Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

Zero Waste Home by Bea JohnsonI love Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

It is exactly the kind of smart, stylish, practical, frugal, minimalist, conservation home guide that I’ve been looking for.

But I didn’t know I was looking for it until I happened to run across a little blurb in Sunset magazine that said that Bea’s family of four only produces one quart of garbage per year.

That’s right.

One quart.

Can you believe it?

I had to find out more. Which led me to this slide show article on Sunset’s web site called “The zero-waste home.”

After looking at the inspiring slides and reading the article, I put Bea’s book on hold at the library. I checked out her blog and her top tips. When the book came through after a few weeks, I devoured it in a day. Then I read it again.

Zero Waste Home is chock-full of great tips and examples of how Bea and her family have been able to reduce waste, reduce consumption, save money and still live a fabulous and fun life. It is a book after my own heart.

I’m so inspired by this book that my next blog posts will detail how I’ve put Bea’s tips to work in my home and in my life. Stay tuned. In the meantime, check out the book!

NOTE: The book links on this page are affiliate links, so if you end up using any of them for your own online shopping, Super Frug will benefit (thank you!).

A Year’s Worth of Clothes for $110

ThriftStoreIt’s been a year since I started my No New Clothes Project of buying only used clothes (underwear, bras and socks excluded).

When I started this experiment, I wondered, could I really do it?
Would the temptation to buy new be too great?
Would it be frustrating sorting through used clothes?
Would I still look good wearing used clothes instead of new?
Those answers in just a minute . . . but first, here’s what I ended up buying.

All items except for #8 were bought at Goodwill. All prices include tax.

  1. PRANA denim shorts = $5.46
  2. GAP lined knee-length skirt = $6.56
  3. L.A. BLUES jeans = $1.41
  4. LEVI STRAUSS SIGNATURE jeans = $1.41
  5. NINE WEST jeans = $1.41
  6. DAVID KAHN jeans = $6.71
  7. THE LIMITED dressy slacks = $1.13
  8. LIZ CLAIBORNE sweatpants = $4.37
  9. CASLON t-shirt = $5.46
  10. BROOKS BROTHERS short-sleeve sweater top = $5.46
  11. PREVIEW short-sleeve cable sweater top = $1.41


All prices include tax.

  1. 6 pairs of HANES underwear, Target = $8.89
  2. 2 MAIDENFORM bras (buy one, get one half price), Fred Meyer = $60.23



I ended up spending less than $110 on all my clothes for the entire year!

Now, let me answer the questions I had at the beginning of this project.

Could I really do it?
Hell yeah, I did it!

Would the temptation to buy new be too great?
As the saying goes, “If you want to lose weight, don’t walk by the donut store.” To avoid temptation, I stayed out of clothing stores and avoided the clothing section of department stores. I shopped only at places that had great prices on used clothes, mainly the Goodwill and Value Village.

Would it be frustrating sorting through used clothes?
I went shopping knowing that I might not always find what I was looking for. That’s true whether you’re shopping for new stuff or used stuff. And as I wrote before about shopping for used clothes, I shopped when I knew what specific items I was looking for. That helped me to stay focused and not get frustrated.

Would I still look good wearing used clothes instead of new?
Yes! All of the clothes I bought were in really good or great condition.

In the end, the No New Clothes Project helped me learn something much more important than just saving money by buying used clothes over new ones. It helped me to break a die-hard habit of buying without thinking.

This year-long experiment was a real wake-up call for me.

Because of the conscious way I bought my clothes for a whole year, I now apply that conscious way of thinking and buying to everything else I need in my life. I feel a lot better about how I spend my money and what I spend it on. And I owe it all to this one little experiment.

Thrift store photo by sparklingdawg.

Traveling light: why I stopped carrying a purse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t carry a purse.

Before I get into why, here’s a little history. I’ve been carrying a purse, or some kind of bag, most days of the week, for 30 years. 

It started around age 10 when my schoolbooks became too heavy and numerous to carry in my arms. At that time in the 1980s, huge fabric tote bags emblazoned with Le Bag (remember those?) were very popular. I couldn’t afford one so I had to settle for a knock-off from Gemco or Kmart that was printed with many different sayings in French.

I think that’s when my bag-envy and love of big bags and purses began.

I’m now 41. And I’ve owned many purses and bags. I’ve also suffered from right shoulder and upper back pain for many years.

My massage therapist would tell me, try switching your purse from one shoulder to the other every once in a while. I tried. But the pain persisted.

Years ago, I considered not carrying a purse but the thought of not having my wallet, lipstick, lip gloss, mirror, Kleenex, water bottle, pad of paper, pen, hard candy, etc. close by at all times made me panic.

Then, one day, I got sick of carrying it all.

Maybe it was because I was tired of having to transport everything every time I changed purses. Maybe I was having a bad day. I can’t remember why. I just knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.

So, I stopped.

In the photo above, you can see what I now carry when I leave the house.

Loose change goes into one of my jean pockets. Cashiers love me because I almost always pay with exact change.

In one of my jacket pockets goes my zip-up wallet that holds my cash, credit and debit cards, driver’s license, bus card, library card, car and health insurance cards, and business cards. Also, tucked into my wallet is a plastic sleeve with an eyeglass shammy inside (in case you haven’t heard, it rains a lot in Seattle).

In my other jacket pocket I carry my keys and a Kleenex pack.

Usually I bring my phone in the same pocket as my keys, but not always. I know some of you are gasping right now. I don’t always travel with my phone and yes, life still goes on.

I haven’t carried a purse for five months.

Guess what? No more shoulder and upper back pain.

I still love purses. They are beautiful objects of craftsmanship. I usually carry one when I’m traveling (maps don’t fit well in my pockets), when I’m teaching (looks more professional to carry my handouts, business cards and dry-erase markers in my bag), or when going out to an upscale event (why doesn’t someone make a chic evening dress with pockets?), but I no longer carry a purse every day.

And I feel free.

How to buy used clothes

For most of my life, I didn’t know how to shop for clothes.

If I happened to buy something that looked good on me, it was total luck.

Then, when I was 35, I met the woman who I call my Fairy Godmother. Her name is Paula.

Paula also worked at the same university that I did and on the side, she was a fashion and wardrobe consultant.

Her company‘s name? Clothes Encounters. Cool, huh?

For $195, Paula spent four hours at my home, combing through my entire closet and educating me on what I needed to know to dress well. I learned more in those four hours than I did from a lifetime of reading fashion magazines and watching shows on TV.

I learned:
1) what kind of body type I have;
what style of clothes look good on me;
3) what my color season was; and
what colors are in my season.

Soon after going to “wardrobe school,” I hired Paula by the hour to take me shopping and show me how to put the principles she taught me to work. After two trips to Nordstrom’s and Macy’s, I became a pro at picking out my own clothes.

I learned so much during those shopping trips with Paula.

My top three ahas! were:
1) everything has to be tried on
2) there’s no such thing as standardized sizing for women
(you might wear small or a x-large–it just depends on the brands); and
3) shopping doesn’t end at the store
(when in doubt, take the item home and think about it; and if you don’t like it after one or two weeks, return it).

I started to notice the fringe benefits of dressing well.  You get better service in stores. You get more respect at the office. People start complimenting you (although they will usually ask if you lost weight or changed your hair style; they won’t realize it’s your new clothes and new color scheme). You might even get a promotion. Best of all,  you simply feel better.

So, when I started this new goal to buy no new clothes for one year, I wondered if I would be as successful finding used clothes as I had been buying new clothes. It’s a lot easier to walk into a beautifully organized clothing department than it is to rifle through racks and racks of mismatched clothing at a thrift store.

But I found out last week when I shopped at the Goodwill that all the principals I learned from Paula still apply for used clothes. It’s not harder–it just takes some forethought.

Here are 7 tips to help you buy great used clothes.

1) Determine your body type and color season.
If you don’t have access to a Fairy Godmother like Paula, it’s worth the time to read the two articles I’ve linked to above that will help you determine your body type and color season. Even just knowing  your color season will help you shop way more efficiently. You zoom in only on the colors that work for you and ignore all the rest.

2) Identify clothes in your closet that look really good on you.
Look closely at these items to figure out why they make you look good. What’s the shape or cut? What’s the color? What is the general shape and size? Look at the shape of the item, NOT the number “size” on the tag. Try to solidify these elements in your mind so that you can recognize future pieces of clothing that might look good on you.

3) Choose just one kind of item to look for.
To avoid overwhelm, look at your closet and figure out what you most need next. Then, just look for that item. For example, you might search only for skirts or only for shorts. NOTE that shopping for jeans usually takes longer. You might have to make a few trips to find the right jeans.

4) Try shopping at the end of the day.
I used to shop in the morning. I felt lighter, thinner and it felt good to get a jump on my day. But recently I shopped during my most bloated part of the month (ladies, you know what I’m talking about) and from 8-9pm, one hour before closing. I have to say, I was surprisingly pleased. If something I tried on fit, I would be really happy because I knew that it would fit me when I was bloated and when I was more normal. Gone are the days of mentally sorting the clothes in my closet for “skinny days” and “fat days.”

5) Shop during the last hour that the store is open.
This may not work for you, but I discovered recently when I went to the Goodwill one hour before it closed that I like having a limit on the amount of time I can shop. Even with only one hour to shop, I don’t rush myself. I tell myself: you will find what you will find and no worries if you find nothing.

6) Ignore the sizes on the tags.
If you look in my closet, you will find everything from Small to Extra-Large and from size 4 to size 12. There are no standardized sizes for women’s clothes. Men have standard sizes. Women don’t. It sucks. If you take the time to do Tip #2, you will get better at recognizing what basic “size” and shape works for you. Don’t be thrown off by the number size. If it even looks like it might fit, try it on.

7) Find a good tailor.
I remember when Paula and I went shopping for the first time and I was upset that a pair of pants were too long. She said, we’ll have them altered. Easy. I don’t know why I’ve avoided getting alternations most of my life. I guess I always thought it was too expensive. She said when clothes don’t fit quite right, women blame their bodies while men go see a tailor. So true! It’s worth the extra $10-$20 to alter an item to fit your body perfectly.

You have probably figured out that this post is really my way of paying homage to my Fairy Godmother Paula.

Clothes Encounters is closed now and Paula has moved on to other ventures, but I still think of her every time I go shopping and every time someone compliments me on my clothes. Thank you, Paula, for teaching me how to look good.

If I can do it, so can YOU.

Take these tips to heart and learn how to make yourself look great…the Super Frug way!

No New Clothes Project

I remember when I was a kid, my friends and I would go shopping. All day. And if we didn’t buy something fabulous at the mall, we’d come home disappointed.

I started shopping as a hobby around age 10 and didn’t stop until about age 39. I blame some of it on the ingrained primal need many of us have for hunting and gathering. I blame the rest of it on stupidity.

I really thought that if I bought the right thing, the right outfit, that my life would be better.

Now, I know it was all a lie. It was a lie perpetuated by corporations everywhere to keep all of us on the consumer carousel.

Many of us don’t like our jobs. We buy stuff in order to feel better. We do feel better, but only for a minute. Then we’re back to feeling unhappy. So we work, work, work to buy more stuff. It’s a vicious cycle.

This past year, I’ve been so into being Super Frug that almost every time I felt the urge to buy something, I’d ask myself, do you really need that? Are you going to be worse off if you don’t buy that? Can you get along without it?

Thus, in one year, I only spent $15 on new clothes. You heard that right. $15.

My pajama pants had worn out so much that I had to turn them into rags. They were even too worn to donate to the Goodwill. I had to spend $15 on a pair of flannel pajama bottoms printed with moons and stars.

I’m glad I did it, but I still can’t believe it.

I mean, I had nearly 30 years of expert shopping skills in my blood. It felt weird to break such a long-standing habit. But now that it’s been a whole year, I actually feel weird about buying new clothes.

Not that I don’t covet new clothes. Oh hell no. I see stuff all the time on the internet or in the Sunday ads that I want. Things that I know would look good on me. Things that I know would make me look fabulous. And yet, I can’t seem to do it.

Then I watched this TED talk by Jessi Arrington on “wearing nothing new.”

And it gave me an IDEA.

What if I didn’t buy any new clothes for the next year? Well, except for underwear, bras and socks. I draw the line there. What if I only bought used clothes, and cheap ones at that? Could I do it?

I don’t know. I like buying THINGS used (like our spice/coffee grinder we found for $2 at the Goodwill or our beloved $12 like-new bread machine from the Value Village), but I have to admit, I’ve never liked shopping for used clothes.

But the gloriously colorful Ms. Arrington has inspired me. I love her site, Lucky So and So, and all her bright, cheerful outfits!

I’m going to try it. One year of not buying any new clothes. And all the used clothes I buy have to be $20 or less, preferably much less. I have to say, the hunter-gatherer side of me is excited…and ready to go shopping.

ps. I would like to attribute this colorful clothing photo to the rightful photographer but cannot find him or her on Wikimedia Commons. If you know who the photographer is, please contact me.