Better Me, Better World: Year in Review

Tomorrow starts a brand new year, with 365 exciting opportunities to do something you’ve never done before. How cool is that?? I know I’m pretty happy about it. I’m happy to start something new but I’m also happy to post the results of our year long Better Me, Better World project. We had two goals this year – to live simply and strive toward zero food waste. Here’s how we did on both:


Better Me Goal: Live simply. Prove that we can live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life with less.

Yard Sale Puzzles

Last January, we set a budget and for the most part, we stuck to it. There were some splurges along the way, mostly at yard sales and the Farmer’s Market, but we had no extravagant expenditures. Even when I had to get a new cell phone, I bought one that was two generations old and on sale. Our vacations were cheap. Our fun dates out were frugal. Our fun days staying in were also filled with cheap activities – knitting, coloring, putting together yard-sale puzzles, watching free documentaries, and reading. This year, we read 52 books between the two of us.

Frugal living allowed us to save $7,166 toward retirement, travel, and emergencies. Our net pay from my job was $29,778.72 this year. We received another $3,557.32 from side hustles, gifts, and proceeds from our decluttering efforts. While I know saving 22% of one’s income is something to be proud of, I still feel conflicted when it comes to money. This is something I plan to work on in 2019.

Another of our Better Me goals was to eat a mostly plant-based diet, with no more than 10% of meals containing meat. I’m pleased to say that only 8.8% of the meals we consumed in 2018 contained meat. We had a total of 322 completely meatless days. As the year went on, we made a few other adjustments to our diet. We started taking a harder look at ingredients and buying more organic, non-GMO products when possible. (Our rule of thumb on fresh produce is that saving a fruit or veggie from becoming waste trumps where it comes from. In other words, dumpster finds don’t have to be organic or non-GMO.)

Hiking in Lafayette, TN

We (or rather I) attempted to be more active. Angie already does some sort of stretchy resistance band/jumping around the room routine 2-3 mornings per week. My thoughts are with her, but my body is usually sitting at my desk. To trick me into exercising, Angie would often tell me that we were going to walk to the dumpster or the thrift store or go to the park for a picnic (followed by a walk). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being outdoors. I enjoy hiking and paddling (both of which we did this year) but if you call it exercise, my brain refuses to allow my body to participate. If you call it play, we’re all in though. And if you call it yard work or gardening, I will stay outside all day – hauling compost or raking leaves or pruning plants – until my muscles are as sore as any athlete. With that being said, we did try to take more walks this year. I’m not sure how far we walked/hiked though. We were up to 110 miles at the beginning of August when my fake Fitbit died. I have yet to replace it.

Self-score: A-

I always think there’s room for improvement when it comes to living more simply. There were times this year that we used our wallet instead of our brain to solve a problem and in every single one of those cases, the problem got worse. For example, we spent $160 on 2 pair of barefoot running shoes because we read that it was a “more natural” way to walk and would reduce stress on our feet. Within just a few weeks, I went from sore, tired feet after a long walk to full-blown plantar fasciitis. It was awful! Then there was the matter of the folding kayaks. We thought owning a kayak again would get us out on the water more often. The first time I tried to fold my origami kayak, I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion. It took 4 people 30 minutes of wrestling with plastic to get it set up, only to have it collapse inward in the water. We ended up selling both pair of shoes and both kayaks at a slight loss. The better path would have been the $25 super comfortable hiking boots I ultimately bought on sale at Academy and renting a kayak for the afternoon.


Better World Goal: Zero-food-waste. Prove that one couple can have an impact in reducing global food waste.

Volunteering with SoSA

When we first set this goal, our plan was to simply continue our food rescue efforts (aka dumpster diving) at the grocery next door, possibly interviewing other dumpster divers and talking with management about their food waste policies, but their remodel in the spring shut down the store for 3 months and for a while thereafter, it seemed as if the amount of food being tossed out was improving. Not to be deterred, we opted to go in a different direction and help reduce food waste through volunteer work. In April, we worked with Compost Nashville to direct food waste into its proper receptacle at VegFest. From May through July, we worked with Society of St. Andrew to glean the Nashville Farmer’s Market after market day. Through our efforts, we rescued and donated 133 pounds of produce to our charity of choice, the Nashville Rescue Mission. Overall, SoSA volunteers gleaned 11,520 pounds of food from farmers’ markets in Tennessee during the 2018 summer and fall season.

Throughout the year, we did keep an eye on the dumpster next door. Our total dumpster haul for the year was 348.11 pounds. The majority of this was comprised of fresh produce, breads, and 3 spiral-sliced hams. We shared our finds with 10 individuals. A few non-perishable items were placed in the Blessing Box, a brand-new free pantry outside of the Baptist church down the street.

We also had the opportunity to talk with a few key folks in our community about food waste this year. During Grit, Grace, Grub, a culinary scavenger hunt hosted by our city’s Chamber of Commerce, we spoke at length to the manager of one of the local chain restaurants involved. She was impressed with our project and even brainstormed a few ideas with us on how she could reduce food waste. Our biggest success though was when we were contacted by the executive chef of a full-service 76-suite independent living (55+) community that was just opening an hour north of us. His board wanted buffet style meals served 3 times a day and as a new facility, he was concerned about the potential for food waste, since full occupancy could take at least a year to achieve. He had been told that donating cooked food was illegal and he wanted to know what his options were for reducing food waste. We talked to him about the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996 and he presented our information to his board. The facility now donates their food overages to the local homeless shelter and battered women’s shelter.

At home, we continued to plan our meals and source local foods first and reduced-to-clear items second. We scored well with both, and with our tiny garden, which produced cowpeas, squash, tomatoes, blackberries, snack peppers, jalapenos, radishes, cilantro, and green beans this year.

We also increased our composting efforts, adding a new finishing composter (made completely out of rescued materials) for year-round composting. In total, we turned 115 gallons of food and yard scraps into dirt for the garden. Though we did not have a zero-waste year, we did manage to reduce our food waste to only 15.73 pounds for the year (for our family of two). About ¼ of this waste came from a problem with our refrigerator/freezer door that defrosted several items before we knew it. Maintenance replaced the fridge and we salvaged what we could, but I was afraid to eat the meatless meatballs and bay scallops after they had been thawed.

Self-score: A

I think we could have done a little better on our food waste but I’m not going to complain too much about having less than 8 pounds of waste apiece. (The average American wastes 250 pounds of food per year.)

How was your year? Did you reach or exceed your goals?

5 Things I Learned from 50 Days of Happiness

Today is my 50th day in the 100 Happy Days challenge. People who complete the challenge are supposed to be in a better mood every day, be more optimistic, and realize how lucky they are to have the life they have. Midway through the challenge and I already feel that way. Truth is I’ve felt that way all along. This challenge hasn’t been a waste though. Far from it! It has helped me to be more mindful of what makes me happy and how my happiness affects the people around me and I have learned a lot about myself, my partner, and my friends along the way.

First, I learned to never be ashamed of the things that make you happy.

19 of our 49 posts were food related. At first, I felt guilty posting so many things to eat. Negative messages played in my head about how you shouldn’t find happiness in food because it’s unhealthy blah, blah, blah…but then I stopped to really think about it. We’re foodies. We love food. From homemade applesauce to picnics by the beach, Angie and I both find great joy in preparing and sharing food…and there’s no shame in that.

DSCN3800Next, I found that happy images can indeed inspire happy feelings.

The most liked posts over the past 50 days have been the ones of the beach and sunset. Beaches are a universal symbol of relaxation and people see in those images their own happy times, past and future. I can relate. I keep a picture of the ocean on my computer desktop just for that same purpose.

But soon I came to see that happiness can’t be measured in Facebook likes.

The first few weeks of the challenge were about posting the things that made us happy but soon we began to put too much thought into the process. Each day as we talked about which “happy picture” to post, I noticed that the primary consideration wasn’t on sharing our own happiness but on choosing something that might make the most people happy (ie. get the most response). Such is the downside of being human…we all just want to be accepted…but putting someone else’s happiness ahead of your own is never a good thing.

And I developed a greater appreciation of the fact that the pursuit of happiness is not happiness.

The greatest lesson that I’ve learned in this social experiment is that there’s more than just a grain of truth to the saying, “The moment you stop chasing happiness, you become happy”. Many times over the past 50 days I’ve found myself scrounging about to find a picture that conveys happiness rather than finishing up the chapter I was reading, taking a walk, or having a conversation with the ones that I love.

Finally, I realized that it’s okay to stop doing something that doesn’t really make you happy.

For a few days now I have been contemplating calling it quits on this challenge, at least in part…and apparently I’m not alone. On the 100HappyDays.com website we’re told that 71% of people will fail to complete this challenge because they don’t have time to be happy. When I started this challenge I agreed wholeheartedly that in this fast-paced, get-ahead-society, people really don’t take the time to be happy. But now I’m not so sure I agree that this is why folks stop participating in the challenge. I think they do it because it works. The benefits of paying attention to what makes you happy are undeniable.

I’m happy just being mindful of my own happiness. I’m not happy trying to come up with ways to showcase that happiness every day. Posting a picture a day takes time and sometimes that time gets borrowed from the actual things that bring me happiness. While I may ultimately decide to stop posting to Facebook, I still plan to continue this challenge by simply taking a moment each day to reflect on happiness.