Going green, being mindful and conscious, and living ethically…what does it mean to you? In times of social media pressure and incredibly high standards regarding “bettering ourselves” I feel compelled to address the issue of trying to be perfect in living sustainably and mindfully. Especially in the name of authenticity, this post is about how I found my way in living greener and how you can too.
Reading time: 20 minutes
To me going green, being mindful and living ethically do not represent a fixed state, not a level I try to reach, not an end point to my story on this planet. Instead, they tell the story of my evolution as a person and my journey of making sustainable and mindful changes. The story of making (many) mistakes, and of facing my weaknesses and current limitations. They also represent opportunities of being inspired and challenged, meeting like-minded people and, hopefully, living more authentically and being at peace with my life choices. It’s a journey on which I can decide every day anew which steps I want or do not want to take.
So in this post, I hope to show that we can all find our way, however fast or far we decide to go. I want to promote the idea, that there is no shame in having blind spots regarding certain issues or aspects of your life or in not feeling ready to make certain changes. We’re not here to judge one another or our past selves for that matter. Rather, we should try to motivate ourselves and those around us who are ready to take the next step in living a greener life!
Going green and living mindfully is not a perfect personal evolution
There is quote by Anaïs Nin that perfectly sums up my experience of going green and living more consciously:
“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Nin: every person has different aspects of their lives in which they seem to be at peace and others they struggle with. I went through different stages during my journey of becoming more caring with myself and with everything around me. These stages weren’t always made up of deliberate decisions, not always with a greater goal in mind. Some things just happened by chance, some things led to the next, some of them had me focused on one aspect and neglect another completely. Other times, I made conscious decisions about a specific area of my life I wanted to change. Often though, it was the little things that led me to live a greener and more mindful life. I was and still am far from living a completely green or mindful life and that is exactly why I enjoy this journey so much: it pushes me to read up on things I don’t know much about, it challenges my beliefs sometimes when I find out that something I do isn’t really sustainable at all, and it shows me my limitations in making certain changes. In a way, it reflects all my beliefs and where I am emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, ethically and physically at any given point in my life. These aspects, these layers, cells, and constellations as Nin calls them, all come together when you look at your green and mindful journey. Sustainability starts on the personal level, with our self-care and looking at our habits and blind spots. Once you know those, you can start tackling them.
My goal with Reveries of Style is to foster an environment in which we understand that there is no point in feeling bad about the choices we made in the past. Even if we don’t do it all perfectly yet, we are still doing something: We’re on our way and we care. That is what counts. Develop, grow, learn, and adapt. We are all in this together! Nothing to be ashamed of, just things we can grow from. So let’s do this! Maybe you recognize some of your own challenges in my story and in my contradictions, maybe it sparks some interest in learning more about a certain area of sustainability and mindfulness. I welcome you to open your mind to certain aspects you could change but most of all: Be nice with yourself. You are doing great!
My childhood years:
Recycling, chocolate, hand-me-downs, and second-hand smoke
I grew up in Switzerland during the 80s. In our family we consistently recycled paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum and composted food waste in our garden. This recycling standard is what most Swiss people were used to back then and still are today. You rarely saw trash on the street and everything was usually quite clean. If you littered, people, not just older ones, would reprimand you and there was a high level of social shame associated with it. So from an early age on, I was aware of recycling and the proper “green” behavior that it implied.
At the same time, I grew up eating lots of convenience and junk food because I was often home alone. My parents both worked shifts in a factory. There was always junk and comfort food at home, maybe as a way to compensate for them not being around: potato chips, cookies, and chocolate, of course. My mom cooked whenever she had the time but I was still left fending for my own a lot. The large majority of people didn’t buy organic and there were only very few health stores back then. Pesticides or GMO weren’t anything we bothered to think about. On the bright side, fashion was not as fast as it is now and my mom didn’t shop often for me and my sister. I was often handed down Benetton clothes from my cousin in Italy as well. Even though they were boys’ clothes, my mom insisted they were “very nice and expensive” so I had to wear them anyway.
Our house was not particularly energy efficient, using oil for heating, as there were no solar panels back then. My parents made sure we always turned off the lights and closed the doors inside the house but they weren’t great with saving water and loved taking baths and so did my sister and I. We had a car and my parents drove to work every day, so lots of polluting happening there.
In terms of health and being active, I guess it was a fairly normal childhood: I went horse riding once a week and played outside whenever I got a chance. I wasn’t sick often and was spending lots of time with friends. We lived near a forest so I was a total nature child. But inside the house, things weren’t that mindful: My father smoked like a chimney everywhere inside and so the rest of the family suffered from second-hand smoke. I remember hating the smell but still, it didn’t deter me picking up the horrible habit myself later in my teen years.
When it came to my emotional wellbeing, I had quite a tough childhood with my dad being an alcoholic and our family life often filled with chaos as a result. This affected my relationship with myself, with my body, with men and with my environment in general. It took a long time to see, how these things are all related and to what degree it affected my self-care but once I understood it, I was able to make some positive changes. I know that my parents were doing the best they could at the time, working and providing for us, so this is not intended to blame them rather than to set up the context in which I grew up to be quite unloving to myself.
The roaring twenties:
Smoking, Red Bull and not a mindful thought in sight
When I first moved out, it was also as a reaction to the deteriorating relationship with my parents. I moved into a rather large apartment with way too much space for just little old me. Minimalism or reducing consumption was a foreign concept altogether. I loved buying clothes and got a car without thinking twice about it. I ate very unhealthy, drank lots of Red Bull (I even worked for the company for 3 years) and alcohol regularly, and I smoked too many cigarettes. I partied a lot and my entire thinking was based around me, me and me. Back then, very few young people were interested in sustainability or at least, that’s what I thought because none of my friends were. I had no specific interest in my health or the environment beyond what I was already doing (basic recycling.) I always cared about animals but my caring didn’t translate in any tangible ways like not eating meat or not wearing leather.
Then at 25, I moved to Los Angeles. There, recycling became much more difficult because there was just one trash collection for everything. So I just went along with the local mainstream who didn’t really bother to separate trash or to recycle. Shortly before graduating from UCLA, I decided to quit smoking and focus a little bit more on my nutrition. Still, I was far from eating organic or relying on healthy food yet. I even had this phase of only drinking matcha smoothies and eating lemon poppy seed muffins, thinking I was being very healthy. Yeah.
During that time, I quickly developed an addiction to fast fashion, with Forever21 being my favorite store. I used to go shopping at least once, if not more, during the week. I routinely bought things I didn’t need or really like, just because I had nothing better to do and was trying to make difficult emotions go away. In Los Angeles my self-care was at its lowest. Even though I was focused on school and thought I had a pretty great life there, I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to my body. I was very skinny at the time and my emotional life was all over the place. Chasing after men who weren’t available (total Hollywood cliché), a pattern I developed due to my dad not being available when I was little. This ongoing emotional struggle took all the energy I had. In retrospect, I can see how there was absolutely no mental space for anything mindful and I wasn’t equipped to deal with the pain of heartbreak in any other way than to try to buy myself out of it. Which of course didn’t work.
When I moved to Vancouver, I was exposed to healthier food a little more, with lots of organic food supermarkets to choose from. I was still drinking Red Bull and indulging in junk food though. Fast fashion and shopping became even more a way to keep busy since I often felt lonely and only had few friends there. My relationship was chaotic, which at that point was just more of the same.
Green and mindful thirties:
Drastically reducing caffeine, alcohol, meat and switching to green beauty…but still shopping at Forever21 until last year
My early thirties started off with a difficult break-up and move back to Switzerland. Having hit rock bottom emotionally, I started to read a lot of spiritual books, investing most of my time in self-growth and dealing with my past relationships. I started to look at the way I treated my body and my soul. I attended yoga and Pilates classes multiple times a week and became interested in meditation, living mindfully, eating organic food and just being more aware of my choices. I did meditation retreats and thought more and more about what I can do to make this world a better place. Eventually this also led to finding a truly loving man.
In a way, from then on it has been a completely interrelated evolution: Once I started looking at my emotional wellbeing, my body came into greater focus as well. I quit caffeine cold-turkey. There were certain events or pieces of information that had a lasting effect on my mindset and my lifestyle: Watching the documentary Food, Inc. years ago, has made me what I like to call a “90% vegetarian.” I do eat meat once in a while but it is mostly organic. Only on very rare occasions when we are out and don’t have any other options I may eat non-organic meat. Despite these positive changes, I would go from eating very healthy and exercising for months and then go back to eating junk and being inactive for a while before restarting with the healthy phase again. This remains one of my biggest challenges to this day: consistency when it comes to my eating and workout habits.
Or take fast fashion: It used to be my biggest blind spot. When I started this blog in early 2016, I had long switched to green beauty, was fairly health conscious, and meditated but I didn’t yet look into my shopping habits. I knew something wasn’t right with fast fashion, of course. Still, I wasn’t ready to really confront the demon because it had been such a source of short-lived comfort for so many years. I wasn’t ready to let go! We all know them: the green beauty Youtuber who eats junk food and wears fast fashion, or any other contradicting person you have come across online. This is what I have come to understand: everyone has their own pace, their own limitations, their own willingness to change. You can’t force anyone to evolve. All you can do is offer to help, if and once they come looking for it.
Once I started reading more about sustainable and ethical fashion due to my own blogging, coming across more people making a difference and choosing to avoid fast fashion, I started to feel that I wanted to make the change. I watched The True Cost and it solidified my decision on why it was time to look for a more mindful way to deal with emotional pain. So, as a result, since then I have only bought one clothing item that isn’t produced ethically, instead of multiple ones a month. I am now researching capsule wardrobes and projects that I can challenge myself with.
Another area where I feel, I can still improve a lot is decluttering. Martin and I already let go of many things when we moved into our place three years ago. We generally try to only have very few things in the house, and overall we try to keep it simple and green. A few days ago, I was lucky enough to win a digital copy of the documentary “Minimalism” in a give-away on the lovely Verena Erin’s Instagram. Verena blogs about minimalism, ethical fashion and green beauty on her blog My Green Closet. I already knew of many minimalist ways of improving your life, but the movie still motivates you to question your habits and to look for more meaningful ways to spend your time and money. I watched it with my fiancé and I can’t stress enough, how grateful I am to have a partner like Martin in my life. He is enthusiastic to be on this journey with me and brings his own set of challenges and limitations. This means we get to push and question each other at times, but mostly it means we get to practice understanding and compassion for who the other person is.
How to deal with your blind spots and still be nice to yourself
So am I perfect in my green and mindful living? Not even close. Do I want to be? Nope. What I really want, is to keep developing enough self-care to know, that what is good for my soul and my conscience, is good for the environment and people on this planet and vice versa. So next time you come across someone who isn’t where you are, whether they are more or less aware of the issues than yourself, try to see them for the journey they are on and keep your heart and mind open to them. They might be looking for someone to help them with their next step and you might be just the one they are looking for!
Here are a few things you can try to advance your green and mindful living journey:
- Focus on one area where you might have a blind spot (fair fashion, green beauty, saving energy, eco travel, mindfulness, healthy eating, etc.)
- Research your blind spot: read a book about it, listen to a podcast, watch a documentary or a vlog, follow a blogger
- Find a website that you like and subscribe to their newsletter. I like Living Green and Saving Energy because it’s different than some of the other blogs I read. It offers great articles dealing with energy saving in the home. Martin and I can still make improvements in that area of our life so this is perfect.
- Use Trello to make dealing with your blind spot a priority. Trello is a free project management tool I only just started using but I already love it! You can create a board with tasks, due dates, project ideas, networks, save documents, etc. You can work on these projects with other people and keep them up to date and organized. This will keep you focused and on track and will help with breaking down big goals and intentions into smaller, manageable ones. Martin and I even have a Trello board together with the things we want to experience as a couple: Trips, seminars, volunteering opportunities, decluttering projects, and more.
- Take part in a sustainable living challenge like Project 333, a 21 day sugar detox or a meditation course.
- Connect with others online who struggle with the same blind spot. You can exchange experiences and find support if you feel lost or overwhelmed.
- Join a like-minded people meetup in your area through online networking spaces. There are groups for everything! There is so much inspiration and motivation to be found in these groups, it will blow you away.
So now go out and be awesome on your green and mindful journey! Thank you for being here and showing interest in living a greener and more conscious life!