Feeling Lost: What to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Homeless

This is something I’ve recently come to terms with and something that has deep roots in my personal history. I don’t need to go over the details of how I came to this realization, but my life experiences and my personal history paved the way for my realization, and I know I’m not alone. Here I’ll be sharing my experiences in hopes that it will help to light the way back for anyone who feels the same.

This began for me at an early age. I wrote about it some in my post on “Why am I Pushing Myself so Hard“, about the trauma I experienced and the sense of loss and feeling Lost. I was eight when things began to fall apart for me. My family had turned their backs on me collectively, leaving me to fend for myself at very early an age.

This is where feeling lost, without a home began to take shape for me. I didn’t feel welcomed or loved by anyone close to me from that day on. Without a place where you feel welcome, a sense of belonging, then you can feel as though you really don’t have a place to call home. I didn’t have the words for it at such an early age, but this was how I felt. Homeless and without a sense of belonging.

Okay, so bad things happen, I’ve come to terms with that. Once you’ve made the decision to accept the difficult things that have happened to you, then you can start to find ways to not only make up for the ways you’ve reacted to those situation or experiences, but also to heal from and move forward in your life.

The Buddha said it best when talking about anger and resentment, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. This is so true from my experience. I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment, as well as blame and pain also. But all it did for me was helped me to cultivate a great sense of self-righteousness and unhealthy habits. These were not the best tools to go through life with.

One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. As you’ve probably guessed, things did not go well for me with this mentality. I found myself alone, with few friends and no real connections to anyone. There were reasons for it beyond my understanding, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And I definitely did not know. The journey was almost always trying, and difficult to say the least. But there are other ways of being and different tools we can use, to navigate life with.

Feeling More at Home

The tools I’m referring to are much like resources, in that they help to bring a sense of comfort and ease, direction to a chaotic life. I’ll share with you some of the tools I’ve cultivated, to help bring me a sense of direction and a feeling of being at home.

Yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for maybe five years. Yoga has helped to bring me back into my body, after dissociating from it for such a long time due to the abuse and neglect. I could comfortably be in my body while feeling difficult sensations that brought dis-ease. And there were a lot of difficult, uneasy moments for sure. But the longer you stay, the better you become at being comfortable in the sensation.

I was dissociated for a long time, so it took a lot of staying in order to feel as though I were comfortable just taking up space. If you have difficulty staying in and cultivating ease in the moment, yoga may be the key to helping you be more present.

Meditation

This one was helpful in many ways. First, it helped me to listen inwardly. There was a whole world happening inside of me that I was completely oblivious to. Tara Brach makes reference to a saying in the meditation community that’s rung a bell with me. The saying goes, “sit, stay, heal”. I like this saying because, as with yoga, the longer you stay with the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise, the easier it becomes to navigate them.

And as a friend of mine Jon said, when talking about a mutual friend who feels like they’re in a cycle of ups and downs, “what they don’t understand is, that feelings become easier to manage the more you allow yourself to feel them”. For me, I don’t think it would have been possible to separate the voice that was beating me up, from the voice of reason and better judgement. This was also difficult, and took time, but it’s doable.

Cooking

Cooking has been a source of grounding for me. The smells while the onion and garlic are frying, the steam that rises from the pots of boiling liquid. It all comes together to make a house feel more like a home. I batch cook, but also have one night a week where I cook a self-care dinner. Here is where I take my time and enjoy the process of watching it all come together. Sure it’s nice to order out every once and awhile, but the process of everything coming together holds a real sense of feeling connected to the act of nourishing yourself.

Friends and Family

Friends and family are important too. If it’s only you doing these things, it can feel lonely, and the point of these tools is to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. Sure, first to yourself, but then to others as well. I’ve recently begun cooking with my family one night a week. This is a chance for us to connect, get to know each other a little better each time, and brings a sense of collaboration, of working on something together. Also, food tastes better when you have people to share it with.

But the bonds are what is most important when we get together for our family night. For me, I never had the bonding that I should have received when I was younger. So building something new, even though it’s a little late, has helped to fill some of that void that had been left inside of me from an early age. It also has a similar feeling as to when we gather for holidays and special occasions. It’s nice to have something special to look forward to.

We share bits of wisdom we’ve collected along the way, stories from our past, and in the process, we build that sense of belonging. That sense of being a family. And this is where feeling at home really begins to take shape. The stores and the shared sense of experience is where feeling those bonds lie. These are the moments we take with us into our lives and help to bring us a feeling of homecoming.

Writing

Writing for me has been a way to explore the ideas, thoughts and feelings I’ve had about my past, present and future. This blog has helped me to go through some of the parts of my life that I had been too scared to look at before.

Journaling as well has been an incredible resource. It has been a place where I can plan what my future looks like by writing down plans I have and things I want to accomplish. It’s a place to visit the past in a safe way by writing down my thoughts and feels about what I’ve experienced. And also a way to stay in the present. By writing down my budget, todo list, and other day to day things that need my attention while I’m living my life. I’ve written about it before in this blog, but if you haven’t yet, check out bullet journalling. This is a unique way to bring the various threads of your life together in one place.

Finding Time to Relax

This is an important one. For me, I have so many things, responsibilities and people to catch up with, that finding time for myself is in short supply. I usually find some time in the evenings. Before I go to bed, to relax a little I burn some candles, listen to some music, read a book and sip a cup of herbal tea to help unwind from the day. Feeling at ease, or like you have some time where you can feel relaxed is so important to our general health and mental well-being. Yet it’s something that we overlook or it’s the first thing to get tossed out when we have loads of responsibility to manage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is a perfect time to order something out, watch something mindless and just be with yourself or another and just be. We put so much weight on ourselves to accomplish so much, that we never really stop to ask ourselves, “why”? Taking the time you need to feel your best also shows you that you respect yourself and your time but also brings a sense of self-worth to it as well. And a little bit of care goes a long way.

Make a plan to relax a little everyday. Maybe there’s a park you enjoy that you can go to when you take a lunch break. Or do as I do and take an hour or so before you go to bed and set up a calming routine to help decompress from the day. Tailor it to your own needs and likes and make it a place you enjoy coming home to.

It’s Your Life, Go Live It

And I feel like this gets overlooked so often that it’s kind of amazing to me. We get so wrapped up in wanting to do as much as we’re able to, for others and what we think we need in life, that we forget to take the time to slow down and find out not only what we need, but what we want and how to best feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds.

What are some of your long term goals? Things that you want for yourself that will bring you a sense of joy and happiness. Is traveling a passion of yours? Write down a plan to visit some place you’ve wanted to go to. Even if you never make it, the act of planning can really bring a sense of curiosity and excitement, of finding new places to explore. As Adrienne says, from Yoga With Adrienne, “find what feels good”, and do that. Because life becomes a chore when it is filled with a bunch of checkboxes of things we need to accomplish. There’s more to life than what’s on your todo list.

And when you begin to tend to these areas of your life that may have been neglected for a long time, here is where the sense of direction comes together. You now have a sense of what your working towards, not just working yourself to the death. So find the things that bring you peace. They will help to make you feel more at home with yourself and with others. What are your resources, your go tos for taking care of yourself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “lost (perdu)” by PATRICE OUELLET is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips, but haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails, and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal (GND) may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from, agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain, a universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the GND is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The GND also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years, to providing careers and livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket, closing some of the gap in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first, but as I continued to read about the GND, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources of energy would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with; i.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the GND isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources and decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure, while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense, but like I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the GND? So in the face of the scope of this expansive proposal, in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help further the movement, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level that are still somewhat in line with the goals of the GND.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your current electric company to switch your current power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts, so I would need to call my energy provider, who purchases power from different sources throughout the state, and ask to purchase my power from a renewable company like wind or solar. The energy all travels through the same grid, so there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This also has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the GND is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms, with most likely fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community by supporting local farms in your, or neighboring city or town.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment, growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavour. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment on food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to liveable wages. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a positive, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense, but the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card, and in my opinion, it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint by making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way, while we’re waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the GND is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable, but we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options other than packing yourself and stuff into your car.

For example, I don’t own a car but I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are a few of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston North, that ends in Brunswick ME that has Portland as a stop and it’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Also, if I want to head south of Boston I can equally as easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far as Maryland, New York City and D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other roadtrip hastles.

Second, if you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train or bus are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day, check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. And if you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper, as you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the GND. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the GND is planting a rooftop garden filled with greens to help promote her cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden for greens, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, everytime you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue, that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported, which means they independently cover green topics, without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to, or find out more about the work they do? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans, they are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So everytime you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives which is in line with their cause and something we can all get behind, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants, to protecting national parks, The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies as well as help communities grow nutritious foods, gain access to clean water and land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with by also helping to provide care for communities experiencing disasters and conflicts.

These three, and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference that you can support. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and search around. Who knows what you’ll come up with. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are, what we’ve gotten ourselves into, and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure, but it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our collective goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sustainable Clothing: Is it Better to Buy Cotton, or Recycled Polyester?

I was looking for a new hooded sweatshirt a few days ago when I realized I only have two that aren’t exercise clothing. One being two sizes too large for me and the other getting used almost every day. It’ll only be a matter of time before the one I wear everyday becomes threadbare while the other is comically large on me and only wear it around the house. So I went to the website of a company I’ve bought from in the past and was shuffling through their products in search of a new sweatshirt.

I liked some of their clothing, the style and simplicity, so the next step was to look at the materials label. The company prides itself on being sustainable, so I figured I’d have nothing to worry about. But when I checked the labels, it said that they were made with recycled materials. I knew this meant polyester to some degree and I was wondering what the ramifications are of using plastic, even if it’s from recycled sources, as the main material component.

My instinct is that using plastics to any degree, including clothing, perpetuates the cycle and need to rely on petrochemical materials. The idea of having more plastic floating around in one form or another is unsettling to me. I’m not saying that all plastic use is inherently bad. I appreciate that plastics have been used to change many people’s lives for the better. But it seems to me that we first need to get our collective plastic consumption under control before we think about expanding its use into more aspects of our day to day lives.

As far as my clothing goes, I’d like to lean towards more natural fibers, such as cotton and wool. I know that at least with cotton, the material will eventually decompose, and more than likely in my lifetime. And a quick Google search tells me that wool will decompose in six months under ideal conditions. But plastic however will stay around for quite some time and breakdown further into smaller pieces, causing all sorts of environmental hazards.

Both small and large aquatic animals mistake plastics for food. Certain whales for instance have been found with many pounds of plastic waste in their stomach. But one of the reasons that plastic clothing in particular is such an environmental threat is that when washed, the fabric degrades, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers into the aquatic environment. There they are consumed by marine life, fresh and saltwater animals alike, as it makes its way up the food chain. As Lisa Messinger from The Guardian put it in her article, “How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply“, when a professor cut open a fish from the great lakes, they found thousands of microfibers weaving their way in and around the gastrointestinal tract of the freshwater dweller.

This is concerning to say the least. According to Greenpeace, 30% of plastic pollution could be caused from microfibers. In their article, “what are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans?“, “Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.” More disheartening news. And the older the garment is, the more fibers it releases, according to a study paid for by Patagonia.

The more I continued to read about the effects of microfibers on the environment, the more I realized that there wasn’t really an option. If I want to live a more sustainable life style, I need to stop buying clothing made from synthetic materials and switch to a natural option.

With all this new information swimming around in my mind, I was left with my new plan, to buy more sustainable clothing, but without much direction. The brand I was originally looking to for my new sweatshirt purchase, had a bullet point under the specs of their hoodie that it was made from, “bluesign approved materials”. This caught my eye, and could possibly be some of the direction I was looking for. So I headed over to their website to see what they are all about.

From what I was able to gather, the Swiss company is an independent resource, with the focus of advocating for better working conditions for employees and a more sustainable way of producing goods during every aspect of their production. A noble cause indeed, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100% sustainable. After all, the sweatshirt I was looking at was made with 60% recycled polyester.

That’s not to say that the company isn’t doing important work. Just because I’ve set my standard at wanting to purchase natural materials for clothing, doesn’t mean it’s the most important one by any means. They also focus on working with companies to reduce the amounts and toxicity of the chemicals they use. As well as focusing on the human element of the industry with fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. All important aspects to investigate and consider when purchasing from a company.

The next group of businesses I stumbled across in my search for sustainable clothing was Certified B Corporations. Another company focused on the ethical production of goods and their effects on workers rights, consumers rights and the environmental impact of the products each company produces.

At first glance, the company looks good. Some of the companies that are certified provide services such as opening jobs to people who have been incarcerated in the past. I used to work at a local bakery with a friend of mine. She was looking for help, and we had worked together at a bakery previously so she asked if I wanted to come help out. I agreed, and while I was working there I meet a bunch of great and interesting new friends. One of them happened to be just in the position I mentioned above. He was recently released from prison and was looking for work.

From what I could gather, when you are released from jail, your hireability gets reduced to zero. He told me how difficult it was for him to find a job in his previous industry and that most people wouldn’t even give his application a second glance. This was sad because he was one of the most endearing people I’ve met. He made some bad decisions for sure, but we all do at some point. That shouldn’t mean that the person’s life should be scrutinized from then on, blocking opportunities for the rest of their life.

This reminds me of another business that I used to go to who soly employed homeless persons. I’ve often heard in the past that all the homeless really need to do is to get a job. Though I imagine it would be difficult for a number of reasons for a homeless person to complete an interview successfully, let alone maintain a job! From finding clean clothes and a place to shower, to printing out a resume and not having a stable mailing address or reliable transportation, the homeless person has a mountain of obstacles to overcome!

So from the perspective of protecting employee rights, I can understand and appreciate the work that is being done from B certified corporations who fit this bill. They also have a blog where in one post they explore a few companies in the fashion industry, and how they are making a difference. One of the companies, Bombas, is mentioned as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold. This is a stellar way to give back to the community. One of the most requested items at homeless shelters are socks, so they’re definitely helping a lot of people.

The one area that wasn’t clear was the research they did, and the numbers they used to score each company. There was general information about what the practices they are evaluating were, but they did not go into detail on the information they used to evaluate the practices. Upon further reading, the information explained that these evaluations were taken by the corporations themselves.

Does this mean that a company is giving itself a self assessment of how they perform in these categories, or is there a disinterested third party that is evaluating the company and its results? I’d like to believe that these companies are honest and accountable for their actions, but with so much ambiguity, it would be nice to know for sure they are being held accountable.

A Wikipedia article explains that B Lab is the company that gives out certifications to companies that meet a certain standard of “transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance”. But again, how B Lab comes up with the standards by which they grade these companies is not totally clear from my research.

From what I understand of the B certification, it is something that a willing company takes as a self assessment, evaluating their performance using B Lab’s standards, and creates a plan around where they find weaknesses in their company. This is definitely better than nothing, and it’s at least comforting knowing that there are corporations out there that are willing to take a look at their practices and willing to make a change for the better. I only wish that B Lab was more transparent with their evaluation methods.

There are few places that I could find that gave ethical reviews on companies, let alone clothing companies. There was however one website that showed some promise. The Green Stars Project. This is a project that empowers people to write reviews of and rate different companies using a system based on a series of criteria that covers topics from fair working wages to the environmental impact the company has on our resources, to the ethical treatment of animals to how a company impacts a community. The list is only limited to the knowledge that individuals feel is important to their ethical standards.

The only downside to this is that it relies on individuals to write these reviews in the review section of a particular item. It’s decentralized, which is nice because it’s coming directly from the consumer and their knowledge base, but from what I understand of the system, there is no way to search for products by their Green Star rating. So if I was looking for an ethically sourced piece of clothing, I would have to do the research to find the company and product, then write a review or hope that there was one already written. There is no database of products that have Green Star ratings available to browse that I’m aware of.

The Green Stars Project does however have a resources page where they list a few sites that do have lists of companies that have done some research on ethical businesses. One of the sites is Better World Shopper, where you are able to search companies by category and grade. Here I found some clothing companies that are listed by grade. So I could easily tell which companies are more ethically focused than others.

Even with the grading system, if you are looking to replace synthetics with natural fibers as I am, you still need to read the labels. But it’s nice knowing that there are people out there doing the work and looking for ethically and socially responsible companies. And that we have a place to at least start our search for better buying choices.

Some of the companies that I’ve come across in my search for ethically sound businesses are very specific in what they offer. For example there are many companies that focus on socks and underwear. So when I stumbled across this post by Whole Body Diary, on sustainable clothing lines, I was excited that there are more people out there searching for more ethical ways to purchase different types of clothing.

Kezia from Whole Body Diary brings up a good point, and one that I am struggling with a little. Many of the companies she lists on her blog are not 100% sustainable. This brings me back to my original question, is it better to buy cotton or recycled plastic. But as Kezia says, not every company is going to hit every sustainable mark. Some may focus on organic cotton, like Nudies Jean company. While others help the larger community, such as Bombas, who I’ve mentioned above as donating a pair of socks for every pair sold.

So our search for sustainable isn’t going to be a perfect one. But if we choose to search for companies that are trying to make a difference on some level, at least we’re supporting the larger whole of the mission, to buy from and support more sustainable businesses.

And there are some companies that do hit a lot of the marks as far as making sustainable clothing goes. One company, and the one I’m probably going to buy my sweatshirt from, is Pact. This company provides a wide variety of organic cotton, sustainable clothing. They are environmentally conscious of the production of their clothing by using sustainable materials as well as organic fabrics, as well as focusing on the well-being of their employees and work closely with the Fairtrade certified organization.

The Fairtrade certification means that the business is working to sustain the safe working conditions of the employee, that the company is protecting the environment, helping to pay sustainable wages for workers, as well as community development funding, according to their website. This is a huge step forward in helping to reduce not only the environmental impact of a company, but also the fair treatment of the employees and workers rights, while building healthier communities.

With this knowledge, finding clothing companies with a focus on reducing the overall harm they could be causing became much easier. I also had to accept that all companies aren’t going to reach the unachievable standard of being 100% sustainable. So the search for companies that are causing the least amount of harm became my new goal.

In this article published by The Good Trade, they cover 35 different companies that have ethical and sustainable practices! This is an exciting find. To think that there are so many companies that are willing to put the effort into making sustainable products and work towards the betterment of workers and the environment. Knowing there are more options when looking for sustainable ways to fill your wardrobe, feels like there is less of a burden knowing we are helping to lessen our impact on workers well-fare and the environmental costs.

I will add that some of these clothing lines can get pretty pricey. One of the clothing companies I mentioned above, Nudies Jean Co, has jeans that range from $185 to $400. That’s a lot of money for a pair of jeans no matter how you look at it. But according to The Food Diary, they last longer than other brands of jeans. Kezia said that her husband’s pair of jeans have lasted four years now and they are still going strong. The website also has a repair service. So if there’s been some damage done to your jeans, you can fix them up instead of throwing them away. So the lifespan of the garment is something to consider when looking at the price tag as well as the production methods.

Something that has helped me along the way, with purchasing clothing on a budget, is to establish a sinking fund for new clothing purchases. I don’t buy clothing often, so when I need something it’s usually small, like a package of socks or underwear. But if you need to replace a winter coat, or a pair of boots, this can get pricey.

A sinking fund is a good way to have a certain amount of cash on hand in case you need to replace items in your wardrobe. If you’re not familiar with the term, a sinking fund is where you set up a savings for a specific item, in this case it would be clothing, and contribute a set amount of money each week or pay period. This way you have what you need, when you need it and don’t have to scramble to find $300 dollars to purchase a new winter jacket that you may have lost on the slopes.

I contribute $25 dollars a pay period to mine, and I’ve decided to cap my fund at $400. This way I won’t look at my fund one day and realize I’ve amassed thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t require that much money! This way I can replace the most expensive article of clothing in my wardrobe while still feeling confident that I can take care of the basics when I need them.

So in the end, some companies that use microfibers that are polluting our oceans, are still leading the way in other areas of sustainability. It may come down to what your personal preference is for buying and supporting sustainable clothing. For me it’s buying organic cotton or wool when I have a choice, and recycled fibers if it’s something that requires them, like a raincoat or winter boots.

And for me, knowing that I’m supporting workers rights, and lessening the environmental impact my clothes are having is something that I can feel good about supporting. Knowing that I’m not just pushing off the problems of today onto the next generation is something that helps me to rest a little easier. And with projects like The Green Star Project, it’s exciting to think that there could be an independent source of a knowledge base, coming together to create a more ethical way to purchase clothing.

And it nice knowing that companies such as B Certified Corporations, Bluesign and Fairtrade out there, putting the work in to help lead the way in helping companies produce their goods in a more sustainable way. And while helping consumers know which companies are doing the work, is also comforting to know. I’ll be linking some of these companies in my community page for those who are looking to make their wardrobe a little greener. And I’d love to hear about the companies you’ve found that are doing good work as well. This is where I leave you good reader, and as always, peace and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Nature’s Coatrack” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Misfits, Co-Ops and Farmers: Types of Markets That Could Help the Environment

Markets. They’re where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us then when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so most of us here go to Market Basket. You may have heard of it when it got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.

As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.

Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that in 2017, United States citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. And who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food packaging but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.

When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds. I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?

For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are even slimmer the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in an average grocery store.

Some grocery stores and most co-ops have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your bulk items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.

Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags they keep in the produce section. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.

And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. Which translates to time. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.

So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).

They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency and are super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.

And finally, markets such as the Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price. The produce is the same and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit of Misfits Market is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.

From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Hay Market Produce                                     Market in Boston MA

Grow Your Veg! How Growing your own Food Could Help You Live Zero Waste

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing in my father’s vegetable gardens. My love for gardening and veg at large started for me while I was a child in the 80’s. Watching episodes of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and helping my dad in his little garden. I remember lazy summer evenings running around the grounds of an old mansion turned public land/park and reservation. The sun just setting  leaving a soft ambient light floating in and among the dragonflies and fireflies, while Van Morrison, ever so faintly in the background, plays his album, “Astral Weeks” front to back 😉

Okay so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the gardens were beautiful. A mosaic of lovingly molded parcels of patchwork land thatched together and yielding fruit and veg of all kinds. It was no Monticello but it had charm. So when I was old enough to have my own garden, a small community plot 15’x15′, I couldn’t wait to revisit some of my fondest childhood memories.

At the time I think I grew tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, spinach, lettuce and broccoli. I added hops when I started brewing my own beer. Cascade I think and there were more to be sure but it was constantly growing and changing. And some of the more gratifying aspects of the garden was when I would harvest fresh veg for dinner or for the next few days.

I was a bit different back then. I’m mostly vegan now and I eat dairy on occasion. Then I was a ravenous meat eater. I’m an advocate for recycling, composting and renewable energy sources, all kinds now. Then I could care less about the state of our planet and its resources. Though one thing hasn’t changed and that’s my love of high quality foods. And there’s not much better than freshly grown vegetables from your own garden.

The benefits of growing your own veggies are numerous. The cost of growing veg is considerably less to comparable buys at the grocery store. You have control over how your food is grown and who you choose to support when purchasing your seeds. You can’t beat the shelf life and you can grow varieties you can’t find at your local store. Also reduced waste by avoiding shipping and packaging. This last reason is one that is priority for me.

If you’ve read my blog post, “No New Clothes, Well Maybe” then you’ll know one of my goals is to live a life as zero waste as possible. This is no easy feat. Especially at the grocery store where everything has been encased in plastic. And I’d like to say that plastic isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s how much we produce and rely on it in almost everything we make. Also the amount of plastic that doesn’t get recycled in some way.

Growing your own veggies is a great way to reduce the food miles from farm to table. Because in most cases the “farm” will be in your backyard. Little to no processing required. Just a quick rinse in the sink and it’ll be ready to eat, cook or store. There’s a great book  called “The Backyard Homestead” that goes over ways to produce your own food in short space and helps you through the process from garden planning and seedlings to harvest and storing your crops.

They cover a lot of ground so it could be a bit overwhelming to delve into a book that is literally teaching you how to live off the land. But the essential bones of planning and planting are covered and who knows what may spark your interest. You may read a chapter on foraging for dandelion greens and develop a passion for making dandelion wine! As long as you know your limits and don’t bite off more than you can chew, books like these are a good resource for discovering new ways to produce more with what you already have and are already doing. Because the more you make the less you have to buy. That means more waste you avoid producing.

Feel as though you are short on space in your current location? If you have a lawn you can do what my dad did and rip up the yard and replace it with topsoil. He has all sorts of usable growing space now. And the garden looks much better in full bloom than the lawn ever did any time of year. Plus,lawns take an awful lot of resources to keep up with and maintain. And with very little return. Half of the resources that go into care and upkeep of a lawn could grow a lot of produce and put a serious dent in your food budget for the growing season.

Of course this idea isn’t for everybody. Some folks love and use their lawns frequently. And if that’s the case by all means, enjoy your lawns. But it seems as though home ownership and lawns go hand in hand and I’m just suggesting that maybe we question the wisdom of this perennial knowledge. See if it’s right for us.

Community gardens are a great alternative resource for those who don’t have the space for their own garden. Maybe you rent or own a condo. Or are in an apartment with no useable green space. In any case community gardens will help you to put fresh veggies on your table. It’s also a good chance to get to know your neighbors. When I had my my plot I would swap gardening tips and get new ideas for planting next season and share some of my harvest as well.

And the location was phenomenal! It was in a small park right on the harbor. A 15 minute walk from the neighborhood where I lived in. Working on hot summer days with a cool breeze coming off the water was a privilege. I looked forward to days when I would go down to the garden and arrange the plot to fit in all the seedlings I had prepared or bought.

If you’re looking for a place in your community to garden this post on finding a community garden near you is a good resource. As well as a quick google search with your city or town’s name and community gardens, should yield some results. The people who organize these gardens are usually pretty excited to get the word out too. So asking around your local shops or even at your library should help to connect you with a plot.

Living zero waste is no easy task. And one that will take a lot of different initiatives to cobble something together that will produce a greener, healthier lifestyle. I’m not even sure this is an obtainable goal. But it’s one that’s worth trying for. I feel that no matter how small the change, every little bit helps. Hopefully more people will get behind this goal and the more people that try, the more solutions we will find.  And hopefully the easier it will be. I’ll share what I find along the way and if you come along I hope you’ll throw your two cents in as well 🙂 So eat your veg, it’s good for us!

“6175 Vegetable Garden at Monticello” by lcm1863 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0