Sustainable Living Ideas – Plan, Prep and Get Organized

Sustainable living ideas

You have the best of intentions to live in a greener, more eco-friendly way. You read all the books and the articles. You subscribe to the environmental lifestyle podcasts and online social groups. You get lots of great sustainable living ideas that you’re going to implement into your life.

Then one day you find yourself at the store and realize that you forgot to bring your reusable bags again. Or you have decided you want to eat less meat, but once you’re at the grocery you realize you have no idea what ingredients to buy for a vegetarian meal, so you end up buying the same old stuff you always do. Or you vow to make homemade, low-waste gifts for the holidays, but then it’s suddenly Dec. 23 and you end up at Target buying gift cards again.

Good intentions aren’t enough.

Green and Grumpy frog
Don’t beat yourself up.
Make a plan!

Believe me, I have fallen short of my green living goals many times. Just because I am writing a blog about sustainability doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. Far from it. I still occasionally forget my reusable bags, or have to buy veggie plants in disposable plastic containers because I forgot to get and start my seeds early enough, or fail to move my investments into eco-friendly portfolios because it requires a bunch of research and OMG PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME TRY TO UNDERSTAND FINANCIAL STUFF.

Thinking about this recently made me realize that most of my failings in my best-laid plans don’t have so much to do with laziness or weakness (although there is that too sometimes), it usually comes down to a lack of planning ahead, prepping and organizing.

Preparing to be Sustainable

For instance, one of the ways my lack of planning ahead was keeping me from following through on my good intentions was centered around food. I have been trying to cut down on meat consumption and I wanted to institute one meatless dinner per week. But I would find myself at the grocery store and realize that I didn’t have a specific recipe in mind to make, so I really didn’t know what to buy. I am not a great cook, so I tend to fall back to a few dishes that I know how to make. So I would just end up buying the stuff I usually do and I’d put off the meatless plan for another week.

For new vegetarian meal plans, I realized I needed to find a recipe that sounds appetizing (and will hopefully be acceptable to the S.O.), make note of what ingredients I need, and be sure to put those on a shopping list. Not difficult, but it required a certain amount of pre-planning that I needed to start incorporating into my shopping. I normally didn’t think about a shopping list until right before I leave for the store, which is too late if I wanted to try some new dishes. I had to plan ahead to do some vegetarian recipe research in advance.

Another issue that comes up for me frequently is having to throw out food that goes bad. This is also mostly due to a lack of planning ahead and sometimes overbuying because we haven’t taken a good inventory of what we already have on hand. Some planning techniques I now employ to use our food more efficiently and waste less:

  • I use a dry erase marker to label leftovers with the date we made them. Then we can keep an eye on what needs to be eaten first, what’s still safe to eat and what is not.
  • If I take the time to wash and spin lettuce and greens in a salad spinner, then store in a big airtight container, not only will it stay fresh much longer, but we are more likely to throw together a salad when it is already washed and ready to use. I now just plan to always clean and store lettuce as soon as possible after we buy it.
  • I periodically organize the food pantry, looking through the expiration dates and bring to the front of the shelf the oldest items to use first. If you have some shoeboxes, these can work great for labeling and storing “use first” items. This bit of pre-planning and organization will help you waste less. I find that if I keep the pantry well-organized with items of a similar type together, it also helps us see when we have a ton of a particular type of foodstuff, so we stop buying it. (13 jars of mustard??? Let’s not buy any more mustard please, I don’t hard how good the sale is.)

A few more ways to plan for sustainable living:

Sustainable living tips
  • Stock a reusable mug and a few compact shopping bags in your car, bike bag, traveling bag or purse at all times.
  • Keep a running list on your phone, laptop or fridge of to-dos and to-buys. (“Buy compost tumbler, go to thrift store, take cans to scrap dealer”)
  • Make another list of your longer-term sustainable living goals. Don’t try to do everything at once or you will likely become overwhelmed, but periodically revisit it to see if you are ready to commit to one of those goals (“Bike to work once a week!”) and then plan for what you will need to do to make it happen (“Buy bike bag, check lights and tires, map out safest route”).
  • Set aside time for cleaning, purging and organizing. A lot of waste occurs when we overbuy things that we already have but can’t find.

These are just a few examples. The point is that getting organized about the changes you want to make and then planning ahead for making the transition as easy as possible are keys to achieving your sustainable living goals. What are your planning and prepping tips for sustainable living? Let us know in the comments below!

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