The way Christmas unfolds in Ireland seems to bring conflicting emotions with it. We, like most parents, like to bring some “magic” to the occasion for our children, but it’s a real struggle to do this without feeling like one is on a slippery slope of wanton waste and mindless consumerism. Having been out of the country for several previous Christmas periods, this year we were exploring how we wanted Christmas to feel in our home. It started well with some intentions to engage the kids in some acts of giving each week in the run-up. We didn’t want them to start believing the whole thing is just about the gifts and “what’s Santa bringing you?”.
The amount of times well-wishers will ask kids this question during December is staggering and somewhat irritating. How could children who hear this refrain repeatedly, think about anything else other than their list of stuff and what they are entitled to?? We seem to be hell-bent on spending a month every year teaching them to want things!! Toy companies must be so proud of how well we’ve all bought into this!
Anyway, in the end, we got suckered in; we absorbed the “Late-Late Toy show”, visited more than one “winter wonderland experience”, bought the “Elf on the Shelf” and had our vague good intentions swept aside, and we pretty much signed up for the whole consumerist shebang. Plastic battery operated toys were purchased in spades based on the aforementioned critical Santa “list” and our Christmas morning turned into a whole lot of stuff strewn about the house with the kids obviously confused by the quantity and what to do next with it all. It doesn’t take long before this is the norm and expectations are set for future Christmas’s to come.
We did at least try to use fabric to wrap the stuff under the tree which worked well, but there was no doubt that the whole event was too much about the purchases despite some vague earlier intentions to inject some other values into the occasion and try to give it a broader meaning. The whole idea of teaching kids to be good so that they can get more stuff from Santa on Christmas day seems like such an outdated lesson to giving our children. What natural conclusions would young minds draw from this as they see it played out year after year at Christmas time? It’s a very self-interested and greed-inducing message to give. Isn’t it time we moved on from this?
Something that struck us as we look back on Christmas 2017 is that if you want to do something a little different with the occasion, then you really have to know what you want to get from it and be proactive in your efforts to go after it. Somewhat unclear intentions of trying different things may get overwhelmed in the surge of messages that bombard us all. In a small country like Ireland, “the way things are done” can be a powerful current to swim against.
The Community Reuse Network of Ireland is running a campaign in January which encourages us to re-gift and pass on the unnecessary stuff we have accumulated. Hoarding stuff that we don’t need or use is a sure way to clutter your life. It’s wasteful too, at a time when the world is producing too much. This campaign is encouraging people to “Think a bit differently about January and see it as a month of giving back and decluttering – giving unwanted presents to charity shops, sharing decluttered items on Free trade sites and recycling any unwanted holiday waste and electrical goods”.
Note that the Babymarket.ie is continuing to offer a great way to sell your used child-related items and to help new parents to save some money.
We also spent the month of December (and November, and October…) glued to the price of Bitcoin. It’s a digital currency or “cryptocoin” that has been in operation since 2010 and has recently become more widely known.
You may have seen the news stories late last year as this niche technology captured much wider interest and began to be covered extensively in the media due to its massive gains in value (see the plot shown indicating the exponential rise in value that took place as compared to other asset bubbles).
Having followed it for a few years we decided to buy a very small amount of Bitcoin in September 2017 and were fortunate to experience some of the recent massive surge in value it experienced last year. Huge levels of new interest in this digital currency with only 16 million units in circulation, led to a price increase from approximately $3500 per coin in September to nearly $19,000 in December. It has since crashed back down to $8,000 though and still dropping. But such are the dizzying highs and lows of crypto-coin speculation.
It is interesting to watch the varied commentary when something like this happens. On the one hand, there are those who have bought into this vision of the future and see Bitcoin (and other cryptos) as a future “currency of the people” and say it will soon be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per coin. A universal currency that is not controlled or manipulated by banks or governments has a certain appeal for lots of reasons.
On the other hand, there are those who represent the established banking industry or government regulators who are making dire predictions of a total collapse of this absurd speculative bubble based on a meaningless creation.
The truth about Bitcoin and other digital currencies is probably likely to be somewhere in between these two extreme predictions. There is enough interest in the technology that there seems to be no doubt it will survive in some form.
As with all disruptive technologies, there are incumbents who are unsettled by its potential and have much to lose when their own industry is threatened…i.e. bankers and government regulators. While those first movers who believe in the technology will vastly exaggerate its potential in order to drive others to get on board.
The argument that Bitcoin is in reality worthless seems strange as, so are all currencies (pieces of paper after all) except that governments back them and give them value. Hence you know your paper Euro has value, but we also know what happens when governments collapse and currencies devalue extraordinarily as is currently happening in Venezuela. This does happen and suddenly a currency can become near worthless when the trust breaks down.
As something like Bitcoin gains acceptance then it will of necessity gain intrinsic value from those who believe in it and are willing to transact it and assign value. The problem, for now, is, of course, its volatility. It’s getting harder for people to sign up to use it when its price is moving by so much and so quickly.
The counter-argument made in favour of Bitcoin is that while unlikely to replace regular currency, it represents a new way to store value in the place of gold. Not that many of us tend to buy gold these days to store value, but you get the idea. If Bitcoin can be readily purchased by anyone with a pc and stored safely (this may be an issue) and it keeps or grows in value over time, then it represents an improvement over gold.
The obvious comparison to make here is to the buying of company stock. When you buy stock in a company, you are investing in the future growth potential of that company. So when your investment goes up, is it because some tangible economic value has been delivered by the people in that company and so you are sharing in the increased company worth as your stock goes up. This doesn’t really apply to the crypto asset class, however, as there is currently no obvious intrinsic value to use in order to figure out if its price is reasonable or which direction it’s likely to go. Hence it is for now pure speculation and everyone buying it is hoping that they are not the last buyers. Hence it is very very volatile and very unpredictable, but this is not unusual for such a disruptive new technology.
It is certainly an interesting phenomenon that is in the very early stages of its development. We have decided to ride out the volatility with our little investment to see where this all goes. Remember the Internet in the late 90’s when many apparently silly ideas with a “dot com” attached to their names would surely change our lives dramatically in the future, and these ideas were driving massive speculation in stock markets prices. And then it all burst in the economic crash of 2000. With hindsight, we can now see how that has played out after all the crushed dreams and silliness are gone.
Yes, it was a bubble, but yes the technology did change the world dramatically once people figured out the true value in it.
There may be something to this Bitcoin thing.
Watching this Bitcoin story unfold in December certainly added a different angle to the Christmas cheer in our house: while kids were drooling over the latest toys that might make the Christmas list, Dad (at least) was drooling over the surge in Bitcoin value.
But then the hangover set in..
It’s been a year since we dabbled in Plastic Free July 2016 and now it’s upon us again.We’re happy to say that we have more enthusiasm to try it out again this year and are already well positioned in that many of our plastic-free habits have stayed with us since last year.
The biggest difference for us this year has been in going with a local fruit and veg seller who manages to remove all the packaging from his produce and will deliver to our home weekly. The other change we made is that we can purchase from a wholesale bulk foods distributor based in Macroom (http://www.iihealthfoods.com/) who carries everything you could want in large quantities.
For our first trial run, we bought:
25Kg of porridge oats (in a paper sack), 25Kg of puy lentils, 25Kg of red lentils, 25Kg or brown rice, 20kg of raisins
This is just an experiment to see how well the stuff holds and how long it lasts. In some cases, the cost savings are not much, but the reduced packaging and time spent purchasing seem well worth the effort. We are also still buying bulk nuts from www.nutsinbulk.ie, although haven’t convinced those guys to try removing the plastic from their supplies.
Sigh…only to have a bulk food store locally…we think this would really work as a business, but so far it hasn’t happened yet as far as we know.
This year rather than just try harder to keep the single-use plastic out of the house, we are setting a couple of specific goals for ourselves during the month.
- Get self-sufficient on milk alternatives
- Find other options for laundry detergent and toothpaste
As we have moved away mostly but not completely from cow’s milk, for health reasons, we have started buying more and more of the expensive non-dairy options, such as soya milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, and my personal favorite, a coconut and almond milk blend. Lots of options to choose from and they are quite expensive to buy (€2 to €2.6 per litre), not to mention all the tetra packaging that goes with them.
What’s more shocking about these milk alternatives, is that many of them use minuscule amounts of the main ingredient (2-5%!!) and most of what you are buying is water with some sweetener and stabilizers added. Once you spot this on the pack ingredients, the idea of making you own is a lot more palatable.
And none of them are hard to make, although they can be a little time consuming. But in each case we’ve tried so far, they taste better than the store-bought options.
We opted for an easy start with coconut milk. Our first experiment used a can of light coconut milk we happened to have. One recipe looked particularly simple and called for just diluting a can with 2 cans of water and adding salt and vanilla flavoring to taste. It was quite palatable – certainly no worse than the market bought versions. The preferred method for this is to soak shredded coconut, rather than starting with the canned milk, which tends to have water and other stuff added to start with.
Then we tried almond milk – letting a cup of almonds sit for 2 days in the fridge in water to allow them to soak and release an acid that is best removed. Then they were drained and rinsed, fresh water was added (2 cups for 1 cup of nuts) and blended at high speed. Some sweeteners of choice can be added to flavor, such as honey, vanilla or even dates blended in. This one worked really well and got the thumbs up from the kids.
The coconut milk didn’t get much support, but then neither did the shop bought stuff either.
Rice milk is a little more time consuming to make. It requires you to boil the rice in advance and then use the rice to blend with water. Then add vanilla or cinnamon to taste as usual. Not that hard and quite tasty too.
For now we’re going with almond milk in quantity to see if we can get into the habit of making do with it. Apparently it should last for a few days in the fridge, so reasonably sized batches will work
For our #2 goal this time round, we recently attended a “Zero Waste” event in Dublin and managed to source some options for laundry detergent and toothpaste. The detergent is apparently condensed soap shavings which can be used to dilute into detergent of varying strength. Rather ambitiously, the two jars (reused also) we bought should apparently last for a year. We’re a little skeptical but getting ready to try it out.
For the toothpaste, we bought some dry powdery “stuff” – a sort of clay with all sorts of healthy things added in apparently. I think its Bentonite clay – at least I hope it is – which has excellent absorbing properties, presumably absorbing stuff that you don’t want on your teeth. The idea is to add a little powder to the wet toothbrush and the particles of clay will do the cleaning job as you scrub without damaging tooth enamel. The other natural ingredients serve to fight bacteria. So far we have noticed that one’s teeth do feel very clean after using it, but I for one miss that minty fresh taste you get from standard pastes. The jury is still out on this stuff for now – one for and one against.
So we have mostly removed the plastic from our food supplies by now, but WOW does it spread around the house through other means when you’re not paying attention! Having children makes this so much harder as much of what seems to come their way is made of plastic and has a very short lifespan.
Also, changing topics, our Poly-tunnel is finally up and running now so we’ll let you know how that’s working out in the next update.
Can you believe that estimates suggest that we are throwing away something like 30 to 40% of the food we produce globally! Amazing, when you consider the efforts that go into the use of chemicals and methods to enhance crop yields in order to boost production. It seems that there is way more food produced than we need to feed everyone if we stopped throwing so much of it away.
We wanted to share our experience with food waste reduction and our very first Food Rescue event!
As we’ve shown here, we started paying attention to our plastic waste and one thing leads to another and now we’re starting to keep a close eye on our food waste at home too. With 3 kids this can get out of control if one isn’t paying attention and it all part of wider intention to reduce our own waste and impact as much as we can.
Mrs Makedo recently became chairperson on the local primary school parents committee which our eldest girl attends. The main job at hand is to raise funds for the school. Traditional routes for fundraising seem to be hitting up businesses for raffle prizes, hitting up the locals for raffle tickets and hanging around outside the local church with a sign to hit up the churchgoers. These methods have been tried and tested and still work, but some new approaches could help the energy levels all round.
In a nice convergence of our waste philosophy and the need to raise funds for this new role, we got down to planning our first Food Rescue to raise some funds for the school.
If you haven’t heard, a Food Rescue is an initiative by Voice Ireland, an environmental group based in Dublin who ran the popular Feeding the 5000 Event. These events sprang from an acknowledgement of the huge volumes of food waste we generate. In particular food sellers are obliged to remove produce that is beyond the best- before date, but which is still perfectly fit for consumption. Similarly, funny looking veggies that are deemed too ugly to sell (in our world where appearance means a lot) can be rescued from the bin. Organizing an event where this food is rescued and used to cook up a tasty meal and bring people together to share it is known as a “Food Rescue”. And its purpose is to highlight the issue of food waste while using up some fine unloved produce to demonstrate it.
Mrs Wemakedo worked with Voice Ireland and put in several weeks of planning for the event which was held in our local community Hall on April 4th. A local high end restaurant chef (from Longueville House) was recruited to do the food preparation before the event. And we spent a few evenings handpainting some signs for advertising.
We did lots of cold calling supermarkets to see what sort of waste they have and how they could help, until we figured out that Food.Cloud have got this whole process streamlined to perfection. They have an extensive network throughout Ireland and have connected to all the supermarket chains to collect waste and find ways to use it through charities.
We found when we contacted them that they were ready to help in any way. They can source almost any kind of food at short notice and deliver to you for cooking – fantastic! Lots of successful Rescue events have been organized across the country for many years now so it’s a brisk business and one that appears to be having a great impact. People seem to know about this supermarket waste issue now. Household waste is a more personal problem and one that we can all probably do better with.
To add some variety to the event we included a viewing of the movie “Just eat it”. A very entertaining documentary about a couple who opted to live on waste food for 6 months, only spent $200 on food over that period and rescued about $20,000 from dumpsters. It has some very funny moments and is well worth a watch! We had a great response to this and people were very happy to sit through the 50 minute version.
We also invited local composting expert Donal O’Leary from www.stopfoodwaste.ie along to talk to people about how to use food waste in beneficial way through composting it for your garden. He spent 30 minutes explaining all the reasons why keeping food out of landfill is important and the tricks to make it work for your garden.
The night went off really well.
Tons of super volunteers cooked cakes, provided tea/coffee to accompany the (rescued) main course and dessert and helped out with serving and clearing up. We had rescued biscuits, cheese and crisps also laid on. With an €8 charge on the door, the night attracted 80 or so guests and €600 euros was raised to help the school. We even had 2 couples attending who wanted to organize their own Food Rescues.
The Rescue idea has huge potential and with this first trial run, the hope is to make it an annual event. We were a little cautious with the food this first time round, but having seen how it all works and the excellent message it gives, we would hope to go much further with the rescued food on offer in future.
Donal O’Leary from www.stopfood waste discussing composting.
We were so busy on the night that we only took 1 picture. Here it is!
And if you’d like to organize your own Food Rescue, simply contact Mindy or Meaghan from Voice Ireland, and they’ll send you everything you need to get started!
Here are some interesting points about global food waste: (source – www.foodtank.com)
- 3 billion tons of food are wasted every year
- If wasted food was a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the United States and China
- Just one quarter of all wasted food could feed the 795 million undernourished people around the world who suffer from hunger
- Food waste in rich countries (222 million tons) is approximately equivalent to all of the food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons)
- A European or North American consumer wastes almost 100 kilograms of food annually, which is more than his or her weight (70 kilograms)
- A European or North American consumer wastes 15 times more food than a typical African consumer
- Food waste in Europe alone could feed 200 million hungry people
Some related links:
Clearing stuff from your life to make space for better things..
There is no doubt that stuff brings hassle. Of course stuff bring utility value and pleasure is many ways but if we are honest about the stuff we have chosen to surround ourselves with, does it all continue to bring pleasure and usefulness after that initial perceived need has passed or does some of it become a burden when the novelty has worn off or some small part has broken and repairing it just isn’t worth the effort?
Our WeMakeDo family has recently chosen to get more ruthless about the stuff we choose to keep in the house and even more ruthless about what new things we bring into the house. When we did some reading from the many resources that discuss decluttering, it is suggested that there are additional beneficial effects when you start to reduce the amount of things you surround yourself with and need to be concerned about. You might think of it as a Feng-Shui kinda thing…or maybe that having more physical space in your home can translate into more mental space in your life.
We have generally scrutinized purchases well in advance of making them – i.e. discussed between us whether we really want one of these (whatever it happens to be) before making the purchase. Then we try to be conscientious about either repairing damaged items to get more life from them or moving them on when we think no more value can be had. But when one starts to think about the quantity of household waste we generate (as we did recently in trying to go plastic free and zero waste) it’s clear that avoiding plastic wrapping on your groceries isn’t so impact-ful if you are buying and dumping much larger household items on a regular basis.
Stuff adds complexity to your life and takes from the time you have that is not already absorbed by the non-negotiable demands we all have. Spending time with our kids is one area where we all should probably do more but it tends to compete with the flexible time we have that can be spent dealing with the extra stuff in our lives – fretting over the stuff, maintaining / repairing the stuff, cleaning the stuff, paying for the stuff, etc. As a family that tries to maintain some self-sufficiency in terms of repairs and maintenance we have found that this certainly can be a big time sink and is at odds with many of the things we know are better use of our time (time with kids, hobbies, personal development, etc.). Consumerism has been teaching us that we can buy time savings from things..but these things bring additional costs in terms of your time and attention into your life beyond the first cash outlay. This is why we believe letting less of the non critical stuff into your life in the first place and then making sure it’s of high quality and likely to demand less time during its useful life is an important the first step to regaining control over your time.
To slow the accumulation of things in our home, we needed to change mindset and begin evaluating our purchases differently. What you purchase costs more than the price you pay on the day. Each additional thing you purchase will also use your time, energy, and effort once it’s in your home. You may be buying it for its apparent time saving benefits as portrayed by the company that wants your money, but sometimes there are less obvious costs of ownership that should alos be considered. Before making a purchase, you could begin asking yourself these questions:
- Is this item really needed – beyond the immediate need I’ve already convinced myself of and keeping in mind it will eventually need to be disposed of?
- Do I have a place to store it knowing it may be around for a long time? and do I want to give up that space to this thing?
- How much extra work and pleasure will this thing add to my life?
Others have put this more succinctly: we need to constantly think about our “Joy-Stuff balance”. More stuff tending to mean less joy beyond a certain threshold of utility value. There are different levels on this scale. For example buying and running a second car has a high cash cost, and high hassle cost but then if you decide it needs to be done then presumably the utility value derived is expected to be high (and presumably higher than the costs) – but is it really the case?.On the other end of the scale, did we really need to have a regular set of plates that we use every day and also a “good” set of plates that have literally been used a couple of times since we got married?.Our new answer to this is no and so they are gone to a better home to be reused by someone who can appreciate them. We have spent that last couple of weeks creating piles around the house of stuff that none of us has used in 6 months or that we don’t have any attachment too. It’s an easy question to ask yourself once you’re in the right frame of mind: “does this thing bring me joy?” or “would I care if it was gone?”
So far we’ve not had any difficulty in decisively answering this question and moving stuff we no longer want, on to friends and charity shops mostly and via Donedeal in some cases. An opportunity for some reuse we hope. We are now firmly on this path of decluttering our lives and we have found that as you remove more stuff there is a great associated feeling of well-being that increases as you live with fewer things. We’re hooked and enjoying the process immensely! Most importantly it makes you scrutinize what you buy and why. This is not driven by money savings but instead driven by not wanted to refill your life with more stuff unless “necessary” and “necessary” now has a new meaning!
October has been designated as “National Reuse Month” by the Community Reuse Network of Ireland. They are urging us to pledge to reuse more during the month. We are hoping to give away as much of our unused stuff as we can to others who are willing to reuse it for us – as classic win-win situation wouldn’t you agree?
For more ideas about reuse opportunities – check out our “Make” page where we show some items we’ve repurposed in different ways
To get things rolling here on Wemakedo, we wanted to share with you some examples of what can be made from Junk if you have a source – and who doesn’t in our stuff filled lives – and some time on your hands ,and some ideas to mix in. We have had the luxury of being able to score some nice pieces of junk from our local recycling centre and from other friends. However when keeping your life as clutter free as possible is a deep rooted need, one has to be very selective about what you decide to take in…it needs to have a lot of potential so it doesn’t sit around for long and become an annoyance.
As Mrs Make and I went through the process of putting our first home together a few years ago, we did what most people do and started by buying the usual trappings for the interior to finish off the house. This went fine until, towards the end of the process, we got more and more tired of all the new stuff we apparently needed to have as well as the mounting cost of it all. For some, this may be thrilling but it wore us down. We went from having an interest in interior design when we started, to then wanting to bring no more new stuff into the house where possible (and still having an interest in interior design!). Initially this meant that we just stopped buying stuff, but then as we looked around more at what was being dumped, the creative possibilities became apparent. The process of finding a piece of junk and turning it into something useful in your house can begin either with that “find” you make but don’t have a use in mind for, or with the decision that you want to find something to fill a particular need. It does help if you have an interest in design and spend a lot of time looking at new design ideas, so that when you do spot that “useless” discarded item, that you can see its potential for a second life more easily. Seeing an alternative use for something is a knack that comes with trial and error. With a bit or practice however , looking into an overflowing skip of junk can become a positively thrilling experience! We used to put the whole family in the car to go to the recycling centre, such was the draw of ogling other peoples junk!
Its rare that a rescued item can be turned into something that looks good and serves a new purpose with just some cosmetic work such as a coat of paint; If it’s that good, one hopes that it doesn’t get dumped in the first place but rather passed on, which is why it helps to get the word out that you are interested in re-use. I prefer something that takes a little more imagination and effort to turn it back into something one might want to pay for. More often, the found piece can become the interesting or unexpected part of a larger “thing” that may require some additional work to bring it to the point where you would enjoy looking at it in your own home.
Much has been said about the benefits and fun of upcycling old stuff, and there is no doubt that taking something that was on its way to the dump and giving it a new lease of life is very satisfying. There is however a thoroughly engaging and stimulating process behind giving that piece of junk a new place in the world. Stretching your imagination and managing to see something with an altered perspective will allow you to find that hidden use that others don’t see and are not bothered to look for. It’s a hobbyists dream but of course its takes some effort to find the good stuff. Once you start exercising your idea muscle in this direction, all sorts of things start to have potential: from the unusual things that spark an immediate idea for a re-use, to other things you come across but can’t see any obvious use for but are simply too interesting to ignore.
In the MAKE section, we share a few examples of stuff that is now part of our home that began life as something else.