I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
-Henry David Thoreau
The idea of living deliberately is one that has been with me nearly my whole life, instilled in me by my parents, and reinforced by great authors like Thoreau, whose words I soaked up like a sponge in my formative teenage years. I haven’t thought about this quote in a long time, actually, but recently it popped into my head again when I was reflecting on the life I’m working on shaping for myself out here in Oregon.
Without even realizing it, my lifestyle has changed drastically over the last decade with my increased environmental awareness, combined with an awareness of my own aging, social consciousness, life goals, and human needs. All of these elements swirl in my sense of self and sense of purpose, sometimes like a violent storm, and other times, filling my sails with a strong, steady wind pushing me forward.
Something I realized recently is that spending the last 10 years studying environmentalism has made me acutely aware of my impact on the world (and other people’s, too). It has affected the ways I shop, the ways I eat, the ways I vote, the ways I have fun, and pretty much every other way that I experience the world. It’s like once you see something, you can’t un-see it. There are certain things I just can’t buy now because of how much packaging it has, or because I know where the material was sourced. And this is especially hard to reckon with when you’re barely making a living wage. Trust me, I get it. But I still have to try. And you know what I’ve found? Living a more environmentally- and socially-conscious lifestyle is more affordable than you might expect.
Building an environmentally- and socially-conscious life together
My partner, Asa, has been hugely influential in helping us develop a more sustainable lifestyle together. In fact, he’s probably even more environmentally-responsible than I am, which is really good for me.
We currently live on his family’s land out in rural Oregon, a place they’ve been working on creating for years now, lovingly known as Horton. They built the house themselves (before I ever came into the picture), working in local materials and sustainable technologies where they could, such as efficient heat circulation and strategically placed windows.
There’s no cell service out here, no garbage pickup. You can’t just run to the store when you need something. All of this makes us very conscious of what we consume and the waste we produce. As such, we divide out waste into recycling, burnables, compost, and garbage. Burnables and compost we can take care of on site (our house is heated with a wood stove, and we have a big garden compost in the meadow), while garbage and recycling has to come into town with us every few weeks or go to the transfer station.
I find that we reuse things a lot more out here, too. We’ve accumulated a large collection of glass jars and yogurt tubs that we store leftovers in. Single-use plastic bags are reused several times and kept in a kitchen drawer. I also have reusable produce bags, so I can avoid having to bring more plastic bags home every time I buy fruits and veggies. This summer, I’m planning to try growing more of our own food, too.
I’m planning to write a longer post later about the home economics of building this lifestyle, but for now I hope to just give you a snapshot of what life is like here.
These practices are aimed at helping us build a more sustainable and responsible lifestyle as we move through the world together. It can seem daunting, at first, but keeping the bigger picture in mind–of wanting to live a more deliberate life, and to do no harm–is the driving force. It is why we eat vegetarian. Why we buy our clothes second-hand. Why we buy in bulk (=less single-use packaging), local (=less emissions), and organic (=less pesticides+growth hormones), when we can, though this is hard on our income.
We still have a long way to go, but I feel better about the choices I’m making, knowing that I’m honoring my values, than when I was making excuses for why I couldn’t do it.
One last thought I’d like to leave this on: I realize that making these lifestyle changes takes a significant amount of privilege. Even though Asa and I live on a low income, we are still in a place where we can afford to make these choices, and I know that so, so, so many people aren’t. Thus, in my mind, it makes it all the more important that we do, because we can. We do it for the people that can’t. And we do it for our future generations, who won’t have any choice in how my generation–and the ones before me–treated the world. So we do what we can, when we can.