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?

Our Zero-Waste Thanksgiving (November Recap)

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I started seeing a lot of posts on food waste. Some of the facts were just plain staggering: 204 million pounds of turkey wasted, $293 million in food tossed out on just this one day alone. We had already decided to skip the turkey and host a meal that we hoped would be consumed in its entirety on Thanksgiving Day – no leftovers – but reading these ridiculous stats gave us another idea.

Regardless of whether or not we clean our plates, the sad fact remains – the holidays are just one (albeit extreme) example of food waste. Every single day, grocery stores toss out perfectly good food because it looks bad, because one apple in the bag is rotten, because it’s close to expiration, or believe it or not, because they no longer have shelf space for that particular item! Living next to a grocery store, we see this all the time. If you’ve followed our blog for very long, you know that we are unashamed of the fact that we often rescue food from the dumpster. It’s our tiny contribution to saving the planet and feeding our neighbors in need.

So for Thanksgiving we decided to make our meal from rescued food. This included both dumpster finds and anything on the last chance/quick sale rack of our local grocer. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, we visited the two grocery stores next door almost every day. From the dumpster,  we managed to score a 10# bag of Russet potatoes, 2 dozen eggs, a pound of carrots, 7 yellow onions, 2 red onions, a 3# bag of Granny Smith apples, a bag of brown ‘n serve rolls, an orange, and a 16 oz. bag of fresh cranberries. From the quick sale rack, we purchased an organic Spring Mix salad ($2.99) and a bag of flour ($1). We were able to rescue almost every item on our menu, with the exception of a chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a cucumber.

With these items, we created a delicious dinner consisting of 2 chicken pot pies, a garden salad, a cranberry-apple compote, deviled eggs, rolls, and an apple pie. (And breakfast the next day – fresh cranberry muffins!).

The dinner was a success and almost every bite was eaten that day (the exception was the salad, which we munched on for the next two days, and the deviled eggs, which became egg salad sandwiches). We feel really good about what we were able to rescue and the folks we served, they were more flabbergasted by the amount of food we found than they were about where it was found. In fact, I’ve even had 2 requests for another “Dumpster Apple Pie” LOL.

Thanksgiving may have been the highlight of our month, but along with our frugal food adventures, we were also able to make progress on our other goals.

  • We added 47.4 miles to our walking total. We stand at 845.2 miles for the year.
  • We enjoyed 14 completely meatless days (or 71 vegetarian meals) this month.
  • We earned $107.80 (cash) and $85.63 in Amazon gift cards through side hustles.
  • We decluttered 7 more items, mostly winter coats, which we donated to charity.

I have most of the month of December off from work and lots of ideas of how I want to spend that time. Reading, relaxing, and trying some new recipes (probably using rescued foods) tops the list. Spending time with loved ones and taking in some of the sights and sounds of the holidays comes in a close second. And of course, there’s one final round of decluttering left to do and a lot of walking, if we want to reach our goals for the year!

How will you spend your December?