What I learned from not buying shampoo for three years

Hotel shampoo is so cute! But do I really need 30 of these little plastic bottles? Uh, no.

I’m not a particularly woo-woo kind of person, but I do believe that everything around us holds a certain amount of energy. It’s basic physics, really: in e=mc2 Einstein told us that energy and mass are related. In terms of household physics, when I’m surrounded by the dead weight of the stuff I don’t need, use, or have space for — clothing, tools, arts and crafts supplies, papers, dry goods, toys, cosmetics, what have you — my energy is sapped. When I let stuff go, there’s more energy (not to mention more money and space) for me and for my family.

Which is a roundabout way of explaining why I haven’t bought shampoo or conditioner in more than three years.

Now, before you back away in horror, scanning the air around my head for a dark, buzzing cloud, let me clarify: I have absolutely washed my hair — several times in fact — over the past three years. Not daily — I have the kind of hair that tends to look better the dirtier it gets, so I end up washing it about every 10 days or so — but regularly.

What I haven’t done is purchase shampoo or conditioner.

Why? Because it’s taken me that long to use up all the product already in my house. The nearly full bottle a houseguest brought and left behind. The bottle that appeared, unbidden, in my son’s camp duffel bag at the end of last summer. The various, half-full bottles that had accumulated in bathroom drawers and cupboards over the years. And, finally, the dozens of tiny, plastic bottles I’ve collected from hotels — because free stuff! Who doesn’t love that?

Several years ago, in a fit of reorganization, I rounded up this motley collection of shampoo and conditioner and made a vow: I would use these products till they were gone. I’d recycle any containers that could be recycled. And then I would commit to purchasing precisely one container at a time of an environmentally friendly hair wash, in a recyclable container. Or I’d just use soap or baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

And I did.

And my hair looked and felt the same as it always has, even without specialized products and fancy hair “systems.”

It’s not just shampoo. Last week, I dropped my crystal deodorant in the shower, where it shattered. “I guess I’ll have to buy a new one,” I thought. And then it occurred to me to rummage through the bathroom drawers and, lo and behold, I found a full-size pitstick that I had received as swag at some conference and completely forgotten about. It’s not my ideal brand or scent, but I’m using it, and I’ll continue to until it runs out. And then, maybe, I’ll learn how to make my own.

As for those hotel samples, from here on in I’m going to leave them at the hotel. I mean, they’re cute and all, but the last thing I need — and, more to the point, the last thing the Earth needs — is a bunch of tiny, single-use, plastic containers cluttering up our homes and then our landfill sites. When I think about it that way, those little bottles seem a lot less “free.”

My hair is (well, relatively) clean and conditioned. My bathroom cabinets are, slowly, emptying out — I can’t tell you how soothing it is to open a drawer and be able to see the bottom of it. I haven’t saved thousands of dollars on shampoo and conditioner in the past three years, but I haven’t spent any money on them, either, and that’s never a bad thing. I’m reducing my impact on the environment. And with every container emptied and recycled, I feel lighter, happier, and more energetic.

SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and coeditor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.


The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.

Leave a Reply