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Establishing an Organic Vegetable Garden (Progress in Pictures)

It’s no secret that I love food, and I love growing my own food even more. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating something freshly picked; there’s no unnecessary single-use plastic packaging when we grow our own; and we can’t get more local than our own back yards.

Not everyone has a garden, true. When I moved to Perth from the UK, I swapped my beautiful and much-loved allotment for an upstairs apartment with a dark balcony. That didn’t stop me having a few pots outside the front door with herbs, though. Then we moved to another upstairs apartment with a bigger balcony, and I got a few more things growing.

Even the darkest, smallest balcony can grow microherbs!

Now I’ve moved to a development with 7 dwellings and a community garden, I finally have the space and the opportunity to plant more. And believe me, I’m making the most of it!

We’ve lived here for just over a year, and I thought I’d share how our garden has evolved over the time. Although there are 7 dwellings, some are still empty and others have been rented to tenants with no interest in gardening. To date, my husband and I have had the garden pretty much to ourselves. Two sets of neighbours have their own garden bed spaces, but other than that, we have free reign.

Honestly, we love having the space to ourselves, but we’re looking forward to more garden enthusiasts moving in. There’s so much wasted opportunity as we don’t have the time to turn over the beds as quickly as we should, or succession plant as regularly as we could. There are plenty of other tasks that get neglected, too.

Whilst the garden produces a lot of food, it could be so much more productive with just a little extra work.

Take the tour of my organic veggie patch (and permaculture garden in the making), Perth Australia

We own and occupy the ground floor flat, and the communal garden backs straight onto our home. We have two sets of big sliding doors, so the garden is an extension of our living space.

This is what it looked like when we moved in:

When we moved in the metal garden beds were in place, and reticulation had been installed, which definitively gave us a head start. ~April 2016

For 1 household, it’s a lot of space, but for 7 households it will be quite small. There’s also a huge amount of wasted space/growing potential, so we’ve been working hard to develop this and improve the soil and increase productivity.

We’ve also added a lot of pots, which is a great way to decide which things work best where before digging them into the ground. The two wine barrels contain the citrus trees we had on our balcony in our previous place. All the other pots are new additions.

Creating New Veggie Beds

If you’re thinking that the soil looks really sandy, you’d be right. It is really sandy. The grey sands of the Perth Swan coastal plain (where I live) are considered to be the worst in the world. I don’t mean by disgruntled Perth gardeners, either. It’s a fact.

It means that we’ve dug in heaps of compost, veggie concentrate and clay into the sand to create soil. It might not look like it, but we have! The wood chip mulch breaks down over time to add carbon to the soil, too.

We bought a cubic metre of veggie concentrate from our soil yard and it was delivered via a tipping truck, so without packaging. It isn’t the cheapest option (we could have built up nitrogen using nitrogen-fixing plants or green manures, carbon using mulch and the soil web over time), but it meant we could plant veggies in the sand straightaway rather than waiting several months. It contains all the nutrients and minerals needed to grow veggies.

Creating Our Own Compost

We have four compost bins and create as much of our own compost as we can. We don’t turn it as often as we should so it isn’t breaking down as quickly as it could be.

If the whole complex got involved we’d have compost coming out of our ears! The reality is, many of the tenants live on a diet of junk food (fried chicken and other fast food is delivered almost daily – I kid you not) and they don’t even compost the paper food packaging – it goes in the landfill bin. Sigh.

To top up our compost my husband brings food scraps home from his work every week (in a big 20 litre bucket), and we collect coffee grounds from a local cafe every month or so.

It’s pretty amazing that we can add stinky food scraps and a few handfuls of dried leaves to a compost bin and be rewarded with beautiful soil-like compost!

This is what your food scraps can be turned into. Beautiful compost!

Planting in Pots (and Wicking Pots)

To maximise the use of the patio area without ripping out the paving, we’ve planted a lot of things in pots. Our garden is north-facing, and the patio is one of the best spots to grow (we’re in the southern hemisphere – its the opposite for those in the north). The space is sheltered by the house by the hot summer afternoon sun, and gets full winter sun because the sun is lower in the sky.

To ignore this is a missed opportunity!

Wicking beds are self-watering pots. Not something I needed to worry about in the UK, but in Perth it is a different story. We’ve used old olive export barrels to make wicking beds – they have a hole at the side rather than at the bottom, so a reservoir can hold water for the plants.

Greening the Garden: Progress in the First Year

I’ve taken a few images from the same spots over time, and I’ve included a few below so you can see how things have changed in the first year.

The View from the Office Window:

April 2016

November 2016

February 2017

The Patio Space:

April 2016

November 2016

March 2017

The Ground Dug-In Beds:

July 2016

November 2016

The Veggie Beds:

July 2016

December 2016

February 2017

April 2017

The Raised Garden Beds:

April 2016

Feb 2017

A Glimpse of the Harvest

We definitely aren’t growing all our own vegetables, but I do think we have the space. Unfortunately space isn’t the only constraint; the other is time! We did manage to produce a lot of our own vegetables over summer. Here’s a glimpse:

Perth has a warm enough climate to garden all year round, and in many ways summer presents more challenges than winter. We’re currently in the process of planting our winter veggies. By the start of next summer we’re expecting to have new neighbours, so it will be interesting to find out how the garden evolves. I’m looking forward to more hands!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you enjoy the garden tour? Did you have any questions? Is there anything you’d like me to write about in more detail? Do you have your own garden, and what tips do you have to share? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Isn’t Zero Waste Living Meant to be Cheaper? (+ What To Do When It Isn’t)

Zero waste and plastic-free living are often spruiked as a way to save money. I avoid using that reason (I explained why I won’t talk about money-saving here). Even though, yes, living zero waste means I spend less.

It is pretty hard to stop buying stuff and spend more ;)

Whilst overall I spend less than I used to, some things I buy do cost more than their packaged equivalents. In the early days, I stood in the aisle, looking at the cheaper pre-packaged item and the more expensive bulk or zero waste one, and felt torn.

If someone embraces zero waste living solely as a way to save money, this is the point where they will stop. That’s one reason why I don’t use the ‘money-saving’ reason as a benefit. I want others to embrace this lifestyle beyond the choices that cost the least amount of money.

I want others to embrace choices that make the best sense for the bigger picture: local communities, our health, wildlife, workers rights, the environment and the planet as a whole.

For those of us who aren’t motivated solely by the money-saving aspect, knowing things are considerably more expensive can still be frustrating! No-one wants to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. I received this question recently, and it got me thinking:

“I’m having trouble justifying buying package free pasta and rice and such, when it is literally 10x as expensive as the same stuff I can get in the supermarket. I feel like I’m just wasting my money. If it were 2 or even 3x more expensive I might be able to justify it, but I feel like the price difference is kind of outrageous. Any wisdom?”

Oh, I’ve been there! These are my suggestions for what to do when zero waste isn’t the cheapest option, and you feel conflicted.

1. Remember Why You Chose the Zero Waste/Plastic-Free Lifestyle.

Most people choose this lifestyle for a number of reasons, and some of these reasons are about more than ourselves. Reasons such as: supporting local businesses and growing local communities, reducing litter, improving the environment, protecting our marine life, limiting harm to wildlife, reducing our impact on the world’s resources.

When we make choices that support ideas that are bigger than ourselves, we feel good. If you’re faced with a difficult choice, try to keep your ‘why’ at the front of your mind.

It might help you see the choice you’re making in a different light.

2. Ask Yourself What You Value.

For me, it comes down to values. I value locally grown, reduced carbon emissions, and organic. I value supporting independent businesses, and eating real food.

I value spending my money with companies I believe in. I value ethical and Fair Trade and sustainably produced.

(That’s not to say I don’t have a budget – I do! I’ll talk about that later.)

I want to see more products that fit in this niche, and more stores that support these ideas. The best thing I can do is vote with my dollar, and choose to support these brands and allow them to grow. Ultimately I don’t want this to be a niche, I want it to be mainstream. Supporting it is the only way this will happen.

Which is why, rather than shop at the bulk aisle in my local supermarket, I choose to shop at independent bulk stores. My favourite is The Source Bulk Foods. There’s one in my neighbourhood, but they have 33 stores across Australia (there’s 3 in Perth, and more planned). They aren’t the cheapest option, but they align the most with my values. Importantly, they are passionate about zero waste (some bulk stores here aren’t actually focused on the waste aspect).

The Source also have a huge variety of Australian-grown produce: almost all of their nuts are grown in Australia, and they even sell Australian quinoa. Supporting stores that champion these practices is more important to me than saving a couple of dollars.

3. Avoid Comparisons (Ignorance is Bliss).

Have you heard the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy?’ No-one wants to feel ripped off, or like they spent too much. When we know that there’s a cheaper option, sometimes it can be hard to make the right choice.

My solution is not to look.

I rarely go in the supermarket now. I never look at catalogues or shops online. If I don’t know what I’m ‘missing out’ on, it stops the comparisons, and I’m happier,.

I know what I need, so I go to my regular shop, and decide if I want to make the purchase based on the price that day.

If you didn’t know that the supermarket was cheaper than your local bulk store, it would change your whole perspective. Where you can, avoid looking.

4. Rather Than Asking ‘Is It More Expensive?’, Ask ‘Can I Afford It?’

It’s funny how we can get hung up on the price of some things, but not others. When avocados hit $4 in the shops here, everyone goes nuts at the ‘expensive price’ – even though they are locally grown, delicious and very good for us.

Yet bumper boxes of super processed biscuits – the ones made entirely or processed sugar, processed flour and trans-fats (or palm oil)? If they are $4 people think it’s a bargain.

It’s all about perspective.

Rather than stressing that the waste-free version is more expensive than the pre-packaged version, we can re-frame the question. We can ask ourselves: can I afford it? Is there something I could go without in order to buy this? Do I want it that much or could I go without?

I buy chocolate, and I buy coffee, and both of these could be considered luxury items. (Even if I like to think of them as essentials!) If something else I really wanted seemed expensive, I could pay the extra and forgo one of these. If you regularly buy takeaway coffee, or take-out, or magazines, could you reduce your spending in this area?

These are the choices we can make.

There may be things that you just can’t afford to buy zero waste at this point in your journey. Then you have two options: go without; or compromise.

5. Rather Than Worrying About The Price of Individual Items, Set Yourself a Budget For Your Entire Shop.

It’s all very lovely to talk about values and priorities, but most of us living a zero waste or plastic-free lifestyle have a budget. Hello, real world! Much as we might want to, we can’t necessarily afford to make all the perfect choices.

I’d like to buy everything organic, but in reality, my budget doesn’t allow me to.

Rather than stressing over individual items, we can set a budget for our whole shop. Many things in bulk are much cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts, yet we tend to focus on the stuff that costs more rather than celebrating what costs less.

Are things really too expensive, or can we accommodate them by making other changes?

Knowing exactly how much we have to spend will help us make better decisions – either now, or in the future as our circumstances change.

The answers will be different for everybody.

Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t always afford the perfect option (most of us can’t). But if the better choice is only a couple of dollars more, ask yourself what’s really stopping you making that choice?

For me, the question isn’t “does it cost more?” The question is, who will benefit if I choose the zero waste, organic, local option? And who will benefit (and who will suffer) if I don’t? When I’m on the fence about making the more ethical choice over the cheaper one, this helps direct me back to my priorities.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever get torn between cheaper options and more ethical, expensive options? How have your choices changed over time? Is there anything that you’re currently struggling with? Do you have any tips to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

How Much Does a Zero Waster Recycle?

The zero waste lifestyle is all about living in a way that creates as little waste as possible. It is often described as “sending nothing to landfill” and most people living the zero waste lifestyle will track their landfill waste. In fact, the jar full of waste has become rather iconic of the zero waste movement.

Last year I collected all my own landfill waste in a jar (I shared the contents of my annual trash jar here). I did it as I thought it would be an interesting experiment, and it was. I learned a lot.

However, I also think there are some downsides to focusing solely on personal landfill waste.

One of those downsides is that zero waste living is not just about reducing landfill. It is about reducing waste overall, and that means reducing our recycling too. The goal is to produce no landfill waste and no recycling either.

Yet that is much more challenging, and much less talked about.

How much recycling zero wasters produce isn’t discussed as often as it should be. Personally, I think we should be talking about it more. This time last year I decided to record my recycling for an entire month, and share it (view April 2016’s recycling tally).

I’ve decided I’m going to make it an annual thing. There’s no particular reason why we chose April last year (I probably thought up the idea in March!). I’m choosing April again this year to keep things consistent.

There are no special rules for the month. We don’t do anything differently. That said, I’m sure it is in the back of my mind and I’m subconsciously more careful. Any waste that we (our household consists of two adults and one greyhound) create goes into our recycling bin as normal. After 30 days have passed, I tally it up.

Here’s our monthly recycling for the 30 days of April 2017:

I did threaten my husband that I would divide the recycling up into separate piles of mine and his, because he creates more waste than me and I don’t want to be tarnished with the same brush! But really, we are one household, and I think most people can relate to one member of the household being more enthused than the others.

What’s in my (Zero Waste) Recycling Bin?

This is a summary of what’s in the bin, from right to left.

Plastic Bag of Dog Food: For the first four years of living zero waste we didn’t have a dog Now we do. He is also a dog with a sensitive stomach! We have tried a number of dog food brands. So far this is the one that works best. We get through one bag every 5-6 weeks. I would love to make my own dog food, and maybe one day I will. Right now it is still a little overwhelming. This bag can be recycled via REDcycle at our local supermarket.

Aluminium Beer Cans (and their Cardboard Packaging): My husband likes beer. A beer shop locally sells packaging-free beer on tap, but my husband prefers to visit the regular store on the way home from work. I don’t know enough about beer to go the bulk store for him! He chooses aluminium rather than glass as cans are recycled, whereas glass is crushed into road base in WA.

Pasta Boxes: My husband also loves pasta. We can get gluten-free pasta (buckwheat spirals and quinoa rice penne) from our local bulk store, and regular vermicelli nests from the small bulk section at our independent grocer. We eat these most of the time. Occasionally my husband will come across Barilla pasta in the cardboard box without the plastic window and will insist on buying it. He’s like some kind of collector! He probably buys one every 3 months or so. We just happened to have two boxes in this month’s recycling.

Tin of Coconut Cream: I made crumble recently as we had friends over for dinner. I didn’t have any cashews to make cashew cream, and there wasn’t enough time. My husband dashed to the shops for me and picked this up (at my request). Crumble just doesn’t work dry!

Ball of Tin Foil (and Corresponding Chocolate wrappers): Oh, I am so guilty of buying packaged chocolate. I have a weakness for Green & Blacks 85%. I have a serious weakness, in fact: in April I managed to eat my way through 8 bars (as demonstrated by the wrappers). We ate a fair amount of chocolate from the bulk store too.

Dolmades Tin: Sometimes I feel like my husband is a packaging fiend! (I realise the packaging he buys is minimal – it’s just a big part of our recycling.) He likes to buy tinned dolmades when we have people round for dinner. It makes me a little bit mad, because I love to cook from scratch and go to all this effort to make home-made food, and then he serves up pre-packaged food. He sees it as a treat!

Champagne Bottles and Metal Tops: Our friends brought a bottle of sparkling wine when they came for dinner. The other bottle has been in our fridge for 18 months (it was a moving gift) and needed using up. It was actually pretty flat. The corks have gone in the compost, and the foil is part of the foil ball.

Nonsense Promotional Material: We received a pamphlet from the RAC telling us most people don’t have enough insurance. What a waste of paper.

Unnecessary Letters in the Post: An enormous water pipe is being installed underneath our road to supply water to the new Perth stadium, and we are sent a weekly letter giving us updates. They’ve been camped out for almost 5 months now, but they are finishing up so we won’t be getting many more notices.

Envelopes: We still get the odd thing delivered by post. My husband recently had to renew his driving license (they need renewing every 3 years); some insurance documents that they couldn’t send via email; a new bank card as the old one had expired; and some other things.

Till Receipts: Wherever possible we refuse a receipt, but we still pick up a few every month. We recycle them. Some people don’t recycle thermal (BPA- coated) receipts, but I was advised that a few BPA receipts in a container load of paper doesn’t create a problem.

Paper from Workshops: I run sustainable living workshops, and use paper for some activities. Some people learn better by physically writing stuff down. As someone who’s partial to taking notes on the back of an envelope, I can relate. I don’t buy new paper, I use reject printing from workplaces, or mail I don’t need. Then I recycle it.

Recycling versus Composting

Some zero wasters choose to compost all their paper rather than recycling it. That makes the recycling pile much smaller, but in terms of energy, research shows that recycling paper is a better use of the resource than composting. Paper production is enormously energy intensive and recycling paper helps slow down new paper production.

Whilst I live in a city with good recycling infrastructure, I will always choose to recycle my paper over composting it.The only paper I compost is paper that cannot be recycled: anything stained by food or grease, tiny scraps, or shredded paper.

Whilst I’d love to see our recycling drop to zero, it’s heartening to know that we created less than this time less year. Some people say that “near-o waste” is a more accurate term than zero waste, and I’m inclined to agree. However, that doesn’t stop me aiming for zero.

Please tell me what you think! Do you find tracking your waste and recycling a helpful tool? Or is the extra fuss and effort too much hassle? Do you find seeing pictures of others’ waste inspiring, or do you find it demotivating? Is there something else you find more motivating? I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me a comment below!

Zero Waste Exceptions: Packaging, Plastic + Single-Use Items I Can’t Live Without

In my perfect world, I wouldn’t buy a single thing in plastic, I wouldn’t use a single thing in packaging…oh, and the sun would shine every day :) Even though I’ve lived plastic-free for almost 5 years, and describe myself as “zero waste”, there are still things that I buy in packaging. There are still single-use items I choose not to live without. Oh, and there’s still occasional plastic.

Of course I aspire to do better. But I don’t believe that zero waste is about being perfect. I believe it is about making better choices, trying to improve and doing the best we can.

If it was about being perfect, almost all of us would fall short. Then we’d decide it is all too hard, and give up. What a waste that would be! If we all make a few changes, that adds up to an enormous difference.

Imagine if every single person in the world decided that whilst they couldn’t do everything, they could manage to bring their own bags to the shop or market? Or that they could refuse a disposable coffee cup? Does it really matter that they can’t fit their entire landfill trash for the year in a jam jar?! I don’t think so ;)

Both my husband and I have our zero waste weaknesses. It’s all too easy for me to lump them together – and then blame him for most of them! So I’ve decided to focus on mine only. Just this once!

Packaging, Plastic and Single-Use: My Zero Waste Exceptions

1. Toilet Paper

I know that many people use “cloth” rather than toilet paper. I know that I could get a bidet attachment for my toilet. But the truth is, right now, I use toilet paper. It’s not that I am opposed to either idea, but my husband has assured me he is never giving the loo roll up, and I don’t want to have two systems. I’m happy to stick with his!

That’s not to say I’ll never change, but right now toilet paper is working for me, and it’s staying.

We buy Who Gives a Crap toilet paper. It is 100% recycled, the packaging is plastic-free, and the company donate 50% of profits to water projects overseas. We re-use the paper wrapping, and recycle the big cardboard box it comes in (the are 48 tolls in one box). It is an Australian company, although the rolls are made in China.

Maybe not perfect, but it works for us.

2. Chocolate Bars

Chocolate is my weakness. I’m trying very hard to buy more bulk chocolate and less packaged chocolate, but I have a particular obsession with Green & Blacks 85%. I like to buy organic and fair trade chocolate, and bulk stores have less options.

Yes, I know that Green & Blacks was purchased by Cadbury’s, and Cadbury’s was sold to Kraft. Not ideal at all. Truth is, I got addicted before that happened!

I only buy chocolate bars that come with tin foil and paper or card, and I recycle the packaging. I do buy bulk chocolate, too. My local bulk store also sells Loving Earth chocolate in bulk which is organic, Fair Trade and vegan – but it has a lot more sugar than these guys. If I ate a little less, maybe it wouldn’t matter…

3. Baking Paper

I  use baking parchment. I use it to bake bread and biscuits (to line my metal baking tray) and to line cake tins or loaf tins. I find it helps stop the edges burning.

Whilst I do have silicone muffin trays of various sizes, and silicone muffin cases, I sometimes need to bake more than I have, and other times I need a bigger size. Sometimes I use paper muffin cases.

I’ve tried greasing my tins, but I prefer baking paper. Whilst silicone works well, it isn’t recyclable, and heating in the oven does seem to degrade it over time. The muffin cases (baking cups) I use very sparingly, but the paper I use more often.

I will wipe the baking paper clean after use, and will aim to get a few uses out of it before composting.

4. Seedling Punnets

I’ve been buying seedling punnets to establish our garden. After almost all of my summer seeds failed to germinate, I resorted to buying seedling punnets (plastic punnets with seedlings in them ready for transplanting in the garden). It was that or not grow any vegetables all summer, so overall I felt I could justify the waste.

I’ve tried reusing them, but the soil tends to dry out too quickly. I’ve saved them all up in the hope of passing them on to someone who will re-use them.

I use the plastic labels in my garden. Hopefully I will be able to reuse these multiple times, but eventually they will end up as landfill.

5. Seed Packets

As we are establishing our garden, I’ve needed to buy seeds. Some seed packets contain foil/paper envelopes with the sees sealed inside; others have plastic zip-lock bags; and occasionally the seeds are loose.

My long-term plan is to save most of my own seeds, participate in seed swaps and grow seedlings from seed. But seed-saving is an art, and it will take some practice. Some things (like tomatoes and capsicums) are easy to save from seed; other things are harder and some require expert knowledge (and more land than I have).

So it’s unlikely I will ever be fully self-sufficient with my seeds.

I will be able to reuse the zip lock bags and the envelopes, but the foil/paper packets aren’t recycable.

6. Dog Food

We buy our dog food in large 14kg plastic sacks. Believe me, I do not like buying packaged industrially-produced dog food. We have tried all sorts of brands, organic and locally produced and Australian-made, but our dog prefers this one.

This is the biggest size available in this brand. Some Australian brands are slightly bigger (20kg). There is a bulk store in Perth that sells Australian dog food in bulk, but they buy 20kg bags and use those. As our dog eats through this in a month it doesn’t make sense for us.

I’ve looked into making food myself, but we don’t have space to make it in advance and freeze, and I’m not sure I want to go to the butchers every few days. Maybe in the future it will happen, but for now, we are sticking with this.

The plastic is recyclable at REDcycle.

7. Q Tips/Cotton Buds

I know that Q tips/cotton buds are meant to be bad for our ears, but seriously, I cannot bear to have water in my ears, or blocked ears generally. I use Q tips. They are 100% compostable and they come in 100% compostble packaging, but they are still a single-use item, and one that many zero wasters do without. I, however, have no plans to give them up.

I never ever use the ones with the plastic sticks. I also don’t use them often, maybe once every couple of weeks.

These are made from paper/card and organic cotton, in a cardboard box. I’ve had this box for around 2 years, and I’m due for a new one soon.

8. My Plastic (But Reusable) Toothbrush

When I went plastic-free in 2012, I started using bamboo toothbrushes. The bristles would constantly come out in my mouth and it used to drive me nuts. Not only that, but as I watched the plastic bristles wash down the drain I’d think – isn’t that exactly what I’m trying to prevent?

I saw a plastic toothbrush with a remove-able head in a health food shop in 2014 and made the switch. The heads only need replacing once every 6 months (I was replacing my bamboo toothbrush every two months).

The toothbrush is a brand is called Silver Care. I don’t love the plastic handle, but I think as a toothbrush, it does the job. The packaging and head are recyclable via Terracycle.

I suspect that it was the brand of bamboo toothbrush that was the issue, rather than bamboo toothbrushes as a whole, as many of my readers have told me that they get on well with different brands.

Nevertheless, now I have this one I intend to re-use it. Otherwise it’s a waste.

9. Re-Purposed Plastic

Mostly the zero waste and plastic-free movements align, but sometimes they do not. I’m happy to repurpose plastic if it is suitable for the job intended, will last, reduces landfill, and there isn’t an obvious better solution.

We used repurposed olive export barrels to make garden beds/pots for our veggie garden. These plastic barrels are used to ship olives from Greece to Australia just once, and then they are landfilled. We cut each one in half and turned them into garden beds. Each barrel cost around $30 (and cut in half makes two pots) compared to $150 for a single half wine barrel of the same size. They are food grade, UV stable and a waste product.

I’d rather olives were shipped in reusable containers, and maybe one day that will happen. Until then, I’m happy using these to grow my own food.

10. Plastic That Other People Give Me

Where I’ve been offered something that I know I can use and that might otherwise end up in the bin, I accept it. Reducing waste in generally is my priority, not keeping my own home pristine. My sister-in-law recently gave me a box of strange-flavoured tea that I knew I would drink and she knew she wouldn’t. It came in a box with a plastic window.

I’ve also been given some DIY skincare ingredients from a member of a community group who would have thrown them out had no-one wanted them.

This wax is a plant-based (vegan) alternative to beeswax, and I’m keen to try it out in some recipes. I’ll recycle the packaging when it’s empty.

I’m happy to take packaging from others and accept the waste if it means not wasting the product itself.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your zero waste exceptions? Are they things you can’t avoid, or things you choose not to? What is your biggest struggle? Is there anything that you thought would be impossible to give up or avoid, only to find that you were able to much more easily than you thought? Can anyone relate to me me on the chocolate issue?! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Is Almond Milk Bad for the Planet? (+ Some Myths Debunked)

First almond milk and other plant-based milks are lauded as a healthy alternative to regular milk; the next thing is they are being hailed as environmentally destructive. I exclusively drink nut milk at home (I make my own) and when I first starting hearing these claims, I decided to look into it a little more.

I want to live as sustainably as I can, and I also want to understand as much as I can about where my food comes from.

Articles with headlines like “Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet” and “Your Almond Habit Is Sucking California Dry“, published by reputable news sources (in this case, The Guardian and Mother Jones respectively), make it easy to see why many people think nut milk is bad for the planet.

But these articles don’t tell the whole story.

The headlines definitely don’t tell the whole story.

Sustainable choices are rarely completely black and white. There’s often compromise, or prioritizing one aspect of “green” over another.

If you stopped at the headline, you’d think that almond milk is bad for the planet. I want to go beyond the headline, to find out what reasons they give, and explore the rest of the story.

NB Statement quoted below were taken from this article by the Guardian.

The ‘Water’ Issue

The main environmental concern with almond milk seems to be the amount of water needed to grow almonds, coupled with the fact that most almond trees are grown in drought-hit California.

“It takes 1.1 gallons (4.16 litres) of water to grow one almond.” (The Guardian quoted this article, which stated where they obtained their data from: Mekonnen, M. M and Hoekstra, A. Y 2011.)

There are 92 almonds in a cup, which makes a litre of homemade almond milk. That means 1 litre of almond milk requires 384 litres of water to produce.

(Store-bought almond milk appears to have a much lower almond content, listed as around 2% of the total. Most brands do not list the number of almonds used per litre, but it is thought to be much less than homemade nut milks.)

“This isn’t to say cow’s milk, which takes about 100 litres of water to produce 100ml of milk, is more environmentally friendly”. (The Guardian quoted 250ml as requiring 255 litres; this source contains the research data.)

A litre of cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce.

Almond milk requires 384 litres of water per litre, and cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce, which is 2.5x more water. Almond milk is less water intensive than dairy milk.

 Environmental Impacts: the ‘Cows Versus Trees’ Issue

It is very frustrating when environmental impacts are measured on one factor alone. For many companies, using plastic is considered a more environmentally friendly option than using paper or glass, as it has a lower carbon footprint and is cheaper to transport. But when you take into account reuse-ability, recycle-ability and nenew-ability, it is a different picture.

Talking about the environmental impact of almonds based solely on water usage is only part of the story. What about the fact that almonds grow on trees, which stabilise soil, add oxygen to the atmosphere and decrease soil erosion?

Compare this with dairy cows, which are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (methane), require huge swathes of land to produce feed, and contribute to soil erosion and waterways pollution.

Animal welfare and ethical issues aside, growing trees seems the more environmental choice over raising cows.

The ‘Location’ Issue

Almonds seem to be targeted because they are grown in California, which has been hit by drought in recent years.

“More than 80% of the world’s almond crop is grown in California.”

This means 20% is not. Australia is the second-largest almond producer. I exclusively purchase Australian almonds as they are local to me. All produce has a printed country of origin, even products purchased in bulk stores. I purchase all my nuts from The Source Bulk Foods (they have 33 stores across Australia), as they stock Australian almonds as well as other nuts from Australia.

Almonds are also grown in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. World production is 2.9 million tonnes, and the USA produces 1.8 million tonnes. There are a million+ tonnes of almonds not grown in the USA to choose from.

For all of us living outside the USA, we have the option to purchase non-Californian almonds. However, Californian almonds are definitely more common.

If low food miles and sourcing locally grown or produced food is a priority, and almonds don’t grow close to where you live, almonds might not be the best choice for you.

“Its production is not concentrated in one area of the globe.” Meaning that whilst dairy milk is produced globally, almond production is concentrated in California.

Does distribution even matter? Or is it more about scale?

In 2014 California produced 2.14 billion pounds of almonds. In the same year California produced 42.3 billion pounds of milk. Regardless of worldwide production distribution, California produces more milk than almonds, and milk has a greater water footprint than almonds.

When the water used to produce Californian almonds is dwarfed by the water used to produce Californian dairy products, it seems a little misleading to claim that it is almonds that are “sucking California dry.”

They may not be blameless, but they seem to get more blame than they deserve.

The ‘Scapegoat’ Issue

California might have a lot of almond trees, but it’s an agricultural powerhouse, growing more than 200 crop varieties including almost all of America’s apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the US production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

California also produces huge numbers of animal products including milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses.

Dairy and livestock are considered far more water intensive than vegetable crops. Almonds use similar water to other nut trees (and 99% of America’s walnuts are also grown in California). “Fresh” crops like lettuce and broccoli not only need large quantities of water to produce, they need to be refrigerated and are often air-freighted to their destination.

Why do almonds get a bad rap, whilst all the banana bread bakers adding Californian walnuts to their loaves get not a single talking-to?

I wonder if it is because almond-milk drinkers are seen as trendy hipsters. I wonder if people are trying to make it into a “class” issue (if almond milk is seen as middle-class). I wonder if it is because the dairy industry has a lot of money to push towards fighting the growing nut milk industry and the potential decline of dairy milk sales.

I can make my guesses, but I can’t know for sure. I do think that almonds (and almond-milk drinkers) are unfairly targeted. The issues go much deeper.

The ‘Packaging’ Issue

It is not the growing of almonds that is so bad for the planet. It is the mass manufacture of almond milk and the global shipping to stores worldwide that is having a negative environmental impact.

Shipping water all around the globe is crazy. Most of us wouldn’t dream of buying bottled water (assuming we have drinkable water coming from the tap), but carton nut milk is 98% water. It is virtually the same thing!

Then there’s the containers. Nut milk is usually packaged in Tetra Paks, and these aren’t as easily recycled as their manufacturers would like us to think they are. Theoretically recycable is not the same as actually recycled in our town/municipality/state.

Recycable or not, they are designed to be used once only and not refilled.

Buying carton nut milk, especially one that has been manufactured overseas, is not an environmentally sound choice. From a transport (and energy) perspective, dairy milk has a lesser impact as demand is typically for fresh milk, so it is sold locally.

The great news is, it is really easy to make your own almond and other plant-based milks. I typcially make my own cashew milk and almond milk, but you can use any type of nuts. I’ve made macadamia milk, walnut milk, and brazil nut milk. I’ve even made seed milks! Experiment, and find your favourite.

Yes, seed milk is a “thing”. And they are surprisingly delicious! This one is my favourite, pumpkin seed milk.

What is the Most Environmentally Sustainable Milk Option?

At it’s heart, I don’t think this is about almonds. Or dairy cows.

The real issue here is industrial agriculture in a fragile, sensitive environment, and pursuing profit at the expense of the planet.

If you can, support local farmers, and buy products produced in your local area – or as close to your local area as possible. If you choose to drink nut milk, consider buying nuts and making your own. Oat milk is another (nut free) option.

If you’d rather buy packaged plant milk, look for one that has been manufactured locally (even if the ingredients are from overseas). Coconuts require far less water than other nuts, and grow in climates where rain is plentiful.

Of course, we could refuse milk entirely, dairy, almond or otherwise. We could drink black coffee. We could just drink water, which we harvested from the roof in our rainwater tank. We could… but will we? There’s the perfect world, and then there’s the real world – the one we live in.

I think it’s important to ask questions, and to try to understand where our food comes from. I think it’s valuable to understand why we make the choices we do. Sometimes our choices are less than ideal. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying to do the best we can.

How to Make Zero Waste DIY Newspaper Pots

I’m all for small and low cost (or free!) solutions, particularly when they mean zero waste. We’re in the midst of sowing our autumn and winter seeds for our vegetable garden right now, which means we need lots of seedling pots. (Sowing seeds directly into the ground tends to mean the little seedlings get munched by pests before they have the chance to grow big.)

I don’t want to buy new. I’ve learned (the hard way) that reusing the tiny plastic cells from the garden centre (the ones they sell punnets of seedlings in) doesn’t work too well. They are too small and they dry out too fast. We don’t have enough of the bigger plastic pots to use those…plus they take up a lot more space.

Instead, I’m making my own zero waste seedling pots out of newspaper.

You don’t need any fancy gadgets for this. Even the pair of scissors is optional. You just need two hands, and a bit of patience.

Even though I can make these without thinking now, I’ll admit that when my friend (who is a very good teacher) first showed me how to make these, I had a full-on tantrum! (How embarrassing.) If you get frustrated the first few times, just remember it’s only newspaper, and no-one has died. You’ll grasp it soon enough!

If you don’t read the newspaper, I guarantee that your neighbour does, or someone at work, or a family member. Maybe  a local cafe will have a mangled, well-read one.

The other great thing with these is that newspaper breaks down easily, so they can be planted directly into garden beds. No need to disturb the plant roots by removing from the paper. You can always tear the base before planting if you’re worried it will restrict growth.

How to Make DIY Zero Waste Seedling Pots (With Pictures)

Start with a single sheet of newspaper. For seedling pots, I cut a double sheet like this in half.

All you need to start with: a sheet of newspaper, and some scissors. Although you could do without the scissors, if you can tear neatly ;)

Cut the newspaper sheet in half along the fold. Put the sheet to the left to one side. We will only be working with one sheet at a time.

Turn the sheet of paper so that the longest side is horizontal.

Fold the newspaper in half from left to right (the fold is on the left hand side).

Fold the sheet again from bottom to top (the new fold is on the bottom).

Fold the newspaper one more time from left to right.

The paper in front of you will be folded a bit like a book, and each flap has a front and a back. You want to take the right-hand corner of the front flap, and fold it towards you, pulling it open as you do so to make a triangle shape along the “spine” of the “book”.

You can see (marked by the blue spot) that the bottom right hand corner has moved to where the spine was, and is opened to form a triangle.

Now that you’ve folded this side, turn the newspaper over (180°) and do the same on the other side. It will be mirrored, so the corner will be on the left hand side.

Once both sides have been folded, your newspaper will look like this. There will be a triangle-shaped pocket on the front and the back, and a gap in the centre seam above the two triangles.  Now turn the right hand side of the paper, like the page of a book, to the left (180°) so that you can see one continuous triangle.

Flip the newspaper over and repeat with the other side so that both sides now look like this.

If it is correct, the paper will look like this from above.

Lay the paper down flat, and fold each of the front flaps into the centre fold.

Fold these two flaps in half again, into the centre fold. (Don’t worry if it’s very flappy when you remove your fingers, that is absolutely fine.)

Now flip the newspaper over, and do repeat on the other side.

Fold the flaps into the centre…

And then fold these flaps inwards again…

Your newspaper now looks like this. Fold the top flap down towards you along the newspaper line.

Repeat on the other side.

Now you can gently pull the two flaps outwards and open your pot!

Push your fingers inside to straighten out (and flatten out the bottom).

Ta-da! A zero waste newspaper seedling pot.

The flaps can be useful for lifting the pots, or labelling what you’ve planted inside the pot. If you don’t like them you can fold them inside. Once the pot of filled with soil they won’t flap about. I wouldn’t recommend cutting them off as the folding is what keeps it all in place.

Next step… to go forth and plant things!

Now I’ love to hear from you! Have you ever made these before? Do you have a different method? Are you feeling inspired to grow stuff? Do you want to make some and then share a photo with me so I can admire your handiwork? (Answer – yes you do!) Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Getting Stuff Done (A Kind Guide for the Time Poor)

Almost all of us would like to do more than we currently have time for. I’m somebody who gets a lot of stuff done, but there are still far more things I’d love to do than there are hours in the day. Plus I don’t have children, relatives I have to care for, long commutes or other things taking up my time before I get to do the things I’m passionate about.

Often, lack of time is a reason why we don’t embrace the changes we’d like to make. Changing habits and learning new skills doesn’t happen overnight.

But are we really time-poor? Or do we just think we are?

Being Time-Poor: What Does it Mean and What Can We Do About it?

Time-poor means not having time to do everything we’d like to do, or not having spare time. Clearly, we all have the same 24 hours in the day, but I’m not going to tell you that just because you have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyonce, you should be achieving your dreams. Let’s get real here. I’m pretty sure she can pay a nanny, and a cleaner, and a PA.

The way I see it, the way we spend our time can be divided into three:

Things that we have to do.

Things that we feel we should do.

Things that we do because we want to do them, and because we enjoy them.

Then there’s the long list of things we’d like to do, if only we had the time.

The question is, is it possible to change this? And more importantly, do we want to?

One technique I find very helpful for deciding if I’m prioritising my time well, is to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and on one side write down all the things that I love to do, want to do, and that make me happy.

Then, in the other side I write down how I actually spend my time.

I look at the two columns, and see how much similarity there is. If the two columns don’t match, I start to look at what I’m currently doing that I could maybe change, in order to make time for things that I do want to do.

The Things We Feel We Should Do

The easiest ones to look at are those things that come under the “feel like I should do” category. These aren’t things we actually need to do, but maybe feel obliged to do, or have continued to do even though the passion has gone.

Can we actually say no, or turn some things down, in order to create space?

Can we seek help from someone else to do these things in order to free up time?

The Things We Need To Do

These are the non-negotiables, like eating, working and sleeping. Whilst they might be necessities, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to tweak things.

Can we batch cook meals and then freeze them to save time? Can we take the train or bus to work rather than driving, so that we have time to read? Can we actually get up when the alarm goes off rather than dozing for another 45 minutes?

Even small tweaks can free up a little time here or there, and it all adds up.

Appreciating Timeframes

In most cases, we can’t just make changes tomorrow. Maybe we realise that reducing our commute will free up time, but we need to find a new job closer to home before we can make the change. Maybe we realise that when our toddler goes to school we will have plenty more time, but we’re still two year away from this change.

It doesn’t matter, but it can be helpful to recognise that time isn’t static. If we’re frustrated now, we can appreciate that things won’t always be like this. Being ready for the change and doing what we can to make it happen sooner (if possible) might be all we can do for now.

Can We Make Time?

Making time can come down to whether we really want to do something, and are willing to put in the hard work, or whether we like the idea of something.

There’s nothing wrong with the latter. I love the idea of learning plenty of things, but I know I don’t have the motivation to pursue most of them…at least, not now. But I like storing these little dreams in my imagination, just in case the time ever comes. If not, it doesn’t matter. The possibility is enough. 

Think in Terms of Projects

When we feel time poor but really want to make changes, we can look at the change we want to make as a ‘project’. A project is something with a defined outcome and a defined timeframe. We can split it down into what we want to achieve, and how much time we think we need.

We can decide for a month, we will set the alarm two hours earlier. Or we can decide we will: give up TV for a month, switch off social media after 6pm, neglect the non-urgent housework, get takeaway two times a week to free up the evenings, get a babysitter.

These might not be sustainable, long-term solutions, but when we have a clear timeframe, we can make them work.

Particularly with learning new habits, it is the learning that takes time. Once they are ingrained and we don’t need to think about them, they take up much less energy.

Try Not To Get Distracted with ‘Busy’ Tasks

Nobody is too busy to tell you how busy they are. But is busy the same as productive?

Imagine an empty bathtub, and now imagine it filled with watermelons. It’s full, right?

Now imagine emptying a big sack of walnuts over the top of the bath. All those round walnuts fill in the spaces around the watermelons. They don’t come up over the sides. Now the bath is full.

Finally, imagine emptying another sack of poppy seeds over the bath, and all those poppy seeds make their way into the crevices and cracks between the watermelons and the walnuts. Now the bath is definitely full.

We can think of those watermelons, walnuts and poppy seeds as the tasks we fill our day with, and the bathtub as the day. Those watermelons are the projects, or the big tasks we want to work on. The reality is, we need to set time aside for these bigger tasks, or the smaller tasks (the walnuts and the poppy seeds) will fill up the whole day.

We can feel ‘busy’ when we occupy ourselves with small tasks, particularly the repetitive ones that constantly need doing. We can feel good about it too. Finishing small tasks gives us a sensory reward and a morale boost. But it often doesn’t get us any closer to achieving our big goals. Instead they suck our time.

Truth is, small tasks are small, and they are easy to fit in around other things. We will never tackle our big tasks unless we make time for them.

(That’s not to say we can’t make our big projects more manageable by breaking them down into small tasks, if they are small, one-off tasks towards a defined goal.)

Try Not To Compare Yourself With Others

We are all different. We all have different energy levels, and we all draw energy from different things. Some of us love our jobs and feel reinvigorated when we work. Some of us hate our jobs and feel like sitting on the couch for three hours afterwards. Some of us love our jobs, but find then emotionally or physically draining.

Some of us can do tasks quickly, and some of us are painfully slow. Some of us are fast learners, and others are not. Some of us have great memories, and some of us have to be reminded a billion times before it sinks in.

It often surprises people when I tell them that I can’t write quickly. But you’re a writer! Yes, but I can’t just churn out blog post after blog post. I like to take my time and craft my words, and think deeply about what I’m saying. I have massive respect for those people who write multiple articles every single day. That will never be me. (Oh, another home truth. I can’t even touch type!)

Just because someone else can do things in a certain way, or a particular time frame, that doesn’t mean we all can. Besides, often we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know how much support they have behind the scenes, or how much training they have in an area.

We also don’t know how much of a priority this is to them. It might not be such a priority to us.

See other people’s successes and triumphs as what they are – good things worth celebrating. They have nothing to do with you, and what you can achieve has nothing to do with them. Don’t let their achievements rob you of your own. Go at your own pace, and if you want to, you will get there.

I’d love to hear from you – what sucks your time? What would you love to do with a few extra hours in the day? How do you manage to get the important things done? Or what keeps you from getting them done? Any other tips you’ve found useful? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

My Zero Waste Kit (Zero Waste Handbag Essentials)

I truly believe that the zero waste lifestyle does not mean going out to buy a whole heap of stuff. Saying that, there are definitely things that I have bought, which make waste-free living a lot easier for me. I refer to these things as my zero waste “kit”.

Recently I received a lovely email from a lady called Rachel who follows my Instagram feed, and she asked me: “I’ve seen you mention “zero waste kit” a few times and was wondering what that was!” It dawned on me that I’ve never taken the time to explain what I have and why. So here it is: my list of handbag essentials for zero waste living.

What is essential for me might not be essential for you, and this is definitely no command to go shopping! As always, I recommend using what you have. Whilst I’ve provided links so you can find out more details about the things I’ve personally chosen, please consider making do, buying second-hand and shopping local where you can.

What’s In My Zero Waste Handbag?

My handbag is by no means a hold-all! None of this stuff takes up that much room and the only heavy thing is my water bottle, when it’s full.

I’ve included links below of the actual things I have, so you can see specific product details, dimensions etc.

Water bottle: I have a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle with a bamboo lid. It holds 800ml. I chose this because it is completely plastic free and I love that Klean Kanteen are committed to producing products with the environment in mind.

Sometimes I leave the water bottle at home to save weight and use my reusable cup instead.

Reusable Coffee Cup: When I started out, I had a plastic KeepCup, but once glass ones were introduced in 2014 I made the switch. I have a 8oz glass KeepCup with a cork band but bigger sizes are also available. The lid is plastic but I like that the rest of the cup is not, and that it is a standard barista size.

I often use this as an impromptu container, or to grab a glass of water from anywhere with a tap if I don’t have my water bottle with me.

Reusable Cutlery: I have a To-Go ware set that was a birthday present: it contains a bamboo fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks and the pouch is made from recycled water bottles. The cutlery is surprisingly sturdy and I have skinned and de-stoned a mango with the knife. It is also suitable to carry onto planes in hand luggage.

Reusable Straw: I have added a reusable metal straw to my reusable cutlery pouch (it needs to be 21.5cm or smaller to fit in the To-Go Ware pouch). I also have reusable glass straws that I love, but I tend to take them out with me less often. The ones I have are made by Glass Dharma and come with a lifetime breakage guarantee. There are other brands with different colours and patterns. Reusable bamboo straws are another option.

Glass straws sound fragile but the glass is toughened and it would be impossible to bite through it. Because the edges are smoothed I think they are a good option for kids.

Produce Bags: Almost all of the produce bags I have are handmade (not by me!), and I think Etsy is a great place to find local craftspeople if you can’t sew your own. My own bags (mostly gifts) are made from old fabric, cafe curtains and an old bedsheet of mine. I love sellers who repurpose old fabric rather than buying new, like these produce bags made from old tablecloths.

I also have a few Onya produce bags too which are handy as they fit in a little stuff sack. The company started down the road from here and the owner is passionate about reducing plastic-bag use.

Reusable Bag: We have a number of calico bags that we’ve picked up over the years and would recommend choosing natural fibres where possible. As well as these, we have a couple of Onya reusable shopping bags. Whilst they are plastic, they scrunch up into a tiny stuff sack when not in use, so they are handy for my husband (who does not carry a handbag!) or when we are travelling as they are pocked-sized.

Sandwich Wraps: These are coated fabric and can be used in place of containers. I have snack pockets and sandwich wraps made by 4MyEarth, a local Perth company. They used to make 2 sizes of each but now they just make 1 size of each. The fabric is coated to make it water- and grease-resistant: it is a plant-based plastic and they are PVC-free. I like that they are machine washable, and they have lasted me a really long time (I got them in 2012).

Metal lunchbox: I bought my husband this metal lunchbox to take to work every day, although we also use it if we are going out to a restaurant or cafe (you never know where there might be leftovers!). I’ve added to our collection since then: a three-tier tiffin and a four-tier tiffin, and a round stainless steel lunchbox for myself that I bought in Thailand.

Stainless steel is expensive  – it is an investment piece that will last forever. If you have an Indian supermarket nearby it is worth checking out if they stock tiffins as the price will likely be kinder to your wallet. Sometimes, they pop up in charity shops too (although I’ve never been this lucky)!

Hanky: I keep a hanky on me at all times, which doubles as a serviette if I’m out. Department stores will likely sell them, but I prefer to keep things local and I’d look on Etsy if I needed more. Or, I’d just cut up some old clothes and make do with the ragged edges ;)

The links above are mostly for Australian stores. If you’re not in Australia, this page has a list of online zero waste and plastic-free stores which you might find useful.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your zero waste essentials? How did you choose your items? What eco-minded companies have you chosen to support? How have you been able to make do? Have you made any great second-hand purchases? Any recommendations for where others might be able to make do or find second-hand? Do you consider any of the items I’ve chosen a waste of time?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These items are all items that I genuinely use and love, and have purchased with my own money or were received as gifts from friends and family. No company has paid me to be featured on this list. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

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

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

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

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: The Clothes I Started With

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

Summer Tops:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Tops:

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

Shorts and Skirts

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

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

Jumpers and Cardigans

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

Dresses

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

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

Trousers (Pants)

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

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

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

What was Missing: Tops

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

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

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

A trip to the charity shop led me to these:

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

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

What was Missing: Bottoms

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

I ended up with these:

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

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

What was Missing: Jumpers and Dresses

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

I found these at the charity shop:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why would we want to put ourselves through that?

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

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

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

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

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

Myths About Capsule Wardrobes

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

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

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

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

Myth 2: Capsule Wardrobes are all about shopping.

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

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

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

Myth 3: Capsule wardrobes are only for fashionistas.

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

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

Stylishness = optional.

Tips for Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

#1: Figure out what you actually wear.

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

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

#2: Play the slow game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5: Seriously Consider Shopping Second-Hand.

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

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

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

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

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