Lately, I've realised (with a start!) that our life looks suspiciously like I dreamt it would when I was sitting at my work desk under fluro lights in front of a computer a few years ago... When I actually stop to reflect on how different my life is now, and how well it has started to align with my values, I'm actually kind of astounded. And yep, the last 12 months on the farm has certainly played a large roll in that, but I can see now much more clearly how I could continue to be aligned if we were no longer living here or growing so much of our own food.
Over time, simple changes made in our home have added up to big results - and I thought it would be good to share some of them with you, so that you too can start to make some simple changes (or keep adding to the changes you've already made). Below is a list of some of the changes we've made to how we live - I hope it inspires you work towards living a little lighter too!
1. Shop at a bulk foods store - this reduces packaging and saves on trips to a store, because you can buy in larger quantities. Also, it's often cheaper to buy at a local co-op or wholefoods place especially for dried beans and flour etc
2. Refuse to buy plastic wrapped fresh fruit and veg - nothing makes my blood boil more than seeing fruit and veg wrapped in plastic and sitting on styrofoam or plastic trays in supermarkets. The plastic bags they provide are bad enough, but at least you can reuse these.
3. Grow your own fruit and veg - the investment in time and energy comes back to you amplified in health and joy, not to mention the super low food miles and delicious taste. Plus, the food keeps for much, much longer in your fridge or fruit bowl.
4. Preserve the harvest - once you get the hang of growing your own, make use of used jars and your freezer to preserve it for when it's out of season.
5. Make and bake from scratch - I may be biased as I have a deep love of baking, but making and baking from scratch is an excellent way to save a little money, reduce your food miles and packaging and avoid the plethora of additives in processed food. An added bonus is learning to have a connection and appreciation for what you make and the time and effort it took - mindful eating at it's best.
6. Buy local over organic - Yep, a little controversial! I love the idea of organic, but sometimes the inputs can add up to have just as big an environmental footprint as a conventionally grown product. Buying local, from a farmer you know and understand is the best way to ensure you are buying the least impactful product you can, for the best price (for you and the farmer) and with the greatest health benefit too.
7. Compost, not landfill - so much of the waste we generate (in particular, once you start to grow a lot of your own food) can be used to make compost rather than placed in landfill to rot. A closed-loop system is something we continue to aim towards and a huge part of this is generating our own fertiliser for the garden. Composting and worm farming are easy and hugely useful ways to turn your organic waste into a valuable product.
8. Buy a SodaStream - if you drink soft drink or mineral water, it's a no brainer really. The cost works out roughly the same, but the convenience and the reduction in plastic bottles is 100% worth it.
9. Ditch the cleaning chemicals - it's been written about a hundred times online already, but there is really, truly no need to be using commercial cleaners to clean your home. I use bicarbonate soda, white vinegar, Castile soap and essential oils like lemon, eucalyptus and tea tree with microfibre towels for all our household cleaning.
10. Choose 'eco' if you need to - I've not found a homemade recipe for dishwashing liquid that I am happy with, so I buy a 'green' brand of dishwashing liquid (this one). Added points for buying in bulk too!
11. Wash using Soapnuts - as an alternative to washing powder (homemade or purchased) - and wash general loads using cold water to save on water heating costs.
12. Line dry clothes & save the dryer for emergencies - again, easy to do here is Australia where we get decent heat and light for a lot of the year. Plus, sunlight is a natural disinfectant, killing dust mites and nasties and helping to fade stains, not to mention the serious amount of electricity it saves.
13. Use biodegradable toothbrushes - you can compost them, and it saves on landfill. The packaging for the ones I buy is recyclable/compostable too.
14. Catch and store rainwater - Install a rainwater tank (many councils have rebates available to help with the cost), put buckets out when it rains or simply move your pot plants out into the rain when it falls. We installed a rainwater tank to catch both rainwater and the water that was released by our evaporative air-conditioner in summer. While it was unsuitable for drinking, it was fine to use in the garden and helped me feel less guilty about turning on the AC on hot days!
15. Use 'Green Power' - either by installing solar panels or solar hot water (a long term investment and definitely not achievable for all, yet) or choose to pay a little extra to source renewable energy from your energy provider if you can. We used a combination of 'Green' energy for electrical requirements and natural gas for water heating, space heating and cooking when we lived in town. This combo meant our bills were low and we could afford to pay a little extra. Renewable energy is by far the best choice here, and I hope it continues to grow as an industry.
16. Consider your appliances - we ditched our microwave and electric kettle, opting for a stove-top kettle instead (on our gas stove-top). If it was a weekend or I was ging to be home all day, I'd fill a thermos with extra hot water after I boiled it for cups of tea later in the day. We had an energy and water efficient dishwasher that only got turned on when it was full and on a lower heat cycle to minimise the power it used. Our computer is a laptop, which uses significantly less power to run than a desktop computer. We chose an LCD television instead of a plasma screen version (and small by todays standards), also the lower power option. We use a small handheld rechargeable 'dust-buster' for quick cleanups instead of using a large vacuum cleaner everyday...all these are tiny choices which singly would not make much of a difference. Add them all up though, and you start to see how it could help!
17. Turn off appliances at the powerpoint - we've ALL heard this, and following on from the above point...it does help. Everything is turned off when not in use except the fridge and a couple of lamps. It takes no time at all to get in the habit, and anything that is a real pain to turn off (like the dishwasher in our old home) just stayed on.
18. Buy Well, Buy Once - We always choose to spend a bit more on something so that what we buy is of a higher quality and exactly what we need. This rule doesn't ALWAYS stand up, of course, but in my experience I've nearly always been happy to have spent more. Rule of thumb - It's better to buy a quality item that is exactly what you need, because life is too short to spend time fighting with something that should be making your life easier!
19. Buy experiences over things - go out for a lovely meal or to attend a workshop instead of receiving a present. The less I own, the less I seem to want to own...and the more experiences I crave.
20. Make 'Eco' Clothing choices - this is something I have only really started to prioritise in the last 12 months. Sustainable and ethical clothing is generally more expensive, and not always 'in fashion' - but seeking out the best alternative when shopping can make a big impact in your environmental footprint and is almost always the best ethical and moral choice. I'll share my favourite places to shop for sustainable clothing in a future post. Of course, buying second hand is a sustainable choice too and kinder to the wallet!
21. Repair before buying new - this applies to clothing and to household goods equally. It also makes far more sense once you start buying higher quality (and often more expensive) items. Repairing may still cost money, but it's environmental cost is low. Keep things out of landfill for as long as possible and then donate or sell them when you are done with them, provided they are in working order. There are many programs around the country that take waste items like fridges or washing machines and 'e-waste' like computers or phones to dismantle and repurpose - this is by far the better option to dispose of them than landfill.
22. Buy second-hand (when it makes sense) - here, I'm thinking particularly cars. We have never owned a brand-new car, and that's fine by me. In fact, we've been a single car family for about a year and have loved it. This wasn't possible when living in town, and in the future is unlikely to work for us either - so, my lovely other half is currently resurrecting an old ute (older than either of us!). He's learning new skills and repurposing other old car parts that would otherwise be scrap metal. It's a labour of love, that's for sure, but it feels good to be creating something so useful from something that would otherwise be waste.
So, there you have it. 22 ways that we 'live lighter'. There are a thousand other things you could do though, and we ARE NOT perfect! I guess that's the point isn't it? Do what you can, with what you have.
I'd love to hear down below in the comments - what's your top tip for living a little lighter?