Creating Change, Reducing Consumption: How living with less can transform the world

Creating Change, Reducing Consumption: How living with less can transform the world
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By: Madeleine Somerville

I resisted the move, initially. At the time I was 22 years old and happily ensconced in one of Canada's biggest cities. The prospect of leaving it all behind to set up shop in a tiny mountain town in British Columbia was equal parts terrifying and unappealing.

As much as I initially opposed it, that move ended up being one of the best things I've ever done. It changed my life and in doing so, enabled me to change the lives of others, too.

When I settled into my new home, I found myself connected with the natural world in an immediate, unavoidable way I'd never experienced before. Suddenly my backyard held mountains, rivers, and an ocean instead of shopping malls. This environmental shift not only affected the decisions I made about how to live my life, the limited local shopping also forced me to reconsider what I consumed and, more importantly, how much I consumed.

Shopping for anything more than groceries now involved a carefully-planned trip to a nearby city rather than being a leisure activity in and of itself. Impulse buys disappeared and as I moved into a series of smaller and smaller homes, the things I already owned seemed less like essential, tangible expressions of my personality and more like...well, clutter.

I began to pare down, letting go of many things I already owned and buying less. I began considering the impact of my lifestyle on the environment in which I was now so intimately ensconced. I began purchasing eco-friendly products, and when this quickly became prohibitively expensive, I began learning how to make them on my own instead.

Gradually, I worked up to a point where I was making my own laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, dryer balls, body lotion, toothpaste and more. I was indescribably proud of this newfound self-sufficiency, each time I mixed up a batch of all-purpose cleaner I felt like a goddamn wizard.

I couldn't shut up about it. I enthusiastically raved about my clothesline, started blogging my recipes and trying to encourage others to try them, too. Eventually, my rambling screeds about sense and sustainability reached a small publisher in San Fransico and they asked me to write a book. A book!

And so, in between working and having a baby and moving, I did. All You Need Is Less was published in April 2014, and I've spent the two years since writing hundreds of articles about how (and why) to begin creating instead of consuming, how to make your own products and most importantly, how to gradually dismantle, piece by piece, the incessant barrage of advertising telling us that we are what we buy.

In all of my writing, I've tried to repeatedly underline two main ideas:

First, living an Eco-friendly life doesn't have to be expensive. The perception that green living is a luxury available to only an elite few is, quite frankly, bullshit.

Done right, an Eco-friendly life should be cheaper than the alternative, primarily because considering the environment before you shop means you'll invariably end up buying less.

How do you do this? Well, when you're at the cash register, start asking yourself:

Do I need this?

Can I make it?

Can I buy it secondhand?

Is this the best quality I can afford?

Using these questions to guide your purchasing decisions means that you can reevaluate needs, reduce unnecessary purchases, use homemade recipes to neatly sidestep savvy companies trying to greenwash products, explore alternatives to big box store shopping, and use the money saved by doing so to invest in products that will last.

Yes, recycled products are great, upcycled fashions are innovative, and bamboo products are trendy but being green is not about what you buy, it's about what you do.

Second, you don't need to be perfect. I'm certainly not. There's an incredibly pervasive idea out there that if you can't do everything, it's pointless to try to do anything.

If you'd like to become more environmentally conscious you could give up your car, downsize to a 300 sq. foot home, go vegan. These things are massive changes and they boast the environmental impact to match. But these changes are also untenable for most of us. Rather than dismissing an Eco-friendly life altogether because you can't live one particular version of it, I advocate for finding a middle ground that works for you, then working to continuously evolve and improve from there.

Plan a meat-free meal once or twice a week, rent tools instead of purchasing them, shop secondhand, request gifts of movie passes or museum memberships instead of things. There are so many ways to do good without doing everything.

This second point is especially important to me because it holds true in my own life, too - I enact change on a similarly small scale, relatively speaking. My book hasn't set the world on fire, I didn't inspire a revolution or change the world. Yet my words and my ideas have had an indisputable effect on the world.

Almost every week I receive an email from someone who has started making their own shampoo, or a family who has committed to shopping only secondhand for all of their clothing and furniture. Person by person, we are changing the world for the better. It all adds up. Every single bit.

It is entirely possible to have a markedly positive impact on the world around us through small, consistent acts. The smallest change can create far-reaching ripples beyond your wildest imagination, whether it's a move from a big city to a small mountain town or a shift from incessant shopping to mindful consumption, your actions matter.

It's my privilege to keep exploring this concept through both my life and my writing.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead

Pioneers for Change is a seed-bed for innovative thought. An activator of personal potential. A catalyst for collective energy. A community to drive social change.

Our annual, international Fellowship is open to anyone aged 28 - 108 years old. We gather change-makers — a business person, a community person, an investor, a thinker or doer — who are willing to harness their talents, energy and resources as a force for good. Pioneers for Change is an initiative of Adessy Associates.

Adessy Associates believes social and business objectives are mutually reinforcing. We equip and enable organisations for a sustainable future, by focusing on benefit for people, planet and profit. Our bespoke services harness sustainability, innovation, consciousness and purpose. We are proudly B Corp certified.

About Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need is Less: An Eco-friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress Free Simplicity. She has written a regular column for The Guardian, and is a contributer to Earth 911. She lives in Calgary, Canada, with her daughter, Olive and writes at SweetMadeleine.ca.

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