Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Does It Mean to Live Sustainably

Okay, I'm going to go ahead and get the ball rolling on this one. For our inaugural APLS carnival, Melissa posed the question, "What does living sustainably mean to you?"

When people discuss living sustainably, they're generally talking about the ways that they have reduced their carbon footprint. I'm not going to give you a laundry list of things I've done to live lightly, mostly, because I've already done that. Instead I'd like to explore what living sustainably really means to me, personally.

In my mind, living sustainably is about finding balance. I've talked a lot about how I believe APLS are people who embrace the duality of living a lower impact life in a higher impact world. But by balance I don't just mean societal balance. I mean personal balance as well.

When I first embarked on my non-consumerist challenge, I decided to pursue a path that theoretically, I could continue indefinitely (albeit with minor tweaking and the odd 'cheat' here and there.)

I think, I can live quite happily buying 90% used stuff. Sure, I'm really looking forward to new underwear and socks, and when my laptop finally goes completely and totally dead, I'll likely buy a new computer. But even when my year is over, I will probably be buying most of my stuff used.

I thought about pursuing a different challenge. I thought about including restaurants, movies, plays, and other experiences under my non-consumerism banner. But such a life is not sustainable for me. Eating out, seeing a movie or a play, listening to a band? These things give me great pleasure, and they generally allow me to spend some time with a friend or family member. If I never went to a restaurant or never saw another play, I would be less happy than I am today. And if I had made the rules too strict, I might have given up and started buying everything again. So to me, not buying stuff, but allowing myself to buy experiences is the right balance. It's something that I can sustain.

Sustainable living, then, is about living lighter, yes, but it's also about living happier, and with less guilt. It's about recognizing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, that we can't go it alone, and that yes, sometimes we have to compromise our ideals. If an aspect of living lighter is making you miserable, then ... it's not sustainable. It just isn't. And that means we have to figure out a way to make living lighter not miserable.

The truth is, there is no one size fits all answer to living sustainably. I may have gone a year without buying clothes, but I still buy my jam. I don't make my own bread or pasta sauce. What works for me may not work for someone else. Which is why I think living sustainably also means having an open mind, being willing to try out new things, and being okay with failure. Who knew that going without toilet paper for number one would be one of the easiest changes I'd make? Not me!

My rule is try everything LEGAL once (yes, this ruled out pee terrorism.) Give it your best shot, and see how you do. If it works for you, great. If it doesn't, try something else out. This isn't about guilt. This isn't a competition. This is about what makes sense for you and your life and your circumstances.

Balance. It's a tricky thing to find initially, but once you figure it out, you'll never go back to living any other way.

What does living sustainably mean to you? Get your posts up by August 12th in order to be included in the APLS Carnival.


Jenn said...

"pee terrorism" - ROTFLMAO - that's not illegal. Is it?

Burbanmom said...

Well you summed it up so well, I don't think there's anything to add! Everyone has different tolerances, different likes and dislikes. Do everything you can that doesn't make you bonkers. Cuz then you'll quit. And you don't want to quit when there's so much at stake.

hmd said...

"Perfect is the enemy of the good" - I like that. We try so hard to do it all, but as you said, each thing we do is an individual choice and we have to make it work for ourselves - not anyone else. Why is it we try to be perfect anyway? BORING! :) Great post!

Joyce said...

Dang it, Arduous! You just said all my stuff! No fair. Now I don't have anything to write!

Green Bean said...

Wow. I've wondered what I'll write about for that topic. For affluence, I can devote 20 posts. For living sustainably, I didn't have a clue. But you are so right. That is exactly what sustainable it. Dammit, girl! What's left to write.

Anonymous said...

Darn it arduous! I was just thinking about this topic this week - sustainable sustainable life (translation - an ecologically sustainable life that can be carried out on the on going basis).

I often get a funny feeling about people writing about my-year-of-living-on-nothing. I have not very generous thoughts about it: dude, can you live like this forever? Otherwise aren't you just doing it for a book deal or 15 minute fame?

But I suppose you can also view it as an experiment, take what are you able to incorporate into your life and know your limits.

An excellent topic to think about.

Jill said...

Wonderful post on sustainability- as others stated, you said it so well. Sustainability has been on my list of future post topics for a while- not sure I'll get to it by the 12th, but definitely will try now that I know! I'm excited to read everyone else's take on it, because you are so right, there is no definitive means something different to everyone.

Unknown said...

Great post on sustainablity!

EcoBurban said...

That's what I like about you best, Arduous. For someone without any children, you really understand that the world isn't exactly the same for every single person. Some things we are great at, others, well... we sorta suck. While I might make jam, I buy party goods for my kids bday party. Different strokes, but we're still making it to the end of the pool at the same time! And, don't worry, I will write a "sustainable" post for the carnival. I'm just waiting for my kids to do something funny (or dumb) first! ;o)

ruchi said...

Nooooooooooooooooo guys. There is plenty left to write about!!

Jenn, a certain chicken who shall remain nameless suggested that maybe I throw my pee on various lawns and stuff. I think THAT is illegal.

Burbs, ezackly! Do what you can but don't let it make you crazy.

Heather, I can't take credit for "perfect is the enemy of the good." It's a common saying, and apparently it was originally Voltaire who came up with it.

Joyce, oh come now. I know you will come up with something good!

Green Bean, PLEASE. You, the creative writer, you will come up with something far better and more descriptive than I ever could.

Cindy, I see what you are saying re: the extreme living situations. I think the problem is they really aren't sustainable. On the other hand, maybe the push our limits and the unsustainable becomes sustainable?

Small Change, do try. We would love to have you in our carnival. :)

Thanks Bobbi!

EBM, well I think because I read so many blogs by moms and I realize that some of what they're doing isn't really possible for me living alone by myself and working a million hours a day. :) So what works for you might not work for me, and what works for me might not work for GB. But we each pursue our own path and we each make a difference in our own way.

Sam said...

Pee terrorism jacks up the color coded terroristo-meter to yellow. And sure enough, that's what it is now.'re brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I believe that in this group, we are all TRYING OUR BEST to do things better, greener, healthier. I get so many ideas from all of you! Some are easy for me, some are a little more difficult. I am becoming so much more AWARE. Who knew that a stranger named chicken would make me confront my Target addiction head on? I just took the August Buy Nothing challenge, and it is such an eye opener for me. I am grossed out that I have been using shopping as sport for many moons. I am changing my ways. Great post, Arduous, and good luck with all you endeavor.

Melissa said...

see, if I wait long enough, somebody else will find a way to eloquently state the thoughts crashing around in my brain! Every now and then I have to give myself permission to ease up on myself, because I know I'll have a melt down if I try to squeeze one more thing into the day...and sometimes, not doing that one thing is what allows me to be able to finish doing all the other valuable things that I do.

ruchi said...

Thanks Beany!! I appreciate it! :)

Thanks Jennifer! I agree, we all can learn so much from each other. Good luck with your buy nothing month.

Melissa, exactly. We can't be perfect all the time! It's okay to let things go once in a while.

EnviRambo said...

I agree totally with the consumerism aspect. It wasn't until I let go of wanting and buying stuff that I didn't really need and the rat race that goes with acquiring those un-necessaries that I finally found balance. Lo and behold it led me to sustainability!

Julie Artz said...

OK, I have to ditto the "pee terrorism"--that is just so funny. Does it count as pee terrorism if my 4-year-old keeps peeing in people's yards when we go on our afternoon walk?

Seriously, though, I love that everyone in the bushel basket is coming at sustainability from a different angle. For me, knowledge of where my food was coming from and a complete love of gardening sparked my interest in sustainable living, but I still have TONS of work to do on being less of a consumer.

And while I'm one of those folks doing a crazy "year of..." experiment--in our case a year of eating local food--we're also trying to have balance (no way is my husband giving up his coffee, and my son MUST have string cheese) and are hoping to learn enough that we can eat more or less local forever.

Great post!

Deb G said...

Just wanted to add my agreement that balance is a very important part of sustainability. I don't think we will ever have a sustainable existence unless we find a way "to make living lighter not miserable" for all.

Bobbi said...

I like the concept of buying experiences rather than more things.

Buy Tamiflu said...

I absolutely agree with you. There are a lot of useless actions and things in the world. It is better for every person to find a balance suitable for him.