It is a known fact that we’ve been unkind to the planet, and it is now our duty to saviour it. Fortunately, there are a million things one person can do to cut down on waste and sustain a more environment-friendly lifestyle.
However, this pressing task can be a little overwhelming sometimes. Even though there are plenty of sustainable lifestyle gurus cheering us on for every step we take, I often still feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing, which is horribly demotivating. So, as a way of encouraging myself, I wanted to write a post about the sustainable lifestyle steps I am already taking.
Hopefully this will also offer you some thoughts about how to take on a more sustainable lifestyle. I’d like to show you that it doesn’t have to be that difficult! Every little bit helps.
» You may also like to read about my minimalism challenge! «
Where I started
My interest in a zero-waste/sustainable lifestyle rose as my best friend Lauren started to implicate it more into her own life. It was encouraging to see her be so practical about it and have a reliable source right in front of me. Through her I came to read more about the subject. I advise you to do the same. Books I have read include: 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste; Dit Is Een Goede Gids (This Is A Good Guide); Spark Joy; Goodbye, Things.
While reading Dit Is Een Goede Gids, I found there were actually quite a few things I’d been doing right already. This is where the idea of the list came into play: I sat down to write down the 35 steps I’ve already taken so far. They’re divided up into five categories: food and cooking, beauty and health, wardrobe, home and household, and “lifestyle and other”. At the end I’ve also jotted down some of my goals for the future, my last tip for you, and a few other interesting sources.
Food and cooking
Possibly one of the biggest areas where there is a lot to gain, is food and cooking. Just being conscious about what you buy and where you buy can mean a lot for the environment. This may seem like a bit of a daunting challenge, but honestly, I’ve personally found it one of the easiest – and I am quite the difficult eater! Here are some of the steps I’ve taken.
1. I’m a vegetarian, meaning my diet alone saves an incredible amount of water used during meat production, and CO2 emissions too.
2. I’ve replaced milk with oat milk for cooking and cereal, though I do still consume a few other dairy products.
3. I try to buy my vegetables and fruit plastic free from the local market or supermarket. I’ve even started buying my sweets plastic-free!
4. I always carry my own water bottle, which doesn’t consist of any plastic! It’s all stainless steel with bamboo. Klean Kanteen is a pretty cool brand with great customer service.
5. I’ve started using glass containers rather than plastic. This is not just better for the environment, but also for your health: plastic releases toxic chemicals that mix in with your tastefully made dinner. Not exactly the secret ingredient you are looking for.
6. I no longer use plastic cutting boards: again, you don’t want any (more) toxic chemicals in your food.
7. Whenever I go (food) shopping, I make sure to bring extra bags so I won’t have to buy and waste a plastic one.
8. I do my best to recycle plastic and paper, and also reuse where possible. Fortunately the Netherlands put in quite a good effort when it comes to recycling, though it differs per council.
9. I’ve recently moved into a place where there’s a dishwasher, and honestly, it’s a major blessing. Though of course it uses more electricity than when washing by hand, it does save a lot of water. Especially if you consider there’s at least 3 of us using it!
10. Cooking for one can be quite difficult, so I’ve purchased a fridge with a sizeable freezer section where I can store my leftovers. The fridge is always nearly empty, but my freezer nice and full!
11. Whenever I go out, I try to make sure to bring my own cutlery set, which also contains two stainless steel straws. This way, if I’m getting take-away or I’m presented with food I need cutlery for, I won’t have to use wasteful plastic/wooden/paper alternatives. As long as I don’t actually forget my cutlery set, of course (this has happened a lot). Update: I was gifted more sustainable on-the-go cutlery for my birthday, so now I have enough to keep a set in both my bags!
12. I also bring my own food! Most of the time before going out, I’ll think about how long I will be gone and when I will need to eat, so I can bring sufficient amounts to not have to buy anything ready-made elsewhere. Most kiosks and supermarkets don’t have any environment-friendly meals available, unfortunately, so I’d rather eat my own sandwiches from my lunchbox. It’s also a lot cheaper!
Beauty and health
Beauty and health is a tricky section, because you want to do good by the environment but also give yourself sufficient self-care. On the other hand though, a lot of products we use are luxuries, not necessities. On top of that, these luxuries often contain chemicals that are not good for us at all. Here’s what I’ve changed in my self-care routine.
13. I use reusable cotton wipes to remove my makeup in the evenings. This saves a lot of waste.
14. I’ve started using plastic-free (hand) soap from Lush.
15. I also use several other products by Lush, who do their best to reuse and/or recycle their packaging. You can return your empty tins, pots and bottles back to the shop. Currently on my shelf: 9 To 5 makeup remover, Lip Service lip balm, and Dream Cream body lotion.
16. I only wash my face with water, cutting down on numerous facial products that in turn would bring along a lot of plastic packaging (and unwanted chemicals!).
17. For a while now I’ve been trying reusable menstrual pads. Though it’s not enough to last me through a period, it does help me cut down on standard pads, which are not only harmful to the environment, but also to your body.
18. Annoyed at the fact that I ALWAYS forgot to bring a pack of tissues, I switched to using handkerchiefs a while ago. I used to think using these was kind of gross, but actually it’s really handy. It’s saved me so much tissue waste!
The biggest and easiest changes for me lay with my wardrobe. The fast fashion industry is extremely harmful to our physical as well as social environment, and cutting down in this area is one of the simplest solutions to our polluting problems. These are some of the steps I’ve taken.
19. Buy less, cherish what I’ve got, and be more conscious of what I do buy. Adopting a minimalist lifestyle can have major influence on the expanse of your wardrobe.
20. Focus on style, not fashion: instead of buying what’s trendy, I’ve spent time figuring out what style suits me in the long run. Pinterest can be a useful tool for this. It’s also helpful to ask yourself: how do I spend most of my time (i.e. at work in an office) and what type of clothes will I be wearing? This will help you narrow down your wardrobe needs.
21. I’ve gotten a few of my favourite pieces second-hand. It’s always best to try and find something second-hand first, so you won’t put any more pressure on the (fast) fashion industry to create something new. You are also likely to find some real high quality gems if you keep a good eye out.
22. Another option I’m exploring is buying from ethical brands. Though they may seem expensive, they’re actually asking an honest price most of the time, meaning they counter in the effects fashion has on the environment. Your €8 Primark shorts do not. GOAT is one my favourite brands and I highly recommend them as a starting point, especially because their products are very affordable.
23. Sometimes it’s simply not possible to shop second-hand or purely ethical, in which case I tend to go for larger brands that offer products that will go a long way. I am very loyal to Dr. Martens and Levi’s, because even though their products aren’t perfect in the ethical sense, they are very high-quality and will last for years. My first pair of Docs got me through a full five years, and I still use them today for festivals. All of my Levi’s jeans have fit me perfectly through thick and thin (literally) and apart from some loss of colour, they’ve remained in perfect shape throughout.
24. Another small difference: I’ve replaced those annoying sticky throw-away lint rollers with a fabric one. It saves waste, and also frustrating stickiness.
Home and household
There are so many different things you can change in your home and household, from reusing certain items to mixing your own cleaning products. Some people go all-out extreme where they DIY everything from scratch, but of course you don’t have to go this far. Here are the small changes I’ve made.
25. I use a fantastic EcoEgg washing egg, which saves you from buying plastic bottles of laundry detergent, and also saves money!
26. Pretty much all of the furniture in my home is second-hand, though I’ll have to be honest, this was more due to necessity than preference. However, I do plan to keep on looking for second-hand upgrades of my current interior, as I find it allows you to create something more unique.
27. REUSE THAT BOX! A lot of my paper boxes I keep around for storage; especially useful in the wardrobe to keep smaller items like socks together.
28. Small differences do matter: I’ve opted for wooden pegs rather than plastic ones. Plastic stays around forever, folks!
29. Not that I have a choice, but I don’t use a dryer to dry my clothes. We don’t have one in the building, but even if we did, I would think twice before using it. I have plenty of space to hang out my clothes and there’s really no need to waste the electricity.
Lifestyle and other
Last but not least, there are many more changes you can make to your general lifestyle. This includes travel, for example, but also your daily routine and habits. Here are some of the things I’ve done.
30. At the moment, I only travel by bike or train. If I really need a care, I plan to rent one. Fortunately there are a lot of green options for that where I live.
31. Instead of buying books, I borrow them! The library in Sheffield was the best, so I went through a lot of books there. Now, back in the Netherlands, I have my own personal librarian (my best friend Lauren) that I borrow a lot of books from, and of course I plan to join the library again.
32. Shorter showers! I could honestly spend 40 minutes in the shower when I was younger. Now I use a kitchen timer to keep my sessions short, but often I don’t even feel like taking that long anymore.
33. When getting rid of things, I always check first if anyone I know could make good use of it. If not, I see if I can donate rather than throw it out. Currently in my give-away box: Lush bath product (I no longer have a bath), Lush tooth paste pastilles (not my thing), and a picture of me as a baby I plan to give to my family. Hopefully I will arrange some clothes swaps in the future as well, which is one of the best and most fun ways to get rid of and get new clothes. Update: nearly all of these products have now gone to a good home! Yay!
34. Unplug! Whenever I’m not using an electric item, I try to remember to unplug it. For my work space area I’ve got a 6-way socket with a switch, so I can turn it off when I’m not at my desk.
35. A new experiment: I’m keeping some reusable papers around, either for making notes when I need to, or to use for wrapping small gifts when I need to. I’ve only just started doing it so I’ll have to see it goes – it seems a little silly right now to hold onto these scraps, but sometimes a small act can make a big difference.
My 5 goals for a more sustainable lifestyle
- I’d like to learn how to sew so I can tailor second-hand clothes to fit my body. This would be a great win, because often the items I find second-hand are much too big for me, and I end up with a lot of oversized clothes.
- I’d also like to be more aware of sustainability in the workplace. As a teacher I go through a lot of paper, and I want to start thinking of ways to either avoid or counter that. I’m very glad I’ll get to experiment with this next year, as I will be teaching a class that uses iPads.
- Another step forward for me would be to learn how to cook with local and seasonal products. I’m a bit of a difficult eater and also not the most fond of cooking, so this would be a huge challenge. However, I’m looking forward to doing it in baby steps.
- One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to go litter picking. There’s honestly been no real reason for me not to have done it yet, except that I’d rather do it in good company. So I guess it’s time to find a buddy!
- Somehow I’d like to tackle issues within my beauty department, as I shockingly found out the majority of products contain toxic chemicals. I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I think I have now taken my first step: I bought a 100% natural sun screen from Weleda. Update: since first writing this, I’ve also bought an organic vegan cruelty-free toothpaste that I’m super pleased with. Another win!
One last tip
An important thing to bear in mind is to keep things simple. Changing your lifestyle is a big challenge, so start out with baby steps and keep your goals maintainable. Make sure your new lifestyle choices suit you. Often you will find that sustainability/zero-waste approaches save you money and time, as well as saving the environment!
You may also like…
- How to have a low waste picnic, without being a dick (Booksandquills)
- Switching from plastic to reusable straws (Lauren Hannah)
- Going Zero waste blog (Kathryn Kellogg, writer behind 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste)
- Fast fashion explained in under 5 minutes (Kristen Leo)
What are you goals for a sustainable lifestyle? Do you have any tips? I’d love to hear!