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10 Ways to be more sustainable

Posted Oct 7, 2013 Posted by 2 Comments

Guest post by Wanda Urbanska

One of the unheralded media stories of the Great Recession has been the rapidity with which Americans have embraced simple living. We’re reclaiming frugality as a value while questioning the reckless consumption of the recent past. We’re eating more healthfully, taking up gardening and selecting smaller, more eco-friendly living spaces.

Following are 10 resolutions for 2011 that can enhance your sustainable profile.

1. Pay in cash. If you find that you’re having trouble making ends meet (or just want to save more), consider cutting your umbilical cord to plastic. That is, debit and credit cards. If you allocate a certain amount of money for spending each week or month–and dole it out to yourself in hard, cold cash–it’s easier to see your greenbacks dwindling and reduce discretionary spending.

2. Contract your living space. Back in the 1990s, Sarah Susanka identified–and helped to popularize–a trend called “the-not-so-big” house movement. Statistics for new house starts have finally caught up with her vision. In the second quarter of 2010, houses under construction in America dropped dramatically in size–to 2,000 square feet–from 2,250 as recently as 2007, according to a US Census report. In your own realm, consider downsizing or reconfiguring the space you have now (rather than adding on).

3. Join the clean plate club. Food waste in America is shockingly high. Up to one-fifth of the food in our nation ends up in the landfill, according to the US Department of Agriculture, amounting to tens of billions of dollars in food waste. When grocery shopping, buy only what your family can eat. When dining, don’t heap more on your plate than you can consume. (But if you do, save leftovers for another meal.) When eating out, carry in your own reusable containers so you won’t have to choose between overeating or bringing home single-use doggie boxes.

4. Always eat sitting down. Never multi-task with a meal; make taking nourishment the main attraction. Ritualize your meals and take time to savor your food. Never eat when standing, walking, riding in a car, or talking on the phone. When the focus on your food, you’re likely to chew longer, enjoying it the slow way.

5. Join a club. It may sound corny to join the Rotary, Kiwanis, a book club or the Junior League, but the fact is that people who join clubs–and take their membership seriously–reap tremendous health benefits. Being part of a community cuts the risk of debilitating social isolation.

6. Use less paper. Think before you print documents in your home office or at work. Printing not only uses valuable paper, but helps to fatten files that one day you’ll be forced to go through. Print only when necessary.

7. Plan your garden. “Just living is not enough,” wrote Hans Christian Andersen. “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” This is the right moment to start planning your garden. Flowers fill the soul and remind us of all that is beautiful and transient. Be sure to plant edibles, as well. For the novice, go for the obvious: tomatoes.

8. Hang out your wash. Yes, you can do it–even if you live in the city. On my recent sabbatical in Poland, I found that almost everyone line-dries their clothing–even in the wintertime in Warsaw. Use a portable drying rack or hang things in your bathroom. Not only does it cut your energy bill, but it will lengthen the life of your garments and linens. If you have a yard, press your clothesline into service or install one.

9. Delay purchases. If you see something you want to buy, make yourself wait–a day, a week, a month. This reflexive delay action will save you money, reduce consumption (and carbon emissions), and cut the clutter before it gets to your home. You’ll end up purchasing only those things you need–or really want.

10. Stop and chat. Cecile Andrews, author of Slow is Beautiful (New Society: 2007) established a “stop and chat” campaign in her neighborhood in Seattle. She recommends slowing down and taking time to connect with people in your community. Talk to your neighbors when you’re out walking your dog. Make small talk with the supermarket cashier. Everyone benefits.

[For more ideas on sustainable living, check out these books, available at Monroe County Libraries.]

Raleigh, North Carolina-based sustainability advocate Wanda Urbanska is the author of eight books, the latest of which is The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life (Krause: 2010).

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  • ray said:

    i am doing alot of stuff to avoid dollars. fishing planting gardens taking in roomates And doing car pools everything to reduce to the power of the dollar over my life, And secondary reducing my dependency on it and then lastly putting a system in place that reduces my need for it in the future.

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