Consumerism is definitely a large problem in the United States. We buy things that we don’t need to impress people that we don’t like. Some people see shopping as a coping mechanism for when they feel down in the dumps or need to relieve some stress. I will admit that I was once this way. My mom has told me countless times how she was afraid that I would have horrible money troubles when I got older since almost every time she turned around, I had come home from the store with a new pair of shoes or new clothes. When I got to college and my source of income was bottlenecked considerably compared to what it was in high school (I wasn’t able to work as much with classes and activities), I realized that I really did have a spending problem. That is really when I think my minimalist journey started and when I got into the habit of questioning my spending decisions.
Whenever I physically go into the store and see something that I would like to buy, I pick it up and put it in my basket. I’ve found that by the end of my shopping trip, I end up putting back a lot of the things that I pick up along the way because I realize when I look at it enough that I don’t really need it. For online shopping, I do a similar thing, where I will put whatever I want into my basket and leave it there. Sometimes I leave it for a few days, and when I come back, I look at everything that I have in there and realize that I don’t really need the things that I thought. It also helps when online shopping that it tallies up the total price before shipping for you automatically, and sometimes the sticker shock is enough for me to rethink my purchases.
Thrifting and secondhand shopping have really allowed me to see that you don’t have to buy everything brand new to get quality items. If you think about it, quality items will last a long time, and most of the reasons that those things end up in a thrift store is because the original owners didn’t care enough about the item itself to keep it, or they might have just gone out and bought a new one to keep up appearances. I’ve found many things at a thrift store that I can’t believe someone threw out.I’m grateful that I made myself go on this journey because I feel as though I have a much different outlook on what is important for me to have and that new isn’t always better.
So now that I’ve explained to you some ways that I’ve reduced my consumption, I thought it would be interesting to share with you the things that I just don’t buy anymore since I’ve embarked on this lifelong journey of living more sustainably.
Feminine Hygiene Products
The biggest (and probably most life-changing) swap that I made at the beginning of my zero waste journey that I don’t really talk about is my period cup. I switched to the cup after learning about how wasteful and damaging pads and tampons can be. I was scared at first and felt as though there was no way that a cup would work for me, but after just using it for one month, I was a full convert.
The thing that gets me is the response I get when I tell my friends that I switched to the cup. They are flabbergasted and also staunch in their assumption that it wouldn’t work for them and that they would be scared about it. What I think is funny is that the idea of the period cup is the same idea of a tampon, which is what most of my friends use. I feel as though I’m going to have to make it a thing to get my friends one for their birthdays and at least try to get them to use it just once.
I also invested in some period underwear just in case I have a leak. They are more sustainable than pads and are washable and reusable. I got mine in cute colors and they are just like normal underwear. It just gives me added security knowing that just in case I don’t have the cup in correctly that I have some insurance for my pants.
This may seem like a given for people who have gone zero waste, but since I stopped buying bottled water, I’ve noticed just how many people do. My mom is one of those people, and even though we have a Brita pitcher in the fridge and countless reusable water bottles, she still opts for a little bottle of plastic water. Now I don’t want to misconstrue the facts here because there may come a day where I have to buy a bottle of water out of convenience. But I have been actively avoiding buying bottled water since I have my reusable bottle and can just fill it up with the tap before I go out.
Another no brainer here, but I don’t think you guys understand just how liberating it is to not have to spend upwards of $20 every few months or so on 4 disposable razor heads. With my Leaf Shave razor (review here), I have yet to buy more blades than the ones that came with it originally (it’s been 6 months), and I still have half a pack left. When I do need to buy refills, I can buy 20 blades for $9 or 50 blades for $14. Since I only load 1 blade (2 halves) onto my razor and replace them once a month, that means I could either get 20 months (almost 2 years) of shaving for $9 or 50 months (4+ years) for $14! Like to me, this is a no brainer and honestly why I recommend the Leaf Shave razor every chance I get.
If your family is anything like mine, then you have a rag drawer at home full of old hand towels and washcloths that your mom just wasn’t ready to let go of. For once in my life, I was kind of happy that my mom was a bit of a hoarder because this meant that I didn’t have to go out of my way to make or buy those “unpaper towels” that pop up anywhere whenever you type in “zero waste cleaning supplies.” This year for my college apartment, I’m going to take 10-20 of those rags and use those instead of paper towels. It might be a struggle to get my roommate on board, but she’s seemed pretty okay with all of my other crazy swaps that I’ve made so far. None of them have really affected her directly or required her to make a habit adjustment, so this one might take some getting used to from her. I’ve already made the switch at home and it wasn’t as hard as I thought. I may add to it by making a DIY all-purpose cleaner since I’ve seen some easy recipes online.
The thing that saddens me most about K-Cups is that the inventor of the K-Cup himself regrets ever inventing them due to the environmental impact that they’ve made on the planet. I don’t own a Keurig or any single-serving coffee maker. My coffee maker is a smaller 1-5 cup brewer since I only have 1-2 cups in the morning and don’t really need a whole pot. I’ve been looking to find ways to get my ground coffee in a tin or something other than plastic, but for now, I just reuse the coffee tubs for organization purposes ( they work great for all your spare charging cords). I think it is insane that K-Cups are so much more expensive for 8-16 cups of coffee versus a tub of coffee that is cheaper and can make you way more for your money. I never really got on this trend, but when my roommate got a Keurig for graduation we had one in the dorm, and I made some hot chocolate with it every once and awhile. She at least had the refillable pod that you could put any ground coffee in, so we weren’t completely inundated with the little white pod monsters.
Cotton Balls or Cotton Pads
I do see a use for cotton balls and cotton pads when it comes to applying rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on a cut, but I don’t buy them regardless. I’ve spoken out before on how a washcloth can do the same job and be reused countless times. I’ve had a family object to this idea because they don’t want their washcloths to get stained… But… it’s a washcloth. It cleans things that are dirty. It’s going to get stained. I’ve thought about maybe going out and finding a white washcloth for just whenever I need to use alcohol or peroxide for anything, but I really don’t need to keep up appearances for people with my towel sets. I have stained and bleached towels from when I used to bleach and dye my hair, and I have washcloths that have definitely seen better days, but I don’t see a reason to not use something just because it’s stained.
A big part of this year for me is buying all my clothes secondhand, which means I can’t really contribute to buying fast fashion in retail stores. One thing that I’ve found in fashion is that trends recycle themselves, so if I really want to dress trendy (which I could honestly care less about), I can usually find something similar in the thrift store. To be completely honest, I have my own style and things that I like, so I rarely ever seek out fast fashion trends, especially because I know that they will be here and gone with the season.
I’ve talked about this in numerous articles, but I really only wear mascara anymore and I never wear face makeup (foundation, primer, concealer, bb cream, etc.). This choice didn’t really come from my zero waste journey, but more from a realization of how unhealthy all that product was for my skin. I never had a skincare routine before I stopped wearing makeup. I would mostly just wipe off my makeup with a wipe or rinse it off with water in the shower. If I had any acne, it would just get covered up the next day with more products. With my new routine, I only ever get hormonal acne around the time of the month, and it is very minimal (one to two zits) compared to what I used to get.
I’m really glad that I made the switch when I did because through some more research I’ve found out how wasteful and harmful to the environment some makeup companies are. I’ve also just started to notice how much plastic goes into the packaging of the products themselves. I’m trying my best to find a low waste mascara that fits my needs so that I can say that I’ve ditched wasteful makeup altogether.
I really thought when I was younger that I would be that girl with the big bookshelf full of all of the books I had read in my life. But now thinking about that makes me want to run away screaming. Now that I’ve been trying to live with lower waste and minimal things, I highly appreciate the look of empty space. I’ve also found that I just am not as avid of a reader as I once was, So I’ve given up and gifted a lot of my current collection, only keeping the books that I know I love and want to read again. I have a beautifully bound Jane Austen Seven Novels and my first copy of The Little Prince, which I know I will read to my kids one day. I also have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher and the Rye that were gifts that I don’t think I could ever get rid of. They are also classics which is another reason why I love them so much. So my book collection shrunk considerably to just four books, and I don’t see myself buying any more in the future.
Skincare and Shampoo in Bottles
“Bars over bottles” has become one of my biggest sayings during this journey, and I’ve come to actually prefer products that come in bar form way over liquid, and not just because of the waster factor. I use the exact amount of product that I need with bars, simple as that. There is no over-pouring/over pumping with a bar of soap, and they don’t spill or make a mess when you travel.
I actually accidentally left my shampoo bar at home when I visited my sister for a weekend, so I just used the shampoo that she had in her shower, and oh my lord. I didn’t think that I had put that much product in my hand, but when I went to lather it into my hair I realized that I had used way too much. Bars lather much less than liquid shampoos, but I don’t think that that’s a bad thing, because I think that only a fourth of what I used of my sister’s shampoo was actually utilized.
I like face cleansing bars for the same reason and have actually grown a bit of a collection of them preparing for an in-depth review of all the brands I can find at Walmart and Target. I don’t find myself using too much product, and they give almost the exact same result as the liquid options.
To add to this category, I don’t even use a conditioner anymore because I’ve found that I really don’t need it with my shampoo bar. If my hair is feeling a little on the dry side and I need a little bit of a moisture boost, then I just have a bottle of hair oil that I brush into my hair. I tried conditioner bars for a while and just found that I didn’t feel a real difference in my hair when I used one versus when I didn’t, so I just cut the cost right there. My hair oil lasts about the life of two shampoo bars and is a bit cheaper cost-wise, so it seemed like an easy switch to me.
I used to dye my hair a lot. I’ve been bleach blonde, I’ve been a redhead, I’ve been brunette, and I’ve gone completely raven-haired. I don’t think I need to explain how bad box dye is for you and your hair. It has ammonia and countless other chemicals in it that are just plain bad. After a while, the upkeep of redying my hair every month was just not worth it to me anymore. So I bit the bullet and went through the process of getting my hair back to its natural color which is still going on at the moment. Basically what I did is I went and got my hair to be a few levels lighter than what my natural hair is so that I could grow out my roots and just let my hair go.
I’d say right about now that I have about 1-2 inches grown out and right now it just looks like I have a nice shadow root with blonde hair. Being out in the sun a ton so far this summer has already lightened my mids and ends a lot more that I thought it would, but I’m not really worried about how my hair is going to look. My roommate did the same process of just growing out her hair completely to get it back to her natural color and it looked fine on her throughout the process. I’m honestly glad that I’m done with dying my hair, and I’ve fully accepted the fact that when the times come and I start to go gray, I will just let it go. I personally think that middle-aged and older women with gray hair look badass and beautiful, and I’m excited about that part of my life.