The Journey to ‘Refuse’

I have been practicing low waste for a few years now. In 2011 I went through a separation from a relationship of many years, and I moved from a 2,300 square foot house to a 600 square foot apartment. The separation was amicable, I could have taken anything from the house, but I decided to take just my personal belongings, a couch, a kitchen table with 4 chairs, a bed and a dresser. The less stuff to move, the better, I thought.

When I was packing my personal care products hiding under the bathroom sink I was stunned by the amount of stuff I had: a couple of different kinds of hair spray, mousse, gel, anti-frizz serum, leave-in conditioner, eye creams, face creams, eye serum, tanning lotion, a couple of different kinds of sunscreen, perfumes, body mists, hair pins, hair ties, hair bands, all sorts and shades of eye shadow, a couple different kinds of makeup, at least 5 tubes of mascara. You name it. I had a lot of crap.

My closet wasn’t any different. I had a walk-in closet with shelves full of purses. Different colours, different styles, for different occasions. And shoes! I had over 60 pairs of shoes. I had multiple pairs of jeans, sweaters old and new, work clothes, chill clothes, winter outfits, summer outfits. Drawers full of garments, some of them with the tags still attached to them.

Trying to sort everything out before the move was a nightmare! Why did I have so much crap? Where did it all come from? Did I even need all that? I felt incredibly guilty. I realized how wasteful I had been and the worst part was now trying to figure out what to do with all that waste. Some clothes, shoes and purses were donated, although not much, as I was still pretty attached to my possessions. Old makeup and personal care products went straight to the garbage bin and very little to the recycling bin. I had physically removed those items from my life by throwing them away, but that left me thinking: what does away even mean? Is there such thing?

Once I moved into my new apartment I made a personal commitment to not accumulate “things” in that manner ever again. I decided to do some research on ways to reduce my waste and that’s how it all began. I started swapping some items here and there, mainly in the kitchen. I mentioned this to a friend of mine who asked if I knew about the Diva cup. I didn’t, so I was very excited to learn about it! The separation also took a toll on me financially, so cutting down on unnecessary products had a double purpose. A couple of years later I was able to buy a house; my first ever, very own house. On a single income I was only able to afford a tiny place with very limited storage space. This has been a blessing in disguise.

Living on a tight budget and in a very small space has allowed me to practice the firs R of Zero Waste almost effortlessly. In Zero Waste, the 5 Rs are guiding principles to minimize household waste: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Refuse is the first and more important of the Rs. When we refuse to bring an item into our home we don’t have to deal with reducing, reusing, recycling or rotting it!  At the same time, by refusing to bring an unnecessary item or unnecessary packaging in to our home, we are casting a vote on what we think is important. In my case sustainability and the well-being of our planet. The Refuse mind-set has re-programmed my mind. I no longer operate under a senseless consumption basis. Need comes before want.

In this day an age when we are bombarded with “consume more” messages it gets really tricky to ignore ‘wants’. However, the more stuff I refuse, the less I get exposed to an environment that wants me to buy endlessly. A few tricks that have helped me limit the exposure to that environment are:

-No cable. I haven’t had TV cable for many years and I love it. No cable, no commercials! I never know what’s the newest mascara out there, or the hottest toy because I don’t watch commercials ever.

-My visits to the mall or the grocery store are limited to those occasions when I absolutely need something. The less visits to stores, the less I see and the less I want! I am in no way perfect, so yes, I do occasionally shop online for the unnecessary bathing suit or dress, but I have definitely decreased the amount of stuff I buy by a lot.

-I don’t buy magazines. Have you noticed that a really big part of a magazines content is advertising? Printed magazines are incredibly wasteful! You pretty much pay for printed advertisements, since most relevant content is available online.

A few other ways to make sure unnecessary items don’t enter your home is by refusing free stuff: gifts, freebies, coupons, catalogs, samples, just to name a few. I’m not the Grinch, so I’m not saying don’t ever buy a gift for people, or don’t ever accept one, but how about gifting experiences or services rather than more stuff. In my experience, people have been extremely kind to me when I ask for no gifts. They usually find a way to express their love and appreciation for me in some other way. And how about those annoying freebies like party favours and loot bags? When do we ever need those things, really? Saying no to that kind of stuff will let the host be more mindful next time they host a party (hopefully!).

The one thing I had not given up until recently was non-plastic disposables. Like many others, I was under the impression that paper plates, cups, or cutlery made from biodegradable or compostable materials were the way to go. In doing more research, I found out “recyclables” don’t actually get recycled if they are contaminated with food. If I get paper plates to serve food on, they are certainly getting contaminated so they end up not getting recycled!! Biodegradable and compostable items are not any better. When these kind of products are manufactured, the company that makes them tests their biodegradability and compostability in a lab. The reality is, most municipal waste management facilities are not equipped to process these kind of products, so yes, they too end up in landfills breaking down and releasing gases that contribute to global warming.

Refuse has turned me into a minimalist and I absolutely love it. I have been questioning all my possessions and I definitely know I can do better, much better. However, I’m still happy with the progress I’ve made, particularly around the “less is best” mind-set, which makes me feel liberated from consumption. Do I still feel sometimes like I need my favourite jeans in every different colour? Absolutely! The difference is, I can now take a step back, put on my sustainable googles, and decide if my want is more important than my values.


Tiny Earth Warrior



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