By Alison Pollack
New Years has never really been my thing. Some poor fate and fortune always seems to befall me, whether losing my wallet New Year’s ’11 or the unfortunately memorable stomach flu incident of New Year’s ’13. Consequently, when it comes to resolutions, I’m flaky at best. By Valentine’s Day, my resolutions are forgotten and neglected, much like the eggnog in the back of my fridge. It just seems like a formula for failure to commit to any goals in the dead of winter after a night of heavy drinking (unless your goals include eating lots of nachos and taking lots of naps). Rather, I think self- improvement and reflection should be tasks that occur every day of the year.
I really scoff when I see lists suggesting New Year’s resolutions. Granted, these lists usually focus on weight loss, and after a solid two months of joyously stuffing my face, anything suggesting otherwise feels preachy. Despite my qualms and issues with everything New Years, the holiday definitely can present a great opportunity for planning the year ahead and shaping priorities, so I’ve created my own list of intentions for 2014 (I’ll steer away from the word “resolution”).
I’ve been spending some time planning goals for the year ahead, and after reading a lot of Wendell Berry recently, my mind has been drifting towards incorporating his concepts of community and sustainability in my 2014 intentions. The ideas he shares of intrinsic connections between a healthy community and a healthy ecosystem are incredibly compelling. Undeniably, strong ties between community members leads to a greater resource pool, less waste, and more intentionality overall. So, in the spirit of community, sustainability, and a happy new year, I’ve pulled together this list of 14 suggestions to be a better neighbor and environmentalist in 2014:
1) Go to the library or a used book store instead of buying new books. Everyone I know is a complete glutton for book stores, but it’s important to strike a balance between preserving resources and supporting authors. By choosing to borrow or reuse books, you can significantly reduce excess landfill waste of books that may otherwise end up in the dump.
2) Start a mini free library in your yard, work place, or in front of your apartment or living space. Much like a used book store, except FREE! This will bring neighbors together and bring new life to dusty books on your bookshelf.
3) Host a clothing swap with friends, classmates, co-workers, or neighbors. Invite participants to bring any quality clothes they don’t wear anymore, and trade some of your own goods for some new (to you) clothes. Donate whatever is left.
4) Have a yard or garage sale. Keep items from the landfill and make some money. I’ve even seen items like old paint cans and cleaning materials for sale and purchased at yard sales. Your old items can provide use for a neighbor and prevent excess waste and even toxic materials from entering the environment.
5) Push yourself to bike, walk, or take the bus as much as possible. Find new routes and trails. Meet new commuters, see new faces, see more of the place you live in and dwell. When I recently pushed myself to bike as much as possible, I was amazed by how many new people I met in my neighborhood. Nothing feels better than an affirming head nod from the badass biker who zooms up hills, or the daily conversation with the regulars at your bus stop.
6) Plan that garden or community/rooftop/windowsill growing space! Start your starts. Start them now (or soon, depending on where you live). Last year, I planted my garden in burlap sacks on my tiny driveway. With a little creativity and care you can plant almost anywhere, so begin planning now. A garden provides independence and a reliable food source.
7) Compost your food scraps! I recently moved from Seattle, where composting is standard, to Washington DC, where it’s more of an oddity. I’m building a composter with some pretty simple plans and a step-by-step guide I found on youtube. Compost from your kitchen can do wonders for a garden and significantly reduces landfill waste.
8) Start crafting and giving! Like many other people I know who dislike waste, I tend to accumulate items I don’t want to throw away. This year, I found a container I’ve kept of old candle stubs and crayons and melted them down to make candles as Christmas gifts. Clear out clutter, keep trash from the landfill, and give!
9) Instead of buying new clothes, support the local tailor or cobbler. This action not only supports local business, but transforms old clothes into snazzy, new outfits. Many clothes that are thrown away can be easily transformed to look like new.
10) Cook someone dinner! Extra points for food items purchased locally or from your own garden. Reach out, strengthen friendships and community ties.
11) Get involved with gleaning! Whether volunteering or donating to a local gleaning organization, this is a fantastic way to reduce food waste, feed the hungry, and meet new people.
12) Volunteer for a local environmental non-profit. Meet new people and work pro-actively for the environment and a cause you care about passionately. That way, when the proverbial grandkids ask what you did to help out the environment, you’ll have a tangible answer at your disposal.
13) Be intentional about the amount of garbage you throw away. Buy in bulk and re-use packaging. Ask neighbors, co-workers, or friends if they are interested in a grocery share: splitting the cost of bulk items for equal distribution. This will reduce packaging waste from single serving items and save you money!
14) Start a conversation with a neighbor you don’t know well. I dare you. Building community takes time and each small step is important. Forging friendships, or even simple daily “hellos” may lead to stronger community ties and a more robust resource base. At the very least, you might make a neighbor smile.
These are just suggestions based on what I intend for myself in the year ahead. Even if I’m a bit of a New Year’s Grinch, I aim to keep these in mind year-long. It’s my intention to be a good neighbor and environmentalist, and the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Happy New Years and make the most of 2014!
Alison is the newest member of The Ecotone Exchange team. She loves to wander. Whether by foot, bike, train, bus, plane, or car, she has a penchant for getting lost and winding up in unexpected situations. In between studying maps and writing for the Ecotone Exchange, she is following her passion of working in the environmental field for sustainable development and environmental justice. Alison currently resides in Maryland, right outside of Washington DC. Look for more of her writing in the months to come.