What I Learned From a Year of 12 Experiments

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I see that my last post on here was oooh about 2 years ago. I never wrapped this project up the way I should have, reflecting on all the previous 12 Experiments. In true Sarah fashion, I dove head first into the next phase of my life and mostly forgot about this little project....except I didn't.  

Every few days, I think about the 12 experiments. How fun it was. How nice it was to tailor my curiosities for small chunks of time just to see what would happen. How nice it was to have a deeply personal project that had nothing to do with my career or money. Nothing to do with anything other than for fun of it. Now, almost three years since the start of these experiments (ah!), I'm ready to go over these experiments and the level of impact it has left on my life today. I'm surprised by some of the lasting effects. 

1. A Month of saying “Yes” to Everything

These days, I  feel like saying "NO" to most things in order to say “Yes” to what I really want. I've gotten better at saying no. I remember the month of saying yes was a bit of a snooze fest other than impulsively flying to LA and randomly ending up at a very strange OM Meetup.  Besides that, I mostly ended up just meeting people for drinks all the time. My main realization since then is that I want to learn to say yes to the right things and no to mostly everything else. 

2. A Month of Digital Detox

I lovveeed this month and I wouldn't mind a reboot. Since that experiment I have regularly taken trips where I disconnect from technology. I have erased most notifications off my phone and just yesterday, I deleted about six apps I no longer need. For a while, I blocked FB off my normal browser so if I wanted to go there, I had to open safari and take the extra annoying effort to get there. It worked like a charm. I was actually pretty interesting/scary by how often my fingers hit the new tab and started typing "fac.... " over and over again. Like multiple times a day! 

3. A Month of Sparking Joy: Decluttering with Marie Kondo

It's funny to fast forward and see which experiments have changed me the most. I feel like Marie Kondo might have rewired my brain. My home is pretty curated still and I'm very sensitive to things that do not spark joy. I love her philosophy so much and I use it in my home life as much as much as reflecting on what sparks joy in my life in general.  I've learned to declutter jobs that do not spark joy, or relationships that do not spark joy. She's kind of a genius. 

4. A Month of Radical Acceptance. (Really it was just Meditation )

I'm not sure why I gave it such a grand title but it ended up being a month of meditation. That experiment was difficult for me to articulate since it was mostly inward contemplation but I've gotten much better at the idea of "accepting reality as it is."  Meditation slips in and out of my life but I can say for sure that life is better when it's there. I've gone to two more silent meditation retreats since and I try to meditate daily for about 20 minutes. Sometimes I'm consistent and sometimes I go weeks without. It's like eating vegetables, I know its good but its also boring right? I'll say that I'm extremely grateful for finding it and having the practice in my life, no matter the level. 

 5. A Month of Dance: Dance everyday! 

Ahhhh my most favorite experiment! I loved it so so so much. I miss dancing. I still know how to two-step although I don't go out dancing much anymore. But it's like riding a bike, once you learn you can't unlearn it. So far.. It feels good that I have that skill up my sleeve though. I'm currently on to more musical pursuits. I'm playing the violin! 

 6. A Month of Money: Stick to Budget and Get More Work 

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My money game is outta control! It’s so in control it’s outta control! Learning how to budget during my month of money for realz changed the game. Since that experiment I've completely paid off all my debts, saved up a hefty emergency fund, cut my spendings, and started investing like a true baller. WHAT! It seems so dry and boring to talk about money but I feel like seeing money in my bank account allows me so much freedom. Freedom to sign up for the right course, to take trips, to say no to projects that drain me. It's one of the most positive aspects of my life and that motivates me to keep going. I still feel like the Queen of Chicon street but this time instead of balling out all the time, I see the $$$ growing in the bank and that makes me feel balllllllerr as fuq. 

7. A Month of Photography: Take Personal Pictures Everyday 

You know what, I still struggle with this one. I have concepts in my head all the time but I can't ever seem to execute it. I don't know if its because I've associated my camera with work but it makes me sad that I don't take creative pictures and I want to change that. 

8. A Month of Cooking: Cook Something New Everyday 

I still cook but mostly boring stuff out of necessity, I would love a cooking reboot. Maybe more of a healthy or vegan cooking month. Just to prove to myself that I can be creative with food while still being healthy? 

9. A Month of Mornings: Wake Up Really Early and Hate Myself

This was a complete fail, it lasted about two days. Let's face it, I'm not a morning person. 5:30am was disgustingly early. I wanted to throw up in my mouth every morning. It felt like having to catch a 6am flight everyday. Never ever again. At least I know that now!  My new goal is to have a life where I just don't use an alarm clock at all.

10. A Month of Photography Again: Second Attempt at Shooting Everyday

Ditto above.

11. A Month of Zero Waste: Create as Little Trash as Possible

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This one has also had lasting effects on my life. I still use unpackaged bar soap, I buy Kevin's dog food from the bulk section. I buy way more things without packaging. I compost all my food and recycle more. I actually really really loved this experiment and want to figure out more ways to consume less waste. I shop completely differently thanks to my month of zero waste and sparking joy. I used to walk into target and leave having spent $100 on bed slippers, candles, and god knows what else. Now I barely walk into stores at all and think twice about my purchases.  

12. A Month of Rejection: Putting Myself Out There to Overcome the Fear of Rejection 

I'm not sure what was going on in my life but this one seemed to trail off and disappear without much attempt. Some experiments I think I did because I felt like it was a good thing to do, while others I really really wanted to do. This one felt a bit forced and I couldn't wrap my mind around it. Also maybe by month 12, I was ready for a break….a two year break!

Can you tell the experiments have been on my mind? Maybe it's time for 2019 reboot? Maybe I feel bad for not wrapping up my experiments in a pretty little bow when it was all over. So yeah, my theory proved that experiments are good. They are great! You can try things out and if you really love it, you can extend it. It's a psychological work around to get yourself going without overcoming the massive hurdles the ego throws at you to prevent you from trying anything. I'm forever grateful for this experience and I'm forever grateful to myself for following through. And thank you for anyone who followed along, encouraging me through the process. It would have been 90% less fun without you there.  Am I giving an Oscar speech?

Day 24: Silence

Most rejections are not really rejections at all. They just ignore your emails. I was told by a rejection coach (yes, I guess it exists) that you have to send an initial email and two reminders before you can call it a rejection. It takes so much courage just to send out the one email, I don't know if I can handle two more...

Anyways, I haven't been blogging much this month because it's mostly been uneventful. I send out emails...and they get ignored. Over and over again. It makes me wonder if this is even worth it. Are there better tactics out there? 

Day 14: Channeling Julia Child

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I hit a wall this morning. I think I might for the first time in my life have rejection fatigue. I never tried hard enough to be honored with this advanced level psychiatric condition. I got so terrified at the idea of sending out another email that I ended up shutting down my laptop and spending the day buying plants at IKEA. Am I failing at this experiment? How do I channel my hero Julia Child? She didn't even learn how to cook until she was 36. That buys me 4 years. 

Day 8: Procrastination

This experiment is so interesting! I'm realizing that I have quite a few hang ups when it comes to the idea of "selling myself". It feels icky and I have fears of coming off like a cheesy car salesman. I end up looking for anything else to do then to send out a seemingly painless email to potential clients. I'd rather clean out my fridge than get rejected. What's that about? 

Some thoughts that run through my mind while I'm pitching. 

  • "Do I even want to work with this potential client?"
  • "These people think I'm desperate!" 
  • "They're not going to respond so what's the point." 
  • "They probably won't pay what I deserve."
  • "I survived this far without pitching, why start now!?"
  • "I'd rather eat ice cream." 

Seriously, I feel so many weird anxious feelings even typing this. Am I alone in this? I need help.

P.S. So far rejections have come in the form of people failing to respond back to emails. Besides all the madness in my mind, this experiment has been pretty uneventful. 

P.P.S. Even though I hate dealing with all my insecurities, it's been good for me to stop making excuses and just reach out!

Day 3: Got my first rejection!

There's this nerdy personal finance retreat in Ecuador that I want to attend this year but it costs $2100 plus the flight. My obsession with thinking about money even though I'm bad a managing it was covered earlier this year, which will explain why I don't have a spare $2100 lying around in my bank account for these kinds of trips. So I came up with an idea! Why not trade my professional photography services for room and board? I pitched the idea to the organizer and guess what? I got rejected! Woo hoo! 

Honestly, even though it was exciting to get my first rejection, I was still majorly bummed! It made me realize why I hate putting myself out there. I hate the feeling of being rejected. I guess the goal is to keep going so I'll end up with thicker skin. On to more rejections!

Experiment 11: Final Thoughts

I just came back from a 10-day vacation where I surprisingly, quite easily tossed out my ideas of zero waste along with the trash I accumulated. It's one thing being zero waste at home, quite another while traveling. I was feeling pretty smug the first day on the road with my cloth bags filled with bulk snacks and homemade zero waste sandwiches. As the road trip lead to smaller and smaller towns with no zero waste options, I began to care less and less about following the rules. 

Anyways, I'm back in Austin and I think for the most part I still want to live a zero waste lifestyle! I think I can be maybe 70% successful? 

Here's what I learned this month. 

The Good

  • Zero waste living is pretty easy in Austin. Even most HEBs have a big bulk section. You also have Ingredients, Wheatsville, Whole Foods, and Central Market. It's pretty amazing. 
  • I'm shocked at how much waste I reduced in a month. I basically needed to take out the trash one time.
  • I ate healthier. Except for that one time I got drunk and I didn't. 
  • I feel better just knowing that there are little things I can do that will make a difference over time. It's pretty motivating. 
  • I love reducing my reliance on products, especially household chemicals and cosmetics. 
  • Forced me to cook from scratch, this is both good and bad. 
  • I saved money. Buying bulk is cheaper, not to mention you can't buy anything packaged so you're forced to save.
  • I started to question little actions. For instance, I just stopped printing things. I can access the info on my phone. 

The Bad

  • You have to plan. I hate planning. You can't just spontaneously walk into a store and pick up groceries. You need your bags, your jars, and a strategy. For instance, Wheatsville and Ingredients sells bulk eggs. HEB does not. You have to navigate your shopping with your list. That's kind of annoying. 
  • You have to overcome the embarrassment of being the hardcore environmentalist type who brings their own jars to the store. It's only a little bit painful an then you get over it. 
  • You just can't buy some amazing things! Do all blueberries have to come packaged in a plastic bin or a bag? Why can't I just buy a pint of ice cream at the gas station? Maybe I can get Ice cream in a jar?

Even with all the annoyances of going zero waste, I still really loved this experiment. Surprisingly, it was one my favorites. I hope I can keep it up! 

Day 28: Zero Waste Laundry

I'm living in Europe/Japan again. I'm drying my clothes with the air. GASP. Americans have a love affair with the dryer and I am one of them. The magical machine makes your sheets and towels so warm and soft. It's wonderful. I also have a dryer in my house and It taunts me every time I take my clothes out of the washer and spend 10 minutes organizing each sock on this cumbersome wire contraption. As much as I love my clothes dryer, environmentally and financially speaking, it makes no sense. 

"The dryer is the third-most energy-hungry appliance, after the refrigerator and washer. Air-drying your clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by a whopping 2,400 pounds a year." -Green America  

I live in Texas where it's sunny basically all the time. My washer is right next to my back door where I can easily hang my clothes outside. It takes about two hours to dry. That's it! So I'm doing just that.

Other changes include cutting back on laundry altogether. I have a lazy habit of throwing my clothes on the floor as soon as I take it off. Days later I assume they are dirty and end up in the wash too soon. Now I'm making a habit of putting up cleanish clothes as soon as I take it off so I don't end up with extra loads of unnecessary washing. I've probably cut down my laundry by half this month. That's great! Having to hang dry my clothes is yet another incentive to not do laundry as much. 

Finally, I swapped out my detergent for more eco-friendly options. I used to use this basic bitch HEB detergent because it was cheap. I can't really justify it now that I know about the pitfalls of plastic and all the unnecessary chemicals in the detergent. I mostly recently bought an all natural detergent from The Simply Co. The container is glass and reusable. These are the things that excite me now. Sad. I also found bulk washing powder at ingredients last week. Ingredients, you have everything! 

One more thing. I don't really take my clothes to the dry cleaners but I ordered a tiny fabric steamer to replace my iron last year and it's the best!

Surprisingly, there's been a ton of changes in the laundry department. So far I still smell normal and my clothes are fine. I hope I can stick to these changes. 

Day 24: Zero Waste Beauty

I'm making my own tooth paste and lotion now. I stopped using conditioner. I "shampoo" with a bar. I threw out my freaking expensive CC cream after reading about the chemicals in it. I think I've gone too far but I can't stop! I love zero waste! Who knew I could get this excited about homemade toothpaste. 

Zero Waste Beauty Swaps

  • Plastic Body Wash > Unpackaged Soap Bar from Whole Foods
  • Shampoo & Conditioner in plastic bottles > Shampoo Bar 
  • Lotion > Homemade Body Butter
  • CC Cream > Nothing
  • Toothpaste > Homemade Toothpaste
  • Eyeshadow & Bronzer > Cocoa powder from bulk bin (Not sure I like this) 

I'm still using packaged stuff. I haven't found replacements for sunblock, mascara, eyeliner, and blush. I doubt I'll give those up but at this rate, who even knows! 

Body lotion and Toothpaste recipes below: 

Day 20: Composting

I think composting might be my favorite part of this little zero waste journey. I like knowing that my food scraps, which is probably a third of my trash is not going directly to the landfill. I mentioned this earlier but if you live in Austin, there's a wonderful compost rebate program where you get $75 off your own home composting bin. Yay yay yay! Some neighborhoods even have compost pick up which sounds amazing but since that's not an option for me, I'm sticking with this ol' tumbler situation. Seems to be working!

Day 13: Zero Waste Cleaning

Oh my goodness, I'm feeling like a colonial housewife cleaning with cloth napkins and vinegar water. I've made so many zero waste swaps since I've started this experiment and it's beginning to feel more radical than I expected. Initially when I thought about cleaning products for this zero waste experiment, I was only really concerned with all the disposable plastic packaging that ends up in the landfill. Why do I need 10 different bottles under my sink to make my house clean? Seems unnecessary right? It wasn't until I started researching DIY and bulk alternatives that it dawned on me that I should be as concerned of the chemicals inside the bottles as the actual packaging. I did some investigating and found out that almost every single product I owned failed the toxicity test.

 

Here are screenshots from the Environmental Working Group, a non profit that aims to help people make healthier choices for themselves and the environment. You can test all your cleaning and cosmetic products for toxic chemicals. You can also search for healthier and environmentally friendly alternatives. 

What the Efff! All my favorite chemicals failed miserably. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. So I made a bold move and packed it all up to be sent off and properly disposed of at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility. I replaced all these bottles with things I already own: vinegar, baking soda, water, and soap. I'm cleaning the way my grandma used to clean her home. I guess febreze didn't exist 50 years ago and they were fine. I hope future me will be ok with all these changes.

Day 10: In.gredients

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I discovered my new favorite zero waste shop in Austin and it's less than 2 miles from my house. wut wut! It's called in.gredients. I went there once a few years ago and thought it was just an overpriced hippie bodega but now that I shop with zero waste in mind, this shop is a little heaven to me. They make it incredibly easy to shop with your own containers by providing a "tare station" right when you walk in. You go to the counter and weigh your own containers and print out a sticker to attach to the bottom of the container. When you go to the cashier they automatically scan the container and subtract the weight from your item. Voila! So easy. Why don't they do that everywhere? 

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Here are some hard to find items that in.gredients carry in bulk or package free.

  • Dish washing soap
  • Eggs, reuse your old carton 
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body Soap
  • Lotion
  • Essential Oils
  • Clay for masks
  • Honey
  • Bulk dog food that Kevin already eats! 
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Local organic produce
  • Lots of prepared foods like pizza, tamales, sandwiches, package free
  • Coffee, tea, beer, and other drinks. Re-use a growler or bring your own container
  • Cheese wrapped in compostable paper instead of plastic
  • Coconut oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and other liquids
  • Spices, flours, oats, pasta, legumes, candy

It's a tiny shop but you can get so much without any packaging, it's so great! I don't know if it's sustainable to really do my grocery shopping there but I now know of a quick and easy spot to get my eggs, bulk cleaning and  basic beauty supplies. I can't believe this is what excites me in life right now. 

Day 7: Zero Waste Town

Check out this small Japanese town that produces no trash. How amazing is that? I remember my dad moved to the suburbs outside of Tokyo when I was in college and when I came home to visit for Christmas, I was appalled by his eleven tiny trashcans lined up in a row in the kitchen. You had to separate everything for recycling and if you made a mistake, the trash collectors would leave your trash in shame in front of your house. I thought it was so annoying at the time but it turns out to be an effective way to produce less waste. Ruvvy Japan.

Day 6: The Rules of Zero Waste

I ran out of my horrible-for-the-environment chemically toxic aerosol Dove deodorant spray and now I smell like an armpit. I miss you Dove. I need a zero waste solution stat. Don't you want to be me?! Don't you want to go zero waste too?! It's so smelly and exciting!

Here's how!  

Bea Johnson established a Five step system to get rid of all waste from your life.

1. Refuse: Refuse what you do not need.

This is where all the package free purchases come into play. If you can find something without packaging, refuse the packaging and buy bulk. Don't take home freebies from events that you know you'll just throw out. Stop the waste from entering your space before its a problem. 

2. Reduce: Reduce what you do need. 

Thanks to the declutter queen Marie Kondo, I've already let go of so much stuff I do not need. This is sort of the preview to a zero waste life. Once you live with only the items that "spark joy" you will want to buy less stuff. Less stuff means less waste to the landfill. One thing I'm trying to get better at this month is reducing food waste. Now that I'm living without a trash can and composting more, I see how much food I leave rotting in the fridge. oops. 

3. Reuse: Reuse by using reusables.

I've swapped paper towels for cloth rags, plastic bags for cloth bags, a klean kanteen instead of reusable water bottles, laundry mesh bags for produce bags, and glass jars for disposable tupperware. These are pretty easy one time swaps that will save you $$$ and waste in the landfill in the long run. 

4. Recycle: Recycle what you cannot Refuse, Reduce, or Reuse. 

Remember my money manager Carla from a few experiments ago? Apparently, she knows a thing or two about recycling and dug through my pile and pointed out all the things that cannot actually be recycled in Austin. Lame. So I was willy nilly throwing things in the bin hoping everything I bought was recyclable. Do you your research and see what's actually allowed in your city. I will write a more detailed post later specific to Austin recycling because I'm still pretty clueless on this one. 

5. Rot: Rot or Compost the rest. 

Composting is pretty great. I bought a compost tumbler a year ago, paid for by the city of Austin (!!!)  and have been throwing all my food scraps in there. It's probably about a third of my waste now turning into soil instead of off to the landfill. It might be my most easiest and favorite zero waste switcharoo! 

Day 2: Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

I think the most intimidating part of going "zero waste" is shopping for food. It's what we consume the most and almost all of is wrapped in plastic, glass, or cardboard. After my first grocery run, I'm confident that I will only starve a little bit this month. 

HOW TO SHOP PACKAGE FREE

1. BYOC: Bring Your Own Container

We all know to bring our own cloth grocery bags but to go completely zero waste, you must come prepared with containers and smaller bags to store bulk items. I used my bags and containers to buy peanut butter, oatmeal, lentils, a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, and parmesan cheese. I also used mesh laundry bags to grab fruits and vegetables. I'm not yet brave enough to ask the butcher to stuff a steak in a mason jar. 

When using your own container you will have to first have it weighed to grab the tare or weight of the container. Then you will fill the container with your item. The cashier will subtract the item from the weight of the container. 

I felt like such a dork with all my clanking jars in the bulk section. The woman seemed sort of annoyed with me when I showed my varied jar collection but three minutes of emotional discomfort was worth my bulk peanut butter. 

2. Shop Around the Edges of the Store

The things you can buy without packages all reside either in the bulk section or along the edges of the store. 

3. Start with Farmers Markets

Yes, farmers markets can be expensive and inconvenient. I know it's not fun paying seven dollars for kohlrabi. What is kohlrabi anyway? But when you're thinking about zero waste and the environment, shopping straight from the farm is a great way to not only buy package free goods but also learn about the local food you're eating. I had a ton of fun learning about what's in season and where everything comes from. My expensive eggs tasted amazing too and when you can't eat packaged Ben & Jerry's, tasty eggs are worth something. 

4. Shop Around!

So far I wandered around Whole Foods, Central Market, and Wheatsville and I've been pleasantly surprised to see all that they have to offer without packaging. You can get bulk lotion, olive oils, tons of candy, teas, spices, grains, and more. I even found bulk dog food for my weirdo pup Kevin. I hope Kevin is into zero waste. Not every store has everything but these three stores in Austin pretty much cover the basics.

Also Also, even though I bought lots of local and organic products, my grocery bill was so cheap! Packaging is apparently expensive and going zero waste makes you rethink what you really need. Month of Money Sarah would be proud. 

 

 

Day 1: Soap & Shampoo

The problem is, I sort of love liquid soap in a giant plastic dispenser. I love the smell of all the artificial chemicals. I also love lathering it with my deconstructing loofah. I should replace my crappy loofah....but I wont. I made the switch to zero waste body washing people. See it even says "good" on the unpackaged bar of soap. I'm also going to test out this shampoo soap bar. It has a gazillion rave reviews on Amazon so it must be good right?