of months to get yourself to a more stable place. If that sounds scary, don’t worry I will be posting lots of tips on how to look after your mental health for zero cost to get you through!

Memberships/subscriptions (Spotify, Netflix, gym)

Eating out

Shopping

Donations (help yourself first and then you can help others!)

Make your budget.

Your income – your essential expenditure = what you have left to pay off your debt/save/have fun

If this is all new to you, you won’t go far wrong with Dave Ramsey! I also use his Zero Based Budget https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/how-to-make-a-zero-based-budget

Earn more

Once you are cutting back and throwing as much as you can at you debt, you can start to think about ways to earn more and get it paid off even quicker.

Could you get a new job with a better salary?

Are you due for a promotion?

Do you have a spare room you can rent out?

Do you have a car?

Can you teach online?

This is a list of the things I did to make more money and pay off my debts quicker

  • Sold some clothes and other items at home that I was no longer using. I used Schpock and Facebook market place as both platforms are free and for local use. Instead of posting things, I arranged to meet with people and exchange the items. I have also used both to buy some second hand things.
  • Matched betting – I read about matched betting in a couple of blogs and decided to give it a go. Matched betting is a way of taking advantage of the free credits that online gambling websites give you. It’s totally legal and a great way to make money. It takes a bit of getting used to and you will definitely need a tool to help you in the beginning. I use Profit Accumulator www.profitaccumulator.co.uk/, which had tutorial videos, software to help you choose best and calculate your profit. I made £1,800 in two months which was a MASSIVE help! I took a break for a couple of months but went back to it recently to earn some extra money for travelling in 2019.
  • Switched bank accounts to earn a ‘bribe’ of £200 (check out moneysavingexpert.con for up to date bank bribes.)
  • Moved my credit card balance to a 0% card to reduce the interest. At the time, I was also awarded £25 cashback for switching. (moneysavingexpert.com is a great resource for keeping up to date with the best offers)
  • OhMyDosh – is a website where you can take surveys, sign up for free trail to earn money- so far, I’ve made over £100 on there doing free trials.
  • YouGov – through surveys on YouGov I earned £50. It did take about 6 months though so this is not a fast cash option! I did the surveys mostly during my commute to kill time and was delighted to learn that you can keep going to earn another £50. I have also done some YouGov focus groups which oten pay up to £60 for a two hour session

I did have a few challenges on the way – I had to move house (for the 6th time in 3.5 years….) and on top of moving costs, my rent increased as well. I also burned my leg really badly in the summer and spent over £200 on taxis to hospital and doctors appointments as well as a considerable amount ordering in food and buying medication and bandages because I had just moved in, had no food in the house and wasn’t able to walk. The combination of these two things burned through the majority of my emergency savings, which was disheartening but it was an emergency and that is exactly what I needed it for! It was a shame that it was spent almost immediately after it was saved but I was so glad it was there and for the first time, I wasn’t using credit to cover an unexpected event. I’ve since replenished my £1,000 emergency fund and now I’m working on having 2-3 months of expenses.

Living within or below your means isn’t always fun when you don’t make a lot of money but it’s honestly reduced my stress so much that’s it worth it! I would love to travel more, have nicer clothes, go out to dinner more, buy a house, go to more concerts but I can’t afford that lifestyle right now and the only way I will is by finding ways to make more money. That’s the next step!