Start Your Minimalist Journey on the First Day of Spring

Spring is a time for new beginnings.

This spring consider turning over a new leaf by choosing to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff.

As spring approaches I realize that I do not need to declutter this year. Plus I may never need to declutter again. “Really, how so?” you ask. The short answer is that I am now reaping the benefits of deciding to become a minimalist in November 2016.

If you are interested, you can read about decluttering vs. minimizing and why you might want to become a minimalist in the posts Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 1 and Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing Your Stuff – Part 2.

During the first three years of my lifelong quest to live happily with fewer belongings, I divested myself of stuff I do not need, use, or want, changed my shopping and buying habits, and organized the stuff that I still own.

“Minimalism is about intentionality, not deprivation.”

Dejan Stojanović

You can choose to begin your minimalist journey this spring. If you do, next year you will have less to declutter and perhaps you can give up decluttering forever. More importantly, Mother Nature smiles every time you, me, or anyone else chooses to live more lightly on Earth with less stuff.

Photo credit – Dreamstime/Sashahaltam.

There is no one-size-fits-all or “right” approach to minimalism so go about it in a way that works for you. If you are looking for ideas to help you get started, continue reading this post.

Three Years of Minimalism

Initially, my spouse was not enthusiastic when I announced my intention to become a minimalist. I was probably too pushy in the beginning, however, once she realized that I did not intend to get rid of our joint stuff without her say-so she agreed to participate.

In the first two years, we focused on divesting ourselves of excess stuff including items that we owned individually and as a couple. Last year was more about reinforcing our new not shopping and not buying habits.

As you will see, that does not mean I did not buy anything.

Below are some of the challenges we faced during the first three years of our minimalist journey and how we addressed them.

Your Stuff vs. Our Stuff

If you live with at least one other person, your desire to minimize your possessions will likely affect the other person or persons sharing your home. A good way to begin the process is by talking with your spouse, partner, or family. Explain why you want to be a minimalist and ask them if they want to participate or not. Listen to them and respect their ideas and concerns.

Do not be deterred by a lack of support from others. You probably have plenty of stuff that belongs to only you so start with that. Your spouse or family may get on board at some point or maybe not.

Orange and Green Apple
Photo credit – iStock/Simone Capozzi.

I began by divesting myself of stuff that I owned. The first joint divestment project my spouse and I tackled together was the kitchen which is more my spouse’s domain than mine because she is the family chef. I recounted this experience in Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff.

Depending on how much stuff you have amassed, who else is involved, and how much time you are willing to devote to the process, the divestment phase could last a couple of months, several years, or indefinitely.

One benefit of owning less stuff is that space opens up in your home allowing you to organize your things so that they are easy to find and access. Your spouse or other family members may notice this and be encouraged to join the effort.

To Buy or Not to Buy

While you are divesting yourself of stuff, you will also need to figure out how to plug the acquisition pipeline or you will end up back where you started.

When I decided to become a minimalist, I did not magically morph into a different person and you probably will not either. Consumerism is heavily ingrained in our society. Removing yourself from its gravitational force may prove to be more difficult than you anticipate but once you do it you will be free.

Early on, I realized that being a careful and mindful shopper was not enough. I would need to radically change my shopping and buying habits. But before I could do that I needed to understand what they were.

Photo credit – iStock/cybrain.

I decided to track what I bought for myself and my family and why I bought it for a year using a simple spreadsheet as my journal.

In the post entitled, Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I shared what I learned during my yearlong assessment and provided some ideas to help spreadsheet averse readers evaluate their habits. Minimalism for Couples – Buying Less Stuff and Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet cover repairing things and deciding when to buy or not buy new items.

I know I said I was not going to tell you what you should do but I do want to mention one thing. If you find yourself justifying buying new things by getting rid of older things, you may be keeping the number of your possessions in check but do not kid yourself that you are living more lightly on the planet.

Letting Go of Gifts

Initially, I felt guilty and stressed out about divesting myself of things that people had given me as gifts.

For me, learning to live happily with the less stuff means divesting myself of things that I do not need, want, or use regardless of whether I bought the item myself, someone gave it to me, or I inherited it.

I got over the guilt and wrote about it in Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts.

My philosophy is that a gift is something freely given with no strings attached. The receiver may choose to keep it or not. It is their choice. I have shared my feelings about exchanging gifts with my family and friends. Occasionally I give gifts and sometimes I receive them. When someone gives me a gift, I thank them and then decide if the gift fits in my life or not. If it does not, I donate it or give it away.

Is this talk about letting go of gifts making you feel anxious? If so, take a breath. You are the guide of your minimalist journey so if you do not want to deal with gifts or inherited items, then don’t.

Annual Assessment

Each year, I do a review of the previous year determining what went well and deciding if I want and/or need to do anything differently going forward.

This year I am sharing my evaluation with you to demonstrate that minimalism (at least for me) is not a game and does not require specific or perfect behavior. I am doing the best that I can to live happily and more lightly on Earth with less stuff and you can, too.

Earth Shaped like a Heart - Original
Photo credit – iStock/pearleye.

Back in 2017, I wrote Move Beyond Decluttering to Minimizing – Clothes and Shoes describing the agonizing and cathartic process of minimizing your wardrobe. In that post, I admitted that as an inspiration to lose weight I was keeping two pairs of jeans that did not fit my heavier post-breast cancer body. Last year, I decided to donate the jeans so someone else can enjoy wearing them while I attempt to return to my more slender self.

We have not sorted through our eight boxes of photos residing in the master bedroom closet or the several plastic tubs filled with our kid’s artwork and toys that are stored in the garage. There does not seem to be a compelling reason to tackle this stuff so it may be a while before we get to it.

The only item I regret buying last year is a pair of dress shoes that I do not currently need. I bought them for insurance when the only store in our area that carried shoes for my narrow feet was holding a going-out-of-business sale.

Christmas 2019 came and went without me buying any new decorations. I am proud of this accomplishment because I used to be a decoration churner meaning I would give away decorations to justify buying new ones.

Two big-ticket items joined my belongings last year. A mini iPad and an electric bicycle. I could write several paragraphs defending these items but I won’t. Let’s just leave it at I believe these things enhance my life.

I feel satisfied with what my spouse and I have accomplished during the first three years of our minimalist journey. And the cool thing is that I have zero decluttering to do this spring.

Minimalist Spring Challenge

Now that you have had a chance to read part of my story, are you considering starting a minimalist journey yourself?

Coffee Cup, Pen, Piece of Paper with Begin Saying on Wood Table Top
Photo credit – iStock/marekuliasz.

If you are, here is a 15-minute challenge to help you decide. You can easily accomplish this in the morning while drinking a cup of coffee, during a break at work, or in the evening after the dinner dishes are done.

If you like jotting down your thoughts, grab something to take notes or doodle on. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Spend the next fifteen minutes contemplating how you could benefit from owning less stuff. 

When the timer goes off, ask yourself this question “Do I want to try living happily with less stuff?” If the answer is yes, then pick one of the tasks below (or come up with your own) and make an appointment with yourself to do it in the next seven days.

  • Talk with your spouse, partner, or family about why you want to become a minimalist and ask for their support.
  • Click on the links within this post or the “Related Posts” section below for information, ideas, and perhaps a little inspiration.
  • Clear a staging space in your home and obtain some boxes.
  • Call a friend and tell them you are going to become a minimalist and why.
  • Minimize or eliminate your kitchen junk drawer.

If you start now, on the first day of spring next year, you will be able to look back and admire how far you have come on your minimalist journey.

Featured Image at Top

A strip of blue paper is rolled back revealing the words “A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.” – photo credit iStock/IvelinRadkov.

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Environmental Impact of Cooking Oils

What do you know about your cooking oil?

Have you ever considered the environmental impact of the cooking oil you routinely buy to stock your pantry? Maybe you should.

Take a moment to picture the cooking oils you have in your home right now. Some of you may have visualized one bottle while others saw a collection of bottles.

The thing is every household in the world probably holds at least one container of cooking oil. It is inconceivable that those hundreds of millions of bottles, jars, and cans of cooking oil do not cause environmental harm. The questions roaming about in my head were how much and does it matter.

I decided to try to find out and share what I learned in this post.

What is Cooking Oil?

Cooking oil is used to transfer heat from a pan to food, keep food from sticking to the pan, and in some cases to impart flavor. Oils do not mix with the water contained in food which is why French fries maintain a crusty exterior as long as you do not cook them long enough to cook all the water out of the potatoes. If you do, your fries will be soft and oily.

Before embarking on this project, I needed to rope in (persuade) my spouse to participate because she is our family chef and it would be her cooking with a variety of different oils. I would be fulfilling the role of taste tester and researcher.

At our local grocery market, I selected seven different oils using the totally non-scientific method of picking bottles that I thought would make an attractive photo.

Back at home, I placed the bottles of oil in our pantry and we proceeded to put away the rest of our groceries. When I opened the refrigerator, I was confronted with a covered dish containing half of a stick of butter and a jar of coconut oil. Hmm, were these cooking oils, too?

That led to the question “What constitutes cooking oil?”

I did not find a definitive answer. Generally cooking oil is a fat derived from a plant that is liquid at room temperature such as olive, canola, and peanut oil.

Terrific that seemed straightforward except…

Coconut oil is plant-based oil but it is solid at room temperature. Is it still oil? What about butter? Butter is derived from an animal and is used for cooking, but is solid at room temperature. Oh, and what exactly makes something a fat?

I wanted answers so I approached my son who is a physicist and is skilled at explaining science to non-scientists like me. He gave me the French fries example above.

From my son, I learned about fatty acids, lipids, and glycerol, which you can read about using the links at the left.

One thing that I found fascinating is that edible fat molecules and inedible petroleum molecules are more similar than you might think. They are both slippery meaning good at lubricating stuff. However, edible fat molecules also have a molecular handle that allows other molecules in your body to grab onto them to run your biological machinery and keep you healthy.

Model of a Triglyceride (Fat) Molecule

This is a molecular model of a fat or triglyceride. Note the three fatty acid chains attached to the central glycerol (red) portion of the molecule. Image – Wikipedia.

To summarize cooking oils are fats that your body needs to function. These fats come from plants, animals, and are sometimes synthesized in laboratories. Cooking oils are generally liquid at room temperature but not always.

Growing Oil Crops

In this post, we are discussing plant-based cooking oils that are derived from tree fruits (e.g., avocado and olive), nuts (e.g., walnut and peanut), and seeds (e.g., canola [rapeseed] and sunflower).

Oil crops can be grown in harmony with nature intermixing with other plants and animals and growing up without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Cooking oils that meet certain environmental standards and are certified by an independent third party can be marketed as USDA organic.

On industrial-scale farms, trees and plants are often grown as monocrops which is the practice of growing a single crop on the same section of land year after year. This type of agriculture kills the soil so synthetic fertilizers must be applied to provide nutrients for the plants. In addition, monocrops are susceptible to being wiped out by insect pests and taken over by plant pests (weeds) so massive amounts of pesticides are used in an attempt to prevent these problems.

Blooming Canola Field in Saskatchewan, Canada with Storm Clouds
This is an industrial-scale monocrop canola field in Saskatchewan, Canada – photo credit Nas2/Wikipedia.

To combat the monocrop pest problem some growers use GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds that have been genetically engineered to withstand the application of ever more powerful pesticides. Nowadays, in the U.S., most soybeans and canola plants are grown from GMO seeds.

Oil trees and crops grow in a variety of climates and some are thirstier than others.

Problems for people and other members of nature arise when huge swaths of land are cleared to make way for monocrop tree plantations and agricultural fields. The repercussions are significant and cumulative meaning they get worse over time. Habitat loss, soil erosion, sedimentation in streams, air and water pollution, and the destruction of biodiversity endanger the health of ecosystems all over the world that support life on Earth.

Of course, the environmental damage caused by growing monocrops on an industrial scale is universal and not just confined to oil crops.

Making Cooking Oil

Peanuts in Shells in a Bag

Plant-derived oils are made by squeezing the oil out of the flesh of fruits like avocados and olives, from nuts such as peanuts and almonds, and from seeds like sesame and safflower. Photo credit – American Peanut Council.

Some oils are then refined, bleached, and deodorized to change their color and to remove the flavor of the source plant. Extraction and processing methods affect the look, taste, and sales price of cooking oils.

Cold-Press – in this process, the fruit is ground into a paste and then pressed through a series of disks using hydraulic pressure without producing heat. Sometimes the paste is pressed multiple times to extract every last bit of oil. Extra virgin olive oil is produced from the first press.

Expeller Pressing Machine

Expeller Press – is a machine used to extract oil from nuts and seeds by squeezing them under continuous high pressure. The friction created by this process heats the oil which may affect the nutrient content and taste of the oil. Photo credit – Matthewsr2000/Wikipedia.

Decanter Centrifuge – uses high rotational speed to separate fruit, nut, and seed pulp from the oil contained within them. Edible oils like olive oil may use a 3-phase separation process that makes it possible to separate the oil, water, and solids in one step.

Solvent Extraction – involves using a substance that can dissolve other substances to extract oil from oil crops. Hexane is a highly flammable chemical made from crude oil that is used as a solvent to extract vegetable oils from crops such as soybeans and canola.

Cooking Oil Tests

Seven Cooking Oils for Testing
These are the oils we used for our cooking oil tests (left to right) – sunflower, olive, hemp, canola, safflower, grapeseed, and avocad0.

Over a period of several months, our family taste-tested six of the seven cooking oils I had selected at the grocery market. Some oils like olive oil imparted more flavor than others such as sunflower oil but none of the oils interfered with the deliciousness of any of the dishes my spouse prepared using them.

The hemp oil is still sitting in the cupboard unopened. That is because when I actually read the label I discovered that its low smoke point makes it unsuitable for cooking. We do not make a lot of salad dressings or often sprinkle oil on food so we have not had a reason to try the hemp oil.

What is the Most Eco-Friendly Cooking Oil?

After reading dozens of articles and blog posts and a couple of research reports, I had learned about cooking with various oils, land use issues, oil extraction methods, GMO seeds, unintended consequences, different types of fat, and fake olive oil.

It was time to go back to the questions that I had been attempting to answer. What is the environmental impact of cooking oil? Does it matter?

You guessed it. The answer to the first question is it depends. Small-scale farms using organic and/or regenerative agriculture practices probably create significantly less harm than huge monocrop operations that gobble up forests and encourage the proliferation of pesticide use.

Other factors to consider are the amount of water, land, and energy required to grow and process the oil. The source of the energy affects the carbon footprint of the oil (e.g., coal versus sun).

The number of miles your cooking oil travels from the field to the processing facility to the store to your home is important, too. For instance, consider a bottle of artisanal olive oil sitting on a California grocery market shelf that was produced by a small organic outfit in Spain. The product itself may be eco-friendly but the fact that it has traveled thousands of miles to get to your pantry is not.

That brings us to the other question. Does the environmental impact of cooking oil matter?

Well, there are many things that are much worse like fracking for natural gas or raising livestock animals for meat. It would be easy to say that the environmental footprint of cooking oils is not something to be concerned about. However, the sheer volume of something small like cooking oil when taken collectively can indeed make a significant impact so it is probably worth at least a little consideration.

Which Cooking Oil is Right for You?

As it turned out, for our family, the most eco-friendly cooking oil we can buy is the organic extra virgin olive oil we purchase by the gallon at our local farmers market from Mt. Olive Organic Farm. There are so many reasons this is a good choice for us.

Mt. Olive Organic Farm Booth at Farmers Market in Cambria, CA on February 7, 2020
Kaylee and James at the Mt. Olive Organic Farm booth during the farmers market in Cambria, CA on February 7, 2020.

The Mediterranean climate in our region is good for growing olive trees. Mt. Olive Organic Farm uses organic farming and processing practices. The olive oil travels less than 35 miles between the farm and the farmers market which is about a quarter of a mile from our house. At home, we pour the olive oil from the one-gallon jug into a smaller bottle and put it in our cupboard. When the original bottle is empty we return it, buy a new bottle, and the old bottle gets reused.

Equally important to us is that by buying this and other locally grown and made products we are supporting the livelihoods of the people who live here not in some distant place hundreds or thousands of miles away. Plus we have the opportunity to meet and talk with the people who are growing our food.

We keep organic canola oil and sesame oil on hand, too.

There are so many different plants that can be used to make cooking oil it seems likely that locally grown and produced oil is probably available to almost anyone. You just have to look for it.

Now, I hope you feel at least a little informed about the environmental impact of cooking oil. Please take a few minutes to consider your own cooking oil choices and decide whether you want to try something new.

Featured Image at Top

These bottles of six different plant-derived cooking oils are shown with their corresponding seed, fruit, or nut – photo credit iStock/AlexPro9500.

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