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Sustainable life: Less is more

Mia Swainson

Big houses, big cars and new shiny things.

We love progress. It wasn’t so long ago that the average family home had two rooms, no electricity and travel was by horse and cart. Wow. Life was tough back then.

Right now things are pretty comfortable. But, do we really need everything to be shiny, new and big to live comfortably? When we’re building a new house, we find it hard to choose between two or three bathrooms. Is that second car is really needed? We can always justify buying the latest release computer or phone… somehow?

Here are my top five tips for living with less, so the planet can have more

  1. Less energy keeping you comfortable

In Canberra, heating uses more household energy than anything else. Making changes here can make a big difference to your bills and the planet. Improving your insulation, sealing cracks and double glazing are all likely to pay off in reduced bills.

Next priority, target your heating well. Zone your home and heat the areas that need it, not everywhere. Consider turning down the temperature and putting on an extra layer. A difference of just one degree can reduce the amount of heat energy needed by up to 10%. In our house, we compromise and the morning heating is one degree cooler than the evening’s temperature.

  1. Small is beautiful

Small houses cost less to build, use less energy for heating and cooling, need fewer furnishings and take less time to maintain. Australians have some of the biggest homes in the world, according to shrink my footprint, with an average of 89 m2/ person. This is almost three times the average floor space of homes in the United Kingdom and about double the average home size in France.

Can’t do without space for your kids or guests to make noise? Consider converting part of your shed into an independent play room/ guest room. It only needs heating and cooling when it’s being used and it’ll force you to do something about the stuff in the back of the shed that’s never used.

  1. Who needs that car

Everything’s close in Canberra, so do we all need a car? Car sharing is just starting in Canberra, with Go Get and Popcar offering arrangements in Civic and the Parliamentary triangle. Car sharing lets you use different cars, like a van or a small car, when you need it and there’s no need to worry about maintenance – it’s included in your hire fee.

If your household really needs a car, can you make it just one for the family? Reducing the availability of a car forces you to think about alternative transport like cycling, walking, public transport or car pooling.   Once you’re in the habit of riding or walking, it’ll be hard to go back to sitting in traffic.

  1. Buy things that you really need

Shiny, new things are just so alluring! The latest computer, phone or Fitbit are fun. There are gadgets for your kitchen, laundry, shed and more. Then, there’s fashion. New colours mean new tops, pants and matching shoes. Choose wisely. New things become old quickly. Many objects spend less time in our home than they spent getting manufactured and shipped to Australia for your buying pleasure. Try extending the life of things you already own, buying second hand or swapping on your local buy nothing facebook group.

  1. Less meat and more vegetables

Surprised that the food we eat matters? The Australian Government’s Agricultural Department reports that around 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. The real issue is methane in the stinky farts of cows and sheep!

Chicken and fish are better meat choices, with about one-third the carbon impact of beef or lamb. Take it a step further and get your protein from vegetables and eggs. Fall in love with tasty Indonesian Gado Gado, Middle Eastern Falafel burgers and Mexican bean tacos.

We can choose to live with less and be kind to our planet. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we need to live in a two bedroom hut, without electricity and our mobile phone.


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy ( More about the Author

  • Alison Plevey

    Great article Mia, thank you

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