If you want to live a more eco-friendly life but aren’t quite sure where to start. These practical and budget-friendly ideas will take you from energy-wasting environmental novice to Green Living Goddess!
I get it. You want to help the environment but there’s a lot going on in your life already. It seems overwhelming to think about trying to move towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. The problems facing our planet are pretty serious and as one person, where do you even begin?
These 10 mindset shifts (along with actions to take) will show you how you can start making the biggest difference possible without wanting to tear your hair out.
Then, at the end of the post, I’ll help you make a plan to implement some of these actions in your life in a way that will actually work for you, including a free downloadable chart to make it all easier.
10 Mindset Shifts to an Eco-Friendlier Life
I’ve found that the first important step to living a greener more eco-friendly life has been to make some key mindset shifts. Once my “head” is going in the right direction then my actions are more likely to follow. Here are 10 mindset shifts I’ve found really helpful.
Mindset Shift 1: Don’t buy it!
Right here you’ll save a bunch of money and help the environment. It’s a pretty straightforward mindset change. You just need to stop and think twice (or three times) before you buy anything. When you are ready to put something in your cart, physically or on the internet, first ask yourself, do you really need it?
Many people shop as a means of entertainment and diversion and I get it. I love a good browsing trip through Target or TJ Maxx to see what’s new in decor, clothes, you name it. BUT – usually, I don’t really need that much stuff. I’m probably legitimately in there for some cleaning supplies, a birthday card, and maybe some underwear.
But I’ll go through the whole store anyway, to see if there is anything else I “need.” I am guessing that you can probably relate. Now I’m not talking about depriving yourself of nice clothes or things that will make your home more enjoyable and more comfortable. I’m just saying it can be really helpful to be aware of all the things you already own.
The mindset shift here is to stop thinking of shopping as a form of entertainment and instead think of it as a necessity. If you can shop and not buy anything, then that’s great! Enjoy. But if you tend to be a spontaneous buyer and shop for as entertainment then…
Actions to Take:
Before you buy, stop and consider, do you really need that pair of jeans? How many pairs do you have already? Do you need that green sweater, don’t you have 8 sweaters already?
I don’t mean to sound like your mother here. But asking yourself if what you’ve got in your cart is something you actually need or just something you want that will end up hanging in the back of your closet or thrown out after a while, can be a good step to take to help your budget and the environment.
Just taking that step and being aware can make a big difference.
How does buying less help the environment?
If you were raised in the United States then it’s likely that you’ve been raised to be a “good consumer” pretty much from day one. That’s how the economy works, right?
But it’s important to remember – and this is where the mindset shift comes in: Everything that’s manmade has a carbon footprint or an environmental price tag in terms of how much energy was needed to produce it, how many resources went into it, and how much carbon and other pollutants were released into the atmosphere during the creation and transportation of it.
Scientists have actually figured out the carbon footprint of many of the items we buy every day. For example, a cotton t-shirt made in China has a carbon footprint of 8.77kg, a pair of jeans has a carbon footprint of about 33kg, an iPhone X has a carbon footprint of 79kg.
Do you need to know the carbon footprint of everything you buy? No, not at all. Just buy less stuff and you’ll be on the right track.
Plus, as a cool bonus, the less “stuff” you have in terms of clutter around your house and in your closet, the less “stuff” you’ll have to maintain as well.
Mindset Shift #2: When you do buy…do this!
Of course, you’re going to need to buy clothes and household items. So when you do, be sure to make the mindset shift that you are a wise and conscious consumer. You make excellent choices to save money and the Earth.
Actions to Take:
Buy quality classic clothes instead of clothes that are cheaply made or veering towards the quirky or outlandish styles that will just last one season and then look totally out of date. You might be thinking, how the heck am I supposed to do that on a budget?
And the golden answer is: Shop thrift stores. The thrift store in my town (which is a town of about 40,000 people and not on the cutting edge of fashion in any way shape or form!) is awesome when it comes to finding very good quality items in nearly new conditions for bargain prices!
If you can get a classicly styled and well-made winter coat or pair of dress pants or suit jacket that you can wear for several years – and then keep it that long, do it. You can accessorize the item to make it look fresh again without needing to replace it.
Be aware that some materials just last longer and wear better. Good woolen items and almost any linen item are good choices if they fit well and are in a style you love. In fact, linen is so environmentally friendly I actually wrote a post about it that you can read here.
No, you don’t need to look shabby or out of date. You just have to use a little ingenuity and if you’ve bought smart and taken care of the item it can last you for years.
Mindset Shift #3: Grocery Store Decisions Matter.
The grocery store is one place where we can’t necessarily cut back and “not buy” anything. We need to eat right? And cooking at home rather than going out is definitely more budget-friendly. So when we’re at the grocery store the mindset shift is: be mindful and choose eco-friendly items!
Actions to Take:
There are actually lots of possibilities for going green at the grocery store. Here are just a few:
Buy from the bulk bins to save on packaging, Take your own containers if that’s allowed.
Take your own bags – including produce bags to avoid using the plastic bags that are on offer. This resource page has some great produce and grocery bags that are easy to keep with you and have handy when you actually need them.
If you can’t buy in bulk then try to buy items with less packaging. For example, check to see if the laundry detergent comes in a more concentrated form. Buy cereal that’s only in a box rather than in a box with a bag inside. You’ll start to notice all kinds of “over-packaging” and be able to avoid it a lot of the time.
Buy organic if you can. Sometimes this is more expensive, but if you’re on a tight budget double-check anyway. Sometimes with sales, you can actually get the organic item for less.
Buy things that are packaged in post-consumer recycled materials.
Buy less meat. Raising cattle to use for food takes a huge amount of energy and water and contributes to climate change because of the methane that cattle release. You can learn more about how costly it is to the environment to eat meat in this post.
Mindset Shift #4: Break up with your car
It’s a cliche that Americans love their cars. Most of us love to be able to jump in the car and go anywhere we want any time we want. So let yourself love your car – but know that time apart is good for most all relationships!
Most cars that you see on the road only have one person in them and that’s a problem. Because personal transportation in the form of cars and trucks accounts for one-third of all the air pollution in the U.S. and over 14% of all the greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the problems with the air pollution produced by vehicles is that it’s right there at street level. So it impacts our health more directly and more quickly than air pollution being sent out of a several stories high smokestack.
But we need to get places. So what’s a better option?
Actions to Take:
Carpooling and riding buses, trains, and subways are ideas that have been around for decades now. But 45% of Americans don’t really have access to public transportation. If you don’t live in an area where buses and other forms of mass transit are available, and you don’t live near anyone that works with you, what do you do?
There are actually apps out there that can help you find other drivers who need to go where you are going and you can set up carpools with them. This might be every day for work or it might be for a one time trip. Waze is one such app. You can check it out here. Rideshare is another you can check into here. Commute Solutions is another great resource to look into.
Check into resources in your area to see what’s available. Setting up a carpool that works well can be tricky. So it might take more than one try to get the right fit. But if you commute any sort of distance to work it can be really beneficial.
When you do need to drive combine errands so that you need to make fewer trips.
Also, be sure to do the things that will make your drive as energy-efficient as possible. Obviously picking a car that gets high miles per gallon is important. It saves you money and saves on greenhouse gas emissions.
Beyond that to make the car you already have more eco-friendly:
1. Check your tire pressure. It can make a .6% to 3% difference in the mileage you get.
2. Get a tune-up. Dirty filters and bad spark plugs make your engine work harder and use more fuel.
3.Watch your speed. Speeding can lower your gas mileage by 15-30% at highway speeds. Use the eco feature on your vehicle if your car is equipped with it.
4. Don’t drive aggressively. Rapid acceleration and hard braking also reduce gas mileage.
5. Don’t let your car idle while you wait to pick up your child from school or even when stopped at railroad tracks.
Mindset Shift #5: Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is
Think “Green” before you invest in just about anything. Whether it is in a new roof for your house, a new driveway, a new car, or stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, where you spend your money matters. The mindset shift here is about considering the environmental impact of a purchase along with the other factors you take into consideration like price, return on investment, quality, etc.
So often we feel we need to go with the most budget-friendly option. But a lot of times we can get something almost as budget-friendly that is also an eco-friendly choice. It pays to do the research first.
Actions to Take:
When you’re investing in your 401k or IRA, Check out mutual funds, stocks, and other investments that can make you money and are environmentally friendly at the same time. These articles from Kiplinger and US News are two great places to start your research.
Support environmental causes you believe in. If you’re concerned about climate change, for example, check out what non-profit organizations are working to fight it and support them as you can. Even if it’s just $5.00 or $10.00 dollars, you can help.
If you can donate your time instead of money, that’s great, too. Volunteer Match can help you find opportunities in your area.
Invest in Renewable Energy. You don’t even need to put solar panels on your home. Many energy companies have programs where you can elect to have your home’s power come from renewable sources, like wind or solar power.
There may be a slight upcharge for this. My power company charges an extra cent per kilowatt-hour if you go 100% renewable. So my energy bill is about $9.00 more per month. But I’m totally O.K. with that because I’d rather support renewables than pollute using the same old coal and other non-renewable energy resources.
You can read more about programs your energy company may already have in place that you can tap into in this post.
When you invest in eco-friendly options it helps the environment and also supports companies who are trying to help the environment. It’s like getting a 2 for 1 deal!
Mindset Shift #6: Water is like gold!
Our freshwater resources are dwindling and clean water in some areas is very difficult to find. According to the United Nations’ website,
Plus, one-third of the world’s biggest groundwater sources are already in distress.
This lack of clean water can cause malnutrition, disease, civil unrest, and migration of large numbers of people to areas where there is more water. It makes sense right. We all need water to live.
The Global Water Institute estimates that, “700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.”
So saving water and preserving this resource is really a key part of living a greener life. The mindset shift here is easy if you live in a place where water is already kind of scarce because you can see the ramifications. But if you live in an area where it seems like there’s plenty of water, it can be harder to make the shift. Switch to the mindset that water is like gold and that saving water now can benefit everyone.
There are hundreds of ways to conserve water and if you are having a hard time getting your kids on board with wasting less water you might want to check out this post. I’ll just list a few ways to save water here to get you thinking.
Actions to Take:
If you have a dishwasher, don’t pre-rinse your dishes – just scrape them. You may be thinking it would just be better to handwash your dishes. But it is actually more water and energy-efficient to use a dishwasher to wash your dishes. I talked all about that in this video.
Shower faster. Every minute you’re in the shower uses another 2-3 gallons of water depending on your showerhead. If you take a 5-minute shower instead of a 10-minute one, you’ll save 10-15 gallons of water! Even shaving off one minute can help.
Switch to low flow faucet and showerheads. Try to get one that flows at 2 gallons per minute or less to really save. A lot of these showerheads aerate the water so you still get that luxurious full shower feeling.
Only run full dishwasher loads and clothes washer loads. This is sort of a no brainer but it can be easy to fall into lazy patterns.
Check your toilet for leaks. Toilets are often the number 1 (no pun intended) water users in the house. A leaky toilet can waste a whole lot of water. This post talks about how you can check for leaks.
Flush less. If you’ve only urinated in the toilet, consider waiting until you’ve gone again before you flush. People’s tolerance of this practice varies widely. But it’s something to consider. Discuss it with your spouse or family members first of course. Somehow this seems to be less “gross” when you are the only one using a bathroom.
Upgrade your toilet to a low flow model when you can. This option is one that is going to cost some money but it can save a ton of water depending on just how old your toilet is. Want to find out how much water you can save? Check out this post where I discussed just that.
Mindset Shift #7: It’s more than just a power bill!
It can be easy to think, oh, my electricity is not that expensive. I’m not going to worry about how much we are using. We can afford it. But the important thing to remember that it’s not just the price you pay for the energy you use. It’s the price the planet pays in coal mining and transportation and natural gas production and emissions from these non-renewable resources.
There are lots of ways to save on your power bill so I’ll just list a couple here.
Actions to Take:
Turn off lights. I love leaving little lights on around the house to create a nice atmosphere, even when I am not in the room. So this is a habit I’ve had to really work on breaking. Lighting can easily account for 12% of your power bill. So when you think of it like that it can help you make the choice to be vigilant about turning out your lights when you aren’t using them.
Turn off outdoor lights early to save energy and wildlife. Big, bright outdoor lights not only use energy, they also can add to light pollution and disrupt animals’ natural habits. You can read more about that in this post about how you can make your yard more eco-friendly.
If you like having your outdoors lit, consider solar lights. There are so many options available now. They are easy to install and even pretty affordable. They also have the benefit of being a bit dimmer and generally aimed down at the ground so they are less likely to disrupt animal habits.
Unplug everything that stays on standby mode. Printers, computers, TVs the microwave, anything with a red dot or a clock that always stays on, even when the product is turned off is on standby and is using power.
Turning everything off can be inconvenient and a pain. I totally get it. Using power strips can be really helpful for this. That way you can turn off multiple devices with the flick of just one switch.
Unplug your phone and computer chargers when they are not in use because they are also drawing power anytime they are plugged in even when nothing is plugged into them.
Reduce heating and air conditioning use. Keep it warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. This is nothing new and you’ve heard it a hundred times before I’m sure. But about 48% of our household energy use goes to heating and cooling. So when we make small adjustments we can save a lot of energy and money and cut down on carbon emissions.
But – how much difference does turning your heat from 70 degrees to 68 degrees make? Energy.gov estimates that you save about 3% of your heating bill for every degree you lower your heat over a 24 hour period. So if you lower it to 68 degrees from 70, you’ll save 6% of your heating bill. I hate being cold during the day but like sleeping cold at night. We turn our heat down to 64 or lower at night and sleep better because of it.
It works in reverse for air conditioning of course. If you normally set your air conditioning to 75 try setting it to 77 degrees and see if you are still relatively comfortable. Sometimes we just get into habits and forget that the little changes we make do add up.
And again, it’s important to have the bigger picture mindset here. It’s not just about whether or not you can easily afford your power bill. It’s about all the resources used and carbon emissions created when we aren’t mindful of our power usage.
Additional tips to cut your energy bill and still stay comfortable in your home. Close off rooms that you aren’t using in winter and shut vents to avoid heating that area. Close drapes and blinds in summer to keep the sun out and keep it cooler. Take advantage of that solar energy in winter to help heat your home.
Mindset Shift #8: Reduce your Waste
According to World Bank Researchers, the United States creates 250 million tons of trash a year That’s 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day! We’re running out places to put it and our piles of waste end up leaking toxic materials into our ground and water and polluting our environment.
So reducing the waste you create is an awesome mindset to have. The “don’t buy it” thing comes into play here as well. The less you buy, the less waste there will be. But there are other practical steps you can take as well.
Actions to Take:
Compost. Food waste accounts for about 22% of all municipal solid waste that ends up in our landfills. In the U.S we created almost 41 million tons of food waste in 2019. Composting is a great way to cut this WAY back. You can learn more about composting in this post. There are several other ways you can cut down on food waste that I discussed in this post if you can’t compost in your current situation.
Make a zero-waste kit to take with you. Zero waste kits allow you to take home leftovers from a restaurant without having to take the big styrofoam box, and can help you avoid needing to use plastic silverware, paper napkins, plastic straws, etc. It’s as easy as putting a few items in a properly sized bag or box and keeping them in your car. But you can also buy zero waste starter kits like this one from Amazon. Just looking at what’s in one can help you create your own.
Donate to thrift stores. If your clothing and other household items are still in good shape donate them instead of throwing them out.
Recycle smarter. It pays to know what your recycle center can take. When you’ve got a mixed-use recycling system it can be easy to throw things in your recycle bin that don’t belong in there and that can actually mess up a whole bunch of recycling.
For example, paper that’s gone through a shredder can get tangled up in the machines and mess up the recycling. A lot of biomatter (like peanut butter left in a jar or food left in cans) can be a problem as well.
Each recycling center or municipal waste processing plant can have different guidelines. So keep it clean and check to be sure that what you are putting in your recycling will really be recyclable in your solid waste management recycling facility.
Mindset Shift #9: Democracy takes work!
If you want to help make change happen at a higher level, then that can take some effort. But that effort can really pay off because now we’re talking bigger stakes! The government works for us (or it should anyway) so it’s important to get active and let your government officials know that the environment is one of your key issues.
Actions to Take:
Vote for pro-environment candidates. If you aren’t sure where your candidate stands on climate change or drilling offshore or in wildlife refuges or protected public lands, then do some research to find out.
Be politically active. Make those phone calls. You can find out about how to reach your representatives and candidates and what happens when you do call, including tips on what to say, in this post.
Democracy only works when we get involved and do our part. This mindset shift is a great one to make!
Mindset Shift #10: Progress not perfection!
Those were a lot of tips! And it can all feel pretty overwhelming. So this mindset shift is key. You don’t have to do it all perfectly to make a difference! Even if you just pick one action from each category to try for a month you can make a difference. It’s just important to make a start.
To that end, I’ve got a free downloadable PDF for you to keep track of your green living progress, remind you of your goals, and make going green much easier. Grab your Go Green Planner here.
Thank you for reading and thank you for caring about our environment enough to want to get started living a greener lifestyle. There are so many ways you can help!
It’s important to avoid the overwhelm and feelings of “This is too hard. I’ll never be able to make a difference.” Because while it’s critical that we get started helping the environment NOW, it’s also important to remember that green living is a marathon rather than a sprint. We want to be in it for the long haul.
Every decision we make makes a difference! Comment below to share what challenges you’ve had with starting to live a greener life and what things you’ve found that work! We’re all in this together.