As someone who has a degree in Sustainability, I’ve had a lot of experience answering the question, “What do you do to live more sustainably?” or some variation of it.
My first answer is always general: buy less, use less, waste less. From this, I leave it up to the person to determine how they would go about living a life where they buy less, use less, and waste less. Others, who had more time and interest, would ask me for specifics. This is where years of research comes into play. If I’m being totally honest though, I got most of the tips from Pinterest. I typed in “ways to be more sustainable” and thousands of simplified infographics were called up to my screen. Upon scrutinizing them, I noticed that most of them had the same top 10 things to do and that’s what I tell people who ask me how to live more sustainably. On the off chance that I get to check in with them and ask them about their progress, I often find that they didn’t make the change or they did, but couldn’t keep it up.
To be completely honest, I too sometimes slip up once in a while when I make an impulse purchase under the guise of hygge (a Danish word meaning “hug” that represents the abstract concepts of coziness and relaxation). I have a thing for home goods for organizing and kitchen gadgets that keep me from slicing my fingers off with a knife. I can’t be left alone in a home store or hardware store. It’s where I’m at my weakest and I may end up buying out the whole place. So why is it hard for us to implement or sustain these changes and form new habits?
Took me a while to finally realize that it was all about motivation. Some people are more ready to make the changes and others need a bit more convincing. All of us though need to constantly be motivated to keep up this sort of lifestyle. It takes quite a lot of effort in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it you’ll forget that you lived any other way before. I’m going to list down all of the things that I did and am doing to lessen my negative impact and leave no trace. Considering the only way I’ll be able to do that is if I write an incredibly long article, which I’m sure not a lot of you will have the time or patience to read, I’m going to break it up and create a series. My Shifting to a Sustainable Lifestyle Series will give you one task at a time along with instructions on how to do it and the financial, social, and environmental motivations behind each task. I’m going to tell you why it’s good for your wallet, the community, and the planet. Let’s get started.
Dealing with things you already own
What to do: Cull through EVERYTHING! It’s time to PURGE! Yup, that’s right! It’s time to go through everything you own. So as not to overwhelm you, I suggest making a schedule to plot out times throughout a week to go through one area of your room or house. In my experience, trying to do everything in one day makes me rush through it and I end up keeping more stuff than I intended to or should. Here we go!
- Lay everything out and pick out the things that you NEED and put them away in an organized fashion.
- Assign several stations to sort through everything into piles of: want, donate/sell, recycle, and throw. I want you to sort things based on your snap decision when you pick up an item. Make sure that anything you put in throw really can’t be used again or donated. We’re trying to minimize waste here, so if you’re tossing things for the sake of not dealing with them, check yourself.
- Go through everything in your “want” pile. Give yourself a moment with each item and think of the following: How many time will you use it? Why do you want to keep it? Is it useful? Once you’ve answered these questions and you feel that you won’t really have much use for the item, move it to the “donate” pile.
- When you’ve got everything organized, schedule a pick up or drop off for the donation. I recommend doing this as soon as possible because often times we’ll find ourselves rummaging through it again trying to save things.
- Segregate and dispose of the items in your “trash” pile.
- The last thing you’re going to do is to schedule a garage sale or selling day if you have things under a “sell” pile and you’re done!
A few tips:
- Need – These are the things that you use on a regular basis, are useful, and you can’t live or function without.
- Dealing with your Want pile is difficult because we always find ways to make up an excuse to keep things. If you don’t use it and don’t really have any plans on using it, it has to go.
- Employ various techniques of going through your things. Some people use the KonMari method, which entails asking yourself if the item brings you joy. Others use the Minimalist approach or looking at the value and meaning in the items. Make lasting decisions.
- For the closet, I planned out a color palette that I wanted to stick to. For clothes, my palette consists of neutrals, pastels, and jewel tones. You will not find anything yellow, orange or highlighter hue in my closet. I suggest that you also look at styles that flatter you the most, so anything that falls outside of those designs, take them out. Culling out things we wear is difficult because it’s easy to accumulate so much stuff. The fashion industry is run on trends and not all trends work for everyone. Take the time to discover your own style and taste, then adjust your belongings accordingly. Someone else can benefit from that top you’ve been holding onto, but never ended wearing.
- Segregate your donations and find specialized pick up services for each category. At least you’ll know that your items are being dealt with accordingly and not just bunched together and mass donated to places that don’t even need all the kinds of items they’re being given.
- When organizing or putting things away, make sure they’re easy to find and are accessible at all times.
- The most sustainable you can be is to use the things you already have instead of buying more sustainable products to replace things.
Need some Motivation?
- Lessen spending on repairing and maintaining items because you’ll be getting rid of items you won’t use.
- You can sell the items that are still in good condition and make some extra cash.
- Donations are always welcome as many people can’t afford to buy certain things. Just make sure what you’re donating is still usable and you’re sorting things for optimal distribution.
- Have an item swap party with some friends. They can bring things they don’t use and you can trade. Only select things that you really need, otherwise, you’ll be cluttering your home again. It’s also a good excuse to see your friends and save each other money while cleaning up at the same time.
- For items that can still be repaired or upcycled, you can call your local menders and support their livelihoods by having them fix up whatever needs fixing. You extend the life of an item and help someone earn some money.
- Meet up with friends or family in person or virtually and help each other sort through the piles of stuff. It’s a good bonding session and you can get a second opinion when you’re not sure about some items.
- Buy less and use less – You lessen your consumption along with carbon and water footprints.
- Donating, to the appropriate organizations that will ensure optimal use of the items, instead of throwing away will promote an extended useful life and keep things out of the landfills for longer.
- Once you’ve exhausted the useful lives of your belongings, you can then replace them with more sustainable alternatives that take into account the impact of consumption on the environment. Support small local shops that are eco-friendly and have social initiatives.
- You’ll be able to see what you really prioritize and value in life.
- Less clutter in your surroundings will make you more productive and relieve some of your stress.
- It will give you a sense of accomplishment when you sort and donate things.
- You’ll feel good about potentially saving and making money through the process.
- You can incorporate some uplifting affirmations as you go through things. Walking down memory lane will also lift your mood as you look back on fond memories that some items can bring up.
- Letting some items go can lead to closure on some issues and feeling you held onto for a while.
It’s important to keep in mind that being sustainable is a continuous improvement kind of thing. You won’t be entirely sustainable overnight. You’ll need to constantly update things and change habits in order for you to keep up with new discoveries. Trust me, it will never end, but that’s part of the adventure. My last piece of advice comes in the form of something my grandma would always ask me when I asked her for something, “Do you need it or do you just want it?” She always got me with that one. Most of the time I just asked for something because I wanted it and wouldn’t really use it. I hope this question will also guide you in making smarter and more eco-friendly purchases and decisions to live the sustainable lifestyle that, I believe, everyone should aspire to.