In the 21st century people appear to be obsessed with labelling and categorising themselves. It seems that there is a constant need to have “perfect” Instagram-inspired lifestyles and a need to subscribe to an identity or movement created by someone else’s idea of perfection.
The older I get the more ridiculous this all feels. Even as a teenager I preferred to call myself something generic like alternative rather than choose one type of music. In addition I have never particularly been a fan of designer clothes labels. It felt like to an expense way of cloning someone else’s identity.
I have found that the instant I label myself as something there are people waiting to criticise or shame. “I thought you were supposed to be….” “How come you are doing….” Whether it’s dietary, ideologies, music tastes or whatever, life is much simpler when I don’t label myself or try and fit myself into a box that isn’t the right size. It’s my business how I life my life and if I don’t try and label myself people find it harder to judge me or criticise me.
There is way too much online bullying. Celebrities are always being called out because they were spotted doing something that didn’t conform with the fake Insta lifestyle they have created or because they have labelled themselves as something. Once a person labels themselves they become a target and are handing out free ammunition to anyone who wants to target them. I have not been on social media for almost a year now because I got fed up of witnessing the constant negativity brought on by social justice warriors. It is something I do not need to see and something I don’t want targeted at myself.
Don’t get me wrong sometimes labels can be useful to help with certain diets or allergies when selecting from a menu but that doesn’t mean that I have to live by the exact terms of that label. I am also not criticising anyone who wants to “own” a label. It just isn’t for an overthinker like me.
Trying to conform to these perfect lifestyles can cause a lot of dilemmas or anxieties, particularly when there is a conflict between two different labels.
The first time I had a real dilemma was around 15-20 years ago when I was trying to avoid buying animal products. However, I am quite heavy footed and was getting through a pair of fake leather boots every couple of months whereas I knew that a pair of good quality leather boots would last years. Should I avoid animal cruelty or avoid waste. Aargh! Nowadays there are much better quality fake leather shoes around than then, it is also easier to buy online and second hand.
I see a lot of people who are focused on certain environmental lifestyles, whether it’s veganism, zero-waste or plastic-free and then have a melt down if they are given a piece of unavoidable plastic or have to throw something away. I saw something somewhere in relation to veganism where it said the world doesn’t need a few people doing veganism perfectly it needs lots people regularly cutting down the amount of animal products they consume.
This can be applied to all aspects of sustainable living. If I overthink things it can cause terrible anxiety. I prefer not to label myself. This instantly sets me up to fail. The instant I decide I am on a diet I start to crave bad things. Instead lI am trying to do what I can in areas I can control but also to be pragmatic. For example I would rather buy “yellow stickered” food that is packaged in plastic than an expensive plastic free option. Not only does the reduced food save me money, I am potentially saving the food from ending up in the bin. That would be a double eco tragedy – wasted food as well as bad packaging.
It is virtually impossible to live a perfectly sustainable lifestyle in the modern world. There are so many choices that are difficult to make. For example glass packaged food has a higher carbon footprint than plastic when looking at transportation costs. Is it more sustainable to eat local beef packaged in paper or vegan food produced thousands of miles away and packaged in plastic? The answers to these dilemmas will depend upon the perspective of the people making the decision. Some people will choose local above imported foods, some people would always choose plant based, others might think always plastic free, others might look at the overall carbon footprint and some might look at the financial costs. This is a massive headache if multiplied against every decision in life.
So what are my options to be sustainable without labelling myself?
Firstly I am not going to describe my lifestyle to anyone else, or preach to anyone for that matter. I am just going to keep chipping away at my unsustainable habits and replacing them with more sustainable ones. Small improvements are better than carrying on unsustainable habits because I cannot achieve the “perfect” solution.
Secondly, I am not going to try and do everything at once. This can lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed. I will do more research before making changes. The default position will be it’s better not to be a consumer if I can help it.
Thirdly, I am not going to fall for the hype. I am not going to believe that I have to be replacing every item in my home with something more aesthetically pleasing. I would rather keep reusing my plastic items than to throw them away and then go out and purchase new glass, wooden or metal items. I am not going to try and fit all of my waste into a jam jar or whatever else is currently trending. I am not going to have just 30 items in my wardrobe and then need to buy more clothes when those wear out because I threw away perfectly good clothes. I am not knocking any of the creators out there that portray these lifestyles, they are just not my lifestyle. I need to follow my own path not someone else’s.
Lastly, I am not going to worry about things I cannot do but focus on what I can do. Here are a few examples.
I can’t afford to replace my petrol car with an electric one but I can try and cut down my mileage.
I don’t have the means to go “off grid” but I can reduce energy and water consumption and I can afford to upgrade my boiler.
I can’t control how or where all of my food is produced or packaged but I can grow some of my food myself.
I can’t force my energy company to supply me with greener energy or my bank to make greener investments but I can switch accounts to companies with better environmental credentials.
I can’t control what my prescription medicine is made from, how it is made, who makes it or how it’s packaged but I can try and improve my health and potentially reduce the quantity of medicines I take.
I can’t do anything about the plastic pollution in the oceans but I can control what goes down my drains and I can pick up other people’s litter to stop it getting blown into the watercourse and hopefully prevent more pollution from reaching the ocean.
This has been a rather long winded way of saying that there is too much pressure to conform to certain lifestyles which leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety. I will take inspiration from whatever I feel like taking inspiration from in order to forge my own path but refuse to conform to anything just because of fashion or peer pressure.