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!

How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

December begins next week, and already many of the bloggers, instagrammers and creatives I follow are telling me what I can gift others or ask for this Christmas (all eco-friendly, ethical and low waste, naturally). I ignore them all. The idea of shopping and more stuff and gift lists and wrapping overwhelms me, and I’d rather not take part.

Instead, I’ll promise you that this is the last you’ll hear from me about the C word. We can have a lovely December talking about other interesting and non-gift related things. If you’re a gift giver, no doubt you’ve got plenty of inspiration elsewhere. And if you’re not, hopefully you will appreciate the silence you’ll find on my pages.

But as well as telling you that I’m opting out of Christmas, I want to tell you why, and what it looks like for me.

I’m not here to persuade you to opt out of Christmas. If it’s your thing, and you love it and get joy from it, fantastic. Eat, drink and be merry! On the other hand, if you find it all exhausting and expensive and overwhelming, I thought you might like to see a different way of doing things.

What My Christmas Used To Look Like

I don’t hate Christmas. In fact, there are many things about it that I like. I like the getting together of people, the baking, the eating, the board game playing (a Christmas must!). I even enjoyed the gift planning, and trying to think of meaningful gift ideas for the people I love.

I’ve always favoured a DIY approach. I’ve made (mostly edible) gifts for years. I’ve even made Christmas crackers (to ensure the fillings were useful – or edible at least – rather than that pointless plastic!)

That said, I’ve also purchased chocolate advent calendars with individually wrapped chocolates, plastic-wrapped Christmas crackers, wrapping paper, cards, brand new gifts, and food in ridiculous packaging.

Once I embraced plastic-free and zero waste, of course the excess packaging declined and the DIY approach went up, but so did my uncomfortable-ness with Christmas. Because, for all the things I love about Christmas, there’s also a bunch of things that I don’t love.

In the end, the things I didn’t love far outweighed the things I did. I decided opting out was the best thing for both the planet and my sanity.

Why I Opted Out of Christmas

As I mentioned, this is the time of year when we are bombarded with gift ideas and catalogues, and encouraged to buy stuff. However green this stuff might be, in truth, buying anything, however eco-friendly, has a footprint and an impact on the planet.

Of course, going 100% DIY and opting or second-hand can alleviate this a lot… but not completely.

And just because we give these “eco-friendly” items, it doesn’t mean we will receive eco-friendly items in return. As much as we like to gift our friends the zero waste reusables that we love, homemade tie-dyed hankies and batches of jam, our friends can like to gift us back the mass-produced Chinese-made big box retailer branded junk that they love and we don’t.

Maybe it isn’t as extreme as this, but the point is, at Christmas there tends to be a misalignment of values. Which can lead to resentment (from both sides) and unwanted gifts in cupboards, heading to the charity shop, or worse – in the bin.

By taking part in the ritual exchange of gifts, I open the door to this happening. I can give gifts that aren’t appreciated, and I can receive gifts I don’t want. Neither of which is much fun.

The idea of writing a gift list (something I did in the past) makes me feel greedy, and pushes me to think of things to ask for that in truth, I don’t really need. Not writing a gift list opens me up to receiving things I do not need, want or like.

This is why I choose not to take part.

The other thing I find stressful about Christmas is the sheer volume of stuff. It’s not like a birthday when one person receives a few gifts. Everyone receives heaps of gifts, and it’s a crazy consumerist extravaganza. To me, it feels excessive. There’s obligation, pressure, stress – and I don’t want to feel these things at a time that is meant to feel joyful.

I like to buy things only when I need them. I just can’t bring myself to ask for things or encourage consumption solely because the date is 25.12. It just seems too arbitrary to me. I’d rather give someone something they need when they need it, not on a predetermined calendar date.

In short, the reasons I chose to opt out of Christmas:

  • No guilt.
  • No resentment.
  • No obligation.
  • No wasted resources (unwanted gifts, unneccessary stuff, packaging).
  • No buying stuff for the sake of it.

Of  course, I don’t have children, and if I did I’d probably reconsider this in light of different circumstances. I remember the joy and excitement of Christmas as a child, and would probably want to find a way to pass this on – just without the excess and plastic cr*p.

As an adult, I much prefer it to not have Christmas at all.

What My Zero Waste Christmas Looks Like Now

When I say opt-out, that doesn’t mean I cancel Christmas completely.

It’s more that I do nothing proactive (or very little) for the occasion.

I’m lucky that all my friends consider Christmas to be a super low-key affair, so don’t get drawn into gift-giving and parties. (Well, I say ‘lucky’ but maybe this is exactly the reason we are friends!)

But I’m not a complete killjoy (honest!) and I’m not going to give gifts back, refuse invitations to events or spoil the fun for everyone else. Here’s a breakdown of what I don’t do, and what still happens:

Things I Don’t Do for Christmas

  • I don’t write and send Christmas cards
  • I don’t buy Christmas gifts for any adults (and any presents for children that I buy – only direct family members – are experiences, not things)
  • I don’t have a Christmas tree
  • I don’t have any Christmas decorations
  • I don’t write a gift list, and I ask people not to give me anything (this was tricky at first for others to understand, but now we’ve reached a place where everyone accepts it)
  • I don’t buy or make special Christmas food
  • I don’t organise Christmas events, parties or get-togethers
  • I don’t feel obliged to spend Christmas with family – I might, I might not, but there is no obligation at all.

Things I Still Do at Christmas

  • Potentially accept invites to parties (although I can’t think of any in the last 3 years), so long as they are not going to be overpackaged, novelty gift, consumerism-at-its-worst affairs – and none of my friends would dream of holding a party like this anyway!
  • Consider having lunch with family on Christmas day – sometimes. Not every year (that would be too much) and I ensure I don’t arrive until all the presents have been opened so I can avoid the frenzy and waste. It also tends to be a non-Christmassy meal, otherwise I’d probably avoid that too.
  • Eat Christmas food if offered – I do like a good mince pie, and the spicy gingerbread flavours of Christmas, so if someone offers me something tasty and Christmas related, I’ll take it. But overpackaged and overprocessed foods, no thanks.

As I said, I’m not here to be a Christmas killjoy. If Christmas is your thing, that’s great. It’s just not my thing. If you too find Christmas a little overwhelming, you might find making Christmas a little more low-key works for you, too.

Honestly, I have a much happier Christmas without all the trimmings. Opting out is my choice, it’s a choice that works for me, and I wanted to share what that looks like.

If you love Christmas, or sit somewhere in the middle, enjoy the festivities! (Just don’t make too much trash…deal?!)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you love Christmas, hate Christmas or somewhere in between? How has that changed over time? Have have you made Christmas more sustainable over the years? Anything you still struggle with? Anything you love too much to give up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Buy Nothing Day: 5 Things To Do Instead of Shopping

In the week of Thanksgiving, my anxiety goes through the roof, and it is nothing to do with preparing pumpkin pie or family social gatherings. I’m not American, I don’t live in America and the only reason I even know that this week is Thanksgiving is because of all the emails I receive and ads I see which are talking about the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday.

Basically, the day after Americans give thanks for everything they have, they are encouraged to buy more stuff they don’t need through sales and price drops and special “Black Friday” offers.

Whilst Thanksgiving may not have spread across the ocean, Black Friday most certainly has.

As someone who has unsubscribed from almost every store newsletter, has a “no junk mail” sticker on the mailbox and uses adblockers on my laptop and phone, I’m still being heavily exposed to ads this week. Every business (whether selling products or services) seems to be trying to get me to buy stuff.

I don’t want to feel bullied or worn down into making a purchase. I don’t want to feel pressured or guilt-tripped into making a purchase. I do not enjoy being bombarded by adverts. Even if I actually need something, Black Friday will not be the day that I buy it.

On the day that every business on the planet seems to want to sell me something, I put my foot down, and buy nothing.

Black Friday is also international Buy Nothing Day.

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of not buying stuff. First organised in 1992 “as a day for society to examine the issue of overconsumption”, it has been held on Black Friday since 1997 (technically outside the USA and the UK, it is the Saturday after Thanksgiving).

For me, Buy Nothing Day is an opportunity to take a quiet personal stand against the pursuit of more. It’s a gentle protest.

Yes, it is only one day. It is not so much about giving up shopping for a day, as the significance of giving up shopping on this one particular day.

On the day where retailers are counting their customers and raking in profits and celebrating one of the top ten shopping days of the year, I choose to opt out.

And I’m going to invite you to, too.

Buy nothing. Sure, not the new electronics and new white goods and new clothing and new footwear. But also, no second hand items either. No eBay shopping or charity shop purchases. Not the groceries. No petrol. No stamps from the post office.

Literally, buy nothing.

It’s just one day.

It shouldn’t be that hard, should it?!

If you need a distraction from the pull of shopping, here’s 5 things you can do instead. No buying stuff required.

1. Borrow Something.

Head to your local public library and borrow books, magazines, board games, DVDs and more. Or, if the library is shut, browse the online catalogue and make some reservations. Some local libraries have ebooks, emagazines and even digital copies of movies for borrowing.

Or, if you’re not a member, become a member! At the very least, pencil in a time that suits you (and they are open) to join up.

Find out if there’s a tool library, or a toy library, or a library of things in your area.

Ask a neighbour or a friend if they can lend you something that you’ve been needing or wanting for a while.

And then, once you’re done with whatever it is that you borrowed, give it back.

2. Write Something

Write a blog post. Write a comment on your favourite blog post. Write a thank-you note to a friend. Write a to-do list of all the things whirring round in your head.

Write a letter to your local councillor or MP. You could add your voice of support or concern for a local project, or raise issues you think are important and would like them to address.

Write a letter to a business telling them what you think of the way they do business. Do you love their commitment to zero waste? Let them know? Do you find their lack of commitment to zero waste disappointing? Let them know.

Do you have a question about their sustainability policies, stance on single-use plastic, or eco-friendly initiatives for the future? Have you been wondering why they choose to do business the way they do? Do you have ideas for making their business more sustainable?

Don’t just think it…say it. Tell them what you think.

3. Bake Something

Don’t go out to the shops, though! Instead, look in your pantry and fridge and see what ingredients you already have, and then find a recipe that suits. It’s a great way to use up random ingredients that have been languishing in the cupboard a little too long.

Not a baker? Don’t have the ingredients to make cakes and cookies and sweet things? Well, get creative with what you do have. Discover a different way to cook a vegetable, or make a dish you’ve never made before.

4. Plan Something

We all have more ideas and less time than we’d like. Rather than go shopping, make a plan for putting one of your ideas into action. Whether it’s a bit of decluttering, planning a holiday, finding out where you can learn a new skill and when it would fit into your calendar, organising a catch-up with friends or family, or figuring out a few days to go hiking in nature, take some time to turn one of your great ideas into an action plan.

Next step, execute the plan!

5. Donate Something

Even better than not buying anything – give something away! Gather together some items that you no longer need, use or love, and take them to the charity shop, list them for free on Gumtree or another online classifieds platform, or – best of all! – join your local Buy Nothing Group and offer them for free there.

If you have packaged food or unopened toiletries, you could donate to a local food bank or refuge. If you have unopened pet food, or old towels and blankets, you could donate to an animal refuge.

If you’re really keen to spend some money on Buy Nothing Day, make a pledge to your favourite charity or local organization. Be sure to check the “no stuff” option – donations in exchange for “things” (sponsoring an animal and receiving a “free” stuffed animal toy, for example) is a little too similar to buying stuff!

If you’re in North America, then happy Thanksgiving. I hope you have a marvellous time eating good food with great company, and that you have enough reusable containers that all of your leftovers may be saved for later.

Whether you’re in North America or not, happy Buy Nothing Day. I hope you’ll choose to opt out of the spending frenzy, take the time to borrow something, write something, bake something, plan something, donate something – or however else you’d like to spend your day – and buy nothing.

It’s only one day. Let’s make the most of it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on Black Friday? How have your views changed over time? Have you heard of Buy Nothing Day? Are you keen to take part this year? (Oh, go on!) If you’ve been taking part for many years, what tips do you have for things to do instead? What do you plan to do to avoid the shops and adverts and pull of buying stuff this year? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

It seems hard to believe, but the less you have, the less you realise you need. Back when I had over 200 items in my wardrobe, the idea of reducing it to 100 seemed crazy. Then I got to 100, and realised I still had way too much stuff.

Something else I noticed: the less I had, the easier I found it to declutter.

Maybe this was because I was flexing my decluttering muscle, and it was getting stronger. Maybe it was because I could finally see the wood for the trees, and was being more honest with myself. Maybe it was because I began to realise what I actually wear, and it made less sense to keep the things I didn’t.

Even with 40 items, I know I have more than I need. Now I’m starting to build a capsule wardrobe: a collection of pieces I can wear year-round, along with a few extras for the weather extremes of summer and winter.

In Part 1, I talked about why you might want a capsule wardrobe to start with (even if you’re not a minimalist), and why it has absolutely everything to do with zero waste.

Here, I’m going to talk about how I’m beginning my capsule wardrobe.

I’m a show-and-tell kinda girl, and I thought I’d share some pics of what is in my wardrobe right now, what’s working, and what I’ll do differently next time.

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

I’m not a believer in numbers when it comes to minimalism, I’m a believer in “enough”. Building a capsule wardrobe means working out what is enough for me.

I also hate waste (you might have noticed)! I tend to wear my clothes into the ground. Many things I own are too tatty to donate. There comes a point when I no longer like to wear them (everyone has their own tolerance levels) and when that happens I will compost or repurpose.

I take the “slow” approach to wardrobe minimalism. If I still wear it, it can stay  – so long as I know I will wear it again in the near future. If I know I won’t, there is no point in keeping it. Going slow has given me time to adjust and learn lessons along the way. As things wear out, I will choose better next time.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: The Clothes I Started With

This is what remains of my wardrobe from my pre-minimalist and pre-capsule wardrobe days. I’m building on this and filling in the gaps to make my wardrobe more practical and wearable in future.

Summer Tops:

I really like the style of racing back tops, and find them very comfortable in the hot Perth summers.

The first three appear identical, although two are silk and the green one is polyester. They all have a slightly different cut, so of course, I have a preference (the orange one on the left).

The two blue tops are not that dissimilar, and again, I have a preference.

The bright coral top to the right is cotton and I purchased it new because it was cheap (before I thought much about these things). It feel cheap too, and the cut isn’t great.

I’ve realised that when I own two or more things that look the same, I will always gravitate towards one of them.

Unless this is the only type of top I wear (and it isn’t) it makes no sense to own five tops that are so similar. Especially when I wear one of them weekly, and the others sparingly.

As they wear out, I intend to keep one or two in my closet. No more than that.

Other Tops:

These are my other tops. The purple one is very old and beginning to wear out.

Shorts and Skirts

Whilst I love the purple stripy skirt (it is silk), it is impossible to pair with anything. It goes with my green racing back top, and that is it. That means I can only wear it in the height of summer. In a capsule wardrobe, it isn’t very practical.

I’ve never faced the dilemma of getting rid of something that I like and I wear. I used to struggle with getting rid of stuff I didn’t like and didn’t wear (!) so this is quite a step forward. But to own something I will only wear a handful of times doesn’t really make any sense. At the end of the summer, I’m going to let it go.

Jumpers and Cardigans

I like the assortment of thicknesses and different styles. My husband hates my oversized jumper on the right, so that might not get replaced. I probably wouldn’t choose a short-sleeved wool jumper again, either!

Dresses

Of the four dresses I own, one is for the depths of winter and one is for the height of summer.

The left one was an online purchase and is organic cotton, fairly traded. Thing is, the fit isn’t great, and the stitching around the collar is ripped where it wasn’t sewn well. I hate how I feel in this dress. My brother recently saw a photo of me in this dress with my sister, and asked her if I was pregnant. That was the final straw. I decided it had to go.

Trousers (Pants)

I have a pair of heavy denim jeans, a pair of thick cotton-denim trousers, and a pair of leggings. I had a thinner pair of summer jeans but they wore out, so I am looking to replace these.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: What Was Missing and What I’ve Added

At the start of this year, a fair few things I owned completely wore out. This was my chance to fill the gaps with items I deem more suitable, practical and useful. My capsule wardrobe has begun.

What was Missing: Tops

Despite owning 8 tops, the styles of 6 of them are very similar. Most sit at the scruffy end of the scale. I’m giving more talks and running more workshops this year, and I need clothes suitable for presenting in.

Also, many of my tops are quite snug and short, and I’m not as keen on the tight-fitting, midriff-exposing clothes as I was in my twenties.

I decided the gaps were: something loose-fitting, a t-shirt, a top smart enough to present in. I also wanted a navy blue shirt.

A trip to the charity shop led me to these:

The t-shirt has not been a good buy. It was an expensive brand and looked unworn, but it has bobbled in the washing machine and lost its shape already. The dirty cream shirt is probably a better choice than the bright white shirt I already own, and is less fitted (which I prefer). The blue button-down shirt is exactly what I was looking for. The last top is 100% silk, and I really like silk in the summer.

I didn’t need to buy 4 tops, and I only intended to buy 3. I’m still experimenting with “enough”. I can take things back to the charity shop if in a few months I realise I don’t wear them.

What was Missing: Bottoms

Perth gets hot. I wanted another pair of shorts. Also, none of the new tops I purchased were suitable with any of my current bottoms. I thought a denim, navy or grey pencil skirt might work well. I also wanted a replacement pair of lightweight summer jeans.

I ended up with these:

Honestly, I would have preferred shorts without the embroidery and fake holes. But they fit the best out of all the shorts, so I took them. The skirt was exactly what I was looking for. It is more cotton than denim, and very lightweight.

These three items increased the wear-ability of all of my tops no end!

What was Missing: Jumpers and Dresses

I wanted a lightweight jumper, a casual summer dress (maxi dresses are too impractical for me to wear everyday) and a smarter presenting dress.

I found these at the charity shop:

I love the denim shirt. The sleeves are super long, and it can work as a cardigan, but with more practical uses. The first dress has been great in the really hot weather. I wasn’t sure if the stripy dress was more ‘fantasy me’ than real me, but it is so comfortable, and I’ve worn it. I love the dress on the end, but time will tell how easy it is to wash! I love colour, and it was satisfying to find something so bright.

It was never my plan to choose so much blue, but I already have a lot of colour in my wardrobe. I needed some neutrals to balance it out. My plan is to choose bright tops and dresses to mix in with these as I need to replace things.

In total, this is 34 items (with some to go at the end of summer/when they wear out). I also have two jackets, three scarves (one summer, one winter, on in-between), cycling shorts and top, a summer hat and a winter hat, swimming wear and underwear. Plus a few pairs of shoes.

I’m amazed when I look at this, that I can see there is still room to reduce what I have. Far from the days when I panicked about whether I would have enough to wear if I decluttered, I realise that I have plenty.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your wardrobe essentials? What staples do you seem to live in? What have been your worst “investments”? How have your wardrobe basics changed over time? What is your biggest wardrobe regret from your younger days? Do you have a capsule wardrobe, and if so, what tips would you add? Anything else to share? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

I never thought I’d be writing a guide to beginning a capsule wardrobe. Any longtime readers of this blog will know that I struggled for years to declutter my wardrobe. I fell for every excuse in the book. Yet with determination and time (and a lot of encouragement from you all!) I have decluttered from a few hundred items to around 40 today.

Now I’m ready for the next stage: beginning a capsule wardrobe.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe Anyway? And Why Would I Want One?

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the 1970s. It is defined as a small collection of staple pieces that don’t go out of fashion –maybe 30 items or fewer, including shoes and possibly accessories. These can be supplemented with a couple of seasonal items.

Bonus for people like me – if it was never in fashion in the first place, then it can’t go out of fashion either! Hurrah!

The benefits? Having a streamlined wardrobe of pieces that you love, wear often and are interchangeable with other pieces makes life simpler. There’s less choice and less stress, it takes up less space and it means less waste.

Owning clothes we don’t wear is a waste of time, resources and money. We waste time buying them, and then maintaining them, before ultimately getting rid of them. It also brings about a huge amount of guilt for most of us.

Why would we want to put ourselves through that?

If you’ve ever stood looking at your full-to-bursting wardrobe yet couldn’t find a single thing to wear, you might benefit from embracing a capsule wardrobe.

The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe (Part 1)

You’ll notice that I say “beginning”. I am no master of the capsule wardrobe (yet!) but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far. I have a lot to share, so I’ve divided this into two parts.

In this (Part 1) I want to debunk some myths, outline the basics and get you thinking about your own wardrobe.

In Part 2 (next week) I’ll share my own wardrobe – yes with pictures! – and explain what is working, what (and how) I hope to improve, and how I’ve still managed to incorporate patterns and colours into my wardrobe. (Important point: I do not promise to offer any fashion advice or style tips! But if you don’t want a wardrobe made up entirely of grey, you might find it helpful.)

Myths About Capsule Wardrobes

Myth 1: A capsule wardrobe should be made up of neutrals.

Not true! If you’re looking for pieces that go with lots of other pieces, neutrals can do that. But so can colours, and patterns. It’s all about understanding what goes with what.

There’s no reason why bright tops can’t go with neutral bottoms, or patterned trousers with plain tops. Combining patterns works too, and if you personally like the combo, then it is a win. There’s definitely no reason not to embrace bright or patterned dresses!

Don’t feel that you need to give up your personal sense of style to embrace capsule wardrobe living. You don’t.

Myth 2: Capsule Wardrobes are all about shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are about finding staples, not about having a small amount of clothes that are rotated (usually donated or landfilled in order to buy more) every couple of months. It is perfectly possible to develop a capsule wardrobe and not need to buy any new stuff.

I’m all about reducing waste. I wouldn’t be advocating capsule wardrobes if I thought they weren’t part of this.

Last year, I only purchased a single item of clothing. One piece for 365 days. By not buying anything new, I was able to really drill down to what I liked to wear and what was practical. When my clothes began wearing out at the start of this year, I was absolutely clear what I needed to make my wardrobe more functional.

Myth 3: Capsule wardrobes are only for fashionistas.

(Rolls on the floor laughing) I do not profess to have any sense of style. I do not want to spend time thinking about piecing outfits together. I have wasted far too much of my life already trying to squeeze into items that didn’t fit, resenting my poor choice, feeling guilty about my overflowing wardrobe and bemoaning having nothing to wear.

Capsule wardrobes are for anyone who wants a practical, functional, no tears approach to getting dressed in the morning.

Stylishness = optional.

Tips for Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

#1: Figure out what you actually wear.

What you like and what you actually wear are two different things. Sometimes we don’t actually wear the things we like. That’s usually because we like the idea of them, but they are not actually comfortable, or possibly don’t fit well.

Our fantasy self has completely different wardrobe ideas to our actual self. If it isn’t going to be worn, there is no point owning it.

#2: Play the slow game.

No need to rush to the shops! Take your time to decide the kinds if things you like, and what you actually need.

Think about the weather. Think about the colours and fabrics that you enjoy wearing. Think about wearing out what you already have, and replacing it with something better next time.

The longer you take, the better the final result will be.

#3: Start to think about ‘what goes with what’ with the things you already own.

Sometimes things are difficult to pair with anything, and we don’t wear them. But other times, it’s just that we don’t have anything suitable.

If there’s an item that you love but you don’t wear because you’re missing a piece to make it work, think about adding that to your wardrobe. Be careful though, of having too many items that only go with one other thing.

The more we own that goes with multiple other pieces, the easier it is to get dressed, the less items we need, the more use everything will get, and the better it will be.

#4: Have a List Ready Before You Go Shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are all about being clear what we need. Opportunistic browsing doesn’t fit in well with that. Rather than just going shopping, have an idea of what it is you’re looking for before you hit the stores. It can be super specific (a denim pencil skirt with pockets) or much more fluid (summery tops).

If you’re looking for something to go with other things, make a list of them, or take photos on your phone. Better still, wear them when you head out so you can see what works.

#5: Seriously Consider Shopping Second-Hand.

The fashion industry is a huge burden on the environment. The average Australian buys 27 kg of new clothing and textiles per year (the second-highest in the world after the US), and only 15% of donated clothing is actually re-sold by charity shops.

By choosing second-hand we can reduce resource consumption and our own environmental impact. Choosing second-hand is also a cheaper way to explore our own preferences and styles, and second-hand items rarely bring the same attachment as new ones.

Whilst I love the idea of supporting sustainable fashion businesses, I think for those starting out, second-hand is a better option. Once you’re clear about exactly what staple pieces you need, that is the time to start exploring ethical brands. These are often investment pieces, and well worth the money so long as you’ve done the research first.

Ethical, sustainable clothing that we just don’t wear misses the point.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a capsule wardrobe? Are there any tips you’d like to add? What are your staples? What have you decided isn’t worth the money spent? How has your capsule wardrobe changed over time? Or are you right at the beginning of the journey? If so, what have been your successes to date? And your struggles? Please share your thoughts below!

8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot! I’ve been very lucky that my husband has supported (and been actively involved in) our plastic-free journey since the beginning. Whilst don’t always see eye-to-eye about zero waste, our values are very much aligned.

That said, we have had our fair share of waste-related disagreements in our time! Plus there are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. In fact, if my mother is reading this (hi, mum!) she will probably be staring in disbelief and telling the computer screen that I am a total nag! But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

I didn’t marry my husband because of his awesome ability to remember his reusable bags on all occasions. I am well aware that he always strives to do his best, and his best might mean forgetting his reusable bags once in a while.

I married him for different reasons, namely because I love him exactly the way he is. It isn’t as if I am perfect! I shouldn’t let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between us and cause friction. I shouldn’t… but I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Sharing (+ the Sharing Economy)

There’s already a lot of stuff in the world. Dare I even say, too much stuff in the world. If manufacturers declared they would be making no more cutlery sets, or dining chairs, or cushions in the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely we’d be unable to eat dinner or get comfy. We’d make do with what we had, or use what already exists. We’d borrow, and we’d lend.

Sharing stuff isn’t new. Since the explosion of the internet and our increased connectivity though, this idea of sharing what we have has also exploded, because we are no longer restricted to the people we know. Technology has adapted to make it easier for us to borrow from and lend to complete strangers.

The terms ‘the sharing economy’, ‘collaborative consumption’, ‘peer-to-peer lending’ and ‘access economy’ are all used interchangeably when talking about this kind of lending, and the definitions are often confusing and contradictory. Personally, I don’t think the definitions are important. (But if you’re really interested ,this article does a great job of explaining.)

The premise is: you have something you’d like to share or give away, and you need to find someone who wants what you have; or you need something and would like to find someone who has what you need.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s peer to peer lending or if there is a company involved; if there’s money exchanged or if it’s free; whether it relies on technology to work or good old word-of-mouth; whether it’s for-profit or non-profit. It’s all sharing – making better use of time, resources and energy.

What is important to me, and anyone else interested in owning less stuff and creating less waste, is the idea of resource optimization. Getting the most use (and best) out of stuff that already exists. For people who are passionate about this, the explosion of the sharing economy has been great.

Global versus Local?

Global or local – which is better? I think it depends, and both have a place. If I travel to the other side of the planet, being able to find accommodation and travel easily is very helpful, so global networks work well. It’s unlikely that I’ll need to borrow a lawnmower whilst I’m there though, so global tool networks or general borrowing sites are less helpful. Global borrowing sites tend to be more focused around urban cities.

Global networks have bigger infrastructure and costs, so tend not to be free. Keeping things local means costs are much less. Local options are much more useful for meeting local people, reducing travel, plus building networks, relationships and community.

Many global share sites have launched to great fanfare, only to fold within a couple of years. The internet is littered with these stories. I think it’s a sign that in many cases, local is best.

Global Sharing Networks (The Ones I Use)

The few global sites I use are one where money generally changes hands. In these cases, having the security and reputation of a global network can go a long way in building trust.

Accommodation: Airbnb

Maybe the best known of the sharing websites, Airbnb is a global network allowing people to rent out their spare rooms and entire homes to travellers for a price. I like knowing that rather than homes sitting empty, they are being offered out to others.

Cost: Accommodation is charged per night. Fees apply to hosts who rent out rooms. Free to join

W: www.airbnb.com (if you sign up via this link, you’ll save $50AUD on your first booking.)

Accommodation: Couchsurfing

This is a global community of travellers offering their couches, floors and spare rooms to those wanting free accommodation, and also offering meetups and information about local events. I used it to both stay and to host back in 2008, but I have no current experience of the site.

Cost: free for basic membership (premium membership also available); accommodation is free

W: www.couchsurfing.com

Classifieds: Craigslist

This is the most popular classified list in the US, with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, items wanted, services, community, gigs and discussion forums. I’ve never used it as it isn’t popular in the UK or Australia, but I have used similar sites.

Cost: free to list most items; some goods free to buy, most have a cost

W: www.craigslist.org

Classifieds: Gumtree

The most popular classified site in the UK, this is a great way to pick up second-hand items, find a new home for your unwanted stuff. It also offers services. Although it’s an international brand, most sales are made locally via cash on delivery/collection.

Cost: free to list most items; some goods free to buy, most have a cost

W: www.gumtree.com.au (Australia), www.gumtree.com (UK)

Composting: ShareWaste

This website and app connects those with compost and food scraps to those with compost bins. It’s a fairly new app so whether it will stand the test of time, I’m not sure. I have registered my bin and as yet, no-one has used it. There was no-one registered within 400km of where we were staying whilst on holiday – and I cannot believe not a single person there had a compost bin!

Cost: free

W: www.sharewaste.com

Selling: eBay

This auction site allows users to buy and sell used goods, either by auction or for a fixed price. Most countries have their own eBay site, but if international shipping is offered, listings may appear across multiple sites, meaning there is access to a huge audience. It’s a useful way to sell rare or unusual items, but most items must be posted, so weight is a limiting factor.

Cost: free to join; listings may be free or a small cost, fees payable once an item sells

W: www.ebay.com (US), www.ebay.com.au (Australia), www.ebay.co.uk (UK)

Transport: Shiply

Shiply connects lorries and trucks already on the road with people who need things delivered (such as bulky things they’ve purchased second-hand on eBay). Shiply aims to make use of transport already on the roads to reduce carbon emissions. Users list their delivery request, and companies quote for the job based on their existing routes.

Cost: free to request a quote as a customer or join as a transport company; fees are payable if a quote is accepted.

W: www.shiply.com

Transport: Uber

Uber connects people with cars to people who want to go somewhere. It’s a peer-to-peer ride-sharing service where private cars are used in place of taxis. No cash is exchanged as all transactions are made through an app.

Cost: free to join; taxi services are charged to users.

W: www.uber.com

Local Sharing Networks (Ideas to Look Out For)

These are ideas rather than specific sites:  whilst the underlying principles are generally the same across the world for each idea, the companies, organizations and groups that run them are different.

Bike Share

Bikes share schemes differ from bike rental in being a much more casual arrangement, often for shorter periods of time, and with the option of picking up at one point and dropping off at another. Often these points are close to train stations, and are unmanned bays. The idea is to make bicycles available for people to take short trips as an alternative to car use or motorized transport.

Whilst not currently active in Perth, it is reported to be coming shortly. Currently these bike-share schemes operate in 172 cities in 50 countries.

Cost: varies, but is often free for short trips

More info here.

Car Share (Car Clubs)

Like the bike share schemes, car shares are like short-term rentals where the car is charged by the hour. They are useful to anyone needing a car on a short-term basis but who don’t need to own or even hire a car for extended periods. They work on a self-service model so there is no restriction with opening hours. Car-share schemes require users to join as a member.

There is currently no car-sharing service in Perth, but it is common in some parts of the world, with 1.7 million users reported across 27 countries.

Cost: membership fee and subsequent car hire fees

More info here.

Community Groups

These are groups of like-minded people, joined by a common interest. The common interest could be a hobby (gardening, fishing, beer brewing, sewing, art), it could be based on age or circumstance (young mums, working parents, retirees) or it could be based on a common interest (sustainability, politics). These groups are great to tap into for many reasons: to connect with others and share ideas; to gain access to specialist equipment; and to find or pass on second-hand items.

Cost: Some free, some with membership fees

Where to find: community notice boards, or Google search your local area.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are different to Facebook pages. Facebook groups are member groups where there is no news feed, but a discussion area where any member can post. (In contrast, a Facebook page is “owned” by a single person, team or organisation, and they control the news feed.) Facebook Groups are currently ad free. You request membership rather than liking a page, and may need to meet conditions to be accepted (like being located in the area). Groups can be public, closed, private or secret.

You need to be a member of Facebook to use Facebook groups, but there is a separate Facebook Groups app you can install on your phone. This means you can be a member of groups without actively using a personal Facebook page.

This is what the “Facebook Groups” app looks like on my phone, along with a collection of groups I’m currently a member of.

There are groups for everything you could imagine, and plenty you wouldn’t. Join the ones that appeal to you (you can always leave if you change your mind). If you see a great idea for a group but can’t find one in your area, start your own!

Cost: free

Library

Anybody who is not a member of their local library is seriously missing a trick! We use our local library to borrow books, DVDs and magazines, and occasionally use their printing services – which means we do not need to own a printer. All libraries are different, and not all services are free, but membership usually is.

What’s on offer: Books, eBooks, Magazines, newspapers, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, internet and printing services, talks and workshops

Cost: Usually free to join, most services free, some incur a small charge

Where to find: check with your local council.

Specialist Libraries

These are usually community- or volunteer- run services, but may also be run by local councils. They lend specific items, such as tools and light machinery, gardening equipment, or toys.

Cost: Varies – there can be a membership cost, and often there is a small charge to borrow items

Where to find: check with your local council, or Google search your local area.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and new share sites pop up all the time. I hope it gives you some insight into the kinds of things out there, and encourages you to think about embracing this bold new world (and yet very traditional, centuries-old idea) of sharing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a sharer – and how do you share and borrow? Do you prefer to use global networks or local ones? Do you have personal experience of any of these sites or any of these ideas? Do you have any others you’d recommend? Have you had any bad experiences with sharing? Any stories to share? Are you involved with running or administrating a local sharing site, and how have you found it? How to you feel about the growth of these sharing networks – is it a good thing or a bad thing? Are you still undecided? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Have you reached “Peak Stuff”? 6 Tips for Letting Go

This time last year, the head of sustainability for Ikea announced that we’d reached “peak stuff”. (Interesting, then, that rather than shut up shop and consider a job well done, Ikea plan to double sales by 2020.) For many years, in the weeks post-Christmas, I’d feel a little like that myself. I’d have a heap of new stuff, but I’d still have all the old stuff sitting there too – and much of it was still perfectly usable.

I’d definitely reached peak stuff – but what to do about it? What about the waste?

Too much stuff creates clutter and stress, but it took me a long time to realise that too much stuff is also a huge waste of resources. Anything we own and don’t use is a waste. I was kidding myself thinking that I was reducing waste by keeping stuff that I might use at some point in the future (but probably wouldn’t).

And so, I learned to declutter. Decluttering does not come naturally to me, but with practice, it becomes infinitely easier. The most important lesson is to be honest with yourself. Forget about what others think, what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, and ask yourself truthfully: Right now, do I really need this?

1. The Meaning of the Gift is in the Giving

People give gifts because they want to show their love and appreciation. That is where the meaning is. Some people need to give gifts to express their feelings. Some people enjoy giving gifts to others. Those are their needs, and they have nothing to do with you, and nothing to do with the stuff.

Receiving a gift doesn’t mean that you need to keep the gift if you don’t want it, don’t like it, or don’t need it. Be grateful and thankful that you have been given it, and appreciate the sentiment. That is enough.

Of course, you don’t need to tell them that you don’t like the gift, or that you gave it away. There is no need to offend anyone. People rarely remember what gifts they gave others.

Often we hold onto things because we think someone will be offended if we give it away, but it is likely that they have already forgotten.

2. Will it Really be Useful?

Will the gift really be useful? This isn’t the same as “might be useful” or “I can think of an occasion which could happen where I might have a use for this”.

If it isn’t going to be useful right now, or in the foreseeable future, then keeping it is a waste. There is someone out there who needs what you have, and will use it, and it is far better to pass it onto them.

3. Just in Case is not a Reason

I used to keep so much stuff “just in case”. I’m not talking about lifesaving equipment here, I’m talking about random kitchen gadgets and trinkets and other stuff. You never know, we might need to de-stone cherries or translate a Russian sentence in the future, but keeping things for all possibilities just isn’t practical.

I have given away things and later I have thought, ah, if I still had that, I could use it now. A really thick jumper on a very cold day. A can opener when I needed to open a can for the first time in two years and it didn’t have a ring pull.

But I never went to the shops to buy a replacement. Sure, I could have used these things, had I still owned them, but I made do without. I guess I didn’t really need them after all.

4. You Rarely Need Two

The trouble with choosing gifts for the person who has everything is that: they already have everything. Often the presents tend to be a better version of something they already have, or a second one.

But if there is nothing wrong with the first one, there is no need for a second.

I used to struggle with this. I knew the first one would wear out/break eventually, and then the second one would come in useful. But I never knew how long this would take – it could be years. In fact, sometimes it was years, and the shiny new replacement was already old by the time it actually got used.

It would have been much better to wait until I actually needed a replacement, and choose something that I liked and was useful for me now, not the me of several years ago.

Sometimes the opposite would happen. The new one would make the old one look tatty, and the tatty one would be cast aside in favour of the new (there’s a name for this: the Diderot Effect). Only, I’d know that the old one wasn’t life expired, so I’d keep it for when the new one wore out. It would languish in a back cupboard, taking up space, making me feel guilty, and going unused.

Now, I’m much more ruthless. If I need one, and I have two, I make the choice straightaway. Do I keep what I have, or do I keep the new one? One stays, and the other goes. Because keeping both is a waste.

5. Is it You…or Is It Fantasy You?

I used to get confused between me, and fantasy me. Fantasy me wore neon pink high heels. Fantasy me was a clothes size smaller than I was. Fantasy me was going to learn Russian. Fantasy me was the crafty type.

I liked the idea of being many things, and doing many things, but some of them weren’t real me. Letting go of fantasy me was actually a relief. There are already so many things that I want to do, and I don’t have time for them all.

Allowing myself to let go of fantasy me has given me more time and space to focus on the things that I’m already doing, or the ones I really want to do. It’s reduced my expectations of myself and made me less stressed.

6. What is the WORST That Can Happen?

Getting rid of something you don’t want, don’t like, and don’t need – what is the worst that can happen?

The person who gave it to you might find out. They might be offended, but that is probably more about their realisation that they made a poor choice. They might be upset, for the same reason. They might decide not to buy you anything in future (if you’re giving their presents away anyway, that might not be a bad thing).

You might have to tell a white lie. You may be asked where the gift is, if you’ve used it yet, or whether you are willing to lend it back to the giver. Of course, you can tell the truth, but if you don’t want to hurt any feelings it may be better to avoid this. I left it at work. I lent it to a friend. It broke.

You might realise that you actually needed it after all. The likelihood of this happening is tiny, but yes, it could happen. In which case, you’ll need to get a replacement. You can probably pick one up second-hand, and you may even be able to borrow one. Worst case you’ll have to go to the store and buy one.

Worse things have happened.

For many of us, letting go isn’t easy. We ties our hopes and dreams and aspirations up with our things, or we worry about the waste (be it the waste of resources, money ,time or effort on behalf of the giver). We let our emotions and concerns and fears control how we treat our stuff. That’s a lot of baggage to let go of. But underneath all of that we know the truth. The truth as to whether we really need it and we will really use it. If you feel that you’ve got a little too much stuff, ask yourself truthfully – are you telling yourself any of these excuses? For many of your things, the answer may be no. But it’s likely that for some of these things, the answer will be yes.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other tips you’d like to add to this list? Which is your favourite? Are there any that you struggle with? Which is the hardest for you to resist, and which is the easiest? Do you disagree with any of them? Do you have any other thoughts on letting go and peak stuff? I’d love you to be part of the conversation so tell me what you think in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Christmas Gifts

I am not a Christmas grinch. I love the idea of families and friends coming together at Christmas, taking time out to share experiences, eating good food and hopefully playing some board games ;)

But presents? Oh, I’m not a fan of Christmas presents at all.

I’m passionate about living a zero waste lifestyle. I aspire to own less, not more. And Christmas presents are, quite frankly, the opposite of that.

It’s not that I dislike presents. A well thought-out gift, that I truly need and love and will actually use, is great. The truth is though, that I already have everything that I need, in terms of stuff. If I did need something, why wait for it to be given to me as a gift, if I can go out and choose it myself? That way, I get to choose the exact one that I want, from the store I want to support. There is less room for error.

If I don’t know that I need it… well then, maybe I don’t need it at all.

christmas-gifts-treading-my-own-path

I particularly find Christmas present-buying so… transactional. Everyone buys everything for everyone else: it’s a big consumer-fest of stuff, most of which isn’t really wanted or needed. To tell someone exactly what you want, and then spend the exact same amount of money on a gift that they asked you to buy in return, seems pointless to me.

The idea that people tell one another what to buy isn’t meaningful, or a way of expressing love, in my mind. Now someone agreeing to spend two hours playing board games with me, even though I know they’d rather not… now that’s love ;)

Of course, I’ve been there. I’ve written lists of things I wanted, and looked at other people’s lists to choose things to buy. I’ve tried to think of things that might be useful to give to others, and I’ve received things myself that were intended to be useful. As we get older, and have more and more stuff, it gets harder, and it all just seems more and more unnecessary.

On the other hand, I understand traditions and customs. I also understand that some people like to show their love through giving gifts. People don’t want to upset their families. And trying to explain to a 6 year-old that they aren’t getting a Christmas gift from you as you’re making a stand against rampant consumption might not go down too well!

So, I’m not proposing that we cancel Christmas.

Instead, I want to help anyone aspiring to a zero waste or minimalist lifestyle to navigate the Christmas present minefield without accumulating a bunch of stuff they don’t want or don’t need, upsetting all the relatives and feeling that they’ve abandoned their values.

If you’re someone who loves Christmas, and gift-giving (or gift-receiving!), then it is not my place to try to persuade you otherwise. Enjoy the festivities! This is for anyone who feels a looming sense of dread as the holiday season approaches, and wants some hints and ideas to do things a little differently.

A Zero Waste (and Minimalist) Guide to Gift Giving (and Receiving)

Christmas Tree in Hands Collection 78 Jean Lakosnyk

Part 1: Gift Receiving

1. Try NOT to ask for “Stuff”

If you’re passionate about living life with less stuff or less waste, then think really carefully before you ask for “stuff” for Christmas. It can be tempting, especially if you’re just starting out on the journey and actually need things.

But ultimately, to live this lifestyle you need to step out of the “stuff” game, and the sooner you start, the better. It will take time for friends, relatives and family members to understand that you actually don’t want stuff any more, and asking for “zero waste” stuff confuses the message.

2. Asking for “nothing at all” can be confronting for others.

I would never have believed this if we hadn’t requested that our families not get us anything at all for Christmas one year. Nothing at all, no money, no gifts, no vouchers, nothing. We even left the country for a month over the holiday period.

It worked. We didn’t receive anything. But afterwards, we found out that my mother-in-law had really struggled with it. Not acknowledging her son in some way at Christmas felt really wrong for her, and she was troubled by it. She did it, but found it very hard. I’m not sure she’d have managed it a second year.

It did help break the cycle of “stuff” though, and helped us find a compromise the following year that everyone was happier with.

It might work for you, and it is definitely worth trying if you’re happy with that option. But remember that some people show their love by giving gifts, and you don’t want to be happy at someone else’s expense.

3. Set some rules that keep everyone happy.

If you know that your family and friends like to give gifts, and suspect they will find a no-gift policy confronting, try to choose some rules that will satisfy their need to give gifts whilst keeping the unnecessary stuff to a minimum.

Ideas include:

  • Make a rule that all gifts should be second-hand.
  • Specify that all gifts should be homemade.
  • Put limits on the types of new goods (eg books, tools, plants, or whatever you think would work).
  • Suggest DIY hampers (food, beauty products or something else) – but be clear about limiting excess packaging!
  • Ask for only edible goods or drinks (although remember at Christmas the shops are full of novelty, overpackaged, palm oil-filled gifts).
  • Suggest a Secret Santa where rather than all adults buying gifts for everyone, all names are put into a hat and everyone buys one gift only for the person they picked out of the hat.
  • Ask for experiences, tickets for shows, workshops or events; even vouchers for restaurants or cafes. Avoid vouchers for shops as these will lead to “stuff”.

4. You need to communicate!

Stepping out of the consumer-fest of Christmas can be difficult, and if you want to make it easier for yourself and everyone around you, it’s better to tell everyone how you’d like things to be, and as soon as you can! There is no point having rules if you haven’t communicated them!

Be clear on your expectations. Don’t leave any room for ambiguity. If you find it hard to tell people in person, send a letter or email.

Just don’t assume that people will realise that your new way of living means you don’t want “stuff” – they likely won’t.

5. Don’t expect the first year to be easy.

It doesn’t matter how clear you think you’ve been, or how many times you’ve explained it, there will likely be mis-steps along the way. You’re on a journey, but everyone else is doing the same thing they’ve always done, and they might not see a reason to change. Or they might think it’s just a phase you’re going through. Or that the rules don’t apply at Christmas.

Rest assured, every year it will get easier, as others understand that it isn’t a phase, and also adjust to the new way of thinking.

The first year that we went plastic-free, we received a number of Christmas presents packaged in plastic. We even received a novelty plastic item packaged in plastic. Everyone knew that we lived plastic-free, and yet somehow it didn’t occur to them that this also applied at Christmas. It took time for the new way of life to sink in.

Now, they wouldn’t dream of it!

6. Don’t hold onto anything out of guilt.

If you get stuff that you don’t need and didn’t ask for, there is no need to keep it out of guilt. Someone choosing to give a gift (out of social pressure, convention, or their own personal need to express their love and appreciation this way) does not mean that you need to choose to keep it.

The meaning is in the gift-giving, not the gift itself. They made that choice, not you.

Donate it, sell it, give it away. Don’t dwell on it. There will be someone out there who will really want what you have, and will use it. If you can connect your unwanted stuff with them, then that’s a far better use of the item than languishing in your cupboard, making you feel guilty every time you see it.

There’s no need to tell the gift-giver, if you don’t want to (although if you do, it will help with not receiving anything next time!). Chances are they won’t remember anyway.

Part 2: Gift Giving

christmas-zero-waste-gift-giving-treading-my-own-path

7. Don’t push your values on others.

Deciding to purchase a zero waste kit for your family because you really think they should go zero waste, or buying them a collection of books about decluttering because you think they have too much stuff isn’t actually that different from them buying you a bunch of junk that you didn’t ask for.

You might think it’s useful, but if they won’t use it (and will possibly be insulted in the process!) then it’s just as much a waste.

Similarly, donating money on their behalf to a charity might seem like a great way to avoid present-buying, but if they are expecting a well-wrapped gift from the high street, they won’t thank you for it.

In the same way that you don’t want them to push their expectations on you, don’t push yours onto them.

8. Listen to what they say.

You’d hope friends and family would listen to your requests, and you need to listen to theirs. If they’ve been specific about what they would like (no handmade gifts, no second hand stuff) then you need to honour that.

That doesn’t mean that you need to buy them a bunch of overpackaged stuff. You just need figure the best way to work around what they want without betraying your own values! ;)

9. If in doubt, ask.

If someone has been very specific with their list, but you’re not keen to buy anything on it, come up with your own ideas and ask them what they think.

How do they feel about tickets to the cinema or a show? A voucher for a restaurant? A one-night stay at a local B n B?

What about a day together at a National Park? A picnic or a seaside outing?

Could you offer some kind of services – mowing the lawn, babysitting, cooking dinners for a week?

Is hosting Christmas dinner an option instead of gifts?

10. Can you cancel gifts altogether?

It’s possible that you’re overthinking this, and that actually it’s possible to come to the mutual agreement of not buying anything. As much as people love to receive gifts, many people hate to go Christmas shopping. They might be relieved to know that they don’t have to brave the busy, crowded shops in a desperate attempt to find something you probably won’t like anyway.

Christmas is an expensive time of year, and they might actually appreciate having one less gift to buy.

Don’t rule it out.

How we personally deal with Christmas has evolved over time. It’s still not perfect, but we’ve slowly come to a mutual understanding amongst our family and friends. From the first year, when we asked for stuff; to the second year, when we boycotted the whole thing; to the third year, when we even bought some “stuff” for others, we seem to have reached a balance. We no longer buy presents for most of the adults (with mutual agreement), and for those that we do, it’s limited to experiences. For our niece and nephew, we focus on experiences too – things that we can do together. It works for us.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your experiences of Christmas? Is this your first year of living a plastic-free, zero waste or minimalist lifestyle? What are your concerns? Have you had any conversations with family yet and how did they go? Have you been living this way for several years? If so, have you found balance that works for you? How have your choices changed over time? Do you have any tips to add? Any stories or experiences to share? Questions to ask? Anything else you’d like to comment on? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Essentials for a Zero Waste Kitchen

When it comes to the kitchen, I would not call myself a minimalist. At least, not by “minimalist” standards (whatever they are anyway). That said, I do not consider anything I own to be unnecessary – I do not own special Christmas crockery, or fancy obscure gadgets (cherry stoner, avocado slicer, chocolate fountain), for example.

I own a lot of kitchen things because I like to cook, and I especially like to eat. Whilst I think it’s possible to live zero waste without needing to cook everything from scratch, I personally enjoy making food from scratch. Cooking is my creative outlet.

Making food from scratch requires a bit more stuff.

What is more important to me than minimalism is zero waste, and my kitchen has found a balance that I am happy with. We rarely buy anything new. Our last purchase (in February) was when we moved into our new home. We had to buy a frying pan as our old one didn’t work on the  induction hotplate. Borrowing the neighbours’ pan several times a week didn’t really work out for us! (Or them!)

I thought I’d show you round our kitchen, and talk about our zero waste kitchen essentials. Essentials, of course, are a personal thing, depending on what you like to eat, living arrangements, how you cook and where you live.

I don’t think everyone living a zero waste lifestyle would need to own everything that I do. This isn’t an instruction manual, it’s a snapshot of the choices that we’ve made in living zero waste (with a hint of minimalism thrown in).

A Tour of our Zero Waste Kitchen

When I shared this photo on a previous tour of my house, someone asked me if I’d tidied up. OF COURSE I TIDIED UP! My house is not ever as tidy as this unless I make a concerted effort. For example, the draining board is almost always full of drying dishes (one of the downsides of zero waste living is the extra washing up). And there’s often ferments, or sourdough, or harvested veggies sitting on the side.

Yes, I tidied up for you guys ;)

kitchen-pana-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

My zero waste, minimalist (ish) kitchen.

Let me introduce the kitchen. It’s an L-shape with an impractical amount of cutlery drawers (there are 7!) and very little cupboard space. I am determined not to add cupboards to the wall, as I like the white space. I’d rather put up pictures!
kitchen-sink-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Kitchen Counters: On our kitchen counters we have 2 large Klean Kanteen growlers. When we run the hot water, it actually takes 7 litres of water to run hot, and we can’t just throw this down the drain. I used to use old wine bottles but we’d end up with 11 or so on the counter, and I couldn’t bear the clutter! These growlers can be used for beer, and we can take them camping.

The white machine in the corner is our food processor (it’s called a Thermomix). It’s got a stainless steel bowl, and also has the function to heat. I use it every day – to blend, chop and mix, mostly. Before this, I had a Magimix, but the bowl was plastic.

Next to the hotplate is a glass jug that doubles as a utensil holder. We have 3 silicon spatulas, a couple of wooden spoons (one for sweet things and one for savoury) and a rolling pin.

The kettle is a stovetop one that we bought second-hand. I like that it lives on the hotplate, rather than cluttering up the counters.cupboard-open-kitchen-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Tall Cupboard: The cupboard on the right was intended to be a pantry, but unless you’re 6 ft tall it’s not very practical and there would be a huge amount of wasted space.

Top shelf: we have a stick blender with various attachments (I sold the ones I didn’t need on eBay!) and a spiraliser. Possibly the only gadget I have that’s a bit gimmicky, but we use it a lot in summer. In fact, my husbands uses it, so it’s staying!

Middle Shelf: we have wine and champagne glasses (currently 5 wine and 2 champagne), water glasses (5 assorted), two short coffee cups (that were originally yoghurt pots), salt and pepper grinders and my onyx ice cube tray. At the back are some glass jars I was storing for a workshop, and my husband’s cycling water bottle.

Bottom shelf: this is the coffee/tea shelf – you just can’t be minimal about that! We own 8 mugs (which seems excessive but my husband originally had 16!), our coffee press, two KeepCups, bits and pieces for the coffee machine (handle thingy, jug, funnel) and of course, tea and coffee.

junk-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-pathDrawer 1: I guess the top drawer in our kitchen would be classed as our junk drawer. We keep Hans’ (our adopted greyhound) lead and muzzle in here, sunglasses, garage clicker, pens and seeds. As we had so many drawers that weren’t that useful for much else it made sense to keep this stuff here.

reusables-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 2: The second drawer down contains our kitchen scales (so necessary!), our reusable shopping bags, produce bags and reusable wraps. There’s also a black book where I keep my most-used recipes. And yes, I use baking paper (which I reuse, and then compost). You can read why here. food-storage-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 3: The third drawer contains most of my reusables. I have 3 baking sheets (one is in the fridge) and 2 cooling racks. I find it useful to have 3 trays when I’m baking as otherwise it takes twice as long and uses more electricity.

The pink and red circles are silicone bowl covers (there’s a white one too that might have been in the fridge).

Then there’s the rest of my silicone bakeware, stainless steel food storage containers and glass Pyrex. I own a lot more Pyrex but it’s often in the fridge or freezer holding leftovers.kitchen-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 4: This drawer contains our oven gloves, an apron (I am a messy cook!) and far too many tea towels. I think three is enough, but we will use these out and not replace them. The contraption at the back is a macadamia nut cracker. Those things are tough! (We often buy 5 kg sacks of the nuts, and shell by hand.)

bakeware-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 5: The rest of my bakeware. Yes, it is necessary to have all of these different sizes! I have 2 square tins, a muffin tin, individual silicone cupcake cases, two sandwich tins and a tiny cake tin for experiments!

I tried to choose something to get rid of when we moved, and I just couldn’t. You know what? I’ve used every single thing since we moved. I guess they are just all essentials!

bowls-and-bakeware-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 6: Okay, so maybe there’s slightly MORE bakeware in here. And I haven’t used that flan tin in the last 6 months, Still useful, I say!

You’ll notice that despite the front of the drawers being enormous, the sides and back are the same depth as a regular drawer, making them very hard to fill. Hence why the bakeware is spread across three drawers – it is in no way because I have too much!

I have a big maslin pan which I use for preserving and also for cooking up big batches of chickpeas. My frying pan sits on top, and in between is my glass loaf tin – sourdough rusts the metal ones.

Underneath the round cake tin is a banneton basket (for proving sourdough) and three large bowls (one ceramic, two glass).

The pestle and mortar is a charity shop find.cutlery-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-pathDrawer 7: Much as I hate plastic, I dislike a jumbled cutlery drawer more. And there seemed no point discarding what we already had to buy something new and plastic-free.

We have two sharp knifes, and a cutlery set for four (it was originally for 8 but we decluttered the other half). There’s two sets of camping cutlery also. We also have a set of salad servers and a big serving spoon, two tea strainers, a spirit measure, champagne stopper, metal chopsticks, a vegetable peeler, thermometer and corkscrew. Plus there’s some reusable straws (in the boxes).

Of everything, a good sharp knife (ours is the Global brand) is definitely an essential. We also have a set of measuring spoons (not pictured).

crockery-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path Drawer 8: our crockery. We have 6 dinner and side plates, and 5 bowls as one broke (which is fortunate as the drawers are too shallow to hold six bowls). There’s my set of measuring cups, a Pyrex measuring jug and assorted bowls and dishes that get used for various things. The two brown ones were the containers for some fancy dips purchased at the supermarket!

saucepans-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 9: We have 3 saucepans, and I wouldn’t like any less. I tend to use them for storing leftovers in the fridge also. I have two sieves and two colanders. I use them all, but I am sure once they break I will manage with less.

The glass bottle is a beer growler for our local zero waste beer store.

drawer-under-the-oven-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 10: The drawer under the oven is even shallower than the other 6, and barely anything fits. We keep our two stainless steel roasting dishes in here and our rectangular Pyrex containers (we have 2, but one is currently in the freezer).

under-the-kitchen-sink-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Cupboard under the sink: We keep our extensive jar collection here. Glass jars are useful for everything, and are definitely a zero waste essential!

corner-cupboard-hoarder-minimalst-treading-my-own-pth

Corner Cupboard: We keep our coffee machine here, and the dish drying rack. There is also a plastic colander that came with the house (randomly) and more storage tins.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Pantry

Other cupboard: As well as storing our food, we keep our chopping boards here.

That’s the tour!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, what are your zero waste kitchen essentials? Do you love cooking, or hate it? How does your kitchen compare with mine? What could you not do without? What can you do perfectly well without? Have you ever thought you’d not be able to manage without something, only to find that you could? Is there anything that I have that jumps out at you as surprising? Are you a gadget fan, and if so, what are your favourite gadgets? Are you much more minimalist than this? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!