I live in the suburbs of a city of seven million people.
We rent the main part of a house in a solidly middle-class neighbourhood where it’s cool to recycle, sure, but anything beyond that is just plain weird. I am the weirdo of the neighbourhood, and I’m ok with that.
Being a city-dweller, I often lament my lack of wide open space and closeness to nature. I don’t have several acres and space for a humungous garden. I don’t have room for a chicken coop (plus, it’s illegal). I don’t even have my awesome clothesline hung up because I can’t figure out exactly where it could go.
Are you an urban dweller too? Whether you are in the heart of the city or in the commuter ‘burbs, city folk often find themselves pining away for more opportunities to tend the earth.
I often complain about my serious inability to really go all eco-friendly crazy crunchy mama because of the darn city bylaws and breathing-down-your neck neighbours and teeny-tiny yards, but in reality there are lots of ways that I can bust out of that typical suburban mold and get my hippie groove on.
Here are fourteen ways you can go green while living in the city. Fourteen ways to embrace the homesteading mentality of eco-friendliness, self-sufficiency, and slow living.
Some of these are things you can do despite living in the city, and some of them are things you can do because you live in the city. Embrace them all in their own way, and be proud of your city-dweller status!
1. Hang clothes
It’s simple, easy, and you can even do it without a clothesline! I am using a simple drying rack from Ikea until I figure out how to get my real clothesline strung up. Check out this post about the benefits of line-drying your clothes year-round. You can save energy by reducing your dryer usage (and save money too!).
2. Reduce toxins into air with houseplants
Everybody knows that plants are great for the air, right? They have been scientifically proven to filter out a wide variety of nasty toxins. Unfortunately I am a serial plant-killer, but in the interest of eco-consciousness and an enthusiastic attitude, I am giving it another whirl.
3. Use non-toxic, green cleaners
Don’t bother with the so-called eco-friendly stuff from the stores. Most of it is no good and if it is ok then it probably costs an arm and a leg. Get a spray bottle from the dollar store. Fill it halfway with white vinegar and halfway with water. Spray, wipe with a rag, the end. That’s all I use 98% of the time! If you need ideas for a specific type of cleaning, then check out this post for more ideas: How to Clean Your Whole House Without Using Nasty Chemicals.
4. Grow food
Have a garden, if you are able! It doesn’t have to be too complicated, and there’s nothing better than biting into a freshly-picked green bean that you grew yourself. Rewarding, delicious, and great for the environment. I have a small garden of about 10 x 6 feet, but if you don’t have a yard at all, you can always try container gardening.
5. Take public transit or walk
One of the greatest assets of city-living is the accessibility. My city has great public bus and subway systems (along with a really cool streetcar system downtown), which I have ridden many a time before. Bonus: they are the best places for people-watching. There are all kinds of interesting characters in big cities!
Image by Steve
6. Adopt pets instead of buying
A city is usually well-stocked with pet stores, but they are also normally hubs for animal adoption services. We adopted “Mittens” our gentle, sweet cat from an adoption center within a local pet store. This helps give an animal a home that otherwise wouldn’t have one.
What could possibly be more eco-friendly than turning garbage destined for a landfill into luscious, rich soil instead? That’s the magic of home composting! It can seem intimidating at first, but it’s really quite simple, and can be done in any-sized yard. Check out this helpful guide over on my site on How to Start a Successful Backyard Compost.
8. Use kijiji/craigslist or consignment shops
I have gotten some pretty amazing deals on kijiji – everything from toys to a dishwasher, to the rental house we’re currently living in! I love buying second-hand and getting stuff for a fraction of the cost that still works perfectly fine.
I especially love consignment shops for my kids’ clothing. I save hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars every year! Buying second-hand is almost always the more eco-friendly choice, and there are thrift store, consignment shops, and kijiji listings in abundance when you live in the city. I buy clothes, shoes, outerwear, and more. (Anything but underwear and socks!)
(This is what you get when you asked them to smile big. Or maybe they’re super excited about their 100% thrifted wardrobe. Either way they’re pretty cute.)
One area in which our culture is sadly lacking compared to other cultures is in the community mindset, especially when it comes to our possessions. Does it sound silly to anyone else to have 300 lawnmowers in a subdivision, each one mowing no more than 100 square feet of grass, once a week?
Why not have a shared lawnmower? Or shared gardening supplies? Combining this concept with something like kijiji can bring you all kinds of awesome finds, like folks willing to share kefir grains or kombucha scobies!
10. Buy local
There are lots of things you can buy local, especially if you find a great farmer’s market – fruits and veggies, meat, dairy, clothing, honey, toys, furniture, and the list goes on! When you buy local you help out the environment by not buying something that had to travel a long way causing air pollution and using fuel. Check your local farmer’s market, craft fairs, and local non-chain shops in your community.
Related: 10 Questions to Ask Your Meat Supplier
11. Resist stuff
It’s easy to get sucked in to the fast-paced, highly consumeristic culture in the city, but what is the cost? The short illustrated film “The Story of Stuff” is worth every minute of the twenty it takes to watch it. It is compelling and engaging, and will show you just exactly why our culture’s obsession with “stuff” is harming our planet. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it!
12. Experiences over things
One way to help reduce your consumption of the earth’s resources (especially cheaply made stuff in our throw-away culture) is to value experiences over things. Instead of a tangible item as a birthday gift, consider giving an “experience gift” such as concert tickets, passes to the museum, zoo, or park, a fun day at the beach, or even things like music lessons or summer camp.
These are all great gifts that don’t come with too much packaging, nor will they end up in a yard sale next summer! The possibilities are endless in the city!
13. Alternative energy
Dive into the world of renewable energy sources! This is an an area that I don’t yet know much about, but hope to learn. Solar and wind, geothermal, and community power are all fascinating ideas which are growing in popularity, and are totally doable in an urban setting! My city has a page set up to read more, or do a simple google search and start reading.
14. Collect rainwater
Like composting, it can be complicated, or it can be simple. There are expensive systems you can set up if you are really serious about it, but collecting rainwater can be as easy putting a barrel in your yard. The water you collect will be perfect for gardening and other outdoor uses, and it is the perfect way to use less from the tap.
According to this site with a tutorial, “A typical 40-by- 40-foot roof is capable of collecting 1,000 gallons of water from only one inch of rain.”
Wow! That’s pretty incredible. If you have a Berkey, you could even filter it for drinking water.
These are 14 ideas are just getting started. There are lots of ways to be an “urban homesteader”, embracing the mentality of simple, slow, eco-friendly living.
What ideas do you have for urban homesteading?
Other Eco-Friendly Topics You May Enjoy
I too live in a major city on one-half acre where chickens are illegal and the garden can’t be seen from the road. I didn’t think of myself as a homesteader until several people told me I was. At first, I was kind of offended but now see it as a compliment. I do love to garden, preserve fruit and vegetables, grind flour, make bread, and cook from scratch. Your blog got me thinking about other things I do and CAN do. Thanks for a great blog. Off to pick strawberries, make jam, and then blog about it!!
I’m a sustainable/off-grid living coach based in Canada. I came across your lovely site while researching to see whether folks are finally ready to make the change towards sustainable-off-grid living.
Although all of the lovely visitors here seem to have embraced the lifestyle, are you seeing a change regardless of weather patterns or other instabilities?
My husband and I had to sell our farm 2 years ago due to ill health. We built it all ourselves. Totally off grid. Organic. We produced maple syrup and I did animal rescue. Our tiny village lot is a huge lifestyle change. I got my husband 4 apple trees for his birthday. Putting in all wildlife friendly plantings,enclosing our yard in trees and shrubs. Did container gardening on our deck this year. Planning on a garden next to the apple trees. Lots of perrenials. Got a 2 bin rotating composter. Make my own cleaning products. Can tomatoes,peaches,apples etc. Lots of Amish farms nearby. My elderly neighbor and I shop those each week and have a great time. My husband tapped our 3 maple trees our first winter here. Got 2 gallons of syrup. So wish I had the room for chickens. My farm cats have adapted pretty well to being indoors. Lots of windows,cat trees,planted cat nip and grass. Basement has cat trees at the windows. Will be getting an AMISH CREW TO SCREEN IN THE DECK SO WE CAN ALL ENJOY THAT. I’LL KEEp thinking up more stuff as time goes on. Miss our farm something awful. Recycle everything! I keep a nice enamel dish for old batteries and bring those to our county recycling ctr. Run errands with neighbors. Help each other as much as possible and show them what can be done.
I LOVE all the things you are doing. We are considering moving from the country from our acre to the inner city. We would still have a yard, garage, and basement. Probably a bungalow. We could still have chickens here in Indianapolis. My husband isn’t in great health, lost his job nearly six months ago and if we did this, we would be debt free. You have encouraged me and gave me some reasons to hope. Sometimes life isn’t about working so hard you kill yourself. Sometimes it’s spending time doing what you love with those you love.
What a fun post! We too, live where chickens are frowned upon and big gardens too. I love your suggestions for thinking about what you CAN do to Urban homestead. It’s so great to be creative. Thanks for that reminder.
Positivity and creativity go a long way!
Reusable menstrual products, along with wipes, diapers, napkins instead of paper towels… There are tons of alternatives! Also: Canning. Learn to sew, knit, embroider, whichever. Donate to local second hand stores. User tin cans to start seeds in early spring, or just to plant small plants. Watch which candles you burn, some release harmful chemicals to the air, or have lead in the wicks (beeswax smells wonderful and clean the air).
And embrace being a weirdo. Bring containers to restaurants instead of using styrofoam for leftovers.
You’re awesome. I love being a weirdo! Fortunately, we can have chickens!
1 cup Borax powder soap per gallon of water to kill black mold and mildew, 1 cup borax powder added to 1 gallon latex paint to treat mildew walls and paint at the same time, when camping in the BWCA find flat rocks to cover the metal grill and if it rains the fire will not go out, use a army style pup tent with 3 to 6 foot high walls that can be staked out and it will stay up in big storms – also find a nylon plastic coated tarp to fasten on top of it and you will stay dry even in the big rains, when filling sand bags to build a sand bag house (Round is the strongest with a metal roof) fasten the bag on a two wheel cheap refrigerator cart so you can wheel it without lifting it – then use a small crane to lift it into place (You never have to lift it) use galvanized wire mesh and masonry cement to coat the inside and out, if you want a bigger boat use two canoes to form a pontoon and build a lightweight platform on it and build your own motor mount with angle iron and wood, steep 2 cups of willow twigs pencil size for root tone to start cutting and also use it to water house plants (Willow tea 1 spoonful willow bark per cup of hot water for a natural aspirin to drink), Google “vertical gardening photos” to have a large garden in a small space, build an Horno outdoor Mexican Oven, build a solar oven with mirrors glued in a old satellite dish (be careful – use sunglasses – it can reach 6500 degrees) focus it on the cooking pot, rent out part of your house to help with bills, Google self employment jobs / businesses you can start from your garage, raise big gardens and trade (Give away) extra food for help with your needs, build a three wheel bicycle truck for small business or for your main transportation, I like the solar rechargeable electric elf bicycle car for about $5,000 plus fees made in S.W. USA Organic Transit South Carolina recently a man drove it from Florida to Canada, recently exercise was found to be the fountain of youth but do not get overheated, angle the dirt around your house for the water to drain away and then heavy plastic tarp then more dirt then heavy plastic tarp then cement pavers so you do not need a roof gutter – but use some roof gutters to catch the water (stored in a tank) (the tank can be underground in cold climates) to water your garden
I just watched “the story of stuff” and I was left wondering why I hadn’t watched it sooner? I’m blown away by how disposable things are – even when I take steps to avoid such items in my own home…they still are quite disposable. Even when I thrift shop, kijiji, freecycle, reuse and repurpose…the issue is more that things are not made the way they need to/used to/should be :/
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom
Just shared on FB. Love it. We don’t have kijiji here though :(.
Came to your site trough facebook. Yes, another renter who is homesteading and lives in Canada. Love it a great list!
Kelly @ The Nourishing Home
GREAT ideas, Beth! I love homesteading as much as I can for a somewhat citified girl. LOL! This summer we’re starting a compost and your idea to collect rainwater has really got me thinking that would be a great option this winter – rain generally only occurs in the winter here. I plan to share your post with my pinterest and FB fans. I hope others will be as inspired as I’ve been by your wonderful ideas! Blessings, sweet friend, Kelly
Loved this post!! Great list of simple steps, most of them are already part of our lifestyle and a good reminder of how simple things can make a big change.
Sharing garden/lawn equipment? Brilliant. We rent in a place that has gardeners (which sounds cushy but it’s all very real life) but if we had to mow the grass, I’d be wanting to share the mower.
We live in a ‘crunchy’ place so it’s easier to partake in more thoughtful activities. Buying local from the farm is actually easier then going to the store. =) Oh, and we’ve found every place we’ve lived on kijiji. =) Love it.
Great list. I was so happy that I already practice several of these things. I absolutely love hanging my laundry outside, and my seven-year-old daughter has caught the bug too.
Great ideas here, Beth. I have definitely scored a bunch of great stuff on kijiji in Toronto! I am going to try my hand at building an apartment compost bin this fall since our building doesn’t have anything for organic waste, and I am pretty excited to hopefully make some dirt and divert some waste from the garbage chute 🙂
hi, the kijiji that you mentioned in the post, is it connected to Ebay? Just wondering if this is the right site that I am looking at, that’s what popped up when I tried to google it.
thanks and love your wonderful blog, great, helpful info.
Kijiji is ( http://vancouver.kijiji.ca/ ) is like Craig’s List. Post, Buy and Sell. Personally I like Craig’s List more.
This is a fantastic list! I think it can seem overwhelming in a city to figure out how to be more in tune with nature, and less damaging to her too. But in some ways, being in the city gives you some major advantages (like public transport availability) over country dwellers. There’s always something I can do to improve and this list is a great reminder of where I’m doing well and new ideas for taking it up a notch!