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How Moving Back Home With My Parents Inspired More Sustainable Habits

Guest Post by Paige Hansen

During times of uncertainty, it can be therapeutic to reflect on the things that don’t change. One constant is that people will always look for ways to do more with less, AKA how to be more sustainable.

Thanks to stay-at-home orders and social distancing, we have more time to reflect. Reflecting on how to be more sustainable may not be the first thing that comes to mind given everything going on in the world today, but sustainability is a mainstay. As our population grows and resources dwindle, finding new ways to be sustainable will always be necessary, even if those “new” ways are a “trendy rebrand” of some classic practices.

As I reflected on my own sustainability habits, I thought about the things my parents have done for decades that are pretty sustainable. Their tips aren’t trendy, but they’ve given me a new source of inspiration to improve upon my own sustainability habits. I hope they’ll inspire you, too.

Growing your own food isn’t that hard if you have space and some time.

These days, many of us at least have the latter. My stepdad spends his free time watering, pruning, and planting in our backyard garden. He’s become an expert of sorts and says even if you have time but not a lot of space, don’t despair. You can grow multiple herbs in one pot – parsley and mint, thyme and oregano all grow well side-by-side. Herbs like rosemary grow wild, so they need a pot of their own. I think about the low-maintenance plants I have in my small New York City apartment and am inspired to replace them with something edible. If you have a small plot of land or even a large pot inside your home or apartment, here are my stepdad’s three best tips to use your space sustainably:

1. It’s the dirt that counts. Replenish, amend, add compost, do whatever you can to create the best growing medium.
2. Try different plants your first time around. You never know what will grow in your unique combination of soil, climate, sun exposure and care until you try. Hedge your bets by planting a variety. It improves your chances of some success.
3. Water less often than you think you should but water much deeper. After watering, dig into the ground to see how far down it is wet. Wetting the surface doesn’t do any good.

Reusing common goods makes life easier.

My mom puts a ton of emphasis on reusing. If she buys a glass bottle of milk or juice, she reuses it as a vase for flowers, usually with a recycled ribbon tied around the top.

Containers of all shapes and sizes are cleaned and repurposed in countless ways. Glass mayonnaise jars and squeezable mustard bottles are cleaned and used to store homemade salad dressings. Jam jars save Sunday’s leftover bacon fat for cooking throughout the week. Even plastic newspaper bags become a store-all for food scraps that become garden fertilizer. Yes, my parents still have a newspaper delivered.

When it comes to reusing jars, I often get hung up over cleaning them out completely. For example, a jar of peanut butter is particularly difficult, so I usually just recycle. My mom has proved to me that it is worth the time to clean out the jar and reuse it in a new way. I’ve bought countless mason jars over the years to make my overnight oats, but I realize a leftover mayonnaise jar would work just as well.

To create a habit, make it easy and make it beautiful.

This is another tip I’ve learned from my mom. A self-proclaimed “neat freak,” she keeps her home spotless, but not at the expense of sustainability.

My mom didn’t want to crowd her kitchen counter with a compost bin. Instead, she keeps a black saucepan on her stovetop and fills it with the discards of home cooking. From banana and carrot peels to eggshells and melon rinds, the food scraps sit neatly or a day or two unnoticed. The saucepan is easily accessible so there is no excuse not to compost.

If composting isn’t an option, think about ways to use something in its entirety. Otherwise, make a vegetable stock. Carrot and potato peels, remnant pieces of onion and ginger, the knobby stems of asparagus and broccoli can all be boiled away with some garlic and bay leaves. The result is something delicious to replace the boxed stock from the store.

Whether you’re riding out the pandemic with your parents, or just have more time to reflect on their habits, watch out for non-trendy sustainability practices hiding in plain sight. Chances are there are things your parents have done for years that might give you a fresh take on ways to be more sustainable yourself.


About Paige Hansen

Paige Hansen is a former broadcast journalist and is currently the head of sales and marketing at Farmshelf, a smart indoor farming company in Brooklyn.

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