Day One: Reduce Household Consumption

by Josée
Today is day one of the Household Waste Challenge. If you haven’t already, go and download the Household Waste Challenge Chart (pdf) (excel) (sample with instructions). If you aren’t interested in participating I invite you to read the posts during the next week and think about ways to reduce waste in your home.

The truth is most people ignore or dread the first of the 3Rs: Reduce. We live in a consumer culture. Stuff defines who we are, what we are worth and how to be fullfilled. Advertisements convince us that stuff gives confidence, popularity, beauty, and even love. Without stuff we may feel invalidated.

The habit of buying stuff is so ingrained. It’s difficult to break. But reducing consumption is the key to reducing household waste. Less stuff means less waste, less pollution and money saved. I’m not saying don’t buy stuff ever, I’m saying be a conscious shopper.

Be aware of marketing. Think of the purpose behind sales, flyers, and advertisements. Marketers rely heavily on our human emotions to sell things to us. When faced with an advertisement ask yourself “What are they trying to sell and why?”.

Define need vs. want. Reflect on whether the household really needs certain things. Next time you go shopping ask yourself “Can I Live Without This?”. Repeat this mantra often and notice how much stuff you can leave behind at the store.

I recently got a call from a telemarketer. He was trying to sell me a cell phone. When I politely told him that I didn’t need a cell phone he reply assertively “everyone needs a cell phone, no one can live without one!”. I’ve had a cell phone before, and yes it is handy. I won’t deny that there have been times I’ve wished I had one again. I replied to the telemarketer by saying, “you know.. everyone needs air, clean water, food and shelter, no one needs a cell phone”. The telemarketer didn’t know how to reply and abruptly thanked me for my time.

Now you might be thinking “wait! I couldn’t live without my cell phone!” the scary thing is… yes you can. Did you know that the average life span of a cell phone in Canada is 2 years and that 71% of Canadians have a cell phone or plan on getting one in the near future. That’s a potential 1.2 million cell phones ending up in landfills every year in Canada alone. Some people do need a cell phone for work or otherwise. Just be sure to use the cell phone for as long as possible and then recycle it (

Make a list. Before you go shopping make a list of what you plan to buy. Stick to the list. It can be difficult at first but you’ll get better the more you practice. This strategy helps prevent impulse buys of stuff that nobody needs. Also, don’t accept freebies unless you believe them to be actually useful.

PlanToys Eco HomeGo for quality not quantity. When the household needs something, buy a good quality item that will last many years. Sometimes this can be difficult. Many things today are made so cheaply that they will inevitably break, especially electronics. Do a little research up front. Find out which companies have the best quality items. Buy items made of durable materials that will last years. Children’s toys are a good example. Investing in a few good quality, well made, non-toxic toys will provide your children with years of fun and safe play while keeping cheap plastic toys out of the landfill. We are a fan of wooden toys, they don’t break easily and if they do you can fix them. 

Be creative. Don’t assume that you must always by stuff new. Many things can be purchased second hand or borrowed. Books are a great example, you can borrow them from the library, a friend or buy them used from a thrift stores or second hand bookshops. Even small equipment like pressure washers, lawn aerators, staple guns can be rented or borrowed. We could save a lot of the planet’s resources and our own money if we try to be more creative.

Be aware of packaging. When you buy something be aware of the packaging that it comes it. Packaging makes up a significant amount of household waste. Look for packaging that’s minimal and recyclable or don’t buy it in packaging at all. Like bananas, why on earth would you plastic wrap bananas?

In the spirit of reducing consumption I am not offering a giveaway today. There will be giveaways the rest of this week so makes sure to check back tomorrow. Instead I have a challenge:

Spend a whole day this week without buying something new.
Already doing that? How about going the whole week?

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no spring chicken April 17, 2011 - 11:44 pm

Excellent post. I pray that people will more and more be less and less tolerant of marketing, and begin to think with their own brains. What people THINK they need is scary. As you say; air, food, shelter (we could add love on a less elemental note)…

Blessings, Debbie

Josée April 18, 2011 - 3:42 am

Thanks! Yes, love is definitely important too!

Elisa April 18, 2011 - 12:57 pm

You & I are so alike!!! Now that my kids are getting older and I am busier during the day with housekeeping/homeschooling, I don't use my cell that much. My plan runs out in August and I'm going to get rid of it. We are going to keep it so that I can use it to call 911 in case of an emergency, but for our main home phone line, we are using skype with a cord that makes it ring to a regular phone.

About praying with little kids: Just start out with one small prayer. We always did just the guardian angel prayer at bedtime. Then after years, we added intentions, and now we do that and say St. So and So, PRAY FOR US. I think God blesses our very little efforts.

Tanya April 18, 2011 - 9:35 pm

A friend of mine started a "something in – something out" policy several years ago after spending a few years on the mission field in Africa. She returned and was appalled at the "stuff" people felt they "needed" or just wasted. My husband and I have tried to follow the same policy. Particularly whenever we moved (which was frequently), we purged our possessions ruthlessly. It worked well, until we had kids. You gather a lot of stuff with kids!!!

Regardless, we've recently tried again: If we buy/bring home something new (or new to our household), then we give away something to family/friends/swap shed/thrift store. This, of course, does not include consumables like groceries. It feels great to simplify our surroundings by getting rid of stuff.


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