How to Reduce Household Waste: 8 Time-Honored Frugal Tips

Inside: How to save money the simplest way of all… by not being wasteful. You’ll find that when you focus on reducing waste, problems like budgeting and decluttering take care of themselves.

We’ve all heard waste not, want not. It’s an old-fashioned saying you hear so often that you might forget what it really means. But think about what it would mean to really waste nothing.

A lot of us are in a cycle of buying a lot and throwing out a lot. We buy too much food, then clean out the fridge. We order lots of knick-knacks and declutter every January. It feels productive, in a way. But it’s a huge waste of money, time, and resources.

Farmhouse kitchen with freshly baked bread and jar of preserved chickpeas, surrounded by hanging dried herbs, pots, and cooking utensils.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents, who lived through times of scarcity, knew the importance of being resourceful and mindful of what they had. They believed in making the most out of what they had, and that’s something we can all learn from.

They were resourceful and deeply respected the environment, even if they didn’t use those exact terms. They realized that they could save money by wasting less, and appreciated what they owned.

Let’s go through some practical ways to do just that.

What You Can Do

  • Choose Cloth: Use cloth napkins and dishrags instead of paper products. This cuts down on waste.
  • Plan Your Meals: Avoid food waste by planning meals and using what you have before buying new items.
  • Can and Preserve Food: Learn canning and preserving to save seasonal fruits and vegetables for later use.
  • Repair, Don’t Discard: Fix items whenever possible instead of throwing them away. Sew up holes, patch jeans, and glue broken items.
  • Buy Secondhand: Shop for used clothes, furniture, and more. It saves money and reduces waste.
  • Make Cleaning Supplies: Create your own cleaners with vinegar, baking soda, and lemon to avoid buying products in plastic bottles.
  • Start a Garden: Grow vegetables or herbs to reduce the need for store-bought produce.
  • Reinvent Leftovers: Turn leftovers into new meals to stretch your food further and waste less.
  • Buy in Bulk Using Containers: Bring your containers to buy bulk items. It cuts down on packaging waste.
  • Use Hand-Me-Downs: Share clothes and goods within your community or family. It extends the life of items.
  • Compost: Compost food scraps to reduce waste and enrich your garden.
  • Use Natural Light and Air: Save energy by relying on sunlight and natural ventilation.
  • Make Do or Do Without: Embrace creativity and avoid buying new things unless absolutely necessary.

We’ll explore these in depth below.

The Wisdom of ‘Waste Not, Want Not’

So, what does “waste not, want not” do with reducing household waste? In a nutshell, everything! So, how does this apply to our homes?

It’s all about being thoughtful about what we consume and the waste we create. Instead of just tossing things in the trash, we can get creative and find ways to reuse, repurpose, and recycle items. This not only helps the environment but also saves us money and resources in the long run.

A farmhouse pantry with reusable bags and glass jars filled with bulk foods, placed on wooden shelves near a window.

Think about it this way: whenever you throw away a piece of food, a plastic container, or an old piece of clothing, you can find ways to use them more efficiently or give them a second life. That way, you’re embracing the “waste not, want not” philosophy and making a positive difference.

So how do you do it? Here are some practical ways to apply to your daily life:

1. Repair and Reuse Items

I remember my grandfather’s old workshop, filled with tools and spare parts. He could fix just about anything, from a broken toaster to a leaky faucet. And my grandmother was a master at repurposing old clothes into quilts, curtains, and even rag rugs. Nothing went to waste in their household.

Vintage sewing machine on a rustic wooden table with quilting fabrics, threads, scissors, and a pincushion.

Back in the day, people had a “don’t waste anything” mindset and would never just toss something out when it broke or got old. They’d fix or repurpose it, giving things a whole new lease on life. Here is some inspiration:

  • Denim Patchwork: Cut old jeans into patches. Use them to repair or decorate other denim clothing.
  • Glass Jar Organizers: Reuse glass jars as organizers. Perfect for storing nails, screws, or craft supplies.
  • Old Sheets into Bags: Sew old sheets into reusable shopping or produce bags.
  • Sweater into Mittens: Transform an old sweater into warm mittens. A simple sewing project.
  • Broken Pottery Garden Markers: Use pieces of broken pottery to mark plants in your garden.
  • Shoe Box Drawer Organizers: Cut shoe boxes to fit drawers. Use them as dividers for organizing small items.
  • Tire into a Planter: Turn an old tire into a garden planter. It works!

2. Don’t Waste Food

I have such warm memories of visiting my grandmother’s kitchen, where she would work her magic and turn stale bread into mouth-watering bread pudding or transform vegetable scraps into hearty soups. She always knew how to stretch a meal and get the most out of each ingredient.

There’s a lot you can try to save here.

  • Butter Wrappers for Greasing: Save the wrappers from sticks of butter. Use them to grease pans and baking dishes.
  • Vegetable Scrap Stock: Collect scraps of vegetables in a freezer bag. Use them to make homemade vegetable stock.
  • Freeze Herbs in Ice Cubes: Freeze fresh herbs in ice cube trays with olive oil or water. Use them in cooking for instant flavor.
  • Stale Bread : Turn stale bread into croutons or breadcrumbs. Bake them with seasonings for extra taste.
  • Fruit Peels for Cleaning: Use citrus peels to make natural cleaning agents. Soak them in vinegar for a homemade cleaner.
  • Eggshell as Fertilizer: Crush eggshells and use them as natural fertilizer in your garden. They add calcium to the soil.
  • Coffee Grounds for Plants: Sprinkle used coffee grounds around acid-loving plants. They enrich the soil with nitrogen.

But Remember!

Reducing food waste isn’t just fun stuff like making croutons. It’s eating leftovers for dinner, checking your pantry before grocery shopping, and eating what we have, not what we want.

Most people can make at least 2 meals a week out of food they throw away. Really. You will be shocked by how committing to throwing away no food at all makes a huge difference in your grocery budget.

3. Avoid Disposable Products

Instead of paper towels, previous generations used cloth napkins, refillable containers instead of single-use packaging, and real dishes instead of disposable plates and cups.

I still remember my grandmother’s linen closet, stacked with neatly folded cloth napkins and towels. To her, paper products were a complete waste. Her home was virtually free of disposable waste, and it was such a cozy and welcoming place. T

We can learn a lot from her example and consciously choose reusable alternatives to disposable products. This simple step can significantly reduce the amount of waste we generate.

Remember that most of these items are beautiful and useful, not just frugal!

  • Beeswax Wraps Instead of Cling Film: Use beeswax wraps to cover food. They’re washable and reusable.
  • Cloth Napkins Over Paper: Switch to cloth napkins for meals. They’re more durable and elegant.
  • Silicone Baking Mats Instead of Parchment Paper: Use silicone mats for baking. No need for disposable parchment.
  • Stainless Steel Water Bottles: Ditch plastic bottles. A stainless steel version keeps drinks hot or cold longer.
  • Reusable Shopping Bags: Keep cloth bags for shopping. They’re stronger and can be used hundreds of times.
  • Mesh Produce Bags: Use mesh bags for fruits and vegetables. Skip the plastic produce bags.
  • Refillable Soap Dispensers: Fill up at bulk stores or buy large refill packs to reduce plastic waste.
  • Bamboo Toothbrushes: Choose bamboo over plastic. They’re biodegradable and just as effective.
  • Menstrual Cup or Cloth Pads: Opt for reusable menstrual products. They’re eco-friendly and cost-effective.
  • Reusable Coffee Filters or Pods: Use a metal coffee filter or refillable pods for your coffee machine.

4. Conserve Electricity and Water

One of the easiest ways to reduce waste and save money is by conserving electricity and water. Our grandparents were masters at this simply because they had to be. They turned off lights when they left a room, unplugged appliances when not in use, and were mindful of their water consumption. And guess what? We can do the same!

A farmhouse with illuminated windows at sunset and a wrap-around porch with hanging flower baskets.

You don’t have to buy new lightbulbs or power strips. Just be mindful.

  • Close Curtains to Insulate: Draw curtains at dusk to keep the heat in during winter and out during summer.
  • Line Dry Clothes: Hang clothes to dry outside or inside on a drying rack instead of using a dryer.
  • Use Lights Sparingly: Turn off lights when not in use. Rely on natural daylight as much as possible.
  • Reuse Water: Collect rainwater for gardening. Use cooking water for plants after it cools.: Choose a traditional razor with replaceable blades over disposable razors.

5. Reduce Packaging Waste

Here’s another thing we can learn from the past: reducing packaging waste. Our grandparents didn’t have access to the same convenience foods and single-use products that we do today. They bought in bulk, used reusable containers, and made many things from scratch.

We might not have the same amount of time or interest to make everything from scratch, but there are still ways we can reduce packaging waste. We can choose products with minimal packaging, buy in bulk when possible, and use reusable bags and containers.

Some ideas:

  • Bulk Purchases with Own Containers: Bring containers to the store to buy grains, nuts, and spices in bulk.
  • Cooking from Scratch: Avoid pre-packaged meals. Make your own food to cut down on packaging.
  • Jar Reuse for Storage: Save glass jars and bottles. Use them to store leftovers, bulk items, or homemade preserves.
  • Fabric Wraps for Gifts: Use fabric pieces to wrap gifts instead of paper. It’s reusable and unique.
  • Old Newspapers for Cleaning: Use newspapers for window cleaning or as shelf liners, recycling them afterward.
  • Sew Reusable Shopping Bags: Make shopping bags from old clothes or linens rather than buying new ones.
  • Bread and Pastry Cloth Bags: Bring cloth bags to the bakery for bread and pastries, skipping the paper and plastic.
  • Waxed Paper Instead of Plastic Wrap: Use waxed paper for covering food or wrapping sandwiches, a compostable option.
  • Returnable Bottles for Milk and Beverages: Choose dairy and drinks in returnable glass bottles when available.

Plus, we can opt for digital versions of books, magazines, and other media to reduce paper waste. Not exactly old-fashioned, but useful anyway.

6. Compost Food Scraps

Another way to reduce waste is by composting food scraps. Our grandparents may not have called it composting, but they certainly didn’t let food go to waste. They used scraps to feed animals, make broths and soups, and enrich their garden soil.

We can follow their example by setting up a compost bin or pile in our backyard or using a small indoor composter. By composting our food scraps, we can reduce the amount of waste in landfills and create nutrient-rich soil for our gardens.

If you have backyard chickens or other livestock, they will also take care of all of the table scraps. Instead of buying dog treats, you can give your dog something from the table. (If you don’t want to encourage bad habits, chop it up and put in the fridge and give it as a treat later.)

7. Donate and Buy Secondhand

Finally, our grandparents were big believers in donating and buying secondhand. They passed down clothes and toys to younger siblings and cousins, shopped at thrift stores and garage sales, and donated items they no longer needed to those who could use them.

We can embrace this mindset by regularly reviewing our belongings and donating items we no longer need or use.

And when it’s time to buy something new, consider shopping secondhand for clothing, furniture, or household items.

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Overcoming Challenges

Sometimes, it feels like the world around us is built for convenience, and breaking away from that mold can be hard. But it’s not impossible!

Convenience Culture

One of the biggest challenges we face is our culture of convenience. I mean, we’re all so used to having everything super convenient these days, right? From single-use coffee pods to disposable cleaning wipes, it’s easy to get sucked into the mindset that convenience trumps all else.

But here’s the thing – convenience often comes at a cost to our wallets and the environment. By stepping back and questioning our habits, we can start to see where we can make changes.

Key Tip:

Take a few extra minutes to brew a pot of coffee instead of using a single-use pod or a reusable cloth instead of a disposable wipe. Small changes can add up to big results over time.

Lack of Knowledge

Another challenge is simply a lack of knowledge about waste reduction. It’s tough to know where to start, or what options are available to us. And let’s be real, it can be overwhelming to try to navigate the world of zero-waste living, especially if we’re just getting started.

A farmhouse kitchen window with natural light and glass jars of homemade preserves on the countertop.

But here’s the good news: plenty of resources are out there to help us along the way. From blogs and books to local workshops and community groups, there’s no shortage of information and support available. By taking the time to educate ourselves and connect with others who share our values, we can gain the knowledge and confidence we need to make lasting changes.

Making this apply to you

What are some easy ways to start reducing household waste?

If you’re new to waste reduction, the best place to start is with some simple swaps. Here are a few ideas:

  • Switch to reusable bags and containers for shopping and storing food.
  • Ditch single-use water bottles and invest in a reusable one.
  • Use cloth towels and napkins instead of paper ones.
  • Start composting your food scraps.
  • Opt for products with minimal or recyclable packaging.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. Start with one or two changes and build from there. Every little bit helps!

More on Living with Less:

If you’re looking for more guidance on creating a minimalist household or reducing waste, I’ve got some great resources for you to explore.

I hope these help transform your household into a cozy, clutter-free space.

Where to go from here

I encourage you to start small and build on your successes. Pick one or two changes you can make in your daily life. Pick one convenient but wasteful single-serve item and find a less-wasteful equivalent . Next, challenge yourself to have two leftover nights per week and use up all your food.

Don’t forget to celebrate your progress and keep moving forward, one step at a time, too.

Bright and airy farmhouse living room watercolor painting with a plush white sofa, colorful pillows, rustic coffee table, and homey decor.

How to Reduce Household Waste: 8 Time-Honored Frugal Tips

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  1. This was so helpful, thank you so much for sharing! I especially loved stepping into your grandfathers warehouse where he had his tools to fix things and your grandmothers ability to make and keep things in new ways. It was so beautiful to read and learn about. Thank you so much for writing.