Nine Ways that Our Eco-Friendly Choices Have Made our Life Better

by - Friday, June 28, 2019

This week, there has been a lot of terrible news. News about the permafrost. Floods. The first big heatwave of what I expect will be a heartbreaking summer. Pesticides. Penguins. The list goes on and on.

It is easy to feel helpless, like what we can do will make no difference. We get a lot of feedback that the solutions we choose won't matter, that we are focusing on the wrong thing, and that "x" solution is the one real solution.

Honestly, I don't believe there is one solution.

This is what I believe. No, giving up plastic bags will not magically solve the whole problem. The problem is big and complicated, and I imagine that the solutions will be a big, complicated collaboration. There are big steps that need to be taken. Leaders need to step up and corporations have to stop their purely profit-driven nonsense.

 I absolutely hate thinkpieces that oh so helpfully point out that everyone giving up meat (or giving up plastic, or insert any freaking solution) could not possibly solve the problem. OF COURSE IT COULDN'T. No single bandaid is big enough. No single step could fix it all. It will take so many good choices from so many people.

We all have an opportunity to be part of the solution, not the whole solution. We have the chance to change our own habits, to stand up to companies who aren't doing right by the environment, and to share our concerns, changes, and ideas with our friends (because these things catch on). This may all feel little in the face of everything that is happening, but I believe that it adds up. I also believe the journey makes our own lives better in the process.

If at the end of my life, I found out that all of this stuff I have done to help the environment didn't make a lick of a difference, I think I would be sad, but I still wouldn't feel like I wasted a minute of my life.

Because this is the simple truth, which I have noticed again and again on this journey:

When something is better for the planet, it is better for us too. Taking care of the planet has transformed our lives for the better. That positivity spreads. 

I have my own list of the many ways 4 years of striving for green living has made my life better. I suspect this list would be vastly different for every person who is striving to take better care of the planet. We all have different things to offer, different switches that make sense, and different opportunities for change based on how much our lives and access vary. We know that access to green choices depends on geography, class, race, and more. No experience of this is universal. 

But we care, and any level of caring is so amazingly powerful. 

We each need to care for more and more change to happen. It will be good for the planet, but it makes our lives better too.

I am so far from perfect. My life is not perfect. I am still listening and learning.  But I know it is better because I care about being a steward of this Earth.

Here is my list of how a sustainable lifestyle has made our lives better. What would you put on your list?

9. The Simple Joy of Gratitude

The consumer treadmill goes something like this- we think we will finally be happy when we have this car, or that house, or that phone. And it kind of works, because for a second we are really excited and happy about that thing we bought. But that chemical high begins to fade, and before long we are back to wanting the next thing.

This is more commonly called the hedonic treadmill, and it is true for everyone, whether they have no money or a ton of it (there is a reason that billionaires are still pushing for more). It can be treated as a normal part of life, but you can flip the whole thing on it's head, help the planet, AND make yourself a lot happier by just practicing gratitude.

Green living tends to inspire a lot of gratitude. If you are living a slower life, taking better care of what you have, and not constantly throwing things away, you are already treating your life with more gratitude. You help the bees because you are grateful for them. You fight for creation because you are grateful to God for it. When you take care of something, it builds gratitude, and gratitude builds happiness.

Green living also tends to break you off from these endless cycles of desire and shift into a cycle of gratitude instead. It's pretty great that way.

8. Spending More Time Outside Prevents Depression

There are so many good studies out right now about how time outside is one of the best things we can do for our mental health. Studies have come out suggesting that kids need 4 to 6 hours of outdoor time, and adults need at least two hours a week. Doctors are now starting to prescribe time outdoors for people with depression as well. It helps with focus as well.

In other words, if you go out and collect trash, or plant a tree, or grow things in your yard, or practice gratitude for nature, you are probably a happier person for doing it. We need to love nature to save it, and the simple beauty is that nature will love us back.

7. Less Chemicals, Less Cancer

Using less plastic is absolutely necessary for our planet. We have tons of ideas on how to do it, but if you can stop with single use plastic, some food packaging, and stop wearing plastic-based synthetic fabrics, you put a huge dent into the plastic your household produces.

You have also minimized your exposure to serious chemicals that leach out of our plastic containers and clothing and into our bodies. There is so much research left to be done on so many of these chemicals (including the "food safe" ones), but we know a few things for sure.

Plastics are linked to hormonal changes and earlier menstruation.
Plastics are linked to cancer.
Plastics are linked to severe endocrine problems.

So, if you stop with the plastics, you are doing your body a big favor. In a generation, our kids will be shocked we ever let it near our bodies in this way. It's the asbestos of our generation.

6. Buying Local Takes Care of our Community

Shopping local, especially for food, is so important for the environment. Our food and goods are shipped such long distances, so often the things we buy have a much larger carbon footprint than we do. On average, a food item travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, stopping for processing and packaging in different places.

This is crazy pants. If you are going to have a carbon footprint from travel, wouldn't you rather do the traveling yourself? Why does your chicken breast get to be a world traveler?

Shopping things that are made or grown where you are can cut out a huge amount of your carbon footprint. But it also takes care of the economy where you live. I get that it is expensive, but if you look at local economies that are doing well, you will see a lot of consumers who shop at their local stores and not at the Walmart.

No one wants their community to struggle, so a huge benefit of being green is that local businesses can encourage job growth and prosperity where you live. If you shop at Walmart, all that money leaves your area forever, headed off to the Waltons instead. If you shop at that local grocer, your money stays where you live. The more that happens, the healthier your local economy can be.

5. Gardening is so Good for the Soul

I never would have anticipated liking gardening- I tend to be impatient and busy, and my strength is not consistency. And yet. We started growing some of our own food at our house because it cuts down waste and helps our kids understand the preciousness of food better.

Little did I know how good it would be for our soul. Weeding and nurturing and watching things grow brings me a peace I didn't suspect, and honestly I am a way better mother outside. I love to watch my kids hard at work watering, harvesting, and carrying weeds to our compost bin.

It may sound crazy, but there is plenty of scientific evidence that gardening is extremely good for mental health. This is a pretty good overview of the many benefits of getting your hands dirty.

our playhouse, free from Buy Nothing

4. We Save Money

One of the simplest ways to help the planet is to just stop over-consuming. We have stopped buying hardly anything new. Our first place to look is our local buy nothing group, where we have gotten major furniture, bags of clothing, toys (including Christmas gifts), and most of our outdoor toys from our neighbors. If I had to guess, I would suspect being on Buy Nothing for 4 years has saved us somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand dollars.

If we do need to buy something, we always start secondhand, then check things made locally. It creates less plastic waste (most everything is now shipped in plastic bags) and fossil fuel waste (shipping something from China takes a lot of fossil fuels). It also means we aren't supporting unethical labor practices, because I can no longer live with items that I know someone else was hurt to make.

What does all of this mean? We save money. We spend significantly less on stuff. Buying all of our clothes secondhand means we probably spend a quarter of the money on clothes that a regular family does. When your kids are little, that adds up fast!

Other green steps can save money too. Living in a smaller home saves money on everything from furniture to electric bills. Our hybrid car uses way less gas. Turning off lights and being efficient with electricity keeps bills down. Growing some of our own food saves money. Fixing things instead of throwing them away saves a ton as well. Making our own cleaning fluid (vinegar and water people! How are cleaner companies even in business?). Buying bulk and reusable products helps too (one box of paper towels lasts us multiple years).

The list here goes on and on. So many good green choices can actually save money.

3. Prioritizing the Environment Makes us Healthier

It turns out that so many of the switches we have made to help the environment also means we move move and eat less junk.

In short, the environment diet should be a real thing. 

Giving up or dramatically decreasing our meat intake is one of the best things we can do for the environment- it minimizes our water waste, cuts way down on our emissions, and allows space in our budget to buy more ethical food. In the USA especially, this is also absolutely necessary for our heart health, as we currently eat about 3 times as much protein as we need.

If you are going on a diet, the advice you will get is to shop the outside edge of the grocery store. If you are trying to stop making so much plastic waste, you will get the same advice. The food with the least packaging, chemicals, and palm oil are the best for you and for the planet.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you are trying to drive less, you will inevitably get more steps in a day. If you give up plastic-wrapped foods, you have also given up the majority of the chemical-laden stuff currently linked to all sorts of health problems (especially cancer).

2. We Gave up Consumerism and Found Community

The less time we spend shopping, the more time we have for building community, making connections, and having experiences we will remember for a long, long time.

It may not seem obvious, but we often use what we consume to define us. Think about things like the Star Wars community or the "community" feeling that comes from wearing Toms. It isn't abnormal to identify with the things we own, but it never actually makes us happy for very long. Rather than treating shopping as a way we understand ouselves or a way to fill our time, we can now look to other things and put that time into experiences and memories instead.

One of the best ways we have done this is with our Buy Nothing group. We are still relatively new to our city, so it would make sense if we didn't know many of our neighbors. That isn't the case at all for us- because of Buy Nothing, I know at least a hundred people within walking distance of our house. We see people we know at the grocery store and at events, like we live in a small town (when we really don't). I threw a picnic for our Buy Nothing members, and about 30 people showed up, which I think shows how excited people are to find community and connection where they live. Every single day, my newsfeed is flooded with people simply being kind to one another, helping each other with everything from meal trains to dead car batteries to kids clothes.

One of the best symptoms of caring about things is that, with time, it connects you to other people who really care about things. Little by little, you feel less alone, and you can find whole communities (and action groups) that are getting things done. I have met so many cool people in the course of trying to help, and it is honestly the best. If you feel like you don't meet new people that often, getting involved in an issue you care about is a perfect way to shift that momentum.

Even when I don't see people in person, I have found community online. Instead of spending time browsing and online shopping. I have seen tons of communities develop to encourage greener living. These groups tend to be positive and encouraging (just don't bring up veganism).

1. It just feels like a weight has been lifted.

I think we all carry a lot of subconcious negative baggage from all of the things we support with what we buy. Most of us would never force a small child to work all day in a factory, but we support it with how we spend our money. Most of us would never knowingly kill a whale, but we participate in their death by buying and tossing single use plastic items.

It doesn't mean we are bad. It's that capitalism has alienated us from the sources of what we buy and the consequences of what we throw away so effectively that we don't see it. But I genuinely think we feel it, we carry a lot of pain and loneliness at this moment in history, and I think a root of it is how our actions can ripple so negatively into the world.

It feels so empowering to recognize that I can make positive ripples instead and do so. Just panicking about Climate Crisis feels freaking terrible. Doing something feels a whole lot better, even when it is something small. We say a prayer, and we get to work. Connecting with the fact that we can do something (anything), that our fate isn't solely in other people's hands feels so good. Become a member of Greenpeace or a wildlife conservation group. Write a local leader. Call your favorite company. It all feels good, because taking a stand for what is right feels right.

Nine Ways that Our Eco-Friendly Choices Have Made our Family Life Better

Nine Ways that Our Eco-Friendly Choices Have Made our Life Better

Nine Ways that Our Eco-Friendly Choices Have Made our Life Better

So if you have been feeling discouraged or like what you do doesn't matter anyway, know that it does matter! If absolutely nothing else, it makes life so much better to get our of those loops of consumerism and make choices that help others. It matters. You and what you do matters.

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  1. If everyone adopted this mindset, change would happen so much more quickly!

  2. I am sitting here reading this and nodding away to each and every point you make ESPECIALLY the moving away from consumerism. Too many people think shopping ans stuff makes them happy when in fact the complete opposite is true.



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