The start of a new year can bring some reflection on the last, some goal setting, and sometimes a resolution or two for improvement. Switching over to a more sustainable lifestyle seems to be a popular New Year's goal - it can be aspirational to see what others are doing, but overwhelming at the same time in fitting it all into your life; plastic is everywhere and there are actually so many things to change when you wade into the pool of considering where you might be at. I can easily see why it can be tough to approach what feels like a total lifestyle transformation unless we have some of that January 1 momentum and are sitting down to set some goals, pen and planner in hand. If you're in this boat, I'm here to help you get started with a leg up; I've made quite a few missteps myself when starting out, and it doesn't have to be so difficult, that's for sure!
I am going to start this off by saying that I will always be an advocate for slow *true* change, and I hope to put together a route to help you in getting started over the next few month's newsletters, so be sure to sign up. I know this route can lead to longer lasting and sustainable (hah) growth into a more sustainable, conscious lifestyle.
1. Decluttering, Organizing + Sustainability: they can actually go hand-in-hand
Decluttering and organizing every last thing is such a big theme in January (well, isn't it always, these days); we are indoors more, in more of a cocoon phase of going inward and being quieter, and naturally turning to our living environments to clear out the old and build something new. What you may not have connected with this routine is that it is actually the best way to start out with your sustainability journey in a slow, thoughtful manner.
While decluttering has a person taking stock and removing what is no longer needed or wanted, it can also show you just how much you do have. In slowing down our consumption to become more sustainable, our mindset needs to shift from what we do not have (which encourages more buying to fill that space) to what we do have. We may notice, upon organizing and opening drawers to declutter, that we actually already have a lot to be used up before we need more. And, as I will repeat forever and ever: it is never sustainable to throw out perfectly good items in the name of bringing in something new that is "more eco." If it already exists, it needs to be used fully and completely, rather than tossed, before swapping or leaving it behind.
How to Start: reflect, then use it up or manage it properly
Rather than racing out to buy all new "sustainable" options, take stock and use items up one by one. If you already have three plastic toothbrushes to use before you need more, use those instead of running out to grab a degradable toothbrush. Open up your cleaning supply closet and consolidate part bottles or line them up in the order to be used up. This way, you can visually see how much you have and when those bottles get low, you can switch. It doesn't mean you can't use the "in between" time while you're using things up to research your options and figure out what will work best for you, but it will help you decrease that immediate need to buy (a tough consumer habit to break) and be more affordable and help to simplify all at once.
If it's not something you plan to keep, take the extra step to make sure you're managing that waste properly. Don't toss it into the dump if it is still useful to someone - a food bank, a shelter, a thrift shop, a buy nothing group online. The last resort should be to toss it, and only after ensuring it can't be recycled somewhere (even ratty old textiles and clothing can be recycled in Kingston). A key shift is taking responsibility for the waste we create, and this is the first step.
Finally, consider where the things came from that you're removing or organizing and never using. Is there something to be addressed there or a way to limit the same accumulation of items? Stopping the beginning of the cycle is the only true way to ensure you're not going to be right back organizing and decluttering the same things over and over.
2. Reflection is Key - Reflect ahead of time to avoid some personal triggers and traps
I think most of us have a reason that sustainability has become a goal in our lives. While the news is rough lately, and the climate crisis is ramping up as the largest issue of our lifetime, we can also experience periods of apathy or disconnect that is part of being human and sometimes completely necessary to keep going in these wild times. If you want to make sure you can switch your mindset over long term rather than simply the first few weeks of January, it can be helpful to go about setting up a few ways to be successful before you get into it.
I have also found in my own personal journey that a few tools can be really helpful to have in place at the get-go:
- A Why: my why is always going to be my sons' futures. I was always interested in the environment, but things solidified my motivation to be better when my boys were born. Really figuring out a personal reason to stay on this path is important; the fire you feel watching a documentary can fade, or the urge to be less wasteful can disappear when you see something new and cool at Costco. Finding a touch-point to return to when making decisions that support this newer, better way truly helped me walk away from several things my old self would haven't considered twice.
- Top of Mind: I also found placing something that represented my why in my face throughout the day helped immensely. I used to collect a photo of my boys (one where we had a particularly good memory that connected us to the natural world and made me want to do better) and make sure it was the wallpaper on my phone and laptop. I went through my social media feeds and favourited accounts and followed hashtags that inspired me to do better and expand my vision of what I could do. My motivation was held in front of me, and in the front of my mind.
- Removing Bad Influences: I had a rough go at the start of trying to decrease my consumerism because the same old things pulled me right back in, until I realized they were triggers to spend. I had to remove influencers and accounts on my Instagram feed that were full of links to fast fashion. If I ended up buying something out of control, I reflected on why it happened when I was standing in the returns line at the shop or post office. I asked friends that would typically meet me to wander Home Sense to go for a walk instead. I set up a better set of options for the next time I was feeling down to take care of myself in a more restorative (and less destructive) manner rather than shopping. It took a while, but I think if I had of pondered my triggers sooner rather than failing many times, it would have sure helped!
- Wait Periods: these will always be my favourite; I will never stop mentioning them! A wait period is a period of not allowing a purchase that presents itself to you in order to reflect on whether it is actually necessary. Anything can be acquired later, and if not, it wasn't meant for you because you had to make the decision in a space of being pushed instead of being in control. I can't tell you the number of times I realized I had other things I could use in place of the item, or simply walked away from the item as I realized it didn't fit a calmer, more sustainable version of my life. It has saved a ton of cash and also helped me use of what I've already purchased before buying new.
How to Get Started: Reflect
A few ways you can use this information on how I failed miserably many times (hah!) is to go outside and sit in a natural space or go on a walk. Think about your why, consider some of your past purchases that have been a regret, and dig deep to figure out why they happened. Spend some time putting your why in a very visible space for you, revamping your Instagram feed to inspire rather than just sell to you, and think about what a reasonable wait period might be for you in order to set the stage to help you move forward long term.
3. Find your Community + Supports
This journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle can be fun, but sometimes it is rough. It is good planning to expect and ensure some help along the way. I have found others that are on the same journey to be motivating for myself without them even trying to be/knowing it. We are all able to access this "work" from different angles and find different things easier to do depending on our unique lives and abilities, and chatting about it all and working on things together can help us build success in our little circles and beyond. It can be terribly lonely, sometimes tiring, and usually difficult to be living in a counter-cultural way (thank you to Mary Ann of Find your Gold for putting that feeling I've had into words!) and hard to keep going without someone to chat it out with and hold your vision when things get tough. Luckily, some of these shifts are becoming a wave in our society, but the more people working on things in a less perfect way in solidarity, the better!
How to Get Started: Build a community, but don't expect it to be widely adopted, especially at first
A great first step is to reach out and chat with a friend to get started - maybe you know someone that inspires you already that you can connect with. Don't be surprised if not everyone in your life is on board; that is just par for the course. I have noticed that a lot of people that were resistant to changes a few years ago (and made it very clear they thought it was ridiculous/laughable/stupid) are now approaching it on their own when they see it can be successful/a cost savings/a simplification. And some never have, but that doesn't mean they never will. You can only lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. So just worry about your own road and the values you want to live by. Know that simply doing this is inspiring, maybe without you even knowing; actions always have more impact than talking about what people should be doing anyway. Don't worry too much if someone isn't there yet or let yourself get bogged down by comments or other's actions in a way that can derail you - chat it out with your sustainability partner and move forward.
Another way to get started here fits with the other set of communities we have that I've mentioned above - setting your social media straight on how you want it to influence your life and how you use it. Follow accounts that inspire you to be better, unfollow those that prevent you from being better (and this really goes for any account that makes you feel worse or unhappy in some way, sustainability set aside). In this new realm of additional social circles online, we need to be on guard for the types of friend groups we form there and what we allow into our mental spaces in order to grow where we want to go.
And as always, come in and see us at the shop! We love chatting sustainability and figuring out solutions and hearing what's worked for you - your community can exist outside of your own circles and expand into what's in your own towns and spaces. Building community solutions is how we make this real and lasting.
4. And finally - Set a check-in, for more reason than simple accountability
Last but not least, choose a time and set it now to check in on how you're doing with things. Maybe this looks like a week, or maybe a month, maybe a couple throughout the year ahead - and set it in your phone or your agenda.
When you do your check-in, review some of the pieces above: do you need to check in with your sustainability bud, review your social media circles, check in on those stock piles that you're working through before making a swap, reflect on any impulse purchases? What are you doing well with - this is more motivational than anything for myself; a good walk up the hill and a moment to turn around and see how far you've come. It can help you see the value of taking the slow change route for long term improvements. This can keep motivating you, helping you to build from where you started, and keep you moving forward during tough times.
What do you think? Any tips to get the New Years crew started? Drop a comment below and stay tuned for our next blog posts - it's my personal intention to get a few more of these posted this year!