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.

Minimalism: Getting Back on the Horse

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

I’ve just hit my low point of the semester.

Why? I could blame it on external factors, but largely it’s just the existential dread that I’m always dealing with. The biggest factor affecting me is just the general stress and uncertainty of being a graduating college senior.

As a result, I’ve really fallen off the boat with my minimalism practice.

Not just when it comes to purchasing of material goods, but also the other non-material aspects of minimalism that are beneficial to mental health. 

In my life, I try to apply minimalism not just to the accumulation of material goods, but also to “throwing out” negative thoughts and behaviors. I also use minimalist principles to help myself have the willpower to avoid overspending on consumable goods like packaged candies and take out food as well.

However, in the last five or six weeks I’ve really let myself down and not been fully practicing minimalism as I have in the past. I’ve been overspending, overeating, spending too much time on screens, and being way too hard on myself.

So I’ll now share with you all some the process I’ve used to start feeling better and get back on track with my minimalism practice.

First and foremost I had to let go of all the guilt and self hatred I was harboring towards myself for what I was perceiving as unacceptable mistakes. I’m only human so I’m going to mess up, there’s really no need to feel bad about something that can’t be avoided. Guilt like all emotions serves a purpose, however in my opinion it goes too far and should be let go when guilt prevents you from moving forward and putting forth your best effort.

Next, I had to do what I call a “reset.” It’s something I do whenever I come off of any particularly difficult time, whether it be a very stressful week of school or a bought of depression or anxiety. The reset usually begins whenever I finish class for the day and starts with basic clean up, I clean up both my room and myself and do things like shave, put lotion on, vacuum, clean dishes, and do laundry. I find these types of activities very relaxing and cathartic, and it’s a nice way to feel like you’ve accomplished something when you’re brain is feeling too fried for much else. I’ll then work on doing only the work I absolutely need to have done for the next day so I don’t have it looming over me and creating more stress.

Next, I spend some time with my journal, I write stream of consciousness about how I’ve been feeling and what’s been going on and going wrong. I then determine three or less things I control that are the main “cause” of why I’m feeling down and come up with a plan to improve on each issue. I don’t always come up with three, but I put that limit on it so I don’t set myself up to fail by trying to make too many changes at once.

At this point I also spend some time acknowledging and accepting the fact that it will take time to get back into healthier habits, progress on changing your lifestyle is not linear. For example, just because I do well with healthy eating for two months and lose some weight doesn’t mean I will be able jump right back into that same level of healthy eating after gaining weight. It’s generally best to make lifestyle changes in a slow, steady way so that the changes are more likely to stick and this applies when you are trying to get back into the swing of things as well.

In this most recent reset I determined the main causes of my distress to be overthinking. My plan to address it is to beef up on mindfulness practices like journaling and yoga. When I notice myself overthinking a choice I want to be more intuitive about the process, I will make the choice I know is best for me, do that thing, and then move on to other thoughts or activities, effectively “decluttering” the tiresome process of belaboring every little choice I make during the day.

Then, I journaled about minimalism specifically. I used journal prompts about minimalism I did at the start of my journey because I wanted to compare how I was feeling then, when it was exciting and new about a year ago, to now, when I am feeling a bit more frustrated. This helped me to remind myself why I began my minimalism journey in the first place and looking back also helped me to see how much I’ve gained from minimalism already.

 Thinking more deeply about it also helped me see that minimalism functions in service to my environmental, financial, and mental well-being goals instead of being a goal in and of itself like it was when I was first starting out. Making this distinction changes little in how I plan to practice minimalism, but does explain why I haven’t felt as passionate and has helped me refocus my goals.

During the rest of my day on a reset evening I will do basically whatever activity I think will help give my brain a break and help me relax. I may watch a little Netflix or Youtube, but do avoid being on screens for more than an hour or so on these nights. I might read, catch up on calling friends and family, work on bullet journal layouts, go on a walk, meal prep, grocery shop, dance, or play ukulele.

Dedicating a whole evening to resetting my life and reflecting is what I have found to be the most effective way to get myself out of a funk. It always feels odd to put this time aside for myself because when I’ve been in a funk I’m often already behind on work and feel guilty for taking additional “break time.” But if I don’t take the time to clear my mind, my mental state gets worse and I fall even farther behind. Furthermore, just because I haven’t been working during a certain time doesn’t mean my  mind ever got a break, when you are too anxious or sad to work your brain isn’t getting a break and you will still need time to rest.

Since doing this reset I’ve felt much more at peace and have been able to reconnect with minimalism and cut back on my overspending, overeating, and screen time.

I hope sharing my story is helpful to others who are struggling to get minimalism, or any other lifestyle change to stick.

Especially with minimalism, the image portrayed online is often one of perfection and the imperfect moments and struggles are not given the attention they deserve. This tendency makes minimalism seem inaccessible and can turn people off to the idea or be discouraging to people who are new to the practice and can’t get to that perfect look they see online.

As mentioned before, lifestyle changes don’t progress linearly. What counts the most is not achieving the ideal seen on social media, but genuinely improving your life no matter how many times you fall off the horse and have to climb back on.

How have you handled “falling off the horse” from a lifestyle change? Share your stories and let me know in the comments below.