Is Zero Waste More Expensive?


At my lowest point this year, I lived out of my car. I don't want to spend much time discussing it, especially in light of what's happening today, because I know I had it really good. Everybody helped me and was nice to me and in between nights in a national park (or sunflower field, on hot nights), I enjoyed free travel to amazing places for work. So, for the record, I know my life is privileged and ridiculous and not anywhere near the realm of reality for most, even when I was broke and sleeping in a car. Before reaching that point, I sold off most possessions flaunted on this blog- my wedding ring, computer, and flatware, surprisingly, were the hardest to part with, and I didn't even like my wedding ring at first. Turns out that even with like twelve secondhand things a person can be materialistic (I still worked more than 40 hours a week and needed business attire, so I kept some clothes, sold others. I didn't want people to realize I lived out of my car, and having few possessions made this easier. I could hide everything I owned in a suitcase in the trunk).  My mom used to joke that someday I'd live in a cardboard box but wear Versace. It's funny now that I look back on it. I'd never wear Versace!

The point of me mentioning this is, I know zero waste is not more expensive because I couldn't afford bottled water, chemical-laden personal products, or Kleenex, but I could refill a mason jar I found on the street at parks and libraries and use handkerchiefs I got for next to nothing at a thrift shop and washed in a waterfall with a multitasking bar of soap that was free from Whole Foods thanks to digital coupons. I can't eat gluten, so a lot of the packaged options most people rely on when they live in cars were impossible for me. Citrus and carrots and bulk nuts and other long-lasting fresh produce (including organic rescued produce) kept me healthy and satisfied instead. I still eat a lot of rescued and homegrown food even now, and a lot more raw foods without sauces or preservatives, since I couldn't cook in the car. This style of eating results in natural savings (note: this post is not directed at people who live in food deserts or who, because of environmental racism, do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables).

Anyway, now that, like a cockroach that keeps popping up after you think it's dead, I've bounced back with a nice job at a great company and a nice home, I'm back to my fantasy life of tufting my own organic mattresses and grinding my own organic nut flours. That means I can write entitled posts like this again. Note these cost comparisons are not intended to reflect the typical expenses of the average middle-class young professional, just my own personal ones (back when I had a 401k and savings- when I was selling off possessions, I was not buying makeup or nonessentials). These lists are partial, and do not include everything I bought in pre-zero waste days (it was too much... I got sick of typing). I got a lot of zero waste items for free or secondhand, but assumed highest possible costs, whereas for conventional items, I assumed lowest possible costs without coupons. Please remember: my version of zero waste does not have to be your version. If I have one sweater, I'm not saying you should have only one too. In fact, if I do something, that's a clue you should absolutely not do it! As Alden says, please take everything with a grain of Himalayan pink salt. 


Beauty



Pre-Zero Waste


Zero waste

Makeup For Ever HD foundation
$43

W3ll People mascara
$21.99
Nars blush / bronzer
$42

Elate cosmetics blush / bronzer and compacts (compacts are one time purchases)
$68
Dior mascara
$29.50

Ecotools brushes (one time purchase)
$9.72
Mac pressed powder
$29

Eyelash curler (purchased pre zero waste)
$20
Smashbox eyeliner pen
$22

Eyeliner
$18
Mac lipstick
$17.50

Urb Apothecary lip balm (four per year)
$48
Clinique toner
$15

Washcloths
$7
St. Ives Apricot Scrub
$3

Coconut oil (enough to fill a pint jar)
$3
Clean and Clear acne kit
$17

Castile soap (12 bars a year, and that's for everything- dishwashing, laundry, etc.)
$41.88
Neutrogena makeup remover wipes
$7.99

Essential oils (I usually make or get these for free, so I only buy three a year)
$17.85
Clinique makeup remover
$19

Brush with Bamboo Toothbrush (4 pack) and Dental Lace dispenser + four refills
$26.72
Cotton rounds
$5.99

Baking soda (I spend $29 per year on this on average, for everything)
$29
Toilet paper (assuming a 12 pack)
$15.59

Safety razor and blades (one time purchase)
$32
Philosophy body wash
$18

Mooncup (one time purchase)
$25
Jergens tanning lotion (which smells like garbage)
$8.69

Sugaring (yearly estimated)
$36
Shampoo and conditioner
$7.33

Total yearly cost
$404.64
Hair straightening serum
$9.99



Hair straightening protectant
$10.99



Tampons (three months worth)
$15.25



Razor and blades
$23.99



Total three month cost:
$361



Total yearly cost:
$1,444





Cleaning



Pre zero waste


Zero waste

Windex
$45.78

Castile soap
$41.88
Clorox
$12.06

Vinegar
$12
Laundry detergent
$41

Lemons
$5
Pine sol
$14

Water
$0
Wood cleaner
$3.49

Baking soda
$29
Dryer sheets
$11

Flour sack towels
$16
Dishwashing liquid
$15.54

Dishwashing brush and heads
$9
Dishwasher detergent
$15

Yearly total
$112.88
Sponges
$15



Gloves
$8



Toilet cleaner
$12



Paper towels
$36.40



Yearly total
$229.27





Clothing



Navy dress
$108.00

White camisole
$0.99
Grey dress
$98.00

Jeans
$25
Black dress
$36

Jeans
$40
AA dresses (total)
$38

Shorts
$5
Black tank top
$4.00

Coat
$19
Black ss shirt
$7

Trench coat
$70
Reformation top
$38.00

Purse
$40
Reformation bodysuit
$35

Mittens and hat
$100
Crop top
$15

Socks
$30
Black skirt
$15

Heels
$119
Wool skirt
$95

Pumps
$40
White shirt
$12.00

Sneakers
$80
White t-shirt
$20

Sneakers
$89
White tank top
$3

Boots
$3
Leggings
$10.00

Sweater
$2.00



Total:
$1,196.99



Other expenses



Snow brush
$24.95

Cloth napkins (8)
$20
Bamboo scraper
$3.00

Linen bath towels
$24
EcoLunchbox
$35

Cloth bags (6)
$5
Mason jars (10)
$12

Handkerchiefs (15)
$4
Growlers / oil jars
$3.00

Total:
$130.95



I'm not going to buy a computer again, and I've been busy this week, so these charts aren't totally complete and accurate, only estimates based on what receipts I do have / purchases I remember. But I hope this is illustrative of things that can be simplified and reduced by going zero waste, even in small ways. I spend about $20 or less a week on groceries (which is average for Americans, but not for vegans or celiacs). Not eating meat and cheese saves money, as does packing lunches or cooking instead of eating takeout or convenience meals. It doesn't take much longer to wash or cut produce, and it's quicker for me to make my own cauliflower pizza at home than drive and wait in line for a vegan pizza at Pizzafire. A lot of items are more expensive in bulk, but it evens out with items like tea (bulk Mariage Freres was cheaper than Lipton or Monoprix bags in Paris), or in reusing one time purchases vs. rebuying disposables. For instance, the average person spends around $69 per year on Kleenex, but handkerchiefs are a one time purchase that might last a lifetime.

As for electronics, I have a gifted iPad and a secondhand iPhone with a secondhand bamboo case. I think the case was $2 and my solar charger was my only other expense, since I don't purchase other items and I saved the headphones that came with each (the solar panel was $49). I surprisingly saved a lot of time and money on snow brushes, windshield wiper fluid, and deicer with my homemade concoctions and wooden snow brush- before, I replaced them yearly, since they kept breaking. Perhaps the biggest areas people reduce are cleaning and clothing expenses. In 2011, the average American spent $504 on cleaning supplies annually. According to Alliance Data, the average American woman's closet is worth about $2000. Generally, secondhand costs less than fast fashion, yet yields a greater net worth. Buying less typically yields savings. My Zara trench coat in 2008 cost 120 euro and barely lasted a season, but my camel winter coat was $19 and survived Kanye West's Pablo period.

I think when some balk at the prices of durable goods, they don't take into consideration the embedded costs associated with disposables, which are subsidized by other people. I get that everyone can't afford $80 secondhand shoes. Some people are just struggling to afford dinner. I don't expect them to start buying organic or fair trade or anything. I don't expect anything from anybody. I present these because hopefully they give people ideas of what's possible within the realms of zero waste. You can make changes even if you don't sit at home all day and you have a real job or real problems. Not so long ago, I didn't think I could give up shampoo or weekly blowouts or clothes shopping or makeup (I don't wear makeup anymore). Then I thought, people survived for thousands of years without these things and were just fine. What makes me think I'm so special that I can't live without them either? Don't sell yourself short- you don't need a ton of stuff to be a productive, contributing member of society, or to be a good parent, or have an active social life, or whatever. Happy zero waste week. I hope everyone is okay.

Paris to Go

49 comments:

  1. I'm happy that you're doing better now, but I wish you had shown more of your struggles on Insta and other social media. You always managed to be refreshingly relatable even for those of us who can never hope to live in Paris, and I think your self awareness and candor has much to do with that (being a Midwesterner likely contributes also.) The ability to bounce back after trials is a great strength, and nothing to be ashamed of. You'd probably be surprised by how many would be interested in reading about living zero waste from your car,versus another glossy, constantly traveling, aesthetically perfect blogger life. I'm personally curious to know more about the kind of food you ate, hygiene routines, and so on, if you wouldn't mind sharing.

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    1. From a safety perspective, at least while you are homeless, it's never a good idea to share that information because it makes you a target for thieves and other unsavory types. You don't want to draw too much attention, hence hiding her possessions in the trunk.

      I imagine that the reason people helped you had a lot to do with the way you look and dress. As someone who lived out of a car long term before, I know that looking clean and not appearing homeless is crucial to getting people to trust you, offer help, and so on.

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    2. Thank you. I'd usually eat a bag of cherries, a bag of almonds (cloth bags), a small bunch of carrots with the greens, a few oranges, an apple, and an avocado a day. There were lots of farm stands with berries at the time, and sometimes I'd fill a jar with almond or peanut butter from Whole Foods and hummus or falafel from a local shop. At work I'd make beans and eat it with tomato or salad. Sometimes quinoa. I tried to eat at work as much as possible and wash things there (I no longer work there so I can talk about it now). There were showers and laundry but mainly I wore my swimsuit in a waterfall with Castile soap and spread my laundry out on a linen towel to dry. I used my towel and coats as a blanket and refilled big mason jars at parks and libraries with water whenever I could, using those for drinking, brushing teeth, washing my face with a washcloth, etc. I definitely agree people are more willing to help someone whose dress and grooming doesn't lend itself to the assumption they live out of a car.

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    3. I'm sorry you had to go through his, I've done it myself and it was a dark time.
      How did you feel sleeping in your car? I was so scared at night if I parked in the country but if I parked in a street in the suburbs , homeowners often came up to me and moved me on, even though I was polite, clean and explained that I felt safer in a street with houses.

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    4. That is so sad, I hate, HATE suburbs as a general rule, something about them breeds a spirit of mistrust and cliques and a lot of other behaviors / attitudes I dislike. I was scared of the Wal mart parking lots everybody recommends actually, so only slept at rest stops or in national parks or on college campuses parked under a floodlight or under a camera. I always had my keys and phone next to me so I'd be ready to go in case something happened and tried to make sure nobody saw me going to sleep in my car. Nobody bothered me but I did scare a few cops who came up to write me parking tickets and didn't realize I was in the car.

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  2. Hi Arianna,
    Thank you for this cost comparison. When our family of four was living more zero waste (before the summer...it's a long story, but I opted for grocery delivery over the summer to save me time) I thought I was spending about the same amount. Eliminating the long list of specialized products was a big hurdle. Now, the list on the left exhausts me just looking at it.
    I keep thinking I need to shop for clothes second hand to cut costs and encourage sustainability but I don't enjoy the hunt or the smell of thrift stores. I'm beginning to whittle my wardrobe down to a couple of seasonal merino wool outfits (plus jeans) that I can hand wash in the sink whenever I need to. The longevity of a garments life interests me (fabric combinations, usage, etc.). Not to glamorize anyone's misfortune, but the idea of living out of a suitcase is my idea of a perfectly sized wardrobe. I've never been happier with my wardrobe then on a 9 day trip to England where I packed a minimal carry-on. The only parameter I used to dress each day was, "What is the weather going to be?" and grab the appropriate layering garments.

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    1. Your merino wool outfits sound awesome ! Living out of a suitcase is my ideal too. It eliminates so much stress and thinking. I'm actually thinking of grocery delivery too, there's a company here that delivers rescued food that would otherwise go to landfills. It's perfectly nice produce, only a few cosmetic blemishes that make it unsalable.

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  3. This is my favorite of your posts. Thank you for your introspection and as always, for being a great resource to those of us trying to live a more minimalist life. I found your blog through Pinterest and was immediately drawn to images of your refrigerator and apartment. I gradually began decluttering my home. First beauty products. Then electronics and knick knacks. We switched from plastic baggies to cloth and jars. Started making our own salsas and eating out less. I am finally, finally in the last stages of decluttering my wardrobe. I've enjoyed seeing your journey from the very formal clothes when you first lived in Paris to the more current items you wear today. Am hoping to find my own style in the decluttering process as well. Fingers crossed I'll find designer secondhand items like you.......would love to see photos of your different outfit combinations so we can see how the wardrobe works altogether.

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    1. Thank you so much Lindsay! I'm so happy to hear all that

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  4. It's too bad you didn't list all the items purchased before going zero waste. I think this would be a shocking exercise for most people to actually write out everything they purchase regularly, then compare it to a zw list.
    M.

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    1. I updated with more charts (I forgot things like my one refillable pen) but I'm hoping people will look around and see if they're spending more or not

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  5. Ariana, you are an inspiration. Everytime I told myself I couldnt do something, I think of how you solved the problem. Your "do it anyways" attitude is very admirable. This year :

    1. we started composting. That took out the volume from the trash we were making.
    2. use vinegar and bakingsoda for everything.
    3. Started making do with things available at our farmers market. Reduced meat consumption to only when we travel/social gatherings.
    4. Learnt how to cook better.
    5. I still shop online and get that one cardboard box a month. If I can tackle this habit, I can do more.
    6. bought zero one time use products.

    With these, we are officially a low waste household. My husband wouldnt have been on board if it wasnt cheaper - and it is.

    I hope you are doing well. I hope you get the time to work on your book because I think it could be a great body of work. I have met other woman in the Bay Area who have been inspired after reading your blog.

    I had to live out of a car in grad school for a week. And I wouldn't recommend the experience to anyone. I am amazing that you held on to your wits while doing so. Not surprised, just amazed.

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    1. I'm amazed at you too! As always you continue to surprise and impress me. So glad to hear your testimonial and that your husband is on board. I still want to meet you btw

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    2. My husband works in the clean energy industry - solar cells, fuel cells, etc. He was always a proponent of putting effort in a way that brings maximum impact. He would tell me that I should be using this extra effort into creating a technical solution or a solution that uses my education. That would have more of an impact than us spending the time at home going zero waste. I dont think he is wrong but something changed in us when we realized how easy it is to make the little changes that save us money.

      I want to meet you too. My little sister lives in your town. Next time I visit her, let us sisters cook you a nice vegan meal. If you ever need a break from your town, come stay with me. I mean it. We live in San Jose - its close to lots of natural parks. We have a cat. You have my email.

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    3. I am convinced you will use your education to save the world. I will take you up on that (congratulations on the cat!!!!) and your sister will have to let me steal you for a day too...

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  6. I am glad things are better for you now. Thank you for a very informative, helpful post. I know that I will never be zero waste, but still try to refuse/reduce/reuse/recycle as much as I can. Small changes. And a shift in mindset and personal philosophy, which I think I credit your blog a lot for. I see a lot of room in my life to improve re:consumption and frugality, and I am willing to make the changes. Your blog is always a good counterpoint/companion to a lot of the popular aesthetically-pleasing Instagrams/blogs on zero waste and minimalism.

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    1. Thank you soooo much this makes me so happy to hear <3

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    2. Agreed on all counts, LL. I've made a lot of small changes with inspiration from you, Ariana. Your story has always fascinated and intrigued me and I wish we were friends IRL. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

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    3. You are very sweet!! Let's be friends!!

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  7. While I acknowledge you don't want to spend any time discussing it, I thought it was worth noting that your first paragraph sparked an idea for me. I'm very (VERY) early in the zero waste transition, but I have made strides in areas like personal hygiene. While I've been using a menstrual cup and reusable underwear liners for several months now, my cupboards were still full of tampons, pads, and similar disposable items I acquired as a result of having a child conventionally (nursing pads, wipes, etc...). I've been at a bit of a loss on what to do with these items - it would be downright stupid to throw them out, but they were taking up a lot of cabinet space. Immediately after reading your first two paragraphs I boxed it all up and sat it by my front door. I'll be dropping them off at my local homeless shelter on Monday during my lunch break (they have limited donation hours, or else I'd do it tomorrow). Their "We Need" lists always include personal hygiene items, but no one ever lists the women specific products! I'm sure there are lots of women who are in need of these who are currently going without.

    I'm glad to hear you're back on your feet, and I quite enjoyed this post :)

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    1. Cassie, that is amazing! You inspired me because I was just talking with a few friends who bought cups and didn't know what to do with their disposables. It never even occurred to me to donate feminine products. I normally only think of food clothes and blankets. Thank you so much

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  8. Yours and Archana's are the only blogs I read, thank you both for continuing to be so forthright and thoughtful in all your posts! My heart just burst at the thought of both of you living in your cars. You are strong, intelligent, independent women who continue to shine light into the world.

    Ariana, this was your most enjoyable post by far, I need to read more, more details! Fascinating what you spend comparatively more or less on in your wardrobe. Would love to read the reasoning behind that.

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    1. Thank you so much Margaret!! Great idea for a post, maybe the next one.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope things are going much better for you now. You've inspired me to try and commit (rather slowly) into Zero Waste as much as possible. I always look forward to your posts!

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    1. Aw thank you J, that makes me so happy to hear this

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  10. Hi Ariana,

    Don't mean to pry and of course these things are deeply personal, but I do hope you have/had some good legal representation for your divorce. I am sorry to hear you came out of it without much money. If things aren't completely settled, perhaps ask for more.

    Glad to hear you are housing secure now.

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    1. That is so sweet of you, thank you. I actually did not marry someone with money so there wouldn't be anything to ask for :) Fortunately I prefer to make money on my own ! I didn't grow up with money either so it's a relatively easy adjustment

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  11. Hey there Ariana,

    I have been reading your blog for years now (prob too much when I was unhappy at my job and needed a new perspective). Finally decided to chime in and hopefully not sound like an idiot. I appreciate so much your real posts that aren't "sponsored or gifted" or obnoxious. I loved the part where you talked about how people didn't always have these things and I often find myself saying "if I were in colonial times"....But then it also feels like there are so many more facets to deal with in our present lives that it's overwhelming. I am in this constant struggle of being an art teacher with strong zero waste beliefs but teach a subject that creates a lot of stuff. Anyway, I can't wait to keep reading and thanks again!

    Take care, Katrina

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    1. Oh but as an art teacher you use mediums and materials that can be reused endlessly! And I think zero waste doesn't have to mean no stuff. I think it means eliminating stuff that doesn't have a higher purpose, something meant to be disposed. Zero waste can mean abundance and variety and color and as a teacher you can nurture minds, which is crucial to sustaining the zero waste movement, since we're just borrowing the planet from younger generations anyway...

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    2. Katrina/Ariana, So funny, I read both Ariana and Ariadna's blogs intermittently too, but more to the point, I am an art therapist and have also struggled with the inherent waste involved in supporting people in art making---I do a lot of found object art, encourage the use of used materials (old crayons, dried up markers, etc. etc.) in making sculptures and other 3D art, but I'm always looking for more ideas. If you have any resources, please share!

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  12. Not entitled at all. I love seeing charts like this from zero wasters. It's helpful seeing it graphically. I personally enjoy the colorful, beautiful images you've posted on here and IG, especially now that you're posting more pictures of yourself (would not want to pry also, but I noticed a change in style after you got divorced, and they your images became more exuberant and showed your pretty face!). It's as LL stated an excellent contrast with the all white, Scandinavian aesthetic favored by most zero waste bloggers (which I love also, it's just nice seeing the variety).

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    1. Thank you Charlotte! I want a contrast from my old apartment images that were all bare and white too lol

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  13. I loved this post, as I think I have said before I'll never be zero waste (I blame my husband who grew up in SW Ohio and does things like put empty Coke cans in the trash - not even the recycling!!!) but I find the aspiration very inspirational. Would love to hear more about living out of your car. I know you don't like to share too much personal stuff though.

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    1. Haha he may surprise you and come around eventually! It might be a post... it wasn't so different from my normal life since I don't watch tv...just I missed cleaning a home the most :)

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  14. Ariana, I'm so sorry that you went through this and I'd venture to guess none of us had any idea. I've learned so much from this post, including that it's easy to make assumptions on social media. I'm impressed you kept your wits about you and your integrity through it all.

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  15. Hey Ariana, sorry you've been going through such a hard time. Such a dark context for that waterfall photo of yours on insta, which up until now was totally glamorous to me (still is, a little...). I'm so glad you have your own place now and I hope you can fill us in on your work and furnishings and things.
    All the best.

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    1. Oh you are so sweet Anika thank you! I had long moved out of my car when I posted that... and it was a different waterfall :) I can't wait to post about furniture but I'm learning to build it so it's a slow process...

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  16. I'm a new reader, thus unaware of your past, but I just want to say I admire your grit. I think it's important for people to hear how (sadly) these struggles are normal, just often hidden. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  17. I always enjoy reading every one of your posts. I'm sorry to hear about how hard things were, and I'm glad that things are going better now! With all of the things you've been going through and writing about, I've really admired your honesty and openness in your writing.

    Your blog continues to be inspirational to me in thinking about consumption and trying to take a few steps towards more ethical and lower-waste living, and I think that you do a great job making these topics very accessible to a wide audience. I'm not the best in terms of applying that inspiration, especially lately, as I haven't really gotten further beyond cutting down my shopping (especially for fashion and cosmetics) down to current levels.

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    1. I always enjoy your thoughtful posts and appreciate the sweet comment! Your opinion means a lot to me. Thank you. Cutting down shopping like you did is already a huge step, and you always put a lot of thought into purchases and are aware of materials and the supply chain, which is the most important part.

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  18. Holy fuck that's a lot of Windex.

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    1. Floor to ceiling windows, a bay window, and I washed the outside of each window too (plus two bathroom mirrors....)

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  19. You are an amazing person Ariana! It takes a lot of courage to make it by your wits and ingenuity in this world - and to have the courage to share both good times and struggles with others. You are wonderful - don't ever forget that! 😉

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  20. Thank you for sharing the real you, good times and bad. Glad to hear that things are looking up! I once lived in a hostel for a brief time after losing a job - I found it has helped me keep everything since then in perspective. :-)

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  21. Thank you to you both, amazing how many people had similar experiences, it's nice to hear from people who understand!

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  22. I very much apologise for being so late with my sympathy....Glad to see you are doing ok, and slaying those life dragons with wit and courage and beauty. You fierce, fierce woman!

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  23. I'm relieved that all this is behind you! and amazed by your strength.

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