I wanted to take some time today to talk about something I find harder than it should be, but something that has to happen: throwing DIY stuff away. Be it past-their-prime ingredients, dubiously useable products, mystery bottles, or packaging you swear you’ll be able to safely repurpose someday; some things just need to be chucked as part of this hobby, and sometimes it’s harder to do than we’d like to admit.
If you’ve been following me on YouTube you’ll know I’ve been working hard at purging and de-cluttering to prepare for a move, and it likely won’t come as a surprise that my DIY supplies are the worst/hardest/largest part. While I’ve been through my closet, books, and kitchen multiple times, purging tons and tons of items, my DIY supplies have received almost no attention. Last week I finally got in there a bit—I took a garbage bag into the second kitchen where I store everything, knowing there were most certainly things that needed to be binned, and the time had long since come. You’d probably guess that my ingredients number somewhere between way too many and you have a problem, Marie, and you’d be right. As I went through my dragon-treasure-cave sized stash of ingredients I found an embarrassing number of duplicates (sometimes multiple unopened things… agh!), and enough bottles and tubs of barely touched rancid oils and butters to make me feel really disappointed in myself. What remains is still overwhelming, but at least I’ve got a decent handle on what’s there… and there’s definitely a lot of work left.
Anyhow, as I’ve been going through everything down there, that got me to thinking about things we need to get rid of. There are four main categories of things that need to be binned:
Spoiled, contaminated, or otherwise dodgy ingredients
This category can be really hard to chuck because the ingredients are unused. You feel like you’ve wasted money on the ingredient, and you’re mad at yourself for spending money on something you didn’t use. The ingredient might be spoiled, contaminated, or otherwise dodgy. I find rancid oils and butter are the biggest “thing” in this category. They’re an easy thing to purchase in larger-than-needed quantities because their shelf lives sound so long (1–2 years) when you buy them, and unlike something like a preservative or a carbomer, you do (or can) use it in large amounts in recipes (using up those high-oil-content recipes is often another story). Run through this thought process with a dozen different oils and butters and you’ve got yourself a recipe for wasting a lot of oils and butters.
Quick recap: Rancidity occurs when oils oxidize—this is different from microbial spoilage, like mould and fungus. Rancid oils are easily identified by their characteristic smell, which is reminiscent of old crayons, or a bag of nuts from the back of your pantry that was part of a Christmas basket you got sometime in the 90’s.
It sucks, I get it (I’ve discovered more rancid oils in my cupboard than I care to admit). Rancidity isn’t a super gross kind of spoilage, like mould, and it doesn’t render the ingredient completely useless, so it can be tempting to include the oil in a soap or something so it gets used. But, here’s the thing: if you spend time making stuff with rancid oils and other spoiled ingredients, you are wasting your time, and your time has value (unlike spoiled ingredients). You’re also wasting the other ingredients in the concoction you’re making, as the spoiled one will drag the whole thing down. Depending on what the dodgy ingredient is the recipe may fail, the end product may spoil quickly (or will smell rancid from the very first moment of making), but either way that’s a waste of your time. And, for the super obvious point—you could hurt somebody. This isn’t as likely to happen with rancidity, but many kinds of spoilage are definitely harmful. If you are the kind of person to scrape mould off cheese and still eat it, please do not carry that habit over to your DIY!
Lessons learned: Purchase smaller amounts, and potentially a smaller variety of ingredients as well. If you end up binning lots go things, look at it as a learning experience—you’ve learned you don’t make/use that much, and buying more is likely going to be a waste of money. Also, look into getting that car from the end of Back to the Future that runs on garbage.
Spoiled, contaminated, or otherwise dodgy finished products (also: things you simply do not like)
This one is hard because you’ve already sunk the time and energy into the product, as well as the ingredients and likely some packaging as well. Usually if something is mouldy people have no trouble chucking things (I hope!), but things that are starting to smell a bit off or are just a solid three or four years old and gathering dust should also be binned (side note: please date your concoctions when you make them!). This hobby makes it really easy to fill your home with tins, bottles, and tubs of self-made concoctions, and not only they can quickly fill drawers and clutter up countertops, but they can also rapidly exceed your ability to use them.
It’s easy to keep everything you’ve made (just pop it in the cupboard—easy!), but I’d encourage you to only keep things you’re super excited about and can see yourself using on a nearly daily basis. If you don’t love something immediately out of personal taste (too heavy for your skin, don’t care for the scent, wrong colour for your complexion, etc.), see if you can gift it to somebody who will love it (and use it!) rather than keeping it around your home to take up space and eventually go bad and get thrown away, completely unloved.
As you make, learn about the sorts of things you use lots of. Personally, I use a lot of lotion, lip balm, hand wash, shampoo, and body wash, so I tend to make a lot of these things. “A lot” is a varying term, though. As much as I love lip balm, five tubes will probably last me a year, and when it comes to making, five tubes (or 25g) of lip balm isn’t much. Hand wash, however, vanishes pretty fast—200g might last a month. Lotion also tends to vanish fairly fast. So, I make a choice to make more hand wash and lotion than lip balm.
If whatever you’ve made is utterly wretched, just bin it from the get-go. Don’t try to save it by adding other ingredients (you’re just compounding the waste at this point). Make notes about what you did, what specifically sucked, and any hypothesis about how that suck-dom came to be (too much wax, not enough X, wretched scent blend, etc.).
If you love it, but simply make more stuff than any human can reasonably use (cue me raising my hand bashfully), portion out a small amount for yourself, and see about gifting the rest. If you’re anything like me you get most of the joy from the making, so why not share the joy by gifting the fruits of your labour and knowing they’ll be enjoyed rather than quickly forgotten in favour of your latest concoction and eventually thrown away (likely with a twinge of regret as you liked it but were simply distracted by something newer)?
Lessons learned: Make smaller batches, gift liberally, don’t try to rescue awful things by adding more ingredients, focus most of your making efforts on things that you use often and quickly.
Stuff you can’t identify
We’ve all had this happen. We’ve made something, popped it in a lovely tin, and thought “I don’t need to label this, I’ll remember what it is.” And maybe you do… most of the time. If you’re anything like me you’ve got a lot of different products in a lot of identical tins, and your memory is not going to be winning you a starring role as a Sherlock super villain anytime soon. Oops. That yellowish salve in that tin… is that for the face? Feet? Removing labels from jars? Did you make it for your dog? Who knows.
Or perhaps you like to decant ingredients, or re-packaged something into a new bag when the old one split and didn’t quite get around to labelling the new bag, and now all you’re certain of is that it is… white.
Lessons learned: If you don’t know what something is, please get rid of it. You have no idea how old it is, what’s in it, or what it’s safe for. Use the threat of throwing away perfectly good things to motivate yourself to clearly label everything, all the time, even if you’re sure you’ll remember.
Used packaging that cannot be adequately cleaned
I think every new DIY-er starts hoarding empty bottles and tubes like the apocalypse is rapidly approaching and the currency of the new world order will be empty pump-top containers and old tins. This quickly leads to a sizeable rag-tag collection of old bottles plastered with remnants of old labels and a fine layer of lint adhering tightly to a thin film of remaining adhesive.
While some things can be effectively cleaned and re-purposed (mason jars are a great example), many things cannot. Anything with an intricate pumping/squeezing mechanism can’t be adequately cleaned and must be discarded. If you notice pockmarking, micro-scratches, and other texturing on the inside of the container, chuck it. If it melts in the dishwasher, marvel at its newly mangled form and recycle it. If you think it may have nooks and crannies to trap bits of bacterial and/or never, ever dry out properly—chuck it. Remember that your time has value, and it is more valuable than that $0.80 pump mechanism, so please don’t spend forty minutes trying to clean it and then leave it rambling around on your counter for three weeks while you try to decide what to do with it (recycle it!). Also remember that your concoctions will spoil much faster if they are immediately shacked up with a bunch of bacterial grossness, so then not only are you wasting your time cleaning the fiddle-some packaging, but you are also wasting the time (and ingredients) making the next thing that goes into the package as you have to chuck it days or weeks after making it (not to mention the potential health risks).
Lessons learned: Lots of vintage packaging is strictly decorative, and you’ll be recycling more than you might’ve thought when you first got into DIYing. If you truly want to reduce your use of packaging, look at making things that don’t need it at all.