Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: Zero Waste Home

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): In Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson shares the story of how she simplified her life by reducing her waste. Today, Bea, her husband, Scott, and their two young sons produce just one quart of garbage a year, and their overall quality of life has changed for the better: they now have more time together, they've cut their annual spending by a remarkable 40 percent, and they are healthier than they've ever been. 

Yay! It's the first nonfiction I've reviewed on here since... well, it's been a while. Which is strange, because nonfiction is actually one of my favorite genres. So this one! I'm pretty sure I first heard about this one from Janssen, and I'm pretty sure that my initial reaction was, That sounds like a bunch of hippie-dippie crap. But then I read about this book in a few other places, and it stuck around in the back of my mind through our whole process of cleaning up and moving (which is a huge trash-producing process, if you've ever been through it), and I just kept thinking, How? How in the world does that family live without producing any trash? So curiosity finally got the better of me and I checked the book out from the library.

So, I'll just say this first: Bea Johnson is extreme. I mean, if you're only producing one quart of trash a year and you're living in modern America, obviously you've got to be extreme. Johnson is super dedicated to her philosophy, and the lady is hardcore. And while that's all awesome for her, I am not that dedicated to this cause. I will never make my own make-up. I'm just not going there.

That being said, I really liked a lot of what Johnson had to say about simplifying life and rejecting our culture of extreme consumerism. For our entire marriage, my husband and I have been struggling students, and I feel like we've done a relatively good job of living within our means, which has meant necessary restrictions on how much we've participated in consumer culture. But now that we have a real job, I can see how our attitudes and patterns are changing (and we haven't even gotten the first paycheck yet!). Now I find myself thinking, "Why not? We can afford that," or "How nice we can finally buy (fill in the blank)." So reading this book now right now was great timing for me. It's made me stop and really analyze my attitude towards our new spending habits, because I do NOT want to fill up our house and our lives with stuff just because we can afford it. I want to be a lot more purposeful about the things we buy. Johnson has chosen to do this through the filter of not bringing anything in that will generate waste, and I think that's an interesting way to think about things. Like I said, I'm not as dedicated to reducing our trash output, but I see the value of thinking this way.

This book also changed my perspective on buying quality over quantity. I used to firmly be in the camp of buying the absolute cheapest possible product, whether it be food or clothes or toys. My husband once asked me where I would choose to shop once we had a real clothing budget and I told him that I would probably still shop at Target, because then I could just get MORE clothes. But Johnson has convinced me that there is merit in paying a little bit more for fewer quality products that will last longer. I don't know how much I feel this applies to clothes, since trends change from season to season (I probably will still always shop at Target, because, it's Target!) but I'm definitely starting to see the benefit of this philosophy for things like appliances, kitchen gadgets, electronics, my husband's wardrobe (he doesn't care about trends anyway), etc.

This book also provoked a very interesting discussion between me and my husband about what kind of house we want to live in some day. We've talked about our dream home before (most specifically, my dream library) and we talk about things like having a game room, a full guest suite, a huge beautiful kitchen, a formal dining room, an office, bedrooms for all the kids, walk-in closets, and all located on some sprawling piece of property out in the suburbs somewhere. But this book actually made me seriously rethink that dream. We are in a two-bedroom apartment right now, and we fit so perfectly. Obviously, as more kids come, we'll want more rooms and we'll upgrade to homeowner status some day, but do we really need the humongous house? And wouldn't it be nice to live closer to town to cut down on my husband's commute? And I can barely keep our little place clean now, how much more stressful would it be to keep a huge house clean? These are all things I hadn't really thought about before, but my husband and I had a great conversation about how maybe we're open to a different kind of living situation, maybe a town-home even (although, it's pretty tough to swallow the bang-for-your-buck comparison of a town-house to homes an hour or two outside the city...).

So what I'm saying is, after reading this book I'm probably not going to make drastic changes in the way we live to reduce our trash output, but I did love Johnson's philosophy about living simply. It's not that reducing trash isn't a value for me, it's just that hauling glass jars to the grocery store and fighting junk mail would complicate my life right now, not simplify it. But this book was definitely food for thought. I really want to be more reflective about how we participate in consumer culture, and I really do want to make some changes. I want to try composting and a few of the other helpful tips Johnson recommends. This book is brim full of tips and recipes and suggestions, I took a lot of notes of things I want to think about adopting.

So is this book hippie-dippie crap? Yes, it is absolutely hippie-dippie, but it's also very interesting and thought-provoking (or maybe I'm a bit more hippie than I thought?). I completely recommend this one to anybody interested in a different perspective on living simply.

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