Here’s How I Want to be Inspired this Year

Last year was hard. A lot of good things happened: we bought a house; we got married; we expanded our family by eight very furry paws. But I also lost two grandparents and got incredibly burnt out trying to make our house livable in five weeks and spent a lot of time worrying about our new senior dogs’ health. We didn’t have the time to travel or enjoy our new backyard or spend all that much time with friends.

This year is going to be different. Because I’m going to make it that way. This year, I want to feel excited about and delighted by my life. This year, I want to be inspired, in more ways than one.

I want to be inspired by my spaces.
We’re homeowners! And while it sucks when the furnace repair man completely kills your heat while troubleshooting, homeownership also means creating spaces you love. We are so darn close to having a living room, bathroom, bedroom and guest room that reflect who we are and how we spend time in our home. I know there’s always more to be done, but this feels like a step in the right direction after making things livable last year.

I want to be inspired by new (and old) places.
When you’re renovating and wedding planning, you don’t leave the area code much. This year we’re back on weekend road trips and are beginning to think about a honeymoon. While I doubt we’ll ever return to our pre-pandemic level of travel, it feels good to have some trips to look forward to.

I want to be inspired by my outfit.
I turn 30 this year, and that seems like an appropriate time to really love the clothes looking back at me when I open my closet. I’m slowly ordering updated basics and splurging a little bit on staples like a new laptop bag and wedding guest dresses.

I want to be inspired to create and contribute.
Last year, I did a lot of consuming. Mindless scrolling while I ate or waited for the shower that didn’t really serve any purpose but killing time and taking my mind off my to do list. This year, I want to do things and think things and curate things that make me excited to share.

Settling into All 2022 Has in Store

For the last few years, rather than set a New Year’s resolution, I’ve chosen a word to focus on. In 2020, the focus was on investing; last year, I thought a lot about cultivating. After some debate (as well as two months into the new year and a full year since my last blog post), I’m spending 2022 with the word “settle” in mind.

Settling might be interpreted as being okay with “good enough” but that’s not how I’m thinking about it. In 2022, I want to settle into all of the wonderful, life-changing events taking place this year.

By the end of this year (if all goes according to plan, which we all know is not guaranteed these days), Cody and I will be celebrating our first Christmas as husband and wife, as well as our first holiday season in our new home. I want to lean into the (long) journey of making our house a home and enjoy the process of planning a wedding the reflects who we are and the people we love.

For me, settling into this next stage is about stepping back and appreciating the hard work that got me (and us) here. This is the reward for late nights finishing work for freelance clients, a year of house hunting and the willingness to see past (and scrub off) decades of cigarette smoke.

I tend to reach a milestone and push on toward the next. Not this time. This year is for taking a deep breath and settling into exactly where I am.

Cultivating (Literally and Figuratively) in 2021

Last year, I chose to approach the year with a word in mind, rather than focusing on a specific resolution. I really enjoyed spending the year working toward the general theme of investment, especially considering a lot of 2020 was kind of useless for things like travel, something I initially thought would be a big part of the year. Opting for a focus over a resolution made it easier to make progress without feeling like the whole goal was pointless.

With so much still up in the air, choosing a word to focus on seems like a good idea for 2021 too. This year, I’m approaching things with the word cultivate in mind. There are five ways I’d like to incorporate it into my life throughout 2021:

Growing a Garden

This is a very literal interpretation of the word cultivate. Last year, I had some modest success starting flower and vegetable seeds in our living room. I’d like to have an even bigger and better garden this year, so I’ll start planning soon! I grow primarily in containers, so I’m not going to let our house hunt keep me from enjoying the weird pride of watching your seeds sprout and flowers bloom.

Creating Rather Than Consuming

Over the last year, I’ve sunk pretty deep into the habit of doom-scrolling, especially during breakfast and right before going to sleep. I’d love to mindfully opt for creating rather than consuming once in a while. Whether this is doodling in a coloring book, taking photos or writing blog posts (more on that in a minute), if it keeps me off my phone, I’m in.

Enriching My Community

I volunteered a lot during high school but I let it fall to the wayside during college. It’s way past time to find a couple of organizations I care about and start making a difference in my community.

Expanding My Personal Brand

When we were stuck at home last spring, I jumped on the online course train with everyone else. I started Introduction to Personal Branding through Coursera and made it through a quarter of the syllabus before it got warm enough to spend time outside. It’s time to revisit the material and put some real thought into what I want my personal brand to look like, especially online.

Building Succulents & Sunnies

Succulents and Sunnies did not benefit from my extra time in 2020. It was really hard to find the motivation to post on a lifestyle blog when my lifestyle was something like “work from home gardener” rather than my usual “weekend getaway-obsessed Buffalonian.” I do miss documenting the big (and little) moments with something more substantial than an Instagram post. I want to spend some time creating a blog that feels more like me and be better about amplifying the posts I do write.

A Stocking Stuffed by Small Businesses

Stockings might be one of my favorite holiday traditions. I just love all the itty-bitty gifts. In my family, stocking stuffers lean toward the practical: nicer-than-usual lotion, pens, chocolate, and hair ties are staples.

These goodies usually come from big-box stores at (almost) the last minute—but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s totally possible to stuff your loved ones’ stockings with goods made and sold by small businesses in Buffalo and beyond. These small businesses make some of the tiny items I’ve loved throughout this year.

the budl shop

Shopping small is even better when you know the business owners you’re supporting! A college classmate recently started the budl shop, making dainty, desert-inspired jewelry perfect for stuffing stockings. Each piece is handmade with love in Los Angeles and shipped nationwide in zero-waste, 100% sustainable packaging.

If you’re looking to stuff a stocking or two with the budl shop this season, use code ANDSUNNIES10 now through December 31st to save 10%!


Whether your loved ones are proud Buffalonians living within the city limits or they flaunt their love for the City of Good Neighbors from afar, Poppiejanes’ ornaments make the perfect stocking stuffers. Last year, I topped my coworkers’ gifts with these little guys too!

Zandra Beauty

Zandra Beauty lotion in my stocking

My skin is very sensitive, so I’ve been experimenting with soaps and lotions this fall. I love the light texture and sweet scent of Zandra Beauty’s lavender vanilla chai hand and body lotion. It’s handmade with organic ingredients, making it a nice treat for your loved ones, without breaking your stocking stuffing budget.

Niland Candle Co.

Niland Candle Co. says nothing sets the mood like lighting a candle, and I can’t agree more—especially during the holidays. The shop’s unique holiday scents, like spruce and balsam + cranberry, are the perfect stocking stuffers. My mom and sister found these in their stockings last year, and they’ll probably make an appearance again this season!

The English Rose Tea Shoppe /

Loose leaf tea in my stocking

Loose leaf tea is something I rarely buy for myself but love finding in my stocking. Medina’s The English Rose Tea Shoppe has just about any variety of tea you can imagine, in whatever quantity you’re looking to gift.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

High Mowing Seeds in my stocking

With some extra time on my hands last spring, I started many of the plants in my garden from seed. With this winter and spring looking just as socially distanced and travel-free as last year, I’ll be nurturing seedlings in our living room again. High Mowing Organic Seeds’ cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and lettuce were very easy to grow, even in pots along our sidewalk.

Staving Artist Woodwork

Staving Artist Woodwork, based in Penn Yan, uses wine barrels to create gorgeous tables, centerpieces, and serving trays. Most of the shop’s statement pieces won’t fit in a stocking, but they have lots of tasteful, high-quality, affordable, and useful knickknacks that are perfect for stuffing the stocking of your favorite wine connoisseur or Finger Lakes lover.

Kindled Concepts

While Kindled Concepts’ adorable stocking tags might not be great for stuffing stockings, this small business knows how to make the stockings themselves very, very cute. They are a new addition to our holiday décor this year, and I’m obsessed! This husband-and-wife team also makes custom ornaments, cute coasters, and other goodies that will, in fact, make great stocking stuffers!

3 Breweries and an Engagement in the Finger Lakes

When Cody suggested spending a day drinking beer in the Finger Lakes last month, I wasn’t going to say no. This summer has been slower than most—for obvious, coronavirus-related reasons—and the thought of spending a beautiful summer day at picnic tables with beautiful views sounded great.

We started at Climbing Bines, which Cody and I have visited before, where I opted for the Honey Apricot on draft. There were plenty of open, socially distant tables under umbrellas and sun sails, perfect for enjoying what was turning out to be a perfect late-summer day. When everyone agreed on walking through the bines before getting another drink, I happily followed.

Posing in the bines at Climbing Bines in Penn Yan

Shannon and Patrick posed for a cute picture in the bines and suggested Cody and I do the same. It was truly a picture-perfect backdrop, so I obviously agreed. I should have realized when Patrick, Shannon and Morgan were all taking pictures that this was not just any cute picture.

As I tried to walk away, Cody got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Honestly, if the conversation wasn’t on video, I wouldn’t be sure I said yes. I was so overwhelmed by the absolutely perfect setting, the thought of spending forever with my favorite person, and the stunning ring he was holding in front of me.

Hugging in the bines after

Can of Ship Wreck NEIPA on table at Climbing Bines

After some deep breaths and laughs and more pictures, we were ready to grab that second drink we were after pre-engagement. During our second drinks, Cody shared all the details of planning the day in my favorite place, we called and texted our parents, and we enjoyed our second round (with way less stressful than the first round for everyone in on Cody’s plan—everyone but me).

We got takeout from Top of the Lake and headed to Abandon Brewing Company for even better views than Climbing Bines, which I didn’t think was possible. I had never been here before and was instantly in love with its view, its beer, and its welcoming, unpretentious atmosphere. Shannon put together the cutest “She said yes” basket, complete with champagne and the best farmers’ market cookies.  We toasted to forever, drank sours and IPAs, and talked to a few more family members while looking over Keuka Lake.

Entrance to Abandon Brewing Company in Penn Yan

Full pint glass on picnic table with Keuka Lake in background

Basket filled with champagne and other gifts

Last but not least was Other Half Brewing Finger Lakes. I was so excited to try something a little different from what we find at other breweries in Western New York and the Finger Lakes. The bright pink sour slushie did not disappoint. Enjoying one last drink as the sun started to set was the perfect end to an absolutely unforgettable day.

IPA in plastic glass on picnic table at Other Half FLX

On the way home, we filled in a few more family members and really let the day sink in.

A Guest Room Refresh on a Budget

When we started apartment hunting three years ago, we weren’t necessarily looking for a second bedroom. When we found a duplex that not only offered two bedrooms, but half a basement and half a garage, we jumped at the opportunity for a little extra space. The second bedroom slowly became part guest room/part junk room. It collected Christmas presents we didn’t quite have a home for yet, drying clothes, empty boxes, craft supplies, and a lot more.

Cluttered guest bedroom before updating

Cluttered guest bedroom before updating

When I started working from home in March, it was the first time I had ever sat at the desk we put in the second bedroom almost three years ago. The extra space became a saving grace; without it, I would have turned our kitchen table into a semi-permanent office space. At first, the clutter and mismatched furniture didn’t bother me – everyone was making do with odd spaces while working from home.

However, as it became obvious that this would be my workspace for a lot longer than originally anticipated and our clients headed back to their offices, working in this space lost what little draw it had initially.

My Do It Yourself Upgrade

How could I make the room both more welcoming for guests and more functional for the 40 hours a week I now spend in it? Of course, I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money on updates, so I needed to utilize furniture I already had. The bed and desk stayed, as did the lamp. I swapped out plastic drawers for a dresser that was still at my parents’ house.

I wanted to take what we already had and meet three goals:

1. A Less Cluttered Workspace

This room now has to function as an office, first and foremost. I made two big changes to make working from the guest room a little bit easier. First, I rearranged the furniture to add more space between the big pieces of furniture. Switching the desk and bed to opposite walls, along with flipping the direction of the area rug, makes it easier to move my chair around. I also moved the shelves to the top of my desk (they had been below it) to give my legs a little bit more room.

Desk with shelves on top displaying diplomas

The plastic drawers, which were remnants of dorm room living, were the thing I liked least about my video chat background. One was filled with craft supplies, while the other held a combination of skincare and scarves. I knew I still needed that storage space, so I brought my childhood dresser to the apartment. It still had tulip drawer pulls and hand-painted grass on it, which is not exactly the aesthetic I had in mind for this update. Two coats of Behr’s Whitewash Oak and simple drawer pulls gave this dresser new life.

Painted dresser with framed items on top

In the coming weeks, we’ll probably add a small table next to the desk for our printer too. Hopefully, we can find something for next to nothing at a garage sale or on Facebook Marketplace and, if we need to, use leftover paint or stain to freshen it up.

2. An Upgraded Guest Experience

We have an extra bed, and I would hate to have it off-limits just because our guest bedroom is also an office now. Nothing was really wrong with the bedding, but it is primarily what’s in the background of my video calls so I decided an upgrade was worth it. A new white bedspread (from Hearth & Hand) lightens the room and offers a neutral backdrop for a few guest must-haves. It also gives us a place to use a gorgeous live edge plank my dad finished and a beautiful quilt Cody’s grandma made.

Guest bed with new bedding

Teddy bear rests on new shams

3. A Few Pretty Touches

Paige gifted Cody and I a stunning two-panel painting of a cliff outside an Irish fishing village a few years ago. I didn’t want to hang it somewhere I wouldn’t see it, so it’s been living in a box at my parents’ house (where I never saw it…) instead. This seemed like a good opportunity to put the painting in a space where I would see it constantly. I’m also over the whole “we can’t put nails in the walls” thing, because after three years we will probably not see much of our security deposit anyway.

The other noticeable upgrade was turning a very ’90s lamp into something that didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Two coats from a can of spray paint and a new lamp shade were all this lamp needed. I also covered two clipboards with a map of the Austin Capital Metro system for an easy way to display photos and other memories.

I think that I’d like to use the wall space above the lamp for a very low key gallery wall that wraps around the corner. This is definitely going to take a while to get right, so I’m not holding my breath. The succulents on the desk could also probably use some stones over the soil, so I’ll keep that in mind on my next run to Lowe’s or Home Depot.

The Total Cost

I wanted to keep the cost of this refresh below $150. But I also knew that making my workspace more functional was worth investing in. I chose not to spend money on updates that we wouldn’t be able to take with us when we left, like painting the walls or installing new blinds. Instead, I focused on pieces that will live beyond this office.


  • Paint: $15.20
  • Drawer pulls: $12.96


  • Bedding: $97.86
  • Amenities: $20.62


  • Paint: $4.33
  • Lamp shade: $21.72

Total Cost: $172.69

5 Steps for Growing this Summer’s Garden

Staying home isn’t all bad. While I’m sure it will only get harder as the weather gets warmer, for me and Cody, isolating ourselves means more conversation, more music, more cooking and more time to think about how our “gardens” will look this year.

For now, I only plant in containers; I don’t want to change our rented space in any way that would leave it worse off when we move out. I also don’t love weeding and containers make managing weeds a million times easier. The last two summers my planting strategy had been haphazard at best. I stop at the nursery on the way home from work, put what looks nice in my cart, and call it a day.

There’s nothing wrong with that strategy. I actually really loved how the planters on our porch turned out last summer, so I’ll probably take a similar approach to them this year. However, my vegetables have been less than stellar the last few summers and this year there’s a new space I want to fill with blooms.

Last Saturday was Buffalo’s first truly nice afternoon. We spent hours outside, not really planning to get much done, just glad to be out of the house. I started going at a patch of weeds, vines and small trees that had slowly expanded over the last couple of years. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. By Sunday afternoon I was left with a blank slate between our garage and the neighbor’s fence.

Empty space between garage and fence

I hadn’t realized what an eyesore the corner had become until it was gone. Now comes the fun part: what’s the best way to fill this space? I’ve been searching Instagram, gardening blogs and Google images for inspiration. My biggest challenge is that the space gets literally zero direct sun. I tracked it every hour just to be sure. Nada.

My goal is to create a space that we can set up lawn chairs in and enjoy after work. I want to use what was until very recently an ugly corner and make it a welcoming space where I can spend an hour reading or writing with a cup of tea or cold drink.

Hand drawn mockup of new garden

It’s going to take some time to create that corner. Lucky for summer me, spring me has a lot of time on her hands. Here’s what’s on my container garden to do list:

  1. Order seeds. With extra time on my hands, I’m going to try to start some what I would normally buy from a nursery. Earlier this week, I ordered cucumber, spinach, cherry tomato, cilantro and lettuce seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. I also bought nasturtium and mint seeds from Renee’s Garden.
  2. Plant seeds. Buffalo’s last frost date is at the beginning of May, so we’re just about a month away from planting outside. For most veggies, this is the perfect time to start seeds inside. Hopefully, the seeds I ordered will arrive this week or next so I can get them in soil.
  3. Buy materials. I love the containers on our front porch, so I’ll get a couple more of those for the new spot. It will also need some stakes and a few 2×8 boards to wrap some of the more utilitarian containers I’m planning to use.
  4. Build. Even though it’s too early to put plants in the ground, I want to lay out containers and see how everything will look. That way I can edge the new space, add the wood and put up wire fencing before seedlings go in.
  5. Plant! I’ll still go to the nursery for most of my flowers when it’s warm enough to plant outside. There will be two planters in the new space, which will need to be shade-friendly. Two more planters will go on the front steps, which get a lot more sun. I’ll also plant the vegetables and herbs I started inside.

Fingers crossed that the extra work now will pay off this summer. I can’t wait to have a cozy space to enjoy time outside!

My Focus for 2020

I’ve kept exactly one New Year’s resolution in my life. One year in high school, I vowed to make my bed every day. I’m still pretty good about doing it on the mornings I don’t go to the gym before work. Other than that, my resolution track record is not great.

This year, I want to try something a little different (for me). Just like a million other bloggers and Instagrammers, I’m choosing a word to focus on this year, rather than one hard and fast resolution. I’m incorporating this word into my life in multiple ways, all with micro-steps that will, hopefully, make failing pretty difficult.

So, without further ado, let me introduce my focus in 2020: investing.

My focus on investing this year is a reflection on how much time and effort I put into working and saving in 2019. I spent a good part of last year feeling burned out, thanks to a lot more freelance work than I should have committed to and more weekends away than at home.

While I love being busy, last year felt like being busy for the sake of being busy. I never felt fully present. I was either at home writing for a client while battling FOMO or spending time with friends while stressing about getting everything done for the end of the month.

In 2020, I want to focus on thoughtfully investing my time and money into things and experiences that make life better, not busier.

Investing in My Skills

I love working. That’s part of the reason it’s so hard for me to see burnout coming, even if everyone around me can spot it from a mile away. This year, instead of spending all of my creative energy on other people’s projects, I want to save a little bit of it for myself.

I’m excited about investing in these professional-ish skills in 2020:

  • Learning basic Photoshop and Lightroom skills
  • Opting for manual camera settings once in a while
  • Writing for fun, not just because it’s on my to do list
  • Upgrading and expanding my blog’s footprint

Investing in a Home

This is a big one! It’s also a big reason I said yes to one or two too many projects last year. It’s going to take a lot of time and energy (and money) to find the house that becomes our forever home but I’m really, really excited to tackle this investment in 2020.

Investing in Experiences

In 2019, we didn’t take a real vacation. There were a lot of wonderful weekends away, but they’re just not the same. We’re in the midst of planning our first week-long vacation since our 2017 trip to Costa Rica and it feels so good.

We’ll watch more than a few of our favorite people say “I do” this year and I want to have the time and energy to truly enjoy these celebrations. The same goes for concerts, brunch, beach days, family time and a lot of other things I wasn’t 100% committed to last year.

9 Skincare Favorites Under $15 + 1 Worth the Splurge

If you live in Buffalo and love beauty and fashion, you’ve probably seen Becca, the bubbly personality behind Little Budget Beauty, on Instagram or at Second Chic. I’m not a makeup person, but I could look at Becca’s Instagram feed, filled with product reviews, real-life shots and full-face looks, forever. And everything she uses is completely affordable.

So when I wanted to put the Target gift card burning a hole in my pocket to good use on some budget-friendly skincare, I knew Becca would know exactly what my face needed. Plus, who turns down a Target run? Not me. Not Becca.

I usually duck in and out of the makeup aisle on my way to the home goods section during my way-too-frequent trips to Target. I’ve never been super into makeup, but that means I do have to be kind to my skin, especially in the winter, when it gets so dry I look (and feel) like a walking desert.

With hydration and affordability in mind, we got to work. It’s been a few weeks since our trip, and I’m ready to report back on the results, as well as add in a few of my all-time “little budget” favorites.

1. Lush Aqua Marina Face and Body Cleanser

$12.95 for 3.5 oz
I use this calamine powder and aloe vera cleanser allll over during the winter. It’s super gentle and still leaves my face feeling clean. My only complaint is how much the seaweed it’s wrapped in clogs the drain. 😆

2. Neutrogena Moisturizing Hydro Boost Hydrating Face Mask

$2.57 for 1
Becca disappeared down the mask aisle and came back with every single one of these that Target had in stock. When she sees this mask in the store, she buys every single one – they’re that good. She was gracious enough to let me try one, and I don’t disagree with her. The mask made my skin soooo soft and it stayed uber hydrated for days.

3. Lush Mask of Magnaminty

$14.95 for 4.4 oz
For something a little bit more cleansing, I like this mask. It has the same gentle kaolin clay base as the Aqua Marina cleanser so it’s not drying, but it does leave my skin feeling super fresh, thanks to the peppermint oil.

Lush Mask of Magnaminty & Aqua Marina | Affordable Skincare Picks

Lush Mask of Magnaminty | Affordable Skincare Picks

4. Bioré Deep Cleansing Charcoal Pore Strips

$7.99 for 6
These bad boys have been a staple since high school. There’s something so satisfying about ripping all those nasty blackheads straight out of my skin. Is this the healthiest thing for my skin? Nope. Is it necessary? Yep.

5. Thayers Witch Hazel Toner in Rose Petal

$6.99 for 12 oz
I’m really proud that I picked this one out without direct coaching from Becca. Although I did see my sister using it last time she came home… This toner is a serious game changer. It’s so refreshing and really calms my skin at the same time. I’ve been using it multiple times a day, sometimes instead of washing my face, which makes it a really nice option for the winter.

6. Garnier SkinActive Hydrating 3-in-1 Face Moisturizer with Aloe

$6.99 for 6.75 oz

Garnier SkinActive 3 in 1 Moisturizer | Affordable Skincare Picks

If I had $38 to spend on an ounce and a half of face moisturizer every few months, I would always use belif’s The True Cream Aqua Bomb. I don’t. So instead, I’m using the $7 alternative from Target. To be honest, it’s pretty darn good. I slather it on in the morning and at night, and it does a good job of keeping my face from getting raw, even during Buffalo winters.

7. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Concealer in Fair

$8.59 for .12 oz
While my skin is really dry, it’s also super sensitive, so I can’t just put goop over my zits and hope for the best. This concealer does a good job of adding hydration without being greasy or oily. My one complaint is that this product comes in four shades that are pretty much white, whiter and whitest.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Concealer | Affordable Skincare Picks

8. Maybelline Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder in Light

$4.39 for .7 oz
Try not to judge me, but before this shopping trip, I had been using the same mineral powder since high school. Not the same brand, or the same type. Literally the same container. I couldn’t tell you when it expired because all the packaging wore off. So anything would have been an upgrade.

Maybelline Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder | Affordable Skincare Picks

I really like this powder, which is buttery soft and does a good job of floating over my dry skin. I have not tried it without primer and probably won’t any time soon. However, this is likely a good candidate for being a stand-alone go-to during warmer months.

Becca liked this powder too (so you know it really is great) and included it in her roundup from our shopping trip as well!

9. Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Oil in Caramel Cloud

$4.95 for .04 oz
You can’t go wrong with Burt’s Bees. We tried to find something a little “sexier” for blog post purposes, but all the lipsticks that claimed to be moisturizing just felt sticky. This has a touch of color and stays on my lips for at least an hour or two. It’s nothing special, but it’s a definite upgrade from my usual ChapStick.

Bonus: FIRST AID BEAUTY Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer

$28.00 for 1.7 oz
Because Becca also encourages a good splurge every once in a while, I’m adding one to my list too. This primer is the perfect base for a light foundation. It’s actually tinted enough that I can get away with wearing it alone during the summer. Plus, it smells like an actual coconut smoothie.

Reflecting on a Week of #FuturisticFebruary

Since 2017, the couple behind Sustainable Duo has encouraged the Instagram universe to collect their trash for the month of February. The idea is that after 28 days of hoarding what would normally go straight into the garbage can and recycling bin without thought, you look at the small mountain you’ve collected. You multiply what’s in that pile by 12 in your mind. Only then do you have an idea of what you, one single person, are physically contributing to landfills every year.

My cousin invited me to join the challenge, which is called #FuturisticFebruary, this year. I took some serious liberties with the guidelines. Instead of a month, I opted for a week (I’ll just multiply by 52…). And rather than physically keeping the garbage I created, I wrote down each item I tossed in the trash or recycling. But even with my reduced commitment, I still feel like I learned a lot about my (lack of) sustainability habits.

My First Thoughts

I went in confident. I don’t drink out of single-use water bottles. I bring my lunch to work in glass containers. I make coffee with a reusable filter. During my week of #FuturisticFebruary, I even made some simple swaps to be more sustainable. I composted, which I hadn’t done in our apartment until now. I also brought a hand towel to work so I didn’t have to use paper towels to dry my hands. Easy stuff, but I still thought it would make a difference.

I was so, so wrong. Wow, do I use (and dispose of) a lot of stuff every day. I kept separate lists for garbage and recycling and I honestly thought my recycling list would be the longer of the two. Not so much.

Food Has Sooo Much Packaging

Eating local, packaging-free food is really hard in the middle of winter in Buffalo. Pretty much everything I bought during our weekly trip to the grocery store had a wrapper on it. Some of it was recyclable,  but a lot of it (like the pretzel bag and meat packaging) went straight into the garbage.

Thinking about how much energy and material went into containing each item I bought (let alone getting it here) has me very committed to shopping at the farmers’ market for as long as I can this summer and fall. And instead of heading to the store for a six pack, I’ll try to hit the brewery with a growler more often.

A Week Isn’t 100% Representative

In my defense, neither is a month. There are a lot of products I use every few weeks, every other month, or a couple of times a year. During my week of tracking, I did order a few things online, which meant a box, packing tape and bubble wrap were added to my lists. But I didn’t wrap any presents, go to the mall or get takeout, among other things.

Junk Mail is the Worst

Junk mail is the worst, and that’s before you consider what all those credit card offers and Tim Hortons coupons you never remember to use are doing to the environment. After realizing just how much of the stuff I throw out, I submitted these three forms, which will hopefully keep the mailings to a minimum.

The Moral of the Story

I’m never going to eat 100% local, or give up travel, or live without electricity. But I can be more thoughtful on a daily basis about how my food, clothes and beauty products affect our planet.

While “stuff” is a privilege many Americans feel lucky to have, it’s also a privilege to think about sustainability. It takes time, money and preplanning to attempt something even close to a “zero-waste” lifestyle.

As I work toward a life with less waste, I’m going to keep that in mind, as well as these wise words: