Today I want to talk about sustainable lifestyle changes I tried that just didn’t/don’t work for me.
The reason I want to shine a light on this is that many people new to sustainable living feel a need to be perfect. We compare ourselves to influencers who have been at the lifestyle for years and choose to show us only their best. This pressure makes changing your lifestyle less fun and most importantly makes the movement seem totally inaccessible.
People think if they don’t have bulk bins in their town or can’t find a natural deodorant that works for them that they’ve “failed” at green living. However, realistically we can’t all make every lifestyle swap. It’s much more important we get a lot of people doing some things than only a few people doing the lifestyle perfectly.
Especially with the COVID-19 situation, I feel this is a time we all need to need to practice compassion and loving ourselves. Particularly with green living, many common practices like using a reusable coffee cup or grocery bags have been prohibited. Not to mention the stress of the world situation itself making us all a bit less mindful, so I think it’s important to acknowledge that we all come up short sometimes and that’s OK. It’s more important to focus on what we CAN do, so for every sustainable lifestyle swap I’ve failed I’ll also share what I do instead.
Without further ado, and in the spirit of transparency and being forgiving to ourselves, I’d like to share some of the sustainable lifestyle changes I tried that just have not worked for me.
DIY Oral Care
The funny thing about my DIY toothpaste not working for me is that I actually loved it at first! It made my teeth whiter and my mouth actually felt cleaner than with conventional toothpaste. I thought it must be working because I didn’t have bad breath or visible plaque build up, however I was sorely disappointed when I went to the dentist. Turns out I’d gotten several cavities since switching, even though my mouth felt clean my DIY toothpaste didn’t have any anti-cavity protection. I did investigate buying xylitol or fluoride to add to my DIY, but it can only be purchased in industrial quantities I could never go through. I was so surprised because many people online reported using this type of toothpaste for years without any issues. I think one key difference is that many women I saw recommending this also ate very healthy diets low in sugar which I did not. Additionally, some people are naturally more prone to cavities due to the chemical composition in their mouths and shape of their teeth. Instead, I now use toothpaste from Tom’s of Maine because it is a more environmentally conscious brand.
A Capsule Wardrobe
I found myself very swept up by the idea of a capsule wardrobe due to how popular it is online. However, every time I stood in front of my wardrobe ready to take the plunge I really couldn’t find any items I never wore or wanted to part with. Sure, some items get worn more regularly but pretty much every item had its place in an outfit that would be worn at least once a month. Additionally, I love bold colors, prints, and patterns and with that sense of style it’s hard to cut down in a way that leaves a lot of cohesive outfits behind. Given that I liked and wore all my clothing and choosing outfits was fun, not stressful for me, there would be no environmental or personal benefit to cutting my closet down. Instead, I resolved to let the total number of items in my closet shrink over time as things wear out instead of more artificially cutting down to an arbitrary number of items that would be considered a capsule wardrobe.
Buying Local Food
Buying local food regularly was something I really wanted to start doing. However, at least in my college town the farmer’s market was much more expensive than even organic groceries at the nicest supermarket we had. For a few weeks, I tried to buy all my produce from the farmer’s market, it started out OK because I had a small backlog of other foods in my pantry that I hadn’t been eating. However, after this initial period when I needed to replace the staples I couldn’t really afford to do that and buy farmer’s market produce. Instead, I made an effort to go the farmer’s market a bit more and buy one or two things any week I had a little extra cash. I also tried to get my fast food fix from local restaurants instead of the chains in town and also started buying things like locally made coffee or hot sauce as gifts. My experiment still significantly increased how much I buy food locally, however with my means it just wasn’t financially feasible to do all the time. I’ve seen some research saying farmer’s market produce is cheaper on average nationally, however that just wasn’t the case in my town. If you’re in a similar situation, don’t beat yourself up about not being able to afford a sustainable option.
Coconut Oil as Face Moisturizer
Like the toothpaste, this swap did work for me for a little while. However, even right at the start of this swap I did notice my skin being a slight bit redder and less even, honestly I’m not much a beauty person so this didn’t bother me much. I started doing this in the winter when people’s skin tends to be much dryer, however once I hit the summer months and my skin was regularly oily and sweaty it didn’t work so well. Instead I ended up switching to the light touch solid moisturizer bar from lush and I’ve repurchased it several times since. While many zero wasters online seem to have success with using pure oils on their skin it doesn’t work for everyone, myself included.
Coconut Oil as Conditioner
Alright, this is almost identical to the last one except it was horrible immediately. Once I got the coconut oil on my hair it was near impossible to wash out, I shampooed my hair 3-4 times after putting the coconut oil in and it STILL did not come out. In the end, it was about four days before I could really get it all off my hair. I doubled checked the instructions on the blog post I had read about this technique to see if I accidentally used too much but my measurements were correct. I still tried using less oil and applying it slightly differently however once again it was just very difficult to get out and didn’t really make my hair much softer. Instead, I’ve switched to a zero waste conditioner bar from Ethique and I love it.
Buying ONLY Secondhand or Sustainable Fashion
This was one of the goals I set quite early in my sustainable living journey. And I will say since I’ve started living greener at least 70% of my wardrobe is purchased second hand. However when it comes to specialty items like professional wear and swimsuits I’ve found it near impossible to find anything I like in my size in the second hand market. Often the only dress slacks I can find are so outdated as to be completely unprofessional, and second hand swimsuits are rarely in good condition. While I can’t always afford a sustainable brand, I can usually afford a more mid-ranged price piece of clothing that will last me longer than the true fast fashion alternative. So instead when I can’t find something second hand, I try to buy a quality version of the item in the $30-$40 mid range that I can wear for years to come. I really thought buying 100% second hand was a goal I could accomplish since I saw so many other people online saying they had done it, however for me I wasn’t able to commit to this one 100%.
A Menstrual Cup
I really wanted to love the menstrual cup, truly I did. Switching from tampons, it sounded like a dream to only have to empty every 8-12 hours and never have to buy another product again. However, my dreams were squashed when I discovered that my body really just doesn’t like having silicone materials down there and especially not for extended periods of time. Despite the silicone being medical grade after more than a few hours the material became irritating even though the fit was comfortable. Instead, I tried some reusable menstrual pads, the ones I bought were pretty inexpensive and not from a sustainable brand but I figured that was better than filling up a landfill with tampons the rest of my life. The reusable pads ended up being way more comfortable than any other period product I’ve tried and I haven’t needed to purchase any menstrual products in years.
So, this is the list of sustainable living changes I tried to make that just did not quite work out and what I’ve done instead. I posted it because I don’t think there should be any shame in not being perfect, and to really practice what I preach that means acknowledging some of the things I have not been able to do.
I would love to hear similar experiences from others so that we can all feel a bit better about ourselves. Please, share your stories in the comments below and challenge other sustainable creators you follow to do the same.
Remember not to be too hard on yourself and stay safe out there everyone.