The Real Reason Why I Started Living Sustainably

During the last six months, I have been doing a lot of reflection about why I chose to live more sustainably way back in September 2006.

I have been reflecting, not because I want to stop living this lifestyle, but because I have been writing my series of sustainable living eBooks and needed to remember exactly how and why it started the way it did.  I also need to come up with something better than just replying back to questions with, “I saw a movie and I changed”!  A lame answer, and one that many did not understand.
As this blog is now quite large, with over 1250 posts, new readers to the blog have mentioned that they are finding it difficult to navigate particular subjects.  These emails and comments gave me the idea for the subject of my very first eBook, titled “The Greening of Gavin – My First Year of Living Sustainably”.  It was useful to put it all in one place for prosperity.
The research was easy enough. I read through the first year of my blog, and then wrote the main guts of the book. 
However, one thing eluded me, and that was the root cause and the real reason as to why my green epiphany had such a great impact. 
It took me about three days of soul searching to figure out why, and another three days to write the book chapter about it, which only ended up being a couple of pages long. It was very hard work. That said, I have finally cracked it wide open.
I believe that the impact was so great because leading up to that day of awakening, I was a rampant consumer, stuck in the rat race, getting deeper and deeper into debt, with no end in sight. I was damaging my self financially, my future, and the future of my planet. I would buy the next latest and greatest electronic consumer item without real reasons or any thought of the consequences financially and environmentally.
I just had to have it, mainly because I had been programmed that way. Years of living in the consumer culture had altered the way I behaved, acted, and consumed. Advertising was my master and I was its slave. All that consumption was playing in the back of my mind, and I had this niggly little feeling that something was wrong, but I didn’t quite know what. 
I had also become lazy. Previously, I’d make things like my own beer, a little of my own food, and took pride in construction projects around the home.  Over time I had slackened off and just paid for things to be done, because I was too lazy to do it myself.

Due to this consumerism, I knew it would be a very long time before my mortgage on my home would be paid off, if ever. 

I felt very, very lost.
Then I had, what I call my green epiphany, which was a pivotal moment in my life. I remember it as a true awakening, like I had been shaken from a dream state and slapped silly with a big wet fish. However, it was only because I was in such an abnormal and sorry state before the documentary, that it was one of the reasons that the experience did have such a transformational effect upon me. 
Otherwise, I believe that I would have walked out of the cinema, thought a little, shook off the feeling that I should do something about this climate thingy, and promptly put it in the too hard basket. Just like everyone else who saw it that day did!
Well, the rest is history. I did choose to act, and act decisively, albeit not quite in the order that I would green my lifestyle if I had to do it over again. Hindsight is always 20/20, but when I think about it, I probably wouldn’t change too much.

 All of my actions have had a purpose, whether it was a large statement, or making our family feel good that we were actually doing something worthy of our time and effort.

So why explain this in post?  Well, I suppose that I am trying to say is that all it takes is one simple action in the right direction. Then another, and another, and another. It doesn’t matter what triggers the initial action, all that does matter is that you start.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ~ Lao Tzu
All of these actions are small, yet powerful steps towards a larger goal of voluntary simplicity. You are the one that has the choice to live simply, without it being forced upon you. Kind of like beating the rush that many of us see on the horizon.  An early adopter, if you like.
Love a good climate change rally!
So by consuming less or consuming ethically, you will find that you will live a happier life a result. It is certainly the only way I know how to start living simply!

It is also better to start on the road yourself, than have it forced upon you by circumstances, seen or unforeseen, in the future.

So that is how I started my journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.  How did you start yours? What was your awakening moment? Or did it just grow inside you?  Or are you just beginning with that first step?  I would love to know.


  1. says

    I suppose environmental awareness has been there for me since I was a kid. My mum was a Friends of the Earth member and took me to rallies etc. She also took me out canoeing on the Norfolk Broads and showed me the mooorhens on their nests and the herons and that kind of thing which really helped me make the connection. When I was in my early twenties I was an Earth First! activist and several of the people in my cell were Deep Ecologists which really seemed to make sense and sort of put into words how I had been feeling. Finding out about paganism and the reverence for the Earth at around the same time also really was pivotal for me. When I settled down and had kids myself, I was pretty certain that the current paradigm was heading for collapse and The BBC program Farm For The Future just really confirmed to me what I had been thinking. So we moved out to Shetland as a “lifeboat” and I am here trying to live lower impact and more in line with my ethics.

  2. Anonymous says

    Hi Gavin

    We too have followed your journey for a long time and have been inspired and encouraged by you. People have such different interpretations and motivations for sustainability. I think it is OK to be motivated by personal financial goals as reduced spending reduces consumption and leads to a lighter footprint. Our personal perspective is very much aligned to that outlined in foodnstuff’s comment above. I think perspectives such as that put forward by Daniel Quinn threaten or challenge people’s world view which possibly explains the reason for the anger and resistance people often express in response to issues concerning sustainability, climate change, resource depletion and related issues.
    Jane R

  3. says

    I came to sustainability by way of my own personal financial issues, starting 7 or 8 years ago. I didn’t think of it as sustainability at the time. The problem I started out trying to solve was that my job situation was deteriorating and I only saw the situation getting worse, not better. Yet I knew I was trapped. I had credit card debt, a car payment and a mortgage. Fortunately, I had never pulled equity out of the house to go on a buying spree (or two or three, as so many others have done), but still, I owed a bunch of money and often robbed Peter to pay Paul.

    It became very clear that if I didn’t want to work there another 20 or more years, the debt had to go. It was slow going at first. I started by stopping use of the CC, then started putting a little extra on it. When the car was paid off in 2005, all that money then went on the CC. The CC was paid off in 2007 and then I went to work on the house…paid that off in 2009. Then I set sights on retiring as soon as I could legally get my hands on my 403b, which would be at age 55. The advisor kept saying I didn’t have enough in there…so I kept ramping up my savings. Of course, that meant I didn’t have lots of money left to spend, but oddly, I was so focused on this goal that I had no interest is buying stuff. I’d never enjoyed shopping all that much and so any lingering consumerism just was gone. Although I’d always loved nature and had environmental concerns, sustainable living had snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking! Long story short, I retired this past spring, four days after my 55th birthday.

    If people only know what their intense and obsessive consumerism was really costing them…

    • says

      You have done so well Kathy. All being well, I will “retire” at 52, with zero debt. Well that is the plan. I wouldn’t have been able plan this way if I didn’t lower consumption and my overall cost base via growing food, making electricity and hot water, and harvesting water. Plus all the other stuff we do to save money.

      Thanks as always.

      Gav x

  4. says

    I started following your blog in 2010, after I’d come across a few of your posts on the Simple Green Living Coop blog. I came to the desire to live greener, simpler and more sustainably through my parents, I think. Both raised in the Depression they were thrifty, waste not/want not types, and I grew up to be the same. My husband jokes that I recycled before there was recycling, and it’s half true. I woke up to the harm humans were doing to the planet in my Navy years – the waste of food, chemicals, paint, paper was horrific to me, raised as I had been. When I first joined, though it stopped within the next couple of years, we were even throwing ship’s garbage into the ocean due to storage issues on board – shocking to think of now, but considered normal 30 years ago. I first read about peak oil in 2009, in Kunstler’s Long Emergency, but your blog has deepened my understanding on this topic since then through TED videos, your reviews of books etc, and links to other blogs. I have long been interested in self sufficiency (again, thanks to my parents), and this was a goal my husband has also embraced – he sees it from a financial angle more than an environmental one, but I’m coming to realize this is pretty common – and the fact that we’re working together on that goal is very empowering. Like Barb’s family above, we’re not always on the same page in this family about green living, climate change, etc but we have made steps in what I see as the right direction. I love your blog precisely because you have come at it from a very typical middle class, middle income, suburban perspective, with family members who are also not always completely on board with you all the way. Yet, with small steps you’ve made so much progress, and for me your example is a huge inspiration.

    • says

      Thanks Dawn. I too remember throwing waste over the side of the warships. I shudder when I think of it now that I, in some small way, have contributed to the great pacific garbage patch.

      And, I feel ashamed, because there is nothing I can do about it.

      Peak Oil was my second awakening after Climate Change. I thought to myself at the time “How can there be two massive issues that I didn’t know about?”. Then I learnt about environmental destruction, the sixth mass extinction, resource depletion, overpopulation and it blew my mind. I just had to write it down, and here it is!

      Gav x

  5. says

    Hi Gavin,
    My “lifestyle” has always been frugal and concerned with the environment.
    As a child we did not have much money, but I never felt all that cheated in life. Both sets of grandparents had grown up through the Great Depression and passed on their knowledge of how to get by on less. I learned to make my own clothes, shop at the second hand stores, grow and can food and take care of, and repair what I had. I have tried to pass this on to my own children.
    It has not been an easy road, as my husband had different ideas and values in this journey of life. It has taken longer to gently persuade him, than it did our children, that this was not a sustainable road that we were on. I knew he was finally on board when he sold his favorite sports car and started using his bike more often.
    Your blog is very necessary for the “gentle persuasion” of us all. Keep up the good work, Gavin.
    Barb in Canada.

    • says

      Cheers Barb. At first Kim was quite resistant as well, but my persistence paid off in the end. She is fully onboard, and loves sharing the stuff we do together.

      Well done on your husbands conversion! I tip my hat.

      Gav x

  6. Suzy says

    Hi Gavin,

    My “journey” started with the birth of my son and an interest in feeding him well (first through eating properly myself, and then directly once he started solids), although an interest in cycling also helped, I think. I would read things online, and some of the blogs I began to visit would also talk about other topics that initially seemed crazy to me. But if you hear something a few times, and learn more about it, and see people doing it, it becomes normal – to the point where I would eventually suggest things I’d seen to my husband and be surprised when he thought I was crazy :) That’s why blogs like yours are so important.

    We started small, but one thing definitely leads to another. And I’ve noticed little changes amongst family and friends starting to happen lately, after watching us for a few years now. We do go backwards occasionally, though not too far back, and it is still very good for me to read and see people doing things I haven’t gotten to yet, or reinforcing what I already do, or even seeing that other people have taken a different path (or have different priorities) and aren’t yet doing some of what I’m doing.

    Thanks for the time and effort you put into your blog – it makes a real difference.

    • says

      Hi Suzy. Thanks for the encouragement.

      Many people seem to wake up when they have kids. After all, it is not just about the individual at that stage. It is about their future! Well done.

      Gav x

  7. says

    “Over time I had slackened off and just paid for things to be done, because I was too lazy to do it myself.”

    This just about sums up the world of consumerism. Since being forced into frugality a few years ago, it’s made me realise just how much I can actually do / make / produce myself, and how much satisfaction I get from my small achievments.

  8. says

    Blogs like yours Gavin have encouraged my journey to a simpler life.

    I started blogging in 2007 and it was the Down to Earth Blog that got me started. Although the seeds were already planted, I just needed them to be fed and watered to grow. And here I am today, growing veggies and fruit (although the heat is testing my patience lately), making do with what I have, not buying cleaning products anymore, making my own everything where possible, cooking from scratch using just basic ingredients, collecting rainwater when it decides to rain (we are very low this year), have solar panels installed, and not being caught up in the consumer world anymore. Since the new year I have decided to get rid of all clutter from my life, which is going to be a big task, but I will get there :)

    Thank you for your inspiration :)

  9. says

    Gavin, I read your blog posts all the time but don’t tend to comment (on yours or anyone else’s) mainly becauseI read so many inspiring blogs and it would take me all day to comment on all of them!! Been reading here since 2010.
    I feel like commenting today, firstly because I love knowing what changed other people’s lives in regards to living more sustainably, and secondly because the previous commenter cheesed me off.
    Thankyou for sharing YOUR journey with us, you are a beacon in a sometimes dark world. And to the previous commenter, I will say, we ALL have a way to go. And it’s not a race.

  10. says

    Hi Gav,

    I love your blog and what you are doing and I’m trying to do the same, so don’t take what I’m going to say too much to heart as a criticism.

    You said: “I just had to have it, mainly because I had been programmed that way. Years of living in the consumer culture had altered the way I behaved, acted, and consumed. Advertising was my master and I was its slave. All that consumption was playing in the back of my mind, and I had this niggly little feed that something was wrong, but I didn’t quite know what.”

    Same thing here. I think my epiphany came a good while before yours did and it came because I read a little book called Ishmael, by a little-known American author called Daniel Quinn. Ishmael changed my life, because I saw I was a prisoner of the dominant culture and acting it out without even a thought to the fact that it wasn’t the way things should be.

    Quinn refers to ‘it’ as Mother Culture (MC for short). MC is always whispering in our ears, telling us lies about how the human world should be. It’s a bit like Muzak; in the end you don’t really hear it.

    One of the things that MC tells us is that the World belongs to Man and Man’s job is to dominate and rule it. When you think about human activities that’s exactly how the members of our culture act out this fantasy and that’s why we are in so much trouble.

    Indigenous people on the other hand think that Man belongs to the World, and that’s reflected in the way they treat the World (the word World here refers to the world of humans, not the Earth as a single ecosystem. The Earth isn’t in trouble but the World is).

    Anyway, to cut a long story short when you said: ” I was damaging my self financially, my future, and the future of my planet, I knew you had a way to go. The Earth doesn’t belong to Man; it isn’t ‘my planet’; it isn’t ‘our planet’; it’s just the planet. On that aspect MC is still whispering that message into your ear and you’re not seeing it.

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