Yvonne Kristín Fulbright
Go Green in the New Year, Iceland-Style
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Gleðilegt nýtt ár! Happy New Year!
I remember thinking, as a little girl, that 2020 was so far away, and wondering what dreams and future fantasy depictions the year would realize. Plus, what would the future beyond this future year hold? Yet, in preparing for this New Year’s blog, contemplating the future isn’t as critical as examining the present, and how people, all over the world, can do a better job taking care of the planet.
Nature feeds us, nourishes us, molds us. Going green, Iceland-style, in the New Year, and every year, is sure to boost your sense of well-being, life management and control. With sexual wellness integrally tied to overall wellness, taking care of the planet is not only a matter of self-care, but a form of sensual care as well.
Iceland wasn’t modernized until the establishment of the U.S. Army’s NATO base in the Keflavík area during World War II. For most of the country’s history, Icelanders have been reliant upon the environment, and taking care of Mother Nature, in surviving and passing the baton to the next generation.
In writing this blog, I’m thinking a lot about my Amma (grandma) and Afi (grandpa), who let nothing go to waste, as was habitual for everyone in our village of Stykkishólmur and throughout the country. With 2020 now here, it is my hope that you will find the practices of older Icelanders inspirational in taking care of our planet and communities.
As we go into the next decade, full of reflection and ready for renewal, may we learn from the following planet-care, self-care strategies…
Reuse/Repurpose: Every single thing that entered a household, like my grandparents’ home of Sólbergi, was used again and again until it could be used no more. If store-bought goodies were sold in a tin, for example, the tin was eventually used for storing homemade cookies. Such repurposing continues today, with Icelandic playschools, for example, having children create art out of old cereal boxes or worn puzzle pieces. Nearly everything is evaluated as to how it can be reused versus tossed into the garbage or sent immediately to recycling.
Reduce use of paper products. With Iceland largely lacking trees, paper products are a premium. Instead of paper towels, cloth towels are used for cleaning. Older generations are better about using handkerchiefs versus boxes of tissues for runny noses. On a similar vein, older generations didn't have the wasteful luxuries of plastic wrap and aluminum foil in storing food. Homemade bread, for example, was wrapped in a dampened cloth in maximizing freshness.
Avoid food waste. My family still jokes that it’s amazing that Amma didn’t kill Afi with some of the leftovers that were consumed days later. While I’m not encouraging food poisoning, many of us could make more out of what we have in our kitchen.
Avoid seasonal shopping sprees. My grandparents’ generation didn't update their wardrobe every season, or even yearly, for that matter. They mended clothing, with needle and yarn always available to darn one’s socks or patch a tear. One of my favourite pictures of my Afi is of him intently working at his craft as a tailor, a needle in one hand, a shirt sleeve in the other. One of my go-to stores is the Handknitting Association of Iceland, which will repair a hole or the cuffs in one of my aging wool sweaters or cardigans for as little as 500 krónur (roughly $4 or £3.10), extending its longevity.
Enjoy the old as new. With Iceland’s Airbnb boom, younger Icelanders have made the use of old (“antique”) furniture hip – and stylish. Guest accommodations and personal homes alike contain couches, armchairs, bookcases and other treasures from grandparents and those long passed. Family heirlooms, like holiday needlepoint décor and artwork, are passed down from generation to generation, building character in a home.
On a related note, second-hand stores have become more popular, with young people shopping for clothes at places like the Red Cross in an effort to counter how the clothing industry is contributing to global warming. Facebook groups like “Allt til gefins” (“Everything given”) are also popular in that people post furniture and other items that are in really good shape – for free to the one who claims and collects the item first! All in all, the culture of recycling is more popular than the collection services can handle, given many Icelanders live in homes too small for hoarding.
Use to the Last Drop: Whether toothpaste, shampoo, or dish soap, Icelanders try to get the most out of the products that they use. This is largely because almost everything is so expensive here. People want to get the most for their money and avoid being unthrifty.
Bypass beverages sold in plastic. Icelanders are very blessed to have easy access to some of the cleanest tap water on the planet. Still, with Icelanders drinking more than just water, coffee, and fresh milk in the last 30+ years, plastic container waste has been a major concern here. Efforts are being made to encourage tourists and locals alike to avoid purchasing plastic bottles, with Reykjavík, the capitol, installing drinking fountains throughout the city last year.
Reduce doing loads of laundry every week. In being cold year-round, sweating isn’t as great a concern for Icelanders as those in warmer climates. In the olden days, Icelanders were known to wear the same outfit for at least 3 days in a row, only changing their socks and underwear daily. This reduced laundry/water use.
Take fewer baths and showers. Again, the cold weather quells the need to bathe daily since Icelanders sweat less than those in warmer countries. Often, a “European shower” of washing one’s armpits and groins with a warm washcloth and soap will suffice. The notion of using a freshly laundered towel every time one showers is also unheard of, as that’s such a waste of resources.
Avoid harsh chemical products. For generations in Iceland, boiling hot water was the best sanitizer, with those at the turn of the 20c having grænsápa (a natural, all-purpose soap cleaner – safe enough to use in one’s hair) at their disposal. This really begs the question of: how necessary are many of the products being sold to us?
Spend less time in a car. Many Icelanders live in villages where everything is within walking distance. Those in the city try to utilize services that are available in their immediate vicinity, versus across town, as much as possible. This allows for less time spent in a car, which means less fuel consumption (Iceland’s petrol prices are among the highest in the world).
Appreciate less as more. My grandparents’ generation could be considered minimalists in only buying what was necessary. When done purposefully, proponents of minimalism claim that the practice can reduce stress, boost self-confidence, give one a greater sense of purpose, and provide clarity of mind.
Asserting one’s will with daily practices aimed at taking care of the planet can give one a sense of control, helping to thwart anxieties and worries that negatively impact well-being (and, ultimately, libido). Taking care of the environment puts us in touch with nature, helping us to support and cultivate an Earth-energy sensuality that could otherwise be lost.
According to psychologists Joseph Chancellor and Sonja Lyubomirsky, efficient use of resources and “strategic underconsumption” can bring hedonic (pleasurable) benefits. Such lifestyle practices can lead to a more sustainable happiness, with thriftiness “ensuring that the collective can flourish as well as the individual.” This sense of connection, community, belonging and influence is sure to invite more positivity into your life, as well as a sense of abundance.
And this positivity is sure to have a ripple effect in all aspects of your life, your sensuality included. To me, that sounds like a very happy new year.