Consumption II

Or, I’m both winning and failing at cutting the crap.

Several glass jars with grains like rice and lentils on a shelf.

Last year I made a commitment to reduce my consumption by 50 per cent. This was inspired by reading Sarah Wilson’s book, This one wild and precious life, in which she says that we all need to reduce our consumption by 50 per cent, if not more, so that we can help save the planet.

Sarah herself is a frugal, environmentally conscious gal and, now that I’ve tried to emulate her, I can fess up and say that I don’t know how she does it. Sarah says that she avoids going to the shops as much as possible and she makes food like bone broth from scratch. Maybe, in Sarah’s case, having less stuff leads to having more time. Regardless, I take my hat off to her for her lifestyle choices.

In some ways, I’ve completely failed in my own consumption-cutting endeavours. In others, though, I’ve had some wins.


  • I haven’t bought any clothes since October. This has been the easiest of all the changes because I have heaps of clothes already and I really don’t need anything else right now.
  • I’ve purchased one tube of moisturiser since I started this pledge. I've reduced my consumption in this area by using the cosmetics that I had languishing in drawers and cupboards. I think there’s enough there to keep me going for a few more months. It’s amazing how many gifts of cosmetics I have received over the years! So I’m using all those up, even if they’re not my preferred brand.
  • I’ve massively cut down on buying books. I’ve been using my local library and am working through the piles that I already have. I did buy a couple of special books – like the book from the Cressida Campbell exhibition I visited in January. But I’ve definitely cut this down by more than 50 per cent.
  • I take my own containers to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant and they are happy to use them. I take my own bag too.
  • I buy nuts, seeds and other pantry items from the bulk food shop and I take my own jars. This is a great way to reduce the plastic I bring home.
  • I’ve stopped buying fruit and vegetables that are sold in plastic, which is the hardest thing to do by far. For example, it’s almost impossible to buy spinach and kale in a shop without a plastic sleeve or bag, so I’m going to grow more of these myself or get to a local farmers’ market. In the meantime, I’m living without them.
  • We’ve bought some recycling boxes from TerraCycle that we are filling rapidly – especially with the soft plastic that we had been holding onto because we can no longer send to Red Cycle. This is a really expensive option though and I’m not sure we can sustain it.
  • I’ve learned how to walk into a shop and only buy the thing I went there for. Overall, I’ve been avoiding shopping centres as much as possible, but if I have to go into a big store, I’ll stick to my list.
  • I’ve unsubscribed from a bunch of email lists that were trying to sell me things. And I’ve stopped letting Facebook and Instagram influence my purchasing decisions. I’m not buying stuff online on a whim anymore.


  • I still go to Woolworths and Coles sometimes, purely for convenience, and I'm devastated by how much waste is in the packaging across these stores. It’s pretty much impossible to do a plastic-free shop in either chain.
  • One time I took my daughter shopping in an Asian grocery store and I was overwhelmed by the number of products that were individually wrapped. This depressed me a lot and made me want to give up because I am just one little person trying to reduce her consumption. We bought some groceries for my daughter and I winced at everything that went into our basket as it was all wrapped in plastic or packaged in some way.
  • My kids have moved into an apartment together and, during the move, we made two trips to Ikea. This involved consumption to the max, as well as masses of packaging. Looking around the self-serve areas at Ikea, it was hard not to become disheartened. So many products were wrapped together on pallets in swathes of cling wrap and, again, my efforts felt like a drop in the ocean. Not to mention that Ikea was heaving with shoppers. So many people are buying so many things!
  • Takeaway coffee cups – yep, the sin of all sins. Sarah Wilson would be cranky at me if she knew! Sometimes I’m out and I want a chai latte but I’ve forgotten to bring my own cup, so I’ll buy one in a takeaway cup. I definitely need to work on this!

What's next?

We’ve had some good news here in Australia this week: the supermarket giants, Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, have laid out their plan to restore soft plastic recycling. While it will take a while to get it back up and running properly, this is a great step in the right direction.

But, even with soft plastic recycling coming back, we all need to reduce our consumption in the first place. I’ve also written to the CEOs of Coles and Woolworths to ask them to set rules about the amount of recycled material in the packaging of the products they sell. They specify the length of bananas and the size of capsicums, so why can’t they extend their reach? They have the power.

If being an eco-warrior was the entire focus of my days, I think I could do a better job of reducing what I buy. While I've done quite well resisting buying things I don't need, I’ve found it hard to get essential items in an eco-conscious way. Plastic-fee, organic shopping takes time, and I don't have much of that. I’d love to find the perfect, zero-waste online shopping experience. Facebook did introduce me to the ReturnR Marketplace – it looks like a great option but it’s expensive and it’s not serving my postcode yet.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue on my journey, muddling along, holding onto my wins and addressing my fails. Cutting out the coffee cups is my next challenge; I’ll let you know how I get on with that in a few months’ time.

Cutting the crap is hard but I believe it’s worth it. I’d love to know if you’ve been inspired by my efforts. It’d be great to bring more people along on this journey with me but I don’t want to pretend it is easy.

Much love, Lyndall