New Sustainable Habits

Humans are choranaptyxic. We grow to fill the available space.

(Fantastic Beasts, anyone?)

If you’ve ever cleaned out the house of a friend or family member who has passed away, you absolutely know this to be true. We acquire so many things throughout our lives, most of which is given away or thrown out. And while some of these things are functional like cooking utensils and clothes, the majority is simply “stuff.” We don’t love it; we just have it.

I’m not a minimalist. It’s not a lifestyle that works for or appeals to me. But part of being more sustainable is making use of what you already have and then only bringing in what you really need or love. So for about the last year and a half, I’ve been very particular about the new things I acquire. I make sure I really need them and that they’re exactly what I want so that way I’ll be sure to treasure them for the long haul.

So I wanted to talk about a few new habits that I’ve picked up while pursuing my sustainable lifestyle goals.

I avoid purchasing new clothes. Unless I’m replacing a staple item (like my seven year old black leggings which had a hole in the knee), then I honestly don’t need anything new. I mentioned this to a guy on a date once (at that point I hadn’t bought any new clothing in a year) and he was legitimately horrified. Mind you, if I had been wearing my hole-y black leggings I would have understood the shock, but I was perfectly well dressed. I tried to explain to him my interest in being more sustainable, about how my wardrobe was already full of variety and well cared for clothing, but he just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Sure, it might be nice to have something new every once in awhile, but I don’t need anything right now. So unless I’m head over heels in love with it or replacing a staple, I’m not going to buy it.

I’ve also changed the way I buy books. Books are my obsession. I read constantly and I love the feel of a good paperback. I used to purchase books in large batches from discount stores or used book shops, but then I would forget about them when something shiny and new came along. It got to the point where I had about 60 books on my shelves that I had never read, some of which I had had for years. So I’m making a point to pair down that number and I’m doing it in two ways: one, reading the old books; two, never buying books that I haven’t already borrowed and read from the library first. That may sound a little strange, but I’m a perpetual re-reader and this strategy allows me to screen for “re-readability” before I bring more books into my home. It’s resulted in fewer Unread Owned books and a more curated collection that I’ve really come to treasure.

Which brings me to my last habit change: framing my sustainability goals in terms of money. I know that sounds awful, but honestly money is one of my biggest motivators. And if this is what I have to tell myself in order to be successful, then I’m absolutely going to do it. I know for a fact that I’m far more likely to follow through on things that offer monetary gain or to refrain from spending money when something is unnecessarily expensive. I have savings goals in mind, things that I’m working towards, and every dollar I spend on something that I don’t really need or love cuts into that. Living a sustainable lifestyle can be more costly in certain areas, but there are far more opportunities to save. I want to be sustainable because it’s the right thing to do, but I won’t lie; framing it in terms of monetary savings to myself (in the long haul, not necessarily upfront) helps me stick to the program.

Before I moved, everything in the world I owned had to fit into my 13 x 12.5 foot bedroom and a single cupboard in the kitchen. Now I have an entire apartment to myself, with room to grow. But I don’t want to grow too much. If I bring something in, I want to make sure that I really love it and that it’s going to last through the years. It’s a minimalist mentality that works for a sustainable approach to life and each of these new habits is helping me transition into this new lifestyle.

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