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A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

If food is the most common source of disposable single-use plastic in the house, then bathroom products must be the second. Thing is, they don’t need to be! This two-part guide has tips for how you can reduce plastic packaging in the bathroom, and ditch a lot of dubious synthetic chemicals in the process.

In Part 1 I’m covering the basics: simple swaps, things to think about and what has worked for me. In Part 2 I’ll be covering the dilemmas that we women face – including makeup, shaving and that time of the month.

Buy in Bulk

Buying from bulk stores is the easiest way to transition to plastic-free, if they are an option for you. When I began my plastic-free journey, I found bulk shampoo, bulk conditioner, bulk liquid soap and bulk oil, so I switched to these. Now I’ve simplified even more…read on!

Switch to Bar Everything

Solids are much easier to find plastic-free as they can be sold loose, wrapped in paper or sold in tins, so if you don’t have access to a bulk store switch from liquids to bars! Bar soap is a great replacement for liquid soap, and you can find great products that are gentle enough to use on your face if you look around.

Homemade soaps are having a bit of a revival, so see if you can find someone who makes soap locally as you will be able to chat to them about exactly what ingredients their soaps contain.

Natural Handmade Bar SoapIt’s also possible to find bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar deodorants and even bar sunscreen! I’ve only ever used bar soap but plenty of people I know use bar shampoo and love it!

Cut Down on the Number of Products You Use

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimate that on average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, and a man uses 6 daily. That’s 12 separate containers, and 12 items to try to find plastic free!

Before I switched to plastic-free, I would have a separate face wash and shower gel. Now I buy one good quality block of natural, handmade soap that has a high oil content (combined olive oil and coconut oil soaps are fairly easy to find) which I use for my face and in the shower.

Rather than a separate face and body moisturizer, I now use one product for both.

I stopped buying separate hair gel and (after shampooing and conditioning as normal) started rubbing a small amount of conditioner into my hair (and leaving it in) as a replacement – I found it works just as well. That was before I began my bicarb and vinegar hair experiment – now I don’t use anything at all.

Are there any products you could double-up on, or anything that isn’t really necessary that you could do without?

Replace Your Exfoliator with a Body Brush

I used to buy exfoliating scrubs until I realised that a body brush was far better. Dry body brushing is great for improving circulation, stimulating lymph glands and removing dead skin cells…and there’s no packaging, microbeads, drain-clogging ingredients or chemical ingredients to decipher.

dry body brush Body Shop FSC CROPPEDThe brushes usually have wooden handles and cactus bristles so are completely plastic free. The idea is you use long sweeping strokes towards the heart, either before or after a shower.

Consider Using Oils

After struggling to find moisturiser and cleanser in plastic-free packaging, I decide to switch to oil. Not oil-based products, but oil. Just one ingredient. Or maybe two, if it’s a blend.

Most lotions are a blend of water and oil, with an emulsifier to make it mix properly and a whole pile of other stuff chucked in there for good measure. Because they contain water, they also need to contain preservatives. Plus, a good proportion of what you’re paying for is water.

Oils are the part that have the moisturizing properties, so why not just use oils?

If you’re thinking oh, but won’t that make my skin oily?, actually no. Oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Oil cleansing is far better to clean your face than water, because oil dissolves grease, whereas water does not (like dissolves like).

If you’re thinking, but won’t it clog my pores?, again, no, although it depends on what oil you use and your skin type. All oils have a comedogenic rating, which measures how likely they are to clog pores. If you have oily skin you will be better able to cope with oils that have a higher comedogenic rating. Drier skin has smaller pores and prefer oils with lower comedogenic ratings.

Sweet Almond Oil and Jojoba Oil

I’ve tried hemp oil, but it left a green tinge on my face and stained all my towels green. Many people recommend coconut oil, but I haven’t tried this – its comedogenic rating is quite high. Now I stick to almond, jojoba and rosehip oils for my dry skin. I can get refills for the bottles (so no new packaging) and you need such a small amount each time, they last for ever.

Oil can also be a great treatment for hair, but it’s not something I’ve tried.

Make Your Own – No Experience or Equipment Necessary!

Some products are really simple to make at home. I make my own toothpaste and deodorant using coconut oil, bicarb and essential oil, pretty much. You just mix the ingredients together in a pot and voila! I checked the toothpaste recipe with my dentist, and the deodorant one is a keeper because it actually works.

deo9jpg

I love that I can use bicarb for three different bathroom products (counting the shampoo, too)!

Tooth Brushing

I use a bamboo toothbrush, that comes in a cardboard box. The bristles are plastic. Once the toothbrush is life-expired (you know because the bristles come out in chunks) you can soak the brush in water to release the rest of the bristles, and then compost the wooden handle.

Bamboo toothbrush unassembled

There you have it – Part 1 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. In Part 2 I’ll be covering all the additional dilemmas that women face when giving up plastic – makeup, shaving, and what to do at that time of the month, so make sure you come back and check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you already taken any of these steps, or there ideas there that you think you’d be able to adopt? Are there any other plastic-free alternatives you can suggest? What works for you? Join the conversation and leave a comment below : )

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

I mentioned at the end of last year that we’d been deciding whether or not to buy a car, and this drummed up quite a bit of interest from readers. Car ownership can be controversial from a minimalist point-of-view, a sustainability point-of-view, a zero-waste point of view... I thought I’d write about why we were contemplating buying a car in the first place, what our options were and why we ultimately decided to remain car-free.

Some Background – Our Changing Circumstances

At the end of September, I started a new job. My office is a ten-minute walk (through a park!) from our flat. Glen has been working in the CBD for the last 18 months, which was a 45 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 30 minute cycle ride. There is no parking. In November, Glen’s office relocated from the CBD to another suburb. His commute is now a 1 hour 20 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 45 minute cycle ride. Parking is free.

We’ve known about this impending relocation for a while. Our new flat (which we move into at the end of the year) will be much closer to the new office – probably a 15 minute bus or cycle ride. It’s the 12 months before the move that are the issue. If I hadn’t just found a job where we currently live, we’d have moved closer sooner, but that was no longer an option.

Commuting isn’t much fun, and doubling your commuting time (with no compensation – it was the office location that changed, not the actual job) means losing a significant amount of free time. Glen doesn’t want to spend his evenings sat at bus stops.

With both of us working, there is less free time for errands, and a car might make things easier. We thought hard about the options.

Option 1: The Electric Car

The electric car appears to fit with our values. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it raised a number of issues for us.

First up, electric cars are fairly new here, so there isn’t really a second-hand market. Buying a new car is expensive. One of the reasons I started working full-time was to save for the deposit for the flat. Buying a car would wipe out all that money. A new car would cost the same as my take-home salary for the year: they’d simply cancel each other out. Which rather defeats the point!

Secondly, there’s all that embodied carbon. Buying a new car is hardly a green option, whether electric or not. If we really needed a car, maybe we’d think differently, but this choice was more about convenience than necessity.

Thirdly, having an electric car without solar panels to charge it wouldn’t be ideal. The new house has solar but the current one doesn’t, so we’d need to plug it into the mains (powering it from fossil fuels). Our car port is not next to our flat, so we’d need cables and some ingenuity to manage to charge it at home.

All that convenience of having a car suddenly got remarkably inconvenient!

Option 2: The Conventional Car

What about a conventional car? We’d never even consider buying a brand new conventional car. Old cars are affordable (assuming they don’t keep breaking down) and older cars how a lower footprint, even when their fuel usage is less efficient. The embodied emissions of a car (meaning the energy used in the mining, transporting and manufacturing of the parts and the building of the car) are thought to rival the exhaust emissions over its lifetime. T

he older a car is and the more miles it has clocked, the better.

The thing is, we like living without a car. We’ve made it work for us, and we like the lifestyle. My husband feels that not having a car is part of his identity. You can justify anything to yourself if you try hard enough, but we felt that car ownership might be the start of a slippery slope away from the path we’re trying to follow.

Option 3: The Electric Bike

My husband was really taken with the idea of an electric bike. We have several friends who own them, so he was able to talk about them with people who could provide honest and helpful feedback. The appeal? An electric bike would make the 45 minute (each way) cycle ride to work faster, and less exhausting. The downsides: it’s still a bicycle.

There would still be days when it wouldn’t be practical. Going to meetings before work, or heading out after work, and the bike becomes a burden. If it’s pouring, you still get wet. if it’s a 45 degree day, you still get hot.

It wouldn’t be practical on the weekends if we were going somewhere together, as I’d still have my road bike. Buy two and the cost runs into a few thousand dollars. We have limited storage, they are very heavy and our flat is upstairs.

Option 4: Do Nothing

There’s definitely something to be said for doing nothing. It’s not about inertia or indecision, but about making informed choices. It’s a very minimalist approach to life – allow yourself to settle into your new situation before making decisions, especially if those decisions involve spending money and accumulating more stuff.

Rather than speculate that the commute would be too long, or the cycle ride too tiring, we decided that the best approach was to see how it actually panned out.

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

This year our focus is saving for a deposit on a flat, and spending money on other things is a distraction from this goal. Car ownership may give us increased convenience…but at a price. We’ve lived without a car for 3 1/2 years in Perth, and our circumstances have changed before, so there’s no reason why we can’t manage this latest round of changes.

My husband has embraced cycling to work. His current aim is 3 times a week, and whilst he found it quite tiring initially, he is definitely finding it easier. Rather than costing us more, his office move is saving us money (less bus / train fares), and his fitness is improving greatly! He is still contemplating the electric bike idea, but for now the pushbike is good enough.

Do you live car-free? Do you love the freedom it gives you, or find the inconvenience frustrating? If you have a car, is getting rid of your car something you’d consider? Would you contemplate getting an electric bike?! Please leave a comment below telling me your thoughts!

Minimalism: Things that I Don’t Have

One of the main lessons I’ve learned about minimalism, decluttering and simplifying is that you just have to keep chipping away at it. Change isn’t always easy. Slow, small steps are still steps in the right direction. It might not be lightning fast, but progress is being made. My unnecessarily large number of clothes tends to feature often on the blog, because it’s something that I personally find hard to declutter (although, however full my closet might look now, there’s definitely less than when I started). In other areas, however, I’m doing much better.

I spend so much time lamenting the failures and the not-quite-there-yet / work-in-progress attempts, but of course I have successes too. I thought I’d change the tone a bit today and focus on the things that I don’t have – meaning the things I’ve successfully decluttered and happily live without.

Things That I Don’t Have

  1. A car. We are a zero-car household, and use our bicycles or public transport to get from A to B. We hire a car if we’re going further afield on holidays.

  2. A garage. We have an open carport, which we don’t use because we don’t have a car, but we don’t have a lockable, sealed garage. Which means we don’t have any “stuff” stored in the garage either!

  3. A shed / storage locker. Ditto.

  4. A TV. Nope, we don’t have a TV. I’ve not had a TV for the majority of my adult life, and I love life without it. There’s no adverts selling me stuff, no wasted evenings starting mindlessly at the box. With the average Australian adult spending 13 hours a week watching TV, that’s a lot of free time to lose!

  5. A DVD player. Not much point without a television! Nor do we have an X-Box, Wii, Freeview box, VHS player, or any other electronic gaming or viewing device.

  6. A toaster. We use the grill. Not having a toaster saves on kitchen bench top clutter.

  7. A microwave. They take up valuable counter space, they have questionable safety, and I’ve never eaten any food that’s tasted delicious after coming out of a microwave. If we need to heat something up, we use a pan.

  8. A dishwasher. I wash dishes by hand. I’ve read arguments that dishwashers are more efficient in their water use than hand-washing, but if you take into account mining the metal from the ground, drilling the oil, transporting the materials, molding the plastic, manufacturing the dishwasher and shipping it to the store, I’m pretty sure had-washing is the winner. There’s a space in the new house for a dishwasher – it will be remaining empty.

  9. Storage crates. We just sold our last two storage crates (after ridding ourselves of the contents) on Gumtree this week (we’ve offloaded 8 crates in 3 years). I feel it’s quite symbolic – there’s no longer any boxed storage in our home.

  10. DIY tools. Aside from a screwdriver, we don’t have any DIY tools. On the rare occasion we need one, we borrow it. In the last year we’ve borrowed a drill, a hammer, a pedal wrench, a shovel and a rubber mallet.

  11. A printer. We have a laptop but we don’t have a printer. It’s vary rare that we need to print anything, but if we do we can use te printer at work or the local library.

  12. Any music CDs. These were one of the first things I decluttered back in the UK. I sold / gave away or donated every single one of my sizeable CD collection (I was a teenager in the 90s – we had a lot of CDs). I’ve not bought any since.

  13. Any DVDs. I was always selective about buying DVDs, even in my pre-minimalism days – who needs a huge collection of movies they will only watch once cluttering up the house? I owned a few of my favourites (Pedro Almodovar classics mainly) but I sold these before I moved to Australia. If we want to watch a movie, we borrow it from the library.

  14. Fiction books. I’ve sold, given away or donated the lot. I can use the local library – why would I want shelves of paperbacks I’ll never read again cluttering up my home?

  15. A dryer. Yes, we have a washing machine, but no, we don’t have a dryer. We have the sun. Far more environmentally-friendly!

  16. Chemical cleaning products. Switching to green cleaning is not only healthier and safer, it means less bottles rattling around under the sink! I use white vinegar, bicarb and a good scrubbing brush, plus a few essential oils. The first two also moonlight on the pantry shelves – you couldn’t say the same for bleach!

  17. Chemical beauty products. My bathroom routine is pared down to a minimum – bar soap and almond oil for my skin; bicarb and vinegar for my hair.  Do we really need to exfoliate, cleanse, tone and moisturise? Have a separate eye, skin and body moisturiser? Plus one for overnight? Or is it just marketing fluff designed to make us buy more? Hmmm. Plus it’s estimated that the average woman applies more than 500 chemicals to her body every day, so there’s more incentive than just  fewer bottles on the bathroom shelf.

  18. A hairdryer. I towel-dry my hair, then leave it to dry naturally.

  19. More than 4 dining chairs. This came to mind because we had a few people over for Glen’s birthday in January (there were 6 of us) and we only had 4 dining chairs. We used the char from the office, and a upturned milk crate with two cushions for the 6th. Job done!

  20. Credit card debt. I have credit cards, and use them regularly. There’s a number of reasons, including the security, rewards offered and the interest I can earn on the money before the bill comes. But I always pay the bill in full. Every month. I always have and always will.

Now I want to hear from you! How many can you tick off from my list as things you don’t own? Is there anything on here that you’d struggle to do without? If you were to write this list, what things would you add to it? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!

My Minimalist Wardrobe Confession…and a Decluttering Trick

As part of my reflection of the year just gone, I was thinking about my wardrobe. Or more precisely, the number of items in it. I carried out a wardrobe audit back in August and declared my minimalist wardrobe goal was to reduce the number of items to 100. I realise that 100 items is not particularly minimalist, but I personally feel a lot of resistance to reducing my wardrobe, so this is the first goal. Never fear – the minimalising process will continue once I reach this!

I thought it might be interesting to show you what clothes I bought last year, so that you could see my progress. How proud of me you’ll be, I thought! You’ll see how committed I’ve been. I’ve hardly bought anything

…There were those exercise leggings and tracksuit bottoms earlier in the year. And the two sports bras (yes, that was a mistake. One is still virtually unworn!)

…There was the top I bought on impulse back in June. Bizarre, because I’m not really an impulse shopper. It wasn’t even a top I fell in love with – I’m not a falling-in-love-with-clothes kinda girl!

…Then I remembered the jeans and jumper I bought new when I was back in the UK. The jeans I needed – my old ones were shredded and extremely drafty! But did I really need that jumper?

…What about the second-hand T-shirt and top I purchased from eBay? The T-shirt was an exact swap for my current one which is almost totally out of shape. The top is a style and colour I’d been after for a while.

…Of course, there was the dress for the wedding.

…The top for cycling.

The summer hat: the Australian sun is pretty harsh and I need to stop getting sunburnt shoulders (and I hate the chemicals in suncream).

…Plus those new shoes I purchased for work (incidentally, also worn to the wedding).

Suddenly I don’t feel like you’re going to be proud of me at all.

(I could argue that it’s far less than the national average, but that’s not the point really, is it?! It’s far more than an aspiring minimalist who wants to decrease her wardrobe and has committed to purchasing nothing new should be buying!)

So here it is – my Wardrobe Wall of Shame:

My Wall of Wardrobe Shame Jan 2015

New things 2014. Whatever my justifications and excuses are, it’s still a lot of new things for an aspiring minimalist to be accumulating!

Not So Minimalist Wardrobe Jan 2015

…And the other bits and pieces. One pair of shoes, one hat, and one handbag (does the handbag count as a wardrobe item too?).

 My Minimalist Wardrobe Dilemma

I have too many clothes. I know that. Having too many clothes causes unnecessary stress – I know that too.

  • Firstly, I suffer from the age-old dilemma of opening my wardrobe every Monday morning and declaring that I have nothing to wear. I can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak. Having more is not increasing my choice, it’s making me more stressed.
  • Secondly, because they don’t fit neatly into my (generously sized) closet, it’s hard to find the things I want. Cue more stress and grumbling.
  • Thirdly, the laundry it creates. More clothes definitely creates more laundry. There’s the six gazillion things I try on every time I need an outfit, which then get dumped in a heap  – and then it’s hard to fathom what’s clean and what’s not. There’s the extra clothes that get worn because there’s the extra choice. Lastly there’s the clothes that haven’t been worn in so long they need washing to freshen them up.
Wardrobe Minimalism Jan 2015

Could you find anything in here? What about the shelves on the left? No? Me neither.

I’m a total believer in the need to declutter. However, believing in the principles, and agreeing with the reasons doesn’t equate into an action plan, does it?!

My previous excuse has been that I’ll wait for the things I currently own to wear out. Having not bought much in the last 3 years, this is starting to come true.

Old and New T Shirts

These T-shirts are exactly the same. I had the first (bought second-hand) for three years before it stretched and the picture faded. I found the second on eBay and bought as a replacement.

However, the fact I bought a replacement isn’t helping the plan to reduce. Plus, clearly if I’m able to take a picture of both of these T-shirts together, I’m still hanging on to the old one. That’s the opposite of decluttering!

If I’m going to allow the odd new thing to slip through the net, and the wearing out isn’t the easy solution I’d hoped for, I’m going to have to be far more ruthless with my decluttering!

My Minimalist Wardrobe Action Plan

What I really need to decide is what I actually wear. Not what I like, but what I actually wear. Because there are things in my wardrobe that I haven’t worn for months, if not years.

Here’s my simple solution. To track this, all I’ve done is tied a scarf to the left end of the wardrobe rail.

When I wear something, it goes back on the rail to the left of the scarf. I can wear things on the left hand side multiple times, but things can only cross from the right hand side to the left hand side once they have been worn.

Wardrobe Minimalism Scarf Trick

Tie a scarf to one end of the wardrobe. As items are worn, return them to the wardrobe on the other side of the scarf. As the months progress, the scarf will move along the rail. Set a time limit and see what is still hanging up that hasn’t been worn in that time.

Set a time limit that you think is reasonable. I’m going to give myself three months, and then see what’s still sitting on the “wrong” side of the rail. If everything has been worn, the scarf will be at the far right of the rail. More likely it will be sitting somewhere in the middle.

Of the things that remain unworn, the question is why? If it’s that it doesn’t fit or isn’t comfortable, then it needs to go. If it’s seasonal, like a winter jumper and the temperatures haven’t got that low, it gets a reprieve…temporarily. I’m sure there will be many reasons, and I don’t want to speculate now. I’ll see how the three months go first! I know one thing though – my wardrobe will be smaller!

Now I’d like to hear from you! Are you on a minimalist journey and did you suffer any setbacks last year? Do you struggle with wardrobe minimalism (and if so, would you like to join me in the challenge too)? Or do you simply shake your head in despair at my feeble efforts?! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Last year I touched on one of the major reasons behind my decision to take on full-time employment. I’m a huge advocate for working part-time hours and one of the best decisions I ever made was going part-time back in 2010 when I first started consciously journeying towards simple living.

However, situations change and last year Glen and I made the decision to buy an apartment. It was not a quick decision – in fact it took us several months to finally commit and sign the paperwork. It wasn’t any apartment we were after, but a specific one… more on that in a sec. The decision to buy somewhere meant that I needed to find employment in order for us to save the deposit.

Taking on a mortgage seemed at odds with our commitment to live simply. One of the biggest attractions is the freedom that comes with having few possessions and having few financial obligations. Neither of us want to feel like we have to go to work just to pay for the stuff we’ve bought or to pay off debt. We’ve pared down our expenses so that we can survive on the salary of one person. It means that if one of us was made redundant (as happened with me a couple of years ago) it doesn’t have a life-changing impact on our spending or standard of living; or if one of us hates our job so much we want to quit, we have that choice. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that if you wanted to, you could walk away from it all.

However, a mortgage will potentially change all that.

What about the alternatives to house-buying? One of the big lifestyle ideas that’s come out of the simple living movement is the idea of tiny houses – houses that can be less than 10m². Often built on trailers, they don’t require a mortgage and provide debt-free living for converts. We love the idea, but neither of us have any DIY experience – I’ve never even put up shelves! We don’t have any land to park a tiny home. With temperatures in Perth exceeding 40°C in summer, I’m not convinced it would be a comfortable solution. Plus despite our minimalist intentions, we are not ready to fit into a space that small.

Tumbleweed Tiny House

A Tumbleweed Tiny House from the USA. And people do actually live in them!

Another option would be to carry on renting. And actually, I’m a big fan of renting. I find it frustrating when people say “oh, renting is just throwing money away!” How so?! You get somewhere to live in exchange for your rent money – sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Plus when things go wrong, it is someone else’s problem (and expense) to fix them.

So why did we choose to go down the house-buying path? Well, a lot of it was to do with the place we decided to buy. It’s an apartment…but with some differences. It’s part of a project called the Green Swing which has been set up by two couples in Perth. Fed up with the current urban design in Perth, which features huge houses and tiny courtyards, double garages with large driveways, and buildings not adequately designed for the Perth summer heat, they set out to do things differently.

Their focus is on creating small-scale inner city living environments that are high quality and made with recycled materials where possible, promote building community, make proper use of solar passive design to dispense with the need for air conditioning, and have other green features. They started with their own homes, building four dwellings on a block that are centered around a community garden (you can see two of these houses in the featured picture at the top of this page).

They are now working on their second project The Siding, and it is this one that Glen and I are buying a unit from. We first heard about the Green Swing just as the first project was being completed back in 2012 and were really excited that someone was out there doing things differently. When the second project launched on a block four doors down from the original, we wondered if it was something we should buy into…literally!

We thought about it for ages. I’d met Eugenie (one of the Green Swing owners) at a Community Garden open day in 2013 and invited her to speak at the Less is More Festival, which she did. We went to look at Eugenie and her husbands’ place a couple of times and had many discussions about what they are doing, and why, and how. The more we got talking the more we felt that their vision is similar to ours, and the project is one we want to be part of.

So what were our doubts? I’ve already talked about the mortgage. We also held back because it wasn’t… ideal? There are solar panels on the roof, but I wanted a bigger solar PV system. There is a rainwater tank, but it’s small and shared amongst the three units in our building so will only provide token rainwater. There’s no grey water system. The community garden area is smaller than I’d like (I’d have less houses and more garden!). But then I caught myself. Why did I want everything bigger and better? That’s not a very minimalist approach! Plus, whilst I might have done things differently, it isn’t my project. This project isn’t about being the most sustainable community-oriented project ever. Sustainable and community-oriented, yes, but within what’s practical and what’s possible.

Eventually we cast our doubts aside and decided yes. Whilst we like living in our current flat, we are ready for a change. We want to be able to grow our own food. We love the community aspect of the new place – and the whole suburb has a real community feel. Glen is excited that we will no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom. We love that it will have solar panels and rainwater and we won’t need to retrofit (something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought an older property). It has a 10-star energy rating. There’s lots of other great features like communal veggie beds and shared bike storage. And we’re really looking forward to having like-minded neighbours!

The Green Swing – The Siding

The project is still under construction, so we won’t move in until the end of the year. (Hence the new job – we’re saving hard for the deposit.) I’ll share some more info about the building and its green features once it’s completed and I can take photos. You can always have a look at the Green Swing website is you’re really interested (or nosy!)

What I will share is the site plan. Needless to say, I’m really excited about being to grow more of my own food! There will be lots of fruit trees. I’m even wondering if we can get some chickens on that patch of lawn!

Green Swing Site Plan

This is the site plan. Our unit is number 3, in block 2. It’s the ground floor flat. The orange blobs are the community veggie garden beds. It’s no coincidence that our unit opens directly onto it!

 What do you think? Do you like the new place? What about the balance between the desire to living simply and the need for money? What choices would you have made? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

My Meeting with the Minimalists

A couple of weeks ago, the Minimalists were in town promoting their book “Everything that Remains”, and held a free talk which I went to. The Minimalists, in case you haven’t heard of them before, are two Americans (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) who both had successful corporate careers, earning 6-figure salaries and living the American Dream (read – buying lots of stuff; gadgets, cars, huge homes, getting into debt) and who both gave it all up, becoming minimalists and embracing a slower, simpler, more meaningful way of life.

My husband has been following the Minimalists for a while. He feels he can relate to their story. He finished university and secured a good job straightaway, and progressed through the ranks. He spent his money on nice furniture and fine dining (he even bought a brand new car…and waited five months (!) for it to be available in the specific colour he desired). But despite the money and stuff, he wasn’t particularly happy. After getting rid of most of his stuff, travelling overseas and working as a volunteer (and meeting me!) he came to the same conclusion as the Minimalists – money doesn’t buy you happiness. Experiences, connections and living with meaning are what are important.

I can’t really relate to the Minimalists’ journey, because it has been very different from my own. I’ve never had the big six-figure salary. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever earned more than (or even the same as) the national average. When I got my first job after graduating, in 2005, I earned £12,000 a year. (In 2005 the UK national average was £22,411.) I never had the spare cash to spend on fancy gadgets. That said, I still saw shopping as a form of stress relief, and I still aspired to have/earn more – because more would make me happier, wouldn’t it? I had a few epiphanies in my late twenties and early thirties that have led me down this minimalist path – stories I’ll share with you another time. My conclusions have been the same as the Minimalists, however – stuff doesn’t make people happy. Neither does money. We may have followed different paths to get here, but we have the same philosophy.

Well…partly. I have my big zero waste/sustainability focus, which can be at odds with the minimalist philosophy. (Get rid of it. You can always buy another one if you need it. Something I struggle with!) A friend came with us to the talk. “Look around you!” she said. “None of these people are into sustainability!” People everywhere around us were clutching plastic water bottles and takeaway coffee cups. She was genuinely surprised. Another sent me a text: “Are you going to the talk by those Minimalist guys with the enormous ecological footprint?”

But minimalism isn’t about avoiding flights or bringing a reusable cup, it’s about living consciously. Living with meaning, rather than living on autopilot. Building relationships. Giving back. Recognising what is important – and what is important is different for each of us. Joshua and Ryan aren’t dictating a lifestyle. They aren’t telling anyone what to do. They are just sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others.

As someone very familiar with the idea of minimalism, the most inspiring thing for me was a room packed out with people who wanted to know more…but others were so moved they left in tears. It’s a reminder that each of us are a different point in our journey. I could easily have rocked up three years ago with a takeaway coffee cup in hand, without a second thought.

The Minimalists’ Perth talk was their 100th tour date – their final one. In the time they’ve been touring, their popularity has grown and there were a thousand people queuing around the block to see them. In order to avoid turning people away, they held another talk straight afterwards as the venue could only accommodate 400 people! I love that they genuinely tried to reach as many people as possible. Ecological footprints aside, these guys have a mission, and a great message to share.

The Minimalists have critics, of course. Not just my friends! People say it’s easy to eschew money when you’ve had it. If you’ve been rich, then isn’t it hypocritical? But minimalism isn’t about advocating poverty. It’s about recognizing what is enough.

Did the Minimalists come to a city near you, and did you have the chance to see them speak? What did you think? Do you like their message? Or is minimalism something that you just can’t embrace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below!

Change is afoot.

I mentioned last week that I’ve started a new job. One of the areas that this has caused me a little stress is in the wardrobe department. I don’t really own executive business-y clothes. Not enough to feed a full-time job, anyway. I’ve been lucky in the last few places that I’ve worked that I haven’t needed to dress up. In order to get this job, I had three interviews in four days and that really pushed my respectable outfit-wearing capacity to the limits.

The temptation with a new job is to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Well, it’s probably a temptation for many people, but not for me. I don’t want to spend my salary on new clothes I wear to go to the place I earn that same salary – what a waste. I’d rather spend it on necessities like food and bills, and save the rest towards a deposit for a place to live where I can grow my own food and install solar panels to save on bills. Then I won’t need to work! (Maybe I’m over-simplifying things a little…but I digress.)

About three years ago I began my transition to only buying second-hand clothes (I’ve found eBay great for this). Then when I began my decluttering/simplifying mission I tried to not buy any clothes at all. Neither of these rules are set in stone; they are more goals that I’m working towards. In fact, on my recent trip back to the UK, I bought not one but TWO new items of clothing. A bit of a setback, although they are the only two pieces of clothing I’ve bought since January this year. Not bad in 10 months. Still room for improvement, however!

I don’t want to unravel three years of good work by buying more. I wrote recently about how hard I found it to declutter my wardrobe, but slowly it’s happening. The last thing I need is a whole heap of new things! I’m hoping that what I have will be good enough. One thing I did need, however, was new shoes. A pair of flat, smart, comfortable shoes that a) aren’t falling apart and b) don’t smell.

Old shoes need replacing

My new shoes will replace these sandals, which are (almost) worn out. These were the last pair of shoes I bought, and they will be the last ones with synthetic soles.

Whether I should buy shoes second-hand or new is a bit of a dilemma. I’ve had amazing success and dismal failure (those smelly shoes? Yep. ‘Worn once‘ you say on your advert? Hmm.) Shoes also mold to the shape of a person’s foot over time, which doesn’t necessarily work out favourably for the new owner. Recently I’ve started becoming more interested in the end life of clothes, and particularly shoes. Most shoes you see in the shops have synthetic soles. By synthetic, I mean plastic. They aren’t going to break down, they are just going to end up in landfill. That doesn’t fit with my plastic-free lifestyle. Cutting out those and finding shoes made with natural materials second-hand is much harder.

I bought some new shoes.

They weren’t cheap, despite being in the ‘sale’. (Although isn’t everything always in the sale? Such a transparent marketing ploy.) However, they are made entirely of leather. Biodegradable and therefore zero waste, hopefully. (I wonder what the compost will make of them when the time comes…) That was what swung it for me.

New shoes biodegradable

Plastic-free shoes : )

Of course, there was compromise. I broke my second-hand clothes rule. They may be made entirely of leather, but I don’t know what dyes, glues or chemicals have been used. They came from a department store (not my first choice of company to support), which imported them from overseas rather than supported the local economy. There’s always a compromise.

Plus buying new also means all this excess packaging:

New shoes packaging

Of course, whenever you buy something new, you always get a ridiculous amount of unnecessary packaging with it. Most of this is cardboard and paper, but there is also a plastic rod. What on earth for?!

I’m still on the fence with second-hand shoes. I love the idea, but it’s not as practical as that. Shoes aren’t like T-shirts, they don’t just fit if you buy the size you think you are. They aren’t necessarily comfortable just because they look comfortable. For now, they remain an awkward exception to my rule. If I can get away with just buying one new pair of shoes for this job, then I think that’s a great result.

My second-hand clothes transition has a few other exceptions.

  • Underwear. Does anyone use second-hand underwear?
  • Tights. Ditto.
  • Jeans. I find it almost impossible to find jeans that fit. Hence I always go to the same couple of brands. I’ve looked, but I’ve never actually bought of second hand jeans. That said, the last pair of jeans I bought new lasted me 3 years, and I wore them nearly every day. Most of my other pairs have lasted longer than that. They get a good innings! Maybe my next pair will be second hand…

How do you feel about second-hand clothes and shoes? Are there any no-nos for you too, or does anything go? What about work clothes – do you make exceptions, or do the same rules apply? I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you have any tips for me! Please leave a comment below : )

Should Hoarders Get Second Chances?

Every time my parents read a blog post I’ve written about trying to minimalise, they have a good chuckle to themselves. “It’s easy to be a minimalist when you’ve just stored everything at your parents house!” they say.

When I moved to Australia almost three years ago, I sold and gave away many of my belongings. I had nowhere to store furniture; there was no need to keep trinkets and artifacts and stuff that wasn’t useful. But the stuff that might be useful? That was kept in boxes at my parents’ house until I had a better idea of what might happen next.

When I made the decision to go to Perth, I only had a one-year visa. After that, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, so I didn’t want to get rid of everything. I looked into shipping, but it’s expensive, and nothing was really worth taking the trouble to send across to the other side of the world. The boxes were happy enough in storage until I came back and could sort them out.

The boxes might have been happy, but my parents were less so. When I went back to visit in August, my parents want them sorted out. Which is fair enough. Their house is full of their own stuff (I think the tendency to hoard must be genetic), plus I have both a brother and sister who also, ahem, rely on the extra storage capacity of the family home.

The boxes were dragged out of storage and presented almost triumphantly to me.

“Call yourself a minimalist?!” my dad kept saying.

“Your blog is all lies!” he kept adding.

(Note – he doesn’t actually read my blog. If he did, as I keep pointing out, he’d know that I don’t say I am a minimalist, I say I’m trying to be one – and I’m still not very good at it!)

Here is the hoard:

Stuff for Decluttering

Quite a hoard, I think you’ll agree – especially one for a (wannabe) minimalist!

That is a lot of boxes in storage for a minimalist.

The first one I opened was a box of jewellery. I thought I’d got rid of all of it when I left. I remember choosing what would fit in my suitcase, and leaving the rest behind, but I thought it had gone to the charity shop. I had no idea that it was still amongst my possessions!

It’s very strange, opening a box and finding things that you thought were gone. I remembered all of the things that were in the box once I saw them, but if you’d asked me what was in the box before I’d opened it, I would probably only have remembered half. Now the box is open, I find myself asking if I still like any of them? If I’d use them? If I should keep them? Yet minutes before, I thought they were gone and it didn’t need another thought.

I’ve been given a second chance. The problem is, I don’t need a second chance! Letting go of stuff is harder than we think and I really don’t want to go through that decision-making process again.

The other boxes were an assortment of things: camping gear, climbing equipment, kitchen stuff, trinkets (I thought I’d got rid of all of these!), hobby stuff, books, and photo albums. Some I remembered, most I didn’t.

If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn't possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?

If you had boxes like this in storage and it had been three years since you packed them, would you even open them? Or would you assume that you couldn’t possibly need the contents, and give the contents away?

Some things were easy to sort. The jewellery, something I rarely wear anyway, was neatly sorted and packaged for the charity shop. The hammock that I bought in Mexico and have never used as I have never had anywhere to hang it (and I went to Mexico in 2004, so that is a long time in storage!) was ditched. In fact, the charity shop got quite a hoard.

Some things I was able to sell. My Magimix food processor is currently for sale on eBay – there’s just no point keeping it in storage. I was hoping my parents might use it, but after three years, if they were going to, they would have by now! At least if I sell it, it will remain useful.

Some things fitted in my suitcase. I’d packed the minimum I could on the way over in preparation for bringing back things I thought I might use.

As always, the things I struggle to get rid of are the things I know I can’t pass on or sell, but I know are still useful. Kitchen things that are too battered to be passed on, but still functional and I know I could continue to use them for a long time. Climbing gear that I would like to dust off and use again sometime. Books that I like, but were too heavy to fit in the suitcase. Photo albums that I contemplated getting rid of, but everyone else said I should keep! Surely you should never discourage a hoarder who wants to get rid of something?!

Despite her wish for me to finally rid their house of all my stuff, my mother tells me it’s okay, I can leave it there. (What can I say? Hoarding is genetic!)

This is what remains:

Everything that remains in storage

Everything that remains. Fortunately my intention to declutter is still there too : ) It’s a work in progress…

I’m not proud. That is clearly far too much stuff in storage. It is a step in the right direction, though: this pile is half of what was there when I started, and I’m pleased about that. I truly believe that decluttering only works when we continue to chip away at it. I’d love to be able to do it in an instant; to spend two hours and rid all the unnecessary clutter from my life. Experience has taught me that it doesn’t work like that!

So what next, for all this stuff? Well, I have a wildcard. My parents are coming to Australia in a couple of months, and I’m hoping there will be the opportunity to bring some more bits and pieces with them. That will also give me two months to let go and decide to ditch the rest. I hope I can do it!

Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances. They definitely shouldn’t get third and fourth chances!

What do you think of my decluttering attempt? Do you have anything in storage at family or friends’ places, or have you taken some responsibility for your stuff (unlike me)?! Do you have boxes packed away and you don’t even know what’s inside? Have you got any tips to offer or experiences to share? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

Minimalist…or (Closet) Hoarder?

I am a closet hoarder. It’s true. My wardrobe is far too full of things I never wear, and things I know I’ll never wear, and yet I struggle to get rid of them. On my path towards minimalism, my wardrobe is the elephant in the room, showcasing my hoarding tendencies.

Over the last two years I’ve got better at letting go and living with less. The stuff we buy and accumulate has many costs beyond the initial outlay, and recognising this has helped us step off the consumer treadmill, and stops us getting more. Understanding the emotions behind decluttering, the reasons why getting rid of stuff can be so hard, makes it easier to be kind to ourselves and know that letting go takes time.

This post should have been entitled “The Great Wardrobe Cull”. I’ve been thinking about my big wardrobe cull for a month or so, focusing on my intention to cut the number of items in my wardrobe in half. When it came to it, though…I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get rid of half my things. Fifty per cent was just too much… even though I do probably only wear half of what I own. There’s still some things that I’m not ready to let go of. You’d think it would be easy – I want to have less, I have items in my wardrobe I am unlikely to wear again, and yet I cannot let them go. I still need to give it more time. Decluttering and my minimalist journey teaches me a lot about patience, if nothing else!

In spite of this, I’m pleased with my progress. There’s less now than when I started, and I’m also very clear on exactly what I own, what I have far too much of and potentially what I need more of (meaning I will replace less useful things with more useful things as they wear out). I have a good idea of what my future wardrobe should look like, based on things that are practical and that I will actually wear.

Here’s a guide to carrying out your own wardrobe cull, based on what worked for me. It took a couple of hours because I was taking photos, but I’d recommend it if you want to do your own wardrobe cull because you’ll know exactly what you own, and you can use the pictures for reference later on when everything is packed away. In the past I’ve written a list, but after a few days it just becomes a meaningless list of numbers – if you don’t lose it first, that is. Pictures are the way to go!

The (Not-So) Great Wardrobe Cull

Step 1: The Clothes Audit

How you do this might depend on how you store your clothes, but it’s best to be methodical. If you can, use another room rather than the bedroom. It may seem like more of a chore but it will also realise that you have too much stuff!

Group your clothes into categories. I grouped mine into: underwear drawer (smalls, tights, swimwear); T-shirt drawer (casual tops, shorts); smart tops; skirts; dresses; and trousers.

Work through each category one at a time.

Take a picture, and then make a note of the numbers of everything you own for that category. Remember to add anything in the laundry to your list!

Smalls decluttering

7 pairs of tights, 8 bras, 20 pairs of underwear, 16 pairs of socks plus 7 odd socks, all with holes, and 4 bikinis.

More Tops Decluttering

4 pairs of leggings (one for exercise), 7 pairs of shorts, 5 sleeveless tops, 7 racer back tops, 8 vest tops and 3 halterneck tops.

Tops decluttering

2 pairs of smart shorts, 3 white shirts, 2 blouses/shirts, 2 irregular tops, and 6 tee shirts.

Skirts decluttering

12 skirts. Yes, I have two skirts that are exactly the same. The ones on the right I like, but are really hard to find matching tops to go with, so I never wear.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

2 long-sleeved jumpers, 7 short-sleeved jumpers, and 7 cardigans.

Dresses decluttering

13 dresses, of which I regularly wear… none.

Trousers decluttering

1 pair tracksuit bottoms, 2 pairs black trousers, 1 pair of smart trousers, and 5 pairs of jeans.

Bits and Bobs Decluttering

All the other bits and pieces… pyjama top and shorts, a hat, a skirt suit, and a blazer.

Step 2: The Cull

Once I’d taken a picture of a category, I looked long and hard at what was there, and asked myself what I was happy to get rid of.

Questions to ask:

  • Does it fit?
  • Is it broken?
  • Could it be repaired or is it too worn?
  • Do I ever wear it, and am I likely to wear it again?
  • Is it practical?
  • Do I have too many of this type of item?

I had items that were broken and beyond repair, items that were way too small (and had been for several years), and a top that I never wear because I don’t have a bra that works with it. I hate bra straps showing! I also had items I didn’t really like.

Do a recount once you’ve decided what you’re ditching and make a note of the new numbers.

Smalls decluttered

I got rid of three bras (one broken, two very uncomfortable), 5 pairs of underwear that don’t fit, and 1 pair of socks plus the 7 odd ones.

Tops decluttered

Reduced by 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of shorts, and 5 tops.

More Tops Decluttered

Reduced by 1 T shirt, 1 strange top that I never wear and 1 shirt that is too tight.

Jumpers decluttered

Reduced by 1 long-sleeved jumper (it is so worn you can pretty much see through it) and 3 cardigans.

Dresses decluttered

I reduced my dress hoard from 13 to 9, but I have a feeling that is still way too many for a tomboy like me!

Of the things I decided to get rid of, they were sorted into categories. Some of the new stuff I am going to see if I can sell on eBay. The better quality stuff or anything still in good condition is going to the charity shop. The stuff that’s tatty is going to be chopped up for cleaning cloths, bike rags and household use. The underwear, sadly, is going to have to go in the bin. I contemplated keeping it in case I ever fit into it, but it’s been 6 years so far (at least), so chances are I won’t.

Step 3: New Targets

Once I’d culled a category, I’d look at what was left and decide on what was a reasonable number of items to own. For example, I owned 13 dresses, and I probably wear dresses 6 times a year! I got rid of 4, but my target is to get down to 6. Once I reach that target, I will possibly make it smaller.

However, it also made me realise where I have too little. I only have 2 long-sleeved jumpers, and one I am getting rid of because it is almost entirely worn through. I think it would be useful to have another – probably one I can use for exercise. No-one needs 7 short-sleeved jumpers though! Reducing these will balance it out.

My new targets:

3 x pairs tights
2 x bikinis
10 x pairs of underpants
4 x bras
8 x pairs of socks
3 x pairs leggings
4 x pairs of casual shorts
10 x casual tops
2 x pairs of smart shorts
1 x white shirt
1 x blouse
0 strange tops!
3 x short-sleeve T shirts
1 x long-sleeve T shirt
6 x dresses
4 x short-sleeve jumpers
2 x long-sleeved jumpers
3 x cardigans
7 x skirts
5 x trousers
2 x jackets
2 x suit (top and bottom)
1 x hat
2 x PJs
1 x thermals

How Did I Do?

At the start of the (Not-So) Great Wardrobe Cull, I owned 169 items (plus 7 odd socks that are all beyond repair). I managed to cull 30 items. No way near half, but almost as much as a load of washing!

I didn’t include shoes.

FINAL DECLUTTERED ITEMS

The final cull – enough to make almost a full load of washing!

When I added my targets up, it came to 90 items. That’s what I think I could manage with. Actually, I’m pretty sure I can manage with far less than that, but small steps! I think reducing my wardrobe down to 100 items would be a bit of a landmark moment. That means getting rid of another 40 items…

Now I want to hear from you! How would you do in a wardrobe audit? Do you think 100 items is a good amount, too few or way too many? Are you already a minimalist in the clothes department, or would you have absolutely no idea how many things you own? Are you up for a challenge?! Please leave a comment below!

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /