We are naturally creative, intelligent collaborative beings. Our socialization doesn’t always foster our innate ability to problem solve, create, get our needs met over our wants or to even understand the balance between the two. We can also cut back on how much money we spend by making little (but go a long way) changes here and there.
I began making some of these changes in my life a couple years ago after a life changing experience lead me to questioning my own existence. At the time, I needed to cut back on costs and learn to understand what my true needs really are. I also needed to reconnect with what makes me feel truly happy and deep joy. I began little by little – What started off as an experiment, became a habitual lifestyle. One that I cannot ignore or turn my back on because with the help and support of so many, it’s what I discovered for myself. Rather, than something I had simply been taught.
The following may come across as patronizing (especially #14), technical, nagging or even like silly little things that don’t really help. I understand. I believed the same thing at one point. I’m a firm believer now though that the “little things” really do add up. They make all the difference. Just like 1+1=2 and so on…the little stuff becomes larger than itself. It’s how culture is created. I apologize if some of what is listed seems as though I’m speaking to a child. The truth is, we are children. Children are sponges -open- soaking up information and experience around them. So, as corny as this might sound, let your inner child resurface and absorb the possibilities below. Try one at a time. Take it slow. Write about your experience even and share what you’re learning. All in all, remember “be patient with yourself and others while learning something new.” 🙂
The following is a list I compiled for my parents and I to begin experimenting further together. The “small changes” we can make in our lifestyle now to help in the transition of becoming more sustainable minded.
The Vision: A Self-Sustainable Homestead Why: To be responsible for my space and my place in our world.
1. Buying Local/ Organic. Going to the Farmers Market and Natural Markets for groceries. Begin reducing the amount of goods purchased from Super Stores and Corporations, Chains and Franchises: Safeway, QFC, Walmart, Target, Giant, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, Starbucks, fast food, etc. *** I do buy locally over organic because many small to medium (non-corporate/industrial) farms already do and have grown organic for years. It is now required for farms to be USDA Certified Organic to be able to label their produce/products “organic,” which is a lot of money, time and energy for these smaller farms to be able to do currently.
2. Buying 2nd Hand. There is enough stuff out there already made. We no longer need to buy everything “new” anymore. Go to local thrift stores, Goodwills, Salvation army, Value Village and salvaged goods/recycled materials locations for anything and everything. You will also get them at much better price and without all the packaging.
3. Support local artists and attend craft fairs for buying gifts. Try to support artists who are using recycled materials for their creations. These goods are known as “upcycled.” You can also shop online for home-made goods, gifts and crafts at http://www.etsy.com – For example: My Shop (yes I know, what a perfect plug)
4. Bring your own bags made of cloth or canvas for shopping of any kind. If forgetting them is an issue at first, keep them in the car or a place next to the door (I had to). All those plastic bags just become extra stuff we don’t know what to do with anyway.
5. Support independent shops, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops who also support their local communities buy serving or selling locally made goods. For example: Red Truck Bakery or Sherries Stuff in Northern, Va
6. Take Responsibility for your own waste/trash.
- Create a “burnables” bin for all paper and cardboard products that can be burned in your wood stove, fireplace or fire pit. ***this is to begin seeing how much paper waste you individually produce, and then actively taking a part in getting rid of one’s own trash instead of sending it off to the dump or to be picked up curbside. The goal is to reduce your waste production.
- Cutting down on plastic. I know it’s hard to find anything without some kind of plastic packaging. Even when buying organic in the “Natural Foods” section. Many companies have jumped on the organic bandwagon, but don’t really uphold the reality of organic. Organic is in its natural state. So if the broccoli is wrapped in plastic, or the spinach comes in a sealed, air tight bag, sorry – to me, it’s not organic. Try to cut down the amount of packaged goods you buy. Snacks are great, but usually we can make them even better. Sometimes, even a healthier snack ourselves (without the preservatives or additives they throw in to processed foods). ***The goal is to reduce plastic waste to very little for recycling to none at all as well as reducing consumption of packaged, processed food to little or none at all.
- Set up an in-house Recycling System to be picked up curbside or taken to the Recycling Center nearest you. Ours includes:
- General Trash Bin
- Compost Bin
- Rag/Linens Bin (no more paper towels).
- Plastic and Aluminum (our recycling center does them together)
- Non-burnable paper and cardboard products
7. Composting. Keep a container in the kitchen to throw kitchen scraps in. For those of you with good size yards or woods, find a good spot to start a pile. Those without, toss scraps into a larger bin for turning to begin make soil. Wet newspaper is a good addition to throw in as well, the worms love it. Are there any neighbors or green spaces near you that could use’em?
8. Cleaning products. Either buy Eco-friendly or make your own. Really, it’s easy! ***Eco-friendly products sometimes contain the same ingredients as the regular kinds. Some products that are labeled enviromentally friendly have to do with their packaging or how the product was made. Be sure to read the ingredients to check and see if they truly are all NATURAL.
- Soapwort! It is an herb that was used for making liquid soaps/cleansers. The whole plant (but especially the root) can be boiled in water which creates a mild soapy cleanser. You can add other herbs or essential oils to it that best fit your intended goal. You can make shampoo’s, liquid all-purpose soaps, detergent, etc. Many museums still use this method today to wash their antique linens. ***My mom and I will be experimenting with this soon and posting our recipes as we create them.
- Baking Soda is also a great alternative cleaning product. I also use it for face wash, toothpaste and deodorant. It cuts down on waste and it’s cheap too!
9. To-go cups. There are many ceramic or stainless steel reusable to-go cups for hot drinks. You can also bring your own mug. In my car, I keep a clean mug for hot drinks and a mason jar for cold drinks. ***Do not use plastic or styrofoam for hot drinks. Hot liquids cause these products to leech their chemical compounds into your drink. You don’t want these chemicals in your body.
10. Make your own bread from your own wild yeast culture. Super easy! Yeast is an organism that floats in the air. So why do we buy it in stores? Instead of buying bread or buying yeast to make bread – start a yeast culture ! If you don’t have the time, try getting your bread fresh at a local bakery.
11. Give linens a try…again. At one time this is what people used for regular needs of wiping hands or noses. Use cloth napkins in place of paper napkins or paper towels. Handkerchiefs in place of tissues. Towels or rags for cleaning instead of paper towels. *** The goal is to help out financially by no longer spending the money on these paper products (also wrapped in plastic), but it also helps cut down your waste production.
12. Being more conscious about energy usage in your home.
- Shut off lights when you leave a room. As well as any electronics that you’re not using.
- Don’t let the water run while your brushing your teeth, shaving (even in the shower), wiping down the counter or even putting dishes into the dish washer.
- Cut down dishwasher use. Try just hand washing dishes and using the dishwasher as a large drain.
- Turn off computers when not in use. Put them on sleep mode or shut laptops (this uses less energy while still accessible to use immediately if need be).
- Turn off the TV when you’re not watching it
- Make more fires for heating your home/rooms if you have access to a fireplace or woodstove.
- Do laundry when it’s absolutely necessary aka FULL loads. Use cold water cycles or water saving buttons (if optional). Hand wash small loads and delicates.
- Dry your clothes in the sun along a clothesline or air dry in house, if possible. This helps save energy and it lengthens life of clothes because dryers tend to get so hot that it burns clothing little by little. Use a lower heat option.
13. Re-use Containers. Not only try to buy things in glass containers like juice or jam, but you can re-use them for storing later. I reuse mine to hold dried goods and drinking glasses. A friend uses hers to store tea and as well as steeping it.
14. Here are some questions to ask oneself to help transform the mentality to one of total dependence upon our consumer based economic system to one of responsibility, individual creativity, self-reliance and interdependece.
- When you feel you need something, our first thought is to go buy it. Q: What do I have available that I can use as a substitute? Example: My mom came to me the other day. ” I need stuffing for my dolls. What should I do?” “Be creative, what do we have here in the house you can use?” I say. A few minutes later, she realizes we had an excess of pillows in the house, so she cut one open and is now using it to stuff the dolls.
- What can I make myself using what I already have?
- How much packaging goes into this?
- How much waste am I producing by buying this? (Buying new comes with waste versus buying used or at a goodwill generally comes without a box, bag, etc.)
- Can I make a better snack with the ingredients I have versus getting a box or bag of this from the store?
- Fast food – how much waste am I producing?
- Going to the store or out for another shopping adventure? Do I have my cloth/canvas bags?
- Going to a social event of any kind – carpool – Who can I ride with or ride with me?