Minimalist Interview: Joy Sussman

joy sussmanAll photos copyright Used by permission.

Meet Joy Sussman

Joy Sussman blogs at Joyfully Green, writing for “nature-lovers who yearn for ways to make meaningful differences and eco-conscious decisions in their everyday lives.”

She also teaches an online nature photography course. I’ve not personally taken it, but I’ve heard good things about it from a couple of friends who have. All the photos in the post are Joy’s.

Although you don’t call yourself a minimalist, I’ve been reading your blog for several months now, and you regularly encourage your readers to live simpler and more fulfilling lives. How and when did you become interested in simple living?

I grew up with a forest in my back yard and a father who loved nature. He was always outside tending to his gardens or walking in the forest, so I became naturally interested in those things as well. My very first post at Joyfully Green was about how my childhood years shaped my ideas about being green and led me to this point of being an eco-blogger and nature photographer. If you grow up loving nature and are immersed in it, you instinctively want to protect it. And simple living is one of the purest forms of respecting nature and the environment.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a real aversion to shopping. Part of that was heavily influenced from cleaning out my childhood home with my sister after our parents passed away. Going through all of their stuff was not fun–it was emotionally and physically draining. My parents weren’t hoarders by any stretch, but clearing out the house they’d lived in for decades to prepare it for sale involved a lot of coordinating with local thrift shops, having estate sales, carting things off to relatives’ houses, etc. And I don’t want my own children to have the heavy task of dealing with so much of their parents’ stuff.

I think that when you’re content with your life and with what you already have, you’re not always out seeking “more, more, more!” It’s important to separate “having more stuff” from “happiness” because the emotional high from shopping is addictive and short-lived.

I know one of your goals is to live more sustainably. Why is this important to you?

Honestly, I find it hard to believe there’s anybody out there who doesn’t want to live more sustainably, because the damage we’re doing to the earth at such a rapid pace is mind-boggling.

joy sussman

Some people shy away from the idea of green living, thinking anything more than recycling is too complicated. What green living tips do you have for my readers who are new to the idea of living more sustainably and looking for some easy ways to get started?

Funny you should mention recycling because–although we certainly should do it instead of throwing recyclable containers in the trash–it takes an enormous amount of water and fossil fuels for the process. Most people think they’re doing the right thing by recycling, but (as I learned from reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte), much of the “merit” of recycling was created by the manufacturers of plastic bottles and aluminum cans. They’ve successfully placed the onus on the consumer, instead of creating more responsible packaging in the first place.

So, instead of recycling, it’s better to just buy reusable things whenever possible. I think that’s an easy first step towards green living. Start replacing things you throw out or recycle with things that can be reused, such as cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, and a thermos instead of plastic bottles of water. You’ll also save a lot of money in the process, so it’s a rewarding first step.

Another thing you can do is try growing some of your own food. Kids find it especially fun to grow things from seeds, and it’s a good science lesson for them. (Also, it’s much healthier than buying store-bought produce that’s been sprayed with pesticides.) Just start with two or three plants so you don’t get overwhelmed. Basil is easy to grow, as are cherry tomatoes.

One last thing that’s easy: If you don’t already have reusable shopping bags, get a few and stow them in the front seat of your car so you don’t forget them when you go into the store. Plastic bags are awful for the environment (our oceans and wildlife bear the brunt of it), and many cities around the world are starting to charge for plastic bags or ban them entirely, so if you’re not already on the reusable bag bandwagon, now is a great time to jump on it!

joy sussman

Do you believe it’s possible to live a green lifestyle without living simply?

Well, I’ve admitted this before on my blog, but I live in a relatively big house and I drive a mini-van, so I’m not living 100% simply either. (We do power the house through an alternative energy company that uses a combination of wind/hydro/solar power.) I think the main thing about simple living, at least for me, is to cut your addiction to buying new things. Take care of the things you already own, so you don’t have to replace them. Find good homes (not the dump) for the things you aren’t using. We’ve had a number of yard sales over the years, and it’s such a good feeling to see families happily walking away with the things we weren’t using anymore.

A little over a year ago, you wrote about being a “bad relaxer.” Since that time, have you gotten any better at just being? If so, what tips do you have for others who are always busy doing something?

I’m still terrible at things like meditating because I just can’t sit still, but I’ve finally found what puts me in an almost meditative state: photography. Especially macro photography. Getting up close to tiny things and studying them is fascinating, slows me down, and takes me out of my own hyperactive thoughts. After my family, the thing that brings me the most peace and comfort is photography. That’s one reason I’m so happy to be teaching photography classes online now. I’m doing what I love to do, and that brings me peace.

How do your kids feel about living a simpler and eco-friendlier lifestyle?

My children (ages 6 and 10) are actually quite good at green living–we’re proud of them for it! For their birthdays, they’ve each collected donations for their favorite charity (Eleventh Hour Rescue, the rescue organization that saved our dog) instead of getting presents from their friends. I’ve heard them tell each other in stores, “You don’t want that toy–it’s just plastic junk made in China!” And they love the library. We go to the library at least twice a week because they’re both voracious readers. This way, they can pick out new books to read and they don’t end up cluttering our house. Libraries really are one of the greenest ways to go–I love them! I test-drive my own books there. I have to really, really LOVE a book from the library in order to buy it, so it’s helped me to cut way down on book purchases.

I think it’s important to set good examples for kids. We can’t tell them that we’re limiting their tech time, but then have our noses stuck to our cell phones. And we can’t tell them that money doesn’t buy happiness, but then have a bunch of mail-order catalogues strewn all over the house and spend the weekend at the mall.

joy sussman

What’s been your biggest challenge trying to live a green life with kids?

The lure of technology is hard for kids. They can turn into little zombies if they have too much TV or computer time, so for our children, we limit tech time (they use iPads) to under an hour on Saturday and Sunday, and an occasional TV show. (They can’t just flip on the TV whenever they want–they have to ask us first.) Their moods are much better if they’re not playing tech games for hours or vegging out in front of the TV. My son complains from time to time that his friends get more tech time, but we’re firm about the limits. All in all, it works for us.

You’ve written about wanting to spend more time and money on experiences than things. Do you feel you’ve been successful?

Definitely. I’m just not a shopper anymore, and this is something I’m passing on to my kids. I can’t even remember the last time we went to a big shopping mall–maybe sometime in 2013?! But we see a lot of movies as a family, or play chess and backgammon, or we go into New York, or we see local plays together. It’s so much more meaningful to create memories than to buy more stuff. I’ve written a few posts about this: Breaking Up with the UPS Man (My Ode to Non-Consumerism) and The Gift of Being in the Presence of Greatness.

Given that you’re a blogger, do you find it difficult to take your own advice and “unplug” on a regular basis?

Absolutely. And I’m in a niche with other green bloggers who are espousing the idea of unplugging, and regularly go on self-enforced technology breaks, which I don’t do. It’s a conundrum because the more you put into your blog, the more you get out of it. Blog readers come to expect certain things at certain times, and I post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

I’m always all over any advice about how to balance “real life” with online life and social media. I have to set time limits for the computer and make sure I get outdoors every day–preferably, with a camera!

To learn more about Joy Sussman, her advice for green living and her e-photography course, visit Joyfully Green.


16 thoughts on “Minimalist Interview: Joy Sussman

  1. Joy, when my grandmother passed away my grandfather began to go through his house getting rid of everything he didn’t need on a daily basis. It felt strange at first seeing his home so bare, but he didn’t want anyone to have to deal with his stuff when he died. It led me to thinking about the same with my children, I don’t want them to need days to go through my home and find places to donate my things.

    I also read Garbage Land and was shocked by what they do with the glass we put in our recycling bins. I sort my trash because I don’t want it to end up in the landfill, yet glass while it can be recycled numerous times (unlike plastic) is often ground up and used to pave roads or simply as layer covering in the landfill. For these reasons I try to avoid recycling because I don’t know where my items may ultimately end up.

    • One more reason to eat less processed food. Is it the glass industry that lobbied to do away with reusable glass bottles? Why did we stop returning Coke bottles, etc.? When I was in Honduras I noticed theirs are still refillable.

      • Chisty, I’m not sure who lobbied to stop the returnable bottles, but plastic seemed to become popular at the same time. We had bottle washing plants around town both Pepsi and Meadowbrook Milk had their own bottle washing buildings. With no longer reusing the bottles we lost quite a few jobs with it.

  2. I love seeing Joy getting out and about! What a perfect place for her to visit. I never really thought about recycling that way – that the companies are putting it all on us, but I can see it now. We wash out our peanut butter container and bring it to Whole Foods every week. (We use those peanut grinding machines.) I was throwing away the plastic container for a couple of weeks before I thought, Whoa, dude! Wash it out and bring it with you when you go. So easy!

    I loved hearing more about how Joy lives. Thank you for sharing her with us here, Christy!

    • I try to not buy or re-use if I can (vs recycling), but I didn’t think about it being the companies either, until Joy explained it.

      As for the PB….no one else in my house will bother with the stirring thing with natural PB, and I’ve been thinking of using the machine instead of buying the jars, and just getting a little at a time and immediately refrigerating it upon getting home from the store. Does that solve that problem? Or do you not know because you go through tons of peanut butter?

      • Another thing on the recycling issue that I learned from the Garbage Land book: One of our primary exports is plastic for recycling. We send it over to China on huge barges (not eco-friendly!), where they make it (under questionable conditions) into cheap, plastic stuff (toys you find at the Dollar Store, Wal-Mart, etc.) and send it all back to us. It’s a terrible trade system for the environment. That book is well worth a read, but depressing!

        • That is depressing. It’s better to know though, I suppose, so we can help make changes. I’ve ordered the book from my library.

      • I am not sure my reply went through. If so, please delete this! Stirring is not our thing either! Lengthy meal prep of any time is not for us, so we just bring the container each week, grind (no added salt – bonus!), refrigerate, eat, and repeat.

        Hope you’re having a great weekend!

        • Thanks for the info and hope you’re having a great weekend as well. We have beautiful weather which we’re putting to good use by doing yard work – and cleaning out the garage.

      • We used to have the machine at our local grocery store. I was so happy… then of course, it got bought by another company… sigh….

        I go through enough peanut butter to not need to refrigerate it. I pour it out into a bowl, give it a good mix and pour it back in. Every time I use it, I give it an old knife swirl and it stays “connected”!

        It takes quite a bit of time to separate…

        • We don’t go through it fast enough – probably because I’m the only one who eat it. A vicious cycle 😉 Once I made my own in the food processor. May try that again and make small amounts.

  3. GORGEOUS pictures!!!! That first one looks like the beginning of a Pixar movie 🙂 And a great interview, giving me lots to think about…

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