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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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How Far Have You Come?

Me in January, 2009


I’m back!  Thank you for your patience.  This morning I was reading through many of the comments here, and a comment by Charlene got me thinking.  She wrote “I try to rack my memory banks to remember how we lived before plastic and change my ways.”  And that got me thinking:  how far have we each come in one year?  Five years?  Ten?

Where Was I One Year Ago?

We have a record of that with this blog, which I started almost exactly a year ago.  So I won’t go into that…

Me with documentary film crew in Turkey, 2004

Where Was I Five Years Ago?

Wow.  I was living in LA, working in the film industry and going to school.  I was eating Subway sandwiches and take-out pasta on a regular basis, as fuel for my late-night film editing sessions.  I was using mostly “green” products, because that’s something I’d been working on for a while.  I was using an awful lot of water on long showers, I was not very aware of my electric use – some of my bulbs were CFLs, but not all of them, and I believe I even left my computer running on a regular basis (!).  I drove to work every day.  I was aware of the problems of climate change, but I didn’t think about it often.  It worried me, but it seemed like a distant idea.

I hadn’t heard of a CSA, nor shopped at a farmer’s market.  I hadn’t started cooking at home much, nor making homemade cleaning solutions.  I had a few herb pots and lots of indoor plants, but otherwise hadn’t grown a food garden since I was a kid.  I hadn’t taken the bus in 6 years (since moving to Los Angeles).  Eating and living locally were not things I thought about at all.

Pretty incredible, isn’t it?

The only digital picture I have (whew, it was before digital!), in 1996 just before moving to LA

Where Was I Ten Years Ago?

Now it gets interesting.  I was still in Los Angeles.  I was working as an Art Director on film and television projects.  My job was to create sets out of nothing.  Every day I created new sets that I filled with stuff that I (and my team) found by driving around the city, renting from different rental houses, but largely BUYING NEW THINGS.  From big pieces of furniture, down to the paper and pencils on each desk of an office set.  My job was to design spaces, build them quickly (often from the ground up, without any “green” materials), fill them with disposable things, and tear them all down.  Sure, we kept several of the items to use again (which I kept in a large storage locker), but for the most part, we threw stuff away or gave it away.  And I mean STUFF.

I put thousands of miles on my car each month.  I managed a whole Art Department crew of people who did the same.  I took cheap, plentiful gas for granted.  My goal was to create projects that made the world a better place, but I wasn’t there yet.  I was still learning, and hoping.

I recycled at home, as I have since I learned about recycling (about 25 years ago).  But the amount of thrown away stuff at work each day filled dumpsters, as is the culture of the film and television industry. 

I ate out for lunch every day, and often for dinner, too.  Lunches were often fast food, eaten in the car on the run.  (My car was a pigsty!

I still used fairly natural cleaning products, but mostly because my skin is very sensitive to most cleansers.  I certainly cared about the environment, but didn’t think about it very often.

No garden, virtually no local or seasonal food (unless it was by accident or because it was tastier), no walking or busing, no conscientious water and utility use… my lifestyle was virtually unrecognizable from the way it is today.

I have come a long way.  A very long way.  How about you?

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8 comments to How Far Have You Come?

  • Where were we thirty years ago? We were even better at this stuff then than now … In our twenties, with energy and optimism to do it all. We had a wood cook stove, garden, poultry; built our own home with passive solar; and lived off-grid, with a twelve-volt household.

    We’ve always grown more than half our own food, but during the eighties and nineties, both working full time and with children to raise, backslid on energy use and many of our food miles. We’re just beginning to hit our stride again, as we approach retirement. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!

  • Rob

    Ten years ago I started trying to garden in my mobile home. Suare foot gardening,I had some success and a lot of failure.
    Today I have some success and a lot of failure but I try with a renewed strength, thanks to blogs with challenges like yours. I have even stuck my toe in the water with a community garden project- I LIKE TO TEST THE WATER A LOT, DIVING IN IS FOR STUNT MEN! 5 Years ago I recycled and used cfl bulbs but that is about it!
    Today- I actually can, make jam, preserve food, come up with ways to re-use plastic, trying to reduce my s consumption and live a little more sustainably. Can one person change the world? Probably not, unless your name is Barack, but one plus one plus one adds up so maybe yes!

  • Ten years ago I was finishing high school. I didn’t shop much, and was pretty environmentally conscious. Although I did borrow the car on weekends to drive to see my boyfriend, I usually walked to school and to work, and didn’t really travel much further afield. I was vegetarian. I felt different from most of the people at my school, and was kind of set apart by my willingness to ignore trends and just do my own thing, although I don’t know that I had a good sense of what my own thing was, really.

    Five years ago I was working on my masters degree. I still ate almost all vegetarian, but added in a bit of fish. I had a lot of late night classes at a university with lousy bus service, so I drove. I didn’t drive a whole lot – only a few times a week, not that far, and occasionally on vacation – but it was still more than makes me comfortable now. I bought all of my clothes from thrift stores, but I did buy a lot of books new at the place down the street. My boyfriend was paying rent, and although I didn’t buy a whole lot, I didn’t really think about what I was buying. I shopped at a farmers’ market, and spent a summer working in a biodynamic community garden.

    Today, I don’t have a car, and I take the bus, walk, or bike everywhere. Other than text books, food, and the odd thing I can’t find at the thrift store, everything I buy is used, and I try to keep even this shopping to a minimum. I eat mostly vegetarian with some fish, and have included a lot more raw foods in my diet – good for me, and no energy used for cooking. I also eat lower on the food chain – more beans, whole grains, and veggies than ever before. I’m very conscious of how I spend my time and my money, and I’ve become very comfortable being a low-energy, low-cost homebody who stays home. I’m working on setting up a small container garden, and I’ve just started heading to farmer’s markets again. In general, I’m trying to set up a comfortable, well-outfitted space for if the economy does worsen, and in case someone (or someones) need to come stay with me – lots of food, blankets, bedding, books, games, and so on.

  • [...] in Uncategorized | Tags: simplicity, sustainibility This started as a rather long comment on One Green Generation in response to the question, “how far have you [...]

  • 10 years ago, I was a dippy hippy wearing tie dyes and blowing in the wind to the tune of Phish. I allowed my emotions to be manipulated for the sake of global warming so the leftist huge bloated government could gain power over my personal life and tax money.

    September 11, 2001, my parents hospitality business tanked because no one wanted to fly or travel and I had to donate many, many unpaid hours to get it back on track. I learned the value of hard work and the fact that I can spend my money and charitable contributions better than the bloated government bureaucracy can.

    February 2006, I started my own business. I learned really quickly that those in power don’t care about those who create the wealth in the economy, they would just rather cash in on their prosperity. Punishing those that want to achieve with taxes is a great way to stifle the economy.

    In 2007, I got into sustainability. Capitalism is the best most self-regulating free-market economy, but some people want to ruin it. If the left is going to disregard the constitution, pry themselves in all of my values and how I live my life, at least self-sustainability can provide food and money for myself and my family while we live with values to our fullest.

    As you can see, we are all on a journey. I live with values that are important to me that I think could inspire every individual to achieve. Although our paths diverged, I like how you documented how people refine their values to become who they are.

  • Funny, I’ve been thinking about this too. Thinking about choices that I’ve made.

    Twenty years ago…in college and actually living a pretty sustainable life style. No car, group housing, not spending on much…frugality can lead to sustainability. :) I grew veggies on the porch where we lived, made herbal stuff, cooked from scratch. I considered myself a “moderate granola.”

    Ten years ago…still doing shared housing (although less house mates), still growing veggies in containers in sunny patches at the last place I rented and then a big garden when I moved to a house I co-owned with a friend, still making herbal stuff, shopping mostly at the coop and the farmer’s market; and I was trying to cut back on plastics in my life. I did have a car and was spending too much money on things that I didn’t really need (magazines, books, music, clothes, material that I was stashing for projects). The co owner of the house I was living in and I bought an on-demand water heater and one of those combined washing machine/dryers, and other low electric use appliances. Our electric bill was great! I used way too much hot water in the claw foot bathtub though. Still considered myself a “moderate granola.”

    Two years ago (starting the third year in 2 months) I sold the car. Wish I’d done it seven years ago when I moved from Seattle. I started buying most of my clothing at thrift stores or making it myself, I got a library card, I started taking shorter showers and less baths. I’m much more thoughtful about what I spend my money on.

    I made it through the last year buying the largest part of my food local or bulk. I was just thinking that I canned, dried and froze pretty much the right amount of things to get me through to having fresh foods in the garden and at the farmer’s market. I think this is the goal that I’m most happy with this year. That and getting chickens.

    For whatever reason (I’m really not sure why-maybe the energy education class in high school) I think I started on this road earlier than many, and maybe I haven’t made as dramatic of changes, but I don’t think I’m moderate anymore.

  • Right now we’re…waiting. Looking for our perfect house and land, it might take a while. So we’re in stasis. On HOLD.

    Ten years ago, not good. Sure, we recycled and were vegetarian, but that was it. Lots of travel, lots of eating out, lots of everything. I won’t bore you with the sordid details – you only have to look at the average overweight Jane on the street, and that was me. No money, either, even though I earned enough. More than enough.

    Five years ago, things were starting to happen. Had bought a house, pregnant with my first, still vego, recycling everything, household rubbish and bills down to virtually zilch, looking good. Then the kids arrived.

    It’s a work in progress. I’m hoping that everything will improve continually, and for the most part it has – we’re 100% renewable energy, and have been for a few years now, apart from petrol – but the improvements are two steps forward, one back.

    I need time out to think, plan, and work out where the next five years will take me – and where I want to be.

  • Xan

    One year ago I had a broken ankle and couldn’t get out into my garden.

    Twenty years ago I was raising two small children, working for myself and learning how to garden from the ground up, so to speak.

    Ten years ago I was wage-slaving in a soul stealing job for people who hated me. The week after 9/11 I looked at the bumper sticker on my wall that said “I’d rather be gardening” and said, yep. That’s it. Quit my job (bless my husband for making it possible) took a $30,000 pay cut and started doing youth coaching and free lancing. Best decision I ever made.

    Today I’m still coaching and I have 300 square feet of vegetables, keeping me pretty much out of the grocery store for 4 months a year. Life is good.

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