Zero Waste Home: a book review

Bea Johnson is one of modern day’s OG zero wasters. I was gifted her book Zero Waste Home years ago by one of my closest friends and have come to rely on it for quick and easy reference. The book can be read in a variety of ways. I tend to take the few-pages-at-a-time route. But I would absolutely recommend it for a traditional cover-to-cover approach as well. Johnson does a fantastic job of breaking down what works in conjunction with people and the planet in a way that is not intimidating, and also feels doable - even moderate.

I’m going to take us through a mini (the miniest, really) tour of the book, so you can decide if this is one you’d like to add to your shelf, or check out from the library and take notes.

Bea starts by relating her own story over a few pages. She was living the Big Consumer American Dream, but accidentally discovered that her family enjoyed life more with less stuff. This inspired a swing to major downsizing and simplification, from which the Johnsons would eventually swing slightly back from into more moderate territory, explaining that some zero waste practices were so inconvenient and alienating that they weren’t sustainable. That said, her family stuck with a simplified version of life in which they intentionally examined the ways they were spending their time, money, and the earth’s resources.

The book is broken down into sections. She starts with a little overview of the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot) and what their application looks like in real time. The sections that follow are: Kitchen & Grocery Shopping; Bathroom, Toiletries & Wellness; Bedroom & Wardrobe; Housekeeping & Maintenance; Workspace & Junk Mail; Kids & School; Holidays & Gifts; Out & About; and Getting Involved. We don’t have the space in one post to take a dive into all of them, but I thought we could at least wade through a few so you can get a feel for the format and content.

In Kitchen & Grocery Shopping, Bea starts with a suggestion. Take everything out of your cupboards and consider its worth through a series of questions including “Do I use it regularly?” and “Is it too specialized?” Once you’ve looked upon each item with intention, you can weed out the unnecessary, and your kitchen will become a place that someone who is not you might be able to navigate without a map. She lays out sustainable tips for meal planning and entertaining, and provides recipes for simple items we tend to keep in the fridge and pantry so that you can choose to skip the packaging.

In Bedroom & Wardrobe she starts in the same vein: simplify. What is in your bedroom and why? Should it really be living in this space? And then, naturally… What is in your closet and why? Do you really need it, or even like it? One of the questions she asks again and again is, “Is it worth my precious time dusting and cleaning?” I like this question. As the primary duster and cleaner in my own home, it really puts things in perspective. When it comes to choosing clothing, Johnson provides suggestions such as buying secondhand and picking items that are versatile. Buying a piece of clothing you might only wear once is not in the Zero Waste Home blueprints. Think long run. Will I still love and use this in 10 years?

The final section we’ll pop into is Workspace & Junk Mail. When it comes to the items in your office and on your desk, she applies the same list of questions she did with every other space in the house. This way we can eliminate what is simply taking up space, or even harming the space. Bea then breaks down some simple ways to reduce shipping impacts, and provides some guidance on recycling and composting office supplies items. The section on ways to eliminate junk mail is enlightening. I don’t have to receive this sad stack of trash in my mailbox every week? (I need to revisit this one - junk mail is almost literally the only kind of mail we receive. Ick.) When we’re intentional, it bleeds into every space - even teeny ones like mailboxes.

This has been the briefest of overviews of a very detailed (yet very readable) book. There are so many facets that I haven’t touched: homemade beauty and wellness products, tips while traveling, pages of lists for reference…Zero Waste Home is rich in information and practical strategies for intentional living. And none of it feels inaccessible. These aren’t goop vibes, they’re everyone vibes. In fact, Johnson boasts that switching over to a zero waste lifestyle has saved their family mucho cash. Sustainability and simplicity is for everyone in every way - everyone can practice it and everyone benefits from it.

Photo by Diane Picchiottino on Unsplash