Zero waste shopping ban: Week 4
If weeks one through three were specific, week four is where we’ll start looking broadly at our living spaces. Because we’ve already tackled the parts of our lives with the most waste, this week is about the rest of the resources in our home that aren’t being used. This week will also look the most different for everyone, because some of us live in houses, others in apartments, and some of us with roommates; the size and contents of our homes and resources vary greatly.
During week four, as you reacquaint yourself with your resources, ask yourself the following questions: When and why did I buy this? When was the last time I benefited from having it? Would I buy it again, considering how it was made and the resources in it? If not, how can I be sure not to repeat consuming things like this in the future? Zero waste is intrinsically linked to consumption, the things we buy and use, and our relationship with our resources needs to be that of maintenance and careful acquisition.
While “knick-knacks” doesn’t seem like the perfect label for our focus this week, it will suffice to think of it as “stuff”. Let’s look at our walls, our shelves, and all around to see what we’ve forgotten about and what can still serve someone.
Bear with me, but decorations are meant to be enjoyed. If you have grown numb to the photos on your walls, it might be time you switch them out or take them down. Rather than purchasing new frames to hold more pictures, check to see if you’re actually enjoying what you already have up on your walls.
If you have frames and photos tucked away somewhere instead of hung up, consider this now or never to do something with them. If you’re hanging on to photo frames because you treasure the photos inside or would like them on your wall, hang them on the wall. If you can’t put holes in the wall of a rental and won’t soon be anywhere that you can, put the photos in a safe box or photo album and pass along the photo frames to someone who can make use of them. If the frames are out of style for whatever reason-the matting or the frame style is out of date either alter the frame to suit your style or pass it along; it serves no one sitting unused.
Like photo frames, decorations are easy to become blind to. Some love to decorate and others less so, but this week take the time to assess if you still like and enjoy the decorations in your home. If they are no longer your style or you no longer enjoy seeing them, pass them to someone who will enjoy them. Because decorations really aren’t necessary (sorry, folks), the most important thing you can do post-ban is stop buying decorations. To be honest, I love a good knick-knack from TJ Maxx as much as the next person, but they’re simply an unwise use of resources. The resources that go into production, the usually unknown labor conditions of production, and the resources used to ship, since so many decorations are made abroad, really add up, especially when the rose-gold pineapple paperweight goes out of style. There is nothing wrong with decorating or decorations, but decorations should be purchased consciously, like anything else. Thrift stores are full of decorations, and there are many opportunities to upcycle preexisting goods into decorations instead of choosing to support the use of new resources for items that aren’t very functional.
If you are one to decorate your home for every season, somewhere you probably have a box (or many boxes) of seasonal decorations. I suggest during this week, you find a few hours to declutter those boxes and get rid of old decorations. If you truly decorate for each season, then keep what you use, but if you have boxes and boxes of decorations , only to use a few select pieces, those unused pieces are wasted resources.
This is also a good week to look into more zero waste seasonal decorations. In winter, actual pine boughs can be brought into the home. In fall, real gourds and pumpkins can be used to decorate. Fresh flowers are perfect for spring and summer. Reusable decorations are great, but if you’re someone who wants something new every year, there are options to bring in new decorations to your home that can simply go back to nature after they serve you.
There are some resources that are too precious to use; it may seem backwards at the premise, but certain treasured items in our lives, like an heirloom piece of china or a loved one’s christening gown, really don’t have a use in that using them as intended risks ruining them. I caution you to only allow this designation to include a very precious few items in your life. If those items are currently in storage or away from you and the people in your home for their safety, I encourage you to evaluate them. Is the treasured item hidden in your home because your children may accidentally break it? If so, perhaps it could find a home with a relative who can care for it until your children are old enough to be more cautious. Is the emotional weight attached to the item too much to see it every day? Maybe it would find a better, even if temporary, home with someone who might enjoy having it around. The point is, if these items matter to you and have great meaning, you ought to get some enjoyment out of having them around. Perhaps displaying them on a shelf, in a shadowbox or on the wall will allow you to enjoy your most treasured resources.
Book lovers, we need to talk. It’s easy to tip-toe right over the line of being a collector of books we love and a hoarder of books-that-were-alright-but-I-bought-so-now-I-keep. Since you’re participating in a shopping ban, it should have been at least three weeks since you last purchased a book. Go through your books and determine what books you love and will definitely reread, books you loved but won’t reread, books you didn’t like, and books you have yet to read.
Books that will be reread should be kept. Books you loved but realistically won’t reread should be passed on to your friends and loved ones; a good book recommendation can make for a great conversation with someone dear to us. Books you didn’t like should similarly be passed along, although maybe not to people you like as much. Jokes aside, check if your local library accepts donations, see if your local secondhand bookstore would buy them (or take them in exchange for another book you can keep), and donate them to a charity. For books you have yet to read, be honest with yourself if you will actually read them or not. I have one book in my possession that I have not read, despite trying many times, but since it is a classic I am sure to read at some point, I will keep it. Don’t keep the stack of unread books, and the guilt for ignoring it, if you are no longer interested in reading those books. Finally, read the books you keep! Despite what Joanna Gaines has shown us, books aren’t just for decorating. If you don’t read them within a year, they need to be given to someone who will read them.
If you went to college, you’re familiar with the painful, expensive, biannual task that is buying books. Regardless of the degree you received or if you even finished, textbooks pile up. I completed my master’s degree in 2018, meaning by the time I finished college I had more textbooks than I even remember using. While I’ve kept a select few that serve me in my profession, the rest have been sold, given to friends who need them, and donated.
To sell my books, I used sellbackyourbooks.com and chegg.com. These sites work by entering your book’s ISBN. Based on that information, they evaluate how much your book is worth (if anything) and make an offer. Because textbook companies want your money and some fields are evolving rapidly, editions come out quickly, and older books aren’t as desirable. Some books are only donatable, but both services pay for postage. While ensuring these resources are used is very zero waste, I am not sure if the energy needed to transport the heavy books zeroes out any positive effect. I decided to donate and sell my books, despite shipping, because if I donated them to any random charity it was significantly less likely that they would ever arrive in the hands of a student who needed them for a course.
I no longer use air fresheners or wall plug-ins to make my living space smell nice, although their popularity hasn’t decreased. I could suggest that air fresheners are toxic or unsafe as many now claim, but the truth is that I haven’t found any reputable sources claiming that. There are other reasons to forgo these, such as how their scent is really only strong for the first few days and the refills are expensive despite only giving you a few days of noticeable scent. While you may have a different experience with air fresheners, I encourage you to reevaluate if they’re actually making your home better or if they’re not adding as much to your life as they cost. In the meantime, use up the refills you have and give the rest away if you’ve come to realize they’re not so great.
While I’m not a fan of plug-in air fresheners, I am a lover of candles. Candles are lit when we want to enjoy them and aren’t left in use all hours of the day. After using up candles, however, we are often left with candle jars that have leftover wax but cannot be burned. I suggest using these with a candle warmer, or making some kind of franken-candle using a new wick. While I happen to have a container of wicks leftover from just this scenario, you may not. If you’re not going to use the wax on a candle warmer or make a new candle, you can dispose of the wax and reuse or recycle the jar. While waxes derived from petroleum don’t compost, soy or bees wax candles should be compostable, so just be sure to check if the candles were scented with non-toxic materials before composting.
Throw blankets and pillows
If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of either of these things, but it’s only realistic that many people have throw blankets and pillows. If you have too many blankets or pillows, or any with holes, give the excess to those who can use them via donation or passing them to a friend, and repair any tears. While you’re there, is wouldn’t hurt to wash the throw blankets, since pets, food, and people have probably all made their mark on them.
I am not much of a magazine reader, but when I was, I loved to keep old editions in a nice stack, like some kind of trophy for having flipped through pages of advertisements to get to content I was already paying for. I digress; if you have a stack of magazines, go through and determine which editions you actually treasure, if any. If there is only an article, interview or a recipe from a magazine, consider keeping that and not the rest of the magazine. If you have a friend or loved one with a similar interest, they may enjoy the opportunity to read the magazines. As of 2013, the US has a paper recycling rate of about 63%, so recycling useless magazines is also a viable option. Finally, if you have any current magazine subscriptions, consider switching them to e-subscriptions you can read on a phone, tablet or computer.
Check which outlets are full of plugs and if those things are used regularly. About a quarter of electricity use in homes is from things plugged in that are apparently idle or off. Check what seldom used things in your home can come unplugged. For me, that means working on unplugging my chargers when they are not in use, and not simply leaving devices plugged in when they are already fully charged.
Anybody else have a basket of broken or outdated tech? Well, this is the week to dig it out and recycle it. Anything that is still functional should find a new home, either by selling it or giving it to someone who will get more use from it. Technology can’t really be recycled with curbside recycling, but keep your eyes out for an electronics recycling drive locally. Some areas may also have permanent options for recycling tech.
Finally, in the realm of “stuff” fall tools and other necessities that you have accumulated pursuing a hobby. If you don’t have hobbies, this won’t apply to you, however, most of us have extracurricular interests that have resulted in owning things to allow us to pursue them. For example, I enjoy sewing and have quite a pile of fabric and fabric scraps that I can reevaluate and organize. You may have ski equipment, an old guitar, or cameras and film. Regardless of your hobby, now is the time to look at what you have. You may have lost your passion for whatever it was, and if you’re not excited to pursue the interest anymore, let go of the pressure to resume something you don’t love and let go of the things you amassed to pursue the hobby. If you still enjoy whatever it is, then definitely keep the things you still use, but for equipment or supplies that no longer serve you at your level, try and sell them or pass them to less experienced people.
It can be easy to hold on to supplies that allow you to pursue your outside-of-work passions, but it’s not worth letting unused or unwanted resources take up space in your home.
At week four I’m starting to think of a few things I would like to buy, but I am also excited to have learned so much the first three weeks about how to reduce my impact. Despite almost two years of involvement in zero waste living, I still find myself occasionally stuck on our physical ideas of waste, which seem much more possible to buy away. Throughout the past few weeks, I have found myself constantly challenged and surprised about the resources I have. Zero waste is dynamic and different for everyone.
This week is about resetting how we view things in our home that we have become blind to. Everything around us is a resource, because resources are things that serve us. Hopefully, reacquainting yourself with the overlooked resources in your living space will help you learn what is the most important quality in the things around you, and that knowledge will help you post-ban when you make purchases. All the things around us are resources, and conscious ownership can prevent wasting those resources.
Finally, if you wan’t to see how I get up to organizing my hobby supplies, making a franken-candle and dealing with the things on my walls, follow me @lesswasteworld on Instagram! I will post to my stories throughout the week and make a highlight on my page for anyone interested in the future.