As I’ve gotten older, I’ve completely revised my approach to initiating change in my life. I could write a book about some of my younger self’s often-humorous, short-lived attempts to minimize my belongings, start a daily meditation practice, go completely vegan, cook exclusively at home… you name it, I probably tried it. Most of these efforts, despite my positive intentions, unfortunately never really stuck. I hadn’t realized back then that lasting change, for me at least, requires baby—not Big Foot—steps.
This is an important preface to what I’m about to share with you. You see, I’m on a “kick” about something, but this time it really is different. I have extremely meaningful motivations for what I want to do, and I’m planning on making this a lifelong endeavor that I “lean into” with tiny changes. I’m calling it my “No Haste to Zero Waste” approach. Lucky for me, I’m surrounded by a supportive team of people, including my husband and store staff, who in some way resonate with the vision.
My dream is to live my own version of the “zero waste” life. To truly understand what this means and why it’s so important, I strongly encourage you to check out Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home blog. I want to minimize the amount of trash my family produces by eventually following Bea’s 5 R’s in order: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. I feel compelled to do this not only for the benefit of the planet, but also and perhaps foremost for the financial, physical and other personal payoffs it will deliver to my family.
Perhaps someday my family and I will succeed in producing, like Bea’s family, only a pint-sized jar of trash each year. Right now, from where I stand, that feels like the prospect of having to walk on foot from New York to Los Angeles. So, instead of looking at the road ahead, I’m going to set baby-size goals and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I’m told by folks who are further along in this endeavor that the journey quickly takes on a life of its own and is a joyful one with quick and obvious benefits!
I’m starting at home with five little, but meaningful, changes. None of these may seem revolutionary, but I hope they will encourage you to think of a few of your own baby steps that you can take in your own home, wherever you happen to be on the journey.
1. I’m completely ditching plastic, bottled water for stainless steel, refillable bottles and other reusable containers.
For years, we have been extremely liberal in our reliance on bottled water at home. As a family that’s always on the go, it’s been a convenience thing. But the reasons to ditch the plastic water bottles are far too compelling to ignore: not only do they harm the environment all the way from the production to the disposal processes, but there’s substantial evidence that drinking from these plastic water bottles is harmful to our health. Additionally, we’ll be saving a chunk of money by relying exclusively on refillable bottles. In a year, my family spends over $700 on bottled water.
For toting our beverages on the go, I love S’well bottles. These stainless steel, BPA-free, non-toxic, non-leaching insulated bottles come in three different sizes (the small one is great to throw in your purse, and the large one is big enough to hold an entire bottle of wine!) The bottles, which come in a gorgeous variety of colors, keep your beverage cold for up to 24 hours and hot for 12 hours. At home—and now at LYB—we are also switching to exclusive use of glass cups and/or mugs for beverages. I adore mason jars, which you can buy for next to nothing and serve multiple additional storage purposes.
2. I’m reducing my use of paper products in favor of reusable alternatives.
Although paper is recyclable, recycling is not the ideal place to start when it comes to reducing our trash (read more about the pros and cons of recycling here). We’re doing more for the planet, our homes and our budgets by, when possible, refusing paper products in the first place.
Boy, has this opened my eyes! Every day, since considering this idea, I have recognized more and more my reliance on paper products in my home. I constantly reach for paper towels and Kleenex tissues, carry paper shopping bags, collect paper magazines… the list goes on. We also receive a never-ending barrage, like most households, of paper mail, most of which ends up in the recycling bin. Our reliance on paper is pervasive.
This is a great example of an area in which I’m going to start with baby steps. Ditching paper may be a lifelong endeavor and one where I don’t want or need to go the all-or-nothing route. Wet wipes and toilet paper are, for the foreseeable future, here to stay with us! I can reduce my paper mail by requesting e-bills and the removal of my name from junk mail lists, but I will probably continue to get some small amount of mail. I’m aiming for “better” here rather than “perfect.”
Some small steps I’ll be taking at home include:
- Getting rid of paper towels in favor of reusable microfiber cloths (check out the ones from NaturalLinens).
- Replacing napkins and tissues with washable cloth alternatives.
- Ditching toiletries that come packaged in paper boxes (more on this below.)
- Using environmentally-friendly feminine products (e.g. the Lunette Cup.)
- Getting the electronic version of books, newspapers and magazines.
- Shopping only with reusable grocery and produce bags (alternatives like these from Outdoor Balance abound).
3. I’m making a handful of my own bath and body products and storing them in reusable glass containers.
As with paper products, this is an area where I’m gong to have to start with baby steps. I have very little extra time right now, and, in all honesty, the prospect of replacing beauty products I’ve relied on for years is a little bit scary.
Lauren Singer’s blog, Trash is for Tossers (http://www.trashisfortossers.com) is an awesome resource for homemade and environmentally-conscious beauty recipes. My game plan is to begin experimenting by creating the homemade version of certain products as I run out of my current version. I’m on my last bit of body moisturizer right now and plan on trying Lauren’s homemade body butter (http://www.trashisfortossers.com/2015/04/diy-organic-whipped-body-lotion-bye-bye.html). Toothpaste, deodorant, face moisturizer and toner are next. And, as soon as I’ve reached the bottom of my plastic bottles of face and body cleansers, I’m heading to the store for a bar of unwrapped bulk soap. Once I get a grasp on using the homemade and/or non-packaged version of these products, I will hopefully have gained the confidence to begin looking for hair product and makeup alternatives.
4. I’m going to buy more fresh, less packaged food.
As a mom of three young children, the temptation to rely on packaged food is greater than ever. Speed and convenience are everything, which has led to some poor choices for not only the environment, but my family’s health and finances.
This is a change I’m going to have to lean into, as it requires adjustment on a couple of levels: 1) I’m going to need to cook more food at home and plan our meals so we don’t continue deferring to fast food in a pinch; and 2) I’m going to have to help my children and husband embrace healthier eating habits that incorporate more fresh produce and products, like beans and grains, that I can buy in bulk and store in glass jars. I’m turning for guidance to great and more experienced resources like Zero-Waste Chef (https://zerowastechef.com).
Adopting a more vegetarian diet is an awesome place to start. Fresh produce comes without packaging and is great for our bodies. Beans and whole grains are also great sources of nutrition and can be bought from bulk bins. Packaged snacks for the kids can be replaced with fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade hummus, popsicles, etc. (Please let me know if you have great kid-friendly, non-packaged snack ideas!)
Cooking at home is also a great way to engage in meaningful family time. Handing my children packaged breakfast bars means I don’t have to engage with them, whereas looking for the package-free alternative offers us an opportunity to bake and assemble our meals together. I know that my husband will be thanking me down the road, as well, for saving us money, as the packaged options tend to be far more costly.
5. I’m reducing my family’s wardrobes to what we actually use, and donating the rest.
In this case, it’s not that we’re necessarily creating trash at home with our large closets, but we’re certainly perpetuating a wasteful lifestyle. I guarantee that the current closets of me, my husband, and my three children contain enough clothes and shoes to sustain four other families of five.
I’ll be relying on the old 80/20 rule to guide my family’s closet clean out process: keep the 20 percent we actually need and love, and donate the 80 percent that someone else could use instead. This process is so difficult for most people. I hear it all day from my clients at LYB: “I desperately need to purge my closet, but I just can’t seem to do it!” Trust me, I can relate. To help myself, I came up with a list of questions to answer before I start the process:
- What type of look or articles of clothing do I feel best in, and why?
- What do I actually look best in? What look is most flattering on me and plays to my natural assets? What are my greatest assets?
- Conversely, what look or type of clothing/shoes just doesn’t work for me and/or doesn’t suit my lifestyle? Do I have items in my closet that I keep trying to wear that just don’t feel like “me” or aren’t comfortable?
- What pieces of clothing and shoes do I keep in my closet “just in case” that rarely, if ever, get worn?
- What articles of clothing and shoes do I feel like I literally cannot live without? If I were traveling somewhere for three months and could only bring one suitcase, what would I pack?
To quote the world’s most overused, but poignant, phrase, “Rome was not built in a day!” This idea has helped me build a successful business one step at a time, and is the magical concept behind lasting and meaningful change. Once I’ve got these five changes I’ve shared with you well underway, I have a feeling that I’ll know exactly what to do next. For now, I’m going to practice being a really good waste-reducing “infant” and embrace my “no haste” approach!