Sustainable Living Blues

November 07, 2018

Living in Nigeria as a child, every day was a sustainable life. We bought food from the market from local farmers, nothing was ever put to waste no matter how much you had, manual labor was a common part of life, and there was a sense of community in every neighborhood. Moving to America took me away from that lifestyle and as I’ve gotten older, my efforts to live life with more intention is essentially a process of reconnecting back to my roots.

Right now, my slow/sustainable living journey has not been as smooth of a transition as I would have liked. I’m currently in the very early stages of it all which means I am gathering information, looking at resources, and trying to figure out areas in my life where change can be applied. At this current stage, everything has been very overwhelming and difficult to process. The biggest issue I’m facing is simply knowing where to begin. There are so many areas to focus on that figuring out those first steps to take has been tricky. Overall, I want to live life with more intention and less waste but how does one go about doing that? Where do you start and how does this become your new norm?

Outside of the lack of knowing where to begin, understanding the sustainability movement and where I fit in the mix has posed other questions. For starters, it seems like everyone’s definition of sustainable living is very different. Some take a more relaxed approach towards it and others get overtly extreme. There are people who are minimalists, others who adopt zero-waste habits, and some who focus on ethical fashion. Not only do the lifestyles differ but the faces that occupy this space are all too similar. I don’t see a lot of people who look like me talking about these issues, therefore, it feels exclusive. POC, specifically Black/African people, are very absent from this space and from the conversation, even though these are issues that affect everyone from all walks of life. Finding blogs written by black writers has been challenging to come by. I know the race/ethnicity of a blogger should not matter, but as an African woman living in the United States, there are certain lifestyle traits that are different from that of a white woman.

A simple example of this would be hair and beauty. The market for eco-friendly hair products for black women (specifically one with natural hair) is not an area that a white woman would be familiar with. Makeup that offers a variety of shades that compliment women from all spectrums may not be a factor that a blogger with fair skin might consider since most brands offer wide selections for fair skin. Connecting with women (or men) who look like me is important because there are different socio-challenges that people from different backgrounds experience. The dialogue and the information being put out needs to be dynamic and inclusive and should reflect the challenges of people from all cultures.  If the message being presented is primarily coming from one source, how do POC engage in the conversation and talk about issues that are not being discussed as often?

Another aspect of sustainable living that has hindered my transition is affordability. If there is one thing that is very apparent about the sustainability/eco-living world it’s that it’s very much geared towards having capital, and by capital, I do mean wealth. As a whole, the ethical/sustainable living space is viewed as something only accessible and reasonable for the wealthy. Much like the debate over accessibility and cost of organic foods, ethically made products are not easy to attain if you don’t have the means. For example, in the ethical fashion space, many items that meet requirements such as fair trade, ethically sourced materials, low carbon emission, organic cotton, etc. come with a hefty price tag to match. For someone trying to make the switch from fast-fashion to eco fashion, the cost of some of the clothing can be a deterrent. Thrifting is a way to offset the high cost and is probably more favorable because were reusing items that have already been produced. But, I still believe there should be a market for reasonably priced items that are produced in smaller batches and still meet ethical standards that is accessible to all. In my opinion, if it’s not accessible to people from all walks of life then the model is not sustainable.

For now, I should take it all in strides and start somewhere. If there is a good place to start it should be in my everyday actions. As you know I’ve started minimizing my life and figuring out what my values are. Over time this has evolved into looking not only looking at my consumer habits as a whole, but also understanding how mental health plays a factor. By understanding what my values are, I can use that as a catalyst to continue to grow and guide me on this process. Educating myself is also a great start and by continuing to do so, this journey will get a bit easier as I continue to do the work. No one said this would be easy and I think if it was more people would have jumped on the sustainable living train. Despite what everyone else is doing, I have to define why all of this is important to me and make choices that align with my values and my life goals. In all honesty, that’s where we should all start.

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