I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with a colleague and friend who’s applying some good-natured, I think, pressure about going green. I am resisting. I see too many people wear eco-friendliness like it’s the latest fashion and want everybody to see it, and it ticks me off.
My sons wanted to participate in a cookout at summer camp last week. I went into Whole Foods to buy unprocessed hot dogs since my sons are allergic to the preservatives in processed meats. The lady in front of me in line symbolized all that bothers me about the “green” label. Her designer peasant blouse clearly cost many times more than everything I was wearing. Swinging her arms widely, she got her canvas shopping bags out of her purse, unfolded them deliberately, and filled them with food and personal-care items where the word “organic” was so large on the label that it could be seen from twenty feet away. My own reverse snobbery is certainly at play here, but the waves of her “look at me, I’m so pleased with myself, I’m green!” attitude invaded my personal space, and I had to step back. Then, in the parking lot, I saw her driving away in her luxury hybrid SUV.
I buy regular food at a regular grocery store (although I do limit processed foods and sugar) and bring it home in plastic bags. I don’t go out of my way to recycle, although I do line my wastebaskets with the grocery-store bags. I unapologetically drive my car for pleasure, although because I’m frugal (or a tightwad) I drive a basic car that gets good gas mileage. I buy my clothes on clearance at Target, Penney’s, and Kohl’s. I live in a small, older house – small compared to my peers’ big homes, with the corresponding mortgages, anyway. “All of this lets me lead a fairly uncomplicated life,” I told my friend.
“Ah!” my friend said. “The hippies will get you yet!”
Grr! But it got me thinking. In college, I shared a room with three friends. The room was big rectangle with a little tiny rectangle at one end. For three years, I lived in the little tiny rectangle, which was 6 feet wide by about 12 feet deep. Here I am, doing my homework at my desk, which was under my bed. My closet is at the back. The photo shows most of my living space.
I liked the efficiency and coziness of my little space, and I really enjoyed sleeping seven feet off the ground, the bed swaying gently. After I got out of school and got the big house, though, I used to say I didn’t think I could go back to living like I did in college. Then when my wife and I split up, tight finances forced me into a 300-square-foot apartment for more than a year. As I moved in, I braced for the shock of downsizing – but soon discovered that I liked it there. I could clean it end to end in an hour and then, the entirety of my household responsibilities complete, I had time to read, watch TV, take walks in the park, or just gaze at my navel if I wanted to. My life slowed down a lot. I didn’t realize how badly out of touch I was with myself until, in that apartment, I had time to get back in touch with myself again.
I re-learned how to live with a lot less, and realized that not only could I do it and be content with it, but that it let me experience more legitimate and genuine joy and pleasure. Even though I no longer need to live so frugally, I haven’t wanted to let go of frugal living’s benefits. So my decisions since then have tended to result less consumption which, I suppose, is green. But that’s the byproduct, not the goal itself. And with that I trump my friend’s claims that I’m a closet environmentalist.