So, it turns out, going waste-free is no bed of roses. It’s more like realizing that there was a bed of roses, but no one ever told you what to do with them or how to take care of them, so they died, and you’ve been walking over them for years wondering who killed all the flowers.

This past week, grocery shopping made me cry, and a broken string of dental floss made me smile. The little things have become the big things, and nothing is small. It felt great receiving my first round of waste-free products in the mail, items I’m budgeting for, packaging that is biodegradable and recyclable. Butterflies and dandelions and life is good! But the feeling soon wore off, and I was right back to thinking about how much there is still to do: appliances to unplug, lights to turn off, products to research, etc.

And while that thought has kept me working hard to filter all of my thoughts through my new goal of being waste-free and making sustainable choices, it has also added another colorful layer to my stress and anxiety. Everything I see is accompanied by my own question of sustainability, ideas for adapting or fixing. And it is exhausting. Wonderful. But exhausting.

Making this change has come at the seemingly busiest time of my life—the same time as working three jobs, trying to maintain a semblance of a personal life, and moving out of my apartment into a much smaller place. A process that has required me to sell or donate almost all of what I thought made me feel at home.

It’s been hard to see how deeply I’ve allowed myself to care for things that simply fill the role of taking up space. I have spent countless hours, days, and years decorating and filling spaces unsustainably only to move on from them, discard most of what I had, and start again.

It seems a natural tendency to want to surround myself with reminders of comfort and home, but I’ve begun to ask, what exactly is home? And here’s where I keep getting stuck, because for so long I have been calling apartments and rooms in giant concrete buildings home, and only just now have I begun to realize that my home is so much bigger than all of that.

My home is the environment that keeps me alive. You know, the one with the oxygen and the trees and the blue stuff? The one I’ve been ignoring my place in almost completely. Visiting it when I’m tired of my four walls. Demanding it take care of my trash, store my excess, keep me refreshed, allow me some quiet time, give me peace, give me food, give me beauty, give me rest, give me water, give me, give me, give me. And what have I given in return? I will tell you, it’s not much.

I’ve been content to believe that well, I’m only one person, how much waste can one person contribute, really… As it turns out, literal tons of it. And then add on all of the other people who think the same thing—I’m talking the billion other people out there. It’s mind-blowing and overwhelming, and we’re back to dead roses, or what I like to call waste grief.

But thinking through this cycle has only made me realize how essential it is to break it. How important it is that as many of us do it now as possible. If you have the desire, otherwise known as survival instinct, you can do it.

My list of changes to make is growing longer, and the research is taking time I used to claim I do not have. But I am choosing to acknowledge that every minute I am alive is time that can be spent giving back to the home I have neglected for so long, tending the earth and those on it that I have harmed in my haste to follow trends or curate “my” space. I am responsible for all of the actions I make, all of the waste that I create, and all of the life that I impact.

Realizing that has so often felt negative, but I am slowly beginning to see it as an opportunity to be truly conscious of what I’m doing with my life. Coincidentally, I finally have a good answer when people ask me about my plans for the future.

Until next time, I’ve made a short list of some of the wonderful companies and businesses I have encountered on my journey so far, and I hope they give you some inspiration toward making some changes of your own:

With love,

Noelle

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