It Works! 30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Air-purifying indoor plant

We often assess our lives at the new year then lose momentum soon after. I want to help you and me both get past the typical obstacles.

One problem is that we make the goals so big that we don’t know where to start. Looking around me at my space, I was sure this was the problem. That is how this year’s 30-day Eco Habits Challenge was born.

Before I could improve my family’s eco-life, I needed to make space.

Nine years ago, my family moved across the continent to take care of my sick mother, then she died soon after. I found myself living in the house where I grew up, in the midst of my mother’s stuff with a whole house full my own stuff in storage.

Nine years. I’m usually quite disciplined, but this was a difficult obstacle for me. “Get rid of my mom’s stuff” was on my list every year. I didn’t know where to start. The grief of an only child, added to the fact that the house was familiar from my childhood, made it easy not to change anything despite the ever-present vague goal.

When a change is big and involves a lot of small actions, it’s tough to start unless you recognize that you need to take the small actions. That is true of my clearing my house, of living without plastic, switching to reusables, replacing non-fair trade or non-organics throughout the house, or lowering your family’s carbon footprint. These are big changes, and they can feel overwhelming.

My solution: chop it up into so many tiny pieces that I couldn’t resist. Then, each day for 30 days do one small thing. This not only lessens the pain of big change but it creates a habit of the change.

At the beginning of this month, I outlined my plan. I ended up with a list of 83 items I wanted to change. Each day I cleared off one shelf, cleared out one drawer, emptied one box, or read through a pile of old letters. It still feels overwhelming, because I’m not finished, but I’ve replaced a lot of my mother’s life that I was living inside with my own life.

I did’t just want to back up a dumpster and get rid of all traces of my mother. I wanted to find ways to make her stuff useful—to let the clothes be worn again and the books be read again.

It feels great! Gone is a hideous (and dusty) dried plant thing that lived on the wall, replaced with an air-freshening living plant. Gone are my mother’s high-quality business clothes, given to a local charity that helps women get back to work. Before she died, my mother told me to donate her clothes there. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. So, we stopped when we delivered the clothes and told them about my mom and about her commitment to their work. She was a long-time donor. I’m so happy that dozens and dozens of women will be wearing my mother’s silk dresses and wool suits to job interviews. Maybe those clothes will help them feel confident about their futures.

So, this is me reporting back and telling you that it works. It’s possible to tackle that very difficult, huge goal you have.

  • Choose a general goal that you’ve been meaning to tackle
  • Make a list of every tiny thing you can think of toward the goal
  • Choose one of the tiny actions, and do it now
  • Tomorrow, choose another tiny action, and do it
  • Check in with a family member or friend on your progress
  • Tell yourself you only need to do this for 30 days, then you can decide whether you need to shift your focus

On my master list, I put the date beside each thing I did. On my daily actions list, I started with “Do 1 Make Space action.” I couldn’t check off my day until I did it, and that usually got me past my bump of hesitation.

After about two weeks, I had taken the easiest actions, and I just had to do the more difficult actions. I’ve still only done 30 out of 83 items, so I am going to keep working on my list through February. I’ve renewed my commitment to Make Space.

It doesn’t matter when you start. Every day can be your first day. Earlier this month, I outlined a few ideas to get your started on your own eco habits challenge.

Good luck. I’m not telling you it’s easy, but I know you can do it.

Is air quality on your list? If air-purifying plants are on your list, look at the research done by NASA for the international space station. Mother Nature Network provides a list of the top choices for air-purifying plants.

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Set Your New Year’s Focus

Goal setting with children

The possibilities are endless when you focus!

Don’t try to psyche yourself into anything. Just write out three specific goals, review them every day, and make them happen. Even tiny steps will get you there.

I’m not saying don’t set a big goal, but I am saying I want you to have a guaranteed success. If you want to lose 50 pounds, how about setting your goal for 5lbs then coming back next month to set the goal for 5 more. If you want to make a quilt for your daughter’s bed, how about starting out with the goal of three squares then coming back next week with the goal for three more.

Don’t convince yourself that this is your goal setting for the entire year. New Year is just a good opportunity to check in and see where you’ve been and where you are going. This is just a milestone.


Basic Goal Setting with Children

I’ve been trying to teach my children how to make things happen for themselves, how to get past lists of wishes to lists of intentions to plans and to-do lists. An hour before midnight last night, we stopped their wild idea of what celebration should be to review the past year and talk about our new year.

You may know that I love sticky notes, so I will admit that there were a lot of sticky notes involved in multiple colors. You can see the results of our goals check in above.

How was this year? We started with one giant post-it note, but just a section of wall will do. Each of us chose a different color of notes then we wrote significant events for ourselves, our family, and the world on our notes and stuck them on the old year. A few had frowny faces, but most of our events were good. I was pleased to see that my children came up with “Had fun this year” and “I felt happy.”

How will this coming year be? I asked them to look at the things they did or things that happened in the past year and picture what they want to write in a year’s time. What do they want to do this year? We started a new giant post-it note, and we kept writing out ideas until they became silly (“Get abs” for my son).

What will you do? I told them that wasn’t the end because “Become a better musician” and “Learn to drive” weren’t specific enough. We each turned three of our wishes into goals on a final giant post-it note. We put the wishes along the left-hand side then asked what steps we can take to make them happen. “Become a better musician” becomes “Call my cousin about piano tuning” and “Go to the library for piano music books.” And, “Learn to drive” (yes, very scary) becomes “Go to DMV for driver’s handbook” and “Look up dates for drivers’ ed class registration.” After we came up with 3-4 steps that we could take for each goal, we added columns for “Next” and “Done.” We moved one note into the next column for each of our goals. My son wanted to move several notes into the next column, but I told him that only one step could be next. That seemed to help him understand what “Next” really means.

They were excited to get back to celebrations, but they told me that when they wake up today they plan to get to work on their goals and move notes into the done column.

Setting goals and checking in on progress can be easy. I want my children to understand how to move from vague ideas toward specific plans they control. Our 30 minutes with sticky notes was a good lesson. Now, the rest is in their hands.

Happy New Year! I hope you get everything you wish for, plan for, and work for.

A New Year’s Index of Wellbeing

Young woman doing yoga on the beach

Before setting goals for the New Year, have you considered taking an index of your own and your family’s wellbeing? I find the broad outline of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) a helpful place to start because it takes into account the complexity and interconnectedness of human society. It offers a deeper understanding of what constitutes social and individual good. It speaks about relationships, social interaction, and general enjoyment of life. It gives me a place to start as I set out to design my own ideal life with my own measurements of wellbeing.


Assess your own wellbeing.
While you are thinking of how to improve your life, consider the 64 indicators from eight broad domains of the CIW: living standards, community vitality, democratic engagement, education, healthy populations, environment, time use, leisure and culture. Some of the indicators are really only relevant on the national level. “Representation of Women in Parliament” under Democratic Engagement, for example, is probably 0% in your household, but you could create your own list of indicators for yourself, such as: know who your representatives are, know what laws are under consideration and voice your opinions to your representatives, and vote at every level from national elections right down to your city or town. If you make a list with just a few indicators under each of the eight domain areas, you can easily assess how well you are doing and mark the areas you would like to improve.

Then, keep your assessment and check back in with it one a month or once a quarter to keep yourself aware and accountable to your New Year’s check in.


What is under your control already and what needs some focused attention?
This year, a schedule has become my anchor. My own work is under control. I do it without fail, so I don’t need to pay too much attention to it. I know my children’s schooling needs some intense focus, though, so we are more scheduled than we have been before. I know I will never just happen to have time for yoga or my husband for tai chi, so we’ve added those to the schedule. If it’s on the schedule, we are sure to show up. I suppose that means that I’m approaching balance through the domain of Time Use.


Choose one thing, and embrace it.
If it seems too overwhelming to look at the broad view, just pick one thing you want to do. It’s easy to focus that way. For me, it’s yoga. I’ve told two friends who are yoga teachers that I’m going to do this, so I will feel accountable to them, and I’ve just told you, so now I’m accountable to you as well. Once you feel like you have one thing under control, choose another. You don’t need to wait for New Year’s Day or some other special occasion to set a firm goal for yourself, but don’t wait until you are ready. You might not ever feel quite ready. Stretch yourself at least a little to reach one specific goal. Do you want to redo your bathroom to accommodate your growing family? Do you want to learn to knit a sweater? Do you want to become involved in a local charity? Do you want to be certified as a doula? Figure out the first step, and take it—then take another.


Do it!
Dream big or plan tight, but choose one thing you can make your own this year. When it becomes a part of your life, choose another thing and do that with gusto.


Happy New Year from bynature.ca!

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Personal Index of Wellbeing

Happy woman

Do you get too busy to really know how you feel? Do you give yourself a moment to check in and ask whether your busy-ness is helping you to be a happier, healthier person?

Several of my friends are so busy that they aren’t making space for that downtime check-in, and I worry about them. Then, I realize I do the same to myself. I’m looking forward to New Year because I know I will have some slow days when I can sit back and assess what I’ve been through in the past year and where I want to go in the year ahead.

Looking at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), I was surprised to see that the index isn’t just applicable on a national scale but on a community scale and even a personal scale. They give a few suggestions in the Other Ideas section of the CIW website.

Am I going to let someone else tell me what happiness is? Well, no. I have been talking with my children a lot about the balance each person, each family must find between order with firm, often external rules and chaos with a constant renegotiation of rules. All of us have to decide where on that continuum we find our greatest happiness.

The CIW has brought together experts from around the world to determine what quality of life means for all people. Granted, not everyone is going to meet happiness the same way, but perhaps they have determined some of the most likely commonalities for all of us. The list is general and easy to personalize.

To give yourself the gift of a personal index of wellbeing, ask how you can improve your life in each of the CIW domains of wellbeing.

Democratic Engagement for you might be voting, responding to elected officials about national issues, writing a letter to the editor about your opinion on a Canadian government stance on an international issue, or attending a town council meeting.

Community Vitality could mean for you volunteering at a local charity, attending a family reunion, walking alone after dark, or taking a meal to a sick neighbor.

Education on a national level mostly addresses basic literacy, but you could expand it in your life to learn a new skill or share a skill that you have spent some time developing.

Environment on a personal level isn’t always about individual choices. You could become involved in an environmental organization working to improve environmental policy or encourage stores you shop at to make an accounting of full costs of goods (including those social and environmental costs often externalized) as well as shopping at the farmers market and repairing old appliances or clothes.

Healthy Populations for you might be as simple as not smoking and losing weight or it might mean improving nutrition for your whole family to avoid diabetes or debilitating allergies. Health also includes mental health, so you might reassess your lifestyle to ask whether you are making space for your own basic happiness.

Leisure and Culture should start with whether you allow yourself time not dominated by necessary activity. Do you give yourself leisure time? If you do, are you spending it how you want to? You might plan a vacation to a national park, get a family pass to a museum, or just go to a game every once in a while.

Living Standards is probably a more difficult domain to address personally, but you might reassess your career choice in the context of your changing life circumstances, get more training or education to give yourself a better chance of promotion, or adjust your overall spending to bring it in line with your income.

Time Use differs between how you spend your time and how you experience your time. If you start with an objective log of what you do, that might help you evaluate whether you want to change how you spend time.

If you use the end of the year as a time to assess your own and your family’s wellbeing, perhaps setting New Year’s Goals, maybe the Canadian Index of Wellbeing domains could help give you some structure to start, so you don’t have to reinvent the grand measures of human happiness. If you are feeling really ambitious, set up your personal index of wellbeing and schedule regular times to check in with yourself.

The first step is becoming conscious of your own desire to assess and adjust your life to reach greater wellbeing. Best of luck and good fortune to you.

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5 New Year’s Resolutions Worth Making

Woman writing in notebook

I like making New Year’s resolutions. This isn’t my only check in on goals during the year, but I like the scheduled reminder to look at my progress.

I also love the tools of goal setting. ‘Tis the season of new moleskine notebooks.


Simple Tracking

Despite my love of online goal trackers, I found over this past year that my most effective method of keeping on track was pencil and paper—colorful paper (that’s my motivator!). Simpler has been better.

Spreadsheets play a big part in my tracking as well. For any routine tasks, I use spreadsheets for check lists, time tracking, and dashboard measurements. I’m spreadsheet addicted. My favorite awesome spreadsheet guy has gifted a bunch of new spreadsheets to his readers this week. I noticed that my husband has been using a spreadsheet to keep track of his ambitious vacation to-do list, so I put the New Year’s Resolution Tracker in front of him and told him it is his. He’s a spreadsheet geek, too, so he’s actually excited to use it.

Simple is better. Use the simplest tracker that works for you, and get on to making your resolutions.


Goal-setting Cheerleaders

For those of us who relish goal setting, this is one of the best weeks of the year. I not only get to check in with myself and understand what I want, but I have a lot of great advice to read from others because everyone seems to be asking, “What worked in 2010? What are you going to do differently in 2011?”

One short post that stayed with me warned of the danger of setting big goals when we aren’t prepared. The solution? Think big, act small, and start today.

My plan to focus on just one thing worked very well for the holidays, and I’m going to stick with this approach in the coming year.


5 Resolutions

Make your resolutions a mix. I remind myself to improve my connections with the people I love, upgrade the things I choose to live with, and build my own happiness. Look around to see what you are motivated to start today.

If you need a nudge, here are five goals worth setting this year.


1. Spend Alone Time with Children

Schedule time when you can sit with one child, face to face just to talk, laugh, ask how things are, and enjoy being together.

You’ve heard that it goes fast. Especially if your children are still very small, let me tell you again that I think you’ll be as shocked as I am to find that your time with your children is almost over sooner than you think. Write it on the calendar so you won’t forget. Your child will learn to anticipate your time together.


2. Use Non-plastic Food Storage Containers

By now, you probably have a decent understanding of the problems with plastic. In particular, chemical toxins in some plastics can leach into food.

It seemed like a daunting task, but over the past two years I’ve switched all of the old, round plastic containers inherited from my mother (and from another era) to glass food storage containers with snap-on lids a lot like our popular wean cubes for storing baby food. I took a while to make the complete switch because I just bought a container here and there to keep the financial impact low and to be sure that I had sizes that we most needed. It’s a bonus that the new containers are square and stack well, so there is a lot less wasted space in my refrigerator.

Start with one cupboard or one starter pack of containers and improvise the rest of the transition one step at a time.


3. Schedule Date Night

It can be difficult to tear yourself away from your babies, but you need to. You need adult time to ground yourself and give your parenting time a positive context. Whether it’s a dinner date with your spouse, a night out with the girls, or even a night in when the children go to friend’s house while you stay home, your adult time can be rejuvenating.

When my children were young enough that they had only ever stayed with family or friends away from us, my husband and I traded time with friends. They got one night a week alone while we added their children to our herd then we got one night when they added our children to theirs. Sometimes 6-8 women from our play group left all of the men at one house with babies while we went out. To make this work, you need a circle of trusted friends or willing family. Start by making an offer to watch someone else’s children while they go out.


4. Use Reusable Cloths & Napkins

Go through your kitchen and your bathroom and replace any paper towels or napkins. Everyone in my family now carries reusable tissues in their pockets. I can hear my grandfather saying, “Handkerchiefs! They are called ‘handkerchiefs.’” Whatever they are called, runny noses do not have to mean full trash baskets.

Using reusable napkins and cloth tissues is an easy habit to make for the whole family. It is also a step toward bigger changes when everyone sees how easy it is.


5. Schedule Alone Time with Yourself

Checking in with yourself regularly is essential to making any kind of changes work for you. Schedule time for yourself and don’t break your dates. Don’t put everyone ahead of yourself then wonder where the time went. You could take 15 minutes before your children wake up to walk or shower or write, or you may need to make your Me Time part of your date night deal.

If you already have scheduled alone time, how can you improve it?

Whatever way it works for you, make sure your check in time includes reminding yourself to take several deep breaths then asking, “How am I?” and “What do I want from today?”


Start now!
Write down what you are going to do then take even one small step to move you closer to a goal. Your steps don’t have to be the same size every day, but don’t make your plans so ambitious that it’s just easier to forget it. Take a small step then take another if you feel like it.

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