About ten years ago, I found myself in a new apartment, in a new state, living completely by myself for the first time. I didn’t have much – since I had recently sold most of my belongings to travel. I was officially starting with a clean slate. As I started to curate my space, and my life (if I’m being honest), somewhere along the line I decided to “go green.” To waste less, and be more attune to what chemicals I was filling my house with, and putting on my body.
This was before you could buy many “green” or “eco” products at any store you popped into. It was before EWG had an app. And it was far before any of my friends jumped on the eco-friendly train. I started with linen napkins and homemade cleaners, and just worked up from there.
Here’s what I have learned in almost a decade of “going green.” I am FAR from an expert, and I have a long way to go – but I think everyone can relate to the following:
- Not everyone has the same definition of “going green.” And that’s ok. For some it involves eating nothing but organic food, or investing in local agriculture. For others it is about what chemicals are going onto your skin or settling in your home. Still others will say it’s about living with less – lessening the square footage you live in, or the number of items you buy. And then there is the discussion of what you’re buying. Whether it was produced sustainably. Whether laborers were paid fair wages, etc. There are so many levels to consider that it can easily become overwhelming, which brings me to my next point…
- Do what you can, when you can. Not all of us can afford to throw everything we own out and start all over. I actually don’t know anyone who could do that. However, you can start small. For me, when I began thinking about overhauling my beauty products I did nail polish first. It seemed like a simple, easy thing to research. I found a company that let you trade in your old nail polish for credit toward new ones and invested in three colors. After that, whenever I would run out of something (blush, mascara, shampoo, lotion), I would take some time to research and invest in something new that I felt comfortable putting on my skin. I only bought what I could afford, and I only tried one new thing at a time.
- It’s a very slow process. You can’t possibly learn everything you need to know from reading a few books or following a few blogs. After 10 years, I still have to consult the Dirty Dozen list each time I go to the grocery store, and it’s hardly changed at all! You also need to double check your favorite products sometimes in case they have changed their formulas. And there is always more to learn, and more information being made available to you. You just have to pick away at it.
- Sometimes you might go backwards. Don’t feel bad. I swore that as I started to put my wardrobe back together post-partum, that I would only invest in fair-trade, or handmade clothing, and then I found myself running to Target to grab a $15 cardigan because the one I had (and used all the time for work) had both a stain and a hole that couldn’t be fixed. And stainless steel wipes – I cannot bring myself to figure out how to clean my fridge without them. I know if I invested 10 minutes in a Pinterest search I could find an answer, but I’m busy, and it’s not a priority. I am not going to beat myself up about it.
Even though I have just made small changes over time, I really feel like I am doing my part in keeping my family safe, and leaving my kids a cleaner, better world. For now, here is a taste of what “going green” in our house looks like:
- No plastics in the kitchen (almost none – my girls are young, and some plastic items are just easier for right now)
- Paper napkins and plates for parties only (fancy cloth napkins are an everyday thing)
- A mix of homemade cleaners and store-bought, green cleaners
- Buying organic for anything on the “dirty dozen” list
- No air fresheners – just the occasional soy candle
- Cloth diapers
- All hair and body products for my kids and myself rank well on the EWG Skin Deep database (my husband has not yet been converted)
- All clothing purchased for my kids or myself is either second-hand, or from a company that is fair-trade certified and eco-friendly
We still have a long way to go too! In the next few years I want to focus on purchasing more locally grown food, and maybe try to turn my black thumb green (this is a long shot). I also want to learn how to compost, and focus on reducing the mountain of trash I feel like we throw out each week. I want to get better at mending the clothes that may not fit great anymore (instead of donating them right away) or possibly refashioning old items into new clothes for my girls. I want to make soap. I want to bake bread. The list goes on and on.
At least now I know that I don’t have to do it all at once.