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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30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Woman with a power drill

Join me in challenging yourself to make real change become a new habit in 30 days. We all aspire to live more eco-friendly lives, so let’s inspire one another with our changes.

I love New Year as a time of reflection on the closing year and optimism about the coming year. You probably already know that resolutions are difficult to keep. Generally, people choose actions that are difficult for them to take, wishes for their changed future. Then, people gradually, naturally resist change, and the resolutions fall by the wayside.

This past year, I did a decent job of making some big changes. I did a rotten job (again) of taking specific actions, though. This tells me what I should already know: I’ll only do what I want to do, and what I want to do changes over the course of a year.

So, as I’m thinking about the coming year, I’m asking myself what worked well last year—not to congratulate myself but to see if I can learn from that pattern. I kept making changes and adjusting what changes I made to build core strength and health, and I made those changes because I felt great. The better I felt, the easier it was to make more changes and to make those changes habits that I don’t resist. My conclusion is that only the underlying WHY kept me moving toward change.

So, this year I want to ask myself WHY I want to make changes before I create a list of resistible actions. I want to focus on one area where I seem to have had some trouble in the past. I’m looking at what is blocking my way from making change, and I want to propose a similar challenge for you.

At bynature.ca we carry information and products to inspire natural families. Here on our blog, EcoBabySteps, we want to help you get where you are going in your own time. That is exactly what I want us to do in this challenge: that one small step after another toward the natural life we (you and I) aspire to.

Our 30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Today, take one baby step to nudge yourself toward eco change. Just one tiny step. Then, tomorrow take another. Make it small enough every day that it doesn’t hurt—or only hurts a little. Make your daily step irresistible.

So it won’t be overwhelming, I’m going to start with a 30-day challenge. If I can make it through my first 30 days, I will add a new 30-day challenge for myself next month. If you want to stop after 30 days, that’s OK. We’re all choosing our own challenges.

Also, to keep me on track and accountable, I will check in with you in a month.

Your Steps:

  1. Your Area. Choose an area where you want to make change
  2. Name It. Get out a piece of paper and write “My 30-day Eco Challenge” along with the name you are giving your area
  3. List Steps. List 50 baby steps you could take in that area
  4. Stay Accountable. Tell someone else or a group of people about your challenge
  5. Remind Yourself. Put your list where you and others can see it
  6. Start. Take one step. Start with a hard one or an easy one—doesn’t matter. Just take one step.

Potential Areas for Your Eco Challenge

If you already know what area you are ready to face for your challenge, stop reading and start now.

If you need ideas, I’ve added a few areas with ideas under each just to get you thinking. Take what works and add to the items on the list until you have at least 50 ideas.

Why 50 ideas? By the end of the month, you really won’t want to do some of the items on your list. If you don’t want to, you won’t. So, give yourself enough choice that unrealistic, overly ambitious, or just odious items don’t become your roadblocks.

Stuff

  • Don’t buy new stuff
  • Repair stuff that is broken or worn
  • Clean, paint, or otherwise renew old stuff
  • If you’ve been hanging on to old stuff you don’t use anymore, let go of it. Send it somewhere it can become someone else’s useful stuff.

Knowledge

  • Research a topic that you’ve been wondering about, like GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or natural remedies for common ailments
  • Set up a Google alert for your topic, so you get a daily reminder
  • Join a discussion group on your topic, so you can share knowledge with others
  • Go to the library and get a children’s book on your topic. Read it with your kids

Health

  • Remove barriers to sleep (tough for parents of babies)
  • Drink more water. Add a squirt of lemon or organic apple cider vinegar to your first glass of the day.
  • Build muscle tone in your idle moments
  • Switch to a doctor who will listen to your concerns about conventional medicine

Transportation

  • Take public transportation to work
  • Teach your children to use public transportation
  • Service your bicycle
  • Take your kids and dog for a walk
  • Buy new socks or repair old ones so you don’t have an excuse not to walk

House

  • Replace toxic cleaning chemicals with natural alternatives
  • Add an air-cleaning house plant in one room, then in another
  • Clean out an old cabinet full of junk and fill it with something sitting around waiting for a place to go
  • Open your kitchen cabinets and see where the plastic is. How could you replace that plastic with glass, metal, wood, or another material? Make a plan.

Energy

  • Teach your children to turn off the lights when they leave a room
  • Open the blinds rather than turning on the lights
  • Turn the heat down and put on a sweater
  • Look around the edges of all of your doors. Do you see light? If so, replace the weatherstripping.

Food & Drink

  • Look at your coffee package. Is it fair trade, shade grown, and organic? If not, research a new brand
  • Clear out your refrigerator and re-organize to put the healthiest foods where you will notice them first
  • Look in your freezer. Is there anything you reach for often that you could make from scratch, from whole foods instead?
  • Do you have a local CSA? It’s time to sign up. Find out how much it will cost and get on the list now.

Clothing

  • Clear out clothes that don’t feel great on you and give them to someone else
  • Repair clothes that you’ve been avoiding because of wear
  • Look at your tags. Where are your clothes made? If not where you think, consider researching clothing made locally
  • Give away kids clothes that are too small
  • Move your summer clothes out of the way until you need them so you really know what winter clothes you have

My Eco Habits Challenge

I wrote above that I’m looking at what is blocking me from making change, and it has become apparent to me that the blocks are actual piles of stuff blocking my way. Does that happen to you? You make a pile of stuff that is very important then you set it aside to deal with it later—and later doesn’t quite come. My other issue is that I moved into my mother’s house when she died, so I’ve been living around her stuff for a long time. I’m ready to clear out what I can’t or don’t use and share it with others. I am going to deal with the stuff in my way and help others as I go.

I’ve already started this over the past week. I got rid of 8-year old magazines that I’ve been stepping over. I kept them because I hadn’t read them yet. I didn’t read them. I just put them into the recycling. I also asked my husband to take a pile of boxes from my sewing room to recycling. He filled our car completely full and opened up a big space for me. We always recycle, but we don’t have curbside pickup. We have to save everything, fill our car, and take it to our city recycling center. We don’t question that; it’s a well established habit. But, getting rid of big items is sometimes more difficult for us to face because we only have a small car.

Nevertheless, I’m ready to meet the challenge. I’m ready to let go of stuff and open up my space. I figure that by the time I make it to the end of one month of moving all of this stuff out of my way, I will not want to fill up the space with more stuff. I hope that the habit will be one of maintaining clean and open space.

I won’t bore you with my list of 50 items (actually 70 and growing), but I’ll share a few. For bigger items, I created sub-items that I can count as a daily baby step. My list is big and scary already. I can feel my resistance welling up, but I find it comforting that I only need to do one little thing a day. I know I can do that.

30 Days: Jan 1-30
My area: Make Space & Recycle Stuff

  • Give away old kid clothes
  •      /Go through 1 box of kid clothes (anything to wash, repair, or save?)
  • Give away old adult clothes
  •      /Go through 1 shelf or drawer of adult clothes (anything to wash, repair, or save?)
  • Give away my mom’s quilting books
  •      /Put quilting books in a box
  •      /Call library to see if they want books for their sale
  • Put baby books in storage
  • Get rid of old furniture
  •      /Empty a drawer of photos and set aside for new storage
  •      /List furniture for giveaway on Craig’s List or local paper
  • Get new storage that uses space better
  •      /Measure one space and check available cabinets
  •      /Move stuff in the way into new cabinet

If you make a list, drop us a note or leave a comment. I want to know what you are ready to tackle—and I know it will help you if you tell someone.

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Fall Feels Like a New Year

Fall changes

Fall feels like a new year. It’s getting harder to leave the windows open at night. I don’t mind a cold night under a down comforter. I love that feeling, but it’s more difficult to convince my children that a cool night is a good thing. I have no flowers left in the garden, just tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins. It’s harvest. It’s the beginning of the school year with new clothes and new activities. There is no denying change in the air.

Fall feels like a better time for making life changes than in the middle of the holiday (and inventory!) season on January 1st.

If your children have or even just one of your children has gone to school, this could be a great time for you to assess your own routine and make adjustments that will work better for you. Do you need more time alone? (Who doesn’t?) Do you want to work out? Does the dog need more walks every day? Do you need to clean out the children’s clothing drawers of summer clothes or clothes that no longer fit?

Make a list of everything you have been tolerating. Don’t judge the list, just write and write until you can come up with nothing more.

Then, take care of one item. Just one. Do whatever it takes to remove this so you no longer have to tolerate it.

Then, take care of one more.

The rest, come back to them later, but let this time of changes all around you sweep you into action so you no longer have to tolerate stuff and habits that have become habitual. Let Fall be a time to create the life and surroundings you need.

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Save Green: Is It a Habit?

Green ChecklistToday is day #21 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

For me, is running up and down stairs a habit? Well, yes, but I’m going to put this one into the second round again. I thought I would be running 30 minutes a day by now. HA! Habit and strength are not the same thing. The habit is well in place but I want to push harder. Maybe I will keep this one as my focus until I reach my 30-minute goal.

For my husband, is turning off the computer a habit? Not yet. He thinks about it and talks about it, but he’s not doing it every day yet. He has said that he would like to put this one in for the second round again. He wants to make it work.

For my daughter, is knitting a habit? Definitely. She isn’t obsessing about amount of time spent, but she’s spending well over 30 minutes a day knitting. She has been knitting squares that she will sew into a pillow. I asked if she wants to add another habit for the second round. No, she’s happy and just wants to keep knitting.

For my son, is studying Chinese a habit?
No. He hasn’t been as interested in the language lessons as he has in practicing Kung Fu forms. THAT seems to be a habit now. He does it every weekday, and he always remembers to mark our calendar. For the second round, he has said he would like to focus on just Mandarin Chinese language lessons. I think that if I help him a bit in the beginning, that will help him to get in the groove.


Does 21 Days Make a Habit?

Habits ChecklistWhether 21 days makes a habit seems to depend on whether the person is really ready to make the habit. Having cheerleaders to check in on us and help us stay accountable only creates an external habit. We have to flip an internal switch to make a lasting change.

Isn’t that true of all change?

My family has enjoyed checking in with one another about our progress, so we are going to make checking in about habits, goals, and changes our new family habit.

Save Green: New Habits

Green ChecklistSince I wrote the post last week on tracking New Year’s goals, I have been thinking about the difference between goals and habits. This year I’m focusing on habits. I have the usual big pile of goals as well, but I want to see how it will work making changes consciously driven by new habits.


21-Day Chain for a New Habit

There is no scientific evidence that I can find for the idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit (if you know of any, please comment), but I see the wisdom in not breaking the chain when making a change. And, I like the number.

A three-week time period seems doable. So, I’m going with 21 days to check in on my new habits.

Will you make a new habit with me over the next 21 days?

One of the resolutions or goals that a lot of people choose is to save money. I am always looking for new ways to save green in both senses—money and environment.

I would like to hear more natural parents’ ideas for saving green. How are you saving green this year?


Do you want to create a new Save Green Habit with me?

Decide what the habit will be, and do it every day for 21 days. In order to give you a day to think of a new habit you want to make part of your life, I’m making tomorrow (January 5th) Day #1.

Remember this is a habit, a new behavior that you can track daily. It isn’t a one-time action (call the power company to switch to wind power) or a goal (reduce energy usage by 20%) or a plan (grow spinach and carrots in my garden). A habit is a new behavioral groove in the record of your life.

I will check in on Save Green Habits every couple of days until Day #21 (January 25th) and let you know how my habit is going. I have a few suggestions to make about new green habits as well.


My Family’s New Habits

On New Year’s day, my family gathered to talk about highlights of the past decade and the past year. Then, we asked what we want to be able to say about highlights of the coming decade and year. This was the beginning of our goals. At that point, we looked at which of these goals looked like new habits. My husband and I looked for greener habits, while our children were more focused on activities they enjoy.

  • My husband will shut down his computer every night. His desktop computer uses about 120 watts per hour, which ends up being about 1.44 kilowatt hours (kWh) for every 12-hour period it sits not in use. We pay for a windpower option, which is a little more expensive than the coal-power option. The savings will be about $10.25 and 525 kilowatt hours per year.
  • My daughter will spend at least 30 minutes each day knitting projects from a new knitting book she got for the holidays. She decided this all on her own because she wants to knit for her friends.
  • My son will spend at least 15 minutes each day on Mandarin Chinese language lessons, Chinese culture books, or practicing Kung Fu. He chose the activities, and I worked with him to create enough variety that he can fit his mood of the day.
  • I will run stairs every day, actual first-floor to second-floor stairs. I tell my children to resist marketing, that they don’t need stuff to have fun, so I’m trying to walk that talk—or run that talk in this case. An average treadmill uses .75 kilowatt-hours for 30 minutes. Assuming I would have used it half an hour a day every day of the year (which of course I would have), the savings will be about $5.34 and 274 kilowatt hours per year.

Habits ChecklistTo track our habits, we have created a calendar that includes checkboxes for each of us. I don’t think we’ll need a printed calendar in the future, but this is a new process for us, so I wanted to make it really clear and easy for us all to succeed. Once these habits are well established, we plan to check in and see what else, if anything, we would like to add to our lives. Once the novelty of the process wears off, I think we’ll be able to track on our regular calendar or with magnets on our refrigerator.

Tomorrow is Day #1 of my new Save Green Habit: run the stairs every day.

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