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If we could get one message across (besides the fact that climate change is real), it would be that going sustainable basically means an upgrade in life. Yep, you read it right. An upgrade. Not a decreased quality of life. Not a bunch of sacrifices. An upgrade. That is not to say all changes will be easy or that you won’t have to stop certain things that bring you happiness today. For some of us, that is unavoidable. But we can (almost) promise you this: the net effect on your life will be positive. Don’t dismiss us just yet, if you find that hard to believe. Instead, please read on.
“The norms that have come to shape the developed world in modern times are far from representing what actually makes us happy.”
However basic and simple (perhaps even too simple) it may seem, it all comes down to re-evaluating what truly means something in life. Why you choose certain things, do certain things and even want certain things. We live in a world full of norms and status markers. That in itself isn’t too strange, as humans are herd animals and like to both do what those around us do and show off how “good” we are, but the norms that have come to shape the developed world in modern times are far from representing what actually makes us happy. Many of them also share the fact that they’re quite detrimental to the health and well-being of our planet.
Meat on our plates, flights to beaches far away. New clothes. New shoes. The latest electronics. Car travel everywhere we go. Home renovations. Who decided these are the things that 1. should make us happy 2. show others we’re successful and 3. define a good life? Call us crazy, but we’d argue it’s time to reevaluate a thing or two. Ask ourselves what it is that we truly value, what would happen if everyone lived the way we do and what we think we’ll be looking back at and think hey, I wish I’d done more of that. Do we actually think the answer will be… shopping?
As with all habits, breaking them and changing your direction perhaps won’t be the easiest thing you’ve ever done. But on the other side of all of these unsustainable behaviors lies a bright and shining future – for both yourself and planet earth. Living according to current norms and chasing the right status markers cost money. A lot of money. Naturally, when you choose this new, green path of yours, the first effect that will become visible is that you’ll have more money left at the end of the month. When you have more money left, new doors will open up. Suddenly, you can choose to work less. Have time to pursue your hobbies. Breathe. Not stress. Sleep. See friends and family. Be a better partner and parent. Care for your home. Mend your things. When we reduce our spendings and free up our time, we automatically regain control of our lives. You’re in charge.
“Living according to current norms and chasing the right status markers cost money. A lot of money.”
Wait a minute, you might think. Did I miss a chapter? How am I reducing my spendings and how am I helping our planet? Well. It’s the same good old list you’ve come across before. First: what we eat. A meat and dairy heavy diet takes a massive toll on the environment. We cannot continue eating the way we are and get even remotely close to the goals of the Paris Agreement, so please make way for a green revolution in your kitchen. Commitments to 100% veganism aren’t necessary, but a transition to mostly plant based foods is – and this is where the fun starts. Not only are legumes, seeds, fruit, vegetables and whole grains excellent for your health – you’ll also drop your food costs by a lot if you play your cards right (that is, buy ingredients, not ready made products). First chunk of cash saved.
Next: travel. While air plane tickets aren’t as pricey as they should be, a trip to the other side of the world will still dig a hole in your finances. Shift focus from what’s far away to what’s right where you are and start exploring your own country instead – by means of bike, train, bus or electric car. The idea that what we need and want is on a beach thousands of miles away has been planted in us by society. Sure, adventures to foreign countries and cultures can be thrilling and ever so intriguing – but because flight travel leaves such a CO2 footprint behind, we simply have to refrain. And once you do, you’ll realize exactly how much there’s to see around where you live. That there’s more than enough to explore for a whole life time, and that the desire to go far away partly has to do with what we think others will think is cool. What others define as the right thing. What others view as a confirmation of your success. So next time a trip to an exotic destination tickles your interest, try to zoom out and then zoom in on your home country. Where could you go on vacation that would reset your batteries? See beautiful vistas? Do fun activities? And when you calculate how much that trip will cost, we can almost promise you it’ll be way less than that first idea of yours. Cash saved, again.
And so it continues. You start biking instead of driving a car and just like that, your endurance is on the rise. You’re not spending a penny. Your carbon footprint is decreasing. And perhaps you’re even a more balanced person, thanks to fresh air and exercise and the absence of rush hour frustration.
You reduce your general consumption and voila, you begin to treasure the items that you have and truly appreciate gifts and special occasion experiences as the treats as they are (or at least should be). Money saved, contentment achieved. And, again, lowered emissions. The list goes on.
“You’re not spending a penny. Your carbon footprint is decreasing. And perhaps you’re even a more balanced person, thanks to fresh air and exercise and the absence of rush hour frustration.”
When we go through all the choices we’ve made over the past few years, they’ve all (more or less) brought us to the same three conclusions: we’ve saved money, decreased our climate footprint and increased our well-being. What’s not to like in there, really? But it didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t come without having to shrug off that cloak of musts and societal expectations. Now that it’s off, though, we couldn’t be happier. And that’s coming from a place farther away from many of the current norms than we’ve ever been.
And speaking of consumption – Mike used to love getting new stuff. New running shoes. New pants. New gadgets. New kitchen equipment. New stuff, simply. He’d be so excited about each and every purchase from putting his credit card number in until it would arrive in the mail… and then the buzz would wear off quickly. So quickly. He truly embodied the concept of instant gratification. Now, about 3.5 years of very limited buying of anything except food and vegetable seeds, he’s a completely different person. He cares for his items in a whole new way and mends what’s been broken, and the joy he exudes when we do get something – an example would be the bike seat we just got for our son – lasts if not forever, at least a really long time. And the most striking thing must be this: old Mike would tear up the package before the front door had closed behind him. Now, we can have a box sitting around for a good while. That might sound strange – shouldn’t it be more exciting now, when it’s such a rare occurrence? Nah, Mike says when I ask. “It’s like I don’t need that high anymore.”. And so again, a behavior changed that doesn’t just serve the planet, but our own well-being as well.
You can live a life that feels so rich and so fulfilling without doing damage to our planet. Anyone who claims otherwise hasn’t given it a fair chance. With a more mindful approach to money spending comes an opportunity to do more of what you love – and a smaller carbon footprint at the same time. In this blissful world of fewer musts, norms and habitual behaviors “because so and so”, you’re free to… to be who you are and who you want to be. To work less and enjoy life more. To be present in the moment and not stressed by tomorrow. To be less in debt and more in control. To breathe and sleep and love and laugh. To follow the seasons. To grow something (or two things or three things or hundreds, like we do and many with us). To bake your own bread or to not at all because that’s not your jam. To live, ultimately. And all of that comes as a result of pulling the e-break on that hamster wheel just a little bit. From taking a step back from all those things we do and think we need to do in order to matter.
“You CAN live a life that feels so rich and so fulfilling without doing damage to our planet.”
In trying to meet societal norms, we never felt like we were good enough. We lead a life that was expensive, stressful and left us feeling inadequate – and on top of that, an all but small eco footprint. And then we changed direction. And (buckle up, here it comes again) we’ve never felt happier.
A sustainable life can be lived anywhere and by anyone, though. It doesn’t have to mean a cabin in the woods and vegetable growing and sourdough baking at all – but it could. It could also mean all the above plus a fondness for Friends on TV (yes, you can have one of those) and owning a microwave. Point is: you don’t need to grind your own flour and play the fiddle by the fireplace at night (although that sounds nice too – we just lack the musical talent to do so) to live a planet friendly life. That’s not where the definition of sustainability lies, and nor should it.
And if you’re still not convinced, we say: try it. The worst thing that could happen is that you give the planet a tiny helping hand and save some money while you’re at it, which isn’t too shabby. But chances are you’ll become as hooked as we are, and join in on our ode to the simple and sustainable. This is where our joint happiness is hiding, we think. Or rather: we’re sure of it.
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– Sophia & Michael