Genevieve Nalls fits a month of household trash inside one mason jar.
She and her husband, Carl Nalls, have been practicing a low-waste life for four years in their NoDa home.
“I make my own cleaning products, and we use reusable or compostable items as much as possible,” Nalls said. “We’ve got a pantry that contains all of our bulk shopping. We’ve also got composting, curbside recycling, drop-off recycling, plastic bag and film recycling, toiletry recycling and lastly, landfill bins set up in our home so that everything goes where it needs to go and as little as possible goes to the landfill.”
The average American produces more than four pounds of trash a day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When Nalls first considered how their footprint was affecting the earth, she and her husband began following the principles of the zero-waste movement. Now she uses the phrase, “low waste” because it’s easier for people to digest.
“Zero waste sounds so hard,” Nalls explained. “Low waste is a more approachable term for people. It has more grace associated with it.”
She doesn’t buy much of anything anymore — only food, toiletries and items to maintain their home and cars. If she buys clothing, it’s from a thrift store such as Buffalo Exchange.
“When I go out, I take reusable utensils, a cloth napkin, a thermos, a mug, a plate or a bowl with me — depending on where I’m going, so that I don’t make trash,” she said. “I don’t buy single-use items. I’ve swapped them out for reusable items.”
Nalls committed to a life of intentional living and low waste after she left Virginia Technical Institute in 2012 with $133,000 in school loans and an architectural degree she didn’t want.
“I had this realization I hated it (architecture),” Nalls, 29, said. “I had an identity crisis. Who am I if I’m not an architect? This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. It sent me down this intense personal development journey.”
It was several years before Nalls’s self-discovery process led to a career as an intentional living coach. In 2017, she opened The Classy Hippie. Nalls works with clients to uncover what’s most important to them and make changes that support those values. She facilitates one-on-one sessions and teaches group classes about decluttering and low-waste living.
During the in-home sessions, Nalls helps the client determine how their stories and beliefs may be blocking their ultimate vision. Don’t compare her to Marie Kondo, though: she approaches the decluttering process differently from how the author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” suggests.
“Rather than asking if something sparks joy, I spend a significant amount of time with my clients before we start the act of decluttering: establishing their why and their pain points,” Nalls said. “We’ve got to understand why that stuff is there to begin with, so that they don’t just go back to their behaviors of accumulating.”
Nalls starts with an area of least resistance because she wants her client to build their confidence and have success with letting go. Unlike Kondo, it’s part of Nalls’ process to find homes for the items being removed from the household. Clients are provided a list of how and where their belongings were distributed.
The Classy Hippie clients may end up with a tidier home, but they also learn about how to begin living a low-waste lifestyle. She teaches her clients how to make simple changes: when to use reusables, how to properly recycle and where to donate specific items.
“I want people to live free and at peace — and that is the driving force behind everything that I do.”
Ready to get started? Nalls recommends these three steps to begin living an intentional lifestyle:
- Read Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why.” Nalls encourages people to spend time thinking about what matters to them and understanding the “why” behind it.
- Monitor the trash. Nalls recommends that each time you throw something into the garbage, ask yourself these questions: Do I need this? Why did I buy this? How many times did I use this? How long did I use this for?
- Make a list of everything you need to do inside and outside your home. This might be a long list. Walk through each room and write down what needs to be recycled, donated, repaired or thrown away.