How to live sustainably is often framed as an exercise in subtraction. We are admonished to reduce here, lower there, and do with less. I have long struggled with this negative approach. It is based on a language and culture of sacrifice and depends on the ongoing goodwill and self discipline of the individual. It is not particularly motivating to always be taking things away. Also, I have read that we each only have so much willpower each day. Each time we say “no” to something the next no gets that much harder.
A similar approach is used to encourage people to eat healthy diets. Take away the fat, take away the carbs, take away the sugar…minus, minus, minus. What happens when you are not allowed to eat potato chips? Do you think about them constantly? Do you crave them more intensely than you ever would if you were allowed to have them? I do.
I far more appreciate the adding up approach. Using the same diet analogy I prefer the approach of being conscious of what I am eating and choosing to use vegetables as a main course, adding in more fruits, and sneaking in more sprouted whole grains. Once I add all those things in to my daily meals I am quite full and not even thinking about chips. And, if I do buy chips they do me little harm because I more often than not eat mostly vegetables, fruit and sprouted whole grains.
It is the same for sustainable slow living. It is easy to feel shame and get discouraged when I think about all the things I DON’T do and the negative impact this has on the planet and other people. I am however strongly encouraged by all the things we HAVE done. For example I feel quite proud that besides a t-shirt here and there and under/swim wear I have purchased all my other clothing over the last couple of years from consignment and thrift shops. I have embraced slow fashion and love it. And, instead of buying things new from a big box store that might have looked more modern and matching we accepted many hand me downs from friends and family that now fill our house with history and memories (like the silver wear and salt and pepper shakers pictured above).
Adding up the things I do fills me with a sense of accomplishment and pride. It encourages me to do more. As the once new habits become the norm I take them for granted and try new things. Filling my house with previously loved items will not save the world, but purchasing new instead isn’t going to either. As long as I don’t stop at the small consumer based things and continue to do things like vote and contribute to change where I work and live all these things add up to a bigger overall impact. And, as long as people all around the world adopt similar lifestyle choices – one action at a time – my actions (just drops in a bucket you could say) will be part of a sea of change.
Monster houses and plastic throw-away items have an incremental adding up factor as well. One house goes up at a time; each house is filled with products wrapped in plastic from big box stores. The question of how to build a better world will be answered by what in the end we choose to add. More monster houses or more co-housing? More community gardens or more fast food drive throughs? More high-speed trains or more highways?
And, everything we do is carefully noted by our little ones. What we choose to add to our lives will shape who they become and the choices they make. So, with this in mind I have set the intention to hand my son a healthy lunch made from scratch in reusable containers every day when he starts kindergarten in September. It would be so very much easier to buy pre-made granola bars and cheese strings individually wrapped in plastic, but I look forward to adding a new weekly routine of making granola bars, cutting up vegetables, blending humous, and whatever else gets gleefully eat up by my five-year old.
Wish me luck.
And, in case you are on a similar count down to the new school year here are some great sites to help you out:
100 Days of Real Food: School Lunches (if I could hug this woman I would)
Zero Waste Chef 10 tips for packing a zero waste lunch (thanks for this!)
Huffington Post School Lunch Ideas (not so vegetarian and not totally reusable but good ideas)
Bon Appetit Quick and Easy School Lunches (some of these looks less quick and easy)