The Heart of Sustainability
I started my journey to living more “sustainably” in 2017 when I moved into an apartment solo for the first time. Every single decision I made was fueled by a sense of shame and guilt for being wasteful. Deep down, there was that true love for wanting to be resilient and mindful of the Earth. Yet, each failure or obstacle along the way where I “messed up” or created waste would result in a pitfall of eco-guilt.
Fast forward four years to now and my outlook on this process has completely changed – don’t worry, I still try my best to cut down on waste: I’ll bring my own tupperware places and usually bring my own food more than eat out (although I still eat out), when I buy products I always look for used/secondhand, low-waste and cruelty-free brands, plus over the past few years have been whittling away at donating/re-gifting items that no longer fit or are not used.
For transparency’s sake though I still want to take a moment to address my achilles heel when it comes to trying to be more intentional. There are moments where I succumb to self-imposed pressure and buy new clothes for work or upcoming school. I do not compost as there are no readily available composting sources where I live and our recycling system here is sorely lacking. I drive to work everyday and so much more.
It is so easy to get into that mindset of tallying up all your efforts, successes, and failures when it comes to this kind of effort. But, as it did before, that mindset leads to burn-out. While guilt is a great motivator for change, too much of it is ultimately counterintuitive.
Sustainability is not a competition, it’s a state of life.
One of resiliency and fortitude, resourcefulness and intentionality. The biggest change that has occurred is not my opinion on whether I should be sustainable or not but how I go about that and why.
My ‘How’ and ‘Why’
Fear, eco-guilt, different adversities in life may alter living sustainably being a goal: money, time, and resources are some of the main things that can keep someone from making environmental stewardship a priority. What if I told you that making and keeping it a priority would completely change, not only our personal lives, but our culture as a whole? And for the better?
Enter: intentional living. I love this term so much, and I do because it truly gets to the heart of the matter. Everyone’s journey to living more sustainably is going to be different, some more smoothly than others. When we put the focus on the effort to try and be more mindful of our decisions and the impact it has on the world and other people, I think it will hit home for people more than just talking about Global Warming or Sustainability – especially since, unfortunately, we live in a world where those two terms have been heavily politicized.
Is it possible to say you lived a life completely zero-waste? No.
Is it possible to say you lived a life of intentionality? Yes.
That’s the difference.
The largest motivator for me now when it comes to living intentionally is my Faith. One of my favorite examples of someone living out respect and love for Creation is Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis was one of the most intentional people, besides Jesus Himself, to ever walk the Earth. Every single decision he made, he did it to glorify God and He saw God in everything. Saint Francis literally made the World his Church and every day was just another worship song to share the Truth.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So there’s more to this conversation. For me, it is rooted in my faith: resiliency, compassion, resourcefulness, and temperance. The products we use and fill our lives with are more than just mere possessions – they are glimpses into how we view ourselves and those around us. It is no coincidence that we live in a world where most products are made to be thrown away. Our culture is so scared of commitment and true care for others that it has extended into our supply chain as well. If we started to really and truly care for every single thing we bring into our lives and the lives those things affect when we purchase them, we would see a mass change in our culture too.
You don’t convince others or yourself, for that matter, that caring for the Earth is important by debating or arguing or shaming them. If you want to convince others to live more intentionally: show them. Be a beacon to that way of life and how much joy and benefits it can bring. Be Saint Francis. Our attempts to do so will be better in some seasons of life than others but the heart of our stewardship should no longer just be about “being green” or trying to solve the world’s issues on our own – it is a deeper, more meaningful, and divine reason to live out this calling that all of us are invited to.
Keep in mind, our time here is limited and so is Earth’s. This home of ours will pass away – this doesn’t make our efforts to care for it fruitless or pointless, if anything it means more. Remember: living intentionally with the goal to live in a way that betters the world than when you found it not only heals the Earth but it heals people too. That deep passion and nurture for our environment, and everything in it, brings people closer to God, who is all love and nurture.
Isn’t that ultimately what we want?
Beginner’s Intentional Guide For Starting Environmental Journey
Start Here: go through each room of your house and take note of areas that have more waste. It helps if you’re in the process of decluttering and organizing too so you can see everything. Here are some questions to help:
Kitchen: do we recycle? Compost? Are we able to in this area? If so, how do those processes work? Do we throw out food a lot? Do we eat out a lot? Is most of our waste plastic? What are some items in here that I can replace with reusable items instead of disposable?
Bedrooms & Closets: do we use these items anymore? If so, how often? Would I miss them if they were gone? Do they fit? Are they broken? Can we fix them? For those things you want to get rid of: can you donate to a thrift or consignment store? Can you gift to someone? Can you sell online? Can you buy more ethical/sustainable options when it comes time to?
Living Room/Hallways/Community Areas: is there a lot of clutter? If so, why? Do we keep multiple items or things we don’t use/need? Do we decorate? If so, do we decorate with meaningful items that will last a long time? Is it hard to keep clean? Do we use the items in these areas? Would I miss them if they were gone?
Bathroom & Laundry: what are some reusable swaps I can make in here? Are my products all packaged in plastic? Are they cruelty-free? Toxic substance free? Can I afford those products? If not, what are some other ways I can make better decisions in here? How long do we shower or run water?
Habits: do I shop a lot? Online or out in public? Do I eat out a lot? Can I bring my own Tupperware? Am I able to start cooking at home and prepping meals more? Can I afford to buy more local items (local meats/dairy, CSA boxes, farmer’s markets etc.) What are my habits when it comes to shopping – is it more spur of the moment, emotional etc. Do I make an effort to recycle? Do I take time to learn more about ways to be a better environmental steward? Do I talk and invite others into the conversation?
Let me know what you think of this guide and if you’d be interested in a PDF version!