6 Habits I’ve Adopted to Keep Waste Minimal at Home

published Mar 9, 2023
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Like many people, I appreciate the look of a clean, well-organized home. More importantly, though, I love putting into practice habits that move beyond aesthetics and into sustainability. While I am nowhere near a 100-percent zero-waste lifestyle — with a full household in an urban area, I rely on some modern conveniences — I have adopted some habits over the years that keep our waste minimal. 

I make a weekly meal plan. 

Each weekend (Sundays, usually), my partner and I sit down and plan the meals for the week. It takes between 20 minutes to one hour. We have a beloved collection of cookbooks that we thumb through, and of course there’s no shortage of tasty ideas on the internet. Some weekends, I go broad (lasagna), and other weekends I have a step-by-step recipe for each night. This practice gives me time to get a bird’s-eye view of the week’s plans, gives the whole family something to look forward to (for example: homemade pizza night), and allows there to be minimal waste. 

I create a detailed grocery list.

In tandem with meal planning is writing the grocery list. I take a piece of paper and divide the list into sections that help me navigate the store: produce, meat/fish, dairy, grains, cans/boxes, snacks, beverages, and home items. Having a detailed list in the store helps me stay on track with my time and cuts down on impulse buys.

I buy in bulk, but realistically.

From groceries to toiletries, I love to buy in bulk. Bulk buying cuts down on plastic usage (if you don’t use a store’s plastic bulk bags), and shoppers can also measure exactly what they need. For instance, if a recipe calls for two cups of farro (an ingredient I don’t use often), I measure out the right amount and use a reusable bag to transport it. When buying in bulk, I have to remind myself, however, that I am shopping for a family of four and not a restaurant. I have sadly made the mistake of buying a jumbo bag of produce, only to see half of it wilt in the fridge before being used. Intentionality with bulk buying is key. 

I set limits to online shopping.

Nothing beats the convenience of online shopping. I’ve bought everything online from furniture to clothes to food. Still, there’s something wonderful about shopping locally and small. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that online shopping is essential for some people and at some times. But when it’s not essential for me, I do my best to shop in real stores. Not only does this support local communities, but it also limits packaging waste and reduces the carbon impact of shipping. When I shop locally, I find I am more judicious about my purchases, which means I limit my spending. I can feel the items and take a look at the price tag. Overall, when I set boundaries around my online shopping habits, my bank account thanks me. 

I press “pause” on wants to see if they’re needs. 

Years ago, I heard the advice to pause before buying something that isn’t a necessity. Instead, write the desire down or keep a note on your phone. Check back on that item in a few days. Is the desire to buy that item still there or has it dwindled? Sometimes, when I look back at my “wants” list, I’m surprised: Did I really think I needed a top-of-the-line salad spinner when the one I already own does the trick? Other times I’ve found that the item that caught my eye a week ago is still on my mind. It’s a simple habit shift that has impacted the way I buy. 

I use things up before buying.

Sometimes, when I’m in the shampoo aisle, I think, “We’re nearly out of shampoo. I should get some, just in case.” But then I stop myself: Don’t I have a graveyard of perfectly good travel-sized samples under my sink? The same goes for the kitchen. Oftentimes, I make my grocery list and forget to see what I already have. There’s a reason why I have 15 cans of chickpeas in my pantry. Knowing this about myself, I am on a mission to use up everything (groceries, toiletries, clothes) until I need new ones. By using up what I have before buying new things, I keep my pantries, cabinets, and closets well-stocked but not over-stuffed. I also avoid wasting food before it’s gone bad.

These habits do help keep my home tidy because inevitably fewer items come into my place, but more importantly, they allow me to pause and invite more thought into my household’s consumption, whether it’s groceries, clothes, or home goods.