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Community & Culture

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: Less is More When Living Green

Lotus Flower Reflected in Water Droplets

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
—Albert Einstein

Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.
—Henry David Thoreau

We must live simply, so that others may simply live.
—Gandhi

Ah, the simple life. No worries, no responsibilities, it’s the stuff of dreams. But in today’s world, living is far from simple. Simplifying your life often seems like one more impossible task on your long to-do list. Even though common sense tells us that the most environmentally conscious life is a simple one, it’s much easier said than done.

So how do you go from talking the green talk to walking the walk? Well, you could start by simplifying. I know, I know, easier said than done. Specifically, take a look at your consumption habits and learn to do more with less stuff. If you could add up the true cost of everything you own, including each item’s environmental footprint, you may be surprised at how much is involved with owning a seemingly simple thing. From raw materials to manufacturing to shipping and marketing, a lot of pollution, waste, and energy goes into every little consumable good, whether it be a toothbrush or a computer.

I’m not advocating going without a toothbrush (or a computer, I know I couldn’t do that) but simply being conscious of the impact your purchasing decisions have on the planet. Reflect on the wise words that began this post, and begin asking questions. Here are some questions to ask yourself before giving into your materialistic consumer tendencies:

  1. Do I need it? This is a pretty obvious question, but you’d be surprised how wants and frivolous desires turn into necessities.
  2. Is it something I’ll use often? If you’re contemplating buying something but don’t plan to use it more than once or twice, could you rent or borrow it?
  3. Would a used item suffice? Not everything needs to be brand new to work well. Give old items a second chance and reduce waste by re-using. Hit up thrift stores, yard sales, and swapping sites like Freecycle.
  4. What is the most sustainable option? Before making a purchase, do your homework. Find out if a greener alternative is available, and look for items that are organic, fair trade, natural and cruelty-free to fit your conscience and your needs.
  5. Am I falling prey to consumerism? Do you want something because it’s useful and necessary, or because you saw a cool ad or it’s the latest fad? In today’s consumerism-obsessed culture, companies will do anything to get your dollar. Use it as a vote, support companies you can feel good about and watch out for false promises, fads, and greenwashing.
  6. Will it last? Go for quality with any purchase you make, and try to fix or modify something before tossing it and replacing it with something new.
  7. Could I make it myself? There are many things you can make yourself to save money, the planet, and a trip to the store. From growing your own food to sewing clothes to making soap to building furniture, there are many things you can tackle yourself with a little extra time. The best part is, if you create something, you control what goes into it.

Asking these types of questions before making a purchasing decision will not only help you save money, it will make you a more conscious consumer. Every choice we make has an impact, and our purchasing choices are an opportunity to make a statement. The more we realize this, the more careful we’ll be about voting with our dollars.

Making the gradual change from a consumer to a conscious consumer starts with a mindshift. We’ve grown up being conditioned to prize convenience over quality and shopping over creating. Time speeds up and we get busier, then technology and products seemingly come to the rescue. In the process of becoming a modern consumerist society, we have forgotten a few things. We have forgotten that the food we need comes from the earth, not a supermarket. We have forgotten that with a little hard work and determination, we can provide for all our needs and live sustainably and simply at the same time. We have forgotten the lessons our ancestors worked so hard to learn: how to live with the earth, not just on it.

How do we re-learn those forgotten lessons? We rekindle our kinship with nature and start asking questions like the ones listed above. We slow down, simplify, and let go. This could mean living in a smaller space, cleaning out your closet and donating what you don’t wear, starting a compost bin and an organic garden, and taking time to make meals from scratch instead of eating wasteful and unhealthy processed convenience foods. It could mean buying nothing, if only for one day. It could mean simplifying your to-do list and focusing on the handful of things that make you truly happy. Living more simply and sustainably is your own personal journey, you define your green lifestyle.

So dive right in, embrace the winds of change and see what you could be happier doing without. Simplicity and sustainability go hand in hand, and I’m sure happiness is not far away.

Read More About Simple Green Living:

Photo by tanakawho under a Creative Commons license.




7 comments
  1. Uncle B

    Mom and I have survived small pension these past twenty odd years with a good garden in the backyard, no car, just bikes and a lot of “rag-bag” clothing! We actually donated food almost every year to the food banks! I pressure can, dry, freeze, gardens stuffs and any bargains that come along, I pickle, sauerkraut, and make conserves, We brew beer, root beer, and make darned delightful ginger beer, We freeze strawberry rhubarb and apple pies,blueberry pies, keep squash under our bed over winter, dry beans, can beans, hang onions in the cellar head with garlic and drying basil, oregano, we even dry potatoes for delightful scalloped potato dishes in the winter-time! We can any fish we get or buy on sale, including “Suckers” (A Canadian thing) I have canned potatoes – rot proof, last forever – for stews, baked dishes, and to put in with roasts, a cold cellar full of storage potatoes every winter, and pumpkin with many recipes for it coming out our yazoos! We compost and pay little or nothing for fertilizers, and close rooms off we are not using to save heating/cooling costs! We have converted to CFL’s and will go to LED’s as soon as they are practically priced or government subsidized! We turn the furnace off at night save for the coldest times of year, and snuggle into great comforters gotten at yard sales for cheap! We give at church, and attend for our outings, We participate in all church activities. We give to charities locally and the good wife (Mom) goes to Guatemala on a mission this year to build houses for the less fortunate their. We have a color TV, big enough to see, not a whole wall-full mind, and we enjoy some radio too. We read al lot, mostly library books, Ontario, where we live has excellent, free, library services! I use Ubuntu, the free software from the net for my second hand computer, and like it very much! We walk for groceries, carry home any we need, that limits how much doesn’t it! We send gifts to the grandchildren, modest ones, and keep our children well aware of the values of life that count most!Mom cleans floors for richer neighbors, cleans toilets at clubs and the church, to give to charity when we have no immediate needs (most the time!) and we survive. Who could ask for more? Why? My time is my own, my thoughts unregulated by corporatism, capitalism, materialism, conforming, social ladder climbing, and greed, and I see photos to take of the beauty of humanity that can be seen through no other eyes!

  2. Joel

    Great post, Megan. Products have become less and less durable, and it’s not just the fault of the manufacturers. Too often consumers look to replace or upgrade items that work just fine.

  3. genaman

    Yet, if we buy less then our whole country and even world suffers.
    Funny isn’t it how every other living organism but man can survive of just what the Earth has to offer.
    AND THEY DO IT WITHOUT HARMING THE EARTH.

    Yes, I try to use less I Freecycle and Reuse but still I create piles of toxins which go into this Earth in someway or other.

    Recycling? This could be Our Savoir but the Powers That Be fight it everyway they can.
    PLASTIC CONTAINERS nobody wants them. They are hard to recycle even if you could get some outfit to try.

    There has to be someway to switch back to glass.
    Remember glass? In my years of using it I might have cut my lip once on a coke bottle or had to throw out a jar or two..GLASS WAS CLASS and I remember Grandma reusing jars all the time.

    Today you can’t hardly even find mustard or ketchip in glass bottles.
    Hey ,was any of us ever asked if we wanted any of those plastic containers. I know I wasn’t.
    For the longest time I even change products so I could keep using glass.
    Alas, there are few glass anythings left.

    So the march of plastic goes on.
    We could have glass back in a nano second . IF WE AS CONSUMERS DEMANDED IT! And we also know THIS AIN”T GOING TO HAPPEN!

    We just simply drop all those plastic containers into plastic bags and some magic truck comes along and POOFF We can sleep well again.

    THE POWERS TOO CHANGE THINGS IS IN OUR OWN HANDS.
    If we want to continue just to be sheep then we can only blame ourselves.
    Funny, I wrote smmething like this way back decades ago. And guess what ? It just got wORSE!
    I am going on 62 years old come next month. My time is down to maybe another decade .
    TOMMORROW IS YOURS NOW.
    (And you as a whole may not even make 62)Eviironmental Degradation and Global Warming ARE REAL.
    There is no doubt about it.
    GHANDI died for nothing Ed Begley is doing the same

  4. Megan

    Thank you for pointing that out. Sorry about the misquote – I instinctively thought it was a Gandhi quote but found several sources that said otherwise. I guess those sources suck. 🙂 It’s been fixed. Please don’t judge the entire article by one mistake. Thanks.

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