We asked Anne Therese (from New York, USA) and Dee (Cairo, Egypt) to share their tips and experience on mindful and sustainable living in big cities.
The Challenge To Live In a Big City
It can be difficult to connect with nature when living in a city. Traffic noises overpower the sounds of birds and wind, grass is replaced with streets and pavements, there are more buildings than trees and even the sky is hidden by the tall constructions and the smoke in the air. Nature offers us plenty of mental and physical health benefits, and the disconnect from it can leave negative impact to your well-being, even if you don’t notice it at first.
“Staying connected to nature is always a challenge and one that I find to be super important as that’s how I stay grounded and connected to the source. Luckily, I live close to Central Park so I do go for walks there at least twice a day, but I know many others who live in big cities and don’t have that luxury. I would say – try to seek out whatever nature there is, if it’s a small park or just some trees on the street. Open the windows and listen to the birds, let some sun in your face, and take time to just breathe.”
Another big sustainability challenge you may have encountered in an urban area is managing your waste. Cities are the home for busy people with fast-paced lifestyles, which means that single-use plastic is often hard to avoid as it is the easiest option available. However, plastic never goes away and it is incredibly damaging to the environment.
My biggest challenge these days is the amount of plastic I bring into the house. I don’t often cook, so we order food at least a few times a week. And all that food comes in bulky plastic packaging that makes me feel awful to throw into the garbage bin. I try to reuse some bowls and thicker utensils but I can only imagine the rest piling up in a landfill.
To reduce your use of plastic, try to avoid products that can’t be recycled. Shop in places that use paper packaging instead of plastic. Visit different stores to check which ones offer bulk-sections and produce that isn’t packaged in plastic. Always bring an extra bag with you, and maybe start carrying reusable water bottle, coffee cup, set of utensils – anything that you use often.
Start Your Sustainable And Mindful Journey
Are you ready to take the first step towards a more sustainable living in the city? There is no need to feel overwhelmed, just take it slow and step by step!
Start by slowing down and asking yourself some questions: what are you doing and why are you doing it? Are there different ways of living your life that could have a better or less of an impact on the planet? Start finding cues in your life and then decide to transform them into a more sustainable solution, one at a time. Be kind to yourself and see it for the journey that it is – no one is perfect but we can all work for progression!
Here are some tips that Anne Therese and Dee suggest to take a first step towards sustainability:
- Eat less meat and dairy. If you can’t give up meat entirely, eat vegetarian once or twice a week – however much you can cut down.
- Waste less food – plan your meals before shopping, don’t buy too much, get creative and make new meals from leftovers, and do some searching online to find out the best way to dispose food waste (it could be compost pick up from the streets or a farmers’ market that accepts food scraps).
- Make sustainable fashion choices – buy less and shop 2nd-hand or from ethical and sustainable brands
- Think about your finances – plan what you’re spending your money for and research what your bank and investment funds are doing (check out Stop The Money Pipeline to learn more about what dirty industries many banks are supporting)
Finally, try to change your mindset. Understand that making sustainable choices doesn’t mean making sacrifices. Having less doesn’t mean that your life will be less fulfilled and exciting.
We can try and consume less and be more mindful of our planet, but when we still have that desire for material possessions and consumption without limits, then a sustainable lifestyle will feel like we’re depriving ourselves. You’re not giving up shopping, fashion, the designer labels, the carefree spending and fun. You’re actually gaining the peace of mind that comes with being happy with what you have and the satisfaction of knowing your life isn’t causing damage.
After all, sustainable living isn’t just the best thing for the planet, it is also good for your own well-being. So, try slowing down – even if it feels like you don’t have time for that or like it can’t fit your lifestyle.
It’s helpful for me to think about the health impacts of a fast-paced and stressful life, and to consider how things like stress and hypertension can have devastating impacts. If we had a cavity, we wouldn’t call a visit to a dentist self-indulgent. Slowing down to reduce stress to lower our chances of a heart attack shouldn’t feel self-indulgent either. Is a heart attack any less serious than a cavity?
Make slowing down and living mindfully your habit. Pay attention to your surroundings, seek for that beauty around you, take a break and relax, and enjoy it. And, once you learn to slow down, it will become so much easier to appreciate the beauty of our planet around you and to make those decisions towards a greener, kinder life – for you and for the Earth.
A special thank you to Climate Optimist, Speaker, and Co-Founder of Role Models Mgmt Anne Therese Gennari and Writer and Photographer Dee Nowak for sharing their expertise on living sustainably in a city.