Welcome to the Sustainability Series! I asked my sorority sister, Kate Sowles, to give us all a peek into her life and sustainability practices. Kate and I have been friends since 2007, when we both pledged Delta Gamma at Indiana University. Kate lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and works as a real estate agent. She and her husband have two young boys (and they are the cutest!).
What is your motivation for living sustainably?
My motivation for living sustainably or making sustainable choices differs from the majority of those who do. Mine is motivated by my Christian faith, my belief that the Lord gave us this one earth and called us to care for it (and each other). I don’t see this issue as a solely politically motivated one as I feel so many do. I think it boils down to being a responsible person and neighbor. Clean up after yourself, don’t be so selfish – think about your neighbor and your children and grandchildren. Not to mention, living sustainably can also be more cost effective! We spent many years on a strict budget when we first got married and couldn’t afford to be wasteful with any of our resources. I wasn’t on a mission to save the planet, necessarily, when I began making sustainable choices. I was on a mission to save my family – but if I can save my family I can teach them to make smart choices and hopefully they’ll send ripple effects out into the world!
What ways you have reduced waste in your home?
It started with recycling. Early in our marriage, my husband and I consumed our fair share of beer weekly. The thought of throwing away something that could be reused never sat well with me so we began recycling. Then it morphed into plastic waste – I hate plastic baggies… actually, I kind of hate single use/single purpose items! I want something to be able to do as many things as possible before I toss it! So I began stocking up on the reusable grocery bags, plastic Tupperware instead of Zip-loc baggies, etc. etc. Then we got pregnant.
Motivated by the cost (and not to mention the research, do you know what goes into a disposable diaper!?) I opted for the cloth diaper route. It was something I wanted to do. My mother did it… my grandmother did it… my husband’s mother did it… I would too! I started with a service but quickly shifted to just washing my own! It was not as gross as most people think. They didn’t really leak, they weren’t hard to clean. Yes, it took a little extra planning and effort but once you get the hang of it… it’s no different. Breastfeeding was another one – save money and practically zero waste!
Meal planning was also something I started. We were dirt poor at the time so I would scan the circulars weekly. If it was on sale and I had coupons it went on the menu. I found ways to reuse the same ingredients throughout the week which resulted in us staying on budget and low food waste.
Have you tried to reduce your fossil-fuels use? If so, how? What challenges have you discovered in this effort?
We have not dabbled in this area yet. Though I continue to see more and more solar panels on roofs as I travel around the city. The idea is in the back of my head – would love to get rid of a utility bill or two!! But I think a challenge would be that it’s just not that popular yet. It’s not as well known of an option yet. I will say though that our energy companies in town do have great programs/incentives for citizens to start reducing energy waste like certain programs and freebies. So, an effort is being made and that’s encouraging!
Have you changed something about your consumption in an attempt to save money and discovered it was actually a benefit for the environment as well?
This is me all the way. We were dirt poor when we lived in Louisville and I also was a stay-at-home mom (which is a huge change of pace for me, a woman who was previously used to jet-setting and working 60 hours a week… not that child rearing isn’t a full time job, it absolutely is!! I was just used to more multitasking in a week, rapidly switching gears all the time… so I needed projects!). If we wanted something, we had to make it. Or it had to be multifunctional (as a way of life and for cost savings).
I began making as many of our meals as possible from scratch- we wanted pizza on the weekends? Made my own dough and sauce. Not only did it taste better and was a healthier option, no pizza box to toss, no delivery guy… win win. We wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast – scratch. Nice Italian dinner – scratch. Even baby food… I was making my own batches of that. I went back to the basics (made my great grandmothers smile from their graves) and did it all by hand. If you can’t tell, I was damn proud!
Then we started making our own furniture or buying used and rehabbing it to our liking. We made a console table, a bench, shelving… Aaron works for a pallet company. A lot of times there would be spare wood laying around. Now, they try to mulch down any spent pallets so that they could live another day! But in the event they couldn’t, he’d bring it home and we’d use it on a project!
Today we’ve backed off a little thanks to older kids and a busier lifestyle, but there are some things we won’t compromise on: If we can make it, we will. We don’t purchase single-use items if we have the option. Kid #2 is dressed in hand-me-downs. For kid #1 we still frequent the children’s second-hand stores for clothing and shoes and sporting goods. We try to keep our clothing in good shape so that when we are done with it we can donate it or pass it on to others. We still recycle. My kids’ lunches are always packed in reusable containers! So is mine or my husband’s. I’m a bit of a Nazi when it comes to leaving lights or electronics on! I feel like Vanna White most days walking through my home switching things off… and now that we are home-owners I try to grow some of our own food and flowers. The kids love helping me – we are a family that has an odd obsession with pickles so we’ve been growing and making our own, among other veggies.
What are your favorite reusable items?
Tupperware or the like – they bring it home, I wash it up and it’s ready to go the next day. We’re on year 4 or 5 with one set! I recently was introduced to Norwex products. That is my all-time favorite mop and cleaning system. This amazing product with just a little bit of water. No chemicals, (no germs) and no waste and my house is clean! Hand-me-down clothing for my boys. I also have a sister with a bit of a shopping addiction, thank God she has great taste! She sends me items she no longer wears. But if I don’t like them or they don’t fit I take them to Thrifty Threads which supports a women’s shelter here in town.
Again, I really didn’t mind cloth diapering. Yes, it was a lot of work. And honestly our second kid with his health issues and all the carting around between doctors, we weren’t able to get as far with him in them. But still, I would probably try again if we had another. OH, and homemade baby food. Would DEF do that again!
Last but not least, my reusable water bottle. I hate buying water – I also prefer ice in my water but that’s not the point – so I’m always carting my water bottle around with me! I really appreciate that those filling stations have become more popular in public areas (they just installed one at my son’s school and gave each kiddo their own reusable bottle) and the Starbucks baristas who don’t bat an eye when I ask for it to be refilled!
What is the biggest impact you see yourself making on the environment through your lifestyle?
I think for our family it is doing what we can to minimize the physical waste – the garbage – for all the reasons stated above. We try to make our own when we can, we’ve taught our boys there is no shame in reuse of items. They know if we’re headed to the grocery to grab our reusable bags! They know we recycle… when we buy an item for kid #1 we’re always thinking about kid #2 and if it’s something that can be passed on/used for several cycles. We pass on items that are still in good shape, welcome second hand stuff… oh, I also try to buy refurbished electronics. My MacBook Pro I am writing from was a refurbished purchase. My iPad Pro that I work primarily from was refurbished. At least one of my phones and my husband’s phone are refurbished. Some of my photography gear is refurbished as well.
What about where you live makes it easier or harder to live a sustainable or eco-friendly life? What would you change if you could?
Recycling in Indianapolis is fairly easy. We have bi-weekly pickup or several drop off locations around the city. However, there are rumors around town that most of the recycling ends up in the trash? Like after pick-up when it’s taken to the sorting location apparently most of it gets dumped? I hope that’s not the case. I know that the city itself is working on sustainable energy – much of the airport is solar powered, many of our public busses are electric. Sorting bins are all over public places (like malls, schools, etc.) for garbage, plastic, aluminum. We’ve seen a trend in real estate of buyers returning to the city vs suburbs. Buyers want to be able to walk to everything they need, so these areas are seeing an uptick in commerce and options, and bike/walking paths… I love it! With that, more people are working from home and we aren’t having to travel as far to get things done.
I think what I would love to see change is the stigma around sustainability. Like I mentioned at the beginning – it doesn’t have to be politically charged! It doesn’t have to be tied to the left or the right. I would love to see that tone removed from the discussions around making these choices personally and publicly. I’m actually a republican but I feel like if you looked at most of my sustainable choices most people would be quick to assume otherwise. It’s about making responsible choices. It’s about looking after your neighbors and the generations to come. It’s about living in community with each other. And these are things that I don’t believe have to be tied to one political view/agenda or another. Our motivations for making these decisions might be different, we surely are divided about a lot of things in this county, but I think we can all get on the same page about making sure there is something here for our children to enjoy, or that we shouldn’t leave a mess or a burden for future generations to pick up. It’s more important for more people to start practicing some sort of sustainability than why they do.
Thank you, Kate!