Zero waste progress

The zero waste journey is made of the accumulation of little acts of resistance against the status quo in everyday life. This series of post is about those little steps I take every month to make my life simpler and more sustainable.

The last couple of months has been busy with PhD graduation, job interviews and starting a new job. Being now working full time might slow down my zero waste progress, although I will keep going. It also means that I will have less time to work on this blog. It has been a great tool to fuel my reflection and my actions about sustainability for the past year and although I might become more quiet, I am not planning to give this space up yet.

Simple wardrobe refactor

Clothes donated to compensate for buying job interview outfit

This month I have finally switched to my spring-summer wardrobe, with a bit of delay due to all the crazy travelling for graduation, job interviews and else. This was much needed, as with time passing, I had taken clothes I needed for specific occasions out of storage without putting them back. I also had to buy some new clothes to look sharp in my job interviews. All in all, my wardrobe was back to crowded and I had to fight with it every morning. I decided I would give away at least two items for every new one that made it to my wardrobe until I no longer have extra clothes. I have been donating quite a bit of clothes in the past few years, so it is getting more difficult to find things to give away. All the clothes I have left are pieces I like and that fit me. So I try to focus on giving the ones that I know I will never wear because I have other similar pieces that I like much more and I managed to give one more full bag of clothes that way. To be continued.

Fountain pen

Zero waste writing - refillable fountain pen

I used to buy those ink pens that you have to throw away once the ink runs out, but now that my stash ran out, I have dug out my high school fountain pen. I still have a few cartridges to go with it, but when they are over, I will switch to a refillable cartridge as this is the most sustainable option. When I get there, I might write in violet for a while as I happened to have a full bottle of it.

Handkerchiefs

Handkerchiefs in the entrance to remember taking one when I leave

I bought a set of second hand handkerchiefs at a flea market last summer. It turned out 10 of them was not completely enough. I would often run out while they waited to be washed. In the meantime, my dad rediscovered the stash his parents got him and gave them to me. Now with 20 of them, the rotation works quite well. The only problem was that I would regularly forget to take a clean one with me, so I have put a few in the entrance basket where I put my keys. It is not 100% fail proof, but helps me to check if I have one with me before I leave.

Doing without … a printer

We left our printer in London, and although we thought about buying one several times, we finally decided we would not need one. We can copy, scan and print for 0.15€ a page in the corner shop. Not having the printer at home and paying per use means we think twice before printing something and we try to look for alternatives. I have been using eTickets more and more, for example. This makes sense economically (we will have to make a lot of copies before paying more than printer + paper + ink) and environmentally (one ‘community printer’ will generate less waste than a lot of individual and cheaply made ones).

Fix it and make it last … umbrella

Fixing an umbralla with rubber bands

I have never been a great fan of umbrellas, maybe because there is always too much wind to use them in my home town, but somehow in San Sebastian it is hard to do without one. I have this umbrella that I miraculously found in a London bus a day of rain I was totally under-equipped for. The canopy was off at the end of one of the ribs, but it did the job that day and many other days. Recently the canopy went off a second rib and I was starting to consider getting a new one. But then I started thinking about how to fix it and I came up with a quick solution: use rubber bands (they had been salvaged from bunches of parsley or something like that) to tie both parts back together. This will not last forever, but the fix took 10 min and saved me the hassle of looking for an umbrella that is small enough to fit in my bag and resistant enough to last me for years. And the day this umbrella finally gives up, I’m planning to use the canopy to make a waterproof reusable shopping bag.

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This July, I will take part in Plastic Free July, an Australian initiative to raise awareness about the plastic pollution our current lifestyle leads to and encourage refusing single use plastic during a month. Since I started my zero waste journey, I have cut single use plastic tremendously, but there is still room for improvement and this challenge is a great way to pin point what they are. Follow me on Facebook to see how I am doing.

It is really easy to join, even if you are a complete beginner with waste reduction. At www.plasticfreejuly.org, you can pledge to join for a day, a week or any part of the month you like and if you don’t feel up to looking at all your plastic usage yet, you can start with the ugly 4: single-use bags, water bottles, straws, and single-use to go cups.

What will you do this July to reduce your single-use plastic consumption?

‘Invisible’ jeans patching

As part of my attempt to dematerialise gifts and to slow down our crazy accumulation of stuff, I offered a ‘fixing one piece of cloth’ voucher to P. for his birthday. I love the idea of visible mending, of imprinting its history on a loved piece of cloth to make it even more special. But sometimes it is not a good option. For some reason, P. didn’t want to draw attention on his crotch.

The hole was already quite big by the time I got to take care of it, so I needed a patch. Since there was a bit of extra length at the bottom of the legs, I thought I could use that. So we started by hemming the jeans. Yes, we. I took the occasion to teach a bit of sewing to P. and we did one leg each. Who says sewing is a woman only thing?

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I used a seam ripper to make sure I would have as much fabric as possible out of the legs’ cut. After a bit of ironing, I cut a patch in the smaller piece, pined it in place, stitched all around the patch and around the hole to keep it in place. I started by doing a simple hemming stitch, but because the patch is in a high-stress zone, I had to do it again with a catch stitch to prevent the patch to fray.

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Et voilà ! It is not perfect, but when P. is wearing it, you don’t see a thing. And there is still quite a bit of fabric left for future patches.

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Mending socks : darning vs patching

With St Nicolas around the corner, I thought a post on socks was quite appropriate. Am I the only one whose socks always fail in the same place? It seems a waste to get rid of socks because they have a small hole in the back of the heel when the rest of the sock is still in perfect condition. So I looked into my options to extend my socks life a bit.

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Darning

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The most documented sock mending option seems to be darning, which consists in weaving thread over the hole. So I tried this on my thin store bought socks, but I was not super convinced. Because I used thin thread to match the thickness of the sock, it was difficult to follow the mesh. It still did the job ok, but the result somehow doesn’t feel super comfy and I tend to keep this pair for when all the others are dirty. However I used darning to fix a hole in my glove and it worked very well.

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If I had bothered buying matching embroidery thread, the mending would be invisible.

Patching

For a while I had the idea that I could use several old socks to make a new one, but I thought the seams would be a problem. Looking if someone had done something around this idea, I found this tutorial from Stale Bread into French Toast that suggests patching store bought socks.

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Traditionally a darning egg is used to put in the sock to help fix it, but I found that the toy box of a big kinder surprise works well. I am sure you have something ready to do the job at home too.

After struggling a bit to understand how to make a catch stitch, I fixed a first pair and then liked it so much that I fixed another two the same way. The patch actually gives a bit of padding in the place I normally get friction from the shoes and I also kind of like the way it  looks. I used an old sock that had been turned to rag a while ago for the patches. After patching 6 socks, I still have about half of the old sock left to save other socks. The only inconvenient is that both socks need to be patched otherwise it feels wired.

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In conclusion, I would use darning for thick socks and maybe for areas below the sole, but patching otherwise. Now I am waiting to see how much longer my mended socks last.

What is left in my simplified wardrobe?

In my last post, I was telling you about the liberation of reducing the amount of clothes in my wardrobe. I wanted to go a bit more in detail about what is in my simplified wardrobe to show that it is more about being reasonable than depriving myself.

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In the clothes I selected, I kept pieces I knew I was wearing all the time, but also a few things that I hadn’t worn much despite liking them to find out why. Did it just get lost in the overwhelming choice? Or was it not comfortable/fitting well enough to deserve space in my closet? Two cardigans ended up in the ‘give away’ pile as a result and one skirt landed on the sewing project pile for a major re-fashion. I also kept a few clothes I know I don’t wear very often, for the days I need to feel special. You can see on the picture below that in the end I was nowhere short of choice despite removing more than half of my clothes.

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A 70 pieces wardrobe is still plenty of choice, but much less madness!
Here is what I am now dressing with:

Shoes, coats, hat and scarfs

In addition to my sport and hiking shoes, I kept three pairs of shoes: sandals, ballerinas, and a pair of light close shoes. The ballerina can be used for dress up occasions. I am slowly getting ride of any kind of high heels. I realised that the type of event where I wear them are typically the ones that involve a lot of standing and where I want to be free of my movements: at weddings and other celebrations because I want to enjoy them, at conferences and other professional events because I need to be focused.

I only have two spring/summer coats: one for rainy and windy days and one for when it gets a bit cold in the evening (more useful in London than in San Sebastian, but still). So there was not much sorting to do there. I also kept my only two summer hats out. They are now down to one as the second one got adopted by P. To complete this, I kept three scarfs including two that can be used as pareo on the beach. I like multi-usages.

Tops, bottoms and dresses

  • 10 bottoms (5 pants, 3 skirts, 2 shorts)
  • 16 tops (4 T-shirts, 12 tank tops)
  • 6 dresses (4 summer dresses, 2 for special occasions)
  • 17 long sleeves (T-shirts and cardigans that I use as light sweaters in summer)
  • 7 swearers (including 3 to hang inside)

I could definitely cut down a bit on the tops and long sleeves. 14 of each category should be enough. I could also arguably manage with fewer than 10 bottoms, but I feel it would frustrate me, and I don’t see the need for it. Overdoing it is the pit fall for any diet.

Underwear, pyjamas and sports clothes

For the things that I tend to use one instence per week (pyjamas, sports clothes and bras), I think three is a good number. Two could potentially be enough, but it means everything needs to be washed every week. And they will always be that weekend we are away, or too rushed to be on top of laundry. The point is to make life simple, not stressful and laundry is definitely not something worth stressing about. Like this I can have one item dirty, one drying and one clean. For things that I put every day, like underpants and socks in winter, I find 14 to be a good number. I managed with 10 for a year in Erasmus, but again, laundry stress not welcome.

Tracking and mending

Right after the sorting, I put all the hangers facing backward as an easy way to keep track of what clothes I really wear. This is an easy trick to sort the clothes you use without thinking about it. Just put the hanger in the right direction when you put clothes back after laundry.  Except for a few sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts that were not adapted for the season, I wore everything at least once. I also took the occasion to list the little mending and refitting work that those clothes needed. I didn’t reach the end of the list (still quite a few hems missing), but having fewer clothes to take care of, prevented the pile of ‘clothes I will fix one day’ to keep growing.

mendings
Mending doesn’t need to be perfect to do the job.

Change of season

Last week, I made the switch to my autumn/winter wardrobe (snif), and I kept about the same amount of clothes. I just have a few more sweaters, but this is mostly because I am not sure how the winter will be here. I realised that there was very little changes to be made among underwear (except for the socks), sports clothes, and nightwear, so I will keep those all year round to save time. The excess will just be my store for when I need to get ride of some of the current pieces.

I also took the occasion to organise the clothes I put aside a bit better to save time in the next transition. I separated them as autumn/winter only, spring/summer only and all year. Like this I won’t have to go though everything. I also clearly marked the clothes from my 2016 summer wardrobe. Let’s be honest, this is where all the favourites are.

Once I have reduced my stash, I will probably try to have an all year round wardrobe, because it takes a bit of time to make the season change. I originally liked the idea or re-evaluating my wardrobe every three or six months, but it would take way more time than I am prepared to spend on this. Since I tend to use my summer tank tops as extra layers in winter and my long sleeve as light sweaters in summer, it should not be too difficult. It could look something like this:

  • 10 bottoms (3 summer, 3 winter, 4 all year)
  • 14 tops (4 summer, 4 winter, 6 all year)
  • 10 dresses (4 summer, 4 winter, 2 special occasions)
  • 14 long sleeves (4 summer, 4 winter, 6 all year)
  • 7 sweeter (2 summer, 6 winter, 2 all year)

 

Wardrobe simplification

Have you heard of the terms ‘capsule wardrobes’ or ‘project 333’? What they have in common is to advocate the reduction of the pieces of clothing one owns, improve their quality and make sure they all provide the best fit. The concept seems to grow popular, both with women and with men.  Why? To invert the fast fashion tendency by being more sustainable, simplify life and, ultimately, dress better. Sounds interesting? When I first heard of the idea, I thought it was crazy even though I completely agreed with the concept. How can you manage with only 10 items of clothing including shoes? How does laundry even work? But like with most things, there is no need to follow the most extreme recipes to make a positive change. This starts to feel like a common thread in my posts.

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Since moving to my new flat, I was fighting every morning to access my clothes as I had less wardrobe space than before. I would have previously considered getting an additional piece of furniture, but I decided to reconsider my views on capsule wardrobes instead. Being in a transitory period of my life, I don’t think it is a good moment to give away most of my clothes. Reading the ‘rules’ of project 333 (a challenge to live with only 33 pieces of clothes for 3 months), that recommend starting by putting the clothes away rather than getting rid of them, got me started.

Over the course of one week, I tackled one group of clothes at a time each morning, sorting out what I would need over the next few months from what I wouldn’t.

  • Day 1 was for shoes, coats and hats.
  • Day 2, I took care of the bottoms (pants, skirts and shorts). I discarded the ones that didn’t fit with the shoes I selected. I enjoy my red sandals and my orange pants, but they don’t enjoy each other’s company…
  • Day 3, I picked two tops to go with each bottom and a few dresses.
  • Day 4, I had a similar process with all the long sleeves than I had for the tops. At that point I was sure every piece selected could fit in at least one outfit.
  • Day 5 was for accessories, which was mostly scarfs since I am not big on belts and other jewellery that I tend to find uncomfortable and distracting.
  • Day 6 I tackled underwear and day 7 pyjamas and sports clothes that are normally counted out in capsule item numbers, but since the point was removing excess from the closet, there was no point to leave them out.

In the end, I went from 357 to 135 items of clothes, 77 not counting underwear and sports clothes. I originally intended to make a second round to reduce to only 33 pieces, but considering the process already took some time, and that I had reached my goal to have a more accessible closet, I decided there was no need to take it further for now. I found a few things to give, but not much since I had already done a big sorting before leaving London. I tried to put all the rest in a big suitcase, but since it didn’t all fit, I had to use a few unaccessible shelves and drawers from the bedroom.

Version 2
Clothes to be stored until the next season

It has been 3 months since I sorted through my clothes and I am happy with the change. I still have a lot of work to decrease the ‘stored’ clothes, but I would not go back. I have been dressing more intentionally as I had more visibility of my options. I realised I would normally wear what is easy instead of what I like best. Whether I actually dress better is not for me to say, but I feel comfortable with what I wear. And is it not that what matters the most in the end?