They say when you have a child, your priorities and perspectives change. More recently, especially as the fires in Australia worsened in December, I suddenly felt an extra urgency to figure out what ways I can ensure my child has a livable earth to inherit in the next twenty to thirty years, if even that. And while I always wanted to be a mother, prior to getting pregnant, I was seriously questioning how responsible it was for us to bring a child into this world right now when we aren't doing enough to ensure there will be a world to live in--or at least an earth to live on. And I hate to put it this way, but every extra human we bring into the world is another set of carbon footprints we add to it as well. So, what could I do in my little ways to live more sustainably and protect this earth for my son and future generations?
It all started with cloth diapers, and doing more research into that and taking a look at my every day life, I found little ways to make adjustments. As climate disasters continue around the world, I think many of us oft feel helpless, but there are actually many little ways in which we can adjust our lives to make a difference. And it boils down to two major things, use less and consume less.
1. Taking Shorter Showers
Us Californians are generally used to thinking about water usage, especially in times of drought. Still, many of us (myself included), take for granted our easy access to clean water. And as someone who loves a good hot shower or bath, especially when the weather is cold. I can stand in the shower until I turn into a prune, and they just relax me. Nowadays, I'm much more mindful and try to avoid just standing in the shower and soaking up the hot water. There are still times I know I stand in the shower longer than I need to, but I'm really making the effort to only be in there as long as I need to be in there. I also enjoy a good bath, so sometimes I'll just make myself a bath instead, and that way I can soak in the hot water a bit longer. Water conservation is important, because we have a finite amount of water that we can use, and even less that we can drink. So by conserving water, we also reduce the amount of energy required to pipe in water to our homes and buildings.
2. Creating a Minimalist Closet
As a result of moving in with my parents, I wound up getting rid of a lot of items, including clothes and shoes. And though it started out as a need for space, I eventually started thinking about how my shopping habits leave a carbon footprint. I'm not a crazy shopper, but that's because I'm a frugal person. I love clothes, and I love a colorful closet. I also used to have a stupid amount of shoes. That being said, I have a number of items in my closet that have done me well for many years and that have been versatile. As a Southern Californian, one good thing is that we don't need a whole lot of seasonal variety. We can (or at least I do) often layer our summer and spring clothing for fall and winter. And who says you can't wear bright yellow and rainbows during the winter? So, as I cleaned out my closet I did my own version of sparking joy, and looked at which items of clothing I still love and wear, as well looked at some basics that are versatile.
But more than just having a minimalist closet, it's also about what's in my closet. As I am pregnant, there have been needs for certain new clothing items, so I started educating myself on how our clothes are made and the materials used to make them. There's A LOT of info out there, and I'm still learning. But for example, I discovered that bamboo is a great, super soft, absorbent, breathable, naturally insulating, and naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal material. It's also much gentler on the earth, because it is naturally replenishing (and does so quickly), biodegradable, and creates an abundance of usable oxygen. Along the way though, I did learn that how bamboo fiber is made isn't always the most environmentally friendly process; however, with its increasing demand, many have found and turned to more eco-friendly ways to produce bamboo viscose/rayon materials. So one tricky thing when trying to buy sustainably and intelligently, is really knowing the full picture of how your clothing is made, because for some, being eco-friendly is just a helpful marketing gimmick. Prior to a recent purchase, I contacted the company to inquire about how their bamboo fiber is made and was assured that they use the eco-friendly process. I have also gotten to know some sustainable fashion brands, and discovered local stores and companies that operate sustainably. I think the lesson is that when it comes to fashion, there's not a 100% eco-friendly proof store or brand, because making clothing leaves a carbon footprint no matter how mindful you are. But you have to look at the whole picture and make your decision based on that. It's looking at not just the materials used, but the water used, where your clothes are made, does it need to be shipped by air? What is the store or brand's sustainability practices and goals? It's also about how versatile is this item of clothing for you? Is it a one time use or can you wear it regularly or repeatedly? All those things matter, and you have to work out the balance. It's a lot to think about and can be overwhelming, but I think the more we are all self-conscious of these decisions, the more our retailers will also need to be conscious of their practices. You can also always buy second-hand! Admittedly, I've never been great at that, but buying second hand is probably the most eco-friendly way to shop. While I have yet to make a purchase, there are online resale stores, such as Thred-Up that seem to be great options if there isn't a good thrift store near you. Plus, I know with things like cloth diapering, there are ton of Facebook groups that resell used diapers that helps parents save money as well as take a more sustainable approach to cloth diapering.
3. Becoming a Better Recycler
Over the last year or two, I learned that many of us aren't recycling properly and often doing more damage than good. Don't put that greasy pizza box in your recycling! You'll contaminate everything it touches! I've done my best to better educate myself on what is actually allowed in those blue bins (or other color depending on where you live). If I'm not sure, I'll call up the city and ask. And as much as possible, I try to to donate items that someone else may be able to use. Of course, some things are just not donatable. In those instances, there are some stores that will take un-donatable clothing or other fabrics and recycle them for you. Many will also give you a discount in store to do so. Salvation Army and Goodwill will also often help recycle un-donatable items. Again, it takes some work and effort, but I think these little things we can do ourselves will add up and make a difference. Plus, the more we make the effort, the less effort it will eventually take.
If you have a yard, composting is great! I'm actually not great at this myself, because old banana peels gross me out; but my mother is! She composts all veggie and fruit peels, as well as coffee grounds and tea leaves into her garden. Composting is great because it helps soil hold moisture, which reduces water usage and it also saves space in the landfills. And if you're lucky, you'll be like my mother who sometimes winds up with fruitful surprises in her garden (literally).
5. Consider the Ingredients in Household Items
When you think of the harmful ingredients we surround ourselves with, it's kind of scary. I started switching over to cleaner products even before pregnancy, such as cleaning products I use, skin care and make-up, and I even found an eco-friendly leather protecting spray for my boots (Jak Snow's Magic Spray). When we moved, I noticed a major difference between using Clorox wipes versus the Seventh Generation ones I bought. Being pregnant, I was much more sensitive to the fumes and chemicals in the Clorox wipes than I had ever been. Even using them briefly would make me ill and give me a headache, so that made me wonder how bad these products really are for ourselves and our environment. Seventh Generation is a brand I have grown to love. They make all kinds of household products, and even baby products like wipes and disposable diapers. They're also deeply committed to being active in the climate change movement. Beauty brands I like include BeautyCounter, Osea, and Teami. If you shop Teami, you can use my code: Justine13 for 10% off any order, or check my IG for any extra savings. And remember packaging matters, too! Many of these brands have or are moving away from plastic use in order to be more sustainable.
6. Does Your Baby Really Need That?
You often hear people say babies need and acquire a lot of stuff, but do they really or is that because we live in a consumerist society? This certainly goes for ourselves, too! There are SO MANY baby and kids products out there now, you have to wonder what's necessary, what's a convenience, and what's just a total gimmick. Some conveniences are probably worth it depending on your child, and if it benefits you in some other way like provides you sanity, then it's probably worth the purchase. One major problem is baby and kids stuff can be really cute and sometimes you can't help overdoing it. Like when it came to cloth diapering, while the environmental factor was a major deciding factor for us, it was also the cost savings. However, you can easily break your bank if you start buying every cute new print out there. And the more we consume the more of a carbon footprint we leave. How much we consume is a MAJOR factor in our environmental impact. So next time your child needs something, weigh the need and convenience of the item; but also consider what the product is made of. Is there a more environmentally friendly option? Another thing I always consider is the versatility of a product. My extensive research on cloth diapering led to me making many changes to my baby registry. It's not a completely zero-waste list, probably far from it; but where I could I opted for safer, more sustainable options...even down to the pacifier!
7. Just Go To The Store
My husband and I are guilty culprits of overly relying on Amazon Prime, like I'm sure many of you are as well. It's just so darn convenient, and I oft tell myself, "time is money!" But sometimes we just need to think to ourselves, do I need a plane or truck to get this item to me, or can I pick it up on my way home?
8. Shop Locally
Piggy-backing off the last one, consider shopping more locally. This one, ironically, I find can be difficult in certain situations, and I guess it depends on what's important to you. Depending on what I'm looking at, quality matters to me, and often that does mean buying from elsewhere. And I'll have to ask myself, is it worth buying this item made and shipped from Europe or even another state, or can I get something similar here? That all depends. But shopping locally and supporting local businesses also helps your community thrive, so there are many positives to shopping locally.
9. Carry That Reusable Water Bottle Everywhere!
As a Californian, I feel a need to keep at least one case of plastic water bottles in our home, in case of a bad earthquake. However, beyond that, reducing our reliance on one-time use plastics is so important. So, I try to remember my water bottle everywhere I go. I've also been trying to use re-usable snack packs instead of ziploc. Nowadays there are silicone options, and I recently discovered some of the cloth diapering companies also make reusable bags that aren't just for dirty diapers or wipes, but also any other need you might have, including snacks! Silicone is not biodegradable though, but it lasts longer and is safer to use because you don't have to worry about leaching. It's also recyclable. If anyone out there knows of other more environmentally-friendly options, please do share!
10. Turn Off The Lights
This is probably obvious, and you've probably been hearing your mom tell you this your whole life, but it's worth the reminder. Be mindful of turning off lights and appliances when you're not using them, and also switch to energy saving light bulbs whenever it's time to replace your current ones.
There are many little ways we can all live more sustainably, and some ways may take more time, effort, and education to start, but we have to do our part to ensure there's a future for our children. The urgency is real. If there are other ways you practice sustainability, do share! I am constantly learning and love to hear what others are doing.