Friday, July 11, 2014

Guest Post: Sustainable Living

If you read the newspaper or blogs, listen to the radio, or watch TV, chances are you have been bombarded with the term sustainable living, possibly without ever hearing its actual definition. Sustainable: able to sustain; living: one's way of life. If you type sustainable living into Google, this is the definition that pops up: a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources and personal resources. If you are able to live in relatively the same way for your entire life, your lifestyle is sustainable for you, although it may not be sustainable for the world (i.e. you live within your budget and can keep up with the maintenance needs of where you live). If you and the next three generations could live the way you are living now, then it is probable that you are living fairly sustainably (i.e. you grow your own food; if you cut down a tree, you plant a new one). Buying a new smart phone every couple of years, using lots of beauty products, and keeping your house at sub-zero in the summer, are unfortunately not sustainable long-term. It is a huge challenge to live sustainably in North America; our continent is rich in natural resources which makes it easy to forget that those resources will run out if we continue living the way we do at present.

When it comes to living sustainably, many of us feel caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock: the environment; we know that the world is taxed and that we are responsible for the problems we cause or the help we give. The hard place: our lifestyle; whether you are a single woman living in a small downtown apartment, or a retired grandfather working on a hobby farm, you need to provide for your needs and the needs of your family. It is easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of pollution, over-consumption of resources, and poverty; it is natural to feel that we can never do enough. The truth is, however, that even the smallest effort is useful. Focusing on changing one small thing in our life is much more productive than trying to take on the world's problems all at once.

Four things you can do this summer to live more sustainably:
1) save energy: keep lights turned off until dusk; sweep your house instead of vacuum; open your windows at night to cool the house
2) save water: wear your clothes more than once before washing; capture rainwater to use on your garden; turn off the water while you brush your teeth
3) use fewer chemicals: wash your sink and bathtub with baking soda; wash your floor with vinegar and water; cut one hair-washing session from your week
4) buy less stuff: use up half-full bottles of shampoo, moisturizer, etc. before buying more; cut out a few products from your beauty regimen; give handmade gifts

Alma is wearing her homemade leggings from Jennie, and her homemade scarf knit by her then 7 year old cousin

Alma loves the blanket Jennie made her for her first Christmas
Want to do more? Here are some more ideas:

energy consumption
small change: don't turn on lights until it is dusk/dark; sweep instead of vacuum
medium change: unplug computers, TVs, entertainment systems as they use energy even when they are turned off (easier: get a power cord with an on/off switch and turn it off when you go out/are in bed)
large change: when making pasta- boil the water, put your pasta in, bring water back to a boil, cover with lid and remove from heat, let sit for 20 minutes and you will have made pasta using a small percentage of the energy it usually takes

heating in the winter
keep the thermostat lower/don't go through all your wood in a week while remaining comfortable in three easy steps:
1. invest in a good wool sweater (I found my favourite sweater at a second-hand shop for $7, so it need not break the bank)

This sweater is in nearly every picture from November to April
2. wear wool socks and slippers
3. wear long underwear, tights, or leggings under your jeans

cooling in the summer
keep yourself cool by doing three things:
1. open all the windows at night to let the cool (or sometimes not so cool) breeze flow through your house
2. close the windows and the curtains first thing in the morning to keep the heat out (I always hate doing this because I love sunlight in the house, so I often opt to sweat it out instead)
3. wear loose cotton clothing; avoid synthetic fibres (like polyester) on the hottest days as they will make you sweat even more

small change: take shorter showers
medium change: take shorter and fewer showers
big change: take fewer showers and learn to turn off the water while you suds up

brushing teeth
instead of leaving the water running while you brush your teeth, use a cup of water to rinse your mouth and your toothbrush

capture wasted water
anytime you turn the tap on and let it run, waiting for the hot water to kick in, put a container under the tap to catch the otherwise wasted water - water your plants; rinse your dishes; wash fruit and vegetables; fill the dog's water bowl

small change: rather than filling your whole sink, fill a bucket with soapy water to wash your dishes
medium change: better yet, fill two buckets - one for washing and one for rinsing
large change: use the leftover rinse water to clean the sink, the bathtub, or cloth diapers

save your vegetable water (from boiling potatoes, steaming carrots, etc.) to use for soup, rice, lentils

small change: wear your clothes more than once - wear them multiple times if you can get away with it
medium change: wash your clothes in a front-loading washer that uses less water than top-loading
large change: go naked (just kidding)

small change: capture rainwater in a barrel to use for watering your garden or lawn
medium change: use the rainwater to wash your car
large change: use the rainwater to wash yourself

small change: water your garden/lawn with rainwater

Watering the garden is pretty cheap entertainment when you are a toddler
medium change: place mulch around your plants to keep the soil moist
large change: learn about polycultures and how different root and leaf systems can work together to conserve water (for example: one draws water from deep within the soil while another covers the soil to prevent it from drying out in the sun)

small change: buy second-hand gifts or re-gift (just make sure you don't re-gift to the person who gifted it in the first place)
medium change: use cartoons or newspaper as an alternative to wrapping paper for Christmas and birthday gifts
large change: make all of your gifts or give "experiences" rather than objects (i.e. a trip to the beach, a date at a nice cafe, a scavenger hunt of household objects with personal notes attached)

Homemade maple syrup (that's Jennie's brother in the picture)
personal care
small change: use up your beauty/hygiene products before buying more (don't toss that bottle of lotion that is still 1/4 full even though you are sick of it and want a new scent)
medium change: cut back on the amount of beauty products you use (it is amazing how easily you can get by with a bar of soap and a bit of lip balm)
large change: make your own hygiene and beauty products (click each item for link): homemade toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, soap, mascara, lotion, sunscreen, shaving cream, hair gel, sculpting wax, and mouthwash

cleaning your house
small change: use up your cleaning products before buying more
medium change: use multi-purpose cleaners instead of using a different cleaner for each task
large change: make your own cleaning products: all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, floor, bathroom cleaner, disinfectant

Want more ideas? Check out these great resources:

Tara is my sister-in-law and is currently living out a pretty sustainable lifestyle with her husband and daughter in their yurt they built themselves. To read more about their adventures, check out Tara's blog girl in a tree.


  1. Love it! Good ideas and cute pics :)

  2. Very nicely written and I am glad to see the pictures.

  3. Jackie - I loved that her ideas were doable and the pictures of Alma are great. :)

    Anna - Pictures always make a post better, especially when they are of cute kids!