Portraitfoto von Helene Pattermann

Helene Pattermann – Austria’s Zero Waste Hero

Helene Pattermann is the founder and driving force behind Zero Waste Austria. We wanted to know: How to organize our homes zero waste style? And does Helene herself practice what she preaches? (The answer is yes ;) )

VS: So, tell us Helene, from your zero waste perspective: what is the problem with how we furnish our apartments?
Helene: Imagine this: everything you buy, you’ll have to keep for the rest of your life. Would you change the way you buy? Would you still quickly pick up that cheap sieve at the register? Would you take the cheapest couch, of which you are certain it will look terrible in two years, knowing you’ll have to sit on it for the next 30? Probably not. Our shopping behaviour is mainly based on the fact that everything is so cheap, that it won’t matter if we only like it for a short while. We can just throw it out, when we’re through with it.
Unfortunately, it is still too easy make your stuff disappear simply by throwing it out. Yet, more and more people are starting to notice that this vicious circle does not only cause the planet to suffer, it is also damaging to our wellbeing.

In that sense, our grandparents got some things right. They owned high quality furniture and household items that would last a lifetime. But does that still fit to our current lifestyles? Seasonal thinking is no longer a wardrobe matter, it’s affecting our living room as well. We are looking for a fresh look, the latest trend, and knick-knacks we don’t intend to keep forever. Moreover, we change apartments way more often and heavy furniture is not exactly practical.

So really, it’s no surprise that a certain Swedish furniture shop is booming and always manages to seduce us with attractive offers for a quick last-minute purchase. But, in the long run, doesn’t our wallet suffer after all? Don’t our apartments appear somehow cheap and unattractive in the end? After a while, everything is used up, rickety and really just shouting for yet another makeover.


VS: What have you done to avoid that vicious circle? What is different about your own apartment?
Helene: Well, it’s not easy. Many times I promised myself to only buy organic clothes from Austrian designers from now on, and moreover only on occasions that I actually needed something. And many times I have broken that promise. Because, in the heat of the moment those high prices are just too off-putting.
Similarly, for more than 10 years I have wished for a white woollen carpet. Already twice, I bought a knock-off at a cheap furniture store instead. Now, that I am past 30, I finally, and with a lot of inner discipline, allowed myself to buy a beautiful woollen carpet. And now that I have it, it makes me happy everytime I walk on it. It so soft and pretty.

When it comes to furniture, ich have been trying to buy everything second hand for years. Like my wooden cabinet. I found it on willhaben, and even though I had to spend more on it than I ever thought I would on a second hand piece, it is still making me happy everyday.

My motto is to buy as much as possible second hand and everything else of good quality and sustainable materials. When I come to consider how little I have spent on furniture in my lifetime, I am happy and proud of my gems, that make up the charm of my living room.

VS: We know that you live in a relatively small place with two kids and a husband. How do you handle that?
Helene: I believe in ‘less is more’. I love nearly empty apartments, the ones that only contain a beautiful desk and a large dinner table and are light and spacious. It’s a pity we manage to collect so many random things that completely stuff our living space until it’s overflowing. Often, I blame this overflowing on my small apartment. Yet then again, when I look around in other people’s houses, i realize: the more space we have, the more stuff we own. So maybe I should consider it a blessing to live small; the continuous lack of space forces me to reconsider the stuff I own and clear out.

I love the tiny house movement. I can binge watch clips showing people who manage to find brilliant solutions in the smallest spaces, manage to store everything they need and still live in beautiful houses. Even though my family and I really don’t live all that small on 60 m2, I still enjoy and practice the idea of trying to get the most out of it.
And even though I would sometimes like some more space, I really love the challenge to live in a small apartment. I can not imagine how people manage to keep their 100+ m2 houses clean and organised. Also, living small does not only save time, it also saves a lot of money. With the current rental and buying rates every room will cost you. So live small – think big!

Large group of people having dinner in a small space
With flexible furniture you can seat a lot of people in a relatively small space, says Helene.

Helene’s tiny house hacks
> In the childrens bedroom: the actual bed is hidden in a bottom drawer. So during the day the bed transforms into a sofa.
> In the living room: a container bed (the kind that you can fold away). It takes up as much space as a bookshelf, but it saves us an entire bedroom. It permits us a spacious living room, even though it’s also the bedroom.
> In the kitchen: Putting up a large mirror in our small kitchen has simply made appear far more spacious.
> Our work desk has the same size as our dinner table and is fixed on wheels. So when we have company we can easily extend our dinner table be clearing out the desk. Put them together and we have space for up to 18 guests.
> White walls, white furniture and white curtains and other fabrics, really make the whole space appear larger.

Find out more about Helene and Zero Waste Austria on www.zerowasteaustria.at
About to redecorate? Check out the Vienna’s Shares home deco guide.
Weeding out your wardrobe? Take a look at our our 10-step guide to a Clothes Swap Party.

By: Mirjam de Klepper