A huge piece of values aligned living is deciding what is important and working to protect it. Sometimes this involves taking risks; or changing how you live; or casting out an old idea or perspective. Very often it requires demanding MORE from ourselves.

Consider environmental change. It is a huge area of concern for many today. We worry about the potential impact on the future, and what it means for our quality of life.

My concern developed after travelling to countries where people routinely litter, where waterways are full of garbage, where children and animals sift through waste looking for valuable tidbits. I saw first hand just how awful we are to this planet, and how much work needs to be done.   

Despite this position- I was content to recycle and discuss the topic loosely with friends. Despite adopting the value of ‘stewardship’, I didn’t bother examining my life, my choices or whether they were in line with what I supposedly believed.

In other words, I was being a hypocrite; saying one thing, and doing another. 

The shift

Recently that I was struck with this simple phrase:

There is no such thing as throwing away.

That tooth brush I tossed doesn’t ‘go away’ when I throw it out. It goes into a landfill for years. I use it for 3 months, and it exists for ever after, wasting (check out this great article from National Geographic).

This thought threw me. My actions were selfish. I didn’t care; I didn’t think about it; I didn’t make any effort to be different. The moral high ground I imagined from my travels was false. I had imagined myself better simply because I lived in a country with a recycling and trash program. As though the actions of my government made me more virtuous than those without who simply toss it in the ditch. Either way, we are discarding into a pile of waste. 

Stewardship  represents taking care of what is in your charge. This may be your clothing, or your friends, or your dog, or your car. It represents being a conscientious guardian to that which is in your care. It means respecting and using your resources well. It means taking responsibility for every item you touch.

It is hard work being virtuous

You see, it takes work to walk the talk. For myself, it took a series of steps to embody my value of stewardship (and its still a work in progress!)

  1. Gain awareness: I had to open my eyes to my behaviors. I started to watch how much I threw away; how careless I was in my purchases. The more I noticed, the more it hurt me to use certain products. Single use? No way. Paper towel. Ugh. Disposable razor? Can’t do it.
  2. Shift your perspective: As you may have noticed, my last examples were nearly all about personal hygiene. To reduce my waste, I had to shift my perspective on what was ‘clean’. I grew up in the generation of germophobia. Single use is safer. Paper towel is more sanitary. Reusable items are dirty. The first time I cleaned the toilet with a rag…oh man, I was pushing my comfort zone! But now I’ve been doing it for a year, and no one has died. Another key perspective I had to learn (from amazing bloggers like Tiny Ambition), is that everything is a resource. Where I was so inclined to buy cute matching glass jars, I was in fact routinely recycling perfectly good glass jars from my (rampant) pickle addiction. Where I was leaving ‘toxic’ cleaners to rot in my cupboard, I could have donated them to my work place or used them for a job that required them.
  3. Let go of ease and convenience: Living your values isn’t the easy road. It takes time, and thought, and a great deal of effort. We do it because it matters, not because it is easy. In North America, we are such creatures of comfort. We are so used to everything being instantly solvable with a few dollars. We have little need for ‘old time’ skills or creativity. Reducing waste requires exactly that. In the past two years, I have learned to sew and darn. I learned how to use a straight razor. Countless hours of my life have been invested in sourcing alternatives or researching how to repair something. I slowly worked to alter my preferences and routines to those that required fewer and fewer resources.
  4. Trial and Error: So often in our zeal, we run head long into the problem. Living in a way that embodies our values takes trial and error. These concepts, ideas and principles are complicated. Living in line with honor, or courage, or wisdom doesn’t come with a manual. When I started trying to embody stewardship, I imagined it meant buying all the zero waste products in the world. Except, throwing out all your waste heavy products isn’t exactly zero waste. It is okay not to get it right the first time. The point is to improve.

In the end, I still have a long way to go. But I am proud that I am no longer simply paying lip service to those things that matter to me. It is one more way that I am proud of how I live my life. It is one more way that I have esteem for myself.

Because self love comes not only from self talk, but also from knowing we can count on ourselves to do what is right.