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5 Things I Learned from My Year of Buying, Using, Wasting Less

My Year Long Journey to Be a More Conscious Consumer

Last year, I committed to a year of buying, using, and wasting less because of environmental concerns and an intrinsic desire to live more and more in union with nature.  I’ve been increasingly concerned about climate change, especially after the shocking reports that came out in the second half of 2018.  The reality is, we all over-consume and waste resources.  We’ve been conditioned as a society to value conspicuous consumption and retail therapy.  Big companies and countries certainly play a large role in climate change, and it is wonderful that the U.S. recently elected many government officials that care more about climate change than in previous elections—ones that will aggressively protect our planet.  It is essential that we hold big businesses and governments accountable for their part in the fight against climate change.  I am beyond excited to see the news stories about cities banning one-use items (including my hometown Albuquerque!), states building plans to go 100% sustainable, and lawmakers shutting down loop-holes for big businesses trying to get out of new green initiatives (I’m looking at you Exxon).

Living a Greener Lifestyle

I also think we, as individuals, need to hold ourselves accountable for our role in climate change.  After all, big businesses continue to produce one-use items and fast fashion because it is profitable.  Why?  Because we buy their products.  In that context, it becomes clear that the individual has a tremendous amount of power in healing the environment.  Our money—what we choose to spend it on and what we refuse to purchase—can shape the market and shift the economy away from disposable consumerism towards a sustainable future.  This requires us to be hyper-conscious about what we need and how we spend money.

So how to you unplug from mindless consumerism and live more consciously? 

It was an interesting journey.  First, I had to be completely honest with myself about what I purchase, use, and waste…and how to scale back.  That meant resisting the quick high of retail therapy, thinking about ways to repurpose household items, and taking an honest look at what I actually use each day and what quietly gathers dust on a forgotten shelf. 

Many people think that trying to live more sustainably makes your life more complicated and costly.  I found that it actually simplified my life and helped me save money.  Now that I’ve finished my year of using, buying, and wasting less, I plan to continue going more and more zero waste.  Frankly, we should all be aggressively moving towards greener living given our current environmental crisis. This decision has also transformed other areas of my life in ways that surprised me.  Using, buying, and wasting less meant I was taking better care of myself, saving money, and engaging with my local community in more meaningful ways.  Talk about conjuring positive energy!

5 Things I Learned from Living Sustainably

1. Sustainable living is a form of radical self-care.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sustainability is a spiritual practice. Tuning into the needs of the earth helps me stay grounded and connected to myself.  It’s easy to start moving too fast and become disconnected from ourselves in this go-go-go world.  When I committed to a greener lifestyle, I had to slow down and consider what I really needed.  I found myself enjoying what I had more, skipping needless errands in favor of an afternoon walk, and happily rejecting impulse purchases in favor of money in the bank. Instead of indulging in retail therapy, I had to find other, healthier ways to destress.  I did yoga.  I meditated.  I read.  I knitted.  I no longer used shopping as a bandaid for coping with stress. Instead, I allowed myself to feel what I needed to feel and change what needed to be change for a better sense of wellness and balance in my life.  Plus I realized fairly quickly that if something wasn’t good for the earth it wasn’t good for me!

2. I don’t need as much as I think I do—so my life got a lot simpler.  This year, I decided to stop (okay, severely limit)  buying packaged goods, especially those items that came is wasteful plastic packaging.  It only takes one video of a helpless sea creature killed by eating discarded plastic to make you hate our wasteful culture. As a result, I stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s (except, real talk, for the occasional trip down the wine aisle).  Practically everything in the produce section there was  covered in wasteful packaging.  Suddenly, all the stuff I used to buy there made me think of polluted oceans…no thanks!  I got used to mainly shopping at my local co-op (the bulk section is my new BFF) and a few other stores where could get affordable, package-free goods. I ran less errands, bought less stuff, and generally saved money and time by nixing out anything that came in excessive packaging. 

I’ll admit that that didn’t work so well when I had to make online purchases.  One of the few new items I bought was tights for work after the ones I’d had for years ripped beyond repair.  The Amazon image showed me the tights I wanted and they seemed minimally packaged.  Then I got my order and found that each and every pair of tights in the set was double wrapped in non-recyclable plastic.  My worst nightmare!   So I learned my lesson.  I have have to actively seek out eco-conscious producers who make an effort to include limited packaging (PACT Apparel is a good start to this).  And, to make things even easier, I stick to my basic rule: I don’t buy wastefully packaged goods. Period. See? Simple!

3. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be. There’s a lot of panic around living a green lifestyle—it’s too expensive, too difficult, too time consuming to be practical. In truth, I’ve found the opposite to be true.  I got used to bringing my own reusable bags and jars to stores, buying less and using what I have. I fell into a routine and many of the changes I made were micro-adjustments that had a huge impact., like walking when I could instead of driving. The funny thing is, the more changes I made, the more I wanted to make. I’ve spent more than a few afternoons down a Pinterest rabbit hole, learning about how to go zero-waste. The real shocker? Much of the advice I found was pretty basic—use less, buy less, and be a more thoughtful consumer.

4. Other people are incredibly helpful…and curious about easy ways to be more sustainable. I can’t tell you how many times someone has stopped me in the grocery store to ask where I got my reusable produce bags or to tell me that using my own tupperware for my deli purchases is a good idea (I don’t eat a lot of meat but I like my cheese—just not the plastic wrap it comes in). The stores I shopped at were beyond kind when I brought my own items to fill. I even inspired a few people to make their own shopping routine less wasteful by bringing their own bags. I brought my own containers everywhere, from generic grocery stores like Smiths, to local markets like Keller’s and the co-op. I even brought them to The Herb Store (my all time favorite bulk store in Albuquerque) to stock up on my usual bulk herbs and spices. Each and every time, people were inquisitive, supportive, and excited to see someone shopping more mindfully. I’ve had more than one person tell me that I’d inspired them to start doing the same. Woohoo!

5. You learn to be honest with yourself about what is truly sustainable—in all meanings of the term. Going to three different grocery stores in one week to get everything you need without packaging (none of it available in one place) is not achievable.  Yup.  That was a lesson learned the hard way.   It’s the end of the week and you’re tired.  You finish work late or simply don’t feel like a string of errands at the end of the day.  Real talk: Not gonna happen.  No longer shopping at Trader Joe’s because everything is wrapped in packaging?  Totally achievable.   Never buying anything again ever? Nope. Investing in thoughtful purchases when needed? Yup. Saying no to one-use items? So easy to commit to. In short, to keep my greener lifestyle sustainable, I had to keep it simple, otherwise it was only a matter of time before I would backslide into old less environmentally friendly habits. I might not be able to make all my own goods and give up my car (my job is a twenty-minute drive away and the bus system here is pretty sketchy), but I can invest in quality products by ethical businesses and drive less.

Building a Better Future

The climate change news is pretty scary, no doubt about it. But I also believe that we got ourselves into this mess and we can get ourselves out of it. It’s easy to get disheartened with all the apocalypse-like stories flooding the media. Then I started reading more about people finding ways to clean the oceans and protect endangered species, countries banning one-use items and protecting vast amounts of natural spaces, and individuals lobbying for sustainable colleges and cities. Together, we can do so much. It starts with giving up one-use items and only grows from there.

I like knowing that I’m part of healing our planet and committing to a more thoughtful lifestyle. How do you plan to be part of the change?

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Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational blog celebrating life’s simple pleasures, everyday mysticism, and delectable recipes that are guaranteed to stir the kitchen witch in you. If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is in the everyday, subscribe to my newsletter below for regular doses of enchantment. Want even more inspiration? Follow me on InstagramFacebookPinterest, and Twitter. Here’s to a magical life!