What I’ve Learned About Living Sustainably

What I’ve Learned About Living Sustainably

Around five years ago, when I moved 200 miles across the country, I was forced to downsize my possessions. It put me on the path to a simplified life with less stuff. Our tiny home forced me to become more intentional with my purchases. I stopped buying what I didn’t need and focused instead on using what I already owned, repairing what broke, and saying goodbye to things I didn’t need.

Although I had broken the habit of mindless consumerism, I didn’t pay much attention to the sustainability of my habits until I watched The True Cost. It was a life-changing documentary. It opened my eyes to the devastating effects of fast fashion and how my shopping habits had played a part in supporting an industry that damages the environment and threatens human rights. I didn’t want to be a part of it.

The questions I asked about fast fashion, I started to ask about other areas of my life. Where did this product come from? How was it made? Who made it? How were they treated? Were they paid fairly? Was animal testing or cruelty involved? Does it pollute or damage the environment? I realised every purchase we make is a choice, and that choice says “I support the brand who made this product and their policies.” We have a personal responsibility to check up on brands and their policies. If we don’t agree with the way something was made, we should not give the company our money.

Over the last few years I’ve been learning more and more about living simply and making compassionate choices. I’ve adopted practices that help me to live more sustainably. I’m not perfect, not by a long shot! I’ve been figuring things out as I go along and it’s most definitely a continuous learning curve. I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far about living simply and with compassion.

What I’ve Learned About Living Sustainably

It's Empowering

Supporting brands and products that are ethical and sustainable feels good. Knowing I’ve made the best choice (to my knowledge) that avoids unnecessary harm to others and the environment is empowering. Educating ourselves about environmental issues, human and non-human animal rights, helps us to feel confident with our decisions. Standing up for what we believe in is something to be proud of and is a real boost to our mental health when we know we are making informed choices about the brands we support and the products we buy.

Doing “The Right Thing” Can Be Tricky

It can be inconvenient. It can be uncomfortable. It can be impossible. There isn’t always a straight answer and knowing what is a sustainable or ethical choice can be overwhelming. Simply put: “sustainable” and “ethical” have different meanings, and it all depends on how you approach their definitions. You might focus on environmental reasons, human rights, or non-human animals rights, or you might try to incorporate all three. Unfortunately there will almost always be a compromise to be made. Our system is broken and many of the products we consume rely on some form of exploitation. The most important thing is making sure we identify our priorities so we can make considered purchases based on them. We all approach our decision-making process from a different perspective and so long as we’re doing our best to limit the impact we have, no one can ask for any more.

What I’ve Learned About Living Sustainably

Not Everyone Will Understand

Doing things differently can result in a lot of raise eyebrows. It can be tough to adopt sustainable practices when other people are so resistant to change. You might face the challenge of family members set in their ways or the difficulty of explaining your new habits to friends. Living sustainably often requires having conversations with others about sensitive topics as a new way of doing things prompts questions from intrigued onlookers. It can make people feel uncomfortable about their lack of knowledge and with their own choices. When asked, it can be tricky to explain why I’m vegan or why I won’t shop in certain stores without upsetting anyone. Habits die hard and people are often resistant to change. Not everyone will understand the decisions you make to live a more sustainable life.

It’s Not Difficult

You don’t have to change your entire life overnight, or even at all. Making sustainable habit shifts really isn't that difficult to do. It’s not an all-or-nothing lifestyle change. It can be as simple as buying less stuff, shopping for things secondhand, and eating more plants. I didn’t adopt a low waste, plant-based lifestyle overnight. I slowly switched out old habits for new ones, one step at a time, and I’ll continue to do so the more I learn. Every one of us can make simple switches that lessen our impact on the planet and the people around us - without dramatically overhauling our entire life. We can have a dramatic impact with very little effort if we adopt sustainable habits over time. Starting out with gentle changes to our daily lives has a snowball effect. Trying to tackle too much at once by drastically changing the way we live our lives isn’t effective but simple habit shifts over time are.

Things Change, But Only If We Do

No single rain drop thinks it is responsible for the flood. It’s very easy to feel as though our choices don’t matter or won’t have an impact, and to use that as an excuse not to change. Over 15 years of being vegan, I’ve seen a whole lot of change. Without people like me who were demanding plant-based milk in coffee shops years ago, we wouldn’t have the exhaustive vegan-friendly options on the menus we do today. Our actions and our choices have an impact. When we choose to boycott brands who breach human rights, use animal testing, or damage the environment, we become part of a movement that’s putting pressure on companies to change. The more people who stop buying products that exploit the hands that make them, the animals used to produce them, and the planet we live on, the less demand there will be for them. Our voice matters and we have to use it if we want to see change happen.

What sustainable habits have you adopted?
What have you learned about living simply?

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What I’ve Learned About Living Sustainably