Learn to cook, sew, knit, spin, make soap, make detergent, make candles, keep bees, can food, make cheese
Slow cookers and pressure cookers simplify a lot of home cooking and
Photo by Tabatha Alcina, used under a Creative Commons license
allow you to make your own “convenience food.”
Keep your meat bones and use them to make broth. You can keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to make broth. Also consider keeping onion skins, carrot tops, and other food waste that can add complexity and nutrition to your broth
Keep in mind that in any area where you know how to make your own, you’re a more informed consumer
Split the work up and share your responsibility with your housemates or family
Create reminders for yourself so you can keep up on periodic tasks: google calendar alerts, sticky notes…
Organize your house to make it easy to do all these things: keep baskets of rags in your kitchen and a couple of recycling buckets handy so you can sort as you go. Hanging them vertically on the wall with hooks can be super handy.
Step 9: Look into Environmentally Friendly Products
Be aware that being “eco friendly” is now a fad, and a marketing scheme. Don’t be sucked in.
Many times, you can make your own cleaning products. Baking soda, washing soda, borax, water, and vinegar are great natural solvents. (But be careful when mixing baking soda and vinegar, unless you’re doing a science fair project!). Here’s one resource; there are many
Photo by Arria Belli, used under a Creative Commons License
Inside: put containers (pots, window boxes) in your southern facing windows. Herbs and small things like carrots and bush beans work well.
Your local garden center can help you learn how to care for your plants. Consider your soil and make sure it has enough drainage.
Outside you have a lot of options. You can make your garden as complicated or simple as
Photo by Irene Kightley, used under a Creative Commons License
you’d like. Start small, add to it each year, educate yourself, read lots of books and ask for help.
You can have your soil tested for contaminants cheaply, usually through your local university extension center. In Massachusetts, UMass does this.
Container gardens can be a great option for those in condos or apartments. These can be in or outside, and depending on the size of your container, can be as simple or complex as you’d like.
Rooftop gardens are quickly catching on in the city. Community gardens are also popular.
Start with easy to grow items: beans, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and squash like zucchini and butternut.
Plant bee- and butterfly-friendly plants like milkweed, bee balm, black-eyed susans and sunflowers to keep your local bee populations fed and healthy
Buyer beware: pesticides are sometimes present in plants you can buy. Last year I was dismayed to learn that there were plants for purchase at a large popular store that kill bees when they visit them. Visit a local garden center where you can talk to an expert and get ideas. It might be a little more expensive in the moment, but well worth it in the long run.
Where do your things come from? Try to source as many of the things you use within a 100 mile radius of your home, and choose options that are in line with your values
Candles are often made of paraffin, which comes from fossil fuels; look for beeswax instead.
Buy what you can locally. Not only does it stimulate the local economy, it means that items aren’t being shipped cross-country to your home, which burns fossil fuels.
Large companies have the benefit of established infrastructure to efficiently move
Photo by Richard Walker, used under a Creative Commons License
materials, but they are often moving them long distances, burning fossil fuels. If your item is not available at smaller, local shops, check freecycle, craigslist, and your circle of friends before buying an item that is being shipped long distances.
Support your local artisans! Many old arts (soap making, candle making, cider pressing, and more) are being reclaimed, and each time we choose to buy locally, we’re supporting the kind of communities we want to live in.
Do you often have items shipped to your house? While it is convenient for our busy lifestyles, it means that fossil fuels are being burned to ship things to your house. Try to combine shipped purchases into larger orders to reduce the number of trips being made to your house. Currently, I’m working hard at this, as I struggle with my love of Amazon Prime and Groupon.
Reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags are great. Most of the reusable bags for purchase are made from polyester or plastic (which comes from fossil fuels). Purchase or make reusable bags made of natural fibers (cotton, hemp, etc) that can be composted when they are no longer usable as bags. Free patterns can be found here.
Use reusable containers instead of plastic wrap. Bring them to restaurants for leftovers too! (I keep some in the car because I’m forgetful)
Use reusable coffee mugs at the coffee shop. Keep one in your car all the time just in case you have a sudden coffee craving
Wash your plastic freezer bags to reuse them
Reuse containers that your food is packaged in. Spaghetti sauce jars can be useful for leftover soup, used as a water bottle, making herbal tea, as a candle holder, and to hold dried beans/nuts/etc.
Plastic has its place. With a small child, I often use tupperware or rubbermaid containers to send his lunch to school, pyrex having the potential to smash and make an unsafe
Photo by Kevin Dooley, used under a Creative Commons license
situation for the children and teachers. Well-made plastic containers that can be used for decades and then be recycled is preferable to the disposable plastic (or styrofoam) that is often used, even if you recycle it afterward. There are also stainless steel/metal container options that you can research that can be safer for small hands.
Remember that the process of recycling often uses a lot of energy and can release chemicals that are detrimental to the health of the world and ourselves as part of it. It is often better than products ending up in landfills, but reusing is often preferable to recycling.
Facecloth sized cotton towels/rags in the kitchen for drying hands/wiping up spills can help you avoid using paper towels. Cotton will compost when you’re done with them). Keep a basket of them handy.
Cotton washing rags to wash your dishes can help you avoid using a petroleum based sponge. It’s also more sanitary, because you can throw the rag in the laundry at the end of the day. It can also be composted when it is no longer useful as a washing rag
Reusable cotton napkins: keep a basket of them near the table.
Reusable batteries. (Make sure to read the charging instructions)
Reusable plates/silverware. My husband and I have a small tote that we use to transport 20 plates, cloth napkins, and sets of silverware with us when we attend potlucks. The used dishes go back into the tote to come home with us, and the tote then serves as a dishpan. We wash the dishes, let them dry, and then they go back into the tote to await the next potluck.
You can also bring your own plate/napkin/silverware with you when you attend potlucks. Metal pie plates can be very useful.
Cloth diapers. If you have a baby, cloth diapers are a great way to reduce the amount of trash you make. Bonus: it saves money! Borrow some prefolds, a variety of covers or soakers, and perhaps some “all-in-one” type diapers to determine your favorite type. See if any of your friends have some you can use, or look on Freecycle/Craigslist to buy your diapers. Washing them is not hard. Be sure not to use traditional detergent which can waterproof what we hope will be absorbent. Here is one resource.
Reusable menstrual pads, and menstrual cups. A little pricey, but once purchased, you don’t have to buy products each month, and washing them yourself, you don’t have to worry about what chemicals are contacting your skin. Many different options are available, google “reusable menstrual pads and cups.”
— This is part three of Katie’s thirteen-part series on ways to walk more lightly on the Earth. You can read more here: introduction, step 1 (recycle).