How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

How We Do (Sustainable Living)

Friends, we just jumped right in last night with that Food Swap post and didn't really give you a chance to get to know us. Or what we do. And we do a lot of things everyday that get us called dirty hippies or granola (lovingly, of course), but it's ok. It's ok to call us hippies, but it's also ok to learn from us and maybe implement some of our practices. We are admittedly some of the busiest people we know. We usually have at least one "after work" event a day and sometimes there will be 3 or 4 things to go to on a weekend day. Amidst all this business, we are desperately trying to keep the house at a controlled level of chaos and feed ourselves and our pets. With all this going on, there is some serious thought and intention put into what we are consuming, food and otherwise.

We want to be sustainable. We want to take small, significant steps to make our living intentional and reduce our impact on the environment. As you can see below, we do a lot already, but we are always looking to do more. I will probably post later on about how being sustainable is an act of queerness and how being queer fits into sustainable living. For now, consider this post less a manifesto and more of an act of full disclosure.

As a caveat, we do recognize that our lifestyle and our interests come from a place of privilege. We are both employed and we make enough money to afford the set up costs of some of the projects we take on. Some things, like making your own yogurt, require little investment, just a candy thermometer, but worm composting or buying a home carbonation device both have a sizable "set-up" cost. We would probably be able to achieve a certain level of sustainability even if we weren't so financially blessed, but there are definitely some things that would go by the wayside or would be much harder.

Finally, bear in mind that we plan to write in-depth posts about our planning and process for some of the projects listen below. This is just an overview. We just want everyone to know exactly how nerdy we are. If you feel you need to know anything immediately, please feel free to say so in the comments, and we will focus on those topics sooner rather than later.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood
  • Buying recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it's cheaper too!)
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads
  • Using rags instead of paper towels
  • Recycling basically everything we can

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo
  • Making homemade deodorant
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Making staples for the week (baked-boiled eggs, congee, etc)
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far)
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheezeits, etc from scratch
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • Bringing lunch to work
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way

We know that these projects and goals aren't static and that they will change over time, but for now this is how we do sustainable living in Chicago. We'll check back in and let you know how things are progressing. Please let us know if you have any questions.