My Small Steps Toward Sustainability

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now and the inspiration has come from many places. I saw the movie, No Impact Man. I read books about sustainable living and articles like this one about families trying to live with less. And then there was this post I found by one of my favorite bloggers, Ashley English, on Design Sponge where she talked about the small measures, also the title of her blog, she takes to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I related to her list and realized that I do much of the same things to conserve and consume less.

I have to be honest though, I haven’t always been like this. The way that I am living my life today is a work in progress that’s been happening over the past few years. It started with food, being more aware of what food I was putting in my body. But turns out, when I started slowing down and paying attention to the food I was eating, I started to pay attention to other choices I was making. I didn’t mean to – it just happened. It was about food to begin with and then it started to be about life.

It was subtle. It happened as I started washing out and reusing Ziploc bags and “disposable” containers. I looked at my dish rack one morning to see a gallon size Ziploc bag, inside out and upside down hanging up to dry, and had a flashback of my childhood. I remember being in my grandparents’ garage and seeing washed Styrofoam take out containers piled on top of their chest freezer, which was always packed to the gills with their garden’s bounty. When they’d try and save something that the rest of the family would have thrown away, we’d say, “You’re going to save that?” Inconspicuously we’d judge and think, what are they going to do with that? They had been through the depression. They looked at their resources a little bit differently then us kids that grew up wanting for not. At the time, I was ignorant and had no idea how wise they were. I would have never guessed that a decade later I’d be doing the same thing.

I’ve realized that just like eating without thinking about what you’re really putting into your body, we sometimes make choices to consume things without really thinking about what we’re doing. Plastic baggies are seen as materials to be used and thrown away, a flexible container that’s really convenient, but that will take thousands of years to decompose.

It didn’t stop with the plastic baggies though. I switched to e-billing. I started attacking the countless pieces of junk mail I received that always just went straight into the recycling bin. I’d call whatever 800 number I could find on the catalog or mailing and ask them to remove me from their mailing list. I waited on hold and got annoyed with automated phone menus, but was smugly satisfied when I started coming home to an empty mail box.

I stopped buying and using paper towels, except to pat down an occasional pan of bacon or to oil my seasoned cast iron pans. Where I absentmindedly used to go through rolls and rolls of paper towels each year, I now go through one. It turns out a package of reusable rags that can be thrown into the washer work like a charm where paper towels used to do the job.

I saved a shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap, and dish soap container and started buying those things in bulk at the  Green Lake PCC, my local food co-op.

I made it my New Year’s resolution to always bring my reusable cup to the coffee shop. If I could remember to use my reusable grocery bags, which I’ve been using religiously, then I could train myself to always bring my cup. And I’m not being facetious when I say “train.” I spent many months driving around with a sticky note on my dashboard that said, “Bring your bags!”

My latest effort has been to rid myself of my sticky note dependence. Sticky notes are handy tools, especially when you’re in the classroom – they mark pages in books, give messages to students, remind me of all the pressing things I need to do! It wasn’t until they started trickling their way into my home that I began to take notice. They’re convenient, for sure, but they’re not as indispensable as I’ve always thought. I started saving receipts  and used the back of those to write my little notes and shopping lists that I sometimes need to jot down. PCC (I swear I don’t work for them) gave me this idea when I noticed that their “green” checkout machines printed receipts using both sides. Unfortunately, not all stores are that savvy, so I decided to put them to use. A little spot in my desk drawer that once held a stack of stickies now holds receipts and scraps of paper that can be put to another use.

I feel hesitant as I write this, worrying that I might come off sounding self-righteous, like I have things all figured out.  I am certainly not perfect though and am not living a completely waste-free lifestyle. But I’m trying. This post is just a reflection of the sustainable lifestyle I’ve created for myself and of the person I’ve become. Life sometimes feels like it’s moving at warped speed, but I’m slowing down, getting creative, and paying attention to the things I’ve consumed out of habit for years.  Everyday I’m more aware of the simple quotidian choices I make and the impact they have on the world and it feels pretty good.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday on A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa. Happy Earth Day, y’all!

18 thoughts on “My Small Steps Toward Sustainability

  1. Nichole

    Just found your blog, great post! I’m in the same boat, I use to think it was so weird that my Grandmas saved everything…. now I look at all the jars in my cupboard and think I’m more & more like them everyday. And proud of it! Sure cuts down on the waste I put out. My journey all started with better food choices too 🙂

  2. Sustainable Eats

    I love this post! You are my pick for next week. It starts small and snowballs once things seem normal to you. Next thing you know you have meat birds in your basement feathering out and bees and dairy goats. xo, Sustainable Eats
    ps I’m in Seattle too!

    1. stacy Post author

      Oh my goodness, that makes my day! Thank you so much for reading! I felt really inspired writing this reflection. I can’t wait to begin my bee adventure! 🙂

  3. Traci

    Beautiful post! I too remember my *great* grandparents saving pieces of aluminum foil, rubber bands, ziplock bags and anything else they could reuse. Precious memories that remind me of a simpler life.

  4. dan rapson

    Hi gal,

    This is a wonderful blog! Keep it up and we’ll beat this.

    Now if you can get away from the coffee shop. I don’t really mean that if you use this as a form of community, sitting around having coffee with old and new friends.

    If, however, you are picking this up on the way to work then try to us a thermos bottle, you can make the coffee at home and save money and time.

    be well; peace…dan

    1. stacy Post author

      Good point! No, I’m not a morning-before-work coffee shop girl – I do my own loose leaf tea at home. The coffee shop is on weekends for fun and a way I support an independent, local business. Win, win! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  5. Beth Evans-Ramos

    I just discovered your blog, and feel like we are kindred spirits. I’m working hard on living a greener life. And like you said, it is a work in progress. We recently moved into a home one-third the size of our former one, and did a major purge of our possessions. It’s a path of lots of small steps towards living a more genuine and simple life. Count me in as one of your blog followers!

  6. elisa

    Awesome! I am so glad to read this. I am in the same boat. Progress not perfection for everyone toward a healthier planet. Every small step counts!!!!

  7. kat

    I am trying to bring my family on board with some of these small steps with some difficulty. For example when my mom comes over for family events she always brings with her paper plates and cups! At my house, where I have adequate dishes and cups for everyone, not to mention fabric napkins. We’ve talked about this before but she still comes bearing them. This time I put them back in her bag and pulled out my own reusable napkins. I’m pretty sure I came off a little snappish… it’s a process. I’m trying to be patient and take the long view on this stuff. I know she’s come a long way and hopefully I can get her to go a little further. 🙂

    1. stacy Post author

      I know what you mean! I am by far the hippy of the family. My dad teases me about things like that, especially the paper towel thing, all the time, but I think someday, he’ll come around.

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  9. Kris @ Attainable Sustainable

    Made my way over from Simple Lives Thursdays and wanted to say, “YES!” Small steps, baby steps is how to create change. It’s a matter of changing bad habits (baggies, take out containers, and depending solely on grocery stores to provide our food) for good ones (gardening, cooking from scratch, and using items that will last a long time rather than single use items). I just followed you on Facebook; will look forward to hearing more from you.

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  11. M.E. Anders

    I’m hooked as a subscriber to your blog after reading this post! I feel very similar to you in my small choices towards more sustainability in my lifestyle. My hubby laughs when he compares my practices to the utter waste of his workplace saying, “Do you even realize how much waste we generate in comparison to what you try to ‘save’?” I reply that every little bit helps…I can only control this household…and I damn well will. LOL 🙂

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