It’s often said that good habits are hard to develop and bad habits are hard to break. Most habits, though, simply go unnoticed, as the thought processes behind our daily routines get lost through repetition. In honor of Habits Month on Man Repeller, I wanted to explore the reasons and emotions that drive habits with three women who have developed unique routines.
Below, meet a zero-waste blogger, an octogenarian bodybuilder and a blue-obsessed artist, and learn about their habit-driven lifestyles.
Since 2012, Singer has lived a zero-waste lifestyle in New York City. She founded Trash is for Tossers to document her journey and last year, she opened Package Free Shop in Brooklyn and online to sell products that eliminate consumer waste.
When did you decide to adopt a completely trash-free routine and why?
I studied environmental science in college and have always been passionate about environmental issues. I realized during my senior year of college, around 2012, that my values for environmental sustainability didn’t align with my day-to-day actions. I was protesting oil and gas but I was using plastic every day — plastic is one of the biggest products from the oil industry. I was eating processed foods, which are often a result of horrible factory and farming practices. I was supporting fast fashion. From that starting point, I decided to start reducing my plastic use. Then I learned about the zero-waste lifestyle and decided it was a way I could live my values every single day.
What are some aspects of your routine that allow you to live a zero-waste lifestyle?
My daily routine is probably the same as anyone else’s daily routine but it involves a lot of products that I make myself or that my friends make. I wake up in the morning and brush my teeth but instead of using a plastic toothbrush and tube of Colgate, I have a bamboo toothbrush that’s compostable with toothpaste that I make myself. I wash my face with a bar soap that’s organic, vegan and handmade without any packaging. When I shower, I shave my legs with a stainless steel safety razor and I wash my hair with a shampoo bar.
When I make coffee in the morning, I just do a French press with coffee I buy in bulk from Whole Foods or a coffee shop and then I compost the grounds. I take it on the go with an insulated stainless steel container. I make my lunch at home from groceries instead of ordering takeout and I bring it in reusable bags and stainless steel containers. We just started composting in our office but before that most of us would take our compost home for residential composting. I love composting because you’re able to take waste that would occupy space in landfills and instead turn it back into soil and put it back into the earth.
I shop pretty much exclusively secondhand. Beacon’s Closet is one of my favorites. I also love Poshmark because you can search for exactly what you want. When I buy something, I say to the person who is selling it, “Can you please package it in just a paper envelope with no plastic?” So far everyone has been really amenable to that. Shopping secondhand means I buy a lot less but that’s fine because I don’t actually need that much stuff.
Are there any habits you’ve had to change that most people wouldn’t think about?
One thing people might not think about is menstrual care. One of the biggest forms of ocean pollution is plastic tampon applicators. I saw an ad that said the average woman uses 10,000 tampons in her life and I was like, Holy fuck, that’s 10,000 plastic applicators per person. At my store Package Free Shop we sell two amazing options for a zero-waste period. One is a silicone menstrual cup from the brand Lunette, which I’ve been using for five years. We also have reusable, washable organic cotton pads that you can use in place of synthetic pads, which are mostly made of plastic. I have one menstrual cup and I don’t need to use anything else.
How has living a zero-waste lifestyle affected you in unexpected ways?
I’ve discovered that I just don’t need the things society tells me I need. There’s such a narrative around needing products to make you feel beautiful but when I reduced the products I was using, I realized those products had nothing to do with how beautiful I felt. I’m now more focused on what I’m doing, as opposed to the things I’m wearing or choosing to buy. I’ve also saved a ton of money because I buy so much less. I honestly don’t miss anything about my old lifestyle before Zero Waste. I look around and everything is so much nicer and prettier now — everything’s made of wood and metal and linen, and it’s all natural, rather than plastic clutter everywhere. I was definitely someone who kept a lot of things and now I don’t have that many things. It makes me feel free.
Do you try to influence others around you to adopt the zero-waste lifestyle?
I have no desire to change other people’s habits — I started living a zero-waste lifestyle for myself. My goal is to help empower people to create positive environmental change but that doesn’t mean necessarily changing their lives. It means showing people that there’s another way to live beyond this consumerist bubble, and providing tools and resources for people who are curious about reducing their waste.
What advice would you give to others about changing habits?
If you look at the concept of Zero Waste from a really zoomed-out perspective, it seems so overwhelming. You think, Oh my god, I throw out a bag of trash every day… how is this going to happen? I wouldn’t even focus on the concept of Zero Waste at all. I would focus more on the trash that you’re already producing today and how to find alternatives to it. Take a look at your garbage can and find simple switches you can make to eliminate a source of trash. Start with one thing at a time. Integrate it into your routine until it becomes habit — it might take a few weeks, and then move on to something else.
As the Guinness World Record-winning oldest female bodybuilder in the world, Shepherd maintains a rigorous, active lifestyle. She teaches fitness classes in Baltimore and travels the world as a motivational speaker.
When did you decide to start an intense bodybuilding routine and why?
I had a sister, Velvet, and we both started working out together. She had a brain aneurysm but before she died, she asked me if I would continue what we had started. She told me the things she wanted to do — she wanted to be in the Guinness World Records as the oldest female competitive bodybuilder in the world and she wanted to be in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
At first after she died, I was so heartbroken and sad that I didn’t exercise. But after a while, I started working out again with a friend. By the age of 71, he said, “Why don’t you go ahead and fulfill your sister’s dream and become a bodybuilder?” It only took me seven months to get my body into shape since I was working out previously. I participated in my first bodybuilding contest that year and I won. The people from Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! checked it and I was the oldest competitive female bodybuilder. I went to Rome to get my certificate and medal. It was a wonderful feeling because I had fulfilled what my sister wanted.
What is your daily routine like?
I awaken every morning at 2:30 a.m. I have my devotions and meditation, and I read my Scriptures. Then I have breakfast, get dressed and walk ten miles with a friend. I have another breakfast when I get back and I get to the gym by 7 a.m. I train people from 7:30 until 11 a.m. My class at the gym always fills up so women have to come early to get a spot. Believe you me: These women work.
How do you keep such a regimented routine mentally?
My sister had said before she died that we needed a mantra, and the mantra was, “Determined. Dedicated. Disciplined.” I follow those three D’s every day of my life. From those three D’s, you can accomplish so much.
I also follow a creed that my sister gave me, written by Christian D. Larson. It starts, “Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.” When she first gave me the creed, I looked at her and said there was no way in the world that I could follow it because I was the opposite of that. It took me a while to be able to follow it. I read it every day to keep me strong.
Now my routine has become natural to me. I don’t miss any of my old ways. I love being around people. I love exercising. It’s a beautiful joy for me to do this. I tell all the people I train that I am absolutely nothing without their love. I say I have more years behind me than I have in front of me but with what I have left, as Mahalia Jackson would say, “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.” That’s the way I see it.
I also get inspiration from others, like Oprah. I have a bucket list and I want to meet Oprah face-to-face. I did a Skype with her and it was wonderful.
How has your bodybuilding routine affected your life?
Bodybuilding has changed my life tremendously. Before I was a nervous wreck, always afraid of everything and everyone. I doubted myself and didn’t have confidence. It was awful. Now, since I’ve started bodybuilding and training others, I am confident. The main thing I want is to reach out and help others.
I’ve gone through so much and God has kept me on my feet. I get to travel all over the world giving motivational speeches and showing various exercises. I give everybody I meet a hug. It’s so important to give a person a hug because you don’t know what a hug could do for that person. I know what their hugs do for me. It makes me feel wonderful and that’s why I hug others. It’s such a joy.
What advice do you give to others about developing good habits?
You have to take your time, no matter what you are doing. You can’t jump in gung-ho. Find something that you like to do. If you like to walk, get out there and walk. If you like to run, get out there and run. Give your all.
McCulloch, an artist living in New York City, has worn exclusively blue for nearly two decades. She incorporates the color into all aspects of her routine, from clothing to home decor, and the color is the basis of her artwork.
When did you decide to start wearing all blue and why?
I’ve always been an artist at heart. I started wearing blue 20-something years ago. When I was in college studying at Savannah College of Art and Design, I took an art history class and one of the artists that impacted me the most was Yves Klein, known for his use of blue. He was so avant-garde for his time period.
When I started experimenting with drawing, painting and collage, I thought the most transcendental color to me was blue. It could be on a two-dimensional plane but if you look at it, you can go beyond the specific plane you’re looking at. Most of the artwork I’ve been developing thus far has been with the constant color blue — a very vibrant, almost ultramarine blue. Some of my artwork is figurative. A lot of it is abstract. To me, it’s about expressing human sides that I discover. I am on a journey here on this earth and for me, the color I want to have as a constant is this color blue. My artwork basically speaks about femininity, women empowerment and also abstract ideas by the use of color.
How would you describe your style and shopping habits?
If I go out, I always have to wear something blue because that’s how I feel most comfortable. When I buy clothes, I love for them to be somewhat customized — I’m always looking for customization in the color. I also wear a lot of vintage. If I find the color, I can work on the silhouette and tweak it. Most of the time I have several pieces I rotate and work with. I can be pretty ingenious in making an outfit out of very few things.
What is your daily routine like?
As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, I meditate. I practice transcendental meditation. After that, I exercise. I prefer pilates. When I come back, I have a smoothie for breakfast or some eggs. I try to eat pretty healthy. Then I get down to answering emails and touching base with people, and after that I end up working on a project or making artwork. I used to work quite a bit in fashion and I was a shoe designer for Marc Jacobs for six years. There’s always a possibility that I’d go back into design but for the moment, I’m doing art, which is another form of expression.
I just did an exhibit with three amazing male artists based in Miami. It was about raising awareness of our earth and our political views. The show is called “State of the Union.” It’s basically about asking: What are our values? What are we leaving for later generations if we keep fracking the earth as it is? My art for the show combines these environmental and political questions with my color theory.
How do you incorporate blue into your life beyond clothing and art?
I have a navy blue couch. I have blue metal stools and a blue chair. I have blue cups, glasses, towels, boxes, robes and underwear. I do combine the blue with black and white but in the art world, black is the summation of all colors and white is the refraction of light, so I don’t really consider those colors. I also accent with a lot of silver — I really like silver.
Do strangers often notice or react when you wear head-to-toe blue?
I think it’s more about how I put the clothes together that makes me stand out. Some people are very color-oriented and they like the combination of the different hues of blue. There are others who will notice, for example, the shape or the silhouette mostly. Overall I think blue is a very well-liked color.
How do you think wearing only blue has affected your life beyond your appearance?
I love the unity, being uniform in some way. There’s a peacefulness about it. It definitely has a calming and soothing reminder. Most of us live in quite a stressful world, bombarded with information all the time, and blue helps me to relax and take a step back. It’s a color that’s very reassuring.
Do you see yourself sticking with blue forever?
I hope I’ll keep wearing this color the rest of my life. I would love to eventually make my own clothes and accessories. That would be amazing to be able to share them.
Photo credits: Lauren Singer by Bridget Badore, Ernestine Shepherd by Liz Calka, Valeria McCulloch by Edith Young.