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.

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.

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.