A More Sustainable Home: 7 Tips and Tricks to Help Keep Your Space a Little Greener

“More recently I’ve adopted the more sustainable elements of the culture.”

My desire to live a greener life style probably started when I was in high school. It was the mid-nineties and hippy culture was re-emerging as the popular subculture. Though in the 90’s I feel it was more about the drugs and music than it was about free love.

I remember one summer I went to a Phish festival up in Maine with a few friends of mine. The Lemon Wheel in ’98. We chose a spot to camp but unfortunately it was a few spots over from a tent that was selling nitrous balloons. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t played the same 5 or so funk songs on repeat the entire weekend. I never heard “Brick House” so many times in a three day period, nor do I ever want to again :D.

As time passed, I changed in a lot of ways, but I always held onto some of that culture in my personality. I traded the drugs for coffee and it’s most recent iteration tea. But I still bust out the Dead every once and a while and Phish as well.

More recently I’ve adopted the more sustainable elements of the culture. Recycling and buying sustainable goods that will last longer than their plastic counterparts being among them. Also making sure the items I’m buying have a shorter decomposition rate after they’ve run out their usefulness. So it wasn’t long before I started looking around my house to find ways of making the process of keeping to these tenants a little easier.

One of the things I’ve started doing is keeping a recycling bag next to the rubbish barrels I use. I started thinking about it while I was in the bathroom taking a shower. I reached for the face wash or the soap when I looked at the empty bottle of shampoo that had been sitting in the shower caddy for I don’t know how many weeks. My intention was to recycle it. But that meant going downstairs to the kitchen where the recycling is kept. And by the time I got dressed I’d forget to go back into the bathroom to grab the bottle to bring downstairs to be recycled.

So I put a paper bag next to the rubbish in my room and since I’ve found that my recycling fills up much faster than the garbage barrel does. Thinking about it now makes me a little sad to think about all the things I could have been recycling that went to the trash previously. But it’s been nice feeling that I’m not just tossing things in the garbage that could go to recycling because I was too busy to go downstairs.

Second, I’ve been paying closer attention to the fabrics that I’ve been keeping around my house. Instead of fabrics made from synthetic materials, I’ve been buying either 100% wool or cotton to slowly replace what I have such as sheets, blankets, towels and clothing. If you’ve read my post on taking care of your needs for clothing, you’ll know that I shop pretty regularly at thrift stores. But I’ve also been paying attention to the materials that my clothes are made of as well. This post on micro fiber pollution from Friend of the Earth, says that materials such as polyester, rayon and acrylic are a few of the fabrics that are made from plastics.

According to the article one of the main issues with these fabrics is when they’re washed, they release microfibers into the water supply. The fibers are then consumed by sea animals in the food chain. The plastics absorb toxic chemicals from the environment, so who knows what they would do to our bodies. And for me, knowing that my clothing will turn to compost either during, or not long after I’m gone brings me a sense of ease. Knowing that the clothes I bought that are made from plastics will be sitting in landfills for decades makes me a bit uneasy.

Speaking of laundry, the third thing on my sustainable list is making your own soaps. I’ve made soaps in the past using castile soap. Castile soap is a blend of oils and potassium hydroxide (lye), and can be mixed with various other common household ingredients to create household cleaners. Anything from body wash to all purpose cleaners can be made on the cheap from castile. By adding some essential oils to the mix, you can customize your new cleaners to suit your own personal tastes. Putting your own touch on the ways you clean yourself and your space.

The best part is that the ingredients found in castile soap are all natural and have been used for centuries. So there’s no surprises when you pick up a bottle to clean surfaces that you prepare your food on or for use in the shower. Areas that you come in close contact with and the places you use the most. This blog post on Live Simply by Kristin Marr, shows you how to craft your own household cleaners using castile soap.

As well as saving money, you can also cut back on the amount of plastic you’re buying by picking up a few reusable glass bottles to hold your new cleaners in. A quick google search will yield multiple results for spray bottles or despencers for both hand soap or shampoo. Whatever your container needs may be, you’re likely to find it with ease.

The fourth idea is to replace the plastic hangers in your closet with wooden ones. Plastic hangers tend to break and need replacing more often than wooden ones do. And by replacing and recycling your plastic hangers and using wooden hangers, your using a more sustainable material that will be functional a lot longer than their plastic counter parts.

Fifth, I’ve been wearing some of my clothes more than once. Pants mostly and some pajamas, sweatshirts and bandanas (I wear a lot of bandanas.) By wearing some of the same clothes over again, I have fewer clothes to wash which means the time between loads is longer. This saves on soap and water use and not to mention frees up some time you could be doing something else with.

Sixth, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before I burn a lot of candles. I’m burning three as I’m typing this article! I haven’t made the switch yet, but beeswax candles are considered carbon neutral according to this article from alive. Candles are usually made from paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of crude oil. Which means you’re releasing Co2 into the atmosphere when you burn paraffin candles. The carbon in beeswax has been sequestered so recently from the environment, that it’s considered neutral. Plus, beeswax has the added bonus of releasing negative ions into the atmosphere. Which in turn purifies the air of allergens and pollutants.

As I’ve said above, I’ve been in the habit of burning candles at night. The candles I burn now are made of coconut or soy wax. Either when I’m in my room unwinding from the day or cooking dinner at night, I feel they set a relaxing tone as ambient lighting and give everything a softer feel. It’s also something to look forward to. Coming home to a place that has spa vibes, cozy. When I’m having a tough day I can think about my self-care Sundays (Mondays now) and it brings that same sense of ease and calm. So burning bees wax candles brings some sustainable elements to your self-care routine.

The seventh one may make some a little squeamish but I’ve gotten in the habit of not flushing the toilet after going number one. I drink a lot of water and tea through the course of the day, so the amount of times I use the facilities is pretty high. Only flushing after a number two helps to reduce the amount of water that is being flushed into the wastewater treatment system.

The benefits are that you use less water, which translates to a lower water bill, and on the other end there is less waste to process. This saves on energy and resources.

Speaking of water, most people know this tip, but washing your clothes using cool water instead of warm helps to conserve energy that would otherwise go to heating your wash water. Which means you’ll save on your electric bill as well.

I hope some of these suggestions have been useful in some way. It won’t be easy, but together we can change the course of our collected future, one small change at a time. If you have any suggestions or tips you use regularly to help keep your home a little greener, i’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading 🙂 peace.

Self-Care, Self-Image: How Taking Care of Our Basic Needs for Clothes Can Help Reverse the Ways We’ve Been Neglected by Others and Ourselves

“Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” by AlyssssylA is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

About two weeks ago I got it in me that I wanted to throw away two sweatshirts that I’ve been holding on to for almost two decades. I had just bought a pair of hiking boots for the winter weather we’ve finally got up in the Northeastern part of the States, and I was thinking about what else I needed to replace. I had just bought some wool socks and work shirts not too long ago, so I thought I’d just toss the sweatshirts and a few other items and that would be that.

First I went for the sweatshirts. There were two, one was from a private school I never went to, and the second was from a Pawsocks game I saw in 2004. They had sentimental value for certain. The private school, cross-country club sweatshirt I got from a good friend when we used to work at a Mexican takeout place together located next to a print shop. He had traded a couple of burritos for the sweatshirts, and gave one to me. We were counterfeit brothers in sweatshirts from a school we never went to, or could afford.

The second was from a Pawsocks game I went to that reminded me of my childhood, going to Red Socks games. When I took the sweatshirts out to examine them, they had so many holes in them that they were literally falling apart in my hands. I was sad at first. It felt as though my memories were directly connected with the condition I kept these particular sweatshirts in. The good times I had with my friend, riding longboards around the city while drinking 22’s of beer. Or the time I spent helping to paint my niece’s bedroom before she came home from the hospital. If I let go of these memory’s physical counterpart, the entire package may be lost, and worse yet they were falling apart on their own. Which meant it was only a matter of time before I lost everything.

I thought about keeping them, but I felt like I was being held back by gripping these memories too tightly. I felt stagnant, like I was refusing to leave that part of my past. And there were good times for sure, but there was also a lot of fear, anxiety and insecurity. I wouldn’t go back to that time or way of being now and in fact, a lot of the people I made those memories with I don’t speak with anymore.

So there I was, in front of my dresser, holding two sweatshirts that had been past their prime for 14 plus years and riddled with so many holes they were barely discernible as garments, and with those whose memories they were tied to I no longer spoke with. The absurdity of the situation, which had been lurking in my mind for some time, finally made it to the forefront. I got a few bags, thanked the sweatshirts for their service in Mari Kondo fashion, and began the process of sorting through my clothing.

The further I got into the process, the greater my realization that most of my clothes resembled the original two articles of clothing I had finally mustered the nerve to toss. I was holding on to pairs of socks that had sizeable holes in them, one long sleeve tee that was in worse condition than the two sweatshirts, if that was even possible, and dozens of other articles that I had been putting up with for no reason other than I just assumed that’s how things are, were supposed to be.

I had been living with the discomfort of not having my basic needs for clothing met for so long, due to the neglect I experienced around how I wasn’t taught most basic life skills, coupled with my family’s inability to discern self-worth from the things they buy, that I had become the embodiment of my family’s polar opposite, while staying loyal to the legacy of neglect I learned from my care-givers. If No Labels Living had a thesis, this would be it.

So with this new knowledge, and about half my clothes, most of which were headed for the garbage and the few pieces that were in good enough condition to be donated, I made a plan to get some new clothes.

I made a list of what I needed and set aside some money that wasn’t in the budget, because if not having enough clothes to wear isn’t an emergency I’m not sure what is, and struck off to the local thrift shop to get some new threads. I’ve since replaced a good portion of my clothing, but the more I focused on this mindset of letting my basic needs be left unattended as a form of neglect, I started noticing it in all aspects of my life.

My pantry for example. I have dried beans and pasta, some teas and a few other items that have been there for up to 5 years! I had been treating my pantry as you would curate pieces for a museum, not to make meals from. And the shower caddy in my bathroom was so old that it had rusted around the edges. The reason I even thought to check was because I had boughten four new towels and wash clothes to replace the two towels and plastic luffa I had been clinging to for the past four years which I didn’t, and never did, like all that much to begin with!

And what held it all together was a feeling of self pity, empathy for inanimate objects and feeling as though I somehow deserved to live a life filled with discomfort and feeling unworthy of something better. What I realized was that my caregivers had been living life the same ways I had been living, and they inadvertently made me feel as though I were judging them as inferior just for wanting something better than I was taught. Like I was betraying them for feeling like there was something more than what I had been taught. I was afraid to let go of these things and lessons because letting go meant losing one more thing in a life’s time worth of loss and feeling neglected.

My family also has a legacy of poor boundaries so discerning whom was feeling what was a confusing endeavor. But I’ve since made plans to begin replacing all the things I’ve been neglecting in my life, keeping in mind that I want items that will last and are made sustainably. For example I’m looking into buying alpaca throw blankets and sweaters, because when treated with care, they not only keep you warm but could be handed down to the next generation

I’ve also been shopping for clothes at thrift shops instead of buying them new and saving a ton of money to boot. For instance, at my local Savers I spent 90$ for two pairs of jeans and eight shirts that would have probably cost me around 400$ retail. And I’m also recycling at the same time as taking care of myself. That’s a win in my book.

And knowing that I’m comfortable in my own clothes, and I can replace the things that aren’t working in my life is empowering, and a source of confidence. Knowing that I care enough about myself to take care of myself has been a real resource for my emotional well being. I’m worth my time and the effort it takes to make my life better, worth being a part of. And it all started from tossing a couple of old sweatshirts!

Neglecting ourselves can take a lot of forms, clothing is only one. Next time you’re cleaning or doing laundry, take a look around at the items you’ve collected. Are there some that you don’t like but put up with just because? Is there a particular towel or set of sheets you dread using. Ask yourself why are you holding on to these? Especially if they cost less than 20$ or 30$ dollars to replace. Is the discomfort and dis-ease worth putting up with for something that could be replaced so easily? Why or why not? And stay curious. It doesn’t help to be forceful or judgemental. Be kind to yourself while you listen.

I hope this has been of some use. I know it’s not easy making changes, especially those that take some self introspection and are connected with our basic needs. But making the change can be an incredible source of strength. So take heart, and know you are not alone! Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do or Do Without” by AlyssssylA is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they would like to do and pursue that interest. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lie. Maybe they read an article that sparked an interest and a desire to understand more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they wanted to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to be and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going to college, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparked joy” into a fulfilling career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

I would argue yes. To use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect. Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight categories. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or what your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain type you may very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against. These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this is something that is uncommon and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether.

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience in setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself.

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care Physical: Read the Labels, No New Clothes Well Maybe

Off and on I get the urge to go shopping for something new. Now a days I mostly I get candles or something to read or a new type of soap. But I always feel a bit weird walking into a store that’s trying to sell an image. The sleek lines and the bass driven rhythmic thumping of music. The smell of slick cologne or perfume laying heavy in a thick haze across the open concept display rooms.

Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to go into one of these stores once and a while to get the experience. But for me anyways, it only lasts so long before the fatigue sets in. If you’ve read my Mission Statement you’ll know where I’m coming from when I say I’m slightly nostalgic for this experience in a borderline unhealthy way.

This got me thinking about the clothes that I do own. Most very plan with only a few pieces that have some sort of writing or brand name blazend across the front or back. I have a shirt that sports the name of the city I live in, one with the name of a place I went to while on vacation and a few others for sure. Oh, the “MT. WASHINGTON 6,288′” shirt I got when I climbed Mt. Washington. But most of the clothes I own have little to no visible brand name affiliations. What can I say, I like plain clothing.

Recently on my way back from an appointment in a neighboring city I stopped into a thrift shop. The shop supports a sober living community and I stopped in to look at some clothing while waiting for my train home. I bought a pair of jeans that would have cost 70+ dollars retail and a sweater equally as expensive for about twenty dollars. I felt good afterwards. Not contributing to the cost of generating new clothing and feeling as though I helped in some small way, the mission of keeping alcoholics sober. Not to mention I saved a bunch of money to boot!

Also I realized that I hadn’t shopped for second hand clothing since high school. This seemed strange because one of my life goals is to live as zero waste as possible. Shopping second hand just seemed like such a no-brainer that I’m surprised I haven’t started doing it much sooner.

So what if instead of every time we need a new piece of clothing we don’t go shopping where we are supporting big, name-brand clothing companies. But instead why not buy from one another in the form of thrift markets or online used clothing markets like Ebay, Poshmark or Swap? Or how about going out to a good old-fashion yard sale. This builds community by connecting individuals whom are trying to express a facet of their personalities while also repurposing old clothing that would have gone to a landfill. And the need to purchase new clothing would perpetuate the unhealthy cycle of consuming for the sake of keeping up appearances. So it’s a way to recycle and break some of the fast fashion trend.

But thrift stores aren’t only relegated to buying and selling clothing. Another versatile use for thrifting is sustainably gifting. This past Christmas I was thinking about going to various thrift stores and buying people convenience kits. Something that would be useful everyday and practical while maintaining a sense of the person’s style. Like in one kit for my stepmother I may buy a travel coffee mug, water bottle, cloth bag, a pair of sunglasses, a book and a pair of gloves if I’m giving it in the winter. Or something summer related for a summer gifting.

With seemingly unlimited options the list is only limited to the stuff that people have donated. Not by a season or a product line. I know from my own experience that I’ve donated thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of stuff over my lifetime. Odds are someone found a good home for the things I traded in. And that’s a nice way to think about it because I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I get a little sentimental over inanimate objects.

I’m also a big fan of upcycling clothing. Like old tee-shirts into bandanas (some self disclosure: I wear a lot of bandanas). There was a period in high school when I made my own patchwork corduroy pants that had 36″ cuffs. Asides from them being comically big on me, it brought me such a sense of joy and accomplishment from making something that I wore every day. It helped that I was a dirty hippie and often wore articles of clothing over and over without a wash 😀

Self expression is about finding what it is about you that makes you shine. If it’s clothing, why wouldn’t you want something that had your name written all over it instead of some designer you don’t know. And who’s making mounds of cash off people trying to buy acceptance at the price of others? And in some cases, the environment. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t buy the clothing we like new, but let’s make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. Let’s try to get back to what matters, connections and curating something that makes you more you 🙂

Me in High-School
Evidence of my bandana wearing hippie ways in my early years. Me (on the left) with my then girlfriend and friends on the front page of our town paper complaining about how strict the school was that year 🙂

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