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Thinking In Terms of Needs Versus Wants Can Green Your Life By Default

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
By Christa

What do you think when you hear the word ‘downsize’? Or ‘simplicity’? It might not be the most popular way to go green, but it’s often the easiest: Buy less crap. Especially crap you don’t need and crap that’s not going to add any beauty or positivity to your life. I got to thinking about this topic after reading one woman’s account of returning to the U.S. – specifically, New York – after residing in Mexico and what she felt upon visiting a common Target store.

I walked through the automatic doors, took a deep breath of that familiar, Target-scented air, and accepted a cart from an overly-enthusiastic 50-something with really bad makeup. Above her was a huge sign that perfectly represents what I believe to be one of the biggest downfalls of our culture. It read, “Are you sure one cart is going to be enough?”

According to Sharon Beder, a professor of social sciences who researches the “power relationships” between corporations and consumers, “Advertisers spend 100s of billions of dollars a year worldwide encouraging, persuading and manipulating people into a consumer lifestyle that has devastating consequences for the environment through its extravagance and wastefulness.” Psychologists are paid big bucks to determine how to most cleverly convince the human brain to want what is being sold.

I don’t even live in Mexico *sniff* and that’s how I feel pretty much every time I set foot in a Target. I’m even fairly good at getting in and out without needing that second cart because having a budget or practicing simplicity can make a person’s life greener by default. For example, I don’t buy a lot of goods that recently came off a less-than-stellar from a human rights and environmental standpoint factory production line in Chine that had to be shipped to the U.S. – but that’s because I don’t buy a lot of goods in general.

Which isn’t to say I’m some holier-than-thou minimalist who never buys anything that wasn’t produced by a well-paid local artisan. There’s that budget, remember? I’m living squarely in the culture of stuff, just like everyone else.

Remember this?

If you’re not living on a budget – lucky lucky you! – then you can still go green by default by faking it. Just make an effort to analyze your consumption habits and make a habit of asking yourself if what you’re buying is a want or a need before grabbing that second cart. Buying less crap won’t make you mega green, of course, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

What Are Your 10 Rules of Life?

Monday, February 28th, 2011
By Christa

Two weeks ago, I asked you to mull over your 10 essentials for living. It’s a wonderful concept to mull over, whether you’re thinking about the 10 things you’d take with you if you had to get out of the house in a hurry or the 10 activities you can’t live without. Today, I thought it might be interesting for us all to choose 10 rules of life. Maybe they’re your 10 green rules. Could be 10 rules for staying upbeat. Or 10 rules of success at work. Leo Tolstoy did it when he was 18, and here’s the Rules of Life he came up with:

Get up early (five o’clock)
Go to bed early (nine to ten o’clock)
Eat little and avoid sweets
Try to do everything by yourself
Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for evry minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater
Keep away from women
Kill desire by work
Be good, but try to let no one know it
Always live less expensively than you might
Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer

Obviously, this is a very personal exercise, so no need to share. It’s just something fun to think about, and actually penning your 10 rules of life can help you gain a little perspective whether the topic at hand is happiness or green living or creativity. Thoughtful living is one aspect of green living that gets glossed over too often with campaigns against bottled water, but I like to think that most people, if pressed to analyze their lives, will naturally move toward a more eco-friendly existence.

Image: Artist Julien Pacaud

Green Tips for the Homeowner

Friday, February 25th, 2011
By Christa

You may or may not be surprised that little ol’ me had a passing interest in environmental issues before I started writing Green Manolo just a few short months ago. Green topics have actually come up pretty frequently at the other two blogs I author: Manolo for the Home and Manolo for the Brides.

I have been tempted to rehash topics I’ve covered at those blogs of mine, but then I thought that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. The content and, when appropriate, gorgeous images are already there, waiting for your eco-friendly eyes! So here’s a list of links in case you’re looking specifically for environmentally conscious housing:

Green Tips for the Homeowner:


Could You Choose 10 Essentials?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
By Christa

It’s pretty widely agreed that there’s a lot of overlap between the green movement and the minimalist movement. If you don’t have a ton of stuff, you don’t need a ton of space, which means you don’t need to waste a lot of time, money, or or energy heating/cleaning/maintaining/powering/etc. a ton of stuff or space.

Minimalism isn’t necessarily green, just as eco-friendly living doesn’t mean having to live like a monk, but taking a few minutes to consider what you own and why you own it can be plenty green.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted about choosing your 10 essentials a la the GQ series – not 10 essential possessions, but rather your 10 essentials for living. What you wear, what inspires you, where you love to be, that favorite food you can’t live without… that sort of thing. And I found the idea to be extremely inspiring.

When you create a list of your 10 essentials, you gain a whole new perspective on all those things that aren’t strictly necessary at all. Turns out there’s a good chance there’s plenty of stuff in your home and in your life that you could get rid of without ever feeling deprived.

What’s on your list of 10 essentials? What have you realized you can live without?

Image: Apartment Therapy

Too Many Sweaters… Not Enough Scarves?

Friday, February 11th, 2011
By Christa

The other day, I took an old sweater of mine and turned it into a dress for La Paloma. I’m really proud of the end result but… I winged it, so there are little things wrong with it. Seams that don’t line up particularly well and so on. If I hadn’t been impatient and had followed directions created by those with more repurposing experience than me, maybe it would have been even better.

Turns out, I still have a ton of old and new sweaters that I’m probably never ever going to wear – sorry, bad gift givers! When I went looking for more repurposing ideas, I found a great tutorial for turning a sweater into a hat and scarf.

Okay, it’s technically a hat and scarf set for a kid, but with a big enough sweater, the sky is the limit! No need to make an owl – or even an animal at all. But if you like the animal idea, the sky is still the limit. This is the kind of clothing repurposing I love – that and t-shirt mods.

Say Goodbye to Suds and Toss That Sponge

Monday, January 24th, 2011
By Christa

There’s something so… comforting about nice, sudsy dishwater. It just makes the whole act of washing dishes feel cleaner. But are tons of suds strictly necessary to the process? Nope! And sponges, well, where to start? Besides being made almost entirely out of those omnipresent petroleum byproducts, they also have a tendency to harbor E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus. Just right for washing the things you eat off of, right? Ew.

So what are the alternatives? One somewhat more environmentally-friendly alternative that is certainly less gross overall is the Original Spaghetti Scrub, designed by Hiroki Hiyashi and distributed by Roland Products.

The Original Spaghetti Scrub, along with its gentle and specialized cousins, has a regrettable polyester base, but the rest of it is made of good stuff like cotton, corn cobs, peach pits, and walnut shells for those really tough jobs. They last a long time, which means buying less of them over time.

Obviously, you can’t give up dish soap completely – so use something green like Life Tree Dish Soap – but you can use a lot less with the Spaghetti Scrub since all the ground up abrasives do a lot of the work. And if you’re wondering what makes it less gross than a regular sponge, the answer is that it dries completely, quickly. No stewing in its own juices, breeding zillions of germs.

Winter Cycling Tips – Bike Green All Year Long

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
By Christa

Walking aside, biking is the ultimate form of green transportation!. There are no emissions associated with people power – none that we’ll mention, anyway. While owning a car can cost $8,000 per year (think new parts, insurance, etc.) owning a bike costs around $400 – and that’s only if, unlike me, you’re getting your bike crazy tuneups and buying stuff for it. If you take all of the resources that make up a car, you could make at least 100 totally sweet bikes with all that stuff. And pumping those pedals is seriously healthy, especially if you go the extra mile and can commute via bike instead of car.

But hold up, let’s say you’re trying to live a wicked green life and you love riding your bike to work in the springtime, the summertime, and the fall. Wintertime biking, though? The idea sounds pretty crazy to those of us who would rather spend all day sitting under a heat lamp than go snowshoeing. Turns out, it’s not so crazy and plenty of people don’t stop biking to work – or anywhere else – when the weather gets icy. And for those who are inspired to give winter cycling a go, here are a few tips from Dave from Bicycle Habitat on handling your bike on winter streets.

Should You Put Your Home On a Diet?

Monday, January 17th, 2011
By Christa

Is decluttering green? That’s the question that popped into my head while I was reading a HouseLogic post entitled “Resolution: Put Your House on a Diet“, which advises paring down your collection of *stuff* for a better new year. Of course decluttering is green when you recycle what’s recyclable and sell or giveaway the perfectly good things you just don’t want or need. But is decluttering overall a necessary part of green living – as in, can one live a cluttered life while still following the tenets of an eco-friendly philosophy?

Some people argue not in favor of the cluttered life, but against the current societal obsession with organization that can be in and of itself not quite green. After all, if decluttering your home requires you to buy bunches of plastic storage bins and rooms of new furniture to accommodate your newly organized lifestyle, maybe you’d have been better off staying cluttered. Ditto if you can’t sort through your unwanted possessions without feeling an intense urge to throw everything out as soon as trash days rolls around or if are one of those people who finds themselves itching to shop until you drop after decluttering because there is suddenly so much space to fill.

On the other hand, there are plenty reasons to consider the act of decluttering part of a green and balanced and healthy existence. Having too much stuff that isn’t wanted or necessary forces some people to live in houses or apartments that are bigger than they want or can afford – and that can mean unnecessarily high heating and energy costs. Sometimes the old – as in, ‘out with the old’ – is itself unhealthy, like old baby bottles made with BPAs. Clutter is also in opposition to the part of the green mantra that suggests people reduce (along with re-use and recycle). And if air quality is something that’s important to you, decluttering your home means fewer surfaces on which dust and pollutant particulates can settle.

In the early part of 2011, I personally hope to make good on the Throw Out Fifty Things challenge, and I do happen to think decluttering is an important part of green living when done right. How about you? Do you get rid of clutter as a part of living a more eco-friendly life?

Image: MixedGrill

Should Bottle Water Be Banned?

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
By Christa

This past summer, the town of Concord, MA voted to ban the sale of bottled drinking water beginning in 2011. It sounds unusual, but apparently Concord is in good company. Areas of New York, Illinois, and Virginia, along with 100 other cities in the U.S. and elsewhere have taken similar steps to cut down on the sale of bottled water sold within city limits and encourage locals to give tap a try. Some are banning it, while some are taxing bottled water heavily.

Why? First, the production of plastic water bottles uses about 17 million barrels of oil each year. Second, not everyone tosses those plastic water bottles into the recycling bin – I see them on the street and on the beach around my corner of Mass. all the time. And third, it takes almost 7 kilos of water to make one bottle of imported water, according to Sustainability Engineer Pablo Päster.

But is it ban-worthy? You tell me:

If you’re interested in instituting your own ban on bottled water, there are a couple of steps you can take. I know we don’t all live in municipalities with clean, tasty tap water – mine, for example, smells too chemically right out of the tap – but getting a Brita Pitcher can turn so-so tap water into yummy tap water. And when you’re on the go, a stylish stainless steel water bottle makes it easy to stay hydrated without resorting to yet another bottle of Aquafina… which, like 25% or more bottled waters is actually just municipal tap water run through an extra filter or two.

If You Can’t Print, You Can’t Waste Paper

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
By Christa

It’s no secret that every day, entire forests are cut down to make paper. We can choose recycled paper or paper that comes from sustainably harvested forests (as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council). But generally, there’s not much we can do about friends, relatives, and coworkers who insist on printing out every email and doc they receive or even entire web sites.

Until now. The World Wildlife Foundation has created a new, green file format that can’t be printed. The .wwf format is designed to encourage people to think about where their paper is coming from and where it is going – along with saving a few trees here and there. A .wwf file can be opened in most programs used to view .pdf files, but there’s no printing option and and the WWF adds a little note about saving paper to the bottom of every .wwf documents.

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