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  • Dee Lawlor

Start your sustainable life - without spending a penny

Updated: Apr 16

We all want to live more sustainable lives. Our poor planet is being pillaged at a faster rate than it can recover itself and now more than ever, reducing our individual and household consumption is a must.

Thankfully, there are many individuals and brands who are working to bring us all our modern conveniences in a more sustainable way. But let’s not beat around the bush here - sustainability can be expensive. Often, sustainable, plastic-free, eco-friendly products are more expensive than regular ones. And when it comes to the crunch (especially in this economic climate), we all want to save money, so of course we choose the regular, less sustainable, plastic-filled brand.

The good news, however, is that you can start your sustainable life without spending a single penny. The even better news is that you can get sustainable and save money at the same time.


Buy less new things

One of the best ways to be sustainable is to stop buying new things. Every time you buy something new (including food and essential household products) you are sending the message to those big, carbon-belching factories to “Make more! Make more of this thing I am buying”. Just look at all the total rubbish that we can buy these days – hilarious ironic gold decorative alpaca anyone? Trash products exist because someone is buying them. Every single object sitting in a shop was once a piece of our planet. And the more new things you buy, the more new things are made. Am I saying never buy anything new ever again? Of course not. Just try and reduce the number of new things you buy. When you are buying something new, put a bit of thought into what you choose (we all know the advice about buying better quality and all that). Or go nuts on the second-hand market! When you buy something second-hand, you immediately reduce your environmental impact. Swing by your local charity store and check out online second-hand sources such as Vinted, eBay and Oxfam online. They are a treasure trove for clothing and household items. And if you can't find it second-hand online, it probably doesn't exist!


Use what you have

The best way to stop buying new things is to know what you already have. Not only will it help reduce your carbon footprint, it will also save you money. This is where our friend Marie Kondo comes in, but we’ll come back to her in a moment. Once you know what you have, the next step is to use the absolute crap out of it. That t-shirt you love? When it starts to get worn out, it will make great jammies. It will then be a great towel for your hair (especially if you have curly hair like I do). It will then make a perfect dog towel. And then a cloth for cleaning the car or your shoes. Use everything you have until it isn’t even recognisable as the object it originally was. You paid for it, so make sure you get the maximum bang for your buck by eeking every bit of life out of what you already have.


Change begins at home 

Since we moved into our forever home three years ago, we’ve been looking at ways that we can improve our sustainability. Becoming sustainable doesn’t happen overnight (as evidenced by the fact it’s taken me three years to get to this point). One of my goals is for us to stop using store-bought chemicals. When you make the decision to become more sustainable, your initial reaction might be to throw out all the products you have that don't meet your new eco-friendly lifestyle - like chucking out cake when you're starting a new diet. Don't! That’s wasteful. And waste is the enemy of sustainable living. Instead, we are going to use up every single last drop of what we already have. Once we have done that, then we will start looking at better, more sustainable alternatives. In order to get the maximum benefit from what we already have (and most importantly, to stop buying more of it) we need to get organised.


Let’s get started!

My first proper sustainability project was to tackle the chemical cupboard in our house, but you can start anywhere you want, the process and the goal are ultimately the same. I followed the KonMari method of getting organised and it really does work! Although I wasn’t asking myself “does this Toilet Duck bring me joy?”, the question I was asking was “can we get any use out of this?”.

Everything was taken out of the chemicals cupboard and haphazardly lobbed onto the utility room countertop. I also ransacked the kitchen and anything lying around the bathroom. In this gathering stage, I found several empty containers that went straight into the recycling. The only full product that I threw out was a can of air freshener because we both hate aerosols (and chemical air fresheners are exceptionally bad for you and your pets), so it wasn’t going to get used anyway.



Next, everything was organised into categories. Don’t overthink this – you’re just organising household cleaning products, it’s not life or death. My categories were ‘laundry’, ‘bleaches and disinfectants’. ‘kitchen’, ‘bathroom’, ‘carpet and flooring’ and ‘things that should be in the garage’ (such as white spirits, wallpaper stripper, etc.). After everything was organised into their categories, they got chucked into individual boxes and bottle bags (one box or bag for each category). You can use any old storage that you already have, don’t worry about things matching or looking pretty (sorry, Instagrammers). In fact, you get bonus points for not buying new storage! I found some old plastic boxes in our garage that I could use. You can use shoe boxes but just mind that anything leaking or dripping will soak through the cardboard. Bottle bags from the supermarket (of which you likely have a few stuffed in a drawer) are also great. If all else fails, draw a square on the shelf and make sure each categories items are within their square. The goal is that you can see at a glance what products you already have.



Now this is an important step – don't scrimp on your labelling. Label those boxes like you’re a librarian trying to win the librarian Oscar for labelling. Why? Well, picture this moment – I bet you know it well. You are in a rush, you are trying to get out the door, people are asking you things, the phone is going off, the dog is barking, the person who said they didn’t want anything from the shop is now listing off a reem of things (cough cough, Blair!) and you want to be a responsible sustainable shopper and check what you already have so that you don’t go buying duplicates. You are not going to calmly take each box and check its contents one by one, trad-wife-making-cereal-from-scratch style. Ain’t nobody got time for that! You’re going to look in that cupboard for all of two seconds and if you don’t find what you’re looking for immediately, you’re going to assume you don't have any and you're going to end up buying more. We all do it. We’re all busy. The labels don't have to be fancy. Just trust me and label the shit out of everything.


Eye on the prize

Sustainability doesn’t happen overnight and none of us are perfect. You can, however, make a solid start by getting organised. Being organised means that you know what you already have and therefore, you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying fewer new things. Am I saying that you should never buy anything new ever again? Of course not! There are certain things that we are always going to buy new (sorry but I’m not emotionally ready for reusable toilet paper). But reducing our consumption is one of the best ways to start our sustainable lives. So, make a cuppa, stick some music on, and Marie Kondo the bejesus out of your house.

You can't do everything but everyone can do something.

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