“At its core, the issue of a clean environment is a matter of public health.” Gina McCarthy
A lot of people tend to think of “going green” as an altruistic life choice. We sacrifice a whole lot of little comforts in order to “save the environment.” And let’s face it, not everyone is into martyrdom. Most of us, whether we admit it or not, are primarily interested in things that benefit us to some degree. When we frame sustainability as something we’re doing for someone else (the coming generations) or something else (the environment and other living beings on the planet) it unfortunately does not motivate the masses into immediate action. What you, and everyone else, need to realize, is that going green is actually hugely beneficial for you in terms of saving money, time and space. These are all primary concerns if you’re living a holistic minimalist lifestyle. Plus, in reality, “saving the planet” is more about maintaining an environment hospitable to human life than anything else. When you think about it that way, it’s about time we all got on the bandwagon!
14.1 Going Green In Your Home: What You Can Do
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein
There are a number of things you can change at home to make an impact on your ecological footprint that will also save you money, time and space. Try picking two or three from the following list and see if you can implement them in the coming week! Then do the same thing the week after. This will make the transition to a greener home much more manageable then thinking about the whole big list of things to do…
- Line dry your clothes whenever possible. Set up a clothesline outside or get yourself a solid indoor drying rack. Fun fact: drying outside even works in winter! The freezing-cold air makes for incredibly fresh smelling clothes. Some people choose to not even own a drying machine, which saves space and removes the temptation of using it. One of the long term benefits of line drying is that it makes for a lot less wear and tear of clothing, which means replacing things less often. You also save money by using less electricity, which is better for the environment. A smart tip from technology entrepreneur Jon Lal, people with pollen allergies should dry on an indoor rack!
- Redo weatherstripping of doors and windows. This will save a whole lot of otherwise wasted heating, and also possibly keep you from buying plastic to cover your windows every winter as a last ditch effort to block drafts! Which will also save a whole lot of frustration and time dealing with that annoying double-sided tape you have to use to put the plastic on. Just sayin’.
- The classic: put a brick in the toilet tank. You can also fill an empty pop bottle with sand or gravel and put that in. Some people prefer this option because bricks tend to disintegrate over time. Others simply wrap the brick in a plastic bag. This is one of those time-tested super easy solutions for saving a bit of water regularly. Most toilets use way more water then necessary to flush properly and keep things clean so you shouldn’t have any problems on that front. If you do, you can just take the bottle out! Easy peasy.
- Wash only full laundry loads and use cold water. This saves water and also time as you won’t be busy doing loads of laundry every couple days. Using cold water washes things as effectively and saves the energy and money of heating the water, which may seem insignificant at the time, but it all adds up. If you have certain things you use super frequently, consider hand washing them in between big loads!
- Only wash full dishwasher loads. On this front you probably still want to use hot water as grease is unfortunately not likely to come off with cold.
- Use cloth rags instead of paper towels. Not buying paper towels and using reusable cloth rags for cleaning is super easy, saves trees, and creates less waste. You can even use old clothing to make your own rags, reducing your household waste even more. Plus, it’s one less thing to remember to buy when you go shopping! Used rags can be thrown into you (full, coldwater) load of laundry with towels etc.
- Make your own cleaning solutions and/or hygiene products. A lot of household cleaning and hygiene products contain various toxic elements that you really don’t want around. Sure, you could just start buying eco-friendly bulk amounts of everything at your local zero waste store. For the more adventurous, why not try making them yourself? All-purpose cleaners, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant and even sunscreen can be very easily made at home with very few ingredients. Many, many website exist with easy to follow home recipes! This can also be a fun project to do with kids, friends, or your partner!
- Shut things off or unplug them when you’re not using them. Keeping things plugged in all the time is an unnecessary energy drain that’s very easy to address. Get yourself a power bar for things like your TV, Wifi router, some lamps you don’t use often…(heck, you could even put the majority of your kitchen appliances on one as well!) and turn the bar off at night. Unplug your cell phone charger when you’re not charging the phone. Turn your computer off at night.
- Buy toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper. TP is one of the biggest paper-consumption sources for most households. Eco-friendly options may cost slightly more, but for the most part the difference is pretty insignificant and it saves you a whole lot of crappy karma (pun intended).
- Use both sides of printing or writing paper. It’s one of those really basic greening tips, but it does make a long term difference. Plus, less papers = less clutter. So why not do it?
- Say “No!” to junk mail! If you still get bags of glossy ads, put a sign on your mailbox refusing paper junk mail or ask your post office not to give you any flyers or ads in your P.O. box. Same as above, this makes for a lots less clutter in the house.
- Compost! Not all cities have compost programs available, but most do have community compost sites where you can take your kitchen scraps. If you have space you can also just have one in your backyard (sealed well enough to keep out the raccoons! You might also want to check out worm composting as a super simple, no space required, city-friendly (and kid fun!) option. There’s also an easy indoor system called the bokashi system which is an even easier indoor solution as it doesn’t involve dealing with extra worms every now and then.
- Use fans instead of air conditioning. People the world over get through incredibly hot weather with house fans and no AC. It can be done people! Plus, air conditioning can actually have negative health effects (even if it can also have some benefits if you live in a super smoggy city…). Air conditioning lowers humidity in the air which can cause recurrent sinus infections and dry skin problems. When not properly maintained, air conditioning units can produce moulds and circulate them in the air. Plus AC means your body has to deal with potentially extreme temperature fluctuations between indoor and outdoor climates, which can exacerbate certain health issues, such as diabetes. It’s worth considering not using it except in extreme circumstances for both health, environment and money-saving reasons!
- Plant drought-tolerant native plants in your garden, is one among many great suggestions from the Worldwatch Institute as many plants out there need minimal watering. Figure out which ones occur naturally in your area and switch up your planting habits to save time and water!
14.2 When You’re Out In The World: Greening Your Habits
“Buy less, choose well.” Vivienne Westwood
Now that we’ve covered a whole load of ideas for things you can change at home, what about when you’re in the world doing your thing? Here’s a bunch of little things you can do (again, using the “a couple a week” approach to make it seem less overwhelming) to “be the change,” while also saving time, money and space…
- Skip bottled water (bring a bottle with you!). All forms of plastic create extra waste and clutter in the world. Have one bottle that you bring with you everywhere, simple as that.
- Recycle your electronics! Instead of buying into consumerist pressure to acquire the latest thing, tap into your minimalist spirit and use your computers and cel phones or other electronics for as long as possible! E-waste contains mercury and other toxics, not to mention being made using products mined in extremely non-sustainable ways around the globe, and is a growing environmental problem. When you have to get rid of an electronic, find your local electronics recycling center or resell it if it’s in good enough shape.
- Borrow or trade instead of buying. Whenever possible, just don’t buy things! Work on developing borrowing and trading relationships with friends and local producers. You can also consider co-buying things you don’t use often…
- When you buy, buy smart and buy local. Consider the durability of something before you buy it. Will it last? What’s the quality of the product, really? And do you really, really need it? Consider whether you can get the same thing produced locally, and if so, do it!
- Choose public transit, bike or walk. Basically, if you can avoid owning a car, do that! If you feel you have no choice in needing one sometimes, try and organize your life to use public transit or your own body power to get around as often as possible. This will save you money, (and space if you can avoid having a car), reduce your ecological footprint and improve your health at the same time!
- Reduce or eliminate meat and monocrop consumption. Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock, particularly large scale cattle and pork farming, requires not only clearing of large tracts of land for the livestock, but also means growing acres and acres of soy and corn for grain to feed them. Not to mention the huge farming equipment used to maintain production and transportation and storage of the meat. If you’re a meat-eater, try cutting meat out of your diet a couple meals a week to start and move on from there.
- Refuse straws and plastic bags. These are two of the most-used (and totally unnecessary!) plastic products. Many cities are already banning plastic grocery bags. How about banning them in your household? Just get into the habit of having a cloth bag tucked away in your purse or backpack that you can whip out for any unplanned purchases. If you really love straws, get yourself a reusable bamboo one and bring it around with you. While you’re at it, why not stop buying plastic-wrapped goods in general?
- Carry your own containers and cutlery. Same idea as the above! Avoid causing unnecessary waste when you suddenly decide to get some takeout. If you actually follow all these waste-reducing tips you’ll be able to get rid of most of your household garbage cans, which will make your minimalist heart jump with joy for space saved and aesthetics increased!
14.3 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“Reducing our levels of consumption will not be a sacrifice but a bonus if we simply redefine the meaning of the word ‘success.” David Wann
Waste is clutter. Clutter is the minimalists arch-nemesis. Reducing all forms of waste (i.e clutter) in your life means living in line with your values and getting closer to your goal of an easy, fluid, holistically minimalist lifestyle. The way to do that is by making incremental change in the various spheres of your life. All the above suggestions will benefit you in multiples ways in the long run even if they’re focused on sustainability in the larger-scale sense.
- Pick two or three ways to “green your home” this week! Implement them. Then repeat next week!
- Choose two or three ways to “green your habits” this week! Implement them, and again, repeat the process the following week until you’ve shifted your overall habits into “green mode.”
- Share your experiences. Talk with people around you about what you’re doing! This can be a great way of creating support in your social network and even of possibly influencing others to try doing the same thing.
- Join or strengthen your positive feedback networks. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate ourselves to keep up with positive change in our lives. Things get in the way. One of the best ways to avoid getting off track is to join or strengthen existing networks that validate and support your choices. If you don’t have people in your immediate circles who are on the same page on this front, find some online networks that you can join or follow to keep you inspired!