Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today I’m absolutely thrilled to talk to you about All You Need Is Less, a new book by Madeleine Somerville. A while ago Kylie Ofiu hosted a guest post of mine about my quest to be greener on a grandiose scale. Disappointingly, my big dream didn’t fit in to our small budget. And I resigned to smaller steps towards an eco-friendly lifestyle, but sometimes they just seem so small that it doesn’t matter at all. And I get consumed with this guilt. Like I should be doing something bigger.
Which is why I loved Madeleine’s book. There is very little guilt mongering in it, and she’s very persuasive about our small choices making a big difference. She doesn’t bully her audience into making a complete 180, but instead encourages them to make small choices progressively. Because the latter is almost always the more successful route.
Holy, moly, I’ve been doing some things right.
As I started reading, I was surprised at some of the things we were already doing in our household that are actually supportive of our environment. A lot of them I was doing to save money, but they have another effect: saving the planet little bits at a time. There’s a major stress on the “reduce” aspect of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Which can not only save a tree, but be pocketbook friendly, as well.
So here are some of the things we’ve already been doing:
- Not using dryer sheets. We ran out a couple of years ago, and it was just never a priority to buy them again. We haven’t even missed them.
- Buying my kids’ clothes at consignment/resale stores. Kids grow out of clothing so quickly. Why pay full price? We also accept all hand-me-downs, passing along the ones that don’t fit or are the wrong season to others who need them. (I’m sure both of these practices will be contested once they’re in those middle school years.)
- Cleaning the toilet with baking soda and vinegar. This didn’t start because of those nasty chemicals in household cleaners. No, this started because the bathroom was disgusting, we were out of toilet bowl cleaner, and I was too lazy to go to the store. I had just seen a show that’s not really my favorite: Extreme Cheapskates. But the guy they were highlighting gave a how-to on toilet bowl cleaning using those two ingredients. Our toilet has never been cleaner.
- TRY to garden. The past couple of years I’ve tried to garden. Last year was the first time I’ve done vegetables. It was going great until some powdery mildew killed it all. But we still got to eat some home-grown veggies before all that happened. (We don’t even have a yard!) The kids and I have picked out some seeds for an ambitious attempt this year. I’m not sure when we’ll plant…it freaking snowed here last week so I might way until further into May. But Madeleine doesn’t judge black thumbs. She admits hers isn’t the greenest. So I was happy that I got credit for even trying.
- Trying to eliminate food waste and cooking with what’s in my cabinet.
- Getting my dining room table from the thrift store. Years ago I scored a sweet deal on our dining room table, new in box, assembly required, from the thrift store. It was originally from Target, 50% less than what they charged, and in perfect, unopened condition. I’m not sure how it ended up there, but it did. And then came home with me. If I don’t get points for this one because it wasn’t technically used, there’s always that dresser we refurbished.
- Gifting experiences over stuff. I’ve been doing this more and more each year over the past couple of years, but could definitely trade out more trinkets for memories.
Things I’ve done since reading the book.
In the week since finishing my biblio-endeavor, I’ve been pretty motivated to start making some more of those small changes. Since reading I’ve:
- Made my own body scrub. I’ve seen this on other blogs before. But there’s always some crazy ingredient I don’t have. So I don’t make it. And I buy stuff off a store shelf, instead, because I don’t know where to get said crazy ingredient. Madeleine makes the recipe super easy with a list of acceptable gentle abrasives, binding substances, and optional spices/oils to make everything smell awesome. I ended up using brown sugar, clover honey, and cinnamon, because that’s what I had in my cupboard. And my skin is so. so. soft. I’ll never go shopping for this item again. And those baby jars I’ve been holding onto because I know I should recycle them but don’t know how finally have a purpose.
- Cleaned my shower door with vinegar. A while ago, before I stopped buying those dryer sheets, I wrote about cleaning the shower door with said dryer sheets. It did work really well, but lately we’ve just been using chemicals. And this time I used hot vinegar and a spray bottle. And it worked awesome.
- Recycled at work. I threw my ramen noodle cup wrapper into the trash after lunch. (I’m grown and sometimes ramen is my lunch…I get looks sometimes.) It’s very thin cardboard. I saw some other very thin cardboard in the recycling bin right next to it. So I literally took it out of the trash (which was empty except for my ramen litter!) and switched bins. I was feeling awesome about myself until I realized that the cup itself is made out of styrofoam. FAIL.
- Saved up some bottles etc for Terracycle. I’m not even sure if they take all this stuff. But while I was cleaning out my bathroom I found all these empty bottles and other random things that were destined for the trash. I’m holding onto them until I figure out what they take and how many I need to save to send in. (Terracycle takes empty/old household products, recycles them, and rewards you with points for turning them in. When you get enough points you can get green products off their website.)
- Been acutely aware of how much plastic we use. I loved the book because Madeleine didn’t attack. But she did make you aware. Now, every time I open a food product, pull it out of the packaging, and throw it away all in less than 10 seconds I want to cry because I know that plastic is going to go to a landfill and just sit there for time and all eternity. It’s overwhelming, but a big motivator to change how I consume and learn how to make things better.
Things I think are reasonable goals for change in our household.
- Buy my own clothes consignment/resale. I used to do this, but then moved away from my favorite resale store and never bothered to find a new one. Seriously, I had a similar if not smaller clothing budget and got such better quality when I bought used. (These places can’t resell crap, so they don’t buy crap to put on their shelves.)
- Get more adventurous with greening my beauty regimen. Things like washing my hair with baking soda and using a home-made conditioner. I’m going to wait until a long weekend to start trying this out, though. I’m a little nervous, but think it could work.
- Clean my house with more home made cleaning products. They’re cheaper, not that hard to make, and better not only for the environment ,but my family’s health.
- Dry our clothing outside on a clothesline. Once we have a house. Or even a yard. Saves a ton on your utilities and natural resources.
- Get organized with our recycling and actually take it in. This will take some research and education on my part.
- Reevaluate our attitudes towards food spending. It’s expensive to buy organic and green and clean and whatever they tell you is evil in Food Inc. (I’ve actually only ever heard the movie…not seen it….long story.) Which is why we haven’t been. I walked into Whole Foods one time and walked out crying. While this is the one area in the book where doing the environmentally sound and healthy thing actually costs more, Somerville makes a strong argument for it. For reevaluating our choices.
There’s TON of other info in there, too. Health. Babies. Dogs. All gone green. And by the way, she’s hilarious. This isn’t just a list of green living concoctions and tips. There’s anecdotes from her own life. Struggles to get her husband to see her point of view. Struggles within herself at certain points. There wasn’t a page that I flipped where I wasn’t entertained.
And now you can be entertained, too. And hopefully find a few small things that you feel comfortable integrating into your own life. Because enough people deciding that those small things do matter can add up to have a huge effect.
Use the widget below to win your own copy of All You Need Is Less. This giveaway is in conjunction with Viva Editions, and they will be fulfilling the prize.