Green Guilt: Just Let It Go

Posted on May 13, 2011 by Melissa

Roof over their heads or organic food in their tummies? You know my answer.

Last night, I threw out a glass spaghetti sauce jar. The day before that, I bought two new Pack & Play sheets (buy one, get one – plus I had a 20% off coupon) without checking Craigslist first. Last week when I went grocery shopping, I didn’t buy any organic food AND I bought generic Dawn instead of my usual Seventh Generation. Oh, and I’m currently using Tide instead of a natural brand of laundry detergent. Are you shocked yet? Gasping for air and shouting to yourself, “And you call yourself a Greenist?” Well, I do call myself a Greenist…and yes, I’m experiencing a lot of green guilt right now – that feeling of I know I can do better. I know I can do more. But allow me to explain . . . It came down to money. My family recently moved to another state and I am currently staying at home with my two children. With our new single salary household, I find myself having to sacrifice some green luxuries. Organic veggies, for example, are typically $1.00-$5.00 more than conventional vegetables. Do I prefer organic food? Yes! I know it is better for my body and for the environment. But I need to watch my spending; I can get more fruits and vegetables if I choose the less expensive alternative. Do I want to pollute with generic dish soap? No way! But how do I explain to my kids that I can’t buy them apple juice because I chose to spend the $3.00 on natural dish soap instead? Not to mention, I hardly ever find coupons for green products in the Sunday paper (search for them on manufacturer’s webpages instead).

My husband and I were discussing this situation the other night and in my complaints of having to let go of some of my favorite green products (like a $20 baby wash), I accused him of not supporting the green movement. He replied with, “I do support the green movement! But I have to support my family first.” His statement got me thinking about my priorities, the first of which are my children. I want to do all I can to build them a better world – they are the entire reason I became more green in the first place. My husband must have sensed my conflict because he rushed in and pointed out all of the little things we do to help the environment. “We can’t recycle right now. There is no curbside recycling in our new neighborhood and there is a fee to use the recycling center. But you are reusing things more, like the glass sauce and salad dressing containers.” He pointed out a few other things:

1) If I think I can make it or bake it, I don’t buy it. I’ve been baking homemade breads, pitas, bagels, sweets, and tortillas. I’ve been whipping together salad dressings and granola and even made a little homemade peanut butter the other day! So much cheaper, greener (no packaging waste), and tastier! Additionally, now that I’m baking more I’ve been able to eliminate spending on scented soy candles – the house ALWAYS smells like something good! Now, if only I could figure out how to bake Cheerios . . .

Homemade Amish White Bread

2) We are still using cloth diapers and cloth wipes. I wash them with 1/4 cup of Tide. I’ve found that natural detergents just don’t clean diapers as well as Tide does. Read any diaper board . . . the parents who use natural detergents seem to be continually stripping their diapers and complaining that they still smell after washing – what a waste of water, energy, detergent, time and money.

3) I stopped buying lotions and creams. Everyone gets to use (or choose not to use) the Coconut Oil now!

4) The boys share a bath. Not to mention, now that I’m a stay at home Mom, I don’t have the time to take a long shower (if I’m lucky enough to get one at all!).

5) Now that I’m no longer commuting to work for 1 hour/day, I only need to fill up my gas tank every other week, instead of every week.

6) All of our dish rags vanished during our move! Instead of buying new ones, I’m knitting rags from leftover cotton yarn from a previous knitting project.

7) We still rock the reusable shopping bags, napkins, and homemade cleaning products. As well as a lot of other tiny things that might just be making a difference (like using Mason Jars for drinking glasses . . . and for storing homemade jam!).

Even though I can’t afford to buy a new hybrid or spend $5-6/gallon on organic milk right now (oh, but it tastes so good!), I can still be a Greenist. It’s not my fault that the condo development we are renting in will not allow me to hang a clothesline or compost. I need to shake the green guilt and be proud of what I can do. I can support the green movement and my family – both of them will just have to sacrifice a little bit for now.


  1. This is such a great post! It’s not a contest and there’s no need for guilt. We do what we can when we can and it sounds lIke you are doing some wonderful things.

    May 13th, 2011 at 7:59 am
    Comment by Allie
  2. You make a great point. One of the things I’ve always respected about The Greenists is that they celebrate the small things you CAN do instead of giving guilt trips over what you aren’t doing. You have to be realistic or it won’t work at all and that would be doing the environment more of a disservice.

    May 13th, 2011 at 9:29 am
    Comment by Julie
  3. Great post! I’ve gone through green guilt so many times. You just have to do what works for you and look for small changes you can reasonably make. Every little bit helps!

    May 13th, 2011 at 9:30 am
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  4. I think we all have green guilt because no matter what you’re doing, you can always do more. But we all have to prioritize, and certainly no one will blame you for putting your family first! Plus, it sounds like you’re doing some really great green things around your home, and that’s admirable.

    May 13th, 2011 at 9:50 am
    Comment by Courtney
  5. Thanks for your comments! Seriously, try that bread recipe. Once you make it, you won’t ever buy bread at the grocery store again :) And a little update – a neighbor just told me about another recycling center that doesn’t charge a fee to join (only if you want to recycle big items, like computers). I can take our plastics, glasses, and papers and dump them into a huge dumpster. Apparently, they get sorted else where.

    May 13th, 2011 at 11:07 am
    Comment by Melissa
  6. Thank you!! I deal with green guilt all the time, but like you stretch out one salary. As I prepare my non-organic, beet-filled brownies to put in my solar cooker on this 100+ degree day, I remind myself that I do what I can!!

    May 13th, 2011 at 4:46 pm
    Comment by Lynn
  7. This is such a refreshing post! I too can’t always afford the greenist choice of the bunch and struggle with green guilt. It needs to be out mantra: “Do the best we can with what we have.”

    May 13th, 2011 at 5:55 pm
    Comment by Kat
  8. Beet filled brownies? Do share the recipe!

    May 13th, 2011 at 8:52 pm
    Comment by Melissa
  9. Red Velvet Brownies. I used dark chocolate chips instead of the expresso and it turned out well.

    May 14th, 2011 at 11:37 pm
    Comment by Lynn
  10. Do what you can. Awareness is the key, and you’ve clearly got it. There’s always going to be something more we can do, but we’ll never be able to do it all.

    May 15th, 2011 at 1:56 pm
    Comment by mickey
  11. Great, thanks a lot for your post! It shows that there are so many things you could do in your everday live to support the environment!

    June 8th, 2011 at 12:45 pm
    Comment by Thomas - Electric Car
  12. Thanks for this post!
    As a work outside the home, mother of a 1 year old, I ponder these same issues every day.
    I have to let go and realize that my son’s college education will be more powerful that the green toilet paper I spent the extra $5 on.
    I can only teach him why I ask myself these questions and hope that he will make the same choices or better in his future…

    June 20th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
    Comment by Emily Careen
  13. [...] good and green in each choice, and we will stand up and own whatever choice we make and forego the guilt. We’ve also got to continue talking about the shortcomings so that with every generation of [...]

    October 18th, 2011 at 9:22 am
    Pingback by Picking Your Preferences & Poison

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