Saturday, February 23, 2013

Step Twenty-Six: Organize Your Office

Whether you're a professional office manager or a first grader, paperwork is a part of your life. With paperwork comes tape, folders, paperclips, pens, scissors, staples, and a bunch of other stuff that clutters up drawers, desks, and entire office areas. Though paper is recyclable, it still seems wasteful when you think of all the business cards, calendars, newsletters, appointment reminders, and bills that have gone through your home. Today we're going to stem the flow and make your office, whether it's a  counter or a whole room, into a manageable, organized space.

Let's start by listing the things you need from an office. I surf the web, manage my finances, work on my writing, schedule appointments, write letters, put together photo albums, and review to-do lists.  You may draw, coordinate schedules, book vacations, conduct business, place orders, or plan for the future. An office serves many purposes, but I find it to be helpful to identify the ones you use most.  When you know what you do most often in your office, you know what processes you'll use often, and what supplies you'll need.

Luckily, we live in a time where almost everything  can be digitized and managed online. The fastest way to get rid of office supplies is to put everything online. When you e-mail documents, use Google calendar, shop and pay bills online, and keep digital records, all you need for an office is a laptop. I used to aspire to this kind of simplicity, but for many things I work more easily off of paper. For example, I keep a paper calendar, rely on a physical address book, and prefer to send handwritten letters and cards.  I also receive printed papers from organizations for my grant writing work, keep important documents in physical form, and relish writing and drawing in a journal. I used to have boxes of office supplies and paperwork, but have since cut my things down to one shoe-box of supplies and two magazine files of paper. I miss nothing, and actually find myself more creative without all the junk confusing my senses.

The first, and most expensive (but also most impactful) thing I did was get a scanner and scan everything I could. I took apart my yearbooks, went through years of letters, and got rid of all of my old schoolwork. I have everything in digital form now, which gives me peace of mind (further enabled by regularly backing up my computer), and I keep only the most important things in their original paper form. This allowed me to get a  few vertical files and keep all of my papers in six inches of bookshelf space, rather than several cubic feet of file-box storage.

Next, I went through my common processes, and looked at what I needed to complete them. A dependable pen with a few replacement ink cartridges in reserve, index cards, post-it notes, a pair of scissors, some glue, a Sharpie, a small amount of paper clips, note paper, a few vertical file folders, and some art supplies were all I really needed. Staples were replaced by paper clips, tape was replaced by glue, and I saved a lot of space by choosing not to have a printer. What I do need to print off I can go to the local copy shop for; the extra effort makes sure I don't mindlessly print anything I don't need.

Now I have more space in my home office (really just a desk in the corner), and I never wonder what to do with myself when something comes up. I have a dedicated to-do list on my phone, a calendar in the back of my journal, an index card full of thoughts and ideas, a computer for my bills, and a scanner for anything I want to look at later. I decline reminder cards by writing appointments in my calendar as soon as they're made, take pictures of business cards with my phone and hand them right back, and get so little junk mail that it's easy to call the company and be removed from their mailing list. By identifying things I do regularly, and working out the best way for me to take care of them, I've streamlined my time, gotten rid of clutter I don't need, and ended the once-endless flow of paper through my home. I have a lighter footstep on the planet, but more importantly, less weight on my mind.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Zero Waste Product Shout-Out: Salad Spinners

When you don't want to make any trash, you get a lot of food from the produce section. No bagged celery, baby carrots, or pre-sliced vegetables means buying plants in their whole, slightly dirty glory. That's why today's zero waste product shout-out goes to salad spinners.

I go shopping once or twice a week, and the first thing I do when I get home is what I call "processing the produce". I wash, dry, peel, and chop most of the vegetables I buy, in essence making myself a bagged salad without the plastic waste. Normally lettuce goes bad in a matter of days, but I've found I can make it last a week and a half if I spin it twice after rinsing and store it in a lidded container. I can fit two heads of lettuce in  my largest Pyrex bowl, which lets me have a generous salad for lunch for about four days.

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, a salad spinner uses centrifugal force from spinning one bowl inside another to throw water off of greens. It's a handy little kitchen device that makes dealing with lettuce a joy, though it does take up a lot of space and is harder to wash than a regular bowl.

However, I've found other uses for my spinner to help justify the effort and space I devote to it. I use the insert of my salad spinner to rinse round or small fruits and vegetables (like tomatoes, zucchini, green onions, apples, plums, peaches, cherries, and red potatoes). I can save water by rinsing over the salad spinner's outer bowl, then dunking the insert in several times to thoroughly rinse things. I've used the bowl on it's own to serve salad, and I'd honestly use the spinner to store the salad in the fridge if space wasn't at a premium in my living situation right now.

At first I felt indulgent buying a single-purpose kitchen tool, but I use my spinner on a weekly basis, and have found the aforementioned other uses for it. The spinner I bought has a lock to keep the handle down for easy storage, a feature I sincerely appreciate, and has sturdy construction which I expect will last for decades. Of course, Ikea sells salad spinners for a very affordable four dollars, and Amazon has a plethora of options. Then, of course, you can always put your greens in a mesh bag and swing them around your head till your neighbors are scared of you or your salad is dry, whichever comes first.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Step Twenty-Five: Pamper Yourself

If you've followed along in the one hundred baby-steps to zero waste thus far, you are a quarter of the way done with the list, and now create significantly less garbage.  Congratulations on all your hard work and thoughtful effort. I'm confident that you've seen benefits in your health, your finances, and your free time. To celebrate, step twenty-five is to pamper yourself. Take a few hours, or the whole day, and do something to boost your happiness, help you relax, and commemorate how far you've come. It's likely that you already know what you want to do with your time, but keep reading if you'd like some (zero waste) ideas.

  • Take a friend, your significant other, or the whole family out ice skating, bowling, swimming,  or to an arcade. Even if you're a novice at the activity, you'll have a great experience playing with people you love.
  • Use your time to make it to that museum, art display, or botanical garden you've been wanting  to explore. Don't rush, part of pampering yourself is enjoying things leisurely.
  • I know some people will call this a waste of time, but I always enjoy a day at the movies. There are a lot of great films playing now, and most theaters don't have a problem putting popcorn in a bowl or bag you brought from home. If you want something a little more special, find a concert or play showing in your area and book tickets now.
  • Get thyself to the spa, or better yet, bring it home. Whip up some moisturizing recipes courtesy of Crunchy Betty, buy some waste-free beauty products from Lush or Etsy, or even just put a dozen drops of essential oil (easy to find at any health food or vitamin shop) in a hot tub and soak your cares away.
  • Read. It's so enjoyable, and we rarely give ourselves the time to spend a whole afternoon with a book. If it helps you feel productive, you can call it research, and use that as a justification to turn your phone off for distraction-free reading.
  • Eat with people you love. Homemade meals are a joy for some, but if you'd relish having someone else do the cooking (and the dishes) take tonight to try a local restaurant, and maybe find a new favorite hangout.
  • Move your body for joy, not exercise. For some this means tossing a ball in the backyard, playing Frisbee,  or just taking a walk around the neighborhood. In this weather I bet a lot of us could even go sledding. Whatever it is, make sure it's something you like to do, not something you're motivated to do purely for your health.

Whatever you do, remember that a big part of the reason we're reducing and eliminating waste is to allow ourselves to devote our resources to creating a remarkable, enjoyable life. Pampering yourself isn't a one-time reward, but a lifelong habit we want to make room for. If you relish your life, you're not wasting it.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

Wasteful, but Necessary Interuptions

I want to take a quick moment to apologize for my recent absence. My writing work wasn't quite supporting me, so I took a job as the graveyard shift server at Denny's. This has thrown a huge kink in my schedule, so all I've done the past month or so is sleep and work. Luckily, since I already have my zero waste habits ingrained, I didn't have to spend any time on taking out the garbage or mindlessly shopping.

I've straightened things out now, and should be back to my regular posting schedule (100 steps to Zero Waste on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and a Product Shout-Out on Friday). You can also look forward to a few rants on the waste involved in our convenience food chains. Tons of waste (literally) are generated regularly, even by my low-volume restaurant. Most of it could be avoided with a few simple changes, but I imagine the slight increase in cost will put off most food franchise CEOs, so we'll have a while to wait. All the more reason to implement zero waste in our lifestyles, and to spread the word. The sooner zero waste becomes a cultural norm, the sooner we'll all be able to eat out, go shopping, and travel with zero waste ease.