At the start of 2018, I made a number of resolutions/goals, which met with mixed success (more on that soon, I hope). But I’ve realized that I never wrote about what turned out to be my most successful resolution: to stop buying tea (or hot chocolate, etc., I’m not a coffee drinker) if it would come in a disposable cup.
I can’t now remember what prompted me to make the resolution; I certainly wasn’t in a daily habit of purchasing hot beverages, but I must have been buying them frequently enough for me to get fed up with the waste.
What made (I think) this resolution such a success was that it didn’t actually forbid the problematic behaviour. There was nothing stopping me from buying tea or hot chocolate- I just had to remember to bring my travel mug with me. And if I didn’t want to spend the money, I could consciously choose not to bring the mug with me.
It was incredibly effective.
The year wasn’t perfect, but I think I can say with confidence that I bought a hot beverage in a container that would have to be put in the garbage once it was empty less than five times. Definitely less than ten. And almost every occasion was when someone else was doing the buying and I forgot to say ‘no’ when asked if I’d like something.
Even on a memorable Wednesday late last semester, when I was tired and ill and freezing cold, when I wanted some tea so badly, I didn’t buy it. I didn’t have my mug with me, and by then the habit was firmly entrenched.
So this year I’ve decided to up the ante. I developed a very bad habit of buying my lunch last semester, which had ballooned by the end of the semester into buying lunch nearly every workday, plus frequent snacks. Last semester was incredibly chaotic, but this was a ball I didn’t need to be dropping in such spectacular fashion.
I knew an outright ban on buying food was unlikely to work, because I don’t respond well to prohibitions. Instead, I expanded the resolution from last year.
In 2019, my goal is to be litter-free when I’m at work.
It’s not that I can’t buy food…I just have to work out the logistics to make sure I’m not using any of the disposable packaging that would normally come with it. If I want to buy a burrito bowl when I’m on campus (a burrito bowl which I was in the habit of buying at least once a week, if not more often, last semester), I have to bring my own bowl and cutlery with me (I have yet to determine whether the staff will be happy to accommodate my BYOB approach).
My impetus for this change is largely financial. I’ve been crunching our budget numbers to find areas where we can cut back and ‘food and dining’ is clearly the low-hanging fruit. When I ran the numbers comparing our average monthly spend on ‘groceries’ versus ‘food and dining’ (which includes groceries, but also alcohol, restaurants and coffee shops, and the money Q. and I spend on food while at work (which have their own categories in my system)), I found that we were spending, on average, close to $500 a month on ‘food and dining’ that couldn’t be classified as actual groceries.
There are obvious environmental benefits to my decision and likely health ones as well (I gained weight last semester and I’m certain my reliance on purchased food played a role), but my strong aversion to wasting money is the key. The advantage to the financial aspect is it’s so easy to track my progress. I know what the average monthly spend on ‘Turia’s Snacks’ in 2018 was, and I’m looking forward to seeing that number plummet in 2019.
I’m allowing myself one Lara bar wrapper a day (I buy them in bulk when they’re on sale for less than $1 each, and I’ve come to rely on them for a late afternoon snack) and I’m not expecting perfection on the weekend if I’m out with my family. But my hope is that changing how I approach food for myself will also change the larger patterns in our household. I took the kids on two major expeditions in the second week of the holidays and both days I built enough time into our schedule to allow me to pack a lunch and snacks for the three of us. Since we have memberships at both locations, the total cost of our days out was minimal: $6 in public transit fares for myself in one case (the kids are free) and $8 for parking in the other.
There are costs that comes with this change, of course. There was an initial financial outlay to purchase an appropriate lunch container. Q. and the kids picked out a green yumbox for me as a Christmas present. I don’t think it’s what I would have picked for myself, but I’m making it work along with the tupperware containers and reusable sandwich and snack bags we already had in the house. I still need to buy travel cutlery. Making it extremely difficult for me to purchase food while at work increases my emotional labour around food. I have to plan ahead and make sure appropriate lunch things are on the menu and purchased at the grocery store. It also increases the time I spend on food. I have to plan ahead and make my lunch and pack my snacks. But these are small costs that will become invisible as I settle into the new habit, and the time I spend making my lunch in the evenings is probably cancelled out by the time I save not standing in line the next day.
It’s been less than two weeks under the new system, so it’s early days yet, but I’ve successfully navigated two of our Terrible Tuesdays (where I’m out of the house for 15 hours) without buying food. It helps that it’s winter so I can safely leave my dinner in the trunk of my car until I’m ready for it. I’ve definitely noticed the impulse to buy food, especially when I’m bored or triggered by being near the places where I habitually purchased food last semester. But, thus far, I’ve been able to resist, and I know those impulses will weaken and vanish as I rewrite the patterns of my behaviour.