Is zero waste overwhelming you? I get it, there are a lot of ideas on the zero waste lifestyle that can scare beginners away and make the shift from single-use plastic seem an impossible dream. Here is how to avoid the zero waste overwhelm, keep it realistic AND actually have some fun in the long term, without losing your mind.
One of the biggest reasons people find going zero waste challenging is because they try to do it all at once AND find they have more questions than answers in solving the waste problems.
If you're a bit of a perfectionist, or like to take on big challenges then starting a zero waste lifestyle can be frustrating in so many ways - Believe me, I know, because that's me!
BUT your approach is what makes the difference between enjoying it or being completely stressed out.
Lets start with the basic question of What is overwhelm?
By definition, it conjures up terms like huge, massive, immense, overpowering, compelling, irresistible.
The word is used for both positive and negative effects BUT when a friend says they are overwhelmed, you just know they are feeling completely stressed out, perhaps anxious and feeling like they can't make progress or figure out the next step to take.
YES - this happens with any big changes we might try to make in our lifestyle BUT it doesn't need to be that way. So take a step back and read on to find out ways to avoid this happening.
Have Realistic Expectations on Zero Waste Living
Have you set a goal to keep your trash in a jar for the next year? or perhaps to buy absolutely no plastic ever again? There are so many zero waste goals that are incredibly noble BUT almost impossible to achieve that put way to much pressure on yourself.
Setting unrealistic expectations and huge goals can seriously drain your motivation and energy.
Doing one thing differently, that you can do regularly and consistently is a far better than than creating an unachievable situation (and then giving up).
If you want to quit plastic, why not start with banning one or two plastic items from your life?
For example, give up straws, gladwrap or takeaway containers. The thing NOT to do is try to do them all at once. Set yourself up for success and pick simple steps that you can achieve most of the time.
So give up the expectation that you go 100% zero waste immediately and
You can expect things not to work, to get unintentional trash and forget to bring reusables from time to time.
Be Imperfect, You're Still Awesome
You ARE going to forget you gave up straws, your keep cup, your kid is going to get given a balloon and you might need to buy a brand new item that comes encased in polystyrene.
Realise this is all completely normal and no one is perfect all the time (and as for those perfect looking trash jars - well, i have trouble believing they are completely accurate).
Avoid the loop of always thinking that what you're doing isn't good enough.
You don't need that - extra pressure and perfectionism can REALLY take the fun out of anything.
Instead, celebrate the small wins, and look for day to day actions you have taken that are making a difference.
You might not have done it all perfectly, but you're doing it!
Set Boundaries and limits To How Zero Waste You Go
Zero waste is a huge topic and there are so many different things you can quit to reduce trash. It's easy to go from thinking about your household rubbish and then shift quickly to workplace trash, global trash, and how wasteful so many things are in modern society.
Sorry, you can't solve the entire world's trash crisis on your own, and nor should you, so don't be an eco-worrier. I do have a tendency to take my passions very seriously but I also set limits on how far I'll go so I don't have a nervous breakdown in the process.
Set some clear boundaries for yourself and your family around Zero Waste to keep life livable.
Yes, I am going to keep driving a car, I will occasionally need to buy brand new shoes and no, I can't divert every single item that enters my life from heading to landfill. Even though it is better for the environment and causes less waste, I choose not to live a totally plant based diet, to give up chocolate, coffee, toilet paper and bandaids.
(Are you shocked? Probably Not)
If I need medical care, I am not going to let my self be overly bothered by the waste that causes. I will however try to avoid plastic bags at every opportunity.
Only you can decide what is the most important and those things you don't think are worth sacrificing.
If shampoo bars don't work then there is no shame is using bottled shampoo AND if some keyboard hero in an online forum is judging you - remember it really is none of their business.
Give Yourself a Day Off From Zero Waste
Seriously, you can give yourself a day, a week or a month off if you're feeling overwhelmed trying to be zero waste.
Sometimes I do this for an event, especially when it comes to the kids. So if we are going to a party or an event where it is ridiculously challenging to be zero waste or plastic free, I tell my daughter we are having a day off from saving the planet.
I don't want her to feel bad or worry unnecessarily about enjoying usual kids things or deny her the fun of participating in things we might normally avoid. It doesn't mean we create as much trash as we can or litter the beaches, but we accept the situation, have fun and take the stress away from waste. We tend to still be far lower waste in these situations than before we began our attempts at being zero anyway.
Taking time off from a zero waste focus can show you how far you have come in your journey and combat overwhelm by getting a fresh perspective.
Choose to Take the Easy (Zero Waste) Way
Yep, you sure can make butter at home, bake all your own bread and cook from scratch while you feed your chickens, grow all your veggies, weave clothing and never step foot in a supermarket again.
There are so many difficult, time-consuming, high effort activities you can opt to do if you like, BUT there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking easy options.
Most people simply don't have time to do all the things. In fact, I don't know anyone who has the time for all that!
So get bread at the local bakery (in your own bag if you can), eat store bought butter, shop for fruit and vegetables at the market when you can, and maybe try growing one thing at home IF you have the time and inclination.
It's your rules and there are plenty of easy ways to get closer to zero waste without devoting all of your spare time and energy.
Too Many Zero Waste Options!
Having too many options can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed or getting decision fatigue.
You don't need to learn ALL the options, read ALL the books, take ALL the advice.
Our daily lives are filled with so many decision points, it can be really draining at the end of the day.
Just think how many options there are for just about any zero waste change you are trying to make? I won't get into a big list, BUT the whole point is, you don't need all of them - all you need is ONE thing that works for you.
If you try something and it doesn't work out, then go ahead and seek different options, but don't investigate every single choice, especially if you already have a solution that works just fine.
Most situations only require one (or possibly two) ways of dealing with it and the rest is irrelevant. Everyone will have different preferences and their own way of doing things so dance to the beat of your own drum.
Treat Zero Waste like a Pick N Mix
How much fun is it to choose ONLY the things you like from a selection of stuff.
Do you love or hate sewing, baking, gardening, DIY beauty, green cleaning?
There may be a whole area of zero waste living that you find truly rewarding and satisfying when it comes to cutting waste, or maybe just have a preference for specific individual activities.
Maybe you like making bath bombs, baking cake, shopping for organic veg, picking up trash at the beach, frequenting sustainable cafes.....the list goes on.
The whole point is you CAN just pick the good stuff!
There are things I don't like doing, so generally, I channel my energy into things that are fun or interesting and they don't feel like work to me. (There are also things I'm really very bad at doing and I'm not ashamed to admit I avoid them!)
If you're feeling the pressure to take on tasks you absolutely hate, or can't even do, then rethink it and change it. There really are no set rules for a zero waste journey.
So, head for the chocolate coated macadamias, you don't have to pick the licorice cats!
Focus on the Good Stuff
Seriously, don't dwell too much on things that didn't go well. If you're trying to go zero waste then I bet you are making fabulous steps towards cutting the trash.
Just like a gratitude journal where you might write down 3 things that you're grateful for each day - Make a mental note of a few things that you did really well (even tiny actions!). This helps to remember the positive things we do each day and shifts the focus from being self critical.
If you've been following the blog you'll know I'm a passionate about zero waste but I do try to keep it realistic and I don't have a trash jar, just a regular wheelie bin.
I also don't mind sharing my mistakes or crazy ideas and I really don't judge people on their trash or give them lectures and force my beliefs onto people. I do care about making a difference but not at the expense of my sanity, friendships and family.
If I can make a tiny choice to have less waste, then that is great. When I make a mistake, I just think - next time, I'll do that differently.
So keep it fun, rewarding and positive and if zero waste is overwhelming you, take a step back and reevaluate what is you want to achieve and how you want to do it.
There are NO Rules in Zero Waste.
(If you have heard the Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Repurpose, Repair, Rot mantra - it is a guide, you wont be kicked out of the zero waste club for not religiously following it)
Here are some NON overwhelming posts you might want to read next:
Zero Waste Challenge (that won't drive you crazy)
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Good luck on your journey, and if you are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or just want to vent, go ahead and comment below.
What do you love & hate about zero waste?