The 3 key lessons I’ve learned so far on my sustainable journey
Protecting the environment has always been important to me. I’ve made various life choices because of this, like not driving and being vegetarian. Yet I always felt I wasn’t doing enough to reduce my impact on the planet. I often felt paralysed by the challenge of a sustainable lifestyle.
Then my daughter, Sophie, was born. There’s nothing like suddenly being responsible for raising a little person to give you a cold hard reality check. I didn’t have time to NOT take action. I needed to do everything I could to try to make sure that her future – every child’s future – isn’t going to be some kind of dystopian nightmare.
So I started to reduce our household waste, buying second-hand and using eco-friendly cleaning products. We also switched to a green energy tariff. Later down the line we started using cloth wipes and reusable nappies. And so much more besides. Yet I still felt guilty about all the things that I wasn’t able to do (yet).
Then something changed. Over the past year I’ve felt a shift in my mindset. I’ve managed to come to terms with my eco-guilt and move past the overwhelm that I felt just months before. I’ve figured out what’s most important to me and what’s actually possible for me. I’m clear on what I want to achieve and I actually feel proud about my lifestyle (though there will always be more that I want to do).
Here are the top 3 things I’ve learned that have helped me get to this point:
1) Learn to live with less
I’ve never considered myself to be particularly materialistic or much of a hoarder. However, as I’ve tried to live with more intention (especially when it comes to making purchases) and gradually declutter our home, I’ve been surprised at how much unnecessary stuff we’ve accumulated.
We’ve been so conditioned to believe that we need all this stuff to improve our lives. In reality, we can count the things we actually need on one hand.
Before you make a purchase, consider if you really need it. If you do, can you borrow or rent it? If you must buy it yourself, can you find it second hand?
Buy quality goods that will last and take care of your possessions to extend their lifespan. Try to mend things when you can, rather than automatically looking for a replacement.
Decluttering seems to be a big thing at the moment. Now, I’m all for decluttering – less stuff equals less time spent tidying and cleaning said stuff (woo hoo!) but I do worry about what people are doing with all their unwanted possessions. I think it’s important we take enough time to consider where the things we no longer want will go. Can you give them to a friend, sell them or donate them to a charity shop? Could you repurpose an item into something you do actually need? If we’re in too much of a hurry, the option of simply throwing items away might be just too tempting. We’re only human, after all.
It’s been more of a learning curve than I expected but I now relish having less stuff, buying less and ultimately wasting less. It also means you spend less, freeing up your hard-earned cash for what makes you truly happy (for me it’s making memories with friends and family) – what’s not to love!
2) Slow down
Green living and slow living go hand in hand. Trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle has forced me to simplify my life and go at a slower pace.
Not driving means it takes longer for me to get to places. Trying to reduce single-use plastic means I visit various local shops a few times a week, rather than doing 1 weekly supermarket shop. I now make my own cleaning products, which takes a bit of time (not loads but more than getting a shop-bought product out of a cupboard).
It works the other way too. Through trying not to cram too much into my day, I have the time to be organised enough to avoid convenience. I have a mental checklist of things to take with me whenever I leave the house: reusable water bottle, snacks and/or lunch, reusable bags and containers, etc. If I rush, I’m more likely to forget things. That inevitably leads to resorting to convenience goods, which usually involves single-use plastic (and other unnecessary resources).
We lead such busy lives these days – work, kids, relationships, social commitments. Adding this extra layer of things to think about can put people off trying to live more sustainably. I get it! However, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It comes down to what we choose to do with that time; what we choose to prioritise.
I choose to have more time for my family and myself. More time to be present and appreciate what I have. More time to care for the planet.
What will you choose?
3) Do what you can
Back when I was feeling overwhelmed, I could have carried on thinking, ‘What difference can one person really make?’. But that was just an excuse, to ease the feeling of guilt and carry on with life as I knew it.
What was true, was that I couldn’t solve all the problems in the world. I couldn’t solve any of them – not on my own. But, I could sure as hell be part of the solution.
It’s like the old analogy of trying to juggle too many balls or spin too many plates. We all know what will happen if we try to do too much at any one time. Instead, we can make a much bigger difference and be more successful if we focus our efforts.
We all have different hands dealt to us in life – different resources and different demands on us. However, there’s something we can all do to reduce our impact on the planet. No matter how small and insignificant your something might feel to you, it matters!
If everyone does a little, it will add up to a huge difference.