Ideealistin ~ An interview with Bea Johnson

Hi Readers, today I am featuring the first of two interviews that were very generously offered to me by Ideealistin, one of our regular readers and commenters here at 365 Less Things. When she isn’t decluttering or reading my blog Ideealistin is a journalist and recently she conducted these two short email interview that she thought would be a nice fit with my blog. I was granted permission to publish these by the two interviewees today’s being with Bee Johnson of  The Zero Waste Home and the second interview with Dave Bruno from The 100 Things Challenge is scheduled for Thursday.

Without further adieu here is the interview with Bea Johnson:-

Ideealistin: Bea, voluntarily giving up things seems to become a serious lifestyle choice and it seems to have its’ origin in the super consumer culture of the USA. Do you sense the wish for less in your everyday life and neighbourhood? Or do you think we are more at a stage of talking about the concept and liking it rather than executing the “less”?

Bea Johnson:  I think it’s a combination of the two. People are interested in living with less but they do not quite know how to change their accumulation habits. I think the American culture makes it too easy to accumulate. We are pounded with ads, are handed out freebies everywhere we go, and it is often easier to buy things then not buy them, (i.e, repair them or rent them). Which is why I have added the Refuse to our set of Zero Waste rules. We have been able to achieve very low waste by Refusing what we do not need (junk mail, freebies, plastic bags), but also by Reducing what we do need, Reusing by using and shopping with reusables, Recycling what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse and Composting the rest.

Ideealistin:  Your change came about with downsizing house. Did looking at the way you were living make you want to downsize or did downsizing trigger the purging and rethinking?

Bea Johnson:  It is downsizing that triggered our rethinking.

Several years ago, we moved from a large home located in a bedroom community (where the car was our main mode of transportation) to a home half the size in an active downtown. We wanted to be able to walk or ride everywhere (school, stores, coffee shop, movies, theatre). But before finding the small house, we rented a small apartment for a year, with only a few necessities. We stored the rest. We immediately found out the benefits of living with less, We had more time to do the things that are important to us, such as spending time with family and friends, and explore/enjoy the outdoors. Once we moved in the small house, we let go of 80% of our belongings. It is with more time, that we also started educating ourselves on environmental issues, and decided to do something about it for the sake of our kids future. In the midst of the recession, my husband quit his job to start a sustainability consulting company, I tackled the house and our lifestyle.

Ideealistin:  You gave up on something, nobody really wants in the first place: waste. Were you expecting the harsh criticism that people confronted you with for giving up something that would end in the trash five minutes later anyway?

Bea Johnson:  I am not surprised by the criticism and expected it when going into it. I thought long about it before starting my blog. I live in a very consumerist society. Our story makes people reflect on their own shopping habits and sometimes shatters their way of thinking, But we’re not telling anyone how to live their lives, we’re just sharing how we live ours.

Ideealistin:  You did not really have a guide into your lifestyle changes. Would you have wanted one? How did you keep yourself motivated and assured of being on the right track? How do you feel about more and more growing into the role of a sort of guide yourself for others?

Bea Johnson: Had I had a guide, I would have reached our current waste level, much faster. Not having one though, allowed me to test some extremes and find my level of comfort without compromising our trash level. It helped me evaluate and stick to changes that are sustainable, i.e. applicable to the long term. We do not consider Zero Waste as a short term project, but rather a lifestyle. All along, my motivation was, is and will be, the future of my kids.

Ideealistin:  Relinquish waste also meant to give up certain things or find alternatives. Today you say you like your new way of life and the alternatives better – but how did giving up feel on the way? Did you have cravings, hard times, thoughts of giving up?

Bea Johnson: With any change, naturally comes adaptation. Washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar for 6 months, made me feel like someone else – or something else, like salad dressing ;). I realized that I had gone too far by “giving up” hair luster that comes with shampooing. I now use shampoo sold in bulk (I refill my bottle at the store). Today, I do not feel that I am “giving up” anything, as we have found a balance and have Zero Waste on auto-pilot. After all, this lifestyle has not only made our family happier, healthier, and more organized, but it has also saved us money and more importantly time! With that in mind and contrary to popular belief, I think this lifestyle gives back more than it takes away.

Ideealistin:  When talking (and blogging) about your choices you’ll always get other opinions, some thinking you go too far, others thinking you do too little. How did (or do, if this is still something you think about today) you manage to find the right balance?

Bea Johnson: My balance is based on finding out what worked for me and my family, and ignoring other people’s opinions. If we worried about other people’s opinions, we would have never evolved. I think worrying about people’s opinions is what keeps many people from changing, it puts them into an action paralysis. I truly believe and live by these Gandhi words: “Be the change you want the world to be.”

Ideealistin:  Many people seem to see zero waste and „less is more” not as an option because they feel their spontaneity (or even their creativity) endangered by not being able to buy things on the go (whether be it coffee or shoes they like and that maybe are on sale). Do you feel or ever felt too unspontaneous?

Bea Johnson: Spontaneity can manifest itself in many different ways. One does not have to be an ardent consumer in order to be spontaneous. It is actually with the time that we have gained from living with less that we have gained spontaneity (less time to care for things, means more time to care for people). It might not be through consuming an unneeded pair of shoes (thoughtless purchase), but rather through getting together with friends: sharing an impromptu glass of wine, or going for coffee (the coffee shops serve in reusable ceramic cups), or packing a last minute picnic … This lifestyle puts more emphasis on human interaction than it does on stuff, of course.

***End Of Interview***

I think you will agree with me that Ideealistin asked some very pertinent questions here and was given some very thoughtful and candid responses by Bea. I for one had a lot of the questions answered that I had been wondering about Bea and how the metamorphose of her and her families lifetstyle took place.

Thank you so much to Ideealistin and of course to Bea Johnson for the opportunity to release this interview here at 365 Less things.

Today’s Declutter Item

There will be a lot more Snoopy stuff passing through the Declutter Item of the Day before the end of the year. There are some to donate and some to try to sell on ebay. So expect to see a lot more of it.

Snoopy Toys

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Today I would like to say how grateful I am to you all, my wonderful readers for joining me on my declutter journey and in some cases sticking with me for a very long time now. Every new reader is a blessing and any faithful reader who has stuck with me through thick and thin are considered a friend. It is great that some of you add your voices to my post through your comments. Those comments make this blog a more rounded experience for all readers as well as for me. New and differing opinions is how we learn in life and I am always grateful for the opportunity to learn. So thank you everyone, new, faithful, talkative or silent, I know you are out there listening and I am grateful for that.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow


Continue reading with these posts:

  • Day 86 Recycle & Reshuffle While looking in the linen closet to determine whether there were any old towels I could throw away my attention was drawn to some rolls of gift wrap and a box of gift bags. Which got me […]
  • Disposing of this weeks mission yields In a post a couple of weeks ago that asked a range of question about your clutter issues and my blog. One of the readers asked for more information on how to get rid of the clutter that […]
  • Day 245 Garbage & recycling Even though my blog is primarily about decluttering there is a very strong element of doing the right thing by the environment. I have a lot to learn in this area but I would like to think […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.

Comments

  1. I think it is a very interesting interview to read. One thing that did came into my mind was the shampoo. Lush sells almost everything solid (shampoo, bodylotion and even toothpaste). It is great for traveling but also for everyday use. The only wrapping Lush uses is paper, and you can choose not to have it wrapped.

    • Nurchamiel…what is the web site for LUSH? Maybe I’m having trouble finding it (American living in Europe), but I kept getting redirected to another web site…can you help me? I’m interested in those solid bodycare products…

      • My daughters love Lush. It’s a treat for them to go to the store when we visit my cousin in Chicago.

  2. Thanks everyone for the interesting interview. I’m going to check into that refillable shampoo and also check out Bea’s blog.

  3. I found Bea’s blog recently—and I think it might have been from a link you had posted, Colleen–and it is certainly inspirational.

    When I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I read all the way through Bea’s archives to the beginning.

    I absolutely agree with Bea’s “refuse” point. If you can stop something from coming into your home in the first place, you don’t have to worry about figuring out what to do with it later.

    Here’s a funny thing that stuck in my mind after reading Bea’s blog: after learning about all the different things she does to get to zero waste, what sticks most in my mind is how she brings her own jar to the meat counter, and has the butcher put her selection into it.

    Thank you for sharing this interview on your blog.

  4. Great interview; I was wondering some of these very things too.

  5. Hi! Great interview! I went over her blog and read a few of her ideas. I think they are very useful and can be applied, but it takes a lot of effort at first. My first thought was about plastic containers to buy meat. How to reduce the waste of wraps for food? I don’t know where to start, but one thing I know, sometimes we do wasteful stuff just because everybody else does it…I am one of those, sadly.

    • Andreia – just keep remembering Colleen’s amazing advice, ONE DAY AT A TIME! Start small, or take it all on at once, but keep it at your own speed. Colleen’s advice has kept my sanity in check!

  6. Today’s interview/blog makes me truly happy!!! WHY? To see so many folks so willing to SHARE their ideas and interests to make this world a better place!

    It is so wonderful that Colleen and Bea (and so many other folks, too) have opened their lives to the blog world to guide the rest of us along! These blog sites have helped me be a REALLY BAD CONSUMER (Hee hee hee), in other words, STOP SHOPPING/BUYING ‘crap’, and buying more food products in their most original form as feasible (with as little packaging as possible!) AND really truly THINKING before I buy anything. PERIOD. It IS a moment to moment and day to day LIFESTYLE choice. There ARE adjustments and not so perfekt days along the way! Sometimes I take two steps forward and one step back. Then Colleen pops an amazing blog on and my attitude is back up to par to keep going. Sometimes I wonder how I can do something in my daily life to stop making so much trash (like what else can I use besides dental floss to floss my teeth???). Ahh, then Bea’s blog has a suggestion…

    Oya, so lucky to have access to this Internet blog stuff! 🙂

    • Great enthusiasm Annabelle. I didn’t get to Bea’s blog yet. What IS she using besides floss??? I imagine you can buy with with less packaging if you shop at a eco-oriented store, but something else entirely? A piece of paper comes to my mind, but OUCH, imagine the paper cuts, and it would get soggy and limp fast.

  7. Its’ isn’t a word. its is the possessive form; it’s is the contraction, indicating that the original is “it is” Interesting interview.

    • Excellent catch! However, might be more beneficial to point out that ‘oops’ to the original writer (Ideealistin).

  8. Ideealistin :

    Hi Jude,
    please enlighten me further. „… it seems to have its’ origin in the super consumer culture of the USA.“ it’s the possessive form, or isn’t it? I wouldn’t mind being corrected.
    It must be hard at times for native speakers to endure all this slightly (or sometimes not so slightly) incorrect English all over the web. I don’t like mistakes myself. But please keep in mind that it maybe is even harder to express your thoughts in a language that isn’t yours.

    • Hi Idealistin,
      Words are my craft, so if you don’t “mind being corrected”, here goes:-
      “Its” is the possessive form, like “his” or “hers”.
      “It’s” is short for “it is”.
      Does that help at all? I hope I’ve made it clearer.
      I did enjoy the interview.

  9. Ideealistin :

    Hi Annabelle,

    was it Germany where you lived? Under http://www.lush-shop.de/shops_24.html you can find where they have stores (there are quite a couple across the country). Online shopping is possible, too. Site seems to exist only in German though. Personally I have not tried any of their products yet but once I am through with my shampoo I might give it a try. Does anyone have experience with the shampoo and with the deo they offer? (I think for regular soap there are enough cheaper options around where I live, also without packaging, but the shampoo and deo are quite unique)

  10. Wonderful interview! Thanks Ideealistin and Colleen. I’ve been reading Bea’s blog for a while now, and it’s taken me to the next level with my decluttering. I don’t think my family will ever be “Waste free” (my husband has a particular attachment to plastic bags, urgh!) but little by little I’m making changes to my life, and the children can see from my example.