By Wendy Castellanos
Okay mommy confession here: I am a baby gear hoarder. It’s been one year since I moved abroad with a few suitcases of my clothes and some prized possessions, yet here I am, swimming in a mess of baby gear, toys, and other crap I just don’t need. You see any time I have a little extra cash, it burns a hole into my pocket and I’m forced to spend it. I’m really good at turning a simple “want” into a desperate “need.” I realized it’s time to call in the big-guns, AKA my go-to girl, Ally, to help share her secrets of living green.
WC: For starters, can you define what “being green” means to you?
AK: For me, being green means living within my means, consuming responsibly, and trying to recycle and reuse whenever possible.
WC: What made you start to be green? Was there a significant turning point?
AK: For the first several years of my career I was in a relationship with another attorney and we had high spending power. If we wanted something, we bought it. Most of the things we bought were rarely or ever used. The more we earned, the more we spent, and the more we accumulated. Then, the relationship ended and I decided I wanted to move to Mexico and live a low key, low stress life. I sold more than 50% of what I owned, and then got rid of another 50% when I got settled in my Mexican home. It felt incredibly freeing to finally not feel tied down to “stuff.”
WC: You told me before that you are “green in every way.” How do you practice being green on a daily basis?
AK: I like to say that I live in Washington State, so being green is easy. (I mean, we legalized pot!) In my home, we agreed that we will not buy any new toys for our son; everything comes from friends’ kids or second hand shops. In fact, we do not buy him any toys at all because we found that people love to give toys as gifts. If we were to buy toys on top of that, it would be too much. Our house is filled to the brim with toys and we have maybe purchased 2 of them. We pass all of our toys and clothes down to other moms or expecting mothers.
We are committed to recycling and composting, which the city of Seattle has made easy for us with curbside pickup.
I try to refrain from buying clothes unless I need them for a certain occasion or event. . I try to limit all items in my closet to under 50. Who cares if someone sees me in the same outfit twice? I love every piece of clothing that I have, and if I don’t love it, I get rid of it.
WC: What steps did you take to being green?
AK: It was a slow process. I focused on one thing at a time. For me, clothes were huge. I had tons of clothes. I had clothes that I loved but that I rarely wore and still refused to part with. When I dwindled down my clothes as much as I could, I would challenge myself to give up 5 more items. I would repeat that process once a month or so.
Another problem area for me: was toiletries. I had so many brands of shampoos and conditioners that I could have had my own hair salon! I found myself “saving” my favorites, meaning that I rarely used them. Now, I limit myself to one shampoo, one conditioner, one face wash, and one body soap in the house until I am running low.
WC: How do you encourage others to be green? For example, every time I go home to visit, my family generously gives my son a ton of gifts. How do you encourage participation from others?
AK: When I was pregnant, I had a green baby shower. I asked for people to only give me secondhand gifts whether from their own children or from secondhand shops.
I also say “no” a lot. If someone kindly offers me something that I already have and/or do not need, I gently and graciously say no.
I often have a “no gift policy” for birthdays and other holidays (like Christmas).
WC: What’s an easy way for someone to get started?
AK: The easiest way to get started is to stop buying things. I realized that I constantly bought things, even small things, every time I was at the store, whether it was a candle or a nail polish or a cool piece of decor. Every item you bring into your home takes up space. Having clutter in your home clutters your mind. (I still have clutter in my home, don’t get me wrong! I do have a toddler after all….)
Bringing mindfulness to your purchases can change your life completely. Put yourself on a non-essential spending freeze for one month, meaning that you do not buy anything you do not absolutely need for the period of one month. If that feels like too long, try a week or two weeks. During that time, observe the things that you wanted to buy. How did it feel when you didn’t buy them?
Being mindful about purchases helped me begin to undo the materialism and material-based mentality that I did not even realize that I had. Also it helped me cut down on needless waste.
WC: How has being green changed your life for the better?
AK: It is unbelievable how having less “stuff” makes you feel. I felt lighter, my mind felt clearer, and I felt happier overall. I was able to disassociate the incorrect belief that my stuff gave me value. Now I feel like I am contributing to the Earth and future generations by trying to reduce the amount of waste in my own home and life.
WC: What do you still struggle with? What is the hardest part about being green?
AK: Now that I am firmly settled back in the States, it is difficult not to fall back into the consumer mentality of buying little things on a regular basis. My husband and I are committed to going through every closet, nook, and cranny once a month in order to get rid of things that we aren’t using. I do not know how, but each month we end up with an SUV full of things- most of which are baby clothes and children’s toys.
WC: Have you applied being green to both your personal and professional lives?
AK: Professionally I am committed to a paperless office. We do not copy, print, or retain any unnecessary paperwork. We reuse closed files. We find alternate uses for recycled paper (i.e. make them into notebooks or use them for MCH court notes). Also, we try to run a lean office.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a recycling fanatic. If someone in my office puts a can in the garbage can instead of the recycling bin, I will personally pull it out and move it to the recycling. I believe that we all can make a difference no matter how small.
WC: Finally, what advice would you give to a newcomer?
AK: Start small and set goals and rewards for yourself. You don’t have to go green in one day!