50 Things To Never Buy

50 Things You Never Have to Buy

A few months ago, I posted 10 items we no longer buy and have had a resounding response. Well, they were actually 20 items, since the original list of 10 came from Suburban Pioneers. I’ve decided to up the ante and compile a list of 50 items you could cross off your shopping list. I’ll start at 50 and work my way down to the first 10 listed by Suburban Pioneers.

Here goes:

50) Bottled Water: Let’s just not ever buy bottled water unless we absolutely have to. Ok? With a little forethought, there’s no need to buy water packaged in plastic.

Bottled Water for Sale

49) Air:  Who buys air? Apparently the air is so bad in Beijing, the Chinese do.

48) Note paper: Notes can be written down on any scrap paper. We write notes on the backside of letters with only one side printed, that come in the mail: envelopes, anything with room for a few paragraphs, a list, or some doodles.

47) Wrapping Paper: There are so many wonderful alternatives to wrapping paper, including cloth, paper bags, your children’s artwork, and chip bags. We have a stash of reusable cloth bags that I make each year to use as gift bags. We save wrapping paper, too, and reuse it and reuse it and…

Chip Bag Gift Bag

Chip bag turned gift bag.

46) Fly Paper: We’ve started making our own sweet fly paper and it works most of the time..

Hanging out to dry. Photo © Liesl Clark

45) Pot Scrubbers: Crumpled up aluminum foil works. Really. Don’t laugh. It totally works.

44) Planters: Almost anything can be converted into a planter — you just have to use your imagination. If it can hold anything, it can be a planter. I’ve seen bras and toilets as planters, bike helmets, and baby shoes. Here are 5 planters that I photographed while in Nepal.

43) Trellises: As above, trellises are a garden feature that can include whimsical reuse. Here are 25 beautiful trellises you can make from your trash.

42) Chicken Bedding: We use cut grass, dried leaves, roadside grass and — our favorite — shredded paper.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

41) Yogurt Maker: Skip the yogurt maker and make your own in glass jars. It’s easy.


Off-The-Grid Yogurt Over The Pilot Light ©Liesl Clark

40) Window Washing Liquid: Vinegar and water works perfectly, along with newspaper instead of microfiber rags or paper towels.

No-Smudge Newspaper Method. Photo © Liesl Clark

39) Laundry Detergent: Try this DIY recipe and save some money.

38) Dish soap: Here’s a DIY Dish Soap recipe that’ll surprise you.

37) Salad Dressings: Remember simple balsamic and olive oil dressings? Just make your own delicious dressings in a jar. They get better with age and will give you no excuse for not eating your greens. Try our favorite recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Adding Vinegar to Taste is Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

36) Fire Starters: These are so easy to make and they make excellent gifts.

35) Balloons: If you visit Balloons Blow on the Web, you’ll understand why you never want to buy them again. And as an alternative, try a pretty no-sew bunting.

34) Saran Wrap: We never use plastic food wrap any more, now that there’s the ultimate reusable alternative.

33) Gift Tags: We’ve been known, come Christmas, to repurpose last year’s cards as gift tags. You can do the same with all the pretty cards you receive throughout the year — turn them into tags to add to your gifts.

32) Padded Envelopes: We receive so many of these throughout the year, and reuse them of course, that we even give away in our local Buy Nothing group a box or 2 to other local businesses that can reuse them.

Don't Buy New! Reuse Your Padded Envelopes.

31) Christmas Ornaments: Ornaments are one of the sweetest items to make, as they’re treasured year after year. It’s a family tradition.

Click Through For Trash Backwards Trash to Treasure Ornament Roundup in our app!

30) All-Purpose Cleaner: Orange peels and vinegar will style you with an all-purpose cleaner you’ll love.

DIY All-Purpose Household Cleaner

29) Fruit Vinegar: Fruit scrap vinegar is one of the DIY recipes that’s really changed my buying habits. I make a better apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and blackberry vinegar than I can buy in the store.

Vinegars Photo © Liesl Clark

28) Potatoes, Arugula: If you’re a gardener, you’ll understand this. When you inadvertently leave a potato or two in your garden, you end up with more next year. Same goes for arugula which always goes to seed in our garden. We never have to replant it. So we simply don’t buy it.

27) Garlic Crusher: In a pinch, use a wide knife to whack at your garlic cloves. Or, go caveman-style as I do and find a great stone for crushing.

Garlic Crushing Pestle.jpg Photo © Liesl Clark

26) Furniture/Floor protectors: So many items can be used to protect your floors from the scratching legs of your furniture. Flip flops are one among many.

25) Silica Gel: We get a lot of silica gel through products that are sent to my husband for his work and then give it away. Silica gel has so many uses! If you need it, just ask on your Buy Nothing group and you’ll likely find plenty.

Silica Gel, Photo by Liesl Clark

24) Beach Toys: So many beach toys are washed up on our beaches, obviously left behind by others, I’d love to see people simply stop buying them. There are great alternatives to buying these redundant plastic items.

Metal beach toys from the thrift shop, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

23) String: We rarely buy string anymore, because we aren’t ashamed to say we salvage it from all sorts of items, like our chicken feed sacks.

22) Doorstops: Get creative with your doorstops and you’ll find joy in refraining to buy one.

Boot Doorstop © Rebecca Rockefeller

21) Easter Egg Dye: We discovered a great reuse for an Easter egg dye that we’ll definitely use again — magic markers! Whether they’re used up or not, soaking them in water for a while doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Use your dried up Non-Toxic Markers for Easter Egg Dye

20) Paper towels: Um, use cloth ones.

A few good rags in a basket = alternative to paper towels. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Hair ties: Look in every parking lot and on any sidewalk and you’re bound to find a hair tie or 2. I mean it, they’re everywhere. I find them on trails in the woods, too.

Hair Ties and Hair Clips Recovered From the Parking Lots and Sidewalks of the World. Just wash them. Photo © LIesl Clark

18) Pens: As above, look in every parking lot and on the side walks. Pens are everywhere.

Pens Recovered on Puget Sound Beaches

17) Ribbons: Simply look on every shoreline and ribbon can be found there.

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

16) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or bubble wrap:  (Just ask for it on your Buy Nothing group.)

15) Ziploc bags: Wash them.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

14) Plastic children’s toys: Just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3.

13) Books: Of course, I do support buying books from your favorite author, but for many of the books you’ll need throughout the year, use your library!

12) Plastic straws: Plastic straws are a scourge upon the land and water. Use your lips, or find a glass, bamboo, or metal alternative.

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

11) Cigarette Lighters: Plastic cigarette lighters replace matches way too often. We still collect cool looking matchbooks from bars and restaurants.

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

(For these last 10, be sure to visit Suburban Pioneers for their full post)

10) Post-Its

9) Plastic Funnels

8) Microwavable Neck Pillow

7) Pet Fur Remover (Brush or Stone)

6) Travel Toiletry Containers

5) Rubber Bands

4) Reusable Grocery Bags

3) Pet Poo Bags

2) Cleaning Rags

1) Plastic Leftovers Containers

What can you add to our list?  Enjoy your frugal living!

Zero Waste Vacuum Cleaning

By Liesl Clark

Using a vacuum cleaner in a (trying to get close to) zero waste home can be challenging, if you don’t have a bagless vacuum. Here’s what I’ve discovered over the years about reducing vacuum cleaning waste from my household:

Skip the Vacuum Cleaner Altogether? Now wait! Don’t stop reading because you think I’ve gone too far here. I can attest to the fact that in places where vacuum cleaners don’t exist, brooms can definitely do the trick! You just need a really great stiff broom for picking up the dirt. And, there’s no method better than taking your carpet outside and shaking it or beating it with a broom. If you have wall-to-wall carpet, I guess you’re out of luck, but a good stiff broom can do wonders.

I’ve had a few house cleaners help me in my day, and I’m always amazed to see how many of them choose to use the vacuum cleaner without first sweeping up the wooden floor. Broom and dustpan are the fastest route to frugal and zero waste floor-cleaning. I even have a cool collection of brooms I’ve gathered from all over the planet. In my travels to homes far from the conveniences of electricity and vacuums, I’ve witnessed the cleaning of rugs and carpets the old-fashioned-and-often-much-cleaner-way. Soft brooms sweep the often dirt floors, and stiff brooms are used to sweep the carpets. I’m amazed at how efficient they are so we use a broom on our carpets much of the time.

My Favorite Broom, Natural & Sustainable, Great for Wood Floors, Photo © Liesl Clark

Outside, we have a game of trying to shake a carpet with a partner on the other end and see who gets shaken-off first.

Empty the Bag! We used to have a vacuum we loved, but it came with bags that fill up and must be thrown out….or do they? After accumulating a few full bags, tossing ’em, and buying more (they’re expensive!) I discovered it was almost as easy to empty them into our brush pile outside and reuse them! We’d reuse our bags at least 30 times. Emptying the vacuum cleaner bags is an opportunity my children fight over. It’s fun. Really. Especially when we find a long-lost (and favorite) plastic baby goat in there. Those little baubles that get sucked up by the vacuum are given a second life.

See How Fun It Is? Photo © Liesl Clark

Now, a very ecologically-sound friend of mine says, “No, No! don’t empty those vacuum-cleaner bags because the dust and dirt in your home is toxic from the detritus that comes from your asbestos-bearing furniture or PVC and BPA-laden rugs.” I do respect her point, but I have to argue that our own dirt off our shoes is likely from the garden, our furniture is almost all made of natural materials, our home is recycled old timbers, and our carpets are antique natural-fiber carpets from Tibet and Egypt that we’ve bought from people we know, colored with vegetable dyes. I think we’re pretty safe. But this is not to say that everyone is safe to dump out their vacuumed dust into the environment. But aren’t our landfills part of our environment?

My Full Vacuum Cleaner Bag, Photo © Liesl Clark

I often empty our vacuum cleaner dust into our compost bin, except we find myriad little plastic bits from art projects that I try to take out by hand and throw back into the art bin (truly.) If you think your home and furniture (including mattresses) are mostly plastic-free, the dump-out-your-vacuum-bag-contents method of frugal vacuuming might be for you.

Dusting the Compost & Pulling the Plastic Out Later, Photo © Liesl Clark

Otherwise, there are bagless vacuums on the market these days. We’ve just acquired one, so our days of bag saving are over and we just dump our floor dust right into the compost. These days, it’s mostly dog and cat hair. I’d love to hear what you do with the dust and dirt from your home?

Fun with vacuum cleaner bags, Photo © Liesl Clark

Please note: If you have allergies or a particular sensitivity to dust, wearing a handkerchief or just mask around your mouth and nose is advised. Another friend empties her vacuum particulates into a plastic bag first, and then dumps it into her compost, to prevent the dust particles from escaping into the air. Shaking  out your vacuum cleaner bag is fun, especially when you know you’re defying the marketing department of your vacuum cleaner company. And, hey, you might find your lost wedding ring or favorite bauble for the effort.


Fun Emptying Vacuum Cleaner Bags, Photo © Liesl Clark

The 1 Minute Declutter Trick

Happy Playing Kids + Dog = Clutter. Photo © Liesl Clark

Happy Playing Kids + Dog = Clutter. Photo © Liesl Clark

According to The Story of Stuff, we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago. An independent study in the UK revealed the average 10 year old owns 238 toys, but only plays with 12. We’re drowning in our stuff.

Is the clutter and chaos in your house getting you down? Have an unexpected visitor arriving in 1-minute? Here’s a quick fix that’ll solve your clutter calamaties:

A box.

Have clutter troubles? Think inside the box. Photo © Liesl Clark

When I’m overwhelmed by accumulated surface clutter atop counters and other furnishings in our house, I find the nearest empty box and quickly fill it with the items covering my table tops and horizontal surfaces. Even the children’s floordrobes get the box treatment. The items in question have been sitting there, I oft realize, because there’s just no obvious place to put them. A box is as likely a place as any.

The clutter box. Photo © Liesl Clark

And where does the box go? In our storage room (husband’s gear room, our workbench, and small storage space for things in transition) for a few weeks to see if anyone missed any of the items in said box. If the items disappear without notice or family grumblings, GIVE THEM AWAY.

Don’t ask yourself whether the items bring you joy.

Think of the joy you felt when they were off your counters, no longer between you and the front door. No, get rid of them quickly, but thoughtfully, without throwing them away. Feel the joy in giving them to another loving person before you change your mind and bring them back into your house to start the colossal closed-loop clutter cycle all over again.

This clutter-free surface is brought to you by "the clutter box." Photo © Liesl Clark

And you can thank me in the comments below.