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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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Living Sustainably in the City

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There is a notion in the world of sustainability and green, that you must live a country life and make everything – and grow everything – and do everything – yourself.  I believed it.  I read books about moving back to the land, of living self-sufficiently.  I learned how to preserve, how to garden at a large scale, how to make cheese, and bake bread daily using our own homemade starter.  I began to learn how to sew and knit and truly believed I would learn to make everything I needed in my life.

I was not unhappy.  But I was not really happy, either.  There was never enough time in the day.  I worked very hard doing things that accomplished the basic necessities of life, and no more than that.  There is something very pure in that.  In fact it was a good way to purify my body – I lost a fair amount of weight, got my asthma in check, and felt good; and to purify my soul – after a rat race of working in the film industry for ten years, working 12-18 hours/day, I needed to unwind.  But it was not a lifestyle that ultimately made me happy for the long-term.

I felt isolated.  I felt unable to do the things I wanted to do to make the world a better place.  I felt lost within day to day living.

It was then that I realized that sustainability meant more than living self-sufficiently, and that simplifying made a lot of sense to me, but for me there is such a thing as living too simply.  It may be perfect for you, dear reader.  I am in no way saying it is not a good life to lead.  But for my own happiness, I’d gone too far down the simple road.

And so I moved back to a mid-sized city, where sustainability was an everyday word – trains and streetcars are returning, the urban center is being revitalized with built-green mixed-use buildings, and people talk unabashedly about changing the world.

In many ways, my lifestyle here is more sustainable.  While we spend more money on rent and the cost of living is higher overall, the wages are higher, too, and we don’t spend money on gas.  I’m not perfect – I do buy some new clothes to support my professional lifestyle (and try to buy them sustainably), but I also find nice used clothes in local thrift stores.  I don’t make my own meals every day – sometimes I purchase locally- and ready-made foods made from organic ingredients instead.  I don’t grow all of my own food anymore – but I purchase local and organic foods from local farmers.

I walk nearly everywhere.  I’m becoming a part of my community in many ways I could never have done in the country.  And I have time to do the things I set out to do in my life:  to change the world for the better in a large way.  I write this blog (and others), I work with amazing world-changing organizations and corporations in my company, I see my family regularly, and I participate in my community in numerous ways.

These things I could not do in the country, nor could I do them if I lived a totally self-sufficient life.  So I am happy with the places I have been, the things I have done, and the lifestyles I have lived.  And I am very happy to be living sustainably in the city.

I hope you have found such happiness as well.  Have you?

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5 comments to Living Sustainably in the City

  • Great post. I am wrestling with this right now as we search for a new house. Would I rather be close to downtown, able to walk to everything I love? Or would I like to be out in the country and have the peace & quiet and maybe the garden that I love? I want it all — I want a farmhouse on a very small farm right in the middle of town. I found one, too, but it was miles over our price range. Ultimately, we’ll make our decision based on where we want our son to attend school, since I think driving a long distance to get to a different school is the least sustainable option. Everyone works it out for themself.

    I followed your journey with interest and am glad you’re happy where you landed. :)

  • Yes, I’m happy with where I live and I feel like it’s a sustainable lifestyle (that would be a small city now, but I’ve experienced all types of locations). It’s not where we live, but how we live. I think there is a big difference between self sufficient (an American myth?) and sustainable. Many people who sew, cook at home, and garden don’t do it sustainably either. I’m glad Seattle has worked out for you. I enjoyed the time I lived there.

  • Have you read Novella Carpenter’s book, Farm City? I am just about done with it and am thoroughly enjoying it, and I think you would, too. Email me your address, if you want, and I’ll send it to you. (

  • Our move from the inner city to a small town is working out well for us. We’ve reduced the cost of living, we have more space, my partner can work from home and we’re still able to walk to most things we need, and catch a train to the city if we need to. I drive less often now, but when I do drive it’s further, so it works out about square. In some ways I’d quite like to live out of town on a few acres, but being able to walk everywhere is a big consolation of town life for me, so we’re starting to think about renting some land for extra garden, but not living on it.

  • This is a great post! I live in the city.. a fairly large one.. and feel the same dilemma all the time.. I would like to learn to garden… maybe some indoor gardening, as I am fairly sure I can’t do it in the city parks! LOL. But seriously.. I would like to sew etc..

    But you are right… isolating myself is not the answer.. I love the city and allit offers.. I love interacting and connecting with people. although it would be great to lose weight and get MY asthma in check!

    Thanks again for sharing your story… Great Blog!

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