A mother of three whose family wiped out debts of nearly $50,000 (£40,000) in four years by following ‘zero waste’ principles has revealed how their self-sufficient lifestyle means they are taking the Covid-19 lockdown in their stride.
Facing a mammoth debt of $68,000 back in 2016, Amber Allen, 31, a full time YouTuber, from Ontario, Canada, and her software developer husband Joseph, 32, became solvent again by adopting a minimal, eco-friendly lifestyle.
They started selling most of their belongings, only buying secondhand replacements, growing their own fruit and vegetables and using makeshift reusable nappies and toilet paper.
As well as drastically reducing their spending, by living sustainably, the couple say it means their children – Indie, five, and Galaxie, two, as well as Amber’s daughter, Selkie, eight, from a previous relationship – aren’t struggling at all with self-isolation.
Amber Allen, pictured with her kids, wiped out nearly $50,000 debt by following ‘zero waste’ principles and says the self-sufficient lifestyle has helped her family deal with the pandemic
Amber, 31, a content creator, and her software developer husband Joseph, 32, became solvent by selling most of their belongings and growing their own food
‘We went into lockdown on March 11 and didn’t freak out at all, because we knew we’d be able to cope.
‘We try and live as close to zero waste as possible, so things like stocking up on toilet paper wasn’t an issue for us’ she said.
‘In our house we only have ethically-sourced toilet paper for guests. We all use reusable cloths instead of toilet paper.
‘I make them by cutting up old t-shirts or blankets. We use the cloth, wash it and hang it up to dry. Then we can use it again and again.
As well as drastically reducing their spending, by living sustainably, Amber and her husband Joseph (pictured), from Ontario, Canada, and their kids are helping to protect the planet
Amber said her husband Joseph, pictured with their son Galaxie, two, wasn’t on board with her lifestyle at first but now loves it
‘I do the same thing with Galaxie’s cloth diapers – wash them out and use them over and over.’
Amber, who raises her children on a plant-based diet, also strongly believes we should embrace the simpler way of life imposed on us by the lockdown.
She said: ‘People should learn to enjoy the simplicity of the situation – rather than fighting it.
Amber, pictured with their pet dog, said, ‘We went into lockdown on March 11 and didn’t freak out at all, because we knew we’d be able to cope
Amber says her kids Indie, five (pictured) and Galaxie, two, as well as her daughter, Selkie, eight, from a previous relationship – aren’t struggling at all with self-isolation
Amber is pictured at her home with food she grew herself – her family are completely sustainable and zero waste
‘Isolation makes you evaluate what you have in life, and rather than buying more stuff or stockpiling – people should take the time to work out what they don’t use and give it away to other people.’
Amber, who grew up in Québec, Eastern Canada, first became interested in the environment and the animals in it when she was just 12 and, despite her family eating meat, turned vegetarian.
She said: ‘I loved animals – I didn’t want to eat them – we lived next to a forest and I’d always be running about in there with the animals.
Amber, who raises her children on a plant-based diet, also strongly believes we should embrace the simpler way of life imposed on us by the lockdown. Pictured: Indie in the kitchen
Amber said: ”Isolation makes you evaluate what you have in life, and rather than buying more stuff or stockpiling – people should take the time to work out what they don’t use and give it away to other people.’ Pictured are her children in the kitchen
‘My entire pantry is filled with reusable jars that I’ve either found, or bought second hand from websites like Facebook marketplace,’ Amber said
‘If I found a bird with a broken wing, I’d take it back home and nurse it better. Or, if I found abandoned cats or dogs then I’d take them home and find them a new owner.’
Amber’s next step, aged 17, when she moved to student halls at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada, where she was studying film and communications, was to start living sustainably.
‘Back then, I was a skint student, so I was living sustainably because I needed to,’ she said. ‘I only wore clothes from what we call thrift shops, and I’d wash them in the bath, using a bar of soap, to save on the electricity.’
Living in a city was difficult for nature-loving Amber, who also found ways to bring the natural world into her home.
Amber said her children often go to friends houses and see that their lifestyles are different
Amber’s children are pictured picking seeds from a sunflower to eat or cook at a later date
She said: ‘I started growing vegetables inside the apartment. I used second-hand containers to grow tomatoes and beans in.
‘Otherwise, I’d put soil in secondhand kitchen bins, or used kiddie paddling pools to grow larger veg in.’
Then, in 2013, aged 24 and a single mother to Selkie, she met Joseph on the dating website, OK Cupid.
The pair clicked instantly as they say they were both ‘spiritual people,’ but Joseph was not in tune with Amber’s sustainable way of life.
She said: ‘ Let’s put it this way, he had 100 T-shirts, 100 bottles of cologne and couldn’t get his head round why I had so little stuff.’
After dating for five months the couple moved in together in October 2013 and had baby Indie in July 29, 2015.
Amber, who grew up in Québec, Eastern Canada, first became interested in the environment and the animals in it when she was just 12 and became a vegetarian – the only one in her family
At 17, Amber then moved to student halls at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada, where she was studying film and communications, and started living sustainably
Amber’s family don’t use toilet roll but instead a rewashable cloth – and her youngest child’s diapers are also cloth which she washes
Happily building their life together, they did not realize how much they were spending until 2016, by which time their debts had reached an eye-watering amount.
‘We had about CAD$50,000 worth of school loans to pay off between us and Joseph just wanted to buy everything completely new – all the house furniture and household items – and I suppose that’s where we went wrong,’ she said.
‘I suppose I ignored it for a while, and we were in denial, but when we realized on top of the school loans, we owed another $18,000 so $68,000 in total. We knew we needed to do something about it.’
Happily building their life together, Amber (pictured with her kids) and Joseph did not realize how much they were spending until 2016, by which time their debts had reached an eye-watering amount
Amber and Joseph make and grow their own food – pictured here making dough from scratch
So, the couple quickly overhauled their lifestyle.
Amber said: ‘I thought “I’m going to lead by example”, and I started getting rid of stuff I didn’t need anymore.
‘We sold a lot of our items and it got to the point where 90 per cent of our things were thrifted – we saved so much money by cutting back.’
And by 2018 the family were debt free and have since embraced an ethical lifestyle – with Amber citing her desire to take care of the environment as one of her main motivations.
‘In our house we only have ethically sourced toilet paper for guests. We all use reusable cloths instead of toilet paper’ Amber explained. ‘I make them by cutting up old t-shirts or blankets. We use the cloth, wash it and hang it up to dry. Then we can use it again and again. I do the same thing with Galaxie’s cloth nappies – wash them out and use them over and over (pictured)’.
Pictured is some of the food, including apples, ginger, onions and courgettes Amber has grown
‘I don’t believe anyone can live completely zero waste, but our family try our best – even though we’re not perfect – to produce as little waste as possible,’ she said.
‘But for me, the world is a gift, and we all need to do what we can – however small to take care of it.’
And Amber – who currently homeschools her youngest children while Selkie goes to mainstream school – has plenty of techniques for keeping the family’s waste as low as possible.
‘My entire pantry is filled with reusable jars that I’ve either found, or bought second hand from websites like Facebook marketplace,’ she explained.
Pictured is a loaf of bread the family made themselves at their home in Canada
Pictures is a variety of the root vegetables Amber has grown – as well as some pretty flowers
‘I fill them up at a store where everything – from cereal and rice to spaghetti and oatmeal – is sold loose, so you don’t use any plastic.
‘I do sometimes buy supermarket clearance food, because I know it’ll end up on a landfill site, so if I can’t save the plastic, at least I can save the food waste.’
But as often as she can, Amber tries to grow her own produce.
‘I grow all sorts of fruit and veg in my garden like apples, tomatoes, cucumber and beetroot in the summertime,’ she said.
‘I prepare for winter by preserving the summer batch. In summer, I’ll do things like pick some tomatoes boil them, and turn them into sauce so I can freeze and preserve it.’
Selkie, eight, is pictured drawing chalk on the grounds on their home
Galaxie, two, is pictured inspecting some of the root vegetables grown at her home
Living on the bare minimum, Amber insists that half the items found in an average household are not necessary.
She said: ‘Our kitchen is very basic – there’s no coffee maker or toaster – we use the oven to toast our bread in.
‘We have one proper knife to chop things up and one chopping board. Not having loads of utensils means we save on washing up water, too.
‘We get all our cutlery and crockery in thrift stores, so it never matches, which means we’re a lot more laid back is something does break – because it’s not part of a set.’
And the same rules apply to their children’s toys.
Amber’s children are pictured spreading homemade jam onto homemade bread at the kitchen table
Some of the plants grown on the land include sunflowers, which Amber uses for its seeds
Amber is pictured picking tomaotes – which come in yellow, red, and orange – at her home
‘We don’t let our children have loads of toys, and the toys that they do have are from thrift stores, ‘ Amber said.
‘Every time we get them a new toy, we take one away and donate it to someone else. It actually means the kids take a lot better care of their belongings.
‘We don’t watch TV much, either – we prefer to make our own fun. We’ve built the kids a sandbox made out of wood we’ve foraged, and our next project is to build a playhouse.’
The Allen family wardrobes are also reflective of their minimal approach to life.
Amber says ‘I own less than 30 items of clothes and I only have three pairs of shoes – slippers, rubber boots, and slip on shoes.
Amber also use the fruit that grows on her land for decorations over winter
‘We have a lot less clothes than most people – and all our clothes are from thrift stores,’ she said. ‘I own less than 30 items of clothes and I only have three pairs of shoes – slippers, rubber boots, and slip on shoes.
‘I am a vegan, but I do get leather shoes secondhand, because they can last a lifetime – which means I can pass one pair of shoes down to all my kids.
‘Plus, the meat has already been used, so it’s reusing the world’s resources.’
Amber, pictured gardening, says she is vegan but will buy leather second hand as it will last a long time
Amber, who became a full-time YouTuber in 2016, also shares her pearls of wisdom about sustainable living with her 230,000 followers.
Amber, who became a full-time YouTuber in 2016, also shares her pearls of wisdom about sustainable living with her 230,000 followers.
‘I set-up my YouTube channel as a way to document how we were getting ourselves out of debt,’ she explained.
‘I wasn’t embarrassed about it – I wanted to share how we were doing it – and that eventually led onto living a zero waste life.’
Nowadays, Joseph is very much on board with their eco-friendly lifestyle.
‘He saw that the lifestyle meant we were getting out of debt,’ she said. ‘Now he realises family and looking after the world around us are what is important – not having stuff.’
But while her husband now shares her philosophy, Amber admits her lifestyle would not suit everyone.
Sun-dried tomatoes! Amber’s garden grows a variety of fruit and vegetables, pictured is a tomato
Amber recalled: ‘My oldest, Selkie, had been at a friend’s for tea and she said, ‘Mommy, they’ve got so much garbage in their house.’ I had to explain that not everyone lives like us, and it’s okay if they have more rubbish than we do.
‘I do appreciate that no one can be completely zero waste unless they live off grid, though, and that it’s harder for some than it is for others. Still, even the tiniest change can benefit the earth.
‘I’d never judge anyone for the way they live their life – and I know everyone has their own reasons for doing things and I respect that.
‘I know we’re very lucky to have gotten ourselves out of debt by living so frugally and I know not everyone can do the same.’
Amber teaches her children about the enviroment, with Selike sketching ‘There is No Planet B’ in chalk in their garden
Pictured is dried fruit from the garden that Amber uses to decorate their home
Now, as the world is gripped by coronavirus and many people are facing an indefinite lockdown, Amber believes the time can be spent constructively – and may even encourage people to consider a more sustainable way of living.
She said: ‘Every January we do a ‘no spending challenge’ where we don’t spend any money for the whole month.
‘Occasionally we do a ‘pantry challenge’ where we eat everything in the pantry before buying any more food.
‘People should set themselves an ‘isolation challenge’ and see how self-sufficient they can really be. I think a lot of people would end up surprising themselves.’