Lauren Singer is “the face of zero waste.” She's the founder and CEO of Package Free Shop, a sustainable boutique in Brooklyn, and the founder of Trash is for Tossers, the blog making sustainability and the zero-waste lifestyle possible.
What does self-care mean to you?
That’s a really good question, and one that I have been thinking about a lot. For the first time in my life, everything is really great: my company is doing well and growing, I’m making money, I have a great team, I’m closer to all of my friends and I have more friends than ever, I’m dating a wonderful person, I have a dog, my family is good, everything is good — but I realized that all of that has come at the expense of me and my personal health. And I think what it means is just putting yourself first and listening to what you need, while also paying attention to the other things that are going on in your life, and recognizing that you can’t have it all. It’s the idea that you can’t run a race if your leg is broken.
What I’ve been feeling a lot lately is that all of this amazing stuff that has happened has very much been at the expense of taking care of myself — I’d rather help a friend who just went through a breakup than eat dinner, I’d rather feed and walk my dog than feed myself, I’d rather stay late for a meeting than exercise... and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve realized that something needs to change in my life to include myself in all of the other successes that I have. I’ve learned that “doing well” and “being well” are two completely different things.
Why is it important to you to live a zero waste lifestyle?
One big thing I learned from reducing my waste was that I was being told that I needed all of these products to look and feel and exude beauty. What I realized through this experience of reducing what I’ve been using and not being able to buy products that are packaged in plastic is that I could use a super-minimalistic amount of products and feel just as good, if not better — and have the control over what I putting in and on my body.
"Beyond skincare and beauty, zero waste has taught me that I don’t need to necessarily believe everything society tells me I need to do. Learning that I didn’t need conventional beauty products and a whole slew of things to feel beautiful made me realize that I could have a little bit more control over my life, and be minimalistic, and also feel good at the same time."
What does your self-care ritual look like?
My beauty routine has been the same for the past five or six years. I still use the toothpaste that I make myself, and now because of Package Free Shop I have access to a lot of really amazing natural products. I use my bamboo toothbrush and biodegradable dental floss, and my skincare routine is simple — I use Meow Meow Tweet’s tea tree charcoal bar soap and their facial oil, as well as organic oils that I make myself. Natasha, a member of the Package Free team, makes all of her own skincare and taught us about oils and how to understand our skin, so I’ve been making some custom blends that I’ve been using with her guidance. All of them are geranium focused, and that’s been a scent and a feeling that has really resonated with me lately. I also love lavender and put organic lavender essential oil straight on my wrists and neck as a natural fragrance.
In the shower I use a Meow Meow Tweet shampoo bar or this other brand that we have at the shop called Plaine Products. It’s a close-loop refilled shampoo and conditioner line, and I use their body lotion as well. And every day I put on lavender oil. I always have my stainless steel Klean Kanteen water bottle with me and I use lip balm, either homemade or by Meow Meow Tweet.
I recently got a dog and also started doing a lot more yoga. Both of those things make me feel exponentially better than I did before. Having a dog, the first thing I have to do in the morning is put on my shoes and go outside and walk her — meaning the first thing I do when I wake up is go outside, which has been one of the best practices for me. And constantly having to go outside throughout the day and even tonight, just walking her when the sun was setting, which we couldn’t see from our offices. I went outside and said to myself, “Wow, there’s a world outside of everything that’s happening in my brain.”
"With yoga, besides the fact that it makes me feel stronger, makes my posture better and makes me feel sexier as a person, what I love about it is that it’s the only thing that I do in my entire life, in my day, in my routine, where I have a few moments to sit down and let my brain do whatever it wants to do."
And the moment I go to yoga and lay down, I realize I haven’t given myself space at all — since the last time I did yoga — to relax and think and be still. Especially when you’re in entrepreneur mode, always buzzing and wondering what’s next, you don’t have that calm. Yoga really helps me check in physically, and it’s been really important for me.
How do you take care of your mental health?
When I first started Package Free I struggled with mental health and not feeling happy. I felt guilty for working and being busy and tired, which are all totally normal things for an entrepreneur to feel. After I got my dog, I actually feel that I’ve been more even and happier than I’ve ever been. And for the first time, I’m attracting people and new friends into my life that are on the same energetic wavelength, even if they’re doing something completely different — people that understand the value in saying no if you’re feeling tired, and give love instead of resentment in those instances, and also people who make it very safe to say, “I need to be with myself tonight.”
This is something that I’ve had to work really hard on in the last year and a half — learning how to say no — because I want to please my employees and please my friends and do good things for everybody, but learning how to say no is something I’m constantly working on and it has helped me a lot in my life. Having a dog also helps, because if someone asks me to go out at night, I know I have to take care of my dog. It sounds very cliche, but it’s really helped me — it’s given me an out that I didn’t have the strength before to call on.
Do you think your business is a form of activism?
Sometimes I grapple with accepting that my business is a form of activism because I’m not on the streets and I’m not yelling — for a long time I thought that was how change happened. My understanding was that you had to have high levels of of outward passion and energy to create change. But when I was a student at NYU, I took a class taught by Jeffrey Hollender, the founder of Seventh Generation, and he was about to embark on a new company called Sustain, which he now runs with his daughter, Meika. In class, he explained to us the impact of the rubber industry, particularly in Sri Lanka, where there was a ton of child labor, unethical practices, and environmental issues — essentially the impact of rubber becoming latex and this naturally-occurring carcinogen called nitrosamines. He then expressed that he wanted to change that industry, and through starting Sustain, is enabling people to grow sustainable rubber, and is influencing so many people to stop buying from companies with unethical practices.
"I used to think that activism and politics were the course to make change, but you know how Broadway in New York just cuts across the whole city? I feel like business is the way to cut through all of the bureaucracy and bullshit; you can scale and make change so quickly."
When I realized that business was such an amazing tool, that’s when I started to get inspired. My first job out of college was in government, and I wasn’t getting anything done and I was feeling very stuck. But with Package Free, I guess you could call it activism, but I think of it more as community service: providing people with tools to make their life better. And tools don’t have to mean physical things that you buy, tools can mean education, which in many instances is more valuable.
It’s about giving people the ability to know that they have a choice in the way they live their lives, which is something that I didn’t know I had before I discovered Zero Waste. I thought that I had to live the life that conventional society and CVS and Duane Reade told me I had to live, and then I learned I could make my own products and live Zero Waste. My role is to show that we do, in fact, have choices and we do, in fact, have power. I think that the community service is helping people recognize their power as individuals to make positive impact. That’s something I feel we all have.
Lauren walking into her store in Brooklyn, Package Free Shop
Do you have an inspiring quote that you keep with you?
I keep a card next to my bed — I think I’ve had it next to my bed for like ten years now — and I read it every day and I think about it constantly. It’s a quote from a Holocaust survivor: “When you’re no longer able to change a situation, you’re inspired to change yourself.” That has been my transition from being a college activist to a business owner. I was trying so hard to change all of these things and make mountains move that wanted to be exactly where they were, as opposed as asking myself what I could do in my own life to make these changes happen.
What does self-love mean to you?
I kind of feel like I’ll let you know when I know. because I’m not really sure if I’m the person that has found self-love yet... but I think that I feel it in instances where I connect with my power as an individual to do something.
"Self-love is a euphoric feeling that is a combination of happiness and gratitude and connectivity. For me, it’s being in the moment and being grateful to be alive."
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The first thing I did was ask myself how I wanted the world to look. Then I asked myself whether I was living a life aligned with that. I realized that in college, I wasn’t, which is how Zero Waste came to be. I was using plastic and I was a walking hypocrite. The first step was aligning my actions with my values. Through doing that, I discovered all of these problems that existed; I realized there wasn’t an easy place to buy Zero Waste products.
"I think the function of business is to solve the world’s most pressing problems, and what I realized is that with problems come the best business opportunities. I think it’s best to solve a problem that’s aligned with your life and is a solution that you need. I’m most inspired by people that see a problem and do something about it."
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
I wouldn’t tell my younger self anything; I think learning how to feel comfortable in discomfort is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, especially in being an entrepreneur. You can’t know everything and you have to get comfortable and trust that in the future, you’ll figure it out. Every problem that I’ve had has opened the door to something better — so it’s trusting in that process and trusting in myself and the world to give me assurance that if I continue to be positive and proactive that everything will be okay. I’ve learned to be more calm and do one thing at a time.
When I was miserable in my government job, crying every single day, I listened to “Abraham Hicks” about the power of intention setting, and it’s something I’ve been doing for 6 years now. Always the basics: “I see myself in perfect health, being happy and having great, faithful love, I see myself traveling safely and getting to my destination without harm, I see my business being successful and having great friends around me.” I’m particularly connected to my gut feeling and body feeling and have a very strong intuition, so it’s been really easy to feel when I’m doing something that’s not in the best interest of what I’m wanting... so setting intentions has been great.
"I think we’re always manifesting, but very often people are doing it subconsciously and manifesting things that they don’t want, without being aware of the ideas they’re putting into the universe."
I really believe in intention setting, manifesting, and paying attention to how you feel, and if you’re in alignment with the things that you’re putting out there.
Editor's notes: interview conducted on January 24, 2019 and edited for length and clarity.