Zero-Waste Office


I decided to update this post now that I work in a normal American office, not one where French bboys breakdance for no reason in the middle of the day and everyone keeps a bottle of Hibiki at their desk.  As far as I know, there's no French equivalent to the word corporation. They use the word société, which (I guess) denotes socialization. The offices I frequented placed high importance on art, communal areas, and contemporary furniture. Couches, open space, and shared extended desks replaced cubicles. They might run out of copier paper or toilet rolls, but never wine, stocking cases upon cases of reds, whites, and rosé in every supply closet.

Apéro was an important part of the workday, arguably more important than the Ticket Resto-subsidized lunch. Office hours began later than the US, sometimes ending around 10 o'clock. Ostensibly, the French workweek is 35 hours. I heard this wasn't enforced. A minimum five to eleven weeks vacation, plus bank holidays, sweeten the deal. Contrary to what I've read online, casual Friday does exist in France, at least in Paris, the sneaker-loving capital.

If you're considering working in Paris, read Michel Houellebecq's Extension du domaine de la lutte. If you're already a proud member of the French workforce, or any workforce, here are some zero-waste desk essentials:Zero-waste desk drawer essentials
  • Mason jar. Perfect for hot and cold drinks, or microwaving leftovers. I carry my lunch in one wrapped in a cloth napkin and keep the other with water or tea in it in my purse. Keeping a few jars around comes in handy, and makes it easy to carry compost scraps home.
  • Baking soda. Keep in a small shaker or jar at your desk. Safer than deodorant, it won't stain nice suits and shirts. Swish with water after morning coffee instead of popping breath mints- many Parisians brush their teeth at work (alternately, make some zero-waste breath freshener or spray of your own). If you prefer a plastic free deodorant, Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve and Meow Meow Tweet make good ones without baking soda, and Fat and the Moon has a nice tooth cleanse in a small amber bottle.
  • Safety pins. Temporary fix for outfit mishaps.
  • Eyedrops. In France, you can buy recyclable plastic multi-application bottles that expurgate preservatives before reaching the ocular surface. Don't try making your own at home!
  • Garment brush. Replaces a lint roller.
  • Mooncup. Replaces tampons and pads.
  • Cloth towel (for drying hands) and soap / hand sanitizer. I'm only putting soap on here because I used to (actually still do) carry it in a little cloth bag to work. I used one piece to wash my dishes, one to wash my hands, one to spot-clean clothes, etc. It seems overkill now, but I didn't want to use antibacterial gels or packaged products. Savon de marseille removes stains better than Tide pens anyway. Add some lavender or orange essential oil to ethyl alcohol or vodka in a spray bottle for DIY hand sanitizer. I soaked lemon peel in vodka one week to make mine.
  • Utensils. Even people who don't care about zero-waste keep cloth napkins, a knife, fork, spoon, and mug or canteen at their desks for convenience. Pack lunch to avoid creating trash.
  • Extra shoes. All the women I know carry sneakers or ballet flats in Paris. They click-clack to lunch in heels but take the Metro in comfort, usually New Balances or Repettos.
  • Plants and cleaning supplies. Plants are the best zero waste air fresheners. If your desk or cubicle tends to get dusty, you could also keep a little bottle of vinegar (with a lavender or rosemary sprig in it, or citrus peels so the office doesn't smell like a pickle) at your desk and a small cloth to wipe things down.
I used to let my hands air dry after washing them or use a cloth napkin I kept in my purse, but now that I'm back in America, I’ve gotten in a bad habit of using hand dryers or paper towels (I can take the paper home in my jar to compost but I rarely remember, so I'm trying to be more conscious about air drying). One thing we do in my office now is print doublesided, and since our printer automatically inserts a cover page, if the whole team needs to print something, one person does it for everyone to reduce individual covers.

It would take six hours for me to get from my office to work using public transportation. I tried carpooling with coworkers who lived nearby, but then our schedules switched so I drive to work alone right now. As much as I'd love an electric car, I did the feasibility study and unless I buy a Tesla, it's not possible right now- we don't have the climate or the grid for electric in my locale, and I'd never make it home and back in the winter. My car is over ten years old though, in perfect condition. I drove it in high school and they say it'll last another ten years, so it seems more sustainable for me to drive this until it breaks than buy a different car. I telecommute any time I have the opportunity to, though.

To stay streamlined and organized at work, try clearing everything from your workspace. Put it all in a box, and take out what you need, as you need it. Place the items you use on your desk. After a month, if there are items you haven't used, get rid of them. My friend Sandra, a civil engineer, makes it a point to clean every day, both when she arrives at work, and before leaving, so messes don't pile up. Take a cue from reader Amber, a soon-to-be mechanical engineer, who manages to keep reference material and school papers organized in her beautiful workspace:

Far left and left, Amber's desk before. Right, in progress.

P.S. Put unused items and office supplies on Freecycle or offer to other co-workers and companies like Terracycle instead of sending them to the trash. My office collects batteries, printer cartridges, and other hard to recycle items, and even has a free library where people can leave and take books.

Paris to Go

10 Ways To Stop Shopping

Shopping is competition. The whole point of having an Instagram account (and a blog) is to show the world how much- or how little- you own. These object-driven narratives inform everyone: "My lifestyle surpasses yours." Possessions are status symbols affirming self-worth, apparent stepping stones to social advancement.

When I was younger, I wanted Hollister, Ugg boots, and Coach bags, to be like the girls that went tanning, drank Starbucks, and stole low-calorie margarita mixes from their stepmothers' bathrooms. They had hair straighteners, Juicy Couture purses, eating disorders. A frisson of candy-coated adolescent glamour surrounded them. Later, I interned at ELLE, which championed mixing designer samples, cheap basics, and thrift store finds. I developed thinly veiled contempt for suburban life, with all its exigencies. My style emerged a few years ago; clothes progressively became more conservative as life got more exciting (moving to Paris, meeting Kanye, studying the role of enzymatic post-translational modifications in Alzheimer's). I hope I'm less impressionable now, but I still struggle with my competitive streak.

To this day, I don't want clothes because they cover me up, permit self-expression, and protect me from the elements. I want the thrill that comes from taking my coat off and exposing a Louis Vuitton monogram lining. It's like the environmental justification for thrift shopping isn't enough- I need the additional excuse, "Oh, I bought this used, but it's Prada." I stopped reading fashion magazines and stayed away from street-style blogs, which were detrimental to my impulses and wants. Now I feel the material and check the fabrication- not the designer- label. As requested by reader Jo, here are ten ways I limit shopping:
  1. Resist sales. Bargains aren't about saving money. They're about the rush of finding designer merchandise at rock-bottom prices. Sometimes I get the idea in my head, "This deal is too good to pass up. I have to buy this, now!" and end up with something I didn't really need or want. Think realistically about the long-term consequences of buying, owning, and maintaining an item. That irresistible bargain may turn out to be an expensive waste.
  2. Avoid retail "therapy." Shopping can brighten your mood- temporarily. When emotional, go for a walk or bike ride instead. Engaging in physical activity relieves stress that drives you to buy what you wouldn't otherwise.
  3. Don't shop for recreation. Shopping isn't sport. Avoid browsing the web or visiting the mall when bored. Shop when you need something. Set a specific purchase in mind, and stick to it.
  4. Stop storing billing information online. In a brick and mortar store, there are physical barriers to purchasing. You put something in the cart, carry it to the cashier, and hand them a card, allowing plenty of time to think about the purchase and put it back if necessary. These barriers don't exist online- three clicks, and it's yours. Avoid express checkouts, instant log-ins, or saving address and credit information. When you have to think about your password, get your card, and enter your details over again, it kills the incentive to purchase unnecessary items.   
  5. Get new friends. At the very least, stop shopping with them. The lifestyle and conversation of your friends can shape your desires. If you're overspending to keep up with friends, choose different ones that place less emphasis on money and stuff. I avoid watching Gossip Girl-type TV shows, which are endless advertisements for certain brands, for much the same reason.
  6. I don't have a credit card. Sorry, this is a personal statement, not a suggestion. I became "credit card age" after the bubble burst in the US, so I've paid everything outright my whole life. I can't be sure, but I think credit cards make it easy to buy while ignoring the consequences, while cash makes purchases concrete (you can still develop a good credit score by paying bills on time). Instead of purchasing on credit, save for larger purchases and pay cash.
  7. Don't be enticed by loyalty programs or time limits. I almost bought espadrilles I didn't need because The Real Real sent me a $50 credit expiring the next day. Beware of sites offering free shipping, installment payments, and timed carts, which pressure buys. I can't tell you how many times I filled a punch card for a discount and wasted money I meant to save.
  8. Stop buying items just to return them. You'll forget to return them and end up with a pile of useless clothing. Or you'll spend so much in return shipping, you could buy a whole new outfit with the fees. Thrift shopping prevents this by default.
  9. Think of all the things you won't be able to do if you purchase an item. Let's forget the skirt I spent several months rent on, delaying travel for a year. Once I walked from Bonne Nouvelle to Rue de Rivoli with my friend Tori, and I couldn't climb the Jeanne d'Arc statue like she could, because I was wearing stupid heels I just bought. A perfect Instagram moment, lost forever thanks to unchecked consumption.
  10. Above all else, ask yourself, "Is this worth it?" You don't have to sit in store calculating cost per wear. Just think, "Am I comfortable spending this amount, considering the use I'll get from it?" Remember, as your stuff increases, your quality of life decreases. Look at Suge Knight.
Paris to Go

Wardrobe Editing

Not that anyone cares, but here's how I culled my wardrobe from previous posts. First ask:
  1. Does it fit?
  2. Does it show signs of wear?
  3. Can it be fixed / tailored?
  4. Does it have high value / emotional value? If yes:
  5. Should I sell, donate or give it to someone I love? 
If I don't like it, or it doesn't match what I already own, it's gone. My memories aren't tied to material objects anyway. One thing I found helpful in getting rid of treasured pieces is to take a picture of the garment or write about it. I also remind myself that the item will go to waste sitting in my closet, and it's better to give it a new life by passing it along to a better owner.

Practically speaking, the best way to explain these edits is to document the in-and-out-flow of my closet since moving to Paris, starting with this post:

Sold items didn't look good or didn't work in the city. At first, I regretted selling my Louboutins, but now I don't care anymore- they were too painful, and even after stretching, I didn't like wearing them with anything I owned. I hated the navy blazer, an attempt at copping Parisian style. When you're shaped like a rice dumpling, the man-tailored look comes across as matronly.

The striped dress was playful, childish, and ill-suited for what can euphemistically be called my Asian body type.

My winter coats weren't warm enough for being outside extended periods of time, something I didn't notice going from a heated house to a heated car everyday. I want to keep my current coat forever- it's long, toasty, and over seven years old. I mend fallen hems, ripped linings, and busted seams myself, but need a tailor for alterations and frayed denim. Periodically, the cats' claws put little holes in my sweaters, which require darning.

I bought so much this year, it's kind of gross. Secondhand shopping doesn't elicit the same self-flagellation as retail, but low prices demand considerably more self-control. I wore out shoes walking, replacing them with comfortable dress heels and warm waterproof boots. Now they rest between wears- I'll resole before they get shabby. To see my current 10-piece spring wardrobe, click here.
Paris to Go

Fitness and Activewear

The last time I went to the gym was to eat at the restaurant inside. It was Klay, the club with the beautiful swimming pool and singles' bar everybody I know goes to (including ScarJo), and I think I ate french fries or ice cream or something. Pretty sure they serve pizza too, which is a perfect business strategy IMO. Parisians claim to stay thin by walking and smoking everywhere, but they exercise all the time! People run along the Canal, dance at Éléphant Paname, or swim in municipal pools. They ride horses by Bois de Boulogne, learn Haka at l'Usine, and sweat box with trainers. When we lived at Lamarck-Caulaincourt, we spun racquets before drinks at Squash Montmartre. More commonly, my French friends belong to sports and football clubs, not that they need them. Walking 8 km and running up and down seven flights of stairs daily (lugging books, groceries, and angora cats), is the best exercise anyone could get. Maybe this, combined with a dearth of space, is why Parisians don't seem to accumulate tons of exercise equipment. The Kayla Itsines formula of minimalist fitness- using little more than plyometrics and a chair,* or shared equipment- seems popular here.

On weekends and vacations, we zipline, hike, play football, visit Accrobranche, and ride bikes. None of these activities require special clothing or equipment. Two swimsuits, a swim cap, and a t-shirt with leggings (plus a sweater, if it's cold) replaces a closet full of activewear. Wool clothing is especially cooling, wicks sweat away, and doesn't smell. In school, when I played sports daily, I wore the same sneakers for years. If there's one thing French women taught me, it's there's literally nothing you can't do in a skirt- bike, play tennis, ride horses, bowl, scale volcanoes and waterfalls. My friend Nobue wore a full-skirted yellow dress to play co-ed football in Parc de Sceaux, and she was a quick and effective striker.

Before Oysho, loungewear didn't exist in Paris. It wasn't something I grew up with, either. Like Marie Kondo, my family felt sweats hampered productivity. I disappointed everyone by going to a liberal arts college instead of "real school," but to this day, I've never worn North Face, or pants with messages screen-printed across the seat. My friend Margaux, a Nike model, is the perfect example of an athletic Parisian. She wears a well-chosen collection of interchangeable pieces- workout clothes for multiple occasions, seasons, and countries (she started doing this even before Gigi Hadid rose to prominence). Clothing categories are less delineated here. A French woman might wear running shoes with cigarette pants to the office and be ready for an evening at Hotel Particulier without changing a single detail of her ensemble.

My husband bikes every day, runs, and plays football. Two pairs sneakers, one pair shorts, athletic pants, a t-shirt, and sweatshirt equip him for any weather. He grew up skiing (and luging!) in the Alps and never needed more than one pair moon boots, gloves, rented skis, and a cap. Genevieve Antoine Dariaux, the former directrice of Nina Ricci, recommends "long tights, a silk undershirt, silk socks plus a pair of woolen socks worn over them, a man's shirt made of wool or silk, and a long, loose woolen sweater" on the slopes, and a skirt or leggings with a plain sweater apres-ski. These days, at Gstaad Palace, all the women I meet wear old-fashioned, glamorous 3/4 length coats.

It's sad visiting a person's home and seeing exercise gear or clothing in disuse- bikes hanging untouched in the garage, track pants destined for the couch. The issue of sports vs. a minimalist wardrobe is the #1 question I've received lately, and I'm not in a position to answer it because my possessions don't seem minimal to me. I think I have quite a lot. Rather than buy new pieces, try everyday clothes for different activities. It's obviously okay to own specific-use apparel, but exercise moderation. Don't hang on to Jane Fonda bodysuits on the off-chance that you take up Jazzercise- you can have an active, healthy lifestyle without drowning in workout clothes.

Ethical / sustainable activewear brands

Nau tencel or merino wool
Outdoor Voices
Picture Organic Clothing, organic and recycled French brand
Prana recycled activewear
TranquiliT eco-friendly bamboo capsule wear, locally sewn in the US and made to order. Designed by my friend Kimberly and produced using a closed loop system
Veja made in France with sustainably harvested rubber

*One of my friends uses a towel instead of a yoga mat (if you must buy one, try PVC-free or natural rubber) and jugs of water or a big potted plant instead of a medicine ball for this.
Paris to Go

Mise en Place


Instead of telling you what you should keep in your kitchen, I thought I would show you what we have and how we use everything. I had the advantage of starting with a blank slate- my husband is an excellent chef, but didn't have much in the way of cookware, and I could map nucleotides, but couldn't follow a recipe from the American Girl® Cookbook. Everything is organized by where we use items. If I'm at the stove, I can easily reach cooking equipment, spices, etc.; if I'm putting away food, jars are accessible from the shelves above. The 'pantry' (half a cabinet) is arranged with oldest items in front and newest in back. When I organize other peoples' cabinets, my pet peeves are mismatched Tupperware, too many mugs / teas / cereals, half-eaten bags of snacks, and untouched spices.

Pots / pans /  baking dishes

1 long handled saucepan
1 long handled pan
1 stock pot
2 glass baking dishes- 1 large, 1 small
1 baking sheet, included with oven (fits like a shelf)

We use stainless steel (18/10 inox) because cast-iron and enamel retain gluten. I read online that re-seasoning cast iron makes it safe to use- that isn't even a little bit true. Pots and pans go in the oven, stacked above the baking dishes. Glass cookware is highly inert, pretty, and doesn't leach into food.


Utensils / Kitchen Equipment

1 set measuring cups
1 peeler
1 ladle
1 spatula
1 spoon
1 garlic press (hanging, see middle photo)
1 chef's knife (plastic handle, but we already had these. I would never waste a perfectly good knife just to be plastic-free)
1 paring knife
1 Georg Jensen salad set (large spoon and fork- replaces whisk and masher)
1 Georg Jensen pizza / pie server
Peugeot pepper mill
Can opener
Colander (replaces a steam basket)
1 metal bowl
1 stoneware bowl
Wooden cutting board (doesn't breed bacteria like plastic, but retains gluten. Cheese platter, pastry board, and serving board)
20 glass jars, various sizes, for bulk dry goods, spices, and storing food / leftovers

I resisted a vegetable peeler our first year in Paris because I usually leave skins on- a paring knife does the same thing anyway. I don't like canned foods or corked wines, but they sneak in sometimes, so we need openers. All jars, plates, and bowls are oven safe, perfect for mini pies, little cakes, and cookies.



1 Moulinex (grates, shreds, cuts- a gift from Darty because they never delivered our iron)
Refrigerator (no freezer)
Induction cooktop
All-in-one washer / dryer (it doesn't really dry anything)


Georg Jensen spoons, forks, and knives, 8 each
Wine glasses and drinking glasses, 10 each
Stoneware plates and bowls, 8 each
4 glass bottles (replaces rolling pin)
4 teacups with saucers

Tout le reste

Savon de marseille (for laundry / dishwashing / washing hands)
Glass sprayer bottle (for white vinegar)
1 dozen drying / tea towels (replaces potholders and drying rack)

From left to right, the food preparation zone (window to cooktop), cooking zone (cooktop / oven), food serving zone (cooktop to sink), cleanup zone (sink area), and food storage zone (refrigerator, in recessed wall, not pictured). 

For parties, I plan a menu so some things stay warm in the oven while others cook on the stove. At a recent dinner for 25 I had curry in the pan, mashed vitelotte in the stock pot, and fresh pasta with squash blossoms in the saucepan. In the oven, salmon and chicken in glass dishes, and roasted vegetables on the baking tray (I made tartare, but all you need is a bowl for that). We served salad in the stoneware bowl, bulk chips in the metal bowl, charcuterie and cheese on the cutting board, and olives, almonds, and vegetable sticks in Weck jars.

We're the only people on the Rive Gauche without a tea kettle, but beyond that, these are all the basics a Parisian couple might need. Microwaves and dishwashers aren't ubiquitous like in the US- though their popularity is growing- and refrigerators are smaller. To reduce waste, use silicone muffin pans and macaron mats instead of disposable paper liners (silicone may not align with your values- click here to learn more). No crock pot? Bring food to temperature, wrap in a wool blanket, and stick in a covered woven basket to slow-cook sans electricity (I use my shopping cart). Click here to see how I organized our apartment, here for my pantry contents, and here for a master grocery list

Paris to Go