Sustainable living is tough. It is also a worthy pursuit, taken in tiny incremental steps until you realize that thinking sustainably has become part of who you are. There is no one right to approach sustainability, there is no perfection. Everyone who is trying falls somewhere on the continuum. We do what we can.
For instance, someone questioned our buying a new bicycle trailer. Why didn't we buy a used trailer? We looked, but all we could find were old child trailers. They could be converted somehow, but we weren't sure we had the know-how to do it. Why didn't we build one ourselves? We don't have the skills to build a trailer from scratch. In this case we traded what we have, cash, for a trailer. Someone else might have more skills and less cash. Burley is a good company. It is cooperatively owned by its employees, and the trailer was manufactured in Eugene, Oregon.
My thinking on sustainability evolves on a daily basis (my friends think I change my mind a lot!). When I think about peak oil and living in smaller, self-sustained communities I know that we need to be prepared. I'm not sure that stockpiling cash is going to do us any good. No, I'm not going to blow the nest egg, but slowly I want to acquire durable goods that will serve us in the years to come. I'm thinking of things such as a treadle sewing machine, a well-made carpet sweeper, bicycles, etc. Everything that I purchase now I evaluate for its long-term durability. If I need a measuring cup, I go with stainless steel. If I need a pot, I buy cast iron.
This isn't only about how long things will last. I want thing that aren't made of plastic, because it is wasteful to produce and doesn't decompose at the end of its lifecycle. There are little choices you can make; wooden pencils, solid wood furniture, a metal trash can. You can choose organic cloth diapers and wool covers. Wooden clothes pins and cotton line. A glass pitcher instead of Tupperware. It is helpful to think of the lifecycle of anything you buy. Where did it come from? What is it made of? How long will it last? Can it be made into something else once it can no longer serve its original purpose? Finally, can it be recycled (metals and glass) or composted (cotton and wool)?
It's easy to get consumed by guilt. I want organic produce. Eventually I plan to acquire the necessary skills to grow a lot of produce right here at home. For now, I buy what I can find organically grown locally, and I order the rest. Do I feel bad that my box comes via FedEx? Sure, but not enough to support local, conventionally grown produce. I am in the inbetween place, sourcing out what I can locally, slowly finding more. Next summer we will garden! I will not be put off by the amount of money it takes to get a few beds going.
Balance and being aware can take you far.