Although I never spent hours as a little girl dreaming about what my wedding would be like, I certainly had some preconceived ideas about weddings in general. However, when it came down to it, my wedding was so far beyond what I ever imagined it to be… and it was perfect! Obviously, I am not the same person now as I was when I first started thinking about weddings. As I’ve grown, I’ve completely changed what I thought I wanted, what I thought I had to have in my life, and what I thought would honestly make me happy and fulfilled.
This transition of thinking has gone on to change all aspects of my life. And most of those preconceived ideas revolved around things. All the things I thought I needed were reinforced through advertisements and other media outlets as well as by friends, family members, and strangers alike. And wedding celebrations were no different. I grew up thinking I had to have lots of wedding decorations, a fancy ceremony and an even fancier reception. I thought I would have to spend lots of money to have the perfect wedding. I thought I had to have a ton of decorative flowers and expensive bouquets, a huge cake, special dishes, a specially reserved ‘wedding venue’, catered food, live music, printed invitations sent on expensive paper/envelopes, matching brides maids dresses, special car for the bride, an engagement ring AND a wedding band, a honeymoon, and so on!
Even when I first started planning my wedding last year, I was still buying into the idea of the majority of these things. If I had the money I might not have reconsidered them either. That’s how ingrained they are in our society. These things are nice and do make for absolutely beautiful weddings! But they can all really add up, even when you choose affordable alternatives. Thousands of dollars can easily be put into a wedding, which if you really think about it is actually quite crazy. You can spend weeks, even months of your life making just enough money to cover the cost of only one day! That idea didn’t sit very well with me especially since there are so many other things that I would rather spend my money on.
Luckily, like everything in my life since I discovered the zero waste and minimalism lifestyles, I started questioning whether these were things that I truly needed and if they were what I actually wanted or just what I had been told that I had to have. It was only through the planning process and as a result of an underwhelming wedding budget that I decided to redesign many traditional wedding practices to create my perfect wedding.
Once I discovered the zero waste movement I knew that my wedding could no longer be exactly how I imagined it would be. But it was truly the minimalism philosophy that cut away all of the extra things to leave me with the core parts of my wedding, just like it cuts away the clutter of my daily life to show me what is most important. That’s not to say that I decided to scrap every wedding tradition. What I did instead was actively choose what parts genuinely added value to my special day and put most of my focus on those instead of wasting my limited time and resources on things that didn’t matter as much.
The most important things we decided to focus on were family, friends, and celebrating our relationship and future together. We decided to plan and orchestrate it all by ourselves with help from our friends, family, and ultimately the community. We decided to keep the wedding local since our small hill town is fairly close knit and willing to lend a hand to help out a neighbor. We decided that the wedding would be at the nearby waterfall and we asked permission to use the local fairgrounds for our reception. I also got ready in the the town church with my bridesmaids. One of my friends made some beautifully designed wedding invitations and Save the Date notices which we opted to send out via email (we wanted the wedding to be as zero waste as possible and didn’t think it was worth spending money on something that would eventually just get thrown away).
I personally set up the fairground picnic tables with the help of friends and family. Our friendly neighbors lent us dishes, silverware, serving dishes, and space to prepare some of the food. All of our friends and family brought a dish to be share and to compliment the other dishes prepared by my mother-in-law. My Mom purchased handwoven napkins from a friend to be used by our guests which also served as her wedding present to my husband and me. My best friend brought her iPod and speakers to DJ for us. We used some things we found on the fairground and some random items from my house to decorate with which I organized and over saw myself. Another friend brought her amazing camera to take wedding pictures for us and many people took turns with it or their phones (and they certainly got some amazing shots)! Another neighbor, with an absolutely stunning garden, gave us cuttings from her hydrangeas. Each of my bridesmaids took a branch which served as their whole bouquet. Later on we used the leftover flowers and our own ‘bouquets’ as displays for the tables. The exchange student we are hosting also made a few origami pieces to add to the decorations. (Side note: Initially, I wanted plotted flowers because I don’t like killing a plant just because it’s pretty but I was unable to get them together in time so when my neighbor offered up her beautiful flowers we accepted. In the future I hope I can get a cutting to propagate so that I can always have flowers from the same bush that I got my ‘bouquet’ from on my wedding day!)
My husband and I had decided against getting wedding rings since we simply could not afford them at the time and were questioning whether it was something that we actually needed. However, his parents we so beyond generous that they decided to buy them for us as a wedding gift (luckily wedding rings are much cheaper where they live)! Neither my husband or I are huge fans of really frosted cakes so we decided on a small homemade angel food cake, however, there was so much food that we forgot to put it out! We borrowed my brother’s car and my Dad was my chauffeur. We bought my husband a nice new shirt since the idea of a tux was a little to formal for our type of wedding.
I started off trying to find a secondhand wedding dress but had no luck whatsoever. I considered not using a traditional wedding dress and going with something else but everything I found was either too formal or not formal enough. With a limited number of shops around I had to really search around to check traditional and non-traditional wedding dress stores. I eventually fell in love with a traditional wedding dress. The only problem was that it was way outside my price range. So I gave up on the dress search for a little bit. Then one day someone messaged me letting me know that a Bridal shop was going to have a huge sale on dresses. Turns out that several stores around were participating in the National Bridal Sale Event, including the store where I found the dress I fell in love with!
I got there super early on the day of the sale with my fingers crossed hoping that the dress would still be there. And sure enough it was! Initially, the dress was a $1,000 but with the sale I got it for $500. It was still a little more than what I wanted to pay, but since it was the one thing I was truly going to invest in for the wedding it was well worth it. I chose a color for my bridesmaids but let them all pick out their own dresses. And they all looked amazing! We kept the guest list to around 15 people due to our small budget but we made sure that it was the people we most wanted to spend our special day with. My bridesmaids helped me with my makeup and hair and my cousin painted our nails the night before. Overall, we only ended up paying for the justice of the peace, my dress/shoes, my husband’s shirt, the wedding license, and some food/beverage items. I didn’t keep a close count on how much it added up to be but I think it was somewhere between $800-$1,000.
All together our wedding was mostly zero waste with a few exceptions. We had asked guests not to bring gifts since we didn’t want to have to deal with the waste of gift wrappings and didn’t want to be given things that we may not need/want. Most people were very good in following our wishes and opted to give us cards instead with money to help us start our lives together (which turned out to be extremely helpful). The few gifts we received were very well thought out and have been great additions to our life. On the plus side too, we were able to reuse most of the gift wrappings (ie. gift bags and tissue paper).
A couple of other things that added to our trash count for the day were beverages and food packaging waste. The one item that I was willing to be flexible on was sparkling cider as it is my favorite drink and since neither my husband or I really care for alcohol. However, I could not find a place where they sold sparkling cider without trash (due to the cap and wrappings on the top). Someone also purchased some alcoholic beverages without my knowledge but by the time I saw them there was nothing I could do, so I just recycled what I could. A few dishes that guests brought came with some tinfoil or plastic wrap although the large majority did not. I was impressed because in general very few people knew about my zero waste lifestyle and I had only briefly mentioned in the invitation my desire to minimize the waste at our wedding. And for the most part everyone was really respectful of that (Thank You Friends and Family)!
I know my wedding might not be for everybody but honestly it was completely amazing for my husband and I! It was quite a bit more work than some weddings because we had to put a lot of time into the set up and clean up. However, we are extremely grateful that so many people came together to make the day so special for us. We were deeply moved by the sense of community we felt on our wedding day and we would not have been able to do it without everyone’s help! I think it was also a good lesson to see how a day could turn out so beautifully with so little money but so much love!
Unfortunately, we were not able to celebrate with all of our friends and family because of our tight budget and since they all live so far apart. In the future we are looking to host a couple other celebrations to give everyone we know and love a chance to celebrate our marriage with us. We also did not go on a honeymoon which is one tradition that I support wholeheartedly due to my love for travel but again that is something we look forward to doing in the future. I will be able to use my dress again which is why I was willing to put so much money into purchasing it and hope that when I am ready to let it go I can pass it on to someone else who will enjoy it as much as I have. We look forward to hosting more zero waste celebrations in the future and continue building on our zero waste journey together.