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“Why we should make outdoor education a priority” with Stephanie Seferian and Penny Bauder

Make outdoor education a priority. If our children love nature, they’ll be more likely to fight for it. Foster a love of nature in children by offering daily opportunities to explore outside (in both good weather and in bad weather, too!). While younger children benefit from scavenger hunts and gross-motor adventures, the outdoors provides the […]


Make outdoor education a priority. If our children love nature, they’ll be more likely to fight for it. Foster a love of nature in children by offering daily opportunities to explore outside (in both good weather and in bad weather, too!).
While younger children benefit from scavenger hunts and gross-motor adventures, the outdoors provides the perfect classroom, so to speak, for older children and teenagers to conduct independent, interest-led inquiries into the workings of the natural world.

As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Seferian. Stephanie is the voice behind MamaMinimalist.com and the Sustainable Minimalists podcast. She believes that little choices add up and that incremental minimalism is the key to saving our planet. As such, she inspires parents to adopt eco-friendly lifestyle tweaks that don’t add extra stress or extra work. Each week, Stephanie inspires thousands of women to make slow-but-steady changes toward sustainability. She has been featured in SELF Magazine, NBC News, Readers Digest and many more. Stephanie lives in Massachusetts with her two young daughters, a yellow Labrador Retriever and a husband who loves to compost.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Thank you so much for the opportunity! I grew up in a suburban New England town to divorced parents. Sadly, neither of my parents were particularly eco-friendly. We recycled because recycling meant we produced fewer bags of trash (which meant a smaller fee at the dump). My mother line-dried our clothes in the backyard because doing so shaved money off the electricity bill. Any green habits my parents undertook were done primarily because they were financially advantageous; sustainability just happened to be an unintended benefit.

Still, I identified as eco-conscious from a young age. I wrote poems in school about how to care for the planet (which I still have, by the way!). I followed my mother around the house and turned lights off when she left a room. (I didn’t see the purpose in wasting electricity!)

As a young kid, my mother brought my sister and me to the town dump and recycle center every Saturday morning to unload the trash we produced that week. I remember these experiences vividly. I enjoyed the recycling part of the experience quite a bit; I especially enjoyed tossing our glass recyclables down the chute until I heard them crash and break below.

But the sight of infinite trash heaps as far as I could see paired with the indescribable stench of the landfill filled me with deep unease, and that’s because I understood from a young age that all that garbage could be repurposed if we were more self-aware as consumers.

As a kid in the 1990’s I also understood that identifying as an environmentalist wasn’t particularly “cool”, so I didn’t shout my love for Planet Earth from the rooftops. As I entered my twenties I began traveling abroad, however, and these experiences offered undeniable evidence that the rest of the world didn’t live in the same idyllic New England bubble I did. The poverty and subsequent environmental exploitation I witnessed offered irrefutable evidence that the planet needed some serious saving.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

I started my own transition to eco-friendly living shortly after becoming a mother.

Both before my daughter was born and after, friends and family showered her with gifts. She received far more gizmos, gadgets and toys than she needed. She was gifted hundreds of new outfits but grew so fast she never wore half of them.

I, meanwhile, experienced significant anxiety when attempting to organize, sort, manage and clean all these new belongings my infant had amassed. I found myself asking some big questions about the true cost of consumerism, and I wondered what a simpler, greener way of living in the twenty-first century could look like.

I remembered the dump I visited as a child and I realized that all our stuff would eventually be piled there, contributing to that larger and larger landfill. That was my aha moment: Less stuff means less stress. It means less impact on the planet, too.

After that, I began the process of becoming a minimalist. I donated or sold everything unnecessary, first my daughter’s things, then my own. I became acutely aware that the way to save the planet was to need less, buy less and consume less “stuff.” I found myself wanting to preserve the planet for my daughter’s sake.

And then I started reading. I devoured scientific articles outlining the future of the planet and I learned that our future reality is actually much more grim than we realize. I started listening, too, to pieces on public radio about the importance of action NOW. I became extremely fearful for my daughter’s future — Would she even have a future? — and I decided I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.

So I did something, in the form of first my blog and then The Sustainable Minimalists podcast.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

These days, I wake up every morning with a fire in my soul for my work and for the power of incremental sustainability.

My only regret is that I didn’t step into my truth and embrace my eco-friendliness earlier. If you’re eco-conscious, don’t wait to act. Don’t stay silent just because environmentalism isn’t what the cool kids are doing.

The time to speak up and speak out is now.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

I believe that many parents want to run eco-friendly households but they don’t know where to start. I give them a starting place.

The message I repeat over and over again on the podcast is that it’s imperative to start small. When we attempt to tackle too much at once, we do nothing well. But when we adopt small changes, one after the other? That’s when the magic happens because that’s when our lifestyle tweaks become daily habits.

I advocate for incremental sustainability which is the idea that it’s prudent to start with the low-lying fruit. I suggest that listeners adopt a simple change that’s not particularly hard and try it on for size. Once they’ve mastered that simple change, I present a second low-lying fruit.

Before my listeners realize it, they’ve gone and grabbed the ladder all on their own.

On my show, I offer specific ways for ordinary parents to embrace small lifestyle tweaks that, over time, add up. I offer unconventional ideas that go beyond reusable coffee mugs and shopping bags, too, because when individuals each do a little bit we begin to see collective change on a global scale.

It’s common to want to upend our lives and do everything all at once, especially after understanding the scope of the climate change problem. But in my experience — and in the experiences of many of my listeners — doing too much too soon leads to eco-burnout.

It’s common to get overwhelmed, too. It’s easy to throw up our hands and declare that the problem is too big for ordinary citizens to tackle. But it’s not. Slow and steady breeds success.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Step one: Stop buying paper towels.

When you stop buying paper towels, you’re making a statement against deforestation. You’re cutting back considerably on your trash production, too. So rip up stained clothes and towels that are in such rough condition you can’t donate them and arm yourself with rags. I keep all my rags in a drawer in the kitchen (I have about 50); some people roll them and keep them in a basket on the kitchen counter.

Try this change on for awhile and allow yourself to adapt to the process. You will find yourself doing more laundry than normal, and it’s OK to feel frustrated at that. But know that in a few short weeks you will have adapted to this change and using rags instead of paper towels will be second nature. The extra laundry won’t bother you anymore, either.

Next, tackle the other single-use paper products you rely on. Swap out paper napkins for reusables (I like linen ones in a dark color so they don’t show stains). Vow to stop purchasing tissues and give everyone in your household a good, old-fashioned handkerchief.

Another tweak is to start composting. There are many different types of composting — and many people find themselves intimidated by the thought of it — but composting isn’t hard, dirty or time-consuming. It’s the best and easiest way to reduce the amount of trash you send to the landfill, too.

Finally, be on the lookout for eco-friendly products and swap them out as your existing products empty. As consumers we have great purchasing power. By becoming more intentional in our buying habits we can force companies to be thoughtful in product design and sustainable in business practice.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

1. Channel eco-anxiety into action

Eco-anxiety is often a debilitating force; indeed, 4 out of 5 10–12 year olds report feelings of fear and hopelessness about the future of Earth. But instead of allowing eco-anxiety to fester, we can help our children channel planet-related fears into action by viewing such fears as an energy instead of as an ailment.

Parents and children can redirect eco-anxiety into action by protesting peacefully, campaigning for preferred political candidates, contacting companies behaving badly, educating others about climate change and more.

2. Lead by example

It’s cliche but it’s true: Our children are always watching.

Leading by example means that parents must adopt the ‘big’ eco-friendly actions (abstaining from air travel, eating plant-based) as well as the ‘small’ ones (using a rain barrel to conserve water, shopping the bulk bins).

While leading by example doesn’t require perfection, it does require repetition. That’s because, as children grow older, they become living mirrors of the day-to-day behavior they observe at home.

3. Get kids comfortable with being uncomfortable

Environmental scientists hypothesize that natural resources will soon deplete + necessities we take for granted like clean water, food + heat will become scarce. The easy lifestyle many of us in developed countries enjoy may soon be a thing of the past.

We as parents must prepare our kids for an uncertain future by presenting them with opportunities to be uncomfortable. Revamp their chores so that eco-friendly habits take precedence: Instruct them to lug water from the rain barrel out back to the garden instead of resorting to the hose. Teach them to line dry their laundry instead of relying on the dryer. Decide they’ll no longer be driven to the bus stop but will walk, instead.

Offer tailored opportunities for personal growth so that our kids will be ready to tackle the increased individual demands of a planet undergoing rapid climate change when the time comes.

4. Make outdoor education a priority

If our children love nature, they’ll be more likely to fight for it.

Foster a love of nature in children by offering daily opportunities to explore outside (in both good weather and in bad weather, too!).

While younger children benefit from scavenger hunts and gross-motor adventures, the outdoors provides the perfect classroom, so to speak, for older children and teenagers to conduct independent, interest-led inquiries into the workings of the natural world.

5. End mindless consumption

Consumerism is killing our planet. As parents, it’s our job to fight back against the culture of consumerism that surrounds us. It’s on us to say enough is enough, because our kids have neither the wisdom nor the maturity to discern hype from reality. They need us to do it for them.

Mindless consumption ends when families intentionally make birthdays + holidays smaller. It happens also when parents no longer desire to “keep up with the Joneses” but instead prioritize experiences over “stuff”.

If you want to spend money on your kids, do what minimalists do. Don’t buy them the latest and greatest gadget, or the on-trend fast fashion item. Instead, take the family on an experience and create priceless memories in the process.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brendan Synnott, CEO of Pact Apparel, on my show. Brendan made a point that stuck with me long after the interview concluded: Consumers will not pay more to do the right thing.

I wholeheartedly agree. Businesses who seek to be both profitable and sustainable need to do so in a way that keeps costs low because most consumers will not pay more for an eco-friendly product.

As a consumer, I appreciate how Pact combines sustainable style with affordability. If an eco-friendly company wants to make money it must find a way to keep costs comparable to similar, non-green products already on the market.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband is very easy-going, especially when it comes to making eco-friendly changes to our household. He turns the compost regularly without me having to nag him. He packs his lunch in glass containers even though his coworkers give him the side-eye. He boldly foregoes plastic at every turn when shopping for groceries and he does so with a smile.

Like me, my husband believes this planet is worth saving; he, too, thinks incremental sustainability is the way to do it. I’m eternally grateful to have a partner who embraces the unconventional alongside me.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The first curbside recycling program started in 1980; these days, separating recyclables and putting them on the curb alongside trash is mainstream.

I’d love to see the same movement ignite with composting. Although some communities offer pickup of compostable materials, how great would it be if every municipality offered curbside composting alongside trash and recycling?

The truth of the matter is we need to drastically reduce the amount of trash we send to landfills each week. Curbside compost pickup will make significant trash reduction possible for many families.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

My household operates under the belief that unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. We strive to live minimally and sustainably by purchasing less and — when we do need to purchase something — by purchasing intentionally. This means we do our research. We read reviews. We make 100% certain that we can’t repurpose, reuse or borrow from someone else first.

It’s a running joke in our home that we can’t keep up with the Joneses because they’re too busy. It’s easy to get caught up in both the rat race as well as the possessions race with our neighbors; instead of trying, we constantly remind each other that we simply aren’t playing the comparison game.

There’s immense freedom in choosing not to play.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

I can be found on Facebook, Instagram + Pinterest.

The Sustainable Minimalists podcast can be found in the following places:

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts

Spotify

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you! This was such a pleasure!

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