Environmental Guilt

Overcoming Environmental Guilt | the beauty in simpleThe most common thing I hear from my readers are admissions of guilt or feelings of inadequacy for not making a bigger effort to live a “green” lifestyle. I get it because I often feel the same way. Sometimes when I measure my environmental efforts up to other people’s efforts I come up short and I feel tremendous guilt for not doing more. The thing is, guilt is not a particularly productive or useful feeling. It might motivate change, but not in a lasting or positive way. Resentment is often associated with guilt-led change. I think it’s possible to move beyond our environmental guilt and still make progress in our efforts.

Eight ideas to overcome environmental guilt.

  1. Be aware of limitations. A lack of knowledge, skill, resources, support, discipline, and time are examples of limitations that can stop or slow change. While we shouldn’t necessarily use these as excuses, I do think we should acknowledge that limitations do exist and give ourselves some grace.
  2. Start small. Life can be overwhelming, so during challenging times go for the smallest and easiest changes. Maybe the best you can do right now is switching from a plastic to a bamboo toothbrush. Perhaps it’s choosing peanut butter that comes in a glass jar, rather than plastic. (Glass can be recycled indefinitely, plastic can’t.) Don’t dismiss the importance of small change – it can snowball into further steps and progress to big change.
  3. Go for big impact. If you have a habit that’s nagging you, chances are it’s something substantial. Perhaps its the guilt from tossing your daily Starbucks coffee cup into the trash, or it’s the handful of plastic grocery bags that come home with you week after week. Making the change to take a reusable mug or cloth grocery bags are easy to implement and have the potential to make a big difference over time.
  4. Take the first step. It took me months to get the courage to fill my Mason jars at the bulk aisle. I’d never seen anyone else do it (and still haven’t), so it was intimidating to blaze a path. It took one shopping trip to forever change my shopping habits. The first step is often the hardest, but once made you might never look back.
  5. Use your strengths, interests, and skill set. If your interests are athletically driven, perhaps you can turn your daily commute into a workout by riding your bike or walking. If you love to garden, grow more of your own food. If fashion is your thing, research and buy ethically made clothing or give secondhand shopping a try. If you’re doing what you love, change will come easy and with great enjoyment.
  6. Be inspired by others, but don’t use their actions as a measuring stick to compare to. There’s no comparing apples to apples when it comes to people. We each show up with a different toolbox composed of varied experiences, skills, resources, time available, interests, and beliefs. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your efforts to someone else’s because you can’t possibly know where they’re coming from. Inspiration is what we should glean instead.
  7. Have a purpose. I started this blog because I feel strongly about protecting our natural world. I was taught at an early age, and have practiced throughout my life to leave no trace when I’m hikingcamping, or visiting wild places. My purpose is to carry that mentality into my everyday life. A purpose-driven change brings clarity and motivation.
  8. Don’t aim for perfection. For one, it’s impossible and two, the resulting failures lead to guilt.

I say we should make change without the guilt. What do you think?


9 thoughts on “Environmental Guilt

  1. Thank you. Lots of good points. My biggest problem is that too much change stresses me out. So I’ve decided to cut back the pace of my changes to one at a time. I’ll still get there; just more slowly. On the plus side, I’ve found a local source for package-free glycerin bar soap (non-glycerin soaps burn my skin). I’ve also discovered that someone I know takes mason jars to our local bulk store. That’s given me the courage to do that, myself.

    Sometimes, though, one just has to bite one’s tongue. We were helping my daughter move, last weekend, and her new boyfriend surprised us all with Starbucks drinks. In that situation, I just gave him a great big “thank you.” There’ll be time enough to educate him about disposable cups.

    1. Kari, thanks for sharing. Too much change stresses anyone out and usually spells disaster. I like your idea of moving slowly in adopting changes. That’s great that you found package-free glycerin soap! Also, I encourage you to give the Mason jar shopping a try. The first time is a little awkward, but then it becomes old habit. Check out my post on reusable Mason jar labels. It makes bulk shopping very easy and quick. Also, I think you did the right thing with your daughter’s boyfriend in showing gratitude. Better to change ourselves than others, as that may be a lost battle. Thank you so much for your readership and your continued comments! I appreciate both! 🙂

  2. I love, love, love this post! I totally agree that starting small is good…as each small change becomes the new normal, it is so easy to begin to look for another change to make. Guilt stinks, but we’re probably better off…and much happier if we note the good that we are doing and let that motivate us to take the next step.

    1. Jane, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Those small changes can snowball, and that’s what we’re going for. I know I’ve said it before, but the writing you’ve done on your blog is a huge motivator for me. I love your simple and thoughtful approach to life. xo

  3. Julie, I wanted to thank you for your inspiring writing. I found your blog through the Center for the New American Dream, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts and implementing many of the small steps you describe: just this week I took mason jars to the grocery store for the first time! Looking forward to further simplifying our family’s life, and to reading more from you!

    1. Hi Kelsey! I’m so glad you found your way to my blog and have been enjoying it. Thank you! I’m so pleased you gave bulk shopping with mason jars a try. I hope you pop into the comments again to report how you and your family are going about simplifying. I’d love to hear your story! Thanks for joining the conversation!

  4. Julie, thank you for this e-mail. You are right I need to start with a couple of things and make them a habit and then add a few more. You are truly an inspiration to me and such a wonderful role model for your children and friends.

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