I began my journey to an eco-conscious lifestyle after my Dad died.
He died abruptly from a heart aneurysm and it completely shocked me because I thought he was living a healthy life and he was, to American standards. I know now that American standards are not really “healthy” but i’ll save that thought for another time.
I used to cope pretty horribly when dealing with an emotional turbulence. I’d self medicate with anything that came my way. I lived chaotically in my feelings, or lack there of. But when grief hit, I traded my usual dose of sex, drugs, and alcohol for a vegan, minimalist, zero waste lifestyle.
I was still coping, but at least I was coping in a healthy, positive way.
Every year since 2015, Earth Day reminds me of the important changes I made in my life. I wanted to live with intention, not unconsciously. I’m not saying it was always rational. I would say when I started I was very much doing it for irrational reasons. However, I want to share the first five things I did to embrace an eco-conscious lifestyle and the reasons behind them:
Going Zero Waste
People think I wanted to go zero waste to take care of our planet, but in reality I was doing it for selfish reasons. I chronically looked up health statistics and plastic was one of the most polluting demons to our environment. In my mind, I was inhaling toxic pollution into my lungs which causes health defects which then causes death. Could my Dad have lived longer if he breathed clean air? I banned plastic from my life. No more plastic water bottles. No more plastic tupperware, No more plastic wrapped food. Plastic gave me so much anxiety. But cutting out plastic was relatively easy. So I took it to the next level and went zero waste.
My anxiety got the best of me, and I wanted to control everything around me. Going zero waste was the perfect way to have control. Every day i’d see what trash I made and try to find solutions to my trash problems, but really the solution I was looking for was not going to be solved by trash.
I really had to watch myself as I started to notice the shame and guilt I felt when out of the 7 days of the week, I made a tiny paper bag of trash. I was being mean to myself! Not cool. So I loosened the rains a bit, still stuck to my “no plastic” rule, and if I made a little bit of waste i’d see it as progress, not a huge fucking decline to my health and our earth.
Here are the small things I still do to minimize my waste because a little DOES go a long way.
- Shop at a food coop or farmers market and bring a reusable shopping bag. This is how I avoid plastic containers of food. I shop in bulk, and i’ll bring extra cloth baggies for produce instead of using the plastic bags they have. On the positive side, most food coops and farmers markets are using biodegradable plastic bags made from corn.
- Have a mason jar and reusable straw on you. Whenever I wanted coffee or a smoothie, i’d just hand over my jar. I was on the go about 3 times a week. Very rarely I would forget my reusable cup, and if i’m having a “day” i’d forgive myself and just buy a fucking cup of coffee in a paper cup because i’m doing my best and that is what matters. Still pretty good in my opinion, so don’t beat yourself up if there are times you forget 🙂
- Get a bamboo tooth brush (like this one) and make your own toothpaste. This cuts out plastic toothpaste tubes plus you save a lot of $$ doing this. I mix equal amounts of coconut oil and baking soda, and drop a bunch of peppermint oil to give me that minty fresh breath. I store it in a 2 oz mason jar and it lasts me about a month (and that is between my partner and I).
- If you shave, I highly recommend getting a reusable razor. I purchased this razor in 2015 and I am STILL using it along with the blades I bought. I spent around $45 and I don’t anticipate running out of blades for another two – three years. That’s a steal imo!
This was the main lifestyle change I took when it came to my Dad. He ate healthy according to the USDA, but I was skeptical. If he ate healthy, why did he die so young? I did my own research and found a documentary called Forks Over Knives. This film changed my life and I truly believe his diet played a huge part in his health.
I wanted to make sure what I was eating would nourish me, not kill me.
Forks Over Knives explores the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes. My Dad had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I went plant-based for 6 months, explored veganism, and after I was diagnosed with b12 deficiency I decided to find a diet best for me.
I cook plant based meals at home but when I travel I will go vegetarian or even pescatarian depending on the source of the dairy and fish. I feel much more aligned this way.
Here is what I recommend for those of you that want to do so for health AND environmental reasons:
- Reduce your meat consumption. No you don’t need to go strictly plant based or even strictly vegetarian. But is it so much to give up meat for 1 day a week? Meatless Mondays are fun and you can get creative with a meat substitute.
- Drink non dairy milk. Saturated fats are found in dairy (this is what raises your cholesterol). I stay away from almond milk since it involves a lot of water to produce. Coconut milk and hemp milk are my favorite in taste and are much more eco-friendly.
- Cook at home. Some people use Sunday as their meal prep day, but what I do is double the meals I cook every day. When I make dinner on Monday, I am also making lunch for Tuesday. I do 30 minute meals, that way I only need an hour total. I’ll make a substantial amount so I can have left overs to munch on during the week. This saves $$, eliminates a lot of waste from take out, and can be healthy if you’re prepping nourishing meals. Minimalist Baker, Forks Over Knives, Happy Herbivore, and Cookie and Kate are my go-to recipe blogs.
Going Toxic Free
Going vegan and zero waste was not enough for me to chill out and cope with. I had to do more. I looked at the products I was using and even cruelty free brands were filled with fragrance. This was just another way to control my health. I really went crazy. Threw away all of my shampoo, make-up, cleaning and skincare products. I did a lot of research and decided my products had to be these three things:
- 3 or less on the Think Dirty app. This means no fragrance, sodium lauryl sulfate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), parabens…the list goes on. Here is a great resource from Hello Glow on what ingredients to avoid and why.
- Cruelty free because why would you want your products tested on poor innocent cute animals? One thing to note: cruelty free ≠ vegan.
- Sustainably packaged. It has to be within my zero waste guidelines. Can I reuse the containers for refills? Is it recyclable? Do they package using up-cycled materials? Is it biodegradable? These are questions I ask myself before clicking the purchase button.
I do not require my products to be vegan (it’s a plus, but if there is beeswax in a natural lip balm I like, I will suffice). Here is what I use for my make-up, beauty, and cleaning products:
- 100% Pure liquid eyeliner (vegan, natural, and sustainably packaged)
- Lily Lolo mascara (vegan and natural)
- Alima Pure foundation (vegan, natural, sustainably packaged and refill option)
- Seventh Generation laundry detergent (cruelty free, sustainably packaged, natural)
- Osea Ocean Cleansing Mudd (cruelty free, sustainably packaged, natural, vegan)
- Acure shampoo (vegan, cruelty free, natural)
- DIY vinegar cleaning spray (vegan, natural, sustainably packaged because you can re-use any bottle to make!)
Everyone has different needs so I use beauty blogs like Organic Bunny to help me decide what products are best for my skin type.
Less stuff = less waste = more money
That is how I view it. I am very big on “essentials only” but I treat myself from time to time (can a girl get a throw pillow or what?!). When I do treat myself it isn’t a full on shopping spree. I ask myself, what can I buy that will contribute to a minimalist lifestyle? Since I live in a home where every product has an intention/use, I love having something to make the apartment pop, even if I don’t technically need it. Does it bring me true joy? That is all that matters.
When it comes to clothes, I ditch the fast fashion trends and cycle through 33 items every season. Shout out to Project 333 from Be More With Less. This helps me get creative with my wardrobe. I can mix and match hundreds of outfits with the same jeans and still look fly.
Going minimalist also helped me think about what truly matters. As my income increases, my wardrobe and lifestyle remain the same. I know what brings me joy and keep that in my life. Everything else can GTFO.
Going Back to Therapy
Huh? What does mental health have to do with Earth Day?!!! A lot, actually.
A better me means a better earth, because if I can take care of myself I can take care of others, our earth including.
Therapy and yoga (with Adriene specifically) have taught me to nurture myself. Be kind to myself. I practice a lot of self love. I truly believe when we love ourselves, we make better choices, and that inherently makes a positive contribution to the world, to our earth.
Through therapy, I was also able to understand that my initial intentions behind going zero waste and vegan were not mentally healthy. I was trying to find ways to bring my Dad back by taking control of a situation that truthfully I had no control over. What I did have control over was how to live in the present to create a better future for myself. This is why I let go of being strictly zero waste or strictly vegan. I make better choices, live my life with positive intentions, and love myself and our earth through it all.