Living Better by Living Leaner

I believe people can live in a fashion that is both leaner – less waste, less noise, less damage to our world – and better at the same time. I believe people can both be kinder to the environment and the world in which we all live, and live well at the same time. I am continuing to explore ways to bring this belief into practice in my daily life, and I’ve blogged previously on small changes that can added up to a real difference (You can read those here and here.)

Am I crazy? Maybe. But, I am not the only one who thinks and environmentally conscious lifestyle can be a wonderful one. Soon I hope to start reading “Building a Better World in Your Backyard”, [link] which I purchased as a real, physical paper book to support the authors. 

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some “small steps” towards a better, leaner life which I worked on in 2019:

Reduced landfill waste by composting everything. Well, not everything, but I think the usual composting guidelines are too conservative. Basically if there is a chance something plant-based can be returned back to the earth by being allowed to rot, I will give it that opportunity. (I’m writing another post about the crazy things I compost.) I have read a lot of gardening books and blogs about very carefully managing your compost bins or piles to generate the best possible nutrition for your garden (the typical destination for compost), but my goal is primarily keeping everything possible from a death in a landfill smothered in a plastic bag. Next steps: set up a worm bin to decompose food scraps (animal / fat based) that can’t go in the regular compost bin.

Saved money by using less electricity through air drying more of my clothes. Generally speaking, there is no reason to use electricity (via a dryer) to do something nature and the air will do automatically for very little human effort. And for free! Plus, air drying is gentler on the fabrics and helps garments last longer. Unfortunately, my laundry room is on a second floor, and I don’t have a clothesline outside, and even if I did, we suffer from an overdose of high winds and song birds which aren’t optimal for outdoor drying. So I focus on key garments to air dry because they retain the most water, and use the dryer for what is left. My laundry room is almost always covered in clothes in various states of drying.

Saved money, reduced my personal stress levels, and reduced environmental toxins by buying clothes used, and mending clothes I already own. You can do your own research on “Environment Impact of the Garment Industry” so I won’t bore you with details here. Plus, I don’t enjoy regular shopping at the mall or outlets or other stores. Too loud, too bright, too crowded, too overwhelming. I keep a list of specific garments I am looking for, and check each and every time I go to the thrift store. I have also used online sellers like eBay and Mercari to find needed items that are gently pre-owned.  

Reduced green house gas emissions, saved time and money, and improved the health of our lawn by mowing high. I first heard about this on a podcast interview with Paul Wheaton (one of the authors of the book mentioned above), and here is an article which goes into detail about the approach. Someday I’d like to reach the point where there is no lawn – or we let goats mow it – but due to where we live, there’s no escaping it. Yet.

Cut down on plastic use and exposure to chemicals by using homemade shampoo bars. I’d been using homemade soap for a few years now, and shampoo seemed the next step. While it reduces waste from plastic bottles, all those ingredients have to come from somewhere, which still means harvesting, packaging, and shipping them to me. But that still uses less energy (I hope) and contains fewer chemicals than store bought shampoo.

Cutting back on plastic and exposure to chemicals with homemade shampoo bars
Cutting back on plastic and exposure to chemicals with homemade shampoo bars

I’ve used homemade shampoo bars for a bit over a year now, followed by an apple cider rinse, and have been fairly satisfied with the results. (I only wash my hair about every other day, because more frequently and it just gets too dry.) I am not really “into” making my own personal care products – I’d rather be gardening or foraging – but I may have to deal with it anyway because the shampoo bars at my local coop were SO expensive. For a tiny bar. So I am going to continue making my own anyway, for the foreseeable future. Next steps: homemade deodorant, for less commercial packaging and artificial ingredients on my skin. 

Maintained my health and reduced my consumption of industrially processed items through food-based nutrition rather than relying on nutritional supplements. Well, I can’t prove that I am just as healthy, or even healthier, with food based nutrition because I objectively feel the same, and don’t have any metrics to prove my health one way or the other. (I used to be very focused on the “quantified self”, several years ago, but eventually realized I was tracking my life in lieu of actually living it!) But I have faith that getting nutrition from a wide variety of plants and minimally processed foods is the way to go. Especially given the repeated messages that most nutritional supplements are useless at best, and possibly even dangerous.

Reduced landfill waste, greenhouses gasses and environmental pollution associated with paper manufacturing by increasing the use of cloth napkins rather than paper ones. OK, the cotton industry has its own issues, so I’m not sure how to “win” on this one except to wipe my hands and mouth on the clothes I happen to be wearing anyway! I’ve also been trying to use cloth towels rather than reaching for paper towels for every single little spill. With two very messy teens (and I’m somewhat of a hazard myself), the paper towels are still wayyyyyyy too easy of an option. We’ve also cut back dramatically on other single-use, disposable paper items, and even recently used the very last paper plate in the house. And no one even noticed because we’d grown accustomed to using “real” plates for everything.

Sequestered carbon while making more of my yard available for edible landscaping through sheet mulch. Details, how-tos, and what-not-to-dos in a future post.

Sequestering carbon through sheet mulch
Sequestering carbon through sheet mulch

Reduced food waste and grocery expenses by learning to build meals around the food I had available, rather than dashing out to the store for every taste bud whim. This is a complete reversal from modern eating practices – which are defined by “what do I feel like eating?” (or what is trendy to eat) – to “how do I take advantage of what I have in abundance?” For the record, my kids may never eat green beans again because we DEFINITELY had those in abundance. I need to improve food preservation so the abundance is still available at other times of the year as well – it’s on my “to do” list for 2020.

Supported and honored the person I am truly meant to be by abandoning a career (and its salary and health insurance) that was killing my soul, and attempting to purge belongings that don’t reflect my best self. I chose to do the decluttering publicly via my “Purge Log” series to inspire others to simplify their belongings as well. (You can search on “Purge Log” to read the posts in that series.)  

Improved plant diversity and local food available for my family, cutting down on the food miles represented by our diet, through edible landscaping focused on permaculture practices and planting native flora. You can read more about that here and here. And the best part of using permaculture and perennials and native plants – once you get a system designed and in place, they need very little human intervention to continue because they model the way things “just work” in nature. In future years, my food forest will provide even more food for my family!

Native flora and abundant food - sunchokes in my edible landscaping
Native flora and abundant food – sunchokes in my edible landscaping

Are you experimenting with lower-energy-yet-more-rewarding lifestyle changes? Share your experiences below!

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