Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson Book Review

zero waste home
Can you imagine your family producing just one mason jar of waste each year? Even reducing the waste in your recycling to the bare minimum? Can you envisage for one moment your home as a minimalist, plastic-free haven containing only the things you really need? Less to clean and maintain, fewer toxins, and a simpler life richer in the things that really matter? Bea Johnson and her family have created just that and her book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life explains how.

Achieving simplicity

By adopting a zero waste lifestyle, the Johnsons have achieved a balance and simplicity that most of us can only dream of.  It may not be possible for all of us to create a completely zero waste home, but we can learn from their experience to reduce our dependence on plastics, cut our waste dramatically, to eat more locally and healthily, and to learn to place our emphasis on experiences over things.

zero waste home

You can follow the 5 Rs by taking your own containers to a bulk shop

The recent Marie Kondo phenomenon has illustrated our dissatisfaction with the vast amount of stuff we purchase and cram into our homes. We work harder to make more money to buy yet more stuff, and only occasionally stop to consider how little lasting satisfaction comes from this lifestyle. By moving towards the attainment of a zero waste home, we can help to reduce the stress on our environment, save money and improve our physical and mental well-being.

Five steps to a zero waste home


Johnson advocates a five  step approach to reducing your waste. Step 1 is to REFUSE. This means curbing your consumption overall, refusing business cards, leaflets, junk mail, goody bags, receipts, plastic bags and single use plastics generally. By taking a reusable bottle, cloth bags for your groceries, taking your own containers to buy loose goods and refusing as much potential waste as possible – ie not bringing it into your home – you will reduce the demand for many items to be produced in the first place.


This means questioning your need of past, present and future purchases. It means the reduction of stuff, maybe donating or selling items that you have accumulated but no longer use. Even giving up shopping as a leisure activity, maybe downsizing your property, gettimg rid of one car if you have two, etc.


Repurpose the items that come into your house that you weren’t able to refuse or reduce. Finding a new purpose for an item that might otherwise be thrown away or sent for recycling helps to alleviate resource depletion and extend their useful life. For example, you can used old coffee jars to collect and store dry goods purchased in bulk.


If you have followed steps 1 to 3 so far, you won’t be sending so many items for recycling. This is progress, since recycling isn’t a panacea for our over consumption. Recycling uses a lot of energy for a start and is confusing. Some plastics are recyclable and some are not. Some claim to be compostable, but how long does this take? Are our recycling systems properly regulated and robust? How do we know they aren’t shipped off to a third world country and dumped?

#5 ROT (compost the rest)

When you have gone through the four preceding steps, hopefully all you have left is compostable food and maybe also paper waste. You have achieved zero waste!

Can you really achieve zero waste?

zero waste home

We are lucky to finally have a zero waste shop

Johnson does admit that a truly zero waste lifestyle is pretty much impossible, but we can all move towards it. The benefits to our finances, our health, our time and the environment will be immense. She guides you through the whole of your home and lifestyle, giving you invaluable information and advice to enable you to at least follow a low waste existence.

Zero Waste Home has had a huge impact on how we live at Shoestring Cottage. I urge you to buy a copy and lend it to all of your friends and family members to encourage them to tread more lightly on the earth.

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Inspirational Books for the New Year

Inspirational Books

I have said it before, I love a good book. Only rarely will you find me reading fiction these days. I prefer real life, constructive and inspiring reading matter these days. The following is a list of inspirational books to help you save money, live better and motivate you in 2019. They are under broad headings but some of those that encourage you to live more frugally also happen to be more eco-friendly, and vice versa. I have a heading for motivational books, but many of those under other headings will also motivate you to move in your chosen direction. I hope you like my list. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Inspirational books to help you save money

Total Money Makeover:  A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Anything by Dave Ramsey will help you to take control of your finances, as well as to grow your money. I was extremely impressed with his The Total Money Makeover, which I reviewed here. Thousands of people have found financial peace by following his baby steps to get out of debt and create wealth.

How I lived a year on just a pound a day by Kath Kelly

This is an entertaining and inspiring read. How I lived a year on a just pound a day follows Kath Kelly’s journey as she finds creative ways to have fun and live a good life on the toughest of budgets. She cycled everywhere, ate reduced price food and even managed a couple of holidays. Whether she could still do it today I don’t know. I wish she would do a follow up! My full review is here.

The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle

Another book that shows just how little you can live on if you are determined is Moneyless Man, The: A Year Of Freeconomic Living. I was intrigued to find out how he would live on no money at all for a year. In this thought provoking book, Mark Boyle shows how you can not only live on less money, but actually thrive. His book draws attention to the damage our thoughtless consumerism does to the world and our fellow citizens and offers a radical new way to live. My review is here. If you want to find out more about the movement showing people that money is not true wealth you can watch this short You Tube film. This book could easily have been in the Motivation or Live Greener sections as it encompasses all of these topics.

His book The Moneyless Manifesto: Live Well. Live Rich. Live Free is on my list to read next!

The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn

This is the book that started my journey to frugality and helped to take control of my money. The Complete Tightwad Gazette makes money saving seem like an enjoyable hobby rather than a hard, painful slog. The Tightwad Gazette started life as a money saving newsletter, full of great frugal commonsense and thrifty ideas. Even though it is now quite old, it is a classic and a must for anyone wanting to live a good life on less dollar. My review is here.

Budget cookery books

A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe

Every frugal cook should have a copy of A Girl Called Jack: 100 delicious budget recipes. Lots of super cheap recipes in this one. I prefer it by far to any of the others from Jack. My full review is here.

Save with Jamie by Jamie Oliver

inspirational books

I have never been a massive fan of Jamie Oliver. All that ‘bish bash bosh’ stuff put me off. However, I now have a couple of his cookbooks and they are great. Save with Jamie: Shop Smart, Cook Clever, Waste Less isn’t mega frugal, but very good for the budget cook because it makes sure you use all your leftovers. Pukka! I reviewed it here.

Vegetarian Kitchen by Sarah Brown

I have mentioned this book a lot recently as I have been revisiting some old vegetarian favourites. It is out of print now, sadly, but you can still pick up a second hand copy on Amazon . If you are a vegetarian or have one in the family, it is well worth buying. I still love the cashew nut and mushroom roast and the red dragon pie, especially.

Vegetarian food is nearly always cheaper than meat and healthier too.

The Complete Vegetarian by Rose Elliott

Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian brings together recipes from many of her books. What I like about any of Rose Elliot’s books is that she always gives you plenty of information on how to eat a nutritionally balanced diet and the recipes are easy to make. I have pulled this one out as it has a lot of good recipes, but actually any Rose Elliot book is worth a look. Many of them are out of print now so grab a copy if you happen to see one second hand. Some are available on Amazon, but are expensive now. The New Vegetarian Cookbook is another good one, but I couldn’t see it on Amazon at all, and I used to love Not Just a Load of Old Lentils, which I think was probably the first vegetarian cook book I ever bought, in my teens.  Spinach roulade, anyone?

Frugal Food by Delia Smith

inspirational books

I come back to this book time and again. I had a copy of the original 1970s paperback, which disintegrated with over use. My mum came to the rescue and bought me the re-published hardback version from the late ’90s. You can do an awful lot of nice dishes with the humble sausage, there is a vegetarian section and lots of good, cheap cake recipes. You can read a fuller review here, but on the whole I would say this is worth buying if you want reliable budget recipes.

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen

This is a really unusual and original vegetarian cookbook. In fact, I have only just rediscovered it and it has been sitting on the shelf for years. It contains recipes for the more adventurous cook, I would say. Again, because they are vegetarian, they tend to be cheaper to make than meaty food. Even if you just want to cut back on the amount of meat you eat rather than becoming a full on vegetarian, there is lots to explore in this book.

I love the sound of the peanut and sesame noodles and might give the sweet potato pie a go. There are lots of interesting sweet and savoury bakes too. I have always wanted to try calzone so this is on my list. The food in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest is influenced by a wide range of ethnic cooking styles and incorporates lots of different nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices.

If you want a cookbook that doesn’t rely on expensive ingredients yet offers something a bit different, this could be the book to try.

Books to help you live greener

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

I love this book: Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life, which I finished reading just before Christmas. Not that I believe we are anywhere near creating just a glass jar full of waste each year, as Bea Johnson and her family do, but it has certainly made me realise that we could reduce our waste A LOT with very little effort.

I found this a very inspirational read, full of ideas about how you can cut the waste you produce, whilst living a more simple and fulfilling life.  The key is to follow the 5 Rs: Refuse stuff you don’t need (don’t take the waste in the first place; easier said than done, but not impossible); Reduce what you do need and cannot refuse (spend your money on experiences rather than ‘stuff’); Reuse what you consume (this doesn’t mean recycling but rather finding a new purpose for items that you didn’t manage to refuse or reduce); Recycle (hopefully, you have refused, reduced and reused so much that there is much less left to recycle) and finally, Rot (compost everything that is left).

inspirational books

I will do a full review of Zero Waste Home in the next month or so, but highly recommend it. If you want to find out more about Bea Johnson and the zero waste movement she created, just do a search on You Tube. She pops up doing talks all over the place.

Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth, by Donnachadh McCarthy

This practical book stops you feeling overwhelmed about how you can make a difference and live a greener lifestyle. It offers 500 ideas to live a more environmentally existence, from turning off your appliances at the plug rather than leaving them on standby, to insulating your home, buying more energy efficient appliances, reducing your waste and reusing where you can.

I love that it offers practical solutions.Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth: 500 Simple Steps to a Greener Lifestyle is quite an old book now, as it was  first published in 2004. However, it is totally relevant for today, as we become more acutely aware of the environmental damage our lifestyle is causing and strive to reduce our carbon footprint. This is one of the most inspirational books I have found and it has certainly had an impact on me as I have attempted to live a green lifestyle over the years.

Natural Household Cleaning, Making your own eco-savvy cleaning products, by Rachelle Strauss

This was one of my Christmas presents and I was very happy to receive it. Natural Household Cleaning shows you how you can replace the plethora of highly marketed, plastic packaged chemical cleaners with simpler, more natural and less environmentally damaging alternatives.

I have been using bicarbonate or soda, vinegar and soda crystals to clean here at Shoestring Cottage for a while now so much of this isn’t new to me. However, what is really interesting is the information on the chemicals in most commercial cleaning products and the harm they can do you individually (let alone mixed in a chemical cocktail with other products). For example, air fresheners don’t actually freshen the air. All they do is coat your nostrils and block the olfactory nerve with a stronger chemical fragrance. The warnings tell you to not to breathe in the spray and that inhaling the product may kill you. Just open the window or tackle the source of any bad smells!

In Natural Household Cleaning Rachel Strauss gives you simple ideas recipes and ideas to replace all chemical cleaners in your house for the sake of your health, the environment and your bank balance.

Books on Simple Living

Simplicity: Easy ways to simplify and enrich your life by Elaine St James

As more and more people find that having it all – the best clothes, the biggest car or house, the newest gadgets -means working more to earn more, many of us are looking for ways to get off the treadmill. Working to compete with the Jones’s leaves less time for family, friends and more fulfilling activities, leading to a sense of being overwhelmed and stressed out.

In Simplicity: Easy Ways to Simplify and Enrich Your Life, Elaine St James suggests a different way to live, trading in your high pressure lifestyle for one that is less about money and more about valuing the simpler things in life. A great read if you need inspiration to change, but don’t know where to start.

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

Another oldie but goody, In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed challenges the faster is better, hectic lifestyles that many of us find ourselves trapped in. When Carl Honore found himself speed reading a bedtime story to his child, he knew he had to change and find a better balance. In this book, he explores the idea of slow living, from slow food to slow sex to show how embracing the slow living movement can help you live a more productive and fulfilling life.  A great book for when you are feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself time to read this!

The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour

inspirational books

This classic inspired the TV series the Good Life and caused lots of people to attempt to go back to the earth. You may not be ready to go and live on a smallholding in the back of beyond and live a self sufficient life, to give up the supermarket and grow all of your own food, kill and eat your livestock and make everything from scratch.  However, The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers may well inspire you to keep a few chickens in the garden, make some home brew or jam and bake a few loaves every now and again. It will encourage you to waste less, respect the land and be a little more self sufficient.

John Seymour says in his introduction: ” Self-sufficiency does not mean ‘going back’ to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food which is fresh and organically grown…for the health of body and peace of mind which come with hard varied work in the open air…’

Whether you just want to dream or to actually live the good life on the land, this book is a must read.

I hope you enjoyed my (by no means comprehensive) list of inspirational books for 2019 and that they will give you food for thought.

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A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes – Book Review

I can’t believe I have never written a review of Girl Called Jack, as I really thought I had. This is a book I use a lot, as you will notice if you following any of my weekly meal planning posts.  Still, better late than never!

A Girl Called Jack: 100 delicious budget recipes was Jack Monroe’s first book, which grew from the original blog (now called Cooking on a Bootstrap). The recipes came from Jack trying to eat healthily on a suddenly massively reduced budget when, as parent to a 4 year old, the reality of a year being unemployed hit. Jack experimented with cheaper ingredients from the supermarket budget ranges and found it was possible, after all, to stretch the budget and eat well.

“There’s no tarting about, no fancy ingredients, but still, when I call my friends and invite them over for dinner, I manage to fill a table and they manage to clear their plates with compliments and smiles and disbelief that I do it so cheaply.” 

I love that you don’t need a dried porcini mushroom, a sun-dried tomato or even actual risotto rice to make some of the recipes in A Girl Called Jack. As soon as you get all ‘cheffy’ your budget tends to go out of the window!

A girl called jack

From home made breads, through soups made with store cupboard ingredients thick enough for dinner, to spicy pulse dishes and meaty casseroles, there is a breadth of variety here. A Girl Called Jack has recipes for the vegan, vegetarian and confirmed carnivore. There are some very nice puddings too.


The recipes that we have eaten regularly include pork kokkinistou, chicken chasseur, creamy mustard chicken with winter veg, and sausage and lentil one pot dinner. Now that I am vegetarian I enjoy her earthy red wine and mustard risotto, mushroom chasseur and vegetable masala curry. The carrot, cumin and kidney bean burgers are legendary.

I tend to ignore the tinned vegetables in recipes as I prefer fresh or frozen. However, tinned are often cheaper if your budget is tiny.

Not all of the recipes are successful. We really didn’t enjoy creamy salmon pasta with a chilli lemon kick, made with a jar of salmon paste. The hummus is too thick and dry for me.

I am also not a fan of fruit in savoury dishes, such as Jack’s roman pasta with mandarins and a creamy basil sauce or peach and chick pea curry.  They might be nice but we have avoided them!

All in all though, A Girl Called Jack is one of my favourite go to recipe books. I have the subsequent two – A Year in 120 Recipes and Cooking on a Bootstrap, but this will forever be my favourite I think.

Anybody else got this book? What do you think?

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How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a day: Book Review

Another one for My Frugal Bookshelf! I have just finished re-reading Kath Kelly’s wonderful book, How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day. It was just as inspiring as the first time around! She is my kind of woman.

Could you live a year on a pound a day?

The book tells the story of an English teacher living in Bristol who made the drastic decision to live on a pound a day to save money for her brother’s wedding present. Her friends thought she was crazy and that she could only achieve this if she became a vegetarian, travelled nowhere and used old rags instead of tampons! She proved them wrong.

During the course of her year living on a pound a day,  she became a yellow sticker officianado, organised  a clothes swapping party, hitchhiked and cycled everywhere and camped for free. She did a WOOFing holiday (where, incidentally, she met her future husband), discovered just how cheaply she could purchase clothes if she turned up at jumble sales just before closing and found a vast number of free events in Bristol, some rewarding her with refreshments just for turning up. She also collected over £100 in money from the pavements on her travels – what a careless bunch we are!

Super frugal

It became more than just a quest to get her brother a decent wedding present, however. She became much fitter from all of the walking and cycling she did (once she had curbed her liking for too many reduced cakes and pies!). She realised how much money she used to fritter and how much we waste as a society. Her super frugal lifestyle revealed our consumerist society to be hugely wasteful and damaging to the environment, as well as people’s bank balances. When Kath Kelly’s year came to an end she knew she couldn’t go back to her previous ways.

She has written a couple of other books since, which I intend to explore. I have just downloaded a sample to my Kindle app of Doing the Right Thing. If I enjoy this I will buy the book.

I purchased my copy of How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day for the Kindle too, although if you prefer an actual paper book you can pick them up second hand on Amazon (my link: How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day by Kath Kelly ( 2008 ). Please note  if you purchase anything through either of my links I will receive a small commission. The Kindle version is a bargain at only £2.08.


My frugal bookshelf: Delia Smith’s Frugal Food

Delia Smith's Frugal FoodIf anyone ever doubted the awesomeness that is Saint Delia (as I call her), think again. Delia Smith’s Frugal Food is a classic with good reason.

This book was first published in 1976, at a time of inflation, rising prices and world food shortages. Sound familiar? Those problems persist,  but add to those our current issues around austerity, benefits cuts and  the uncertainty around Brexit and you realise that hard times and financial pressures are an increasingly common reality for many people.

This book, with its reliably cheap and tasty recipes, is still relevant. It was actually republished in a glossier format in 2008 but I have a copy of the original, with yellow pages and spillages to testify to its regular use.

There are some recipes I wouldn’t class as frugal nowadays. I think meat and fish may have been cheaper when the book was written so I don’t cook lamb or beef much. However, there are lots of recipes for those on a budget.  My favourites include pork sausages with cider sauce, spaghetti with tuna and olives, bean and lentil chilli, souffle’d jacket potatoes and liver casserole. There are some great puddings too. Classics like bread pudding and spotted dick alongside blackberry cheesecake for the forager.

You can still pick up various versions of Delia Smith’s Frugal Food second hand, but if you use my link to Amazon to make a purchase I will receive a small commission.

The Goode Kitchen book review

the Goode KitchenReader Rosemary reminded me of this one for my frugal bookshelf.  The Goode Kitchen was written by the late Shirley Goode to accompany her BBC series of the same name in 1986.

Shirley had a precise and logical approach to saving money in the kitchen, which has barely dated. In fact her ideas for her kitchen decor (open shelves and a mix of charity shop mixed crockery) seems positively on trend . Think shabby chic! She believed in spending more on the essentials, such as some quality knives and pans.

I first read the Goode Kitchen years ago and clearly absorbed this approach to cooking. Shirley can take a lot of the credit for much of my kitchen behaviour now – reusing yogurt pots and margarine pots to freeze soup or store leftovers, keeping old bread bags and making stock from bones and chicken carcasses.

Budgeting is key in the Goode Kitchen

She takes an interesting approach to budgeting that makes me think she was an influence on Jack Monroe, carefully costing her ingredients to easily calculate the price of any meal and adjusting ingredients to always get the best possible value.

The recipes are straightforward, nutritious and tasty. They use ingredients likely to be in most cook’s store cupboards or easy to find in a supermarket. For example, you will find recipes for fish chowder, Somerset rabbit casserole, poor man’s jugged hare (actually made with beef) and pauper’s pottage (a healthy vegetable stew) – great, no frills family food.

It is sadly out of print now but you can still find the odd copy second hand on Amazon, as I did. If you see it at a reasonable price, grab it! (Disclosure – this is my affiliate link. If you do click through and make a purchase I will earn a small commission.)


The Penny Pincher’s Book – a review

I discovered the Penny Pincher’s Book at about the same time as the Tightwad Gazette. I would say it is the UK equivalent. Like the Gazette, it was born from a newsletter, the Penny Pincher Paper.

John and Irma Mustoe are not preaching an austere and joyless existence. Rather they are saying that saving money gives you more choices and more control. ‘Spending money must be a skill at least as important as earning it’ – a great quote and one I agree with.

The Penny Pincher’s Book is full of tips to save money, some to save pounds and others that will make a few pennies difference. Making do, mending, reusing and repurposing in creative ways form the basis of much of the advice.

Getting the best value

There are many suggestions for wringing every last drop of value out of all your purchases. Some may not be worth the effort (reuse the free envelopes in junk mailings by turning them inside out and carefully regluing it is one I wouldn’t bother with -I’d sooner stick a label on top of the address) but others are genius. For example, bicarbonate of soda can be sprinkled on a flannel and wiped under the arms as a deodorant. I know this works as my long lasting Lush one is basically bicarbonate of soda with some essential oils. Dilute shampoo by a third and it will last longer and lather better. Turn down your heating by one degree to save around 8% on your heating bill. Take care of what you have – ‘maintenance works’!

Just because you cannot do all of a job it doesn’t mean you can’t do any of it. This is Mr S’s philosophy for sure. He is currently fitting our new wood burner. He has removed the old fireplace and laid the hearth, fitted a mantle shelf and plans to clean the chimney. Once we have paid a professional to line the chimney he will fit the burner. 

It’s a great book that you can pick up and read a few pages of every now and again to get some inspiration, but you will easily read it through as it’s an interesting and absorbing read. I have the original book from 1995, which you can still pick up secondhand, but I notice that Amazon is selling an updated version, the Penny Pincher’s Book Revisited, published in 2007.

So,/the Penny Pincher’s Book is another classic on my frugal bookshelf. More to follow!