Better Days

Illustration by Mike Jackson

On Dec. 31, I resolved to build the next year around sustainability. A lot of people talk about it, but I was finding that few people actually lived it — myself included. I wanted to set an example and share what I learned with those around me. So, I embarked on 365 days of putting each area of my life under a microscope.

It was a lesson in going without, and learning to love a slower, simpler way of life. To begin, I researched and swapped household products for more sustainable, less toxic options. I signed up for Bennett Compost to keep food waste out of the landfill, continued my Greensgrow CSA, started volunteering at Greensgrow, switched from PECO to Green Mountain Energy, and cut myself off from buying any new clothing, a tough feat for a woman who works in the fashion industry.

On the home front, I found great resources such as Sierra magazine's “Green Life” blog; the Environmental Working group, an organization that specializes in research and advocacy; and, of course, Grid magazine. Each educated me to make environmentally safe home and beauty products. I made batches of surface cleaner, picked up environmentally safe brands, and switched to a mixture of jojoba, sesame and coconut oils in lieu of toxic and chemical-filled lotions. I bought dryer balls to use instead of dryer sheets. 

When it came to transportation, I used to drive every day, even for the most frivolous reasons. But I limited myself to three driving days per week, and dedicated myself to either riding my bike or using public transportation. SEPTA exists to transport thousands each day, and there I was, along with my fellow Philadelphians, participating. It made me feel like a part of our community. Commuting on the subway also gave me time to unwind. In the midst of a demanding job, I came to welcome its slower pace and the chance to spend time with my thoughts and previously neglected books.

Suddenly, I was saving approximately $100 a week by cutting back on buying new products and not buying any new clothing. At first, the commitment seemed daunting, but when you make such a broad sweeping rule for yourself, I tell you, your mind adapts. It forced me to become more creative, and I began wearing clothing that had been relegated to the bottom of my dresser. The pieces I owned became indispensable and more meaningful. 

When the need did arise to buy clothing, I turned to places like Retrospect on South Street or Two Percent to Glory in Fishtown—two great vintage shops in Philadelphia. I shopped on Etsy, joined the app Poshmark, where you can buy and sell used clothing, and surfed the website Yerdle, where users trade what they no longer need in exchange for points that can then be used as currency to “purchase” used products from other users. Shopping vintage, I found higher quality at a lesser price, and filled my closet with more character.

With the savings, discretionary income felt real. I came to realize that you have to support what you want with your dollars, and focused on using my money locally. Instead of ordering a book from Amazon, I’d have Garland of Letters, a local bookstore on South Street, order it for me. I rode my bike to the independent grocery store, Essene, in Queen Village and walked to Green Aisle Grocery on Passyunk to supplement my CSA. It may be slightly more expensive than shopping online or from a huge conglomerate, but the difference pays for an experience and products I believe in. 

Looking back, the year’s journey painted a picture for me of what I really needed. My outlook on consumption, transportation and lifestyle needed a reboot. I will carry my commitment into 2015, and I encourage those around me to do so as well. Over the next year, I will set some new goals: to produce no trash, further decrease my driving, and get more familiar with the city’s bus routes. I hope to continue my research and purchase solely from companies with a mission that I support. Living sustainably is not always the fastest route or the most convenient, but it always pays off.

Naomi Houber is a foodie and gardener with a passion for wellness and sustainability. She is pursuing her passions through photography and writing online, and on her blog,