How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

Skincare FAQ

Hi friends! I got a lot of questions about my skincare routine, so here's a quick FAQ about the products and techniques I use. I have answered the questions to the best of my knowledge and ability. Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist or scientist. I cannot and guarantee any specific results if you switch to this skincare routine.

Baking Soda, Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree, Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild, Mountain Rose Herbs Certified Organic Jojoba Oil
Baking Soda, Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree, Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild, Mountain Rose Herbs Certified Organic Jojoba Oil


Q: What is Dr. Bronner's?

A: Dr. Bronner's is a castille soap, which means it has a vegetable oil base. The soaps are made of water, saponified vegetable oils, tocopherol (vitamin E), citric acid (I believe this is to adjust the pH of the soap), and essential oils. The soaps are Fair Trade Certified, use certified organic ingredients, and don't test on animals. They don't use synthetic ingredients and the packaging is made from 100% post-consumer recycled material. All-in-all, it's an easily available soap that I feel totally comfortable purchasing.

Q: What type of Dr. Bronner's do you use?

A: I started using the Tea Tree Castille Soap because tea tree is antibacterial and incredibly helpful at controlling the bad bacteria that can perpetuate breakouts. I used a 1:1 dilution when I was having severe breakouts, but as my skin has regulated I've sometimes found it to be drying (especially in the winter). Now I dilute it 1:2 or 1:3 and find it less drying. If you don't have severe acne, I really like the Lavender Castille Soap as well. Lavender is great at calming and soothing the skin. I find that when I'm having a lot of redness the lavender helps to reduce it. When I finish up my current bottle of Tea Tree, I will be switching to their Baby Mild Castille Soap. We bought a gallon of Baby Mild to use in a variety of ways around the house and it just makes sense to streamline. Plus, because Baby Mild is unscented, I can add Tea Tree or Lavender essential oil on my own and mix up little batches depending on what my skin needs.

I recommend starting with the 2 oz. bottle of whichever soap you want to try. The small bottle has a very small hole in the lid, small enough to only use one drop at a time. One drop is more than enough to wash your whole face. If you like it, then you can buy a larger bottle and dilute it. Plus, you'll have the small bottle to take with you when you travel!

Q: Where can I buy Dr. Bronner's?

A: As far as national stores go, the products are available at Target and Whole Foods. Health/Natural Food stores tend to stock them as well. You can also buy the products through their online store or find a store near you with their store locator. And, of course, they're available on Amazon, which I've used in the links above.

Q: Why do you use the liquid instead of the bar soap?

A: I've never actually tried the bar soap on my face. I started with the liquid because I liked the customizability of it. I've been able to use it as strong or diluted as I needed and therefore never saw the need to try the bar soap.


Q: Why jojoba oil?

A: Jojoba oil (pronounced "ho-ho-ba") isn't actually an oil, it is a wax ester. It's structure is very similar to that of skin sebum, so it integrates easily. When you use it as a moisturizer it actually absorbs into the skin, it doesn't sit on top of the skin like other oils do. It not only moisturizes, but also lets the skin breathe. It even helps break down clogged sebum that can contribute to acne! It also helps with skin elasticity and in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. It also is very shelf stable and unlikely to cause skin irritation. 

Q: Where can I buy jojoba oil?

I really like the Certified Organic Jojoba Oil from Mountain Rose Herbs. As a company they strive to offer sustainable, organic products and I feel really good about supporting them. That being said, I realize that buying organic and sustainable is just not in the cards for some people and that's totally okay. I've also used the 100% Pure Jojoba Oil from Trader Joe's, which is more affordable. You can also find it at Whole Foods, GNC, Walgreens, or Amazon.

Q: What about _______ oil?

A lot of you have asked about using other oils on your skin. Now, I haven't tried all of the other oil options on my skin, but the ones I have tried I haven't liked nearly as much as jojoba. I'm assuming this is because jojoba is not actually an oil (as mentioned above) and so it interacts differently with your skin.

When I tried coconut oil (organic, virgin, unrefined) I found it to be drying. In my research I've found a number of people complaining of similar issues, but not good reason for it other than as an oil it sits on top of the skin instead of actually providing moisture, so if your skin is already dry it will trap that dryness. I know some people swear by coconut oil for their skin, so I think it just depends on the person. If you love coconut oil, but are confused about what kind to buy, this post at Food Renegade breaks it down pretty well.

I tried castor oil for a while as well and found that it absolutely did not agree with my skin. My pores were clogged, my skin was excessively oily, and I broke out terribly. Castor oil is an extremely thick oil and I didn't find that it absorbed into my skin well at all.

I've used olive oil in a pinch and also found it to be a little greasy. That being said, if I'm somewhere and I've forgotten my skin oil and the only options are a packaged skin cream or olive oil (or coconut oil or some other more natural oil - not canola or vegetable), I'll absolutely choose the oil 100% of the time.

If you already use an oil on your skin and like the results and want to stick with it, please do. I actually now use a homemade blend of oils on my skin (a jojoba base with additional oils mixed in), which I'll get to in detail in a future post.


Q: What is a toner?

A: According to Wikipedia, a toner is a skincare item used to "cleanse the skin and shrink the appearance of pores." People with oily skin are frequently told to use an astringent toner to help dry up the oil. I've found this to actually be worse for my skin. The more you dry up the oil, the more oil your skin produces, the more oil there is to clog up the pores, so on and so forth. I used a toner diligently for years and finally phased out of it a few years back. I haven't missed it a bit and am happy to have one less packaged item to purchase for my skin care routine.

Q: What is witch hazel?

Witch hazel is an astringent and antioxidant, which means it can be helpful with acne. When I do use a toner/astringent, I use alcohol-free witch hazel. You have to be very careful reading labels, as a number of witch hazel products have alcohol, which is incredibly drying. I use Thayer's Lavender Witch Hazel because for a long time it was either that or Rose Petal as far as easily-available alcohol-free toners went, and I strongly dislike the smell of roses. Now it appears that Thayer's makes a Fragrance-Free Unscented Witch Hazel, which would be my choice should I need to purchase it again.

Q: Where can I buy Thayer's Witch Hazel?

A: I used to purchase it at Walgreens, but the Thayer's Store Locator isn't showing that as an option anymore. I think Target, Whole Foods, GNC, and other stores like that should carry it. You can also order it from their website or from Amazon.

Q: Why should I exfoliate?

A: This is another thing that skincare companies tell you is absolutely necessary for healthy skin. They want you to think that you should either manually or chemically exfoliate the dead skin cells from your face on a regular basis. Do I think exfoliation is helpful? Yes, in certain circumstances. When my pores were really clogged, exfoliation helped with that. I wouldn't recommend exfoliating if you have active, open breakouts. Exfoliating in that situation can be incredibly irritating to the skin. I exfoliate probably once every 4-6 weeks, unless I feel my skin is unusually clogged. I tend to exfoliate more if I've been wearing makeup or sunscreen, as I feel that those things tend to cause build-up and clogged pores. So, depending on what you put on your face on a daily basis, you may need more regular exfoliation.

Q: Baking soda? Really?

A: Really. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is naturally-occurring and the powder is very fine, but hard. This makes it a great physical exfoliant. It's better than, say, an apric ot scrub because apricot pieces can have sharp edges that cause microscopic tears in the skin. Those tears can aid the spread of bacteria and breakouts. To exfoliate with baking soda, I usually just pour a little in my hand after washing my face, add a little water, rub it on my face, and then rinse it off. You can also use it anywhere else you may need exfoliating!


Q: When you do wear makeup, what kind do you use? 

A: This is tough. I try to use as few chemicals on my skin as possible, but I also try to limit purchasing things I don't need or won't use all that often. That being said, I was a makeup collector back in the day. I have a traincase full of stuff from MAC and Sephora. Because I rarely (less than 10 times a year) wear makeup, I personally can't justify buying new, eco-friendly, sustainable, chemical-free makeup. When I wear makeup, I use a powdered mineral foundation that is free of bismuth oxychloride. If you wear or are looking into switching to a mineral foundation, watch out for bismuth oxychloride. It wrecked havoc on my skin and took almost two months to recover after one exposure. Edited (6/21) to add: The foundation I use is discontinued. I'd recommend Everyday Minerals. They have a cheap sample kit you can get to try a variety of products/colors before you order the regular size. If you want a pressed mineral foundation, I like Jane Iredale. When I need new foundation, I'll be ordering from Everyday Minerals.

Q: How do you remove your makeup?

A: Easy! I just take some jojoba oil and massage it into my face. It breaks down the makeup and makes it easy to wash off. If I'm wearing a lot of makeup, I'll massage the oil around my eye area and then wipe it off with a baby wipe and/or cotton swab.

Edited (6/21) to add:


Q: What do you use for sun protection?

A: I'm still searching for sun protection that I can happily suggest. At a friend's recommendation, Rachel and I started taking Astaxanthin (we like Nutrex Hawaii BioAstin) as a supplement. It is a strong antioxidant and studies have shown it helps reduce UVA damage internally. It has not been all that sunny in Chicago, but I can say that neither of us has gotten a sunburn, even on days in which the sun has made an appearance. As far as external sunscreen, I heartily recommend checking out the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide (they also have an app available, which is helpful if you're out shopping for sunscreen and need some info ASAP). We tried the Alba Botanical Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen, which rubbed in well and protected us from the sun, but has some questionable ingredients. We also tried the Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream which was incredibly chunky and difficult to rub in, but Rachel didn't get burnt (and she's pretty pale) and the ingredients are okay across the board. I think I'm more comfortable recommending the Badger, after studying the ingredients in both. Before applying, be sure to squeeze the tube thoroughly with the cap on to make sure the ingredients haven't separated. Both brands are available from Whole Foods and Amazon. Our end goal is to make our own sunscreen, so watch for a post on that sometime this summer (hopefully)!

Edited (7/16)  to add:


Q: What do you do when you breakout? How do you spot treat?

A: Usually if I breakout the pimples are very small and inobtrusive. Occasionally, though, I will get a larger breakout on my jaw area (frequently hormone-related). When that happens, I spot treat with organic tea tree oil. That usually clears it up in a day or two. If I breakout in a larger area than usual, I either add a little tea tree oil to my jojoba oil before moisturizing or I use a topical Chinese herbal formula called Yin Care. Yin Care has many uses, but I really like it as a topical acne medicine because it's relatively gentle (meaning it won't burn or dry your skin), but very effective. To apply it, I get my hands wet (to help dilute the formula) and put a drop on my palm. I rub my hands together and then pat on to my skin and let it dry.

My best advice is to listen to your skin. Pay attention to it. Is it feeling dry? Use a little extra jojoba. Does it feel clogged? Maybe it's time to exfoliate. As with any skincare routine change, your skin may get worse before it gets better. I recommend sticking with it for 4-6 weeks. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!  

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Easy Does It: My Simple Skin Care Routine

This post has been a long time coming, because this is one of the things people ask me about most often.  I will start by telling you my acne story, and then tell you about my personal acne solution. I started breaking out around the age of 9. NINE. I had terrible, red, painful cystic acne for all of my teenage years and into my early twenties. As a teenager I went to the dermatologist weekly to get liquid nitrogen blasted on my face in the hopes that it would clear up my acne. I also got the really big zits injected with steroids for a while, but the steroids had a really unsettling effect on me, so I discontinued that treatment pretty quickly.

Basically I did every treatment recommended by my dermatologist, short of Accutane. In fact, I was on -cycline drugs for so long the roots of my teeth turned blue, something I didn’t discover until I had some teeth removed in my late teens. My oral surgeon asked if I’d been on tetracycline or monocycline for a while and when I asked why, he showed me my teeth and explained that prolonged use can turn the roots blue. That was kind of terrifying to me. It made me realize just how much the meds permeated my entire body - while not even having that great an effect on my skin!

Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash
Left-side cystic acne, with flash

I stopped the internal medicines shortly thereafter and decided to really focus on my skincare routine. I started really simple with Cetaphil, but had an allergic reaction in which my skin burned and turned bright red. Cetaphil is a line of products which most doctors recommend as super hypoallergenic, mild, and gentle. This was not going to be easy. Like most teenagers (in Hawaii in the '90s, at least) I went full-blown with Clinique products. It worked for a bit, but then I started having a reaction similar to that I’d had with Cetaphil. So not only did I have incredibly painful cystic acne, I also had extremely sensitized skin. Looking back, I think it’s because of all the internal and external medications I had taken. My skin had no idea how to take care of itself.

I went through a few more skincare lines with varying levels of success - Murad, ProActiv, Origins, Fresh, and others I can’t remember. I went to Boston for college, dropped out of college, started acupuncture school and, still, my acne was out of control. A year into acupuncture school a friend and I took a semester off to go to esthetician school. I figured THAT would be my ticket to beautiful skin. In esthetician school I learned the ins and outs of skin, skincare, and makeup and got facials and skin treatment pretty regularly. I also started using Dermalogica, because that’s what came in our kits for school. My skin got better for a while, but after a little while went right back to being bad again. I tried fancy organic skincare lines like Eminence and Dr. Hauschka only to have similar results.

I moved to Chicago when I was 22 and decided to join my roommates on the South Beach diet. My acne cleared up with the decrease in carb intake, but as soon as I had even a little bit of sugar it came back with a vengeance. I had basically given up and resigned myself to a lifetime of terrible skin.

I haven’t even mentioned all the makeup I wore during this time, trying to “cover up” my terrible skin, as if a layer of foundation could hide the bumpy landscape that was my face. Through the makeup forums online I read about oil cleansing and it sounded promising, so I tried that. No matter what ratio of oils I tried, my skin just felt clogged and dirty. I tried it for a few months, but was never able to get through the adjustment period. That was when I threw up my hands and went bare bones with my skin care. I gave up all skincare lines and went with my gut.

I went through a few incarnations before settling on what I’ve been using for the past few years. Are you ready? You sure? Okay, here goes. I use Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Castille Soap (diluted, 1:3 Dr. Bronner’s to water - though I think I'm going to switch to Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild once I'm done with my current stash of Tea Tree) to wash and I use either organic jojoba oil (usually from Trader Joe's or Mountain Rose Herbs, though I've linked to one on Amazon if that's easier for y'all) or a homemade oil blend to moisturize. That’s it. Even more? I only wash my face once a day. If I’ve gotten really sweaty and/or dirty, I may use Thayers Natural alcohol-free witch hazel as a toner, but I find that I rarely do that anymore (though it is a quick way to clean your face if you’re hiking or camping!). If I feel the need to exfoliate, I use good old Arm & Hammer baking soda. Take a little in your hand, add water to make a paste, and gently scrub it on your skin.

At one point during my “new” skincare routine I started working at Sephora. I got a lot of free product and decided to try some of their fancy skincare lines. Guess what? I reacted to every one. I either broke out or turned bright red or had a burning sensation on my skin. I went back to my simplified routine and my skin normalized within a couple of weeks. Now, this isn’t to say that I’m completely breakout-free. I do get the occasional zit, but usually it’s small and it goes away quickly. If I get an unusually stubborn zit, I will sometimes put a little tea tree oil on it. Even with occasional breakouts my skin is so much better than it used to be.

Right-side, slight breakout
Right-side, slight breakout
Left-side, clear skin
Left-side, clear skin

Now, I rarely wear makeup (we’re talking probably less than 10 times a year) and am 100% comfortable going out in public with a bare face. In fact, I even get complimented on my skin! Listen, I’m not ever going to push my routine on anyone. I know how uncomfortable that is and how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end. I did, however, want to share what worked for me, after trying what seemed like EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT ON THE MARKET. Do what you will with the information. Everyone is different.

The nice things about this “regimen” so to speak is that it is really simple, very inexpensive and it fits swimmingly with a sustainable lifestyle.  Dr. Bronner’s products are organically produced and organic jojoba oil is not hard to find.  The soap is diluted, which makes it last a super long time, and you are only washing once a day, which makes that purchase go even farther.  Certainly, the health of your skin is affected not only by what you put on your skin, but also by how you eat and your stress level. 

As a matter of full disclosure, I do not smoke or drink alcohol or coffee and I eat a diet composed mostly of organic foods. I run my own acupuncture business, so I have a stressful day here and there, but on the whole, my job is pretty low stress.  I also receive acupuncture regularly, which helps to clear out any things that might be waiting around to aid the production of pimples. Regardless, I have recommended this regimen to many of my patients, friends, and Rachel, and most have seen dramatic results.  Rachel went from constant breakouts to only the occasional blemish.  If you are fed up with what the beauty and healthcare industry has to offer in regards to skin care for acne, give this a try, and commit to it for at least four weeks. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

UPDATE 06.21.13: I've compiled a Skincare FAQ post to answer questions that y'all have been sending me. Check it out!

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