Personal

Closet environmentalist?

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.

My college dorm room

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.

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10 thoughts on “Closet environmentalist?

  1. Dani says:

    Hmmmm…. I can see a parellel between the “greener than thou” attitude of the lady at Whole Foods and the “holier than thou” attitude that some Christians display.

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  2. Dani says:

    My inner hippie has been chewing on this all weekend with mixed emotion. Yes, we should all be respectful of and responsible for our environment. You know, give a hoot and don’t pollute. You don’t have to be a tree-hugger or a hippie, just responsible. The thought ehind “going green” is good – do what you can to help take care of the Earth so that it can continue to take care of us. It saddens me to see God’s trees cut down to make room for more money-grubbing humans’ structures that will likely be vacant within the decade, especially when there are already vacant structures nearby. It sickens me when the
    money-grubbing society exploits “going green” as a way of marketing and increasing their own “green” (moola). Kind of like Christmas or religion, “Green” has become commercialized, a club to which it is hip to belong. I’m sure the lady with her canvas bags was muttering under her breath about the inconvenience of toting those silly things around, but, oh boy, if her friends could see her! Kudos to those who are making an honest conscious (or unconscious) effort or just plain common sense for the good of the Earth that God made for us. For those who do it to make themselves rather than the Earth look good, your effort is appreciated but your vanity in itself is a pollutant.

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  3. Good post. A thoughtful person who cares about the environment is probably more concerned with consumption as you are. And about protection vs. trendy clothing or “green” packaging.

    Back from the western environment myself! Beautiful country out there!

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  4. Dani: Whoo doggie, I see I pushed a button! “A club to which it is hip to belong” is a perfect way to say it.

    HR: Don’t misunderstand, I don’t focus on consumption. I focus on joy, which tends to naturally reduce consumption!

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  5. ant says:

    Hey now guys, you know you get five cents off your bill for every canvas bag you use. Heh. Also, Whole Foods now sells these cool plastic bags that say, “I WAS A PLASTIC BOTTLE.” I had to immediately buy one just because I like that bag’s attitude. Also it can be very edgy to buy bags at one store and take them in another, like I take my Wild Oats and Sunflower bags into Whole Foods. Have fun with it! Who cares about the richnik poser in the peasant blouse, it’s the landfill we’re really worried about here, and as annoying as she may be, she is in fact putting less crap in the landfill, so bless her heart for that.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a hippie, I’m a nerd. I also do not own a peasant blouse. I do admit that I have a separate trash can into which I throw recycleables. It doesn’t kill me to do this.

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  6. Ant, I did notice that since I didn’t bring a canvas bag into Whole Foods with me, they put my hot dogs in a little paper sack with a cord handle, like you’d get at a boutique. How chic! I’m sure the ink on the sack was biodegradable and made from vegetables somehow.

    Seriously, I’m not opposed to avoiding needless waste.

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