Every choice is a chance

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. But our tiny, daily actions add up to real change.

It’s a wet, overcast Tuesday and I’m treating myself one of my favorite activities:
Poking Around Antique Stores, Picking Things Up And Putting Them Down Again.

I page through the old Life magazines, fiddle with Fiestaware, imagine a life that necessitates a 12-piece set of Wedgwood china.

I turn a corner and see a sign that shoots an arrow through the dust-filled air of that overfilled antique store right into my heart (if I’m going to go ahead and be melodramatic about it.)

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. But our tiny, daily actions add up to real change. This is, of course, not the intention of said sign. This is a vintage flyer designed to help voters use ballots correctly.

But what I see is a reminder that everything matters. I see confirmation that the tiny choices I make every day add up to something. That might sound demoralizing or overwhelming but I’m choosing to see it as wildly empowering.

Most of us are tired and overworked. We don’t have as much time or energy or money as we’d like and when it comes to making the world a (slightly) better place we’re not sure where to start if we can’t donate $2,000 or 20 hours a week.

As cheesy as it sounds, our tiny, daily choices are a chance to make the world a better place. Click To Tweet

I can buy my $4 latte at Nokomis Beach Coffee (independent, locally-owned) or I can buy my $4 latte at Starbucks.

I can use red solo cups for my party ($14 for 100) or I can use compostable cups ($13 for 50).

I can buy a Merino sweater at Gap for $40 or I can buy a gently-used Merino sweater at Goodwill for $7 and support a non-profit that does tons of good things … and save myself $33.

I can throw my potato peels in my garbage can or I can throw them in my compost can.

When I meet someone new and we’re talking about their love life, I can say “Have you met anyone awesome lately?” or “What are they like?” rather than assuming everyone ever is straight and uses him/her pronouns.

I can buy my $5 eyeliner from Covergirl (who tests on animals) or from NYX (who doesn’t test on animals).

I can watch a sitcom filled with people who look exactly like me or I can watch a sitcom with characters who are different than me.

In a lot of cases, making the kinder choice requires almost zero extra effort from us. Click To Tweet

It is literally the difference of pronouns or Amazon search terms. Or maybe $5.

These tiny, daily choices might not make a big difference to us, but they make a difference to someone.

Of course, I’m not a perfect human. My favorite jeans come from Old Navy and they’re probably made in a sweat shop somewhere. A lot of times I’d rather make one stop at a big box store than drive to 17 (very lovely!) local businesses. Sometimes I buy $5 raspberries in the dead of winter, carbon footprint be damned.

You don’t have to be a perfect human, either. As our boyfriend Walt Whitman reminds us: We are large. We contain multitudes.

But if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by the problems in the world, unsure of where to start, or doubted the effects of your efforts, know that you can make a difference starting where you are, with what you have.

What tiny choices and changes have you made that you think are making the world a better place? Tell us in the comments so we can do them, too!

P.S. 19 (tiny) ways to make the world a better place + What we eat can change the world

photo by annie spratt // cc

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  1. Anonymous

    This right here is my life philosophy. It is to incorporate these things into our daily lives. We don’t have to go out of our way if we can’t afford it/don’t have the time for it. But these things we can do them (most of us, most of the time). We should learn to make better choices a part of our lives, not just a part of 2 hours a week or 20$ when we can afford it. There are so many ways to help bring change. Wonderful post, I expected nothing less from you Sarah. You make this world better just for existing and having this blog where we can find posts like that. I wish you the best.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, thank you so much! What a lovely thing to say! <3

  2. Libby

    This is a brilliant reminder. You’re making the choice either way–might as well make it a good one. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I love that!

  3. lulu

    Sarah, what a lovely post! I too like to make one small good decision over not-as-good decisions in the hopes that my small tiny “goods” can eventually create a wave that at least helps me sleep at night in our current national and world situation…ahem.
    I enjoy your suggestions and add one that does not necessarily cost a cent. I make the decision to listen to my gut when I’m engaging with someone. If they do something particularly well or kind or funny etc. I let them know. Sometimes with a note, email or text, sometimes in person. Instead of worrying I may sound silly or dumb, I let them know that what they did had a positive effect. “You really nailed that lecture at the conference!” or “You have a lovely singing voice. It makes me happy to hear you sing in the mornings in the break room.” etc. So, to practice what I preach, well done on that post, lady! The message you are spreading is being received! 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I love that. It’s pretty rare that something bad came from giving someone a genuine compliment and thank you so much for yours! <3

  4. Rachael

    I’m a voracious reader, and this year I’m going to make a conscious effort to read authors and main characters who are different than me (aka, a white, straight, relatively privileged, small town middle class woman). I’m following a few new Instagram accounts to help me find diverse books.

    I’ve also been known to “rent” dishes for a smallish party from the thrift store when I have a dishwasher. It’s not that much more than paper plates when you can get glasses and plates for a quarter or less. Run them through the dishwasher before and after the party, and re-donate them (or stash them in the garage for next time), and I can feel smug about not buying paper plates and people think I’m so fancy. 🙂

    • Laura

      Bookworm, here I am. I love this! Do you have any suggestions? For actual books/authors or Instagram accounts.
      Also I’d recommend not buying books at big chain bookstores, but at thrift store or indipendent bookstore.

      • Sarah Von Bargen

        Hi Laura! I love everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes and you can never go wrong with Amy Tan or Sherman Alexi. I get 90% of my books from my local public library and I looooove it!

        • Laura

          Thank you so much! I’ve been wanting to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a while now (her Ted talk is amazing!) and I’ll definitely check out the other two authors.
          Yessss libraries are amazing, 100% agree.

  5. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    I’ve always been a bit of a selfish person – I feel ever so slightly for just shopping at H&M and other fast fashion stores just because my budget doesn’t allow anything more pricey. This year however, I will make sure to save up for one piece of clothing that supports sustainable fashion. Oh, and buy second hand more!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      And you can buy (cute! stylish!) clothes from consignment stores for the same price as fast fashion and better ethics.

  6. Marilyn

    This is such a great post with wonderful reminders! One thing I do is I have not one, but TWO Brita filters because I refuse to buy cases of bottled water. Also, since you mentioned Amazon, when I plan to order something from Amazon, I make sure to go to smile.amazon.com to do my shopping so part of my purchase goes toward the charity of my choice. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Such good ideas!

  7. Ashley

    Thanks for this Sarah. Sometimes I find myself becoming incapacitated by my all or nothing attitude – ‘I won’t make healthy choices for the rest of this day, because I had a donut this morning’ or ‘I’ll workout starting Monday’. We need to remember, it’s the little things we do, even just here and there, add up to create our entire life. I try to remember that creating healthy habits or making more ethical purchases is about creating habits for a life time and it doesn’t happen over night.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I’m so guilty of the “Welp, this days in the crapper might as well eat the whole pizza!” thinking!

  8. Rachel

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this exact same topic, in fact it’s part of my new year’s goals for 2017. For me, a big part of spending money like it matters will be eating vegan. I’ve been vegetarian for decades, and like you, I love cheese, but I just can’t support the harm that the dairy industry does to animals and the environment. It’ll be relatively easy to be vegan in Portland, and our climate needs all the help it can get. A tiny change others could make would be to at least cut down on dairy or meat (especially beef).

    Shopping locally as much as possible, and subscribing to media I want to support are the other changes I’ve been making. I re-subscribed to Bust, got an online subscription to Washington Post, and just found out that my husband subscribed to Bitch, Teen Vogue, and Mother Jones, so we’ll be getting lots of great mail this year.
    The election results were a big factor in me wanting to spend money more thoughtfully, did that factor into it for you?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Sort of! I try to make mindful choices most of the time – no matter who’s president – but now more than ever we have take responsibility since the incoming administration obviously won’t be helping. 🙁

  9. Ali

    You’re so right. Making these little choices can have a big impact, and there’s no reason to be so hard on ourselves to do it ALL. There are certain stores I won’t shop at because I know they use underpaid sweatshop workers, but I can’t know ALL of them. I recycle (well, I live in Germany where there are more categories of trash than you can count) and I do my best not to be wasteful. I rarely go to Starbucks, choosing instead the cuter local coffee shops. I know I can do more, but I can add/subtract things a little at a time.

  10. Anonymous

    Great post! My husband and I are huge on recycling. Whenever I take it out, I feel like I’m making the world a slightly better place. And I, too, try to watch shows about/starring people who are different. That’s the grassroots way to change #Oscarssowhite, right? Watching movies that POC have made/starred in, and talking about them!

  11. Eloise

    I love this, at least in large part because most articles make you feel guilty for buying $4 lattes or spending money on clothes. I love the acknowledgment that we all have different priorities for our money, but we can at least spend it intentionally to support causes we believe in.



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