How to Banish Green Gloom and Guilt

raindrop at Happy Simple Living

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Nobody talks about this much, but it seems to me that trying to live a sustainable life can sometimes be a Big Biohazardous Bummer.

Earlier this week, I headed to the compost bin with a pan of water. The water had been soaking in a cooking pot, and instead of pouring it down the drain I thought I’d virtuously recycle it. I managed to open the back door with one hand, staggered out with the pot (only spilling a little on my shoes), quickly shut the door so the cat wouldn’t escape…and that’s when I noticed that the back porch light was on. I had forgotten to turn it off in the morning, and the light had burned all day – just wasting electricity and money, expanding our carbon footprint, and negating my feeble effort to reuse cooking water.

Sprinkler at Happy Simple Living

Photo: jjsala

My inner critic berated me the same way it does when I forget to bring the reusable bags to the grocery store, or the time I accidentally left the sprinklers on during a rain storm. So careless! So wasteful! So UN-green!

Later I tuned in to the evening news, which showed footage of the Japanese tsunami debris washing up on Alaskan shores. My stomach was in knots as I heard the concerns about toxicity and watched the images of so much plastic and trash all over the beach. I wondered for the millionth time how much more our planet can take. The news is so depressing, and every day seems to bring a new worry.

Photo - SOSnyc.org

I’ve experienced my share of personal eco-angst, too, like when I spearheaded an effort to get our public school to stop using disposable, petroleum-based, non-biodegradable Styrofoam trays. Just as the district buyer was considering a move to a biodegradable tray, the cost of the Styrofoam trays suddenly dropped by 30 percent. I learned firsthand about the force of the American plastics industry and the continued nationwide purchase of these trays by school districts, despite outrage and protests from students and parents.

It’s much like the frustration I feel when I read about major agribusiness corporations lobbying heavily, making obscene contributions to Super PACs, and imposing their environmentally-damaging practices and products on a world that desperately needs them to do the right thing.

Oh, my friends, what’s an earth-loving human to do?

After feeling discouraged last week, a lightbulb went off (pun intended). Trying to live green should be a reason to smile, I reasoned later, not an excuse to walk around in an Enviro-Funk. It’s not always easy to consistently live this lifestyle, but we have to keep doing our best. We have to keep encouraging each other, staying positive and pushing ahead.

Photo: Mykl Roventine

I realize that every day I have a choice. I can beat myself up for every eco-opportunity I miss, or I can celebrate the efforts our family does make. I can obsess about everything that’s wrong on our planet, or I can focus on trying to make a difference in my own way. I can despair about the bad news, or I can stay informed and continue to try to make the world a better place.

Besides hugging the nearest tree, one thing that cheers me when I’ve got the Toxic Waste Woes is you, the caring community of people who read Happy Simple Living. How remarkable it is that so many good people are spread all over the world, each trying to do the right thing. You lift me up, you challenge me, and you inspire me to keep trying. Above all, connecting with you makes me happy.

No more green blues for me,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Whether you can relate to these feelings or not, you know I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

18 comments to How to Banish Green Gloom and Guilt

  • Michelle S.

    Thank you! I enjoyed reading your post. I have moments like these and have to remind myself to do just as you suggest – concentrate on the changes myself and my family have made and continue to make(with my spear-heading it all) and stay positive. Just last night, I was re-filling the giant water dispenser that we keep in the fridge. I hadn’t realized that the spout was stuck in the “on” position and was filling away using the reverse osmosis spigot, not noticing for at least 2 minutes, that the purified water was going right down the drain. Duh! I was tired. I have however, made sure that our baths are not even “half-tub” full, for the past year – in my efforts to conserve. Again, thank you for sharing. It feels good to know that I can relate. Being more aware and making changes that sometimes take more effort isn’t always easy!

  • I can completely relate! It is so easy to feel discouraged & despairing, especially when you read the news, and yet despair becomes self fulfilling and the guilt can be paralyzing and promote a head-in-the-sand attitude. I think it’s do important for us to tell ourselves and each other that what you’re doing – whatever you’re doing – counts for something, even though we don’t get everything right all the time.

    And you’re right, building supportive communities can help transform despair into hope and enthusiasm.

    Thanks for a great post.

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  • Florian O.

    You’re totally right Eliza. For a few years, I’ve discovered many things I didn’t like in our world : waste, excessive consumption and many others. What I’ve realized only recently is that I spent much time thinking of all these things, more than of positive actions we could take. This made me look like a sad individual : I felt like a killjoy. In the end, I think I wasn’t convincing when I tried to “evangelize” people. I concluded that if I kept thinking that way, what I’d most hate would be myself. So I successfully decided to think more positively.

  • Elizabeth

    thank you for writing what so many of us feel. this morning, I woke up to a completely failed batch of homemade yogurt. I can’t describe how miserable I was to have wasted everything that goes into a gallon of organic milk–the plastic jug, the cow’s efforts, the fuel to get it to the store, the $5.99 I had to pay for it, etc. but after the fail, I looked for a new recipe, which led me to your site, where I’ve already discovered some great tips. perhaps our eco-fails somehow lead us on the road to serendipity…

  • Allegra

    I can’t believe you wrote about this! I feel the SAME way! Nobody really talks about it, but there is a lot of guilt that comes along with trying to be green. Here’s another thing I would like to add- in addition to feeling guilty about not being green enough, I also feel guilty about the money I spend on healthy food:( I know it doesn’t have to be that expensive if you make everything from scratch, but I’m not there yet, so I do buy organic packaged food from time to time! Or I’ll buy a cleaning product or something… organic can be pretty expensive.

  • I love this. Green living shouldn’t involve guilt – it’s about making educated, intentional choices. Thank you for sharing!

  • Joyce

    I feel fine about MY efforts but when my family strays, it’s then that I feel gloom. They don’t care like I do and even though they love me, they think that is separate from embracing my habits. I just continue to forge ahead. 🙂

  • eliza_cross

    Good point, Terri – car sharing is a wonderful concept! I love that it’s catching on in urban areas. We have public bike stands in Denver, another great idea that seems to be catching on as well. How much consumption could we reduce if we all shared a little more? Thanks for an important reminder. xo

  • Terri Betz

    Excellent article! You can’t be green all alone! Well….you can be…but it doesn’t help the planet much. Yes..every tiny bit helps 🙂 …..but..community is better! How about cars that are green and available for all parked downtown? This is reality in Vancouver Washington and Portland Oregon! Now that’s better! Think as part of a community….not as one individual! I know it’s hard…but as people of faith…you know it’s true!
    Love your blog! Let’s all work together!

  • eliza_cross

    Thanks so much, Chrisha. Your note means a lot, and it helps to know that we’re not alone! xo

  • Chrisha Dolan

    Thank you for so succinctly putting this feeling in words. I have had this discussion with other Eco-conscious friends about how sometimes the knowledge and the caring is a burden. The more you know, the more you care and ultimately the more you can despair about it all. I follow the same mantra, that we are doing the best that we can through simple living and setting examples for those around us. I think that social education goes much further than anyone would guess. So again thank you for this!

  • Linda Campbell

    I can totally relate….I hate waste…will think/do anything to not be wasteful. I think it is because I feel so BAD about how disrespectful we have been about our beautiful planet. So what did I do? I bought a Volt – I think it could make a difference if everyone starts to switch, too. Each of us has to decide what we can do and what we can not…..and then try to forget the rest!

    • eliza_cross

      I think it’s so cool that you swapped your car for a Volt, Linda, and you inspire me! My dream is to have solar roof panels and a Volt. Thanks for your comments, and for taking such a significant step to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and use clean energy. xo

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  • I have these same sort of issues around our food system. I try to eat locally grown, seasonal, organic food, but the reality is that it’s just not always possible – certainly not in the middle of winter in Colorado. But I’ve come to realize that, like most things in life, the 80-20 rule applies pretty well. If 80% of the choices I make support my philosophy and goals, I should congratulate myself for that instead of bemoaning the other 20%. Frankly, if we all did 80% better in ANYTHING, imagine what that would be like!

    • eliza_cross

      You’re right, Michele, and I so appreciate and respect the work you’re doing to educate lawmakers about improving the quality of our food. xo

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