A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
We are living in unprecedented times – a sentence I so commonly hear in recent years. It has become a slogan, a proclamation of sorts. And while the younger me rolled her eyes at slogans and mottos, now, on the threshold of my forties, I do shyly realize and admit that they are not here without reason. They are a kind of anthem to the experience of each generation. In recent years, we have all witnessed the uncompromising nature of our times; the pandemic has brought tremendous changes to all our lives, we have been pushed and shoved into a new ‘’attire’’ which the world now wears – without preparation or an instruction manual. And while we anxiously await news of new strains or lockdowns, many are turning to nature, a healthier lifestyle, better and more ethical shopping choices, food choices, and a generally more mindful way of living. Many struggle, mostly over where and how to begin.
Every beginning is a challenge because it implies something new, a change, it removes us from our comfort zone. Most of us have well-established routines, shopping and eating habits. While we generally may be recycling, buying and supporting small businesses, trying to care about the environment and climate change, making an effort to be the best versions of ourselves that are possible – radical change requires a lot of time, energy and money we unfortunately don’t have.
It is difficult and time consuming to consider every single angle and direction of action, especially if they contradict each other, in declaring something ethical or sustainable. But it can be done! Priorities – something that passes through my mind as a parenting lesson – the emphasis is on priorities. On that which is important to us and from what we are not willing to steer from: human and animal rights, zero waste, carbon footprint, nature pollution, sustainable fashion, ecological and organic farming.
Think about the things you consume the most, and then consider replacing them with a reusable, recyclable or environmentally friendly alternative.
Don’t carelessly get rid of everything you don’t want just because minimalism is trending. There are seventeen people living in my head, one of whom is a samurai, the other a flamenco dancer, the third lives in the golden age of Paris and all these people want their order and have their shoes. So, to begin with, make a list of everything you need, love and want to keep (those horrible high school heels or a tiger-print jacket that is tattered but full of memories) and don’t throw away things that might be useful to you. Consciously donate and try to organize an exchange or sale with friends, while having a great time remembering and donating the proceeds to charity.
Don’t do it all at once - cold turkey is not always the best way to go. Divide your home into sections and deal with one per month, per week or any other way that suits you best. Good organization is a very close friend of success. Thus, lifestyle changes can become achievable and last in the long run.
Invest in a wicker basket, reusable bags and storage containers. Try to arrange everything for the long haul. We so often get stressed about things that are all over the place and which we can’t find when we need and want them. (In my case, everything is always arranged, even compulsively in its place, even though I don’t consider myself a minimalist; still, I can rarely find a needle or a pin when I need it). A suitable storage place – out of sight – can help in guiding you in a more mindful direction and closer to achieving a kind of minimalism that can be good for you. If nothing else, it’ll help you in finding that pin or needle.
Try a so-called ‘’capsule’’ wardrobe – keep wardrobe pieces you can combine and wear in a variety of different outfits. In that way you’ll have several statement items that can constitute a major part of all other clothing combinations.
Minimalism means a lot of different things depending on who you ask. I am immensely eager to accept a minimalist way of living, but always end up asking myself: ‘Can I own this and still nurture a minimalist point of view? I find myself being wrong about approaching it in this way – minimalism works on the principle of owning that what adds value to your life, not about owning as little as possible or imitating aesthetics. If you have a hobby, a child or a pet, and mess and clutter are a major part of your life, that’s okay because those things make you happy. Rather, listen to yourself and what makes you happy, instead of forcing things and trying so hard to transform your life into someone else’s.
Human rights, fashion and sustainability
Forget high-street shopping. Large companies generally hide or do not like to publish production information, and even those with strict regulations generally cannot properly control all their production processes. Have you ever wondered who produces the clothes you buy and love, and would you still like to know if it’s the result of child exploitation, slaving away for minimum wages, or of dubious origin?
Start shopping second-hand, whether it’s charity stores, vintage stores, e-Bay, or clothing made from recycled materials. In this way, you participate in the circular economy and help prolong the life of clothing that already exists.
Try to change your perspective. Yes, ethical fashion is more expensive, but it makes more sense because everyone in the supply chain is properly compensated. Fast fashion imposes much higher fees on clothing while the cost of production is negligible – you are the ones who pay it. Find out which brands promote and practice ethical and sustainable production. You can find many small businesses on Etsy, eBay, or locally.
In addition, look for organic and natural materials such as organic cotton, hemp and linen. Pollution caused by the production of artificial materials is a vicious circle and creates a yo-yo effect that will again harm someone somewhere, because the problems caused by pollution cause much more and faster damage to poor countries.
Caring for the environment
Use reusable menstrual cups or cloth pads instead of regular tampons or pads. Or even underwear made of special fabrics just for the cycle, it’s not at all awful as it sounds. Give reusable bottles a chance instead of plastic ones, they come in all colors and shapes.
Replace disposable razors with stainless steel ones, replace disposable coffee cups with a travel/portable cup. Replace expensive and soft toilet paper and kitchen paper towels with bamboo or recycled ones; plastic toothbrushes/hairbrushes/makeup brushes with ones made from biodegradable materials. Use paper, canvas or wicker baskets instead of plastic bags; coffee and tea that come in biodegradable packaging; wax wrappers instead of aluminum foil and cellophane; glass or stainless-steel food storage containers instead of plastic ones. For hair care, try a compressed shampoo or natural soap instead of those in plastic bottles. Switch to portable reusable utensils instead of plastic cutlery, carry your own stainless steel or cardboard straw instead of plastic one, buy biodegradable phone cases, compost leftover food, prepare meals in advance to avoid throwing food away.
Send dirty clothes and broken electronics to textile and electronics recycling, don't just put them in any bin.
Buy clothes from brands that make them from recycled materials and fabrics. Make your own cream, balm, antiperspirant, household cleaner (zero waste goes hand in hand with minimalism). I have been buying antiperspirant, face oil and body butters on Etsy for years.
Buy or make soy wax candles, especially if you are a parent: not only are they healthier and good for the environment, but they smell divine and you can use the heated wax as a hand or body lotion.
Don’t buy a bunch of new storage containers just for the sake of aesthetics. Start saving jars and containers that you may have anyway, and buy what you don’t have, if you really must.
Keep money in banks that do not invest in the fossil fuel industry, arms sales and private prisons.
Whenever you can, use renewable energy sources.
Reduce your intake of meat and dairy products. Even if you are not worried about animal rights, livestock farming is a major polluter, so reducing consumption is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Try buying local and seasonal produce. Look for products that are grown locally and have not traveled far to reach you.
Try using public transport more or riding a bike instead of driving a car.
While you’re already working on having toned legs, why not explore locally, why not hop on a train instead of a plane. Be sure to avoid cruise ships. While they look wonderful in commercials, they are poison to the world we live in.
Try to buy locally made clothes. There are a bunch of great brands that produce in Europe, so try to find some ethical companies that are local or at least close to you.
Don’t use traditional chemical cleaners, look for a biodegradable version. Replace cleaning products with natural options or make your own. Use natural, organic shampoos, soaps and dry shampoos. Look for non-toxic, organic beauty and make-up products (or make your own).
Use natural detergents, washing machine powder and dish soap. If you want to avoid fluoride, there is an array of fluoride-free toothpastes available. Buy clothes and fabrics made of organic materials, dyed with non-toxic, water-based or plant dyes. Look for organic products from local growers as much as you can.
At the end of the day, the world we live in is an inseparable part of us, and we are of it, and the place where we leave our heritage, children, our trace. Let us treat this place as a place of worship because it is the only home we have, and we can all contribute to the preservation of this home if we make just a bit more effort.