This Simple Beginners Guide to Start Living Sustainably will help you to start living sustainably in five easy steps – and they might not be what you expect!
So, you’ve decided you want to live a more sustainable life. I’m so proud of you for even thinking about taking this step! It shows that you’re willing to step outside the box and be the change you want to see in the world.
I’m betting your decision to live a more intentional, sustainable life was a wonderful moment of clarity for you – which was likely followed by complete overwhelm. There is so much information out there when it comes to sustainability, and so much to decipher.
I was once where you are now – eager to start living a life that aligned with my values, but with no idea where to start. Thing is, back then it was a little easier. There were fewer zero waste blogs or sustainable brands, but there was also less noise, greenwashing was rare, and the brands and businesses who really were striving to be sustainable were shouting it from the rooftops.
There are benefits to starting your sustainable living adventure now though – not that there’s ever a bad time! – like the wealth of brands and businesses who put sustainability at the core of what they do. Sneakers made from recycled polyester, apartment-friendly compost bins, refillable detergent bottles…
Most importantly, social media can be an incredible resource to help you Start Living Sustainably. Find somebody you trust, somebody whose values align with yours, and somebody who isn’t rigid or judgmental – whose standards aren’t completely unattainable for you. Then let them guide you. You could even find a few different somebodies!
Just remember that everybody has different needs and different budgets; every city has different programs in place. One size doesn’t fit all, and you can only do what’s right for you.
So, all of that said, I’d love to be one of those guides for you. To help show you that sustainable living doesn’t have to be expensive or scary or overwhelming. It’s all about taking one step at a time.
A SIMPLE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO START LIVING SUSTAINABLY: ONE STEP AT A TIME
Start Living Sustainably – But Don’t Go Buying a Bunch of Stuff
Okay, first thing’s first – and this is a big one – please don’t rush out to buy a bunch of stuff. Or, for that matter, throw a bunch of stuff away!
I get it, I do! Making this change is so exciting. The temptation to buy a whole new sustainable wardrobe or a bunch of brand-new glass Tupperware containers and say bye-bye to your old plastic storage is real.
But here’s the thing – one of the biggest problems our planet faces today is overconsumption. As a global population, we use the resources of 1.6 Earths each year, resources that sooner or later, will run out.
As individuals, we shouldn’t be using more than 6 metric tons of resources each year, but in rich countries, the average consumption of material stuff is 28 tons per person. I don’t know about you, but those numbers do my head in completely.
The good news is, individuals taking action – people like you and me – can have a huge impact. In fact, taking steps to reduce consumption is one of the most important things you can do!
So, as excited as you are to be starting out with sustainable living, take a breath and remember to treasure what you already have. This new adventure is a slow burn.
Consider Items You Use Daily
Okay, okay – you’re excited about this change and you really want to do something right now to make a difference. To show yourself that you’re ready to commit!
Perhaps that does mean buying yourself a beautiful item of sustainable clothing or some gorgeous organic linen bedding, and that’s totally fine. You do you!
If that’s not where you’re at though, there are a few easy switches you can make now that will have a huge impact.
Have a think about what you consume daily. Do you buy plastic water bottles? Perhaps you adore bubble tea (guilty!), but don’t feel great about all the plastic it involves. Maybe you use a lot of plastic bags every time you do the groceries?
Thankfully, these are all easily solved and will have you feeling great in no time!
- Invest in a refillable water bottle and bring it with you everywhere
- Get a water filter for your home
- Buy a reusable takeaway coffee cup, or a reusable bubble tea glass and straw if that’s more your thing (I like both!)
- Start bringing your own bags to the grocery store, even if that means investing in some lovely new totes (I have a mismatched collection and I always keep one on me, just in case!)
- Purchase some reusable cutlery for takeaway meals, or meals eaten on-the-go
- Invest in some sustainable kitchen sponges (my preferred options last for a good few months!)
- Swap your disposable razor out for a sustainable safety razor
Most importantly, don’t just do everything on this list because it’s here. The changes you make should fit your unique lifestyle and the products you use and consume regularly.
For example, I love the idea of reusable cutlery, but I almost always eat at home, or if I eat out, it’s at a restaurant. Buying them unnecessarily would defeat the purpose of living sustainably. If you find yourself regularly throwing away single-use cutlery though, this could be a wonderful way for you to Start Living Sustainably!
Start Living Sustainably: Changing Habits is Key
When I first decided to start living sustainably, I was almost completely focused on clothing and fashion. Looking back, it’s probably because that was the fun stuff, but it didn’t make any sense. Clothing is something we should only purchase occasionally, as the need (or sometimes want, because we’re only human and clothes are lovely!) arises – not weekly or even monthly.
By far the easiest change you can make to start living sustainably is to adjust your habits.
Think about it – when’s the last time you really carefully considered which toothbrush you’d buy? How about toilet paper or laundry detergent, soap or moisturiser? These are items most of us purchase out of habit, making them one of the easiest ways to minimise our personal footprint.
So, finish up the items you already have. But when you notice the washing liquid is running out, start looking up sustainable alternatives available near you.
Pro-tip: these days, it’s not usually too hard to find organic or zero waste stores that offer refillable or solid detergents. If you can’t find something near you, look into products like laundry detergent strips or even good old washing powder.
Of course, this may take a little trial and error. If your first attempt doesn’t work out so well, whether it’s because you don’t like the smell or it’s not as effective as you need it to be, try another one! Once you settle on the right product for you, you’ll officially be on your way to Living Sustainably.
To help you out, I’ve even created a comprehensive, downloadable checklist of products you might use in your home that have more sustainable alternatives.
Just remember – there’s no need to run out and buy it all now! One step at a time…
If you can, consider your food habits…
But first: a reminder that the world is complicated
Okay, so food in relation to sustainability is a whole big topic filled with wormholes and complicated cultural & social associations. I’m betting a lot of you are waiting for me to tell you to stop eating meat, but I’m not going to do that. I don’t know you, and that means I don’t know if you have health problems that require you to eat meat, a culture that’s heavily tied to meat, or you just enjoy a steak every so often.
That said, as of 2017, food consumption alone accounted for 26% of humanity’s ecological footprint, and changing this statistic requires so much more than just sustainable farming practices. So, if you can, think about what you can afford and whether or not you could be making healthier choices for the planet (including consuming less animal products).
An Effective, Money-Saving Sustainable Change: Meal Planning
But, back to the point – a huge part of those overconsumption statistics I mentioned earlier comes down not just to food production, but to food waste. 30% of food produced worldwide is wasted, so stopping food wastage is vital. That means if you’re not able or ready to change what you eat or where you get your food from, perhaps you could consider how you plan your meals.
The easiest way to fix this is to make sure you buy only what you need and will actually eat, so that you don’t find yourself chucking out old food all the time.
Personally, I’ve found the best way to do this is to think about my week in advance when planning my grocery list. I start my meal plan by figuring out how many home-cooked meals I’ll actually need. I consider if I have any lunch or dinner plans with friends, days when I’ll be out and about so won’t eat lunch at home, etc. and plan accordingly.
And no, you absolutely don’t need to eat pasta on Wednesday night because you wrote pasta in the Wednesday night slot. I use my meal plans to keep track of what I’ve got at home and what my readily available options are!
Now, I would love to link you to a fancy meal planner, but that’s just not me. Instead, I have a note on my phone (see the screenshots above! The original mixed-language version, and one in plain English so you can understand) that I update as needed. It’s great because it’s always on me if I start to get peckish and wonder what I might eat next.
If fancy meal planners are your thing though, then of course you should go for it!
Finally, Tackle Everything Else as It Arises
By now, you might have figured out my motto for this Beginner’s Guide to Start Living Sustainably is one step at a time. And that’s what’s at the crux of step number 5.
If researching sustainable clothes makes you as happy as it makes me (yes, really!), then go for it! I find Pinterest is a wonderful tool for keeping track of any beautiful clothing items or brands that align with my values. This is especially important when it’s out of my budget! That way, I know it’s stashed away for whenever the right moment arises, but I don’t find myself pining over something I can’t afford.
Most of the other physical things we consume in our lives are not regular purchases. I’m talking about furniture, clothing, shoes, household items (plates, sheets, towels, etc.) and electronics. So, there’s no need to worry about it now.
If you’re not stoked about the idea of finding sustainable jeans that fit your body shape, or the thought of finding a trustworthy company to offset your air miles makes you anxious, then don’t bother right now.
All of these things can come with time, when the need or want arises.
And slowly but surely, you’ll find that the things you buy and the products you invest in are not only sustainably made, but that they bring you joy. Because at the very core of sustainability is intentional consumption – buying things that you love and will treasure, or things that you need but that you choose with care.
You’ve got this!
Congratulations! You made it to the end of my Simple Beginner’s Guide to Start Living Sustainably, and I’m so excited for you and proud of you.
Hopefully, this guide helps you to see that living sustainably doesn’t have to be expensive, scary, or that you need to turn your life upside down right this minute. That said…
A Note on Sustainable Living and Mental Health
The fact that you’re here and reading this probably means that you’re new to this whole sustainable living thing. It’s exciting and scary, and there’s a wealth of information out there.
Social media, blogs, and vlogs can be wonderful sources of information, but please remember to take care of yourself through this process.
Don’t get disheartened by the Sustainability Influencer with the perfectly organised fridge or adorable matching spice jars. Don’t feel like you’re not enough because you can’t keep your trash in a jar.
We’re all living different lives with very different stories, and the world is more beautiful for it.
So, if you find that a certain account or website is making you feel guilty or like you’re not enough, or perhaps it’s tempting you to spend money you don’t have, then don’t be afraid to click ‘unfollow’ or ‘unsubscribe’.
Whatever your situation is, know that where you’re at right now is just fine. Take the steps you can and enjoy the process! Celebrate the little wins, learn from mistakes, and always remember to just put one foot ahead of the other. Together, we’ll change the world, one step at a time.
- How affluent people can end their mindless overconsumption.
- The Myth of America’s Green Growth
- Global Sustainability Transition Hinges on Food
Did you find this Beginner’s Guide to Start Living Sustainably helpful? I’d love it if you could share this blog post on your social media so that we can encourage more people to start living sustainably! And don’t forget to tag me, @rhiannamay_.
Do you have questions about sustainable living or ideas you think I should share? I’d love to hear from you! Just share your thoughts, ideas and questions in the comments below!
**For now, I’ve decided not to use any affiliate links or marketing in my blog because I want to make sure I can back everything I share with you 100%. If you enjoyed this post, you could always buy me a coffee!
Loved This! I was Wondering if you were thinking of making a guide on SUSTAINABLE living SPecifically in mIlan? I find it hard To find SUSTAINABLE alternAtives here but maybe im not looking in the Right places
Hey Catia! I definitely am!! First I want to talk a little about sustainable living in general, but I definitely plan to make a specific Milan guide soon! Let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like to know and thanks so much for commenting! 🙂
I appreciated your article’s emphasis on doing what you can and taking one step at a time. For me, trying to do everything at once would make me feel overwhelmed and give up, but thinking of it as a journey lets me look back and see how far I’ve come for encouragement to keep making more changes. (I have also read people who found that making a dramatic hardline change was easier for them / their family than a gradual approach – which is where your “you do you” advice comes in.)
I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it! I think I would get overwhelmed as well, but as you say, it’s so important to recognise that different approaches work for different people. I’m really looking forward to diving into this more!