I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while, and given the current headlines, now seems as good a time as ever to break it out. Whether you’re a die-hard environmentalist or just a person looking to spend less at the grocery store every week, chances are you’ve given some thought to ways you or your family can do less in the way of consuming. I may like to think of myself as a minimalist mom, but the truth is I struggle as much as anyone with my addiction to American materialism, and I’m still always looking for ways for our family to reuse more and waste less.
At the time that I started this journey, I was working 60+ hours a week for a major retailer. My hubs and I actually both worked in retail- if there’s anyone who gets the challenge of trying to live with less or waste less in an era of “get a free gift card when you purchase 8,” it’s us. Let’s face it, we all know the beauty that is a Starbucks coffee and a leisurely stroll through Target, and we’ve all walked out with that cart full of merchandise that undoubtedly will end up in various donation bins down the road. I’ll spare you the sanctimonious “go vegan and knit all your own clothes” method and give you the lite-version of cutting back your environmental impact- the one that we use in our house and that has eased our passing into the minimalist lifestyle. If you’re not quite ready for a capsule wardrobe and a composter on your back porch, there are still plenty of ways to reduce your footprint. I promise it’s easier than you think.
Rethink your disposables: It’s true- we’re a cloth diaper family. And that’s a pretty big commitment. But even if cloth diapering isn’t your thing- there are probably tons of disposable things around your house that you could ditch and never even notice. We use washcloths (the cheap Back-to-College bundles from Target) as napkins, simple dishtowels instead of paper towels, and flannel squares instead of Kleenex. That alone saves us lots of moola and significantly reduces our garbage production.
- Even those disposables: I’m gonna go there. Disposable menstrual products are so 2009. These days I rely on my Diva cup and Thinx period panties and I swear I’ll never visit the feminine health aisle again.
- Plan your trips to the store: Retailers are counting on you to make impulse purchases- whether at Target or the grocery store. I won’t confess to you the number of cute planners and floral notebooks I may have purchased and subsequently lost, trashed, or gave away. Let’s just say that endcap gets me every time. The same is true for the grocery store- if you plan your meals and purchase just what you need for those (including planning meals that use the same ingredients), you won’t find yourself throwing away a 5 lb bag of onions or messing with stinking rotten potatoes in your pantry after weeks of nonuse. (Not that I’ve been there…)
- Make as much as you can yourself: For a long time, the biggest source of packaging waste in our house came from food. It’s funny, now that I have my little herb garden and we’re cooking fresh food vs. canned or pre-packaged, we have very little waste. You can take this further and make your own soaps and toothpaste and moisturizers and serums…but you’ll have to follow me on pinterest if you want my take on those 🙂
- Rethink holidays. Seriously.: This is where they get you. If I got one email about “Memorial Day Sales” I got a thousand. You guys, repeat after me: I do not have to decorate for every holiday on the calendar. I do not have to buy things for every holiday on the calendar. I love America and I love to support the troops and I like to promote autism awareness, but spending money at Kohls or Chick Fil A or wherever are gimmicks to drive sales for those establishments. If you want to make a difference to groups that matter, buy a meal for a hungry veteran, babysit for a mom whose husband is deployed, or offer to read with a kid with autism. And for real, guys, if you love me, do NOT buy something that gives money to Autism Speaks and tell me you did it for my kid. Just don’t.
- Rethink gifts, too: We are the gift-givingest culture in the world. I know I’m not the only mom scrambling every time I see a birthday invitation to figure out what on earth I buy this kid that I don’t really know, who might already have 17 of these. We don’t do the big gift-giving thing in this house, but in instances when gifts are called for, we opt for something a little different. Movie passes for kids’ friends, free babysitting to our friends, tech-classes for family members, and certificates for one-on-one time with our kids are big hits and are guaranteed to get used.
- Keep it close to home: The biggest environmental impact comes from travel, whether its us or the products we’re purchasing doing the moving. I can attest to the draw of doing everything at a distance. True story- the hubs and I just laughed at the fact that I drove 400+ miles per week in Atlanta, and I drive 12 miles a week now. Y’all, I have to tell you…finding things close to home is incredibly freeing- and not just because I’m burning less fossil fuel. With less time on the road I also have more time to spend at home and with family and friends, and significantly less stress. I’ve taken to shopping locally too- the draw of Amazon prime is always there, but buying used books and locally made stationary and farm-to-table groceries are amazing options that mean goods have traveled less to get to me and make a difference to people close-by. Skip the jet-fueled trips around the world and do a historical sites tour close-to-home. Sample local eateries and visit local farms or artisan shops. We had a staycation that included a pottery workshop, an outdoor yoga day, and a local wine-tasting, and I promise it was just as good as (and way less expensive than) flying off into the sunset.
I know I didn’t include things like 5 minute showers, putting timers on your lights, and using reusable bags, and those are all good things too. The trick in any of this is finding ways that speak to you. I remember there was a time when I was working that we flew from Nashville to Atlanta every month. That’s 24 flights a year, not including other flights we took for work, or connecting flights. One of the easiest things we did to cut that travel was to implement video conferencing for our team- we didn’t cut out all our travel, but we easily cut it by more than half, and even that helps. Creating less garbage, spending less money on things we don’t need, using less energy and creating less waste, in any increment at all are all good things. Imagine how much further our money would go or how much more we could help others if we redirected some of our consumptive spending each month. Imagine teaching our children before they leave our homes how to avoid the retail trap and stay away from oppressive spending habits and the burden of credit card debt. If we redirected the money we spent in the last 5 years on home decor alone how many of us could pay off our student loans??? Was that too far? It hurt a little for me to type it. But friends, it’s true. Our culture tells us we can buy happiness. I promise you we can’t. No amount of consuming or regifting or donating or selling is going to fill our souls. Don’t buy into the hype.
May your home be filled with love and peace, and not stuff.