Monday, February 28, 2011

Under more than one conditioner (an abundance of amenities)

I am an amateur shower singer, and like most others I have ever heard, my repertoire is limited to the lyrics of first verses, followed by a lot of humming. I tend to get stuck on a certain song for a while, and for about a month now, I've been on continuous repeat of  the songs of South Pacific. A few weeks ago, in the midst of my third round of “I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair...”, I discovered that my 96 year old roommate had used up the last of the shampoo.

Fortunately, like most of you, I have a collection of tiny bottles from hotels, just waiting to justify their existence. This was their big moment. Unfortunately, they aren't within reach of the shower, so I got out, leaving puddles all over the floor, and after scrounging through the miscellaneous stuff (in the recently demoted food storage containers) under the sink, I found the sleek little bottle that I brought back from a posh place in Montreal a few years ago. I assumed it was shampoo, but since the tiny words were in French, and my hair was wet and in my face, I was mistaken. It turned out to be body lotion. Strongly scented body lotion. Eau de someone's great-aunt-Minerva's perfume.

When you've been traveling and finally get to the room at your hotel, is the bathroom, and it's offerings, one of the first things you check out? Can you document your trips for the last few decades through a slew of shampoos, conditioners, and tiny bars of soap? It seems to be human nature to collect these. But why?

  1. They are cute and little, and people are attracted to cute little things.
  2. We hate wasting stuff, so if we've opened it, we take it home, with the intention of saving it from being wasted.
  3. We paid for them! (If this is your main argument, do you feel the same way about the pillows, curtains, extra rolls of toilet paper folded into a triangle at the end...? Where do you draw the line?)
  4. We are saving them to be used during a natural disaster when we can't get to the store. (My aunt in California admits this, though she agrees that this is unrealistic, as seeking shelter and drinking water, and perhaps even swimming will take priority over hair products in that situation.)

I rarely leave town these days, but have made a pact not to accumulate any more hotel amenities in the future. I just don't need them. They serve no purpose in my life. I don't wear shower caps. I've got my own sewing kit. My hair prefers the same grocery store shampoo that I've been using for years. I pack my own stuff when I travel.

The downsize challenge for this week is to find new homes for your hotel amenities

What can we do with them? Well, the obvious answer is to use them up and recycle the bottles, but if you doubt that you will really do this, think about donation opportunities in your community. Personal care items are expensive and your hotel souvenirs could be better utilized if they moved out of storage in your bathroom closet. Donate to homeless shelters, organizations that support people in leaving violent relationships, group homes for people with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, half-way houses, senior centers. You may not be aware of these places in your community, but they exist. Your local food shelf might welcome unopened lotions, shampoos, and conditioners.

I am pleased to share that there is something else you can do on a more global scale! When you book your next reservation, ask if the hotel is a hospitality partner with the Clean the World Foundation. This Orlando, Florida based charity, founded in 2009 reduces waste from discarded hotel soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion products, collects and sanitizes them, then redistributes to homeless shelters and impoverished countries, supporting the prevention of hygiene-related illnesses around the world. If you want to learn more about how your half-used bar of hotel soap could be “washed” on its way to a child in Haiti, check out their website. It's easy to search for participating hotels in a specific location too, so you'll be able to leave that soap behind, without any reservations.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Topless Bottoms (The food storage container dilemma)

It's been a week of minimalist cooking at our place. Lots of soup and casseroles, the stuff you make too much of on Sunday on purpose, convincing yourself that having leftovers ready for the week will make life easier, but by the second day of tuna noodle, you're thoroughly uninspired, with 6 more servings to go, and a burning desire for a piece of pizza.

My food storage container situation is a bit like an end-of-season bikini sale; bottoms are not quite big enough to hold everything, and tops are either one size too big or small for the job. Nothing matches. This can be a source of kitchen rage for me. “Why did I have to pour the marinara into the ONE CONTAINER WITH NO LID????? How can thirteen rectangles be so similar but different and not one of them is the RIGHT SIZE???? Oh great, now I have to put tin foil over it, or plastic wrap that will never actually seal...or find another container and wash this one after I have JUST FINISHED doing the dishes...Where in the hell do the lids GO????? ” And the drawer in which they are stored is often hard to open and close because there is always something sticking up that should be nesting, while something else is toppling over.

If you can relate with this scene in any way, this week's downsize challenge is to tackle the unstackables and streamline your food storage containers. Whether you're using plastic, glass, or some other system, take a look at what you've got, see if the bottoms have tops, and figure out what you are really using and what might be best recycled or re-purposed.

Still using plastic but rethinking the whole idea of storing your food in containers that can leach estrogen mimicking chemicals? If you haven't already switched to a non-plastic storage system, there are lots of options, but this is a Downsizing Challenge, so I will have to look the other way while mentioning that a good friend in Vermont recommends this set:

If you want to learn more about what the science community has to say about BPA's and the safety of food storage, here are a few links:

Plastic (not) fantastic: Food containers leach a potentially harmful chemical - Scientific American article

Pots, pans, and plastics: A shopper's guide to food safety -Web MD article

Want to learn more about resin identification numbers (those numbers in the triangles on the bottoms of your plastics) and what they mean? Check out this article from The Ecologist:

Storing food safely in plastic containers

If you happen to be missing a top or a bottom, and you can't think of a purpose for one without the other, check the resin identification number and see if it can be recycled. (This will depend on where you live and what plastics are accepted.)

If you happen to have containers and lids to match, but you are thinking of retiring them from food storage, recognize their amazing potential for other uses.

Great for kids craft supplies, crayons, paints, pencils, glue
game pieces
small toys
sewing room notions, thread, buttons, needles
first aide kit in the car
bathroom stuff – cotton balls, sanitary supplies, q-tips, bandaids, cosmetics
nails, screws, bolts, batteries
office supplies

They are lightweight, airtight, and translucent, (unless you have microwaved tomato sauce way too many times) and they're good for so much more than leftovers.