Urban sprawl is seen around the world as a by-product of our growing populations and corporate-run, capitalist economies. We have more cities than every before and the cities themselves are expanding to keep up with our growth at huge cost to the environment.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve lived in an urban environment at least once in your life. You might be sat at a computer next to a window plagued by pigeons while sirens scream by in the distance as you digest this very sentence. But if, like me, you found it all just a bit too much and decided to retire somewhere less dirty and crowded, you now read this from the quiet confines of the countryside where you can hear the trees sway and the birds sing.

It’s a shame really, because cities really do have so much potential. So much excitement and opportunity. But often there’s a dark side in the form of smog, noise, light pollution and quite a lot of loneliness.

We’re faced with an interesting challenge as we cruise on through the 21st century. In the western world, old folks are living longer than ever before. We’re also seeing a decrease in infant mortality and overall a better quality of life than we saw in the 1900’s. That’s not to say that we don’t now face a different set of problems (cue: climate change, air pollution, loneliness, depression, obesity etc.), but in terms of years spent alive and roaming the planet, there has been a definite increase.

And that’s great. And inevitable. We humans are thrilled with a project; a conundrum; a challenge. If there’s a way we can find a cure for something and make our lives better in some way, we’ll damn well persist until we’ve achieved it. It’s a beautiful thing, really. The forever quest to utopia.

But the problem is that we’re not improving our habitats as quickly as we need to, in order to support an increasing and ageing population. By habitat I’m referring to that which we – humans – live in. Our neighbourhoods. Our communities. We’re running on old-school logic in a modern world that needs more and better. And what does it come down to, at its most basic level? The economy. That’s the crux. That’s the awkward thing that no one wants to talk about, so of course I’m going to touch upon it here. It’s what I do.

A capitalist economy worked for a while. It got us to where we are today and in many ways I’m incredibly grateful for that. But it’s also limiting in so many ways. At its core, a capitalist economy is based on the owning of resources. Every business is created and run with a profit motive, offering goods or services in exchange for monetary gain. The problems come when the distribution of important resources required by the masses are controlled by only a select few. Sometimes we refer to this collective as “the 1%”. We might be dealing with a free market, but wealth distribution is anything but even throughout society. This, of course, is what results in a class system. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single good thing that comes from a class system.

In this current, capitalist regime, the emphasis is on jobs. Everyone’s got to have a job they can work at so they can make an income to spend on those things that they need, along with (wait for it) those things that corporations convince us that we need (cue: advertising). The more we spend, the more debt we find ourselves in, the more money we need, the harder we work, the more we spend to comfort ourselves. It’s an almighty viscious cycle.

The rich get richer and the poor die trying.

In a capitalist economy, the ulimate goal is to maximise profits – at whatever the cost. This may have worked for a while. But the thing is, it’s now 2018 and we’re at crisis point with our environment (you know, that thing that GIVES US LIFE?!) We’ve supported economic growth without considering the repurcussions. It’d be easy to put it down to a lack of education which, sure, was indeed the problem 100 years ago. But we have a whole host of incredibly bright and competent scientists around the globe throwing the figures at governments to no avail.

By this point you might be like, “OK, yadda yadda yadda Kat, what alternative is there?”

To which I respond, “Well, DUH, a resource-based economy!” (Cue: The Venus Project)

In a resource-based economy, the highest levels of technology are fully utilised and the resources we need distributed to all. At present, the very best technology to increase efficiency of transport, housing, crop growth, education, healthcare and all other areas of society only have one barrier between being put to use and remaining in a research facility: capital.

I’m not saying it’s an easy feat. It sure as hell isn’t. To breakdown everything that we’ve come to identify as normal and replace with something that isn’t such a struggle is bound to induce messy transition period. But it’s an absolute necessity worth striving for if we are to have any hope of a happy and healthy future.

The result is a city lifestyle that isn’t bathed in toxic air or filled with money-driven crime. It doesn’t have sky-high rent rates or inefficient public transport and endless traffic jams. The result is cities that are actually, well, pleasant, because there’s no pressure to own anything and have status because the concept is redundant. They boast all the perks of living in such a high concentration of people: the culture, the cuisine, the opportunities and amenities, but none of the cons.

I don’t know about you, but that’s an environment worth striving for, I think.

If this sounds like something you want to work towards too, I suggest starting here. And when you’re done with that, consider focusing your time and effort on living as sustainably as you can while operating in our current economy. Reduce your waste. Support businesses striving for circular economies. Work towards financial freedom so that you can make better decisions. And above all else, talk about it! Share this information with others and educate yourself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

I’ve had a collection of jumbled thoughts tossing and turning in my mind for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been struggling to articulate what they are exactly and why they’ve been bothering me so much, but a long walk in the sunshine yesterday helped me make sense of it all…I think…Let’s have a go, at least. Apologies if this is still somewhat jumbled *shrugs*.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been passionate about making the world a better place. Or rather, protecting the planet. I love the great outdoors, having been fortunate enough to grow up traveling frequently and seeing some true wonders in my lifetime. Nature is my greatest inspiration and where I try to spend as much of my free time as possible. When you love something that much, you want to preserve it, right?

Kennedy loves nature –> Kennedy wants nature to be there forever –> Kennedy fights to protect nature

I don’t actually know where it comes from (my love of the great outdoors and subsequent obsession with environmental conservation) because the rest of my family aren’t like me at all. I mean, they care as much as the next person who cares an average amount I suppose, but it’s certainly nowhere near the top of their priorities list. I try not to let these differences cause too much friction, but when you’re passionate about something (and I’m a Scorpio, so make that like x10), it inevitably causes at least a little discomfort. A difference of opinions always does. On the one hand, there’s me wishing they saw things from my perspective and on the other, them feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around me for fear of judgement. Any one else in a similar position? It’s hard, right?

As time passes, I realise that it’s important not to let it come between us. We’re all on our own individual journeys, facing very unique struggles and thus priorities. We each care about different things that we think are going to make us happy and serve the greater good. They just don’t happen to all tick the same boxes and it’s learning to accept that and work around it that’s key.

It’s actually something that I’m trying to work on in 2018: learning to communicate more effectively with those people who don’t see eye to eye with me. (The daughter of a diplomat; you think I’d be better at that, huh? Not really.) Again with the passionate Scorpio-ness, I guess. Plus, I’m still in my twenties….I hear we learn that stuff a little later in life (she says with fingers firmly crossed).

It’s easy to get yourself caught in a bubble – especially in this crazy time of social media where you quite literally pick and choose the kinds of people you let yourself be influenced by. Not interested? Unfollow. Annoyed by the negativity? Unfriend. The result is, however, that you find you’re rallying up people who are already passionate about the same things that you are. You form this mob of egotistical people who each pat themselves on the back, not having anyone challenge your thinking because you’ve strategically selected the people comprising this group in the first place. You form a collective who are already on the same wavelength, but aren’t reaching out and effectively communicating with those who need persuading (and will therefore stimulate real change).

Don’t get me wrong. Social media has a lot of power that certainly works for good. When eco-friendly stuff becomes trendy, everyone wants to jump on board and ultimately that works out better for the planet. But it is still a bubble. A small one.

I’ve been through so many different thought processes when it comes to how I can live most sustainably. No one could ever criticise me for not trying, that’s for sure. I’ve ebbed and flowed through all the usual dietary things (vegan, local, organic etc), the plastic I consume and waste I produce, the power I run my life on, my choice of transport, where I vacation, which charities I donate to, what I write about etc. The list goes on and on. Everyday I question my actions and try as often as possible to challenge myself when faced with a new decision. How can I do better?

I know living in perfect harmony with the planet whilst simultaneously not offending anyone is not an achievable goal. I know that there’s always something that I can do better and I’ll damn well keep trying til I’m dead, but what I want to articulate today is that it’s the trying that counts.

I can’t tell you the number of posts I’ve seen on social media by people sharing a little snapshot of some part of their life and efforts at reducing plastic waste, but also feeling the need to apologise for something in the photo which isn’t fashionably ‘zero waste’. It’s this silent pressure that sits there and holds standards out-of-reach. “Sorry about [insert object here], I bought it before I went zero-waste” or “Ignore [insert object here] I’m just using it up” So, why the pressure? Where does it come from? Probably from the same place that my getting into fights with coworkers who don’t believe in recycling comes from: a place of passion.

Passion makes people do crazy things. It is good, bad and ugly all mixed together in one cataclysmic bundle. But the truth is that no one has the right to judge you. I know it feels as if they do and trust me, I’m guilty of living with that fear too, but the fact is that they don’t. And just because something is right for them, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

This is where I’m at with so-called ‘sustainable living’. There is no ‘one size fits all’, unfortunately. I wish it were that easy, but it isn’t. And as much as we all like to pretend that we’ve got it all figured out, I truly believe that living sustainably means being open to adaptation and being flexible. Being vegan, for example, might be the very best way that you can reduce carbon emissions based on your current circumstances as a city-dweller where everything is available to you. But what about if you moved to a tropical island where fish was plenty and tropical fruits and vegetables bountiful? Would you still choose vegan and import all foods that you were eating previously so as to maintain the status? No, of course not. The air miles would be killer and completely contradict the whole ‘sustainable vibes’ thing that you’re striving for.

None of us are living the exact same lives and none of these lives set in stone. We each have different financial constraints and health conditions and physical impairments and complicated emotions and hopes and dreams and lives that change like the weather. What is right for us today might not be tomorrow. And it’s this that I know truly resonates with me. The only thing that I’m certain of is that times change and that I need to be ready and willing to adapt as they do.

I hope that we see a shift towards encouraging each other to do our very best in the situation that we find ourselves in. Lower the bar a bit. Remember empathy. Don’t judge them or inflict your views upon them until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

Photos by Sphynx and Relentless Church on Unsplash and Chester Ho on Unsplash

I am a vegan and a proud one. But I cannot stand those vegans that embody the holier-than-thou attitude that it’s their way or the highway. I understand where it comes from, I do. When something clicks in your mind that eating animals and using animal products and supporting cosmetics tested on animals is wholly unacceptable, you want to do everything you can to prevent it happening in the world. Only, it’s a process. I toyed back and forth with the concept of veganism for years and it took me taking the pressure off myself to be perfect to truly settle into this lifestyle choice that’s growing evermore popular. But there is still a grey area. I think this is probably the case for all vegans. For example, I still don’t morally have a problem with local, bee-friendly honey and I’m not afraid to say so. But as I change and grow over the coming months and years, maybe that one will be struck off the list too.

My point to all this is that while it’s painful when you adopt certain beliefs and see people living their lives in conflict with them, you have to realise that making true, lasting change depends upon huge levels of empathy and patience. We are all living a process or journey of one kind or another and it’s no man’s (or woman’s) place to judge anyone else based on their own perspective. Try putting yourself in that other person’s shoes first.

The angry vegan does no good for anyone. They might be able to rile up a rally at PETA HQ, sure, but in terms of encouraging others to explore the possibility of reducing their carbon footprint and consuming less animal products, it is just intimidating and rude. There are no benefits to guilt-tripping someone into living differently. Plus, it’s cruel! I always find success fates are far higher by pointing them in the direction of a documentary to do that anyway. A documentary doesn’t judge you. It simply aims to inform you of the facts.

I bring up all this because I’m seeing this angry behaviour taking place in another environmentally-friendly lifestyle: that of the zero-waster. This is also another lifestyle choice that has been a process for me and one that I’m still not doing perfectly. I don’t think any of us physically can. After all, I say it all the time but there’s only so much that you can do in a broken system. You can only do what you can with the means you have available to you.

Getting angry about anything you believe in can be incredibly powerful if it’s concentrated at the decision-makers. Power to the people and all that jazz. But when it’s directed at each other, it only causes greater divide and hostility. With our environment suffering to no end from our decades of plastic consumption, many are awakening to the absolute requirement to start adopting a life free of the stuff. Things like Blue Planet II helped massively in terms of making the general public more aware. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have now – on a daily basis (!) – revolving around plastic consumption. It is my life and all, but half of these I genuinely don’t even initiate!

If you care as much as I do about eradicating plastic from our planet and saving the preciousness that we’ve got, remember that it’s far better to get angry at the decision-makers and not someone else who’s not doing as much as you. It’s OK that he or she isn’t quite there yet. When we’ve been raised to believe that a certain lifestyle is the norm, it’s incredibly hard to change that. Relearning how to do things takes time. I’ve had to change everything about where I shop, when I shop, how I give gifts, how I ‘do’ my social life and so much more. You might be in the same boat. You also might see then how you giving someone a hard time about their trash-production habits is a bit like a 12th grader giving a 3rd grader a hard time for not being able to do algebra. Comprende?

By all means keep the anger going. It’s an emotional vibration above hopelessness. It means you’ve still got the fight in you. But direct it at the companies you want to change their packaging, your government, your school, your workplace. And lead by example. Show others how easy it is to make some pretty impactful choices. You’ll likely spark their interest. Plus, have a small list of worthwhile documentaries to watch at the ready to slip over when the moment is right. Never hurts.

Photo by Taras Zaluzhny on Unsplash & Sphynx

I am all about that upcycled life and I figure, what better way to get more people doing the same than to show you all what I’ve got going on in my own home?

One woman’s trash is certainly another woman’s treasure. I’m always looking for ways to reuse things I might be passing towards the waste pile, or unwanted things someone else is trying to get rid of, thus preventing them ending up in landfill. All it takes is some patience and creative thinking to transform something old into something new. And when it comes to interior decor, why opt for mass-produced and flat-packed when you can display something truly unique that you’ve designed yourself?

Minimalism and streamlining are two passions of mine and I find that having items that I’ve made myself and put my creative energy into are the ones that stand the test of time. See, trends come and go and we change our minds about things as time passes, but if you’ve created something yourself, chances are that you’ll want to keep it around. Or, if there comes a time that it’s truly incompatible with your aesthetic, you can gift it to someone special where it’s likely to be gratefully received.

So, as I was saying, here are three features I’ve introduced into my home. They were cheap, easy to make and get many compliments paid their way.

1. Industrial displays

These came straight from the laboratory that I work in. They were headed to landfill, but I managed to seize them just in time and make a fun project out of upcycling them into some industrial-style shelving. They are made of stainless steel, but with a copper theme in mind, I picked up some spray paint from a local craft store and sprayed them from all angles. They’re strategically placed on the walls with a simple pair of nails and great for displaying smaller, interesting items.

2. Driftwood & Air Plants

Living by a beach, I am exposed to nice strolls, of course, but also some epic driftwood finds, such as this one. Initially I picked this up without knowing exactly what I wanted to do with it, only knowing that it would become a feature in due course. With some air plants lying around, I decided to combine the two and it makes for an epic piece of living art. I’ve seen similar things on a much smaller scale whereby the plants are glued onto the wood. This makes for a quick fix, sure, but just seemed so cruel to me. The best way to water air plants (Tillandia spp.) is to soak them in a bowl, sink or bathtub (depending on the quantity that need watering) for half an hour or so. During this time they absorb what they need. Follow this by letting them rest on a towel, then replace in their display. I had this idea for mounting them on driftwood in a way that would allow me to remove them every couple weeks for watering. I used a reserve of some wire Christmas tree ornament hooks that I had to hand, supergluing these to the wood in the locations I knew I’d want the plants. Then, after allowing to dry overnight, used the maleable nature of the hooks to coil around the plant and hold them firmly in place. I mounted the driftwood onto the wall with two hook brackets (which I plan on spraying copper eventually to tie everything in together).

We have a really ugly thermostat smack bang in the middle of the wall. I used a tumbling air plant to strategically drape over and cover this.

3. Unexpected Art

The final way that I’ve upcycled came when I had a card that I couldn’t bear parting with. The message inside was nice, but the image on the card itself even nicer. It felt such a shame to throw it into the recycling bin when the colour scheme was exactly my aesthetic. A quick look through the frames I had lying around revealed one that was a perfect fit. This made its way out of the rubbish pile and onto my wall. Buy someone a really beautiful card from an independent designer and be sure to include a little note inside suggesting they hang it on their wall afterwards. Throw in a frame too if you’re feeling super generous.

I am excited for all of the upcycling projects that I’m sure 2018 will bring with it. Never let yourself think that a small budget needs to stand in the way of you and the home that you want. Take a walk on the wild side and let your creativity come out and play.

 

 

When you make any kind of lifestyle choice that you believe will lead to your happiness and wellbeing, it can be really jarring when family either don’t understand or disagree with said choice. It’s easy to go about your life as you so choose when you’re in the comfort of your own home, but throw family gatherings into the mix and it can get a little sticky.

Living an unconventional life takes courage because it means that you often face disagreement or confusion. Friends you can choose, but family are kind of there. If they don’t understand, that’s not a problem. Take some time and educate them, using whatever resources you found worked for you. Most of our confrontation comes from a lack of understanding, so you may find this will suffice. But if they disagree with your choices (which unfortunately is the case for many of us) then try to come to some sort of agreement where both parties can coexist amicably to keep the peace.

One of the most potent times of the year for said aforementioned conflict is, of course, the holiday season. Dinners, lunches, brunches, soirées, parties and more mean that there can be a multitude of opportunities for blood to boil. In my own life, this includes the shock of seeing others so carelessly use single-use plastics when in my house it’s a big no-no. Or, being mocked for having an ‘awkward’ diet when I have to cook my own little nut roast next to all the meat. Finally, being gifted things like beauty products from pro-animal testing brands and fast fashion that makes a little part of my soul die when I realise I must do the polite, British thing and graciously accept.

The thing that you’ve got to remember is that the choices we make are done so based on the belief that it will make us happier. This applies to everyone, So, while my logic might be: make less waste > save planet > enjoy beauty of planet > keep it alive for future generations to enjoy, someone else’s might be: buy convenient foods (packaged in plastic) > save as much time > get to hang out with the family. It’s all a matter of perspective.

But even when you’ve had the talks and agreed to disagree, problems can still arise when it comes to gift-giving. Specifically, when you’re on the receiving end and it’s something so not you. We all encounter these situations, regardless of our lifestyle specificities or not. It’s something that can actually, often, be laughed about years later. But if, like me, you’re trying to do the low waste thing, trust me, I know how frustrating it can be when you have the thought pattern of: man, she went and bought x which is supporting an industry that I totally disagree with, all in the hope that it would make me happy…It’s not easy!

However, of course there is light at the end of the tunnel. Those unwanted gifts can gain a new lease of life in the arms of someone else. It’s not that you’re ungrateful, it’s just that your beliefs resonate with a different kind of gift-giving. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty! You’re just trying to do a good thing. It’s something I have to remind myself of too.

Below are some tips to help you get things on track before this weekend’s New Year celebrations. Clutter no more.

  1. Donate to charity. Anyone who buys second-hand knows that January is the time to do the rounds. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say. If you’ve got books, clothes, toys or whatever else that you know will simply sit and collect dust, support a cause close to your heart and donate the items to a charity shop or charity raffle.
  2. Give to a friend. Perhaps even more satisfying than donating to charity is re-gifting an item to a friend because you know that x,y, or z is right up his or her street. If you want to have a bit of fun, make an evening of it. Grab your girlfriends and some wine and host a swap.
  3. Empower women. Give a woman a head start in life by donating unwanted clothes to Dress For Success or a local women’s shelter. The latter is also a great place for those unwanted perfumes, make-up and skincare gift sets. While the shades might not be your taste, for a woman who might have had to leave everything behind, they could be just what she needs to develop a self-care routine.
  4. Distribute to the homeless. This is another great option for unwanted clothing. It sure is cold this time of year, so any extra layers are often gratefully received.
  5. Make some money. Finally, if you’re really strapped for cash, consider selling on those unwanted items. Choose eBay, a yard or car boot sale and raise some money to pay for something more meaningful instead.

How was gift-giving in your family this year? Do you and your family have disagreements over your lifestyle choices?