Down a supermarket aisle, a frazzled mom pushes a cart full of disposable diapers, plastic water bottles, and screaming kids. Being a parent is hard enough. Modern conveniences like big-box stores, prepackaged snacks, and disposable tupperware seem make life easier. But do they? It’s not easy being green. But being a conscientious consumer just might make life simpler in the long run.
As parents, we want the best for our planet because our kids will inherit the earth. The extra effort we take to live more sustainably is our small gift to future generations. Being a conscientious consumer means we think about what we bring into our lives and how we use the items we already have. There are several schools of thought on the subject of minimal living (Project 333, The Minimalists, The KonMari Method, etc.). The main goal in all of these is to intentionally select a small number high-quality items to have in your life and let go of the rest. In this post, we will look at how to live simpler and be a conscientious consumer through: purchasing thoughtfully, minimizing responsibly, and managing resources wisely.
Make thoughtful selections when buying new products. The deliberate curation of durable clothes, kitchenware, and home goods combats the “throw-away culture” of modern society. When objects last longer, less goes to the landfill. When we reduce consumption overall, less stuff is manufactured and less packaging is used.
- Avoid impulse purchases by making a list and sticking to it. If you see something you really want, add it to a future list. Later, research the product, ask yourself if you truly need it, and make an intentional decision.
- Purchase second-hand or handmade. We can still get use out of products that others are finished with. Thrift shops and garage sales can be a fun treasure hunt. Websites like Etsy.com host handmade and vintage items.
- Buy locally grown food and locally made products. This supports your local economy and reduces the carbon emissions used in transporting object to and from other countries.
- Consider the packaging purchases come in. Avoid unnecessarily bulky packaging, and go for recyclable. When possible, buy things in bulk to reduce packaging consumption. Just make sure you will actually use the bulk items. Bring a reusable coffee mug or water bottle instead of buying a disposable one. Bring a reusable shopping bag.
- Replace disposables with reusables. Bring along reusable items such as shopping bags, coffee mugs, and water bottles when going out. Cloths napkins and towels replace the paper variety. Go for cloth diapers rather than disposables. Reusable menstrual products are better for your body and the environment than disposable pads and tampons.
- Share and borrow household items that are used infrequently. Do you only need a ladder once a year when hanging Christmas lights? Borrow one from a neighbor rather than buying one yourself.
- Make it yourself. DIY all the things! When you take the time to make things at home, they have more meaning and value in your life because you understand the effort that went into their creation. You’ll probably take better care of them, too.
- Opt for safer cleaning. A conscientious consumer considers what they are putting into their home though cleaning products, and what they are putting onto their body (and their children) with personal care and beauty products. A great big bottle of Castile Soap cleans almost anything-from the baby to the kitchen sink. Seriously, I wash my hair with it and mop the floor with it. Castile soap comes concentrated, so be sure to dilute, and it will last a long time.
- Eat green. Making thoughtful dietary changes are healthier for your family and the environment. Buy local, in-season, food from the local farmer’s market or CSA to cook it at home. Buy fresh, whole, organic food and limit pre-packaged, processed food. Reduce the consumption of meat and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. Choose sustainably caught fish and seafood. And, of course, grow your own food. Even if you don’t have much yard space, garden towers are space-saving options.
Even when purchasing thoughtfully, there still comes a time to get rid of stuff. With this simple living principal in mind to “use what you have, and have what you use,” think about what you truly need, and let go of the rest. When minimizing clutter, do so responsibly. Try to limit stuff that winds up in a landfill. Remember that someone else may find value in the object your getting rid of. For example, our automatic coffee maker stopped working, and I listed it for free on our local Facebook “trading post.” Another mom came and got it because her son liked taking apart and tinkering with appliances. The coffee maker stopped being useful to me, but it still served a purpose for someone else.
- Recycle. Take time to learn what can be recycled in your local area. Glass, paper, and plastic are the norm. See who will recycle clothing, electronics, home goods, etc.
- Upcycle. Give old ‘garbage’ new life. An empty oatmeal container can be a toy drum for your kids. An old t-shirt can be your new reusable shopping bag. Repurpose wooden pallets into planter boxes. Basically the only limit is your own imagination.
- Compost. Feed egg shells, yard waste, and kitchen scraps to a food digester, composter, or pile.
- Donate. Find your local Goodwill or thrift shop. Your old items could still be useful to other people.
- Have a garage sale. Why not make a little extra cash off the items you are no longer using?
- Sell online. List items on eBay or Craigslist. Many areas even have a local Facebook group for selling and trading.
Manage Resources Wisely
Purchased items is only one form of consumption. Consider other resources we use such as transportation, energy, and water. How can individuals and families reduce their consumption of our planets valuable resources?
- Find alternate transportation. Public transit availability varies wildly depending on location. Look into your area’s transit system. When possible, bike or walk to get where you need to go. For longer trip, where public transit isn’t available, try to find a carpool. Let’s say you do need a car, driving a well-maintained older car (especially one with decent gas mileage) generally a greener option than purchasing a new one. Consider the environmental costs of manufacturing a new automobile and adding old cars to the junk pile. Consider the energy efficiency of your vehicle-hybrid and electric cars are becoming cheaper and more readily available.
- Reduce home energy consumption. If possible, look into getting an energy audit to find out how you can have a more energy efficient home. Some simple steps anyone can take include: unplugging or turn off your electronic devices when not in use, turning off the lights when you leave the room, switching to CFL or LED bulbs, hang-dry laundry, researching energy-efficient appliances, and properly sealing and insulating your home.
- Reduce water waste at home. Take shorter showers and fewer baths. Never let the tap run while brushing teeth or shaving. Use energy efficient washing machines and dishwashers and run full loads. Repair leaky toilets and faucets. Install low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators and fix leaky toilets and faucet. Install a rain barrel. Use gray water for watering your garden.
Making these lifestyle changes into habits isn’t easy. Maybe you are already doing many of them. But being a conscientious consumer is better for your family and the environment. As the great Albus Dumbledore said, “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” As for me, I’ll take the challenge head on. I want to be the mom chasing my kids around the farmer’s market while carrying a reusable bad of fresh, local produce.