Saturday, August 4, 2012

Small Steps toward Natural Living

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been thinking a lot about how to live more simply.  I have been wanting to take steps toward more natural living as well, and I think the two can definitely be related.

I find living simply to be difficult because it involves not having everything you want and stepping out of the comparison cycle.  But in general simple living seems pretty...simple.  It's easy to figure out what to do; it's just hard to follow through with it.

Living more naturally, however, seems a lot more challenging.  When I read about eliminating processed food or canning I think, "Oh man, that sounds like so much work!  That's anything but simple."  This is perhaps because I have been confusing simple with convenient, when they really aren't the same thing at all.  Many of the choices we make for convenience are because our lives are so jam-packed we don't have time/energy/money for simplicity.

I hadn't thought too much about natural living until recently.  Really it is through reading "natural parenting" blogs and information that I also came across a lot of people interested in natural living as well.  I guess it makes sense.  But while my natural parenting tendencies seemed to come naturally, other natural choices have been more of a struggle.  Probably because I really love convenience.  And I really love boxed Mac N' Cheese.

I also find natural living to be rather overwhelming.  People talk about growing their own foods, home-making condiments, avoiding processed flour, or using solar power and I think, "I don't know how to do those things!"  I tend to pick up on the slightly more bizarre ideas ("Ooh, cloth toilet paper!  That's such a good idea.").

Some things are trickier in China. When it comes to food, I have no idea where our meat comes from.  I know our milk is local, but I wouldn't be surprised if the cows and chickens are pumped full of steriods, antibiotics, and hormones. We buy all our fruits and vegetables from the small sellers at the vegetable market.  They could either be organic, covered with pesticides, or grown with "humanure." I really don't know and I have very little control over it.

Some things are easier in China.  It's easier to stay away from pre-packaged foods because there aren't as many.  I love the convenience of a can of cream soup, but when you can't get it you discover it's not too hard to make a close-enough approximation.   We can buy local honey (probably from the bee-keeper just down the street) and local yogurt, although it includes plenty of sugar.

So between the things I can't do, try to avoid doing, and aren't sure about, living naturally can seem overwhelming.  Therefore, I have been trying to think about small steps I can make to live a healthier, simpler, more natural life.  Just because I will never live on a self-sufficient homestead doesn't mean I should give it all up as a lost cause.  I think once I start making some small steps in the right direction, some bigger changes will be easier to put into effect.  Here are some small things I'm doing:

- Making some of my own bread - less processed, no preservatives, and more whole-wheat flour than the vaguely-wheat bread we can buy.  And it's really surprisingly easy.  The rising and cooking take a while, but that actual hands-on time is 15-20minutes.

- Made reusable produce bags.  I always use reusable grocery bags (or rather, I usually put everything in a large backpack to carry home) but we collect tons of small produce bags since we buy small quantities of produce every few days.  I bought a $1.50 sheer curtain from Goodwill and sewed up some quick bags.

-Cooking with more tofu and beans and less meat.  I like meat and don't think meat is essentially unhealthy.  I just think we tend to rely on it too much.  Also, tofu is about 1/5 the price of meat (at least in China) and beans are much cheaper as well.  As students, this has become more important to us.  When I do cook (which I'm trying to do more of - baring this summer when I'm doing NONE!), I try to use less meat and add more veggies instead.

-Plan to use cloth diapers next time around.  I really hated how many bags and bags of diaper trash we went through.  It's not at all hard to imagine filling up the world's landfills when you see how much trash is produced from one child in diapers.  I also dislike how much we spend on diapers every month!

-I've started using vinegar as a household cleaner.  Vinegar has natural antibiotic properties (and the smell goes away when it dries).  I have still used bleach for some things (like persistent mold), but I'm glad to be inhaling a few less chemicals.

-I just bought my first Dr. Bronners all-natural soap.  It is organic and fair-trade with natural scent.  It's also very concentrated so a little bit lasts a long time.  It has a large variety of uses but mostly I'm planning to use it just for soap.

Now I'm not saying, "Yay me, I'm so progressive and I can't believe you still use soaps with chemicals and eat store-bought bread."  (snooty nose sniff).  I'm not trying to brag or act miss-natural-ier-than-thou.  Partly because snooty people are abnoxious and partly because I'm not very natural at all.

For example, I really like drinking coke even though I know full well it has no redeeming qualities (except caffeine, which I do consider a redeeming quality).  In fact, I have a weakness for all kinds of processed sugar.   I definitely ought to cut my sugary/corn-syrupy calories down again.  I also just bought a tablet computer, and even though its to replace my old laptop, I'm pretty sure there is something in the definition of "tablet computer" that says ("Warning: This product is 100% not natural and guaranteed to make your life less simple.  It will, however, make Facebook that much more accessible.")

So it's a work in progress.  Hopefully next year I can tell you about more natural choices I'm making.  What are some things you do to live more naturally?


Candy said...

'Sounds like you've been reading my "Mother Earth News." I use lots of vinegar to clean. It's great for floors and numerous other things. I have some other cleaner recipes you might like. With vinegar, washing (or baking) soda, borax, and Dr. Bronners you can clean anything!
I love the "more simple, more natural" aspect of things but I'm not necessarily great at it. Many things are certainly more challenging in China.

Allison said...

I always find it so interesting to read your perspective from your experiences in China! Also I want those produce bags! I realize that's a consumer-y statement but seriously, can I pay you to make me some?