Monday, 2 March 2009

Reducing much more than waste

A few years ago I was studying the credit card bill and couldn't help wonder how we could carry on enjoying our lifestyle but without spending so much cash and without compromising the good things in life.

Every weekend we'd go shopping or go off for the weekend to visit friends. Then along came the kids and the weekend visits dropped but we'd still end up in the shops, buying stuff to keep ourselves entertained. And there was always an excuse with weddings, funerals, holidays, rainy days or simply doing up the house.

With a rising credit card balance, the obvious thing would have been to stay away from the shops, spend less and simplify our activities.

But if you enjoy surrounding yourself with nice things, tasty food and see shopping as a happiness fix it's hard to shut off the spending reflex, especially when there's always tomorrow to pay it off.

I'd get bored, so I'd shop. I'd get fed up, so I'd shop. I'd get hungry, so I'd shop and if I felt fat I would rush to the shops for a well designed outfit that slimmed my figure.

But I wasn't a shopaholic. Could I admit it if I was? I simply enjoyed improving my lot and splashing the cash. And I could never understand how folk, including my mother, could hate shopping with a passion!

Then I started The Rubbish Diet.

It's funny how focusing on reducing the amount of waste has had an impact on on my approach to shopping. I had expected to simply recycle more and hadn't considered the other consquences that resulted from the challenge. And it really highlight the effect of the power of reduction.

While I was reducing the packaging in everything I bought, I was naturally reducing the amount of things we had to recycle. And even if we could recycle it, I began to question our need for the product in the first place.

Did we just buy the product out of habit? Did it really serve the benefit it promoted? Was there an alternative solution that incurred less consumption as well as less waste? And if we still wanted it after all that, could we simply cope with less of it?

For me, this has been the biggest lesson and most effective outcome of experiencing personal change through the life of The Rubbish Diet. It's not just been about recycling more, it's about reducing and removing the burden of the automatic "must-have" thought pattern.

When I think back to my old shopping list, it's hard to believe how much I've changed. But gone are the kids' bottles of squash, regular magazines, multipacks of crisps, packets of biscuits, keep-'em-busy toys, silly shaped yoghurts, kitchen towel, washing up sponges, clingfilm, regular washing detergent and those awful disposable sanitary pads. The latter never really had me bouncing with joy like the ladies in the adverts.

Then there was food waste. Buying smaller quantities and letting less food go off and using up more leftovers, it meant that I didn't have to rush off to the shops to spend more and bring home even more packaging to recycle.

And as for clothes, I'd always want an up-to-date smart wardrobe, but would never buy in a thrift shop due to peculiar inhibitions about secondhand clothes. Of course I'd always be happy to drop things off for those in need, a rather patronising manner I know and it's for one I now apologise. However these days charity shops are nine times out of ten my first port of call. I now enjoy the benefits of a bargain as much as as the next person.

But it's not just been about saving money. It's always been about waste and the recognition that for each item I buy, there is waste somewhere along the chain of production before I even consider the future options of disposal.

I've still got a Per Una voucher in my purse, which I was given a year ago. Where I would have once rushed out and spent it, as if it were burning a hole in my pocket, I no longer have that driven urge.

And I have also reduced the status of the food cupboard emergency. Instead of running out to the corner shop when we run out of cheese, I now put it into context and give the family something else instead. Previously such occasions would result in a drive to the local shop to buy a top up, get distracted by so many goodies and forget to buy the cheese.

If some "know-it-all" had criticised my shopping habits and told me I was spending too much, over-buying and being wasteful, I probably would not have wanted to have listened and would have dug in my heels in a defensive manner. Even a responsible person like me used to find it hard to accept responsibility for something that we all take for granted i.e. the rubbish we create as a result of our personal decisions.

But to learn for myself has allowed me to tackle behavioural change that was the cause of waste in the first place. It's a journey that I needed to take and I am grateful for the outcomes because we now have more money to spend on the real necessities of life and value more of what we already have.

However, please don't mistake me for Little Miss Perfect, because I don't pretend to be. The odd treats still slip in, including crisps, biscuits, kids' squash and a comic. But these days they are real treats instead of something we take for granted. I also sometimes get caught out without a bag and I don't always use containers because of our excellent recycling facilities. Then there's my new dress that I bought from my favourite shop Phase Eight, but it was the first in a whole year, unlike my previous purchase pattern when I might have got three or four. And finally my real downfall is my love of books and my affection for Waterstone's. That's something I need to work on.

And of course we run out of essentials now and then. Indeed we used the last slice of bread on Sunday night.

So it looks like I'd better rush off to the shop for a top-up. I've just checked the time. I really had better go!

Better not get distracted while I'm there eh...and I must remember my reusable bag!


Now that's another story. I'll cover that one tomorrow!



John Costigane said...

Hi Mrs A,

I have a M&S credit card from Christmas, still unused. Great minds think alike.

Ditching so much waste, like yourself, I found is a life changing experience. I remember being frustrated about all the packaging, a feeling of powerlessness.

Now, I am part of the change to sustainable living. What a difference now, when shopping is now a positive thing, dealing with working staff who respect my opinions. Everyone should try it.

Maisie said...

I have a thing about books but I do use quite a bit and then relist them once I have read them, if I don't want to keep them.

I know I should use the library but that does involve a 20 mile round trip and the petrol and parking costs involved.


That's right John and I couldn't agree more. Actually being part of the change has been a lot more rewarding that sitting back and watching it all happen in frustration :-D

So Maisie, glad it's not just me. The problem I have is that I want to keep the books I read, which is why I don't use the library (despite the fact my background is in librarianship and really SHOULD go for the sharing option.) At least I lend them to friends which is a good start :-D

P.S. Thanks for the link to GreenMetropolis. I will check them out. :-D

Fi said...

I used to keep all the books I read, until I moved here with five huge (they were HUGE) boxes full which had sat in the previous loft unlooked at for FIVE YEARS. They went to the charity shop pretty smartish after that!.

Now I am much more rational about it. I keep the ones I 'collect' (Margaret Atwood is my heroine) or I really will read over and over (The Shipping News, possibly I know bits off by heart), and me and my friends have a little bookswap every now and again for the others, so they don't go far from home.

And I use the library. But I do sometimes have to be carried away kicking and screaming from a 3 for 2 at Waterstones *rolls eyes* ;o)

Margaret's Ramblings said...

Yes books are my downfall as well although I am inclined to head for Amazons to see if I can pick up a preloved copy. The only trouble is they become friends and I find it so hard to pass it on. Oh dear, these comments sound as if they are going to become a booklovers club, lol. Margaret

Bury Boy said...

I am a very slow reader, with a strange taste in reading material according to my wife, pure escapism I tell her. So with one good book of a 3 part taking weeks to read, I tend to keep them, they have become friends, and very well worn. Yvonne how ever will read a book in a day. At least 4 a month come from the libary, the balance seem to come from a swap club, with different readers purchasing, reading, passing on, and on and on. We have decided to put this passing on to good use, asking for a small donation to ARC each time some one takes a book, and turning over a shelf in the Pharmacy. When they reach the end they go to the paper bank. If I look around the house now there is a shelf full on fantasy books ( mine of couse) with a layer of dust, and no sign on any one elses. and no large till receipts.

Am I surprised you dont use the libary..... No I undestand.

Sam said...

OK, another booklover comment ;-)
We have a pretty good library on our doorstep, so we use that most. I do crave books which are *mine* though.

The only way I've found to stop buying books in Waterstones/Amazon etc - don't go in, don't look! One glance is all it takes. Look away now!

It's interesting to read how your perspective on life has changed. I'm arriving there from a thrift/reuse direction, and now I'm trying to reduce all waste.

Great post :-)

Katy said...

What a journey. And you are so right about the important factor being discovering these things for yourself. It's the only way, if these new-found habits are actually going to stick, as that will only happen if you believe in what you are doing as opposed to going through the motions because someone tells you to.

On a more practical note - kitchen towel and washing up sponges. I'm interested to know how you replaced these - just with washable cloths?

Condo Blues said...

There's another way to cut down on the amount of household stuff you keep - live in a small house! My old rental had a basement which was great for storing off season items but it was even better for keeping lots of clutter! I don't have a basement or much extra storage room in my Condo which makes me really think "how or will I actually use this if I buy it? Where will it live?" when I"m shopping. It helps me keep the amount of "stuff" I have around the house in check - I only have room to keep those things I truely use or cherish.

Don said...

we have started your rubbish diet over here in Michigan usa and can feel the changes taking place! Thanks

lunarossa said...

Very very interesting, Mrs A. I can see a bit of me in you "before the change" but I'm trying to change too. The biggest obstacles are of course the kids but I'm working on them. Also I've got problems to resist books. I love the smell of crispy new books and I hate when they are yellowish, crincled and smelly. But I've started to circulate them among my friends and looking in the charity shops or second hand book stores. Jus a quick question. I'm intrigued to know what to use instead of disposable sanitary pads...Thanks. Ciao. A.

Transition Housewife said...

Hi Mrs A,

I must admit, I am a charity shop bargain hunter. You just never know what your going to find, the money goes to a good cause, it's re-use at it's best and a chance to be fashionably creative rather than just going along with the crowd - what could be better?!!

Glad to see your a convert too!! :)

THW xx


Hi Fi - LOL at Waterstone's 3for2. I know what you mean. What you need is to take two friends with you, buy one each and share the saving and then share the books when you're all finished. Damn I wish I'd thought of that earlier :-D

LOL Margaret - You have some real finds too, like the Janet and John reprints. I *understand* why you can't let them go. :-D

Hi BB - great to see you here and best wishes to Yvonne. You've hit the nail on the head there. It takes me ages to finish a book too and I have the problem of reading three at a time (that's why it takes months). Great idea of Yvonne's thought. And I've just remembered. I've still got the book you loaned me....If you were a library I'd have such a huuuuuuge fine by now LOL :-D

Hi Sam - I suppose if our library was more prominent I might use it more often. Instead it's tucked away in an awkward part of town that I rarely visit these days, so I have to go out of my way. Lazy booger aren't I. LOL. Anyway, it's interesting to see how you've reached this life and how strong the relationship is between thrift and waste no matter which way you address it :-D

Hi Katy - LOL, yes you've gathered I'm the kind of person that can't be told. If my mother was looking in she'd be having a field day with anecdotes.

Now as for the practicalities. It took me a while to ditch the kitchen roll in favour of washable cloths but once I did it saved me buying about 8 rolls a month. For a while I kept one in the cupboard as a backup, but I've got so used to using cloths I never needed it. When I did use kitchen roll, I used to pop it in the compost bin if it hadn't come into contact with meat or poultry.

The same goes for the sponges. I bought a fancy rewashable one that can take the pace but I'm also still washing the old ones that I had a year ago when I discovered they can go in the washing machine or dishwasher. And I've still got a couple that have never been used. This is a long way off from the days when I used to buy a pack of sponges every couple of weeks, use em up and when they got too skanky I'd bung 'em in the bin. How things have changed :-D

Hi Condo Blues - yes space is an issue and can be good for keeping things in check. I've often dreamed about a bigger house with a couple of extra rooms. The likelihood is they would end up full of crap. I love your use of cherish here, that is one thing that can be diluted the more stuff you collect. It's funny how there are some things that I know I will cherish for a long time and it so happens they are things that I've had for ages. :-D

Hi Don - thank you and welcome to the site. It's good to hear what you're doing in the States. Do keep dropping by with news of how you're getting on. I'm also going to add your blog to my list of bloggers with chickens. I popped by last night and saw the little chooks. Good luck and if you have any questions, do ask. There are lots of folk who will be happy to help. :-D

Hi Antonella - yes KIDS - I know. My eldest is great and my youngest is getting a lot better. I've seen a marked improvement since we started out last year. I think the trick is perserverance and to share your understanding. It does pay off.

So you're a book fan too. Looks like there is a gathering crowd LOL.

As for the sanitary pads. I use the fabulous pretty fleece ones from Lollipop. They sell them online in the mums section at:

They are really good, comfortable and easy to wash.


Hi THW - that's brilliant and I couldn't have said it better. I'm glad to have made the transition too. Geez, how did it take me so long :-D

Gill - That British Woman said...

I must work on this. We are fortunate enough to be able to pay of our credit cards at the end of each month, but it would be nice not to have a credit card bill each month, and more money in our savings.

Another great post.

Gill in Canada


Cheers Gill...ah that's another thing I've got to work on. I'm just getting used to coming down from my overspending whims to level spending. Onwards and upwards :-D

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