Sustainability is a huge buzzword right now, and it’s really hard to weed through what’s been greenwashed, what’s being sold to via fear-based marketing, and what is actually reasonable for the average, every day person. It’s lovely to aspire to a home run wholly on solar power with 100% sustainable materials, a gray water system, a compost bin in the backyard that fertilizes the perennial vegetable garden, a pet chicken that lays fresh eggs, an exotic outdoor shower, a romantic claw foot tub…
I’m sorry, we were talking about something.
For the rest of us who don’t have hundreds of thousands to invest in redoing everything about our homes, there are a few simple things we can do to live in a way that’s a little more Earth-friendly, budget-friendly, and completely reasonable for any housing situation, because living in an apartment has its limitations.
Ditch paper towels & napkins
Do laundry in bigger batches
Wash certain items less frequently
Stop using disposable razors
Buy in bulk
Bring Your Own Bags
Switch to rechargeable batteries
Utilize natural light
Set up a blackout hour
Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation wherever you can
I know, you’re looking at me like I’m some kind of monster. Just bear with me. Switch to washcloths, cut up old towels, use hand towels, and start taking it easier on trees by switching to reusable cleaning towels. I’m willing to bet your budget will thank you for it, too!
Worried about the mess? I’ve set up a milk crate with a canvas liner in my kitchen, so at the end of the day I just toss in the cleaning towels I’ve used, then I wash them on laundry day.
Similarly, switch to cloth napkins. You don’t have to switch to the nice cloth napkins you’d find at a sit-down restaurant, either, especially not for everyday use! Use cotton, floursack, or linen if you like a little fanciness in your life – whatever you choose, I recommend something lightweight and cheap.
I got HUGE floursack towels because I failed to look at the size – a normal napkin is 20″x20″-26″x26″ and these were 28″x29″. So I cut them into quarters, hemmed the rough sides, and BAM I had a TON of napkins. What’s great is that they’re bleachable, too. They’re a little smaller than the average napkin, but we’re pretty casual around here, so I’m okay with that.
Save water (I’m looking at you, Californians!) by washing bigger loads of laundry instead of a couple small loads a week. Not only will you save water, but you’ll save time! Besides, laundry is already such a pain. Why spread it out?
Jeans don’t need to be washed after every wear (unless you have a particularly dirty job), and really, the same can be said for most pants. Popsugar has a great breakdown of how frequently to wash clothes by item.
Disposable razors are not usually built to last. They’re usually built to last a few shaves, and then off to the landfill they go. Sure, the blades will rust away, but the plastic will linger for much longer than you and I will.
Switch to a double edged or safety razor instead. The right one will last a lifetime if well tended, you’ll get a fantastic shave, and the replacements blades are significantly cheaper than replacement cartridges (even more so than Dollar Shave Club).
Yes. There will be a learning curve. Wet shaving is a fickle beast, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy the process of whipping up a luxurious lather with a brush and massaging it into your skin to prep for a smooth, mindful shave. I mean, shaving is already a luxury in your busy life. Why not make it into a beautiful, meditative practice? On top of that, you’ll get a smoother shave, less razor burn, and it just feels so fancy.
This is an excellent starter kit that should last you more than a year (I put kits together for myself and for my boyfriend last Christmas and they’re not only luxurious and beautiful, but they’re probably the most useful gifts I’ve ever given):
I don’t do this nearly as much as I should, but I’m also running a household of 2 and buying perishables in bulk is frequently more wasteful than helpful. However, I do like buying dry goods in bulk. See, packaging is incredibly wasteful – plastic bags, styrofoam, plastic bottles, so many different types of packaging that are just going to end up in a landfill after you’re finished using them. What’s worse is that most of this packaging isn’t biodegradable, which means that it’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to breakdown and it can’t be recycled. Remember Wall-E? That’s what happens. When you buy in bulk, you’re likely buy 2-3 times as much product as you would if you were shopping one-off. That means you’re using 1-2 fewer packages and about 1/2-2/3 the packaging (by size).
What’s better than using less packaging is NOT using extra packaging at all! Start bringing your own bags to the grocery store – little ones for produce, big ones for your bags, medium ones for bulk grains. I’ve heard of people going so far as to bring glass jars to the butcher’s counter at their grocery store for their meats. I know that might sound a little whackadoo to some, but when you think about it, it’s more sanitary because glass can be sterilized and it reduces the chances of leakage, too.
So many things just HAVE to be battery operated. Remotes, wireless keyboards & mice, EVERY SINGLE KIDS TOY EVER. And of course, batteries last for maybe a month before they need to be replaced for high-use items. Batteries are incredibly hard on the environment, so you can reduce the number of the batteries you used by switching to rechargeable. Rechargeables don’t last forever, but they last significantly longer than traditional one-time-use batteries. They may seem pricy, but rest assured: they pay themselves off within about 3-4 uses.
I’m fortunate to get decent natural lighting in most parts of my home, so I don’t have to turn the lights on until sundown. If this is in the realm of possibilities in your home or office, take advantage of it for as much of the day as you can! You’ll save on your energy bill while saving the Earth.
Living in a city that’s prone to rolling blackouts makes a person a lot more aware of the impact of peak-hour energy use. I’ve started implementing a blackout hour – all the lights in the house go off, I put my computer to sleep, turn off any fans or air conditioners, and any other non-essential appliances get turned off or unplugged. The TV gets turned off, too, so this is usually when I’ll go work out or when I pick Bug up from school and take him to the park (or just let him play outside).
I know in some regions this is easier said than done. Climate makes a big difference here, but when the weather permits, try to skip the drive. Maybe for you that means just walking to lunch from the office, or even rallying a group of coworkers to have lunch together. Make an effort to skip the drive at least 3 times next week if you can, though. I bet you can do it.
Some changes are or will be harder to make – I have glass jars for grocery shopping, but I’ve not taken the leap yet. I’m told that when you’re confident, people tend not to ask questions, but it’s a leap I just haven’t had the fortitude to make yet. However, I’m also lucky enough to live in a neighborhood wherein it’s really easy to take a quick walk to the bank, the store, to Starbucks. Don’t beat yourself up if there are some things that just don’t work for you. Doing what you can more often than not is enough.
What changes could you make to live more sustainably?