starting fresh in the new year
These last two years have been a wild ride, thanks to the global panini that has taken swings at us left and right. If there's one thing I'm most proud to say that came out of this downtime, it has to be my level of awareness to what I allow in my home and in my body. Somewhere along the way of ever-evolving consumerism, we've strayed away from having pride in what we consume, to having pride in how much we consume. This is typically an unconscious effect, but become more tuned in to what we consume is excessively crucial.
Moving into a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle doesn't require a complete 180 degree switch up overnight. Instead, I encourage you to start taking small steps of awareness before consuming anything - food, clothing, home goods, electronics, the list goes on. Transitioning into a more sustainable way of life doesn't require purchasing new "green" alternatives to what you already have when you currently already have them. The idea behind sustainability is having the quality of being able to continue over a period of time. You can read more about sustainability here. With that, I wanted to share a few ways to begin a reset as we start the new year.
Before clicking "checkout" on that ad, consider the following:
Do I already own something similar? Is this an item I can find secondhand? Is this a project I can DIY? What purpose will this item serve me? Is it going to bring me joy for a long time or just for a season? Do I really want it, or am I being influenced to purchase it? What is the end-of-life of this item (how can I dispose of it)?
Consider your current spending habits. If this is an area you can or need to improve on, will purchasing this item help that? One trick I use is making a running list of items I think I may want to buy, and waiting at least a week before making a move. If I still truly want it after waiting, then I'll have more confidence in my purchase.
Take time to clean out your pantry. If items are expired, can you dispose of them in an eco-friendly way?
This can mean composting food items or recycling the packaging (if the packaging is recyclable in your area).
Make a pile of food items that you don't typically reach for. Consider if you can utilize them in a new recipe that will encourage you to enjoy them. If you don't see yourself using them, I recommend donating them to a local food pantry or to a refugee assistance program.
Reorganize your pantry to avoid losing track of items that end up getting pushed to the back, and typically expiring as a result. I use bins to separate categories of items such as oils, baking supplies, snacks, and I even have a bin on a lower shelf for potatoes and onions. I also purchased shelves for the inside of the pantry for spices, which I store in glass jars so I can easily see what I'm running low on.
Shop in bulk if it's accessible to you. Most of our kitchen waste comes from packaging, which is typically single-use plastic or glossy paper that isn't recyclable. Bring reusable items like glass jars or silicone bags to transport your items. You'll be surprised at how much you can save just by purchasing items in bulk!
Declutter your fridge and freezer. Labeling and dating items and premade recipes helps to keep track of them.
The average person uses over 3,000 paper towels in a year. In the U.S., we use around 13 billion pounds of paper towels a year. That's the equivalent to 80 rolls or 40 pounds per roll, per per person, per year. It takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water to make 1 ton of paper towels. That's 110 million trees and 130 billion gallons of water to make paper towels each year!
Instead, consider reusable options such older towels or even Swedish dishcloths (plus they're compostable!).
Use this time to read the labels of your cleaning supplies. Scientists regard household cleaning products as one of the most important sources of indoor pollution and one of the most sneaky threats to human health. As our options for cleaners have become more complicated, so has the rise of cancer and asthma incidences. Constant contact with these chemical fumes and residues are likely to be a strong contributor.
Check the back of most household cleaners and you'll start to get an idea that their ingredients are toxic. You'll likely see words such as, "hazardous, warning, danger of irritant, corrosive, inflammable" and more that should concern you. If the product claims to remove years of grease or dirt, imagine what it could do to your body and the environment!
The typical cleaning products include one or more of the "toxic trio" - parabens, triclosans, and phthalates. I personally no longer purchase cleaning items that I wouldn't ingest. Instead, I make my own infused vinegar multi-purpose cleaner using lemon peels, fresh rosemary (you could also use fresh thyme or pine) and add vinegar to a mason jar. I let the infusion sit for two weeks, then strain it into a repurposed spray bottle and add 1 tbsp of castille soap. I fill the other half of the bottle with water and it's good to go! Plus, why do we need a product for each surface, when a few DIY recipes will do the trick while saving you tons in the process.
I used to waste so much money on swiffer pads, disinfectant wipes, and conventional dishwashing sponges (which are a breeding ground for bacteria). Instead, I used up what I had, and when it came time to restock, I opted for more ethical and environmentally friendly options. One of my favorite eco swaps is using luffa sponges, which come from the luffa plant. They're natural, compostable, and super versatile! I use them for cleaning the house and as a replacement to a plastic loofah in the shower.
I didn't realize that I was a slight hoarder until I took a serious look at my closet. There were items I've had yet haven't worn since high school or college and I wasn't sure why I was holding onto them. My best guess is that I wanted options, but what good does that do if they're just collecting dust? Now I'm not saying we all need to become minimalists and only have a capsule wardrobe, but it is important to realize what your style is (or what you'd like it to be), and declutter the items that no longer serve you.
You can consign clothing at a local consignment shop or resell them on platforms such as Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, Depop, and many more. If the item isn't in great condition, consider repairing it or recycling it through a program like For Day's Take Back Bag program. You can also donate items to your local charity or thrift shop. In turn, you're supporting your local economy!
I hope these tips got the wheels spinning a bit. As a consumer, you have voting power with your dollar. Keep this in mind when purchasing items in any aspect of your life! Check back for more DIYs and mindful/intentional living tips and tricks.