Living an eco-friendly life

There is a myth that has been around forever that suggests living an eco-friendly lifestyle is expensive. The truth is that some ‘shop bought’ items that are labelled ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘organic’ certainly do have an increased price tag from the ‘standard’, highly processed till there’s nothing of value left in them, chemical laden items, but do you have to purchase those to be eco-friendly? In a lot of circumstances, no, you don’t. Many ways of eco-friendly living are more sustainable if you make them yourself so you know exactly what is used to produce them and where it came from, making them not only a very sustainable option, but also a very economical one too.

For instance – look at washing. Many household cleaners can be replaced with a simple solution of vinegar and baking soda, but there is something more eco-friendly than that. Take a look at what you are about to wash and ask yourself, ‘does this really need washing?’

In reality, we can wash just about everything less – our clothes, our hair, even our kids, less. There is a fine line between clean and dirty, and we’re certainly not saying that you need to look or smell like a mobile pig pen, but the truth is we have all gotten into a routine of washing things, rather than washing something because it is dirty. You may have fallen into thinking that if you wear something once it has to be washed, well, no, actually it doesn’t. Ok, so socks and underwear may be an exception to that, the same goes if you have an excessive odor problem, but wearing a pair of jeans for a couple of hours after work does not mean they are dirty, especially if you have been just sitting watching the TV.

Try and look at your clothes like they all need to be dry cleaned; they don’t, but bear with me. You have to pay a lot of money to dry clean clothes so you tend to hang on until they really, really need it. All of a sudden we look at them with a different pair of eyes, as if physically handing over money to someone else to wash our own clothes is pointless, so, as we want to get ‘the most bang for our buck’, we make them as dirty as possible. This may come as a shock to you, but washing your clothes at home isn’t free either. Not only is laundry soap hideously expensive (and toxic), the power it takes to heat up the water and run the machine isn’t insubstantial either. And don’t get me started on the energy use when putting them in the dryer …

It’s the same with our bodies. Modern research suggests that the ‘ultra clean’ world we live in is causing a lowered resistance to allergens. We have been told by marketing over and over again that microbes are bad, all microbes are bad, and must banished from where ‘ere a human hand must touch – but it’s simply not true. Our bodies full of microbes, good ones that benefit our bodies, they coat our skins, help us digest our food and make vitamins in our gut, in fact we are encouraged to eat microbes for our health benefit, except we call them ‘probiotics’ and that, it would appear, is all it takes for us to accept them as beneficial.

Slathering yourself in shower gel daily may make you feel clean, but it may not help your immune system be effective. Shower gel is a concoction of unnatural chemicals that clean away everything, good and bad. Our bodies are like farmers. Complex balances are continually being achieved that make sure we have the right amount of each microbe in our bodies, by the wonderful machine that is our body, without any help. If we continually wash off the good microbes we need, then the job of balancing everything out is much more complex and the consequences serious. When the body works overtime to correct the imbalance caused by a lack of microbes it usually over corrects problems and conditions like asthma and eczema, or other auto-immune diseases, occur.

“The microbiome has been linked to immunity, autism, allergy, autoimmunity, mood, and the development of our central nervous system,” says Mary Ruebush, microbiologist and instructor at Becker Professional Education School. “And this exposure therapy begins the moment we are born – children who are delivered vaginally have much lower rates of allergy than those delivered via caesarean, possibly because of this early exposure to the mother’s normal vaginal flora,” she adds.

On the plus side, says Ruebush, you can take heart in knowing that every time you get a little sick, you get a little stronger. “The message is not one that most people want to hear: they want the quick pharmaceutical fix for the slightest bit of discomfort. But every time you take the quick fix, you make your body a little weaker.” That’s something to remember the next time you’re tempted to slather on expensive shower gel.

Another way to be more eco-friendly on a budget is to cut down on meat. I know that you’re fed up of hearing it and you’d rather I dramatically shouted, ‘TRA DAR’ and *poof* bought out a completely new way of helping the environment that justified your daily animal consumption, but there isn’t. As delicious as meat is, it is energy and water intensive which makes it expensive in ters of money and the effect on the earth’s resources. Even cheap meat is expensive – which is ironic as it’s also full of additives and chemicals which aren’t meat at all! One way to offset your need for meat is to cut out any grocery store meat, and eat less, but on the occasion when you do eat meat, buy local, organically raised items from your local farmers market. They can tell you how the meat was raised, on what it was raised, and how it has been processed. It will make you enjoy your meat based meal more and support your local farmers in producing lower impact food.

One of the best ways to be eco-friendly on a budget is … simply buy less. Somehow we have all been conditioned to think that if we start something new that we need new ‘things’. For instance, a new fitness regime = new equipment, a new school term = new everything from clothes to lunchboxes, pencils and erasers we never use, or a house move = completely new furniture. Not only are we conditioned to expect new when a change occurs, we want new when a change occurs. We never once stop to question where our ‘old’ goes to. The chances are – it’s the local landfill.

You may justify buying new by saying, ‘I’ll donate the old one so some good can come of it’, but if it’s in good condition, why does it have to go at all? All that money you are spending could be saved if you have something completely serviceable already that you could continue to use.

My children needed lunch boxes for school as the old ones had split lids, and I scoured the city for affordable, sustainable ones. I was firmly in the mentality of, ‘I need something sustainable – the only way I can do it is to buy something sustainable’. There weren’t any that were in a price range I was prepared to pay, so I went home dejected, and cleaned out my cupboards looking for things I could use. I found a whole myriad of boxes, jars and tins with sealable lids in a great range of material (and yes, some were sustainable options without bragging about it!) that could be used that I had ‘forgotten’ I had. When I sat down and thought about it, using what I already had beat all the sustainable options I could have ever bought new. It’s as simple as that. You can’t fix the problem of consumption – with more consumption. When we realize that, sustainable living will be a much easier target to hit.

Along with knowing that we can’t fix consumption with consumption, we should practice a little more minimal living. Can we seriously look at everything we own and say that we will be able to get full use out of it? Really? Three sets of measuring cups? How much baking do you actually do? Remember that old, plastic Wendy House your children used to play in that’s stuck as the back of the garage ‘just in case’? Yep, I knew you’d forgotten about it, why not give it to a family that hasn’t got one and would love, and use, it? Why not be their hero of the day? And while you’re at it, ask them to ‘pay it forward’ when they have finished with it, so that some other children can enjoy it. If not, sell it – and buy yourself some healthy organic groceries on the proceeds.

If you want to live a sustainable life on a budget, you have to change your mindset. Buy less. Be grateful more. Be conscious. Care. Look at life as what you can give or achieve, not at what you can accumulate. Time spent doing what you love, with whom you love, is never wasted.

And it can also be pretty cheap too.

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