This post is from a brief presentation I've been asked to give at our church on simple living. I volunteered to bring my solar oven and talk about it for a class on "creation care," and Jack Oughton, the teacher, asked me to prepare a little list of things our family does to live more gently on this earth. So, here goes:
1. Enjoy the gifts of creation.
-We savor good, fresh food
-We relish being outdoors
-We enjoy using handmade and lasting things in our daily life rather than disposable and mass-produced stuff.
-We find enjoyment is often a good path "greening."
2. Biblical. Our desire to take care of the earth springs out of our driving commitment to follow God, and is completely concurrent with the teachings of the Christ, (as well as running throughout the Old and New Testaments.)
3. When I notice a wasteful area of our life, I often am able to find a better solution simply by pondering, "what would an Amish person do to meet this need?" I also read a ton of books, which is how I love to learn. All these practices have been put in place slowly in our lives, as we notice and change one thing at a time. Once we get used to doing something, it is no longer difficult. This list has not been a big undertaking, but rather a summary of the pleasurable path we've walked as we seek to follow God in our daily life. We make changes gradually, phasing out or up; instead of throwing away a perfectly useful plastic thing, use it as long as possible, but plan to replace with a more sustainably made and repairable alternative when it's useful life is over.
-bake our own bread. Everyone I know seems to wish they could bake bread. It's really not that hard, and there's nothing like fresh bread!
-cook from scratch. saves a lot of money! There is a learning curve to cooking, but it's so worth it!
-drink tap water! totally healthy and green
-joined our local coop (everything at the coop is largely local and sustainably raised, so we don't have to worry about reading labels all the time)
-buy in bulk (cheaper, no waste of packaging, fresher grains than prepackaged)
-buying organic and local as much as possible (we started with animal products. being high on the food chain, meat and dairy carry heavier toxin loads. buying expensive meat helps us to use it carefully, and after the expense of that, buying organic veg was easier! with veg, we first started org. on the "dirty dozen", which are the fruits and veg that carry the most pesticide residues: berries, grapes, peaches,etc.)
-eating seasonally and locally. (not buying strawberries in January from New Zealand--this is costly in terms of the fuel used for refrigerated transportation around the world and leads to craziness in all kinds of ways) for seasonal fruits, we try to buy a lot when they're in season here in Minnesota and freeze, can, or dry them. Freezing is sooo easy; not as hard as one might think.
-I love wild foods and incorporate the unused produce of our city's boulevards and waste lands as much as possible into our diet.
-Fermentation Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz or The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. We enjoy eating homemade: -pickles, bread, yogurt, simple cheeses, saurkraut, vinegar, cordials, all made and preserved via simple fermentation.
-bike: in the winter, with kids, with cargo, plan trips
-bus: plan ahead, bring a book, work, water, snack to redeem the time
-a great time to pray
-a great way to meet neighbors. you can't love them if you don't know them
-an excuse to to walk a little more
-no worries about parking
-live by places we need to go: we are grateful we have been able to live close enough to bike to work, school, church, and most stores and places we go. This has in part been possible by turning down some possibilities which would preclude biking. Biking a lot is so enjoyable, great for our health as a family, and saves a ton of money. Even with two children, in the summer, we have sometimes only used our car a few times a month. This is easier in urban areas
-let the garden take over the lawn
-plant perennials and fruit trees
-Wendell Berry says that growing food, and eating it is the single biggest positive thing a person can do for the earth, farmers, ourselves, and the economy.
Don't Buy Stuff- if we buy used, we don't contribute to the demand for more mass production.
-lots of stuff we want we don't need, and many things actually don't contribute to happiness or the good of others
-as an artist, I make planners and notebooks out of discarded paper, rugs from rags, clothing, repair discarded furniture--lots of this stuff is simple and anyone could learn how.
-plan ahead for gifts -with planning we can make good choices about gifts, and find the "perfect gift". Often this is homemade, or even bought new. I find, if we haven't planned ahead, we may over-give and over-spend to compensate for a gift that feels like it's not "enough" because we think it's not just right for the recipient.
-learn from others
-support one another
Laundry and Cleaning
-homemade cleaning products. Most household- things can be cleaned with household items: baking soda, soap, vinegar. If there's interest, I could share some recipes. All very simple and cheap. For us, these have entirely replaced brand-name glass cleaners, toilet scrub, etc.
-buy dish soap in bulk at the coop
-we don't use the clothes dryer. Weather permitting, we line dry our clothes outside. In the winter, we use a wooden drying rack indoors, which helps to humidify our dry air. "Delicates" and "unmentionables" are dried inside for privacy. Diapers get white again out in the sun, without bleach. We use non-chlorine bleach, when necessary.
-we try to buy used or fair trade or locally made.
-we repair clothing to make it last longer.
-favorite clothing thrift stores in St. Paul: Unique Thrift on Rice Street, St. Vincent de Paul on W. 7th, Salvation Army on University. Thrift stores actually have a much wider selection of clothes than conventional ones because every item is unique. Most of the clothes at these stores, I find, are in great condition. also saves a ton of money.
-new, but more ethically made: Zimmerman's on Grand sells sweatshop-free clothes.
-we use clothing until it wears out, or give it to thrift stores or friends who can use it.
-we've been delighted to find that everyone at church passes clothes around all the time! We hardly had to buy baby, toddler, or maternity clothes.
-we have gradually eliminated lots of disposable products from our lives, as follows:
-paper towels: rag bin (use for clothing worn beyond use or giving, wash separately from clothing, as for cloth diapers. this is a small amount of laundry. Our rags are not bought, t-shirts and towels make the best rags. Bathroom cleaning rags can be kept separate from kitchen rags by marking)
-paper napkins: cloth napkins. homemade or thrifted. cheap, beautiful, just toss in the laundry as needed.
-Kleenex: handkerchiefs. make sure to get soft ones! (all cotton or linen)
-feminine hygiene: The Keeper, Glad Rags, homemade. Cheaper and less toxic. My youth leader tipped me off to these in response to my query in high school! wash with bathroom rags or diapers.
-finding alternatives to battery operated items.
-deodorant, shampoo, lotions: Lush (at Macy's in the Mall of America, or online makes these products in solid form, without plastic packaging. They are more expensive, but last long enough to make up the cost and more.)
-bring our own tap water in water bottles when we go out, to avoid the cost and waste of buying drinks in disposable containers
-bring a travel mug for coffee drinks to go. some places may even give a little discount when you don't get the throw-away cup
-we bring silverware and cloth napkins with us when appropriate to avoid throwing away disposable cutlery. To-go Ware, glass jars, Tupperware is widely available at thrift stores and garage sales
-cloth diapers. not as hard as you think. saves a lot of money. If washed at home and line dried, no more waste than flushing a toilet. also, re-usable wipes, tossed in with dipes.
-forgo battery powered toys
-plan ahead to bring a picnic lunch or snacks
-use the bike trailer, weather permitting. our family mini-van
-lasting, versatile toys, rather than plastic
-go to the library a lot, read aloud instead of tv.
-teach kids to play and live in the outdoors, thus to care for and love it.
-help with/ have their own gardens
-teach them to care for our things so they last
-use library, buying only books we know we will read again and again
-digital music or LPs, live music
-watch tv less (tv makes us want more stuff.)
-spend time outside instead of at the mall/ in stores, shopping online
-support local businesses, coffee shops, restaurants, instead of big chains. (great way to make friends too!)
-invest in non-material treasures (maybe even eternal ones)