$2 Worth of Plastic Bags are Teaching Me about Breaking Bad Habits

Have you ever made a mistake that caused you to start breaking bad habits?

We all have bad habits we’d love to break, but seldom do we get around to it until something makes us change.

When things are going well, it’s easy to stick to your habits without questioning what you are doing. When you screw up and have to fix it, you have to learn new ways of doing things, which is a great opportunity to fix your bad habit.

Making mistakes helps in two ways. First, you look at the problem in new way. You move away from acting out of habit and you question your assumptions about what exactly you were accomplishing with your old approach.

Secondly, you reexamine your resources. Look to the things you have to solve the problem.

The Tale of the Bad Bags

We use a lot of disposable products in our house. Heck, last year when we did our no spend month, Jon put paper plates second on the list of things he missed having around the house.

Paper plates, paper towels, plastic forks, plastic bags...I know they are all expensive substitutes for permanent and ecologically-friendly products. Still, we use them because they are easy and functional.

Even when Little Bit went to her outdoor super-ecologically focused preschool, she was the only kid bringing lunch and snacks in plastic bags. They kept her food fresh and they were easy to pack in her lunchbox.

Plastic bags cost money, though, so a couple of months ago when I needed a new box, I bought 150 foldover sandwich bags instead of the 40 sealing ones for the same price.

Big mistake. Yeah, the sealing bags seal. The foldover kind? Not so much. All of a sudden, Little Bit came home with loose pretzels and cereal in her backpack and strawberries staining her lunchbox. She also began complaining that her snacks had gone stale. It didn’t take long to realize that those foldover bags didn’t work very well for us.

We needed a better solution.

I could buy new bags and toss the old ones, but that offended my (limited and contradictory) frugal sensibilities. I tried using rubber bands and chip clips to seal the bags better, but the clips and bands inevitably fell off and my picky eater still complained about stale food that hadn’t been stale 4 hours earlier.

So I sorted through my stash of plastic tubs and found a few takeout Chinese soup and sauce containers that would easily fit in Little Bit’s lunchbox. Instead of plastic bags, i used the takeout containers for cheese and crackers, fruit, pretzels and everything else.

There were a few hangups at first. For instance, Little Bit asked why I’d sent her onion cream cheese for lunch one afternoon. I laughed and showed her the sliced plum that lay in the container.  Since then I’ve either used a clear container or made a point to tell her what was in her lunchbox.

Last week, I finally used the last of the crappy sandwich bags, and bought some of the better ones. I’m not using them nearly as often, though. For the most part, the little washable containers work better. The food doesn’t get mashed or crumbled bumping around in Little Bit’s backpack as much, and I like not generating quite as much trash.

I would never have switched my habits, though, if I hadn’t made a mistake and bought the wrong bags.

So What Does a $2.00 Mistake Teach?

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about a purchase so small and insignificant. After all, I spent at most $2.00 on generic plastic sandwich bags each month. Does it really matter than I’m using fewer of them?

But I knew using the disposable stuff as often as I was using it was a bad habit i wanted to break. Using disposable bags hurts the environment by generating more trash. It wastes money.

I’m not proud of our plastic bag habit, sot I am grateful to find a different approach to food storage and transportation that seems to be working just as well. It just took a shake up to get me breaking this bad habit.

It’s not the first time I’ve found myself forced into breaking bad habits. In my 20’s, having my credit cards cancelled led to much better spending and saving habits. Losing my job last year eventually led to spend tracking and budgeting. Avoiding Jon’s nagging reminders means I no longer swear like a sailor

But big changes don’t have to come from outside. You can also shake things up yourself. Going on our spending freeze last year taught me a lot about why i spend, and how I could more effectively live within our budget.

Now it’s just time to change a few more things.

$2 Worth of Plastic Bags are Teaching Me about Breaking Bad Habits

So what bad habits remain?

Procrastination

I often leave things until later, only to find that I don’t get them done or scramble at the end. What’s not working? What I’m doing. My current practices lead to lack of exercise, too much convenience food, and less productivity than I might like.

What resource haven’t I used to tackle it? A task-oriented focus.. I can be really productive when focused, but I’ve lacked focus. I just kind of drift from task to task.

New Approach: The to do list. Okay, it’s hardly novel. Lots of people use them. Also, since I do well with routine, I need to shake mine up a bit. I’m using the times I’m most able to accomplish things (mornings) to accomplish tasks that don’t need a lot of focus. I need to prioritize exercise earlier in the day and move my blog scanning to either early morning (while I’m drinking coffee) or later afternoon.

Too Much Mindless Internet

Two days ago, I decided I’d try to avoid web surfing, facebooking and phone games after 6 pm. I’m finding those activities are sucking time and preventing me from interacting as well with my family as much as I should.

I don’t mind mindful internet and productive uses. Working on this blog or reading and commenting on other blogs is useful, checking out the latest celebrity gossip is not. Playing video games with Little Bit on a game system also qualifies as legit and interactive.

I just don’t need to be hunched over my phone screen for an hour or so playing Word Hero.

I failed in my mindless internet ban two days ago, in part because I kept the phone beside me. Yesterday, I grabbed my knitting and things seemed to go better. The best thing I can probably do though, is go plug my phone in during the evening so it’s no where near me. Today, that’s the plan.

Breaking Two Bad Habits

I’m not saying those are my only two bad habits. i have several more, but these two seem to be the root of a lot of related issues. I’m not accomplishing what I want to accomplish, and need to do a better job of prioritizing and not wasting time on things that don’t add a lot of value to my life. 

Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, so whenever opportunities come to get rid of them, you should take them.

Have you every made a mistake that led you to shed some behaviors or practices you didn’t like? What’s your best method for breaking bad habits? 

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich and, Disease Called Debt*

Fun Money Mom

28 thoughts on “$2 Worth of Plastic Bags are Teaching Me about Breaking Bad Habits

  1. It is really interesting that such a small mistake led you to such surprising introspection and hopefully lasting changes! Thanks for sharing this story – it made a big impact on me today.

  2. You’re absolutely right that until we look at the problem in a new way, nothing changes. And it’s great that once you looked at one issue differently, it prompted you to find other bad habits you’d like to change. Oftentimes we’re so stuck in our routine that we don’t examine what we do, good or bad. Thanks for the reminder to take a good look at why we’re doing what we’re doing.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Beware of Cash! 9 Reasons to Avoid Using CashMy Profile

    • And I do love my routines, in part because they allow me to function somewhat on autopilot. But you’re right, in my routine, because I like it, I don’t change even the things I don’t like.

  3. My husband uses the same few plastic bags over and over again until they’re worn through. I prefer the one and done method, so I’ve made a point to pack my lunches (when I pack them) and Kenny’s in our rubbermaid containers. The only problem is that we ought to buy more sandwich sized containers since I use those for leftovers, frozen items, and of course sandwiches.

    More to the point, becoming aware of those habits makes a big difference. I find I waste very little time on mindless internet when I have a good book to read. Not that I’m more productive, but it’s something I love vs. something that I’m just meh about.

    • I think some of the change with the bags came because we’d managed to pick up some more small containers that I could use for Little Bit’s lunch. Sometimes it is opportunity + logistics + awareness = change.

      I am always happy when I have a good book to go to, and spend a lot less time on mindless internet when I’m in the middle of reading (or knitting). Finding one that draws me in has become harder, though. I don’t know if I’ve become pickier as I got older or if I’m just limiting myself too much by relying on Wake County Library’s e-book downloads for most of my reading material. I think I may need to change my strategy there, too.

  4. What a great post. I am so on top of this topic right now. My kids are away at their grandparents so I have used the opportunity to really try to change some habits of my own, especially in regard to how I use my time. It was a great exercise! And my husband and I are always at odds about disposable things. I never buy paper towels – he goes through them like crazy. I save bags that bread and bagels come in to clean up after my dog. I have gotten very good about totally avoiding plastic utensils. But there are certain things you need a ziploc bag for! Mostly the bigger ones, the are lots of great little containers we’ve collected through the years for school lunch. And nothing gets smushed!

    • Oh, yeah. Jon is much more wedded to the idea of disposable plates/flatwear/bags/paper towels than I am, but then he washes the dishes so I guess that’s fair. Which is funny, because he will hang on to most things much longer than I would like to.
      Ooh, having kids away sounds like a great opportunity to make some changes. It’s really hard to change up your routine when you aren’t the only one wedded to it. Good luck with your time usage project!

  5. I’ve read that one advantage to Lenen resolutions over New Years resolutions is that since you make them for a limited time, you are more likely to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse when you fail, since you only committed to doing it for six weeks. However, six weeks is long enough to let new habits gain a firm foothold, so if you are going for permanent change, you may find it stuck
    RAnn recently posted…Keeping Your Bookshelf (Real or Virtual) Full Without Going BrokeMy Profile

    • Lent is good for that, as are month long commitments. For the most part, it’s a lot easier for me to do a goal for a month or so at a time.

  6. It’s funny to think about how a little thing that happens can make us change other parts of our lives for the better! I have found that with extra time comes mindless Internet searching too. I put the computer and phone away for awhile when I try to get things done in the house or when the kids are around. It has helped me but it’s easy to fall back in to bad habits for sure!
    Vicki@Make Smarter Decisions recently posted…3 New Leases Signed – But Did We Allow Pets?My Profile

    • So hard to give up the mindless internet and phone games unless the phone is elsewhere. I’m hoping plugging it in during the evening helps.

  7. Check out LunchBots or Planet Box online for great reusable stainless steel lunch storage for adults & kids.

    • Those are neat, but pricy. I’m sure that they would pay for themselves over time versus the bags (if we don’t lose them), but it would take a long time.

  8. I find the older I get, the more things I focus on simultaneously, and the less I accomplish or remember. And if my to-do list is too large, I want to avoid looking at it altogether. I’m realizing I’m going to need to experiment with current habits and creating new ones after I’m no longer required to work 7 hours a day.

    I’m chuckling about the plastic bags because I keep a constant supply of those cheap fold-top ones for wiping out Groovy Cat’s gunky food bowl. It’s a cheaper alternative to paper towels. I also use them for storing his open cans of food in the refrigerator (with a twist-tie) that are too small for a lid. But that’s about all they’re good for!
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…How Much False Wealth Is In Your Life?My Profile

    • Yeah, a too long list gets discouraging. I find if I put too much on, I start concentrating on the shortest or easiest tasks that give me a sense of accomplishment rather than the highest priorities. (Like commenting on other people’s blogs before writing new content.) So I do need to work on the right small list.
      The best use I found for the folding bags was trying to keep the second pop tart fresh. Since the pop tart stayed at home, the chip clips that we used to bind them didn’t fall off. We won’t be buying them again anytime soon.

  9. The county next to mine charges for plastic grocery bags, $0.05 each! I have a bunch of reusable bags in my car and have done a good job of remembering to bring them in. My friend said it is actually at all stores. I’m not sure how I’d feel about my shirt being in the bag I had chicken in, but I haven’t done that sort of shopping yet.
    I use any not too holey store bag to bring my lunch to work. It accommodates any variety of containers, and more easily fits in the over crowded fridge. If something spills, I can get rid of the bag vs washing a cloth lunch bag.

    • Interesting. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to charge for the plastic bags–if the store doesn’t, you are paying for it anyway with slightly higher prices. Since we go to Aldi fairly often, I’ve gotten used to taking my own bags there. But I get regular plastic bags at Food Lion and Kroger, because we use them as trash bags.

  10. Well done on making headway in breaking the plastic bag habit! I too am trying to kick that one although my bad habit revolves around shopping bags rather than food storage bags. I seem to forget my reusable shopping bags when I go shopping and then I have to buy more plastic shopping bags at the store. I have a cupboard full of them because I am determined to reuse them in some way to make up for my guilt at adding to the environment burden.
    Hayley @ Disease Called Debt recently posted…Could This Be Why You’re Still Stuck in Debt?My Profile

    • I think we’d be a lot smarter about using reusable bags in the US if we always had to pay for the plastic ones. Instead, in most stores they are “free” (everyone pays slightly higher prices in the groceries) and so most people use paper or plastic. I keep some reusable bags in the back of my car and make a point to put them back when I unload the groceries, but I only use them at Aldi (where you have to pay for bags).

      We do use our plastic grocery bags instead of kitchen trash bags. We use the bags, and it means we take the trash out every day so less smell and less chance of bugs. So I guess in the fact that we aren’t buying and using trash bags, we’re putting less plastic in the landfills.

  11. Giving up bad habits often leads to unexpected rewards too. I quit drinking diet soda and not only does it avoid wasting all the resources for packaging, it cleared up a mental fog I didn’t even know I had! I sleep better, think more clearly, and though I still miss the taste, the benefits more than outweigh the craving now.
    Julie@ChooseBetterLife recently posted…Friday Night DinnerMy Profile

    • I used to drink diet soda daily, and didn’t really think much of it. But Jon’s very anti artificial sweetener, so I haven’t had a diet drink in 10 years. There are supposedly a lot of neurological problems that people who drink a lot of diet soda can develop over time, so I’m happy enough to have quit. Your mental fog seems to confirm that.

      Jon and I mostly stick to coffee, tea, milk, water, and the occasional beer or glass of wine, and that works fine for us.

  12. It’s amazing how the little things really matter. We shop at Aldi’s frequently so we take our reusable bags with us. We still have our supply of plastic grocery bags that we get from other stores. We make sure we reuse them all the time. They get used for baby diapers, trash can liners, garage sales, and quick picnic lunches etc. Saves us a little money and makes us feel a little better!
    Vickie@Vickie’s Kitchen and Garden recently posted…My Frugal Ways this Past week,What Was On the Dinner Table and My Goals for the Week 8/20/16!My Profile

    • We use our plastic grocery bags mainly as trash bags, but I do feel better about getting them since I know we’re going to use them again too.

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