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From Decluttering to Done: can this one step make all the difference?

About a year ago, I was in a local town hall, with friends, watching a live band perform on a Saturday night. I was enjoying the music, and the company, but in the back of my mind I was distracted, thinking about other stuff. Or more specifically, I was thinking about stuff. My stuff.

I’d spent the day trying to declutter. I was planning to continue the following day. I was wondering whether I should get rid of something (I don’t remember what – maybe an item of clothing), or if I needed it, and what the best way to dispose of it would be… and then I caught myself. I noticed what I was doing, and realised how absurd it was.

I was letting my stuff spoil the moment. I was letting my stuff take up valuable space in my mind, as well as in my home. I was letting the process of decluttering take over my free time and my thoughts.

I’d been slowly decluttering over the past three years. I’d got rid of a heap of things I didn’t need and didn’t use, but the process had been slow. Here and now, at the gig, I realised that the longer I took, the more I was taking time and energy away from doing what I really wanted to be doing. (Which was not rearranging my wardrobe – again.)

The longer I took, the more I’d miss out on living my best life. “My best life” didn’t mean anything profound – it was as simple as this one evening.

Being able to spend time with my friends, or relax on a Saturday night. I could carry on decluttering the way I’d been going, and I’d still get there, but it would be long and drawn-out. How many moments like this would I miss in the process? I didn’t want to waste any more time. And so I didn’t. I made a plan.

I was clear what I wanted: a life with less stuff. I knew why in general terms: more time, more freedom, more connections and experiences. Yet I’d never really thought about what this actually looked like or felt like for me. The concert seemed to connect those dots. It really drilled down to my “why”.

What did more time look like? What did it feel like? What did I personally mean by freedom? What kind of experiences was I searching for? Was it about the big, soul-searching experiences, or was it being able to enjoy the simple things on a Sunday afternoon, undistracted by chores and clutter?

Why did I want a life with less stuff? There were many reasons.

I wanted more time.

I didn’t want to spend hours cleaning my home, or sorting, or dusting and vacuuming and putting stuff away.

I didn’t want to spend time rearranging ornaments or shopping for accessories.

I didn’t want to waste time looking for stuff amidst the clutter, or rummaging through overflowing drawers or cupboards.

I didn’t want to open my wardrobe to find a stuffed closet yet nothing to wear, trying on endless outfits before just wearing the same thing I always wore.

I didn’t want to be preoccupied thinking about my stuff.

What did I want to do instead? I wanted to spend my free time exploring, learning, and spending time with the people I care about. Visiting National Parks, reading, and leisurely breakfasts with family.

I wanted to spend my free time experiencing new things, being outdoors, and getting involved with my local community. I wanted to spend time with my friends, in a local town hall on a Saturday night, watching a band – not distracted by old jumpers and other stuff.

I wanted the stuff I owned to be useful and make my life easier – not distract me and take time away from the truly important things.

I wanted more freedom.

For me, freedom simply means having options. It’s not about being able to pack everything I own into a suitcase and heading off into the sunset. For me it’s about being able to make choices about how I spend my time. Not having to work extra long hours to pay for stuff I don’t need, or feeling burdened by a house full of possessions that need maintaining.

For me, freedom comes from having less stuff. Not owning more than I think is necessary (what I call my “enough”). The less I own, the more freedom I create for myself because the more choices I have. My husband and I can live comfortably in a small space with little storage. In Perth, this means we can live in a central location in a neighbourhood we like, close to amenities and transport. If we needed to move, or to pack up, we have the choice to do so – and owning less makes it easier.

My family live on the other side of the world, and part of this freedom means having enough savings in our bank account that if I needed to make a trip home, I could. It is far more important to me to have the money saved for that than to own a brand new dining suite, or the latest mobile phone.

Owning less also means less debt. The only debt we have is our mortgage. We saved up a sizable deposit to reduce the amount of debt we took on, and we made sure we could comfortably afford the repayments. Taking on a mortgage was a big decision, and we would love to be debt-free, but we don’t feel like our mortgage is stopping us doing the things we want to do – and for us, that is important. Previously we rented, and we loved the freedom that gave us. We don’t really see one as being better than the other: both offer different freedoms to us.

I wanted more connections and experiences.

I want to spend time with friends and family, I want to learn and to travel and to experience new things, and I want to have time to get involved in and contribute to my local community. I used to feel embarrassed about inviting friends over because I always felt that my home was a mess. As I began decluttering, a lot of the mess seemed to go away – and what was left was easier to deal with. I can’t believe I let my stuff get in the way of those relationships!

I also found that by breaking the cycle of working and shopping, I could use the money saved to go out for dinner with family, or take a short break down south to get amongst the trees and reconnect with nature. I created space in my evenings and weekends to take part in community events and contribute in a way that added value to my life and allows me to give something back to my local community.

I wanted less guilt, and less waste.

Every time I was faced with something in my home that I didn’t need, didn’t use or didn’t like, I would feel a wave of guilt. I’d feel guilty that I’d bought something that I hadn’t used, feel guilty that I’d got sucked in by some clever marketing campaign, maybe feel guilty that I wasn’t quite how I wanted to be. (If you have anything hanging in your wardrobe that doesn’t fit, you will know this feeling!) I don’t enjoy feeling guilty, so why didn’t I do something about it?

Somehow I’d justify keeping all these things because I hated the waste. Except, I’d failed to see that by keeping things that I didn’t want, didn’t use and didn’t like, I was creating waste. I was wasting good resources by not using them. If I wasn’t going to use them (and I mean by this, if I wasn’t going to use them properly, or regularly – if I wasn’t going to love them and get the best use out of them) then they were already being wasted.

Rather than feeling guilty about getting rid of perfectly good stuff, I began to realise that it was far worse and less ethical to keep perfectly good things for myself when I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to use them. It would be far better to pass them on for someone else to love them and get maximum use from them. Not only that, but all this worrying and contemplating was wasting my time…time I could spend doing other, better things.

There’s nothing wrong with taking time to declutter and make space in our lives. These things do take time. Decluttering is not something that is finished in a single weekend. But time is valuable, and the longer we take, the more we miss out on doing the important things.

I have no doubt that in the three years that it took me to get to this point, I missed out on great opportunities and experiences. After the concert, I was determined not to allow another three years to slip by. I wasn’t putting my dreams on hold for three more years. I didn’t want to ever be at another concert worrying about how many things were in my wardrobe.

More time and more freedom – we all want that. (“I really wish there were less hours in the day”, said no-one, ever.) What was a game-changer for me, what really made me see results, was actually drilling down into the specifics of what more time and more freedom actually looked like in my life, and what benefits they would bring to me, personally. What was it that I really wanted? How would I use this extra time? What did “freedom” actually mean to me? Then the biggest question – how was the stuff I owned preventing me from achieving this? How could decluttering, and letting stuff go, help me get closer to these goals?

Once I was really, truly clear on my goals, everything began to change. Joining the dots shifted my perspective: I was no longer somebody who simply liked the idea of a life with less stuff, and who slowly chipped away at decluttering the excess. The task at hand now had meaning and purpose, and a sense of urgency that hadn’t existed before. Even my decluttering nemesis, the wardrobe, finally came within my grasp. (In next week’s blog I’m going to share some “before” and “after” pictures so stay tuned.)

It’s not enough to simply want to make changes in our lives. We have to know why. We have to be clear on the benefits, and what they mean to us. Change can be hard, and there will be setbacks and wrong turns along the way. Being really clear as to why we’re doing it, and what we truly want, is what enables us to get up after these missteps, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried to make changes in your life? Have you considered your “why”? Have you thought about what success will look like, and feel like, for you? What are your main reasons for wanting to change? Have you struggled with change in the past, and did you manage to overcome those struggles? o you have any insights or tips to share? Have you embraced the idea of decluttering – and has that embrace transformed into action? Are you stuck at the planning stage? Have you had success – and what were your secrets? Do you have anything else you’d like to share! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Can Decluttering be the Opposite of Waste?

For the longest time, I thought that decluttering and zero waste were opposites. Didn’t decluttering mean chucking decent stuff away, and zero waste mean throwing nothing away and hoarding it all?

I couldn’t imagine that the two could work together, yet decluttering has been an important part of my zero waste journey. I’ve come to learn that decluttering and zero waste living are not opposites at all. Decluttering can be just as much about wasting less. If you want to live zero waste, don’t write off decluttering.

Here are five reasons why decluttering is a valuable part of living with less waste.

Decluttering doesn’t mean sending to landfill (or dumping at the charity shop).

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted items, the two most commonly cited options are discard or donate. Discarding really should be a last resort, saved only for those things that are damaged beyond repair, non-recyclable, and possibly dangerous. But what about donating?

Charity shops want goods that are clean, in working order and desirable.They need to be able to sell them! (Charity shops are not places to take soiled, damaged or dubious goods simply because we can’t bear the guilt of throwing them away ourselves.)

But charity shops aren’t the solution for everything, and they don’t have limitless storage. Taking our winter wardrobes in the height of summer will likely mean good quality items end up unsold simply because there isn’t the demand, and offloading things in the week after Christmas when the rest of the country is doing the same thing probably won’t be much help, either. Not all charity shops can accept electrical items.

If you really care about waste, you don’t need to ‘hope’ that the charity shop will on-sell your stuff. You can take matters into your own hands. Finding new owners for the things you want to declutter is the best way to ensure they stay out of landfill.

Before donating, call the charity shop and ask if there are things that they need (and also things that they don’t). There will always be things in high demand and things that aren’t.

Don’t limit your donating to the charity shops. Women’s refuges, charities and animal sanctuaries are other places that accept donations. Schools, clubs, community groups, crafting societies and charities all have needs and might be able to help take unwanted items. Online classified sites like Gumtree are a great way to find new owners for unwanted goods, and a way to offer broken goods for parts and spares.

Decluttering is a way to maximize the use of something.

This sounds counter-intuitive – how is giving something away going to maximize its use? This depends on whether we actually use the things in question. Owning stuff we don’t need, don’t use and don’t like is a complete waste.

There are two main reasons we keep things we don’t need: just in case (fear of the future), or guilt (regret for the past).

We might need it in the future. That is true. But if we haven’t needed it so far, what are the chances? Could we get a replacement quickly, affordably and second-hand? This will depend on individual circumstances, but in most cases, there is no need to keep something just in case.

There will be someone out there looking for that item, who will use it today.

We might feel guilty. There are many reasons that we feel guilt: we made a poor choice, spent too much money, didn’t lose the weight we’ hoped, dislike the handmade gift that we know took so much effort and time.  Keeping something out of guilt does not increase the chances that we will use it.

Keeping an unwanted item and thinking that we somehow alleviate the guilt won’t work. The best way to ease the guilt is to let the item go.

We sometimes try to justify keeping things that that we don’t use rather than giving them away by telling ourselves that we are reducing waste. Actually, the opposite is true. Owning something that you never use is the biggest waste of all. It is far better to give these things to people who truly need them and will use them every day.

Decluttering as an end, not a means.

Decluttering is about removing the unnecessary, the unused and the unwanted from our homes. It’s about removing the excess, and keeping only the things we find useful and beautiful. If our homes are filled with items we use regularly and appreciate, there is little or no waste.

Yet decluttering will only reduce waste if it’s treated as a one-way process, rather than a means. If the purpose of decluttering is simply to make room in the house for a big shopping spree where the old stuff is replaced with a bunch of new stuff, clearly that is going to generate a whole heap of waste.

Until the cycle of consumption is broken, and needless things are no longer brought into the home, decluttering can never mean less waste.

Decluttering helps conserve resources.

Have you ever tried to buy something second-hand, and not been able to find it? Sometimes we need things, and we want to purchase them second-hand, yet that isn’t an option. If we really need that item, we’ll probably have to go and buy it new.

Yet somewhere, there would have been an unwanted, second-hand option that would have been perfect.

Rather than keeping things to ourselves, we should embrace the opportunity to share what we have. There are so many resources tied up in cupboards, wardrobes, playrooms, shed, garages and attics around the world in the form of unused stuff.

Decluttering frees up these resources so others can use them. Donating items we don’t need gives somebody else the opportunity to use them, and helps prevent new purchases.

Decluttering helps form new habits.

I have always found decluttering hard. I found it hard because I was forced to confront my poor decisions (impulse purchases, wasted money, non-repairable items), and my failure to achieve what I’d hoped (hobbies that never got off the ground, clothes I never slimmed into).

I know I’m not alone in this.

We’ve all made choices that we regret, and we’ve all purchased things that in hindsight, we wouldn’t purchase again. Because I struggled so much with decluttering, I now think much more carefully about what I bring into my home. It forced me to examine my old habits, and think about the decisions I had made in the past.

As a result, I now make better choices. Can the item be mended? Can it be recycled? Is it built to last? Do I have a real, genuine need to own it? Is there a second-hand market for it?

I can appreciate well-made clothes, or admire chic decor or clever design, but that doesn’t mean that I need to make a purchase.

There will always be beautiful things. If I don’t need it, or can’t see how I will dispose of it responsibly, then I don’t buy it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you living or working towards a zero waste lifestyle, and how do you feel about decluttering? Is it something you’ve struggled with or something you’ve embraced? Have your views changed over time? What have you struggled to declutter? What are the reasons that held you back? What are your success stories? Are you a master declutterer? What are your tips for ensuring your items find good homes? What unconventional places have you found that will accept your unwanted items? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!

Zero Waste Living: What about Recycling?

The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. That does not mean buying everything in recyclable packaging and simply recycling it, however! Recycling is not a perfect solution, and still uses huge amounts of resources and energy.

Many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled either, but downcycled, meaning they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further downcycled, and eventually downcycled products will end up in landfill.

So no, the zero waste movement is not about recycling. Recycling is a last resort.

However, to create zero landfill waste and zero recycling would be a mean feat indeed, and I have not heard of a zero waster who does not recycle at least a little. We all do our best, and aim to recycle as little as possible, but it is extremely hard to produce no waste at all! (And yes, I do see recycling as waste.)

Whilst people living zero waste lifestyles often share pictures of their landfill trash (or lack of it!), sharing recycling is less common. It is, however, something that I (and I’m sure it’s the same for other zero wasters) get asked about a lot.

How much recycling do I produce in a month? Good question. I always say it’s the equivalent of a couple of waste paper baskets, but what does that actually look like – and what type of recycling waste does our household produce?

Well, let there be no doubts or misunderstandings! This is our entire recycling waste produced in one month – from 1st to the 30th April. We didn’t do anything differently; we didn’t set ourselves any challenges – although our observations did change our behaviour slightly, as you’ll see!

How Much Recycling Does a Zero Waste Home Produce in a Month?

As I said, I do not know how this compares to others, and I’m not particularly interested in comparisons. I want to do the best I can, and I’m always trying to improve. I’m definitely not perfect!

Days 1 – 10:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 1 to 10 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home: Recycling Days 1 – 10

Looking at this you’d think all we consumed was beer, chocolate and toilet paper, wouldn’t you?! I feel I must defend myself. Except there is no defence!

  • Yes, my husband and I did actually eat all 5 of those chocolate bars in 10 days (plus some bulk chocolate too, I’m pretty sure).
  • The beer (which my husband drinks; I don’t like it) is a work in progress. There is a great little shop really close by that sells beer refills, and my husband does go there, but he still has a tendency to buy beer in packaging. Whenever I question him about it, he points out that he didn’t sign up for zero waste living, only the plastic-free part! One of his favourite brands has recently been made available in aluminium cans, which is great from a recycling point-of-view (all glass in WA is crushed into road base rather than being made into new bottles). However, lots of cans are BPA-lined, so the health aspect isn’t great. Although that could be said for drinking beer…
  • No, we didn’t actually use that much loo roll in 10 days! I keep the paper for other uses, but my husband had a clearout of the cupboard. The two cardboard tubes are a more accurate! (I tend to keep these for planting seedlings, not sure why these are here.)
  • The rest is a couple of invoices, a business card (nowadays I hand these straight back so this must be an old one) and a couple of scrappy bits of paper. The gold paper is from one of the chocolate bars (the others had aluminium foil, which I’ll come back to later).

Days 11 – 20:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 11 to 20 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 11 – 20

This period is better! I’ve controlled my chocolate consumption (I was a little shocked at the previous picture).

  • Three rolls of toilet paper and their wrappers. Some zero wasters use “cloth” which means reusable fabric; my husband and I don’t – and there is no way I’d ever be able to persuade him to make the switch! (I’ve talked about this decision on more detail here.)
  • More beer – this time in glass. The glass will get crushed and turned into road base which is a little depressing.
  • One chocolate wrapper, one envelope that came in the mail and a receipt.

Days 21 – 30:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 21 to 30 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 21 – 30

This looks like a lot (and it is).

  • The big stack of papers on the top row in the middle are the result of my going through all of our folders. I do this every 6 months or so to remove all the unnecessary stuff. The pile is about an inch thick and contains old statements, letters, documents, notes, papers from some workshops that I ran, and receipts/invoices.
  • The local newspaper – no idea where this came from but my husband is a fan of the community newspaper, so I guess he picked it up to read.
  • An insurance brochure – uncovered whilst going through our folders.
  • Random bits of cardboard packaging and instructions from when we moved in to our new home, including the packet the keys were in and instructions on how a draining board works. Useful stuff!
  • A very old ibuprofen packet.
  • A “Thank You” card that I didn’t have the heart to give back.
  • A list, a post-it note and a loyalty card for somewhere we haven’t been since forever.
  • Another toilet paper wrapper.
  • The labels from my tent which were still attached to the bag – and I bought this in 2003!
  • A small handful of receipts. I generally decline receipts but sometimes we need them and sometimes they sneak in.
  • Two envelopes from mail that we received.

So that’s it – how much recycling we produced in 30 days. Except that’s not quite it. This is the stuff that was put into our bin for kerbside collection. There’s a little more that wasn’t… yet.

Aluminium Foil:

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling from February to May

You may have noticed that I do have a small chocolate bar habit, and with each bar comes an aluminum wrapper. Aluminium can be recycled but single wrappers are a bit small for the machinery.

I save mine up until it’s a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and then I place that ball in the recycling. This is all the foil we’ve collected in 3 months (Feb – May). Once the ball is big enough it will go out for recycling.

Steel bottle tops:

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops for Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops in April

Because my husband is switching to cans we have less of these. They can be recycled, but are so small that a single one will slip through the process. To recycle, collect in a tin can, and once the tin can is half full squish it in the middle to stop the bottle tops falling out. The can can then be put in the recycling and the tops should be recycled.

Soft and noisy plastic:

Zero Waste Home Soft Plastic Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Soft and noisy plastic recycling Feb – May

Soft and noisy plastics can be recycled (or rather, downcycled into garden furniture) but they are often not recycled by kerbside collection systems. In Australia there are bins inside Coles supermarkets where these can be deposited.

I dislike plastic with a passion and try to avoid buying any, but the odd piece comes my way. I save it all up and then take it to the supermarket – usually a couple of times a year.

This is what I’ve collected since February (so 3 months) – it weighs 54g. It’s more than usual because when we moved in to our new home, the draining board, draining rack and chopping board were all wrapped in plastic.

What I’ve landfilled:

Zero Waste Home Landfill Waste Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Two months of landfill waste

For completeness, I thought I’d add a picture of my landfill waste. I’ve been collecting it since March 1st this year. Previously I was reluctant to as I thought it was really gimmicky – but then I realised that it would be a useful visual prop when I give talks.

So this is two months worth of landfill. It contains: the backing from a sticker, a piece of pink tape (that was used to seal the thank-you card above), an old phone SIM card, an elastic band entwined with nylon fibre, an ibuprofen blister pack, an old credit card, two plastic bottle lids that have broken and some packing plastic binding.

There you have it – my complete recycling waste and landfill waste from my zero waste home for the last 30 days.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be.

If you can do better that’s great – and I’d love to hear your tips! On the other hand, if you think this looks impossibly inachievable, remember that I began my journey four years ago.

It’s taken me 4 years to reduce my waste to what I’ve shown you here. Personally, I’m pleased with how far I’ve come, and I hope that in the future I can reduce my waste even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what did you think? Do you have any ideas how I could reduce my waste further? Can you spot any glaringly obvious areas for improvement? (Please don’t say “eat less chocolate” – I’ve already figured that one out!) Do you have any ideas where I can recycle the things in my landfill jar – particularly credit cards and sim cards as I suspect I’ll have more in the future? What do you think about the idea of people sharing their waste? Do you find it motivating or disheartening? Do you share your own waste progress (if so, tell me the link so I can have a look and maybe learn something new)? Any other thoughts? I really love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

5 Lessons on “Enough” Learned from Minimalism

At the very core of minimalism is the idea of embracing “enough”: figuring out what is truly important and useful, and letting go of the rest. We often think about this in terms of the things we own, but actually it’s more than that. Minimalism is not just about having enough. It’s just as much about being enough.

Being enough means finding contentment and acceptance with our lives the way they are right now, in the present moment. That’s not to say we don’t want things to be different, nor is it dismissive of the fact that change can be good and worthwhile; it’s more about letting go of expectations.

It’s about finding happiness in the present, rather than pinning it on the future (I’ll be happier when x). It all comes down to enjoying the journey rather than focusing solely on the outcome – which may or may not happen as we’d like it to.

That’s not to say it’s easy! We’re hardwired to dream and scheme and plan, wish things were different, imagine what the end result will look like before we’ve actually done the work, and compare ourselves to others.

Unlearning those habits is a big task. Being aware is a much easier first step.

Here are 5 lessons that minimalism has taught me about “enough”.

1. “I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.”

There is so much that needs changing in the world, and of course I want to do as much as I can to help make it happen… but I can only do so much. I used to lament about how I should be doing more, but I’ve realised that this made me stressed and ultimately more unproductive – I was almost frozen with fear and doubt.

I can’t do everything, but I can do something… and that is a whole lot better than nothing. That is a great place to start.

Whatever I do, I am content that at this moment, it is enough. When I was worked up about not being able to do everything, even one extra thing seemed like a huge burden. I’ve noticed that when I feel more relaxed that what I do is enough, I start to notice these things as opportunities to do just a little bit more.

2. Comparisonitis is a waste of energy.

I love using social media as a way of spreading my message, and sharing the messages of others. But I’m also aware that it can be a slippery slope towards getting comparisonitis… which is where we start to think we aren’t enough. We start to feel bad, and think about what we can do or buy to make ourselves better, rather than accepting that we are the way we are.

Remember, the images and stories we share on social media are (usually) a curated snapshot of the best or most interesting things in our lives. When all these images are put together, the feeds we see can be overwhelming. Being exposed to a constant stream of how much fun everyone else is having (which isn’t so much the reality as the perception) can negatively impact our feeling of self-worth.

I try to follow only people I find inspiring, who keep things (mostly) positive and have a practical focus. I keep the aspirational lifestyle stuff to a minimum. I also avoid checking social media when I’m feeling grumpy or stressed. It helps keep comparisonitis to a minimum.

3. You don’t need likes, follows or shares to be complete.

It’s great when other people like and comment on our feeds – it’s confirmation that we’ve touched someone else with our thoughts or images. Who doesn’t enjoy those shared connections? But chasing approval shouldn’t be the focus or the why. There’s enjoyment and satisfaction to be found, regardless of the approval of others, in the process of writing, creating and sharing.

Personal satisfaction keeps us going when the things we share maybe don’t have the responses we’d like. Worrying about winning the approval of people you don’t even know is a distraction.

Appreciate the likes and comments and shared connections that you do have, and be thankful for them, because behind the likes and emojis are real people who genuinely care about what you say.

4. Do what feels right.

This is as much about gut instinct and intuition as it is about figuring things out on a completely practical level. Just because someone else does things a different way, that doesn’t mean that’s what is best for you. For example, I’ve read articles that have told me that the ideal blog post is 500 – 700 words. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to squeeze what I want to say in so few words! And guess what – people still read what I write!

For me, that was less than enough. I am comfortable with a little more. Another example: I cannot fit my entire possessions in a suitcase, and I have more than 100 things. But I don’t feel that I am tripping over things I don’t need, so I am not chasing less. I am happy knowing that for me, this is enough. It is not a competition.

5. Don’t let feelings of less than enough hold you back.

Our own journeys and our own stories are just as important as anybody else’s. When I first started contemplating blogging in 2012, I nearly didn’t start because I saw Beth Terry’s blog and thought: well, she’s already covered everything so well, what more do I have to offer?

Later (once I’d started blogging, but still in the early days) I began embracing minimalism, and I wasn’t sure whether I should write about that because people like Joshua Becker already do an amazing job.

But then I wondered: maybe there’s a place for me, too?

Maybe I don’t know everything about living plastic-free, and maybe I have too much stuff to be a minimalist, but I still have something to add to the conversation. It’s not about being the best.

If I’d worried about not being the best, I’d never have started, and I’d have missed out on so many great experiences, lessons and connections.

Minimalism is about far more than simply getting rid of a bunch of stuff: it’s a whole new way of thinking. I’m not perfect at any of these, and I still slip up, but being more aware of finding “enough” within myself has made me more positive, boosted my productivity and increased my happiness.

I never realized when I first decided that I had too many possessions that the journey I was about to embark on would be so rewarding, and have such an impact on my life. But it has, and I’m grateful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on the idea of being “enough”? Do you associate minimalism with the idea of being enough, or do you focus on the idea of having enough? Do you focus on another idea entirely? Where do you sit on the positivity-and-acceptance-of-yourself scale? Do you focus on the successes you’ve had, and the satisfaction that you get from just doing? Do you get bogged down with comparing yourself to others, or wishing things were different? How do you deal with the knowledge that there’s always more to be done? Have you any experience of using mindfulness techniques, and have they helped in your journey? I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

8 Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Zero Waste Living

If you speak to any zero waste or plastic-free living advocate, and ask them about their experiences and their journey, at some point in the conversation they will say to you: with hindsight, I would have done things differently. Oh, the benefit of hindsight! As someone who has been living plastic-free for almost four years, and working towards zero waste for most of that time, I can tell you that the mistakes I have made and the lessons I have learned have been many!

It’s very easy, four years down the track, to make it sound like the journey has been effortless and the changes have been seamless. That’s not deliberate: there’s plenty of journey behind me for me to pick out the good bits. Plus I like to focus on what has worked for me and the successes I’ve had rather than dwelling on the struggles. I want to inspire others to make changes, not put their heads in their hands and declare it all to be far too hard! (It’s not, and if you keep going you will get closer, I promise.)

Then again, I never want to give the impression that I haven’t had my moments or my challenges along the way. Of course I have! I still make mistakes now. Nobody is perfect. We’re all trying to do the best we can. That’s all we can ever do, after all.

Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first four years of zero waste living. No doubt there are plenty more lessons to come in the next four years!

1. The first solution is not always the final one

You won’t get it all right first time round. Some things will work perfectly for you, and others, not so much. Different solutions will present themselves, and you will find better ways of doing things that fit with your lifestyle.

When I first stopped buying shampoo and conditioner, I found a health store that sold bulk products where I could refill my jars. The products were bright green, and when I first used them, the smell was so overwhelming that I was convinced I’d accidentally bought toilet cleaner. (I even went back to the shop to double-check I hadn’t bought toilet cleaner.)

Could they have mis-labelled their bulk containers?

Unlikely, but I did not enjoy using those products one little bit. Needless to say, I used them up (probably far more liberally than usual) and never went back there again.

I found another retailer whose refills had a smell I could stomach. Eventually the effort of going back and forth to refill my jars made me revisit this, and I tried using bicarb and vinegar. This worked well for my hair, and was easier than getting the refills.

One more change from bicarb to rye flour, and I’m content with this.

Rye Flour Shampoo Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

Rye flour is now what I use instead of shampoo… but there have been a few changes along the way!

2. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing (especially if it doesn’t feel right for you).

There are two iconic items of the zero waste and plastic-free movements: the glass mason jar and the bamboo toothbrush. Glass jars, I love. They come in all sorts of sizes, they are easy to store, easy to clean and you can see what’s inside them when you use them as storage.

The bamboo toothbrush, however, I struggled with. It was one of the first switches I made when going plastic-free, but I couldn’t bear the bristles coming loose in my mouth or worse, being washed down the sink. The brushes never seemed to last more than a few weeks.

When it came to disposal, I didn’t want those bristles ending up in my compost, ether. The bristles for many bamboo toothbrushes are currently plastic (despite what the companies might lead you to believe).

I came across another brand, with a conventional plastic handle but with reusable heads that need replacing every 6 months. The heads can currently be recycled by Terracycle, along with the packaging, so I’m not adding anything to landfill. This seemed far less wasteful than the bamboo forests I felt like I was chopping down to clean my teeth (I was constantly buying replacement brushes).

Bamboo toothbrush parts

Gah! More plastic bristles in my mouth and washed down the drain! Plus these bristles are plastic and I don’t want that in my compost.

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

These toothbrushes have replaceable heads (and it is literally just the head) that need replacing every 6 months. The packaging is minimal. It may not look as trendy as a bamboo toothbrush, but it’s working much better for me. And at least I can recycle these used heads responsibly.

Of course, my bathroom would look much prettier if I used bamboo toothbrushes. Ultimately though, what matters is whether my teeth are clean, and that I can dispose of the product I’m using responsibly. My toothbrush may be plastic but my conscience is clear.

3. You will make mistakes (and that’s okay, it’s all part of change)

One of the first things I bought in 2012 (the year I went plastic-free) was a reusable KeepCup – made of plastic. I didn’t think about the fact that plastic doesn’t really last, whether it’s labelled as reusable or not; nor did it occur to me that it isn’t healthy to use plastic with hot liquids like coffee.

I also learned through using it that over time, the plastic becomes tainted with whatever you put inside in a way that glass and stainless steel never do.

I bought a glass KeepCup in 2014. I wish I’d gone straight for glass and never bought the plastic one, and now I wonder how I ever came to that decision, but that’s all part of the journey.

keepcupjpg

Plastic KeepCup, purchased 2012. Oh, the benefit of hindsight…

Glass KeepCup Treading My Own Path

This is my replacement, purchased 2014. It’s made of glass and has a cork band. It’s far more versatile and easier to clean, and 2 years on it still looks as good as new – unlike the plastic one.

4. You don’t need to buy a brand new toolkit on the first day

To go completely zero waste, there are a few things you need. A water bottle, some reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, some kind of lunchbox, maybe some sandwich wraps, a reusable coffee cup – this all depends on your situation and your lifestyle.

The most common mistake that people make when embarking on the zero waste lifestyle is buying all of this stuff brand new on the first day, without thinking first whether they already own something appropriate, whether they really need it at all, and whether these products are built to last – and if they’re not, how they will be disposed of.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

This zero waste kit was built up over a number of years as I realised what my needs were. The water bottle and reusable produce bags came first; other things came later as I realised they would be useful – and well used.

It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, we’re excited about making changes to our lives, and there’s not much we can do on day one except buy stuff. Changing habits needs time and shopping doesn’t; buying stuff feels like we are taking steps towards our goal.

If you can, hold back from buying anything new. Get a feel for what you might need, and make do with what you have. Give it time. That way, when you come to buy the things you do need, you will make better choices.

5. Do not get rid of perfectly good things for “better” things

Zero waste is all about not wasting stuff, right? So replacing stuff that you already have with stuff that’s a little bit “more” zero waste really doesn’t make any sense. I’m talking about replacing old jars that you already have in the cupboard (the ones with the store labels still attached) with brand new jars with metal lids; replacing plastic laundry pegs with wooden ones; that kind of thing.

If there’s a safety issue (and I personally do not use plastic for food preparation or storage for health reasons) or it’s broken and can’t be fixed, then it’s completely reasonable to get a replacement. Otherwise, can you really justify the waste you’re creating?

If your passionate about zero waste, then your goal should not be to have your home looking like a magazine cover, your goal should be to reuse what you have, repurpose what you can and to buy as little as you can – and second hand, if possible. Don’t get swept up in the beautiful “zero waste” things for sale on the eco websites.

IMG_0360

Possibly not Pinterest-worthy, but a far better use of resources ; )

6. You get to set your own rules

The great thing about your life is that you get to make the rules. How you live your plastic-free or zero waste life is unique to you, and the rules you decide to live by are up to you too. There’s no specific rules that are set in stone that you have to follow; there’s no membership or entry rules. Entry to this way of living is free!

The only thing you need is the desire and passion to do what you can to make a difference.

For me, zero waste is about sending nothing to landfill. I buy everything I can without packaging – food and toiletries in bulk, other items second hand. I would love to create no recycling either, but at this stage in my life, it isn’t possible.  I try to keep my recycling to a minimum: my husband and I fill a bin about the size of a wastepaper basket (well actually it is an old wastepaper basket) with recycling about once a fortnight. Mostly that’s paper and card, with the occasional beer or wine bottle.

Of course I could compost my paper and card, but it’s a better use of resources to recycle it. I don’t burn any of my waste.

That works for me, and also my husband, who always tells me that whilst he was happy to sign up for plastic-free living, he’s fully on-board with and enjoys living plastic-free, he doesn’t remember agreeing to the zero waste “thing”… Those few extra recyclables are our compromise.

7. There may be exceptions to your rules

When I say I buy everything I can in bulk, I must confess that there is a food item that I choose to buy in packaging. Chocolate. I do buy bulk chocolate sometimes, but it is simply not as good as the bars of deliciousness that come pre-packaged. I’ve tried to give it up, but I can’t.

I can recycle the foil and the paper/card (I’d never buy chocolate wrapped in plastic) but it isn’t quite zero waste living. This is my work in progress.

chocolate

Chocolate bars are my zero waste work-in-progress. I buy chocolate in bulk, of course, but I just can’t quite shake the chocolate bar habit…

8. You don’t have to keep your waste in a mason jar

There’s no rule for keeping your waste in a mason jar. I resisted this for ages, because I felt like it was gimmicky and unnecessary. I’m meant to be a minimalist! Storing a jar of rubbish is definitely not a minimalist thing to do.

In the end, I changed my mind. It was a conversation with a journalist that made me look at it from a different perspective. She was asking about how much waste I produced, as I don’t have a bin, and I realised that it is a hard thing to explain. Saying “nothing” isn’t quite the same as being able to see what “nothing” is!

She suggested that having a jar is a really good way for people to visualize what zero waste is. As I do run workshops and give talks, this is a valid point, and the jar collecting began.

If you want to collect your waste, if it works for you, if you enjoy looking at it and seeing your progress, of course collect your waste. If you just think it’s another chore, and you really can’t be bothered, then there’s no need.

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What lessons have you learned on your zero waste or plastic-free journey that you want to share? Do you have some new ones to add to the list? Do you disagree with any of these, and if so why? Are there any favourites that stand out for you? Do you have any exceptions to your rules, as if so, what? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only one…) I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

A Minimalist Wardrobe: The Ideal…and the Reality

When I think of the contents of my ideal wardrobe, I picture something like this: I open the doors to a neatly hung and folded small selection of clothes, all of which I like, all of which I wear, and all of which I have worn recently. I have a clear idea of what matches what, and actually most things match a number of other things. Choosing an outfit is easy. I enjoy wearing the things I own, and they make me feel good.

This, however, is my reality: I open the doors to a wardrobe with shelves stuffed with messy piles of various clothes that I can’t really see, plus a rail with a jumbled assortment of things. I have only worn half the items I own in the past 9 months. Many of the items are too small, the product, I suspect, of working long hours behind a desk for the first time in my life, which hasn’t fared well with my love of baking (and eating). I’m never entirely sure of what goes with what, and I spend far too much time trying on and discarding outfits, before leaving the house flustered and grumpy. Most of the time I imagine I look like I’ve pulled an outfit together from the jumble sale, and that doesn’t make me feel great.

Wardrobe Pre Decluttering Oct 2015

The contents of my “minimalist-in-the-making” wardrobe October 2015.

I’m very clear about what I want, but how to get there? This is my ongoing struggle. It’s been a while since I tackled it, and feeling inspired by my recent decluttering success I decided I needed to make the most of the momentum, and give it another shot.

At the start of the year, I conducted an experiment to find out how much of my wardrobe I actually wore. The idea was, I tied a scarf to one end of my wardrobe and as I wore things I put them the other side of the scarf. I was planning to review it after 3 months, but then it was autumn and the weather was changing…and I hadn’t worn much of what I owned, so I extended it by another 3 months… and then a bit more, it seems. It was 8 months when I finally looked at the results.

Wardrobe Minimalism Scarf Trick

The starting line…

Scarf Experiment Wardrobe minimalism 9 months later

…and the finish. Everything on the left of the scarf has been worn, and everything on the right has not.  You can clearly see I haven’t even worn half of the contents : /

It’s clear from this that I probably own twice what I actually need. I only wore half the items in my wardrobe! When I started the challenge I had the idea that I’d discard what lay beyond the scarf, but then another idea came into play.

On holiday I finally read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s not a book about minimalism but it is still very inspiring, and I particularly liked her views on clothing. She has some great ideas about folding, and also on letting go of things that no longer serve us. I suspect that Marie Kondo is someone who enjoys shopping, and is less concerned with waste, but many of her points are relevant whether this is true for you or not. (If you haven’t read the book, I’d recommend reading it.)

Marie Kondo says you should only keep things that “spark joy”. As someone passionate about zero waste, I think I have a different idea about of “sparking joy” to someone who enjoys shopping and puts great pride in their appearance. That said, it did make me realise that several items in my wardrobe that I wear regularly do not spark joy. I don’t feel good wearing them. They sap my confidence. I keep them only because I don’t want to send them to landfill.

I also realise that many of the items in my wardrobe that do spark joy no longer fit. (Or maybe I mean did, and would.) If you told me now that I’ll never slim back into them, I’d probably get rid of a quarter of my wardrobe. I know you should never keep clothes that you intend to slim into as it rarely happens…but I really want to believe it will with me!

Then there’s the question: if I remove everything that no longer sparks joy, and everything that no longer fits, I am left with very little…can I trust myself to buy the perfect capsule wardrobe? Can I face the idea of buying so many things at once?! (Answer: of course not!)

I’m still deciding where the balance lies. The weather here is just changing to summer, so there is still the opportunity to wear winter clothes for a few more weeks. I want to give myself the benefit of the doubt that eating less cake will mean my summer skirts fit once more. I didn’t let the excuses stop me from going through everything in my closet, however! I removed another 30 or so items from my wardrobe: the things I disliked the most (even if I still wear them) and the things I know in my heart I will never fit into, or actually wear even if I did. That means my current wardrobe count is around 105 items, including underwear, socks and sportswear. This time last year it was 139, after a big decluttering effort reduced it from 169.

What I do know, is that decluttering definitely gets easier. Getting rid of 30 items a year ago was far harder than getting rid of 30 items today, even though I had less to choose from. Maybe the next 30 will be a breeze! ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is wardrobe decluttering something you struggle with? What are the reasons you hold on to things? Are there any excuses you tell yourself? What are the best tips you’ve found for letting go? Or do you have a minimalist capsule wardrobe? How did you do it? What are your tips? Anything else you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Decluttering Tips for Letting Go (What A Difference a Year Makes!)

This time last year I was back at my parents’ house in the UK, being forced to confront all the stuff I’d stored there for “safe keeping”. It was an interesting lesson in why hoarders shouldn’t get second chances, and I got rid of a lot of items, but I’m sorry to say, there were still several boxes remaining.

Everything that remains in storage

Everything that remained in storage at my parents’ house as of September last year. Yes, after the decluttering took place!

Fast forward a year and I’m back at my parents’ house (we went back to the UK for my brother’s wedding). My parents’ house is absolutely full to the brim with stuff, and as I’ve learned to let go of more and more, I find the amount of things they have more and more noticeable. It should be noted that whilst I always say that it’s far better to lead by example when trying to encourage change in others, and we shouldn’t preach or tell or instruct, I always fall down on this when it comes to my mum. Somehow the rules don’t apply! Maybe it’s because I only see her once a year, I feel I haven’t got the time to spend demonstrating change and waiting for it to catch on, and need to get right in there… or maybe it’s because I internalise all my preaching and bossy-ness and have to let it out somewhere! I hadn’t been back there two minutes and I was trying to persuade her to begin decluttering. (They tell me they like the clutter. Well, my dad does. I’m not completely convinced.)

Of course it wasn’t long before my parents pointed out that rather than declutter their stuff, I had a whole load of stuff of my stuff in their house that I should be focusing on. And they were right.

Well, what a difference a year makes! Sometimes it feels like we’re plodding away and not much is changing, but being put in exactly the same position a year later really made me realise how far I’ve come. Somewhere, in this past year, there’s been a shift. I didn’t notice it happen – maybe it was gradual there was nothing to notice – but it has happened. This time, when faced with decluttering, there was no internal struggle. There was very little debate. This time, I was ruthless.

Why was it so much easier this time round? Probably because decluttering is a skill I’ve been trying to master for a while, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

1. Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances.

Anything that’s been in a box for a year (or really in my case, for almost 4 years) cannot be needed. Rather than opening boxes with the excitement of seeing what’s inside (it will cloud your judgement!), remember – you’ve long forgotten what’s inside. Instead, focus on the best way to pass these items to good homes. Stay detached. If you’re really brave, don’t open at all. Send straight to the charity shop!

2. If you’re passionate about zero waste, you can’t keep stuff in storage long-term (especially at someone else’s house).

Sometimes we find things in boxes that we like, that we remember fondly or we wish we had use for. That doesn’t mean we need them. If we liked them or needed them that much, they wouldn’t be sat in a box! If you really want your items to have value, give them to someone who needs them and will use them. Sell them on eBay or give them away on Freecycle or to the charity shop. Items sitting in storage gathering dust is just as much a waste of resources as sending something to landfill.

3. “Just in case” rarely happens.

Keeping items “just-in-case” is a waste of time (and space). Especially if the “just-in-case” items live in a box in storage. If you suddenly need the item, will you even remember where you put it? Let someone else get good use from your items. If you really need something you previously got rid of, you can borrow it, or buy another one second-hand when you need it. Chances are though, you won’t.

4. We live in the present, not the past.

Old photos of places we no longer remember, diaries and letters from years ago and other collected paraphernalia remind us of the people we were, but don’t necessarily represent the people we are now. If they bring up feelings of regret or sadness, are completely cringeworthy, or evoke no feelings at all, they have served their purpose. Let them go. We don’t need to be reminded of who we used to be! We live in the present, not the past. We should be creating new happy memories and living in the moment!

5. No matter how hard you find letting things go, if you keep trying you WILL succeed.

I was a natural hoarder. I’d collect, and accumulate, and hang on to things. It was how I was brought up, I’ve realised – there was always the option to store something if I wasn’t sure what to do about it. As a result, I never learned the art of decluttering or letting go. It’s been a hard lesson to learn. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. But like all new habits, the more you practice the better you get. Keep flexing the decluttering muscle, and each time it gets a little stronger. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve come a long way simply by not giving up.

So… what became of that pile of stuff? Most things went straight into boxes to the charity shop. A few (more specialist)  things went onto eBay…I felt there was more chance of connecting them with a better owner this way.  A couple of things came back to Perth with me (they may yet be decluttered). Those old diaries of my early teenage years?

Shredded Documents

Pages of paper filled with teenage angst are memories I’d rather forget! Those diaries served a purpose at the time, but their job is done. I felt rather excited that these pages will begin a new life as compost, and I will no longer be weighed down with awkward memories.

Shredded and added to the compost pile, and along with them a lot of teenage angst I’d rather forget!

With every item given away, sold, donated and shredded, I feel lighter. Stuff weighs you down. It’s a burden. Especially stuff spread across continents, and stored in other people’s houses.  It’s a relief to know next time I visit my parents for a holiday, I won’t be crawling through the storage space hunting down boxes to sort. I won’t be wasting time contemplating whether to keep things I’d already forgotten about. There will be no guilt at items left languishing.

It’s been a long road, this journey to a life with less stuff, and it’s been hard work, but I finally feel like I’m turning a corner, and that I’m seeing the benefits. Benefits like more time. More freedom. It makes me wonder… why did I ever think a bunch of stuff was more important than these?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Confession time… do you have boxes languishing in storage, in your attic, garage, spare room, or worse – a relative’s house?! How many of them are filled with “just-in-case” items or stuff that you can’t even remember?! what is your biggest barrier to letting go? Or are your closets free of clutter? If so, what tips do you have for letting go of items? What has worked best for you? Anything else you’d like to add to the conversation? Please leave your thought in the comments below!

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

My plastic-free (and later, zero-waste) journey has been such an adventure, challenge and learning experience and brought so much enjoyment that I can’t help but want to share it with the world. There’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with discovering new (or more often, old) ways of doing things, being more mindful about the way we live our lives, and of course, reducing landfill waste!

The longer I pursue this lifestyle the better I become at avoiding plastic and generating waste… but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Of course not! It doesn’t mean I’m completely zero-waste. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be completely zero-waste. It’s a journey, after all… and that’s the fun!

Ah, the fun. Successfully making a recipe from scratch for the first time. The jubilation of finding a new ingredient in bulk for the first time. The smugness of remembering your reusable cup, and water bottle, and cutlery, and produce bags when you actually need them. The excitement of finding someone all the way across the other side of the world who thinks the same way we do. The excitement of finding someone just down the road who thinks the same way we do!

The satisfaction of setting a personal waste-free goal and then achieving it…

That’s the thing about plastic-free and zero-waste living. It’s a very personal journey. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. People will find their own path. There is no such thing as the plastic-free police, nor the zero waste police. How can there be, when there’s no rules except the ones we choose ourselves?!

There are, however, some people out there who think they can “catch us out”. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect it’s because they don’t know the rules we’ve chosen!

To avoid any confusion, I thought I’d take the trouble to explain my personal plastic-free / zero waste living philosophy. Just to iron out any misunderstandings ; )

Here’s my “rules” for living plastic-free (and zero-waste).

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

The best place to start is to explain what I mean by these terms.

When I say “plastic-free”, what I really mean is: I-try-to-live-my-life-as-plastic-free-as-possible-but-I-don’t-claim-to-own-nothing-made-of-plastic-nor-do-I-avoid-every-single-piece-of-plastic-entering-my-home-for-example-I-still-buy-ibuprofen-and-glass-bottles-with-lids-lined-with-plastic-and-I-still-receive-items-in-the-post-in-envelopes-with-plastic-windows-and-I-still-make-mistakes-more-on-that-in-another-blog-post-but-I-really-really-really-try-my-best-to-not-purchase-anything-with-plastic-packaging-or-and-I-try-to-buy-second-hand-but-I-still-own-a-computer-and-a-collection-of-biros-and-a-reel-of-sellotape.

Now I find that rather a mouthful, so I tend to use the term “plastic-free”.

When I say “zero-waste”, this is what I actually mean: “all-that-stuff-I-said-above-except-trying-to-reduce-my-landfill-and-also-recycling-to-the-absolute-minimum-and-when-I-say-minimum-I-mean-minimum-for-me-where-I-live-now-doing-the-things-I-do-which-isn’t-the-same-minimum-as-it-would-be-if-I-lived-in-a-cave-and-wove-my-own-clothes-but-small-steps-you-know?

Again, it’s easier to say “zero waste”. I also love the term “near-o waste”, which is far more accurate (!), but I guess zero waste is the end goal. The destination. Maybe I’ll never get there.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

The next rule, it isn’t about how much better I am compared to the next person, or how much worse. As someone who hates waste, I’d far rather everyone was better than me! The only competition I have is with myself, and it’s a friendly competition as we’re on the same side ; )

Everyone’s Limits are Different

Everyone has their own set of limitations, circumstances, restrictions and other things going on in their lives, and it’s important to remember this! I’m happy to wash my hair with bicarb or rye flour, bought in bulk, and rinse with vinegar, also bought in bulk (no-poo hairwashing instructions here). It suits my curly hair. However, it doesn’t suit everyone’s hair, or everyone’s skin. Bicarb especially can be a skin irritant.

Similarly, I’m happy to forgo make-up because I just can’t be bothered trying to make it.

[Actually, I did try making mascara. It involved burning almonds, many matches, beeswax, blackened kitchen utensils, far too much washing up and plenty of swearing. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…but it’s unlikely to be part of my beauty regime]

However, I’m not prepared to go without baking paper. I’m really not sure I could get by with just one kind of baking tin, either. I love to cook, and this gives me better results. It’s staying.

I may not be winning the zero waste trophy this year, but I’ll be eating much better chocolate brownies ; )

There Will Always Be Exceptions

(See comment about living in a cave, earlier.) There are things I have chosen to buy in plastic. Yes, I call myself plastic-free and I buy things in plastic!

Ibuprofen tablets and prescription medicine (antibiotic ear drops for an ear infection), a diary refill, a kilo of hemp seeds.

I rarely buy glass jars but when I do the metal lids have plastic linings. My husband drinks cows milk and these glass bottles have the same plastic-lined lids.

The thing is, I choose to be part of the real world (for now). In the real world, plastic is everywhere. I do my absolute best to reduce what packaging and plastic I consume.

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

It’s very tempting when starting out on a zero-waste or plastic-free journey to want to tell everyone about it…and also tell everyone what they were doing wrong or what they could be doing better! Thing is, most people won’t appreciate this. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! No-one likes to be told what to do.

Now  I try to show people how I live, help people who come to me with questions or looking for ideas, and strike up conversations where I can in the hope to inspire people to make changes to their lives. I’ve found it works far better.

Often when ideas are new to people it takes a little while before they’re ready to make changes, even when they want to. I just hope that I can plant a seed. A seed that grows into a really big tree : )

I try to keep my opinions to myself the rest of the time (it can be a challenge, and I’m not perfect!) …unless asked, of course!

Just as I’ve learned that people respond better this way, the same applies to me. Sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes there’s a better way of doing things. I’m always open to suggestions and I love hearing about new ways of doing things, but I much prefer it when the conversation is kept friendly and positive : )

There you have it – my five rules for plastic-free (and zero-waste) living. Plastic-free police vigilante wannabes, please read this first : )

Now I’d like to hear from you! What rules do you follow? Are there any you’d like to add? Any you’d like to remove? Have you had any near-misses with voluntary members of the plastic-free police giving you their two cents?! What are the best ways you find to handle disagreements and differences in opinions? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this so leave me a message in the comments!