As evident by increasingly hotter global temperatures, rising sea levels, and more extreme natural disasters, the earth needs large-scale systematic change to tackle the climate crisis. For example, 100 fossil fuel producers contribute nearly 1 million tons to our greenhouse gas emissions output. With strong leadership and wide-scale regulations, improvements can come by requiring changes of the largest sources responsible for pollution.
Who says though that individuals can’t make a positive change right in their own communities? Three women share their journeys to living a more sustainable lifestyle. Read on to hear their stories, from their inspiration to how they incorporated these alternative changes into their lives.
Arlington, Virginia, resident Fidan Karimova, 33, is on a personal journey to live a plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle. She will be the first to admit that it can be intimidating and says, “You can’t be perfect all the time, but making little changes, at least, slowly gets you to where you need to go.”
Karimova was inspired by a book she read in 2017 called “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste,” written by Bea Johnson. Since then, Karimova has incorporated these switches into her life and says it “saves money and saves a lot of plastic going into the trash and filling up our landfills.”
Many of these changes center around products used in her daily life. In her bag, she always has a reusable cup, bamboo utensils, and a cloth napkin because although paper towels are easier to recycle than plastic, “it adds up” she says.
She uses a refillable deodorant which allows her to keep the plastic encasing and reuse it, instead of purchasing a brand new product over and over. Her floss comes in a glass container with the string itself shipped in compostable packaging. Additionally, her lotion and shower products come in reusable containers. Even her phone case is compostable!
At home, Karimova uses dishwasher drops that come in a paper box and wool dryer balls to replace disposable dryer sheets. In terms of wardrobe, Karimova is in the process of shifting to a closet of only 50 clothing items. This feat has been difficult in a world where fast fashion brands mass-produce cheap quality and low priced items.
These are small switches in the sense that anyone can choose to spend their money on them, but they require effort and research to get there. By being conscious of where she spends her money and avoiding single-use items, Karimova says, “I’m ensuring that our environment stays cleaner longer.”
Kristy Halvorsen, 42, had lived in Florida her whole life. While working as a firefighter-paramedic in 2015, she had a dream of traveling the world. Not wanting to wait until retirement for her adventure, she created a five-year plan to downsize her home and move into an Airstream full-time.
Then, one year into the plan, “I just suddenly realized we don’t have to plan everything and life kinda has our backs and we can be more in the moment,” Halvorsen said. Her vision ended up only taking two years before she was out on the road.
Her portable home attaches to her truck and lets Halvorsen to stay at National Parks, campgrounds, and friends' driveways. This lifestyle allows her to lower her water and electricity use and her total cost of living. Halvorsen also had solar panels installed on her trailer to give her power when off-grid. She’s since realized, “I don’t need more than the sun gives me...It almost forces you to be more cognizant and more conservative.” Her trailer holds just 60 gallons of water — but that lasts her, one person, about three weeks.
“I’m a drop in the bucket. I’m sure there’s many more people living like me out there. The more there are, the less impact we have, the smaller the footprint,” she said.
“One of the biggest things I’ve seen in the journey is we need so much less than we think,” she said. Through her time on the road and her new habits, Halvorsen has noticed just how much stuff we buy — whether from the grocery store, shopping, or even buying souvenirs on vacation. She said she wishes she could cut her already tiny closet in half, but admits it’s hard to get over the very human worry that we might “need it someday.”
Halvorsen acknowledges that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but encourages even those who aren’t living on the road to aim for a more gentle footprint. Now in her third year living full-time in the Airstream, she has become so close to nature and says, “(I) don’t want to waste things; hurts my soul.”
Karen McManus, 62, and Rich McManus, 68, haven’t lived on land for the past five years. Quite literally, their home is on the water, in a sailboat with 300 square feet of living space. They moved to their energy-efficient boat, named Free Spirit 2, to travel during their early retirement. This new living situation quickly taught them to reevaluate the way they used their space, what they owned, and how they used electricity and gasoline.
Free Spirit 2 provides the McManus’ an environmentally friendly way to travel and is a more affordable way to live in pricey Washington, D.C. The sailboat has solar panels which provide most of the power they use, with the option to run a generator for air conditioning. Karen McManus says, “It’s not like an apartment where you can just flip a light switch.” On cloudy days she says they are especially cautious of their usage.
With limited living and storage space on their boat, prior to moving the couple got rid of an entire closet of clothes and donated extra kitchen supplies. They’ve since even switched to e-books over physical copies. (They quickly become damp and moldy on a boat.) But their life on the water also has been cheaper in a few ways for them. The daily cost of living, including boat slip fees, are relatively cheap. But maintaining a boat and doing repairs can add up fast.
McManus said living on a boat leads you to become more aware of your environment, since there’s no escaping the weather changes. She stays very attuned to how the weather and seasons change — and how they impact the tide. McManus said she and her husband enjoy living at a marina, and have met people from many different walks of life.
She says she also has become more mindful of how much waste ends up in our waterways. “How much trash I have picked up out of the ocean, made me very aware of our society’s use of plastic. Also, no longer a fan of helium balloons,” which she said she’s found miles offshore floating in the ocean.
In almost every facet of life, people can make product or lifestyle switches that are better for the planet. From changing the place you call home to not eating animal products, buying reusable products, shopping for sustainable clothes, actively protesting, picking up trash, and more. The more people that make these smaller-scale changes, the bigger the positive trend that can result. As Halvorsen said, it’s all “a drop in the bucket” toward a livable future.