So, I signed up for No Impact Week, Colin Beavan’s national one-week carbon cleanse with YES! Magazine. How did it go? Did it lead me to a happier, healthier and more responsible life?
The image above should give you an idea of my ‘no impact schedule,’ meaning, all the areas in which I worked on reducing my waste and general environmental impact:
- Sunday: Do more with less – so that meant not buying new stuff (except food). Check out the short video The Story of Stuff.
- Monday: Hold on to your trash to see just how much you create, and what disposables you can reduce.
- Tuesday: Switch from mechanized travel (planes, subways, taxis, cars, not even elevators) to “active transportation” such as biking, walking, scooting, rollerblading, skateboarding, etc.
- Wednesday: Look at your food purchases and opt to cook and eat using local and seasonal ingredients.
- Thursday: Live without electricity – watch out for the candles!
- Friday: Save water. Every flush counts! Turn off running water! Drink tap!
- Saturday: Volunteer.
- Sunday: This day is about awareness, reflection, and taking some personal time, whether it’s removing yourself from technology, or hanging out by yourself or with friends and family. Just hum to the song from The Jungle Book, “The Bare Necessities:”
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature’s recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life…
I regularly do some, if not most, of the above, so the challenge wasn’t a total shock to my lifestyle, but it still proved difficult for me. There’s a reason why this experiment only lasts a week. Still, you and I can definitely find ways to incorporate one or two of these actions in more long-term ways.
I made some recommendations that anyone could do in my new year’s post. So… rather than listing what I did each day, I’m sharing my tips, frustrations (+ solutions) and reflections on the overall experience. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Eco-Sabbath wasn’t my favorite day (but more on that below).
- Try not to buy anything unless you ABSOLUTELY need it. Although I was already in the process of re-evaluating my closet, this challenge gave me the extra kick to start gathering my bags of clothes into a pile for donating. What’s great about this arrangement is that I usually find one thing I want (+ need) to buy at my local thrift store after dropping off my stuff. Most recently, I resuscitated a Nine West handbag – yay for me!
- Appreciate the cook! As much as you and I may enjoy making and sharing home-cooked meals on weekends (or everyday), most can agree that it’s a time and energy-consuming task (I admit, some of my meals are classified as “Almost Home Cooked.”) We should make sure to appreciate the people in our lives who care about our well-being and put healthy meals on the table – for me it’s my mother, who goodness knows how she has raced home from the office and straight to the kitchen for as long as she has. Yoga Journal’s “Comfort Me with Radishes” article delivers the message of “comfort foods are foods given in love” in an entertaining way.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Every action counts! It’s easy to have good intentions, but it’s the implementation of these intentions that really make the difference and encourage actual lasting change. Everyone can be greener by being a responsible observer of their everyday habits and pick achievable ways to be green. Desperate Housewives’ star Felicity Huffman wrote, directed, and acted in the short film Lesster (2010) that really drives this point home.
For more tips, check out this interesting article called “Resolve to Green Your Family: A 5-Step Plan to Success.”
- There’s only one way to avoid mechanized travel successfully, and that’s in places like New York City where there’s a plethora of options such as public transportation and “active transportation” (bike, run, etc.) I’m sure many people believe that this is unrealistic to practice in the long-run – there are just too many factors. At the same time, many companies are trying to make it easier for all of us to reduce our carbon footprint with greener travel. Nearly every car company makes a hybrid nowadays, and if you’re not in the market for a new auto, car-pooling is a simple and realistic alternative. JetBlue has its Jetting to Green mission, and then there’s Amtrak and its green initiatives, as well as Enterprise with its Keys to Green program. Can you think of any other positive solutions?
- Unplugging battery chargers are the norm for me. Giving up TV wasn’t too bad, but computers and cell phones were another story! It wasn’t as bad as the situation in WSJ’s article “Whole Family Is Staring at Screens,” but in this day and age it’s impossible to avoid using these devices that make the world go ‘round. I say, everything in moderation, so unplugging appliances and switching off power strips before you head out of the house; or turning off your device as part of a brief “tech detox” experiment, even if it’s only for a few hours. Come on, do you really need to have it turned on at the movie theatre or during yoga class?
Reflections – Accumulation and beyond…
- On days when I wasn’t running errands, going without electricity, etc. I made time to clean and organize, and I stumbled on the NYTimes article “Barbara Reich Organizes the Homes of New York’s Elite,” which was a really quick and enjoyable read. I went through my own stuff, and it can be quite therapeutic (and calorie-burning!) to clean. If my stuff wasn’t being repurposed (ex. cutting clothes up for wash rags or pillow stuffing), it was going to be donated, recycled, or as a last resort, thrown in the trash. If you’re stumped on whether to throw something away, Real Simple Magazine has this amazing New Uses for Old Things index of 700+ items that’s extremely helpful and can save you time and money!
- Think about purchases as investments, so even if you get something for FREE – like those giveaways at various events and conferences – think about whether you will actually use it or give it to someone. Otherwise, leave it! And if you buy something frequently (like toothpaste), make it a habit to buy two or three of it. You’ll save time, money and reduce your car trips to the store.
- In terms of organization, no matter what your style, organizing anything will help you stay positive – plus, you’re more inclined to keep it that way.
So, the lessons here are: De-cluttering helped me see just how much I had unnecessarily accumulated. It was therapeutic. It encouraged me to continue keeping things uncluttered. And the more stuff you have -> the more spaces you need to store them -> the more clutter accumulates -> the more DUST you have to clean!
I’m thankful that I did this challenge (one thing less to do on my “list of things to do”), but again, it was difficult even for me. I think it can be long and intense for most people, but it’s truly a rewarding experience to notice the impact you make every day, and to realize that every action makes a difference.
Recommendation: I’d break it down to a weekend and see how it goes. And check out this awesome book called “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things” – it’ll definitely make you a more mindful consumer.
Ah, yes, Eco-Sabbath arrived…finally! And what did I do? I cleaned. I met up with a friend for brunch at Nanoosh, inhaling the crisp winter air along the way. I bought some groceries using my own bags. I went to a yoga class at Crunch. I cooked dinner – the main ingredient was paprika. I read a book (borrowed from the New York Public Library) with a facial mask and called it the night.
So, why not try something, anything today? As with any resolution, challenge yourself to make one or two feasible changes, and see how it goes. By the end of the year, maybe you can say you’ve picked up around 12-24 greener habits. As a friend suggested, I think we’ll incorporate seasonal cleaning and hope for the best.
xoxo from a low impact gal