Ways That I’ve Chosen to Live with Lower Waste and Be More Minimalist

The topics of low/zero waste and minimalism always pique my interest. An influencer called Sustainably Vegan introduced me to the term “low waste” instead of a more common term of “zero waste”. She likes to use this term because “less” is more attainable than “zero”, and many people do not have the same access to “zero waste” stores or fancy water bottles. It is a more inclusive term that I personally like as well. I have this belief that if one person at a time makes positive choices and realizes the power of their dollar, it can create a much larger positive change.

I remember when I was in high school and first started to get interested in ways that I could change what I buy and how I live my life that could help heal the Earth. I read a book, which I unfortunately cannot remember the title of, which covered a number of ways to have a more sustainable home- from floor materials to homemade cleaning products. I was dreamily writing notes from this book, and getting really excited about these simple changes I could make, especially when I was older and had my own living space. Well, now I’m living in my own space, and over the years I have made it a home that I’m proud of. I know that it can be hard and seem daunting starting from ground zero, but even one or two small changes to your lifestyle could make a difference! How? Because it takes one person at a time making small changes for real change to happen.

So, I’ve listed a number of things to think about- a list of options, if you will- things I have decided to change in my life that were done for the purpose of not only reducing my waste, but also keeping my home more simple and minimal. Let me know if this is interesting to you, or helpful, or if you have any suggestions!

Let’s start with some simple changes…

 

Here are my to-go items that I usually keep in the car so that I don’t forget them at home. I used my utensil set for over half of the PCT, because I bought it in Mount Shasta (a town that was close to the trail). I had been wanting a bamboo utensil kit like this for a while, and finally got one for myself. It is so light and easy to bring along anywhere, which is great for reducing plastic utensils. I also love my coffee cup, which has actually gotten me coffee at a discounted rate many times! Lastly, I’ve got a trunk full of tote bags and washed and dried produce bags ready for whenever I need them.

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Note: the plastic produce bags hanging over my sink. I reuse the bulk food bags that I get from the store, because at the store I go to, you are not allowed to bring your own produce bag, so I still use their bags, without creating more waste.
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Here is an example of one of my typical weekly grocery trips. I try to reduce the amount of plastic bags that are used by keeping most of the produce loose. As mentioned above, I reuse the store’s plastic bags so that I’m not using new ones every time I come to the store. Unfortunately, this is a store that doesn’t allow customers to bring their own produce bags, so I use theirs… multiple times. I also try to reduce the amount of canned items by buying dried beans in bulk. This is not for everybody, but since I have time to, I soak the beans overnight and cook them usually the next day. While recycling is sometimes better than throwing things in the garbage, it depends on the recycling program near you. Unfortunately, many things that are thrown into the recycling actually end up being disposed of in the landfill anyway- either because they aren’t able to recycle some items in their location, or sometimes the items just aren’t clean enough.
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I reuse glass jars that I’ve accumulated from food that I’ve used, and use them for storing my bulk items. Buying in bulk means less packaging. Plus, it’s usually cheaper.
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Tea bags typically contain plastic, believe it or not, so that they don’t disintegrate in the water. The envelopes they come in also creates waste. It’s less wasteful to use loose leaf, so I typically use either my french press, a tea pot, or a tea ball for my tea. It’s great, because I can easily drain out the liquid and add the tea leaves to my compost.
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I have been very glad for purchasing a couple of silmats (silicon) a year or two ago. They have made it so that I do not have to constantly buy or use parchment paper or foil. Things come off of the material so easily, I don’t even need to use oil if I don’t want to! They are easy to wash and dry.
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I was tired of constantly buying dishwasher detergent, and always trying to make a good decision about which one I should buy. I ended up finding a great “recipe” for making my own! It uses these three ingredients, plus a few drops of lemon essential oil for smell. https://happymoneysaver.com/homemade-dishwasher-detergent/
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For several years now, my bathroom spaces have included a handheld bidet attachment, because toilet paper allegedly uses 27,000 trees per day. There are other options out there, like recycled paper toilet paper, bamboo toilet paper, etc. I like bidets because I find that they do a better job of cleaning your bum, and the water that is used is actually a very small amount. I use reusable cloths to dry. These cloths are washed in the laundry, and take up very little space in the wash load. I do always have toilet paper as an option, because I know that not all of my guests will want to use the bidet or the reusable cloths.
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I bought this crystal deodorant over 5 years ago! It is coming to it’s final 6 months, but this deodorant has astounded me with it’s lifespan. It is a simple crystal of salt, and all you need to do is wet your armpits and rub the stick on. The salt kills the bacteria that causes odor, so while it’s a deodorant, it is not an antiperspirant. Full disclosure- for me, it took about a week for my body to ween off of regular deodorant, meaning that I had a slight smell for about a week before it really started working. 
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This was my food bag on the PCT, which was just an Albertson’s bag that I picked up in Tehachapi, CA. It lasted over 3 months. I felt good about reusing this bag and not needing to purchase a fancier food bag.
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After almost 5 months of backpacking, it was hard to not feel like throwing out most of my belongings when I got home. The photo above shows my pack, which held my sleep system, clothes, food, water, and shelter. I found myself wishing that I could just wear a “uniform” back home, like I pretty much did on trail. I do regularly go through my clothes and try to donate anything that I haven’t worn in at least 6 months. With my other belongings, I prioritize the most functional things, and any sort of decorations usually need to promote health in some way- whether that be a plant, a photograph, a candle- as long as it contributes positively to my mental and physical health.
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This is from my friend, Hannah’s, apartment in Seattle. I was so inspired by the plants and contrast of dark lines on the white wall.
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Biophilic design takes into account the benefits of plants in urban, indoor, and manmade environments. In psychology, they have found that exposure to nature boosts our serotonin levels. There have been many studies where scientists found that people healed faster in hospitals (compared to the control group) when they had natural elements in their room, or even just a window looking out to nature. Not only that, but plants often remove toxins from the air and produce oxygen.
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My room has been minimalist for the 1.5 years I’ve lived here, and I love how relaxing it is. I felt like it needed something to make it feel more balanced and a little more alive, so I decided on this…
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I added shelves with plants and lantern lights. Often, minimalism means subtracting from what you have, but this addition was intentional. I find that minimalism is more about intention and a purpose for each belonging. In this case, I wanted to make my room feel more balanced and alive, and at night, cozier. This does just that and makes my nights feel better.

 

A famous TV show called Tidying Up with Mari Kondo got me reinvigorated to go through my things last winter. So, I watched the show at the same time as gathering all of my clothes and putting them into one big pile, as she advises to do. I tried to figure out what “sparked joy”, and then I refolded.

Minimalism and low/zero waste is a journey, not a competition. It takes time to find what works for you and to figure out what is essential to your own health and well-being.

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