I made a new year’s resolutions post of sorts exactly one year ago, and while it has a lot of good stuff, including a guide to living more sustainably, it isn’t something that I religiously followed. This is because I had a shitty year, and my mental focus was completely off. Not because the resolutions were bad, hehe.
But what does it mean to live sustainably? I still want to live a low-impact life (and want everyone else to do so as well), and I still will be following the same steps I had listed out last year – with some key adjustments. A lot of things have massively changed over the last 365 days. Top among them? The urgency of the climate crisis that we need to acknowledge and deal with. Point #6 is the main addition – and most important point – for the new year, and something that’s become a do-or-die situation. Literally.
Here’s a list of what I plan to focus on in 2021.
Guide to Living More Sustainably in 2021
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1. SORT OUT FINANCES
Everything else stems from this, actually, so it makes sense to jump right into the money questions.
Money is one of the key ways to control our consumption, to living sustainably. It is a basic requirement in this world of ours – and in order to control our impact, it is important to control our finances. I don’t mean this in a “vote with your dollar” way, which gives power away to the corporations and other powerful entities. I mean that I will control my own expenditures, try to earn sufficiently enough to look after my (and my loved ones’) welfare, and save up enough to be materially comfortable in the future.
All of this begins with a very scary step: budgeting. Budgeting is basically a detailed list of all the money that’s coming in and all the money that’s going out. It gives me a clear picture of how much money I have available, what I regularly spend it on, and how much is left over at the end of the budget period (be it monthly or bi-weekly). Then, expanding on this, I’ll write down my requirements and expected spending, my cash at hand, my debt, my savings, and – crucially – my investments. This can lay it all out there for me to get a good picture of where I am, financially speaking.
I’ve tried this before but haven’t been successful at it. This time, I plan to tightly control my monthly expenses for the coming 12 months (at least), and learn to control my finances instead of letting it control me. I don’t know if you have felt the same way, but I’m sick of worrying about money, of making decisions based on the availability (or lack) of money, and of low-key brooding about how my life would change if I suddenly got laid off.
Being financially secure is so important, especially so you can hold your own, and not bend to others’ whims and fancies. I mean, it’s almost like it’s tied to your self esteem?;)
To summarize, I plan to earn as much as I can, save as much as possible, and focus on paying off my debts so I can be a free bird. I also plan on investing more, so I can grow my money. (Check out The Motley Fool Stock Advisor if you’re interested in stocks.)
Another very important way you can plan well for your future is to prepare your finances for a natural disaster. This is for when you run into unexpected costs due to an ever-increasing frequency of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, wildfires and hurricanes. Learn the key differences and gaps in natural disaster insurance policies – and be well prepared.
Focus on your own finances if you’re looking for some solid way to lead a low-impact life. How, you ask? Well, apart from getting financially secure, investing in sustainability-oriented companies, and maybe switching to an environmentally friendly bank, I plan to…
2. MINIMIZE SPENDING
So, this is where the environment’s welfare directly comes in. The less I buy, the less is my impact on the environment. Because the basic truth is this: Everything we buy, everything we do, affects the environment. So minimizing that impact is the essence of living a frugal and minimalist life, if you ask me.
Keep your requirements simple, and your footprint automatically becomes lower. For example, there’s no need for 10 pairs of shoes when three will do, there’s no need to have a separate car for each member of your family if the public transport system works fine.
The more you think about how you live your life currently, the more ideas you will get on how to cut down on wasteful spending. Once you get into that frugal mindset of just buying what you need and making do with what you have, it’s inevitable that you will begin to get better and better at it.
Most of the destruction we have wreaked on the planet is due to our consumption of resources for various purposes. Some purposes are essential: clothing, shelter, food, medicines, etc. But most are not: shiny new products from the fast fashion and electronics industries, products with built-in obsolescence, products that are manufactured for the supply-side economy, to make people rich and not to meet basic needs.
What was it that Gandhi said? “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
What’s important is to prioritize need over want, which will help you minimize your spending. Because minimalism is great for the environment.
Which brings me to the next point.
3. BE MINDFUL OF PURCHASES AND CONSUMPTION
I have to buy certain things. I need clothes, I need food, I need shelter and other such basic things. These are not things I can go without. However, I can be mindful of what type of clothes I buy, what type of food I buy, etc.
I can buy fair-trade organic clothing this summer, instead of sweatshop-produced fast fashion pieces. I may spend more, but it’s on fewer, quality pieces, as opposed to bulk buying the entire $2 stock of t-shirts that will leak pesticides into my locality.
I can buy in bulk at the local bulk stores, and cut down on my plastic consumption while also saving money.
I can buy local and organic food, as much as possible.
I can reduce my electricity consumption as much as I can, and I can try to be zero waste as much as possible, in every way possible.
Have a cat at home? Here’s how you can build a sustainable life for your cat!
Quality over quantity, as far as possible, guys. Learn to think things through, be mindful of your impact, and do your best. There’s no one-rule-suits-all concept here. We all have to live our own lives, fortunately or unfortunately, and we all need to make the best decisions for ourselves. Just remember that your decisions have consequences, and that we are not removed from our effect on each other and the environment and wildlife.
4. BECOME MORE SELF-SUFFICIENT
Do you know how to sew? How to chop wood? How to – gasp – cook? I don’t mean to sound like a doomsday prepper here, but a lot of our problems will be solved if we could become more self-sufficient. Not only does this save money (i.e. low impact living), but it also makes us more actively involved in our own lives.
This is the part where I get into how the modern world has disconnected us from not just each other, but also nature. We buy frozen food from the supermarket, we plug into the internet and avoid meeting our neighbors, we dump the broken chair and buy a spanking new one online. I sound like a Luddite (I’m not, I promise!:)), but there’s mad power in using our hands, in doing things physically, and experiencing life in the slow lane. Learn to cook a meal from scratch, learn to stitch up the torn curtains, learn to take some cake over to the neighbors and offer to help them with their roof repairs. Start heading outside and just walking around, taking in the mood and also connecting with yourself.
Learn to do things, and thrive in the physical world. I plan to improve on my cooking this year (which I did work on in 2019), and learn to grow some of my own vegetables and herbs (I grew some flowering plants, aloe vera and lemon. I killed a couple of them, but learnt a lot). There’s such magic in growing plants, and it can be so rewarding to our soul – apart from being a super practical skill:)
5. FOCUS ON HEALTH
It’s actually pretty simple to live a healthy life: a nutritious and balanced diet, regular and adequate exercise, fitful sleep, and a low-stress life. It is, however, extremely challenging to actually achieve all of this. It takes conscious, deliberate effort to put all these aspects into place. To make it a habit to meal prep, to get into the daily habit of stretching and going for my morning run, to remember to wind down after 9pm and hit the bed by 10, to take a few deep breaths when I’m becoming stressed and remind myself that ‘this, too, shall pass.’
It all boils down, then, to habit. Setting a routine of daily activities that are optimal for your body and life. Making a habit of all of them, so that you could do it without any extra thought or effort. So that you can then go on to put your efforts into other worthwhile pursuits, knowing that your body (and mind) are being taken care of simply by getting into a routine and following it day in and day out.
It’s very important to have a routine. Nature has a routine. Wild animals and plants have routines. We are meant to do certain things at certain times, and though we have perhaps lost our instinctive feel for a routine, we can always deliberately set it into motion. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all template here; someone may thrive on six hours’ sleep and a high-stress work life, whereas someone else may not. I certainly will not. I need 7 hours of sleep every night, and I need my specific meals, my favorite activities, etc., if I am to feel healthy, motivated and happy.
We all have our own best-case routine that makes us happiest. And healthiest. Let’s try to capture that and live that life this year. I definitely plan to make it a priority. It’s not something that can be done overnight; habits take time to get set. But it’s important to keep at it and not lose sight of the accumulating benefits of living a healthy life.
Speaking of living a healthy life, the next point is unarguably the most important when it comes to personal and collective action in the new year:
6. FOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT
The world is changing very quickly – and I don’t mean in terms of fashion trends or social mores. This year (and this decade) has seen terrible losses on the environmental front, and brought the reality of climate change front and center. We’re well past the time of denying or ignoring facts. It’s now time to deal with the world as it is and prepare for a future that we never expected or planned for – a future of resource shortages, of chaos, of uncertainty and more.
If you are unaware of the current status of the planet, educate yourself.
If you want to know about the issues at the forefront of climate change, read up as much as you can. Participate in protests, inform your friends and family, and be a general pain in the ass for anyone willfully ignoring what is the single biggest challenge we have ever faced as a species. Keep the Greta momentum going.
Live a low impact life, and stop chasing shiny objects that only bulk up the pockets of the elite – and destroy the environment for the rest of us.
Now for some bitter truth. Begin to face the inevitable: adaptation to climate change. We have not managed to prevent it; now we must learn to live with it. Being pro-active on this front can prepare you for the future much more than hiding under the blankets and waiting for the weather to change. It’s not going to. The sooner we realize that, the better for us all. It’s not like we don’t know what’s in store for us. We can either work our hardest to mitigate the worst effects of the changing climate, or we can watch and do nothing, and suffer all the more for it.
This is the decade of difficult choices. Let’s rise up to the challenge.
So, that’s it! Very simple goals for 2021! The thing is, these aren’t just for this year. If they are to be effective, they need to be done forever. But 1st January is as good a date as any to remind myself of the importance of living a low impact life, and I hope this inspires you to do so as well. Do you have any sustainable living ideas that haven’t been included here? Let me know!
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE DETAILS.
Read More About Sustainable Living
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Happy new year! I hope this year is filled with joy, adventure and lots of compassion!