1. Before You Buy – Use What You Have
Chances are you have a lot of stuff in your closets waiting to be used. I've recently broken a habit of buying bulk. One of my challenges has been to use what I have before moving on to greener and better options. You get excited and want to go shopping, but first, dig around. You'll be surprised at what you have, and using what you have is even better than a green acquisition. In our pantry we still have three boxes of plastic Costco cutlery, 1200 paper napkins, ribbon, gift wrap, moisturizers, conditioners, sunscreens… you get the idea. We're working on it!
For a brighter future…
2. Take Care of The Things You Own
Taking care of your "stuff" values the resources that went into making it. You'll keep it longer and reduce impact by not having to replace it. Your home, cars, clothing, shoes, toys, etc. will all benefit from being well taken care of. And the environment will thank you; if it's taken care of it's less likely to be tossed when you are done with it. It's more likely that you'll be able to pass it along to a new home instead.
Teaching your children to care for their things will impart values that will last a lifetime.
3. Pick Just One Area of Your Life to Green
Wherever you are in your green journey, whether you are just beginning or an ecosavant, pick one new area to work on. Once that's mastered you can add another, another, another… you get the idea. Living a greener, healthier life is a journey that starts with one step.
4. Buy Organic
Start buying organic in a new area of your life. You may have bought organic food, or this might be new for you. You may buy organic dairy, but haven't moved into the produce section yet. Pick a new area to explore the benefits of organic.
If you've never bought organic cotton or denim, next time you're shopping keep your eyes and mind open. Ask the stores you shop at. Even if you make a conventional selection, asking the questions will help spread the word that customers care and want to see more options. You may even find organic options in places you don't expect. This last holiday season I was able to buy organic cotton casual clothing for lil' Diva at Walmart and Organic PJ's for both the kids at Costco.
Keep your eyes peeled and ASK!
5. Buy Fair Trade
I buy fair trade chocolate. I figure chocolate is something I don't NEED. It's a luxury. If it's a luxury I can step up and make sure children aren't picking my cocoa beans. So when buying chocolate I've been on the hunt for the perfect fair trade organic fix. You could pick coffee, clothing, bananas…again, start somewhere. You'll be surprised how it can inspire you!
6. Buy Quality
Can't find what you are looking for in organic or fair trade? Buy good quality. It will last, and when you're done you'll be able to pass it on. We in the U.S. have become accustomed to buying everything in quantity. We can take a page out of the Europeans' book and attempt to retrain our sense of value and buy fewer, higher quality items, moving away from our culture's more, more, more frame of mind. Look for items that are made in your country too, supporting your own economy.
7. When You're Done with Something – Pass It On!
When you are done with something, find a new home for it. We had a rug that our dogs had scratched. I listed it on Craigslist with pictures of the damage, within 30 minutes I had ten people who wanted it. When we were renovating I listed mirrors, sinks, hardware, whatever I thought someone else might find useful – and they came. These items had been destined for the landfill, but with not too much effort were taken away and used by others.
That said, this is one of my areas of weakness. I have a hard time saying goodbye to my stuff. I'm sure it comes from growing up really poor.
8. Use Reusable Water Bottles
If you don't have a reusable water bottle and a way to filter your water, get one and start using it.
Get in the habit of taking your bottles and the children's bottles ALL THE TIME, and in particular to parties, sporting events, and school. Eventually if hosts and hostesses start seeing guests arriving equipped with their own beverage containers they won't feel the need to buy bottled water for their parties. We put out iced tea and water with glasses.
9. Group Errands According to Geography
This saves trips, saves gas, saves time.
10. Detox Your Beauty
When I first began the journey to detox my beauty routine, I started by using up what I had (still doing this for a few things!) and replacing them with safer options. I encourage everyone to do this. The next item you are running low on something, replace it with something better. Knowing what I know now, if I were pregnant, I wouldn't use the "use it up" method. I would make the switch immediately.
Do this for your children first if you have them. Their developing systems are more vulnerable to the toxins in their environment.
11. Pay Attention to Preservatives and Additives
While you are shopping, get in the habit of reading labels. If you can't pronounce the name of the ingredient, chances are you'd be better off with a different option. You'll be surprised – pick up pickle relish and two brands will contain HFCS, one will not. It's an easy switch to the healthier option.
12. Use Less Canned Foods
Chances are you've heard about BPAs, and concern especially over their presence in plastics and baby bottles. But did you know how we ingest the most BPAs? Canned food. Opt for glass packaging over canned to minimize your family's exposure.
13. Green Your Parties
Parties can be a huge source of waste. We opt for convenience and buy a lot of pre-packaged, convenient entertainment foods. We serve foods on paper or plastic plates and drink from countless paper and plastic cups. Start adding up the cost of all that convenience and not only are you throwing a lot of hard-earned money in the landfill, but that plastic will live there forever.
One year we were getting ready for a Super Bowl party and did the math. For the cost of buying paper goods, we were able to purchase inexpensive white plates, glasses, and wine glasses from IKEA. We use these for our parties – including the parties for the little ones. It may take a little extra effort, but I never have to run out to the store for cups and plates at the last minute. Next on the list is to get party flatware.
You can also find reasonably priced "catering" sets at Pottery Barn, Cost Plus, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
As for pre-packaged food, sometimes it's easy to succumb to the ease of these ready-to-go foods, but for so much less money you can buy really nice, high quality foods, including fruits and vegetables.
You might even find that with all the money you're saving on prepared foods and paper goods you can get an extra set of hands to help you at the party!
If you can't bear the thought of these suggestions, buy eco-friendly disposables. You can find them at stores like Smart & Final, and Whole Foods. Look for plastics that are compostable. This typically means they will biodegrade in a few weeks. Compostable plastics can be placed in our "green" garbage bins in Los Angeles. With a little research you can find out if you can compost with your yard waste in your area (assuming you don't already compost in your yard).
14. Clean Green
Start cleaning your home with green cleaners or make your own formulas using some easy recipes. You'll reduce the toxins you are breathing in your home.
I'll never forget this Oprah "aha" moment: "Clean doesn't have a smell!"
Extra Credit: Use Less Plastic
Bring your own bags to the grocery store. Choose products with less plastic packaging. Choose items packaged in glass. Store your leftovers in glass.
You Can Do It!
I know, I know… I missed so many things. You can do those things too!
I hope these tips inspire you to find new things you can do to have a healthier, happier, greener New Decade!