If you're like me, you care about the environment and about reducing pollution in the oceans (which means reducing pollution on land), but don't necessarily know where to begin to make changes in your life. I often think about this video from Follow the Frog that illustrates how we can feel when we become aware of how our planet’s magnificent habitats are being destroyed or polluted. We–at least I–want to hop on a plane and start doing something to stop it. But the reality quickly sets in; we can't/won't quit our jobs to devote ourselves to conservation, at least not on the spot, and we’re left with a feeling that asks, well then, what can I do?
Educating ourselves about our environmental impacts can be difficult, especially if we've never examined that area of our lives before. It can leave us feeling convicted yet directionless. I've definitely been there! The good news is you’re already on your way if you feel that! Simply being aware of your life’s relationship to the environment is an excellent starting point for changing your behavior.
When I first decided to take charge of my consumption habits, I made a mind map of all the possible ways for me to live greener. A mind map is basically that brainstorming web we used to make in elementary school...super easy and very effective! The biggest section of my map had to do with plastics. But let’s back up a little.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Coming out of my last year in college, I was riding high on the wave on environmental consciousness. I had just finished interning at a wonderful organization called I Love A Clean San Diego (ILACSD). I was using my reusable coffee cups and (washed out) pasta sauce jars all the time! I continued that through my first job back in Fairfield, but I have to admit I was less motivated by living my values and more from bringing coffee from home since I hated the office coffee.
When I started my job in Napa, I was a bit starstruck with how nice everything was. My office coffee didn’t come from an ol’ reliable coffee maker, it was coming to me from the market where all of the guests get their coffee. I was getting the same coffee guests of a luxury resort were getting and sadly that went to my head.
I started using the disposable coffee cups every day. There were days where I would use two, as many as three in a day. I’m cringing as I write that out. But there’s more: when I decided I wanted to drink more water, I also started using the single-use plastic cups, lids, and straws to drink my water. Every. Day.
Before I knew it, it was Earth Day. All my Instagram and Twitter friends were posting about caring for the planet and hashtagging every day is Earth day. I felt indignant, I didn’t believe that most of those posts were honest. I thought they were just posting for the sake of hashtagging and being a part of the cool thing of the day. I was getting ready to post something self-righteous when I looked up and saw my disposable items all over my desk.
How does that verse go again? Oh yeah.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Luke 6:41
Man, I felt so convicted when I saw that plank sprawled out on my desk. I put my phone down and got back to work, then spent the weekend reevaluating my lifestyle and figuring out where to begin.
WHERE I STARTED
I somehow knew from the get go that the process of greening my life would look different for me than for the people whose lives I was envying on Instagram. For starters, I don't live in a trendy city. My suburban city doesn't have a year-round farmer’s market and the local produce stand isn't open year-round either. I work a full time job with a commute so getting to these locations when they are open is a challenge of its own. My dreams of shopping from local farms and having a community of environmentally conscious people in my city would have to wait.
So I went back to the drawing board. I took a look at the recurring themes on my mind map. I asked myself what going green meant for me at this place and stage of my life. This is what I came up with:
- Living a life that wasn't dictated by constant consumption
- Connecting to and experiencing nature
- Reducing my waste and choosing to reuse and recycle whenever possible
WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE IN PRACTICE
Please remember that these are my starting points. I have grand sustainability dreams, but we've all gotta start somewhere!
LIVING A LESS CONSUMING LIFE
Phase one is the downsize, declutter, and replace phase. It requires a lot of intention and it's the broadest one I came up with.
We–Brandon and I, that is–started this phase as we moved from our Davis apartment to the one we’re in right now. We'd been given lots of duplicate gifts for our wedding and for some reason we'd been holding on to a lot of the extra stuff for the sake of having it. At one point we had about five coffee brewing devices when only one of us drank coffee! I gave away and donated all but the espresso machine and a tiny French press. This broad goal is also where my capsule wardrobe adventures come in. As I've mentioned before, constant consumption of clothing and a resulting overflowing closet had left me unsatisfied. Transitioning to a minimal wardrobe was my reaction to those feelings.
CONNECTING TO & EXPERIENCING NATURE
Experiencing nature is really important to me and is one of the reasons I love summer so much. I love being outside. I take lunch outside even if it's cold just for the sake of being outside!
At some point in my teens, I convinced myself that humanity was separate from nature, that nature was this stagnant thing...like a piece of furniture. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I really understood, I mean really comprehended that plants aren't just decorations, they're living organisms. Nothing made that more to me real than this time-lapse.
Did you notice that the vine moves like worm or something? HOW COOL IS THAT?! I mean this is plant we're looking at. It actually blows my mind to see it!
I believe the more we experience nature, the more we understand its value and hopefully the more we care about it. And if you're not a tree hugger, just know that fresh air and sunshine is generally good for you , so get outside anyway!
The zero waste life is growing in popularity with people like Bea and Lauren sharing how they've dramatically reduced their waste. I follow quite a few zero waste accounts on Instagram and they're all very inspiring and helpful. I'm not entirely ready to forsake my trash can for a mason jar, but my awareness is spiking.
I'm paying more attention to the packaging of the products I'm buying, I'm trying to buy products with the least amount of plastic parts as possible, and I'm just about ready to start buying my pasta in bulk. I've quit putting my unpackaged produce in those filmy plastic produce bags and almost always have a reusable bag on me.
My biggest goal within this goal is to reduce my household food waste. I'm pretty positive meal planning is key to this, but that requires sticking to a menu...I'm terrible at sticking to a menu. If anyone who isn't a menu person has figured out how to meal plan consistently, hit me up. I need your help!
As much as I might want to rage quit my job to become an environmentalist, I know I don't have to. I can be one by starting where I can and so can you!
So tell me, where will you start?
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