How To Start Living More Sustainably Today Without Spending a Dime

An example of a very expensive way to live more sustainably

Living a life of less consumption and waste is not something that happens over night. Our society is not built to support a less consumptive way of life and often consuming less can cost a decent chunk of change which is frustrating (eg. installing and using solar power). However, there are a lot of things, small things, you can do that don’t cost a thing but are good steps down the road of learning how to live more sustainably. Here are a few things I do to have more sustainability on a budget!


My Beautiful “Gray Water” Bucket;)
Gray Water

During Covid times, I’m not sure how much water I would have wasted waiting for it to get hot enough for hand washing if it wasn’t for gray water collection! Gray water is the water that is just wasted as you, for example, stand and wait for the shower water to get cold. It could also be the water you boil hard-boiled eggs in or from the water bath canner after a canning session. I collect all this water in a bucket and then use it: to water plants, to fill the bird bath, to fill the toilet tank even! Just find a couple of empty buckets knocking around and put one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom.

If it’s yellow, let it mellow; If it’s brown, flush it down….

Yep. I’m talking toilet time. Solids should be flushed right away but liquids you can probably get away with every other time, right? You can do it! This won’t work for everyone, for example I live on a septic system, but for most, this is a viable option.

Shower every other day

Americans are a little obsessed with cleanliness. Bathing regularly is definitely recommended to stay healthy and not scare away the fellow humans, but showering every day can actually be hard on your skin and hair not to mention wasteful of water. The average American uses 17 gallons of water in an 8 minute shower! If you are not out coating yourself in dirt and sweat every day, consider taking a break from the every day shower. I generally give myself a sponge bath to the extra stinky parts on the off days.

Reusing Things

Wash Them Ziplocs
Reuse plastic bags

In reality spending some money and buying re-usable bags is probably going to be less expensive in the long run. However, there are some instances where “ziplocs” work better (like storing/preserving food in the freezer) and if you really don’t have the money, the next best thing is to wash out and re-use your bags. I make it a contest and see how long I can go before having to buy more.

Save glass containers and reuse as storage

Truth is you are likely bringing home many good storage containers from every trip to the grocery store. The pasta sauce bottle, the tiny jar of pimentos, maybe some lunch meat and that container of Talenti gelato you snuck in. Don’t throw them in recycling, wash them out and put them to use!

Waste Less Food

Have you got a glut of tomatoes but no time to can? Freeze ’em to process later!
The freezer is your friend!

You can freeze a surprising number of things! Instead of letting things go bad, freeze portions. This goes for dehydrating as well, which can be done in your oven – you don’t need a fancy dehydrator. Canning, of course, is also a great way to preserve food if you come into a surplus but it takes an initial outlay of cash. By the way, I whole-heartedly recommend North Ridge Farm’s Whole Food Freezer Cooking course – it kind of changed my life.

Improvisational cooking! Make it a game.

 So I am the world’s moodiest, mood eater – it’s a problem and I’m working on it. One way I am doing that is before making food (aka “cooking” to normal people), I look in the fridge or pantry and see what I’m not using and which may go bad if I don’t consume it soon and I see if any of it will fit into my recipe or meal at large.  For example, I’m making a Pita Pizza and notice I have some green onions starting to look wilty so I throw some on the pizzas. I always feel so gratified and amazed with myself when I use up something that might have gone to waste!

Meal plan, Make a list – Blah-Blah-Blah

This gets recommended a lot for how to avoid overspending on groceries, but it’s also good advice to avoid wasting food.

Reduce Your Garbage

I don’t mention composting because it does take some infrastructure but it also helps reduce the amount you throw in the trash.
Yeah you guessed it…Recycle

I can’t reuse everything so I do my best to recycle as much as possible!

Shop your home

This may only be useful for those of us that have been around long enough to accumulate stuff but before you accumulate any more stuff, shop your home. When my brain says I need X, instead of immediately jumping online, I wander around my house and see if there might be something sitting around that might work as X…. Embarrassingly but thankfully there frequently is and the feeling of getting a thing you need, giving something a more useful life AND not spending money is pretty amazing.  I feel like I’ve cheated the devil in a fiddle contest.  Yes, that is a reference to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”  I’m SORRY.

None of these tips are new or innovative. Many of them were regular parts of everyone’s life a generation or two ago but we’ve drifted away from them in favor of convenience. There are also likely dozens of more things like this! Tell me in the comments, what are some of your favorite, no spend ways to live more sustainably?

Book Recommendation

I love books and reading, so I can’t resist including a book recommendation with each post. The book will, in some way, correspond to the post.

I read The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen a couple of years ago and it was a revelation. The book talks about things like guerrilla gardening and has a whole chapter about “Being your own utility” which included information on collecting and using gray water. It’s a perfect mix of conceptual and how to. The two authors have different interests and strengths which complement each other. It’s one of the most useful books on homesteading I’ve ever read, much less urban homesteading.

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2 Comments on “How To Start Living More Sustainably Today Without Spending a Dime

  1. I have really gotten into inventive cooking -or just seeing what ingredients I have on hand then searching for recipes that use them up. I’ve found some great recipes and have done better regarding food waste. I love researching recipes and cooking. You should have a feature on what you are cooking with your garden products. Or a game: “I have these 3 ingredients. What should I make?”

    • That’s a great idea though I don’t know that I’m entirely competent! I tink I will share some recipes from time to time, focused on using stuff from the garden and homesteading staples. Even though I’m not competent yet, I have also recently started feeling more comfortable with throwing a recipe aside and free-handing it or adjusting it heavily. Must be you need 20+ years of experience to start feeling like you understand how foods work together – at least for me, ha ha! Last week I got creative with lasagna – using dried zucchini in place of noodles, no ricotta (because it’s gross) and I pureed some dried tomatoes in with the tomato sauce. It didn’t entirely work – the flavor was good, especially adding in the dried tomatoes, but the dried zucchini was too chewy so the texture was off. I ate it all though!

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