What I Wish I Knew As a College Freshman

This past Tuesday I graduated from Ohio University with my bachelor’s degree in psychology. People asked me how it felt, and since “graduating” was marked only by turning in a final homework assignment really all I could say was anti-climatic. Four years gone and my closing thoughts are that the experience was… anti-climatic.

Graduating during the coronavirus pandemic is of course a bizarre time to be entering the workforce or doing anything of significance in your life. But the strangeness of this time isn’t really what I want to focus on, I want to get away from all the pomp and circumstance associated with college graduation and give my honest thoughts on the experience. 

So, incoming college freshmen and graduating high school seniors who are on the fence this post is for you. My real honest opinion about college. Not from people who went to college decades ago when it cost less and wages were higher. But from someone who actually knows what it’s like out there right now, here’s what I wish someone told me when I was in your shoes.

  1. You Don’t Actually Need a Degree

There’s an old statistic floating around that college graduates make a million more dollars in their career than people who don’t get a college degree. Well, that figure is decades old and the value of the dollar is less than it used to be. If you’re from an area where going to college is strongly encouraged you ought to be skeptical about the hype. Yes, a college degree is generally a good investment but like all things in life it depends on what you do with it. If you get a four year art history degree and end up working as a barista you’re probably going to fall financially behind everyone who went to trade school. In short, yes a degree is a good investment most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can get whatever degree you want and it will just “work itself out” and you absolutely don’t “need” a degree.

  1. Beware the Liberal Arts Degree

Be extremely cautious of majoring in something like psychology, English, history, chemistry, or anything else that doesn’t teach you practical skills without having a strong plan. If you’re going to get a liberal arts degree, make sure to get good  internships and jobs throughout college or are planning to go to graduate school. Because if you’re not going to grad school and you don’t have good internships I guarantee you’re not going to have any marketable skills or anything to talk about in interviews. 

  1. Understand Most Degrees Are Based on an Outdated System

When the majority of current bachelor’s degrees were being designed over a hundred years ago the job market was extremely different. Your degree wasn’t meant to teach you anything practical since it was expected that you’d go through a long training period with your company upon graduation, so the degree was meant to give you broad generalized knowledge. Nowadays, employees tend to change jobs more frequently so company’s aren’t as willing to invest in training. Additionally, work is becoming increasingly specialized so a broad base of knowledge is not as valuable as it once was. You need to actually have some job skills when you sit down for an interview, and the vast majority of those skills are not taught in college classrooms. Only a handful of degrees such as accounting or nursing teach technical job skills, as a result everyone else should be mindful to develop their skills outside of class. 

  1. Your Degree May Not Pay Off Immediately

To illustrate this point I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been applying for dozens of entry level jobs and the majority don’t require my college degree. However, the next level up positions I’d like to be promoted to in the next five years or so often do require degrees, or at least a degree is considered an acceptable substitute for experience in the field. When I entered my degree program I thought it would pay off in four years, but be mindful when planning that you may need to be even more patient with your investment than that.

  1. Be Engaged on Campus

This point is a broader form of the common piece of advice to get involved in clubs. However, I don’t  think it’s necessary for people to join formal clubs or anything like that. I personally  love being in student orgs but what is actually far more important is to make connections with other people. How you accomplish that doesn’t really matter. I made all my friends freshman year at a one off event, I didn’t need to join clubs to meet people (though they certainly are a good way to do so). Additionally, connect with and appreciate the broader community and campus culture. Explore the local businesses, go to open mics, visit museums, or attend community events. Especially if you’ve gone away for college it’s really helpful to learn about the local area and it will help you understand, appreciate, and feel more at home in your surroundings.

  1. Make Sure You Have Your Own Definition of Success

My freshman year of college I thought I knew exactly what I wanted and I carried my overachieving tendencies from high school right to university. So I set a bunch of goals that I swiftly proceeded to accomplish one by one. I had a 3.8 GPA, got the exact job placement I wanted, was accepted into a leadership development scholarship program, completed two leadership certificates, and had two leadership positions in student orgs all by the end of my freshman year. You know what happened next? I realized none of it made me happy or satisfied and the only way I knew how to judge my own success was by conventional external measures that didn’t do anything for me internally. You’ll learn a lot about yourself over the next four years and it’s important to make sure you lean into that, you need to find out what really will make you happy and satisfied. Don’t let the collective influence of parents, teachers, friends, and network cable run your life like I did.

  1. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously or Sweat the Small Stuff

As you’re graduating high school you’re sure to be realizing how little so many of the things you obsessed over actually mattered. Don’t lose sight of that once you get to college. It may sound strange but the specific degree you get or jobs you have aren’t that important as long as you’re learning something. I’ve watched students completely lose their minds over details like what residence hall they’re going to live in. Newsflash, no matter where you wake up in the morning you are still gonna be the same person inside and that applies to pretty much all of the weird details freshmen obsess over. If you’re gonna obsess over anything, don’t make it your room theme, the hall you’re living in, or the sorority you’re rushing. Instead obsess over improving yourself and growing as much as possible instead.

  1. Grades Still Matter

On the flip side of not taking things too seriously, your grades do still matter in college! I remember in high school I was so looking forward to college and not caring about my grades anymore because everyone said it didn’t matter. Well unless you’re completely made of money you should still care about your grades. You won’t be eligible for most scholarships or internships without at least a 3.0 GPA and it isn’t too uncommon for a good opportunity to request a 3.5. While when you graduate your grades won’t be too important in the job search, the internship your good grades got you will be instrumental. Plus, accruing as little debt as possible will give you more financial freedom, flexibility, and possibly allow you to choose job opportunities that pay less but align more with your desires.

Conclusion

I’ve been a bit critical of college in this post and it’s not because I hate it or think people shouldn’t go. It’s just because I feel that people aren’t honest about the realities of what college is actually like and what a degree actually does for you. I absolutely love my school and I can’t wait to be able to visit it again and give it a proper goodbye, but I realized halfway through getting my degree that I had let the dominant culture convince me I “needed” a degree I never actually wanted. Now that being said, I wouldn’t say I completely regret it either, but you’ll probably have to ask me and see where I am in ten years before I’m completely sure. 

Realize that a degree is a great thing to have in most cases. But on the other hand plenty of people live happy, fulfilling lives, without being completely destitute who don’t get four year degrees. There are a lot of other ways to make something of yourself.

What’s truly most important isn’t whether or not you get a degree. What really matters most is that you’re living life according to your own definition of success. Don’t get a degree just because you think you have to, get a degree because it will move you closer to achieving something that you actually want.

Sustainable Commitment Contracts

Happy Earth Day! I know I’m a few days late, but better late than never right?

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic the amazing three days of climate striking and activism that were planned have been effectively cancelled. Like most other environmentalists, I had lots of plans for what I’d be doing this Earth Day none of which panned out. I had just gotten involved in planning my local strikes, but then covid hit and my university shut down and I was making a last second cross country move back to my hometown.

Luckily, a whole host of environmental groups banded together to make sure the 50’th Earth Day was still marked by celebration and activism. This resulted in the 72 hour long Earth Day Live stream from April 22nd until the 24th that involved discussion with a diverse range of activists, musical performances, and like any good earthy crunchy event yoga classes. While the stream is no longer live, you can still watch a lot of the content on the Future Coalition youtube channel and I highly recommend it.

For my part, I think one of the best things you can do to celebrate Earth Day is write yourself a sustainable commitment contract. Sort of like New Year’s resolutions, but it’s a list of things you can do to help the environment.

I wrote one for myself in October 2018 and it truly marked a turning point in my lifestyle and mindset. I was wanting to change my lifestyle for several months prior, but I was feeling overwhelmed with how far I felt like I needed to go to get my lifestyle where I wanted it. At the time, I was very focused on going zero waste and it felt near impossible to get to the point I wanted to be at.

Writing the contract helped me focus on a handful of tasks I felt were most important and accessible to me instead of getting overwhelmed trying to do everything all at once.  It was my way of setting specific goals instead of having a vague desire to align my lifestyle with my values.

Writing things down and getting to check them off of the list also helped to keep me motivated and celebrate my wins as I went along. It felt so good to be accomplishing what I set out to do.

However, there are a few things on my list I haven’t accomplished yet. For example, refusing excess packaging and utensils when I order take out. I tried this, but usually employees are so in their habits they’re just going to give you the extra stuff anyways. I’ve heard of some zero wasters being fairly aggressive with employees but I personally don’t feel hassling service workers is a good way to represent the movement. Instead, I now preference restaurants who allow you to bring your own containers in store or have environmentally friendly packaging. For example, there’s a burrito joint in my college town that just hands you your burrito wrapped in foil, no bag or extra napkins to deal with.

As you might be able to tell from the commitment I wrote, I was focused mostly on going zero waste at the time and wasn’t nearly as educated on the multi-faceted concept we call sustainability. Overtime my focus has changed and I’ve taken up activism, vegetarian eating, and local shopping as equally powerful ways to green my lifestyle. So even though I haven’t done everything on my list, it’s important to allow yourself some room for flexibility and growth.

Now, what types of actions should you set out to do? You can of course get ideas from the picture of my commitment above, but here are some other ideas:

Reduce consumption of animal products in your diet. Get involved in environmental activism. Green your transit as much as possible. Start picking up trash in your neighborhood. Campaign for green candidates. Shop locally.

These are just some of the goals you could set, and the are hundreds of other options. I encourage you to set whatever goals are exciting and accessible to you.

Now that we’ve covered a little bit on how you can green your lifestyle and how writing a contract can help you, how exactly should you go about doing it?

  1. Carefully consider why you want to live more green. What is your motivation? What will make you want to keep trying to change your lifestyle when you are tempted to go back to your old ways? For me, it’s because I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem as well as protect the future of humanity.
  2. Carefully consider which goals you want to put on the contract. Once you write it down you are committed to do these actions, so make sure you choose things you can actually do. If you’re like me and were overwhelmed by all the possibilities, it may help to brainstorm a larger list. Then highlight the things you want to do most and recompile a shorter list.
  3. Be as concrete as possible when writing out your goals. For example, “buy gifts locally” is a lot more specific than simply “shop locally.”
  4. Put your contract somewhere you’ll see it often. For me, that’s my journal but hanging it up on a wall is also a good option. Doing so creates a natural visual cue to remind you of your habit change effort to help prevent you from going on autopilot.
  5. Make it look nice. This is more optional but worth doing especially if you’re going to look at it a lot. I included a quote I learned from the Shelbizlee YouTube channel, “You can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.” This quote always makes me feel better and energizes me when I reference my contract. Include any decorations that help inspire you.
  6. Sign the contract and get going!

The reason I love these sustainable commitment contracts for Earth Day is that they embody the concept of Earth Day every day. If you’ve been looking for the nudge or motivation to change your life for the greener consider this it! For me, when times are crazy like during this pandemic it helps me to have goals. I find the distraction beneficial and it helps me focus on something positive, so right now might actually be the perfect time to start changing your lifestyle!

That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not being that type of person. I know everyone is in different circumstances right now during this crisis and has different coping mechanisms. If for any reason at all you’re not up for a lifestyle change right now I 100% respect that.

Happy Earth Day everyone and stay safe.

16 Creative Ways to Upcycle Items in Your Home or Dorm Room

Hello!

This week’s post is going to be ideas for how you can reuse and upcycle items in your home. All these ideas are things that I’ve done whilst living in college dorm rooms.

Reuse is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially if that reuse allows you to divert waste from landfill. Personally, I’ve found that figuring out how to re-use items is as much about your crafting abilities as it is about your creativity and mindset. So I wanted to share my own most useful and most interesting examples of re-use because seeing what others have done online has been the most helpful thing for me when it comes to figuring out how to re-use.

These ideas are a good mix of easy and common zero waste swaps as well as some more creative ideas.

Mini Bookshelf

You can stack milk crates on top of each other or side by side to create a miniature bookshelf for yourself. Milk crates are the perfect size to fit a vast majority of books and can often be found in thrift stores or are given away when a local factory or plant shuts down. If you want to spice up the look a little bit you can also spray paint your crates like I did for an extra pop of color.

Mini Crate Seats

This second one is another milk crate hack. I created two of these miniature stool seats by cutting some bath mats to size to use on top for padding and then adding some ribbon so you don’t have to see the rough cut edge. This craft was fun, easy, and cheap to make and they’ve been awesome to have in the residence hall. The great thing about them is that they’re little so they can be easily stowed away when not in use and are great to have a around for moving as well.

Bedside Table

Need a bedside table? Stack two milk crates on top of each other, hit them with the spray paint, and you’re all set! You can also put a cute plate on top to prevent smaller items from falling through the holes.

Plant Stand

Alright, this is the last milk crate hack I promise. (It’s not my fault they’re incredibly versatile.) This one is great if you have a short desk or dresser but a taller window so your plants need some more height to get maximal lighting. In general, especially for a college kid I 100% recommend finding some crates before you go off to school. They’re perfect because they can serve so many purposes which is great when you’re moving around a lot like most students.

Soap Dishes

When I started using solid beauty products I didn’t really want to spend money on a nice sustainably made soap try so I just cut some holes in the bottom of this deli meat container (this is back before I went vegetarian). The lid is convenient because it makes it easy to carry my things to the communal bathroom down the hall and I can also rest the container on top of the lid to catch water so my dresser doesn’t get wet.

Conditioner Bottle

I was having trouble using my conditioner bar in its solid form so I decided to melt it down and add water to make it more like a conventional conditioner. I’d initially thought of buying or thrifting a pump top glass bottle like I have for my dish soap but realized I could reuse the old Dr. Bronner’s bottle from the soap I’d just finished.

Yoga Mat Bag

This is one of my favorite DIYs, its been so convenient and nice to have a proper bag for my yoga mat especially when I need to carry it in the rain. There are a ton of tutorials online about how to make jeans into a yoga mat bag and I also wrote a post about my personal experience doing so. This is a great way for you to save money and keep textiles out of the landfill.

Bulk Shopping Bags

The only thing better than buying bulk goods sustainably and package free is doing it upcycled bags you made yourself. There are a ton of bulk bags available for cheap on amazon but most have not been sustainably produced. Making some bags yourself is a great way to go the extra mile by diverting textile waste from landfill in addition to reducing your plastic waste.

Rags

This tip is such a quick and easy way to reduce waste. Instead of using paper towels and napkins you can cut up old t-shirts, towel, or any textile and simply wash them when you’re done using them.

Bulk Foods Storage

This is a classic and indispensable low waste tip. As you transition from packaged goods to buying bulk save jars from products like applesauce, salsa, or peanut butter. You’ll be able to store all types of food in them and even use them as cups.

Mouth Guard Case

Need a mouth guard for sports or late night teeth grinding? Save yourself a little plastic and store it in a re-used food container. Be sure to cut out a few holes in the bottom to make sure your mouth guard dries out properly.

Compost Storage

I’ve seen a lot of folks online who buy special containers to store their compost in, but because I don’t do my own compost and I bring it to a community compost location, I have no need for a special container. Instead of buying something I use empty yogurt containers or a disposable plastic bag.

Flower Pots

Are you like many Americans who have somehow acquired more mugs than a person could ever use in a lifetime? Well, if you answered yes and you’re looking to start potting plants, mugs are a cute substitute for flower pots. The one caveat is they don’t have drainage holes so you’ll need to be very careful about over watering.

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Organizational Trays

This is an idea that Marie Kondo has recently popularized that I’ve been doing nearly my whole life. Often, items come in absolutely adorable packaging that is reusable. Shown below, I have old teavana containers and cookie tins that I use to store office supplies and teas. I always keep a small collection of these boxes and often share them with friends and family who need organizational help.

Funnel

This is an idea I stole from a video on the Shelbizlee youtube channel. (I’d highly recommend her videos in you’re interested in zero-waste content.) You can cut the bottom off a plastic soda bottle and then you’ll have a funnel you can use for all kinds of purposes, I use mine the most when I’m making oat milk.

Toe Spacers

If you’ve got bunions or other foot problems like me you know that toe spacers are life savers. But personally I’ve found that the silicone ones never last more than a few months and there just aren’t any sustainable options. Solution, roll up some pieces of old t-shirt, throw a few stitches in to keep the spacer together, and you have upcycled and machine washable toe spacers. The other benefit to trying this is that you can customize your toe spacers to exactly what is most comfortable and beneficial for you.

That brings me to the end of my list!

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are the most creative or helpful ways to reuse or upcycle items that you’ve done or have heard of?

Food Waste is a Ridiculous and Unnecessary Problem

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Food waste.

I’m fascinated by this issue because it’s perhaps the stupidest, most unnecessary problem we face as a society today.

In a world with massive global poverty and millions of people starving I always kind of assumed the reason is that there isn’t enough food. That people don’t have food because there’s a limited amount so only the people and nations who can afford to pay top dollar have it.

But it turns out that’s not really the case, we aren’t living with scarcity of food and in fact it’s quite the opposite. We have an abundance of food but it isn’t distributed properly. The UN estimates that nearly one third of all food intended for human consumption is wasted globally, if that food were recovered, we could end world hunger.

Yup, the solution to world hunger is basically sitting right under our noses and we’re throwing it into the trash.

So, where does all this food waste come from and how did we get here?

The majority of wasted food is lost at the level of consumers, according to the USDA it is estimated that an average American family of four throws away $1500 worth of food a year (U. S. Department of Agriculture). Why? Consumer culture, food packaged in massive quantities, and changing consumer preferences are all a part of the picture.

Consumer culture encourages us to always buy more and more, this pervasive societal influence is believed to be a main driver of the regular over purchasing that leads to consumers tossing so much of it away. Especially in the US, food is often packaged in massive quantities that are really only appropriate for families, or you have to buy a large quantity of food to get a discount. One supermarket in Finland has even banned volume based discounts in its stores in an effort to address this issue (Bergen). Additionally, consumers have increasingly raised their aesthetic standards for produce and have become less tolerant to produce that does not look perfect. This means only slightly over ripe, misshapen, or bruised produce that is perfectly edible is often discarded.

These aesthetic preferences from consumers also effects food waste at the earliest levels of food production, the farm. Farmers usually sell their produce direct to grocery chains or to middle man distributors who refuse to buy any produce that doesn’t meet strict aesthetic standards. Otherwise they just can’t sell it to consumers, we just won’t buy it. This pretty produce is referred to as “firsts” and the “seconds” are often left to decompose in the fields or thrown away directly. Farmers often don’t even pick second fruit, so this produce is not even routinely used in the production of goods such as fruit juice, fruit leather, or desserts where you don’t have to see the fruit.

This takes us to another massive source of food waste, the middle men like supermarkets, producers, and restaurants.

Most of us who’ve worked a job in any kind of food service have seen this waste first hand.

My first job in college was at the Central Food Facility or CFF. CFF has no windows ,you aren’t allowed to use cell phones, or play music, there was no interview to start and there’s about a hundred signs in bold font telling you not to take pictures.

One of our tasks was to machine slide bread, you’d drop bread rolls in one end of a machine and a combination of gravity and air pressure would push the bread past a wire to cut it at high speed. The bread would speed out of the chute at and often get dented against the stainless steel of the catchment area on the other end.

All dented bread was expected to be put in the compost. Even if it was just a slight dent the size of a thumb print. If you didn’t toss the bread your supervisor would make you re-sort everything and throw out the less than perfect rolls. Of course, we were not allowed to take any of the bread home either. Some of us inquired about getting the machine adjusted so we didn’t have to throw so much out but none of our superiors were interested in doing anything about it.

CFF employees had a running theory that the reason for the strict no photos policy was to prevent the secret of the massive food waste from getting out. There really wasn’t anything else to hide, the facility was clean, safety standards were more or less followed, and I highly doubt anyone was trying to steal our recipes.

I requested an interview with my university’s culinary services department to discuss food waste but was told no one was available, they sent me a list of statistics claiming that less than 1% of their food is wasted.

And the bread at CFF is just one example from my university, everyone who has worked in our dining halls will tell you that they throw away uneaten hot foods at the end of meal periods. You can even see them do it if you happen to walk by the trash when it happens.

Yet of course prep facilities and dining halls aren’t the only sources of middleman food waste. Supermarkets regularly over purchase food, just like consumers do. Another factor is that supermarkets abide by sell by dates listed on food by manufacturers.

In the US, only infant formula is required to have sell by dates on it. Dates found on meat and dairy are completely voluntarily applied by the manufacturers themselves, since companies don’t want to be liable if a consumer eats expired food these dates are overly conservative and entirely unregulated by the government. Even the official USDA website says most products are still good beyond sell by dates and recommends using your own senses to decide if food is bad.

However, it’s no surprise that sell by dates have little to do with food freshness because that was not their original purpose. Initially, sell by dates were just the day companies hoped to have an item sold by in order to track how quickly they were moving inventory. So, that’s why most food is still good on its sell by date, however misinformation has made consumers believe food past its sell by is bad so supermarkets cannot sell it.

Thus far, we’ve covered a myriad of the sources of food waste to unpack how it is we got to the point we are throwing out a third of the global food supply. But, what really is so bad about throwing away food? Sure, it’s obviously wasteful but are the side effects really so bad?

In short, yes. When food breaks down in landfill it releases methane, a green house gas that is 25 times more potent in its warming effect than carbon dioxide. When food is eaten as intended or broken down in a compost facility it gives off significantly less or no methane.

Additionally, there is simply too much trash in our landfills already. Food waste takes up more space and forces us to continue to expand the amount of land we are using simply to store trash, when the land could be better used to preserve nature and biodiversity or farm.

Plus, food is essentially stored energy. A lot of valuable resources go into creating food from water, energy to power farm machinery, human labor, and a notably large amount of fossil fuels used to get the food from place to place. When an apple is thrown away it isn’t just the apple that is being wasted, but all of the valuable resources that went into getting that apple to you.

If we are able to reduce our food waste we can reduce consumption of water and fossil fuels and reduce the amount of landfill space and farmland used for food.

But, how can we reduce our food waste?

There’s no one size fits all way to do so, but there are a lot of interesting social campaigns, businesses, and governmental policies out there that are doing just that.

Let’s start once again with consumers, since we are the largest source of food waste it also means individuals have a tremendous amount of power to do something about this problem. Really all you have to do is be more intentional with your shopping and stop over purchasing foods.

Pay attention to what you throw away, if your family never quite eats all the fruit in the house buy one less bag. Make sure you know what is in your house before you buy more food, and if you accidentally buy too much of something put it in your freezer and save it for later. These strategies are simple, common sense solutions that can both help the planet and your wallet.

Now, the middlemen, like supermarkets, what can they do? Markets all over the world have been getting creative, most notably and quite virally S Market in Finland. Everyday, an hour before close during “happy hour”, S Market stores put all food that will be past sell by at midnight on dramatic discounts of up to 80%. This move has been a hit with shoppers and helped the store improve profits by reducing their losses on wasted foods (Bergen).

Some businesses have even built their whole model around reducing food waste. Imperfect Foods is a subscription service that “rescues” good food that would otherwise be throw away for not meeting ndustry standards by selling and delivering it to consumers at reduced prices. Misfit Foods is a company that sources second produce directly from farmers and distributors and mixes it with meat to make unique half veggie half animal sausage products.

Another popular way for restaurants and supermarkets to put food waste to use is to donate it to charity. France has essentially codified this practice into law by making it illegal for supermarkets to throw away food, which shows us a great example of how legislature and policy can help solve this problem (Bryant).

Denmark has been the leading nation on the issue of food waste for the last decade. Combining food redistribution to the needy and a robust consumer education program that functions through social media the nation has reduced its food waste by 10% in just six years. Charities in Denmark now have a nearly endless supply of food to give out and average consumers have been able to save money shopping discounted foods near their expiry dates.

Danish inventors have even been able to help other nations reduce food waste from restaurants with the startup app Too Good To Go. This app helps restaurants sell food near expiry to consumers in a convenient online marketplace for big discounts, the app is now widely available throughout western Europe.

Everyone on this Earth has a good reason to want to stop food waste, average consumers can save money, the needy can get the food they need, and businesses can increase profits all while protecting the planet. We have many solutions at our finger tips and nothing to lose, now we just need to get out there and do something about it.

Note: This post is an edited version of a paper I originally wrote for class. I was also required to make a “genre revision” so if you enjoyed this post it also exists in podcast form on a post titled “Food Waste Podcast” on my site.

Food Waste Podcast

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

Hey all! So this is my “Food Waste is a Ridiculous and Unnecessary Problem” post in the form of a podcast! This is the first time I’ve ever made anything like this and I really had so much fun doing it. If you give it a listen please do leave a comment and let me know what you thought.

20 Minimalist and 20 Sustainable Resolutions for an Eco-Minimal 2020

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It’s New Years so that means resolutions!

I know that New Year’s resolutions get a bad rep, but I really love that we have a time of year that people are culturally encouraged to self develop. Sure, a lot of people won’t actually accomplish their resolutions but that isn’t the holidays fault.

For those of you looking to make some sustainable or minimalist changes in your life I wanted to provide some inspiration and ideas. Many of these resolutions are small goals because I wanted to highlight how little actions and changes can add up to big impacts.

Especially around New Years we’re usually feeling inspired and tend to set a lot of really lofty goals. However, thinking too big will lead to disappointment when we aren’t able to achieve what we hoped to and actually hamper our ability to make long term changes. Thus it’s better to make small changes over the course of time.

Therefore this list features primarily smaller goals with the intent that different “resolutions” from these lists can be built on top of one another over the course of time. So, without further ado here are my ideas for New Year’s resolutions to become more eco-minimal in 2020.

Minimalism

  1. Get rid of one item from your home each day in January.
  2. Declutter one new area of your home each week until you’ve decluttered the whole house.
  3. Unfollow/Unfriend social media accounts that don’t add value to your life.
  4. Start listening to minimalist podcasts and audio books.
  5. Learn to say no to things.
  6. Try a capsule wardrobe.
  7. Have a packing party.
  8. Don’t pick up or accept free swag or t-shirts from events and activities that you won’t use.
  9. Create a Level 10 Life journal spread to help evaluate your values and goals, use this spread to establish goals that are meaningful to you.
  10. Create a morning routine that will help to ground and center you.
  11. Tell your friends and family that you no longer want to receive physical gifts for special occasions.
  12. Live out of the dry goods in your pantry for as long as possible. You may be surprised how many unused and forgotten foods have accumulated.
  13. End a toxic relationship in your life.
  14. Start a daily journaling or mood tracking practice.
  15. Learn to meditate. (For skeptics just know that there are many forms of meditation! It doesn’t have to be just sitting criss-cross on the floor quietly.)
  16. Institute a “one out one in” policy for items in your home. Especially if there is a type of item you tend to accumulate like purses or shoes.
  17. Calculate your average spending for the previous year and try to reduce it by 10%.
  18. Start that passion project you’ve been longing to do. Whether it’s writing a novel or starting a business consider this your sign from the universe to go for it!
  19.  Experiment with minimalist eating. It doesn’t mean cutting calories, but simplifying your eating habits as well as the foods themselves (i.e. less processing and more routines).
  20. Clear one wall in each room of your home of any and all decorations. 

Sustainability

  1. Start carrying your own silverware to reduce single use plastics.
  2. Bring your own to-go beverage cup to coffee shops.
  3. Give up plastic bags and start carrying reusable produce and grocery bags for shopping.
  4. Try bulk shopping (even if your local shops don’t allow BYO containers you can always reuse the plastic bags they have available).
  5. Commit to always searching for an item second hand before you buy new.
  6. Create a “zero waste kit” for your bag that has reusable napkins, silverware, cups, and tupperware so that you’re never unprepared.
  7. Start shopping at the farmer’s market. (If your farmer’s market has limited selection or is too expensive try just buying one item a week there, anything helps!)
  8. When you need to replace your beauty and personal care products replace them only with natural/eco-friendly versions.
  9. Try doing a no-buy week or month.
  10. Participate in Veganuary.
  11. Cut animal products from your diet. It doesn’t have to be a lot! Try just doing Meatless Mondays and you can work your way up from there.
  12. Purchase carbon offsets to counterbalance your carbon footprint.
  13. Try to reduce driving miles. This can look a lot of ways like doing as many errands in one trip as possible, carpooling, or using alternative forms of transportation.
  14. Write and sign a “Sustainable Commitment” that shows all the sustainable changes you want to make this year. Hang it somewhere prominently in your home and check items off as you accomplish things.
  15. Participate in the Fridays for the Future Climate Strike movement.
  16. Organize Terracycle drives at your school or work.
  17. Start buying locally made foods and goods.
  18. Reduce packaging waste by preferencing goods with the most minimal packaging possible. For example, buying yogurt in large tubs rather than single serve containers.
  19. Call your senators! Write to your local representatives and let them know that you are concerned about climate change.
  20. Learn to sew so that your are able to mend your clothes and extend their life cycles.

Well there she is, 40 ideas both big and small to make your 2020 more eco-minimal. Now your friends can no longer say they have “no idea” what to do about global warming.

My personal resolutions are to grow this blog (announcements coming soon), institute a mindful morning routine, reduce my consumption of processed foods, and put a zero-waste kit in my bag.

I hope these ideas have inspired you and I’d love to hear what your New Year’s resolutions are in the comments below!

Sustainability as a Path to a More Meaningful Life

If I’ve learned anything over the last four years of earning my psychology degree it’s that humans are obsessed with meaning making.

Many things that are good for our mental health are things that drive a sense of meaning and purpose. Routines help life feel less random. Social connections moor us in an interconnected web of other people so we don’t feel alone. Volunteering and work let us feel helpful and fulfilled. Having hobbies and passion projects allow us to create and accomplish tangible things. And we’ve developed complex spiritual practices throughout all of history that help us make sense of our world, feel connected to it, and create meaning.

Having something to do and some kind of purpose beyond ourselves is a central aspect of the human habit of meaning making and integral to our mental wellbeing. Experiencing existential dread is essentially the opposite of experiencing meaning and is a major red flag signaling depression.

Personally, I’ve had plenty of experience feeling depressed and full of existential dread and I know that worrying too much about climate change is usually considered quite depressing. And sure, just sitting around and worrying about it is probably going to make you feel bad.

However, when you decide to start doing something about climate change every choice you make is suddenly an opportunity to do good by the planet and be part of the movement.

Picking up bamboo toothbrushes isn’t just a boring chore but your opportunity to vote with your dollar and tell companies you’re no longer interested in plastic. Every meatless meal or plant based substitute for an animal product is help in the fight against deforestation and animal cruelty.

The weekly grocery trip becomes a challenge to be as sustainable as possible and take advantage of as many low waste foods as you can. As you switch more of your conventional beauty and personal care products to eco friendly ones you’ll feel the pride within you grow by starting each day with a reminder of your sustainable commitment.

You’ll relish in the opportunity to mend something broken and feel a sense of stubborn pride when your friends and family roll their eyes at your insistence on buying your clothes and electronics second hand.

While your loved ones might think you’re strange, you also might see them change their behavior after a while too. A few folks might start using reusable shopping bags, wrap your Christmas gifts in old newspaper, and even come to you for advice on environmental issues.

You learn that every choice you make has an environmental impact. From what you eat, wear, and do to how you dispose of you things you don’t need. Therefore every choice you make is an opportunity to be good, or bad, to our planet.

This fact is at once overwhelming but the precise reason that sustainability is an ideal lifestyle change to help make your life more meaningful. Mundane and boring everyday activities now become a way to be part of a movement and help save the planet.

Beyond that, making your lifestyle more sustainable will naturally lead you to become more interested in other areas of sustainability. You might find yourself communing with nature, doing DIYs, or learning new skills as a result of your sustainable lifestyle.

I’m of course not saying that sustainable living is going to cure anyone of their existentialism or depression. However, sustainability is usually discussed as something that is just going to bum people out or make them depressed when that just isn’t the case.

If you’re able to focus on the positive impact you can have, rather than only the scary aspects of our climate crisis sustainable living might help you find some greater sense of purpose like it’s done for me.

I still have bad days, and like I said above sustainable living hasn’t fixed all my mental health problems. But overall it has helped a lot. Now, my actions align with my values and I don’t feel so guilty about things. I still worry about climate change, but I know that I’m doing something about it and am part of the solution and not the problem.

Trying to be as sustainable as possible also brings some excitement and little challenges to my day. I feel good about myself when I resist purchasing something I’m tempted by, bring my own container somewhere, or choose to buy the more sustainable version of something. All these little boosts in mood add up and living out my values creates a satisfaction unachievable through other means.

Overall, making my lifestyle more sustainable has helped my mental wellbeing and I can honestly say that I’m happier now than I was before. And this basic idea that aligning your lifestyle to your values improves your mental health can apply to pretty much any lifestyle changes you want to make.

As with all changes, there will be challenges. You’ll have to learn new things and it’s easy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes and slip into old habits. But if you get past these slumps and pitfalls you’re not likely to want to go back to your old ways when you experience all the positivity that comes with going green.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. How has sustainable living effected your mental health? Do you feel that sustainability or other lifestyle habits have provided you with more sense of meaning? Let me know in the comments below.