10 year old me was going to grow up and save the world. Sensitive, even then, to the news and with an acute awareness of right and wrong, my younger self was all set on becoming an eco-warrior, a UN Peacekeeping mission leader, and a provider of food and water for the starving. All at the same time. And all by the time I was twenty one.
If I could travel back in time, my first stop would be to sit down with that ten year old and explain a few things. The first thing I’d do is tell her to hold on to those ideals, however jaded the world makes her, however impossible it seems. Then I’d apologise. I’d apologise for giving up on those dreams in my twenties, for taking the easier and more selfish path at times. Finally, I’d thank her. I’d thank her for always staying with me, for nagging me quietly and poking me gently to remind me of that girl who’d stare out the window long after bedtime wondering why everyone couldn’t just get along.
At 31, I’m no closer to changing the world than most of my generation are to becoming astronauts or space cowboys or whatever else 80s babies dreamed of being. I got jaded, selfish, and, of course, realistic.
But more and more lately, I find that that ten year old girl is nagging more and more. Partly it’s my own maturity, and partly it is because the next generation of my family is being born and setting a good example has never seemed more important.
But how? Where to even start? If we can’t single handedly change the world, how do we make a meaningful difference? How can we make changes that matter?
From the environment to conflict, from modern day slavery to the abandonment of refugees in need, there are no shortage of areas where change is needed with no obvious solutions that any one individual can offer up.
So, I figured out one thing. The only way I was going to keep ten year old me happy was to keep her ideals and mix them with a measure or two of a thirty year old’s pragmatism. And I was going to do this by having young me help older me make choices. Because that’s all we have as individuals. We can choose to do or not do things. We can choose things that contribute negatively, neutrally or positively and live with the consequences.
So I started making some different choices. None of them make me a saint. None of them make any great difference to the world in any real sense. Some of them remain bad choices. However, in thinking about what I do, I hope to live a little better than I used to.
So what are these choices?
Number one – meaty decisions
I cut down on the amount of meat I eat. It can be hard to tell people that I don’t eat a lot of meat for environmental reasons because, frankly, you don’t want to sound like a pretentious arse. However, it hasn’t been a big deal. I don’t make anyone cook vegetarian for me. I still have meat sometimes when in a restaurant, and, since I got better at meal planning, not everything is cheese or mushroom based.
Number two – pack it yourself
We eat a lot of lentils and chickpeas. A lot. A couple of tins of each a week and that adds up to a lot of packaging. However, more and more “packaging free” shops are cropping up. I just checked out the place in my town and love it. Take your own boxes, stock up on dried goods, don’t use new packaging. Win, win. Of course, it takes time and effort. I won’t promise to never buy another tin of chickpeas again (there’s the pragmatist), but when I don’t have to, I won’t (there’s the idealist).
There are loads of other ways to cut down on packaging from taking your own travel coffee cup out with you to carrying reusable bags for buying fruit and veg at the supermarket or even just picking brands with less packaging. One person making these changes has no impact. Lots of people making these changes does.
Number three- get new habits
The clothing industry is a pretty evil one. Fashion is fast and the reality for those making a lot of our clothes is bad. This is the trickiest of changes to make. Just finding out where clothes are made and how well companies treat their staff is tough. Plus, alternatives to high street shopping are hard to come by and often very expensive. There are a couple of changes you can, however, make.
- There are some good websites that let you research stores based on what matters most to you. A bit of research never hurt anyone, right?
- Have a collection of sites that sell fair trade/environmentally friendly clothes and sign up to their mailing list- that way you know when there is a sale on. Some of my favourites are: Ethletic, Armedangles, Mayamiko, and Monkee Genes.
- Consider second hand or organise clothes swaps with your friends.
- Realistically, accept that it’s not always feasible to make the best choices. Many fair trade manufacturers are really expensive for most of us. I still go into H&M and I still sometimes buy things I don’t need. But if I can buy less and buy some items from better sources, it’s a start. If we all did that, we’d move forward faster. It’s a team effort.
Number four – Jam Jars
And we get back to my inspiration for this post. Jars. Just like this one:
Meet my new glasses, storage jars, vases, snack pots and etc. Every time I go to throw something away, I decide if it has another use. (Or ten year old me does). So instead of going out and buying new glasses, I made some recycled ones. Instead of buying containers for going to the packaging free shop, I made some recycled ones. It’s kind of dumb and it’s kind of silly, but it is also just another simple choice that means I’ve bought less stuff. I am good with that.
My future has turned out nothing like I imagined when I was ten years old. I haven’t made any of the contributions she dreamed of making. I never will. What I will do, however, is try and keep her as a conscious, guiding me through choices that might not change the world for the better, but at least won’t make it worse.
Me and her, we’ll take life one jam jar at a time.*
*confession: they are actually peanut butter jars, but for reasons of artistic license I chose to say jam because it sounded better. 🙂