Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Things we don't buy any more

The new-look bathroom cabinet
We recently found a three-year-old supermarket receipt and were amazed to see how many items on our shopping list have been struck off since then. This got me thinking about consumer responsibility - how much personal responsibility and consumer power we have and how we should take a little time to reflect on what we actually need and what kind of business and production practices we want to support.

Do we really need another cheap T-shirt or fresh strawberries in mid-winter? Leaving out such items is no real sacrifice. A more sustainable lifestyle need not involve 'sacrifice', but it may mean less choice (though arguably better choice) and the reintroduction of seasonality in our diet, etc. It might involve spending a bit more on quality organic meat, dairy products or baked goods made by local producers, but overall you will save money by not buying rubbish you don't need, shrink your energy impact on the planet and create less waste. If quality food produced locally costs a little extra, then we should support that, rather than import, with all the packaging and transport implied from, for example, a country with water shortages, which is effectively exporting a resource they can't afford in the longer term.

Our switch in consumer habits happened naturally, without us really noticing, as we started to produce more and more of our own goods and it's had some surprising fringe benefits. Giving up shampoo and conditioner in favour of rye flour has put an end to my split ends, for example. Not buying any baked goods from the supermarket has eliminated heartburn and bloat. We have never eaten so well in our lives, both in quality and variety terms, and our personal grooming has not suffered by making our own toiletries nor is our house any less clean using our home-made cleaning materials. Not coincidentally, there is now a lot more space in the bathroom cabinet and we've no doubt improved our indoor air quality at the same time.

So what don't we buy any more?

Cleaning products

Home-made vs. shop-bought:
The home-made version lasts longer
despite its smaller size.
No more shop-bought, with all their unnecessary and toxic ingredients, washing powder, washing-up liquid and dishwasher detergent (we now make our own), rinse aid (now vinegar), household cleaner (we now use vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, steam etc.). Instead we buy bulk tubs of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), soda crystals (washing soda), citric acid and borax substitute.  


Goodbye shampoo and conditioner (we now use rye flour with home grown herbal infusions), face cream, hand cream, sun lotion, lip balm, ointment and salves (we now make all these ourselves), tooth paste (we now make our own tooth powder), deodorant (we now use bicarbonate of soda), moist toilet tissue (now moistened cloths, cut from an old shirt, that are then boil-washed and reused), sanitary towels/tampons (I now use a mooncup, a fantastic product that more women should know about).

Fruit and vegetables

Plenty of veg here all through the year
Other than few top-up onions and garlic cloves we haven't bought any vegetables for three years now. It is surprising what all we can grow here in Scotland and it's no problem to grow enough throughout the year. It might be easier to grow some things in Spain, Italy, Portugal or Australia, but we are blessed with a mild climate here in the UK and shouldn't need many food imports at all. All that's required is a small shift in attitude, from 'What do I fancy?' to 'What is there to eat and cook with?' The seasonal constraints encourage experimentation and creativity in cooking. You can't just follow the same routine all through the year, making the whole enterprise more fun and interesting.

With fruit it's a little more difficult in our climate, but we haven't bought any fruit so far this year. This meant that after the fresh apples were gone, we were down to frozen berries, dried apple rings and fresh rhubarb from March until June when the strawberries kicked in. However, there were plenty of fresh greens to snack on instead, including peas, common fennel and salad leaves, so getting five or ten servings of fruit or veg a day was not an issue.

Jams, jellies and chutneys

A cupboard full of jams and chutneys
These are so easy to make and easily keep for a year without any added E-number preservatives. I try to tailor the quantities I make to what we actually need and don't even bother to label them since we aim to eat all jams, jellies and chutneys within the year, jams and jellies by end of June and chutneys by early August.

Meat and fish from the supermarket

We've made a big switch to more sustainable meat sources, i.e. vermin. Here this means rabbits, pigeons and, the most delicious vermin of them all, roe deer. All of these can be hunted locally and farmers are generally very happy to have someone reduce the number of rabbits and pigeons. Similarly, mackerel is a great eating fish and a freezer compartment can be quickly filled with them and other small scale local catches while they're in season.

Baked goods, bread and flour from the supermarket

Supermarket bread and cakes have never been a favourite, and finding out about the hidden ingredients didn't help. We now buy 20kg sacks of rye and wheat grains and mill our own fresh flour. As a by-product we get nutritious organic bran. The rye and wheat flour is used for baking sourdough bread, and the wheat flour is also used for all other baked goodies - cakes, pancakes, beer batter, pizza bases, dumplings, chapatis etc. The home-milled flour makes everything taste incredible. I was surprised at the difference it made.

Crisps, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream

We now make our own snacks - guaranteed without palm oil, which seems to be popping up everywhere these days from 'traditional' oatcakes and biscuits to chocolate. Homemade ice cream is just the best and a great way to use fruit from the garden.

Herbal tea bags

All herbs are brewed fresh from the garden where we have a large herbal tea plant collection and some of them are dried for winter use. No pesticides here!

Soft drinks and juices

We've never been big drinkers of juice or fizzy drinks, preferring plain water, tea, coffee or alcohol, so this was the easiest choice to make. Juices can be a good way to use up garden vegetables and fruit and we've now started making kvass from our rye sourdough loaf.

What we do still buy

This is why we call it the 'Reasonably Good Life'. Many of the original good-lifers, back in the 60s and 70s, tried to take it all the way to pure and total self-sufficiency. Entirely admirable ambition, of course, but in most cases the degree of discomfort and inconvenience entailed amounted to actual hardship, which resulted in their children, who might have been expected to carry on the revolution, wholeheartedly abandoning the dream for the ease of modern living. Our view is that total self-sufficiency, in our society and the world as it stands, is not realistically possible.

So, what do we still buy from the shops? Mainly dairy products, booze (though less of this than formerly, thanks to our homebrewing activities), grains, oils (with Scottish cold-pressed rapeseed oil now our preferred cooking oil) and vinegars, black tea and coffee, toilet roll. Despite rising prices, our shopping bill is way down - while our quality of life is way up. It's maybe not as convenient, but when did convenience become the be all and end all anyway?


  1. Isn't it incredible just how much you can produce yourselves and live without buying, whilst enjoying a much healthier lifestyle and better quality of life? You've made an incredible shift and embraced the RGL fully (and you're right, the total self-sufficiency thing is not realistic). I also find it interesting to list all the things in a standard supermarket we have never bought (air fresheners are the first to come to mind), there is just so much unnecessary'stuff'out there, isn't there? I am with you on mooncups too, why do so few women know about them? With some simple sewing, it's also possible to make very effective and comfortable washable sanitary towels by recycling an old bath towel and soft cotton pyjamas (lots of patterns on the internet) - far kinder to bodies and the environment. Brilliant post - keep up the good work, you two! :-)

    1. Thanks, Lis! It's so much fun to make all these things and surprising how easy they are to make. And so interesting to learn new skills. Yes, so much unnecessary rubbish out there, but unbelievably people are buying it and getting themselves into debt.


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