Zero waste progress: the bathroom

In my attempt to break with my consumerism habits, 2016 was focused on clothes: I simplified my wardrobe and learned mending skills. Now that I know where I am going on that front, I decided 2017 was going to focus on the bathroom.

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Like with my wardrobe, I started by an inventory to be able to monitor my progress. Not that it comes as a surprise, but getting all the content of my bathroom cupboards out on the table shows that I have way too many cosmetics compared to my needs.

Below are a few of the measures I have taken so far to get closer to a minimalist and zero waste bathroom:

1. Finishing up what I have

When I come across a piece of cloth I no longer want, it goes to the charity pile or to the sewing material pile if it is not in a good enough state. It is not that easy with cosmetics. In the long term, I hope to use only natural cosmetics with limited packaging, but I have set to finish every occurrence of a type of product before looking for sustainable and zero waste alternatives.

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By cutting our tubes of toothpaste open, we make them last at least one more week.

I used the inventory as an excuse to reorganise the different types of products together.  As I mentioned before, I am working on using all the samples and hotel toiletries I have accumulated. We finished most of the shower gels, but I find some shampoos really don’t agree with my hair. I started using those as shower gel after a friend gave me the idea.

There is still a long way to go. Between all my samples and the different types of hydration cream I own (do we really need a different product for hand, face, body … ?), I have 40 hydration cosmetics to finish!

 

2. Identifying the products I really use

I don’t have a complicated beauty routine and I would like my bathroom cabinet to reflect that. Beyond not having multiple versions of the same product, I would like to have fewer types of products in the future.

Once I finish what I already have, my plan is to find a good alternative for my everyday toiletries (any combination of DIY, organic, natural or package free):

  • 1 Soap for body, hand and face (this one ?)
  • 1 Shampoo
  • 1 Toothpaste
  • 1 Deodorant
  • 1 Hydration cream for body, hand and face
  • 1 Lip balm
  • 1 Sun screen
  •  + Conditioner if the water is too hard: I got used to hair conditioner in London, because the water was too agressive. I was planning to replace it with vinegar as I already did this successfully in Denmark, but it turns out I don’t need conditioner here.

And keep a bit of the fancy stuff for the special occasions:

  • Make up (1 mascara, a few eye shadows, a couple of lipsticks)
  • 1 Perfume
  • A couple of nail polishes

Considering how much of those I use, I probably don’t have to worry about renewing them for quite some time. Then the big question is what to do with what doesn’t fit in those two categories. I’ll let you know if I find a good answer.

3. Getting natural zero waste soap

Zero waste bathroom progress

I was happy to find some Alep soap without packaging at my organic shop. I haven’t really started to use it yet, but P., who got a bit tired of my shampoo hotel business, has been using it since Christmas and doesn’t seem to complain.

4. Changing my period management

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I use to not see the point to spend money for organic things that were not food until I heard a specialist explain on the radio that pesticides in tampons and pads were actually more dangerous than in food. They are in contact with mucous membranes and the chemical thus go directly into the bloodstream. So even if you don’t care about the plastic pollution, it is worth reconsidering the status quo.

I bought a menstrual cup before leaving London. It took a bit of time to get used to it (3-4 cycles), but now I definitely find it to be the most comfortable way to deal with my periods. I still use a pad in addition for the first days. At the moment I am finishing a box of organic ones, but I am planning to switch to reusable pads ASAP. I made an attempt at sewing some, but I was not super successful, so I am going to buy some.

5. Installing a compost bin …

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… and removing the ‘traditional’ bin.

I use the glass pot on the picture above to put my hair and nails until I take them to the compost. For the rest, we need to walk to our balcony trash centre. As explained above, I am on my way to zero waste periods and I already stopped using other disposable items. I no longer use Q-tips because they are bad for the ears and since I don’t make up often, I simply wash my face with soap instead of using cotton pads and make-up remover. However if you need cotton pads, it is easy to make or buy reusable ones. Aren’t those and those cute? I have to resist not to make some for myself.

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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?

 

Decluttering by enjoying the pretty things

I tend to be the kind of person that likes to keep the best bit of my meal for the end. So never snatch food out of my plate without permission. The method has its risk, as I might not be that hungry any more when I get to the cherry of my cake, but why keep eating if the best bit is already gone? However, what might be a nice way to enjoy a meal might not be the best strategy for life. If nothing else because ‘the end’ is more difficult to place in time than for a meal.

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When it comes to consumables, I tend to put pretty things in my shelves and only look at them from time to time, but never seem to use them or at least not completely finish them, because I don’t like the idea of it being gone. Once I started to think about this, I noticed I do this for  food, stationary, cosmetics, candles and more. This inevitably leads to accumulation. And while the pretty things lie around unused, I need to buy less pretty, functional versions of those things. Once put like this it sounds a bit silly right? Why not use the best things straight away and get another pretty thing to replace it if needed once it is over?

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So here was my good resolution for the summer holidays: I won’t keep the best for the end any more. Because I needed to pack light, I decided to finally use this cute notepad my mum gave me many birthdays ago. I also got my mum to bring me my ‘collection’ of hotel soaps and cosmetics samples. Of course it was already decided not to add anything new to it, but now it is time to use it all before they need to go to the bin anyway. And my parents were quite happy of the space it freed in their bathroom. This is just a start, but from now on I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for this lousy habit.

London to San Sebastian part 1: Reducing the stuff

I have not been able to post as often as I wanted lately because I got absorbed by a bigger project: moving from the UK to Spain. And this took quite a bit of time and energy!! But it has also been an interesting way to reflect on my new lifestyle goals.

One of the concepts often associated with zero waste is minimalism. There are different ways and motivations to approach it, but the aspects that I am interested in are:

  • stop always wanting to get more stuff
  • having less stuff to worry about
  • knowing better how to take care of the stuff I have to make it last longer
  • having more time and space to focus on what really makes me happy

Since moving things abroad is expensive, it was a good occasion to get started on decluttering. There is still a long way to go, because it is not so easy to give up on stuff (I usually find I need to think about giving something up at least twice before I am ready to let go), but here is where we got to.

To sell

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We ended up giving a few of this because of lack of time, but the sales paid for the moving company!

First we decided to get rid of all of our furniture. We had nothing immensely valuable so it was silly to pay a fortune to move them abroad. We also got rid of most of our kitchen appliances. The plug adaptor was not going to be the same and we had way to many of them. No we don’t need a hand blender, a regular blender and a food processor. We also left a few bulky things such as our giant garbage bin, that we should not need anymore anyway.

All the big stuff we tried to sell on Gumtree. At the beginning, I was not sure what to expect from getting in touch with strangers through the Internet, but most people were really nice. It was quite a bit of work though. Taking pictures, deciding a reasonable price, posting the ad, and then arranging meetings. In the end it was worth it though, because we reduced what had to be shipped and the money we got in the process paid for the moving of the rest of our stuff.

To give

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We also gave a big part of our kitchenware to charity. Exit the plastic cooking tools!

We also gave a LOT of things that we were not using or not planning to use anymore away. I gave a few things to friends and though Gumtree, because it was the best chance for them to be reused. But just before moving out, finding a new home for every single item was too time consuming, so we gave a big amount of stuff to charity.

Charity shops are great. They extend the lifetime of a lot of stuff, give access to cheap second hand options and raise money for charity. Our local charity shop got 3 big bags of clothes (2 in good condition, 1 of rags – they get paid by weight to recycle it), quite a few pairs of shoes (mostly for recycling), half of our kitchenware and bags and one bag of diverse objects that should probably never have made it into our household. I hope they will be able to re-sell a lot of those things, but I know some of them will end up in the landfill. I have to confess that some of the things I put in those bags to avoid the guilt.

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This ‘forced’ decluttering experience helped us realise the extent to which we own too much stuff. It is a great motivation to keep reducing what we have and to avoid getting more things. This was flagrant when we started getting rid of the furniture and realised we liked our flat much better without it.

I am also more motivated to buy things second hand. It should make it easier to give things away if we don’t really use them instead of hanging on to them for later just in case. I used to think: “even if I don’t use it much right now, I’ll have it for later”, but that doesn’t make much sense anymore.