Getting starting on the path to a more sustainable way of life may seem like a challenge, especially if you don’t know where to get started. It can take a bit of getting used to and you have to always be conscious of what you are doing, but it’s usually not all that hard. So I thought I would put together a few extremely basic tips to help you start 2011 off on a more self-reliant path.

  1. Stop using paper towels for everything.

    Buy a cheap supply of cloth napkins for everyday use and a bunch of cheap hand or dish towels to clean up spills and messes with. I bought about 30 plain white hand towels from IKEA for 15 cents each. I started using them when Mack was learning to eat on her own and always had food all over her hands and face. I found I was using about a roll of paper towels a week trying to keep her clean and wipe up all the messes. So now I just moisten a bit of the towel to clean her off and always have something handy in case a glass of juice or a bowl of yogurt gets spilled….and lands on the dog.

  2. Look for new ways to reuse everything.

    I cannot tell you the number of times I have tossed something out (from old pillows to shrunken sweaters) and then kicked myself in the arse not one week later because I found a really cool tutorial that taught me a new use for it. There are literally hundreds of sites out there with incredible ideas for decor, crafts and so on. And if you don’t need the finished product yourself, use it as a gift or sell it. What to do with that old Christmas tree? Mulch the limbs for your garden and use the stem to make ornaments or this awesome table. Got a pile of books you can’t sell? Make a wreath! Turn an old dog food can into a drum or the beginnings of stilts. I even reuse pages from old desk calendar books to make notes and shopping lists on.

  3. Start thinking about planting a garden.

    It doesn’t matter if you only grow your own herbs or one tomato plant. Get started growing, taste the amazing flavor difference that homegrown gives (I think the sweat and tears you put into it also improve taste) and catch the gardening bug. You can grow in containers on your balcony, a small portion of your yard or even indoors. The important thing is just to get started. Want to reuse all that newspaper you have lying around? Start folding these newspaper pots now for to start seeds in. You’d be amazed at how cheaply you can start a garden! A word of warning: start small. Smaller than you think you can handle. Especially if it’s in the ground and will need to be weeded often!

  4. Cook it yourself.

    Not only will you saving a bundle of money and probably eating better, but you might even realize you really enjoy doing it!

  5. Conserve resources.

    I know everyone preaches about this all the time. But if you’re not in the room, turn off the lights. And flip off the TV and your components when you’re done watching it. Not only will use save electricity, but you might even be more productive if you work near a TV. They have their own magnetic fields and can honestly interfere with your brain waves. Go ahead, laugh. But I can seriously feel that I work better when the TV is turned off. Even if there is nothing playing and the TV is silent, I feel like the air around me clears when the TV goes off.

  6. Learn how to make things yourself.

    Living in Germany, there were a lot of things I couldn’t get here. So I either had to find a way to make it myself or do without. Ranch dressing, salsa, jalapeño sauce…heck, I even tried to make my own Fritos. (They tasted awesome, BTW, but were way too much work for throwing into chili.) You can also make your own Play-Doh, diaper wipes, shampoo, laundry detergent…and all of these things are not only a lot cheaper, but often also healthier and might even just be fun to make. And yes you CAN learn to make your own home repairs and renovations. Leave the plumbing and electrical to the pros…but everything else you can definitely learn. Heck, we even learned how to hang our own drywall — and we’ve never done it or even seen someone doing it before in our lives!

  7. Switch to simple cleaning solutions

    You’d be amazed at the number of things you can clean with just baking soda and vinegar. I’m not kidding. Throw some essential oils into the mix and elbow grease and you’ll have the cleanest house on the block. You’ll need less bottles of stuff under the sink, have less to worry about ending up in your children’s mouths and never have to run from the bathroom due to toxic fumes from a bottle again. Toxic fumes from someone’s rear — that’s another issue. Old essential oils like orange or lemon that have otherwise lost their effectiveness are great for freshening up bathrooms. I put a few drops inside the toilet paper roll or in the toilet.

  8. Use and enjoy what you’ve got.

    Put a buying freeze on yourself and learn to appreciate the things you have. Read the books in your shelf, wear the clothes in your closet, pack up and cycle through the toys in your kids’ rooms so they become new to them every few weeks, and just focus on the things you’ve already acquired in life. If you absolutely must get something new, make yourself get rid of two other similar things to make room for the new thing. So if your kids want a new toy, they have to get rid of two old ones. If you want a new pair of jeans, get rid of two pieces of clothing you’re not wearing. You’ll not only bless others, but you will also be blessing yourself by having less to sort through and clean.

  9. Buy quality items and share them with others.

    I’m a huge fan of hand-me-downs and I’m astonished by what some people end up throwing away. Freecycle and Craigslist are often full of stuff that people are getting rid of for free. Set up book and clothing swaps with your friends and neighbors. Pass on toys to other generations of children in your family.

  10. Shop locally.

    We’re really lucky to have a great collection of shops in our town so that I can pick up fresh produce, locally grown meat and send out my mail all in one trip by foot. I know in America that’s not always practical, but if you start supporting the smaller, locally owned businesses in your community and sustainable brands, you’ll not only be helping the local economy, but you might also find yourself eating healthier in-season foods, learn to cook new things and make some new friends.

Are you planning to make a pledge in 2011 to live a more self-reliant life? What will you be doing (or do you already do) to be more “green?”