9 Things My Mother Taught Me About Living An Intentional, Sustainable Life
In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking about all the things my mom has taught me over the years. The older I get, the more I understand why she did all the stuff I thought was weird when I was a kid. In other words, like many daughters, I find myself becoming more and more like my mother each year.
And, of course, that’s far from a bad thing. My mom is an amazing, badass woman who snowboards in the winter, surfs in the summer, teaches kids to make gorgeous artwork for a living, and makes her own beautiful watercolors. She’s creative, health conscious, an incredible cook, and an all-around inspiration. Of course, our relationship isn’t perfect, and there are some unconscious lessons I’m still working on unlearning (aren’t we all). But in general, my mom has been a kickass role model who’s kept me down to earth and connected to my values.
So I figured I’d take a little time to recognize what she’s taught me over the years — and what I’ve finally actually learned.
1. Get outside for free self-care and entertainment
Since I was a little kid, anytime I get overwhelmed, anxious, or just downright sad, my mom has suggested I go outside and take a walk. I remember feeling like this was so counterproductive at times — I was trying to learn a scale on my trumpet, how would doing anything besides practicing the instrument possibly help?! But it always did. After moving my body and getting some fresh air, I’d inevitably feel much more capable at whatever task I’d been struggling with. It was like hitting the reset button. This is still one of the most valuable (and free!) coping skills I use for dealing with stress.
I grew up in a rural area, and we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on going out for entertainment. So my mom got creative. We’d go on hikes, catch frogs, ride our bikes, go fishing, climb trees, build forts, draw massive chalk pictures on the driveway, jump in puddles, dig in the mud, garden, sled…you get the idea. What was so cool about this, looking back, is how much it made me love and appreciate nature. Now, I know that there are plenty of ways I can have fun that cost no money at all.
2. Buy used if you can
To this day, going into a thrift store is a great source of comfort for me. We spent so much time shopping at used shops and tag sales when I was a kid that they really feel like home. And honestly, since my dad passed away a few years ago, whenever I’m missing him, walking into a thrift store usually soothes me. But when I was young, I didn’t realize just how amazing it was. Part of me even got nervous that someone at school would see me wearing their donated clothes. Thankfully, I now fully appreciate all the benefits of buying things used. Not only is it way less stressful to shop at a thrift store, because everything’s so much more affordable, but it also helps the environment by preserving the energy and resources that would be used to produce new clothes.
3. Bring snacks and a water bottle when you go out
This is a classic mom trick that I’m finally learning the value of. I remember seeing my mom bring nuts and fruit whenever we left the house and thinking, Why? We can just buy something somewhere. Little did I know, this was a super cost-effective trick I’d later adopt as my own. Having a protein-heavy snack on hand ensures you won’t lose energy when you’re out, or spend unnecessary amounts on overpriced food. And when you carry your personal water bottle, you don’t have to rely on buying disposable plastic ones to stay hydrated, which reduces your carbon footprint.
4. Walk as much as possible
My mom avoids driving short distances. If we’re at a strip mall, and another store is in sight — even at another plaza down a pretty busy street — chances are, she’ll be walking there. Sure, this doesn’t save tons of gas money (though I’m sure it doesn’t hurt in the course of a lifetime), but it is nice for the environment, and for your own health, too.
5. Garden and compost
My mom taught me how to garden when I was a kid. I mostly remember digging in the dirt, but even though the details didn’t stick in my memory, I learned the most important lesson of all: growing your own food isn’t an impossible challenge. I finally had space to start my own garden last year, and I realized firsthand that the process is pretty straightforward. Granted, not everything I planted produced, and my garden definitely didn’t look like something you’d see on social media, but I still grew a zucchini so big it kind of scared me, as well as plenty of green beans and tomatoes.
And any of the food scraps you accrue year round, you can compost for your garden. This prevents landfill waste, and helps your garden thrive!
6. It’s okay to look natural
I love wearing makeup, getting my hair done, and dressing up. It helps me feel confident, and it’s also just fun. However, I appreciate growing up around my mom’s very laid-back beauty routine. When it comes to appearance, my mom mostly values looking fit by staying active, and making sure your clothes fit in a way that is flattering. She always cut my own hair growing up, and she pretty much never wears makeup.
My approach is definitely different — I wear makeup much more often and get my hair done a few times a year. But I’m appreciative for the fact that she taught me I don’t always need to spend a lot of time on my appearance before I go out, or wear makeup to be beautiful. It’s definitely saved me money over the years and also kept my product consumption lower than it otherwise might have been.
7. Cooking from scratch is best
We couldn’t afford to go out to eat much when I was a kid, which meant we ate a lot of home-cooked food. My mom’s meals included a decent amount of meat, but she always made sure we also consumed a lot of veggies. I started cooking with her when I was young, which gave me the confidence to cook my own meals as an adult. I love the creativity of cooking after a long day at my not-so-creative job, and I also love knowing I’m eating something affordable.
8. Reuse containers
Washing out a yogurt container and storing your leftover chili in it for work the next day definitely doesn’t make for a Pinterest-worthy lunch. It’s even sounds kind of gross. But is it really? It’s actually a sustainable habit that may not look pretty, but is completely cost effective and practical.
9. Be resourceful
I love home-improvement shows, and sometimes my mom can be a buzzkill when she sits down with me to watch one. “Why are they ripping out perfectly good cabinets?” she asks. I’m all for making your home your own, and somewhere you love to live, but she has a point. And it’s a point that I often need to remember, in a world where we’re constantly taught to seek improvement with upgrades – whether those are upgrades for our appearances, our wardrobes, or our homes.
In her art room, she uses as many recycled materials as possible. She encourages kids to be resourceful because she believes it’s a fundamental life skill. And as I get older, I realize how right she is, and how lucky I am to have had her as both a mom and a teacher. I’m forever grateful for the ways she’s taught me and her students to the world around us, and ourselves.
Marissa is a New York City-based writer who loves feminism, doughnuts, and anything free. Her parents taught her the art of thrifting before she could even walk, and one of her earliest memories is of learning to ride a used bike inside of a consignment store while her mom shopped. Her mom bought her the bike. Read more of her writing here.
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