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What I Learned from My Month of “Going Green”

My takeaways transformed into a step by step guide towards living a greener life

It’s daunting hearing the news about climate change, terrifying seeing the stats, and overwhelming when asking what you as an individual can do. How can we make a difference on an everyday level? Nobody is perfect. Nobody has to be perfect. Sustainable living isn’t about that. It’s about doing what you can, and most importantly, striving to be part of the solution, not the problem.

In January, I brainstormed and then implemented small changes I could make to live more sustainably. From cooking to cleaning, from your backyard to in the office, these are all easy changes and switches that can be achieved by anyone. And by anyone, I mean you too!

If you’re just getting started, start small. You don’t have to do a complete 180 and go zero waste. It can be as simple as saying no to a plastic straw in a restaurant. It’s all about turning good intentions into good habits. With this guide, you can discover various habits to get into in many different aspects of your life.

Most importantly (and any sustainability guru will tell you this), it’s about living a minimalist lifestyle. Conscious consumption, slow consumption, LESS consumption.

This guide is divided into three sections: at home, out and about, and self-care based on the changes I personally made throughout the month.

At Home

Go Paperless
The first thing I did was go paperless. I went through emails and various accounts, opting into emails rather than mailing.

Stop buying paper towels
This was surprisingly easy and by far my favorite change. I’m big on using old rags rather than paper towels for, well, everything. I use old t-shirts to wipe down counters, clean spills, and scrub dirt.
P.S. this saves so much money.

Plant an herb garden
My roommate horticulture queen informed me that herbs actually grow much better outside in full daylight, so I took her advice and planted some mint and basil. For my apartment dwellers, they grow great in pots too, and green onions grow like crazy in a cup of water.

Open your window
I don’t know about you all, but if I can turn the heat or AC off, I’m doing it. You save energy and money; plus fresh air is just better. I know this one is probably obvious, but I’ve had roommates who never once cracked their window, and always had their air on.

Make your own cleaning product
I made all purpose cleaner as well as toilet/tub cleaner after running out of what I had. These really work, and I like using them because our house is old so I want to avoid using chemicals whenever possible.

More ideas for your green living at home:

  • Collect and reuse rainwater
  • Compost
  • Opt for a bamboo dish scrub
  • Meal plan for the week to reduce wasting food / food going bad.
  • Donate your old books

Out and About

First and foremost: put reusable silverware in your _____.
For me the blank was backpack. I eat on campus pretty frequently and if I don’t bring my own fork, I’m doomed to use their plastic ones. The only issue is remembering to put them back when I come home.

Put reusable bags in your car.
I say this instead of “bring your own bags to the store” because I think we all know to do that. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a store and only then realize I left my bags. Some stores make you pay now, most don’t. So, I keep about 7 in there at all times (because I’ll also forget to put them back in my car).

Shop seasonally when buying groceries.
There are quite a lot of environmental repercussions for buying produce that isn’t in season. Having said produce year round increases the use of chemical fertilizers, among other things. Even better, shop seasonally from your local farmers to cut down on transportation impacts.

Use the Three Finger Shopping Rule.  
1. Do I need this?
2. Right now?
3. In this form?
This is key to living sustainably by slashing consumption and encouraging mindful purchases.

After the first question I’ve usually eliminated the item.

More ideas, you say?

  • Swap plastic wrap for beeswax wrap
  • Bring your mug/thermos to the coffee shop (some places offer discounts)
  • Shop second hand
  • Pack your lunch
  • Only buy produce without plastic wrap


Air dry your laundry.
I’m a huge advocate for this for two reasons: it’s better for your clothes and it’s better for the planet. The second one goes without saying, and even in a little apartment is possible. I have a drying rack that I use religiously when I can’t use my clothesline. As far as garment care goes, a dryer is the most detrimental thing that we use when caring for our clothes. Nothing will reduce your product life faster, so by air drying your clothes, you’re also extending the life of your products.

Eat plant based.
This could mean meatless Mondays or adopting a vegetarian first mindset. When grocery shopping or ordering food, try to opt for vegetarian meals and plant-based alternatives.

P.S there is a lot of controversy for the comparative healthiness for meat vs plant-based meat. Numerous studies have shown they are indeed healthy, if not healthier than their meat counterparts

Shoutout to my mom for this next one: carry a handkerchief around.
She’s been doing this for years and hasn’t bought a box of tissues since.  Keep a pile of them for when it gets gross and toss your used hanky in the laundry pile. Goodbye Kleenex.

Sign up for the library.
If you love to read, you know how expensive and space consuming books can be. So why buy when you can borrow?

More Sustainable Self-Care Ideas

You’re probably already doing some of these. So now just add a few more – the planet will thank you 😉

–Julia Hardie

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