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How to buy nothing on Black Friday

Every Black Friday, I set myself a challenge. To buy nothing. (I also like to do this challenge in the Boxing Day/January sales. I just discovered this year that Amazon has started a thing called ‘Prime’ day, and whilst I never shop at Amazon, if I did buy stuff from Amazon, I’d do this challenge on that day, too.)

When I Googled ‘Prime Day’ for the purposes of writing this, I found the following explanation: ‘an annual deal event exclusively for Prime members, delivering two days of special savings on tons of items.

‘Special savings on tons of items.’

‘Tons of items.’

Shudder.

If you’ve been reading what I write for more than about five minutes you’ll know that I’m not a fan of stuff. Mostly because I’m not a fan of waste, and 99% of everything we buy becomes waste within 6 months of purchase (according to the Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard).

Stuff uses resources to make, energy to manufacture, fuel to transport and creates carbon emissions at every step of the journey – including the rubbish truck that eventually takes it from the kerb to ‘away’.

That’s not to say that I never buy anything. Of course I do! Some stuff is necessary. Some stuff is not necessary, but we (I?!) buy it anyway.

In my mind, one of the most effective skills to have when it comes to sustainable living, is being able to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘want’ and resist the constant call of advertising.

And Black Friday is the day (well, one of them!) when I particularly like to test my skills, and resist the siren call of ‘stuff’. Which is the same day that marketers are doing everything in their power to seduce us to buy.

Black Friday, the day after US Thanksgiving, actually has another name – and one that I much prefer. Buy Nothing Day. It’s an international day of protest against consumerism, and it began in Canada in 1992.

And so on this day that is a recognised day of protest against consumerism, and on a day when we are being sold to harder than ever, I pledge to buy nothing.

And if you’d like to join me in buying nothing this Buy Nothing day, I thought I’d help you prepare. Because unless you have a will of steel (and if you do, hats off to you!), you’ll likely find it a little more challenging than you expected.

What Buy Nothing day is and what it isn’t

Buy Nothing day is protesting consumerism, a social and economic order that ‘encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.’

That’s not to say you’re subscribing to the idea of never buying anything ever again. It’s about standing up to the marketers, not filling your house with more stuff that in reality you don’t actually need and it’s strengthening your resolve to resist the urge to buy stuff on a particular day only.

And if you do genuinely need something, all you need to do is wait until Buy Nothing day is over (which is the following day – but I’d encourage you to wait a full 30 days if you can) before searching and making a purchase.

I know you think you’ll get a better deal on Black Friday, but so many retailers extend their sales to the weekend, and then have Cyber Monday offers, and then do pre-Christmas sales, Boxing Day sales, New Year sales, discontinued sales, fire sales…

You get the picture.

If you need something, you will undoubtedly be able to get a great offer another time.

And if you’ve been waiting all year with your eye on a particular product that you need and hoping for it to reach a price that you can finally afford, and Black Friday is that day, then there’s no need to feel bad about making that purchase. This post (and Buy Nothing day) is not about that.

This is about protesting consumerism, and avoiding going to the shops or browsing online to look for stuff you might like and will probably find useful and buying it all in the name of a ‘bargain’. It’s about not buying stuff that it hadn’t even crossed your mind to buy the previous day.

Buying an essential item that you’ve been looking out for and genuinely need and couldn’t afford any other time is not the same thing at all.

Am I committing to buying absolutely nothing on Buy Nothing day?

That of course, is up to you, but I like to buy nothing at all – even groceries – on Buy Nothing day. Going to the store or a shopping centre or even going online is bound to tempt me to buy stuff I didn’t need.

And so I’d suggest making sure the pantry is stocked, the car is filled with petrol, you have postage stamps, you have laundry powder, and there are emergency snacks in the cupboard (or whatever it is that you might need) in the few days before, so there is no need to head to the shops.

If that’s not going to work for you, have a think about what you might need to buy (you might only get the opportunity to grocery shop on Fridays, for example, or you might be waiting for Thursday payday before you top up the tank with petrol) – and stick to that list.

And of course, if there’s a genuine emergency – you need medicine, or your hot water boiler explodes – of course you can buy these things.

Remember, it’s about protesting consumerism.

How to prepare for Buy Nothing day

Every* single brand you’ve ever shown even the slightest bit of interest in is going to have some kind of offer, and they are going to do their best to make sure you see it – TV adverts, billboards, shop windows, radio, social media feeds, email newsletters, sponsored posts, etc.

(*Actually this isn’t entirely true. Forward-thinking brands are recognising the negative impacts that Black Friday has, and are choosing to opt out themselves, by closing their stores on this day, or pledging to plant trees or donate proceeds they do make – such as via their websites – to charities on this day. It’s sometimes called Black(out) Friday, or Green Friday. But for the most part, brands are still on the let’s-sell-people-more-stuff bandwagon.)

The less adverts you see, the less you’ll want to buy stuff. It is amazing how often a ‘great deal’ makes you consider buying something that just wasn’t on your radar before.

How to reduce your exposure to advertisements, starting now (because most brands are advertising already – getting us warmed up and ready to buy):

  • Avoid the shopping centres as much as possible;
  • Unsubscribe from retail mailing lists (I’d recommend doing this forever, but even if you unsubscribe until after Christmas, you’ll save yourself a lot of temptation);
  • Unfollow those companies on social media that just sell, sell, sell… or at the very least, mute them;
  • Install an ad blocker on your computer or phone to stop advertisements following you around as you browse the web – I use AdBlock Plus which is free to download;
  • Make a plan to do something away from screens on Buy Nothing day.

With sponsored ads appearing everywhere (even in email inboxes) the best way to avoid temptation is to be offline.

Make a plan to do something else on Black Friday – a hike, an outdoor picnic with friends or family, or a swim in the ocean. Or you could read a (borrowed) book, spend the day doing crafts, or start (or finish!) a DIY project.

Fill the time you could be spending browsing the internet with something else.

Resisting temptation on Black Friday

But what if I see an amazing deal on something I’ve been wanting forever?

You might do. You probably will do. It’s very hard to buy nothing on Buy Nothing day. I’ve been doing this for years, and whilst I’m pretty good – I’ve practiced – at not buying stuff, last year I was bombarded with emails and advertisements from software companies and website plugins and other tools I use for my business.

I wasn’t expecting it, the deals were great – and of course I was tempted. I spent the day agonising over whether I should make a purchase, before deciding not to. But it was close.

(Because of course, these were the ‘best deals ever offered’ and ‘for one day only’. Scarcity is a tool marketing companies use very effectively to encourage us to buy.)

For me the goal is to avoid purchasing anything no matter how amazing the deal might be. It’s standing up to consumerism, flexing my ‘no-more-stuff’ muscle, and putting my values where my wallet is. There will be other days to buy stuff, if I really need to.

I find it helpful to ask myself: is it a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? What would happen if I didn’t make the purchase at this price on this day?

What would be the worst that would happen if I didn’t buy it? (We have to answer this based on our unique circumstances.)

I hope you’ll join me in taking part in Buy Nothing day this year. In a society where we are encouraged to shop, shop, shop and that more is good and upgrading is even better, where marketers have even hijacked sustainability and zero waste to persuade us we need to buy (their) things to be eco-friendly, it feels really good to opt-out.

To say ‘no thank you, I have enough stuff and your marketing isn’t going to work on me.’

Embrace the best deal of Black Friday and make the biggest saving you can: save 100% of your money when you buy nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a regular participant of Buy Nothing day, or is this your first time? Have you taken part in previous years? Did you succeed or did you end up buying something? Any tips for resisting the siren call of the stores? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

4. Decluttering is hard.

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

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

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

But hard is not impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

We need to simplify into manageable steps.

Divide a Big Project into Manageable Tasks

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

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

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

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

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

Batch Your Tasks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Decluttering takes time.

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

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

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

The journey is just as important as the destination.

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

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

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

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

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

6. Decluttering is oh-so worth it.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I get it.

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

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

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

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

1. Decluttering is a waste of resources.

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

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

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

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

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

Owning stuff we never use is a waste of resources.

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

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

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

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

2. That stuff could be useful one day.

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

Being useful isn’t the same as being necessary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Decluttering is not for anyone on a budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Classifieds

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

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

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

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

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

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

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

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

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

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

Facebook Groups

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

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

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

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

Online Neighbourhood Networks

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

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

People You Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying

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

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

And everything can be posted everywhere.

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

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t own any of those things!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you don’t see you won’t buy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If in doubt, go without.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life will go on.

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

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

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

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

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

How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

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

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

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

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

 

What My Christmas Used To Look Like

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Opted Out of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is why I choose not to take part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What My Zero Waste Christmas Looks Like Now

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

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

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

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

Things I Don’t Do for Christmas

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

Things I Still Do at Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Nothing Day: 5 Things To Do Instead of Shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday is also international Buy Nothing Day.

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

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

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

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

And I’m going to invite you to, too.

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

Literally, buy nothing.

It’s just one day.

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

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

1. Borrow Something.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Write Something

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

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

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

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

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

3. Bake Something

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

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

4. Plan Something

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

Next step, execute the plan!

5. Donate Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino

Back in April, I headed off to Europe to walk across Spain along the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west corner of Spain. Over 35 days I walked 800km. I talked about what I packed before I left; now I’m back and the memory of those sore, sore feet is a little more distant, I thought I’d tell you how it went.

There’s so much I could say about the meaning of the experience, the people I met along the way and the community we grew, and my inner reflections… but this space is about zero waste and plastic-free living, minimalism and treading lightly.

Whilst my experience was a lot greater than learning about different recycling systems and wrestling in Spanish about not wanting a plastic straw, this is where I’m going to keep the focus. Plus, surely you all want to see some holiday recycling bin snapshots?!

Minimalism on the Camino

Packing light is something I’ve got pretty good at over the years, and all up my pack and everything I took (including the clothes I wore, but not my hiking boots) weighed less than 6kg.

Many of the people I met packed more than they needed, and ending up posting stuff ahead to collect later – or got their bags sent ahead as the weight was too much. I wanted to be able to carry my own bag.

I had intended to post ahead anything I didn’t need, but in the end, there wasn’t anything.

That’s not to say my packing was perfect. I definitely did not realise it was going to be so cold! There was snow on the second day, and I only had one long-sleeved top as well as my jacket. Not only that but when I hit sunnier climes, I wanted to wear long sleeves in the sun to stop my arms burning. Black wasn’t ideal for the hot sun.

After wearing said top for 8 hours, it needed washing (clearly). I could make it last a couple of days, but eventually it had to come off!

On day 3 I found an abandoned scarf (yes, it was abandoned, I promise) which probably saved me from freezing to death. Around day 20 I went and purchased some cycling sleeves (literally arm covers) – they can be worn with t-shirts to protect against the sun and are white, not black.

Did I pack anything I didn’t need? I could have got away with one pair of shorts, rather than two. I didn’t wear my vest top much. But these things were so light that it wasn’t the end of the world carrying them.

Plastic-Free on the Camino

I’m sure you know that I don’t buy things packaged in plastic. But when these things are offered to me, it turns out that the Camino had some different rules to everyday life.

I don’t believe in changing rules when you go on holiday. For me it is important to do what I can all the time. But there’s something different about being kilometres from the nearest town, exhausted and hungry, with sore shoulders and aching feet and the beginnings of blisters, and someone offering up chocolate packaged in plastic.

It should be noted that chocolate is my go-to comfort food. I ate that chocolate. Oh yes.

The other thing that I used was those individual plastic jam portions. Those ones I cringe about. In Spain, most places open fairly late in the morning, and there might only be one place open early in the morning to cater for peregrinos (people walking the camino). These places, almost without exception, offered dry (stale?) bread, or occasionally toast, and jam portions.

I don’t even like jam very much. But when this is the only opportunity for breakfast, stale bread alone just won’t cut it, and the next town is 8km away, you suck it up and use the damn jam portions.

Okay, maybe you don’t. But I did.

A couple of times there actually wasn’t anywhere open for breakfast, and I did have to walk 8km to find somewhere. Walking that far on an empty stomach (when you walked 20km the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that) isn’t much fun.

Sometimes it’s not obvious that nowhere will be open until that morning, so there’s no chance to buy snacks in advance. One thing you learn on the Camino, is that when there’s the opportunity to eat (and likewise, use the bathroom) take it because you don’t always know when the next opportunity will come.

In hindsight, what I’d do next time to avoid the jam is buy avocados along the way. They aren’t available in every town, but frequent enough, I think. I did this sometimes (and you have no idea how much avocado envy I’d get from fellow peregrinos when I whipped out my fresh avocado) but if I went back, I’d ensure I was always carrying one. (I’d use half, then carry the other half and use it the next day. They lasted fine.)

One other plastic-packaged thing I bought: medical supplies. Blister plasters (oh Compeed, thank you for everything you did for me) and ibuprofen, specifically. It was a matter of purchasing them and finishing the walk, or not purchasing them and not.

Zero Waste on the Camino

I took my reusables (water bottle, cup, container and spork, and an Onya bag) and all of them were very useful. The container was great for bulk snacks, leftovers, and water on the really hot days (it’s leakproof). The Onya bag was brilliant for buying snacks – fruit, nuts, potato chips (Spain sells bulk potato chips! Heaven!).

There wasn’t much food waste because cooking options are limited and it is easier (and fairly cheap) to eat the peregrino menus. Food waste was limited to peels, skins and rinds.

Composting was next to impossible. Going from place to place meant there was no time to figure out if there were composting options. The odd banana peel or piece avocado skin could be thrown into the undergrowth well off the path, but if there was no undergrowth, just dumping on the path wasn’t an option. As much as it pains me to put anything in the bin, it happened.

Recycling was fairly easy, and even the small villages had central recycling banks for paper, plastic and metal. Sometimes I’d have to carry things for a day or two, but eventually I’d find somewhere.

Plant-Based Eating on the Camino

If you want to walk the Camino as a vegan, it requires some serious forward planning, the commitment to cooking most of your own food – and bringing your own utensils – and (I’d guess) the ability to speak a little Spanish.

Even as a vegetarian, it is tricky. And you have to LOVE eggs.

I’d already decided that I was happy to eat eggs on the Camino before I left (tortilla de patatas, a potato omelette, is pretty much a Spanish staple) but by day 3 I’d decided to eat fish if there were no vegetarian options. When you’re walking that many kilometres every single day, asking the waiter to remove the tuna and egg from a salad and being left with only the lettuce, tomato and raw onion just isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re prepared you can cook beans and lentils and these are fairly easy to find dry in bulk. I wasn’t prepared. Lots of vegans take huge amounts of pre-packaged vegan food with them – and that wasn’t an option for me, either. Nut/soy milk is virtually non-existent.

Saying that, there are vegetarian and vegan options, particularly in the bigger cities. The Vegetarian Way has some details of vegetarian options, but some listings were permanently closed or only offered dinner for residents (not so helpful at lunchtime). I became a little obsessed with hunting down falafels (!) and found a caravan selling the best vegan burgers in the middle of a woodland, so there were definitely some highlights.

My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino: Lessons Learned

I don’t know really these are lessons learned, or whether they are simply things I already knew that were reinforced.

1. Zero waste and plastic-free living takes prior planning.

At home, we develop habits and incorporate this way of living into our daily routine. When we are away, there is no daily routine and so we have to research and plan ahead. Sure, I could have taken the time before I left to research composting options, or look up much more thoroughly the plant-based meal options.

In the end, I ran out of time, and I did the best I could. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but it wasn’t possible for me, this time.

2. Everyone has limits to their time and energy.

I’ve talked about limits to time and energy before, but nothing drains you like walking 20km a day for 14 days in a row without stopping (it was 2 weeks before I took my first rest day). By the end of the day, climbing the stairs to get to my bed was hard enough (why oh why do they give the ground floor rooms to people who arrive first? They are fitter – make them climb the stairs!!!).

I know at the start of the trip I wouldn’t have been able to stand and cook a meal, let alone go to the shops and buy all the things I needed first. We can only do the best we can, and nothing tested my limits and showed me the absolute truth in this more than this walk.

3. Doing what we can is better than doing nothing.

I may have used plastic jam portions more than I care to remember, but I also refused plastic bags and straws, and purchased most of my snacks in bulk (except chocolate, but I made sure that was plastic-free).

I may have eaten fish and eggs, but I also tried to support every vegan/vegetarian cafe that I came across – and told my various vegetarian friends I met along the way about them, too.

To the purists, that may not be enough. But I’m not a purist. As much as I’d like to be perfect, I’m imperfect. I’m passionate about two many things to single-mindedly pursue the perfection of one. I do the best I can. I may have let a few things slide on the trip, but I didn’t let everything slide. It was a great learning experience, and I’m willing to admit my faults.

If I ever do a trip like this again, I promise I’ll come up with a plan to avoid those damn individual jam portions.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about how I dealt with certain scenarios? Do you have insights from your own experience with a similar trip? Do you have any comments, ideas or anything else about any aspect of the trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share below!

5 Tips for Less (and Better) Screen Time

This year I want to focus more on returning to living a little more simply, and feeling less busy, rushed and stressed. When I think about what this looks like in my life, I’ve realised one area I’d like to work on is the amount of time I spend online: I’d like to spend less time looking at screens.

I know it isn’t good for me to be staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, only to switch off the laptop and open up my phone to see what’s going on over there.

I love writing my blog, and I love social media, but all things in moderation.

It’s something I’m always conscious of, and often think about, but this year I intend to be more proactive with it. Whilst I don’t feel that I spend a huge amount of time on screens (and I don’t have a TV), there’s always room for improvement.

I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share some of the tools and some of the techniques I’m using to unplug a little. And ask for your help in telling me your own experiences and tips. I’m far from perfect, so if you have your own suggestions I’d be over the moon if you’d share them!

Less Screens

For me, screens can be divided into two: my laptop/computer, and my mobile phone. Because the way I use them is quite different, I’ve divided them up to talk about each separately.

Less Laptop / Computer Time

When you work for yourself and you don’t have a defined work day, it’s easy for laptop time to extend into evenings and weekends. I’m definitely guilty of keeping my laptop on well into the evenings. It’s not that working in the evening is bad per se, but without boundaries in place, it can feel like all I do is stare at the screen.

It’s also incredibly tempting to open the laptop for a few hours on the weekend to “get ahead”. Sadly “ahead” isn’t a place or something solid and attainable, it’s just an idea that sounds good.

Changing this is the challenge for the year.

What it’s going to look like, I’m not sure yet. One reason I like working for myself is that I don’t have to subscribe to the rigid 8am – 5pm model, so imposing that restriction doesn’t really make sense.

Yet the idea of saying “whatever happens in the day, the computer is off by 6pm” is incredibly appealing.

I’d like to reclaim my weekends, and keep the laptop turned off for at least one day, and ideally both. I’d like to keep my work day to a reasonable amount of hours, so if I start work early, then I don’t work late. I’ll let you know how this works out!

Less Mobile Phone Screen Time

When I first decided I wanted to reduce my mobile phone screen time, I realised I didn’t actually have any idea how often I used it, or what I was spending the most time looking at.

To figure this out, I downloaded a (free) app called AntiSocial. It tracks usage (number of minutes per day), number of unlocks, number of minutes spent on each app, the most used app, number of minutes on social media, and more.

I found it quite insightful, and think it is a good place to start when wanting to reduce phone time. The app also has the ability to block or restrict certain apps, by setting a daily limit, schedule or timer. Personally, I haven’t needed to use these.

There are plenty of other apps that offer these blocking services too.

When it comes to restricting my phone use during the day, I use the oldschool approach of turning my phone onto silent and putting it into another room, unless I am expecting a phone call. If someone calls and I miss it, I can always call them back, and not being able to hear the bleep or vibrate of a notification stops me being distracted.

I’m also conscious of the apps I use on my phone. I do not have Facebook on my mobile phone, meaning if I want to look at it I have to log onto the laptop. This works for me.

I also noticed recently that I have started reading the BBC news app more and more, which tends to tell me about all the terrible things happening in the world and puts me in a bad mood. I’m considering deleting this app too. AntiSocial tells me I spent 4 hours using the BBC News app in the past month. Was that a good use of my time? I’m not sure. Sometimes I’d rather not know what is going on in the world!

Less Ads

When I am on my computer I want to keep distractions to a minimum, and removing ads is one way that works for me. I’ve installed an adblocker on my laptop (you can also install them on your tablet or mobile). They work by removing advertisements from the sidebar and content, and replacing with white space.

I use AdBlocker Plus: it’s free to install.

Removing adverts remove the temptation to click away from what I’m trying to do, and stops me finding myself inadvertently shopping for stuff I don’t really need. It also means that if I do look at a product or service online, I’m not followed around by said product or service through retargeting adverts, trying to encourage me to make a purchase.

Another tip that’s worked for me is to unsubscribe from all shopping websites or anything that sends high volumes of sales emails. I find the constant “sales” and “limited offers” arriving in my inbox to be incredibly distracting, and the temptation to click through is always higher than if the email simply wasn’t there.

Better Screentime (When It Can’t Be Avoided)

I do not want screen time to take over my life, and more importantly, I do not want it to interfere with my sleep. Sleep is important to me, and a good nights sleep makes all the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Computer screens have a lot of blue light, which can affect sleep when we use them late at night. One option is simply not to use screens at night, but it isn’t always practical.

To help with this, I’ve download some apps that reduce the blue light, to help with sleep. On my phone I download the app Twilight, and on my laptop I’ve downloaded the app Flux. I can tell the app when the sun sets, and when I get up in the morning, and it will adjust the amount of blue light.

The screen looks a little strange at first, but I definitely feel that it strains my eyes less. The science says it works, and if I can’t avoid using screens late at night, it seems like a better option.

As I said at the start, I don’t have all the answers, but slowly I’m finding solutions to help me unplug. Freeing up my time from screens is going to let me embrace all the off-screen things I’m dying to do but simply never seem to be able to fit in! Not that I want to fill all the time. White space is good too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce screen time? Are there any apps you recommend? Any old school techniques and tips you recommend? Anything you tried that didn’t work at all? Please share your knowledge and experience in the comments below!

5 Ideas for Donating Stuff You Don’t Need (But Is Still Useful)

We all end up with stuff that we don’t need. Unwanted gifts, stuff that we upgrade or replace, stuff we realise we don’t use or don’t like, duplicates. The list goes on.

Getting rid of stuff, when we don’t like waste, can be a challenge. Especially when this stuff isn’t really fit for selling or donating to the charity shop. Things that are broken (even if they are repairable), items with parts missing, things that have low value, stuff that has been used, opened or are worn.

We don’t want to throw it out, but we know in our hearts that the charity shop doesn’t really want it either.

The thing I love about challenges is that whilst they can be difficult, they are not impossible. Someone, somewhere, will want what you have. Whatever it is. (I mean that. You’d be surprised.) The challenge is finding that person.

It can take time, and effort, but if you succeed it is such a good feeling. You’re saving something from landfill, and making someone happy in the process.

Remember: it’s only waste if you waste it.

I’ve put together a guide of what to do with some of the random bits and pieces that you have that you know are useful… but don’t know how to find them new homes.

Ideas for Rehoming Items Responsibly

Donating to the Charity Shop

This is most people’s go-to when letting go of unwanted stuff. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for the stuff. Most of us would rather donate something than throw it in the bin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the charity shop will want it.

Charity shops want things that they can sell! If you wouldn’t buy it, and can’t imagine that anyone else would either, don’t donate it. Charity shops get so many donations – far more than they can handle. In Australia it’s estimated only 15% of all donated clothes are resold.

Don’t kid yourself that the charity shop will want your moth-eaten old clothing with buttons missing.

Two ideas when donating to charity shops to ensure a better chance of the item being onsold:

  • Call ahead and find out if they take (and need) the things that you’re donating. Some charity shops have the capacity to test electrical items and will accept them for resale, others don’t. Some don’t have space to take toys, or may have a shortage of certain things. Calling ahead is a good way to find out what they need – and what they don’t want.
  • Think seasonally. Stores need to turn over goods fast to make money. Donating winter jumpers in summer or Christmas branded items in February will mean stock sitting around, and it may end up in landfill, even if the quality is good.

Donating on Gumtree or Craigslist

Gumtree, Craigslist and other platforms allow us to list items for free for others to take. How effective this is can be dependent on where you live (it’s easier in urban centres than rural locations). It’s also more effective for certain types of items, such as homewares, furniture and electrical goods.

That doesn’t mean that what you have won’t be wanted though, so it’s worth listing things anyway. Things like spare coat hangers, old bubble wrap, moving boxes and crates of old jam jars all shift surprising well.

Bear in mind that the more obscure the item, the longer it will take to shift.

(If you’ve never listed anything on Gumtree before, I’ve written a guide to selling second-hand to help you get started.)

Buy Nothing Groups and Local Online Community Networks

The more local something is, the easier it is for others to collect it, and the more likely it is to find a new home. That’s why community exchanges work so well. My local area has very active Buy Nothing Groups (a group that operates through Facebook, where goods can be taken and offered for free, with council boundaries determining whether someone can join).

Other Facebook groups include Swap & Barter groups and Zero Waste groups, or groups for exchanging specific items (fishing equipment, childen’s toys, craft supplies).

Outside of Facebook, my parents (who live in the UK) use and love a local community network called NextDoor, which allows them to connect with other members of their village.

There’s plenty of others, so explore what is local and active in your area. The global platforms might have better looking websites and thousands of members worldwide, but if there’s only two people living within 25km of you, that isn’t going to work.

If you use Facebook, that’s a great way to track down local and active groups. If not, see if you can contact community groups and ask if they have any knowledge or suggestions.

Real Life Community Groups

Community groups are another great place to consider. Craft and arts groups may be collecting certain items for projects (broken crockery is great for mosaic making, half-used paint tins may be wanted for other projects), community gardens may be able to use offcuts of materials or old tools, playgroups will accept all sorts of things for children to play with (small boxes that held electronic items are popular, as are old plastic loyalty cards (for playing “shop”).

For specialist equipment for a particular hobby, it may be worth finding an enthusiast’s group and finding out if any of their members can use what you have. For example, finding an Apiarist’s society to donate beekeeping equipment to is a much better match than simply listing on Gumtree or donating to the charity shop.

Charities and For-Purpose Enterprises

Different charities have different needs, and can be a great way to pass on unwanted items that aren’t suitable (or are too “niche”) for charity shops. Some ideas include:

  • Animal refuges often accept towels, sheets and other bedding, pet food and possibly other equipment and accessories;
  • Refugee centres accept donations of clothing, books, food, furniture, whitegoods and more (here’s a list of refugee organisations in Australia and the donations they accept);
  • Women’s refuges, homeless centres and hostels accept clothing and blankets and may accept toiletries and sanitary items (be aware that refuges do not publicly list their addresses for obvious reasons, so you will need to connect with a local charity serving these centres to find out what they will and won’t accept).
  • Charities (such as Fair Game in Australia) accept used sports equipment and clothing to redistribute to underserviced communities.
  • Opticians often accept used glasses to send to underserviced communities.
  • Food banks accept food but at Christmas or other times of year may accept toiletries, sanitary items and other non-food items – check with the individual organization.

Thoughts on (Shabby) Second-Hand Donations

Whilst I think it is brilliant to donate second-hand items, I also think that it is important to be mindful of their condition and respectful of where we donate them.

I once met an enthusiastic and well-meaning guy who was trying to set up a shoe enterprise donating second-hand shoes to Africa. He had collected thousands of shoes but didn’t have a warehouse, and was storing them in his garden in the open under a tarpaulin. They’d been there for 18 months.

He hadn’t given that much thought to where he would send them, whether there was an existing industry in the country that might be adversely impacted by an influx of shoes, or whether the shoes were appropriate for the climate or recipients.

His colleague said in the presentation “people in Africa deserve high-heeled shoes too!” That might be the case, but the intended community where these shoes were to be donated hadn’t actually been consulted as to their needs.

I don’t know what happened to the enterprise, and I hope they were able to have a positive impact. I think sometimes enterprises can be well-meaning but ill-considered. Sometimes we can be guilty of not really thinking through our choices.

I do think it’s important when donating to charity to consider if the recipients will really want our stuff, as tempting as it is to want to keep things out of landfill.

For example, I know that there are charities that collect used bras. I personally wear mine until they are stretched, misshapen and there is barely any life in them. I do not consider it appropriate to then donate it. That’s my opinion and my choice.

I think it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that underprivileged people will want our shabby stuff. Actually, they might not.

Final Thought on Donating Unusual Items

This is not a complete list by any means, and with enough grit and determination it is possible to donate most things – not always for the purpose they were originally intended, but a purpose nonetheless. If you have something that you think is too good to throw away, get creative and start asking questions (zero waste Facebook groups are great for this).

You may be happily surprised.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What’s the craziest or strangest thing you’ve successfully donated to a happy recipient? Any other tips for where to donate unusual items? If you work in a charity shop or a for-purpose enterprise, are there any “no-no”s that you see donated often that aren’t suitable? Anything else to add? Please comment below.