Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dreams and Reality

In which Betsy, the Eco-novice, introduces herself.

I am the Eco-novice. 

I call myself the Eco-novice because after four years or so on this journey, I still feel like a green newbie.  I was inspired to “go green” after the birth of my first child, and at that time my primary obsession was all the crazy toxic chemicals in consumer products and the environment.  So I know quite a bit on that topic.  I have since become more concerned with the general environmental impact of my personal and societal choices.  But I still have a very long way to go in that arena.  While some of my friends think I am oh-so-green, in green circles I always feel like the fraud.   But I try to embrace that novice-ness.  When you read my posts, feel free to take pride (or gloat) in how much farther along you are in your journey than I am, and let it inspire you to soar to new heights.  Also feel free to offer wisdom, tips and advice in the comments.  But if you are just getting started on your eco-friendly journey, or have a little bit of a green inferiority complex as I do, know that you have a friend in the Eco-novice.

To give you some idea of where I am in my quest for eco-friendly living, let me share with you some of my dreams as well as the reality I currently inhabit.  As you will see, in many things, my knowledge and aspirations far outstrip my actions.  This is because I am going green gradually.  If I weren’t, I’m sure I would have fallen off this wagon (or my husband would have pushed me off) long ago.

Dream Home: I dream of living in a car-free community in which I can walk to my children’s schools, friends’ houses, farmers’ market, library, and several parks.  I do not have to worry about car seats or my children being hit by a car.  I have a modest home but a yard of some kind, but definitely not a front lawn that needs daily watering.  I have a large garden which I fertilize with my personal compost and I preserve part of my bountiful harvest to get me through the winter.  I also have chickens (of course!). I supplant my own harvest with the farmers’ market and perhaps a CSA.  I never buy out-of-season or canned produce.  I have to walk a ways to reach a communal car, which I drive occasionally to see friends or visit local attractions.  My husband walks or bikes to work.  

Reality: I’m a renter, and while I consult a walkability index whenever I’m in the market for a new rental, I currently live in standard suburbia, more or less.  I can walk to the park and a few friends’ houses (my children are not yet school-age).  I drive almost every day.  My husband drives all over the place for work and frequently has to drive home in rush-hour traffic, which really stinks.  We have two cars.  Sad, isn’t it?  I have yet to plant anything, but I do buy almost all my produce at the farmers’ market and through my CSA.  I also don't compost.  But this year I have ventured into preserving for the first time.  So far I have made freezer jam, and later in the season a friend has offered to can tomatoes with me so that I no longer have to buy crappy supermarket tomatoes or tomatoes in metal cans lined with plastic.  

Dream Laundry: I dream of line-drying nearly all of my clothes outside year-round.

Reality: My drying rack died some months ago because I left it outside in the rain.  I used to dry my cloth diapers at least half of the time out there.  I recently purchased a 100-foot nylon line, but have yet to hang it.  I plan to always dry my diapers on it, and then venture into other loads.  So I currently waste a lot of energy using the dryer.  It's actually very embarrassing because I have two good friends who think I am such a greenie and are always asking me questions as if I were some green guru who have been line-drying for years.  On the other hand, we wash our laundry far less often than many folks.  I used to wash clothes after several wearings when they were stained or stunk.  Now I wait until they stink.  I definitely am not washing towels or sheets bi-weekly.  I’m trying to potty train my daughter early so she’s out of diapers sooner, even though it’s kind of driving me insane.  I rarely do pre-rinses or extra rinses with cloth diapers. I only wash full loads, and mostly on cold.  I have an Energy Star front-loader.

Dream Cleaning and Preening:  I dream of making nearly all of my cleaning products and personal products from simple, safe ingredients, and storing them in reusable containers.  Perhaps a few personal products would be handmade and packaged in paper or reusable packaging by Etsy shops (or something similar).

Reality:  Other than vinegar, which I do use extensively for cleaning almost any surface, I use mostly store-bought eco-friendly cleaners.  I’m trying not to replace them as they run out.  I have, however, compiled an extensive collection of recipes for DIY cleaners.  We use many fewer personal products than the standard American family, but most are store-bought and packaged in plastic. We also have much lower standards of personal cleanliness than most folks (e.g., I wash my hair every one to two weeks). I did recently switch to a shampoo bar made by an Etsy shop, which has been a personal goal for approximately two years.  Anyone know of a great hair conditioner bar?  And, yes, we still use liquid soap bottled in plastic.

So I could be worse, but I could be better.  Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.

What do you think it means to be “green”?
How do you deal with the conflict between your green dreams and not-so-green reality?


knutty knitter said...

Pick your battles one at a time and stick to them for a month and then they suddenly become habit :)

vinegar makes a good conditioner too. I use baking soda melted in boiling water and cooled instead of shampoo. You only need a little squeezed through and washed out - it doesn't foam up and leaves wet hair feeling slightly oily but it dries to perfection - and I have been doing this for 3 years now. The rest of the family followed one by one as they saw that it worked (and because I 'forgot' to get any more regular shampoo :) It takes about 2 weeks persevering to get things going right with this (and they are bad hair weeks!) but the results now are great.

So, my recommendation is not baby steps but really large steps, one at a time.

viv in nz

becki said...

I love your post! (I found your blog from twitter.) You should check my blog out. It's all about my journey to "go green." I've been working on it for almost a year and a half (also after I discovered harmful chemicals in conventional cosmetics.) I think I'm even further behind than you, so great job!

Kuntty knitter, I love what you said about really large steps one at a time. My next step is going to be line drying. Maybe today?!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

knutty knitter, I have heard of the baking soda and vinegar routine, but thought a shampoo bar was a good middle step. I've had a few friends that the baking soda/ vinegar most definitely did not work out for, so I've been reluctant to try it. I will probably attempt a vinegar rinse, as the shampoo bar maker recommends it. I have thick curly (unruly) hair, and thick goopy conditioner has always been a must for me, so we'll see if I can find a way to do w/o the bottled stuff. I'm glad bottle-free has worked well for you.

I agree that if you are making a big change, stick with it until it's habit before attempting something else. That's a great way to avoid eco-burnout.

Thanks, becki! I did check out your blog and hope you get to have your own chickens someday. What a great way to grow up. I look forward to swapping tips and encouragement with you on the green journey ahead.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Sounds to me like you're doing pretty well!

When I started out on my green journey, there were so many things I wanted to do or thought I should be doing, so I kept pushing myself to try new things. A lot of those changes have stuck, but some things, I've had to let go for my sanity. For example, line-drying (since you mentioned it in your post). I line dry our shirts and pants, but I don't line dry our sheets, towels, socks, or underwear, and I probably never will. For a long time, I felt guilty about that, but now, I let it go. There are many other ways I'm helping the planet, and I don't have to be perfect.

lizzie said...

Have you thought about a rack above the bath. Ikea sells some great drying racks; I have had mine for over ten years - the also sell a little circular device with cloth pegs on it for socks etc.
I think you are doing great. I just paid $70 to gas up my van; I try to limit myself to one tank per month but that means I can t really go very far.
I am definitely going to try the baking soda shampoo viv.

Sharon said...

love this post!!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Thanks, Erin. Of course how well I am doing is a matter of perspective and the company I'm keeping. I believe in celebrating the successes and not biting off more than I can chew (similar to what knutty knitter suggested). But it means that there is often a disconnect between what I'd like to be doing and what I am doing, and a long, LONG list of to dos. It is good to let certain things go if they aren't working for sure.

Thanks for the tip on the racks, lizzie! If the line doesn't work out, I'll be back to a rack.

Nice to see you over here, Sharon!

Heather said...

Tacoma Green Mama has curly hair like you. She's made her full range of hair care products herself. Maybe you'd be interested in trying a few of them? She's put them all together in this post:

--Heather from New Zealand

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Thanks for the tip, Heather. I'll check it out.

SustainaMom said...

I get frustrated with the difference between my dreams and reality, but isn't it nice when you find something you wrote 3 years ago and realize that an old green dream is now part of your reality? :)

Truffula said...


The best place to start on this green path is... right where you are. :-) You're off to a good beginning!

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

Yes, SustainaMom, always good to look back at how far you've come, and not just at how far you still have to go.

Thank you, Truffula.


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