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The best way to make permanent changes in your habits is to make gradual, small changes. Think of habits like crash diets.
What happens when you decide you are going to cut out all sugar, carbohydrates, additives, alcohol, etc. from your daily life all at once?
You will very likely fail.
However, if you make a schedule of small gradual changes to take on, like swapping soda for water and cutting down sweets slowly, you are much more likely to succeed. This is because you are slowly training yourself with new habits, not just depriving your routine of everything that was once ordinary.
I follow the blogs Trash is For Tossers and Going Zero Waste for inspiration and awareness on the next green change I can make to my lifestyle. It is unrealistic to make my New Year’s resolution to become zero waste. I know that starting tomorrow I will not be able to fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar. But, I envy that as the long term inspiration and work towards small tweaks to decrease the trash output from my life. By making small changes, we can already see differences. The biggest way to notice for us is that we only put our trash can at the curb every few weeks.
Here are super simple, easy changes to make that will have a big impact.
Reusable Shopping/Grocery Bags
This one is HUGE and SO EASY. While stores are beginning to offer plastic bag recycling, only 3% are being returned for recycling. That makes my heart just sink. Not only are these incredibly damaging to the environment and animals, I find them personally inconvenient. Each bag holds so little so you have a ton to carry out and go back and forth with trips inside to unpack. I can do an entire grocery trip for my husband and I with enough food for the week and rarely use more than 3 reusable bags. I have one on each shoulder, one in my hand and only one trip into the house. Trust me, when I was living in my third floor apartment by myself, this was huge plus.
In addition to the weight, now you just have more trash and clutter in your house with all the one-use plastic bags. Instead, I find reusable bags fold back up neatly and look way more organized for next time.
A large majority of big stores now carry these bags for sale, typically only a few dollars each. If you don’t want to wait until your next trip to buy, here is a great 10 pack option on Amazon for $18.
Reusable Produce Bags
I find these are used much less frequently than reusable grocery bags. Let’s band together to make this more habitual too as produce bags are still plastic bags thrown out and causing waste. I ordered these about a month ago and keep them in my reusable bags so everything is kept together and easy to grab.
Reusable Water Bottle
Did you know the average family that purchases bottled water spends $1,000 per year on it? This is mind boggling to me for something you can get for free and not waste plastic on. In this earlier post I dive into greater detail about the health and environmental effects bottled water has.
I have carried this water bottle for years and love it. I tend to be fairly picky with water bottles. This one has a hook area I can link my finger through for easy carrying between meetings at work. I also look for bottles without complicated openings. I find the ones that have straws or anything other than a simple snap opening grow mold easily and are difficult to clean. This bottle is BPA free, has a large opening easy to clean, and is easy to carry.
Notice Recyclable Food Packaging
The first step to a greener life in the new year is to reduce consumption. As you shop, begin to notice the packaging for the foods you buy. I often see green peppers bundle in a two pack with plastic wrap. They’re typically not any cheaper than just buying two individual green peppers and using my reusable produce bags.
When you have the option, buy items that are not wrapped in plastic or at least have recyclable packaging.
Challenge Yourself to No Spend Days
I mentioned this in the budgeting post as well. Compete against yourself or friends for how long you can go without spending. When I do this, I don’t include recurring bills that must be paid like electric or the mortgage. I’m referring to the unnecessary spending. Say no to that latte on the way to work, brew yourself some coffee or tea beforehand. See if you can live without that spontaneous purchase of a necklace you walked by. Once you get in the habit, you begin to forget it is even a game. I have found it has changed my mentality as a whole and I don’t find myself desiring that trip to Home Goods on a Sunday to cure boredom.
Reduce Unnecessary Spending
This ties into the point above but really take note of each and every purchase you make and pause to think if it is necessary. You will find the things that you used to consider ‘needs’ were really just desires.
It is important to begin to learn and change your mentality against buying and consuming. I always considered myself ‘green aware’ and thought I lived a more sustainable life than the average. It was only a little over a year ago when we moved into the house that I was all over decorating blogs for inspiration. All of a sudden I was at Target once a week because I HAD to have that side table, which led to the lamp, which led to the knick knack little artifact that some blog said looked cute. Who was I kidding? It dawned on me that I was green when it was convenient for me to say so. Then when I wanted to decorate my living room with what Target told me was on trend, the consuming bug wooed me again. Even if it wasn’t Target buying something new, I loved garage sales for little items to decorate with. While I was reusing items and they were much cheaper, did I really need another trinket for the bookshelf?
Being green isn’t just recycling. It is learning to intentionally consume less.
It was only more recently that the light bulb went off that all my consuming was negating those tiny green habits I may have had. Not only that, I began learning about the beauty of minimalism and changing your understanding of happiness.