Books I love: Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Better, simpler, faster is a digital principle that I’d love to apply to the way I manage my home life. Bea Johnson’s book, which hit shops last year, certainly ticks the ‘simpler’ box. Her core message is a green one: Western households can’t keep producing waste at the levels we have been if our children are to enjoy the same world and way of life that we have.

French-born Bea, who lives in California with her husband and two sons, got rid of 80 per cent of her possessions. No small feat, and one that took her a couple of years. Her purpose was ecological, but by scaling back she also set herself free from housework, endless sorting and the modern cycle of getting and spending.

The urge to change came to Bea and her husband when they realised all their free time was devoted to looking after the home and possessions that they were spending their working lives to acquire. Not enough of it was spent with the kids, and even less with each other.

Their hand was forced by the economic downturn and they had to downscale. Their smaller home presented a challenge, which Bea responded to by stripping away their objects. Radically.  As it turned out, fewer objects meant they had more time for experiences, getting their family outdoors rather than entertaining within. Take a look at pictures of Bea’s home here.

Living lighter meant they could pick up and go in and instant, and a clutter-free home proved easy to hand over to others. So renting out their home and using the proceeds to go on vacations became a new part of her family’s life with their pared-down living.

What did Bea get rid of? Almost all her clothes except a few essential items she wore more often. She also freed herself from kitchenware and utensils she didn’t use daily, and offers a handy list of all that you really need to get by. (Turns out you don’t need a salad spinner, garlic press, or even a food processor.)

Old toiletries and medicines were chucked out and then sentimental items like trophies and gifts as well as sports equipment like golf clubs and tennis rackets went the same way. Food-wise, Bea shops in bulk and uses glass jars to store her purchases, neatly side-stepping the need to discard all that plastic packaging. She refuses till receipts, plastic cutlery, junk mail – stop it coming into the house and then you won’t have to get rid of it.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot are Bea’s 5 Rs that she lives by. You can find out more about her Zero Waste Home on her blog and she shares tips there to get you started. Green living and tackling waste are her primary concerns, but I found the side-effect of simplifying one’s home life the most appealing part of her book.

In this respect, it’s in the neighbourhood of the tiny house movement in the US, which aims to prise us out of our comfy, over-stuffed homes and into the outdoors. I’m still a long way from this and from Bea Johnson’s ultra streamlined home. Getting close to zero clutter as opposed to zero waste is my current goal. I suspect I may need the services of a Clutter Fairy to sort me out in 2014. Watch this space.

Thanks to Alex Johnson of Shedworking for introducing me to the tiny house movement. Find Manchester’s Clutter Fairy on Twitter. Buy Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life on Amazon.

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