I’ll be truthful. My belongings are ugly, but there is a reason for that. Trying to live a sustainable lifestyle means that I use what I already own. I mend, I sew, I clean, I make do. That isn’t always beautiful.
When the zero waste craze first started, Instagram was full of perfect pantries, stacked full of matching glass jars with food bought at the refill store. Yes, buying from the local refill shop is what we should all aspire to do, but what if there isn’t one close to you? Where are you buying all of your glass jars and what’s wrong with the ones you buy pasta sauce and mustard in?
I’m about to share some of the skeletons in my closet. My ugly belongings and practices that are more sustainable. All these secrets, in the hope that it’ll inspire you to keep your non-aesthetic things too.
Writing notes on receipts and junk mail
There’s no need for a notebook and post-it notes where I’m concerned. While I do use notebooks for planning, my to-do lists are reserved for random scraps of paper like receipts, junk mail and envelopes.
Receipts are notoriously difficult to recycle as the majority of these contain two chemicals, BPA and BPS. Where it’s not possible to avoid a paper receipt, I repurpose and extend its life by using it as note paper. Junk mail and envelopes are similar, I try to use every scrap piece of paper as if it were the last because it already exists. Why buy something new? I admit, it’s perhaps not the most organised method and it sure isn’t beautiful but it works and it’s the most sustainable option.
Whether it’s old plastic ice cream cartons, glass jars, or plastic bags, there’s always another use for them. Contrary to the original zero waste influencer, my pantry is full of mismatched glass jars and branded plastic pots. Nothing about it is beautiful. Nor is my bin with a bin liner from a repurposed bread bag. There’s nothing to stop you from recycling your waste until you’ve had full use from it.
Bin bags are a strange one to me as I’ve always thought it bizarre that we extract oil from deep within the surface of the earth, process it and make it into something new, only to be stuffed full of our waste and put back into the earth in landfill. I try to avoid using something for that sole purpose and opt for an ugly but sustainable alternative of a repurposed plastic bag instead.
It’s a fact that the clothing industry is one of the most polluting with an extortionate amount of clothing abandoned in the Chilean Atacama Desert and rivers in Asia polluted by dye. The best way to prevent adding to the problem is by mending the clothes that you already own.
Now I cannot brag that I’m skilled at sewing but I’ve tried my hand at patching holes in my jeans, sewing buttons back onto shirts and even natural dyes. There’s something respectful to the people who made our clothes to care for and look after our belongings. It’s better for the planet, it saves money and provides new skills. It seems like a no brainer.
The humble compost heap is by no means pretty. Slimy and stinky, though worth your weight in gold. We waste 9.5 million tonnes of food in the UK each year. That’s a staggering amount. If left to rot in landfill most of this food waste will release methane emissions. For something natural, designed to break down, why not repurpose some of that waste into something that breathes life into plants.
I’ll say it here first, composting is fun. There’s something about seeing your trash turn into something so useful that should be every eco-conscious person’s dream. If you’re starting out for the first time, be careful with what you add to your compost heap, there can be a bit of an art to it.
Repurposing greetings card
Received a card in the post? Don’t recycle it yet. My favourite ways to repurpose cards are very simple. I cut the picture from the front of the card and write on the back or stick it onto a blank piece of paper, or alternatively make gift tags for birthdays and Christmas from the design.
While some may call it ugly, it’s resourceful in my eyes. 15 billions trees are cut down worldwide per year. To lessen your contribution to this just still be able to send cards for celebrations, you can extend the life of the paper already in circulation.
A friend once asked me why there was a bucket in my bathroom. I replied, “it’s the shower bucket” much to her confusion. If you, like her, are confused, I will explain. A shower bucket is a bucket you place in the shower before and/or during your shower to catch the excess water. You can use this water to flush the toilet, water your plants or soak your dirty pans.
Water is a scarce resource and so I’ve always found it counterintuitive to use clean water to flush the toilet. There is barely any inconvenience when using a bucket to catch the water from a shower, you might be surprised to see quite how much water you use. It’s not glamorous, but catching and repurposing water sure is better for the environment.
There is no picture-perfect sustainability, the best way to be truly sustainable is by using what you already own, repairing, repurposing and giving new life to your belongings. Living sustainably can look different to us all, but for my home, it’ll stay ugly.
What are your non-aesthetic belongings and habits?
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Video Transcript - Accessibility
I admit it, my belongings are ugly. I'm trying my best to live a sustainable lifestyle, and that means using what I already own. Trust me, it's not always pretty. I'm sharing some of the non-aesthetic parts of my life to maybe, hopefully, inspire you to keep some of those ugly things.
Hi, I'm Charlie, and on my channel, I talk about all things sustainability—from living a realistic Eco lifestyle to product reviews and DIYs. Today, I'm inviting you into my safe space to show you all of my non-aesthetic things.
When the zero waste craze started, everyone was showing off their beautifully matched pantries with all their little jars and buying all the latest new Eco things. I'm here to break that down, show you your pantry does not need to look like that, consumerism doesn't need to look like that, and we can be sustainable with the things we own. So let's dive straight into my sustainable but ugly belongings and habits.
First up: Writing Receipts & Junk Mail
I write notes on receipts and on junk mail. I get so much junk mail through the post, and every time you go to the shop, you still often get a receipt. So why not repurpose that into something else? It's not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. It's not one of those nice notebooks that people have with a nice design on them and different marker pens. I love that, but that's also not me. I do have notebooks, old scraps, and I try to write on loose paper and all that kind of thing. But the ugliest of these are when I write on receipts and envelopes. I've got whole stacks with little things that pop into my head, and I write them down instead of a Post-It note. Why not repurpose something that's just going to go to waste? That's especially the case for receipts as they're lined with a plastic coating, so they can't be recycled anyway. So you might as well use them right until their last moment to extend the lifespan of that piece of paper. The negatives are obviously that you've got all these stacks of random pieces of paper that you're trying to put together, which can seem a bit flustered in your head. But the positives are, of course, that you're repurposing something. There's always another option. You don't have to go down and buy a brand new item when you've got this paper that you've already got at home that you can use.
Next: My Trusty Old Laptop Case
This laptop case I've had for a very long time, probably since 2014. I think when I got my first laptop. It is not in good shape. It is a bit dirty, to be honest. It needs a clean. It's got scuff marks on it, dents in it, but it still does the job. I could get another laptop case for my new laptop, one that's the exact right size, but why should I when this one perfectly works? It doesn't look very pretty, but it does what it says on the tin. It protects my laptop, and that is all that I need. So I will potentially be giving it a clean, but that's somewhere down my priority list. For now, it's perfect.
A Stack of Old Greeting Cards
Greeting cards that I've cut up to repurpose. I absolutely love receiving cards in the post. I know it's not one of the most sustainable things. Maybe you should send eCards or just send a text, but there's something really special about receiving a letter from the postal service. I don't know what it is, but when you hear the postman or woman arrive and they've got a letter for you, it's just that feeling. So I want to recreate that but do that in the most sustainable way possible. When I receive a card that I particularly like, or generally, most cards, I'll cut off the first part of the card, save it, and then write on the back of it or stick it on top of another piece of paper and repurpose that card by sending it on to my friends and family—anyone who I think would like to receive a card. You can also turn them into gift cards for Christmas or birthdays. You can use the whole card or cut out a little gift tag, write your note on it, and repurpose it that way. There's no need to pop it straight in the recycling. You can repurpose it and extend the life of that too. Of course, you can buy a new card and support local artists as well. That's a great way of being sustainable, but I think it's a great option to be able to support both local artists but also do your bit and repurpose cards and paper.
Repurposing packaging—plastic tubs, containers, Tupperware that you got your takeout in, or glass jars that your pasta sauce came in. My pantry is full of those, and let me tell you, they are not pretty. It is particularly ugly to have mismatched jars, all these different containers with branding on them. But I love it because I'm reusing something that otherwise would have gone directly into the recycling system and is particularly difficult to recycle. Plastic degrades every time that you recycle it, and colored plastic is even harder to recycle, especially black plastic, which often is the one that you get with a takeaway or a takeout. Glass jars, when you recycle them, use a lot of energy to recycle. So the best thing you can actually do is repurpose that. If you don't want to use the glass yourself, my local refill store collects old jars for people to repurpose and use at their refill store. So you can always clean them and take them to them too, and somebody else can reuse that glass and extend its life. What I love about reusing these containers rather than buying something new that's really aesthetic is that I am giving it a new life. You don't need your pantry to look all beautiful or Instagram perfect when really, you're the one looking at it. Sometimes I also think that it's helpful to have all these different size jars and pots, and you get that much more easily when you're repurposing and reusing items that you've got at the supermarket or wherever you do your grocery shopping.
Sewn Up Clothing
Sewn up clothing—The first to admit that I'm not very good at sewing. It's something that I want to get much better at, but right now, I'm not. And I admit it. What I do, though, is try to mend my clothes, whether it's something that has completely gone through the wars, like this white t-shirt that I wore when I was doing some forestry work pulling out trees, which was definitely a bad idea because it has so many holes in it and got really dirty, which was pretty hard to clean a white t-shirt. Though I did use natural bleach, I made sure that I did mend it and patch it up because you have to look after your clothes. Just by mending your clothes, you can extend the lifespan of it by so much. It's things like fixing holes in your socks or remending any holes in your t-shirts or your jeans. Any of that kind of thing. It
might look ugly, but I also think it gives whatever clothing you've got character. There are some really ingenious ways to also mend your clothes. For example, now I'm considering dying that white t-shirt and making it into a completely new piece of clothing that I love and cherish because I fixed it and dyed it and made it a new item. Textile waste is such a huge problem with places like the Atacama desert in Chile just full of old clothing that we've discarded. So if we can try and value our clothes and repair them and think of those people who made our clothes in the first place, I think that's something that is actually quite pretty rather than ugly.
Composting—while incredibly great for the environment and for your food waste and any garden waste, the fact that it creates new life with it is ingenious. But it is not pretty. It's not pretty at all—storing all your food scraps, taking them out to the compost bin, emptying them, stirring them around. It's pretty dirty work, and it's not very pretty to look at. But the result is so much better than putting that food in your general waste, letting the methane rot off in the landfill. That's just not the right option. So composting might be ugly, but actually, it is pretty sustainable and a great way to make something out of nothing.
A bit of a story about this one—while traveling in Canada, we (I say "we," it was me) left our dog's lead on the top of the car, and off we drove. The lead came off, but it's the only lead that we had and was pretty important for our dog. So when we discovered that we didn't have it anymore, we drove back because I'd remembered that I'd probably left it on the top of the car, drove along, and we found it on the road. Sadly, the clip part, which is the handle, had broken. So we are ingenious, found a tiny little stick to fit in the gap where the clip was so we could still use it as a handle and fixed it that way. Is it perfect? No. Does it look pretty? Hell no. But does it work? Yes, and that is the most sustainable option. We could have bought a new lead, definitely. We could have spent a load of money on fancy things, but we didn't. It's something that already works, and I know that the only thing that could have happened to it is that it would go into landfill. I didn't want that to happen at all for something where I'd made that mistake and broken it, and we knew that we could fix it. So this was the perfect solution. Does it look perfect? No, but it does work, and really, that's what ugly sustainability is all about.
Half Used Toiletries
Half-used toiletries—products that I got from friends, family, or from the local secondhand store. You can't get these everywhere, but at some secondhand stores, they will sell half-used products or items that people no longer want for skincare, hair care, that kind of stuff. I tend to always buy these because I think, why not? It's something that somebody else doesn't want to use. Why not repurpose it and use it for myself? I know that some people think that this is a bit strange and potentially a bit ugly because the packaging isn't very nice or it doesn't exist anymore. But I think it's a great way of actually trying new things, seeing if you like them, and stopping it from being wasted before it's even used. I also get half-used products from friends and family, and I will also give that to my friends or family as well. Sometimes products don't work best for you. They don't work for your hair type or for your skin. You don't like the smell of them, but other people will. So why not gift it on or just give it on to somebody who will use it and like it? I don't think there's anything wrong with doing that when it's already been half-used. The alternative is just buying something completely new yourself, which of course you can do. But why not use something that's already on its way to being used rather than buying something totally fresh and unused?
Reusing Plastic Bags
Reusing plastic bags—packaging bags as bin bags. Plastic bags that have literally been created to go straight into landfill have always dumbfounded me. It's like you're taking something, extracting oil from the ground, doing loads of processes to it, creating this bag, filling it with a load of stuff, and then putting it back in the ground. It's such a bizarre concept to me, yet it's something that we do worldwide. So one way that you can be more sustainable with that is instead of using your standard black or even compostable bin bag, which is problematic in one sense because they won't break down in landfill, is to use something that already exists. Why not take a plastic bag that you've received in the post or you bought something new that was wrapped in plastic? Why not use that first? For example, when we moved to a new place, we had to get some new pillows, and they came in this big plastic bag. I used that as a bin bag instead because what else are you going to do with it? It's going to end up going into the waste anyway unless you live somewhere and you're lucky that has good plastic recycling. But instead of using a black bin bag, swap it for one that already exists, and then at least you're saving that one piece of plastic from going into landfill. And that will build up over time. Every small decision that we make can make a huge impact in the long run. With all of us making those decisions, it's not the most aesthetic thing having a random bag when you can normally see everything that's inside it. But then I don't think a black or a white bin bag is that pretty anyway. It's just a bin bag. So use what you have and make it the most sustainable as you can.
A pan or a bucket that you keep in the bathroom to collect water from the shower. Collectively, we waste so much water, and it's a commodity that we're going to need more and more as the climate crisis gets worse. So I try to do my very small bit and collect water as and where I can. One of the easiest ways of doing this is collecting water from the shower. You can use a pan or a bucket, pop it under the shower while you're waiting for the water to heat up or while you're actually showering. That way, you can collect all of that water and repurpose it. Personally, for any of the water that I create before I've gotten into the shower, that I can use for watering the plants indoor and outdoor. You can use it for all other kinds of things like washing your dishes if you really want to or flushing the toilet. That's another great way of using the water. If you've already got products in there for washing your hair or your body, and the water isn't clean anymore, that way, you can just flush it down the toilet, and you're flushing the toilet at the same time. It's a bit strange to think about the fact that we use clean water to flush the toilet anyway when it's something that's so precious. So if you can use water that is already dirty and you've used somewhere else, why not do that? Another way of keeping that water, if you don't have a bucket and you're showering in a bath, is to just stop the water from leaving the bath. And then you can use that anytime you want to flush the toilet or whatever it is that you want to use the water for.
Those are some of my non-aesthetic things and habits that I do in my everyday life. Use what you already own, whether that is pretty or whether it's ugly. There are many ways to be sustainable, but the best way to do it is by using what you already have. You don't need this picture-perfect sustainability, and I found that there's so much more character in these ugly or non-aesthetic belongings and practices. There's so much more that you can share with other people and tell the stories of why things are like this and how you've repaired things. There are so many skills to be learned in ugly sustainability, and who wants a perfectly matching pantry anyway? What non-aesthetic belongings do you have? Let's chat in the comments. In the description, you'll find links to my social media and my blog for more tips and tricks on living a sustainable lifestyle. Click subscribe for more realistic eco-lifestyle content. Until next time.