Zero Waste Home, a book review

As May is book month I wanted to add another book review before we enter June. I was intrigued with Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home and decided to see what I could learn from her as I continue to try to reduce my household waste further.

Spotted this on a walk today and found it interesting.

Spotted this on a walk today and found it interesting.

I am still trying to figure out what I think of this book. It became clear early on that the author and I live completely different lifestyles.

The Johnson family previously lived in a 3,000 sq ft home with “two cars, four tables and twenty-six chairs”. This began the introduction. I have never wanted to live in a home that large. But I continued reading.

The current lifestyle of the Johnson family is one of dinner parties and frequent travels to Bea’s home country of France. They are part of a professional working group of people, which you know isn’t me either.

Taking time out from dinner to feed a worm.  Have I gone too far in teaching her to care for all living things?

Taking time out from dinner to feed a worm. Have I gone too far in teaching her to care for all living things?

Their home appears to be what I believed minimalism to be when I was first introduced to the term. The few pictures of their home show white walls, white floors, and all white furnishings. Walls are apparently devoid of art. While crisp and clean-looking, it isn’t something I could live with.

I did find a few things had not heard of before. For example, in the chapter on beauty products she mentions lightening gray hair to blonde by using turmeric. I had never heard of this before and while I vowed I would never color my hair again I may just try this.

But at the same time “no poo” is dismissed unless you have short hair or can tolerate smelling of apple cider vinegar. I think Ms. Johnson could have done her homework and suggested alternatives such as white vinegar or even lemon juice before adding this section. As I let my very thick hair grow out I find “no poo” to work just fine.

I must go past this tree multiple time a week but never saw the mushrooms until it was pointed out to me today.

I must go past this tree multiple time a week but never saw the mushrooms until it was pointed out to me today.

My overall take on this particular book is that it was well written, but at times I found myself feeling chastised for holding on to items, such as a vegetable peeler.. I can only explain it as the way it was worded. I don’t mean to say the author was preachy, but there was something that didn’t sit right with me at times.

I give Ms Johnson credit for attempting to makes everything from scratch in the beginning of her journey, but when you include a recipe on making your own paper…I have better things to do with my time, just as the author, eventually concluded, as well.

If you have already purged your home of chemical cleaners and gotten rid of everything you don’t love or need, there may be little new for you in this book. Someone just starting out may find more of value.

If am to be honest I would suggest you borrow this first to see if there are enough new ideas to justify the cost.

Have you read this book? What did you take from it?

31 thoughts on “Zero Waste Home, a book review

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Zero Waste Home | An Exacting Life

  2. havent seen the book or the blog, but Lois, I sure like what you just said …”all voices from all walks of life”…
    It sort of sums up most of my striving throughout my entire life…I have always been interested/keen/searching to hear/listen to all kinds of folks/all places etc……Someone, I have always loved listening to folks talk about many different things. To understand. Often I find something useful, often it is not for a long time that I think how I might find something useful…Sometimes, I just go mmm, really?

    I have had folks say to me, “why would you listen to/read/learn about such and such?”…For some reason, I have always found great interest in learning about so many different things.


    • Lynn, I have always been the same way. My children are famous for glancing at something I’m reading and just shake their head, they don’t even ask any more. I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here.


  3. I spent some time looking through the book in the library, and have also seen the blog. I feel that Bea’s approach is much too ascetic for me, but I do like having her voice as part of the cultural “discussion” on this topic. I am someone who does just about everything by half-measures!


    • “someone who does just about everything by half-measures”…I sure had to smile at this…Somehow, this often seems to be me…On the other hand…when I let enough time pass, and consider in retorspect, it so often seems (for me) that “half measures” was just about right/perfect…


  4. I have not read the book or the blog, but it sounds like she has figured out the standard formula to be successful. Pick a trendy topic and be somewhat controversial about it. Enough to get people talking, but not enough that they won’t tune in then and again.


    • Live and Learn, I’m not sure that is what Bea has done. She is passionate about how she lives, and she walks the talk. I came away with the feeling there was nothing I could use, but instead I should be patting myself on the back for how far I’ve come that the book wasn’t able to help me.


  5. When I read books or blogs on the topics of simplicity, minimalism, frugality … I pick and choose what makes sense. I believe that all these approaches must be balanced against the demands on your time and your interests! Any of these approaches can become a way of life if it is a value to you, and any of them can be practiced at either marginally or excessively. I find looking at all types interesting and helpful in determining what works for me and makes me happy!


    • Elaine, you are very right, we do need to have an open mind and explore a variety of approaches to find ideas that will match our lifestyle and values. I read a lot that I don’t review on the blog, but I really wanted to hear others opinions on this one due to its popularity.


  6. I’ve followed her blog on and off for quite a while and don’t take what she says or doesn’t say personally. I take what I can from it and try it out or not. I think what she’s doing is quite impressive and like that the popularity of her blog and zero waster journey has brought attention to the topic of “waste”.


  7. I too follow the blog and have also felt that preachy edge. She and I are also in very different worlds and I’ve been on the edge of removing her blog from my feed. I wouldn’t buy the book to be very honest as I feel it would have little to add to how we live our life but full respect for what she does and how she does it. It’s a wonderful stance to show that being professional and having a corporate image does not mean you can’t be environmentally responsible too.


    • You mention a good point I missed when reading the book, you can have a professional life that isn’t wasteful. I did read it for the simple fact that I was looking for ways to reduce my trash, when all I walked away with was a way to lighten gray hair, I have to say it didn’t do me much good.


  8. I read Bea’s blog for a while but left because I got annoyed. It wasn’t anything in particular, it was more just a sense that she and I live in very different worlds. She did a post about all the reasons that living in a smaller space was a good idea, and never once mentioned the idea that it might cost less. I dunno… I guess it just struck me as the rich and fashionable person’s guide to minimalism! Nothing wrong with that, just not really something I could relate to.

    It also annoys me when people treat their blogs as a business endeavor. I’m not sure why, but things like shutting down comments and disappearing for months at a time because you’re too busy promoting yourself on this or that TV show just sorta rub me the wrong way.


    • Yes, exactly Cat. When you start talking about your dinner parties I know this is a very different world from mine.

      There does seem to be a trend to have no comments at all, again I don’t get that. I mean why are you putting your thoughts out there in this format if you don’t want to know the people who are reading it?

      I take it you didn’t read Bea’s book? 😊. Good for you it probably would have been a waste of your time you seem to have it down well, speaking of which i don’t recall anything on reducing pet waste.


      • No, I didn’t read the book. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read it… it could be interesting especially if it had more info on her transitional phases… but I certainly wouldn’t pay for it. Maybe if it comes to the library…

        Anyhow, I’m in agreement about the comments part – what’s the point of blogging if you don’t want to interact with people? I think there’s some blog called “The Minimalists” which is supposedly uber-popular, but I’ve never read it. They apparently decided not to allow any comments on any posts… which annoyed some of their readers (that’s how I heard about them) and it pretty much made me decide that I didn’t have any interest in checking out their blog. But it also annoys me when people allow comments but never respond. I mean, I know that people are busy, so I could see if you had a really popular blog that it might be difficult to respond to every comment. But somehow it always just strikes me as trying to put yourself somehow above your readers, and that whole equation really bothers me. Sorta like “I am the great and wonderful blogger, and you peons have merely come here to absorb my wonderfulness.”

        I dunno… I guess I just hate the whole idea of “professional blogging.” People who write how-to guides or who act like they are gonna show the rest of us how it’s all done because, you know, they’ve been practicing simple living for a few months now so they’re an expert and the rest of us are just wannabes who wish we could be as great as they are. And don’t EVEN get me started on the self promotion stuff. I’ve stopped following several blogs when the authors started showing up in magazine articles and on television shows. I guess I’m not much of a fan of the whole marketing industry – it always just strikes me as phony and disingenuous.

        I’m not saying that Bea is representative of all that. She does respond to comments and interact with her readers at least on new posts. It’s more just the trend that bothers me.


        • Cat, I checked out The Minimalists when I heard about them but didn’t stick around. They have a series of posts about how they downsized and got rid of all their things. It was a little too drastic for me but thought provoking. Don’t know if its changed since I checked it out but it turned into not much more than a way to promote their books and even a pricey class on how to write.

          I have stumbled on blogs where comments are never answered, it bothers me too. The content alone isn’t enough to keep me coming back.


  9. Pingback: Reprise | organised castle

  10. Hi

    A very interesting book review. I have been an on/off reader of the Zero Waste home blog, too. It does seem a touch too judgemental at times and I don’t feel loved or welcomed as I do on many other blogs (and try to on my own). I actually wrote a blog post nearly 2 years ago in response to what I had read. Thank you for the prompt, I think I will re-post it tonight and actually get around to writing the follow-up post which I alluded to in the post. Part 2 never did get written.

    Minimalism and zero waste are different beasts although many people do embrace elements of both – I am one. However, I have art on my walls and am not about to give up my vegetable peeler!

    Re the closed comments – I have noticed that on my blog and must work out how to stop it as I am of the same mind as you – I am happy for anyone to comment on anything at any time.


    • Hello Fairy, I just read your post, will comment later today when I have more time. As for how to keep comments open there is a box you can unclick. Go to settings then discussion.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one to feel something about Bea’s writing. Could it be cultural?


  11. “teaching her to care for all living things”….
    Well, worms ARE pretty darn important, from what I have often been told, apparently they are crucial for garden/earth health, and make all the difference…GRIN…Maybe she will become an Vet…

    “never saw the mushrooms” — I am betting they grew practically overnight…I see that sort of thing frequently…And are they mushrooms, or toadstools? Me I couldn’t actually identify, but suspect non edible toadstools?

    “recipe on making your own paper” — me, I tried this… Used old different kinds of paper, and used my kitchen blender to chop thoroughly the paper/added lots water…etc etc.. Result was lovely and varied, and I even used some molds to make some really nice raised 3D type art …First Blender died. Second Blender died. Finally I realised that my technique was a Blender Killer…..Hardly cost effective. In fact cost prohibitive. Have not made paper since.. Even though I was quite taken with both my results, and the “idea”…


    • Yes, worms are very beneficial to life, Lynn. She sometimes takes it to an extreme in her care of insects. We had spaghetti tonight and asked if worms liked tomatoes, that’s what she was feeding it. Your guess is as good as mine on what she will eventually chose for a career.

      I don’t know the difference between toadstools and mushrooms. It never had interested me before as I don’t like the taste of mushrooms so you are probably right.

      I know people who make paper as a hobby and yes they can be beautiful, but in this instance the purpose wasn’t to create some thing as a creative pursuit but to make her own paper for everyday use such as writing a grocery list rather than buying a pad of paper.

      Yes, I think I would have given up when it destroyed my toasters😊


  12. I’m waiting for it to get to Australian shores (and into my library) to read it. But as some of my post/s have mentioned, I too can feel ‘judged’ inadvertently and it’s interesting you find that’s in the book too. I think it comes from her being ‘on the other side’ (at the zero waste side) and pointing at all the reasons you and i and everyone else aren’t yet.

    I think I get most ‘up in arms’ about minimalism and zero waste. IMO they are different ideas, whilst they marry well. It’s not ‘wasteful’ to have things you use regularly, and you love. Maybe you think otherwise? But I think empty walls (which you well know I don’t have!) aren’t something everyone will do, but it doesn’t make them wasteful otherwise.

    I was wondering, did she address her ‘transition’ from much to zero waste? Some things I have, I could do without, but they aren’t worthy of second hand/donations, and so I’d rather use it up/wear it out than foist it onto someone else. What are you thoughts on that?


    • I kept wondering if it was a cultural thing that made me feel chastised at times.

      You bring up a good point in comparing minimalism to zero waste. I don’t think the two go hand in hand, but one may lead to the other. I don’t find it wasteful to have art on my walls because it brings me pleasure and not having it I would feel uncomfortable in my own home.

      When I first switched to non-toxic cleaners I first tried using up the commercial brands but hated it, I then boxed them all up and gave them to a person I knew who would use them and never transition to non-toxic ones.

      As for her transition phase she doesn’t go into much detail about what she did with things not worth selling but in the appendix she lists ideas for doing so. I’m not sure if that portion of the book will be updated for Australia or how many will be they are currently.


      • Having lived in France (and Bea’s French) they are a little more matter of fact and less sugar coating, super nice as a generalisation, so perhaps it’s ‘lost in translation’.

        I think her book (or her posts on her blog) about the transition would be more helpful – the ‘struggle’ she had, which readers will have to get to where she is. Encouraging is one thing, but people relating to people through a shared adversity (conquering waste, clutter, whatever) is a stronger bond I think! However, I say this only as a on/off reader of her blog (which was interestingly very dormant as she wrote the book, but is now back en force!)


          • Oh and then she shuts down ‘irrelevant’ comments (dental health in the clothing post) which is ok, but there’s no dental post in ages, and old posts have comments closed. Suppose we have no idea what it’s like to be such a big/popular blog


          • Why do people shut down comments on older posts? I’ve never understood that. If I put something out there I look forward to conversations starting but if you close the comments then new people can’t join in.

            I didn’t realize she will only accept comments that are on topic, hope I never become that big, wait let me rephrase that, if I ever don’t want to answer serious questions I’ll quit blogging.


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