The new year is coming. And learning from the upside down pandemic world we hopefully want to do better this year going forward. But living a more sustainable lifestyle feels like such a mountain of work. Where to even start?
Is it hard to live a more sustainable lifestyle, circular even? And once you get started. Is it hard to maintain?
My short answer; Yes. And No!
My long answer and step-by-step plan I share below….
Areas and amounts
There are so many different areas in your life where you can make a difference. Most of them have to do with being a consumer.
The quick and clean solution to it all is just stop consuming all-together.
If we would stop being consumers, the world would heal in no time! Done!
As this is not really a reasonable ask, because we have to live somewhere, feed and clothe ourselves, the next best thing…. –you’ve guessed it– is consuming LESS than you did before. A lot less if you can.
Learning how to buy less is first of all learning about what you really need. And learning to be content and even happy with what you have comes before that.
My solution for this is -you are not going to like this- is to declutter like a maniac! Actually, declutter like a poised and balanced person. Marie Kondo in all her quirkiness has taught me how to connect myself to my stuff and over time learn what is important to me (what sparks joy) and what I can let go of. After doing all this hard work, you are surrounded by things that you love and think are beautiful and things you need. But not much else. A fog will seriously lift from your life.
Before Marie Kondo, William Morris (founder of the arts and crafts movement) said:
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
It is a work in progress, I’m still mastering it after two moves and about four years but it’s a muscle you’ll train and you will get better and better at it. And then you will be able to implement it everywhere and use it in any situation where you are tempted to haul more stuff to your cave. Because, this is what we are doing. We are hunting and collecting. You only have to go over to the kitchen, and open that drawer of pens and rubber bands to know it’s true.
Collecting all that colorful yarn, nail polish, shoes… down to hairpins and pens, has to do with our inner need to provide and feel safe in the knowledge that we have enough. It gives us a false sense of security. Think about it, what are 7 fountain pens going to save you from? White paper attacking you?
We call them ‘collections’ because that gives us a reason. Collections. Stash. There are lots of names for piling up things that take away a clear vision of what you actually need. In your heart. In your mind. In our souls. But that’s some deep shit we are not getting into this time.
All-right, here are some consumer areas where you can start to make decisions about your consumer habits. With some general rules that help me as a starting point, as much as possible:
- Food - local, unwrapped
- Care - not tested on animals, natural products (if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin), un packaged or recyclable
- Clothes - fair trade, wool, linen, hemp based or organic cotton. Not a lot of denim. Mend clothes with holes.
- Hobby items - use what you have, swap, put on your gift list
- Tools- lasting good quality, share with neighbors
- Vacations - less flying, find nature to connect with
Taking big and small steps
Getting fresh produce from the farmers market that is not wrapped in plastic. Recycling your (broken) items. Those kinds of actions should be our normal by now. If they are, you can start thinking about changing some of your thought patterns and following them up with your behavior.
You can buy less.
Focus on what you have. Mend what you have. Fix things so they last longer. Lend from your neighbor (a city street with tiny gardens would be fine with two shared lawnmowers). But most of all think about WHAT you buy and WHY you buy it before you actually do. Swap items with your friends. Decorative cushions to give your house a fresh look, clothes, hobby items, even unopened fancy drinks you got as a present but that are not your taste. Swap!
A friend taught me to give it a day of thought if you are tempted to buy something that wasn’t planned. If you still think you need it the next day, go ahead.
You can buy better.
If you are buying less, you are automatically saving money. You can use this money to buy better items whey need them. Better quality that lasts longer, better in ways of a more sustainable production method (organic cotton sheets instead of the go to cheaper cotton sheets). Fair trade items.
Remember if something is cheap, someone or something, somewhere in the production chain has most likely paid for it in some way. The consumer needs to carry more of this responsibility.
Buy furniture to last you a lifetime. Get classic shapes and change your accessories if you need a new vibe.
Save up to buy better, teach yourself you can do without buying new things every month so you can save up to buy better items a few times a year.
Make a plan
As you are teaching yourself better habits around consuming it might be helpful to make a plan. Especially if you have a budget and you don’t have a money tree in your garden.
Side note. If you are affluent you still have to do the mind and soul work to get to the place of changing your lifestyle. But once you are there it is easier to put it to action. Money always helps. And money is, if anything, a responsibility. When you can afford to live a more sustainable lifestyle you SHOULD!
On the other hand, I believe we all can make a difference, if our pockets are shallow or deep. We can all pull our own weight. But a plan might be helpful. You can start to take notes on what areas in your life you can -without cost- be better. Like recycling, swapping, sharing, mending. And if you want to change more expensive things in your life, write down your goals and how you want to achieve them. Break them down into smaller achievable parts and start working on it step by step.
Rebuilding the bathroom can be done by collecting materials from different places, second hand or even new items that were put on Marktplaats/ Craigslist/ Bay because other people got the wrong size and couldn’t return the item. The best thing about making plans to take alternative routes will get your creative juices flowing and will result in beautiful and original end results. Not buying new things is more creative, more sustainable and cheaper!
Making your own wardrobe with vintage fabrics and gifted yarns, getting information on how to do it from the internet might take longer, but the information is there.
A very inspiring crafter is Louisa @tenaciouslyshe on instagram. She crafts a warm and loving home for her and her daughter with all kinds of thrifted items and hardly any budget at all.
Don’t let it drag you down
Any new habit will only stick if you can maintain it. So don’t make a sustainable lifestyle into a doomy and gloomy religion but treat it as a sport or a party. Every step you take results in more happiness and joy, if not directly for you than for someone in the supply-chain, animals having a better life and our mother earth feeling better.
Personally, every time I make something a habit I feel like I scored some points in a big game. It took me a while to find a solid shampoo that didn’t leave my hair weirdly sticky, but when I did, I haven’t looked back. My next aim is to get my partner to actually even try it… sigh!
Practice what you preach. Don’t preach your practice too much!
You don’t have to preach to all the people around you. If you can do this in a fun and motivational way, by all means do it! But just living the lifestyle will show the people (your kids) around you that it’s a natural way to do things. Let’s not be that cranky vegan Karen!
My neighbor actually approached me and asked if I could explain to her how to shop for sustainable boots. I loved spending some time googling the best brands for her and giving her the information that I had gathered over time. She has now converted to more sustainable shoe brands altogether. If she’s happy, she’ll pass on her experience to others. That’s a big win!
Small ripples turn into a big wave
Remember that a lot of people changing one small thing in their life has more effect than one family doing everything perfectly.
Make it doable to make it sustainable. If you eat meat, cut down one or two times meat a week. It makes a big difference. Use washcloths instead of cotton pads to clean your face. Switch to a more sustainable washing detergent every other time until you find the right one. All small things add up. Try and test and some things will become part of your daily life in no-time.
Treat yourself and enjoy yourself. Don’t cut all the fun out of your life. Try to make your new habits fun and sometimes just do what you think you need. New nails. A big bbq party (with veggie options and organic meat). Or just a walk in the park without taking your phone. Mindful living fills up so many emotional gaps people try to fill by buying things. Mindful living and connecting to each other. Find your community. Connect. Fill the emotional gaps with people and experiences. Not with stuff!
- Learn to be happy with what I have
- Learn what it means to actually NEED something
- Consume less
- Consume better
- Share what I have and what I’ve learned with the people (kids) around me!