Tis the season of ‘stuff’: what to do with (and where to donate) gifts you don’t need

I know we haven’t actually got to Christmas Day yet, but I’m writing this now because plenty of gifts (and other things you don’t need) are given before Christmas Day. And if you can, passing it on before Christmas Day means it’s more likely to be wanted (and used) than if you wait until January, when everyone is trying to pass on stuff they don’t need.

Last weekend, I was given a Santa-themed gift bag with a couple of boxes of chocolates by my 92-year-old grandfather-in-law. Despite the fact he doesn’t like gifts himself and insists not to be given anything, he seems to like to give stuff, and every year I receive a similar bag of stuff.

First, I give the gift bag away. As soon as I get home. If I can gift to someone before Christmas, it will get reused immediately. Otherwise it’s got to face a year in storage where it might get bent, chewed or otherwise damaged, and then likely forgotten about anyways.

I almost always give the ‘treats’ away. They tend not to be things that I would eat, high in sugar, dairy and palm oil and covered in plastic. Depending on the year I’ve taken to workplaces, given away on Buy Nothing or donated to a Food Bank collection.

No, I don’t feel bad. People give gifts because they enjoy the act of giving. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep things I don’t want or don’t need. There is no obligation to keep things, and letting go of feeling like there is has been great for my stress levels and mental health.

Instead, I try to make sure these things go to places where they will be used.

If I know someone else wants and will use them, that is the best outcome – for me, for them, and for the planet. (It helps stop others buy new stuff, as they can reuse stuff that already exists.)

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

It’s definitely best to get rid of this stuff before Christmas than after. If you get something you don’t really like, you don’t need to think that you ‘should’ use it as a token gesture this year. Pass it on to someone who loves it and let it be appreciated!

Where to pass on items:

Facebook groups: including Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing groups, the Good Karma Network, Pay It Forward groups and no doubt plenty more.

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like nextdoor.com.

Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues: it’s worth mentioning to people you know that you have things they might want or need.

Gift Food Items

As well as all the places mentioned above, consider donating food items to Food Banks. you’ll often find deposit points spring up in supermarkets and shopping centres this time of year. If you can’t find one, here are some contact details:

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

If the item is something that Food Banks won’t accept, such as homemade preserves or a box of chocolates that you opened to try before deciding you didn’t like them after all, consider trying to pass on via a food waste app like olioex.com.

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

(Recent offers on my local Buy Nothing group include Red Rooster small hot chips, delivered by accident – sadly no takers but only because they went cold before anyone saw the post – and some half-eaten room temperature blue cheese, which was snapped up. Not. Even. Kidding. And good for them for not feeling weird about giving or receiving said cheese! Don’t be scared to give it a try!)

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

I often wonder how many gift sets like this are purchased and never used every year. But I probably don’t want to know. Rather than letting stuff like this languish in the bathroom for the next year, if you’re not going to use it, give it away.

As well as the options listed above, consider donating unopened toiletries to homeless organisations and women’s refuges. Bear in mind that refuges won’t list their actual addresses online, but they will let you know how to donate items.

If you’re in Perth, Ruah Community Services are currently in need of unopened toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Ruah Centre, 33 Shenton Street, Northbridge on Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 4:00pm.

If you’re not in Perth, a quick internet search will help you find a service local to you.

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but try to resist giving anything to the charity shop unless you know for sure (because you’ve spoken to someone who works at your local charity shop this week) that they want what you have. Charity shops get inundated with stuff in the three months after Christmas as everyone tries to ‘declutter’ their unwanted stuff guilt-free.

Thing is, who is actually shopping at the charity shop in January? Not most people. They just got a heap of stuff for Christmas!

The combination of more stuff than usual and less customers than usual is a recipe for landfill.

There are plenty of people who want your stuff and will be able to use it. Rather than hoping they will pass by the charity shop and spot your stuff in there, donate your items directly to those in need of them.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and giving. So give away what you won’t use, make another person happy, save some resources and take a little pressure of the planet. Wins all round :)

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!

5 Mantras for Buying Better

Nobody intends to buy things and not use them, but of course – it happens. We buy clothes that we end up never wearing, we buy tools or gadgets we end up never using, we buy games we end up never playing… and the list goes on.

I, for one, was particularly guilty of buying clothes that I never wore. There were a myriad of reasons for this. I had a tendency to buy things ever slightly on too-small side (wishful thinking on my part), I’d buy things that suited the model on the billboard but not me, I’d buy things that looked nice (on the hanger) but just weren’t practical for wearing to do the kinds of things I actually do.

Oh, and of course I’d totally confuse the “bargain price” as a reason to buy things, without giving much thought to whether they were useful or practical – I was too focused on the “money saved”.

Oh the irony, when I could have saved 100% of my money and bought nothing at all.

This pursuit of bargains started out as sales shopping from regular stores, but when I first started buying things second-hand I noticed another huge spike in my shopping – there was a whole new category of “bargain” to be discovered!

When I began my journey to less stuff back in 2013, I started to notice these patterns in my habits when it came to buying things I then didn’t use. I decluttered slowly, and began appreciating my new-found freedom from yet-another-weekend-of-endless-sorting.

I knew I had to protect this space from a new influx of clutter.

Decluttering is hard work. There was no way I wanted to go through that again! This had to be a one-time journey for me.

I’ve put in place a framework (or call them ‘rules’, if you like!) around how to make better buying decisions. The goal is that I only buy things that I truly need and will use often.

I don’t want to spend my money on stuff I never use that I then feel guilty about and have to tidy up and maintain and look after. No thank you.

Of course I’m not perfect and stuff occasionally slips through the gaps, but having a structure in place really helps with making better choices.

1. Do I Need It?

You’d think this would be obvious. But often we say we need things, meaning – I have to have that! – rather than – I actually need this. If you’ve ever seen a pair of shoes or a handbag or a new gadget or [insert shiny new thing here] and said “ohhhhmygoodness I need this!” then you know exactly what I mean.

We don’t need the thing, but we’re enthralled by it, we love the design or the style or the ingenuity of it, and so we want to buy it.

But often things we ‘need’ (as opposed to things we need) don’t actually get used, or they don’t get used often enough to justify us buying them.

So the first question to ask is honestly, do I need it?

2. Will I Use It (Often)?

We can justify our needs by telling ourselves we will use the item. And maybe we will. But how much? And ultimately, is that worth the price?

One of my favourite rules around this is the idea of ’30 wears’. Meaning, when I buy an item of clothing, do I know that I will wear it 30 times?

This means that for me, items like underpants, jumpers, and comfy jeans get a big tick. And items like fancy dresses purchased for a wedding, formal wear and high heels get a no.

If I can’t see myself going to 30 weddings or 30 formal dinners in the near future, I can’t justify buying the item. I can make do with what I have, borrow from a friend, or maybe hire something.

So when I’m thinking about buying something, I ask myself what would be a realistic amount of use for that item, and whether I would use it that much.

If I need something once, for a specific task, then I try to borrow it instead. I don’t need to own every single thing I might use once. That can amount to an awful lot of (barely used) stuff.

If I need something short-term, then I try to buy second-hand and commit to passing it on to someone else or back to the charity shop when its useful time with me has come to an end.

3. Is It Made to Last (and is it fit for purpose)?

I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it super annoying when stuff breaks. Rather than wait for something to break only to find out that the item is non-repairable and the manufacturer would rather sell me a whole new one, I now think about this before I buy stuff.

So I think about what it’s made of, how it’s made, whether there are any breakable parts, whether it’s possible to buy spare parts should something break, and how easy it would be to fix.

With tech, I try to buy the most up-to-date version I can to make sure it lasts, whilst steering clear of anything that seems like a fad (as someone who had a minidisc player and a VHS collection, I’m well aware that technology gets superceded).

Coming back to clothes, for example, I try to steer clear of anything that is definitely dry clean only (I’m not going to get it dry cleaned – I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals), I avoid excessive embellishments such as sequins (they’ll detach quickly making the garment look old, and I know I’m not going to sew them on again) or anything that I know won’t make it through 30 cycles of a washing machine.

4. Wait 30 Days

So far, so practical – but there’s definitely a place in life for beautiful things, things that we ‘need’ because they bring us joy, or allow us to support an artist whose work we love, or because life is allowed to be fun too.

(I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud, honestly!)

The issue is that there are so many beautiful things, that if we buy them unchecked we end up with a house full of things that are no longer beautiful and fun so much as mess-inducing and overwhelming.

To help me navigate this, I have a rule that I let wants brew for 30 days. If I see something I ‘need’, I leave it for 30 days and then I come back and make a decision.

I don’t make a note, because I think that if I can’t remember after 30 days, I really couldn’t have ‘needed’ it in the first place.

The things that really have a place in my heart, I remember.

And if I come back in 30 days, and the thing has gone, I consider that it just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt there will be something just as lovely – no, probably even more lovely – just around the corner.

5.What Will Happen to It Afterwards?

I don’t like putting things in the bin. You’ve probably noticed. So a big consideration for me is what will happen to this item either at the end of its life, or when I no longer need it any more.

Certain brands, products and materials have a great second-hand market. Take Lego – you’ll rarely see that in the charity shops, and there are sets that are decades old selling for a good price on online classifieds.

Some stuff keeps its value.

So I try to choose products and brands that are made to last and that someone else might want. Whilst I buy things intending to use them forever, it doesn’t always pan out that way. At least I know someone else will want what I have.

For those things that get used until very my life expired? Some materials can be repurposed, reused or recycled. Others can’t. Natural fibres can be composted. Polyester is plastic.

Mixed materials are difficult to separate and that makes it harder to reuse those resources.

I try to give these factors consideration when I bring things into my home, and choose the most recycable or compostable materials.

We can’t predict the future, but we can make best guesses about whether we need stuff and will use it, and we can consider the intended lifespan of this stuff, and how we will let go afterwards.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, but when we choose to buy things, we can do our best to make sure the odds are in our favour. It’s not just about hoping the purchases we make are good ones, it’s about knowing our personal weaknesses, and having a framework to make better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any rules when making purchases to ensure the stuff you buy gets put to good use and doesn’t end up being a waste of money? How do you decide whether to purchase or not? What things do you get particularly stuck on? Any other helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!


3 (More) Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering…And Why You’re Right

After writing last week’s post all about assumptions that we make about decluttering that are actually wrong (no, decluttering something that you never use, don’t need and don’t like is not a waste – you can read all about these assumptions here), I wanted to continue with this theme – but talk about some other assumptions we make that are actually right.

Yes, some of those assumptions we make about decluttering are most definitely right.

I want to talk you through three of the assumptions I made before I started my decluttering journey and that – now I’m out the other side – still hold true.

I also want to talk you through why they aren’t necessarily bad things, and give you some tips for staying on track.

4. Decluttering is hard.

I’m not going to lie or try to pretend otherwise: decluttering is hard. Yes there are people who find it easy to let go of things. (I’m not one of them.) The thing about decluttering is that it is the removal of clutter – and people who are good at letting things go tend not to have clutter in the first place.

The definition of clutter is “an untidy collection of things” and those people who find it easy to let things go do not amass collections of things.

The rest of us – well by the time we realise there are collections of things that bother us, those collections tend to be sizeable amounts. We need to declutter a lot, and it’s hard.

But hard is not impossible.

I think a lot of the “it’s so hard” feeling comes because by the time we notice that we have all this clutter and need to do something about it, it’s becoming a little overwhelming.

We realise it’s overwhelming and we want it gone – now!

But we forget that this stuff took us months and often years to accumulate, so wanting it gone in an afternoon is wishful thinking.

(Well, unless you order skip bin and toss the lot. I think, not only is that an incredible waste of useful stuff, but how can we possibly change our relationship with things if we don’t take the time to consider why we bought these things and why we’re letting go of them now? How will we ever learn the lessons that stop us just accumulating more stuff and having to repeat the whole process again?)

We think decluttering is hard when we think of it as a task, because we then become overwhelmed with the enormity of it. Really, we need to think of decluttering as a project.

We need to simplify into manageable steps.

Divide a Big Project into Manageable Tasks

Once we think of it as a project, we can start to split it down into manageable tasks.

First, we can prioritise our spaces and stuff according to what is difficult and what is easy, what will have a big impact and what will have less impact.

I talk about this in a lot more detail in my book ‘Less Stuff’, but the premise is this: start with the easy stuff that will make a big difference – either to the look or feel of a room, to the surface clutter, or simply for your sanity levels – and start there.

That way you’ll not find it too challenging and will see results quickly – and that keeps you motivated to do more!

The garage might be desperately in need of a clearout but if you know there are still boxes of stuff in there from when you last moved 20 years ago, it’s not going to be the best place to start.

Batch Your Tasks

Second, I’m a big fan of ‘batching’, which means do the same task a few times before moving on the the next thing.

For example, gather together items and sort them into how you’re going to deal with them, and once you’ve got a full box of things to sell or things to donate, move onto dealing with these.

Dealing with one item at a time is woefully inefficient. By the same token, waiting until you have 15 boxes of stuff you’d like to sell will become so overwhelming you won’t want to look at it.

Also, the longer we leave taking action, the more likely we are to convince ourselves that we did need things after all – and unpack those boxes.

So batch. Find a few things you no longer need, decide what to do with those items, deal with them, and then find the next few things.

Decluttering (the entire house) might seem hard, but listing a few books on the Buy Nothing group is easy. Donating some unwanted gift food items to the Food Bank is easy. Selling a couple of unworn dresses is easy.

Decluttering might seem hard, but it is also simple. Let things go, one at a time.

As a wise philosopher once said, a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.

5. Decluttering takes time.

Yes, decluttering takes time. Just as accumulating the clutter took time, letting it go takes time. I don’t believe anyone can (responsibly) declutter a whole house, or even a whole room, in a single afternoon.

I think it takes weeks, sometimes months, and maybe even years (depending on how much stuff we have when we start, and how much time we can dedicate to letting it go).

But taking time does not mean taking forever. There is an end. And you will get there.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

When we declutter, we aren’t just physically letting go of stuff, we’re de-owning it. To do that sometimes means letting go of the ideas we attach to the item. Whether that’s guilt or regret or fear, we attach a lot of emotions to our stuff. We have to let go of these as well as the actual object.

It’s about finding acceptance with who we are now (no, hot pink really doesn’t suit me; no, as much as I love the idea of playing the guitar I know I’ll never be disciplined enough to practice; no, I’ll never fit back into that dress I wore at that party in 1977).

We need the time to learn the lessons. We need the time to test our fears (because sometimes we really aren’t sure, and no-one wants to buy stuff they decluttered back again). We need to develop a new, better relationship with our stuff.

All that time we’re in the process of decluttering stuff but not yet finished, we’re learning.

So yes, decluttering takes time, but that is a good thing. All things that are truly rewarding and worthwhile take time.

6. Decluttering is oh-so worth it.

We know that those piles of things are driving us crazy. We know that “reorganising the linen cupboard – again” is not the best use of a long weekend or day off work. We know that madly panicking just before leaving the house because we’ve no idea where our stuff is, except that it is in one of the piles, isn’t helping our blood pressure levels.

We know that less stuff makes us less stressed. We know it gives us more time. We know it gives us more freedom. Research tells us that, and so do those people who’ve successfully decluttered. I’ve never ever come across an article or a person that said “I got read of all that stuff I didn’t need and was so overwhelmed by the calm and the clear space that I had to go and buy a bunch of pointless junk to fill it again”.

So yes, decluttering is immensely worthwhile. It can be hard, and it can take time, which is why it is so easy to talk ourselves out of it, or maybe justify not doing it at all.

Because ultimately, less clutter, less mess and less stress is worth it. More time, more freedom and more calm is worth it. The work might not be easy, but the results speak for themselves.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.


3 Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering… And Why You’re Wrong

If you care even the teeniest bit about our planet and where stuff goes when we throw it “away”, if you see ‘stuff’ as money spent and resources used, chances are you struggle with the idea of decluttering.

I get it.

This used to be me. There I was, holding onto things I didn’t really need or use, seeing landfill as a terrible waste of resources, and despairing of the clutter all the while.

It took time to change my thinking, and more importantly change my relationship with stuff. It was a process, a slow realisation that I needed to change the way I viewed ‘stuff’.

I’d made a few assumptions about decluttering and waste in my time. It turned out, I was wrong.

Here’s 3 things I thought were true about decluttering, and how I’ve reshaped how I think about them.

1. Decluttering is a waste of resources.

Let’s be clear. Stuff is resources. But the idea that decluttering is a waste of resources comes from the mistaken belief that decluttering means sending stuff to landfill (or perhaps dumping it at the closest charity shop – which can often mean the same thing).

Since when was putting something in the bin the only option for our unwanted stuff?

Yes, putting stuff in the bin is a waste of resources. But finding new homes for our old things, with owners who love what we no longer need and will use it often – now that is an excellent use of resources.

Think about it this way. No-one declutters stuff that they love, need and use all the time. The stuff we are trying to declutter is the stuff we don’t like, don’t need and don’t use.

If we don’t use it, don’t need it and don’t like it, how is keeping it anything other than a waste of resources? Sure it might not be in the bin, but turning our cupboards and storage into mini-landfills (which is what they are, when you think about it) really isn’t saving resources.

Owning stuff we never use is a waste of resources.

If we can pass these things onto people who will use them, we allow these things to realise their full potential. To do the jobs they were made to do. Not only that, we are also helping stop the purchasing of more new stuff. Someone uses our old stuff, so they don’t need to buy new stuff.

Making our things available to others slows down the production of stuff, and remember – all stuff is resources.

What we need to do is find new homes for our stuff. To think beyond the bin, and beyond the closest charity shop. Believe me, someone somewhere wants what you have, and it is far easier to find them than you might think.

As someone who is incredibly passionate about zero waste, I say with full conviction that decluttering can be a very zero waste thing to do, and is an excellent use of resources.

2. That stuff could be useful one day.

Of course on one level this is true. That stuff you don’t like and never use could be useful one day. But often we confuse the fact that stuff is inherently useful with a rather different question – is it useful, and is it necessary, to us?

Being useful isn’t the same as being necessary.

The real question to ask is this. If in this future imaginary scenario where I envisage that this item might be useful, and I didn’t have it, would I actually need to own it?

Or could I make do with something else I already have that can do a similar job? Would I be able to borrow from friends, family or neighbours? What would actually happen if I wanted to use the item and was without it?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It depends a lot on what the item is, where we live and whether we have access to friends, family and neighbours, whether we have access to a vehicle, and the function that the item serves.

Keeping a torch in case there is ever a power failure is a very different scenario to keeping a watercolour set in case we ever decide to take up painting.

So we can be practical about it. We can think about our own situation and circumstances and make sensible decisions around what is likely to be useful, and what is necessary.

And we can agree that yes, all things are useful. But being inherently useful is not a reason to keep things that aren’t particularly useful to us.

Rather than keeping things just in case they might be useful one day, we can pass things onto people who definitely need them now, and intend to use them straightaway. That is a better outcome for those resources.

3. Decluttering is not for anyone on a budget.

The idea of decluttering something, only to realise that actually it was needed after all, and having to buy it back again, does not sit well with anyone on a budget. (Nor does it sit well with anyone who thinks that shopping is not a great use of their time.)

This argument is used often when talking about decluttering – if we realise we need it we can buy it back – because almost always, we won’t regret that decision and actually want to buy it back.

But what if this thing we declutter is the exception? What then?

In the same way that decluttering doesn’t have to mean going in the bin, it doesn’t have to mean giving stuff away for free, either. It is perfectly possible to sell items that we no longer need – either using online services such as auction and classifieds sites, social media marketplaces, or in-person services such as car boot sales, swap meets and garage sales.

Online services have made it possible to connect with buyers beyond our suburb, often nationally and even internationally. They also provide an easy way to find out what our stuff might be worth, and what other people are willing to pay.

The great thing about second-hand stuff, is that it tends to lose its value fairly slowly. Meaning you could sell an item second-hand, change your mind once it is sold and buy back a similar item for a similar price.

With technology it works out even better, because models get superceded so quickly, so re-buying something later for the same price means getting a more advanced version.

Budgets are a reality for most of us. When deciding what your budget can handle, consider these questions:

  • How readily available is the item? Would you expect every charity shop in the country to have one? Is it something that has daily new listings on the online classifieds?
  • How much it might cost to buy-back second-hand? How does that fit with your expendable income?
  • How practical and easy is it to re-buy the item? Is it local, is a vehicle required?

Considering these questions first can help make an informed decision about whether we really need to hang onto something or not.

It might not even be necessary to buy it back – it may be possible to find it for free. There are plenty of “free stuff” websites and networks where items are given away free of charge. Freecycle, Freegle and the Buy Nothing network are just a few great examples. You can read more about buying less (new) stuff in this post.

Budget or not, we’ve got to remember that the stuff we declutter tends to be the stuff we don’t use, don’t need and don’t like. Why then, would we actually want to buy that stuff back?

It’s helpful to try to understand if this is a truly practical consideration for us, or a fear masquerading an an excuse that’s probably unfounded.

For most of us, decluttering does not come easy. But when it comes to the excuses we make or assumptions we believe around why we don’t want to pass on our old things, it could just be that we’re looking at it under the wrong lens.

The fact that things are inherently useful does not necessarily mean they are useful to us. And yes, budgets and expendable income are an important consideration – but we can still be pragmatic. Most importantly of all: decluttering does not have to mean waste.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Whether you’re proficient at decluttering, or novice; someone who finds it easy to let go, or someone who wants to hold onto everything; somebody who hates the idea of waste or someone who loves to find new homes for old things, we want to hear your stories! Share your experiences, struggles, successes and any thoughts at all below!

6 Places to Declutter To that Aren’t the Charity Shop (or the Bin)

I think decluttering is both a good thing (for our sanity and our stress levels), and a zero waste thing to do. Yes, a zero waste thing. Let’s make no mistake: keeping stuff in our homes that we don’t like, don’t need and never use is a terrible waste of resources.

Of course, yes, the most zero waste thing of all is to buy things once, cherish them forever, use them often, and pass them onto our children and grandchildren. But many things are not designed for this, good intentions don’t always work out, items date, technology is superceded, and our lives (and our minds) change over time.

So sometimes we have things we don’t like, don’t need and never use in our homes. But chucking this stuff in the bin or offloading at the nearest charity shop even though we’re pretty sure the stuff we are offloading isn’t definitely saleable definitely isn’t the best thing to do with it.

Which is often why we don’t declutter the things we no longer use. We don’t want to throw things in the bin, but we don’t know what else to do with them. So we let them languish in cupboards and drawers, and we feel guilty every time we see them.

Decluttering does not come down to just two options: landfill or closest charity shop. There are so many other places to take our stuff, and ways to find new owners for things we don’t need.

Keeping our stuff in circulation and giving others the opportunity to use these things is the best thing we can do for this stuff. This is how we declutter, zero waste style.

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

The most well-known online auction site is eBay, with 39 country-specific sites, and a presence in 100 countries. But it’s not the only option, and many other smaller auction sites exist with cheaper fees.

These sites have a national and sometimes global audience, making them ideal for items that can be mailed easily (meaning things that are lightweight or easy to pack, such as small electronics, clothing and homewares).

These auction sites are great for connecting your stuff with buyers looking for that item or brand. It’s also useful for people looking for parts, or even items in need of repair (particularly electronics).

Many high quality, unusual or valuable items can be missed in charity shops because they rely on foot traffic and opportunistic sales. With auction sites, customers can browse but they can also search specifically for things they need.

The price of your item and postage is quoted upfront to potential buyers, who will factor these costs into their bids. Listings on eBay can begin at $0.01, so you can still give things away on these sites. And you can cover the postage yourself, if you prefer.

Whilst pick-up only is an option for listing bulky items, there are better platforms to use.

Online Classifieds

I’m a huge fan of Gumtree, which is currently the number 1 online classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. American readers will probably be more familar with Craigslist.

There are also some newer kids on the block such as LetGo, Preloved and Shpock.

Online classified allow you to upload an image (or multiple images) and either set a price or offer the item for free. Most sites are free to use with paid upgrades available.

Classifieds often appeal more to local users, with items like furniture, tools, larger kitchen appliances, bicycles and white goods being easy to pass on. Buyers will collect from your home and can inspect the item before they take it.

Again, people will take broken items for parts and damaged items for repair, so it is worth posting these items and seeing if there is a response. Items can be listed in less than a minute, and it never hurts to try.

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

Charity shops take items to resell, but charities and non-government organisations also collect items to repair and reuse, or pass on to underprivileged communities and groups both locally and overseas.

Animal charities accept blankets, towels and other bedding, old toys, accessories, and food donations.

Women’s refuges, homeless shelters and refugee organisations may accept bedding, furniture, clothing, toiletries, white goods, small appliances and more. The Refugee Council of Australia has a database of refugee organisations accepting donations and what types of goods they accept, which will also give you an idea of the kinds of items that are wanted.

Other organisations focus on specific items: old glasses (they can often be dropped at a local optician and will be tested before being redistributed), sports equipment (Fairgame collects and redistributes equipment across Australia), computers and old electronics, bras, bicycles and more.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with people in your area, and find new homes for your stuff. I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing project, which operates as a series of hyper-local Facebook groups. No-one is allowed to join more than one group – the one where they live.

The advantage of decluttering items using the Buy Nothing group is that all the members are your neighbours, so travel time is negligible and journeys are often combined with regular commutes, shop visits or school drop-offs. This means people will be far more willing to take items off your hands than if they had to hop in the car and drive across town.

There are other Facebook groups that work in a similar way, such as the Good Karma network on the east coast of Australia. There also many zero waste groups that allow the offering of stuff (glass jars are always particularly well received).

There are even a few groups called “Give Away Free Stuff” – exactly what we need to find new owners for old things!

Online Neighbourhood Networks

These are neighbourhood networks, a little like the Buy Nothing project or Good Karma Network except rather than being run through Facebook, they have their own platforms. Nextdoor is one of the fastest growing sites. Whilst they aren’t solely for the giving and receiving of second-hand stuff (they also deal with lost pets, neighbourhood watch type issues and other things), sharing is a large part of their service.

Alternatively, Freecycle (and Freegle in the UK) are neighbourhood sites solely dedicated to the passing on and accepting of free stuff.

People You Know

Last but not least, don’t forget that you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your stuff. Probably not everything, but it is worth asking. You could ask people directly or post on social media.

If they are not people who generally shop at second-hand stores it is a good way to gently entice them into the preloved life, and they might be more willing to take things from people they know (you!) than buy from a stranger.

Sometimes exploring these avenues still draws a blank. Even then, there’s still the option of ensuring the materials are recycled rather than putting in the bin. But there’s so much to say about that, it is another post entirely!

The truth is, someone, somewhere wants what we have. We can do our best to find a new owner for our old things. We may not always find somewhere, but it takes minimal effort to ask the question, to do a quick google search for local organisations, or to pop a photo on an online site.

Stuff is useful. Resources are valuable. Success isn’t guaranteed, but we have to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your best solutions for re-homing unwanted items? What is the most unexpected item you’ve managed to successfully re-home with someone else? Anything that you particularly struggle with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Experiments with Less Stuff: 3 Outfits for 30 Days

There’s nothing quite like writing a book about decluttering and living with less stuff to make you re-assess all the things you own, and question again whether the things you have are really being used to their full potential.

Things left languishing in cupboards and drawers barely used? That isn’t the best use of those resources. And all stuff is resources – materials, time and energy went into making these things.

When I own something I barely use, and I know I would make do with something else if I didn’t own it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to keep it. It makes more sense to find a new owner who will use and love the things that I do not.

That’s not to say everything I own is used all the time. I own swimwear even though I’d hardly call myself a beachgoer; I own a selection of baking tins even though I’m not busting them out every weekend.

It’s all about balance: what’s practical, sensible and what’s good for our sanity. Even if I only go swimming occasionally, I need swimwear. In my world, brownies are square and sponge cakes are round. That’s just how it has to be.

But living with less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer need, use or love. It’s about developing a new relationship with stuff. Not just our stuff, but all stuff.

We can see stuff for what it really is: resources, time, craftsmanship and effort. We can be honest with ourselves about whether stuff is practical and useful to us, or whether the stuff’s usefulness will be short-lived; destined to become clutter, and landfill.

And when we buy things and bring them into our homes, we can make sure we maximise their use. If we realise later that things are not being used to their full potential, we can re-home them so that they get the use they were designed for.

Decluttering, for me, is not about clearing space to buy new things. It is about respecting resources, and ensuring the stuff we have and do not use does not go to waste. Decluttering is not synonymous with chucking stuff in the bin.

Instead, it is an opportunity to make good our perhaps-not-so-good-after-all choices.

But of course, no-one wants to declutter things only to realise later on that they needed them after all.

Which brings me back to where I started: reassessing the things I own.


One area where I struggled for a long time in my de-owning journey was wardrobe decluttering. I had so many clothes, nothing to wear, and couldn’t part with anything! The idea of reducing my wardrobe by half, down to 100 things seemed almost unachievable, yet when I finally got there I realised: I still had too much stuff.

Eventually I reduced my wardrobe down to about 40 things. It was no longer overwhelming, and everything I owned I liked and wore – but I knew that really, I still had too much stuff.

The thing is, I am one of those people who just likes to wear the same few outfits all of the time. I live in the same few things, and I like it like that. Most of the people I know would be surprised I even own 40 items of clothing!

The goal with decluttering and de-owning is to find our “enough”. We don’t want too much stuff but we don’t want to be left with not enough, either. But figuring out the point between “too much” and “too little” where “just enough” lies takes time.

When it came to my wardrobe, I didn’t think another round of decluttering would be that useful in helping me find this “enough”.

Instead, I decided to go all the way to the “too little” side, and live over there for a month, to really test what I need and what I don’t.

3 Outfits for 30 Days

A couple of years ago I followed a woman on Instagram who decided to wear one dress for an entire year. It actually wore out half way through, and was replaced with another dress, but she completed the challenge and decided she loved the freedom it gave so much she would wear one dress for life.

That’s definitely a little too little for me (what would I wear when I need to wash the dress?!) but it got me thinking. What would realistically be the minimum viable number of outfits I could wear?

I asked myself a few questions, such as what different types of outfits did I need, what occasions did I need to consider, and what was practical (thinking about the climate, weather and my ability/willingness to do – and dry – the laundry often).

I need clothes that are suitable for presenting in, working in and lounging round the house in.

As for climate, the month of March is late summer/early autumn here in Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate: it’s warm enough to do laundry, hang it outside and bring it in dry a few hours later. It might be cardigan weather in the evening, but it is pretty warm during the day. Rainfall is minimal and short-lived.

With all this in mind, I decided on 3 outfits for 30 days.

1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, and 1 dress. 2 tops, a cardigan and a denim shirt. Plus a pair of leggings if necessary.

(My 3 outfits doesn’t include clothes for exercising, which I’ll still wear.)

I started on 4th March, and I’ll report back once the 30 days are over.

The goal is not to convince myself that this is all I need. The goal is to figure out what works, what is missing, and what things I would prefer to have (and not have) to make my wardrobe work better for me.

The goal is to experiment with less so I can find out where my “enough” lies on the scale.

It’s not so much about deciding which of the things I own I need or don’t need; more about helping me get clear on my future choices.

Owning less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer use. It’s about understanding why we made the choices we made, learning from our mistakes, and getting clear on exactly what we need and what we’ll use.

If we know what we need and are pragmatic about what we’ll use, not only do we end up with less stuff: we use less resources, reduce our footprint, and create less waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever taken part in a “less stuff”, decluttering or minimalism challenge? What were the rules? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you learn anything? Were there any surprises? Or do challenges like this fill you with dread? Any other thoughts? Please share below!


Second-Hand First: 8 Ideas for Buying Less (New) Stuff

I think we are all agreed, there is a lot of stuff in the world. Too much stuff, some might say. And if we want to reduce our footprint, it is much better to own less stuff, share more stuff, and avoid buying the shiny new stuff where we can.

But how do we go about that, exactly?

Answer: there are loads of places to look. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and move onto the less-than-obvious ones. Let me know of anything I’ve missed in the comments!

1. The Charity Shop

I’m pretty sure all of us have given stuff to the charity shop in our time. Homewares, clothing, toys, books… we love to donate our old unwanted things to the charity shop.

But you know what is even better than donating stuff to the charity shop? Buying stuff from the charity shop.

It isn’t enough to donate our old stuff to the charity shop, and then go buy our replacement items from the big box or department store. Charity shops only sell about 15% of everything that is donated.

The donations that don’t even fit inside the charity shop far outnumber the things on sale…

To close the loop, they need us to buy more things from them.

They don’t need us to donate stuff. They need us to buy stuff.

2. Online Classifieds and Auction Sites

Online classifieds such as Gumtree and Craigslist are a great way to find second-hand items locally, (great for fragile, oversized or heavy stuff) and online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to find items further afield (better for lightweight and easy-to-post items).

I’m a big fan of platforms like these (and I talk about the ins and outs a lot more in my book) because of the way they allow sharing of stuff – most often for a price, but sometimes for free.

3. Online Neighbourhood Networks

Online platforms allow us to connect with our neighbours – some with the sole purpose of buying selling, donating and borrowing stuff, and others with more broad community engagement over things like activities, security and pets.

Some platforms have dedicated membership sites (such as Nextdoor and Streetbank), whilst others use Facebook or Google groups (a quick search will reveal your local options).

Even where these platforms are national and international, it doesn’t mean they will be active in your area so have a look and decide if they are something to pursue or not.

4. Buy Nothing Groups

I could wax lyrical about the Buy Nothing Project all day. In fact, I do. The project is a network of Buy Nothing groups, which exist to help us share with our neighbours, and they operate via Facebook. What makes them unique is that members can gift, accept and borrow things, no money (or even trade) allowed.

And it’s only possible to join one: the one where we live.

The things that are given away would surprise you – both for how great the items are, and for how crazy obscure they can be, too. I’ve been gifted a Dell computer monitor, an almost-new pair of shoes and a desk and chair via my local group.

But it’s not all glamour – I’ve also taken a half-eaten jar of chocolate peanut spread and given away a semi-chewed dog toy. Trust me, almost anything goes.

5. Freecycle and Freegle

Similar to the Buy Nothing groups in that items are offered for free, Freecycle (worldwide) and Freegle (UK) are networks of people sharing items. The platforms are less user-friendly than social media or other newer networks, but they do the job.

6. Verge Collections

Verge collections are the stuff of (my) nightmares. Most councils in Perth allow 2 or 3 verge pickups per household per year, and offer this service for free (well, included in council rates). It works like this: residents put all of their unwanted stuff out on the front lawn, a truck comes along and squashes it into little pieces, and off it goes to landfill.

Cue, sobbing from me.

Every time, the streets are laden with stuff. People throw out 5 mattresses at a time, they throw out perfectly good kids toys. They throw out kitchen appliances, furniture, equipment and even cardboard, metal and other recyclables.

Sometimes every house on the street can have a pile like this of mostly usable stuff, ready for landfill.

Some people love to rummage through the piles and score great stuff. Keeping an eye on verge collection dates in the more affluent suburbs can mean excellent finds, but every suburb has something to offer. I rarely go on the hunt (it upsets me too much), but I’ve rescued wooden garden chairs, an outside table, a worm farm, storage boxes and heaps of garden pots (including some terracotta ones).

The downside of verge collections is that for all the great stuff rescued, there is plenty of great and still-usable stuff going to landfill.

7. Borrowing Stuff

Borrowing stuff can be formal, such as joining the library. They have so much more than books – they have magazines, CDs and DVDs and board games. If you don’t want these, tool, toy and “things” libraries also exist.

Or borrowing can be informal: from friends, family, colleagues or neighbours. If we don’t know our neighbours, the Buy Nothing groups are a great way to make a borrow request.

This is how I was able to borrow a screwdriver to fix my coffee machine (the seal needed replacing).

We often confuse the need to use something with the need to own it. Maybe we need a gadget for a particular recipe, or a hook in the wall to hang a picture. But we don’t necessarily need the blender or the drill. We just need to use them. So we can borrow them instead.

8. Hiring Stuff

Almost everything is available for hire, but these services aren’t as popular as they should be. We can hire dresses and suits, tools, furniture, glasses and flatware – and yet time and again, we buy it instead. My suspicion is that many people think hiring is a false economy – shelling out money for something with nothing to show at the end of it.

For me, this exactly the reason why hiring stuff is so great. We get to use things, then give them back for someone else to use – and we never have to worry about them again.

Not only do hired items arrive clean and ready to go; the hire company is responsible for maintenance. With glass hire, did you know many hire companies will also do the washing up for you?

We forget that it isn’t just the cost of buying stuff. It’s also the cleaning and the storage and maintenance. Because it’s only twice or three times as expensive to buy the champagne glasses rather than hire them, we buy them. We reason we will use them again. Maybe we will – but maybe not.

Once we own them, we have to clean them, and store them. We might need to buy more storage. This is how we end up with big houses with bigger rooms – to accommodate all this stuff.

There’s plenty of stuff already in the world. There’s plenty of stuff in great or usable condition, just waiting for a new owner to maximise its potential. There is absolutely no requirement to buy everything new.

It may not even be necessary to buy it at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for finding second-hand items, or avoiding buying stuff? What are your favourite groups or networks? Is this something you struggle with, and what would make it easier or more accessible for you? Anything else to add? Please share in the comments below!

6 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying

Living with less waste is very firmly linked to the buying of less stuff. The less we buy, the less resources we use, the less packaging we invite into our homes, the less storage we need (don’t forget, storage is stuff), and the less we end up recycling or landfilling down the track.

But it can be very hard to stop buying stuff. After all, everywhere we look, there are adverts or people persuading us that the thing they have is exactly what we need. Whether it’s on the TV, billboards, printed magazines or newspapers, social media feeds, internet banner ads or somewhere else, we are exposed to a lot of adverts.

And everything can be posted everywhere.

Not to mention, there is a lot of beautiful, useful stuff out there in the world.

With all this in mind, it is really not surprising that we keep buying stuff. But most of us have more than we need, and would rather decrease the clutter than add more to it.

If we want to live a low waste lifestyle, and save resources, we really need to buy less stuff.

But how?

Here’s 6 things I did to get out of the habit of impulse buying.

1. Unsubscribe from ALL Shop Email Lists (and anything else that is way too salesy)

I used to sign up to store mailing lists as they promised me discounts and to be the first to know about all their special offers. Turns out, pretty much everything is on offer pretty much all of the time. But by keeping their stuff in my face, they were wearing me down, and encouraging me to buy things I didn’t even know existed until I saw the ad.

I wasn’t saving money by being on these mailing lists, I was spending more.

The truth is, I know when the big sales are on. I don’t need the stores to tell me. Black Friday, Boxing Day, the end of the financial year. If I want something from these stores, I can go to their websites at these times to see if they have offers. They don’t need to come to me.

And if I forget? Well, that just means I didn’t really need anything in the first place.

As well as unsubscribing from store email lists, I also unfollow any businesses or people I feel were too salesy. I don’t block everyone who ever posts an ad (but you could!), I just weigh up the balance. If I enjoy the feed, find the content useful and don’t feel under pressure to buy or constantly exposed to “stuff”, I’m happy to stay following.

But as soon as the balance tips and I realise I’m just seeing a bunch of covert (or not!) ads, then I’m done.

2. Don’t Browse Catalogues or Websites Out Of Boredom

I remember a couple of years into my minimalism journey, receiving a catalogue from David Jones through the mailbox (for those outside Australia, David Jones is a fancy high-end department store). I flicked through it and saw all the purple kitchen accessories and nautical themed clothing, with cute anchor accessories and smart blue-and-white striped everything.

I didn’t own any of those things!

Immediately I felt inadequate, and a small voice in my brain started to tell me that I needed to own a blue nautical stripy jumper, and really, wasn’t it time to upgrade the kitchen spatula?

At the same time, my experience of minimalism told me this was absurd. Luckily I’d been on the less waste, less stuff journey for long enough that the stern, don’t be so ridiculous voice in my head was louder, and won out.

I put the catalogue in the recycling, and vowed never to flick through another catalogue again. (Oh, and I got a “No Advertising Material Accepted” for my mailbox. It works wonders.)

As someone on the less waste, less stuff journey I didn’t think I’d be tempted, but I was. The pull of these things can be pretty strong.

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way. Don’t go to store websites unless there’s something you absolutely need. Don’t browse out of boredom. Don’t browse for “inspiration” – you’ll end up spending money you didn’t mean to.

Don’t open the shopping catalogues. (If they arrive in the mail, strikethrough your address and write “Not at this address, return to sender” on front, then mail it straight back where it came from.)

Instead, find another way to alleviate your boredom. Read a few pages from a book, go for a walk, play a game, message a friend, whip up some tasty treat in the kitchen.

The less we expose ourselves to “stuff”, the less tempted we are to buy stuff, and the less we buy.

3. Don’t Go To The Shops Without A Reason

If we are trying to stop buying stuff, browsing and window shopping are not reasons to go to the store. Unless there is something we need, and we have a list that we are prepared to stick to, we must resist the temptation to head to the shopping centre.

What you don’t see you won’t buy.

When it comes to writing lists, more specific is better. Rather than “a top for work”, think about what you really need. “A short-sleeved top, preferably green or blue, that will match the skirt and trousers I already own” is a much better instruction. Rather than “stuff for dinner”, look in the fridge and pantry, figure out what is already there and what would be most useful. “Potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas” might allow you to use up what’s already in the fridge, and create less food waste.

If we are vague about what we need, we will end up with things we don’t need.

If friends want to meet at the shops, try to suggest meeting somewhere else. If that is not an option, consider opting out, especially if the purpose of the meeting is to go (window) shopping. There are plenty of fun things to do with friends that do not involve buying stuff. Try to steer future meetings away from the mall.

4. Learn the Difference between “Useful” and “Necessary”

So much stuff is beautiful, and so much stuff is useful – but that doesn’t mean we need to buy any of it (and definitely not all of it). Often we confuse “useful” with “necessary” when it comes to making purchases, and the two are very different.

The question isn’t “how will the item be used” so much as “how will I use it”? Or even, will I use it? Not once or twice, but consistently, regularly.

Stuff doesn’t just need to be useful. Stuff needs to be used.

Necessary can mean different things to different people. Good reasons include making our life easier, making us less stressed, saving a noticeable amount of time or anguish, providing entertainment, and helping keep the peace at home.

Here’s a few questions to ask to decide if something is actually necessary, or merely useful.

  • Do I need it? I mean, do I really need it?
  • How will I use it? Where will I use it? When will I use it? How often will I use it?
  • Will it still be useful in three months time? Six months time? In a year?
  • Is there anything else I already have that can do that job?
  • How will it make my life better?

If in doubt, go without.

5. When You See Something You Want, Don’t Buy It – Let it Simmer

If you see something that you want, or even something that you think you need, resist the urge to make the purchase. For now.

Put down the purse, walk away, and let it simmer.

(Unless the item has been on your “I absolutely must purchase this if I ever see it because it is so inherently useful and necessary” list for at least 6 months – but I’m betting you don’t actually even have a list like this.)

See how you feel about the item later that day. See how you feel about it the next day. See how you feel about it in a week.

This is hard when there’s stuff in the sale, or on the “when it’s gone, it’s gone” rail, because marketers use scarcity to encourage us to buy stuff. We’re not sure if we want it, but if we don’t buy it, we might make a mistake! It might not be there tomorrow! Someone else might snaffle it instead!

But that’s not our brain doing a rational assessment of whether we really need or will use something. That’s our ‘fear of missing out’ talking. Since when was that guy in charge of our purchasing decisions?

In a week, if you are still adamant that you need and want the item, buy it. Worst case, you wait a week, decide you want the item, and it is gone. I’m betting that you’ll still be able to find the item somewhere else, or wait for it to appear second-hand online in no time.

Absolute absolute worst case, that doesn’t happen, and you miss out on the thing forever. The good news is, it is only a thing. There will be plenty more things that we want to buy over the course of our lives.

Life will go on.

6. Find a Way To “Reward” Yourself That Isn’t Shopping

If buying stuff is what you do when you’re bored, miserable, dejected or struggling with life, and you want to stop buying stuff, then you need to find a new way to make yourself feel better. Because trying to stop impulse buying, only to buy stuff as a means to soothe ourselves, is counter-intuitive. (It’s like going on a diet, and rewarding ourselves with chocolate cake. Tasty and satisfying in the moment, but it undoes all the good work.)

The good news is, there are plenty of other feel-good things to do. If you need cheering up, think of something that you enjoy that doesn’t involve shopping. Watch a movie or comedy show, bake a cake, stroll around the park, or make time for a cup of tea with some friends. Join an exercise class, learn a new language, or take up a new skill.

There are much more rewarding and enjoyable things to do than shop, and much better ways to use our money than buying “stuff”. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but each time we say no and resist the urge to open our wallet, we get a little closer.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you an impulse shopper? Did you used to be an impulse shopper? How did you learn to change? Is it something you’re currently trying to change? What are your biggest tips for not spending? Do you have any impulse shopping weaknesses? (Chocolate, hello!) Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Things You Need (No Purchase Required) To Go Zero Waste

I believe that less waste is firmly linked to less stuff. Yes, I do have a bunch of reusables, and yes I use them and find them useful. But the focus of the zero waste conversation doesn’t need to be around “stuff”.

Rather than talk about the things we can buy to reduce our waste, I wanted to talk about the things we can do, and the ways that we can change our thinking.

Because we can have all the zero waste reusables in the world, but without the right attitude and mindset we’re going to end up frustrated, defeated…  and those reusables will end up languishing on a shelf.

Instead of creating another one of those “5 Things You Can Buy” posts, I thought I’d create a “5 Things You Can Be” post for going plastic-free or zero waste.

A little encouragement, with no purchase required.

1. A Can-Do Attitude

If we want to achieve something, we have to believe it is possible. That doesn’t mean we have to think in absolutes. Let’s be realistic about what is possible, for us, and build on that.

Too many people trip up thinking oh, I could never be 100% zero waste, or I could never do all my shopping at the bulk store, it is too expensive. But there’s no rule that says you have to do that. Not being able to do everything is no reason not to do what we can.

If 100% zero waste or plastic-free isn’t for you (and let’s be honest, in today’s economy, with today’s systems, it is impossible to achieve 100%), decide what is for you.

Choose a different percentage, or even better, choose how much you want to improve by compared to where you are now. Maybe you’d like to reduce your bin by half, or maybe you’d like to make one swap every month until Christmas.

If the bulk store is too expensive, commit to doing 10% of your shopping there, or just buying your herbs and spices there.

Too often people assume it has to be all-or-nothing, and if they can’t do it all it doesn’t count and they shouldn’t bother. Wrong. It all counts. Every single action counts.

What you need is a goal that is achievable and realistic for you, one you can feel good about and know is within your grasp. Ideally one that involves no comparison with what anyone else is doing. That will keep you upbeat as you work on making change.

Let’s not forget that there will be slip-ups, mistakes and moments where it all gets a bit too hard. See them for what they are, part of the learning process, and know that despite any backwards steps, you can do this.

2. A Focus on Solutions

There are a lot of things about the world that could be a whole lot better. It can be a little overwhelming to think about it all. So don’t.

We can recognise that there are a huge amount of things that we care about and want to see changed – climate change, peak oil, farming practices, the food system, plastic pollution, over-use of plastic in manufacturing, animal welfare, deforestation – whatever the things that are closest to to your heart.

This is our sphere of concern: the stuff we care about.

From there, we can think about what we are in control of, or can influence. We might not be able to influence the political decisions made by leaders in foreign countries, but we still have influence on others and the world around us.

We can write letters, or join campaigns. We can support local events, or create our own.  We can pick up litter, or choose to boycott unethical companies. We can refuse single-use plastic, and we can buy second-hand.

This is our sphere of influence: the things that we can do.

Try to spend less time worrying about the things that you cannot change, and more time doing the things you can to make the world better.

For specific problems, tackle them one at a time, and find a solution. Ask the internet. Talk to friends or colleagues. Try different things. Someone, somewhere, will probably have a solution to the problem staring you in the face.

And if you really can’t find a solution, put it aside, for now. It is in the sphere of concern, but not our sphere of influence (yet). Move onto the next concern, and look for a solution for that.

3. Some Creativity

If you don’t think you’re creative, don’t panic. You don’t need to be – you just need to find others who are. People are always coming up with great solutions and hacks for different problems, and the internet means they are freely shared.

Saying that, creative doesn’t necessarily mean artistic. I consider myself to be creative in the kitchen – but you won’t find me making cute cupcakes or icing cakes worthy of best-in-show rosettes. No, my creativity is based around my ability to make a meal out of almost anything. I am a dab hand at using up fridge dregs! Not Pinterest-worthy, but tackling food waste gets my creative juices flowing.

Maybe you know how to sew. Maybe your mending skills are extraordinary. Maybe you know how to fix stuff. Maybe you know how to make stuff. Maybe you can find a use for anything. Maybe you’re full of upcycling ideas.

Whatever your creative outlet is, use it in your journey to zero waste. Share it, if you can. And use the creative outlets of others to help you with the things you’re less good at.

4. Healthy Scepticism

I believe it’s useful to question things, particularly claims about eco-friendly credentials that a business or product might have, or those headline-grabbing claims that companies often spout. Read the fine print. Ask questions. Become your own investigator.

There is a lot of greenwashing and misleading information out there. I was someone who used to take these claims at face value. If it said “eco-friendly” on the packaging, that was good enough for me! But of course, claims like this aren’t regulated. We need to do our homework.

Any business can decide its product is eco-friendly and stamp it on the front of the box. Any business can make a media statement promising to ban plastic/single-use items/non-recyclable packaging by several years into the future. But claims and headlines like this are meaningless without explaining how, or offering an an actionable plan to back it up.

When you see a headline or product that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Probe. Look deeper. Ask questions. Most companies with genuine ethical credentials will be able to answer your questions and address your concerns, or will tell you they don’t know and offer to find out. Anyone who ignores your request or is elusive or cagey: remain sceptical.

5. Community Spirit

We’re in this together! We really are. The reason that zero waste and plastic-free living is referred to as a movement is because there are lots of people joining in, all working together towards a common goal. We’re sharing resources and sharing ideas, and learning from one another.

Particularly if you don’t have much support from friends, family and colleagues, finding like-minded people elsewhere is crucial.

Be part of the community. This can be online, via social media (Facebook groups are good resource for creating online community spirit) and blogs. Share your thoughts and insights, and ask questions. Post ideas and success stories. Support those who are struggling, and celebrate those who are doing good things.

Help make our community positive, welcoming and supportive for others.

This can be offline, too. Join a local group or attend a community event (from beach clean-ups to movie screenings to DIY beeswax wrap making, I guarantee there will be something out there). If you’re feeling brave, offer to run an event at your local library – it will be a good way to meet like-minded people.

At the very least, join a Buy Nothing group or local neighbourhood network. Whilst the platforms are online, the members are the people who live where you live. It’s a great way to start to get to know your neighbours better and share stuff.

If you think zero waste is too hard, it will be too hard. But if you think that reducing your trash or limiting your plastic use is within your grasp, you’re already on your way.

Look at the areas in your life where you can make tiny changes and improvements, and find ways that work for you. Whenever you’re stuck, reach out – it’s likely someone will have a creative solution for your problem. And if you come up with an amazing solution yourself – tell everyone who will listen!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a lifestyle and a journey. There’s not some end point that you get to and you’re done. It’s ongoing, and every day brings new challenges. So forget about absolutes or perfection. Just do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with this list? Any other attributes you think are helpful when trying to go zero waste and plastic-free? Anything you struggle with? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!