Recycling: Are We Really Making a Difference?

I remember reading and hearing about how China is refusing our recyclable materials about two years ago. It was concerning to find out we were shipping our trash to other countries, but to learn that we are no longer able to, and furthermore that I haven’t heard any news since I found this out, left me feeling a bit anxious. What are we doing with our recycling and garbage!? This seems like such a basic question that I’m floored that we don’t have a plan in place already.

We know what happens when we leave garbage to pile up with nowhere for it to go. Why was this not thought through? Instead we have a plastic pollution problem that is literally choking our oceans and lakes, using chemicals that are poisoning our foods and releasing volatile organic compounds into our atmosphere, excellorating global warming and climate change. And most of this is due, in large part, to the petrochemical companies creating massive amounts of harmful products for people and the environment. Mostly under the guise of it being cheap. This just isn’t acceptable in my book, and I hope a lot of others as well.

So I’m angry about it. All in all I’d say this is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. But I don’t want to be blinded by the emotions that come with the feelings of being wronged in some way. Yes there are horrible things happening in the world, that don’t stop at the environment and provoke anger. But that doesn’t mean that I will default to black and white thinking. I.e. everything involving petroleum is evil and all plastics are wrong. These are only problems that we’ve stumbled into, using what we knew at the time to be the best solutions we had to what we were facing.

But if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to realize that it doesn’t totally fall within my realm of responsibility to “solve” these issues. Taking on too much responsibility is something I know I struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not alone. So what’s the alternative to feeling like I have to come up with a solution? My best guess would be becoming part of the solution. Then advocating for the solutions that are most helpful. So what are some solutions to the problems we’re facing?

Let’s take a look at some of the problems we’re facing first, to get a better understanding of what it is we’re up against. According to the Columbia Climate School, of the 267 million tons of materials recycled in the U.S. in 2017, only about 94 million tons were composted or recycled. Much of the unrecycled material was either incinerated for energy, or went to landfills.

A large part of the problem is that there is no centralized program for recycling. In the States, there is no federal recycling program that is coming up with solutions and instituting guidelines for the process. It is now currently the responsibility of 20,000 communities in the U.S. to decide what and how to recycle its waste. And what’s more is that these recycling programs need to compete with other municipal programs such as schools and road maintenance for funding. This seems like a lose lose situation.

And to add to the confusion, the only plastics that are being recycled in the U.S. are 1 and 2. Plastics 3-7 are not being recycled, even though they are labeled as such. No bueno. This leads to a vast majority of plastics being sent to the incinerator to produce energy. Along with the plastics that are able to be recycled, but aren’t do to contamination, i.e. not being thoroughly cleaned. This means a majority of the material we are sending out with the intentions of being recycled, end up elsewhere.

With all this information, and misinformation, how do we begin to feel as though we are making a difference? From my understanding, the tenets of, reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse still focus on all the areas we need to be paying attention to, to help be part of the solution. One practice that encapsulates a majority of these tenets is zero waste living.

The concept of living zero waste is simple. It is to purchase goods that have no component that can’t be recycled, composted or reused in some way. For example, purchasing items from the bulk bins at grocery stores, and carrying them home in cotton, reusable bags or glass jars is a way to eliminate the plastic wrap or packaging that is too flimsy to be properly recycled. Keeping as many items that turn into waste, out of landfills and incinerators is the guiding ethos behind the idea of living zero waste.

And this is not an easy way to live for sure. So many items are packaged in some form of unsustainable material, that often times you will have to go out of your way to find alternatives. One big way to make an impact, as I mentioned above, is to buy product in bulk. And I’m not talking about the big box stores where you can buy a years worth of toilet paper on the cheap. But rather stores that have a section with bulk items, that aren’t prepackaged. Where you can bring your own containers to take home with you.

Whole Foods has a bulk section, though it was temporarily suspended due to concerns with Covid. My local store has recently put there bulk section back into use starting on June 2nd. There are other places to buy bulk as well. This site from Zero Waste Nerd has a location finder where you can enter your locality and their site will list some of the known zero waste grocery stores near you. I found a shop on my commute that sells household cleaning supplies in bulk. All you need to do is bring a container and fill up anything from laundry soap, to all purpose cleaners. This is a great way to reduce a lot of the packaging that comes with so many products we buy regularly.

Another site I found in my search, Litterless, has a similar approach in that they list stores by state, then city, that have bulk shopping options. You can choose your state from the list on their homepage, then they have a list of cities, with the stores and what they sell in alphabetical order. They also link to the store’s site, so you can check them out in advance to see if they have and are what you are looking for.

While we’re on the subject, how do you carry these items home to be used? You can’t just toss a bunch of flour or oats in your basket! For items such as the cleaning supplies, glass ball jars work well. this way you can buy as much as you need, use them straight from the jar in the case of laundry detergent, or refill your reusable spray bottle for other types of cleansers. I use the wide mouth Ball Jars which I feel are easier to use a scoop or measuring cup with.

If you’re buying bulk produce, reusable cotton muslin bags will do the trick. You can put all your fruits and vegetables in these bags. I use mine for items such as green beans and fresh herbs. I haven’t tried this, but you may also be able to use these bags for some dry goods as well. They would be great for items such as beans and oats. Anything large enough not to seep through the mesh of the bags. Glass jars will also work for spices and baking needs, such as flour and sugar. Just make sure to ask an employee to help you tare the weight of the jar before you load up.

For me, the items I buy bulk at the stores have a corresponding container at home. So if I buy a pound of wild rice, I have a jar waiting in my cupboard to be filled. This way I don’t have a bunch of bags loosely cluttering up my cabinet space. And I can reuse the same few bags I have to refill different items. So instead of using one bag for each item to then be stored in, I can have a few bags that I use to refill the containers that are already dedicated to a particular item and can easily switch up to contain other items as needed. This way I only need as many bags as items I need to refill. This keeps things neatly organized while also cutting back on the need to buy a large amount of one type of container (and then carry them everywhere).

Another way to get a handle on your garbage consumption is to do a trash audit. This is as simple as it sounds. Take your trash, probably for a week, between trash pickups, and go through it to see what you throw away. What are the items you are throwing away the most? What is filling up your recycling bin? From here, you can make the decision to cut back on the items that you find reoccurring the most. If you find that you are recycling a large amount of shampoo and soap bottles, maybe making the switch to something like bar soap for both hair and body. Or visit a bulk cleaning supply store like the one I mentioned above to reduce the amount of plastic that is adding up in your recycling.

There are also services where you can order refills for different products such as laundry soap. Companies like My Green Fills, sell packages of concentrated laundry products, detergents, stain removers and other laundry needs. This may not be zero waste, but it greatly reduces the amount of plastic bottles that add up quickly as a result of our laundry needs. And it costs less as well. The way it works is; they send you a bottle with packages of dry refills, that you reconstitute with warm water, once you go through the packages, you order more and use the same container to refill your detergents.

Paper towels are a big one for me. Switching to a dish towel could be the answer to this issue. Washing a few dish towels each week will definitely save on the waste produced by the paper industry. These can be used as paper towels are, only washed and hung to dry after each use. Make sure to buy cotton towels and avoid microfiber ones, as they can release large amounts of plastic fibers into the ocean which are dangerous to aquatic life.

Also, old tee shirts work great as cleaning rags. When I retire a work shirt, I will oftentimes cut it up to use as extra cloth rags that can be used for anything from cleaning up messes to dusting the furniture. And as long as you are wearing 100% cotton clothing, it can be tossed into the compost when you’re finished with it.

While we’re on the subject, composting is a great way to reduce the food waste we accumulate. If you have a garden or space for a compost bin, this should be a fairly easy task. There are premade bins you can buy that house compost, but you can also make your own. This article from The Spruce goes into the different methods you can use to create your own compost. One of them is making your own bin using a trash barrel. Something that is accessible to just about everybody.

And depending on where you live, there are companies that will pick up your compost for you, curbside just as your garbage and recyclables are already picked up. In Massachusetts, the Boston area, we have Black Earth Composting. Call your local municipal office to find out if there are services near you that you can join. Also a quick google search will yield plenty of results to get you started on your composting journey.

There is also a new trend in food markets and take out places where many of these businesses are switching to compostable containers and utensils for their take out containers and cutlery. Refusing plastic utensils and shopping at places that use compostable containers is a great way to make a small change in the ways we consume garbage. Asking a business if they use compostable or traditional containers will go a long way to keeping these items out of the landfills and incinerators. And in a pinch, bring your own reusable utensils with you when ordering take out.

And it isn’t only up to us as consumers to help slow down or stop the consumption of plastics. There is some exciting research that suggests that there are types of mushrooms that are able to use polyurethane, a main component in plastic, as its main food source. This means that some of the mushrooms that we eat, maybe the solution to breaking down materials that would normally take generations to biodegrade. And the end result is something tasty for us to eat. Win win!

This article from Treehugger goes into detail about the different types of mushrooms and how they were discovered and what they may be able to do for us in the plastic waste department. There is also mention of a mushroom that is able to breakdown polyester. Which, if you’ve read my post on whether it’s better to buy cotton or recycled polyester, you’ll know that this is a major environmental threat. Having an organic solution to these environmental threats is welcome news after what seems like a never ending stream of potentially dangerous outcomes for our future in regards to our waste consumption.

There’s a lot to be done on the waste management front. Luckily there are motivated people out there that are looking for ways to make the most impact on what seems like a pretty grim looking situation. This post from Wild Minimalist has some suggestions on how to shop zero waste. She mostly focuses on Whole Foods, but you may be able to try these methods out elsewhere, in other stores as well.

And one more tip that isn’t related to tangible objects. I was recently talking with a friend who told me that if you tend to collect emails in your inbox, that is taking a hefty toll on the environment. It may only be a few dozen, or maybe a hundred unread emails, but what I hadn’t realized, and what my friend pointed out to me was, that all those emails need to be stored on servers somewhere. This means that there is electricity being pumped into these storage facilities to hold and handle all your unread emails. So keeping a clean inbox is directly related to keeping with a greener lifestyle.

And this blog, Going Zero Waste, is also a great resource for making some of the switches from a less sustainable way of living, to a more green one. It can feel overwhelming for sure, but remember, you don’t have to solve all the problems all at once. And there are loads of people out there searching for and finding solutions to these problems as well. So relax, and take it one green step at a time. I hope this has been helpful, and as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Recycle Logo From Recycling Bin” by csatch is marked with CC0 1.0

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

10 Air Purifying Plants to Help You Keep a Greener Home

A few years ago I was investigating the best ways of purifying the air in my house using natural methods. I’m increasingly worried about the levels of toxins in the air we breathe and wanted to see if there was anything I could do to off set them in my home, even if only in a small way. Living just outside of a major city, I want to actively do something to help combat the effects of the ever present pollution in the air I breathe. I’m sure I’m not alone, especially with the mounting environmental concerns that are only getting worse the more we discover the effects we are having with the methods we’ve been using. From producing electricity using unsustainable methods to overloading our sewage systems and what we’re putting in the products we’re using on our bodies, it’s hard not to feel like a passenger on a sinking ship.

I did some research on the subject and the advice that kept coming up was to plant more trees. As I’ve said above, I live on the outskirts of a large city. So planting more trees just isn’t practical advise. I use Ecosia, which is a search engine that plants a tree for every query I make, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m having an impact on my immediate environment. It’s nice to know that there are people planting trees in far away places, but I want to make a difference in my immediate surrounds.

And I refused to believe that the only way to create a higher quality of air in my house is by planting more trees. Not that I’m against the idea but there are so many other species of plants on earth. Surely some of them must be able to do even a tenth of the job that a typical tree does during the course of a day.

So I did some more research and what I found was that NASA is already on it. In the 70’s, NASA found that some employees were complaining of allergy symptoms while working in newly constructed buildings. When they looked into the matter further, they discovered that the new construction, along with the furnishings and machines that were cohabitating spaces with the workers, were off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are dangerous to human health.

VOCs are still an issue in general. I’m not entirely sure how long homes off-gas VOCs for, but some of the compounds they emit include benzene (plastics, gasoline, think anything made from petroleum), formaldehyde (used in building materials and household cleaners and beauty products), carbon monoxide (off gassed by gas ranges or boilers, anything using gas, coal or wood in the home as well as car exhaust), xylene (a solvent used in the leather, rubber, paper and automotive industries), trichloroethylene (a chemical found in stain and paint removers), ammonia (found in window cleaners but also used in agriculture as a fertilizer, another reason to buy organic) and toluene (adhesives and paint thinners). This is not an exhaustive list, and all VOCs are toxic to humans. Definitely not something I want floating around my house if I can help it.

Luckily for us, some common house plants take in these toxic gasses, along with the microorganisms in the soil as well as their roots. From what I understood of the study, plants filter these VOCs by taking them in through the soil and roots or directly into the leaves, and then they are passed to the plant where they become part of the plant. The plant sequesters the VOCs and holds them, rendering them harmless to humans.

It only makes sense that nature has a solution, but it’s still satisfying to think about how it solves this particular problem. And all the while creating fresh oxygen for us to breath. “So what are these plants”, you may be wondering. For the rest of this post, I’ll go over the plants I have and am looking for, why I chose them and what their benefits are. Also a little bit on how to care for them too. Because there’s no point in picking up a new plant to help keep you healthy if you don’t know how to keep it alive!

I believe one of the first plants I got to help purify the air in my house was a peace lily. The peace lily is adept at breaking down compounds such as, benzene, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. The reason this plant is so appealing to me is that, if you like me, live in a city with lots of traffic, the ability to break down carbon monoxide and benzene are two compounds I want to focus on. Seeing how these particular VOCs are so prolific around traffic congested areas like cities, this is something the peace lily will handle.

They like moderate or medium light, which means partially shaded with not much direct sunlight. They take fertilizer in the summer months, about every six weeks according to The Farmers Almanac. And it’s easy to tell when it’s time to water you peace lily because the leaves will become limp and droop. I water mine about every two to three weeks.

The next plant on my list is the snake plant. This plant is stellar at removing formaldehyde from the air. This is a good thing considering formaldehyde is in an awful lot of our personal hygiene products. And according to RollingNature.com, where most plants will release carbon dioxide at night, the snake plant, or Sansevieria will produce oxygen. Paired with the peace lily, not only will you be reduce the carbon monoxide in your home, you will be replacing it with fresh oxygen. Win win.

This plant is a succulent, which means it’s pretty hearty. That said, as with all succulents, if you over water them they will develop root rot. You should wait until the soil dries out completely before watering. And when in doubt, wait a little. These guys are drought resistant so err on the side of under watering. They will tolerate many different light settings but prefer bright, indirect light.

Next up is the dracaena plant. This guy is known for removing formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene from the local environment. They’re especially good at removing formaldehyde, so a good location for this plant may be in the bathroom or near your vanity. Wherever you use most of your soaps, beauty and hygiene products.

Luckily, most of the plants on this list are pretty hearty and the dracaena is no exception. They don’t require a lot of water. Keeping the soil slightly damp should be enough to take care of its watering needs. I water mine about once every two weeks. They’re also sensitive to fluoride and watering with filtered water will help to keep this plant at its healthiest. The fluoride in our drinking water imparts brown crispy spots on their leaves. Filtered sun is best and never place these guys in direct sunlight. Direct rays can scorch the leaves of this guy leaving it looking a little crispy.

Another succulent on my list, the next plant is the aloe vera. This plant is kind of amazing. It’s good at removing benzene and formaldehyde, but it’s ability to reduce carbon dioxide and produce oxygen is nine to one when compared with other plants! It takes carbon dioxide in during the night, and when exposed to sunlight it releases the oxygen back into the air. And it’s sometimes referred to as an oxygen bomb! That’s pretty badass for a plant if you ask me 🙂 The insides of the aloe are also used to soothe minor burns and scratches.

Caring for this succulent is easy since they don’t require much attention. When watering, do not water often, but water deeply. I think I let mine go at least three to four weeks between waterings. They are a succulent, so again, too much water will cause root rot. Let the soil become pretty dry before watering your aloe again. They enjoy bright indirect light. I place mine just on the outskirts of my eastern facing window, away from the morning sunlight. This allows them to gain the benefit of the bright morning sun without being directly in the sun’s rays.

The spider plant is another air purifying plant that made NASA’s list. Also known as an airplane plant, spider plants are stellar at the ability to remove formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene from the environment they inhabit.

As far as watering and sunlight needs, this plant is easy to care for. While they are small and just becoming established, you’ll want to water them once a week. After the first year, you can reduce their water schedule to once every two weeks. These plants will also produce shoots with what look like baby spider plants. And if you plant these little guys in soil and keep them well watered and attached to the mother plant, that’s exactly what they’ll become! They also prefer bright, indirect sunlight. So near a sunny window, without being directly in the sun’s rays.

English Ivy is another plant that made the list. English ivy is known for its ability to clean formaldehyde, benzene and xylene, as well as reducing molds and fecal matter from the air. It’s resilient and easy to grow as well. These aggressive plants are found growing mostly in Europe and North America, and take well to containers for in the home as well as for landscaping outside on a larger scale.

They are resilient plants, and prefer bright, direct sunlight. Their watering needs aren’t complex either. They like to be a bit on the drier side, so water once the top inch of the soil dries out. This ivy also needs to be fed on a fairly regular basis. Once a month during the growing season. From spring to fall, while suspending the feedings during the winter months. English ivy also benefits from having the dust removed from its leaves once and a while. Gardening Know How suggests to give your ivy a quick shower to remove any dust and pests that have found their way onto your ivy. Plus, you have a new shower buddy! Jk, don’t use soap on this plant, or any plants. It may not kill them, but it isn’t a guarente : )

Next up is the Rhapis excelsa, aka the lady palm. This palm is able to scrub formaldehyde and xylene from the air, but is best known for its ability to filter ammonia from the atmosphere. They also help to keep their environment higher in humidity. Something beneficial to not only its human cohabitants, but also their fellow plant friends as well. Ferns in particular thrive in humid environments. So the ability to regulate the moisture in the growing space is important.

Lighting requirements for the lady palm are bright, indirect light. The same strategy I use for the aloe vera plant should work for the lady palm as well. Near an eastern facing window, just out of the morning sun’s rays. Let the top inch of soil dry out before waterings and let the soil dry more so during the winter months. And fertilize only in the summer months with fertilizer diluted to half strength.

Weeping fig, or the ficus tree is another plant adept at filtering formaldehyde and xylene from its environment. This plant is considerably sensitive to its environment and, if moved may drop leaves as it adapts to its new location. This is another plant that prefers to be in a humid atmosphere. Like its fern friends, it would benefit from being in a room with a humidifier or the bathroom.

The weeping fig likes to have moist soil through the growing season, which is from spring to fall. And requiring fewer waterings during the winter months. During these months, let the soil dry out up to two inches before watering your weeping fig again. As for lighting needs, this plant loves indirect, bright sunlight. Keeping them just outside of the sun’s direct rays will be their ideal location. Fertilize your weeping fig during the spring and summer months using an all purpose houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength.

The Boston fern is another plant on the list that is exceptional at removing formaldehyde from the air. But benzene and xylene are also among its impressive cleansing abilities. This is another plant that would benefit from being in a humid environment. Either in the bathroom (if it doesn’t already look like a jungle in there by now), or with a humidifier.

The soil of the Boston fern likes to be kept moist. Check your plant often to make sure that the soil is moist enough and don’t go too long between waterings. You also only need to fertilize this plant a few times a year. Maybe once a season during its growing season, spring to fall. And these plants do well in low to indirect sunlight. Nothing to close to an eastern or southern facing window.

The bamboo palm is next up and last on this list of air purifying plants. The bamboo palm is not to be confused with lucky bamboo, which is actually a relative of another plant on this list, the dracaenia plant, or dragon tree. It is best at scrubbing formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene from the environment.

For its watering needs, this plant likes to have moist soil. When watering wait for the top layer of soil to dry out before rewatering and don’t let your plant sit in standing water. This palm does well in low light settings but will grow faster in brighter light. Keep out of direct sunlight. You can use time release fertilizer during the growing season which is spring to fall.

I’m currently looking for a list of beauty and cleaning products that contain formaldehyde, and when I do find one, I’ll be posting it on the community page. For those of you who are as concerned as I am about the contents of the products we use. If you’re ready to make the jump to something more natural, Mrs. Meyers has a ingredient index list that should help guide you in some of your household cleaning and beauty purchases.

As for tools that may come in handy for caring for your new plant friends, it may be beneficial to purchase a small humidifier to help keep your environment just right for some of your moisture loving plants like ferns or weeping fig. It’s also helpful for us humans as well 🙂

Also, a lot of the care information I received was adapted from Gardening Know How as well as The Farmers Almanac. These two sites have loads of helpful advice on how to care for and maintain your plant friends. I also use an app on my phone to remind me when it’s time to water and feed my plants. Vera, from Bloomscape is free and has been indispensable for me to remember when to water and fertilize, as well as other tasks you may need to remember for general plant care. There have been many a plant that have met their end while in my care before I had some assistance, I’m not too proud to say. If you’re like me and need a little help in the remembering department, this app may be worth looking into.

That wraps up my round up (no round-up was used by me during the writing of this post) of air purifying plants. It feels good knowing we can make a difference, however small, by tending to and caring for some green space in our homes. Until next time, be well, happy gardening 🙂 and peace.

Here are some links to some resources on what VOCs are and where they are found. The DOH in New York released this PDF on VOCs and some products they are found in. This post from One Green Planet lists common household items that contain VOCs. And this article from Science News for Students has a rudimentary list of consumer products containing VOCs. I haven’t found specific brands that contain certain VOCs, but when I do I’ll post it on my community page. If you find anything please feel free to share below in the comments section.

Image Credits: “🌿🌱🌿🌱🌿 #tokyo #japan #house #plants #street” by DocChewbacca is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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.

Toxic Masculinity: The Pitfalls of Growing Up Male

I was a child of the eighties. As a male, that meant a lot of different things. As far as my most influential role-models were concerned, they were Sylvester Stallone from “Rambo 2”, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in, “The Predator”. Two men who used gratuitous violence to get what they wanted, and defend what was rightfully theirs. With regards to my emotions, I only had two. Anger which was most prevalent, and the confidence to use my justified anger to protect what was morally right using aggression. These were the lenses through which I was taught to view the world and started as soon as I could speak.

In the world I grew up in, men were men and took what they wanted while drinking whiskey and women were weak and caretakers of their men and children. At the time, I had no idea how unhealthy this polarized idea of how men and women, “should act” was. But I was also a child, where black and white thinking was how I and most children viewed and navigated their worlds.

Unfortunately or fortunately for me I experienced a fair amount of abuse, trauma and neglect, which jettesenned me from the path of the above form of masculinity which I’ve come to know as toxic masculinity. But it took a while to come to this conclusion and I definitely tried to fit in using the methods that were being modeled for me in my youth.

I drank whiskey neat because I thought it was the mark of a man. James Bond, who was one of my role models as well, did so. I watched movies like “Apocalypse Now” and “Fight Club” on repeat, taking notes on how to be the manliest of men by looking and acting the part to the best of what I thought my family would approve of. I even studied Heath Ledger’s Joker because he was sort of in line with the ideology of what I thought it meant to be a man. It helped that the role models I had terrorized me in the way I saw the Joker psychologically terrify people.

Luckly, I no longer look to role models like these and God only knows where I’d be if I had continued down that path. What was so insidious on how I started to idolize those characters was not because I had loads of quality time with male role models mirroring this type of behavior. But rather it was due to neglect mixed with subtle and not so subtle criticisms from my role models that left me not knowing how to be as a man.

For instance, my mother told me I was sensitive constantly. More often than not it was when I was showing an emotion other than the two, pre-approved “manly” emotions of anger and confidence. I did not have the ware-with-all to say she’d be sensitive too if she was neglected by her mother as she sent wave after wave of terrifying men to abuse her. That being said, I recognize that it didn’t start with my mother. Her mother, my grandmother handed down her child-rearing handbook to my mother. So I know she must have lived through some of what I experienced.

Telling me that I was sensitive in a way that always felt as though I were being placated in a condescending tone taught me that it wasn’t okay to have feelings. For most of my adult life I didn’t know what feelings were. Not only was there no one there to model healthy emotional boundaries for me, anytime I expressed one that wasn’t acceptable or was unmanly, I was shamed for having them.

The one feeling I came to know by name and understand well was anxiety. And that was only in the times between the 4 to 5 lattes I would drink during the day to stay ahead of my emotions and the 5 to 6 beers or mixed drinks I would have at night to numb the emotions when they eventually did catch up with me. And they were paralyzing.

And even then the ingrained trainings on how to be a “man” still wouldn’t allow me to see my emotions as something to listen to. As a marker for something being out of alignment. During one of my yearly physicals I was speaking to my physician about the anxiety attacks I would have sometimes looking to be prescribed some sort of anti-anxiety medication. Only I told him, “I just can’t live with this weakness inside of me anymore” referring to my anxiety. Luckily, he looked at me with empathy and said that feelings aren’t weaknesses.

Unfortunately that was one of the few times I could remember receiving any kind of healthy emotional modeling. I had a life’s time worth of harsh criticism leading me in the unhealthful direction of toxic masculinity resulting in the bravado of understanding my inner emotional life as a weakness to be rooted out.

So what sparked this awakening so to speak, of how I came to understand just how toxic the perception of being a man meant? And how it was being modeled for me in my youth? And what gave me the ability to want to change my future? It all started when I stopped running from my emotions. But to do that, I had to go digging through my past first.

I spent a lot of time in Vermont as a child. Most of my family was living there at that time and we would often visit on weekends and holidays. One visit during the winter months I remember my uncle telling me to go get wood from the wood pile and stack it next to the fire place. I couldn’t have been more than eight at the time so I asked for a hat because it was January in Vermont. That meant it was cold. He thought for a second and with a mocking gesture, reached into the closet and retrieved a mesh baseball cap. I was too young to question his authority but I remember standing out by the wood pile freezing while trying to grab armloads of wood to bring into the house. Even then I knew something was amiss. 

The message my uncle was sending me, although I was too young to know it at the time, was that man should be able to endure whatever unpleasant or difficult sensations come up. Regardless of what they may be, even if they were self imposed. Instead of modeling that a man should take care of himself by using the appropriate tool for the situation. In this situation a knit cap for the sub-freezing temperatures of Vermont would have been a healthy lesson to learn. Instead in my eight year-old mind I was taught the lesson that men should endure even the harshest of situations without complaint.

When I found out that I was unable to get rid of the feelings that I was told I shouldn’t be feeling, i.e. the discomfort and uncertainty of being unable to live up to the standard of “man” that my family was measuring me to, I learned to numb them later in life through coffee, alcohol and medication. Sure without feelings I could finally live up to the image of what my family thought I should be and therefore my image of how a man should behave, but I also lost myself along the way. And that way of living was unsustainable at very least.

I was unable to foster and keep close relationships with others to any meaningful degree because I was unable to empathize with or understand how or what someone was going through on an emotional level. I was completely controlled by my emotions. I was terrified of them popping up unexpectedly. So I stayed hyper vigilant to keep the fear of unwanted emotions at bay while finding ways of controlling my inner experience by numbing or pleasure seeking behaviors. The list of methods I used to control my emotions is long, but control of my inner life was my number one priority. Not to feel the emotions I had been running from since I was a child, being sent the message that my emotions were dangerous to feel and unmanly.

This type of behavior, on how men should be raised according to my family and to some degree societally, is founded on two basic principles from what I can gather. The first principle, men should not talk about their emotions, and second, normalizing this form of abuse by labeling it what it means to grow up male.

Men were not supposed to talk about their emotions. As I mentioned above there were only two or so emotions that were acceptable for men to express. Anything outside the realm of anger or confidence was labeled unmasculine and as a male you would be too sensitive if you expressed them. Men were supposed to be hard, physically and emotionally unyielding and unforgiving. 

But it was this modality of being emotionally calloused that prevented me from creating close relationships. You can’t be attuned to yourself and others in an authentic way if you have such a high standard of how to behave that no one would be able to add up to it. Everyone, including ourselves would always be a disappointment. Letting us down for never achieving some impossible standard. Such as not being allowed to feel emotions of vulnerability and tenderness as a man.

When you view the world through this lens, it’s easy to become jaded and see the people around us as nothing but potential let downs. “Why bother” would become our default mantra when it comes to building connections and friendships. In the end the relationship will never be satisfying because we will eventually show our vulnerabilities to one another and if it’s one thing that men are not, according to the unspoken rules of my upbringing, it is vulnerable.

And the why we as men seem to stay wrapped in this idea of perpetually being unable to speak about our emotions, is that it’s just the way men are.

My mother said to me countless times growing up, “I don’t know how to raise a man”. This not only sent me the message that I wasn’t adding up to what her standard of how a man should behave, but also there was no way that I would be able to act as a man. Because first, internally I was terrified of all the male role models in my life due their abusive tendencies. But second, and what my mom was probably referring to was I had no male role models. Healthy or unhealthy, that took the time to show an interest in me as a person. To find out what my strengths were and where I could grow as a person. I was polarized with either abuse, or neglect.

With this amount of uncertainty it becomes easy to fall into the trap of finding someone who will tell you what to do or how to feel. And there is no shortage of people willing to fill this role. I spent the first half of my life looking to recreate this power dynamic in my relationships. Trying to find someone who would criticize me into submission. There’s a sort of cold comfort in knowing that your life isn’t your responsibility. But this type of thinking and being leads to stagnation and the inability to move on with our lives or affect real change. Not to mention the unhealthy drinking habit I picked up along the way as well. As well as many other unhealthy habits in order to avoid the responsibility of my life.

For me it meant reliving the cycles of my trauma. Trapped in a life without meaning because I couldn’t get passed the feeling that I wasn’t in charge of my own life. That somehow, how others saw me was more important than how I was treating and responding to myself. Or more to the point, I thought I needed someone else to tell me I was on the right path when the only person who could know that was me.

What allowed me to recognize these unspoken family rules and then implement changes for a healthier version of myself was time spent away from my family and me hitting my bottom. I was with a woman I who I married and we were together eight years. I left her for another woman, one who was much younger than I was. It was not a wise decision and I’m sure I could have found other ways to come to terms with my emotions and have stayed married. But the reason I left my then wife was because when I was with the woman who I left my wife for, I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. I felt safe, unjudged.

She would later leave me which was for the best but this left me with nowhere to go and no one to rely on except to come to terms with the person I had become. I moved back in with my father at 34 and began building a relationship that was not based around the unspoken rules of my upbringing. It was scary. It went against all my teachings of what it means to be a man. I.e. it left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Confused and scared, but I learned that I could live through these emotions and I could be stronger for them.

Since letting go of the toxicaly masculine lessons I was raised with, I’ve gained control of my life again. I’ve come to make healthier choices about my diet and spending habits. I seldom drink alcohol and have one to two cups of green tea a day. I’ve found direction in my life and I’m starting to build and maintain healthy relationships with friends, old and new again. It’s not always easy but my life is my own now and I no longer seek the approval of someone else to tell me how I’m doing. Or how I’m measuring up.

These are the gifts that being your own man are able to yield. Strong and soft are my new goals, not hard and unyielding. Because unlike the curriculum I was given in my childhood, might does not equal right. There is strength in coming to understand, attune and attend to our own inner emotional lives. But it takes courage.

We have it in us, to embody the strength we need. Some say we were built for it. So take heart dear reader. Know you are not alone and you are already the best version of yourself. You only need uncover yourself 🙂 Peace.

Image Credits: “Texans bravado is a little chilling.” by Tolka Rover is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0