Looking to settle into a new home while also reducing your waste? Sarah Burgess and her family recently moved back to the United Kingdom and set a goal to buy nothing new while settling into their home. Read on for tips for a zero-waste move into a new home.
This past summer, we relocated from the United States back to the United Kingdom when our ex-pat adventure came to an end. We set ourselves the seemingly impossible task of not sending anything to the landfill as we cleared out the house. We mostly succeeded thanks to patience and diligence throughout the decluttering and packing process.
We also set out to not buy anything new when we arrived back in the UK. We shipped back the majority of our large furniture so we wouldn’t need to purchase most large items upon our return. However, we sold or gave away all our electricals. US plugs and voltage don’t translate properly in UK outlets and sockets.
We also left behind toys the children had outgrown, clothes, and books we weren’t going to read again. We recycled our 11-year-old mattress thanks to Green Mattress Recycling. Our bedframe of the same age had also given up the ghost so we recycled it at our town dump and passed the wooden slats went to a neighbor for a mystery DIY project he was working on.
This meant when we landed in the UK we needed to buy all of our household appliances: vacuum, toaster, kettle (essential as a Brit for our many cups of tea), iron, TV, lamps, blender, food mixer… the list goes on and on. We also needed a new bed and mattress, wardrobes for the kids (they had closets in the US), bookshelves, bikes, and a car. The list was daunting!
Avoid The Rush To the Big Box Superstore
If you’ve ever moved house, you’ll no doubt remember the trip to a superstore just after moving in to buy lots of new stuff and the huge bill that normally accompanies it. We were impatient to make our house feel like a home again, to ‘nest’ and surround ourselves with home comforts. The temptation to simply go to Amazon and just buy, buy, buy; or go to IKEA, Currys (like BestBuy), or B&Q (the UK equivalent of Home Depot) and buy everything in one go was huge, but we resisted.
I’d forewarned my family that I wanted to do everything we possibly could to not buy anything new as we settled into our new home. I’d read about Jen Gale’s Nothing New in 22 challenge. I thought that if I could show my family (and myself) that it was possible while moving 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, it would be possible in future years when we weren’t making such a big change! All the items we needed already existed in the world. We just had to find the person wanting to sell them to us.
Check out Secondhand Shops, Swaps, and Markets
Instead of the superstores, we hit up the charity shops on Hemel Hempstead high street. Fortunately, my husband loves a charity shop – I just had to persuade him to venture into the British Heart Foundation (BHF) furniture shop and focus on household items, not books for the kids. At BHF we got a kettle (£5), an iron (£15), and a shoe rack (£5) and he began to see what was possible.
Charity shops are great but they take transport to get to them, time to go around them, and a bit of luck. The satisfaction of finding just what you want in a thrift store can be huge, but you have to ride out the frustration and inconvenience first. I’m also incredibly lucky that I have a car and the time to scour these stores. I appreciate that these things aren’t available to all.
In addition to scanning charity shops, I set up alerts on Facebook Marketplace and eBay for the things I needed. That helped me to snag a bike (£40) for my daughter, some free curtain rings, a slow cooker/crockpot (£10), and a toaster (£40 brand new in the box).
I’m still on the hunt for some plants, and I’m about to go and pick up some “new in box” pans that someone couldn’t return to the shop (an unwanted wedding present!). She’s selling them on Facebook Marketplace for less than half of their recommended retail price. Patience literally paid off for us.
I discovered and explored Vinted and Shpock, UK-based apps like eBay for people selling things. We found school shoes and shin pads (shin guards) for just £5 and £3 respectively. I signed up for Freegle, a local ‘Buy Nothing’ website with a daily email alert, so I could see when people were giving away things I might need. I also posted asking for items I was struggling to find.
I hit up the secondhand uniform shop at the kids’ new school and started volunteering there. That helped me kit out both of my kids without buying too many new pieces, though they did get new school socks. I asked on the year/grade chat groups for the pieces I found harder to find, and scored a blazer (£30 instead of £95) and my son’s school shoes (free) that way. These items were all in great condition, just outgrown and needing a new home.
I lost the battle with wall stickers and we ordered new ones from Amazon. But I won on second-hand bedding (brand new in packaging) for my son from Facebook Marketplace and a charity shop (£10 for both sets). We found onbuy.com for refurbished and guaranteed electricals and bought a preloved 42’ TV for £185 delivered.
Fix and Mend Before Replacing with New
Upon returning home, our house needed a few fixes too. The people who’d been renting our house while we lived in the US had broken our fridge. Instead of simply replacing the entire fridge, we managed to buy new fridge door shelves (£94 instead of £1000+).
I googled my oven model to fix the clock and make the oven work again. We used a YouTube video to show us how to change broken toilet seats so the whole thing didn’t need replacing, nor did we need to call someone in to do it. There’s nothing yuckier than changing a toilet seat, but there’s nothing more satisfying either!
We got lucky and our tenants left two wardrobes and a bookcase. I fixed the hinges on the wardrobes and my husband sanded down and repainted the bookcase so it matched my daughter’s bedroom jungle theme.
A Shift in Mindset | Do you really need it?
The biggest two wins were when we changed our mindset. We originally thought we needed a new superking (US king) bed and mattress, which would have cost us £1000+. At the same time, we were contemplating selling our King (US Queen) bed and mattress as they were too big for our spare room.
Then we realised that was silly. A king bed is perfectly big enough and it would save us a lot of money even if we had to replace the mattress in a few years. I’ve already bookmarked SnoozelGreen as a sustainable option for that when the time comes! We skipped hunting online for a new bed and mattress and used what we already had.
The same happened with our car. We’d already made the decision to move to a fully electric vehicle, and we had a new Hyundai Ioniq5 on lease order. We placed the order back in January as we heard it would take 26 weeks to deliver. The delivery date came and went, and it quickly became apparent that we would be lucky to get it this side of Christmas.
We’d been borrowing my step-mum’s tiny Kia Picanto which barely fits a small carry-on case in the trunk/boot (US readers see just how small here). It was too small for us, but it made us question whether we really needed the huge boot which had been a factor in our ordering the Ioniq5. Would something smaller be ok 95% of the time?
With a smaller car, we could just borrow or find a preloved roof box for road trips instead of always needing a larger boot. We were incredibly lucky and had enough money to buy a used car outright, so we searched for nearby options and stumbled across a Kia E-Niro that was only 1 year old and had 12,000 miles on the clock. Preloved, full EV, and low mileage. I was in heaven!
Changing our mindset meant that we got what we needed, not what we wanted. It saved us money and meant nothing new needed to be manufactured, saving the planet’s resources and saving us money.
A Few More Tips For a Zero Waste Move to a New Home
So, with hindsight, what would I recommend to avoid buying new after a move? In summary, here are a few tips to save money and reduce waste when moving into a new home with family.
Take Your Time
You need time and you need to give it time. Chances are you won’t find the perfect coloured kettle to match your kitchen on your first search. Make do in the meantime. Use what you have if you can. It’s way more satisfying when you do finally manage to secure the thing you’re looking for in a sustainable way.
Prioritise Your Needs and Be Flexible.
Be honest with yourself about what you absolutely need and what you just want because it’s pretty or you’ve always had one. This goes for the items themselves but also the design, size, etc. Why do you need it and why does it have to be that size or style? Will you use it more than once? Can you borrow it instead of buying it?
Be flexible. If something is 75% suitable then consider giving it a go. You might realise the other 25% isn’t important after all. Remember everything doesn’t have to be done immediately. My son has bright yellow flowery curtains in his outer space-themed bedroom. Does it go? No! Does he care? No! They’re made to measure and perfectly fine for now.
Repurpose As Much as Possible
Can you repurpose something you already have? We brought our US BBQ over but couldn’t find an adapter so we used the regulator from our decrepit UK BBQ and fit it to the US pipe. We also used parts of the old BBQ frame for our planned raised vegetable beds so as much as possible could be saved from the landfill.
Really important! Be patient with your search and also with your family. They might not understand why you want them to sit in the car as you wait for someone to give you the old bookcase you’re buying from them.
My kids have shouted at me more than once “Why can’t we be like normal people and just buy things from a shop?” Show them there is another way and let them win (sometimes). Show your kids that their pocket money and birthday money go further if they buy it from a charity shop or from eBay or Vinted. Normalise secondhand and conscious consumption (like investing in good long-lasting quality new items), and they’ll take it with them into their adult lives.
Don’t be Afraid To Ask
Ask for things you need on your local Buy Nothing group or from your friends. Chances are someone will have one of the things you need and will only be too happy to offload them. We borrowed a friend’s sander to sand our garden table and chairs, and another friend lent us a sleeping mat for the kids’ upcoming ‘Cosy Camping’ event at school. The great thing about borrowing is you don’t have to store it all year round.
As I look back at all the things we’ve avoided buying new in just six weeks after we landed in the UK, I can count 36 household items, with 16 of them not costing us any money at all. We set ourselves a pretty extreme challenge and only buying secondhand is not going to be sustainable as the mayhem of family life takes over.
As always though, every single preloved item bought is one step in the right direction. Every item borrowed instead of bought is a win for the planet. Each good quality purchase that will last for years is showing businesses that disposable is not the answer. Perfectly imperfect is how we fight the climate crisis, not with impossible standards of perfection.
What’s your favourite place or site for preloved items? How can we make secondhand purchasing easier and more convenient? I’d love to hear what you think.
About The Author
Sarah Burgess is co-founder of the social movement Just1bag2020, mother of two, and British Expat who spent four years living in the United States and recently moved back to the United Kingdom. Sarah spends her time promoting local sustainable change through small, easy-to-do actions that everyone can do to help out the planet. When not picking up trash and persuading others to do the same, Sarah and her family can be found travelling the world and experiencing everything this precious Earth has to offer.