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Bea Johnson: “Get rid of 80 percent of your clothes”

Why Bea Johnson, the icon of the Zero Waste movement, leads a happy life.

Why Bea Johnson, the icon of the Zero Waste movement, leads a happy life.

When Bea Johnson packs her suitcase, she’s ready at the drop of a hat. Why? Because she simply takes her entire wardrobe with her. We never wear 80 percent of our clothes, says the American best-selling author and icon of the Zero Waste movement. Bea Johnson has radically implemented this principle: the French-born woman, who lives in the USA with her husband and two sons, owns a total of fifteen items of clothing. Yet these fifteen items of clothing are selected so that Bea can combine them in 50 different ways to suit every possible occasion. You don’t need more than that, she says.

The wardrobe trick is just one of a number that help Bea and her family avoid having to throw anything away and produce almost no rubbish. All the waste produced by the four of them in 2016 fits into a jar that Bea takes with her to her numerous presentations around the world. Bea Johnson is an energetic and lively narrator. But the most important thing is: She’s convincing. Audiences hang on her every word.

“Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot”

Bea Johnson’s Five R’s

“Buying means choosing,” is one of the key messages that Bea wants to get across to her audience. Consumers who keep on buying packaged food are telling the industry that packaging is wanted, leading to more and more of it being produced. Bea also came up with the “magic five Rs” of the Zero Waste movement: “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot”. Since she and her family gradually started introducing these rules in 2008, their life has changed radically – for the better.

Triodos Bank customer Children’s Scrapstore reuse waste materials to create fun education projects for children in Bristol

“Think about what you really need and simply say no to the rest,” explains Bea Johnson. Lots of small steps led to a rapid reduction in the size of the private rubbish mountain. For example, you can reject junk mail and dispense with business cards. “Candles last longer when you keep them in the deep freeze,” says the blogger, causing a murmur in the hall. But the trick with candles, the avoidance of business cards and junk mail, are not enough for Bea and her family. They go much, much further. Bea, for example, has almost entirely stopped using cosmetics, using organic chocolate powder as rouge and carbonised almonds as eyeliner instead.

Bea Johnson sees her lifestyle not only as making a contribution to ecological balance, but also as a manual for being happy. The zero waste lifestyle creates space for the beautiful, simple things in life and has a positive effect on health and finances. “We have banished almost all toxic substances from our household,” says Bea, and her family has felt much healthier since the change in lifestyle.

There’s also much more left in the kitty at the end of the month: on average 40 percent more than there was when they began. When Bea, her husband or sons wanted to buy something, they always checked to see if they could get it second hand first, she explains. “When you buy something new, look for brands that provide a lifetime warranty on their products,” says the native Frenchwoman. She has even found herself a sock manufacturer which will repair or replace. “Isn’t that crazy?” she cries to the audience.

Bea Johnson has a number of fans and followers in the UK, such as plastic-free advocate Kate Arnell, who Triodos Bank interviewed recently.

Photo: Zona Photo

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Frances Alexander 3 years ago

Does she include bras and pants in the 15 items?
and does it include summer and winter clothing?
I really need those 15 items named!

WendyD 3 years ago

I agree with the comment below. Does she play a sport, and are clothes and shoes included in the 15? How often does she do the washing? I’m guessing that she doesn’t iron!