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The Beginner’s Guide To Sustainable Living (Where To Start?)

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Sustainable living is not just about the practical real-world actions that people choose to take on a day-to-day basis such as reducing their plastic usage.

Real sustainable living is an entire change in mindset where you are proactive in becoming better informed about the best, most ethical, most sustainable, and most planet-friendly way of doing things.

And then adopting them into your lifestyle.

This mindset is centered around being eco-friendly and will be your primary focus driving all of your decision-making actions. From this, you will naturally fall into a lifestyle grounded in sustainability that will grow stronger with each passing year.

This guide to sustainable living is edited down into bite-size chunks that explain some of the many concepts associated with living a sustainable lifestyle.

And hopefully, armed with this knowledge you can make a rational and informed choice to see if a sustainable lifestyle is the one for you. And if it is, it should answer the question;

Where do I start?

Sustainable Living

Why Change To A Sustainable Lifestyle?

As we steadily increase our demands on the world’s limited resources, we also see our actions directly affecting the world’s climate.

Climate change is now largely accepted as real and, as such, is a threat to our delicately balanced ecosystem and all life on earth. 

However, all is not lost. On the contrary, many people worldwide are switching to this enforced realism and are starting to take action to curb its effects.

People are trying to make a difference from direct activism to social media chats to small proactive changes in personal lifestyle choices.

Society itself is now moving towards living a more sustainable and greener lifestyle.

Furthermore, all this is done in the hope that we can reverse this catastrophic turn of events. That being said, making the transition to an eco-friendly lifestyle is not an easy one.

There are many paths an individual can choose and even more variants to each path, so where do you begin?

From ideology to activism to lifestyle and ethical choices, zero waste to cutting out plastic and upcycling, the list is large and seemingly endless.

However, the trick is not to keep thinking about all the options but to just pick a place and start.

Or as one great philosopher once said…

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Lao Tzu 

However, transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle is not a socially easy one.

Unfortunately, there are many critics and seemingly just as many “eco-shaming” people who will pour scorn upon your efforts.

So this transition will require dogged determination and strong strength of character to stay focused. Both of which you may doubt that you possess.

However, remember that this is a journey, and like all worthwhile journeys, you will experience highs and lows, but the more you walk it, the easier it will become. 

pollution-sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living

there is no one size fits all solution.

In the world of sustainability, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

That is to say, whether it be zero waste, ethical fashion choices, plastic-free, carbon footprint reduction, non-toxic cleaning, or many others, all efforts made will lead to accomplishing the ultimate goal.

So don’t get stressed out and fooled into thinking that you are doing it wrong as every action, no matter how small, does have a positive effect.

That is why it does not matter how” the path is walked, as the “destination” will always remain the same for all of us.

Where Do I Begin My Journey To Sustainable Living?

It might be easier to answer that question if you thought about what sustainable living looks like to you.

From the small list quoted earlier, you can see many possible roads to sustainability, which means that there’s a wide variety of entrance points.

For me, it started with reducing reliance on plastic, then onto greener cleaning, and is now moving into a more minimalist style of living. 

For others, it began with healthier food choices, ethical shopping, and supporting local traders and farmers.

However, some things are constant, and in the beginning, no matter where we start, we all face the same barriers.

These common barriers threaten to sabotage our goals, knock us off track, and turn us away from sustainable efforts.

We will talk about those later, but for now, where to begin?

The first step, which will keep you grounded, is working out a strong definition of what a sustainable lifestyle looks like for you.

Examples of this might be; to shop ethically, upcycle, reduce your plastic consumption, or live in a more minimalistic, eco-friendly way.

Whatever it might be for you, the point is that it gives you something solid to aim for and to fall back on when life gets tough.

No matter what mistakes I make, my reduced reliance on plastic and all the successes I have made there help me to shrug off the mistakes and to carry on.

Or as Mark Caine put it,

“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you find yourself,”

That being said, the best place to start when transitioning to a new lifestyle is in mental preparation.

So let’s start there and work our way towards the subjects of zero waste, minimalism, carbon reduction, and non-toxic cleaning.

Breaking Old Habits – The Beginnings Of Sustainable Living

oranges in plastic bag sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living

The way you live is habitual, and by that, I mean it is regular, usual, constant, fixed, normal, compulsive, or even addicted, and like any addiction, it’s hard to break.

Your will to change must be stronger than the power of your addiction not to.

That is why you must start small, recognize the wins, and then congratulate yourself on achieving them daily.

I believe that recognizing and feeling emotive about change are the two biggest and possibly the most influential factors in achieving and sustaining long-term goals

As I mentioned earlier, my desire to reduce my plastic usage started me on my sustainable living journey.

I made a point of recognizing and feeling good every time I visited the supermarket, and I didn’t use a plastic bag.

I broke that one small habit, which has encouraged me to sustain my change and aim higher. 

I started small, and now I do bigger. I buy in bulk and avoid plastic packaging. (smiley face).

Importantly though, experts say that, on average, it will take 21 days to form a new habit and longer to break an existing one.

As you affect your change, keep this in mind, and don’t be too discouraged by any minor failures.

Remember it’s a long comfortable journey you want, not a fast-paced race, as you may run out of steam!

With all that in mind, my advice is to start with one or two little new habits while trying to break one or two old ones.

Like-for-like habits are the best place to start.

For example, use a metal fountain pen rather than the cheap plastic throwaway ones. Plus buy a refillable water bottle to replace the purchase of multiple single-use plastic ones. Or the simple material bag in place of a plastic bag for life.

Small steps but ones that are sustainable and that you can build upon.

Celebrate the success and for that extra boost, calculate the difference that it makes over a year, or even your lifetime!

Remember to also think about the potential loss of life or damage you will have prevented by not creating more plastic waste to fill our lands or our oceans.

27 Famous Plastic-Free, Waste & Pollution Quotes. (Inspirational Sayings)

Involve Others In Your Sustainability Decision

Why celebrate success on your own when you can do it with friends?

One should never underestimate the power of friendship and the positive feelings of sharing new and exciting changes in your life.

sustainable living boy shouting into microphone
Guide To Sustainable Living

Family and Friends will provide support, love, and understanding and give you a soundboard for new ideas and events.

They can also provide fresh ways of looking at things and encouragement when things go wrong or when criticism comes your way.

Doing good things for the benefit of the planet and the next generation is something we should celebrate and shout about.

So don’t be discouraged; use your support network of family, friends, and social media, and you will almost be guaranteed success.

What About The Cost And Convenience?

money in jars money saving eco tips
Guide To Sustainable Living

Sustainable living products are, on average, more expensive than their toxic or plastic counterparts.

This is due to supply and demand and a marketplace flooded with low-quality throwaway items that people attach little personal value to.

However, the good news is that Eco-friendly products are becoming more popular, which is increasing demand and lowering prices.

Eco-friendly products are also usually made to a higher standard and specification, enabling them to last longer and be recycled.

This is good for the planet as it reduces waste and removes a potential ‘end of life’ danger source to the environment.

Furthermore, the extra initial cost is recouped by owning a higher quality product that lasts longer between replacements.

Over time this can equate to a substantial monetary saving proving that buying eco-friendly products is beneficial to person and planet alike!

sustainable Living And Self Doubt

Everyone has a little demon sitting on their shoulder whispering self-doubt and negativity into their ear.

You are not alone in that, but don’t despair, just ignore him and fortify your commitment by remembering your core reason for starting the journey to sustainable living.

I fortify my commitment in times of self-doubt by doing the following.

I think about my children, about the world that I am leaving to them, and about how they will look back upon my actions when I am gone.

I also take the time to remember “what sustainability looks like to me”:

Sustainability focuses on meeting the present’s needs without compromising the needs of the future or future generations.

Self-doubt will tell you that you are a tiny cog in a giant machine and that your actions will change nothing.

Indeed you are a small cog, but you are also an important part of a bigger machine, which means you are essential to its overall performance.

So when I walk into a coffee shop and am offered a throwaway cup, I refuse and pull out my own washable cup for them to fill.

I refuse the plastic straw in favor of my steel one, and I take my own non-plastic tableware to BBQs.

All this costs me no more than a little time, inconvenience and effort but believe me when I say that, it genuinely brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart (truly happy days).

This is the feeling that no amount of money can buy or a sustainable website can express.

So don’t live with self-doubt. Instead, live with the knowledge that you are a small part of a bigger cause, and because you are there, YOU ARE AMAZING!

The Shame And Imposter Factors

It may seem odd to say it, but one thing that stops us from trying out new things is the feeling of being different.

We look at ourselves and think that others somehow view us differently and not in a good way.

These negative emotions grow stronger and then worry trepidation, and fear set in. All these emotions tear at us, and soon we start to question our abilities.

It’s easier to tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, haven’t the time or commitment to change, and are imposters on the scene.

For example, you might think – Those who run websites are the real sustainability people, not me.

Shame on me for thinking I could do it; shame on me for thinking that I was better than everyone else, shame, shame, shame.

shame and sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living

Of course, none of these scenarios are real; they only exist in your head and are designed to stop you from being and doing things differently.

Don’t listen to these thoughts.

Instead, realize that being different and living your life more sustainably is a strong and positive thing.

Being Different Is Now A Good Thing

In fact in today’s society being different means that you are no longer seen as a follower but as a leader.

One who has integrity and an independent mind. One who can show others the right path.

For a complete explanation of integrity, you might like my post: What Are The 15 Observable Traits Of Integrity?

So don’t hang your head in shame or think of yourself as an imposter as you still have a lot to learn.

You are a leader, an explorer, a groundbreaker, and someone to be followed and admired. 

Don’t force others Into a Sustainable Living

When you try to influence others and change your way of thinking and behaving, you might come off as being superior or better than them.

So don’t try!

Most people will just quietly observe you from a distance, and then when the time is right, they will come to you with their curiosity.

The ice will be broken, and you can converse in an atmosphere of mutual clear thinking and understanding.

In this way, they are more likely to take up the cause of sustainable living and sustain their efforts.

You may also have made a friend and confidant for life.

The Change To Sustainable Living

sustainable living funny face
Guide To Sustainable Living

As I mentioned earlier, the transition to a sustainable lifestyle is not an easy one. The choices of where to start and how to do it sustainably are varied and deeply personal.

However, this can be mitigated somewhat by following these basic steps and keeping in mind the bigger picture.

Take small steps and congratulate yourself on every achievement; don’t let your mind be your own worst enemy. We all fall sometimes, but it’s the getting back up that’s the important part.

Surround yourself with the right network of family and friends, not forgetting to look for like-minded individuals to share your thoughts and ideas with.

Take each day as it comes and remember, it’s only the initial cost, which may be relatively expensive. In the long run, living a sustainable lifestyle will save you money, and your kids will thank you for it.

Sustainability looks different for everyone, so do what is right for you and don’t compare yourself with others or them with you.

Live it, love it, enjoy it, and savor the journey. 

Oh, and one tiny but hugely important point;

Remember that no one is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the sustainability wagon on occasion.

It happens to the best of us whether we admit to it or not; at the end of the day, that’s life. The intention to do better next time and then in the long term is what really counts!

So now that we have established you can make a difference, let’s briefly discuss four sustainable lifestyle changes you can adopt to facilitate that change. 

Zero Waste

Is Zero Waste Achievable?

The aim of the zero waste philosophy is simple; send nothing to landfills.

Now that might sound unachievable, and in its purest form, it probably is. However, if we make this our ultimate goal and strive to get there, great things are possible.

Do you know that some zero wasters can fit all their discarded waste for one year into a mason jar?

How do they achieve that?

They aim to send nothing to landfills, so they strictly follow the 5 Rs of the zero waste mantra.

  • Refuse what you don’t want. (such as plastic carrier bags from stores)
  • Reduce what you need. (do you really need 30 pairs of shoes?)
  • Reuse as much as you can. (an empty spray bottle can be refilled)
  • Recycle whenever it’s possible. (such as making handbags from jeans)
  • Rot. (if it can go into your home compost bin, it does!)  
zero waste and sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living

Zero waste is a philosophy and a goal. It sets targets but does not criticize us if we fail to achieve them.

Don’t look at yourself now and think that the task is too hard or the bar is set too high that it cannot be achieved. 

This sustainable living task is easier than you think!

In truth, “Zero waste” is the end target for everyone. 

Furthermore, this is inevitably a journey that we will all be walking in the not-too-distant future.  

“Zero Waste” is a goal that is ethical, economical, sustainable, and visionary. 

Setting zero waste as a goal will guide individuals and businesses into practices that will create sustainable natural cycles.

Cycles where all discarded materials will be redesigned or recycled for the benefit of us all and the planet as a whole.

By doing this, we will eliminate the volume and toxicity of our waste, which is a great threat to our human, animal, and plant health. 

How Can I Change To Zero Waste?

I will cover the subject of zero waste more fully in another post.

At this moment, think about those things or items that you consume the most, then consider replacing those things with more eco-friendly or sustainable alternatives.

Some of those items to change may include:

  • Plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one
  • Tampons/pads to a menstrual cup
  • Bottled shampoo to shampoo bars
  • Plastic bags to hemp or biodegradable ones
  • Bottled soap to soap bars
  • Bleached toilet paper/kitchen towel/ tissues to recycled unbleached alternatives
  • Plastic water bottles to a metal reusable water bottle
  • Coffee pods to coffee beans
  • Plastic storage containers to glass containers
  • Composting your plant-based food waste
  • Plastic straws to paper or metal ones
  • Manufactured sponge to a compostable and reusable dishcloth or brush
  • Plastic cutlery to metal or bamboo cutlery
  • Disposable razor to a stainless steel safety razor
  • Plastic sandwich bags to beeswax wraps
  • Changing chemical cleaners to natural-based cleaners
  • Upcycling old products and materials rather than throwing them away 

Remember, The transition into a zero-waste lifestyle takes time and effort.

This will test you every day, but the effort will produce results that can quite literally change the planet.

By making these changes (and hopefully many others), you will be drastically reducing the harmful effects that man has on his environment.

Another win in this respect is that it will also save you time and money, all of which can be invested in your family and in attaining a happier life. 

So go ahead, start today and make those small changes that will have BIG and everlasting results! 


What Is Minimalism?

Minimalism is intentional, and a true minimalist will live with less than 100 things.

True minimalists will not possess a car, house, or tv and will only surround themselves with the things they most love, cherish, and value.

minimalism and sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living

Now that ideal is far too strict for most people; however, it is a good example of how little we truly need to live sustainably.

It also shows how we can focus on the true goals that we are trying to achieve once we have cleared out the clutter.

As I mentioned above, the idea of living with only 100 things or less is not for every minimalist. I would also argue that most minimalists have in their possession a number in excess of that.

Furthermore, it must be understood that  Minimalism is a lifestyle choice, not a number-counting exercise

As such, it is full of benefits that, quite simply, go far beyond the number of items that you can count.

Living a minimalist lifestyle will give you more time, money, space, and freedom to follow your dreams.

It also has the power to increase your activity levels, make you happier, and feel less stressed.

Consequently, it can have both positive physical and observable positive effects on your mental health and general well-being.

Minimalists surround themselves with the things that they love.

The things that they cherish and those items that bring them delight every day. They see little need for those items which do not stir emotion in them. Why fill your world with magnolia when you can dip into the vast palette of color?

This category of “collected items” is seen only as clutter, cluttering the mind and preventing them from seeing those valuable items around them.

This is why most minimalists do not stick to the 100 items or less rule. Instead, they will adopt a more “if I love, I keep it” attitude.

However, it’s never easy for us to let items go, and we will unconsciously find reasons for keeping them. This is why I say minimalism is intentional.

You have to make daily choices or ask yourself intentionally, does this, or will this, item bring joy to me when I see it?

If the answer is no, then the true minimalist will not keep it.

How Do I Start My Sustainable Living Minimalist Journey?

house next to sea sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living
  • The first step is to tell your family and friends what it is you intend to do.

    This will decrease the number of items coming into your life and help others understand, help, and support you along the way.

  • Don’t rush into things. Any lifestyle change can be difficult, and the task’s size daunting at first, so take it slowly.

    Split your home into rooms or even sections and tackle one section per month, week, day, or whatever works for you.

    Making the task smaller will be easier, less stressful, and undoubtedly more achievable and sustainable in the long run for some people.

  • Don’t get rid of everything immediately as you might inadvertently dispose of someone else’s loved possession, and they may want it returned.

    Try to box some things up, and if you find that you don’t need them in six months, you can dispose of them then.

  • Decluttering and zero waste go hand in hand, so think hard about the products you are decluttering and where their future home should be.

    Donate items to charities, run a garage sale or two, and try to find a local upcycler who may be overjoyed at all the new materials you can supply to them.
minimalism and sustainable living
Guide To Sustainable Living
  • When buying new things, avoid impulse buying and instead go away and think about it for a short while or even a day or two. 

If you still want it after this time, then go ahead and get it as you know it will be loved and appreciated, not frowned upon as a mistake.

To a minimalist, it’s the few loved possessions that you own that make you happy. These are the special ones that encourage a feeling of warmth, well-being, and happiness. 

  • Invest in good storage solutions to hide or display your items so that everything has a place.

    This is very important as if you love it; you should see it or know where it is as this will bring you joy and happiness.

  • Try making your own products and gifts as this is not only fun to do, but things made with love are some of our most treasured possessions.

  • Celebrate your achievements along the way, as this will keep you on track and motivated. Remember, this is a journey, and all the great journeys are long and enjoyed along the way. Only a race is hard. 

  • Invest in yourself! As you spend less, you will have more for the things you love, family, friends, and “me time,” so enjoy it. After all, it is what you are doing it for. 

  • Minimalism is not about owning as little as possible but is about owning only those things that we view as adding value to our lives, and that is different for everyone.

    It’s ok to be messy, and it’s ok to have lots of things if you value love and use them. However, if it’s in a drawer and not used or seen, ask yourself why you keep it.

Remember that minimalism is a lifestyle and will look different for everyone. It’s not a hard and fast 100 items or less enforced choice for most of us.

It may also take you years to get to where you want to be, but again that’s ok, so long as you enjoy the journey and keep the destination in your heart.

Sustainable Living And Your Carbon Footprint

The phrase ‘Carbon Footprint’ is expressed and talked about a lot, but what does it actually mean?

The accepted dictionary definition of a carbon footprint is:

“The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community.”

Guide To Sustainable Living

So that explains what it is; however, what it doesn’t do is tell us why we should care about it or what we can do to reduce it.

Simply put, the extra carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere increases the greenhouse effect.

This then warms our planet beyond its natural state, and this increase in temperature is called global warming.

Firstly, humans burn fossil fuels to power cars, trucks, and planes, which then move our goods around.

Secondly, we also burn these same fossil fuels in other machines to generate electricity for other purposes.

Thirdly, all these activities (and more) contribute to the extra carbon dioxide release, which continues to fuel the greenhouse effect. 

How Do We Calculate Our Carbon Footprint?

Waste gases are released during combustion, including carbon dioxide, and the amount generated can be calculated.

This calculation is then spread across the people or items it has directly affected, and a carbon-calculated footprint is attributed to it.

Every action we take, therefore, increases our individual carbon footprint. Only by knowing this can we take steps to reduce it and reduce the planetary consequences.

So what Is The Average Carbon Footprint Per Person Per Year?

It has been calculated that the typical average carbon footprint per person per year is between 4.8 tonnes to about 12 tonnes.

However, a quick internet search will show you that this figure can vary greatly from 2.4 tonnes to a massive 49 tonnes per person per year.

This is because of the huge amount of variables involved, including location, wealth, and the participation of an individual and government.

However, the consequences of global warming are now being felt and are evidenced in the extreme changes in weather worldwide.

Additionally, our oceans are steadily warming up, the arctic ice is melting, and extreme weather conditions are becoming the norm.

Furthermore, we are also losing plant and animal species as they struggle to cope with these accelerated changes.

Living a sustainable lifestyle aims to help reduce this strain on the environment at the grassroots level. 

I also believe that the power of an individual’s actions, when linked to other individuals’ actions, far outway the power of any government that hands out false promises, targets, and words.  

How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

sustainable living walking cycling in park
Guide To Sustainable Living
  • Try to buy local and seasonal groceries from the producers near to you, supporting home-produced whenever possible to do so.
  • Walk, cycle, or take public transport instead of driving.
  • Try “staycations” or travel by bus or train rather than fly if it is a lower carbon footprint calculation.
  • Decrease your meat and dairy intake as animal agriculture is a major pollutant and plant-based foods are more accessible to all now.
  • Recycle, reuse, and upcycle as much as possible.
  • Buy organic produce as no chemicals will have been used in its production, thus reducing the footprint.
  • Change your energy supplier to one which supplies from renewable sources such as wind, sun, or green gases.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use and switch off lights when not needed.
  • Consider changing your car for a newer, more energy-efficient model or even go electric.
  • Avoid high carbon footprint vacations such as cruising and the biggest poshest hotel.
  • Grow your own fruit and veg. Even bags and pots can be used to create a home for a plant.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • Compost your food waste
  • Make bigger meals and freeze the excess for another day.
  • Support the divestment movement to take investment out of fossil fuels.

Please read: – How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By 80% (With Ease)

Non-Toxic And Sustainable living

Guide To Sustainable Living

Many of our purchased goods are not quite as clean or carbon-neutral as they might first appear.

Fresh fruit and vegetables and even our fresh meat may have first undergone a chemical cleaning process before landing on our supermarket shelves. 

All these chemicals may seem ok to some as they are there to protect us or enhance our crop yields in order to feed us but are they really ok?

A “safe” chemical to us may be extremely dangerous to another form of life on the planet. It may even be damaging to a section of the ecosystem that we are not even aware of yet.

Did you know that some essential oils can be dangerous to our pets? 

For this reason, I think it would be best if we could limit the use of human-made chemicals in our homes. 

Once limited, we could investigate how we could replace them with those that mother nature has provided.

Many natural products found in our stores and around the home can be used to clean and freshen with zero effect on the environment. 

These are the very products used by our bloodline relatives for many years before the industrial revolution.

If we care about our environment, want to live sustainably, and lower pollution levels for future generations, we need to lower our dependence on toxic chemicals.

It is something that the generations that have gone before us did with ease. Therefore, it must be true that with a little effort on our part, we can revive this eco action and do it again.

Are There Any Toxic Chemicals In My Home?

Many household cleaning products such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners, and carpet cleaners contain toxic chemicals, which may not surprise you. 

However, you should take a close look at the list of ingredients shown on the bottles and cans in your kitchen cupboard. I think that you will be surprised at what you find. 

Even the humble air freshener can carry a hazardous waste warning!

beginners guide to sustainable living toxic to the environment sign

Many households simply have no idea what is contained within the products they buy or the dangers within.

In 2017, the 55 U.S. poison control centers provided telephone guidance for nearly 2.12 million human poison exposures. That’s about: 

  • 6.4 poison exposures/1000 population,
  • 39.1 poison exposures in children younger than 6 years/1000 children,
  • 1 poison exposure is reported to U.S. poison control centers every 14.9 seconds.  

These figures are staggering and are just one reason people turn to sustainable living and a non-toxic lifestyle. 

Toxic chemicals can be found in furniture polish, bleach, glass cleaner, dishwashing detergent, disinfectants, deodorizers, mothballs, and many more.

This is why the reported exposure rates are so high, the dangers masked so well, and the need for you to change your habits so necessary. 

How Can I Reduce My Dependance On Chemical Products?

In Conclusion:

The beginners’ guide to sustainable living has been written to give you a flavor of what is possible. I hope that it will inspire you to begin your own journey and recognize that it is unique to you.

Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing, and don’t beat yourself up when you fail.

The journey is long, my friend, but ultimately it’s a journey that will feed the soul and send your spirit soaring.

A proud father of two boys, an amateur actor, and a green living enthusiast, Mark has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.

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