The Simple Life: Living With Less (And Loving It)

It’s easy to crave less. Less to buy. Less to clean. Less to store. Less to chose from. Less to throw away. And we’re those people who get a rush from consolidating two items down to one or earning more space in the drawer/cabinet/closet by paring down, so this is our idea of a good time (why buy ten bottles to do ten things when one product can do it all?). Three years ago I wrote a post about how we try to keep things simple in small ways, so after more than a few requests for an update/extended list, here it is. Happily, three years after embarking on Project Simplify, we probably have fewer cleaning/grooming/hygiene products around the house than we did back then – even with a third person in the house to care for. The “magic products” that work for us are probably going to be different than the ones that work for you (so there’s no pressure to conform to organic stuff if that’s not your jam), but hopefully it helps to see how we try to keep things simple.

Back in 2009, John and I realized that we don’t mind using the same shampoo and conditioner (Avalon Organics from Target) and could also share the same body wash (we currently use Say Yes To Cucumbers, also from Target) so why not stop buying our own bottles – for a total of 6-7 containers in the shower at all times – and share? Purchasing a single bottle of each breaks the constant cycle of someone needing shampoo or conditioner every time we go to the store, and three bottles (total) in the shower at all times is pretty darn refreshing. We don’t have other bottles of shampoo/conditioner/body wash in the vanity or linen closet – this is it. When it gets low we get a new bottle. It’s nice and uncomplicated.

Thanks to a lot of our eco-related changes from a few years back, pairing down in a few other areas has gotten awesomely automatic. Relying only on Seventh Generation Free & Clear laundry detergent (without any fabric softener) makes shopping for laundry products few and far between (and makes storing a single bottle a breeze). We used to use Charlie’s Soap for diapers but alternated with Seventh Generation whenever we ran out, and eventually just stuck with Seventh Generation (diapers are still doing great and it’s easier to find and use one thing on everything across the board). We ran out of fabric softener a few years back and did some loads of laundry without it and didn’t even notice a difference, so we just stopped buying it.


We use this in the dishwasher. We have talked about making homemade laundry detergent and dish detergent too, but haven’t tried it out yet (we’ll blog all about it if we make the switch someday). We have some great recipes in this post of yore.

When it comes to cleaning everything else around the house, from floors to counters and tubs and tile, we use these two cleaners 99% of the time (along with the occasional homemade recipe from this post). No buying window cleaners and tile cleaners and wood floor cleaners each to do an individual job. We usually just water down some Mrs. Meyers (the “all purpose cleaner” label really means it works on counters, wood floors, etc) and use a moist microfiber cloth to rub down whatever it is that needs scrubbing (floors, counters, tabletops, windowsills, etc). For glass, I just use vinegar and water (5 parts water to 1 part white vinegar). Here’s a post with more of our cleaning routine broken down for ya.

We also water down our Dr Bronner’s soap (it recommends that on the bottle, which is awesome since it goes twice as far) and use it for all the hand-washing in the house (kitchen sink, bathrooms, etc). We do one part water to one part soap and it’s great. It’s also what I use to wash my face/remove makeup. It’s nice and mild. And we wash Burger with it. So it’s pup approved.

I think I got bitten by the simplicity bug back in NYC, when I lived in the tiniest studio, with no room for anything. Ladies (and gents?), I give you my makeup bag. I’m not proud of my $5 Chinatown bag from nine years ago (I can’t believe the zipper still works) but the point is that virtually all the makeup that I own lives in this little bag. It’s not a travel bag, it’s my only bag – which makes it easy to pop into a suitcase. It actually lives in the car for the most part since John’s the driver and I get to “put on my face” as we go wherever we’re going (since I can never seem to get it together and do it at home).

It holds:

  1. Physician’s Formula Organic Wear bronzer/blush (from Target or CVS)
  2. Physician’s Formula Organic Wear two-toned eye make-up (from Target or CVS)
  3. Physician’s Formula Organic Wear concealer stick (from Target or CVS)
  4. Physician’s Formula Organic Wear mascara (from Target)
  5. An eyelash curler (from Sephora)
  6. A blush brush (from Sephora)
  7. One lone contact (just because I am known to lose them randomly)

I’ve used all of the above products exclusively for the past 2-3 years. And I love them. I’ve never been great with anything like liquid liner or fake eyelashes, so for those of you who are, maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. But either way, my simplified makeup bag facilitates super speedy makeup application, which actually results in me looking more polished. I’d never slap on make-up if it was too complicated or took too long – I’m just a wash and go girl (hence my ponytail tendencies). And now that I only use a few organic things, my skin is a lot better, and I find that I don’t amass a pile of new products (no more impulsive purple eye shadow or bubble gum pink lip gloss purchases that seemed like a good idea at the time).

As for what we do use in the name of hygiene, John has hair stuff (Crew from Target after he couldn’t find his favorite old stuff, Got2be – which we later learned got new packaging so it was hard to spot) and shaving cream and aftershave (Burt’s Bees). I actually just shave with a little bit of conditioner in the shower. We both use the same type of razor (we have two of them, mine is in the shower and John’s is in the drawer) so that buying refill blades is nice and simple (we don’t have to buy two types for two different razors). And we both use Tom’s of Maine deodorant and toothpaste (the kind with fluoride since we tried the fluoride free kind and both got cavities and then switched back and have had none for the past two years).

That’s about it when it comes to beauty/grooming products that we buy beyond shampoo, body wash, and conditioner (John’s not a cologne guy and I’m not a perfume girl). We also use sunscreen and lotion, but just try to buy one container and restock only when it runs out. We like Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Coconut Organic Lotion (from Target or Whole Foods) and Bullfrog Sunscreen SPF 30 (Target, CVS). We keep a tube of each of those in our travel bag under the sink and in our car’s middle console. I don’t even use face cream now that I use mild makeup and Dr Bronner’s soap (it doesn’t strip my face so it’s not dry and in need of lotion  anymore – which used to make my sensitive skin break out anyway).

In high school I was kind of a slave to beauty products (you should have seen my stash – I probably had a million bottles) but since I no longer get home from school at three pm and play with my nails/hair/face for hours, this new “grown up busy mom” routine works for me. For the past three years I’ve actually not used hair spray, pommade, or perfume. This is definitely one of those to-each-his-own things, but I like the smell of my shampoo and body wash enough to be cool with that being “my scent” – and thanks to my ponytail propensity, there’s no need for any hair stuff beyond shampoo, conditioner, and a good old fashioned brush. It’s a look I like to call low-maintenance chic on a good day (and messy momma on a bad day).

One of the nicest things is that there are sections of magazines about makeup and perfume that I can gloss over entirely (in high school I was kind of an “ooh I want that!” kind of girl, which is probably why I had approximately 500 bottles and samples and cans of things on my vanity) so I can’t tell you how nice it is to not always want everything I read about. I just flip on by. Oh wait, but there’s nail polish.

I didn’t paint my nails or toes for a while just to keep it simple, but I do have occasional yearnings for a bright pop of color, so I do have a few polishes made by Zoya and Honeybee Gardens (they’re free of some of the fumier chemicals in some other brands). I have ten nail polish bottles total, which all fit into our freshly organized drawer. It’s nice to keep it to that number, so I won’t impulsively buy any more. I probably had 50+ bottles in high school, but now ten is the new number – no buying any more unless one runs out.

Oh and I love this stuff. It’s in my purse, a box next to my desk, on my night table and in the glove compartment of the car. You don’t want to see me when I can’t get my hands on lip balm. I’m a total baby. You’d think my lips were falling off or on fire or something. Seriously, it’s not pretty. So I learned that keeping one stick of it in four key places is the simplest solution for me. I never completely run out since I have a few stashed around the house, and because I have so many in rotation, they tend to last a while so I’m not always buying it a stick at a time.

Oh yes, but within the last three years we had a baby! So we must have amassed a ton of products for Clara, right? I mean we are pretty attached to the girl. But when it comes to keeping Clara moisturized, clean, diaper-rash-free, and sunburn free, instead of registering for twenty creams and lotions we decided to scan three things and take more of a wait-and-see approach. We knew we could always purchase more/different products once Clara came along (who knows if she’d have an allergy to something anyway) so we started with:

  1. California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Bodywash (for bathtime) from Target
  2. Badger Baby Sunscreen (for sun protection) from Whole Foods
  3. California Baby Calendula Cream (for face, body, diaper rash, cradle cap, eczema, dry skin, etc) from Target

That’s it. No baby powder, no face lotion and body lotion and diaper cream (just one that does it all), and no body soap that differs from hair soap. Just three basics. And miracle of all miracles, that’s still all we use! After almost two years. Seriously, those three products are our entire arsenal. So you can imagine that when it comes to storing them it’s no biggie (they all slip into the top drawer of her dresser except for the shampoo which we keep in the closet in her bathroom with the washcloths and towels). So we don’t have a big basket of products or a stockpile of extra bottles. Just those three things. And when they run out we get more. Just one more though, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Haha. Who knows when things could change. But so far, so good. Off to knock on some wood…

Update: We just heard that California Baby altered their formula and it’s a lot less natural. Boo! Thankfully our stash is from before they reformulated, but from here on out we might switch to the Dr Bronner’s soap and lotion that we already use and love. Will keep you posted!

By making an effort to covet less (and trying to focus on natural things or a small amount of items) it cuts way down on the products that can jump into my cart on a whim. And it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. It feels like I’m gaining closet and cabinet space, more moolah in my wallet, and extra time that I can spend doing things other than restock various bottles. I’m dying to know what you guys do to make life easy and live with less. From sharing products and even making your own to forsaking certain things and purchasing specific items in bulk, I’d love to hear what works for you.

Psst- There’s a great resource by EWG for looking up the ingredients in a ton of grooming/hygiene products here, so it’s a great way to see how things stack up.


  1. says

    I love this! I am very similar – use the same products over and over (for years) and share what I can like body wash and shampoo/conditioner. I also use Windex to clean EVERYTHING. I do get the itch to try new beauty products so I signed up for this little $10 month service that delivers fun little things to my door (birchbox) and that seems to calm the “gimme gimme’s.”

    Thanks for posting! I love all the green products you use. You certainly have inspired me to start wondering about some of the chemicals in my own home.

    • Emily says

      I LOVE windex! I never thought it odd that I use it for literally everything until a girlfriend of mine came to help me repaint my living room, and was shocked when I started washing the walls with it.

      The only other cleaner I own is clorox bleach spray for the bathroom.

    • says

      I use Windex and vinegar (and occasionally baking soda) to clean everything. Windex does an awesome job on hardwood floors, and vinegar cleans porous surfaces better than most cleaners–and eliminates the probability of bacteria or mold!

      Now I just spend my money on microfiber cloths–they really are better than paper towels :)

    • says

      Thanks Dan! We have more guys than you’d think. They mostly lurk, haha. But we did a survey a while back and thousands of guys stealthily checked in.


    • says

      Imagine not having to buy window cleaner for 2 years… I use the Norwex Window Cloth with just water – streak free & lint free windows, chrome faucets, sink. Love it!

    • alexh says

      Birch Box is amazing! I’ve been gifting subscriptions to friends lately, because who doesn’t love getting a little gift in the mail every month.

  2. says

    That was a fun post. :) The simplicity bug has bitten us too, more for the $ sake. Gotta try Mrs.Meyers. I’m kind of getting tired of buying different cleaners for different stuff. We are also the same shampoo, conditioner sharing couple. Makeup wise -I am an only liquid eye liner(no idea why I do just that and no other makeup), sunscreen, and an occasional painted toe nails person. :) We went antiquing last weekend and found some amazing treasures. Love to share it with you guys.

  3. Virginia says

    Sherry, I am exactly the same way about lip balm – one in my purse, one in my makeup bag, one in my nightstand, one in the kitchen, and one at the office. I need my Burt’s Bees!

  4. says

    I would love to have less bottles & cleaners. I always end up getting some as gifts. Ah, the joys of being in your twenties! Haha. This is what I’ve been doing so far: For the past few months I’ve been focusing on making the switch from chemical-based products to natural products one at a time. By going about it this way, I replace products with natural ones as they run out instead of doing one big overhaul. This makes me more likely to stick with the switch & it’s less overwhelming. I hope your post inspires others to at least look into using more natural products. I’ve been planning a post on a similar topic for next week on my blog. :)

    • Ali Miller says

      I have been wanting to do it this way, the problem is that I have so many different cleaning products etc. that I haven’t bought any in two years (except Pledge which I…I have no defense for…) and I can’t seem to run out! I am insistent upon using up everything I already have. (I’ve already paid for it, why throw it out?)

    • says

      Hmm, what about jumping into a friend or family member’s yard sale with them to make a few bucks on them and then putting that money towards new ones? Or even trying to craigslist them as a lot (ex: entire cleaning stash for $10) and then buying new stuff?


    • says

      We replace our bottles as we go, too. Most of the time, we just save a spray bottle and fill it up with a water/vinegar solution. The vinegar we get from Costco and that basically lasts us about a year (it’s surprising how far that can stretch!).

    • says

      I use vinegar & water too. It’s the best multi-purpose cleaner. I use it for my floors, the kitchen counters and even the toilet (along with a sprinkle of baking soda).
      Reusing your old cleaning bottles means you don’t have to buy empty ones!

    • karla says

      I had a ‘swap’ party with some of my girlfriends instead of selling things. We all brought a minimum of 12 items, anything from cleaning products, shower gels, nail polish, and clothes/accessories. (for intance one person was allergic to her perfume so she brought that)We set like items up in their own rooms. for instance all home items were in one room and all clothing/accessories in another. We then decorated brown paper bags and we agreed we could take a maximum of 12 items home. we counted down and everyone ran to take whatever items we wanted and ‘shopped’. It was so fun! It was also such a fun alternative to a garage sale. Maybe you can do that with your used household cleaners and products? Its fun and free! :)

    • Scotti says

      In terms of getting rid of products you don’t want but can’t bear to not use up — I gave a big pile of cleaning products (opened and partially used) away on Freecycle. Someone came by and picked them up. Love it!

  5. kristi says

    If you ever run out of your body lotion and want to try something amazing and cheap. and organic. check out Everyday Shea. You get a massive jug of it with a pump top at Whole Foods for $9.99. It smells nice and I use it on myself and my kids. A great product! I love the lavender one.

  6. says

    I remember reading that you only had ONE make up bag a few years ago. I was so impressed. I keep it in mind whenever I think I “need” something at target. I remind myself that I only need a few things.

  7. says

    Ahhhh! Seeing pictures of Burt’s Bees products for me is like seeing pictures of snakes or spiders for other people.

    I am so allergic to that stuff that I swear I get puffy if I’m even in the same room with it.

    This post makes me want to simplify. I swear I have one thousand ‘products’ in my bathroom. And most of them probably haven’t been touched in forever.

    • says

      Oh no! It’s so sad that you’re allergic. Also: is it weird that I want to come over and help you simplify? It’s so much easier throwing other people’s stuff away (or donating it). Haha.


    • says

      Oh My Gosh No! Come over and do it!

      I’ll even totally leave for a while and go buy jelly beans or something (I am running scarily low…I think my husand is eating them while I’m at work) so that you don’t have a awkward/giggly girl gazing at you from the corner while you work.

    • says

      Haha, no way. I’m making you stay so you can tell me what to keep. Otherwise you’ll come back to mascara and ten nail-polishes and I’ll probably have fashioned a faux-cearamic animal from the extra bottles or something.


  8. says

    I used to buy a zillion products for the house (not so many for myself though) but I’m thinking about switching to fewer products and more natural ones. I need to find out what’s available in France : we don’t have the brands you mentionned in your post. Take care !

  9. Jessica says

    That really makes me want to pare down! I love the organic products but only rarely buy them because of the cost, but it seems like you have figured out a great approach by just limiting the products. I probably spend more on *extra* stuff and products that I don’t end up getting much use of than I would if I just bought the things I really wanted from the get go! Only things I couldn’t give up would be my makeup (such an investment) and my lotions. I have a problem lol.

    • Rebecca says

      I used to think they were more expensive too, but if you replace buying three cheap things with one pricier thing, it will fit in your budget. If you want to try one of the organic brands, check out their websites for coupons. Plus, Target always has stuff on sale, even the organic stuff.

    • Donna says

      Mrs. Meyers & 7th Generation is on sale this week at Tar-jay ( Target ), and the Mrs. Meyers all purpose is nothing short of amazing. You just need the tiniest bit, so it is super economical. And it is great to be able to clean and not poison your lungs/home. As much as I love cleaning with vinegar, sometimes you want a pretty scent!

  10. Alissa says

    How about sunscreen for yourselves, or do you just use Clara’s? Maybe it’s a Colorado thing but I’m always on the lookout for a good sunscreen – particularly one that doesn’t leave my hands feeling all greasy.

  11. Alex says

    I LOVE BURTS and i’m the same way about it. Being stuck without it is the worst. Have you tried the acai kind? The one with the purple lid..ITS THE BEST!!

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