100 ways to care for the planet, even when you’re broke

Many of us live paycheck to paycheck.

When finances are tight, the last thing on our minds is how we can make more environmentally friendly decisions.

Finding ways to support our families and ourselves while trying to do our part to help the planet isn’t always straightforward.

I’ve come up with 100 ways to be more mindful, help the planet and those around you, and do it either for free or on a budget.

Obviously you don’t have to do all of these things. And I’m sure there’s plenty of items I neglected to put on this list. But I’m hoping this gives folks some ideas that may feel less obvious, but are still beneficial to the planet, ourselves and one another.

I’ve split the 100 up into five categories:

  • Reuse/upcycle
  • Try something new
  • Make small changes
  • When ya gotta buy stuff
  • Take action

Some of these options are obvious – i.e., recycle. But others may surprise you. You may have been doing most of these all along and never realized that you’re actually helping the planet.

Windows of goodness; little bursts of truth. That’s what we need more of these days. Turning the lights off when you leave a room is helpful to the environment – and to your wallet. Working in your garden is good for your mental, physical and emotional health. And it’s great for the planet. Those little things are small joys, little wins that you should feel good about.

Instead of looking at all the ways you’re lacking, recognize that within you an orchard is growing. Water it and keep it healthy. In keeping ourselves healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually – we can lend fruit from that orchard to our neighbors that need it most.

Take care of yourself, and in doing so, you’ll become a better advocate for your friends, family, and the Earth.

We’re all in this together 🙂


REUSE/UP-CYCLE

  1. Use a reusable water bottle
  2. Repurpose old containers
    I usually reuse glass jars like sauce jars, pickle jars and salsa jars.
  3. Reuse your cardboard to make Christmas decorations or other decorations
    There are some awesome Pinterest tutorials on how to make Christmas trees out of recycled cardboard!
  4. Bring a reusable thermos when you go to a coffee shop
  5. Keep packaging from shipments to use for later wrapping
  6. Keep your gift bags and other wrapping from gifts
    Instead of throwing away gift bags and tissue paper, keep it!
  7. Up-cycle jars as propagation stations
    I like to use glass dressing jars that have a slimmer neck
  8. Up-cycle your plastic by making ornaments and other decor items
    Instead of throwing away or recycling a plastic cup, consider cutting it and painting or decorating it. Poke a hole in it and hang it on your tree as an ornament, or make earrings out of it!
  9. Reuse newspaper to wrap presents, line trash cans, etc. 

TRY SOMETHING NEW

  1. Learn to sew
  2. Make a small garden
    Plant easy to take care of veggies like tomatoes and peppers
  3. Mend your clothing
    Or if you personally can’t mend your clothes, send them to a tailor!
  4. Make plant-based meals once a week
  5. Compost
  6. Start a local trade/swap club of books, clothing, movies, etc.
  7. Get a library card
  8. Learn to knit or crochet
  9. Make your own cleaning products using vinegar and baking soda
  10. Instead of going out to dinner with friends, host a few friends at your home for dinner
  11. Minimize your wardrobe
  12. Instead of donating to thrift stores, consider selling or gifting items you no longer want
    Thrift stores are overwhelmed by donations. Most of the donations we give don’t actually make it to the shelves at Goodwill anyway… many end up in the landfill.
  13. Propagate your plants

    Plants are good for your mental health and for the air. A good mental state and healthy air allows you to make better choices.
  14. Recycle at work, and if your company doesn’t, talk to your HR department about starting a recycling program
  15. Teach your children about sustainability through educational books and videos
    Check out EarthHero and Uncommon Goods for some great books!
  16. Listen to audiobooks
    If you don’t want to support Audible (AKA Amazon), there are plenty of apps that connect to your library card, allowing you to listen to free audiobooks. Hoopla is one option.
  17. Send e-invites instead of physical invitations, or if you use physical paper invites, opt for recycled paper and then ask your friends/family to recycle once they’re done
    This year, we used Paper Culture to create our holiday cards. They’re a great company and use recycled paper!
  18. Minimize areas of excess
    Skincare products and electronics are two areas that promote serious consumerism. Consider minimizing your routine/what you have.
  19. Declutter your home to make room for more life-giving products
  20. Tie dye your clothes using food scraps
    I’ve never done this, but Pinterest has some awesome tips!
  21. Use a menstrual cup instead of pads or tampons
    Check out my post here about why I love my menstrual cup.
  22. Make a list of what you throw away each day/week and see if you can find plastic-free alternatives
  23. Invest in red wigglers, which are worms that basically act as an all-natural garbage disposal
    This has been on my to-do list for a few years now! Perhaps I’ll write a post about this one day. But if you’re not into composting, maybe red wigglers are a good option for you!
  24. Give an experience gift instead of a physical gift 
    Memberships to the museum or zoo, concert tickets, etc. make great gifts.

MAKE SMALL CHANGES

  1. Recycle
  2. Use your pens until they’re completely out of ink
  3. Minimize how much tape you use, or use paper tape
  4. Adjust your heat and a/c when you’re out of town
  5. Opt for aluminum
    Aluminum is a super recyclable material. If you have to choose between plastic or aluminum, definitely go for aluminum and then recycle it!
  6. Don’t litter
  7. Use up all your paper before buying a new notebook
  8. Turn off your lights when you’re not in a room
  9. Avoid palm oil unless you know it’s sustainably sourced. Read food labels.
    Palm oil is largely unethically and unsustainably harvested. I’ll write a post on this in the coming months.
  10. Pop your own popcorn over the stove instead of using microwave bags
  11. Opt for refillable products whenever possible.
  12. Recycle your contact lenses properly using a TerraCycle location nearest you
    Check out my post here about how I recycle my contact lenses and blister packs.
  13. Use a safety razor or an all-metal razor like one from Leaf Shave
  14. Say, ‘No, thanks!’ to straws at a restaurant
  15. Don’t take a receipt unless you really need one, or have it emailed to you
  16. Go paperless for your paychecks and bills
  17. Bring your own reusable bags when out shopping
    I try to keep some reusable/cotton bags in my car so I don’t forget to bring them with me.
  18. Check with your local homeless shelter and other similar agencies to donate items you don’t use enough
  19. Instead of paraffin wax candles, consider diffusing essential oils or make/buy your own candles
    Opt for more sustainable and environmentally friendly options like sustainably sourced soy and beeswax. This article talks about paraffin wax a bit.
  20. Limit airplane use 
  21. Use bar soap as opposed to liquids, as they tend to come with less packaging
  22. Use a French press or traditional coffee maker
    Opt for biodegradable filters. Keurigs are pretty wasteful. But if you already have one, use it! Try to find refillable coffee pods instead of disposable ones.
  23. Check with your local recycling company to make sure you are recycling the right items and that you’re properly cleaning them out and removing the label
  24. Bring nature indoors and use fallen branches, pinecones, etc. for home decor

WHEN YA GOTTA BUY STUFF

  1. Shop local/support small businesses
  2. Stop shopping from Amazon, or only buy from Amazon when it’s absolutely necessary
  3. Buy secondhand electronics
  4. Buy secondhand books
  5. Buy secondhand clothing
  6. Invest in a Kindle or other digital book device
  7. Buy fabrics and yarn secondhand
  8. Buy sustainably packaged beauty products, like ones you can refill
    I love Elate Cosmetics and RMS Beauty for their refillable, quality makeup.
  9. Support businesses that advocate for a circular economy
  10. Buy from farmer’s markets when possible
  11. Buy meat from a local butcher/farm
  12. Purchase rechargeable batteries.
    I got mine from Amazon, but other local stores should have rechargeable batteries, too. Rechargeable batteries are a game changer. You never have to buy batteries again!
  13. Support B-Corporations and other sustainable businesses
  14. Opt for microplastic-free clothing/fabric options
    Options I like include 100% cotton, linen, wool, etc. Read the label before making a purchase. Microplastics in polyester and other fabrics shed from our clothes while in the washer and can be damaging to our aquatic ecosystems.
  15. Buy in bulk when it’s available
  16. Buy loose-leaf tea instead of bagged tea, which typically has micro plastics in it.
  17. Buy outfit staples that will last a long time
  18. Buy from brands that are known to be quality: second-hand/gently used Levi jeans, for example.
  19. Buy a sustainable phone case like Pela
    Pela phone cases are compostable! Either compost them yourself or send them back to Pela and they’ll compost them properly.
  20. Before buying something, ask yourself if you actually need this item or if you just want it
  21. Buy 100% wool socks.
    Wool is temperature regulating and it’s more sustainable.
  22. Use LED lightbulbs
  23. Buy an Etsy print from a small business and print it out yourself to hang in your house
  24. Buy wooden toys for your children instead of plastic ones
    Many can be found secondhand! Or check out Earth Hero for some great sustainable options.
  25. Buy secondhand kitchen supplies like blenders, crock pots, etc.

TAKE ACTION

  1. Volunteer at a nonprofit or agency
  2. Join local clean ups
  3. Pick up litter when you see it
  4. Take colder showers
    It saves energy and wakes you up in the morning!
  5. Go outside and get in the dirt.
    Studies show getting outside can improve our quality of life, which will encourage us to make better choices.
  6. Read at least a page of something everyday
  7. Vote in local elections
    Not just presidential elections: vote for your mayor, state representatives, school board members, etc.! Know your local leadership and talk to them about issues that are important to you.
  8. Wake up early and go for a walk
    The fresh air can do wonders for a crappy morning.
  9. Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up
  10. Do stretches each day
    When you’re healthy and strong, you can be a better advocate for others.
  11. Drink less coffee and more water
  12. Walk or bike as often as you can
  13. Support your local newspaper

    Local news is integral to our democracy. Support your local paper!
  14. Use items for double purposes
    I like to use avocado oil to take off my makeup and I also cook with it! 
  15. Donate to nonprofits and other organizations you feel connected to
  16. Participate in local government meetings and let your voice be heard
  17. Listen
    Listen to people who disagree with you, listen to groups of people who are hurting, listen to the Earth.
  18. Be kind
    Most importantly, be kind to one another. We are all going through different obstacles. Some folks can easily recycle, buy bulk food, and minimize their waste. For others, they may not have as many resources available, making minimizing waste not exactly a priority. Wherever you are, and wherever your neighbor is, extend grace to each other. We need grace a little extra these days.

    And don’t forget that an orchard grows within you. Share its fruit with those you meet.

Grace and peace to you, my friends.

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