Jessica is my best friend and we share similar stories of living abroad. I know her from a long time and from my last trip to Paris I noticed few changes in her life. We talked several times about what we have learned form living in other country and the cultural aspects that influenced us on our way of living. The consumption, how we dress and care, how and what we eat – among others. The interview below is from our long talks and thoughts about sustainability and our living mode.
What is sustainability for you?
It took me a while to understand that sustainability is not only about the macro scale. I believe this is a current perception and it leads us to not take responsibility for our actions as individuals. Without neglecting the macro aspect of sustainability, I now perceive it as a way of life that is conscientious about its impact, and seek to further reduce it
You lived in Paris for 2 years, and now you are located in The Hague. Do you think that the lifestyle of these places influenced you in any way?
It definitely did. Experiencing a different culture and lifestyle is an extraordinary opportunity to adopt new perspectives on many life aspects. Some of them are a bit obvious – I knew that moving to Paris or to The Hague would teach me a lot about alternative transportation.
And indeed it has! It is just amazing how quality of life improves when you have easy access to decent public transportation. Paris is a very bike friendly city, even with the(sometimes) crazy traffic. Regularly biking around Paris proved to me, once again, that individuals have an important role to play – if Paris is a bike friendly city is not only due to policy on transportation but a result of individual’s behaviour. I could bike in the most chaotic boulevard – within worst hours – and still cars would always pay attention and give me preference.
I was surprised by how I could improve my lifestyle with some minors and majors changes. For instance, part of French and Dutch lifestyle is prioritizing comfort when it comes to clothing (and I honestly believe it has much to do with other aspects of their lives, such as the way they move around!). That was probably the greatest influence on me. Comfort became a steady element in my clothing choices. This does not mean though abdicating on fashion. Let’s not forget French women are known as being very elegant, but you’ll hardly see a French girl struggling on high heels having drinks after work! Simplicity is definitely the key. This also helped me a lot to reduce that urge to consume.
I also became much more conscious about the origin of products I consume, by observing their (Parisians) preferences in daily diet. I noticed that I could reduce my consumption of industrialized food and give preference for local products and organic food.
Small changes are very meaningful too – for instance, stop using plastic bags and always having one Eco bag/cloth bag with you is a simple measure that has a big impact.
We talked about clothes consumption, and the often exaggeration within woman closet. Can you talk a bit about that?
It is no surprising affirming we have much more than what we really need. Countless pairs of shoes, purses, clothes, underwear! This crazy clothing consumption, in my point of view, expresses much more than a consumerist habit. It is much related to our obsession over beauty. That became clear to me when I realized how women in France and in the Netherlands give less importance to appearance and as a consequence dress in a simplest way. Using the same coat is never an issue, nor the same dress. People just won’t notice. Or won’t care! We just care too much.
Is there an important moment or situation that made you re-think your closet and needs?
I can mention two (quite simple) situations within my living that made me think about it.
First happened when I moved to Paris and was furnishing my rental apartment. I new that place was temporary, but yet my home – so I had to make it nice and comfortable. I talked with different people, here and there, and ended up buying few second hand furniture, such as a small shelf where I could fit few books, a metal drawer and few little things. I also got from a friend (that was leaving the city) a mixer, an inflatable mattress, a puff and a printer, that was an essential electronic for me during my studies in Paris.
(funny story about the printer) The printer was from a girl. The girl gave the printer to her cousin, who moved to Paris. The cousin left the city and gave the printer to my friend Larissa, and when Larissa left Paris she gave it to me. I used and I gave the printer to another girl when I left Paris.
The second story happened during my moving from Paris to The Hague. I had to pack all the clothes, objects, books and so on. During the packing process I realised how many elements I gained during my staying. It was hard to pack, and I had to use few bags and boxes to fit all in the car – which I rented to move, as it was hard for me to carry it all using airplanes and trains.
However, my first achievement in Netherlands was a used bicycle, which I am really happy about it. Bottom line, I realized that second hand furniture/object are a good way to be sustainable and yet have your needs filled.
What do you want to change? How? (or why)
I think my consumption habits can still improve a lot. I am trying to be more conscientious when it comes to shopping, especially clothes. Reducing quantity is a first step, which I’m on it now. Ethical shopping is something I care about although I still find very hard to apply. It is a goal, for sure.
Do you want to maintain those changes when you are back in Brazil?
I definitely do. Most of those changes became more and more part of me and many of them are relatively simple to implement, it’s just a matter of adapting.
This is the case, I believe, for being conscious about the origin of food products, waste production and general consumption, for instance.
Being realistic is very important though. Back home public transportation and biking in the city are not always a viable option. But at least I learned how to be flexible – using public transportation or bike implies sharing spaces, not being comfortably seated, being outside when it’s raining, when it’s windy or when it’s cold!
Sustainable living mode does not have to do only with simplicity and functionality, but with the way you appreciate your lifestyle and care about the planet. How do you think this project can influence a change?
Hearing other people’s stories and how they relate to a sustainable lifestyle is very inspiring. Sometimes you are just not aware of ways to improve your way of living. Sustainability in a micro scale has much to do with creativity. Sharing experiences allow us to exchange concerns, ideas and solutions.
Interview by Camila Buschle
Jessica T. Canhisares, 27, Lawyer
Currently living in The Hague, NL
photo by Camila Buschle