Simple Year 5: And so it begins…

Hello, Simple Year friends! I am beyond excited that my zero waste project was picked for Year 5, and I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with all of you.

My name is Trisha, and I live in a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, in Oregon. I’m a reporter – primarily a features writer – for our town’s one and only newspaper. I’m a big fan of coffee, cats, eBooks, minimalism, and my little family – more on them in a moment.


Um, I’m on top there, on the Columbia, near Mount Hood.

I’m not exactly the poster child for counter culture (I’m a bit too uptight for that), but I do tend to like things that are… different. I think that’s why zero waste appeals to me. It’s the exact opposite of what we’re supposed to be doing (which is consuming. A lot). I’m a big fan of the exact opposite. It’s not that I’m trying to be contrary or anything. It’s mostly that the exact opposite is a lot more interesting than the mainstream.

Now, about my project: I’ve been dabbling in zero waste for a couple of years, but I’ve been pretty lazy about it. Maybe not so much lazy as easily distracted and frustrated – in our neck of the woods, package-free items are sparse, and some of what is available has been vetoed by the family or is too expensive to really be an option.

But is it that my choices really are sparse, or is it that I’m not very observant? What is the definition of zero waste? What would happen if we buckled down and tried to live a true zero waste lifestyle?

So that’s what we’re going to find out: What is possible in a small town and with a family.

That family includes my husband, Eric, and our girls, Abby, 16, and Johanna, 11. (And our cat, Skilly. We can’t forget about him.) I was trying to think of the advantages vs. disadvantages we’ll be facing as we embark on this quest, and I think the advantage is that we’re already minimalists and environmentally minded, so the “why” of the project takes care of itself. The disadvantage … trying to get four individuals on the same page, I suppose, especially when one of them is a teenager. It’s one thing to know why you are doing something, but another to put it into practice.


The Walker Four: Eric, Abby, me and Johanna, on vacation last August.

Side note: When I admitted to Eric and the girls about what I’d signed us up for, their first reaction was excitement. And then I told them it wasn’t just me who was expected to participate. That kind of took the wind out of the girls’ sails, though Eric was undaunted.

Ah, well. What could happen?

Now, a couple of promises:

  • I am not here to preach. I am just here to share. (The successes and the failures.) Wherever you are in your zero waste journey – even if you’re not even on one – is cool with me.
  • I will post regularly. New posts will go up on Mondays and Fridays – and a few Wednesdays, too (especially these first few weeks as we get the ball rolling). I will be linking all posts on the Simple Year’s Facebook page, and expect to see some informal polls, questions and articles a couple of times a week over there, too.
  • I am interested in learning from other people’s experiences, whether you’re just flirting with the idea of zero waste or are a seasoned veteran. I welcome all comments, suggestions and questions. My hope is that this will be an interactive year and we’ll all learn a little something.

So that’s the State of the Union. Please take a moment to introduce yourself in the comments section. Are you practicing zero waste? Just hearing about it? What draws you to (or away from) the concept?

26 Responses to Simple Year 5: And so it begins…

  1. Hi Trisha – Congrats on your simple year win! Zero waste is a great theme. Hope to learn a lot from you! We get too many boxes from mail ordering. Some thing for me to think about.

  2. Welcome! I’m excited to follow you along this year! Every week our recycling pile is so high that it often tumbles over. I feel like I don’t even know how to start to get closer to zero waste, so I’m excited to see what I learn here this upcoming year I really look forward to how you handleYour kitchen. I’d like to learn how to survive without paper towels. I know that my grandmothers never had them when they were raising their families, it can’t be that hard.

    • Life without paper towels is one of those things I’ve tried to get the family on board with before and utterly failed. I’m adding this to my list of ideas! Thank you!

  3. I love this topic! I’ve been interested in zero waste for a number of years, too, and have also been pretty lazy about it. I’m really looking forward to hearing about your journey (and hopefully getting motivated to get more serious about mine, too!).

  4. Welcome! I’m excited to watch someone else go on this journey. I will echo what others have said about their recycling bins overflowing and paper towel usage. I’ve been trying to cut down for years, but the rest of the family doesn’t share my enthusiasm for doing without.

  5. I’m so excited you’re working on zero waste! I’ve been reducing waste for a long time, but I’m excited to see how you get over the hurdles that have been hanging me up (hello, liquids!). Good luck to you, and I look forward to seeing your journey. You’re not in Baker City by any chance? I love visiting there, and their farmer’s market and playground.

    • Oops, no, that’s a little TOO far east from us! Although Baker City is beautiful, and the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center there is wonderful. We’re actually in Hood River, which is about 45 minutes east of Portland.

    • Thank you so much, everyone! I really appreciate hearing from you and what your struggles with this have been, too. I’m adding your ideas and concerns to my notes! Things like paper towels, liquids, trash and the kitchen in general are all definitely things that have been speed bumps in my own journey thus far.

  6. Hey, this is great timing as I’ve just started to think about zero waste but got daunted and didn’t know where to start. We don’t have any big bin stores in the uk (well I think there’s one in London – half a country away) so I sort of looked into it and then went nowhere. We’re fairly decluttered and good at recycling/composting, so this is very much our next step – looking forward to being two steps behind you for the next year! (And I’ve been following since year one, and this is my first comment!).

  7. I’m looking forward to following your simple year and zero waste is a great project! I am working to cut down my food waste at the moment but I need to start looking at reducing waste elsewhere too.

  8. I’ll begin 12 weeks of decluttering challenges with Joshua Becker in May, very excited about it. What
    Led you to minimalism & did you try to limit the waste/avoid tossing items in the trash when/if you downsized your items? I love Troutdale, is that anything like your town? Oh and one more thing, just saw a video of a minimalist who takes empty latching jars to whole foods to have them filled with dry goods, but also deli meats, cheeses, raw chicken. I’m so curious how difficult it is to set this precedent with a non-hippy standard grocer. Can’t wait to see how you navigate this!
    Best Wishes for a fruitful year!
    Amy from

    • Hi Amy! Joshua Becker is actually who led me to the Simple Year when Kerry first started the blog. I like his approach, and I also like that he’s been able to downsize and simplify with a family because that’s like us!

      What led me to minimalism was just getting to a place where I was tired of looking at all that stuff. I had been an independent kitchen consultant for a couple of years, and had a kitchen overflowing with items (this seems very ironic to me now when I look back). We had two small kids and all the paraphernalia that comes with them. Eric’s grandparents were moving into assisted living and, in cleaning out their houses, my mother-in-law was constantly finding things “we needed.” (And how do you say no when it’s grandma’s?)

      But I didn’t see it as a “stuff” problem — I saw it as a cleaning and organizational problem. So I went online and started looking for solutions, and found the FlyLady’s website. That was the first time I’d ever heard the phrase “You can’t organize clutter.” That really hit a chord!

      I started with the kitchen (since that’s basically my domain) and it took three tries over the course of a year or two before I finally got it truly whittled down to just what we needed. I realized that I was holding on to the dream of what my kitchen items could do — like, I could make a torte because I have this pan and wouldn’t that be fun! — and not just accepting the fact that I don’t cook that way. Once I accepted THAT, it became easier to get rid of stuff, not just in the kitchen, but everywhere (i.e., am I holding on to this because of what it represents, or because of what it can do?).

      Most of the stuff we ended up shedding (I hadn’t really said much about what I was doing, but when Eric saw how awesome the kitchen looked, and how that spilled over into the living room, etc., he came on board and started going through his own items) were things we could donate. I listed some of the bigger items in the classified ads, let family and friends go through and pick stuff, and then the rest was donated to our church’s annual rummage sale. (I am not emotionally stable enough to handle throwing a garage sale.) So I didn’t have to worry about throwing things away. Although at that point, I was focused on minimalism, not zero waste. I didn’t know what zero waste was. That came later and is a different story. 🙂

      But I think having gone through all of that for the last five or so years has been helpful in getting me to where I am now. Zero waste seems like a natural extension of minimalism to me.

      Bet you didn’t think you were going to get a novel, did you? Sorry about that, I just really like words. And talking about minimalism. 🙂 I plan to talk about taking jars to the store, so we’ll get to that part of your question soon.

      And P.S., Troutdale is darling! We are way more touristy here, though, and our downtown area is larger.

      • Oh I am delighted by your long reply, the mo’ details the mo’ bettah! 🙂 I want to be able to ask for ground beef to be smooshed into my ball jar one day! How cool!

  9. Hi and welcome Trisha, this is a great topic and I am really looking forward to your posts. I admire Bea Johnson so much, she is the queen of zero waste (you probably already know of her) and she is a great inspiration as I am sure you will be. My rubbish bin is never overflowing because we have a recycling bin for paper and glass etc and then another recycling bin at the supermarket for recycling plastic packaging from biscuit or pasta packaging etc. But even with all this recycling it would be so much better to just cut all the rubbish and recycling down all together. I can’t wait to read your posts and about all your efforts in this direction!

    • Bea Johnson is truly an inspiration! And, like with Joshua Becker, I appreciate that she’s gotten to her pint jar of waste or whatever it is with a family. It gives me hope!

  10. Looking forward to read about your ideas and efforts! Food packaging from groceries and takeouts, paper towels and other paper products are our family’s biggest hurdles.

  11. Hi Trisha,
    Great first post! I am really looking forward to following your year. I had never heard about zero waste until I saw your proposal for the blog, but it’s an interesting concept. And I like it, and think it’s important. I hate throwing stuff out and when I worked on my own Simple Year project, it was really hard to throw things out- I got to a place where I was very happy to donate things but if something was not really in shape to be passed on, I felt very guilty throwing it out. I’m looking forward to learning from you!

  12. I’m into zero waste but live with my BF who isn’t as keen. So some things have worked well (refilling his shampoo from the bulk store; only having 100 hankies at home (to match the frequency of tissue usage); only glass Pyrex for leftovers). Some things I’m yet to go ‘full crunchy’ on – like making toothpaste. I no longer make washing powder, as I can buy cardboard boxes of it, and it saves the mess I make in my food processor. I look forward to reading all your posts!

  13. Hi Trisha, I’m excited to follow your posts as I have been considering zero waste for some time now, but it just seems impossible! So it will be interesting to see what ideas you have and I will try to keep up 🙂

  14. Pingback: Lessons learned | The Simple Year

  15. Pingback: What led me to minimalism was really just too much crap: An introduction – Minimally

Tell me, tell me...