So many of us talk about eating healthy, renewing that gym membership, and taking more initiative to live a greener lifestyle. We make New Year’s resolutions, we buy fancy running shoes or a new bike, and we fill the fridge with organic foods. We start collecting cookbooks and self-help journals to support our newfound interests. We’re on the right track most of the time, but we often jump head first into these types of changes with little-to-no knowledge of how much work it is actually going to be. We are already busy with work, keeping up with family matters, making appointments, and meeting deadlines. Eventually, the books soon return to the shelf, the shoes get put away, and our dreams of living green fade with the coming months.
Here are a few ideas that will help you stay on the “straight and narrow” this year. When it comes to going green, it is never an easy task, but by incorporating these steps into our everyday routines, we can make a difference, no matter how small it may seem. Little by little, you will see a change in yourself, your home, and your life, which will only motivate you to do more – without biting off more than you can chew at once.
Let’s start with the most basic rule: Recycling. Recycling is so much more important than we think it is. Everything we use and then discard goes into landfills. Those landfills accumulate harsh chemicals, gases and debris that pollute the earth and our environment. The less we throw in the landfills, the better. Therefore, start by grabbing an old bin and every time you finish a can of soda, rinse it and toss it in the bin. Done with the gallon of milk? Toss it in. Your local trash service probably provides a recycling amenity, so call them and ask what your next steps are. Otherwise, a weekly trip to your recycling center will be well worth it, and recycling some materials, like scrap metal, can even make you a little side money!
Going further into recycling, another way to avoid wastefulness is by reusing some items you’ve already purchased. For example, plastic bags at the grocery store can be reused. Simply bring them with you on your next shopping trip, ask that your items not be bagged, and then bag them yourself at the trunk of your car. It takes two extra minutes to do and you’ll be able to use those bags for several big shopping trips before they give out.
Repurpose old furniture or make new things out of junk. Giving an old dresser a facelift with new paint and hardware will cost you under $20 and provide you with a completely new look that will not only make you happy, but will keep you from throwing away a perfectly good piece just because it’s dated. Tired of a lot of things in your home? Host a garage sale and make a few extra dollars for a new composter!
Speaking of composting, there are several ways to tackle this seemingly tedious job. Traditional composting requires that you have a large tumbler in your yard that smells and you are only allowed to put some newspaper, fruit and veggie scraps, and egg shells in it, then you have to do the extra work of tumbling the mixture every week on top of smelling the awful decomposition the entire time. New age composting, however, provides us with the ability to compost in small batches, without the need for tumbling, and with the added benefit of being able to throw in almost anything, even meats and dairy! Look for the “anything composters” that will allow you to do this, and then find an inconspicuous place in your home to store the composter. You’ll want to keep these types of containers indoors and away from direct sunlight. There are several models worth spending $75-$100 on, and you’ll have to purchase the “bran” that goes along with the system. It is needed for mixing in with the compost to break down those harsh clippings and scraps.
You can also make your own composter. This will require a little more work, but will be a cheaper alternative, and will double as an upcycling project if you already have the materials on hand. Start by grabbing a five-gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid. In order to ensure that your compost decomposes properly, you will have to mix the mush yourself, either by hand, or with the help of a small garden rake or spade. You will only have to do this once a week or so, as composting requires a no-oxygen environment. Press the mixture down as much as you can, and incorporate yard clippings along with it, such as dead leaves or grass. The matter will need to drain, so it may be easier to buy a composter, otherwise you can drill small holes in your bucket, and line the bottom with a few pebbles to ensure sufficient drainage.
Again, composting is not meant to be a struggle, so if you’re interested but not totally sold, try collecting things like potato peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, and apple cores in an airtight container. Store the container in your freezer. After a week or so, take the container out, let the scraps defrost, and bury them. You will want to dig a trench-like bed in a shady part of your yard. Be sure to add in some shredded newspaper or other dry materials for even nutrient distribution.
Using natural products to clean and refresh your home is not only much safer for you and your family, but it is a lot more feasible as well. Simple everyday items like vinegar, baking soda, and lemons are useful as all-purpose cleaners, and chances are, you probably already have them in your house. Cut a lemon in half and use it as a scrubby to remove water stains and soap scum from shower fixtures and glass doors. Use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda (along with water) to clean grout and hard surfaces. Of course you’ll have to come up with alternatives for cleaning more fragile items and porous surfaces, such as stone and ceramic, but always read the labels of cleaning products. For inviting scents and smells that keep your home fresh, like candles and aerosol sprays, try using essential oils and fresh flowers instead.
You can make a difference in your personal hygiene as well, by removing the use of high-end, chemically potent soaps and shampoos, and opting for a natural approach. When researching these products, you will want to aim for “sulfate-free,” which is a chemical that is really good for getting grime off, but will dry out and damage your hair and skin in the long run.
Depending on just how “green” you are trying to go, the bathroom is a big contributor to energy use and water waste. Turn off the faucet while shaving and brushing your teeth, and install a low-flow toilet for flushing reduction. Shorten your showers and when you are trying to relax, soak in the tub. Filling the tub once uses less water than a 15-minute shower, which flows at approximately 75 gallons every 15 minutes! You can also purchase a low-flow showerhead, which will cut the gallon-per-minute ratio by a whopping 50-55%.
Water is not only important to conserve, but it is also important to incorporate into your healthy lifestyle. You need to drink more water! But don’t buy the pre-packaged bottles. Instead, purchase a bottle with a built-in filter, or a filtration system that you can install onto your kitchen sink. This way, you will be able to refill the bottles you already have, with water that is purified right in your kitchen.
When it comes to everyday tasks around your home, you may want to try incorporating little changes, like unplugging devices that you aren’t using, and buying recycled paper goods like bathroom tissue and napkins. Connect multiple devices to one surge protector and unplug the entire thing when not in use. This will make everything easier to get to and won’t be such a hassle to remember every day.
When it comes to eating habits, adopting a healthy lifestyle is even harder than revamping your home, because these changes affect your every move, from that first cup of coffee to that sweet late-night treat. You don’t have to limit your variety of foods when trying to eat healthier, you just have to eat less of the bad stuff and more of the good. For example, if your diet normally consists of 2,000 calories, make the majority of those calories count towards fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and unprocessed goods. Stay away from trans fats; they are not your friends. Sugar is okay, in moderation, but stay away from substitutes, as they usually have chemical additives in them. According to a recent Berkeley study, cholesterol is not a “bad guy.” We shouldn’t be worrying about the intake because it has no real effect on our blood cholesterol levels. Instead, factors such as trans fats and saturated fats are to blame, so limit the amount of these in daily consumption.
A lot of people have been jumping all over the new gluten-free diet. Though it has become a popular lifestyle trend, it is necessary for some people because their bodies don’t process gluten properly (celiac disease). Having a gluten sensitivity means that the protein gluten is harder to digest, and doesn’t break down like a raw protein would. Gluten is found in rye, wheat, and barley, but is not present in many healthy whole foods. Moreover, a gluten-free diet emphasizes the importance of fresh foods, like eggs, fruits, veggies, beans, fish, meats, and even some dairy products.
One thing to watch during your healthy lifestyle change is the amount of sodium you take in. High amounts of sodium raise blood pressure. High blood pressure is a no-no. For optimum health, limit your sodium intake to just under 2,000 milligrams per day. Along with decreasing your sodium intake, you should want to increase the amount of potassium consumed.
Another thing to avoid is supplements. You won’t get the proper amount of nutrients you need from a supplement, even if it claims to be amazing and give you super powers. You simply need the foods that contain essential vitamins your body needs. Opt for all-natural supplements if you must take a substitute, as the organic varieties will pull the nutrients from the actual foods and break them down into a concentrated version. Do not take more supplements or vitamins than the recommended dose, and ask your doctor before adding a new supplement to your diet.
Don’t cancel out all of the foods you love, and then sign up to run a 5k marathon. Don’t completely dismantle your house and go crazy with lemon juice. Don’t overthink it; you will burn yourself out. Going green is all about making conscious health decisions, both for yourself and your home, that will produce long-term results for a maximum lifestyle change that encourages beneficial habits. In short, going green should make you feel better, not worse. Opt to try out a few of these things, whatever sticks out to you most, and then go for it. The idiom, “it’s the little things that count,” stands tried and true when it comes to a complete lifestyle overhaul. When you’ve graduated from composting, then you can move on to vegetable-oil-powered cars and solar panels, but for now, stick to the simple conscious transition. Every small step counts as being productive and mindful of your choices, and awareness is perhaps the single most crucial adjustment you can make. Remember to research new products for reviews and ingredients, and have fun with trying new things! Soon, these adjustments will turn into habits, and you’ll do them without blinking an eye. Best of all, you will feel better, stronger, and live longer!