Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year you’ll know that being sustainable is a big topic right now. This is awesome as the discussion around sustainability is so important. However, when you’re just starting out, sustainable living can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to feel excluded from the conversation. You’ve read the guides which give you a list of 100 things you need to change right now. 100 Things! That is a huge commitment which feels so daunting and almost impossible. Nevermind the fact that around half the list would involve pretty major lifestyle changes. I completely get it a 100% sustainable and ethical lifestyle feels overwhelming and unattainable. But the thing is living more sustainably doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t have to change 100 things about your lifestyle to make an impact.
My lifestyle is far from 100% sustainable and ethical but I have made lots of small changes towards making it more sustainable. I’m well aware that I could be doing more. And there are lots of things which just aren’t possible for me whether that’s because of where I live or the negative impact it would have on my lifestyle. For example, I have no bulk shop near me and because of my lifestyle, I have to do most of my food shopping at the supermarket. Therefore I have no control over a lot of food packaging etc. Everyone is different and the changes they make have to suit their individual lifestyle.
If you are thinking about making some changes to try to be more sustainable here are a few ways to make the process less overwhelming.
Doing something is always going to be better than doing nothing. Something as small as putting a cardboard box in the recycling rather than the bin is important. Don’t ever feel like small steps like taking your bags to the shop or using your own coffee cup aren’t enough. These little steps add up to be part of something bigger. The small things are normally the easiest to make. After all, it doesn’t require much effort to leave a few bags in your car just in case you stop by the shops or to have a water bottle in your bag. Little things like switching to an eco-friendly cleaning product make no difference what so ever on your lifestyle but can have a big impact on the environment (and your health as eco-friendly products don’t contain toxic chemicals). Most of us can make these small changes to our lives and take that first step towards being more sustainable.
When making big lifestyle changes feels overwhelming it can be helpful to focus on one area at a time. For example, I focus on making my wardrobe and beauty products as sustainable as possible. Because I have full control over these areas of my life, I get to decide which products and clothes I bring into my home. Unlike food where I don’t have much control over packaging because I have to use the local supermarket, I can control where I buy my clothes and beauty products from.
Pick one area to focus on and make changes in this area rather than trying to change everything at once. You may choose to create a more sustainable wardrobe by not shopping fast fashion and choosing ethical fashion brands or second hand. Or maybe you want to focus on your diet and food by shopping at bulk stores or the local farmers market. You may change your diet reducing or giving up meat products. You might create a meal plan to reduce food waste. Or maybe you want to cut down your energy use (and hopefully your bills) by making your home more energy efficient. You may want to reduce your use of toxic chemicals so choose green beauty products and natural cleaners.
No one has this sustainable living thing down 100%. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’s not possible for the majority of us to live a 100% ethical and sustainable lifestyle. Unless you move to the middle of nowhere and live completely off the grid it’s just not going to happen. It’s easy to see people on social media who seem to have it all figured out and compare ourselves to them. But the thing is they have a completely different lifestyle to you and are doing what works for them. You need to accept that you can’t do everything and concentrate on what you can do.
No matter how many changes you make at home there will be times when you have to choose the unsustainable option. For example, if you’ve forgotten your water bottle and are out of the house all day, you’re going to have to buy a drink at some point. And that drink is more than likely in a single-use plastic bottle. Or maybe you’re at a bar or restaurant and they hand you a drink with a straw in it. These things happen. It doesn’t mean you’re any less committed to your sustainable lifestyle. It just means you were thirsty and forgot your water bottle.
We’ve all brought from fast fashion brands, we’ve all chucked recyclables in the bin before. You need to let go of your past mistakes and move forward. There is no point in sitting feeling guilty about what you might have done in the past. Or even what you’re doing today. Many things are out of my hands and there is no point dwelling on it. Take the example of food packaging as much as it annoys me that food is often covered in plastic. There isn’t that much I can do about. Yes, I can get annoyed and contact the supermarket asking for change. But ultimately how the decision of how my local supermarket packages food is out of my hands.
And whilst we’re on the topic of guilt don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty for not doing enough. I see so many tweets saying things like “if you’re not vegan you don’t care about the environment” or “if you don’t do this [add whatever they think is important] then there is no point in doing anything” and to be honest they annoy me so much. Criticising and shaming people because their choices don’t fit what you think they should be doing isn’t helping anyone. There is a big difference between someone sharing the facts and someone trying to shame people for not making big changes. If you’re seeing this on your timeline unfollow, mute, block you don’t need negativity like that on your feed. Follow people you are inspiring you to make a change and sharing genuine advice and is supportive of every step you take towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Any lifestyle change is hard and takes time. We all grew up not thinking about where our rubbish went. We throw everything in the same bin and it was taken away. So even the small change of sorting your rubbish and recycling takes time to get used to. Up until recently you probably didn’t give using plastic bags for your shopping or grabbing a plastic straw at a restaurant much thought. The fact that you now stop and consider how your actions are affecting the environment is a major step forward. Any change whether it’s saying no to a straw or switching to a vegan diet takes time. It’s important you give yourself time to adjust to any lifestyle changes and forgive yourself if you don’t manage it every time. Sometimes a big change involved one step forward and two steps back. But the point is you made that step forward.
What aspects of sustainable living do you find challenging or even unattainable?