BOOK REVIEW: Minimal by Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea

Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea are two childhood friends and the owners of the Quebec brand Dans le SacWhich primarily sells reusable fabric bags. I attended a virtual interview that Indigo (a Canadian Bookstore) did with the authors. They seem quite nice. The few things I really remember about their talk (I lost the page I wrote my notes on) was their idea of Zero Waste, which isn’t trying to having all your trash for the year fit in a mason jar. But more the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.

Photo Source

The book is a pretty short read at about 220 pages, Libby said that I finished the book in about 2 hours. Overall, I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of lists and DIY projects for different areas of the home and life, such as cleaning products, skincare and baby bum sprays.

I enjoyed the first couple chapters the most and got the most information out of them. They might be a bit basic, but cover the ideal of minimalism, the impact of humans on the environments and the idea of making ones on products to have more control of what is entering ones personal environment.

From the cleaning chapter onwards, they started to loose me a bit. Barrette and Mandrea really love essential oils! I have a below average sense of smell, so I don’t care about aromatherapy or essential oils. Also there’s a few really large multi-level marketing companies that sell oils. And that sales/company structure isn’t something I believe is ethical. To be clear, they weren’t pushing a certain brand or anything like that, just my prior knowledge of essential oils going into this book make me have a generally negative option about them.

I truly disagree with one point they had in there book. That was that essential oils are good for the planet. They mention that oils “triggered their green journey”. Kinda ironic given how material intensive the process can be (like 10,000 lbs of roses for one 1lbs of rose oil).

Also they encouraged putting essential oils on babies, they did have a disclaimer that it’s “controversial” to put these types of oils on babies but their didn’t have any issues with their kids. John Hopkins has an article with recommended amounts/usage. But I personally don’t think it’s a great idea. I’ve used tea tree oil on my skin before, and found it burnt a lot so I can’t imagine how a baby would feel.

I don’t have children but I did enjoy the chapter about raising minimalist kids that are environmentally conscious. A lot of it just leading by example but they have this list of environmentally friendly family actives that I just found really charming. Examples, like making salt dough, building bird houses, and growing veggies. That list is without a doubt my favorite part of the book.

At the end of the day it’s a pretty easy read, with really lovely photos, and with content you can find mostly on their website or if you spent enough time on Pinterest. I did read an interview with them that has a quote, that I think captures their intent with this book: “Packed with DIY project ideas, practical tips for reducing waste, and utterly drool-worthy photos, Minimal is a must read whether you’re motivated by love of the planet, the ‘gram, or both.”

Photo Source

To conclude, I would have enjoyed less essential oil talk, but others may not find it as annoying. If you see this book at a book store or the library I would say give it a quick flip through and read the kid friendly activity list but I don’t recommend spending money on it.

Plastic Free Update #2

You can read my two previous posts about Plastic Free July below:

I’m Gonna Try ‘Plastic Free July’

Plastic Free Update #1

As mentioned in my previous update, it was harder than expected. Now that it’s late-August, I can confidently say I didn’t do a great Plastic Free July. Below is an overview of the second half of the month:

July 19: McDonalds drink and fries

July 21: McDonalds coffee

July 22: Brough my own bags to the farmers market, but not enough, so I had to use some of theirs. I also got a container of microgreens and bread in a plastic.

Farmers Market Haul

July 23: I got plastic bag and plastic fork that came with my lunch order.

Later that day I dropped off my pile of black plastic take out containers I’ve been hording. There’s a take back program in Toronto, Case Reuse, that sanities and redistributes them to restaurants. So I brought my pile over to them.

July 25: Plastic clingwrap on some veggies that I received in my Too Good to Go order. It’s an app that partners with bakeries, grocers, restaurants to sell food that’s about to spoil at discounts in a sort of goodie bag. So the things I received would have gone to garbage anyways, so at least I was able to divert some of that waste.

July 26: Harvey’s drink with my post work snack of a veggie burger.

July 27: Did groceries and brought my reusable bags, but forgot the bags for my veggies.

July 28: Ordered Freshii for lunch on site, a compostable bowl but plastic lid. Strange…

July 29: A plastic bag came with my Mr.Sub order for lunch on site.

So ended up using single use plastic for more than 50% of the days. Beyond what was listed in the two updates, I’m pretty confident I forgot stuff so the reality could be worst.

Me after looking over my notes and seeing how bad I goofed the challenge. Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

I am proud of some of the things I’ve done. Like I finally got rid of the weird pile of plastic I was hiding from my roommate (although I might have to start a new one, since I saw some ramen bowls in our recycling again).

That’s pretty much the only goal that I achieved. Which is disappointing since I was really confident that I could do better. That why in my original post I added stretch goals, I was really sure that Plastic Free July would challenging but doable.

I could give a bunch of excuses to why I broke my own rules, as well as a challenges. But I can really summaries it as lack of planning and lack of fortitude.

The lack of planning one I’m hoping to fix, for a variety of reasons that aren’t only related to my plastic usage.

But my lack of fortitude is a bit harder. That can’t be solved that with a planner and a To Do list (although it might help). As I suspected in my first post, a lot of the plastic waste is coming from eating take-out. Some of that is due to the nature of my job, which involves a lot of site work and driving. But that doesn’t explain the takeout coffees and after work fries and pop. Those were just me wanting them now instead of waiting until I was at the office or home for a drink and snack.

So although I don’t think I did that well, I do think this is a interesting baseline measurement. Either for future Plastic Free Julys but also for other months. I might track it September and see how it compares. If I was a massive data nerd, I could track it for the next year and make some cool graphs with what type of plastic I’m using and where I put it at end of use. I would love to tell you I’m that kind of person, but I far too forgetful. So don’t look for that in the future.

So what now?

If you are new to Plastic Free July, their website has a lot of decent swaps for reducing plastic waste in the home.

But for the most part just planning a head so you don’t do what I do and impulse buy takeout. That’s better for the environment and ones wallet. I’m too nervous to even look at my bank statements to see how much money I spend this month on take out (minus the reimbursable stuff from work).

In my first post, I mentioned that I wanted to look in to the City of Toronto’s recycling program to learn more about it and maybe lobby for it to include black plastic. I haven’t done that. I still fully intend looking into that and Toronto’s composting program. May I update this post, or write a separate one when I’ve gotten the time to do the research. 

To wrap up, still a bit disappointed in how I did but I think that this was good eye opener that despite thinking I know a lot about waste reduction and plastic alternatives, I don’t fully practise what I preach and can improve.

Did you do Plastic Free July? How was it for you? I would love to read about it in the comments.

Plastic Free Update #1

This is an update to my last post (I’m Gonna Try ‘Plastic Free July’) you can read it here.

Not off to a strong start…

Below is a summary of the days were I failed (and, like, two times passed) at Plastic Free July and how:

July 1st: I was sitting in a park with my partner and we both wanted some coffee…

We thought that the café nearby was doing outdoor dining and we could use their mugs. Unfortunately, it was doing take-out only. Knowing this, we still both got an ice coffee and a popsicle.

So in the quest for caffeine, we created two take-out coffee cups and two popsicle plastic bags worth of waste. Also this was place was friggin expensive. We probably should have planned a bit better and brought coffee on the road with us before hanging out.

July 2: Went for a walk after dinner around my neighborhood and stopped by the grocery store. Got toilet paper because we ran out. As well, a pint of strawberries since they are on hella sale. Both items were wrapped in plastic.

July 6: Doing a bit better, I haven’t brought new plastic. I’ve mostly been eating in. I even stopped myself from just getting take-out because I was out of the house running errands.

I’ve used plastic products tho. I’ve finished two dips that were in plastic packaging, which I washed and recycled.

As well, I did have to throw out a bread bag since that isn’t accepted in our recycling system.

July 8: Upside: Got my coffee in my reusable mug. Downside: Second Cup has not fully brought back their Lug-a-Mug program. So my barista had to pour my coffee into a paper cup and pour it into my travel mug.

So the waste was generated even if I didn’t have to throw it out.

After my barista finished pouring my coffee, he showed pictures of the steak with basil chimichurri sauce he made the night before. It looked nice (unfortunately I couldn’t include the pic here).

Later than day, I ordered a donut and pizza for takeout. Both packaged in cardboard. Although the pizza box is too oily to be recycled. Not plastic, but I did break my own rules of not ordering out cause I’m weak willed and hungry.

July 9: I got a coffee from Timmies on my way back from a site for work. I took the drive-through so I couldn’t ask if they would fill my mug.

I will fully admit this plastic waste could have been avoided if I was less lazy and waited till I got home for coffee.

July 10: Went to a small grocer near my house. I brought my own plastic bags from previous trips and used them again. The cashier didn’t noticed.

July 13: Broke down and:

  • got an iced coffee.
  • used plastic bags since I forgot to bring down all my reusable ones from my apartment into my car before I left for the store.
  • bought mushrooms wrapped in plastic since they were on sale, instead of the loose option.

Overall not a good day…

July 14: Got two To-Go containers of Timmies coffee for the client and construction crew I was working with. And I helped myself to a coffee that was in a paper cup, since I forgot my own travel mug.

July 15: Honestly the photo captures how the month is going. But, like, in a bad way…

Changing lives by destroying future generations…

Also it seems that Tim Hortons’ now gives paper straws with orders. This is a very small and somewhat performative step from one of Canada’s larger sources of litter.

So that’s where I am at the halfway mark of Plastic Free July. It turned out to be harder than expected. Mostly due to my own lack of planning. I want to say that it gets better in the second half of the month. But that would be a lie.

Are you doing Plastic Free July? Or do you know of ways that I can stop forgetting my travel mug every time I leave the house? Love to hear about it in the comments below.

BOOK REVIEW: New Minimalism by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici

New Minimalism is written by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici. It was published in 2018, after their blog and consulting service of the same name grew in popularity.

This books angle in the minimalism landscape is including a sustainable lens for how to declutter.

The majority of the book explains the standard why minimalism is good for you and how to declutter your house. Their method is sorta similar to the KonMarie method by Marie Kondo, bring all similar items from a categories together and sort from there.

The differences are the categories, and for the clothes and home décor sections, the first step should be to pick your 5 favorited items that you definitely want to keep. That will help you visualize your personal style and guide you through your maybes. Which I think is a good idea, particularly when it’s your first round of full house decluttering.

They also mentioned the four archetypes of people that are starting their minimalism journey and which categories will be hardest for them and some tips to help. I think this section could have been fleshed out more. They mentioned their experience with their clients and I would have liked to hear more about that and the timeline of the whole thing.  

The archetypes are as follows:

  • Connected: They wants to keep things from loved ones and are very sentimental about their items.
  • Practical: They want to keep stuff because it might be useful one day.
  • Energetic : They take on a lot of projects and hobbies. Then they don’t want to get rid of any of it, even though it’s unlikely they will complete it.
  • Frugal: Keep items because of the money they spend on it. Or the idea the item may increase in value.
Image Source: New Minimalism

There’s actual mentions of therapy! It was a one off sentence in an anecdote but I appreciate that they mentioned a client being in therapy that helping them figure out why they held on to certain items.

So many books, and even this book in previous chapters, mention a client just “eventually coming to the realization” on something massive. I guess it can happen that way, but I think that those types of stories really gloss over the work a individual has to do to get to that point. They just seem to think minimalism will solved everything in a dudes life.

I wish they had gone deeper on that or clients that didn’t do therapy but came to figured out their hurdles. Like more on though process to get there.

The last portion of the book was about interior design, they include 12 design tips/elements to incorporate into your final design when your done. I won’t go into them. But they made sense: use existing storage before buying more. Your drawers should be only filled to the point you can open and close them with one hand. Find a home for everything.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

I wished that this book had gone a bit deeper in the route of sustainability. They encouraged donating instead of throwing away and using more simple “natural” cleaning products. I don’t remember 2018 that well but I believe that we were more evolved in the eco and decluttering world by then.  They mentioned very briefly donating to more specific originations than just your local Goodwill but don’t explained why (ps: The big places get too overwhelmed with donations and end up trashing most of it).

I did quickly look at their blog, and it seems like nothing has been published since they released the guided journal extension for this book in 2020. A few of the articles touched on items directly mentioned in this book.

Image Source New Minimalism

Overall I just found this book under developed and I would just suggest taking 10 minutes looking through their blog posts and you will probably find all the important parts of this book.

Not to end on a bad note, the book had a lot of pictures of interior spaces, and I really liked them. There was colour, and nice, natural materials. Which is sometimes lacking when you think of minimalist décor. So that was nice to look at when you got to a end of a chapter.

BOOK REVIEW: Voluntary Simplicity (2nd Edition) by Duane Elgin

autumn boots walking on wet wooden logs

As I was reading thing book I was complaining to pretty much anyone that would let me about how boring it was. They would ask why I’m bothering with it? I said I wanted to finish it so I had content for the blog. Now that I’m done, I can confidently say that the approximately 8 hours that I invested reading this book wasn’t worth it!

Voluntary Simplicity is a fantastic combination of being both boring and extremely pretentious. I went into this book with the intention of liking it. It was mentioned in The Story of Stuff, that I read over Christmas. I loved that book so I was hoping that this book would live up to the hype.

It did not…

Photo by Maksim Romashkin on Pexels.com

The thesis of the book is that everyone should reduce their level of consumerism and live more simply as a way to reduce their environmental impact. Sorta like everyone should be working to reaching ‘One Planet’ levels of consumption/way of living (If you’ve never taken the test, you should, the data is interesting and it explains the concept more).

In the introduction, he explained that living simple isn’t the same thing as poverty. I don’t love the way that he worded that portion, but it’s about how voluntary you are to the simplicity that impacts how much joy and longevity you will get out of it.

After that, there is over 75 pages of testimony’s about how great the voluntary simplicity lifestyle is, and it was so pretentious. It was like when you’re on a first date and you both just ordered appetizers. And that’s when you find out the person sitting across from you is the worst stereotypical of a vegan investment banker. That level of pretentious, self indulgent righteousness.

I can’t even say it gets better after that potion. The whole book is very repetitive. Chapter 5 got a tad better, there was a list of the negative impacts associated with over consumption. I enjoyed reading it the first time I saw it, then I saw a variation two more times. Same with the list of quotes for the major religions/philosophies that would support the idea of simple, sustainable living that I read in three chapters.

This book would have been better as mediocre content for a blog. There are so many  lists and quotes, that would have not been so boring or noticeable if they were spread out over numerous posts.

Here is one example that I screenshot:

The only part of the book I remember/thought about after finishing, is that one of the challenges of achieving a sustainable sociality is a lack of a “collective promise of the future”. Pretty much everyone is working on a different vision of how they want the future to look. Which makes it harder to work on the big societal/intuitional changes that the world (let be honest, first world countries) need to do to ensure we don’t destroy the planet as we know it. Unfortunately the idea it not developed much beyond what I just mentioned.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

The author listed some interesting concepts of what they believe the way of the future should be. Smaller, cohabitation communities close to farm land/food sources. I agree with the high level idea of a sense of community as a pillar of sustainability. However, I believe that their vision for sustainable communities don’t hold up if you think about it too hard. I don’t want to get into much detail about it since they didn’t really either.

The book doesn’t give you much information on how to actually go through the process of simplifying. It’s just a lot of Philosophy 101 mumbo jumbo with the words like environment or sustainability thrown in to make it ~spicy~. Ultimately, I believe that addressing overconsumption is a great way an individual can reduce their environmental impacts. I don’t think this book was the way to deliver that message. Also, that just a small piece of the puzzle of how we can try to solve the climate crisis.

PS. I read some reviews and they mention that the first edition is much better and the rewrites ruined the book. I will take their word for it, and I will not be reading the first edition to compare.