In the past decade we have truly begun to realise the environmental impact of our consumerist lifestyle, and people are increasingly looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.
This edition of the Starving Artists Survival Guide is a compilation of advice and tips we have gathered along the way about how to get by while reducing your resources and lowering your environmental footprint, all while picking up some handy skills and saving money.
We'd love to hear more ideas so please share your own wisdom with us on social media or in the comments below!
“A cynic,” declared Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan, “is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
As much as this statement reflected its own times - namely the changes in commerce that were brought about by the industrial revolution - the idea that price equates value is unfortunate folly still believed in much of society today.
Our capitalist driven culture tries to convince us to buy in order to improve. We must have lots of shiny new toys to be happy, we are encouraged to feel dissatisfied where we should be grateful, to be wasteful over resourceful, and to discount quality or craftmanship for the quickest or cheapest option.
Despite fantastical technology and apps that help us sort out our lives, the old adage ‘money can’t buy happiness’ still endures by virtue of its truth. Tired of instant gratification, people are starting to crave the satisfaction of the thrifty life; handcrafted products, creating things from scratch, getting your hands dirty and generally going back to basics.
Certainly by no means do we want to return to times when laundry took a day’s manual labour, or when pickling every imaginable vegetable was the only way to have a full stomach during winter, but there are many merits to trading your time and not your money.
The ideas we present below certainly won't help you overcome cyclical poverty, but they may point you towards making better purchasing decisions, bring some satisfaction into your daily chores and help the environment, a little. (Not to mention, having some practical cunning will certainly make you a valuable member of society if you survive the coming apocalypse.)
Whether you are feeling a little tight in the pocket, looking to reduce your consumption of stuff, or feeling dreadful about the environment, please indulge us as we offer some tips on living well poorly.
Grow your own veg and herbs Even if you only get enough for a small side salad, once they start sprouting you’ll be tending to them like babies. Babies you are dying to eat.
Look out for free things One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Take a night time stroll on bin night to see what goodies have been abandoned on the street, join your local free and recycle group on social media and never feel ashamed to have a nosey in a skip.
Avoid plastic as much as possible This one is rather obvious, but it can occasionally slip one’s mind when rushing to finish a shop. Look for condiments sold in glass rather than plastic, buy solid soap rather than liquid, and choose a bamboo option next time your replace your toothbrush.
Save jars to use as party cups So you don’t have to crack out your regular glassware and you can hand out lids as the night gets more merry.
Buy vintage and antique items The desire for a vintage aesthetic over the past ten years has elevated the prices of vintage and antiques, but vigilant magpies can still find items at a pinch, particularly at car boot sales and charity shops. If it has lasted the test of time it is probably a quality item, and vintage items are indeed often charming and full of character.
Find your local refill shop Not only do spices, nuts, seeds and rice look rather marvellous when decanted into a jar and labelled up, but you also avoid more of that awful plastic packaging. (This practice is also likely to evoke a sense of joy every time you finish a decent sized jar and get to add it to your collection.)
Say no to extras These days many online take-aways have an option to refuse plastic cutlery etc, but you can go one step further and ask they don’t include that awful warm polystyrene packaged salad that no one ever eats.
Cut up old clothes and towels to use as dusters and cleaning cloths Or use them for make-up removal instead of cotton pads then throw them in the wash.
Shop at charity shops If you are a charity shop kind of person, there is little to be said. If you’re the type who finds it a little odd to rehome the possessions of strangers, give them a try. Here there be treasures, from knick-knacks and token presents to outlandish accessories, clothing and furniture.
Have conversations with friends It’s amazing what you can learn from your friends. There may be tips, tricks and local services to help you recycle to be shared, or you might decide to split a purchase you won’t both be using very often such as lawnmowers, sewing machines etc.
Learn how to fix things Rewiring plugs, darning cosy socks, replacing phone screens, or patching up bike punctures are a good place to begin. You don’t have to master an endless list of complicated repairs, but it’s both worthwhile and satisfying to have a few skills you don’t need to google.
Check out your local Freecycle When you find the thing you’re looking for its likely to be much cheaper than buying new, and often with items like furniture you can find more interesting and unusual pieces second hand.
Wait before making a purchase Sometimes you realise you don’t want the thing, or even forget about it completely, you get time to read the reviews and compare products.
Understand bargain trickery If something looks too good to be true, it probably it. This catches everyone out from time to time, and we end up buying shoddy products again and again. This applies particularly to electronics. Again, read the reviews, buys from a trusted brand, and don’t get lured in by something super cheap.
Reuse teabags and coffee grains Unless you are a complete traditionalist who likes the strong stuff, teabags and coffee grains can absolutely be used twice. They also both work great as fertilisers if spread around the soil of plants.
Buy yourself some lovely hardwearing reusable lunch ware Yes, you can use margarine tubs, take-away boxes and plastic water bottles, but you’ll be much more inclined to use it (and bring your lunch to work) if you have a lovely reusable coffee cup or some fold away cutlery that is a pleasure to look at and use.
Buy in bulk The rule with this one is to buy bulk of the things you know your going to actually use, if not stay away!
Save your veg peelings for stock Not only will you use every part of your ingredients, you’ll achieve a level of wholesomeness you’ve never reached before. Don’t forget to give everything a scrub before you start peeling however, you don’t want muck in your stock!
Make your own gifts Who doesn't appreciate that bottle of home brewed sloe gin that someone inevitably gives you for Christmas? Even if it does taste like it has been stewing in its own bitterness for months. (But then again, don't we all.) There's always a little extra appreciation for the handcrafted trinkets and tinctures our friends create for us, so be that person who gives sentimental, questionable tat made with love.
Buy biodegradable If you must use face wipes, baby wipes, kitchen wipes, and cotton wipes, at least go for the type that won’t be floating around for the next decade like an gross invincible tissue.
Avoid fast fashion It is no secret that clothes from many high street stores are made by nameless deprived children in third world countries, but if that isn't reason enough the quality, originality and longevity of mass produced fashion is often rather dreadful. A good way round this is to buy second hand, which is usually a fraction of the price at least.
Save wrapping paper Cut it up for garlands decorations, make gift tags and cards, donate it to a children’s craft workshop, or just use it for wrapping other presents in the future. Most wrapping paper cannot be recycled so try in the future to just use brown craft paper which can look delightfully traditional if tarted up with stamps and string.
Buy the tools to reuse When did we stop using ice cube trays and start buying ice in bags? What happened to the soda stream for making your own carbonated drinks? Why do so few people use a water butt and give their plants rain water? These are bizarre habits we have gotten into. If there's something you buy regularly that is disposable, do some research and see if there's a more economical and environmentally friendly version.
Invest in a blender So you can concoct fresh smoothies or hearty soups that will feed you for days and give you bountiful health.
Use old tissue boxes as mini recycling bins This is a perfect one for your desk or car so little scraps don’t end up with regular trash.
Visit the fruit and veg shop Ours is owned by the Thompson Brothers, who engage often engage customers in amusing conversation while selling reasonably priced and plastic free produce.
Make your own cleaning products The ‘spring fresh’ scent promise of regular cleaning products never seems to hide that underlying chemical stench, but add a few drops of lavender or rose oil with soda, vinegar and hot water and you can clean about anything while making your house smell gorgeous.
Limit your beauty products Consider what you can use for more than one purpose. Oils like almond, coconut, jojoba or argan are great at moisturising nails, taking off make-up, or making hair less frizzy, apple cider vinegar actually makes an excellent conditioner, and many shampoo bars can also be used as body soap.
Start composting If you’re at all green fingered and have a decent sized outdoor space, composters and wormeries are ideal for recycling food waste, giving plants some lovely natural nutrients, and providing small profound moments whilst wondering at the strange workings of the planet.
Turn decisions into habits This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Whimsically thinking about making the effort or doing something once ain’t going to make much of a difference. You need determination. Ingrain some sound practices into your lifestyle and all of these tricks will work.