3 Things to Do (Instead of Feeling Guilty) When You “Fail” at Zero Waste

Let me tell you a story about a butternut squash that I found in the fridge. Well, I didn’t find it exactly, because I knew it was there, underneath the silverbeet in the crisper drawer.

Before you tell me that butternut – and other varieties of – squash/pumpkin shouldn’t actually be stored in the fridge, but at room temperature, I’m going to put my hand up and say, yep, I know this.

But it was in the fridge nonetheless.

I suspect what happened was, the veg box arrived, it sat on the side glowering at me for a few hours, and then I decided I’d had enough and piled everything in the crisper/fridge as quickly as possible.

Just because we know what it the best or correct thing to do, doesn’t mean we always do it!

And probably, the fact that it was in the fridge was the reason for what happened next.

Because one day I opened the fridge, and I saw this.

If you hate seeing waste, look away now.

And yes, when I say “one day” I literally mean that I somehow didn’t notice it getting to this point. Clearly it didn’t go like this overnight; but I saw nothing until I opened the fridge and was confronted with this spoiled, rotten and disheveled-looking pumpkin.

And oh, let me tell you about the guilt that followed!

Because I hate waste.

Because I do not identify myself as someone who wastes stuff – so I shouldn’t be wasting stuff, right?

Because I’m organized and I know what’s in my fridge and I don’t let stuff go bad. Except…

Because a farmer went to the effort of growing that pumpkin (and it was organic! Double demerits for me) and then a business went to the effort of sourcing and selling that pumpkin to me. It feels very disrespectful of me to be wasting all that effort.

I have expectations of myself around the way I do things, and I fell short.

Now I’m no stranger to eco-guilt. I think all of us have experienced eco-guilt at some point. When we forget to refuse the plastic straw perhaps, or when we realise the thing we’ve putting in the recycling bin for the last decade is actually not recycable at all.

Basically, if we are not doing everything perfectly all of the time when it comes to trying to live sustainably, there will probably be guilt.

Newsflash – no-one actually does all things perfectly all of the time.

We need time to get those habits ingrained. Sometimes we mess up, sometimes we forget. As beginners it’s easier to forgive ourselves as we are still learning.

But messing up isn’t always limited to beginners. I’ve been conscious of reducing my waste for years now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t mess up! Being more practiced or experienced doesn’t mean slip-ups don’t happen. When they do, I, for one, feel pretty guilty about it.

But the thing about guilt, is that we can deal with it in one of two ways.

We can allow it to crumple us until we feel defeated and like it’s all too hard and what’s the point in trying anyway…

…Or we can take that energy and use it to power our next choice, our next action, and our next commitment.

Let me tell you, the latter option feels infinitely better than the first option.

Dealing with my environmental guilt is something I’m learning how to do. I don’t want to be the person crumpled in a heap, I want to be the one getting back up and dusting myself off.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, but it means I try not to stay feeling guilty for too long.

Here’s some things I do to turn that guilt into useful action.

1. Remind myself that I’m not perfect, but also that I never said I was, that I actually will never be, and forgive myself for being human.

This should be obvious but I think sometimes we forget that we’re humans, and humans mess up sometimes. I know I do. I know that no-one is perfect but I do set high expectations for myself.

I think that’s okay, but there still needs to be room for error.

So yeah, I didn’t mean to let that pumpkin go to waste. But it happened. I guess I won’t be winning the “zero waste perfection” award this year, but I’m okay with that.

2. Ask myself, what can I learn from this?

Most of my eco-guilt comes from falling short of the standards I set for myself. I think it’s useful then, to have a good look at what happened and why I’m feeling guilty now.

I definitely think that I can get complacent around not creating waste. thinking to myself, I’ve been doing this for so long now that of course I won’t waste anything!

So it’s actually useful to get a reality check. There’s always work to do, it’s easy to slip up when we’re not paying attention.

I had a think about why it happened (I shouldn’t have stored that pumpkin in the fridge, I should have kept a closer eye on what was in the fridge) and resolved to do things differently next time.

I can’t change the past, but I have the opportunity to do things differently in future.

3. Choose something to DO to channel that frustration and guilt into useful action.

Forgiveness and reflection are important, but action is better! That energy has to go somewhere, so why not channel it into something useful?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Talk about the “fail” with others. (Just like this!) We all want to share the wins and successes, but talking about failures is equally important. Change is never a straight line, and it’s helpful to others on the journey to see that it’s a zig-zag, not a perfect arc.
  • Share solutions. For example, this got me thinking – I wonder how many people know how to store food correctly? And how many people end up throwing things away prematurely simply because they stored the thing wrong? I’m adding this to my list of future blog posts. That way I can use my mistake to help others choose better.
  • Make your voice heard. Write to companies, manufacturers and businesses to discuss the issues and share solutions. This isn’t relevant to my situation here as I accept 100% of the blame. But say you ordered something and it arrived wrapped in plastic because you forgot to ask about the packaging, or you were given a straw because you forgot to say “no straw”. You can own your part whilst still reaching out to the business to explain and ask them to do better.
  • Make a change. Forgiveness and reflection are two parts, the third part is doing things differently next time. Whether that’s tweaking our routine, or setting up a reminder, or investing in the tools to do things differently, we need to use this guilt to fuel a new way of doing things.
  • Join a group of others taking action. Maybe it’s picking up litter, or making reusable shopping bags, or writing letters; maybe it’s a group of like-minded people getting together to share ideas… But finding a group that’s bigger than you can help channel some of your energy into creating more systemic change.

I don’t know if we can get rid of guilt altogether. Maybe a little bit of guilt is a good thing. It shows we have an awareness of the impact of our actions. I find that feeling a little bit guilty reminds me that these are things that I care about; issues that I care about.

Used right, we can channel our guilt to take action rather than letting it overwhelm us, and do better next time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you suffer from eco-guilt? Is there anything that makes you feel particularly guilty? How have you learned from it, and how do you try to manage it? or do you not have a guilty bone in your body? In which case – tell us your secrets! Wherever you sit on the scale I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share in the comments below!

 

I’m passionate about zero waste and sustainable living, just don’t call me this…

There’s one word I try to use as little as possible when it comes to talking about zero waste, living plastic-free or anything sustainable living related. In fact, I try never to use it at all.

Could you guess what it is?

I’ll tell you, and you might be surprised. Because it’s a word we hear often. Sometimes it’s even prefaced with words like “responsible” or “ethical” or “conscious” – so how could it not be a good word to use, with such honourable descriptors?

The word is this: consumer.

Now, I consume. We all consume. From food and water, to energy, to the things we buy to use and wear and own, we are consuming.

But calling myself a consumer? That implies that the main thing of value I have to offer is my ability to use up resources.

Being first and foremost a consumer means declaring that our best and most valued traits are our shopping habits.

And that is not the case at all.

I just don’t… I just can’t… identify with being a consumer above all else.

When was it decided that we would be reduced simply to consumers, to cogs in the economy, our value judged by what and how and how much we buy?

I try to never label myself (or anyone else) a consumer, and I don’t want to be labelled a consumer. I don’t really want to be called a responsible consumer, an ethical consumer or a conscious consumer, for that matter.

Yes, I try to consume responsibly, ethically and consciously. But I don’t identify as someone who buys stuff. I feel that labelling someone a consumer takes away their power, and says – the only way that you have influence is by shopping.

We have power. To share ideas, to express our opinions, to call out companies, to make our voices heard, to apply pressure to businesses and governments, to vote, to demand change, and to ask for things to be different.

Our power extends far beyond the things we buy.

Let’s not give our power away.

So if we don’t call ourselves consumers, what do we call ourselves instead?

The way I see it: we are community members. We are citizens. We are people (both as individuals and groups) who care a great deal about the planet and our children’s future.

But somehow this label of ‘consumer’ has got pushed to the forefront and rather than saying “I’m a concerned and passionate citizen” we are reducing ourselves to just one part of the whole: a ‘conscious consumer’.

I am so much more than that, you are so much more than that; we are so much more than that.

Now I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “money talks” and the idea that “we can vote with our dollars for the change we want to see”. And I do believe that this is true: we can vote with our dollars.

But voting with our dollars does not have to mean shopping, or buying, or even consuming.

It can mean choosing green energy, or opting for public transport, or donating money to charitable causes, or contributing to organizations whose work we admire.

In fact, sometimes we “vote with our dollars” when we don’t buy anything at all.

I vote with my dollars when I opt out of the formal economy and swap stuff, share stuff, and make do with what I have.

And yes, I vote with my dollars when I shop at the local bulk store, or buy something from the charity shop.

Very occasionally I’m voting with my dollars when I buy something brand-spanking-new from a store, or less frequently, that has to get shipped from interstate.

Because yes, I consume. I try to consume responsibly, and ethically, and consciously. (And minimally yes, but I do still consume.)

That does not reduce me to a consumer.

Did you see the Guardian article published earlier in May which stated that it had updated its style guide to reflect more accurately the environmental crises facing the world?

So “climate change” is now “climate emergency” or “climate breakdown”, and “global warming” is now “global heating”. The editor-in-chief of the Guardian was quoted as saying that they wanted to ensure that they are being scientifically precise, and communicating clearly.

“The phrase ‘climate change’”, she said, “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

The words we use to describe things are important. Stronger language definitely invokes stronger reactions. Climate breakdown clearly has a sense of urgency that climate change does not.

And ‘concerned citizen’ has a power and gravitas to it that ‘responsible consumer’ does not.

Plus, it’s far more accurate.

We cannot make the world a better place simply by consuming better. We have a chance, we have a choice and we have, I think, a responsibility to do more than simply buy things to try to create positive change.

Let’s share ideas. Let’s share resources. Let’s champion those that do good, and hold those that do not to account. Let’s sign petitions, let’s add our voice to campaigns for change, lets write to our politicians and governments. Let’s get involved where we can, and put our energy into things that matter.

Let’s consume consciously. But let’s not give our power away and reduce ourselves to being consumers, first and foremost. That is not who we are, and that is not the limit of what we can do.

The truth is, we will never save the world by shopping.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree, disagree, did you learn something new, have you changed your mind or are you sticking with the status quo? Whatever your thoughts are I’d love to hear them so be sure to leave a comment below!



3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experimenting with Less Stuff (+ 8 Lessons Learned)

How many outfits is too many outfits, how many outfits is not enough outfits… and how many is just enough? I’ve been wondering this question ever since I first started decluttering my wardrobe back in 2012.

At the time I had a whole wardrobe full of things I didn’t like, didn’t fit and that I didn’t wear, yet I couldn’t bear to part with anything.

I thought I’d never be able to shrink it, but as I did I found it actually became easier to let things go. And with each round, I realised I needed less than I thought I did.

I’ve been hovering at the 40 things mark for a while, but I still feel that I probably have more than I need. I still gravitate to wearing the same few things ALL of the time.

I don’t find any joy in having lots of options. Give me my comfortable, most worn-in things any day.

Rather than do another round of decluttering, trying to chase the line where “enough” becomes “not enough”, I thought I’d flip things on their head. Go straight to the “not enough” to see how it felt, and what I learned.

So, I picked 3 outfits to wear for 30 days.

Here’s what I learned.

3 Outfits in 30 Days: Did It Actually Happen?

The 3 outfits consisted of: two pairs of shoes, 1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, 1 dress, 2 shirts (1 sleeveless, 1 short-sleeved), 1 cardigan and 1 denim overshirt.

And yes, I kept to it! The most interesting thing for me was that I didn’t wear the trousers at all.

As someone who lives in trousers, this was surprising – but the weather was a little too hot, and so I kept wearing the skirt. The dress got a bit of wear, but was mostly kept for work-related things and occasions where I needed to be smart.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Loved About the Challenge

I didn’t find wearing 3 outfits for 30 days to be a trial at all, although it isn’t something I’d want to stick to forever. In particular, this is what I loved about it:

1. Making wardrobe choices was easy.

There was absolutely no thinking about what to wear, and I loved this. Wake up, check the weather, dress accordingly (cardigan vs no cardigan). It definitely made the mornings easier.

2. I love wearing the same thing every day.

The challenge really confirmed this for me. I like to wear the same thing over and over. I’m just not someone who takes great (or any) joy in picking out outfits, and accessorizing accordingly.

I get more joy picking up the thing I wore yesterday and discovering it doesn’t need to be washed and I can wear it again today, zero effort required!

I wondered if I would get bored wearing the same thing day in, day out. I did not get bored at all. I relished it! At the end of the challenge I continued to wear the same skirt and shirt for another week at least.

I just don’t need so much variety.

3. Getting 30 wears

I hate waste (you might have noticed) and clothing takes a lot of resources to make. Take cotton – there’s preparing the land to plant the fibres; growing, watering (so much watering!) and harvesting the crops; spinning and processing the cotton into yarn; weaving and dying the fabric; cutting and stitching together the garment, and transporting the finished product to the store.

I’m sure there’s a heap of steps I missed, too.

The point is, it takes a lot to make one garment. If we want to maximise these resources, respect the growers and workers who grew the fibres and manufactured these garments, and not let good things go to waste, we need to wear the things we own, and often.

Lucy Siegle coined the idea of “30 wears” meaning that all items of clothing we own should be worn at least 30 times. (If it isn’t fit for purpose, or we don’t think we will get that much use out of it, then we probably shouldn’t buy it in the first place.)

There’s nothing like sticking to 3 outfits for 30 days to ensure you get 30 wears out of things!

Okay, so even with the skirt I didn’t actually get 30 wears in 30 days (probably more like 27!) but it felt good knowing that I was using what I had to the full potential.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Didn’t Love About the Challenge

As much as I loved the challenge itself, there were a few things that I didn’t love, which mostly centred around the practical.

4. It was a little too limiting.

I’ve already said that I love wearing the same thing again and again, and I do – but sometimes the choice was a little bit restrictive.

On the really hot days it would have been great to wear shorts, but they weren’t on the list. Having a more sensible pair of trousers might have been… well, sensible.

I managed and it was fine. But a bit more choice – even just a couple of items – would make things easier when having to dress for particular occasions.

5. When you have only 3 outfits, laundry becomes challenging. 

With such a small number of outfits, laundry was a challenge.

I could dry clothes outside in a matter of hours. My biggest problem came because I needed something to wear whilst actually washing the laundry.

It wasn’t a problem with the skirt, but it was a problem with the tops.

On a couple of occasions I resorted to wrapping a scarf around me as a makeshift top whilst I did my laundry, because I didn’t want to cheat. I also wore the cardigan as a top (which I hadn’t thought of before, but worked very well).

But it would have been easier to have included a tee-shirt or another top.

Another other challenge came with running the washing machine. My entire wardrobe took up less than half of the washing machine (although there was still clothes for exercising, underwear and socks).

In order to not waste power and water by running it half-empty, I washed my clothes with bedding and towels.

A couple more outfits might have relieved the constant need to be doing the washing (and believe me, I wear things for as long as I can before laundering).

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Lessons That I Learned

I don’t really think I had any big A-HA moments; it was more reconfirming things I already knew or suspected to be true.

6. The more things that I can pair with other things, the better.

What I really liked about the items of clothing that I chose was that pretty much everything could be worn with everything else*.

(*Well, in my opinion they could. I have no idea about fashion and no sense of style, so you may disagree, but in my mind it all works!)

When I realised that both the cardigan and over-shirt could be worn as tops in their own right, I was thrilled! Options galore :)

One of the ideas behind a capsule wardrobe is staples that mix-and-match. Whilst I’ve always known this, realising how much difference it makes when everything goes with everything else has made me determined to ensure that future purchases don’t just go with one or two things… they go with (almost) everything.

Oh and whilst we’re talking about capsule wardrobes, you’ll notice that my wardrobe is not full of pastels or black or muted tones. I like colour, and I think it’s still possible to choose staples that are fun.

3. Quality, quality, quality (and natural fibres).

It was interesting to see the process of an item having 30 wears in such a short amount of time. I don’t launder my clothes after every wear, but with the small amount of items I wore it was noticeable how often they were going through the washing machine.

If I wore a shirt 3 times and then washed it, that’s still 10 washing machine cycles for 30 wears.

It made me realise how often in the past (long before this journey started) that I’d buy clothes based on {cough cough} aesthetics or price alone. Practicality was out the window.

Without realising, of course, that dresses made entirely of sequins are impossible to wash once, let alone 10 times; and tops that cost $2 from a fast fashion store aren’t designed to go through the washing machine and come out the same shape and not pilled and bobbled.

I learned my lessons with both of these things a long time ago.

But a reminder never hurts.

And I think it’s useful to not only ask the question “can I imagine myself wearing this item 30 times” but also the question “will this garment withstand at least 10 washing machine cycles, and probably more?”

Also, when it comes to having less, natural fibres makes a big difference. The red shirt I wore is polyester (purchased from the charity shop). Honestly, I feel like I’m wearing a plastic bag when I wear it, it breathes NOT AT ALL, and it needs washing after every wear.

By contrast, the blue shirt is made of Tencel, breathes beautifully, and can get away with a few wears before washing.

When your wardrobe is minimal, this matters. Yet more reasons to choose natural fibres over polyester.

8. Less is better.

And finally. For me, yes, less is better. When I (finally) reduced my wardrobe down to 40 things back in 2017 I still suspected I could still live with less.

I was right. More importantly, not only can I live with less, but I prefer it this way.

I don’t believe in prescribing numbers of things to own, and I definitely don’t think 3 outfits is a long-term solution for me, but challenging myself to live with less has definitely helped me realise the things I like to wear, the amount of choice I like to have, and the kinds of garments I’ll chose in the future.

And now I’d love to challenge you! You don’t have to pick 3 outfits, you could pick 5, or even 10. Choose a number that you know will test you without driving you crazy, and challenge yourself to wear only those things for 30 days.

You might love it. You might absolutely hate it. Whatever happens, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your habits in the process. Are you in?

Next, I want to hear from you! Are you game to give this a go? How many outfits is your comfort zone? And how many would be a real challenge for you? Have you ever done a challenge like this before – and how did it go? Do you love the idea or hate the idea? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Introducing Less Stuff: A book about changing our relationship with our things, with a zero waste perspective

Today is the day is the day (although actually, it might have been yesterday, I’m not entirely sure) that my new book Less Stuff officially makes its way into the world!

And to mark the occasion I wanted to tell you a little bit about it all.

What’s the book Less Stuff about?

Less Stuff: simple zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter-free life (which is the full title) is a practical guide to changing our relationship with stuff for the better.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

The clutter filling our spaces impacts on our productivity, stresses us out and keeps us stuck. Our stuff stands in the way of the lives we dream about.

But what about when it comes to throwing away all that stuff? After all, there is no ‘away’. Decluttering is great for our mental wellbeing, and when done right it can be good for the planet, too. When we rehome, repurpose or recycle the things we no longer need, we free up existing resources for others and reclaim our homes with less guilt.

Less Stuff is a guide for people who find it difficult to declutter and who don’t want to see things go to waste. Step-by-step, you’ll explore finding your ‘enough’, learn how to let go of your old possessions without sending them to landfill, and eventually break the cycle of stuff. The end result is a planet with less strain, a home with more peace and a life with more meaning.

When we think about zero waste or living with less waste, our first thoughts always go to grocery shopping, or consumables like personal care products. And this is a great place to start because we purchase these things often and use them often.

But at some point in the journey we need to move onto thinking about all the other stuff.

Less Stuff is a book to help navigate making the decisions about what is useful and necessary and what is actually going to waste – and then what to do with it to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill. Because there are plenty of options, when you know where to look.

It’s a book about why, and it’s a book about how. It’s practical with a step-by-step approach.

Where you can buy Less Stuff

You can support your local independent bookstore, and that would be my first suggestion. Alternatively, here’s a list of some online stockists that sell my book:

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks | Rabble Books (the local bookstore where I held my book launch, they have signed copies)

UK Stockists:

Blackwell’s | Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US and Canada Stockists:

Less Stuff is not released in the States until 6th August but you can pre-order here:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | IndieBound

eBooks

Kindle (UK) | Kindle (US)

Wait…don’t I love libraries?

Yes! I absolutely love libraries. I pride myself on having a very small book collection because most of the books I read I borrow from library.

Most, but not all. I didn’t say my non-existent book collection. I own a few titles that possibly the library didn’t stock, or I wanted to own to be able to refer back to the content often, or because I wanted to support the author and their work.

We all know the kinds of books we like to own and the kinds we are happy to borrow. Do what whats for you. If you’d rather borrow Less Stuff than own a copy, that’s awesome and I’m honoured!

So absolutely, if libraries are your thing, please support your local library and borrow my book.

Even if you’re not convinced that Less Stuff is something that you’d like to read, if you’d still like to support my work you can request that your library stocks my book so others have the opportunity to read it.

Is writing a book a zero waste thing to do?

Yes, I do believe it is – well, at least I do for this book. Everything we do has an impact and a footprint, after all – and I still drink coffee and travel by car and wear clothes and use the heating when it’s cold.

We have a footprint but we can be mindful of what we do, and try to make the best choices that we can. If creating a book to help others rethink their waste and to support them in doing so can help with the big picture, then I’m all for that.

So yes, not writing a book at all would use less resources, but I’m not sure its always about the least amount of resources so much as the best use of those resources, and I think this is an important message to spread.

If one book means one less skip bin of useful stuff heading to landfill, then that is definitely a good trade-off.

And you know me and the content I like to write and share – I’ve made this book as practical and useful as possible. That’s the only way it could be.

If a publisher had contacted me and say, hey, we love your zero waste grocery shopping flatlays… how would you like to make a coffee table book for us? Well… that would have been a no.

What steps were taken to make the book zero waste?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

I was pretty fortunate that Waste Not (an excellent zero waste book I reviewed earlier in the year) was published by Hardie Grant books last year, and the author (and my friend) Erin Rhoads had already been through the book-publishing process and asked a lot of the questions that needed asking.

By the time I was on board, the publisher already had answers and was happy to take a zero waste approach.

The cover does have a very thin plastic film. It is a feature most (if not all) flexibound books have – to protect the book and ensure longevity. Less Stuff is a book that is designed to be handled, thumbed through, put down and picked back up again often. A completely plastic-free cover might seem like a purist zero waste approach, but books with dirty fingerprints being pulped because they are deemed to be “damaged” before they are ever read is not.

It’s a balance. In my view, it is better to create a book that will last and can weather heavy handling than create a book that uses no plastic but creates more waste overall.

Why a book and not blog posts?

Books are different to blog posts. The content is different and we use them differently. It is not one or the other. They can both exist. For Less Stuff, I’ve written 42,000 words. Now my blog posts are long… but they are never that long! (More like 1000 – 1500 words).

And a 42-week blog post series might have been a bit dull…

This book is not an “instead of”. It’s an “as well as”. Not everyone who reads books reads blogs and vice versa. It’s a way to reach a different audience, and to share content (and a message) in a new way. That’s pretty exciting.

And finally, a big thank you… to you.

The fact that this book exists at all is in no small part thanks to you. You have been reading my blog, commenting on my posts, sending me emails, sharing your stories and ideas and giving your thoughts so freely for all these years. Not only have you been my audience, but you’ve also provided a lot of the inspiration and motivation.

My journey has been so enriched for having you join me along the way.

Thank you.

This page includes affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.