Guidelines for change

22 April 2013

I'm often asked what can be done in the home to live a more sustainable, simple life. I find it difficult to answer a question like that because I don't think there is only one way to live like this. There is not one answer, there are many. Everyone is different, we're all at different ages, we don't have the same ambitions or goals. The best I can do it to give general guidelines and hope that everyone marches to the beat of their own drummer while finding the place that feels comfortable for them. Here are those general guidelines:

Money is not, and should not be, the most important thing in your life but it is the glue that holds everything together. Develop a spending plan and always live within your means. I find I'm better with money if I use cash. Cash is real to me and I'm reluctant to hand it over. When I buy with a card, it's different. I try to use cash, always. If you don't know how much money you're spending in a week or a month, it's a very worthwhile exercise to track what you spend. You don't have to tell anyone you're doing it but at the end of the month it will show you, with no doubt, how much you've spent. You can then identify how much you spend on things you don't need, and that money can then be redirected towards debt repayment or your real needs.

Organise yourself. We all have our own ways of doing organising. Some will want to declutter and live with fewer possessions, others will get rid of a few things but be at ease with what they keep. There is no right way to organise and declutter, do what feels comfortable. I have found it very helpful to make a weekly list of the things I have to do. Each morning I  transfer tasks from that list onto my daily list. That helps me get through the work I need to do without me forgetting just what it was I was going to do. If something doesn't get done on the daily or weekly lists, they're simply allocated to the follow-up list. Your work shouldn't make you feel guilty. If you can't do it, you can't do it, get over it and move on.

Getting rid of disposables. This can be paper plates, cups, knives, forks, tissues, menstrual pads or tampons, baby nappies/diapers, dishcloths or cleaning cloths. It could be anything. If you know you're frequently buying a product that you could replace with something you already have on hand, do it. It's an excellent way to recycle.

Recycle, reuse, repair. This will save you money and cut down on the amount of rubbish you have to send to the dump. Of course, you can separate your recyclables from your general garbage and have it recycled at the dump, but you can do a certain amount of recycling at home too. A sensible home recycling program starts with wise shopping choices. For instance, if your family uses tomato sauce, dish liquid, shampoo etc. in a squeeze bottle, keep the last squeeze bottle, buy a large container of that product, wash the last squeeze bottle and refill it. You can do that  number of times before you need to replace the smaller bottle. When one of your sheets or towels is worn out, cut it up into cleaning cloths. Not only will you have a good supply of very absorbent cleaning rags, you'll extend the life of the sheet or towel and get the full value of the money you spent on it. When it really is threadbare, put it in the worm farm or compost to finish its life off there.

Grow what you can. There are several reasons to do this. We all know how expensive it is to buy or rent a house nowadays. You will get better value for your mortgage or rental dollars if you use your land to grow food. You'll be able to grow and eat organic vegetables without the expense of buying organic. You'll teach yourself and your family valuable like skills. You'll become more self reliant. I'll write a post later in the week about starting a vegie patch.

Learn to cook from scratch and use what is in your garden. This includes bread, snacks, cakes and biscuits/cookies, jams, sauces and whatever else your family enjoys on a regular basis. Cook once and eat twice. I am an expert at this. It saves time and energy on the second day and often the flavours have developed and the dish tastes much better on the second day. If you're trying to build up a stash of home-cooked frozen food in your freezer, this is a good way of doing it, especially if you don't seem to have the time for a dedicated cooking session just for the frozen food. So still cook enough for everyone for two meals but instead of eating the second portion on the next day, freeze it. It will only take one week to build one week's supply of frozen food.

 Celery will remain crisp and ready to use in your fridge for six weeks if you wash it and wrap it in foil.

Don't compare yourself with anyone else. You are unique. What someone else does may not suit you. Even if some of the points in this post don't sit well with you, don't do them. Invent your own way or follow what others do only when it makes complete sense to you and you trust the person telling you. There is no such thing as perfect. Never try to be better than anyone else, try to do your best instead. And when you do change the way you do something, examine what you're doing and customise it to suit you and how you work.

This way of living will make you calm and content as long as you're doing it because you want to change. If you're doing it because you think you should or all your friends are making changes, it will seem too difficult. One thing is for certain, living this way will probably give you more work to do, not less. But it is satisfying work and you can see the results of changing quite soon after you do. You won't see the merit of everything I do and that's a good thing. We all come to our own changes when our time is right. When you get there and you decide that you're ready to become more self reliant and live a more sustainable life, that's when it all makes sense and you see many of the benefits.

What tip would you add to this list?