One of the most infuriating parts of learning about environmentalism in college was my inability to get around how much I believed sustainability would cost me (both socially and with my dollar.) Buying a more eco-friendly hair product, organic produce, and high quality slow fashion was not within reach. I would spend hours looking for items to invest in and to “switch” to in order to look and feel more sustainable. Then, I’d close my internet tabs and sigh.
What I’ve learned is that one of the greatest factors in simple and sustainable living has nothing to do with purchasing items or services. Rather, adopting a fresh mindset and using what you already have can create changes in your habits and routine that will set you up for more sustainable practices. Plus, you actually SAVE money in the process.
Here are 10 ways I started to live simply and lighten my footprint without buying anything at all.
1. Stopped washing my hair everyday.
Changing this simple part of my routine reduced my water consumption, saved me money. By training my hair to need less product I’ve saved time in the morning for other things and more money is in my pocket!
2. Chose to walk or bike instead of drive.
In theory, this is an easy one. If I’m honest, I have no other way to get to work besides car. My commute is 15 minutes by highway. Sometimes, I carpool with some coworkers. Recently, a friend gave me their old bike for trips to the park or around the neighborhood. I’m always thinking about transport even when I’m at work, and I get more exercise and more of #4!
3. Figured out what I could completely go without.
Less is better, especially less plastic. Some examples of what I decided to go without are shaving cream (I can use regular bar soap), plastic razors, single-use plastic bags, and soda (I don’t need to buy coke unless I absolutely crave one in which case I can buy one in a glass bottle—same goes for La Croix!). Did I mention that Coca-cola released approximately 5.56 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2019? Yea, yikes! The more you think critically about what you need, the less you obtain and the more sustainable you become. There will, of course, be items you prioritize and still need. That. is. okay.
4. Took more walks outside.
Getting out in nature reminded me why I was making changes in the first place: the air I breathe, the water I drink, and the foliage and creatures around me depend on it! Plus, it helped me be more productive and do more of #8.
5. Unplugged appliances I wasn’t using, turned off lights, and stopped using a drier.
Coffee machine, lamps in the guest room, my computer and phone when I wasn’t charging, hair appliances, exc. This saved money and lowered my carbon footprint by reducing my emissions. Some weekends, we adopt a “no lights” policy where we don’t use any lights all day. We wake up, live by the sun, and go to bed with the flashlights on our phones. This is a necessity when we backpack or travel and electricity is a luxury. Doing this once a week or twice a month reminds us of that. Finally, line drying my clothes helps me maintain their quality and saves energy by refusing to use my drier.
6. Used up what I already had.
I’m still doing this! Using the resources I already have and getting through products, wearing clothes already in my closet, and assessing what I own helped me to be grateful and slow down. I’ve trained myself to really think through new purchases. If I already have something that works, I don’t replace it. Simple as that. Then, when I’m ready to throw something out or recycle it, I refer to #8 and #10.
7. Took inventory and notes.
Research is key and I’m still in the process of doing this. Every step of the way to living light I will be practicing this! From environmental science, to psychology, to lessons and exploration of minimalism and essentialism I have been reading and writing a lot. The speed at which you do this is up to you. I do my best to read and write everyday so that I’m staying accountable to my goals and lifestyle changes. Plus, again, you do more of #2 and maybe even #3 if you’re so inclined to read outside. I will say, there are some social media accounts that may contribute positively to this approach, just be sure to watch for greenwashing and keep your resource list diverse.
8. Spent less time watching hauls or scrolling on product websites and social media.
Less exposure to advertisements and consumer culture has helped me to value experiences over materials. The less I consume, the more I’m helping the planet. Period.
9. Make your list of fun DIYs!
What have you always wanted to make? Anything you’d like to learn yourself? Where would you get supplies? Thinking and prioritizing what you can and want to do will give you projects to look forward to! Plus, it’s usually more cost effective to do so and you can adopt new skills. Dream big. I’ve got a healthy obsession with learning how to restore old historic homes and it’s basically all I watch on YouTube.
10. Reuse the containers and items you already have.
That old glass candle holder…great to hold pens! That old peanut butter jar…maybe you learn to make your own (See #7). That T-shirt you don’t wear anymore…use it to strain your homemade oat milk. That soup can you just finished…great plant pot! This is the oldest trick in the book and it keeps on giving!
To sum it all up, living with less and using what you already have is the most sustainable option. Moreover, by buying less you are helping the planet especially if you stop purchasing from companies that harm the earth more that each individual does independently. Finally, changing your own mindset and focusing on what you can do and the lifestyle you want to live can help you begin with the end in mind rather than dwell in what you aren’t able to do yet.