Posts

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!

Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

What does zero waste living actually look like on a daily basis? We all have a different version, and this is mine. I quit plastic in 2012 and began working towards zero waste not long after that, so I’ve been living this way a long time (over 4 years!). I’ve made so many changes to the way I do things and the choices I make, which all seem normal now. But of course, they are completely normal! ;)

These habits are ingrained and I don’t really have to think about them. However, for people starting out, it isn’t always obvious how to get from where we are to where we want to be.

It certainly wasn’t a straight line for me! It is so much easier looking back than looking ahead.

I thought I’d share a typical “day in the life” to explain some of the zero waste choices we make everyday. This is what zero waste living looks like for us.

Zero Waste Living: A Day in the Life

Our breakfast is usually coffee (made with a coffee machine – not a pod one! – that has a milk steamer) and porridge, a smoothie or sometimes good old toast and avocado.

The coffee machine was a second-hand freebie and we use it every day. We buy our coffee directly from a local cafe who grind their own beans and we take a reusable bag. We buy oats from our local bulk store, bread from a local bakery. When we started out we purchased milk in returnable bottles, but now we make our own cashew milk and use that in both the coffee and the porridge.

When it comes to the dishes we buy dishwashing liquid from our local bulk store. We take a glass jar or bottle and fill it up. I’ve never tried to make my own – sometimes it’s easier to buy things.We also buy laundry detergent from the bulk store.

I have a wooden dish brush with compostable bristles, a wooden pot brush, a scourer made from coconut coir and a bottle brush made from wire and coconut coir. I also have a plastic brush that came with my food processor before my plastic-free days (pre-2012). I will use it until it breaks, and then no more plastic for me!

img_20160711_090707

Our adopted greyhound called Hans lives with us, and we take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He prefers to do his business in the park a 10 minute walk from our house rather than in our yard.  I pick it up using old newspaper (usually the community newspaper that my husband likes to read first), carry it home (!) and we put it in our homemade dog poo worm farm.

Our bathroom routine is pretty simple. We decluttered a lot of products once we realised that they were unnecessary for us. We use bar soap for washing: I buy a big 2kg block packaging-free from a local lady and chop it into bars. My husband also uses this for his hair; I use rye flour (or occasionally bicarb) and white vinegar to rinse. I buy both of these from the bulk store.

Bulk Soap Chopped Into Bars Zero Waste Natural Beauty Treading My Own Path

Skincare Regime Zero Waste Bathroom Products Treading My Own Path

We use almond oil as a moisturiser. We use different deodorants as my husband reacts to bicarb and I don’t – I make both of them using ingredients purchased in bulk. I also make my own toothpaste and sunscreen. It sounds like a lot of effort, but most of these recipes are simply mixing a few things together in a jar.

I have a body brush which I use to exfoliate, and I make coffee scrub using the waste coffee grounds collected from a nearby cafe. (We put the rest of the coffee grounds in our compost as it is a great compost activator.)

DIY Coffee Scrub Treading My Own Path

I use a Diva cup (a reusable menstrual cup) and a reusable cloth pad.

The bamboo toothbrush is almost seen as a zero waste essential, but we no longer use them. We found the bristles falling out and washing down the drain too frustrating. Instead we have toothbrushes with reusable heads that need replacing once every six months. The toothbrush head and the packaging is currently recycled by Terracycle in Australia. (We got these in 2014. There are now many more bamboo toothbrushes on the market: it may be possible to find a better brand than the one we used to use. As we have these we will continue to use them until they no longer make the replacement heads.)

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

We buy toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, an Australian company that donate 50% of their profits to water charities and don’t package their paper in plastic. I also use the wrappers to pick up Hans’ business. I’ve used the toilet rolls to make seedling pots.

We don’t have tissues in our home. I have 3 hankies, and if I’m desperate I’ll use toilet paper and compost it. Yes, used tissues are compostable!

I work from home, but my husband heads out and he always takes his lunch with him in a stainless steel lunchbox (or occasionally, a Pyrex dish). Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel

Both of us keep a bamboo cutlery set (with a metal reusable straw added in), a water bottle, reusable coffee cup, a reusable shopping bag and reusable produce bags in our bags. They don’t weigh much or take up much space, and you never know when they might come in handy!

If we are heading the the bulk store we will sometimes take glass jars, and always extra produce bags and reusable shopping bags. My husband works close to our local bulk store so he tends to make a few trips a week rather than doing one big shop – it’s easier for him to carry home, and he gets less flustered!

We get a vegetable box delivered from a local company once a fortnight. It is plastic-free and organic, and we top up from our local independent store or the local farmers markets. We eat a plant-based diet, meaning we eat a lot of vegetables, pulses and grains. Oh, and chocolate!

Organic Collective Veg Box Treading My Own Path Organic Veg Box Delivery Treading My Own Path

Our veggie garden is beginning to be more productive and we’ve had lots of additional produce from there.

It’s easy to find everything we want to eat without packaging. We have so much choice that if we can’t find a food item without packaging, we don’t buy it. There are two exceptions that I can think of: we buy capers in a jar (at my husband’s insistence – we found a big size that lasts for 6 months) and alcohol.

We live very close to an amazing off-license/liquor store that sells a number of beers without packaging, and is always rotating their stock. My husband has two refillable growlers and fills them there, but he does also buy beer in glass bottles and cans occasionally (by which I mean, more than I’d like ;)

Graincru zero waste beer Treading My Own Path

The store also sells white wine in bulk, and we have purchased that, but we tend to buy wine in regular wine bottles. We don’t buy it often – it is generally limited to when we have guests.

We have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on our letterbox which eliminates a lot of the unnecessary advertising we receive. We have turned all of our bills to paperless, but we do still receive post. There are some works happening nearby and we have received at least 10 notices in the last 6 months telling us about them!

I would love to tell you that I have a paperless office, but I sit here surrounded on both sides by paper. I don’t buy any paper, nor have a printer – and still it comes! Often I use old letters, invoices and the back of used envelopes to make notes, and then I later put the info on my computer and recycle the paper. (I have been told that it is a better use of resources to recycle paper rather than compost it, and so that is what I do.)

All of the furniture in our home is second-hand, although not everything we own. However, we do always check the second-hand listings before buying anything new. We are usually happy to wait before buying, just in case.

Our clothes are a mix of pre-zero waste purchases, second hand charity shop finds, second hand eBay finds and new ethical/organic products. I’m working on making my wardrobe 100% biodegradable and natural fibres (or as close as I can) and whilst I love second hand, I also want to support small producers who are trying to do the right thing. It’s a balance.

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

We tend to only drink water (from the tap), tea or coffee, and my husband – beer. We buy loose leaf tea (from the bulk store) and use a teapot (well technically the thermos flask).

Our dinners are usually rice, quinoa or potatoes, and occasionally pasta, with vegetables and lentils/pulses. We eat a lot of nuts, too. I could dedicate a whole other post to what we eat (and maybe I will!). We always make enough for leftovers the following day, and maybe even a couple of days. Any leftovers that won’t be eaten soon go in the freezer – usually in a glass jar.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

If we go out for dinner we always take a container with us, and our reusables. You never know when you might be caught out! We rarely get takeaway as we prefer to dine in, although we do get takeaway pizza a couple of times a year. The empty boxes go in our compost bin.

Our home cleaning routine is pretty simple. We use water, vinegar, bicarb and a scrubber for almost everything. Clove oil is great in the bathroom as it kills mould. We have a mop (a metal frame with removable washable cloths) and a dustpan for the floors. We still have a vacuum cleaner, too.

We are both members of our local library, and my husband must be their best client! We can borrow magazines, DVDs and CDs in addition to books, and he has almost always maxed out his loan allowance (of 15 items!). We do not have a television, and we use the laptop to watch DVDs.

We empty our compost scraps daily into our compost bin. We have a small wastepaper basket which we use for our recycling, and we currently empty this about once a month.

What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Was there anything I missed off the list? Anything you’d like to know more about? How does this compare with your own lifestyle? Are there any changes there that you think will be easy for you to implement? Are there any changes there that you’d like to suggest to me? Anything else that you’d like to add? 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!

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

bedroom-bed

The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

desk

The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

table-treading-my-own-path

Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

sofa

Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

old-sofa

Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts 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!

My Top Ten Documentaries To Get You Thinking (and Questioning)

Recently a reader asked if I could write a blog post about my top environmental documentaries. How could I possibly refuse?! There are so many great documentaries out there, and watching them is a great way to understand the issues, learn more, and feel re-inspired to take action. Not to mention coerce friends and family into learning a little more (and maybe help them understand why we do what we do). Invite them over with the lure of (plastic-free) popcorn and hope that the message will give them something to think about ;)

Here it is: my top 10 eco documentaries. Actually, I’ve listed 12 (well, if you count the side recommendations, 14). I could give you a list of ten documentaries about plastic, but I wanted to cover some of the other topics I’m interested in, so there is a mix. I’ve listed them roughly in my order of preference.

So, drumroll please…

1. Bag It

Bag It! has to feature as number 1 on my list. It’s the documentary I saw in June 2012 after signing up for Plastic Free July that changed my whole perspective on the way I consume, how I view plastic, and in fact, the whole course of my life! I often describe it as “my lightbulb moment”, because, despite the cliche, it really was!

Bag It! is a documentary about the issues of plastic, but offers a raft of solutions, and steps that we as individuals can take to make change. It’s easy to follow, entertaining and funny, but with plenty to think about. It was released in 2011, but remains as relevant as ever. A must watch!

2. True Cost

True Cost is a documentary released in 2015 that looks behind the modern fashion industry. This is far more than a documentary about sweat shops. It explores the issues of materialism and overconsumption; the power of the big retailers and advertising; the health impacts suffered by workers and the environmental devastation that happens worldwide. It gives a face to some of the workers and workers, and provides stories of those trying to change the system. However much you think you know about fast fashion, I guarantee that you will learn something new.

3. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

This documentary is often touted by vegans as a “must-watch”, which tends to put non-vegans off. Please, do not be put off from watching this great documentary on the basis of what you eat for dinner! Cowspiracy is not a lecture, nor is it trying to make the world vegan. And there is no gory stuff. What it talks about is the impact that industrial agriculture has on the world – and how, when there was 1 billion people on the planet, this wasn’t an issue, now there’s 7 billion, it is becoming one. It also talks a lot about politics and power, which was what I found really interesting. Modern agriculture is big business, and has a lot of influence over governments, corporations…and even charities and environmental organisations. It is thought-provoking and well-made.

4. Tapped

Tapped is a documentary about bottled water. It’s my second-favourite plastic documentary after Bag It! It’s not just about the ridiculous waste that comes with drinking bottled water, and the environmental damage caused by producing so much single use plastic, but also the issues of power, greed and social justice (or lack of). What I found particularly alarming was the complete lack of regulation surrounding bottled water testing – yet it is cleverly marketed as “safer” than tap water. Bottled water isn’t just a plastic issue. It’s a people issue too – and there are some moving stories told by people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the industrialization of bottled water.

5. Just Eat It / Dive

There are two popular documentaries about food waste: the newest is Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, released in 2014. Made by the same people who made the Clean Bin Project in 2010 (which you will find below at number 6), Just Eat It follows their attempts to live only on food that would otherwise be thrown away. It questions why we throw so much food away, and what the environmental, social and other impacts are on the failures of our food system. Jen and Grant have a lighthearted and fun approach, but  beneath the humour there is something far less palatable.

Dive! is another documentary about food waste and dumpster diving. It’s older, and not as slick, but still just as informative. You can watch the Dive! trailer here.

6. The Clean Bin Project

Made by Jen and Grant from Just Eat It fame in 2010, the Clean Bin Project follows their attempt to live zero waste for a year, producing no landfill. They compete with each other to produce the smallest amount of waste, and the documentary is funny and entertaining whilst still exploring the bigger issues, particularly the issues with plastic and packaging. If you want to introduce others to the idea of plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles without overloading them with information or terrorizing them into inaction, then this movie (along with Bag It!) is a really great place to start.

7. Trashed

I prefer the documentaries I watch to end with at least a glimmer of home, and with Trashed, this is borderline. I left the screening feeling motivated to do more – but only just. It is hard-hitting. If you are someone who is easily overwhelmed, I don’t recommend this – and it definitely isn’t a movie to show friends who you are trying to encourage to make small changes! However, if you are somebody who really wants to understand the issues, and wants to see (very clearly!) the impact that our consumption is having on the planet, this documentary is a very graphic example of this.

8. Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things

Released this year, Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things is a project by the Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus that explores how minimalism has changed the lives of others for the better. It focuses heavily on consumption (or over-consumption), and how moving away from that has improved the lives of the people interviewed. It touches on other aspects of sustainability, including fast fashion and waste. It’s a thoughtful movie, and whilst I didn’t learn anything new, I’d still recommend it. It felt like a taster, and if you are somebody new to these ideas you will get a lot out of it. It’s positive and upbeat, with lots of inspiring stories about people living both conventional and unconventional lives with less stuff.

9. The Lightbulb Conspiracy

This documentary isn’t the most entertaining, beautifully shot or carefully crafted, but it talks about an issue that we don’t often hear about: planned obsolescence. It’s the way companies force us to replace products quicker than we’d like, and it is sure to get you thinking! Planned obsolescence is the deliberate design of a product to ensure that it breaks, falls apart and needs replacing, to encourage us to consume. The Lightbulb Conspiracy tells the story of the Light Bulb Cartel, a true story of companies coming together in the 1920s to deliberately make their products fail, in order to sell more. It also shows how other companies, including Apple and Hewlett Packard, continue to use planned obsolescence today.

10. Tiny / Small is Beautiful

Tiny and Small is Beautiful are both documentaries about tiny houses, and the people who chose to build them. Tiny follows the story of a guy who decides to build his own tiny house, whereas Small is Beautiful follows four couples, all building their own tiny homes. Of the two, Tiny is my favourite, as it not only follows the guy making the film, but also interviews others who have made tiny houses their home. Whilst the filmmaker is building the tiny house primarily to make a documentary and begin a career in film-making, his experiences are still interesting. What really makes the documentary is the other stories – the people who have chosen to live in these homes, what led them to make these choices and how they feel their lives have changed as a result.

If you are interested in tiny houses, Small is Beautiful is also worth viewing. You can watch the Small is Beautiful trailer here.

11. No Impact Man

Colin Beavan, who made No Impact Man in 2009, in which he decides to live a no impact life, reducing his waste, transport use, energy consumption (at one point he gets rid of his fridge!) and food miles. He brings his (sometimes reluctant) family on the journey with him. He recieves a fair amount of criticism with both the movie and his decision to make these lifestyle choices in the first place: some question his motivation (he chose to live the life to write a book about his experiences), and others wonder about his choice to film and share some private family moments with his audience. Whilst he does not always come across as likeable, this documentary is all the better for Colin Beavan’s complete warts-an-all approach to telling his story. Incidentally, his passion and commitment to the cause has been proven over time: in 2016, he is still talking about these issues and is interviewed in Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things.

12. Rise of the Eco Warriors

I’ve included this documentary because, despite the name (cheesy as!) and the first 20 minutes or so – where a bunch of mostly white teenagers and young people who have crowdsourced and fundraised for their trip, arrive in Borneo with a plan to “save the world” in 100 days – Rise of the Eco Warriors does has something to offer. After the first 20 minutes, the reality of the situation hits the “eco warriors” and what unfolds is a story about people trying to work together, the enormous devastation that palm oil plantations cause and the complex issues at the heart of it all. If you’d like to know more about palm oil and deforestation, this is definitely worth watching.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your favourite eco or environmental documentaries? Are there any that you’d add to this list? Any that you recommend I watch? Were there any that were life-changing (or “lightbulb moments”) for you? Have you seen any of the movies I’ve listed, and what did you think of them? Which were your favourites, and which did you not enjoy at all?  Anything else that you’d like to add? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

no-thank-you-im-out

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Labels or No Labels? (A Zero Waste Minimalist Reflects)

I made the decision to give up plastic long before I ever heard the term “zero waste”. Back then, in 2012, my focus was on reducing my plastic consumption. It was only after I stopped purchasing items in plastic, and began to choose cardboard and glass instead, that I really noticed for the first time how much packaging I was consuming. Glass and cardboard are heavy, and now I was carrying glass bottles home on the train, rather than plastic packets, I really began to notice it!

When I found out that glass is not recycled in WA, where I live, but crushed into road base (which is not the virtuous cycle of recycling we’re told about glass), I decided that the better option was to avoid packaging altogether. Living with less plastic became living with less waste.

As I started thinking about waste more generally, I began to realise that many of the items I owned were not being used, and were therefore going to waste. If I donated these items to people who could use them, that was a far better use of resources. I’d read about minimalism, but it didn’t seem to be something that I could do. I realised that I needed less stuff, but I didn’t want to reduce my possessions down to a handful of things that fitted into a suitcase.

When I first heard of the name zero waste, much later, I didn’t think that it included me. I took the term very literally, and I figured that because I still recycled, I could not consider myself zero waste. I couldn’t consider myself to be a minimalist either, because minimalists don’t own three saucepans and consider it necessary to have both a round baking dish and a square baking dish, and definitely wouldn’t deem a set of muffin trays a must-have item.

One reason I didn’t like the labels was because I felt that they were absolute, with no room for error. It was as if, by declaring myself to be zero waste or a minimalist, I was implying that I was something that I was not. It seemed somehow fraudulent. How can you call yourself zero waste when you still recycle? How can you call yourself a minimalist when you own more than 100 items?

But what I found was that the labels zero waste and minimalism pique people’s interest. Everyone has ideas about what these labels mean, and they want to ask questions.

Questions about waste: Does zero waste mean you don’t use toilet paper? How do you buy things without plastic? What on earth is a worm farm?

Or questions about stuff: But if you don’t own things, what do you do in the evenings? Do you sit on the floor? What about photos?

It’s a great way to get people thinking, and talking…and maybe even doing!

When you have a generic statement about trying to live lighter on the planet, create less waste, and live with a bit less stuff, it’s too vague for people to really grasp what that looks like.

That, I think, is a missed opportunity.

It’s a missed opportunity because living with less waste is something that we can all do. It doesn’t mean going without, or being deprived, or weaving your own clothes and living in a cave. (Unless you want to, of course!)

People who describe themselves as zero waste or minimalists look just like other people. We live in regular houses. We have regular jobs. We do regular things. You couldn’t pick us out in a line-up! We just choose to create less waste, and own less stuff. Owning a reusable water bottle or refusing a plastic straw is not difficult, nor time-consuming. Donating a bunch of items you never use to people who truly need them is a win-win scenario.

And so, I use labels. Not because I’m perfect. Of course I’m not! Not because I want anyone to think that I’m perfect, either. But because it helps to start the conversation. And it helps others realise that these lifestyles are not about being perfect. It isn’t all-or-nothing, and every action makes a difference.

These labels are not about absolutes. They are about ideals. They are something to work towards. They are about values. We use these labels because we share the same values.

You can call yourself zero waste and still put out the recycling bin. You can call yourself a minimalist and still own furniture, and kitchen appliances. You can aspire to one of these lifestyles, or to both, and not call yourself either.

What’s important isn’t what we choose to call ourselves, or how we decide to describe our lifestyles, but the actions that we take.

We all have different lives, and different circumstances. We all make different choices, and have different versions of “enough”. Zero waste and minimalism look different for everybody. Every version is equally important, not matter what it looks like.

Labels can be useful, but they shouldn’t be a distraction. Let’s not get bogged down with definitions and comparisons. Let’s make better choices. It isn’t about perfection: it’s about doing what we can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about labels? Do you love them? Do you hate them? Are you indifferent towards them? Do you see them as a distraction, or see them as a useful tool to start conversations? Do you see them as a way to group together people with the same values, or as a way for people to compare themselves with others and perhaps be frozen into inaction? Do you like some labels, but avoid other labels? Do you feel that using labels makes you feel part of a community? Do you feel that using labels opens you up for criticism? Have you had any experiences, good or bad, from using labels to describe the choices you make? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Minimalist House Tour (Yes, Hoarders Can Change)

Last week I talked about how I’d successfully decluttered my wardrobe (after many attempts and years of trying). In my journey towards living with less waste, I’ve learned that owning stuff we don’t use, don’t like and don’t need is as much a waste as throwing it away. After all, it’s taking up space, time and energy, and for what?! It isn’t being used!

Decluttering doesn’t have to mean throwing stuff away, though. There is no need to send anything to landfill – so long as you have the patience and the commitment to seek out new homes for the things you no longer require. Even the act of giving things away has really cemented in me the understanding that if I don’t want to create waste, I have to think very carefully about what I let through my front door. If I don’t need it, it isn’t coming in…because it will only be something to deal with (and stress over) later.

After years of battling with trying to let go; knowing that my stuff was taking up my time, energy and space, but feeling powerless to act, I’ve found my own way. A way that didn’t involve car boot-fulls of stuff to the tip, or black bin liners dumped in the nearest charity bin with more that a little doubt that any of those items would get re-sold. I made peace with my stuff, and my past choices. Rather than wasting my energy feeling guilty and remorseful about those choices, I used this energy to find new homes for the things I no longer used. Decluttering with a conscience.

My driving force has always been to find my “enough”. I’m not interested in pursuing as little as possible, or being able to count my possessions, or fit them into one suitcase. My “enough” doesn’t look like that. My “enough” is everything that I need, and nothing more. My “enough” means several different sized baking tins; it means a collection of glass jars for food storage and preserving; it means more than one pair of shoes. What my “enough” is not: it is not stuff languishing in the back of the cupboard. It is not stuff that makes me feel guilty, or remorseful. It is not stuff that I’m keeping “just-in-case” when I know deep down that “just-in-case” will never happen.

On that note, I’d love to show you round my home! This is what “enough” looks like for me. Your “enough” probably looks completely different. It’s not about right or wrong, or better or worse. It’s about being true to ourselves. I’m sure there are things I own that you can’t imagine why I’d need them, and similarly, I’m sure I don’t have things that you couldn’t possibly live without! (The great thing about this is, when other people have things that we don’t own, there is always the opportunity to share – to lend and borrow!)

The Kitchen:

kitchen-counter-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path cupboard-open-kitchen-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Inside some of the drawers:

junk-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path reusables-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path saucepans-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path food-storage-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Under the sink:

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

The Lounge Area:

seating-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Our Dining Table:

table-window-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

My Desk / The Spare Room:

desk-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path spare-room-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path shoes-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The Bathroom:

bathroom-bedroom-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path shower-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path bathroom-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The bathroom cupboard:

bathroom-cupboard-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Books:

books-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The Bedroom:

bedroom-bed-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path bedroom-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Under the bed:

under-the-bed-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

I used to try to imagine what it would feel like to live in an uncluttered home, and let me tell you, it feels so good to finally be there!  Knowing that there will be no more weekends of sorting and decluttering, and that my weekends are mine to spend how I really want to. Which isn’t rearranging my stuff…again.  I’d wonder if I’d regret letting go of things, but in truth, I haven’t missed anything. It’s amazing how little I truly need. I just needed to let go of the excess to find this out. All that extra stuff was just wasted time, money and energy… and a huge distraction. I just wish I’d realised sooner, and made a few less mistakes along the way.

Decluttering hasn’t been an easy journey for me, but it has been rewarding and so worthwhile. Now I’ve had the chance to reflect, I’ve taken all those lessons and insights, and I’m putting them together into a brand new resource. If you’re looking to declutter your life (and especially if you hate waste!) I think you’re going to love it! All is revealed here.

What’s next for me? Well, I’m keen to keep experimenting with the idea of less. To keep questioning if I really need things, and to let them go if I don’t. I’m confident that by choosing more versatile garments in future, I will minimalise my wardrobe further. I’m sure I can make space in other areas, too. Time will tell : )

Now I’d love to hear from you!? What did you think of my version of “enough”? How does it compare to your idea of “enough”? Has your version of “enough” changed over time? If you are decluttering, what are your current goals? What are your biggest problem areas, and where have your biggest successes been? If you’re already living a minimalist lifestyle, what were the biggest lessons you learned along the way? What were the hardest items for you to give away/let go of, and how do you feel about them now? If you had your time again, what would you do differently? Anything else you’d like to add? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!