[updated April 2020]
I’ve always lived pretty simply, but more than ever we need to follow the mantra: reduce, reuse recycle, in that order. Read on to see how to live simpler by reducing your consumption. Save the earth and your money at the same time!
More and more, I find myself preaching about how much I love the sharing economy, purging all my possessions (no, I don’t live in an empty apartment and sleep on the floor), and how I make less, but save more than I ever have. Folks often ask me how I do it and I am always excited to share so we can all get on with living happier, more affordable lives during our short time on this spinning ball.
In the past, I’ve written about some of this, but there are always new things happening, new start-ups and crowdsourcing ideas that can help us all…so I wanted to condense it all into this two-part series on how to live simpler, cheaper, and happier!
Here we go!
How to Live Simpler – Less Stuff
Stuff. We all need some of it. But not all of it. And less and less of it. I’ve never liked a lot of clutter to begin with and am a bit of a neat freak, so I’ve just become even more obsessed with the less is more mantra.
And for good reason:
- Stuff costs money
- Stuff uses valuable resources & has environmental impacts (to create it, to ship it, to maintain it)
- Stuff can last forever sitting in a landfill
I like to have less stuff whether I’m talking about what I pack when I travel or what I live with at home. Not only does less stuff equal a freer life for me where I can travel easier, it also means saving money, and impacting the environment less. Why have something just because it can be recycled? How about not even demanding it to be produced in the first place?
Just some small examples, we really shouldn’t need plastic bags (use reusable ones), plastic water bottles (use reusable ones), or a new cell phone every year.
It’s most important to simply reduce what we use in the first place. I’m by no means perfect, but I really try to think about what I am consuming and possibly throwing away (the garbage truck isn’t a magic vehicle that somehow actually eliminates the stuff we put in it). I look at packaging, I look at the material, and I see a lot of waste everywhere — from all those plastic bags in the produce aisle (I don’t use them anymore…I’m going to wash my food anyway so I don’t need it hermetically sealed in an individual bag), to the horrible to-go and take away containers at restaurants (I do not like wasting food and portions in the U.S. are typically 2-3 times as much as you need to eat at one meal, so I’ve started trying to bring my own container with me. I sometimes forget, but I am trying), and even all those paper cups at Starbucks. Ever notice how many people are sitting INSIDE the Starbucks drinking from a “to go” cup? I always ask for a mug and wish they would start asking customers by default.
- Use your own reusable bags
- Use your own mug or bottle
- Use your own containers
- SEE more of what you use
**Just because you’ve done something by rote, and everyone around you is doing it (i.e. using produce plastic bags) does not mean it’s the best way.
I get anything I can electronically so I receive much less mail nowadays. All of my bills are paid online. I cut down on my junk mail as much as possible by not adding myself to lists. I read newspapers online. I now have a Kindle, but have to admit, I still like holding a book in my hand and seeing the page numbers (my biggest pet peeve about Kindles!).
- Stop getting paper bills, etc. Go paperless.
- Read papers and magazines electronically.
- Be mindful of other trash, even if it’s not yours.
I try to unplug all my electronics and don’t have that many plugged in to begin with. When I leave town for a trip, I turn everything off and unplug it…even my alarm clock. Mind your thermostat. Turn it up/down when you are away and keeping it just a few degrees warmer or cooler can save a lot of energy and money.
Don’t Buy Stuff
I am mindful about new things I really NEED. I rarely shop for clothes or shoes anymore unless I really need something. I don’t upgrade my electronics (which I do need and use for my job) every time a new model comes out. For 15 years, I used the same car. I hope to use the same TV for years and other electronics. I work from a laptop rather than a full desktop computer (which I’ve never owned). I sold my printer and scanner and just walk over the Kinkos if I ever need the rare thing printed out. I don’t like wasting paper of course, so if I have to print, I also always try to only print what I need and use BOTH sides of the page.
Reuse: Sell Your Stuff (or give it away) or Find New Uses
Craigslist is one of the best sites around. It was crowdsourcing before crowdsourcing was cool.
I have sold a ton of things on here and not just before my travels, but after as well. When I returned, and opened up my storage pod, I found there was stuff in there that I just didn’t need anymore. So I sold it or gave it away. I do truly believe if you haven’t used it or worn it in a year, you just don’t need it. Why is it sitting here taking up space for no reason when someone else could be using it?
Stuff like: An old Mac laptop ($400!), that old printer and scanner, a toaster, a blender, a wireless router, hand weights, old CDs, a phone, a VCR, my old Canon camera, a guitar, a ski jacket and pants, on and on. Right now I’m trying to sell a rain jacket. Need one? And not only is this stuff getting re-used by someone who needs it more than me, I have made close to $1000 selling stuff in the past few years. It’s win-win for all. I’ve also sold a few things on Ebay that were more auction-worthy.
I have gotten over the ‘need’ to have books on a shelf. I love reading, but rarely read a book twice and don’t need the trophy of the book to show I read it. I have saved a few very favorites or reference books, but otherwise I’ve sold all my books (books can be heavy when moving/packing…just another reason I was thrilled to sell them!).
Some great resources to sell your books, CDs, and DVDs:
Old clothes and shoes and some other smaller kitchen items, I bring to my local charity thrift store where it’s sold to those who need it.
There are great resources online for selling or giving away electronics to be recycled like:
Buy Used Stuff
Guess what? Craigslist again to the rescue! I sold my old Ikea chest of drawers before my trip. And when I returned four years later, I bought virtually the same exact one…for less than I’d sold it! Score! I bought a nice folding wood bookshelf (that I don’t keep many books on) from a gal in my neighborhood and walked it home. I bought a desk chair and some other stuff. Again, this is saving me money and saving the earth, by just using items already manufactured and already ‘in the system’ of “stuff.”
Find New Uses
I use the back of perfectly good mail for scrap paper, BEFORE I eventually recycle it. If I get junk mail in a plastic bag (those weekly sales newspapers, etc), I use that for garbage or recyclables or for cat litter. Plastic containers can be reused, same goes for milk or juice jugs (watering can, etc).
Recycling should be old hat by now, but many still do not care to go to the ‘effort.’ Today we can recycle paper, board, glass, most plastics, aluminum, and more. I recycle all I can from the norm of magazines and newspapers (of which I try not to get many in the first place) to junk mail to the cardboard roll from the toilet paper. I live in an apartment building in Chicago where a stack of menus and coupons are often left on the floor in our vestibule. Everyone just walks over them. I usually at least pick them up and recycle them before the apartment cleaning person comes in and simply throws them in the trash.
How about trying to really cut out your trash? Places like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland all have curbside composting programs in place. In 2009, San Francisco enacted the nation’s most strict regulations on composting, requiring all businesses and residences to collect and separate compostable waste. It’s part of the city’s effort to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfill almost completely by 2020. But still, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. residents only compost about 3 percent of their food waste.
Some cities also have drop off locations where you can bring compostable items. New York City is currently trying to figure out a program, but in the meantime, there are many drop-off locations like at the city’s many green markets. Chicago doesn’t quite yet have a city-wide program, so I am trying to find out where I can bring mine. In the meantime, in our home in New Jersey, I am happy that I just started a backyard compost box and am very excited to see how much less trash we will produce.
Eat Cleaner and Simpler
I am consciously eating less and less meat for ethical, environmental, and health reasons (probably in that order). I basically don’t buy any for home (for myself) and eat it out on occasion. And I don’t miss it at all. There are so many alternatives for protein – tofu/soy-anything, seitan (which I love when seasoned) chickpeas, beans, quinoa, fish, eggs, nuts – and I like them all. Honestly when was the last time you heard of someone with a protein deficiency? I personally think we consume way too much meat in this country (creating the need for a majorly flawed industrialized animal food ‘factory’ system that is both inhumane and unhealthy) and the marketing of ‘healthy’ chicken and ‘the other white meat’ (oink) went way overboard in the 80s and 90s.
Try buying local and cut out all the middle men. Think about the journey of beef from New Zealand or across the country. The cow is raised, then sent by truck to slaughter. Then that meat is butchered and packaged. Then it’s shipped to some distributor plant. Then it finally makes it to your supermarket. Then it’s picked over my workers and customers and then you finally buy it and bring it home.
In New Jersey, I just found a local farm about a mile from my house, Lima Family Farms. The cows, pigs, and chickens are pastured-raised. They are not injected with growth hormones and seemingly live a ‘normal’ life. The rare times I buy meat for us, I can now buy it here. Totally local. No shipping. No middle man. Much less mishandling.
Although, I’ve always recycled, I am being much more aware in general of reducing and re-using things I already have as well as saving energy in general…not just for the benefit of my own bill, but for the greater good of the earth as well.
For some more ideas, here are 25 great “Living Green” tips from my friend Christine over at It’s Easy Being Vegan.
What are you doing? Please share your ideas and tips in the comments below! I am always looking for more good ideas.
See Part Two: Saving Money to Make Money!