My husband, Marcos, and I moved into our first apartment three months ago and we still don’t have a toilet seat.

I just haven’t been able to bring myself to buy a plastic toilet seat that will probably one day end up in a landfill, and still be here hundreds of years later. Navigating the homewares market in Brazil has been a learning curve for me – are toilet seats so commonly plastic in the UK? Is it this hard to find a wooden toilet seat for less than £50 in the UK? Currently I’m leaning towards a coated MDF one – is that a good compromise?

It’s safe to say that my husband had also never thought about what material toilet seat to buy. For him, marrying me has probably been a learning curve as extreme as moving to Brazil has been for me… Not least because of the journey I’ve been on towards sustainable living, which he’s now inevitably joined me on.

A sustainable union

A year before we got married, my husband visited the UK and I gave him some welcome gifts. One of them was a bamboo toothbrush. He’s the sentimental type, so still has that very toothbrush and refuses to use it. Which kind of defeats the point, but is also kind of sweet. Needless to say, since then we’ve bought – and used – more bamboo toothbrushes. 

One thing that moving to Brazil helped me transition to was using bars of soap. I loved a bottle of nice scented shower gel, but in Brazil it’s expensive and most people just use bars.

There are all sorts of lifestyle changes, from steel straws to cotton tote bags, that I’ve brought into this relationship. Not to mention the existential crises in supermarkets, trying to decide if organic in plastic packaging is better than non-organic in paper packaging.

Two heads are better than one

But marriage is about a combining of two lives, two sets of values and two sets of habits. So, I’ve learnt from him too. Even if he wasn’t necessarily aware that what he was doing was environmentally friendly.

We have stacks of scrap paper I would have just recycled, that he uses to do maths exercises on. And now I’ve started using them for notes.

We wash our clothes in cold water because that’s just how it’s done here; the idea that a 30-degree wash is an eco-friendly choice would be met with blank stares. We don’t have a washing machine yet, but I’ve found my clothes are nice and fresh after a cold (hand)wash anyway.

Perhaps the main thing I’ve learnt from my husband is that buying well isn’t enough. We need to buy less.

Less is more

Recently, I read an article about how the Marie Kondo method isn’t so relevant in Brazil. Essentially it’s because Brazilians don’t tend to accumulate the same way Americans do (and Brits apparently).

I’m not quite sure how accurate that statement is, because vast inequality means that many Brazilians are actually eye-wateringly rich, and there’s a growing middle class. But my husband is certainly not one to accumulate. He’s always been comfortable with having just enough. Even if that means walking around with holes in trainers and wearing denim jackets until they literally started disintegrating…

I have to admit, when I come across a sustainable clothes brand I get tempted to buy everything. Or when I find a charity shop particularly full of gems I talk myself into thinking that buying more than I need is ok because it’s a ‘donation to charity’. Maybe that’s a debate for another time, but my point is: if I had enough money, and my materialism wasn’t under the calming influence of my husband, maybe I would still be buying more than I need. 

Maybe I’d have six pairs of Lucy and Yak dungarees when actually two would be enough for me to wear all. the. time. Perhaps I’d have three Know the Origin t-shirts when actually all I needed was a pair of leggings. I did buy a jumper and a t-shirt for my husband though. He really does need a more complete wardrobe, so maybe I’ve just transferred my shopaholic tendencies onto him…

Show, don’t tell

Ultimately, the values of marriage and how a couple serves and learns from each other can be applied to how we try to lead the change in our household or amongst our friends outside a marriage context.

Kathryn Kellogg from put it helpfully

‘Wanna know the secret to convincing everyone around you to go zero waste? How to convert your S.O., friends, and family?

Stop. TRYING. To. Convert. Them.’

As she describes, simply living your life and making your own choices can be enough to have a subtle trickle-down effect. I’ve seen this not only in my marriage, but also in my friendships and with family back in the UK.

You might feel this approach isn’t enough when the climate crisis is so urgent, but by removing the pressure to preach, it can be far more powerful to simply and non-judgmentally lead by example.

‘I will show you my faith by my deeds.’ – James 2:18