Conscientious Consumerism Part 3: Self Care Through Sustainability+A Book Review

For the third installment of the “Conscientious Consumerism” series, we will explore how the process of incorporating sustainable practices can and should serve as tools to help you find more peace in a fast-paced, stuff-centric world. It shouldn’t be an overwhelming experience, but rather a journey of self discovery about what you value in life and more importantly, what you don’t. If you haven’t checked out the first and second installments, they are full of tips for sustainable swaps to help you get started.

In the wake of growing climate crisis, it’s more important than ever to be conscious of how we consume products and media. Every decision you make has an impact, and the collective power of more and more people demanding sustainable options is changing the present market. Many mainstream grocery stores now carry more varieties of plant based milks, cheeses, and meat substitutes than ever before. New and old brands alike are developing biodegradable packaging. The rising popularity of thrift stores and upcycling is creating new markets and diversifying our styles and economy. Your choices add to the collective whole and they do have the power to make an impact. You make an impact.

Madeleine Olivia is a YouTuber, activist, and expert when it comes to the process of learning how to lead a life that is more sustainable, but still functional for your unique needs. Her new book, Minimal: How To Simplify Your Life And Live Sustainably, launched on January 9, 2020. The book is a complete beginner’s guide to living a life more mindful of the how your daily choices impact the planet, and how they impact your own wellness. The 8 chapters cover topics from how to declutter your wardrobe, to the eco-impacts of food industry, to becoming a mindful traveler, to sustainable self care. Chock-full of information to help you understand the current state of the planet, and explanations for how your everyday actions really do make a difference, Madeleine answers almost every question you might have about how to start a journey into minimalism- even including worksheets and graphics to guide you along. She also writes her story through the lens of someone who has been through process, keeping the content relatable and understanding. She is consistent in reminding readers that while it is not practical for everyone to commit to everything she writes about, everyone can and should do something. Doing what you can, with what you have, until you are in a position to do better.

Minimal is a wonderful guide to understand how the process of becoming a conscientious consumer can help you bring more peace into your own life while having a more positive impact on the planet. Today, we will delve into how including mindful practices can help you to feel more connected with yourself in a world that is pushing us to move faster and faster to the next new thing.

5 ways living more mindfully of the planet also serves your best interest:

  1. More Personalization: The best part about switching to reusable products is the ability to personalize them TO THE MAX. Have fun with your sustainable swaps. Investing in some reusable bags to take shopping with you? There are so many options to find some that can serve as an expression of your personality. Get some in your favorite color. Get some with your favorite characters on them (I definitely have a Spider-Man grocery bag). Get ones with plant prints or as souvenirs after concerts. Same goes for reusable cups, straws, silverware, lunch bags, etc. When you rid yourself of the bland single use plastic, covered in branding, you can pick fun items that are one time investments. They will save you money in the long run, and allow you to have in little fun in the process of helping the planet.
  2. Taking Back Your Time: Time is the most valuable asset we have. We all have a limited amount of it to spend, but we don’t know how much that is. Life is so short. We live in a world that is pushing us to keep up with an impossible rate of change. New clothes, new food, new makeup, new movies, new books, new classes, new jobs, new, new, new. Reinvent yourself. New you, means a better you. No. It doesn’t. You are wonderful just as you are. We are, at our core, all so diverse and beautiful in our own light. You don’t need to reinvent yourself, or feel the pressure to keep up with a world that releases a new product every few seconds. Personal growth should be focused on how you feel and what actually makes you happy. Focus your energy on experiences, not things. Focus your time on what really brings you joy. The timeline society has created for us to follow is not real. Everyone’s journey through life is unique to their own stories. Very few people follow the “mainstream story” where they graduate college in 4 years, get a job, get married with 2 kids by 30, have a house, then retire at 65 after working with the same company for 40 years. Very, very few. But that is what makes life beautiful. Your life is yours to live, and eliminating the mindset that you need to keep up with the latest fads, or that buying things is what will get you to where you want to be will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but free you to enjoy your life for what it is. The beautiful story that is yours, and yours alone. Take back your time, and say no to anyone or anything that makes you feel like you are “not keeping up.” There is nothing to keep up with. There is only following your heart towards what you love.
  3. Healthier Finances: Slowing down in a world constantly pushing and shoving those to the side who don’t play their game of “keep up” can seem like a daunting task. What you will find in the long run, is that your ability to navigate what actually makes you happy as opposed to what makes big corporations happy, is quite a bit of money saved over the long term. Not only are take-out meals, new clothes, new decor, and consistent habits of purchasing detrimental to the environment, they keep us stuck in a pattern of spending money. Stuff does not fill the emptiness within us. Exploring our own feelings, experiences, and spending time with those who are important to us will. That is what matters. As you learn to question what products you actually like, and what you actually need, you will find yourself spending less money. These savings can be spent on experiences with your friends, checking something off your bucket list you couldn’t afford before, or just as some breathing room in case things get tough financially. Purchases you do make, should be viewed as investments. Asking questions like, “Will this last a long time? What kind of quality is it? Does it serve a purpose?” are all great places to start when deciding if a purchase is an investment in your future or something that will be tossed out in a year. Changing your consumption perspective from buyer to investor will help you save the planet while saving your wallet.
  4. Connecting With New People: As you delve further into your journey of conscientious consumerism, you’ll notice that there are more people than you might have thought who also care deeply about the welfare of the planet. Attending meetups for vegans, local climate protests, or shopping small can help you to meet incredible people in your area who you might have never met before. Shopping small is one way to support your local economy, and small businesses tend to have a lower carbon footprint than big business. Go into your local stores. See what they have. Talk to local artists. Follow them on social media. Get inspired by the people around you, and you might find that there is so much more wonder in your community than you could have ever dreamed. Even shopping for plant based proteins (which impact the environment significantly less than animal protein) at the regular grocery store has lead to some interesting conversations with people that turned out to become the highlight of my day. Connect with people. Come together and talk about the climate crisis. Learn about their favorite sustainable tips or brands or second hand shops nearby.
  5. Developing A More Balanced Mindset: When we start caring about the planet, the animals, plants, and other people who inhabit it, it becomes easier to care a little more about our own health. You are worthy of a space that is comfortable. A space that is clean, and safe, and brings you peace. You are worthy of being taken care of. To take care of yourself is an act of rebellion in a time that values working past the point of exhaustion. The earth is a valuable, living, interconnected web of wonders. That web includes you too. You are wonderful. The act of slowing down to take care of the planet is a radical step, but one that will help you see that you are also worthy of radical love. Leaving an extra two minutes early to give the baristas at the coffee shop time to fill your refill cup with your favorite coffee is a seemingly small, but powerful act. You have defied the rush of the day to carve out time for yourself. You’ve saved money by getting a refill price. You’ve eliminated the waste of a cup. You’ve taken the time to balance your needs and your wants. Balance. Knowing that the smallest acts add up to a greater impact on the planet, especially when done collectively, is powerful knowledge. In the same vein, small acts of self-kindness add up too. Forgive yourself more. Take back your time. See that you are a part of this planet, and therefore also worth the time and energy to develop.

The planet is in dire need of attention. While massive systemic change will be necessary for long lasting improvements, the choices we as consumers make everyday influence the decisions those who have the power to make those decisions. No act of sustainability is too small. Every item that is reused, every single use plastic avoided, every meatless Monday makes a difference.

Not everyone can walk to work. Living in a more rural area, it would be impossible for me to walk anywhere that wasn’t for the sole purpose of going for a walk. There are people who do live in places where walking or public transit is a viable option, and they can include that as part of their sustainability practices. Some people cannot go entirely plant based due to other dietary restrictions, cultural reasons, or limited access to food. Many people can limit their meat consumption to once per day, or to a few times per week. It’s all about finding the right balance for you and your life. It’s about rejecting a society that tells you your worth is based on the stuff in your home. Your worth is not defined by how you look, what you wear, or where you are. You are defined by the love that is in your heart. By the actions you take everyday. By the words you speak and the wonder you create. You are enough, just as you are.

No matter where you’re at on your sustainability journey- whether just starting today, or a 50 year enthusiast- trying your best to be your best is what matters most. Your actions matter. You matter. Every choice impacts this planet, and your power to make a difference is beyond measure.

Be sure to check out our previous articles on Conscientious Consumerism for sustainability tips and tricks.

For plant-based recipes and sustainable-living hacks head over to Madeleine Olivia’s YouTube Channel, and pick up her book Minimal: How To Simplify Your Life And Live Sustainably, for a full guide on the life and planet changing power of minimalism.

10 Unconventional Hobbies And Why You Need One

In our spare time it can be nice to unwind and watch a movie, t.v. show, or catch up with what your friends are doing on social media. Down time is essential to decompressing throughout the week. These activities can also enrich our lives through enhancing our social bonds. Watching the same show as your friends can give you all something to discuss together. Social media offers various platforms to connect with people who you might otherwise lose touch with, and to learn and grow in ways that would not be possible with out that technology.

It is also crucial to have other activities that bring joy to your life. Things that are not your work, but that do engage your mind on a higher level than passively consuming media. Hobbies allow you to express yourself, learn about new facets of the world, connect with new people on deep levels, and enhance your skills at something you love. We often see that people who practice a hobby tend to feel better, but why?

Researchers have found that engaging frequently in enjoyable leisure activities leads to overall better psychological and physical health. In their study, psychologists found participants who regularly practiced their hobbies had lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, lower BMIs, and overall better physical functions than those who did not, even after accounting for standard demographic differences. Why this happens could be for several reasons. A possible explanation could be found in a study published by BMC Psychiatry, which discovered that the sense of “mastery” over a skill that develops when taking on a hobby improves overall mental health and sense of accomplishment. An additional study published in the American Journal of Public Health explored the healing effects of artistic expression regarding mental health when practiced as a hobby, and found that activities such as creative writing, music, dance, and drawing aided in coping with stress.

The bottom line: exploring a hobby you enjoy can help you to improve your physical and mental well-being. If you already have activities that you like to do, keep up with them, and make sure you set up time in your schedule specifically for yourself to practice what makes you feel good. If you want to explore new hobbies or don’t have anything you like to do yet, below is a list of suggestions to begin your journey into making the most of your free time. Get creative, meet new people, get really into what you like. But, also remember it’s okay if you don’t like something you try and want to try something else. It’s also okay if you like something, but aren’t good at it when you start out (no one is perfect when they first try something). It’s also okay if you like something and don’t love it. Not everything you do has to be your favorite thing. If it brings you joy, do it. If it doesn’t bring you joy, then stop.

10 Unique Hobbies To Explore:

  1. Learn an instrument: There are a ton of YouTube tutorials on how to play almost every instrument under the sun. If you have a certain one you’ve been wanting to try, check it out! Although lessons can be pricey, if you have the funds, why not go all in, or see if there are group lessons at a discounted rate to start out. (Also I can not confirm this, but I have been told by many people the easiest instrument to learn is the ukulele. You can often find these and guitars super cheap at garage sales to start out and see if you like it before investing a ton of money.)
  2. Creative Writing: There are so many types of creative writing to explore, not just fiction writing. Try poetry. Or write a play. Or write non-fiction. Research your hero, and write a biography. You can write about whatever you want, and that is the freedom of creative writing. If you want a platform to share your work, start a blog, or create a goal of a finished product to try and get published. Or self publish. Or join a writing group in your community.
  3. Hiking: Get outside and explore nature. Start with walks at your local parks. Then a quick Google search will show you trails near and far from where you live. There are also groups that get together and organize hikes if you want to meet new people. Check out the American Hiking Society for more information.
  4. Community Theater: Wish you could go back to your drama club days? Check out your local theater groups! Attend a show, see who holds open auditions, and get involved. Whether you like set building, acting, directing, stage crew, or any part of the theatrical process, community theater is a great place to meet new people and explore your creative side.
  5. Upcycling: Turn old furniture or clothes into something completely your own. Get crafty and give new life to old goods. You can keep your finished products, give them to your friends as gifts, or sell them. There is an entire community of upcyclers who share ideas, and hacks to get you started. Even hobbies that you might not think of as social activities, can help you to meet new people- if that is what you are looking for out of your activity. Upcycling is also great for improving your carbon footprint!
  6. Baking: Trying to stick to a health plan that makes you feel good, but miss those sweets? Explore the world of food with alternative baking methods and get down and dirty, experimenting in the kitchen to see which recipes compare to your traditional favorites. Or go all out on the sugar and learn to create delectable delights that will wow your friends. The kitchen can serve as quite the therapeutic place, and you can sign up for cooking classes, donate your goods to local bake sales, or host your own treat swaps to get more involved in the community.
  7. SFX Makeup: If Halloween or makeup is your thing, try out special effects makeup. You’ll get creative with sculpting your own prosthetic pieces, shading the details of your characters, and bringing to life your art. With the beauty industry booming, and spooky season a favorite time of year for many, there are 1000s of resources and tutorials to get your creative juices flowing. Get those make up brushes blending! Check out SFX make up artist Glam&Gore, for some fun looks, and how to’s to get started.
  8. Sports Leagues: Did you love sports when you were in school? Do you miss the sense of belonging to a team and the energy of the game. Check out your local sports and athletic centers for adult leagues. Many areas offer a wide range of recreational teams you can join to get active and meet some new people who also have a shared interest as you. Whether it’s basketball, ultimate frisbee, dance, football, volleyball, or whatever your sport, check out what’s around you and get playing.
  9. Star gazing: Is most of your free time at night? Learn about the sky, track the stars, and planets, and enjoy the beauty of our place in the solar system. NASA even has a tool to help you connect with other star gazers in your area, so you can meet up and share your findings together.
  10. Embroidery: Sewing a straight line might seem like a daunting task to most in modern times, but cross stitch and embroidery are making a comeback. Try your hand at creating intricate designs, and soon you’ll be able to deck out all of your favorite clothes to become a local fashion icon. To get you started, here is a beginner’s guide.

No matter what you choose to do with your free time, be sure to spend it doing what you love, with who you love. Your hobby doesn’t need to consume your life, but if it does drive you to get up in the morning that is also okay too. Make time to take care of yourself. Make time to decompress. Make time to do the things that are important to you. Regardless of where you’re at in life, you are deserving of time that makes you feel good and important.

Hobbies can take you to so many wonderful places you could have never dreamed of going before. Maybe you’ll find yourself on stage performing one day in front of an audience. Maybe you’ll be booking your next vacation to tackle the world’s craziest rock climbing adventure. Maybe you’ll meet the most wonderful people who will become extensions of your family. You never know where you will end up, but when you follow your heart you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Visions VS Goals: How To Stick To Your New Years Resolutions

Resolving to improve. This year is going to be better. I will be better. Kinder, healthier, grander, more present, more aware, more lovable, just more. Happier. That’s what we all hope every night on December 31st. Then January drags, we lose course, and next December we’re back where we started. Hoping that next year will be our year. It’s got to be.

Stop. It’s time to end this cycle of regretting the year before, with grand visions of the year to come. Life happens, and it’s never what you plan. But does that mean we shouldn’t plan anything at all? Of course not. How do we balance our dreams for a future that “could be,” without neglecting to appreciate the past that gave those dreams life? How do we make resolutions that we can stick to? How do we make it, so that come December, 2020 we can look back and smile, knowing we did our absolute best, and 2021 will be a continuation of dedication instead of a start over?

This week on Where You’re At, we are going to dive in deep, reflect, brain storm, and set up a beautiful vision of where you can take yourself on your journey in the new year.

  1. Begin With Reflection: Before you start listing off everything you want to change about your life, reflect on where you’re at right now. When you reflect on your past, start small and specific, then work your way back to the bigger picture. (This is the opposite of goal setting which we will discuss in #3.) Key questions to ask yourself include: What have I done today I am proud of? What was I hoping to get done today that I was unable to accomplish? Why didn’t those things get done? You can then replace the word “today” in each of those questions with “this week,” “this month,” and “this year.” These questions will help you lay out your strengths and weaknesses, and help you to map your progress over time. When you reflect through your past year, think about your favorite memories too. Where did you go? What did you see? Who did you meet?- How much of that was planned? Probably not much of it. You can do your best to plan, but much of life (both beautiful and tragic) happens organically. Life is a balance of planning and going with whatever comes your way. As you close your time of reflection pick out the moments you are most grateful for. Then thank yourself for a year of perseverance, patience, and experience.
  2. Visualization: Next begin the process of developing plans for where you want your next year to take you. Visualize. The process of goal setting begins broad and imaginative. This is not the time to be “realistic” or doubtful about what you can manage. Think even beyond the year to come. Where do you want to be in 2 years? 5? 10? What kind of life do you want? How do you want to wake up feeling everyday? What do you see yourself surrounded with? What do you want your daily routine to be like at the end of next year? These big questions will help you to open your heart to the potential you have within you. Brainstorm big. This time is all about the “big-picture.”
  3. Get Specific With Goals: After you’ve thought about where you have been and where you want to go, it’s time to figure out how to get there. This is done through setting goals. Breaking down dreams into steps. Then breaking down those steps into smaller steps. Soon you’ll have a staircase leading you to your destination. When we reflect, we map where we have been by working from small and specific to larger and more broad. Goal setting is the opposite. Take your vision for the future, and write down what it will take to get there. Then break it down again, and again, and again, and again. Soon you’ll see how you can create daily habits that will lead you to tackling bigger projects. Those projects will lead you to conquering more complex steps which require more time, connections, homework, and effort. Your daily habits build the steps you climb through life. It all begins at the micro level. It’s okay if your long-term goals take a long time to accomplish. That’s why they’re called long-term. Move at a pace that is comfortable and manageable for you. If you push too much you’ll end up burnt out and giving up. If your long-term goal is to become more clean, start with making your bed everyday and vacuuming once a week. If your goal is to start performing your music live, begin by committing to your practice everyday, attending more local shows, and marketing once a week. If your goal is to write a book, write a little everyday-even if ‘s not for your book (keep up with the practice), talk about your intentions with others to grow your ideas, and create a tentative schedule for yourself. Start small. Then build from there. It begins with daily practice. Daily habits form life long changes. It won’t happen overnight, but when you come back to reflect again on how far you have come, you will be so proud of how you expanded the map of your life. For more information on setting daily-level goals check out the SMART goal system, which poses questions to help you keep the goals you set at attainable levels. When you use smaller goals as a means to accomplish your dreams, the steps you climb become a manageable hike rather than impossible leaps.
  4. Gratitude: After you reflect on where you have been, envisioned where you want to go, and determined how you will get there, take a few moments to be grateful for where you are at. Gratitude is a powerful tool that will keep you grounded on your journey of change. It is also important to recognize that your current situation whether difficult, painful, or one of the best times of your life is a piece of who you are and who you will be. Periods of our life don’t define us, but they can drive us to where we go next. Everyday has something in it to be grateful for. As the new year progresses, and you check off the goals on your list, pause after you tick off each one. Take a moment to thank yourself and anyone who helped you along the way to get to that next step. On days you fall behind, instead of beating yourself up, thank yourself for trying your best and know that you will keep trying again until you get it next time. More information on overcoming difficult set backs and breaking down the process of gratitude can be found in our article “A Field Guide To Finding The Silver Lining.” Gratitude will serve as your life boat when you’ve been tossed out into rough water. Cling to it. Gratitude will also keep you focused as you keep moving along your list of goals and chasing your vision. It will help you to see your journey is just as beautiful as the dream.

New Years Resolutions are often seen as the beginning of a new chapter in the story of life. However, they don’t mean you have to burn the beginning of your book. You can choose to change your life on New Year’s Day, you can choose to change your life any day of year if you like. Or you don’t have to change it all. But if you’re looking to overcome the obstacles that have held you back from realizing the picture of what you see your life could be, be strategic in your attack. You can build the life you dream. You can overcome the pains in your past. You can learn how to grow in the future. It all begins with today. It begins with you deciding to take advantage of what you have, right now, right where you’re at.

Eager To Learn: Why It’s Important + A Documentary Review

On December 26th, 2019, British Chef and vegan YouTube sensation Gaz Oakley (aka avantgardevegan) released his first full length documentary, titled, “Salt of the Earth.” In the film, Gaz explores his home country of Wales, combining elements of travel, food, and human interest all in an eye-opening, awe-inspiring piece. Without giving too much away, the documentary takes you around the country to see where your food comes from, visit the breath-taking (adventure-packed) sites Wales has to offer, and showcases the charm of the Welsh people.

Visiting the UK has always been on my bucket list, but Wales was never at the top of places I felt obligated to see. I never knew how stunning the country was, or how much there was to do in the Welsh countryside. Opening your eyes to the beauty of a new place that you may have over looked as an adventure hub, full of rich culture, and a diverse ecosystem is an inspirational experience. Exploring the wonders of a world far away from your own, through the lens of a personality so passionate about the journey of discovery, you can’t help but become encouraged to explore your own home.

Seek adventure in the most unlikely of places. It is all up to you what you will find on your journey. Appreciate the unique offerings of your hometown, your home state, your home country. Seek out beauty. Seek out joy. Seek out opportunity.

Try new things. Don’t be afraid to try something new, talk to someone new, be someone new. It is never to late to start learning, because everyday is a chance to learn that there is magic all around you. There are people in your community who know so many details of where to find the most incredible views, the coolest shops, the most interesting ways to spend a day- you just need to talk to them.

Gaz’s documentary embodied the wondrous possibilities that stem from embracing where you’re at. Explore. Enjoy. Live everyday in a mindset of gratitude for what you have. Be eager to to learn, and always ask questions. Always remember, you can do amazing things, right where you’re at.

*Gaz Oakley aka avantgardevegan’s documentary was linked in the first paragraph but is also linked here to watch. He also has a book and website full of more plant based recipes.

Conscientious Consumerism Part Two: Holiday Edition

The holidays are here and consumer spending on goods and services are at their annual peak. A study discussed by Stanford University, explained Americans alone throw away an average of 25% more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Years than any other time of year. This year, make a point to limit your footprint this holiday season as a gift to the earth. This week is a continuation of the “Conscientious Consumerism” series (a follow up to a previous article Conscientious Consumerism: Why The Smallest Steps Towards Sustainability Are Still Important). The simplest and smallest acts of mindfulness regarding sustainability have the power to create monumental change when we come together to create a greener, cleaner planet. Below are a few ways you can make a big impact this holiday season.

  1. Compost That Christmas Tree: Don’t let your tree end up in a landfill this year. If you get a real tree, check out your local government’s web-page to find out about curb side tree collection. Trees can be reused as materials for flood barricades, mulch, or composted. You can also compost or break it down for mulch yourself if you are planning on gardening come Spring. However you choose to dispose of your tree, make sure it gets a second use! If you are ever unsure about how to recycle something visit Earth911. Type in your zip code and what you want to recycle (anything at all, not just Christmas trees!) and it will tell where and how it can be done.
  2. Mindful Gifting: With sales and deals and steals in all the stores, it can hard to resist snatching up all those stocking stuffers. When you pick out gifts for everyone on your list this year, don’t spend money for the sake of spending money. Instead invest in fewer items that you know your loved ones will appreciate and use for a long time to come. Some extremists argue for a gift free holiday to save the planet, but there is a balance between excess and nothing. I enjoy shopping during the holiday season because I get to really think about all the people in my life. What do they like? What are the best parts of them? What brings them joy? When you are mindful about others when shopping, you will have a less stressful shopping experience, probably spend less on filler gifts, waste less on things that won’t get used, and you’ll remember all the best parts of your friends and family. I have some gifts I have received in the past that I have used for years, and will continue to use. Don’t feel bad about purchasing a gift for someone that will go to good use.
  3. Shop Small: Find some out-of-the-box gift ideas by shopping small and avoiding the high-waste, fast-fashion, fad-filled, big businesses this year. Did your friends start a business this year? Support them. Their business will grow which will enrich your own community, and the carbon footprint of a small business is often much smaller than corporate enterprises. Here’s a list of sustainable small business’s in each state! Search online for small business that also support causes you believe in. Bravery, is a small business brand that sells wristbands made of wooden beads, with one a unique color of your choosing that corresponds with a charity. A portion of each sale goes directly to the charity of the color wristband purchased. Check out your local shops as well as online brands. Walk down the main street of your town or city and see what the people in your area are creating. They might have that perfect, unique gift you couldn’t find in the super stores for that special someone on your list. You might even be able to get a custom order from them. Find local artists, and commission a piece from them. You can totally win the holidays with the ultimate custom blanket, painting, or whatever interesting things the people around you are creating. Connect with your community this year and you might find the most magical items to share with your loved ones.
  4. Give The Gift Of Something To Do: Everyone complains about not having anything to do, especially in areas that aren’t super urbanized. This year don’t give another pile of sweaters that will lay dusty in the back of the closet and end up in the donation bin next year. Instead give the gift of a reason to go out. Think about the interests of those on your list. Get them concert tickets if they like music. If they like the outdoors, see if there are conferences on hiking, or gardening, or camping. If they like cooking get them a gift certificate to a cooking class. In Scranton, the beautiful and homey Vintage Kitchen, is a locally run small business that offers cooking and lifestyle classes for all ages. They offer courses for children and adults with categories that range from baking, to meal prepping, to waffles, to happy hours, to vegetarian nights, and so much more. Get them a certificate to sign up for something that interests them, or sign up to take a class together as a way to spend time with them this holiday. You could also reach out to a local photographer and schedule a photo shoot for them. Either make them a model for a day with a solo session, or create some beautiful memories with your significant other in a couples session. You could also have a fun friends shoot to remember the great times you shared together. Now-a-days you can customize super creative photo sessions, and have a fun, memorable experience that reflects who you and your friends are. The gift of something to do eliminates physical waste, and keeps the cheer going even after the day you swap presents.
  5. Gift Products That Encourage Sustainability: If you want to add in a few extra stocking stuffers, or need a few smaller gifts for people on your list, look into products that encourage sustainable habits. Reusable water bottles that have something from their favorite show or book on it would be a great idea. Bento boxes are great for a friend who wants to start meal prepping, eating out less, or just wants to use less waste when out and about. Bento&Co. has a variety of boxes to match every personality type, and several other kitchen gadgets to make on the go eating a breeze. House plants also make beautiful gifts, and don’t need to be thrown out like cut flowers. Consider a potted plant instead of a cut floral arrangement as a gift for your party hosts this year. Research brands, buy from companies who create products out of recycled materials, or who work to create a cleaner, more sustainable world.
  6. Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String: The marvelous Julie Andrews was onto something when she sang that famous line about her favorite things. This year, instead of buying wrapping paper that will get ripped up and thrown out in shreds after one use, buy brown paper that can be recycled. You can still keep the holiday cheer by decorating them with fun ribbon and bows (reuse any old ones you have and keep any on gifts you get this year to use for next year). If you have extra paper from last year still on a role, use that up first before buying new paper or bags. You already purchased it, so don’t let it go to waste or throw it out with out getting any use at all. You can also use gift bags instead of paper, and encourage those you give them to to keep them to reuse in the future for when they have to give a gift to someone.
  7. Meal Prep Your Holiday Feasts: The EPA estimates food waste during the holidays increases by 25%, and the National Resources Defense Council estimates on average annual food waste amounts to about $281 billion! To cut down on your holiday food waste this year, plan out your big dinners in advance. Write out a detailed menu, keeping in mind the apatite and diet of your guests. Start preparing your holiday meals in advance so you don’t end up stressed in the kitchen the day of, throwing together ingredients. Also make sure to take advantage of your ingredients. Use every piece from root to stem if you can. Get creative in the kitchen with left overs, and if you can’t get through them all, send them home with guests, or freeze them. The freezer will keep your dishes preserved much longer, and then you can get cozy with a bowl of your famous green bean casserole again in a week or two.
  8. Enjoy Every Moment: The holidays are a time to come together and be with the people you care about most. Treat those around with kindness. Have patience when you’re in traffic, be gentle when you wait in line to check out at the stores. When you slow down you’ll realize that this time of year isn’t about all of the physical things we get, the food, the parties, the decorations. It’s about taking time for the people in your life and being present with them. With that mindset, you’ll see it doesn’t matter if you scale back a little to help protect the planet. It’s okay to reuse decorations, and reuse wrapping paper, and turn off the Christmas lights an hour earlier, because what matters is embracing everyday. This time of year is one time where much of the world stops for a few moments to just be together. So go and be with the people you need to be with, because at midnight on New Years, business will be back to usual, and there’s no guarantee everyone will be around next holiday season.

There are many other ways you can make a difference environmentally during the holidays, but even a few steps in the right direction make an impact. If just 1000 more people compost their Christmas tree this year, that’s a major impact. If a few people give reusable water bottles as gifts, and the people who receive them start using those instead of disposable plastic ones, that impact is enormous. Be mindful, be present, be yourself. You have enormous potential, and your actions have the power to create beautiful change. You can make a difference no matter where you’re at.

Every Season Has A Purpose: Do Not Waste Your Winter

A morning snow fall was a pleasant surprise yesterday morning. I was surprised that I found it to be a pleasant surprise. Winter is my least favorite season by far, and I do not do well in the cold. Most winters I tend to bundle up, muttering through the wind whipping my face, under grey skies, and shivering as I struggle to find the car keys in my purse, that I should have pulled out when I was still inside. Anyone else been there? A few weeks ago we talked about drawing inspiration from (and the actual physical benefits of) house plants during the winter months. Beyond setting up a comfortable and personally inspiring indoor space, it’s also important step outside during these cold months and embrace the winter weather. Take a even a few moments to appreciate the unique happenings that occur at this time of year.

Don’t waste your winter waiting for the warmth of summer to return. Go out and enjoy what you can. The perfect day, the perfect time, the perfect opportunity to start whatever it is you’ve been putting off will never come. Go and start that project you’ve been planning, talk to the person you’ve been thinking about, plan that vacation you’ve been wanting to take. Stop allowing reasons and seasons to hold you back. Those roadblocks don’t matter. What matters is your attitude towards those roadblocks. It’s okay to get discouraged sometimes, and you may have to change your course because of those roadblocks, but do not let them put your entire life on hold. I only spent half an hour outside in the snow, when on a summer day I might have spent 3 hours if I had the time. Do what you can, when you can, where you are at. Then when your summer comes, imagine how much more you will be able to do, because of the ground work you laid out while it was cold.

Every season has a purpose, and even if you are not in bloom, it does make you any any less stunning in the snow.

Jump on moments of inspiration. If you suddenly feel an urge to work on a project you’ve been waiting on, to get back into a hobby you’ve stopped, to try something new, to go outside because it’s snowing unexpectedly one morning, do it. Explore. Follow those urges. Live in the moment and embrace life to its absolute fullest, because you don’t know how long the winter will last, or even if you will make until next summer. Every day is a gift, and everyday you are able to pursue the things that fill your heart with warmth is a greater gift. Do not take them for granted. Do not let this winter keep you feeling stuck inside. Do not let your road blocks turn into walls that keep you in an inescapable prison. Face them. Find out what you can learn from them. Find what is beautiful in them. Grow from them. Step outside into winter and see what you can build with your snow. You can create magnificent things, during any season, from where ever you are at.

Make the Most of This Winter: Grow, Even If No One Watches

Winter is coming, and as the cold seeps in the leaves will finish falling, the plants will go to sleep, and the sky will turn grey for the next few months. The colder temperatures will mean less days outside and the winter time blues will dampen the golden freedom of fall afternoons. Winter offers its own opportunities however, with time to rest, reflect, and learn. Spend your time inside to grow. Read a book, take an online course, or put extra effort into your self-care.

To help combat those dark and frigid days, I recommend reading Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola. The book is the perfect winter time read to bring you back to the warmth of summer days. It offers a unique and inspirational look into the world of plants that is for more fascinating than your 10th grade biology class.

The general focus of the work centers on the notion that most people tend to ignore plants, viewing them as unintelligent and passive beings. People overlook how vital plants are to the survival of all other living creatures. Perhaps because they are immobile, or because they are ever-present, they are seemingly silent, or that they are easily manipulated by humans. But imagine a world without plants. To quote the authors, “They… are the link connecting the activities of the whole organic world (that is, of everything we call life) with our solar system’s energy center.” Without plants we wouldn’t have food, clothes, breathable air, energy supplies- life would be unsustainable.

This notion does not just apply to plants. If people do not notice all that you do, it does not mean that you are not important. The things you are doing, the projects you are working on, the time you are investing in yourself and in others is valuable. Your work is beautiful. What you create and contribute to the world is worth creating, even if no one is paying attention. Just because people tend to pass you by does not mean you are any less vital to the larger ecosystem of the world, and if you left, people would definitely notice. Just like the plants.

The book goes into detail about the complexities of plant intelligence, explaining how they use their senses to engage with their environment (yes they have all 5 senses we do, plus 15 more!). It examines the historical reasons plants have been glossed over in philosophical, religious, and scientific texts. It even poses its own philosophical questions such as, are plants altruistic? Check out the book for the entire explanation, but in short I was inspired that this question could even be asked. This suggests kindness is an innate characteristic so fundamental to living things that even plants exhibit signs of a moral compass. Imagine being a plant: you can’t move, you have to fight all other plants around you for resources, avoid being eaten entirely by animals, protect yourself from the elements, it can’t be easy, and yet, you have a sense to help out other plants around you in need. This level of thoughtfulness existing within in plants means kindness must be a core trait within people too. Be kind to others. The world might have made some hearts hard, but they can be softened. Even if it goes unnoticed, even if people do not immediately pay attention, your efforts to be gentle will help reshape the world.

Another fun fact presented in the 2nd chapter is the positive benefits plants have on the human mind. Cited are studies showing that the presence of plants in classrooms improve student concentration, and neighborhoods with greener spaces tend to have fewer car accidents and suicides. The impact of plants on mental health is remarkable. Maybe that has something to do with the recent houseplant comeback. Another way to help battle seasonal depression is to bring the outdoors in. When you pick up this book, snag a few house plants to brighten up your room too. Your plant will love you just as much you will love the life it brings you this cold season. If you don’t know what kind of plant to get or tend to kill anything green you touch start with one of these beginner options and work your way to building up a collection.

Overall, Brilliant Green, offers a lot of interesting and detailed information about how plants work. In it’s own way though it is a work of inspiration, with an underlying message that the moments overlooked are often the most important and beautiful in life. Don’t waste your winter this year. Take advantage of the time you have to try something you wouldn’t normally. Don’t let people overlook you either, and if they do, it does not mean you are any less wondrous. Keep on putting in the work on your dreams, keep focusing, keep creating, keep doing your very best. Your actions today have the power to impact the hearts and minds of those in the environment around you- just like a plant. Keep growing towards the sun, and when the spring comes you will bloom the most vibrant flowers that will capture the eye of everyone who passes by. Plants are stationary beings, but without them, the world would crumble. You have been planted in your own unique situation, and your soil may not be rich, your water supply may be weak, but even cacti in the hottest deserts blossom the loveliest flowers in their own time. You are creating amazing work exactly where you are planted, and one day the seeds of your efforts will spread across the world. You can do anything exactly where you’re at.

Lost? Hike Your Way Back To Your Life Path

Get out and explore. Go down the street and feel the breeze on your face. Walking outdoors can help you to overcome several personal obstacles in your life, through a journey of connection with your immediate environment and dedicated time for reflection on your personal pathway through life. Most North East PA natives have visited Nay Aug Park at least once, if not many times to find peace on its beautiful trails. It also offers pavilions, play grounds, an animal sanctuary, and a swimming pool. Spend some time clearing your mind at your local place of peace.

Below are a few ways exploring a local landmark can help you forge your way out of a cluttered head space:

  1. Removing Yourself From The Distractions Of Life: This seems to be the most obvious reason why getting outside- to any outside space (hiking trails or not) can help to clear out your mind. You are physically removing yourself from the places and distractions causing any anxiety. No matter where you live, being outside can bring benefits to your mental health, even if you just sit and listen to the natural world go about its routine. Studies show that the sounds of nature put people into a state of relaxation, and those who are more stressed experience a more drastic effect from the sounds of nature. That’s why there are so many soundtracks produced of the sea, the forest, the wind, birds, anything to simulate the natural world helps people to unwind.

2. Connecting With Your Community: We just discussed the benefits of removing yourself from the distractions of your world, but when you explore beyond the realm of your immediate street (or maybe even a walk down your street will foster the same feelings) you might learn something about your area that can help you to feel closer to the community where you live. Nay Aug is a giant gorge in the middle of the city of Scranton. While many locals blow it off since it’s just something that’s always around, it’s actually quite remarkable. This area has been preserved in the midst of an otherwise developed section of the region, and features several historical landmarks that represent the areas rich past. An entrance to a coal mine serves as a reminder of the city’s former residents, and to see the memorials around the park is a reminder that the things you are doing now matter. You are apart of history, and even if you feel like you just go to work everyday and are not making a difference, you are. Someone might see your name on a plaque one day. Keep working on your dreams, keep searching and learning from those around you and those who came before you.

3. Finding Unexpected Inspiration: The beauty of going new places (or revisiting old favorites with a new mindset) is that you never know what you might find. When your out on a walk take your time. It does not matter how far you go, how long it takes, or how many sites you see. What matters is that you take away at least one thing that makes you feel good and means something to you. Pay attention to the details. If you see something that sticks out while walking, stop and really notice it. Think about why did this jump out at me today, and just appreciate what’s going on around you. On this particular hike, I noticed a lot of graffiti. It was jumping out to me, not because of a disruption to the scene, but because of what was written. People wrote about their deepest secrets, their Snapchat names, art, words of inspiration. All of these expressions are other people like you and me who went for a walk to clear out a cluttered mind, and just wrote down what was inside for me and everyone else to see. *This is not condoning vandalism, just an appreciation for the expression of human emotion.* So go out, and clear your mind by connecting with what was left behind for you to find. Notice the details of the world around you. You might just find exactly what you needed you hear.

4. Exploring Creative Pathways: Walking has shown to improve creative output and through exploring your local sites with a new open mind, you might experience exactly what you need to pull yourself out of that rut. This particular park has views of a gorge, train tunnels, and wildlife to draw inspiration from. Check out what surrounds your home that can offer a fun day of creative enlightenment. As you follow the pathway of the trail, you will find your own head space clearing and begin to realize ways to redirect your own life path towards the goals you want to achieve. Hiking a literal mountain can help you to find the route to overcome the figurative ones in your own life.

Go out and explore your local landmarks. Clear your mind and escape the thoughts that thwart your progression or personal growth. Sometimes to find your way when you feel lost on your pathway in life, taking a walk on an actual pathway can help serve as a reminder that your past has provided you with the tools you need to get to where you want to go. You can connect with your area and remember that there are other people who walked the same trails and trials as you, who in their own ways worked through them, and you will work through your own mountains too. You will notice details of this complex Earth that will inspire your creative channels that you didn’t know where there. You will see remnants of acorns nibbled on by tiny squirrels, flowers growing in a crevice you thought light could never reach, rivers break off into the tiniest trickles that feed miniature ecosystems. You will see your world reflected all around you. Your place in this world, one part of a much larger whole, but still so impactful is a force that you drive. You have the ability to choose the direction you take, what details you focus on, what views you stop for, and what mountains you will climb. Find a place to clear your head space and overcome your obstacles. You can find inspiration all around. You can create beautiful dreams. You can overcome, where ever you are at.

Begin The Climb, Even If You Don’t Have The Gear

Ever put off a project or idea because, “I could never do that”? Maybe you thought you didn’t have the talent to accomplish that dream, or there weren’t resources at your disposal to execute your vision exactly how you would like. Maybe it’s just not the “right” time. When you maintain this fixed mindset, you limit your potential for the progress and growth that comes from learning as you go.

It’s crucial to think of life in terms of what you will learn from an experience rather than how you will perform while executing a task- particularly for the first time. If your project turns out different than you imagined, it is not evidence of failure, but a reflection of progress.

Don’t put off doing something because you don’t have the resources you need to do it or don’t know exactly how to do it. If you want to get into photography but can’t afford a high tech camera, start with your phone while you save up to buy one. Although it might not have the fancy features more advanced equipment can offer, it will teach you how to be resourceful, play with lighting and focus to create interesting shots. This might even lead to you becoming a better photographer once you get your hands on a camera since you will have had to learn how to take advantage of your space and environment to get those jaw dropping shots.

Similarly if you want to become an artist but don’t know how, or don’t have the means to obtain premium art supplies, start with any pencil you have around your house and draw on any piece of paper you can find. Use a pen and your grocery receipt, just keep working and trying and practicing your skills. Sculpt out of empty containers and candle wax. Then once you save for the supplies you need you’ll have the skills and ideas prepared to execute a vision that’s been mulling to perfection.

Maybe you just want to get out more, but don’t know where to go. Start by going for walks at the park closest to your house. Check out the fliers they have pinned on board, see if anything interests you. Look around while you’re there and see what you can see. Do you see any buildings? Any other trails or parks? any people? What are they doing? Just by gong somewhere, anywhere, it can lead to to your next step, even when your not sure where you want that next step to be.

More importantly, start talking to other people about what you want to do. You never know people’s stories, just like they don’t know all of yours, and they might also be interested in your passions, or have a friend of a friend who is and can help you. They might know a lot about grant writing, or showcase events, or where to get cheap courses in a particular subject. Or they might just be a place to come to for support. Talking to people is probably the scariest piece of advice from this article, but always remember that when you are doing your best to build the life you want, if someone has a problem with that it is a reflection on them and not you. Connecting with your community will open so many opportunities that you didn’t know existed. They may start small, but the more time and love that grows from you persistence, the more you will see your relationships, and dreams expand to places you didn’t dare dream possible.

If you start doing what you want with what you have, you will begin to develop the skills to become a master at your craft when you get to where you want to be faster. You are also training your brain to act resourcefully and always stay on alert for opportunities that are around you. As you immerse yourself in the world you want your life to become you’ll find a new perspective on what it is you wanted to do that will help you to evolve. The key is beginning. No apologizing for not being prepared, no procrastinating because you are not ready, no waiting because maybe there is something you might want more later. Begin today. With exactly what you have. Right where you are at.

You never know what can grow from those first steps

Conscientious Consumerism: Why the smallest steps towards sustainability are still important

There seems to be a rift in the rhetoric surrounding the impact consumer choices have when it comes to helping the environment. Last month’s enormous demonstration of students (and other activists) demanding systemic change from political leaders in a world wide movement was largely inspired by the work of activist Greta Thunberg. It brought enormous attention to a wide range of industries and powerhouses impacting global climate change. Many argue corporate power houses need stricter regulations, and that nonrenewable energy needs to be immediately banned for any measurable change to take place. Many critics of small scale changes claim metal straws, package-free shampoos, and meat free life styles just aren’t enough to save the planet. Why bother with small changes like that?

Ignoring the power of small changes is the result of small thinking. These people think they are doing a service by pointing out the deep rooted societal issues that prevent immediately impactful change, but they ignore the critical benefits small efforts towards sustainable living offers. The mindset developed from making small changes keeps the concept of environmentally conscious practices in the forefront of people’s minds. It can start with switching to reusable bags when grocery shopping, and then move into reusable cups, then bringing silverware for lunch to work, and then choosing to purchase from companies who put effort into sustainable practices. The growing movement of people concerned about the environment compared to even just a few years ago shows evidence that knowledge and small changes to instill a sense of personal accountability do matter. The more we learn to then come together then in mass, the more we have the ability to send a powerful message to the powerful how we want the larger contributors to climate change to be handled.

Since small changes are so important here is a short, and by no means complete list of ideas as to how you can make sustainable and impactful choices everyday:

  1. Reusable Bags: basic, essential, and impactful. Many grocery stores sell canvas bags to pack with products, and there are insulated ones to keep frozen foods cold the entire trip home. These bags often hold more food- so less trips when unloading later. You can even find bags with fun designs that are personal to you. My favorite to take is my Spider-Man grocery bag that has tons of room to fill up. Keep a few in the car so you don’t forget them for any spontaneous trips. Here are some for as cheap as 54 cents.
  2. Take your lunch to work/school: preparing your own food will save you money, but many frozen meals or fast food places produce a lot of waste. The packaging and products are harsh on the environment. Packing your lunch in reusable containers, bringing reusable silverware, and cups/bottles for your drinks will cut an enormous amount of waste.
  3. Get crafty: re-purpose old materials to make something new instead of buying brand new from the store. My dad and I built the headboard for my bed from pallets that were going to be thrown out at a warehouse. Not only was this saving waste, it saved a ton of money, only costing a few dollars for a can of stain, and a day of our time to piece it together. Check out resources like Pintrest, YouTube, and HGTV’s website to find tutorials on how to transform old materials into something entirely new.
  4. Thrifting: Thrifting doesn’t just have to be for clothes- although I have found many of my favorite pieces second hand. I have an enormous desk that was only 10 dollars (chair included) I got when a local hotel redesigned their rooms and sold off all their furniture. Check yard sales, the oldie but goodie thrift shops, and also locally owned specialty thrift stores. These shops tend to select pieces that are more unique and stylish than a generic second hand shop.
  5. Shop Small: speaking of locally owned, shopping from small businesses and from businesses local to your area is a great way to connect with your community and to help the local economic environment. Your dollars go even further as demonstrated in study published on score.org, small businesses tend to pay it forward with 75% donating an average of around 6% of their profits to charities each year.
  6. Insulate your house: Make sure your home has proper insulation to prevent heat and cold from escaping during the particularly hot and cold months. Also make sure to keep up with windows and doors to ensure they are properly sealed. This will save energy and money on your bills.
  7. Stay informed: The more we learn about climate change, they more we know how to prepare and the steps we can take to help. This doesn’t mean you need to read piles of scientific journal articles or dry publications (although if that floats your boat, go right ahead). There are many sources to get information and stay up to date about what’s going on. Many Youtube channels offer sustainable solutions and ideas for limiting waste. Here is a link to one of my favorite channels offering a ton of sustainable content, run by Madeleine Olivia, who also has a book about sustainable living tips launching in January of 2020. Other fun ways to find information are websites set up by people you find interesting that are creating change. Rapper Lil Dickey released a song called “Earth” last April, and with it launched a website dedicated to providing information on climate change, with a plan of action as to how experts say we can battle the issue at hand.
  8. Speak up: If you see people littering, disrespecting the planet, or denying scientifically backed facts, stand up for the Earth. We may not be able to live completely waste free lives at every moment of everyday, but we can do our best and encourage others to do their best as well. Greta Thunberg started out as one activist who inspired millions to take to the streets. Kindly, respectfully, and courageously speak up when you see gross circumstances of denial and mistreatment of the planet.

This list is no where near complete, but offers a brief look into how no matter where you are at, you make choices everyday that will impact the world around you. Mass and systemic change will be necessary, but the shift in mindset of the general public is also a crucial component to overcoming the climate crisis. When we start thinking about putting the needs of the Earth before our immediate convenience, it begins to change a self-centered mindset to a more caring one. You don’t need to change every aspect of your life all at once, and be able to fit your waste for a year in a mason jar to make progress. Every choice, everyday is a step in the right direction. Even if it just means skipping on the meat twice a week and bringing your own silverware to lunch at the office everyday, every choice counts. You count. Your ideas and decisions matter, big or small , at the corporate level, on a personal level, in your home, on the street, you change the world from where ever you are at.