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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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You Don’t Have To Do Everything!

Me, standing in the leaves

1. Scratching The Surface

When I began learning to live sustainably, I started with the basics: namely food. But quickly I entered the universe of sustainable and simple living, where I read website after website and acquired several books along the way. Matt acquired books, too. He worked on learning how to make bread, cheese, and daily meals out of homegrown ingredients. I worked on learning how to grow things, preserve our harvests, and use natural cleaning and bathing products. And together we learned to reduce our waste, compost, and get by using fewer resources.

But that hardly scratched the surface of sustainable living! What about sewing, knitting, root cellaring and other more serious preserving, harvesting rainwater, making our own alcohol (beer, wine, and more), making soap and candles, raising chickens and ducks and goats, making our own biofuel, growing and grinding our own wheat, drying laundry by hand, and – my goodness, I know there are a million more things to put on this list! You all know what they are. And of course on top of all the rest, you must add the minor detail of spreading the word and building your community!

So… that’s a lot. It’s a lot for one person to do. It’s a lot for two people to do. If you have a bigger family, I imagine it’s still a whole lot to do. And I think we often believe that we can – and we should – do it all.

Pile Of Fall Leaves

2. Jumping Into Society

Can we do all of it? Maybe. Probably, if we ran ourselves ragged – but we wouldn’t have time for much else.

But. Very few people in this world – in the present or in the past – ever had to do all of this themselves. Shall I say that again? There are very few people that have ever had to do everything all by themselves.

Why? Because we have this glorious thing called society, and it surrounds us. There are others who do these things too, and there are others who do some of these things probably better than you can do them. And you can probably do some things better than most – or all – of the people around you.

Ah, but then, you say, you must do these things in order to live frugally. Here is my answer to that: even if you are trying to live frugally, you only have a certain amount of time in the day. And so, it is important to prioritize. What really decreases your costs? Or, to put it differently, what decreases your costs most? Is it preserving? Mending? Making soap? The answers will be different for each of us, I’m sure.

And furthermore, what about that age-old form of commerce: bartering? What if I got together with my friends and family and we all assigned ourselves certain tasks: I’ll make jam, you knit scarves and socks, she’ll make soaps, they’ll build the root cellar, and so on? Is that just an Amish ideal, or can’t we do that in our urban and suburban worlds, too?

What if you don’t have friends and family who are interested in these things? You know my answer to that: find people who are! You’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely. Chat with the people at the local yarn shop or CSA, take a soap making class and ask your fellow students, join a green book club or some other club – there are a myriad ways of meeting people. (I have written many more suggestions here.)

This is starting to sound like community building, isn’t it? Or maybe pre-community building, it’s more like community networking or creating connections. Or… just making friends.

Maple Leaves

3. Finding Equally Good (or Better) Alternatives

When we first moved into this apartment from our 1/2 acre in Geyserville, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to survive without growing 90% of our own food. After just a year growing our own food, we really grew accustomed to having fresh organic food daily, full of nutrients and complex flavors.

Well, after being in Seattle for a few months, I learned that I can find amazing produce at the farmer’s markets. And that there are actually a lot of choices for local foods – lots of local farms, CSAs, and other delivery services. We have grown some of our food this year, but the vast majority has been from local growers. Yet we are still eating about 90% locally-sourced foods. And I am still losing weight and feeling great!

By allowing other people – good people – to grow my food, I am able to spend a lot more time in my community, working to make it stronger, more adaptable, and socially and environmentally responsible. Not only that, but I have supported my local economy and sustainable agriculture by buying from local organic farmers. And I have helped support families who grow things very well.

That is a lovely, lovely thing.

A Beautiful Tree I Encountered While Walking Down My Street

4. Reminding Yourself of Your Main Goals

Sometimes I have to remind myself of the important over-arching goals I set for myself. Because in this world, there are a lot of ways to live our lives and everyone has their opinion about it, but only I know what works best for me.

My Goals: Finding and maintaining maximum health and happiness for my family, reducing our impact on the earth as much as possible, encouraging others to reduce their impact as much as possible, working within my community to make it more socially and environmentally sound, helping others around the world to live happier and healthier lives, and spreading lots and lots of compassion to others.

And so I am reminded. From those over-arching goals, is there anything that says I have to grow my own food? Not if I can still be as healthy and happy as possible, and reduce my impact on the earth! In fact, I can help others in my community to live happier and healthier lives, by supporting local organic agriculture.

I want to live sustainably. As sustainably as I can. But living sustainably does not necessarily mean living self-sufficiently. Because we humans have society to help us. We can – and should – take advantage of all the wonderful things society can offer us. Namely, sharing the work. And working together.

Reminding myself that I don’t have to do everything in order to live sustainably, simply, and frugally is something I need to do on occasion. I hope it has helped remind you, too…

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19 comments to You Don’t Have To Do Everything!

  • Thanks for the great reminder! I’m definitely one of those who try to do it all.

  • I’ve only recently started my journey to a more sustainable, simple way of life. I’ve read so much over the last few months that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things we should be doing. Thanks for reminding me that I don’t need to be doing everything right now. As long as I’m more aware and am moving forward, I think that’s the best I can ask of myself for now.

  • Oh Sure now you tell me- after months of broccoli attempts, cream cheese making, jamming out jam, jerky dehydrating…etc etc. Actually I don’t mind doing these things and you are right- people have to know that they dont have to do everything!

  • Very wise words. :)

    I’ve also reminded myself recently that it doesn’t all have to happen right away and that there is a season for everything (this being the craft over garden season for me).

  • I agree, I try to utilize local resources when they are available. Much of the produce I store away comes from our local farmer’s market or orchards.

    I do a lot of thing myself but part of it was the way I was raised. I have been doing this all my life. I grew up preserving and making food from scratch and never really learned to do things differently.

  • Bobbi

    Again, you’ve captured some communal thoughts in the atmosphere. How do you do it? I woke up this morning thinking that we’ll never have enough time to really grow food in our yard and we should just try to put the lawn back in. But I’m becoming one darn good baker. Maybe it is all about community and friends. And Deb G has it right about the seasons. I won’t worry (hah) about the ugly dead grass, keep making compost, do my freelance PR work as it comes in and deal with planting in the spring. After all, my goals include sending 2 kids to college – right now. And if CA doesn’t provide me with any seasons, I’ll just have to make up my own. Thanks as always.

  • Beautifully written reminder, Melinda . . . for this political junkie to feel like I am in control of something. It is for the teacher in me to share what I know. It is for the writer in me to express. It is for the artist in me to create. It is for the woman in me to love and nurture – to lead.

    Frankly, a few years ago I started imagining what a grandchild would think of me and my life. This was impetus for me to recalibrate all kinds of things in my life. I don’t have grandchildren, but one day I might. And, I would want that grandchild to think of my life, my example as an inspiring thing.

    Melinda, this is why your post on your Grandfather moved me so much.

    One thing for sure I’d love that child to learn is that he / she isn’t alone in life. We need others.

  • Melinda, this is a fantastic, FANTASTIC post. I agree with you. We can’t do it all, but luckily we don’t have to!! We can get by with a little help from our friends… :)

  • Em

    Wonderful reminder Melinda!

    I was thinking about these things over the last few days – that ultimately none of us will ever measure up to doing it all; sustainable or green isn’t a destination, but a journey *towards* those goals. It’s easy for us to self-criticise, or disparage others, on this journey – to see the failings and shortfalls – when it’s the goals and the willingness to grow and change that is what’s needed. I love your focus on community, thanks for your beautifully written summary.

  • I do the things I do — over the objections of a frequent anonymous commenter at my site who assures me I’m just a back-to-the-land romantic doing more harm than good — because I can, not because I think Walmart can’t do it for me cheaper.

    Knowing that the time is fast approaching when I won’t be able to do these things, as I’ll be sixty on my next birthday — GWATCDR (“what’s that?” “God willin’ and th’ crick don’t rise”).

    Knowing the kids might show up to pitch in …

    Knowing they might not …

    Knowing it’s been good watching the terrific colors in this year’s leaves, and watching them fall …

    … but really enjoying gathering them up and tucking them round the winter veggies.

  • I have to admit to coming to this point some time last year. I looked at the amount I thought I needed to know, took a deep breath and admitted I couldn’t do it alone. Then I admitted even if I could, I shouldn’t do it alone.

    If my home is a happy haven of self sufficiency surrounded by desperate hungry people I am no better than those currently hoarding massive wealth and resources. My currency, knowledge, might be different, in that it doesn’t really diminish my wealth if I share it but creating an Us v’s Them mindset means that I will probably not be able to do so effectively.

    A strong community of people willing to share and learn is all the wealth that I hope to need.

    Kind Regards

  • gee i found this to be an interesting post
    i feel in a sustainable holding pattern as we wait for our first harvest and the preserving, eating and storing to start
    we have managed to find a great small local fruit and veg shop and it smells so devine when i walk in and a great butcher for my meat eating family all within my very small country shire
    thanks for reminding me that supporting local producers and small business is important

  • [...] Green Generation let us know that we don’t have to do everything. Often it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of things we should be doing to improve our [...]

  • Heather, You’re welcome. : )

    Livingmyrichlife, Thanks for linking to this post! And yes, as long as you’re moving forward and doing the best you can, that is really all you should do!!

    Rob, : ) LOL. Yes, you enjoyed every minute of each of those things… except maybe the broccoli… but sounds like it is doing better. I think learning skills are very important for a number of reasons, the least of which is finding out what we are good at. And it also makes us appreciate things more, I think. But none of us can do everything…!

    Deb G, Thanks! Mmm, wise words yourself.

    Stephany, You are so lucky, as many of us are learning all of these things for the first time! Your perspective is a very important one.

    Bobbi, : ) You are so kind. Thank you for saying that. I write what comes to mind!

    I wonder if there is something you can put in the yard that isn’t lawn, something more native and water-wise…? I am jealous about your baking – I’m a much better gardener! At a certain point, I let my husband (or the local bakery) do the baking. Boy has it ever made me feel better! : )

    Kate, Thank you for sharing your beautiful and very touching words. Wow, I am at a loss for words.

    Arduous, : )

    Em, Mmm, exactly. Just as newborns each learn different things at different times, so do we. It’s all relative, and it’s all important!

    Risa B, Ah, yes – a very important reminder that there are many good reasons to do these things: because we can, because we must to stay true to ourselves, because it is within us…

    Belinda, Perfectly said.

    Jacqui, You’re welcome! It sounds like you have made a wonderful start on this journey. : )

  • I was just laughing at the thought of my six-year-old self being told she was lucky to have to churn that butter!

  • [...] not the same as self-sufficiency. Truly, we don’t have to be completely self-sufficient – we don’t have to do everything – we just have to do our part in society. Making our community stronger makes our family more [...]

  • Wow. How inspirational. I love your idea of a community bartering exchange. It seems so obvious, and yet of course the most fabulous ideas don’t seem obvious until someone actually thinks of them!

    Suddenly I feel a load lifted in my quest of how to get more connected locally while also accomplishing my goals for living more healthfully and sustainably! I think this is going to become one of my goals — find ways to reduce the time we spend working toward sustainability by sharing our efforts and trading our talents with others! I don’t think it’s too idealistic of an idea, though I may need to get moved into my new apartment first, lol!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    – Hope

  • [...] – no matter what you do, you have to do it conscientiously in order to remain sustainable. But you don’t have to do everything yourself in order to live [...]

  • [...] though you should be much further along – you can see what I mean here, here and here. Oh and here too. And I thought “you know what, it’s all about balance.” And it [...]

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