Diving into the “eco-friendly” world can be pretty overwhelming. In fact, sometimes it feels like we can never do enough – am I right?
That’s why I’ve gathered up 8 of my favorite steps into this perhaps uncharted territory to share with you all. I’ve been on the path of living a simpler, more environmentally-friendly, and healthier life for the last 8 years or so, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
One thing I’ve learned is that living in a way that is lighter on the earth doesn’t have to mean spending more money, giving up everything you love, or moving to the middle of nowhere, building your own home, and living completely off the land (though I see nothing wrong with this last one ;) ).
I’ve also learned that the term eco-friendly is more often than not synonymous with health, meaning that when we use products that are more natural and easier on the environment, we are in turn benefiting our own health. Simply put, what is good for the environment is good for us. I don’t think this is any coincidence, but that’s another blog post for another day :)
Here are my 8 simple steps toward a more eco-friendly (and healthy!) home (and you!):
1.) Go back to basics
This is a big one. Whenever I’m trying to figure out what is the healthiest food, clothing material, etc. for myself and the environment, I tell myself to “go back to basics.” What does this mean?
- Using products, materials, food, anything and everything that has been around for generations – what did people use before there was genetic modification, processing facilitates, and industrial chemicals?
- Cooking as simply & naturally as possible – if not all organic & local and the way nature intended (i.e, cows grazing on pasture, not corn), then pretty darn close.
- Cutting out chemicals – in our cleaning supplies, body products, food, materials like clothing, carpet, anything that is in our home.
- Being attentive to what we purchase and where it comes from – “What are the clothes we wear made of? Where do they come from? Who makes them?” These are just a few questions to begin asking if we are looking to have an eco-friendly home.
Now, considering that many of these points can feel foreign, expensive, and time-consuming, please read on as some of these other steps address these issues.
2.) Learn to Cook & Shop for Food
In my time as a gardener, farmer, and environmental educator, I’ve learned a lot about the barriers that prevent people from eating healthy, organic food. I first entered into this world thinking that people just had to eat this beautiful, healthy, garden-fresh food no matter what! Why wasn’t everyone growing gardens!? I quickly realized that it may be simple to grow food; really it is. The hard part is actually knowing what the heck to do with the food. Excuse me, kohlrabi?!
To really empower us all, let’s learn to COOK! If we know what to do with those crazy veggies that grow in our backyards, then we are equipped for this healthful, eco-friendly revolution of sorts. Here are a few tips I have about learning to cook with real, nourishing food:
- Go back to basics
Sound familiar!? This is my top tip for cutting costs and thus enabling us to eat high-quality food affordably. Going back to basics in our food supply can mean a few things: purchasing food in bulk – i.e., dried beans instead of canned (this is cheaper and healthier), growing what food we can ourselves, and cooking from scratch with simple ingredients rather than buying packaged food.
- Make a grocery/farmers market/shopping list
I told you these would be simple. This one is so easy to do but, if I’m honest, I rarely make a real shopping list. I might write down three things on a piece of scratch paper that ends up falling out of my pocket or getting left at home before I can use it.
Taking a few minutes to peruse your kitchen and see what you do (and don’t!) need can make your shopping trip much smoother.
- Use a meal plan
This is a great way to come up with things to eat and avoid going out to eat last minute because you’re unprepared. I confess this is something I’ve not mastered quite yet, but I’m working on it as I know how incredibly important it is when it comes to eating real food (and saving money!)
Here are a few resources for meal planning:
- Attend cooking classes
Whether it’s a local in-person class or an online class, there are plenty of affordable and accessible ways to learn how to cook. Even just picking up a cookbook (like this one) can do the trick!
- Join a CSA
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. I’m sure by now, many of us are familiar with this term and concept. When you sign up for a CSA, you pay up-front to receive 20 weeks or so (depending on how long your growing season is) of farm-fresh produce that gets delivered to a location near you every week. Here are some benefits of joining a CSA:
– It’s typically less expensive than buying (an equal amount of) organic veggies at the local co-op.
– Your produce it is locally-grown; I mean like within 50 miles away.
– You can get to know your farmer and thus ensure that the food is grown in a way that aligns with your values.
– You can often sign up for a work trade program where you get a discount on your CSA share in exchange for volunteering a few hours or so at the farm.
– You get to be a farmer!! The point of a CSA is to open up the farming experience to the community. YOU are one of the farmers and it’s usually encouraged for CSA members to visit the farm, work on the farm, and share in events like harvest festivals.
– You get awesome resources on food like fantastic, seasonal recipes. Most CSAs put out newsletters with each week’s share of produce. These often include recipes and advice on how to use what’s in your share. So if you’re feeling uncomfortable with unfamiliar veggies showing up in your home, you can rest-assured that you’ll be able to navigate the unknown, and have a blast doing so!
3.) Be Intentional
Another way of saying this is to plan and to consider things in relation to your values before making decisions.
Do you have to drive somewhere and it just so happens that your partner is going in the same direction but you each have a car and usually drive separately? Carpool!
Do you really need another pair of shoes?
How can you spend your time more effectively?
Would it be possible for you to start a garden – even a small one – in that extra yard space you have?
4.) Organize & Simplify
This one is for those of us who have ended up buying more of something that we end up having several of at home in various hidden spots. Sound familiar?
Creating a space for everything is really important when it comes to an eco-friendly home. Find ways to organize your space that work best for you. While you’re at it, take some time to simplify – go through what you have and give away or sell anything you don’t need or haven’t used in a long time.
Organizing and simplifying your home yields a more eco-friendly home because we are more aware of what we actually have and more often than not, we are more creative with utilizing what we have before we get more of anything. For example, if I can see and access ingredients in my kitchen readily, I’m more likely to come up with some kind of home-cooked meal than if everything is hard to find and it looks like I don’t have anything usable to eat. Then I decide to just go out to eat because that’s easier than sorting through my junk of a kitchen. If this sounds like you, I invite you to take some time to organize and simplify.
Here’s a couple of great books on simplifying the home:
5.) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The 3 Rs – they’ve become a trendy trio but how many of us really practice them? Learn more in my post about Why the 3 Rs Matter & How to Practice Them.
6.) Buy Used
This ties into the 3 Rs, as purchasing things slightly used cuts back on waste that goes into creating something new. It also tends to be a lot cheaper!
In my opinion, thrifting, finding treasures on Craigslist, and visiting local antique stores is much more fun and interesting than buying something that everyone else has brand new, or even something no one else has. I love the thrill of the hunt!
When we make things ourselves, we can be attentive to what ingredients, materials, etc. go into creating them – from our food to our clothing and everything in between! This means we can ensure that the things we’re creating are healthy and safe for us and the environment.
I am not a pro-DIYer, but like many Pinterest lovers, I pretend to be :) Start small – #2 is a great entry point into doing things yourself. I started into the DIY world this way myself, and have since begun to create my own jewelry, grow a garden, and make a few furniture pieces (okay so that was my husband). I always have fun – at least with the result! – when I make things myself. There’s nothing that can compare with creating something – no matter how small – with your own hands. Plus, bonus: DIY is usually cheaper than buying something already made.
8.) Get Outside
You might not think that doing something out of the home can promote a more eco-friendly home. But, I know that the more time I spend outside in nature, the more I care about the natural world and the more time I want to spend in nature.
As an environmental educator, I believe that being outdoors not only connects us to the natural world in a positive way that promotes a healthy land ethic, but it makes us healthier, happier, and fulfills certain needs only nature can fulfill.
So get out there!