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Sustainable Living – A Step By Step Guide To A Simpler, More Fulfilling Life

Sustainable living is on your radar. You want to be a responsible citizen that takes care of the planet and does what you can to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

Hands holding a pepper plant and some soil

You recycle. You buy organic foods whenever possible. And you try to combine your errands so you don’t use too much fuel. Maybe you carpool to work and occasionally buy and sell from consignment stores.

When it comes to sustainability, there is a balance. Most people want to do more to live an eco-friendly life, but they also want to make sure that it doesn’t consume all of their time, energy, and money.

For example, there’s a difference between starting a garden and converting your entire household energy to solar power. One requires a few hours a week of your time and the other may require several months of renovations and a change in energy consumption that you may not be prepared for.

So how do you know where that balance is? How do you know if you’re doing as much as you can do without dramatically changing the way you live your life?

Are You Ready For a Sustainable Living Homestead?

The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference

Sustainability is a lifestyle. As you take steps to live a greener life, you’ll make changes to your lifestyle. Are you ready for some changes? Let’s take a look at a few questions. The answers will guide you to your next steps.

How Organized Are You?

Do you find that you often create systems to organize your life, your space, and your routine? For example, do you occasionally re-organize the pantry or create chore charts for yourself or your children? If you’re often creating systems, that means you’re fully capable of tackling a more sustainable life. You might even have what it takes to take on a larger project or lifestyle change.

Are You Ready for a Change?

Change is good. It keeps you fresh, it challenges your mindset and your mental processes. It helps you grow. Adopting a new sustainability project, habit or system requires a willingness to change. If you feel like you’re ready for change and can get excited about it, then you’re ready to take sustainability to the next level.

Are You Looking to Feel More Fulfilled, Rewarded, and Engaged?

Living a sustainable lifestyle is rewarding. Sure, some projects are hard work but that work pays off. You’ll feel more engaged in life and in your community. You’ll also enjoy a feeling of satisfaction when you know that your new habits do have a positive impact on the world.

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you’re ready to take sustainability to the next level. Don’t worry; you don’t have to go off the grid if you don’t want to. Over the next few paragraphs, you’ll learn eight different ideas to add more sustainable habits and projects to your life. Choose one or all eight – it’s up to you. Let’s get started with composting.

Sustainable Living Idea #1 – Composting

Hands holding rich compost

What do you do with your vegetable scraps? What about your banana peels, coffee grounds, or eggshells? Whether you have a garden or not, you can turn that everyday kitchen garbage into compost.

Compost is nature’s recycling program. Materials decompose and turn into extremely fertile and rich soil. You can use the compost around your plants, in your houseplants, and of course, you can add it to your lawn or garden. While adding composting to your lifestyle does require adopting a few new habits, it’s actually pretty easy to incorporate into the way you live.

Step One: Your Containers

You’ll need two containers. You’ll need a composting bin or area outside. You’ll also need something to store your kitchen waste in. Outdoors there are different types of bins to consider. Some have a handle on them so you can turn the bin and mix your compost. Others allow you to pop off the top. You mix by hand using a rake or shovel.

Indoors you want to choose a ceramic or stainless steel container. You’ll want it to have a lid.

Step Two: Start Your Compost

Compost bin

Outside you’ll want to position your compost bin in an area where it will be out of your way but convenient. Start your compost with a layer of brown material. Brown material is anything that is dry like twigs, dry leaves, straw, or dried grass. You’ll want this material to be a few inches thick. Inside, you can start collecting your kitchen waste.

In general, don’t compost any meat, grease, or material that has animal waste on it. You can compost cardboard, fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee and tea grounds, and newspapers. If you aren’t sure, play it safe and don’t add it to your compost.

A word of warning: if you add seeds to your compost, for example, apple or tomato seeds, don’t be surprised to find plants growing in your compost, or later in your yard where you’ve placed the compost.

When your indoor container is full, add it to your outdoor compost bin and mix it up.

Step Three: Evaluate and Maintain

Your compost needs to stay moist but not soaking. If it gets too wet, it will mold. If it’s too dry, nothing will happen. You can add water to your compost if it’s looking dry. Stir your compost every couple of weeks. Turning or stirring it aerates it, which facilitates decomposition.

Yard and food waste make up more than 30% of the waste in our landfills. When you compost your kitchen and yard trimmings, you’re helping to divert that waste from the landfill. It’s a great way to live a more sustainable life.

Sustainability Idea #2 – Raising Chickens

A group of chickens standing in a fenced-in area

More and more people in cities, suburbs, and in the country are raising chickens. They’re relatively easy to keep and the daily fresh eggs are quite a treat. It’s becoming so common that you can probably find chicken feed at your local home store. This is, of course, a bigger project than composting but it’s not as huge of an undertaking as you might think.

Step One: Your Chickens and the Law

The first step is to see if you can legally keep chickens in your area. Check city and neighborhood laws and ordinances. If you live in an HOA community there may be rules that say you can’t keep animals/livestock on your property. Some cities limit the number of chickens you can keep.

Step Two: Choose Your Breed

Before you build a chicken coup or plan their area, decide what type of chickens you want to keep. Consider looking for breeds that lay a lot of eggs so you can get more bang for your cluck.

Hybrid chickens tend to lay more eggs and they’re generally easier to raise, which is great for beginners. Also, look for birds that are gentler in personality so you don’t have to worry about being chased out of the henhouse.

Step Three: Build or Buy Your Chicken Coop

A chicken coop serves several purposes:

  • keeps your chickens warm when the weather turns
  • protects them from predators.
  • gives them a happy place to lay their eggs.

Make sure the coop is well ventilated. You’ll need nesting boxes, roosting poles, a place for food and water, and bedding material.

Step Four: Feed Your Chicks

You can buy chicken feed at your local hardware or farm supply store. It’s a well-rounded material that provides your chickens with the nutrition they need. You might also give them some scratch and some kitchen scraps. Make sure they have fresh water and create a system to keep the water flowing. You can buy automatic waterers for chickens.

Step Five: Room to Roam

Create a fenced-in area where your chickens can roam and stretch their legs. Keep in mind that the area where they’re able to roam will get scratched up pretty quickly.

If you can rotate where you let them roam, you can prevent completely destroying your yard. This also helps prevent boredom. Yep, chickens get bored.

Raising chickens is an adventure. Talk to other chicken owners to learn more about the best breeds and how they’ve managed their flock. And then enjoy the daily fresh eggs you get and the fun of raising chickens.

Next, we’re going to step it up and take sustainable living to another level by talking about switching to alternative energy sources.

Sustainability Idea #3 – Embracing Alternative Energy

One way to make a huge impact on your energy bill and on the environment is to begin using alternative energy in your home. Some states may still offer a tax credit for installing alternative energy systems.

Step One: Choose Your Approach

There are several different alternative energy sources to consider. The most popular are solar and wind. Solar is generally considered the easiest option and the most affordable. Most experts agree that solar panels and systems have never been cheaper.

Fully installed, your solar array might cost around $3 per watt. The average four-kilowatt system then costs around $12,000 for the entire system. However, that doesn’t include tax credits and savings. Over 20 years, experts predict the average family could save around $20,000.

Wind and hydro systems are another option. However, they’re generally more expensive and more difficult to maintain. Solar is durable and lasts for decades with minimal maintenance.

Step Two: Identify Your Budget and Goals

Decide what you want to accomplish from your alternative energy. For example, if you simply want to recharge your devices without having to plug in, you can invest in small solar charging appliances. If you want to go completely independent and create all your own power, you’ll want to take the next step.

Step Three: Get Quotes and Price It Out

There are two general approaches. You can reach out to local installation companies who can give you the full package. This often includes connecting you to the grid so you can earn energy credits. Or you can install your system yourself.

Step Four: Install and Enjoy

Get your system installed and create a plan to maintain it. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for decades. For fun, track your monthly savings by comparing your new energy bill to last years.

The next sustainable living idea also embraces the resources that nature provides. Let’s take a look at how to harvest your rainwater.

Sustainability Idea #4 – Harvesting Rainwater

Green rainwater bucket

You don’t have to be dealing with a drought to enjoy the sustainability benefits of harvesting rainwater. If you are in a drought then you know that the hassle of alternating watering days can wreak havoc on your garden and landscaping.

However, even if you’re not in the midst of a drought, a rainwater harvesting system is a great way to reduce your water consumption. Rainwater harvesting reduces stress on local aquifers and rivers. When you reduce stress, more water is available to help sustain aquatic life.

Step One: Review Your Home Codes and Laws

Make sure you can install a rainwater harvesting system. Some communities don’t allow this and some home organizations have strict guidelines on what your system can and cannot contain. Make sure you understand the rules and take them into consideration for the next step.

Step Two: Design Your System

The simplest system simply takes the rainwater from your downspout. You can buy rain barrels from your local home store or you can create your own. If you only have room or a budget for one rain barrel, study your home’s roofline and downspout system to identify the best place to collect water. You may find that one area of your roof gets the most flow. You’ll gather the most water in this area.

Step Three: How Will You Use the Water?

It’s important to create a system where you’re using the rainwater. If it’s allowed to sit, you’ll start growing things and collecting bugs. In fact, it’s a great place for mosquitos to reproduce.

You can attach a garden hose to your rain barrel and use it to water your garden. You can also create a drip irrigation system from your rain barrel. Or you can simply fill watering cans from it and use the water to hydrate your plants both indoors and out.

Finally, take the time to occasionally clean out your rain barrel. Empty it completely and clean out the leaves and debris. You’ll be amazed how much dirt and material can come off your roof, through your downspouts, and into your rain barrel. By cleaning it out, you’ll ensure that the flow remains strong and that you don’t start growing bacteria or fungus in your barrel.

Harvesting your rainwater is just one simple way you can take your sustainable lifestyle to the next level. You’ll become more conscious of your water consumption. Don’t be surprised if you never throw a glass of water down the drain ever again.

We’re going to take a slight detour with the next idea and talk about fun ways to give back to your community and enjoy a more sustainable lifestyle.

Sustainability Idea #5 – Fun Ways to Give Back, Live Sustainably, and Enjoy a Simpler Lifestyle

For many, part of living sustainably is creating a sense of community. It’s not just a lifestyle: it’s a movement. A collective approach to make the world a better place and that doesn’t just stop with environmental steps. It can include other methods of working with others. Let’s take a look at three fun ways to give back, enjoy sustainable living, and a simpler lifestyle.

Join a CSA

CSA vegetable box

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially, CSA members buy shares of a farm and receive the benefits. When you buy a share, the benefits include whatever the farm produces.

Some farms focus solely on growing produce. You’ll receive weekly bundles of lettuce, onions, and tomatoes in the summer months, and squash and dark leafy greens in the fall. Other farms might sell shares of the livestock they have on the farm.

You might get eggs from chickens, milk from goats, or meat from a cow at the end of the year.

Some farms sell partial shares which are good for small families. Whole shares might provide enough weekly produce to feed a large family or multiple families. CSAs are fun because it creates a community. Everyone is welcomed to pitch in at the farm, though you don’t have to.

You create a routine of visiting the farm and picking up your fresh organic produce. They’re great for the local economy and excellent for the environment as most CSAs are organic farms. Additionally, you’re not buying produce that had to be shipped from another country to your supermarket, so you’re cutting back on your carbon footprint.

Join a Food Co-Op

A food co-op or cooperative is an organized grocery store. Members help decide what items are carried in the store and where they come from. In exchange, they also get reduced prices. Most often, items in the market come from local farmers and local companies.

You have the ability to buy materials in bulk and to save money. Co-operatives can be fun because you’re part of a community of decision-makers. It’s a lifestyle that many people enjoy.

Grow a Community Garden

Community garden

Another option to enjoy a simpler lifestyle while giving back is to participate or start a community garden. This type of initiative works well in suburban or urban environments where green space may be limited.

Find a plot of land, get permission from the city, and then invite others to participate in the tending of the garden. Those who help out and give their time are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It’s also a great way to get children involved in gardening and to help them understand how plants grow and how food is produced.

Finally, if all of these ideas are a bit too time-consuming or they’re unavailable in your area, consider creating a weekly outing to your local farmer’s market. You can enjoy the time outside with your friends and family and support local farmers at the same time. And you just can’t beat the flavor and nutrition of locally-grown produce.

The next idea takes a look at how to reduce food waste. You’ll not only help create a better environment, but you’ll also save money too.

Sustainability Idea #6 – Reducing Your Food Waste

You might be surprised to learn that in the United States, more than 34 million tons of food goes to waste on an annual basis. And that accounts for around 14 percent of the total waste. The vast majority of this garbage goes into landfills where it decomposes and creates greenhouse gases. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that people in the U.S. waste about 27 percent of their food.

So what can you do to reduce your food waste? Keep in mind that by reducing the amount of food you throw away, you’re actually saving money too. The following tips and lifestyle changes will help you make sure very little goes to waste.

Meal Planning

Sit down once or twice a week and plan your meals. Plan what you need for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Create a list and then shop from the list. Buy only what you need. When you’re making the list, keep the recipes in front of you so you can make sure you buy the right quantity. For example, if a stir fry recipe calls for 10 ounces of chicken, you can buy only around 10 ounces.

Learn to Love Leftovers

Much of the food that goes to waste in your home is probably due to leftovers. Either change your meal planning so you don’t have leftovers or learn to love them. For example, leftover stir fry may not sound like a typical breakfast, but it can be quite satisfying. Or use them for your packed lunch.

Learn to Preserve

There are many different opportunities to preserve your produce before it goes bad. For example, if you buy an abundance of apples and can’t eat them all before they go bad, you can chop them up and freeze them.

You can place them in a food dehydrator or a low-temperature oven and make dried apple slices. You can also cook them down and toss them in a food processor and make applesauce or apple butter.

Here are 7 ways to use apples.

Finally, if you just can’t do anything with that food and it’s going to end up in a landfill, consider composting. We’ve discussed it above a bit. Composting turns your food scraps and paper scraps into rich soil that you can use in your garden, landscaping, or even in your indoor plants. It’s a smart way to help keep waste out of landfills and to reduce your food waste.

Next, we’ll talk about conserving energy and reducing your energy bills. It’s a simple and powerful lifestyle change.

Sustainability Idea #7  – The Lowdown on LED

This sustainability idea is a super easy one. However, the initial financial output may be more than you’d like to take on. We’re talking about switching all of your home’s light bulbs to LED bulbs.

Why Switch?

According to the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, if every household in the United States replaced just one standard incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient one, the nation would save about $600 million in annual energy costs. That’s enough to power three million homes for a year.

You might also be surprised to learn that lighting your home typically accounts for about 20-30 percent of your electric bill. If you have a $50 monthly electric bill, that’s a savings of about $150 annually.

But Aren’t LED Bulbs Expensive?

The truth is that when compared to a 99 cent incandescent light bulb, a $25 bulb may seem outrageous. However, here’s the thing. That $25 bulb will last twenty years or more, which brings it down to about a dollar a bulb annually.

And that incandescent bulb that you buy will probably need to be replaced in four to six months. So you’re actually spending a bit more annually on incandescent bulbs than on LED, but it’s negligible. The real savings is in the annual energy savings.

A Strategic Approach

If you’re not excited about spending a thousand dollars or more replacing every single light bulb in your home, then you might enjoy this frugal strategy.

Step One: Identify your priority lights

What lights do you use the most? Chances are they’re in your kitchen and living room. This is where you spend the most time each day and where the lights are on more than any other room. Replace these lights first.

Step Two: Buy in bulk

In many cases, you’ll be able to save a bit on LED bulbs if you buy them in multipacks. Make sure you’re buying the right size bulb for your fixture. Make the appropriate lumens to watts conversion (there’s usually a conversion printed on the packaging).

Look also for the appropriate size base. For example, some lights have pins at the base and others have screw bottoms. Also, choose the right size and shape bulb. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a bulb home and realizing it peeks out above your light shade. It’s unattractive and irritating.

Step Three: Keep an eye out for sales and coupons

Make a list of the next priority room and keep an eye out for sales and coupons. More and more stores, including your local supermarket, carry LED bulbs so you should be able to find some savings.

LED bulbs are a simple way to live a more sustainable life. Add them to your home in a way that makes the most financial sense for you.

For the last idea, we’ll shift away from light and talk a bit about saving more water.

Sustainability Idea #8 How to Save More Water

It seems like half the country is dealing with a drought right now. Even if you’re not in a drought, it makes good environmental sense to save as much water as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go without showering; your friends and family would probably not appreciate that degree of effort. However, there are other lifestyle changes and steps you can take to conserve water. And you’ll cut down on your water bill too. Saving money is always good.

Related: how to save water in the garden

Step One: Install a Low Flow Shower Head

Low flow doesn’t mean that your showers will be weak and unsatisfying. In fact there are many powerful low flow showers that make you feel like you’re in a spa. Older model showerheads generally have a flow rate of about five to eight gallons per minute.

A low flow showerhead uses about one and a half to two and a half gallons per minute. Simply unscrew your old model and attach the new model, then enjoy the savings.

Step Two: Xeriscape

Xeriscaping is the process of using plants in your landscaping that don’t need much water. And we’re not just talking about cacti and succulents. There’s actually quite a large selection of plants that are drought-friendly.

If xeriscaping isn’t your style, consider watering your lawn in a more conservative manner. Water every couple of days and water your lawn when the sun goes down. Water it for a solid twenty to thirty minutes to give it a good soaking. This helps the roots go deeper and they’ll be able to retrieve more water down deep instead of relying on surface water.

Or, buy drought-resistant grass.

Step Three: Laundry and Dishes

Only do complete loads of laundry and dishes. Don’t run the appliances when they’re less than full. The same is true when you’re hand-washing laundry or clothes. Fill the sink instead of letting the water run.

Every little step you can take to conserve water helps the environment. The changes don’t have to be monumental to make a difference. Install a low flow toilet, take shorter showers and pour any leftover water into plants. Be water-wise!

How to Make a Smooth Transition into Your New More Sustainable Lifestyle

There are so many ways to make a difference in the world and the environment. From composting to installing a solar panel system in your home to provide your energy, there are so many options it might seem overwhelming. How do you decide where to start and more importantly – once you’ve decided, how do you make the transition a smooth one?

Step One: Prioritize and Plan

Choose one new habit or one area of your life where you want to make a change. What’s the most important change you feel capable of tackling right now? Where do you think you can make the biggest difference? For example, maybe you want to start eating more organic and locally grown foods.

Once you’ve decided what’s most important to you, consider how you can accomplish your goals. For example, if you want to eat more organic and locally grown foods you might join a CSA, add a garden to your yard, or visit the local farmer’s market to get your produce.

This helps you add organic and locally grown produce to your daily life. It also helps cut down on emissions and your carbon footprint because the food you’re buying doesn’t have to travel far to get to your table.

Step Two: Make Small Changes

Decide what you can do and take small steps. Your changes and goals should be realistic and achievable. For example, maybe gardening isn’t really something you have time for but you can visit the farmer’s market once a week. That’s a realistic goal that you can achieve.

Step Three: Be Patient and Persistent

Finally, keep in mind that it takes a few weeks to create a habit. Every step you take to more sustainable living is a positive step. Be patient with yourself and persistent in your life changes.

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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check out her books below:

How to Grow Lavender for Fun and Profit: Lessons Learned from Planting Three Hundred Lavender Plants

How to Raise Chickens for Eggs: A Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens for Nutritious, Organic Eggs at Home

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Saturday 2nd of October 2021

Thank you for this article.

I appreciate your advocating taking small, gradual steps. Yes!

The three most powerful things anyone in the U.S. can do to protect the environment are:

1. Don't make a baby, or stop at the number you've made. This is the single most powerful thing anyone can do to protect the environment that only requires 1 person (to get a vasectomy.)

One baby born and raised into just a low-income household in the U.S. consumes and pollutes as much as 20 babies born into the poorest 50% of the world's population.

One baby born and raised into a middle-class household in the U.S. consumes and pollutes as much as 40 babies born into the poorest 50% of the world's population.

Making the decision to not have a child, and ensuring that doesn't happen, is the single most powerful thing a person can do for the environment.

For those who really want children, there is no shortage of children who desperately need and would appreciate a loving home.

2. Live in high-density housing, in a walkable urban area with good public transit, to not own a car, and just use Lyft or Uber, or similar, and use the train, a bus, or rental car to go out of town.

Not owning a car, or owning one but barely using it, is the second most powerful thing anyone can to do protect the environment.

Also, guess which city it is whose residents have the smallest per capita energy consumption?

It's residents of New York County, aka Manhattan Island.

Because Manhattanites walk, take transit, and grab cabs for most of their daily transportation, AND because they share walls, floors, and ceilings with other housing units, which conserves energy via heating and cooling, they use less energy per person than the rest of the U.S. Even with Manhattan's extreme heat and cold range, with winter snow and summer heat.

Which leads to...

3. Live in housing that shares walls, floors, and ceilings with other housing units. This is the most insulating and energy-efficient form of housing.

And because it's higher density, it facilitates public transit, by making it more self-supporting; and therefore, making transit funding more financialy feasible and politically justifiable than living in low-density areas, where transit seldom gets used. It's extremely expensive to provide transit service, due to the labor costs of providing 8 - 12 hours of service along every route. The more people who live within 1 - 3 blocks' walking distance of a bus stop, the more financially feasible it is to provide more frequent service. People often say, "I'd use transit more often if it ran more frequently." Well, if it doesn't run frequently in your area, it's most likely because the area is too low-density for frequent service to be cost-effective.

The key to having more transit service is to live in a higher density area, where good-to-great transit service already exists, instead of demanding more transit to lower-density area.

It's more effective (and financially feasible for cities) to move to where the transit is, than to live in low-density suburbs and rural areas, and expect frequent transit to come to you. That's just not cost-feasible to provide.

We can facilitate greater transit by supporting higher-density housing, especially low-income housing, especially in downtown areas of suburbs, rather than outward sprawl. Low-income housing is preferable, because residents of low-income housing use transit the most often, thereby making more-frequent transit more financially feasible, and therefore available, to everyone in that higher-density area.

In suburbs, we can support code changes allowing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Multi-Unit Dwellings (MUDs) on suburban, single-family dwelling lots.

Finally, whenever moving, consider moving closer into town, and closer to a transit hub, for walkability, bike-ability, and walking to transit.

If we each do our part, we can gradually shift our infrastructure, and population and consumption levels, toward greater sustainability.

Small changes made by many people make a world of difference, and can make the upcoming upheavals in the climate, environment, economy, and population migration, easier to support and live through, by gradually transitioning to more sustainable ways of living.

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