Sustainable Living in my life takes on several forms. I've been on this path for many years now, and each time I get on my bike, turn on a light that has a CFL bulb, eat home grown vegetables or water my plants with water I've harvested from the roof, or flush the toilet with saved shower water, I'm putting into practice my version of sustainable living.
Is it enough? Probably not. Can I do more? Yes. Do I need to do more.... maybe. Will I do more? Eventually.
I wrote up and published a list of "small steps" in my church's newsletter a couple of years ago. It came to 23 different habits or behaviors that could be done to reduce use of resources.
I came to many of those small steps in my pursuit of frugality. Each step seemed to lead to a fork in the road. Taking the path of frugality lead me toward other more sustatinable steps, and so on.
My giving up red meat lead to eventually giving up meat all together. Which lead to eliminating dairy and eggs from my diet. Results - Savings at the grocery store, and less weight on James. Also lower cholesterol, less sinus problems, and reduced seasonal allergies. Also saving the world from having to raise the meat that I would have eaten. Again, each step along the way was small, but had BIG affects on me.
My choosing to build rain barrels wasn't frugal, since it cost money, but turned out saving my family huge amounts of money on water bills during my state's drought last year. Being able to water the vegetables with saved rain water greatly reduced our need for tap water. Same with saving our shower water to flush the toilets. It is a small thing, but adds up to large savings. Imagine if everyone used the water in their house twice before running it down the toilet. How much would that save? Boggles the mind how a small step like that can make such a difference when magnified by thousands, millions, even billions.
Gardening. Ok, so I like to grow things. Handed down from my grandmother honestly. Green thumb and all. Sure it is work, but the rewards are many. I get to be outside. I eat fresh food, sometimes right off the plant! I don't have to mow grass endlessly every week, wasting fuel and breathing fumes, and get to use my labor to take care of things that are beautiful and can be sustain my family too.
The small steps lead me to getting rid of all of the grass in my 1/4 acre lot, and building new top soil where before was depleted clay. I forgot to mention the mental rest and relaxation I get from walking around my garden, and enjoying the naturalness of it? That is my quiet contemplation/meditation right there.
Taking a frugal approach to laundry encouraged me to get a clothesline, and a couple of portable indoor racks to dry clothes on rainy days. Saved bunches of money on drying things, our clothes last longer, and it doesn't take much time at all. Added benefit is that solar clothes drying is carbon negative!
Many of these small steps lead to other things. Some I can't do at the house I'm in, because it would be too expensive to put in a brand new gray water system to water trees. But we are planning on "greening" our next house extensively.
I quit watching TV. Ok, so I watch Le Tour de France and other bike races during the year, but I watch very little TV. I find that I can still live my life without the "boob tube" parading endless consumables to entice me into buying things that I don't really need. I enjoy how much better my life seems, now that I don't care what people are trying to sell me, nor do I care what is "trendy" what the best new gadget is, and what the flavor of the day is at the burger joint down the street. Heck, I don't even know what movies are going to play next week anymore. I get that kind of information from friends and family, who always make sure that I see the movies that are good, and skip the rest. And you know what, I haven't felt like I've missed anything either.
Sustainable living also means making choices about our level of living. How much is enough? What makes you happy? I don't mean the temporary thrill you might get from making a purchase, or that feeling you get from externals. I'm talking about inside. What makes you really happy? I'm sure it isn't driving a big gas guzzling car that will take 5 years to pay off, or living in a house that you can't afford to buy in 30 years. Or watching an entire season of some TV series. But I have found that hosting guests at the house, having a community around me, and also enjoying the people and relationships that are important to me bring me much more happiness than any material goods could ever do. And as a fellow blogger from Australia mentions, taking pride in the small tasks that need to get done gives a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Even if I'm the only one who recognizes that the job was done.
Sustainability can be done. It is easiest done in small changes, working toward a goal. When shopping for a new appliance, get the one that is the best on energy use, and that you can afford. When buying new clothing, get what you need, not what loads up your closet. So what if you only have 5 days worth of clothes to wear, and people notice that you wear clothes until they, OH HORROR, wear out! Just smile and tell them that it doesn't make sense to throw out perfectly good clothing. Heck, I have some pairs of jeans that have made it into my "gardening and berry picking only" stack. They have too many stains to wear out in public, but work fine as "chore clothes."
Small steps. Small changes, lead to huge differences over time. But you won't see any differences if you close your eyes and wish to make it happen. It takes making a decision to be less of an impact than you were before. Today. Worry about tomorrow then.