I often think of sustainability as being very similar to yoga. You never master it! You create the time and space to practice it regularly. And you commit yourself to personal growth and improvement. It is in no way competitive. Not with others or even with yourself. It is a commitment to become more aware and attentive. We all enter into our sustainability or yoga practice with our own sets of strengths. For example some can stand in tree pose for hours with awe inspiring balance. That is NOT me! My talent is flexibility! In sustainability like in yoga (and in fact in life as a whole) I use my flexibility to help me find balance. Because balance is my biggest challenge!
Going Zero Waste
I might be a little late to sustainability. It never really occurred to me to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle until I heard the term “zero waste”. I am drawn to absolute terms like this (probably because of my struggle with balance). It appealed to me immediately! The idea of creating a perfect sustainable life was intoxicating to me. I began in the way I always do… I threw myself into research. Devouring every bit of information I could get about zero waste living. I watched documentaries, read whatever I could find and started following zero waste bloggers and social media influencers.
Doomed to Fail
That’s when I found out the bad news. I was doomed to fail! Not only because perfection is unobtainable. But, because my lifestyle was completely incompatible with that of the zero waste gurus I was following. I firmly believe in an ancestral diet, for example, and have found healing in it. I was now learning that I had to become vegan if I wanted to become zero waste. It was possible for me to imagine giving up ziplock bags and wrapping paper but giving up the nutritional plan that had been my only path to health. Not happening! I became disheartened and was ready to give up.
The problem I was facing was one I had faced many times before! I struggle with balance, so much so that it has been my focus word for 8 years!
I tend to have an all or nothing mentality. It has hindered me in almost every area of my life. If I can’t work out 2 hours a day, I might as well forget about it. Don’t eat 100% healthy 100% of the time, then I might as well binge sugar. Unable to switch to a vegan diet, then why bother living more sustainably! See, the thing that drew me to the idea in the first place is the word ZERO and if I couldn’t get to zero then clearly I was doomed to fail!
Then, something magical happened in my life. I became a grandma. And, at the same time my younger daughter (and new mama) decided to go back to school. Guess what she wanted to study… sustainability! I think she felt called to leave the world a better place for her daughter and I KNOW that I did!
I suddenly had this huge why! This big thing to motivate and inspire me! I truly wanted to support my rock star daughter who was so passionate that she was heading to college with a baby. And, I wanted to leave the world a better place for my grandchildren!
Making the Switch
So, I started to seek out actual support and eliminate zero wasters who were critical and demanding. Instead I found people who were focused on the idea that everyone doing their best is FAR more beneficial than anyone living perfectly. And, I had the benefit of having a support system in my own family since my daughter and I were both on this journey!
I also began asking a lot of questions and taking an inventory of my life. I started to challenge my tendency toward perfectionism. There is no way I’d be as hard on anyone else as I was being on myself. This led me to thinking about what advice I’d give to others if they were taking on something new. I immediately realised that i would tell them to do it their way. To lean into their own strengths!
My strength not only in yoga but also in life has always been flexibility. I’m very creative and I can see things from many different angles and adjust accordingly. This is my super power! I realized, if I could see what I was doing, give myself credit and stretch just a bit further I’d be making progress.
As it turned out I was pretty good at a lot of things related to sustainability already. I just hadn’t given myself enough credit! Because I hated shopping I minimally contributed to fast fashion. I love cooking, from scratch, at home so I don’t use many pre-packaged foods & avoid commodity foods and factory meat. I discovered that an ancestral diet that focuses on regenerative local farming can be even better for the environment than a vegan diet. So, yay me! Also, I almost always recycle and I love DIY’s so I often upcycle too!
With some creativity and flexibility I knew I could build upon the sustainable habits I already had!
Making the Change
I started to build upon the habits I already had. As I learned more about fast fashion I discovered that donating my family’s outgrown or worn out clothes may not be the most sustainable option. While I still love to thrift, making sure our clothes get rehomed and worn or upcycled matters. I began looking for people who wanted them and projects I could make with them. Things like t-shirt bags came to mind. They make great produce bags and reusable grocery bags. I’m even making some to donate! I also discovered that cotton makes great cleaning clothes and dusters. This led to my discovery of homemade cleaning products too and I made that switch.
My love of cooking and desire to eat responsibly led me to discover the perils of food waste. This inspired me to create recipes that easily utilize food scraps and develop my 4 S rule, slaw, smoothie, soup and stir-fry. I’ve now shared this rule all over social media and gotten tons of positive feedback about it!
My new awareness regarding sustainability made me even more committed to recycling. At the same time I became more concerned about avoiding products that need to be recycled commercially. I started looking for containers that can be composted or reused. I found that many products can be purchased in bulk in reusable bags or in reusable glass containers. This might be why my husband started calling me the crazy jar lady… haha!
I am constantly asking myself how I can upcycle my belongings. This is my first question when I think of disposing something and when I’m considering buying anything. Can I upcycle it? What else can I use it for? Instead of buying this new thing can I make something similar from something I already have?
It turns out that not everyone in my life is flexible. Not everyone has this talent. My family is not the most flexible! I have a child who has Autism. Because of that our house has always been pretty rigid and change averse. Most of my family enjoys the level of consistency this has created. They love the predictability. No one likes change but when you live in a household that avoids it at almost all costs you get very comfortable and even more resistant to change.
When I started to change things that effected our household it was tough for everyone. Buying new brands because their packaging was more ecofriendly, eliminating fabric softener and switching to homemade cleaning products were all huge adjustments. When I told my husband we were going to switch to unpaper towels he fully refused. He just couldn’t imagine how we would clean up spills and messes without them. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain but he couldn’t imagine the flannel clothes that could be washed and reused. He couldn’t imagine how they wouldn’t be “germy and gross”. Now only a couple weeks in he is getting used to them. He won’t admit it but I think he prefers them.
Giving Up on Zero Waste
I’m completely sure that I will never be ZERO waste! I have given up that idea and have now embraced that i will be learning and growing and challenging myself in this area for the rest of my life. I’m now focused on finding my strengths and building upon them. Taking small steps in the right direction rather than having an all or nothing perspective. I remind myself daily to give myself credit for progress the way I would my friend or one of my kids. So, I’ve learned a lot more from trying to build a more sustainable lifestyle than being more eco-friendly or the 5 R’s. Learning to give myself grace and release my grip on perfection has been life altering! It’s enabled me to give myself credit for doing my best! And, I can FINALLY change my focus word in 2020! I couldn’t be happier!
So, instead of going ZERO waste, just focus on improving and building upon the talents you already have! And give yourself credit for a job well done! You’re making a difference!
BTW… I’m still working on minimizing ziplock bags. I use and reuse them many times. At the end of their use I often toss them with stinky trash inside. If you have any suggestions I’d SO appreciate them!
Also, comment what you’re working on so we can give suggestions or leave a tip in the comments! And, don’t forget to share this article to inspire others to live more sustainably (or give up perfectionism).