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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ways to Live More Sustainably, Right Now

Living a sustainable life doesn't have to be anything fancy. You don't have to buy a plot of land somewhere off the grid, switch to solar energy, or start making your own bread. A lot of times, living a  "sustainable lifestyle" is misinterpreted as being a full-blown homesteader. While that would be the ideal situation for many of us, it's not entirely true.

You can begin making more earth-friendly, non-consumer based, and sustainable choices right now, anywhere, any time. Whether you live in a major city or a small town, the journey towards sustainability begins as a shift in how you think about the products you consume, and the waste you create. So many factors go into this concept that I can barely graze the tip of the iceberg in one blog post. But I'll start with some basics.

Learn to make things that you would normally buy. This does not mean stop going to the store forever and ever. No, it just means, learn a new skill. Crochet or knitting are good ones to start with. So are sewing, canning, cooking from scratch, repairing broken items around the house, making your own lotions, skincare products etc. Every time we run out to the store and buy something, we are sending a message to the manufacturers to make more stuff. We are taking part in the consumer-manufacturer cycle and in turn, our planet and our oceans are becoming littered with and covered in garbage. All of the packaging from those items, as well as the items themselves (when they break or become no longer useful) end up in landfills, and consequently, in waterways, forests, and all kinds of places they don't belong. Think of how rewarding it might feel if you were able to make winter hats for your whole family using locally sourced wool or cotton. Or sewing a torn pair of jeans into a gardening apron, or shopping bags. Or even doing a DIY face mask, or hair moisturizer.

Need less stuff. What? Am I saying "need less stuff," or "needless stuff?" Good question. A lot of the crap and clutter that we have in our houses is just needless stuff. But somehow it accumulates, sitting, mocking, staring at us while it collects dust. We pick the stuff up and move it from place to place every time we clean, but we never get rid of it. Why? Well, that might be a topic for a whole different post. There are tons of reasons why we tend to hold on to things, but for now I'll just focus on the getting rid of it. When we own less things, we value what we own more. We begin to realize what we do own has value, and the desire for more "stuff" goes away. Look at the items that you no longer use and imagne your life without them. Sell them if they are worth something. Give them to a friend that will find them useful. Donate if you think someone else might need them. And then continue on with your life, needing less stuff. Before you buy something new, ask yourself if you really need it. If it's not an absolute necessity, then question its usefulness. Only bring items into your home that are truly needed or loved. Try to access tools and items that were made locally to you, or at least made in the country you live in, or shop second hand.

Learn to thrift. If you absolutely have to buy an item, try thrifting for it! This cuts down on the amount of packaging you'll have to throw away, and often saves you a whole lot of money. If you find a high quality item that was really well-made, but perhaps needs a new coat of paint or a couple of screws tightened, ask yourself if the bargain is worth the little bit of work. You can find great deals for pennies if you're willing to do a little spit-shine!

Quality over Quantity. Buy better quality items. Stop buying all the flimsy junk from Target that was made in China and won't last for more than a year. Just don't do it. There are other options. Either spend a little extra on a new, very well made item, or be patient and thrift for it. EXAMPLE: I had a potato masher that was purchased at Target for around $5. The handle was plastic and it was made in some other country, which means that a portion of that $5 I paid, was simply put towards shipping costs. It broke after the second time I used it. To replace it, I went to an antique store and got the sturdiest, most well-made masher I could find (photo at top). It was metal with a wooden handle, and I made sure that the handle was metal inside too, not just a wooden handle screwed on. It cost 12 bucks. Now, our conventional way of thinking would say "buy the $5 one, dummy!" but at my rate, I'd have to buy a new one every year, or maybe more, and well, $5 twice a year, for years to come, you do the math. The well built one will probably last a lifetime. I can practically guarantee that I'll never buy another potato masher again.

Be more patient. So much of what drives our culture's consumerist attitude is a lack of patience. When we want something, we want it NOW. We want to drive to a store and get it, right this second. We don't want to spend time making something ourselves or thrifting for it. This attitude is just feeding the consumerist machine. We are telling manufacturers "Yes! We need ALL THE THINGS! Keep making them! And wrap them all in plastic!" And then we get upset when we see our sidewalks and freeways littered with trash. Or wildlife sick and dying because they are literally eating our garbage instead of real food. In order to make our planet a safer and healthier place to raise our children and grandchildren, we need to put an end to this cycle, and it starts with our way of thinking. When you get the urge to jump up and buy something, or order it on Amazon with same-day shipping, really sit with it. Give yourself 24 hours. Sleep on it. Re-holster your wallet and unload the browser. Just chilllllll man. You might wake up in the morning and realize you really didn't need that item.

Say no to disposables. If you've been on the sustainability wagon for a while now, this may be a no-brainer. But for those who are just getting started, you will quickly learn that one of the easiest and most basic methods of creating less waste is to "bring your own." Bring your own cup to the coffee shop, bring your own straw out to eat, or to the bar (or don't use one), bring your own shopping bags to the store, and bring your own refillable water bottle wherever you would normally bring a disposable one. There are lots of other "bring your own" items, like eating utensils, cloth napkins, food containers, bulk bags, etc. But these 4 basics are the easiest ones to start with.

Make your own: sauces, broths, salsas, etc. I listed canning as one of the "skills to learn" in tip number one, but you can still make these things without having the knowledge of how to preserve them for long term. Instead of buying spaghetti sauce or salsa from the store, learn how to make it yourself from fresh ingredients. To make things easier on yourself, make a double or triple batch all at once, and freeze the extra in single serving containers or jars. This is really a life-changer because when you have ready made food at your fingertips, you are far less likely to buy processed, packaged food, or to eat out. You'll save money and be healthier. Some great dishes I really love to do this with are chili, soups, pasta sauces, bone broth, taco meat, shredded chicken, diced veggies, baked beans, and freezer jam.

Meal Plan. Plan your meals around locally grown and farmed ingredients. Try to use whole ingredients (whole=not processed), and ingredients with little to no packaging. If you can grow some of the ingredients yourself, that's even better. Also, don't just plan for the week, take tip number seven to the next level by planning for future meals. For example, if you're browning some ground beef for a meal this week, try doing double the amount, brown all of it at once, and then freeze the unused portion. This way you already have a partially prepared meal ready to go if you end up getting sick or too tired to cook. Any time you can use homemade food instead of running out the door for takeout, you're making a more sustainable choice. You're using something that is already available to you rather than looking outwards for something new to fulfill your needs.

Learn to garden. If you have a sunny window, you can grow at least one plant. I grow plants on a window sill in the winter when the snow comes. You can keep some herbs indoors and use them for cooking, and you can even keep some vegetable plants in containers on a patio or balcony. If you are lucky and have even a small patch of dirt to use as a garden, go for it! Don't be afraid to try something new. Even if it's just one tomato plant your first year, those will be the best tasting tomatoes you have ever eaten, because you will be reaping the benefits of your own hard work.

Don't try to be perfect. Seriously you guys, have fun with it. People take themselves way too seriously sometimes, and I think that's a huge part of why so many don't ever want to try anything new. The fear of messing up or not doing something properly overrides the fear of slowly killing our planet, and filling our bodies with toxins. Don't be afraid of messing up, and don't beat yourself up if/when you do. You'll never be perfect, I will never be perfect, none of us will. We are human beings and all we can do is try our best. When we fail, we just have to shake it off and tell ourselves "better luck next time, champ." and move on.

So there you have it, a few little basics that you can start any time, no matter where you live. I know there is a lot more to be said about the topic of sustainability. There are a whole ton of layers to the concept, and it really can't all be covered in one blog post. Some of the tips I didn't mention and may discuss in more detail in future blog posts would be; locally farmed eggs, dairy, and meat, locally grown produce, composting, using veggie scraps in recipes, owning chickens, ducks, goats, or other livestock, trading goods and services with friends, rather than purchasing from big companies, skipping the salon/self-care at home (diy pedicures, eyebrow shaping, hair trims, facials, etc), thrifting tips/how to spot a good buy vs. a cheap one, honestly the list goes on and on. Definitely don't be afraid to let me know if there is a specific topic you'd like to hear more about. I may turn this into a series of posts, where I can dive deeper into the different sub categories. I hope you enjoyed reading this and please feel free to comment with any questions or new ideas. Thanks!

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