While I strive to live more naturally and justly, I often find it difficult and overwhelming. I have a long ways to go, but I am slowly taking steps in that direction. When a friend recently wrote her top 10 "clean, green, and not-so-mean" list, I was inspired to do the same. And a month or so later, I'm finally doing it! Here are the best/most manageable things I have done recently to move toward cleaner living.
1. Read: Awareness doesn't equal change, but it's a very important first step. The most significant books I have read in this area are Serve God, Save the Planet and Everyday Justice. These books made me really think about the importance of conservation and worry about if the person who made my shirt earned a fair wage. I also just finished reading Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It was really eye-opening to think about how much processed food fills our lives. If you've been around me in the past month, chances are I brought it up!
2. Cloth diapers: Perhaps the most significant change we've made in past year has been plunging into cloth diapering. Not only have we saved a lot of money, we have reduced a TON of garbage. I hate to think about all those thousands of Juliana's diapers we hauled out to the trash over 2.5 years. I was hesitant to switch to cloth with Juliana because it all seemed so daunting. But really it has been much easier than I thought. Yes, there is more laundry (and hauling buckets of hot water to the washer), but once it's part of the routine it's not too much more work.
3. Fair trade coffee: Sometimes even when you recognize a problem (like people not receiving a fair wage), it's hard to know what to do about it. Where do you even start? For me, buying fair trade coffee is a really easy place to start. It is readily available - even decaf - and in most of the varieties you are already accustomed to. It is a switch that requires very little sacrifice or even change. It costs a little more than a big canister of the cheapest brands, but you can enjoy knowing that the people who grew and processed your coffee are able to live off the wages they make.
4. Moving to reusable: I was happy to notice 3/4 of our roll of paper towels is still left -the one I opened when we moved in five months ago. I have realized it is just as easy to reach for a rag as for a paper towel. We almost always use reusable shopping bags, and we try to remember to bring plastic containers whenever we plan to get take-out. I also have some super handy reusable produce bags my sister made (out of sheer curtains from Goodwill). I have a harder time remembering to keep them with me, but I love cutting down on the tons of plastic bags that end up under our counter. Recycling is great - reducing is even better!
5. Ethical shopping guide: This guide is a handy list of some "ethical" companies I have used for finding toys (I discovered Hape toys which makes some great, creative toys) and clothing. It is hard for me to spend $30 on a shirt when I'd prefer $8 at Ross, but I remind myself that when I am buying fair trade, my money is actually going toward fair wages and decent working conditions, while my great savings are at the expense of someone else. Paying a fair price for clothing also makes me really consider what I buy. Instead of buying three cheap things, I choose to buy one fair trade item and be content with the rest of my wardrobe.
6. Homemade stock from veggie scraps: This is so easy and such a good idea, I wish I had started doing this before! Instead of throwing those carrot peels and bean ends in the trash, just put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Once your bag is full, use your scraps to make an easy vegetable stock. Freeze it in 1-2 cup servings for easy use!
7. Cleaning with vinegar: I started using vinegar to clean a few years ago, and now it's pretty much all I use. Vinegar has great antibacterial properties, is safe in the hands of a 3yr old, and the smell evaporates when it dries. Safe, cheap, effective, and all purpose! For some heavier scrubbing, use some baking soda as well. If you don't like the smell, add a little bit of orange essential oil to your spray bottle.
8. Making bread: I have always loved bread and was making it pretty consistently before becoming pregnant with Adalyn, when all kitchen activity ceased for a while, and since then I could never find the time to make it work. Thanks to a breadmaker passed on from teammates, making bread has now become manageable again. It only takes a few minutes to throw all the ingredients into the bread machine. I don't make all our bread, but I have been making more of it.
9. Honey-Garlic-Lemon Shots: I'm not a person who shuns medicine. I think it can be very helpful for things, but I do like to find natural remedies when I'm able to. We dealt with a lot of sickness while back in the States, but I've been able to stave off several colds with this remedy. It's likely that plain raw garlic would do the trick too, but this mixture makes it a little more palatable - though no less potent! Maybe just don't try this if you have an important interview or first date in the next 24 hours.
10. Live in China: Solid, practical advice for everyone, right? One of the things I appreciate about our life in China is that it is easier (at least in some ways) to live more simply and more naturally. Fresh fruits and veggies are a 5 minute walk away. We do a lot of biking and walking (although I've heard that one international air trip is equal to about 4 months of driving in ecological terms, so we aren't off the hook there!). We can't buy a lot of cans and mixes (or they are very expensive) so I have to make things from scratch. Clothes dryers and dish washers aren't an option. We don't have A/C. We don't have a huge house to fill - no attics, basements, or sheds. And moving every few years keeps you very aware of how much you really have
I still have a long way to go. I don't love cooking and value convenience, so eliminating processed foods is hard. I still buy chocolate that I know was likely made with child labor (aka. most chocolate brands). I buy something for the kids because I really want to even though they really don't need it. We still produce a lot of garbage. But with each step I make in the right direction, the next step on the journey becomes a little bit easier!
What are some manageable changes you have made toward more natural, just living?