Attainable Sustainable: Our Story (Plus Realistic Green Tips)

Have you ever felt guilty for making a choice that’s bad for the environment?

Me, too.

It can feel overwhelming to get it all right. We want to, but sometimes things get out of whack. Life happens.

Four years ago, I fell in love with the idea of sustainable living.

I went all out. The grocery bill skyrocketed from our new, all organic diet. I dabbed on natural beauty products and gave up using plastic bags, the bane of society. I tried mineral salt as deodorant. (The result was about what you can imagine.) The more I advocated sustainable living, the more I felt trapped. “What would people think if they knew I was using a plastic bag right now??”

Today, I have a new perspective: I do what I have to do to stay sane as a homemaker. I do it as sustainably as possible. To me, there’s nothing more important than my job as a wife and mother. Everything else has to come second, including saving the world.

Do your best with what you can control.

Attainable sustainable is about knowing myself. Knowing my breaking points. Looking inward for what feels right.

That might mean opting for a plastic bag if I forget my reusable ones at home. I don’t like doing that, but I won’t feel guilty anymore. I’ve already sorted out my priorities.

Realistic Green Tips for Families

Here are 6 of my favorite, easy green habits:

1. Use reusable bags and containers.

If you pack a lunch, use a container for food instead of a plastic baggie. If they are old enough, ask each person to quickly wash and rinse their containers when they get home. Read more about hand-washing dishes in my post about how we quit our dishwasher.

  • Realistic: There are days you’ll still opt for saran wrap or a plastic baggie. It happens.

2. Refill your own water bottles.

I don’t buy bottled water for home anymore. Now that it’s not in the fridge, refilling our own bottles is the only choice we have. That makes it easy. Click here to read about Flow, a documentary that changed the way we drink.

  • Realistic: It’s not always possible to have clean water when travelling. Stay hydrated. You can still make to world a better place with kindness and smiles.

3. Plant a garden.

Since we can’t afford a lot of organic food right now, I’m thankful Mr. Right plants a garden to supplement our store-bought produce.

  • Realistic: Your garden doesn’t have to be huge and overwhelming. Start with a few items and build up from there if you can. Read the dirty dozen to narrow down your produce choices.

4. Use chemical free cleaners.

A solution of vinegar and water is my favorite all-purpose cleaner. For windows, I use a micro-fiber cloth and plain water. Click here for recipes from Simple Organic.

  • Realistic: While nearly every cleaner I use is homemade, I still buy toilet bowl cleaner. The natural cleaners just didn’t cut it for me.

5. Stop buying so much stuff.

Consumerism has resulted in lower-quality stuff, increased debt and convinced us we never have enough. It’s convinced we need things that no one needed for hundreds of years.

Here are a few ways to slow down your spending: If you want something, write it on a list. Don’t buy it for 30 days. If you still want it after that time, see if you can get it used. Check out Craigslist and Ebay. 

  • Realistic: Socks, underwear, bras, gym clothes, shoes, chewing gum … these are just a few of the things I like to buy new. You can read more in the post Stuff I Buy.

6. Walk places. Bike places.

Walk for more than leisure or exercise – take care of errands, visit your neighbor or drop off the library books while you’re at it.

  • Realistic: It can be treacherous – even dangerous – to walk or bike during Wisconsin winters. Use common sense and offer gratitude for modern day conveniences like cars.
Sustainable living can be done in one day. One choice. Then repeat. Start by changing a few habits at a time. When life happens, remember what’s important above all. The good news is, if my family can implement these changes – most of the time – so can yours.

What green tips would you add to the list?

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Photo by Casey David

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.


1 Karen September 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

Hi Melissa

My husband works for an international environmental group. On a local level he was in charge of the budget when they relocated office. As you’d expect everyone wanted the best in the “eco friendly” product line for doing the place up. Back to the budget. Here are some of the compromises I remember him telling me about. Instead of fancy sustainably sourced new furniture he liased with a company who specialises in recylcing office furniture (no doubt from all those other offices who went for the expensive options). Instead of natural fibre flooring/carpets again he went for recycled. Where money was spent on new it went on energy efficient appliances, loos etc, and on eco friendly paints. Yes, work with what you have, and what you can afford. I apply this at home and have a great suite that we were practically given because someone was downsizing and desparate to get rid of. I too forget my shopping bags sometimes. I either load up the kids or – gasp – use a plastic one, but it is nearly always recycled. Thanks for a great post as always.

2 Melissa September 20, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hi Karen,
Thanks for sharing this! It’s important to remember that sometimes, the best green choice is to buy used instead of the new, eco-marketed item.

I really do hate plastic bags. But I love my sanity more. 🙂
Take care,

3 Lisa @ Just here. Just now. September 20, 2011 at 9:58 am

This is a really important to talk about. I feel so many people have that eco-guilt. The point is to do the best you can, where you are. The judgmental green thing is not productive. Every little bit helps, but no one is perfect! Thanks for sharing!

4 Melissa September 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Eco-guilt – great term! That’s exactly what I’m referring to. Another great point you make is how every little thing helps – so if you DID forget the reusable bags, sometimes it works just fine to carry the items instead of opting for plastic.
I appreciate your comment.

5 Michelle September 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Great post; really hits home! An easy change that I have made, stop buying paper towel, plastic baggies, and platic wrap. I don’t miss these at all!

6 Melissa September 22, 2011 at 9:36 am

Hi Michelle,
I’m glad you liked the post! It’s amazing how the things we “need” aren’t really needed when they’re not around. I’ve found that’s an easy way to figure out if I can declutter further or not – put things away, and if I don’t find myself wanting to use them, I can donate the items.
Thanks for bringing up a great point.
Take care,

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