Zero waste garbage free shopping lifestyle beautiful farmers market produce Hippie in Disguise Danielle Chassin

From Minimal to Zero: My Garbage Free Journey

Zero waste garbage free shopping lifestyle beautiful farmers market produce Hippie in Disguise Danielle Chassin

Just over a year ago I interviewed the Devine Family for my series on minimalists. Living off the grid in a place with no garbage collection they had to develop a way to live that minimized garbage production. I was fascinated, all the while knowing that garbage – items that are thrown away with explicit intent of never being made useful again – is a modern phenomenon. We were making little garbage at the time, but I decided I wanted us to get to zero. So, off I went figuring out how to do that.

About a month ago, after I wrote about our experience participating in Plastic Free July, I was approached by Maximizer Magazine (a digital magazine about minimalism and simple living) to write about ways to reduce waste. I figured this would be a good place to share the story of our family’s pursuit of a garbage free, zero waste lifestyle and some simple tips for people interested in cutting down on the waste they make.

If you are interested in reading about our journey, the magazine is free to download at this link. [ Update: the first issue is free, however you will need to subscribe to read issue 3, which includes my article. Sorry for any confusion ]

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Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? They are monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off , you can read more about it here

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Plastic Free July Zero Waste Plum and Sparrow Market Basket

Plastic Free Living: 9 Ways to Get Inspired and Informed

Plastic Free July Zero Waste Plum and Sparrow Market Basket

This past July our family participated in Plastic Free July, you can read about it here. To update you, we are continuing on with our project to eliminate plastic from our lives, still making poor choices some days, but all in all doing much better at keeping plastic to a minimum in our home.

There are a lot of great resources on the web to get people motivated to eliminate plastic from their lives, both practical and funny. Here are a few places you might want to check out for more plastic free inspiration, resources and entertainment:

  • This video by Tim Minchin Canvas Bag – watch it to the end, it’s worth 3 minutes of your life.
  • Litterless Blog, a great resource for making less waste, practical and achievable. And read my interview with Litterless blogger Celia here.
  • A great post for beginners is over on Less Makes Happy where you will 5 tips for getting started.
  • The Beauty in Simple, another great blog with practical tips for how to live a busy life with kids and make zero (or close to) waste. You can also read my interview with Juliehere.
  • Resource: The book ZERO WASTE HOME by Bea Johnson is a resource I refer to every week to solve simple zero waste problems, so far I haven’t come across a problem the book couldn’t offer a solution to.
  • Real talk: I have been really enjoying the Petalplum blog lately, Ellie has been sharing her month of plastic free in a funny, practical, humble and achievable way. Read this post and this one too.

On my site:

  • How To: A simple tutorial for wrapping gifts with fabric instead of paper and plastic tape.
  • Inspiration: The original source of my inspiration to live zero waste was the amazing Devine Family from Australia. Read about them here.
  • DIY: How to make your own milk, the recipe is for cashew but you can use oats, almonds, sesame seeds, rice, and it works just great.

What websites, blog posts and other resources have you found funny, helpful and inspiring? Please share in the comments below!

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? These are monthly learning capsules for children and their families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code:HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off and read more about it here.
Plastic Free July Plum and Sparrow Market Basket

Plastic Free July: Our Successes and Failures

Do something drastic, rid the world of plastic” – Tim Minchin, Australian Musician and Comedian

Plastic Free July Plum and Sparrow Market Basket

Plastic free shopping with the help of a market basket, reusable produce box, bulk produce bag and glass mason jar

 

I’ve mentioned a few times that July is Plastic Free Month. For those who are new around here, Plastic Free July “aims to raise awareness of the problems of single-use disposable plastic and challenges people to do something about it.” People are encouraged to refuse all single-use plastic for the period of a day, week, month or longer.  Alternatively, people can opt to refuse the top 4 single use plastic items, which are: plastic bags, water bottles, to-go coffee cups and straws. Sadly, it is estimated that by 2050, “there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Most [of this plastic] comes from land and was once in our hands.” Together we can make small, but significant changes, by refusing single-use plastics to keep oceans and waterways clean.

A little truth to start things off: while I had heard of Plastic Free July in the past I never actively participated in it. I’m not sure why, it’s not that I think I’m perfect and it wasn’t for fear of failure. I guess I was just otherwise occupied with my thoughts.

Farmers Market Ottawa Garlic Plastic Free July Zero Waste

Compostable packaging courtesy of Mother Nature

 

So, this year I decided I would actively participate in Plastic Free July. I did not expect it to be hard, nor did I think it would be a total breeze. I knew that we brought home plastics fairly often, despite trying not to, and usually without any guilt because these plastics were recyclable. You know, yogurt containers, ketchup squeeze bottles, bottled hair conditioner and so on. For years now we’ve been focused on minimizing our waste, that is, garbage that ends up in landfill, but we hadn’t put a lot of effort into minimizing our recyclables. Although, had we stopped often enough to think about this, we would have realized that “recyclable” is not a free ticket. While recycling does keep significant amounts waste out of landfill, recycling is still a dirty process, meaning it still creates waste, pollutes water, air and soil, and overall is not as gentle as we’d like to think.

I decided that for Plastic Free July I was going to go full tilt: no plastic of any sort, single use, multi-use, recyclable or not.

Plastic Free July Zero Waste Plum and Sparrow Market Basket

Preparing for a trip to the farmers market with market basket, reusable produce boxes, cloth bulk food bags, mason jar and bees wax food wraps for baked goods

 

So, how did it go, you ask? Pretty well, but it was definitely an eye opening month. And, punchline: I did not succeed in going the full month without acquiring plastic. I failed around the end of week two when we went, rather unprepared, on a camping trip. And then I failed a few more times. Overall, though, I learned a lot about our habits and conveniences, and am a much better zero waste shopper now, and feel like there were many successes.

Like I mentioned above we have focused on zero waste shopping for a while now. But, zero waste for us was very simplistically applied: no landfill garbage. So, we did all the usual green shopper things like bringing our own reusable shopping bags, produce and bulk bags, shopping baskets (on Amazon here), including produce boxes and mason jars when we were being extra good. But…we did not refuse to buy things that were in plastic if the plastic was recyclable. Starting to say ‘no’ to these plastics really opened our eyes to how much plastic we were bringing into our home.

We realized that it’s pretty easy to say ‘no’ to produce packaged in plastic, because there are alternatives, like farmers markets. Other items like ketchup are easy to make, but when you start making these things yourself you quickly run out of time…no matter how delicious (and fun) homemade ketchup is, you can’t make ketchup and cream cheese and yogurt and all the rest of these items in the same day or week. This meant we had to opt to not buy some of these items; y’know, the good ol’ environmentalist practice of doing without. It’s not always the most fun, but it is quite instructive, you quickly learn how much you can do without, without this affecting your enjoyment of life.

Zero waste farmers market shopping ottawa canada

Another problem was the whole category of things you don’t normally make for yourself, like hair conditioner. While shampoo bars (unpackaged shampoo in a soap bar format) are pretty easy to find, I have never come across conditioner bars (if you know of one, please share!). My hair, and especially Ro’s curly mane, cannot go many days without a detangling conditioner after shampooing. I tried to go without shampooing my hair and within 5 days I could not endure the pain my scalp was experiencing from adjusting to a lack of washing. As it turned out, I had enough hair conditioner to last the month, but I’m fairly certain I would have bought some if I had run out. I will definitely experiment with some homemade conditioner recipes over the coming months, so that I can go plastic free for my hair care. I probably never would have thought to make my own conditioner if it weren’t for Plastic Free July, so thank you PFJ for that!

Ok, so aside from figuring out solutions to plastic packaged items that aren’t available in an unpackaged or glass format, we also found that the single most frequent problem for us was: lack of preparation (like bringing containers with us and packing snacks for outings). If you go to the grocery store without your reusable bag you will probably come home with a plastic one. That’s just the reality. But, the way to ensure this doesn’t happen is fairly simple: bring a cloth bag with you or always carry a cloth bag in your purse or backpack or back pocket, so that you can spontaneously shop without needing to take a plastic bag. This applies, in general, to living plastic free, a few moments of preparation and forethought, coupled with developing new habits (for example shopping at bulk stores) will keep you from taking home unnecessary plastic. By the way, in case it’s not obvious, bulk stores are perfectly happy with you bringing your own bags and containers to package food with (just remember to weigh your heavy containers first and note the weight before you fill them).

At the risk of making this post too long, I will leave my advice on how to adapt to plastic free living to the above, however, please feel free to ask questions in the comments section found at the end of this post.

Overall our experience with going plastic free distilled down to: preparation, adaptation and refusal. I haven’t touched on refusal yet. So, yes, the reality is that not everything (but almost everything) we ordinarily buy and consume can be acquired in a plastic-free way. But, not everything… For example, conventional vegan hotdogs and sausages are not available unpackaged, and while these are only borderline healthy, my children really enjoy eating these at barbecues with friends. This was something we would have to refuse to buy to be 100% plastic free. There are other examples too, but to be frank there were so few I’m having a hard time remembering them. In general, you can go plastic free by opting to package your own foods, whether buying in bulk or going to a farmers market, or opting for foods packaged in paper products or metal. (Paper is much better because it is compostable, whereas metal must be recycled).

Plastic Free July wasn’t all problems and adaptations, though, it was also really fun and filled with pleasant surprises. For example, when we went to the store to buy some gummy treats for Sen and brought a cloth napkin to wrap them in, instead of using the compostable plastic bags they offer, the store found this so charming that they gave him his gummy treats for free (…we explained about Plastic Free July, and of course, it’s much cuter in Sen’s sweet voice). As you can imagine, this made quite the impression on Sen! He definitely had good incentive to remember his cloth napkin the next time.

At the farmers market, whereas in the past when I ran out of my own bags for purchases I would often still buy a few things packaged in plastic, I refused these items. However, a few of the farmers and bakers gave us the item for free when we explained why we were skipping on a usual purchase from them. We found that these interactions often led to great discussion about plastics and recycling, and many people were really receptive to trying out plastic-free shopping themselves. We’re not the evangelical types, we try our best to live sustainably and make good choices, but we don’t broadcast these decisions – we do, however, engage in conversation when people ask us how we do things or why live the way we do. In the case of Plastic Free July, we had great conversations in local shops and chain stores too, with farmers and bakers, baristas and lots of other interested folk. I feel like this was the greatest benefit of Plastic Free July. It wasn’t keeping plastics out of landfill and recycling bins (which was, of course, IS a great benefit and the goal), but it was the conversations we had, the sharing of information and growing awareness, the daily activism it encouraged, that was the greatest benefit. If my small changes coupled with some good conversations lead to a few other small changes and conversations, the effect becomes exponential pretty quickly. At least I hope it does. Someone check my math on that, okay?

Farmers market zero waste shopping basket cherries

So July is over, but plastic free shopping will continue for us. The minds behind Plastic Free July were smart because they know that if you commit to something for a month you will probably stick with it over time. It’s hard for me to imagine going back to mindlessly acquiring plastics simply because they are recyclable. That said, I know we won’t be totally plastic free. Like any big change, it is best to start small, forgive yourself for missteps, and keep going. Personally, I have to be sensitive that my interests and values shouldn’t dictate how my whole family behaves and so I have to let them figure out their own way of living. Which might mean more packaged vegan hotdogs are in our future, because so far my homemade sausages are not as delicious I’m told, and some things, like summer barbecue traditions, are pretty important to 5 year olds.

Zero waste shopping farmers market ottawa beet root vegetables

A few things and places to check out for more plastic free inspiration, resources and entertainment:

  • Watch (and share) this video by Tim Minchin Canvas Bag – watch it to the end, it’s worth 3 minutes of your life.
  • Litterless Blog, a great resource for making less waste, practical and achievable. And read my interview with Litterless blogger Celia here.
  • A great post for beginners is over on Less Makes Happy where you will 5 tips for getting started.
  • DIY: How to make your own milk, the recipe is for cashew but you can use oats, almonds, sesame seeds, rice, and it works just great.
  • The Beauty in Simple, another great blog with practical tips for how to live a busy life with kids and make zero (or close to) waste. You can also read my interview with Julie here.
  • Resource: The book ZERO WASTE HOME by Bea Johnson is a resource I refer to every week to solve simple zero waste problems, so far I haven’t come across a problem the book couldn’t offer a solution to.
  • How To: A simple tutorial for wrapping gifts with fabric instead of paper and plastic tape.
  • Inspiration: The original source of my inspiration to live zero waste was the amazing Devine Family from Australia. Read about them here.
  • Real talk: I have been really enjoying the Petalplum blog lately, Ellie has been sharing her month of plastic free in a funny, practical, humble and achievable way. Read this post and this one too.

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Bamboo toothbrush charcoal bristle Gaia guy Plastic Free July living roof succulent garden

Giveaway: Bamboo Toothbrushes by Gaia Guy

Bamboo toothbrush charcoal bristle Gaia guy Plastic Free July living roof succulent garden

This month is Plastic Free July and to help celebrate I have a giveaway for 4 bamboo toothbrushes from Gaia Guy. Find out how to enter at the end of this post.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Plastic Free July “aims to raise awareness of the problems of single-use disposable plastic and challenges people to do something about it.” People are encouraged to refuse all single-use plastic for the period of a day, week, month or longer. Either that or refuse the top 4 single use plastic items: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws. Sadly, it is estimated that by 2050, “there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Most [of this plastic] comes from land and was was once in our hands.” Together we can refuse single-use plastics and keep oceans and waterways clean.

Toothbrushes aren’t single use items, but they are daily use items that are easily replaced with a non-plastic equivalent. Bamboo toothbrushes, with charcoal bristles, are recyclable and biodegradable. That means that even if you don’t have local recycling facilities your toothbrush will biodegrade and nourish the earth over time. Plastic toothbrushes will only breakdown into micro-plastics, at best, and will degrade the health of the planet over time. Not to mention toothbrushes prove deadly to sea animals who often mistakenly eat plastics and die as a consequence. Bamboo toothbrushes are affordable ($4-5) and last just as long as the plastic equivalent.

The bamboo brushes by Gaia Guy:

  • are made from 100% natural bamboo – truly sustainable
  • are vegan friendly, BPA-free, lead-free, phthalates-free, guilt-free
  • have bristles that are biodegradable nylon-4 infused with bamboo charcoal
  • are light, yet solid and are a naturally antimicrobial toothbrush
  • have packaging that is eco-friendly with recycled cardboard and no glue that is recyclable, compostable and biodegradable
  • last as long as conventional plastic toothbrushes
  • are a great eco-friendly gift

Imagine the amount of plastic you will keep out of the environment by choosing to use a biodegradable toothbrush. One simple choice can create a powerful positive change for the environment. What’s more: small simple changes encourage us to make more small simple changes over time that really add up and have a ripple effect with our friends and family.

So, the next time you need a new toothbrush go find a bamboo one at a local shop or order one online. Gaia Guy sells them here.

  • By the way, if you aren’t making your own toothpaste I would recommend that you check out Truthpaste – they make a superb paste that is free of plastic microbeads (yes, conventional toothpaste has plastic in it that you swallow and spit down the drain. Horrendous!)

I would also encourage you to visit Gaia Guy’s website to read about his passion for regenerative enterprises. (He didn’t ask me to share any of this or the facts on his toothbrushes, I just loved what I found on his site and wanted to share with my readers). As he explains “regenerative enterprises are about partnerships with living systems,” that is, business in harmony with the planet and its ecosystems. As he explains this is not an oxymoron. I truly think regenerative enterprise should be the model for business going forward. Thank you for your energy and inspiration on this Ian (Gaia Guy)! Everything Gaia Guy stocks is biodegradable, reusable and bio-based.

To enter the giveaway for 4 bamboo toothbrushes, visit my Instagram account and look for the photo above, and make sure to:

  • Follow @higaiaguy on Instagram
  • Follow me @hippieindisguise
  • Like and comment on the giveaway photo
  • Bonus entries:
    • Tag friends in the comments on the Instagram giveaway photo, separate each friend into a different comment so that it is easier for me to make the ballots ???? No limit to the number of friends tagged. Each friend counts for an additional entry.
  • Get 5 extra entries: post a photo of yourself, your children, family or friends doing something good for the earth, like planting a tree or doing something in a more sustainable way. Use the hashtag #hippieslovegaiaguy so we can find your entry
  • Get 2 extra entries for putting @hippieindisguise and @higaiaguy in your Instagram post
  • Bonus entry if you follow Gaia Guy on Facebook

Contest closes Sunday July 31, 2016 at midnight and is open worldwide. Good luck friends!

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Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Interview with a Minimalist: Celia of Litterless Blog

I always say that minimalism isn’t just about our possessions. It can be about minimizing all sorts of things like our social calendar, our electronic communications, the number of decisions we make in a day or the garbage we produce.

Today, I have an interview with Celia that I’m excited to share with you. Celia is a recent graduate who, upon finishing school and setting up her first home, seized the opportunity to craft a home space and home ethic founded in simplicity and anchored in her environmental values. This led her to set up a minimalist space and zero waste life. Zero waste can seem, at best, intimidating and, at worst, impossible, but Celia has a way of sharing her lifestyle that is humble and practical – which you can read about on her awesome zero waste blog known as Litterless. I encourage you to bookmark her blog when you visit it, she is always posting very simple, useful, implementable tips for living garbage free. We can take a big leap or small steps but we should all be working towards making less garbage each and every day. Less is best. Aside from writing about and inspiring others to live more lightly upon the earth, Celia loves walking, yoga, reading, cooking, traveling and exploring cities. I hope you enjoy the read and are inspired to share!

Litterless zero waste celia

Hi Celia! Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I’m in my twenties, loving my first few years out of college and the freedom that comes with them – to travel, to have time in the day to spend as I wish, to build my life exactly as I want. These are really good years.

What part of the world do you live in?

I live in the United States, in Chicago, which I love. It’s big enough to have really great public transportation but still be very walkable – both things that help streamline my daily routine.

I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

I want my home to be filled with simple, useful, beautiful things that I love and that are well cared for, so that I can spend my time and money on pursuits that matter more to me than possessions, like hanging out with family and friends, heading outdoors, reading, relaxing. I want to make sure the objects I own support rather than hinder these activities. Additionally, it’s important to me that my home is a calming, relaxing place that isn’t crammed with stuff; I want it to be a place where I live life, not where I store an overabundance of things.

Litterless Zero waste minimalist bedroom

Your lifestyle is, in part, focused on waste, that is, not creating any. Can you tell me more about your journey to a zero waste lifestyle? How did you get started minimizing waste? And how far have you come?

When I graduated from college and moved to my first apartment, I was faced with so many choices about how to live my life, how to set up my daily routines, how to do these adult tasks I’d rarely done before. I knew that I wanted my life to reflect my environmental values, and part of that meant reducing the amount of trash and recycling I made. To start, I set up a composting system so that I didn’t have to throw away organic waste, and began trying to reduce the amount of trash I made while grocery shopping. Now I don’t even own a trash can! An unexpected benefit of zero waste is that it’s made my life so much more efficient – I purchase what I need without packaging, and I no longer have to deal with a constant influx of disposable products into my home that I must then sort/donate/throw away. Not surprisingly, I don’t miss taking out the trash one bit.

What is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle? 

I came to minimalism hoping to free up resources from an environmental perspective, and also to save time in my own life by simplifying my home and daily routines. As I moved towards becoming zero waste and thinking more about how to reduce my environmental footprint, I wanted to make sure that things I wasn’t using could be used by someone else while they still had life in them – so I began donating them. At the same time, I was feeling the pressures of my first job and wanting to find more hours in the day, and I thought that simplifying my home would help with that. And it has! I spend much less time cleaning and organizing now, which is such a boon.

Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet in general, but one thing I do wholeheartedly love about it is the fact that it introduced me to minimalism and zero waste in the first place. The beautiful blog No Trash Project provided my initial impetus for going zero waste – I love how thoughtfully and carefully its writer, Colleen, thinks about the objects she owns. A few (of many) more favorite inspirations – Zero Waste Home, Reading My Tea Leaves, and JaneJoJulia.

In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

I have what some would consider an absurd number of books – but it works for me. I read constantly, am a fast reader, and often re-read beloved books many times, so having a well-filled bookshelf is a must. However, I no longer purchase books (even secondhand books!). Instead, I lean heavily on the library and swap books often with friends.

What have been some unexpected experiences, positive or negative, you’ve had with minimalism?

Parting with objects at first was hard and absolutely did not come naturally to me; I unconsciously associated my possessions (even unused, unneeded ones) with a feeling of security. But, unexpectedly, the more I downsized the more I came to really love minimalism and to be able to really see its benefits – how it helped me have more time, a more lovely and calming home, a feeling of lightness. The deeper I got into minimalism, the easier it became to identify and let go of excess, and now I know I’ll never go back to living with clutter and things I don’t love or need.

Litterless zero waste wool dryer balls

What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

Some people (like Marie Kondo) advocate getting rid of everything you don’t need all at once, in one giant marathon session. That approach works for some people, but I kind of think it’s crazy! Going slowly and getting rid of things over a longer period of time has allowed me to to be more thoughtful about what I keep and what I pass along. Slowly decluttering (truly, over a period of several years) has also been a big help in making sure I’m donating each item to where it will best be reused or recycled (instead of dumping a huge load of random things on overcrowded local thrift stores or, worse, in the trash). I’m a big believer that the downsizing process should be approached with an eye to sustainability (here I’ve shared a few tips on how to do that!), and going slowly has allowed me to stay focused on that.

Litterless zero waste wrapping furoshiki

Thank you Celia! Readers make sure to check our Celia’s blog Litterless it is a great resource for living simply and garbage free. You can also find Celia on Instagram @go_litterless and on Twitter @go_litterless.

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You might also like my post:

Garbage Free: How to Make Your Own Delicious Cashew Milk

Interview with a Minimalist: The Devine Family on Living Garbage Free

How to Get Started with Minimalism: Assess your Personality

Talking about Minimalism and Sustainability with Robin Kay

Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? These are monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off, you can read more about it here

How to Make All Natural Flower Tattoos for Children

Read dried flowers for temporary tattoos

When flowers are blooming over the spring and summer, the children and I are constantly picking up fallen petals and blossoms for little projects. We press them, dry them, make mandalas and do all sorts of creative things. Something both kids love to do is wear flower petals as an alternative to face paint. I’m fairly particular about what goes into and onto their little bodies so I generally discourage face painting and temporary tattoos because I’m not sure of what’s in them. A fun, easy and beautiful alternative has been using flower petals applied to the skin with a little coconut oil or a salve (I used this one). We just apply a little to the face and then the petal adheres easily. Depending on the rigidity of the petal they stay on for longer or shorter periods of time – but no matter what they have fun with it! We’ve found that more supple, flexible petals work best because they can easily ply to the contours of the face.

When I was on Pinterest a few months ago I came across a photo of an arm covered in flowers. The tattoos looked so realistic I clicked through the link and discovered that a makeup artist, named Verity Cumming, had in fact used real flowers as temporary tattoos. For her process, she had dried flowers and then applied them to the arm using synthetic glues, such as eyelash glue, to keep the flowers in place. I knew a glue would not feel great on the skin, especially for children who tend to be more touch sensitive, but also that glue isn’t the healthiest on the skin, so I decided to develop my own technique to affix the flowers as temporary tattoos.

Real dried flower temporary tattoos soft star shoes

Real Flower Temporary Tattoos Soft Star Shoes Hippie in Disguise

First, there were a few failures. (I thought I’d share them here, so you don’t repeat my mistakes) I tried using some flowers that we had pressed and dried and no matter what we tried they were simply too brittle to hold together on the skin – they crumbled. I realized they were too dry. Next I tried using some fresher flowers and petals, but these were either too heavy (from water content) or not supple enough/too rigid (from water content). They needed to be drier. But, have you ever noticed that if you let flowers air dry they tend to dry from the outside to the middle? I knew that if I let them dry naturally they would still crumble at the edges from being unevenly dried. So I tried to accelerate and even out the drying process. I adapted Verity’s technique of drying the flowers with paper towels in the microwave (using fabric dish towels instead of paper towels, because zero waste is a good thing right?).

Through trial and error I figured out the best way to make all natural temporary flower tattoos. Here’s what worked:

1)      Gathering: Gather fresh flowers and petals of any and all sorts available to you. We don’t generally buy cut flowers or pick them, but we still have an abundance of sources of fresh flowers. Do not pick! Be resourceful! You can find fallen flowers and petals in gardens all the time. In the winter I visit the florist and ask if I can pick up blooms from the floor or use their floral “waste” from bouquets. They are always happy to share and curious about what I plan to do with the flowers. An opportunity to have a conversation about using flowers creatively!

2)      Preparing: Cut as much of the stem off as possible, this is easy with flowers like hydrangeas and pansies. You want to end up with a very flat flower for application. For flowers that have a hard or thick stem I recommend pulling the petals off and drying them individually.

3)      Drying: Lay a fabric dish towel over a large plate. Lay the flowers out on the dish towel. Place another dish towel on top to sandwich the petals between dishcloths. Then place a second plate over the dish towel. This will help to flatten the flowers. (The layering is: plate, towel, flowers, towel, plate). To dry them evenly I heated the plate and flower stack in the microwave for 40 seconds. I found that some flowers needed longer. If you are using many different types of flowers I recommend drying similar flowers together, they are more likely to require the same amount of time, and therefore you have less risk of over- or under-drying some flowers. To know that they are dry enough, just lift up the plate and towel and do a visual check, you will probably see some wet spots (flower sweat!) on the towel. Touch the flowers: if they feel limp and look flatter than before they are good. If they still seem rigid, then heat them a little longer. Once they are flat and limp, lay them out to finish drying in the air. They will still feel somewhat soft and moist, but I found they can’t be completely dried, they need some moisture for them to stay intact when tattooing. It sounds complicated, but once you try it I think you’ll see it’s pretty easy.

  • Warning: Some flowers will transfer their colour to the dish towel, so use a towel that you don’t mind getting a little stained.

4)      Applying: I used a beeswax salve with lavender oil in it (because I know it’s soothing on my children’s skin and they love the smell!), I applied it to the skin where the flower would go, then gently applied the dried flower, gently smoothing the flower onto the skin and letting it adhere to the salve. For most flowers and thin petals this is enough. In some cases you might want to add a little salve to the exposed part of the flower (the part facing out/visible) to help smooth the flower onto the skin more.

The flowers and petals stay on pretty well like this. The smoother the petal is to the skin the longer it will stay in place. These are certainly not as long-lasting as a temporary tattoo that is glued on but it’s still lots of fun for the kids (and yourself!) and provides a fun way to decorate your child that is natural and encourages them to learn about flora. You could try experimenting with using natural glues like honey, agave, or syrup, I’ve heard these work well too. The advantage of salves is that it’s good for the skin.

Flower tattooing is a great opportunity to learn about flowers with your children, for example:

  • You can teach them the names of the flowers as you apply them
  • You can talk about which flowers retain their colour through drying and which change
  • You can feel and talk about the different petal textures

As with all of my “how to” posts and DIYs please feel free to ask questions in the comments or share your feedback, there’s always something I’ve forgotten to include in my explanation!

UPDATE: This tutorial was recently included in the publication Project Calm: A magazine for mindful creatives. You can read more about it here!

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If you are interested in Ro’s shoes they are from Soft Star and are available through this link. Soft Star is an American shoe maker (men, women, children and baby shoes). All Soft Star shoes are handmade, using end-to-end environmentally friendly processes and materials. Ro’s shoes are the Hawthorne model (adults). Sen has the Swift model from the children’s range.

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Julie Fathy the beauty in simple Hippie in Disguise Interview with a Minimalist Cloth Diapers

Interview with a Minimalist: Julie

Simply do without.

When I was setting up my first apartment my parents kindly sent me off with all the duplicates from their house: some extra utensils, cups, bath towels, bedroom linens, things that had accumulated but that they didn’t really need. It was very kind of them. Despite their generosity the majority of the things I needed like a frying pan, a bed and a table to eat at were still among the items missing from my apartment. My instinct was to buy an inexpensive frying pan at a discount store, something that would last a few months, hopefully a year, until I could afford a good one. I felt some guilt even at the thought of buying something I knew would soon become garbage, but what choice did I have? Matt, thank goodness for him, said there was clearly a choice: Choose to do without. Do without until you can buy something you’ll own forever. Aha! He was right. Soooo right. So, I lived those first few months without any appliances and just a few kitchen tools, until I could buy a premium frying pan with a lifetime warranty. It was expensive, but we still own it and use it today. We’ve never had to replace it, likely never will.

Since this time, we have always taken the approach that we will not buy a “for now” or “temporary” item. We only buy forever things — quality things that we expect to last our lifetime, that we never expect to replace. This has meant we’ve gone a long time without some things (13 years without a bed, yep!), but it has also meant we’ve lightened our impact on the planet and overall have saved ourselves money. We’ve also learned a lot about the difference between need and want. Most things we think we need, we really, truly, simply want.

To this day we still do not have a kitchen or dining table. We eat at a desk, a writing desk. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to make a trip to Ikea and buy some cheap dining table that could comfortably seat us and a few guests. But I’ve resisted. We’ve had holiday meals with 14 people squeezed like sardines around that desk. We’ve had many cozy dinners with friends around it – elbows knocking each other and no space for serving dishes, but enjoying food and conversation just the same. We’ve done just fine for nearly 20 years eating as a couple, eating as a family of 4, entertaining guests around a desk. We haven’t really done without.

Today, I’ve got a fantastic interview to share with you, with someone who really inspires others to think about what they can do without. Julie Fathy is a mother of three, living a simple life, inspired by minimalism and living in an ecologically thoughtful way. Her blog is a great resource for learning how to live with less, much less, how to do things yourself, how to live garbage free, and how to fill your life with fun and adventure. I hope you enjoy hearing from Julie and are inspired by what she shares.

Let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I’m a mother to teenagers and a toddler and married to the father of my youngest child. We live in Denver, Colorado. I work outside of the home at a company I started with another woman 12 years ago. When I’m not at the office, you’ll typically find me either at home or in the outdoors exploring. I get great enjoyment from time spent cooking, sewing, knitting, reading and making stuff. I also have a deep nature connection with a strong desire to protect the planet and explore the beauty it offers. My husband and I share a love for skiing, mountain biking, camping and mountaineering. We’re currently working on climbing all of our state’s 58 14,000+ foot mountains, of which I’ve summited 30.

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How many children do you have and what are they like?

I have three children ages 18, 16, and 2. My 18 year old daughter is a very driven and fiercely independent young woman. She shows a tremendous amount of generosity to others and works hard to keep a positive attitude in life. She’ll be a freshman at the University of Mississippi next year. My 16 year old son is a creative soul and a talented photographer. He has a great deal of compassion and a wonderful sense of humor. My two year old is a love bug. He has a very social and happy temperament and gives hugs and kisses freely. He loves to follow his big brother and sister around.

Do you have a favourite quote or words that inspire you?

I’m not even sure where it came from, but a favorite quote is “You can have what you want, or the excuses for not.” The quote serves as a reminder that the only thing stopping me from my goals and dreams are excuses. When I catch myself making an excuse I look hard at why. Sometimes an excuse serves as a means of filtering out things that aren’t important, but sometimes they are the stopping block for reaching a goal or dream.

I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

I’m drawn to simplicity in all aspects of my life and have found minimalism to be one of the best tools to achieve simplicity. By ridding my life of clutter, both mental and physical, I’m leaving space for what I value. There’s not an area in my life that I don’t give consideration on how it could be simplified.

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What is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

I would say I started on a minimalist path when I became a single mom. I envisioned a different life for myself and children that was edited of extra stuff so that time, money and energy could be freed up for a more intentional and meaningful life.

For 2016 you took a pledge to buy nothing new for the whole year. What inspired this? And how is it going?

I took the pledge for a couple reasons, and I can’t really say which is more important to me. On one hand, I’m on a journey to live lighter on the planet and use fewer of the earth’s resources. With a little creativity and resourcefulness, it’s easy to use what we have on hand, buy secondhand, repurpose materials, or simply do without.

I also took the pledge to curtail my spending so that I can pay off a home debt more rapidly and ultimately achieve financial freedom. When I do pay off what remains of the debt, I don’t expect my spending habits to change much. My hopes and dreams aren’t to own more, but to do more. The hardest part of the challenge is that my teenagers have expectations of me to provide some of their material goods. Sometimes it’s tough to say “no” but I did build in a quarterly clothing allowance that allows me to stay within my parameters, but gives them the freedom to make their own choices.

I’m a month into buying nothing new (with the exception of food and household consumables) and it’s going well. I’ve noticed when I decrease my spending, there’s a decrease in my desire for stuff as well. I suppose that’s because I notice my happiness level doesn’t change, and if anything, it goes up when I stop buying stuff.

You are working towards a zero waste lifestyle, can you talk more about this?

Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle is a way for me to reduce my ecological footprint. What may be surprising to some is that the lifestyle is also beneficial to those living it. It forces you to buy package-free products, which tend to be unprocessed, whole foods, goods made from natural and renewable materials, and products and ingredients that are void of chemicals, synthetic colors and fragrances. I’ve also found a zero waste lifestyle to be one of the best ways to achieve a minimalist aesthetic. Just look into the homes of some of the zero waste bloggers (here, here, and here). For those interested in learning about a zero waste life, I am sharing ideas on how to get started on my blog this month (February).

Are there any books, websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism?

One of my favorite resources is the Center for a New American Dream. Their message is “one that emphasizes community, ecological sustainability, and a celebration of non-material values.” A couple blogs that come to mind is Becoming Minimalist and Assortment. For parents, especially with young children, I can recommend the book Simplicity Parenting. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a wonderful book to help with the decluttering process.

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In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?  

When we think of minimalism, we generally think of our physical space being clutter-free, but for me a far greater struggle is clearing clutter from my digital space, both in terms of time spent there and the amassed information stored there. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and discipline to limit our online exposure, even for the most conscientious. For the most part I don’t want my entertainment coming from digital media. I’d much rather spend that time pursuing my hobbies and interests and building relationships with my family and friends. The filter I apply to help me find balance in my digital life is the exposure must be informational (as it applies to my life), inspirational, or provide a meaningful connection. Anything that doesn’t fall into those categories I make a point to clear from my space.

Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

One of my biggest struggles I have isn’t per say with family, but it’s being gracious and accepting of all gifts received from family and friends. While most gifts are loved and appreciated, sometimes a gift can feel like a burden. For someone who’s not a minimalist, this may be hard to understand. Obviously honoring a person’s generosity, thoughtfulness, and well intentions are far more important than giving attention to my own apprehensions. The best way I’ve learned to deal with this struggle is to suggest to family and friends to exchange experiential or consumable gifts, or skip the gift giving altogether.

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In what ways has minimalism improved your life?

The biggest thing minimalism affords me is freedom. It can mean freedom from debt and freedom from the burden that comes with owning too much stuff. Minimalism leaves space to pursue my dreams.

What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

Although it doesn’t happen very often, there have been situations where I’ve given away or sold something that I later regret. In my ambition to reach financial freedom, I once sold a set of beautiful silver dessert forks that were family heirlooms to help pay down my debt. They would likely still be in a box unused, but I’m sorry I sold them.

I have so many positive experiences related to minimalism, but one I love to share is the mobility my minimalist camping set-up has afforded me. Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, my husband used to call me on a Friday afternoon at 4pm and suggest we depart that evening for a weekend of camping. I never hesitated because I’ve streamlined our camping gear to fit inside of a toolbox (tent, sleeping gear and food excluded). It was so easy to grab those few things and go.

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What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

I think the best approach to minimalism is to look at ways to simplify your life. Simplifying forces the things you don’t value to start falling away. Once you get started, you probably won’t look back.

Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My husband and I are making plans to take a sabbatical after my teenagers leave for college (my daughter starts this fall and my son next). We’d like to travel with our toddler to British Columbia, Alaska and parts of the west coast. My husband has been slowly equipping our truck for overland travel, which will eventually include a rooftop tent for our sleeping quarters. After our travels, we plan to settle in Bozeman, Montana.

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Thank you Julie! Readers you can read more from Julie on her blog the beauty in simple, where she documents her family’s path to a simpler life from an ecologically thoughtful perspective. You can also find her on Instagram @thebeautyinsimple. You can find all the interviews in this series “interview with a minimalist” here.

If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog (see side bar links or below) or both (!), your support helps me continue to write and share.

You might also like my post:

The Slow Living Project

Inhaling the Season, Inhaling the Moment

13 Ways to Simplify your Wardrobe

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Let’s be friends! Please come find me in other places:

Interview with a Minimalist: Andrea

Minimalism draws us in different ways. The reasons range from environmental concerns, to stress and anxiety reduction, financial freedom, aesthetics, and simplicity. And surely there are others. But it seems that over time these start to converge, at least they did for me. Week after week people generously share their stories on this blog, today I’ll tell you a little about mine before we get to Andrea’s.

I’ve always loved a tidy, sparse space, and been concerned about my impact on the environment. As as child I would secretly take things out of the garbage and recycling bin, if I thought my family could still make use of them, and stash them away in my room. Later in life, as a busy parent of two I started to feel excessive stress and anxiety related to our home space, the constant mess, even though I was always tidying and really we don’t own that much it was still: Constant. Mess. I craved simplicity and aesthetic comfort in our home space. Tidying daily wasn’t working, so I changed gears. I started by drastically reducing the amount of stuff we had, goodbye duplicates, goodbye infrequently used items, and so on. And just like that things started to lighten. I felt calmer. I gave things away to people who would actually use them instead of keeping them “in case” (in case we didn’t have the money to buy it later on, that was usually my fear), our home life gradually became simpler and our space was aesthetically more pleasing. We spent less money and had more time — the greatest resource of all — to do the things we loved doing. With all the ways minimalism has benefitted us, it’s no wonder I think of it as a way of life.

Today, Andrea is sharing her story of finding minimalism and how it works for her family of four and what opportunities it has given them. Andrea is a mother of two, secular homeschooler, and creatively self-employed. I hope you feel inspired by her story. And if you would like to share yours please email me.

Andrea, let’s start with a little bit about you. Who are you? What’s your background?

I am a 30 year old homeschooling stay-at-home mom of two bright children. Before meeting my husband and having children, I was a very career oriented hard working woman in the healthcare industry trying to buy my first home on my own. After moving to the Maritimes, I met my relaxed husband and adapted to the slower, laid-back lifestyle. I started to really explore New Brunswick and the neighbouring provinces, focused on having joyful and meaningful experiences, I learned a lot from him. It is the experiences we have that create our story and not the things we accumulate.

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What part of the world do you live in?

We live in the beautiful Maritime province of New Brunswick, Canada.

How many children do you have and what are they like?

We have two children ages 5 and 3. Our eldest son is an extremely chatty, no non-sense, inventive child with a passion to create anything out of a piece of string, some painters tape and binder clips. Our younger child is fun-loving, empathetic, loves to be silly and is determined he is a Fire Rescue Man. They are complete opposites of each other in appearances, attitudes, and preferences, but are inseparable

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What are you passionate about?

I am very passionate about the family I have created and what we want to accomplish together. We are currently homeschooling our children and are working to build an off grid, self sufficient small minimalist home and homestead. We want to go ‘back to basics’ in a sense, to show our children how to appreciate what we have, to have the ability to be happy and fulfilled with little possessions, and to show them to have gratitude for what we do have.

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I believe there are many ways to be a minimalist and many forms of minimalism. What does minimalism mean to you? And, in what ways are you a minimalist?

To me, minimalism means living with only what you need, in all areas of our life, not just the amount of possessions a person has. Our family takes a minimal approach to everything, the amount of toys our children have, how we shop for our groceries to reduce waste, the size of our small rental apartment, the lack of a television, even the amount of debt we are willing to create for ourselves when purchasing a vehicle.

So, what is your story, how did you start on a path toward a minimalist lifestyle?

It’s funny actually, because a few years ago, I would never have considered myself a minimalist, certainly not a hoarder but definitely lost in the middle of all that meaningless stuff! Once we became pregnant with our first child the maternal instinct to collect and nest kicked in and next thing I knew, I had a three story 1500 square foot home full of ‘stuff’. It was three years later when we moved across the province that I realized how ludicrous it was to fill a 26′ long truck full of things we rarely used. It was all laid out in front of me and I knew I needed to change our lifestyle not only for myself, but to be the kind person I hoped my children would turn out to be.

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Are there any websites or other resources that have inspired your minimalism? Favourite books?

I have always flown by the seat of my pants when making minimal choices for our family, but I strongly relate and agree with a quote from William Morris, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The simplicity of our home and everything in it really reflects the guidance the quote has offered to us.

In what ways/areas do you struggle with keeping things minimal? What is your weakness?

Homeschooling my children while living a minimalist lifestyle is an oxymoron! It’s really hard, I won’t sugar coat it! Homeschooling requires a variety of tools, books and other resources to home educate the children in all subjects just like children who attend a physical school. However, children that are sent to school have an entire building dedicated to their learning environment, with endless resources, books and sometimes separate rooms for various subjects. My biggest challenge is to find multi-use resources, games, or toys to effectively homeschool without accumulating a lot of possessions and making it all fit in our small apartment.

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Have there been any struggles with the other people you live with about living in a minimal way?

In our home we have no issues with people and our minimal choices because we are all on board with this lifestyle. However, there are a few extended family members or colleagues of my husband, who wonder why we haven’t ‘settled down’ and purchased a large expensive home, that our apartment is too small for our family, or that we need to sell our car and purchase a newer pricey vehicle. These remarks are all well meaning because society rewards us for purchasing these big exciting and expensive things, but it doesn’t affect our choice to live our minimal lifestyle with less debt.

What have been some unexpected experiences (positive or negative) you’ve had with minimalism?

The most exciting and unexpected side effect of living in this minimal lifestyle is how well our 5 year old understands it. It is amazing when a birthday rolls around and he is showered with gifts, he will consult with us on which toys he would like to part with and give to another boy who may not been as fortunate. I cannot think of another child who would be so willing to part with toys. Occasionally he will ask for a new toy and to bargain with us, he will name off all the toys he would gladly live without to get a beloved new toy.

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What advice can you offer to people interested in living a minimalist lifestyle?

Start small. Take a look around one room in your home and remove everything that you think is not useful to you enough to keep it or beautiful. There are so many people in this world that may need many of those items. We found once we began to remove more items the easier and easier it got! I remember when the microwave left the house, my husband didn’t notice for 2 weeks!

You are planning to move off the grid, can you tell me more about your plans and how far you’ve come?

We are going to purchase a piece of raw land in New Brunswick within one year and build a small 16’x20′ home that is power and water self-sufficient. We plan to continue homeschooling our children while growing most of our own food and eventually be able to supplement our income enough that we won’t have to work outside the home. So far, we have downsized our possessions to approximately a fourth of what we originally had, and downsized from our previous 1300 square foot home to a 700 square foot apartment. We still have a long way to go before we are able to live on our land in our small home but it will be worth the wait and hard work.

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You are also focused on waste reduction, can you share what you are doing to eliminate garbage from your life?

We’ve been trying to reduce the garbage we create when we shop because really that is the only waste we create, everything else is recycled or donated to families in need. When we grocery shop we use reusable shopping bags and try to buy everything in a reusable or recyclable container. Many things needed for our pantry can be purchased at The Bulk Barn which uses recyclable bags and containers and after shopping we put everything in large glass storage containers. Often the only thing that needs to be thrown away is our receipt. We try to shop for used items like clothing before we purchase new and very rarely do we bring anything into the home that isn’t groceries or crafting supplies from the dollar store.

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Do you have any goals for this year or the next few that you want to share?

My goal this year is to continue living this lifestyle because it brings much more meaning to our life and family.

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Thank you, Andrea! Readers you can find Andrea (her pseudonym) and follow her family’s adventures on her blog or her Facebook page.

If you liked this post please consider sharing it or subscribing to my blog (visit the sidebar or link to Bloglovin below), your support helps me continue to write and share.

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Garbage Free: How to Make your own Delicious Raw Cashew Milk

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Zero Waste: Wrapping Gifts with Fabric

About 10 years ago, Matt’s mother decided to wrap all the Christmas gifts she was giving in fabric. A frugal, creative woman she didn’t enjoy, nor see the point, in wrapping a gift in beautiful paper only for it to be torn off and wasted, it seemed like a bit of an obscene luxury and careless of the environmental impact. For a few years already, Matt and I had been carefully unwrapping gifts so as to be able to reuse as much of the paper as possible, but admittedly it took a little fun out of the whole gift exchange. The fabric wrapped gifts she brought, on the other hand, were beautiful and appeared fancier than traditional paper wrapping and bows, and no extra special handling was needed to unwrap them. Win-win!

Photo not mine, view it and it’s source via my Pinterest board

A few years later, and I don’t remember how I came across it, I learned about the practice of Japanese fabric wrapping using a wrapping cloth known as Furoshiki. I’m certainly no expert in furoshiki, but  I can tell you that from the idea of furoshiki developed a set of wrapping techniques, where fabric is used to package things for transport or gift giving. It is said to have been developed out of a sense of waste consciousness and caring for the environment.

Since this time I’ve used fabric to wrap gifts when I have some on hand (otherwise I reuse paper).

If you ask Google you’ll find there are different techniques for boxes and bottles and other general shapes too. There are also lots of tutorials if you search ‘furoshiki’ on YouTube and I’ve pinned some favourites to my ‘ g i f t ‘ board on Pinterest.

Aside from gifts, there are also techniques for wrapping picnic lunches and meals for transport, where the fabric folding and wrapping comes out looking like a little basket. There are also folding techniques for shopping bags, flower bouquets and more. All this to say, if you want to wrap something in fabric as a gift or to travel with, then there is a furoshiki technique that can do the job. All you need is some scrap fabric (old sheets, scarves, silks, linens) to work with. No tape, no string, no glue. Although sometimes it’s fun to embellish the wrapping with a scrap of ribbon or yarn.

Photo not mine, view it and it’s source via my Pinterest board

Don’t be fooled by how pretty the furoshiki wrapping looks and assume it is complex. Every technique is simple and involves very basic folding and knotting. Gift wrapping in under 2 minutes — 1 minute for a pro.

This year I used some of Ro and Sen’s play silks from Sarah’s Silks to wrap gifts. The play silks we have are long rectangles, so I folded them over in thirds so I could work from approximately a square shape, but there is no great precision required in the size of the fabric relative to the size of the wrapped object, but generally a bigger piece of fabric is easier to work with. Using play silks to wrap gifts for children has the added bonus that the wrapping is a gift itself. Imagine a child unwraps a gift and is just as excited about the wrapping!

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Overall, gift wrapping with fabric is easier (and faster) than wrapping with paper as you don’t need tape, ribbon or scissors. In my experience, people react positively to fabric wrapping: children find it extra fancy and adults usually have an ‘aha’ moment, like “hey, what a great idea!” In addition, fabric wrapping is more economical, encourages reuse and repurposing, and is environmentally friendly. Win-win-win! Try it out and please share the idea!

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Have you subscribed to the Global Guardian Project yet? The project offers monthly learning capsules for children and families to learn about global stewardship. Each month features a different country’s wild life, landscape and challenges, and includes art projects, activities, meditation, recipes and more! Use my discount code: HIPPIEINDISGUISE for 10% off , you can read more about it here

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Mother Nature Leaf Dress Hippie

Make Your Own Mother Nature Leaf Dress

Mother Nature Leaf Dress Hippie in Disguise Danielle Chassin

Ro’s finished Mother Nature Leaf Dress, not perfect, but we learned from the process how to make a better one next time (see instructions below). But we did have a great time innovating to make a costume that is completely garbage free and compostable!

Halloween is Ro’s favourite day of the year. Her love for imaginative play and dress up, in combination with her outgoing personality make it far more fun than birthdays or Christmas. She just loves dreaming up a costume and then bringing it to life.

Ro is fortunate to have two grandmothers who are talented artists and very handy in the sewing department. Matt’s mother is a visual artist, she illustrates, paints, sculpts, sews, makes fibre arts, and gives an artistic flair to everything she touches. My mother is multi-talented, she went to school for fashion design, so she can design and sew up a storm of beauty. She has also put her talented hands to pottery, knitting, furniture, gardening and many more projects of beauty over the years. With these two creative grandmothers not only capable, but interested, in helping bring Ro’s visions to life, she has had some pretty extraordinary costumes over the years.

I should mention that I can sew, and while I’m not nearly as capable as either of them, I can certainly sew a Halloween costume. But, I loved that Ro and her grandmothers had a special project each fall, starting with a chat about her idea, maybe some sketching, a trip to shop or gather materials from a thrift shop, and then sewing and assembling the costume. It was a lovely tradition and a great bonding experience. At the same time, I didn’t want Ro to think that we were not capable of making her costumes ourselves — self-sufficiency is an important thing to me. I hoped the time would come, naturally, when we would make her costume ourselves.

Ro starts thinking seriously about Halloween in late summer, when her mind turns to the return to school and she sees the signs of fall start to show in the natural landscape. Last summer, we had beautiful weather and spent nearly every full summer day outdoors enjoying nature in forests, by the river, and everywhere in between. While both children have an innate interest in the natural world, I was intentionally trying to cultivate their interest by, not only spending time in nature, but also encouraging them to use natural objects for art. Ro loves fashion, not for the sake of trends, but for the creative self-expression. My mind hadn’t turned to Halloween yet, when one day in late August Ro announced that she wanted to make an ombre dress out of leaves and be Mother Nature for Halloween. To say my heart was singing to hear her say this would be a modest statement. She had, unknowingly, married her interests and mine and I knew this was the perfect year to shift to the two of us making her costume.

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Many people have since asked us how we made her dress and so I thought I would share our method here. This is just one, very simple way to make the dress, by using a braiding technique and affixing the braids to the base garments using safety pins, but I thought some process photos might help those of you who may need a visual guide. I hadn’t expected to be asked how to make the dress, so I didn’t take any photos when we made it, so I’ve recreated a few below for the sake of this post.

Without further ado, here’s how we made the dress:

  • After sketching the dress she wanted (a full length, tank dress), we found a suitable tank top and long skirt from her existing wardrobe to use as the base to pin the leaf braids onto.
  • In the weeks leading up to Halloween, we tried a few techniques, braiding and tying with string, and found braiding to be the least fussy.
Leaf braiding using simple three strand braiding technique, closed off with a safety pin, which is used later to affix the braid to the garment.

Leaf braiding using simple three strand braiding technique, closed off with a safety pin, which is used later to affix the braid to the garment.

  • On the day of Halloween, we spent about 3 hours walking around our neighbourhood gathering leaves, trying to find a range of colours to get the ombre effect. Especially looking for leaves with long stems, which makes braiding much easier. I highly recommend maple leaves. We used some oak leaves, because Ro loved the colours, but they were very hard to work with for braiding, and in some cases I had to pin the leaf itself to the garment. This can be avoided by using leaves with longer stems.

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  • It is important to gather your leaves freshly when you make the dress, because they will not last more than 12-24 hours before drying and becoming very brittle and crumbling off. We did not pick leaves fresh from trees, but rather gathered from the ground, so if you are someone who picks leaves then they may last longer. Although, I’m sure you can find plenty of leaves without the need to pick live ones from trees!
  • Next, we organized the leaves into colours: purple, red, orange, peach, yellow, lime, dark green, brown. Ro wanted a fade from purple to red through to green and brown, so we arranged the colours to make braids in this order.

Just a simple example shown above, our leaf chains changed colour more gradually as the garment was full length.

  • Once we had a braided chain of leaves about the length of half the shirt, we would stop and pin it closed to keep the braid from undoing. Chains longer than this tended to pull apart with wear. We continued to make chains and lay them on the shirt, until it appeared to be enough to cover the top. Keep in mind the garments will stretch when worn, so allow space for the braids to overlap.

Leaf braiding using simple three strand braiding technique, closed off with a safety pin, which is used later to affix the braid to the garment.

  • I was set on making the costume in such a way that would not create any garbage, so we used pins to attach the braids to the top and skirt. None of the pins opened while she wore it, but if you are concerned you could tape over the pin on the side that contacts the body, or wear a second garment underneath as a barrier.

Try to pin through and around the braided stems. You can trim off the extra stems or tuck them under another braid.

  • We repeated the same process of braiding and laying out the braids on the skirt, and then pinned them in place. Note that the direction of the braids was reversed on the skirt, meaning the braids pointed down to the ground. This helped to have a smoother, more comfortable waist.

Leaf braids on the tank pointing up, leaf braids on the skirt pointing down. Separated here to show technique, but you would want to have the ends of the leaves touching to hide the stems.

  • The braiding and pinning for the top and skirt took about 5 hours. Partly because we were developing the process as we went and partly because Ro wanted to try the top on at every step of the way!

  • The last piece we made was the hair piece; Ro wanted a fascinator. So we took a left over chain of red maple leaves and braided them. I closed the braid with a regular hair elastic. When the braid was laid over the top of her head, draping down, the leaves fanned up for an interesting look. Held to the head with a few bobby pins.

If we’d had more time, I would have filled in those peeks of white fabric with some shorter braids, but time and patience ran out. Ro wanted to skip around the neighbourhood in her dress!

By the end of the evening, Ro’s dress was dried out and starting to crumble. We had a trail of leaf crumbs all around the house. As I swept up, I noticed that the most beautiful pile was gathering at my broom.

A leaf heart made from the crumbled leaves from Ro’s dress. The rest went into the compost.

Please feel free to ask any questions about process or technique if my guidance wasn’t clear. Good luck and have fun getting creative with natural materials and please share your results with me!

You might also like my post:

How to Make All Natural Temporary Tattoos from Real Flowers

How to Make Easter Egg Shaped Bath Bombs with Real Flowers

Ecominimalism: Minimalism and Sustainability Talking with Robin Kay

Top post: Any Occasion, Sustainable Gift Guide for Children

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