Get rid of your trash can.
Confronting loose garbage is the fastest way to stop making it. When waste is hidden away in a bin, it stops being a problem- it doesn't smell bad or look bad or assault your senses in any unpleasant way. Removing the palliative creates a foul motivator to change.
Repair or reuse instead of buying new.
I'm no Chinese kid from Goonies, but it's nice to mend clothing, fix old things, or upcycle where possible. The boxes our wine and drinking glasses came in are now a shoe rack and sock organizer, respectively. We saved pretty jars from Papa Sapiens and boco to grow our Weck collection organically. I fixed a Keurig with a paper clip once, but can't elaborate because the owner doesn't know I broke it. Instead of buying a new vacuum cleaner, why not see if it can be repaired? Instead of getting new boots, why not take the old ones to a cobbler?
Make your own.
If you live in Paris, making stuff saves time. Before people start arguing with me, Carrefour is two minutes away, yet takes me 45 minutes to get just one pack of toilet paper vs. the ten minutes it takes to whip up household products at home. It's faster to reach for pantry ingredients than drive to the grocery store, sit in traffic, wait in line, come back, fiddle with packaging, throw it in the garbage, take out the garbage, etc.
Green your beauty routine.
In a country where generic nail polish costs $18, cornstarch and bulk kohl are the wallet-friendly choice. Simplify by switching to a multipurpose soap and limiting styling appliances. To save time, I don't mess with balms, lotions, or trial and error toothpaste / deodorant recipes; straight baking soda and bulk oil work just as well. Eliminate excess toiletries and makeup- certain dépôt-ventes accept them for resale. Click here to read about less impact beauty and here for a list of bulk shopping resources in Paris.
Start a compost pile.
Composting in Paris can be extremely frustrating, especially since compost site managers in my area are terrible correspondents. Still, individuals can try the freezer method or balcony composting- a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio doesn't smell. If you don't have a garden, give the resulting soil to friends or post on Freecycle. Idecologie has a great list of composting ideas for apartment and small space dwellers. Certain Paris suburbs provide free composters and vermicomposters for residents.
Switch to natural, zero-waste cleaners.
This was the simplest step for me, and a gateway to everything else. The CDC confirms common household sponges are diseased, plague-sore embossed carbuncles. Switch to white vinegar, a dish brush and bar soap, and use hemp, linen, or cotton towels to wipe messes.
Start with cloth towels and napkins, then move to handkerchiefs and safety razors. Hate cramps and leaks? Switch to a cup. Stop buying dryer sheets- use baking soda and vinegar. Replace sticky rollers with a plastic-free lint brush. Try washcloths instead of makeup remover wipes, and drink tap water. No take-away juice bars in your area? Eat fruit! When entertaining, do as the French do and set out real flatware and dishes.
Shop farmer's markets / secondhand with reusables.
Buy used and opt for glass, stainless steel, or wood instead of plastic. There's energy embedded in every reusable bag, so use liberally. Keep in your purse or car and, if you forget, get them rather than capitulate to a plastic bag (click here for my plastic-free shopping kit). I'm not sure how people afford groceries at conventional stores and don't know how we could eat without the -considerably less expensive- Paris markets!
It's easiest to start with the linen closet and donate excess pillows, sheets, and towels. Evaluate how many glasses, containers, utensils, candles, and magazines you really need. Ease into streamlining your wardrobe by trying a capsule. Switch to paperless billing, remove your name from mailing lists, and, while you're at it, tackle your inbox. Unsubscribing and deleting is a nice exercise in letting go. Emptying my inbox daily helps me reply faster and be more productive in the real world.
Click here for a downloadable version of this starter guide and here for a zero waste, plastic free master list with hundreds of alternatives.