5 Tips For Making The Best Out of What You Have and Living Sustainable Now

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tracey Davis of Control the Chaos.

Hey there, I’m Tracey.  I write over at Control the Chaos, a blog about real simplicity, real food, and real living.  I’m thrilled to be guest posting today, because Andrea and I are on the same page about a lot of things.  In fact, the more I read at Frugally Sustainable, the more I think to myself (and sometimes say out loud) “Yes!  Exactly!”

Except…the thing is….

Here’s my house:

5 Tips For Making The Best Out of What You Have and Living Sustainable Now

And here’s my yard:

5 Tips For Making The Best Out of What You Have and Living Sustainable Now

You see, I live in a row house.  In the Netherlands.  I moved here from a high rise apartment in Tokyo.  We have been blessed that my husband’s job has taken us all over the world, seeing new places and learning new cultures.  But we don’t always have the luxury of a sprawling house and yard with a huge vegetable garden.  We dream of someday homesteading full time.

But for the time being, we just have to make do.

So we did.  It started small; I didn’t want to worry about my children getting into dangerous chemicals.  I switched all our random cleaning products for the basics:  baking soda, vinegar, borax.  When I encountered success, I was emboldened to branch into the laundry detergent business.  And then bread making.  Holy easy!  And all of this was in our Tokyo apartment.  By the time we arrived in Holland, I thought I was in heaven with that patch of bricks for the kids to play.

In the Netherlands, I am happy that I can easily find fresh eggs and milk at a local farm. Every town has a weekly outdoor market year round, where I can buy local produce.  In fact, it’s a law here that all produce must be marked with its country of origin.  But the issues I run into are mostly space related.  We have no grass.  I can span my kitchen with my outstretched arms, and it didn’t even come with a real oven.

The point is, very few of us have the ideal situation for living a sustainable lifestyle.  But if we wait for that to happen, we might be waiting a very long time.  Like forever.

Here are the best and easiest 5 ways we have added sustainability to our current environment:

  1. Save our stuff:  upcycle.  Stop the stuff in, garbage out cycle.  Hunt around the house to fill needs before heading to the store.  A few of our recent endeavors include cereal boxes made into mail sorters, plastic milk jugs to hold laundry detergent, and fabric scraps for ribbon.
  2. Ditch the disposables:  paper towels and napkins, be gone!  Long ago we started cutting up old t-shirts for rags, and we’ve never missed those paper towels.  I bought twelve nice cloth napkins for dinner, and not only does it cut down on waste, it makes the table look nice for guests.
  3. Hang it out to dry:  put up a clothes line.  If I can manage to tie a string between two fence posts in my tiny back garden in the rain soaked Netherlands, I’m sure you could find a spot, too.  Between two trees, maybe?  A hook under the eaves?  It doesn’t have to hold three loads at a time, it could just be a way to decrease the demand on your dryer.  We hang stuff all over our radiators in the winter if it is raining outside – maybe you could fit a line in your bathroom or guest room.
  4. Use our footprint:  plan the space.  It’s chic to talk about decreasing our carbon footprint, but I think it’s also important to make intelligent use of what we have.  Because we have no grass, we started a container garden.  It’s an ideal situation for us because we easily moved it indoors once the weather turned cold, and now I have spinach and lettuce growing year round (thanks to Frugally Sustainable for that fantastic idea!).  Next year we have plans to increase our growing area by using about one square meter of ground around an ornamental bush that isn’t being used for anything else.  So far we’ve managed to grow herbs, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach, all in containers.
  5. Be the change:  take matters into your own hands.  In an ideal world, canned food wouldn’t have BPA, high fructose corn syrup wouldn’t be added to everything, and we wouldn’t have to worry about our kids getting too much fluoride.  Unfortunately, we cannot afford to wait for that ideal world, and ultimately we have to take responsibility for ourselves.  The time for change is now, and the person to do it is me.  And you.

Many of us do not have all that we think we need to live a sustainable lifestyle. Be encouraged today! No matter what you have, use it…every bit of it! How are you using what you have and turning your home into a unit of production? 

Be sure to pay a visit to Tracey over at her blog Control the Chaos and check out her facebook page as well!

See this post and a host of others like it here: Homestead Barn Hop, Made By You, Just Something I Whipped Up, Homemaker Monday, Savvy HomeMade Monday, Mangia Monday, More The Merrier, Inspire Me Monday, Cure for the Common Monday, Make Something Monday, Calling All Crafters, Tip Me Tuesday, New Nostalgia, Handmade Tuesday, Teach Me Tuesday, Frugal Tuesday Tip, Terrific Under $10, Rasing Homemakers, The Mommy Club, Crafty Sasse, Simple Lives, Your Green Resource, Mine For The Making, Show Off Your Stuff, Frugal Friday, Freaky Friday, Farm Girl Friday, SNS 112, Weekend Bloggy Reading, Nifty Thrifty Things


  1. With all the information out there and all the articles and posts by people doing amazing and incredible things, it can be hard to remember that they all had to start somewhere – where they were!

    Thank you for the reminder that doing what we can do right now is not only important but that it makes a difference!

    The longer we live here (in our first home together) the more little things we add that make a difference both economically and ecologically. The first year we did some canning, the second we added raised garden beds (and did more canning!), now we've added some chickens in the back yard and make our own laundry detergent. Each little piece really adds up to the previous year's additions.

    We never did many changes at once but now that it's been almost three years we can look back and see the big changes.

  2. Thanks so much for the guest post! It's SO important to remember that the movement towards sustainability should not be dependent on location or resources; I can and should start now with what I have, where I am.

    This post was very inspiring with some great suggestions! Thank you!

  3. That is neat what you are doing. Making the best of your situation, it's what we can do that matters, and that we do it!

    We are pretty frugal around here, my husband is self employed and at times there isn't enough work. Any how we have 8 mouths to feed, it's my job to stretch the dollar.

    We have started mending work boots (DH is a contractor) I had a leather sewing awl, and my handy mother showed me how to restitch boots.

    We use a lot of Tearmender. It's very hard to patch children's jeans on the sewing machine and Tearmender takes so little time and lasts longer that the child needs them! I even patch DH jeans this way too, if I am pressed for time.

    We use these bowl covering things that look like a shower caps instead of seran wrap. They are rewashable. Also I reuse my freezer bags and wash them out. Tin foil is terrible, and not in my house, we figure someway around those kinds of things.

    These are a few small things and it's part of our lifestyle to do them. Sure it may take more time in some cases, but really must we always rush through life! My dishwasher died a few months ago, we felt that is was a extravagance in the first place, so we opted out of a new one. Now the time I take washing dishes is when I can think thru my day: to make the wisest decisions and caculate the cost of my actions….this is frugal, being in a rush is so wasteful.

  4. we've done little things..we don't have a microwave or dishwasher, Im replacing some of the electical small appliances with manual ones(can opener, hand crank food proccessor, etc, we unplug things when not in use, my gardening skills are seriously lacking so I shop the farmer's market and a couple year round farmer supplied stores, we buy second hand as much as possible, upcycle, recycle.

  5. Ooh, I'm seeing some good ideas here. We use lots of rags, and no paper towels. I make my own laundry soap, but I have completely overlooked Borax as a house cleaner. I need to check into that. Thank you so much!

  6. Stacy Makes Cents says:

    ๐Ÿ™‚ It's always nice to hear from like-minded people. I am in a similar situation – I currently live in a townhouse with a paved "back yard." ๐Ÿ™‚ We hope to move next year, and then I will branch out from just being frugal inside my home. I was very blessed to be raised by a frugal mother, so I've always lived this way.
    Thanks for sharing your pictures and your tips. They're great!

  7. I have started hanging clothes to dry on hangers over our shower curtain rod-its easy, and out of the way since there is not not much space in our home. I cant put everything up there, but it does help with reducing the need for the dryer.

    I keep getting such great ideas from these posts, and I need to try to start implementing more of them, although slowly.

  8. Great tips ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Shannon@FoxHollowCottage says:

    With over 450 links at the Tip Junkie, I bypassed all the decor stuff! Something made me click this. Wonderful post. Gave me some great ideas of a few things we can change. THANKS ๐Ÿ˜‰ Shannon in the USA

  10. Barb @ A Life in Balance says:

    Great post! I've read a few posts on your blog and didn't realize that you live in the Netherlands.

    Thank you for the reminder to bloom where we are and use what we have instead of wishing for something that isn't possible.

  11. Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable says:

    @Barb Oh! I'm sorry for the confusion:) I live here in Arizona. My friend Tracey over at Control the Chaos wrote this post for Frugally Sustainable. It's Tracey who lives in the Netherlands. Pretty neat huh?

  12. this is great I'd love you to add it to my What We Wore and Made link party over at http://raegunwear.blogspot.com/search/label/WWWMW

  13. Andrea @ The Greenbacks Gal says:

    We totally need to remember that all our small steps add up!

  14. I’m going into my first foray into upcycling this year. We have some of those plastic totes that we will no longer need, since we got rid of what was in them (5 large bins worth of stuff!). I decided to use them to try container gardening at our new place. Our soil is really bad and we can’t afford to do raised beds yet, so I’ll try it this way. Here’s hoping I can turn my “black thumb” green!

    • Carolyn – if those totes aren’t food-safe then there will be a lot of plastic chemicals that will leach into your soil and into your produce… be careful with up-cycling items for growing food….

  15. Joycelyn Musgrove says:

    I am new at doing a lot things. I am making homemade detergent, cleaners, and stuff like that.
    We are planting a garden this spring. I bought a portable umbrella clothes line, and am hanging most of our laundry outside to dry. I need to get out of the paper towel habit. I have plenty of towels that I can designate as rags for the kitchen and other places. I am so happy I found this site!

  16. Love the website and ideas! I just started really getting serious about sustainable frugal living although I started long ago with vinegar as cleaner and gardening/canning. I am into the cloth instead of paper napkins and towels, laundry lines, and just got all 5 of my rain barrels installed – yeah! Just starting to make my own insecticides and laundry soaps, lots more to do. So many people around me are starting the self sustainable/frugal lifestyle by choice rather than budget. But it confuses me why some quite careful eco-people still have no hesitation in taking the money they save on being frugal and plunking it down on new purchases when the purchase of existing alternatives is a viable option. One overlooked thing in today’s’ society is not only the waste of dollars and risk of chemicals, but the carbon footprint (and sometimes human rights violations) of buying ANYTHING new. Recycling seems to have been put into the neat little concept of bottles and cans, but buying NEW homes, cars, clothes, furniture are all violations of the entire green/frugal lifestyle. Reuse or recycling of big ticket items seems to be the last to catch on. When people come to my home, they are amazed that it is nearly completely furnished via yard sales/craigslist/thrift stores. They think my car is new and are surprised at the year and mileage. I know I can even do better and your posts give me the incentive to improve! Thanks!

  17. Amy Sarah says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I have only recently begun the process of trying to save and simplify. Sites like Frugally Sustainable gave me the idea to start my own blog as an effort to keep myself on track. I look forward to exploring Control the Chaos for even more ideas!

  18. Heather says:

    I lived in the Netherlands for 11 years, (husband is Dutch) so that Dutch row house living is *very* familiar! Fun to stumble upon your blog and find it so inspiring! I will bookmark it to read more later!

  19. I love your post! I agree, we have to take things into our own hands and do what is best for our own family. We are very fortunate to have land. Within the past 3 years we have got chickens for eggs…soon we will be getting a few meat chickens. This year I ventured WAY out of my comfort level and purchased a calf that we plan to milk in two years. Then I just couldn’t wait to milk, so I purchased 2 goats and have loved it every minute. I am learning to make yogurt and cheese and soon I will attempt lotion and soap. I have failed many times making new things–but failure always gives me insight of what not to do next time ๐Ÿ™‚ lol And just this week, I made vanilla extract, lemon extract and orange extract. We planted a small garden this year too.
    95% of my purchases are not pre-packaged and I do lots of home-made cooking ๐Ÿ™‚ I LOVE IT!!! Some say its more work, but I am just doing what I love. Keep up the inspiring work, it helps me to realize I am not the only one out there doing all this stuff ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. I think I started with canning jam and making my own shampoo/conditioner which lead me to making laundry detergent and other natural cleaners. One step in front of the other and soon I was making Kombucha, kefir, deodorant, skin exfoliating salt/sugar scrubs, nut butters and milks, tooth paste, fermenting other foods. These are all extremely easy things to make so if you are new to these types of things, start there! I am in the business of making chai, I save the brewed spices for a natural/organic hazard free potpourri. I pack the spent spices in sachets but they can be simmered on the stove for a great smell that lofts through the house as well. Zero waste!

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