Less is More

zero-wasteby Michelle Millet

Recently, my family has taken on the challenge of reducing the amount of waste we are responsible for generating. We decided to undertake this challenge in small, incremental steps, in an attempt to make the seemingly monumental task of living a zero-waste lifestyle a little less daunting and little more feasible.

A common theme I found when reading about others’ attempts at minimizing their waste was a decision to simplify their lives by reducing the amount of “stuff” they owned.

To live more simply, I realized that my family needed to do two things: first, reduce what we already own, and second, reduce the number of new things we bring into our home.

This month, we decided to focus on reducing what we already own and set out on a mission to “declutter” our house by following these two steps: identify what possessions are most important and useful to us, and eliminating everything else.

Needless to say, both of these guidelines are easier said than followed. Everything we own has some importance, or we wouldn’t own it, right? Plus, deciding what to eliminate is hard, as it comes with some anxiety over “what if I want to use that someday?”

To break ourselves in slowly, we decided to start with duplicate items and evaluate whether it is necessary to own more than one of any particular object.

For instance, do we really need three staplers? Are we ever going to need to use more than one stapler at a time? Why do I have five different hair brushes? Will I really need three different-size colanders, or will one medium-size colander meet our food drainage needs?

When I noticed that my kids’ closets and drawers were so full it was sometimes hard to put clothes away I wondered, does a 7-year-old boy need 20-plus short-sleeve T-shirts? And how many pairs of leggings does a 9-year-old girl really require?

As we started to remove duplicate items in our house, we began reaping the benefits of having less stuff cluttering our lives. We started to find things more easily, there was more space to put things away and there were fewer items lying around that needed to be put away.

Do we need it?

Inspired, we decided to evaluate the need for items in our house that we hardly ever used.

Do I really need a curling iron if I can’t remember the last time I used it? What about all those DVDs of movies we never watch or the board games we never play anymore? At 7 and 9, the kids have pretty much outgrown Candyland, so why do we still own a regular version as well as a Dora the Explorer one?

Yes, it was fun to make fondue that one time five years ago, but does the slim chance that we will use the fondue pot again one day justify the space it takes up in our crowded cupboard?

We soon became aware of all the little things that are cluttering up our house and our lives as well. We realized we had far more pens, pencils, crayons, paper clips, hair ties and nail clippers than one family of four can use at one time, or even over a long period of time, and that basically most of these items are just taking up space.

As I started the decluttering process, I realized that my desire to reuse — combined with my discovery of Pinterest pages filled with do-it-yourself project ideas on ways to “up-cycle” what some consider garbage into new products — was getting in the way of reducing the amount of clutter in my house.

I took a good, hard look at the six months of newspapers I had collected and asked myself, Am I really going to find the time to spin enough yarn, from this paper, using the homemade spindle I bought on Etsy, to make the ecofriendly doormat I discovered on Pinterest?

Am I ever going to actually make pencil holders from the floppy disks we no longer have use for, and, more importantly, do we really need another pencil holder?

With the other more pressing and important demands on my time, like making sure my daughter is keeping up with her school work — think fourth-grade mission project — and helping my first-grader with his reading, was I really going to find the time to get the sewing machine, which has been sitting in my closet unused for more than 10 years, up and running, to sew shopping bags out of my kids’ stained and worn-out T-shirts?

The realistic answer was no. So I decided to reduce my up-cycling projects to one at time, and let go of the unfinished and unstarted ones I had planned.

Lots of donations

After determining what items we were ready to eliminate from our lives, we needed to decide the best way to go about doing this.

Things that were still in good shape could be donated, which allowed us to share these already-consumed items with others, lowering the demand for resources to be spent on making new things.

My favorite place to donate in Davis is the SPCA, not only because it supports a great cause, but because it makes dropping off items very convenient. I just drive up to the donation station at the back of the store on Third Street downtown, where I’m greeted by a friendly staff member who helps me unload my donations.

Not everything we decided to give away was appropriate or convenient to bring to the SPCA. For these items, I turned to Freecycle — a sort of free version of Craiglist — whose official mission is “to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

Freecycle allowed us to find homes for the used, but still perfectly good, shipping boxes that we accumulated over the holidays, and the 200-plus plus gently used file folders that had somehow found their way into our closets. Objects that would have been recycled or tossed in the garbage were now going to be reused for their original purpose.

We also found homes for larger, hard-to-transport objects, like the stepping stones we pulled from our back yard last summer and the garden fountain that we inherited when we bought our house more than seven years ago but never used.

As for the six months of newspapers that were never fated to become a doormat, they went into the recycling bin. And the stained, worn-out shirts? Well, regrettably, they are headed for the landfill.

So, while our recycling and garbage containers were a little more full this month, we hope that by adopting a simpler way of life, by sharing what we no longer need with others and only purchasing what we need and will use, that in the long run our efforts will lead to a more sustainable way of life for ourselves and our community.

About The Author

Michelle Millet is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Chair of the Natural Resource Commission.

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  1. SouthofDavis

    Michelle wrote:

    > Recently, my family has taken on the challenge of reducing the
    > amount of waste we are responsible for generating.

    Thanks for keeping us updated on your project. In addition to reducing “waste” I think you and your family will see a lot of other benefits when you “simplify” things…

    > For instance, do we really need three staplers? Are we ever going to
    > need to use more than one stapler at a time?

    Be careful about trying to “simplify” too much since it might make your life harder. The whole family can share a single stapler and ball point pen, but when you need to run upstairs to your kids room and ask them to stop writing every time you need to sign a check and staple the multi page bill together it might get old real fast…

    > My favorite place to donate in Davis is the SPCA

    I also like the SPCA, but what I really like to do (if possible) is find someone that will really use what I want to get rid of and donate it to them (say giving office supplies to a teacher who can give them to low income kids or donating a desk to a UC Davis student that has been writing papers on her bed).

    > I turned to Freecycle — a sort of free version of Craiglist

    I don’t want to bash Freecycle (or the Craig’s List Free section) but I have found that my life is easier if I post stuff I want to get rid of on Craig’s List at super cheap prices (say $5 for 300 used bricks) and if the people seem nice just give it to them for free. I’ve used Freecycle and Craig’s List Free over a dozen times, but in the end it seems like most of the people looking for free stuff are either hoarders (and giving them free stuff is like giving booze to a drunk) or strange people that don’t value my time (and more often than not don’t show up when they say they will)…

    1. Michelle Millet

      so i’m unclear has does reducing your clutter impact the environment?

      One is the sharing of resources, instead of stuff I never use sitting in my drawers I give someone else the opportunity to use, keeping them from buying a new one-so resources don’t need to go into making another one-(plus it saves on packaging).

      (I need to run some errands but I’ll share more on this topic later, if you are interested and want to check back in)

  2. Tia Will


    I know its too late this time, but if you ever find yourself with too many old, stained T shirts, I will take them off your hands. Cut into squares and dampened they are very good at cleaning animal hair off my wood floors where it accumulates in corners and at the base of the step down into my family room.

    I greatly admire your simplification attempts. My downsizing of my house was one major step in this direction and I appreciate your tips.

  3. Michelle Millet

    DP-I wanted to give you a better answer your question but the day has gotten away from me. So I’m just going to ramble…When I started being more aware of what I was throwing away and where that stuff was ending up, I began to feel guilty throwing anything that might have some possible use into the garbage. Basically I started to horde things hoping that someday I would find some use for them, and I wasn’t sure what to do with things I know knew I longer needed but I knew might be useful to someone else.

    I started reading about living more simply and how that relates to using less and consuming less, and realized I couldn’t do that and hang on this stuff I wasn’t using.

    So decluttering was the first step of living a more simple life. In doing so I have gotten a better sense of what my family needs to function on a day to day basis, which has led to decrease in the amount of things we consume. So not only are we removing useless items from our house, we are bring fewer in, we are buying fewer disposable items, all of this leads to less waste and which I hope will have an impact on the environment.

    Hopefully my thoughts were somewhat cohesive…..

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