The compounding effects of living by example
I cannot claim to hide the fact that the environment means a great deal to me. I am currently spending my working life trying to research some of the impacts humans have had on the environment. But I have also come to realise, that what we really need is not necessarily more research, but more people taking charge or their own life and blazing a trail by living boldly by example.
I can not claim to live very boldly, nor to have ever “blazed” a trail. In fact, I have been scared away from more active participation in several environmental organisations, simply because their outgoing extrovertism (totally a word), confrontational attitude and often somewhat superficial insight into big issues. I find it difficult to be angry, I find it difficult to stop people on the street and hand them flyers. I have, more than once, marched in protests, but again, I seem to lack some of the anger many people are fuelled by.
So, how can a timid, introverted, analytical environmentalist still try to save the world?
Live by example
I can think of no better way for any budding trailblazer, frugal or environmental, to get their point across. Living by example might not seem like such a big thing, but in my experience, it is one of the best ways to get a good, honest conversation started. The person at the till might raise their eyebrow with a bemused expression at your hand crocheted fruit and vegetable nets, but your friend might go “Hey, cool!” and make one for themselves. Alternatively, if the have expressed their admiration over your shopping habits, you could show your generous self and gift them a bag or three.
The same applies for our cloth bags, which are often called out to carry bread or scones to work, or a crafty project to class or on the bus. Other people will see it, but in a non-obtrusive way, and if they are ready to receive some inspiration, they will.
Living frugal is living green
It is not easy to try to be a conscious consumer in this day and age. We are constantly bombarded with horrible working conditions, factory collapses, child labour, environmental pollution, etc. Then, when those same companies which committed the atrocities above suddenly launch an “organic” line, that is suddenly supposed to be OK?
Nuh-uh. That smells more than a little fishy to me.
I am happy to admit, I have not shopped in a store like that in years. Especially not clothes. All my clothes have either been given to me or have been bought in a charity shop, and the latter has been slack as of late as well. I simply feel like I have enough clothes. I have 2-3 pairs of trousers and 5-6 tops that are work appropriate. Anything else goes by a “is it comfortable? Is it warm/cool enough?”. I simply have no desire to add to my wardrobe at this point in time, and whenever someone pulls me inside a clothes store I just stare disinterested at the low-quality stuff that will just fall apart in a few months Most of it is made of synthetic fibres and will spew micro-plastics into the sea every time I wash it too. No, thank you (yes, I am snob enough that even in the charity shop, I do look for garments that are made of natural fibres).
Just stop purchasing new clothes. Pocket the money, save towards your financial independence, and enjoy the feeling that comes with the lower carbon footprint of lower consumption. You cannot consume your way to a sustainable future. Perhaps invest in a green energy company is a better use of your money.
Where do you start?
When I first started living what I preached, I was a young student in my late teens. I had just moved out from home and was feeling largely apathetic about the planet and the future in general. I wanted to do something, but everything seemed big and insurmountable. What could tiny frugasauruses do?
Well, you could start. Just start. Somewhere, anywhere, pick something that works for you. I think the first thing I did was to get cloth bags so that I had somewhere reusable to put my groceries. I also walked or took the bus everywhere, but that felt pretty passive. I would have done that anyway.
Second thing I learned was just how much of the planet’s resources is taken up by animal agriculture. Slowly, as I internalised this knowledge, I started buying less meat. At the same time, my student budget was gaining a little flexibility. I was starting to see some tangible rewards!
More importantly, the apathy I talked about was also starting to dissipate. Trying to live by example was causing me lasting, positive effects. Over the years, I’ve added more and more of these tiny optimisations. Then I got together with Mr. E. and we started optimising as a household. The compounding effects of small changes had much in common with investment. It was increasing our happiness, our health, our frugal muscles left us with more flexible budgets, and in our own tiny, tiny way, at least a few hundred plastic bags have never been used by us over the years. We throw away less, which means a little less to the landfill, and we purchase less, leaving us a flat that is reasonably easy to clean and maintain.
Paying it forward
But that is just the personal way in which our choices impacted ourselves. Make no mistake, our choices have impacted more than just us. It is especially the visible things, like shopping with cloth bags, eating a plant-based diet and eschewing presents that can sow the seeds for discussion and new thinking in people all around us. Here are just a few examples of changes that have occurred in recent years:
- My meat-loving father has started to cut down from for instance 4 sausages for dinner to 2, after learning about the destructive effects of animal agriculture.
- My mother cooks something plant based once or twice a week for health benefits.
- Countless friends have been exposed to, and positively surprised by, vegan cooking as they have been invited over for dinner.
- A younger relative has repeatedly asked their parents if they can buy ingredients to cook plant-based dishes.
- Fruit and vegetable nets continuously receive positive feedback, but it is uncertain if this has made anyone make any changes in their own lives.
Yes. These are largely environmental examples. I make no excuse for wheedling in my old passion for the environment into what is meant to be a personal finance blog. Bear with me, because I believe the environment and finances are intrinsically linked. The other reason is that we have only been consciously aware of financial independence as a concept for a couple of months, so we have a limited dataset to draw from. However, it is easy to see how lines between frugality and environmental action are both intuitive and co-dependent.
So, if you were like me and feel clouds of hopelessness descend upon you? Do something! Take action! Even if it is just a tiny thing like bringing a cloth bag for your bread rolls. These actions, once ingrained as a habit, has a tendency to grow and multiply. Who knows, perhaps even a sidegig makes itself apparent as you optimise for greater happiness for both you and all the other creatures we share this earth with?
Too flowery and hippylike? Too bad.