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People are overwhelmed trying to clean up their lives and reduce their carbon footprints. They read articles about saving water, cutting electricity use, insulating their houses, driving energy efficient cars, eating organic food, cutting back on flying, considering telecommuting, shopping local or not shopping at all, recycling, upcycling and downsizing.

Some factions of the movement get into minutiae. I have read about what to do with the silica gel packets in vitamin bottles! I throw these away on a regular basis, and they don’t create a lot of trash. What they do to the environment, I don’t know, but I think there are bigger issues to deal with than this!

Green lifestyles can involve a steep learning curve

If someone has never had the inclination or a mandate for conserving resources, this is all new information and quite a learning curve. Overwhelmed, indeed! And that leads to guilt about what greening they can’t fit into their lifestyles. I find myself falling into that trap once in a while, too.

Like this past weekend.

I needed half and half, and I didn’t want to drive to town for one item. I had gone to the river to play with the dog, and I picked up a pint of non-organic half and half at the convenience store on the way home. I briefly thought about the health implications of dairy from a conventionally raised cow, hormones, methane and feedlots, but I had to stop myself. If I had pondered it deeply for too long I would have thrown it away and made a special trip to town for one item.

Confession time, and the green lifestyle broad strokes

While I was at this store, which, by the way, is locally owned, I bought a bag of Frito-Lay non-organic cashews. Pesticide-riddled nuts from an unsustainable company that uses GMO ingredients in its products – not very green. But I did it!

I also shop at Wal-Mart sometimes and have used toxic paint in my home. I don’t always buy recycled paper products, and I write with disposable pens. I have bought battery-farmed cooked chicken and non-organic broccoli from Albertson’s supermarket. I have thrown away food scraps and some recyclable containers along with a battery or two. I drive a car and use a computer.

I have a very low carbon footprint, and my lifestyle was always of a conserving nature. I lived like that for decades before it became mainstream, before it became painfully obvious the earth does not have enough resources to sustain our ever-increasing population.

How to progress your green lifestyle, not agonize over it

The Shelton Group recently did a study on how guilty people felt about food waste. They feel guiltier about that more than any other non-eco action.

Stop the guilt. How, do you ask? Take action.

If you are new at creating an environmentally aware life for yourself and your family, make a list of things you want to do. Start with the easiest one, and do it for a few weeks. ‘Easy’ is a relative term. For instance, there may not be local food available to you, so don’t attempt to buy local food. Do what is reasonable for you, and do the best you can.

When Item #1 has become a habit, try Item #2 for a few weeks. These things take adjusting to! If you want to buy recycled paper, it may take a while to find it. If you want to buy second hand clothes, you will have to do some hunting for a thrift store or learn how to shop at yard sales. You may have to get your family on board, too. You will have to educate them on saving resources and convince them to go along with you.

Eco-guilt – kick it to the curb

If I felt guilty over every non-eco thing I did in a day, I’d need anti-depressants! I can’t worry about the new plastic in my non-refurbished ROKU box or the non-recycled materials in my shoes, which I insist on buying new.

Eco guilt has to stop.

NO ONE is 100% green. If you drive an electric car, you have to realize that the lack of emissions does not make up for the embodied energy of the parts or the energy spent in shipping the car to you. Everything we do has some environmentally unfriendly side to it, and you can’t worry about it! Stop feeling guilty that you are not doing enough.

Baby steps to a green lifestyle

Do one thing at a time. Don’t look at the things you are not accomplishing, just stay focused on one at a time. After a year, you should have a dozen or more green aspects to your lifestyle! Know that doing just one thing will make a difference. It will also cut down on your guilt. Don’t waste energy on guilt. Spend energy on taking action!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.