July 25, 2011

Experimenting and Learning: 4 (ongoing) steps in Zero Waste transformation

So where am I on my Zero Waste journey?  --Still learning and experimenting, of course!

For example, I tried going gung-ho (see my first couple of posts). I failed. By the time I came down with a summer flu, I had to admit that I simply wasn't able to commit to a near cold turkey ZW lifestyle. Primarily, this was because I hadn't yet finished adapting my home and I could no longer actively work on doing so, so I suddenly needed the heretofore "conveniences" that had once been merely superfluous.

But I have made LOTS of changes, and I'm psyched! Here's the latest on my journey...

#1 - Reading voraciously.

Below are some of the titles I've just finished or am currently reading:

  Green Guides Compost by Rachelle Strauss
  Walden (re-read) by HD Thoreau (Kindle version)
  The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (Kindle version)
  The Last Drop of Living: A Minimalist Guide by Robert Lee (Kindle version)
  The Power of Less by Leo Babauta (an audio read)
  Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (audio read)
  It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh (audio read)
  Luxury of Less: The Five Rings by Karol Gajda (Kindle version)
  Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (focuses on financial minimalism)

#2 - Minimizing & Restructuring 
I started with the kitchen. Most items that we don't use regularly but that I know my husband isn't ready to part with, I packed up and placed in the attic. This opened up enough space to allow for the jars we'll use to buy and store food. It also provided the opportunity for me to make the kitchen more functional. Pot lids have their own basket. Storage Containers have their own basket, while their lids have a separate basket along side the containers. Cleaning cloths for various purposes were each designated their unique spaces. I've got a ways to go, but this was a great first sweep of the kitchen. It's at least twice as functional as before.

The bathrooms were next. Medicine cabinets were stripped of all but the essentials and those were neatly organized in small metal bins for easiest access--I hate digging on a shelf among fifteen other items and knocking three over to get to what I need. The grouping in bins eliminates this potential, makes finding items quicker and looks exponentially better to my weary eyes.

I then pared down cosmetics. I first determined what types of cosmetics I no longer wear or wear only rarely and targeted them for donation. I kept only what I use daily, and only ONE of each in the medicine cabinet.

The instant harmony and space this created feels fantastic. From here on out, I vow to buy exactly one replacement for any given used item. The vow is necessary because I have a tendency similar to many consumerists, I suspect. I tend to buy more than I need at any given time, so that I "save" myself time in the future or money if there's a sale. This ridiculousness has led to not only wasted financial resources, but to clutter---I had cosmetics that were years old and had still never been opened. 

Homemade Cleaners. I made my glass cleaner, wood cleaner, and baking soda scrub. I used the remainder of what was left (very little) in my existing "natural" store bought cleaners and simply added to them using simple available ingredients like alcohol, essential oils, vinegar, etc., as needed. They're working quite nicely.

The Memory Closet - Twenty years worth of photos, letters (the now defunct snail mail type, awards, report cards...you name it). I went through them all and about a dozen notebooks. In all I listened to my emotions as I viewed each item. If I felt nothing strong or nothing good, I recycled or disposed of it. In all, I eliminated about two-thirds of my heavy load. Needless to say, I feel lighter. And now I have another closet available for truly functional use!

Books, etc. - about a third of my books were boxed bound for the 2nd hand shop. And I've decided to use the Kindle for most future reading. 

I repeated similar actions with my hand bags and our other storage cabinets. I want my hand bags to be clutter free and ADD-proof. With the use of a smartly stocked purse insert, and some other techniques I think I achieved a good deal toward this end. The storage cabinets contained a lot of spares of items, such as toiletries. Those that I couldn't part with remain neatly stored, but I promise not to buy again until these are used in their entirety.

More on the minimizing process in future posts, but for now...moving on to

#3 - Bulk Shopping Lists - Bad times. I had such a miserable experience when attempting to shop entirely Zero Waste at the Berkeley Bowl West, that I did the only thing that could make the trip seem not wasted: I cataloged their entire inventory of bulk items on my hand held device. So at least I know what to expect in the future.

#4 - Recyclables Lists - I started a list of questions for my local recycling authority about what can and cannot be recycled with them and why---and their suggestions for where to go to recycle certain items which are recyclable but that they do not take. Did you know that Whole Foods accepts plastics #5, called their Gimme 5 program?

It was tough to start the wrangling in and sorting through everything that I own, and more than a little overwhelming (like the 20-year memory closet), but I'm enjoying the decluttering and organizing process now that I'm in a rhythym of removal. I can't express enough how amazing the free & organized spaces feel or just how much the simplicity continues to inspire.


  1. Steph, we seem to be at a similar stage in our ZW development. I was so happy to receive your post today, as I have been dragging and feeling like I'm the only one going down this path.

    Let's talk about cosmetics: What are you no longer accepting? I, too, have pared down the makeup to essentials, and decided what I won't replace when the time comes. I do want nontoxic, nonpolluting alternatives, however. I've moved into some Burt's Bees products packaged in glass. This doesn't quite feel good enough. Maybe it won't feel good enough until I make my own, but right now I make so much other stuff from scratch that I can't imagine adding one more thing to the list.

  2. I'm not really a minimalist, but I am contemplating a major move to a smaller living space (500 square feet? Gulp!), so it's useful for me to see how other people are cutting down on their things. One of my major hangups is my books. I have a lot of different reading interests and also a serious love affair with the physicality of my books, the way they smell, the feel of the covers, the way they've molded themselves to my hands over the years. Right now I'm at about net zero (as many going out as coming in), but I know I'll have to cut back if I want to try living in a small house.

  3. Hi NETBG, Books have been my prized possessions also. There's something so comforting about them. And there's this promise about them...promise of a new way of living, or way of thinking, of fantasy and escapism, and I'm a book sniffer too. Old moldy ones mainly...not too moldy. It would have been unthinkable for me at one time to nearly obliterate my library. But after de-cluttering my possessions room by room, I had more confidence when I came to the books. I realized that there are only a two or three dozen or so that I really can't do without. But then again, I'm not a writer with two English degrees like some bloggers. Thanks for the comment

  4. Hi Susie,

    I'm sorry it's taken a while for this response. I was out of town attempting Vipassana for the first time. Turns out it's not the right time for me.

    But on to your comment... I've loved Burt's products since the mid-90s. I still love them, but have begun weaning off most all but the lip balm and lip color. Mainly, because I am tired of brand loyalty. I want to try new things. I am eager to make more items myself...so I admire and envy that you make so many items already.

    What I have gotten down to is 1-a good cover stick or foundation (with my skin I need it), 2- lip balm, 3- a lip color balm (usually Burt's), 4- a wipe-on rouge. That's it. Though I do keep on hand for fancy dress 5- mascara and 6- eye liner. The biggest discovery for me has been that I don't need a blush brush. I prefer to apply with a creme directly on my face with the fingers. It keeps me from having to own a blusher and from having those ridiculous three inch long black hairs stick to my face. I'm considering dumping the rouge altogether in face of double duty lip color/cheek color balm. But I haven't researched what can do the trick without being too oily to go from lip to cheek.

    I haven't started making any cosmetics yet. But on zerowastehome Bea has a recipe for blush that looks interesting. Have you seen it?

    Thanks for commenting.

  5. Fabulous reads! Some I've read, some just familiar with them. Great selection, and ebooks are such a great choice.

    Amazing how relevant Walden still is!