1. Don’t do laundry as often. Wear clothes twice or even three times.
2. Wash your clothes on cold. Always. (Even for diapers, sanitary napkins, and dishtowels. It works.)
3. Hang clothes out to dry. (Time yourself. Bet you can get them all on the line in 9 minutes.)
4. Make your own laundry detergent. Here’s our family’s favorite recipe.
5. Don’t use air conditioning. Open the windows at night to let in cold air. Close up the house and put down the curtains/shades in the morning to keep house cool.
6. Turn off lights when you leave the room. Obvious, right?! But if you pay attention you’ll notice that people in your family are leaving lights on everywhere. (Ask me how I know.)
7. Turn off the radio when you leave the room (see #6).
8. Unplug the stereo and other appliances when you aren’t using them. Most people don’t realize that even switched “Off” they are using electricity.
In the kitchen:
9. Don’t clean pasta or other pots in which you’ve only boiled water.
10. Clean the kitchen counters with vinegar and water mixed in whatever proportions work for you, not with harmful sprays. Easy to refill. Cheaper! Healthier! (And more sustainable.)
11. Save your eggshells and sprinkle them around garden plants. Eggshells deter slugs and add minerals to the soil.
12. Compost! You can do it. You know you want to!
13. Freeze vegetable scraps and make them into broth or soup stock at the end of the week.
14. Never throw away rotten bananas. Peel them (compost the peels) and freeze. Perfect for smoothies.
15. Start a kitchen herb garden on your windowsill.
16. Buy milk locally from a farmer who will give it to you in reusable glass bottles, or buy it commercially in glass bottles (you pay $1.50 bottle deposit, rinse, and return.)
18. Buy staples like rice, rolled oats, olive oil, and honey in bulk and reuse your glass containers. Once you get in the habit, this is easy. It’s hard to get in the habit. Get over that quick.
19. No more paper towels. Never buy them again. Stock up on cloth rags and dishcloths (best option) or make your own.
20. No more paper napkins. Never buy them again. Stock up on cloth napkins from friends and Goodwill.
21. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture). Call one and join right now!
22. Don’t ever buy anything that contains palm oil. Not soap, not granola bars, not even Girl Scout Cookies.
In the bathroom:
23. Put a 5-gallon bucket in the shower to catch gray water. Use it to water your indoor plants and outdoor garden. (Or to flush the toilet, see #24.) More about the bucket here. More about uses for gray water here.
24. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.
25. Don’t run the water when you brush your teeth! Obvious, right? You’d be surprised at how much water you waste. Put a bowl in the sink to test. Dump that gray water in the 5- gallon bucket in your shower (see #23).
26. Use family cloth instead of toilet paper. Or drip dry.
27. Use a Diva Cup and/or reusable sanitary napkins (see #2). Soak them in the caught gray water (see #23).
28. Use bamboo instead of plastic toothbrushes.
29. Clean the tub with baking soda.
30. Skip the shampoo. You save on plastic, you save money, you save the oceans. And your hair and scalp will love you for it (after about 2 weeks, which is how long it takes for your body to adjust.)
31. While you’re at it (#30), skip the shower. You don’t need to bathe every day!
32. When you do shower, make it quick. I challenge you to take a 2.5-minute shower. Have a quickest-shower competition among the grown-ups in your household. (Doing this with kids may lead to dubious hygiene.)
33. Dry off with a washcloth instead of a towel. Hang it to dry and then wrap yourself in the big towel. You can reuse both for several weeks without the towel getting mildewed that way.
34. Use a washable cloth shower liner instead of a plastic one.
35. Whether your baby wears plastic or cloth diapers, always scrape the poo into the toilet. Do not wrap it up and throw it in the trash. Landfills are not designed for human excrement and “disposable” diapers are not disposable. They take at least 100 years to decompose. That’s a long time for shit to sit.
36. Don’t use “disposable” plastic razors. Old-fashioned razors work just fine! Or go crazy vintage and use a straightedge razor you sharpen yourself. Or go super contemporary and join a battle of the beards (all my 30-something friends are doing this. They’ve stopped shaving. They’re driving their wives crazy…)
37. Make your own toothpaste.
38. Make your own deodorant.
39. If you must use toilet paper (see #26), collect the inside cardboard rolls. Donate them to the local preschool for art projects.
40. Use olive oil that you buy in bulk for hand and body lotion!
41. Buy soap ends in the bulk bin. Zero packaging! Super cheap.
In the bedroom:
42. Have sex often. It makes your marriage more sustainable. Read my post on how to improve your sex life.
43. Choose non-hormonal birth control (like a diaphragm over the Pill). So much better for your body. Also better for the fish.
44. Wear essential oils instead of perfumes. The “natural” fragrances in perfumes are toxic to humans and the environment.
45. Don’t buy new jewelry. If you understood the environmental damage caused by mining for gold and other precious metals and jewels, you would never buy jewelry again. Buy jewelry secondhand.
46. Read by candlelight (good for encouraging #42 and #48 and #52).
47. Get books from your local library, a little library in your neighborhood, or Goodwill instead of buying them new. Since you love your author friends and want to support them, ask your local and university libraries to buy multiple copies of their books.
48. Get enough sleep, and put your kids to bed early. Sleep makes your life more sustainable.
49. Have lots of houseplants in your bedroom and other living spaces. They clean and filter the air.
50. Use sustainable building materials if you remodel. Or better yet, hang pictures over the wall smears and skip repainting the inside of your house.
51. If you can afford it (we’ve wanted to do this for years…), install solar panels on your roof or put in a wind or water turbine. Okay, that will take you longer than 9 minutes. But stop reading and do 9 minutes of research on this right now!
52. Use coconut oil from a glass jar for lubricant (see #42).
How to be sustainable in the backyard:
53. Plant a garden! Even a small one. Then use the gray water you’ve been catching (see # 23) and the rainwater (#54) to water it.
54. Catch rainwater.
55. Research raising chickens for the next 9 minutes (see #51, I’m trying to stick with the 9-minute rule). Set up a chicken coop in your yard. Or live across the street from someone who does.
57. Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
58. Raise honeybees. Okay, okay, research raising…
59. Compost dog droppings in a separate space from the compost you’ll be using to grow food, or don’t have a dog. Landfills have not been designed for animal excrement. Picking up dog feces in plastic bags is unsustainable.
60. Research and plant a part of your yard with all native plants. They won’t need watering. And they’re good for the entire eco-system. Bonus points if some of them are edible. Like nettles and Oregon grape in our area (you can eat the new leaves and they’re tangy and delicious.)
61. Use crushed eggshells around plants to deter slugs instead of harmful chemicals in nasty plastic bottles (see #11).
62. Send your kids outside right now. Vitamin D and exercise will keep them from getting sick = lower doctor bills for you = happier family.
63. Don’t bag up grass clippings. Leave them where they are, put them in the compost, or use them to mulch your plants.
64. Use a push mower for the grass. If your lawn refuses to cooperate, use an electric mower. Depending on your source of electricity, this will be more sustainable, quieter, and less toxic than gas mowers.
65. Don’t water the grass in the summer if you live in a drought zone like we do.
66. Plant a native tree.
67. Plant a second native tree, in case one dies. We planted a manzanita and a madrone. Both were doing well. Then the brother of a friend who came to mow mowed the manzanita down (see #64). Serves us right. The madrone has grown magnificently.
How to be sustainable at school or work:
68. Bring lunch in a reusable, washable cloth bag.
69. Bring your sandwich in a reusable, washable cloth bag.
70. Bring your own cup or Mason jar, always. If you forget your cup, don’t drink coffee.
71. Put a spoon in your purse or pocket (an espresso spoon is perfect, as I explain in this article.) Use this for ice cream, yogurt, or anything else you find yourself needing to eat with a spoon…
72. Don’t talk trash about your colleagues. Being petty and jealous is unsustainable.
73. Invite an environmental visionary to speak in your child’s class or to you and your colleagues.
74. Have your kids walk, bike, or scooter to school. They can do it. Even in the rain. Realize that you driving them everywhere is feeding your own neurotic family-of-origin issues but not helping your kids in any way.
76. If you can’t carpool, walk, or bike, leave 10 minutes earlier and park your car half a mile away from work. You’ll get a much-needed morning and afternoon walk, better mileage on your car, and the environment and your health will thank you.
77. Drink water from a fountain. Say no to endocrine-disrupting plastic bottled water!
78. Take the stairs!
79. Keep the lights turned off at work. Why not?
80. Carry a hankie (so retro.)
81. Let your hands drip dry.
In other aspects of your life:
82. Buy previously loved things you need in your life. NB: This doesn’t work for dental floss.
83. Give and receive hand-me-downs.
84. Organize a clothing swap. These are fun. Way better than going to the mall.
85. Have your kids give their friends previously loved gifts.
87. If you can’t do #86, wrap gifts in old maps, newspaper, or calendar pages. Never buy wrapping paper again.
88. Make grocery shopping into family and outdoor time by piling kids into a wagon and walking to the supermarket. They can help you pull the grocery-laden wagon on the way back. Do this on the weekend so you don’t feel stressed or pressed for time. (Time: half day. Sustainability rating: Platinum.)
89. Rinse and reuse birthday candles.
90. Befriend a farmer. If you buy fruits and vegetables directly from a farm they won’t be boxed, or have those horrible stickers on them.
91. Bring your own bag to the grocery store. (I know. You do this already. So do I.)
92. Bring your own glass container to a restaurant for leftovers (I bet you don’t do this one yet!).
If you want to be sustainable and get really radical (these will all take more than 9 minutes):
94. Kill your car.
95. Kill your microwave. It makes your food taste like rubber, uses electricity, and you don’t need one anyway. Plus there is no sustainable way to dispose of it once it breaks, is there?
96. Read No Impact Man. Colin Beavan became the super hero of the sustainable. Do everything he did, for a year, or a month, or a week … or 9 minutes.
97. Buy a solar-powered fridge! I want one of these. They’re pricy.
98. Skip the cruise and go WWOOFing instead. (Coolest and most sustainable vacation idea ever.)
99. Die sustainably, just like you’ve been living.
Published: June 9, 2014
Updated: March 2, 2021