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The Barnebys make do without most possessions—aside from a few crucial toys.
Life at the Barnebys’: Snapshots of an impressively ordered household.
“Even Gemma knows where her toys and clothes belong,” says her mother.
"...glass jars filled with beans, nuts, teas, pasta, grains..."
“We never want to make choices where we end up feeling deprived. If a choice doesn’t work, we change it so it does.”
The Family That Wastes Naught
Meet the Barnebys. Just don’t bring them any disposable gifts.
Jess Chamberlain | Photo: Doug Adesko | March 25, 2013
But never mind such modern amenities—how do you keep a first-world family fed, clothed, and healthy when you’re averse to creating any waste? The key word, say the Barnebys, is “intentionality.” Nothing in their world is bought or acquired without first considering its end use. At the grocery store, the family shops by list, with no spontaneous purchases. The refrigerator in their tiny kitchen is stocked with glass jars and bottles of bulk and homemade foods—pesto sauce, peanut butter, jams, vegetables, eggs, Claravale Farm raw milk, Straus Family Creamery half-and-half, mozzarella from Molinari Delicatessen, and wine in refillable bottles from La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay, where you can bring in a clean bottle and have it filled with fresh wine. Even ice cream resides in a glass jar replenished at Swensen’s down the street. The pantry is similarly stocked with rows of glass jars filled with beans, nuts, teas, pasta, grains, and Geoff-made scones. (The only thing missing from the appetizing tableau is cardboard boxes.) The kitchen tools are just the essentials: cast-iron skillets, a stainless steel coffee press, a food processor. Geoff, the primary cook, crafts all meals from scratch, but he is eager to confess some impurities: He sometimes buys a large bag of potato chips, and, short of foraging in the ocean, he hasn’t found an alternative for the packaged seaweed that he uses to make sushi.
In Gemma’s bedroom, the small collection of toys is made of wood or fabric, and the only pile of anything is a stack of library books. It is a space, one immediately thinks, that’s tailormade for napping. The closet contains a few pieces of clothing on hangers and some baskets of building blocks. A tea set resides on a toddler-size desk near a wooden car track and a colorful xylophone. The stroller is from Craigslist, as are the car seats. “I don’t have any reservations about asking other moms if they’re willing to lend something they’re finished using,” says Robin. “We’re always passing things back and forth.” As for Oliver’s baby diapers? They use compostable ones from the service EarthBaby, which drops off and picks up diapers and wipes that are then composted at its facility in Santa Clara County (diapers can’t go in municipal compost).
The master bedroom down the hall is similarly spare: It has a bed, a nightstand, some library books, a mirror, and a million-dollar Golden Gate view. The tiny closet that Robin and Geoff share is practically bare: It looks like everything must be at the dry cleaner—or like they’ve been robbed. When the family went on a 10-day trip over the holidays, clothing for all four of them fit into one carry-on suitcase. (How’s that even possible?) “And we didn’t even wear half of it,” adds Robin. (Oh, come on!) “When I first started simplifying, Geoff would come back from a business trip and wonder where things had disappeared to. I’d say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you were using that.’”
The bathroom inventory includes bulk soap, bulk shampoo and conditioner, Geoff ’s straight razors (Robin cops to using disposables out of fear of slicing up her legs), and toothpaste in a glass jar (Robin tried making her own, but Geoff wasn’t a fan). About the only thing the Barnebys won’t compromise on is medications. “If the kids are sick, we won’t think twice about it. If it’s in a package, it’s in a package,” says Robin. There are other exceptions as well, she admits a bit guiltily: the tinted moisturizer with SPF from Marie Veronique Organics, say, or the mascara and lip gloss for special occasions. But, in one small victory for stuff-lessness, Robin just gave away the hair dryer that she was using once a year. “We’re always asking ourselves ‘Can I live without this? Am I using it?’”