In a world that resolves around consumerism, we became constantly hungry for more. More of everything. More gadgets to supposedly ‘simply’ our lives. More toys for our children. More activities for sure. Parents of young children have to juggle activities. Between sports, art classes, play dates and summer camps, it never ends. They always want to do more. And buy more. On the contrary of fulfilling our needs, over-scheduling and over-consuming result in more stress and anxiety. There have been numerous studies lately that proved that happiness comes from experiences not material objects.
Coming across a blog that advocates reducing waste and making the most of what you have, was something against the mainstream. It’s the mere contrary of consumerism. Melissa El Deeb, started her blog “Mottainai” a few months ago to inspire others to minimize waste and use what they already have efficiently. Not only does her approach encourages environmentally sustainable behavior, it can also minimize the financial restrains that many families are suffering from as a result of the recent price increases. Melissa is going to explain to us more about her philosophy.
Melissa, First of all, what does ‘Mottainai’ mean?
Mottainai is actually a Japanese term that means ’a dislike or a regret of waste’ . In English the closest we have to this term is ‘waste not want not’. It can refer to food, time, resources or even effort.
What made you interested in this approach?
I have always hated waste and it began with food waste as far back as when I was a child. It would really upset me when there was too much food in the fridge for example and it simply spoiled and had to be thrown out. I would always think of other hungry children. Then as I grew older and began my career as an Art Teacher I also loathed the waste of art materials, thinking that there had to be a better way of approaching life. Wasting time was the biggest sin of all in my opinion and it was really at this point that I decided I need to look at a new approach to life.
Food prices increased dramatically over the last months in Egypt. Can you share with us different ways to make the most of the food we buy?
I think the most sensible thing you can do both financially and to help support the economy is to buy local and buy in season. You may love avocados, but if the price has skyrocketed then maybe you should leave it off the shopping list for this month. Look for offers as well, shop around. You would be surprised at how much you can save when you start to compare prices with other supermarkets. You can visit your local vegetable stalls and see if they have any cheaper local produce and you would also be helping a small business survive these difficult times.
Another very important thing is to plan plan plan. I plan all of my meals so that I can get the most out of not only the ingredients themselves but my time as well. When making roast chicken, boil the chicken first and make a broth or soup from the water. If you peel your vegetables keep the skins to the side and make a delicious vegetable stock or even soup. Bones from meat are also another way to make stock and are extremely healthy. Cut down on the meat and bulk up on the vegetables. You should mostly have vegetables on your plate followed by meat and carbs. This is not only much more economical but far healthier for you and your family.
What about reducing food waste?
I probably touched on this already but one way is to get creative and think of how you can use the part of the food that you would usually throw away. You can regrow a lot of vegetables from the offcuts and you will have a lovely balcony garden. The offcuts from the chicken I usually keep for my dog as its a great treat. A huge problem that we have worldwide is buying way too much food, leaving it in the fridge and never getting around to cooking it. Low and behold the food rots and you waste not only the produce but your hard earned money. Try to shop smart. If you know you won’t have time this week to cook that much then don’t buy in bulk. If you cooked a huge meal but have far too much left over then portion it and freeze it. The trick is being organized.
We tend to use more disposable items than ever, which all ends up in the garbage. Many of these are made on non-biodegradable materials that will end up polluting the environments for hundreds of years. How can we minimize that?
It comes down to being conscious of what you are doing and really understanding why you are doing it. If you don’t care too much about the environment or the impact that we have on it then you are not likely to commit to being less wasteful. So what we need to do is understand that it is important, its important that we lead as an example to our children and cut back on the polystyrene and the paper plates, the constant flow of new toys and gadgets.
So this can be applied with the little ones as well ?
Buy and use what you need. Your child will be just as happy if not happier with less toys. Something I do with my one year old is rotate her toys so I don’t have to keep buying new toys and she is still entertained. Swap clothes with a friend. Clothing is a huge issue because we are constantly told there is a new item in fashion or a trend, so we throw away perfectly good clothes to make way for something new. Shop in second hand stores, garage sales or simply get together and swap items among friends. It is up to us to begin this trend as a community and encourage others around us to be conscious consumers, not mindless shoppers.
When it comes to shopping for groceries, do you have any tips regarding how to save money and avoid overconsumption?
Make a list and check it twice! Seriously though, making lists are very important. Look through your cupboards and fridge, think carefully if you really need the item, if so it goes on the list. Also think about the meals you want to make and the buy those ingredients. It is always cheaper to buy your family healthy snacks rather than prepackaged ones. Instead of the Chipsy buy a sweet potato and make sweet potato chips. Make your own peanut butter, hummus, containers of assorted fruits…this list is endless. I guarantee that if you make a realistic shopping list of healthy meals and snacks for the week, you will pay less and you will most likely use everything and avoid overconsumption.
You have thoughtful suggestions for pet owners on your blog, can you share some with us?
Our pets are just as deserving of our attention and care as the rest of our family. It also makes sense to look after them as this will avoid large vet bills in the future. Therefore I suggest you avoid buying readymade treats and make your own. Carrots and cucumbers are excellent treats, freshen breath, rehydrate and also help with bowel movement. Instead of feeding your dog commercial dog food twice a day why not replace the evening meal with homemade dog food? You will spend less money, your dog will be healthier, have better breath and almost always lose weight.
‘Mottainai’ reminds me of the trending concept of Minimalism, which basically aims at shedding the unnecessary in order to focus on the most important. In other words, ‘Less is More’. How can we be happier with less?
I like to think about it like this… I ask myself would I be happier with more? More money, a better car, more expensive makeup, the most recent phone, the list goes on… Sometimes I might think ‘yes, those things would make me happy’. But a few years ago I realised something and it honestly changed how I think about everything… If I think about ‘more of this and more of that’, it just never ends. I will never be satisfied because there is always something better, something newer, something else. I have come to understand that it really isn’t ‘things’ that make me happy, it is experiences, spending time with people I love, doing different things. Overcomplicating your life will never make you happy. Simplifying it allows you to concentrate on the important things such as the people and experiences and I guarantee you will begin to learn something new about yourself, you will learn what makes you truly happy. Strip away all the commercialism and get down to the core. It can be scary in the beginning but it is an infinitely more beautiful way to live.
There are many things, other than food, that we throw away even though we can recycle them for new uses at home. Any ideas?
I am actually in the process of doing this right now. Having just moved to a new house and being on a tight one income budget I am up-cycling a lot! Taking old curtains and turning them into cushion covers is far cheaper than going to IKEA and buying cushions that everyone else has. My daughter is growing fast so another thing I have been doing recently is cutting off the feet of her onesies. This gives her another month comfortably in those items of clothing. Old socks make the best dusters and window cleaners so I never throw these away.
Parents are always trying their best to buy everything they can for their children, mistakenly believing that this will make them happier. How can ‘Mottainai’ apply to parenting?
Mottainai isn’t just about minimising physical waste, time can also be wasted. I think that the best thing you can do for your children is to engage with them, give them your time, attention and actually play with them. You don’t need to buy them everything and in fact this can be more damaging as children can become over stimulated and over commercialised. If you think back to your best memories they are often with your parents, family members or friends playing the most simple of games. They are also often concentrated on just a handful of toys that hold a special place in your heart. Instead of buying the latest toy take your child outside and do something you have never done before. Hide something in the garden, make a pirate map and go on a treasure hunt. Take them to the pool and teach them to swim. Tape a huge piece of paper to the floor and create a piece of Art together. You won’t regret it and they will never forget it.
Marketers are taking advantage of the unconditional parental love in a way that resulted in a strong connection between parenting and consumerism. Parents are always feeling guilty of not doing enough activities and not buying what their children want.
Its sad but very true. We all try to overcompensate and this is never a good thing. Instead of feeling guilty understand that its not about the quantity of activities but the quality. Do something with your child that requires you to put down the phone, turn off the tv and step outside the house. Don’t spend money, think outside the box and spend time together. All children want is our attention and love, they don’t want new toys, we are the ones who buy things for them. The more you spend and buy for them the more they will have an unhealthy need for consumerism. The most precious gift you can give them is your undivided attention, watch them light up.
Melissa, thank you very much. Your answers were very thoughtful and I really wish to work on myself regarding these points. Please tell us more about yourself.
My name is Melissa and I am a full time mother and part time blogger, teacher, artist, photographer and who knows what else in the future… I believe in pursuing what you dream of and am not afraid of failure. I have always had a sort of obsession with minimizing waste and getting creative with ways in which to do this. I have lived in Malaysia, Dubai, Ireland and Egypt and I believe these wonderful life experiences have really developed who I am. Becoming a mother for the first time last year has given me a new found voice in that I want to ensure my daughter grows up with an appreciation for what she has. I want her to be respectful of the environment, to be happy with little and to feel loved above all else. Blogging is my small way to reach out to others and try to help people to live more frugally and to feel happy doing it!
Visit and follow Melissa’s blog for more continuous advice about reducing waste.