The Joy of Using Things Up

In January 2018, I decided that I was going to go at least 3 months without buying any new clothes (the exceptions: underwear, shoes, leggings, and anything needed for bridesmaid duties). I ended up going until October and found it shockingly easy. I fell in love with thrifting, Poshmark, and shopping my own closet. This January, I decided to re-start my “no new clothes” challenge. We’re in the middle of April and, so far, so good. The challenge got me thinking — what else could I stand to stop buying this year? Like clothes, other personal and household items can accumulate. Think… candles, skincare, makeup, even food items … generally smaller, consumable items that are OH SO EASY to impulse purchase (especially when traveling!).

Anyone else feel a sense of joy (or even accomplishment) when you get through an entire skincare product or hit pan in a makeup palette or burn through a candle in it’s entirety? I want to feel more of that. So here are some items I am adding to my “do not buy” list until there are no “backups” left.

  • Candles. Yeah, I’m one of those people. I make candles in old candle jars. I also buy candles because I’m a total sucker. I am given candles because everyone knows how much I love candles. A candle is lit daily so they do get used up… but, right now, I have an overwhelming amount to go through.
  • Bath Bombs. I was given a lot of bath bombs over Christmas which piled up on top of my impulse bath bomb purchases at Lush. I am making a habit of taking more baths and making sure to use a bath bomb each time.
  • Bar Soaps. I blame my husband. He’s a soap fiend. At Whole Foods? Buy soap. Traveling and see a small business owner selling soap? Buy it. Obviously, these get used up. But, right now, I have a small shoe box full of soap.
  • Body Moisturizers. Don’t know how this happened but between gifts and half empty lotion bottles — I probably have 2 years worth of the stuff.
  • Face Masks. Not the sheet ones but jars and tubes of them. They come as part of skincare kits, as gifts, etc. I also find that I take forever to get through them as I’m not super consistent about masking. Goal: Mask twice a week and get through all these jars! In the future, maybe DIY masks to save self from collecting (somewhat unused) masks.
  • Lipstick and lip balms. I have too many, plain and simple. I also have every color and forumation I could possibly need so I just need to stop picking these up.
  • OTC Medications. Somehow we end up with multiple bottles of Ibuprofen, allergy medications, and Pepto. Usually while traveling or out and about, someone ends up with a headache or sniffles and we end up buying meds that come home with us. Goal: Make sure to pack medications in travel bag to prevent purchases. Thoroughly check medicine cabinet before buying any medications.
  • Tea. Another impulse travel purchase. Wherever I am in the world, I end up buying local tea. Yeah, the loose leaf stuff is great and compostable but how much tea do I really need?! So. No more until I’m through the majority of my stash.

What items could you stand to stop buying for the next few months?

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Simple Tip: Taking Care of Bar Soaps

Bar soaps are a holy grail product for low-wasters. You can often find them without any packaging and once they are used up, they’re done. No bottles or pumps or lids to recycle or trash. No waste. It’s awesome. However, these wonderful creations do require a little bit of care to get the most use out of them.

First up, soap dishes. My view: the best soap dish is one you already have. You don’t have one lying around? This is the perfect time to use unused jewelry dishes, a small fancy plate, empty candle jars, empty jam jars, Altoid tins… any jar/plate/trinket dish that is shallow and wide. I personally use an old candle jar + a trinket dish at home and a Lush tin + a random old gum tin when traveling.

But what’s more important than where you place your soap? It’s how you keep your soap dry when not in use… a constantly wet soap bar that doesn’t have time to dry out is a soap bar that becomes mushy and dies in a week. Enter the soap lift or soap saver (examples here and here). In addition, I use a sisal soap saver (like this one) for my body soap bar to help exfoliate my skin, keep my bar hung up and dry between use, and to corral small soap slivers together.

And, a final tip: if you get your hands on a large bar of soap, use a knife and cut the large bar in to smaller pieces. This way, you aren’t getting a massive bar of soap constantly wet (and, therefore, wasting a large amount of it).

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Zero Waste Entertaining

The early part of my year consists of a LOT of birthdays… every member of my family was born in either January or April. This ends up meaning lots of entertaining and gatherings. Party throwing, however, is not the most eco-friendly activity. With all the paper cups and plates, plastic forks and spoons, balloons, and take out boxes — waste can really add up. However, there are some alternatives to making things a bit more eco-friendly and not becoming a party pooper.

Dinnerware

My favorite way to avoid any waste at all is using real dishes, cutlery, and glasses (and just dishwashing everything at the end). However, this works best if a. you’re having a smaller party at home with enough dishes for everyone or b. you’re having a large party at a venue where you can rent dinnerware. Sometimes though, you’re having a large party at home or a casual outdoor event that makes real dinnerware inconvenient/not possible. Good news — these days, there are SO MANY biodegradable + compostable options at affordable prices. You can get whole sets on Amazon or Party City.

Food

If you’re making everything yourself or having a potluck, it’s pretty easy to have everything served in reusable containers. If you’re catering, find out if the restaurant will provide food in stainless steel food pans that you can then return back to the restaurant.

Drinks

Either buy your beverages in the largest possible plastic containers to reduce the amount of plastic you recycle. Or, get drinks in cans or glasses — the two best items to recycle. For alcoholic beverages, see if you can get your beer to go in a growler from a local brewery or even certain Whole Foods.

Candles

Buy high quality candles that don’t melt in 5 seconds. I have some beautiful candles that I’ve been able to reuse for years and they barely look used! Go one step further and get pure beeswax birthday candles.

Decor

Avoid balloons and single-use throw away items. Borrow decor from friends when needed or make DIY banners with recyclable paper. Even better, use natural items like flowers and beeswax candles to set the mood.

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My Zero Waste Fails

Zero or low waste is not about perfection. You do not need to fit all your trash in a mason jar or give up everything you love that comes in a non-recyclable wrapper. It is about being mindful. About finding alternatives when you can. Purchasing thoughtfully (good quality, not too much). With that said, I’ve definitely had some zero waste failures on my quest to send less to the landfill.

Here are my failed experiments:

  • DIY kefir: My husband drinks kefir every single morning. Sure, the kefir container is a highly recyclable plastic #2 but I do try and minimize plastic use (since plastics are downcycled). So. I decided to try and make kefir. And, yeah. Nope. My project lasted 2 months but it was. SO. MUCH. WORK. Taking care of kefir grains was like having an additional pet in the house. And the resulting kefir tasted nowhere near as good as what my husband drank every morning. Alas. The homemade kefir had to go.
  • Bulk rice: This one was an easy decision. Rice from the bulk section was SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than the huge bags you can find at any Asian grocery store. To the point that it was absolutely not worth it to buy in the bulk section. I learned this the hard way when I needed just a bit of rice, didn’t look at the price (because how expensive could it be?!), and ended up paying a whopping $8 for a tiny bag. Nowadays, I just pop in to my parents’ place (where they are always getting huge bags of rice) and refilling my small rice container.
  • Home grown herbs: Obviously, this is easy to find at the grocery store and stick in my own bag — but I wanted to go one step further and grow herbs at home, reducing the need to pop in to the store every time I wanted a little something-something for my meals + drinks (since herbs really do taste best when fresh). Unfortunately, this didn’t work out for me (because I’m a terrible plant mom). But really, there wasn’t a great lighting spot (that my dogs couldn’t get to) to grow herbs indoor. I experimented with a grow light but the results were mediocre. For now, buying herbs at the store and drying/freezing what I don’t use shall suffice.
  • Natural deodorant: You know, the ones that come in lovely recyclable glass jars. The Meow Meow Tweet one (without baking soda) actually worked incredibly well for me UNTIL I started a SSRI. A lovely side effect for me was sweat. The stinky kind. Therefore, for the good of society, I had to switch back to a regular deodorant. The empty tubes go to TerraCycle.
  • Store bought flowers: I’m a sucker for making floral arrangements using various inexpensive bundles from Trader Joe’s. Unfortunately, these are always wrapped in wasteful plastic. And I have yet to find a floral market nearby. This is definitely a “luxury item” for me these days.

There you have it. What are your zero waste fails?

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Simple Tip: Digital Business Card

The business card. Useful but wasteful. Those tiny cards add up in piles around your home, wallet, car, and office — sometimes used, sometimes forgotten. Why don’t we move on from this somewhat antiquated (and wasteful) form of exchanging information?

I know some fancy paid apps exist where you can create/share/collect specialized digital business cards. But I prefer to keep it a bit simpler than that. I used Canva (feel free to use your editor of choice) to create a super basic image with my contact information. Then, I keep the image on my phone and backed up in my email. And that’s it. When anyone asks me for my information at a networking event, I’ll either quickly text or email them my business card image file or, (in a pinch), let them take a photo of the picture.

Business card template.
Business card template.

Similarly, I also decline other peoples’ business cards and opt to take a photo of their card instead. So. There you have it. An easy way to avoid accruing tiny pieces of papers with peoples’ emails listed.

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