Brace yourselves, friends.
Zero Waste Home is one those books I cannot stop talking about.
Zero Waste Home is written by a woman who lives in Northern California with her husband and two teenage boys. Between the four of them, they produce only about ONE QUART of garbage per year.
Our family produces about that per hour.
Bart happened to be with me when I got this book and when I read him the back of the book he said, “Well, they might not have a lot of trash, but they’re probably just recycling like crazy instead.”
Actually, the Johnson family isn’t really thrilled by recycling either (like, I suspect, most people who know much about the recycling process). Instead, their goal is to really keep the waste they produce at a minimum, period. Mainly, this means keeping as much as waste as possible from ever entering their home in the first place.
For instance, at the grocery store, she takes all her own containers and buys only things that don’t come in packaging. (Her only exception is butter – and she composts the wrappers). We’re talking way past bringing a couple of reusable bags here. Check out her (way-better-looking-than-mine) pantry here. I went grocery shopping a couple of days after I started this book and just looking at the conveyor belt made me a little ill because it’s just more and more packaging.
Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
The book goes room by room, talking about how to reduce waste and all the alternatives to trash-heavy products and practices they’ve developed. She also has sections about eating out, major holidays, and travel, which I loved.
The best part of this book, I thought, is that, while the focus is on waste, that’s really a means to an end, which is a life free from junk, less wasted money, more time with family, and a simplified life. I found the whole thing very inspiring, actually, in terms of taking more ownership of making my life what I want and resisting the urge to buy happiness or doing things just because other people are.
One of the things I love about Zero Waste Home is that she obviously cares deeply about the topic and is willing to live a fairly extreme lifestyle, but I didn’t feel like her book was insane or made me feel really guilty. Instead, it made me realize all the ways I could easily reduce by quite a bit the trash that comes into our house. And that it’d actually make my life happier.
She talks about how people always say they don’t have enough time for this, but she feels like (and after her descriptions in the book, I believe) that she spends the same or less time keeping up with her home, food, and possessions than someone who lives a more typical lifestyle. And, of course, she said she has naysayers on both sides – those who think she’s WAY too extreme, and others who think she isn’t nearly extreme enough (what with still eating meat and flying to France every year to visit her mother and extended family).
I’m not likely to start burning almonds over my stove and using the ashes to make eyeliner (do you think I’m making this up? I’m not), but I’m definitely am going to make some changes. Here are a few that I’m starting with:
Zero Waste Home Changes
- Resisting free things (free t-shirts I’ll never wear, cheap pens, hotel shampoo, food I don’t want)
- Keeping a modest supply of the things I use (I only need about five dishtowels, not forty. I don’t need 50 rubber bands)
- Not bagging my produce at the grocery store
- Reducing my wardrobe to the things I love and wear frequently
- Refilling my peanut butter jar in the bulk section
- Focusing birthday and holiday gifts on experiences, rather than things
- Storing food in reusable containers rather than plastic bags
- Using real dishes rather than disposable ones when we have parties (probably will have to start doing the dishes after parties myself instead of making Bart do them)
- Be realistic about how much clothing my children need (probably not eight drawers full, that’s for sure)
- When I’m buying packaged foods, buying bigger amounts, when possible, to avoid multiple smaller packages
- Buy more things second-hand (toys, furniture, clothing, dishes)
Bart and I spent much of the weekend talking about our long-term plans and how we want our lives (and those of our children) not to be a constant treadmill toward more stuff, stuff, stuff, but instead full of experiences, togetherness, environmental consciousness, and genuine happiness, with our money going toward the things that really bring us happiness.
Who knew I’d find so much cause for self-reflection in a book about trash? (Not me).
P.S. I was talking my mom’s ear off about this the other day and shared with her this article from Sunset about this family – you can see how lovely and simple their home is.
If you like the Zero Waste Home book, you might also enjoy these books:
- 12 books to start a new year off right
- Lunch Wars (A fascinating behind the scenes of school lunches)
- Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity