6 Tips for Sustainable Families

Learning the ways of sustainable living & exploring sustainable parenting doesn’t have to be difficult.

I was sorting waste at the recycling bin, talking to my partner, when it dawned on me. This all could be a hell of a lot easier. Why isn't there a simple guide to recycling for your city? Or a comprehensive list of easy steps for sustainable living? Why do I have to think so hard every time I reach for the recycling bin?

Is this a hard plastic?

I couldn’t clean all the food off, can it be recycled?

I took a moment to feel this frustration. And I realized that I had the power to make small changes towards sustainable living, and that it was ok if it wasn’t going to be easy. But I could avoid this particular moment by challenging myself to get rid of all the waste & plastics flooding my home simply. This was the right step for me. But going waste-free isn’t necessarily the right step for EVERYONE.

So… What the heck is sustainable living?

Simply put, sustainable living aims to reduce a person's use of the Earth's natural resources and minimize one’s overall impact on the environment. You might have heard the phrases environmentally mindful living or eco-friendly living, which both refer roughly to the same concept.

You might be thinking, “but I’m just not the tree-hugging hippie type.”

Or, “I don’t have time to be doing more than I already do.”

Many of you have mentioned to me that you have already embarked on a journey towards living more sustainably, but have not been able to take your efforts further because of time, convenience or funds.

Most of you recycle and have taken one or two steps, such as carrying a reusable water bottle with you rather than buying bottled water or braving the path of using cloth diapers. That’s great! I certainly applaud you, especially on the diaper front.

You should be proud of the steps towards sustainable living, and sustainable parenting, that you’ve taken so far and use them as a basis to build up other ways of living more sustainably.

In this article, I’ll share 6 simple steps you can use to kick your sustainable living up a notch. From this list, I recommend that you pick around 2-3 steps which make sense for you and your family.

However, I want to encourage you not to implement them all at the same time. First, make one of them a habit and once you’re confident that it’s become a part of your life, add the second one (and later do the same with the third one).

If your city isn’t helping or sustainable living doesn’t seem convenient…

  1. Find a use for your old possessions with up cycling

Let’s, hypothetically, say that you’ve just finished spring cleaning (let me just say that spring cleaning hasn’t even crossed my mind yet this year – so I mean it when I say hypothetically). You’ve put all the items which don’t spark joy in your home in one box… what do you do with them now?

Your first thought may be to donate it to charity, recycle it or trash it – but let me show you a way which is much more compatible with sustainable living and sustainable parenting.

I’m talking about the wonderful world of up cycling – transforming an old unused item into something you can use or even a gift for a friend or a family member.

The kids will love getting involved and teaching them to turn trash into treasure is a great lesson of sustainable parenting! Let them paint an old tire which you can use as a planter pot or swing. Let them help you fill old boots with soil and plant flowers in them. Teach your older kids to cross stitch letters on an old t-shirt that would otherwise go to waste.

No gift warms the heart like a DIY gift and re-gifting isn’t the taboo it once was! Transform something old into something new with your kids’ help and use it as a gift.

  1. Green your kitchen – get more out of your scraps

I’m fully aware that Austin is a magical place with clothing swaps, waste-free shopping, and refillable delivery services. Even the fact that most of us get our recycling picked up from our curb would be a luxury for others in a different part of the world.

However, there are additional efforts we can take, especially in the kitchen. There are many ways to implement sustainable living into your kitchen, such as by shopping locally, composting, buying loose produce, swapping red meats for fish or vegetarian alternatives…

However, one of my recent favorite tips for living more sustainably is regrowing your greens from scraps rather than throwing them away.

This is simple to do! First, cut off the greens you’ll be eating while leaving the stem and roots intact. Place these in a cup of water and 4 days later, you’ll have more greens waiting to be used!

Get your kids involved in the process by letting them cut their own greens for dinner. This is not only a sustainable parenting tip, but it also teaches them the importance of healthy eating.

Side note: I was recently gifted kitchen grown mushrooms! They grow so fast and are delicious!

If you have no time….

  1. Purchase this instead of that!

Your purchases can hugely impact the amount of waste you’re adding to the environment. I like to start with a room in the house and ask myself what plastic items which are at the end of their lifespan could be replaced? Then, I visit an online waste-free shop and find a plastic-free alternative.

Just a quick disclaimer – replacing any plastic in your home, even if it is still perfectly useable, is not very compatible with sustainable living. Only replace what is broken or has come to the end of its lifespan!

Let’s take the kitchen, for example:

  • Once you run out of your plastic-packaged cleaning supplies and synthetic sponges and cloths, switch to a refillable service which makes living more sustainably a breeze (or DIY your own cleaners, if you’re on a budget).
  • Say goodbye to plastic scrubs, drain covers and bags. Hello to natural fiber scrubs, silicone drain covers and biodegradable trash bags!
  • No more paper towels! Opt for washable cloth towels made from natural fibers such as cotton or linen (careful – polyester and other synthetics are plastic).
  • For more sustainable parenting, trust your toddler with glassware and ceramics rather than buying plastic cups or plates.
  1. Affordable investments into sustainable solutions.

I have grand ideas for installing a bidet in the bathroom, having solar panels on the roof, and an electric car which will all help me master living more sustainably.

However, I don’t quite have that kind of loose change lying around, so my investments into sustainable living have been on the smaller scale:

  • Solar-powered phone chargers and outdoor lights have saved my family so much energy since we don’t have to have them plugged in for 8 hours at night or have the porch light on.
  • I likely don’t have to tell you about all the benefits of wooden toys over plastic ones. If you’ve already purchased one of our mindful wooden toys you are already on the way to a plastic-free playroom! If you’re not quite there yet, join our email community to be in the know and learn more about living more sustainably at www.MindfulwoodenToys.com
  • Get the kids involved - purchase a family cargo bike. If you are only traveling a short distance, why would you take the car? You can use your bike and be there in the same amount of time because you don’t always have to stop for traffic lights. You’ll also have the added bonus of a bit of exercise squeezed into your day while teaching your kids to stay active!

If you’re on a budget….

  1. Skip what you don’t need

It is completely free to air dry your hair instead of using a blow-dryer, hanging your laundry outside in the Texas heat instead of using a dryer or only washing clothes when you can put on a full load. In fact, small changes like this will actually save you money!

You can also get the kids involved and teach them responsibility as well as practical life skills, in the spirit of the Montessori philosophy. This is sustainable parenting at its best.

  1. Unplug at the end of the day

Unplugging your electronics not only saves energy, which makes it a good sustainable living habit, but it can also improve your family life. You’re putting away the distraction of social media, TV or emails and spending valuable time with your loved ones.

Get the kids involved in some storytelling by moonlight or settling down to listen for owls! 

PS: Since I spoke of recycling in the beginning, remember that every city is different. If you live in Austin and think you are recycling correctly, do yourself a favor anyways and check out Austin’s guide to recycling.

You might be surprised at what can and can’t be recycled. If we aren’t neighbors, check your own city’s .gov page for more information.