Have you heard of sustainable living? Many of us are seeking a simple life where we minimize our impact on Mother Earth.
Sustainable living may sound challenging at first, but it’s surprisingly easy, even for beginners. It doesn’t mean giving up every luxury or comfort in your life. It’s really about making simple changes and adjustments.
If you’re wondering about sustainable living or thinking of giving it a shot, here’s what you need to know about the movement, along with easy ideas of sustainable living for beginners.
What is Sustainable Living?
The sustainable living movement is rooted in the idea that humans are creating a significant impact on our planet. There’s only one earth, and as we’ve learned, many of our current activities are wreaking havoc on the environment.
I’ve found sustainable living and minimalism are interconnected. As I’ve moved towards a simple, purposeful lifestyle, my impact on the earth has lessened. I’m more connected with nature and the world around me. My activities are automatically more sustainable.
Now, you may worry sustainable living means never enjoying a dinner out with friends, buying clothing you like, or going on vacation, but this isn’t true at all. There are small steps to make any activity more sustainable.
Sustainability means minimizing your impact on the world. It’s about adopting the “leave no trace” mindset, cleaning up after yourself, and caring for the planet.
We want to leave a clean world for our children to enjoy. Adopt a sustainable lifestyle to ensure the health of the earth well into the future.
13 Easy Ways to Adopt Sustainable Living for Beginners
1. Reuse Containers
When you buy an item packaged in a jar, a bin, or a tin; think: “How do I repurpose or reuse this container?”
We can reuse many of the items we bring into our home. Repurpose jars and tins in the garden, kitchen, and many other rooms in your home. We could also bring containers with us when we go out to eat (and avoid disposable takeout containers).
When you buy an item, pay attention to the packaging, not only the product inside. Is there a way to minimize the packaging? If you can’t, how will you reuse or recycle the container?
2. Stop Using Plastic
There’s a movement against the use of plastics. Many types of plastic are difficult to recycle (even if they end up in the recycling bin).
Worse still, plastic is piling up in our landfills and oceans. It doesn’t degrade quickly like paper, hemp, and other natural materials. It’s more challenging to reuse than aluminum.
These are just a few regular plastics you should pass on:
- Drinking straws
- Sandwich bags
- Shopping bags
- Water bottles
- Food containers
- Produce bags
- Cosmetic jars
If we all work together to reduce our plastic usage, we will have a significant environmental impact. The next time you buy an item, choose one that doesn’t come in a plastic container. Bring your coffee cup to the café. Decline plastic whenever possible. This is a simple way to embrace sustainability, even for beginners.
3. Choose Cloth Rags
Paper towels are compostable (provided they aren’t dyed), but many disposable cleaning cloths contain chemical cleansers.
Even paper towels and tissues take time and energy to breakdown. Many of these goods are automatically tossed in the trash, to get transported, sorted, and disposed of. The same goes for your pile of paperwork. Recycling paper requires energy and creates an environmental impact.
Consider making your own DIY cleaning wipes. Use rags instead of paper towels. Choose a handkerchief instead of tissues. Use wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.
Disposable household products, paper, and wipes seem benign at first, but they add up. It’s more sustainable to use and reuse fabric whenever possible.
4. Avoid “Single-Use Products”
Coffee pods, paper cups, sandwich bags, capsules of face cream, and contact lens containers are just a few single-use products.
We use these items one time, and then we toss them out. Many food and beverage containers are single-use too. Look at packaging and shipping containers as well. These items have one purpose before we toss them in the garbage.
Each time you use a product, pause for a moment to consider the impact. If you’re curious how many single-use products you use, check your trash bin for a week. It may shock you!
A simple, sustainable approach means getting more than one use out of every item we purchase. Before you buy a new item, consider how many times you can use it. If the answer is one, find an alternative.
5. Shop Eco-Friendly Companies
Think going green means giving up on fashion or style? Think again! You don’t need to give up on your favorite brands because you’re practicing sustainable living.
When I was exploring eco-friendly clothing options, I was surprised at how many great, high-quality, fashionable brands offer sustainable items.
Mindful shopping means visiting retailers who care about their impact on the earth, humans, and animals. Before you buy, look at the sustainability practices of the company.
- Are they local or is shipping minimized?
- Do they offset their production?
- Are their products organic? Cruelty-free?
- Do they choose eco-friendly raw materials?
- What about human rights—do they care for their workers?
- Are they concerned about the environmental impact of their factories and production?
There are so many companies out there to choose from. Support those businesses taking a more responsible and conscientious approach to sustainability.
6. Buy in Bulk
Whenever possible, go to the farmer’s market, buy from local vendors, and support co-ops. If you can purchase foods in bulk, go for it and bring your containers. Pass on produce bags as well. Store the items in paper sacks or use cloth bags when you get home.
Consider buying other items in bulk. Often, products are packaged together in bulk buys, making them more eco-friendly and sustainable. Minimizing packaging is almost always a step in the sustainable direction.
Bulk buys aren’t limited to food either. Beauty and household supplies come in bulk too. Some stores even allow you to bring a container (like Lush), making your purchase even more sustainable.
7. DIY When Possible
Natural solutions are almost always more sustainable. Making a DIY face mask from strawberries, oatmeal, or avocado is as nourishing for your skin as fancy packaged masks (but creates no waste).
Items to DIY rather than buy include:
- Gifts (a homemade gift is always meaningful)
- Face and body scrubs
- Baked goods (homemade cookies and cakes are less processed and preservative-free)
If you’re very creative, you could even learn to sew, knit, and garden. These DIY techniques will help you create sustainable gifts and items for your family and friends.
8. Use Natural Cleaners
Baking soda, lemon juice, essential oils, and vinegar are great cleansers! Treat and polish wood with grapeseed oil or olive oil.
Use natural castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) for all sorts of different cleaning needs. You can use it in the shower, as a household cleaner, even to brush your teeth (I haven’t tried this, so I can’t promise it’s delicious)!
Many household cleaners from the store come in plastic packaging. These containers aren’t always recyclable or eco-friendly.
Even more concerning, most household cleaners contain harsh chemicals and even carcinogens. These cleaners are harmful to your health and the health of your family.
When you create cleaners, you know exactly what goes into them. They’re non-toxic and safe for everyone.
For recipes on natural cleaners, look at:
- Keeper of the Home: Ultimate Guide to Homemade Natural Cleaning Recipes
- Money Crashers: 11 Homemade Natural Cleaning Products
- Wellness Mama: Natural Cleaning Tips & Recipes
If you want to adopt sustainable living, get serious about recycling.
Now, many of us feel like we don’t have time to recycle. It takes too long to sort items into the bins. We’re not even sure which container the thing goes in, anyway.
I used to feel like this, as well. I always tried to recycle, but I didn’t pay close attention.
Once I started living more sustainably, I realized familiarizing myself with recycling codes was helpful and essential. Now I’m surprised I see recycling containers almost everywhere I go.
Buy less. Focus on only purchasing what you need. Choose the most sustainable option, and when you need an item, always recycle the packaging.
10. Garden & Compost
Sustainable living is all about celebrating our connection to the earth. There’s no better way to appreciate nature than digging in the dirt.
Even if you don’t own land for a garden, consider growing herbs in a windowsill or lettuces in a container. These are easy items to grow and take up very little space. You could also share a community garden.
If you have room for a garden, grow as much food as possible. A healthy tomato plant will yield dozens of fruits. Squash, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and other edible plants feed you and your family for many meals. Plus, it’s so satisfying to eat food you’ve grown yourself.
Plant herbs, like bee balm, that appeal to pollinators like butterflies and bees. Never spray your plants with chemical fertilizers, weed killers, or pesticides. Look for eco-friendly organic solutions instead.
Composting is also easy and so helpful if you grow a garden. You don’t need fancy composting bins and tools either. A simple countertop compost bin with a charcoal filter and an outdoor bin with holes will keep your garden healthy.
Composting is a great way to reduce food waste. Starting to compost is as simple as adding used coffee grounds to your household plants. Check out this guide from Self magazine on composting (even if you live in an apartment)!
11. Learn to Repair and Upcycle
Skills like sewing on a button, fixing a fuse, or touching up paint are great to learn. These skills are also beneficial for sustainable living.
Minimizing your impact on the earth means extending the life of items you buy. How often do you toss out reparable clothing? How often would a coat of paint or a small adjustment give an old piece new life?
Upcycling furniture is often a matter of tightening screws, sanding, and adding paint. Even if you’re not naturally handy, these are simple skills that nearly anyone can learn.
Find new uses for items as well. Repurpose a jar with a missing lid as a vase. A chip, scratch, or dent is easily hidden.
12. Bike or Walk
I love biking. It’s so calming. It’s a great way to connect with nature and spend time outdoors. For similar reasons, I also love going for walks.
Paying for a gym membership is fine, especially if you find it motivating, but consider getting in your exercise by doing your errands on foot (or on two wheels).
Instead of driving to work, a bike is a beautiful way to commute. Many modes of public transportation, like the bus and commuter trains, will allow you to take your bike on board too. You can partially bike or use your bike around the city after you commute on the train.
Our vehicles have a significant impact on the earth. From polluting the air to paving over wilderness with roads, cars aren’t as sustainable as a bike or your own two feet.
I’ve also found biking is a great way to explore a new city when on vacation. When you bike or walk, you see much more than you would from a tour bus.
13. Adopt a Minimalist Lifestyle
As I’ve said before, minimalism and sustainable living go hand in hand. When you live with less, your lifestyle is more sustainable.
Much of our impact comes from regularly buying stuff we don’t need. We purchase packaged foods, bottled water, and disposable containers that end up in the trash.
When you embrace a simple, minimalist lifestyle, you only purchase what you absolutely need. You learn to live with less and focus on what matters.
As I’ve shifted to a minimalist lifestyle, I’ve become more connected to the earth, more conscious of my impact on the environment, and more proactive about sustainability. I shop consciously, I buy less and I bike and walk, not only because it’s sustainable, but because it’s good for my mental health, too.
As a result, I’m less stressed out. I no longer feel the need to keep up with a lifestyle I can’t afford. I’m more present and more mindful. I feel better and healthier than ever before.
Sustainable living is all about connecting with and appreciating nature. We only have one planet, and if we don’t take care of our earth, it won’t be there for future generations to enjoy.