Chances are you want to reduce clutter and create habits that help the planet. But where to start? It can be overwhelming, so we put together a 15-day challenge to help you get started.
Just look at the challenge for each day. If it is something you want to incorporate, do it! If not, let it pass and look for the next one that you can fit. Follow us on social media, too, where we'll be posting some of these as well.
If we hope to make the world a little better place, we have to focus on what we can do. No change is too small. Each thing we do gives us momentum and builds confidence for the next step. Think about it - taking 10 small steps is better than one big step!
Find what motivates you
We are all inspired in different ways so find what works best. Make it fun and meaningful for you. Share the challenge with family and friends if you are motivated by others. Create a list or goals if you like to see your accomplishments on paper. Once you make a few small shifts, you will find momentum to make more. Sometimes, all you need is to get started!
DAY 1: Your vision
When you live a less wasteful life, there are many benefits. At the start of this challenge, think about those benefits to boost your motivation, and write them down where you will see them. Imagine how you will feel surrounded by less clutter. Envision money you will save by buying fewer things you don't truly need. Think about the time you will save by buying less, and using things you have on hand. Consider the positive environmental impact you are leaving for future generations.
DAY 2: Swap it out
It's easier to create a new habit when you change things up and replace an old habit with a new one. Try this: First, hide the paper towels. Then, find an old washcloth or cut fabric from a worn t-shirt to make a cleaning cloth. Put it where you normally have the paper towels. Try experimenting for just the day and you will certainly find yourself reducing throwaway paper products. I recently forgot to buy paper towels and did this myself. It was a lot easier to do than I thought. One tip I found useful was to use the sink sprayer and hot water for a thorough rinse after each use. Just squeeze and hang it for the next use, or so it's not gross going into the laundry.
DAY 3: Buy smart
Post-holiday bargains abound and it's hard not to jump on them. Our brains are wired to want things, especially if we think it's a great deal. But with every new product we buy, we leave a bigger carbon footprint. Delay is an awesome preventative so try this: Instead of clicking "BUY NOW", make a list of everything you find that you want to buy during the week, and wait to buy everything on Saturday (or Sunday, or any single day). It's likely that looking at the number and cost of everything together will help you naturally pare down. And giving your brain time to lose the 'in-the-moment' excitement will inevitably shrink your list to the more essential items.
DAY 4: Keep food fresh
The great majority of food waste comes from households and is a huge contributor to climate change. One of the best sources for preventing food waste is the Zero Waste Guide on Instagram. Here are two great suggestions they shared: 1) Cover produce like carrots and even lemons in water and put them in the fridge - they last weeks longer. 2) Keep a sliced avocado fresh up to 5 days by putting it in a container with an onion on the bottom
DAY 5: Clean it out
Do you know what you have in your fridge and on your shelves? Clean them out. If you're really short on time, pick just one shelf. Pull anything that is just expired or expiring and try to come up with a creative meal or two to use things up (I found one of my all-time-favorite recipes trying to use up a large bag of spinach). Next pull anything you purchased for a special dish that you aren't going to use, or anything you have just too much of and put it in a bag to donate to your nearest food shelf - Find one near you using the Donate Good Stuff search tool. Finally, anything that is really outdated, throw into the compost and recycle the containers.
DAY 6: Pitch Plastic
Look around at everything today that has plastic in it, on it, or wrapped in it. Identify one thing that you can permanently replace with a reusable item next time you buy. Here are some quick examples: Put one thin reusable bag in your purse or car for when you shop. Buy loose instead of bagged produce (and put it in that reusable bag). Buy food/products in glass, paper or metal containers instead of plastic, and then reuse them for lots of things like homemade salad dressing, leftover containers, spices, or storing things in the fridge. Pack a party-ready bag with extra small plates and silverware you have or thrifted instead of buying plastic. Dump in the dishwasher when done (or do a sink-full at once to save time), and place them back into the party bag for next time.
DAY 7: Give new life to clothes
If today is a day you are feeling motivated, it's time to go through your closet. Pull everything out and start by putting back only the things you absolutely love - they fit, look great, and are something you currently wear. After that, select items that you don't quite love but you do wear and put them in a separate section. If you don't wear them during the next season, let them go. Finally, the items that are left that don't fit or you don't wear, donate them to someone who can and keep usable clothes in circulation. Note: if anything is soiled, stained, damaged, missing a button, etc, look into upcycling ideas or find a creative resource, like Rethink Tailoring, to help with that.
DAY 8: Tackle your T-shirts
If you have only a little bit of time for sorting clothing, tackle just your t-shirts. It's the one item most people have to many of and can't possibly wear. Here are a bunch of ideas for what you can do with old t-shirts, from donating them to creating usable and decorative items.
DAY 9: DIY cleaners
This is one of my favorites. You can reuse containers so you don't generate any new plastic. The bonus is DIY cleaners are nontoxic and safer for kids and pets. The extra bonus is that they save space. And time. And well, they cost less, too. There are a lot of DIY cleaner recipes but I found two easy steps to clean almost everything. One, get Castille soap. You can make almost any cleaner from it and you can refill in bulk at most co-ops. Two, (not required but makes it sooo nice!) get a few of your favorite essential oil scents. Mix and match creatively - just a squirt of soap, some water, and your scent make spray cleaner, hand soap, dish soaps, and laundry detergents quicker than clicking 'buy' and unwrapping more plastic.
DAY 10: Grow Your Own:
I live in Minnesota, so there is not a lot of growing we can do in the winter, but I found a couple of hacks that keep some lovely green in the house and also provide fresh food whenever we want it. You can take grocery store produce leftovers from onions, lettuce, and garlic to grow more in your kitchen window. Just cut the top off of green onions and stick the base in a little water. It will keep re-sprouting so you always have fresh. you can do the same with a head of lettuce - just cut the top and plunk the bottom in some water (with the top out of the water) or use toothpicks in the sides to hold it at the top of a glass of water so roots have a place to grow. You can also take cloves of garlic (this may only work with organic) and put them in a little pot. Keep them watered and use the sprouting greens like you would garlic. Of course, a small herb garden is pretty simple, too if you can find a container, a little dirt and a but of sunshine. Every time you do this, you save another plastic bag, and it's free food!
Many things that we throw away can be recycled even if they cannot be reused. Look a little more closely at what you put in your trash today and see if there is something that can be diverted to a better use.
DAY 11: Don't put bags in the recycling
One overwhelmingly common item is the plastic bag. Most people don't realize they are dangerous if they get into recycling because they get tangled in machines at recycling facilities, which can require a human to un-do. It is risky and expensive. You can, however, return bags to stores like Target. You can search to find a drop-off location near you.
DAY 12: Make a place to put it
One item that can be recycled (and, in fact composted many places) are toilet paper rolls. We produce tons of them, but most end up in the trash. In our household, we always had the intent to put them in the compost (or recycling) bin, but in practice we failed until we did one simple thing; we added a little extra bin in the bathroom. That simple act made it so easy, we couldn't not do it. If there is a room where you regularly throw away items that could be composted or recycled? It could be a bathroom, bedroom, garage, or the kitchen. Find a bin and put it where it will be handy. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.
DAY 13: Make note of what you throw
For the day, take stock of what you throw away. Stop and think about each item and if there is possibly a way to reuse or recycle it. Start with a simple Google search. Connect with the Terracycle network for hard-to-recycle items as well as new and upcoming companies like RidWell that offer collection services. Also check into special city or county recycling events
DAY 14: Buy better
When you do have to buy items, choose reused, up-cycled, recycled, or at least recyclable options and packaging. Zero Waste Communities of San Bernadino County helps you keep in mind the difference between recycled and recyclable products and packaging. Recycled materials already have been given a second life, whereas recycled products only will be if someone recycles them. Take a look at the products you use and look for products you can switch out when you shop.
DAY 15: Demand accountability
As you find things that can't be reused or recycled easily like excess packaging, or single use components, reach out to let the manufacturer and seller know you want better. Ask companies to reduce the amount of waste they produce and/or to be responsible to take their trash back.
You Did It!
Once you are done with the challenge, sit back and reflect on what you have accomplished. Incremental change can seem small, but when you add up those little things over weeks, months, and years, the impact is anything but. And consider the momentum you've gained. When you start looking at ways you can reduce your environmental impact on the world, you create a habit in itself. This is how change is made.
Thank you for participating!!