So you've decided that you want to start transforming your lifestyle. You want less clutter, less waste, and more beauty in your day-to-day. You feel awesome for having arrived at this decision, and excited to begin. But you're also overwhelmed by the amount of work and conscious effort it's going to take to achieve it. Where do you even start?
I've pulled together this quick-start guide for you, based on my own experience initiating a pretty drastic lifestyle change. While I've by no means got it perfectly worked out, I have learned one or two things along the way. I hope this will help you get a jumpstart on a new and fulfilling way of living!
1. Swap a few items in your home.
Replace plastic and disposable household items and toiletries with alternatives that are made to last a long time. Look for materials that are compostable (like wood, bamboo, and cotton), or are fully recyclable (metal and glass). Start with one or two items, and gradually go from there. Some good places to start:
- Swap your plastic toothbrush with a compostable bamboo one
- Replace shower gel with natural bar soap, bonus points if you can find a place to buy it without wrapping or packaging
- Invest in a metal safety razor and ditch your disposables
- Instead of stocking up on paper towels, buy some washable cotton cleaning rags
Replacing everything in your home all at once is not necessary, and in fact goes against the goal of reducing waste. If you’ve still got nylon floss you haven’t gone through or plastic razor blades that haven’t been used, use them up before chucking them and replacing them with more sustainable options. Change is a process and will take some time. Be patient with yourself.
2. Be prepared with a kit.
Have a zero waste kit ready to take with you when you leave the house, to help you refuse plastics and disposables that may find you unexpectedly. Some things you might want to include in your kit:
- A glass or stainless steel water bottle to hydrate on the go without relying on plastic bottled water
- A reusable coffee cup in case you get a caffeine craving - mine is made of silicon and bamboo fiber
- A glass or metal food container, should you have leftovers at lunch you don’t want to waste and don’t want packed in a disposable box
- Wooden or metal cutlery and a napkin, so you can refuse plastic cutlery and paper napkins in dining situations
- Cloth bags for any purchases you may make, grocery or otherwise
3. Start thinking about where your food comes from.
Reducing our impact on the environment doesn’t stop at refusing disposable items. There are other threats to the health of our planet as well. For example, standard animal agriculture requires a staggering amount of water, and at a time when much of the world is literally running out of water, this contributes to the problem. Consider the environmental cost of the food you eat, and think about cutting down on how much meat and animal products you consume, or obtaining meat and animal products only from regenerative farmers (i.e. the ones you meet at the farmer’s market).
4. Realize that marketing’s sole goal is to get you to buy stuff.
Billions of products are produced around the world every day, and each of them has an environmental cost, requiring precious resources and water to manufacture. Only 1% of products purchased in the US are still in use 6 months after their purchase date. This tells us that most of the stuff we buy is getting tossed within a year. If we’re throwing it away so quickly, do we actually need it?
Only 1% of products purchased in the U.S. are still in use 6 months after their purchase date.
When faced with a purchase decision, it’s important to remember that the sole purpose of marketing, packaging, advertising, glossy photo spreads, etc., is to get you to buy things. That’s it. It’s not to make your life better, to make you healthier, more beautiful, or more fulfilled. It’s to get you to spend your money, and to keep you hungry to come back and spend more money when inevitably the product you buy turns out not to fill the void in your life it promised it would.
When you realize that the system is set up to keep you hooked and constantly coming back for more, it becomes easier to say no, and to tell the difference between what you really need, and what’s just an impulse purchase, a rush of adrenaline, that will lose its luster within 6 months.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever buy things; it’s important to make room in your life for things that bring you joy. But it’s worth stopping to consider whether a potential purpose either a) is truly necessary or b) will bring joy to your life. If it doesn’t fit one of those two criteria, it’s best to resist. You’ll be amazed at how much financial flexibility comes from saying “no” more often than you say “yes”.
5. Tune in to the important things.
Why do we feel that we need to buy things all the time in order to feel fulfilled? Sometimes, we don’t realize we’re already surrounded by people and places that give us joy and fulfillment.
Take some time to put down your phone and check in with the people in your life. Get together with a friend and have a long talk, and do your best not to talk about yourself. Instead, engage with your friend and ask questions. Most of the time, when we’re having a conversation with someone, we are just biding our time waiting for our turn to speak; we can learn a lot from the people in our lives if we make a point to listen instead of talk. We all have friends who are interesting and creative in unique ways. Learn more about their craft and what inspires them.
Spend some time exploring your neighborhood. Hang out in the park on Saturday morning instead of watching Netflix in bed (even though Netflix in bed has it’s place in the world). Take a train or a road trip with friends to a nearby town or wilderness area and just explore. Get outside and use your body - go for a run or cycle to work. Keep your eyes and ears open and see what you notice.
When we are fulfilled by people and experiences, we don’t need to continuously buy things in order to feel complete. Let’s aim to be rich in memories, instead of rich in stuff.