Giving Up Your 9-5 Job Can Be Sustainable—Here's How

Finding sustainable solutions and a better quality of life means thinking hard about what you really want to do.

Woman working from home in her garden

Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

Like most people, I have to work for a living. We have a mortgage, and other bills we have to pay. But I certainly don't have a 9-5 job. I decided long ago that I could not work for a big company and certainly could not sit in an office day in day out. I work freelance as a writer, garden designer, and sustainability consultant. Many days, I work long hours, but I have a lot of flexibility and control over my life. I have found my passion–what I really want to do. But I fully appreciate that most people are not in such a fortunate position and some don't aspire for this kind of life.

But many people feel stuck in their jobs when they are not really stuck at all. Finding sustainable solutions and a better quality of life means thinking long and hard about what you really want to do, and how you can reach that goal.

Working for yourself or not having a big commute is beneficial on multiple levels: you save time, you save money, and you can potentially decrease your carbon footprint. Consider this: Management consultancy firm WSP found working from home can help reduce your carbon footprint in the summer months.

Often, earning money does not need to compromise your quality of life. To help you move in the right direction, here are some important things to think about:

What is Your Dream Job?

First things first, it is surprising how many people don't actually have a clue what they really want to do. Often, when we leave school, we take paths because we were pushed in a certain direction. Like many others, you may not have really stopped to think about what you are really passionate about. Find your "ikigai"–work which you are good at, which you enjoy, which provides what you need, and which benefits the wider world. Find your "right livelihood."

Make sure that you give yourself some space and time to decide what you really want to do, and think about what it will take to get there. Not spending enough time on this first step is a common mistake. Do not be tempted to make quick decisions until you have the groundwork in place. 

Do You Have the Knowledge/ Skills/ Qualifications You Need?

Turning an interest or hobby into a job can often be a good place to start. But you might not immediately have the knowledge, skills or qualifications you need to actually make money in this arena. If you want to make a change, think in practical terms about what you need to make it a reality. Learn all you can–and remember you can learn for free in a range of different ways–online, or from friends or family or others in your community. Save up for specific courses or qualifications you would like to obtain. 

Saving Money in Your Daily Life

Not having the funds for courses or to start up a new business can often seem an insurmountable barrier. But no matter what your living situation, there may be ways to save money in your daily life that you can put towards your work goals. 

Simple steps to consider might involve downsizing your home situation, sharing with friends or considering co-housing options. My husband and I will be able to pay off our mortgage in just a few years because of the decision we made to buy our property with a couple of family members. We would not be in the position if we had done it alone. Co-operation can be key. 

You might also be able to buy less, and but more wisely in general. Many people buy lots that they don't really need. Spend less on entertainment, upcycle, reuse, and take pleasure in the little things. It's a sustainable and low-consumerism lifestyle too—something that's great for the planet.

Making the most of your garden or any space you have to grow at least some of your own food can also be a step in the right direction. Cook from scratch, and take other simple sustainable steps. 

Our own steps towards self-reliance mean that we won't need to earn much at all once our mortgage is paid off. 

Alternative Income Streams

Another important thing to consider is how you can make use of what you already have–especially natural resources in a garden if you have one, or reclaimed resources you can source cheaply or even for free–to provide alternative income streams. There are a wide range of ways to make money in a garden or from your home, and these could be an important part of freeing you to get work that you really enjoy, even if they do not become full-time work in their own right. 

If you want to give up your 9-5 job, this is a good that may require a rethink of your way of life and some imaginative thinking. But with some out-of-the-box thinking, perseverance, and a lot of hard work, it may be more possible than you think to meet this goal. And who knows, maybe you can lead a life with a lower carbon footprint.