It seems we're all giving things up in July ... there's Dry July, where people are giving up alcohol; plastic-free July, where people are cutting out plastics; and a perpetual pressure to drop screen time.

I've succumbed and have given up alcohol — temporarily, and not entirely consistently either.

The past few months have seen a few extra kilograms appear mysteriously (can't possibly have anything to do with the lovely meals out and extra pieces of cake slipping into my life …), so I thought I'd see if alcohol-free for a month or two might help adjust the scales.

Good news – it worked! I lost weight, felt better, slept better and wasn't missing the glass of wine.


Bad news – it hasn't lasted. Apparently, due to the past week of socialising with friends and colleagues in Christchurch and the reinsertion of alcohol and desserts, it's back.

My efforts for plastic-free July have been a bit inconsistent, too.

The habits I'm working on are replacing the handwash and shower gel with old fashioned hand soap – it works and doesn't have the negative complication of those anti-bacterials.

I'm also remembering a reusable drink bottle more often and declining a straw before it arrives in a drink automatically.

I've already shifted to plastic-free shampoo and conditioner thanks to discovering the Ethique range. I also use their solid bar deodorant – lavender and vanilla.

It was a treat to host the Ethique founder in Whanganui last week thanks to the Whanganui District Council waste minimisation fund. Brianne West is motivated to remove unnecessary plastics from our lives and her products come in simple recyclable cardboard packaging.

I've also been at the Local Government New Zealand conference representing Horizons and one remit at the meeting involved the members voting 99 per cent in favour of encouraging a product stewardship scheme for tyres.

That's where the disposal costs are built into the purchase price, so we don't end up with illegal tyre dumps with the cost — environmental and financial — falling on ratepayers.

This makes sense but I wonder why we're not automatically doing it for everything. This is one of those "externalities" or consequences of our consumerism that is not built into the price we pay. Why are certain things subsidised?

I'm shifting house so going through a process of decluttering, and it's emphasising to me how many "things" we have in our house. The ones I cherish are artworks and family pictures; the ones I don't are crappy plastic toys.

And we have a nine-year-old birthday party this weekend.

A friend asked what my son would like and we came up with a fantastic, largely-plastic free idea – a voucher for a sleepover. My son will be excited as that experience is still a special treat for him, plus it's coming with a deck of cards, popcorn and a torch.

So I am cutting back on alcohol and plastic, a little at a time. These things add up, but more importantly they create a social movement to press for the big systems changes we need.

No cutting back on my social media use though — not yet at least. I love seeing my friends' updates, with the latest to stand out being a friend reflecting on her life as a young, working single mum.

She wrote about being broke but happy, even going without electricity and getting food parcels occasionally – it wasn't easy.

They had no TV, no phone, no internet and no car, but had wonderful times story-telling, dressing up, puzzles, playing with the dog, building driftwood forts, baking together, toasting marshmallows, walking on the beach, swimming ...

She wrote: "It's kinda ironic how the dream you were chasing you were already living."

I think our family can learn from a simpler life with a focus on experiences together – maybe a bit more of that screen time has to go.

*Nicola Patrick is a Horizons regional councillor, works for Te Kaahui o Rauru, and is part of a new social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mother of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member