The Blight of Purposelessness

My friend Anne at One Little Window has a great piece about why she chooses to live green.

I know I always talk about “green things”, living sustainably, “saving the planet”, and whatever catch slogans you want to add. Well, I will do so here again. Not because I think the planet needs to be saved, although I think it does. Not so much because I worry about all the wasted resources, although I do. Not so much because I am terrified of the results of the oil spill, even though I am. I talk about it because I see it as a symptom of a blight that doesn’t have anything directly to do with the environment or the planet. It’s the blight of purposelessness. It’s the blight of busyness. It’s not living intentionally and choosing what you work at.

This gets to the heart of something I’ve been trying to verbalize and internalize for myself lately. Rather than asking “Why do this thing to be green?” I tend to ask, “Why not?” To me, so many choices are so small and so easy to make that it seems ridiculous not to.

First, a caveat: I do realize that I’m speaking from a place of privilege. I own my home and have a huge yard (by suburban standards), mine is a two-income family, I have a job, a car, and opportunities like single-stream recycling and natural foods stores within my reach. These are things that many people don’t have, and I don’t want anyone to think I take these things for granted.

But where I’m at in my life, there are choices I can make that are SO simple as to hardly even seem like a choice any more. For example, we switched to cloth napkins, cloth hankies and cloth dishrags (in place of most of our paper towels) almost three years ago and the paper products I do buy are all recycled paper. We do not miss wiping our bums with quilted anything, nor do I find that I do significantly more laundry than I used to.

Speaking of laundry, I buy only natural cleaning products now, and I use less of them than I used to. Baking soda and vinegar are awesome and super cheap. I don’t buy bleach, and I gave up using dryer sheets—with no negative results.

This is not a toot-my-own-horn post. This is not to say that I’m perfect, because I’m absolutely not. There are plenty of things I don’t do—yet—that I absolutely could. This is about the choices that, now made, seem awfully simple and intuitive. Better still, they feel purposeful. They feel meaningful. Maybe that’s a little bit of vanity on my part, but I feel good and virtuous about making these kinds of choices because they support what I believe in.

And, as Anne points out, it’s about more than just “saving the planet.” Doing these small things is a certain kind of mindfulness, an exercise in being present. It’s about actually making a choice, rather than simply going with the flow.

Why do you do the things you do? How much of your life is dictated more by habit than by any sort of conscious choice? Are you living your life in accordance with what really matters to you?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m not ready to give up my car and bike the 15 miles to my office every day, nor am I willing to spend two hours and more money than it costs to operate my car to ride the bus. But I’ve thought about it, and it’s a choice I’ve consciously made. And when I spend two hours in front of the TV after dinner instead of gardening or cleaning or reading or writing, I have to wonder if that was a choice I consciously made, or if I was lured to the sofa by the hypnotic flicker of the mindless entertainment.

I don’t have all the answers, but I think this is one time where it’s the questions that are more important than the answers.

Links this Week

From Already Pretty by Sally McGraw

A roundup of interesting stuff I saw this week:

Strong and Tough — I love Sally McGraw, and this post is a great reason why. It really inspired me to want to be more physical.

10 Easy Steps for Becoming a Radical Homemaker — I really liked the down-to-earth nature of her suggestions.

Bringing Your Practice Home — A great primer for starting a yoga practice at home.

Sunset’s Western Garden Book of Edibles Book Notes — This looks like a book I need to check out.

Rain Barrels: 15 DIY and Ready-To-Buy Options Roundup — I’m ready to take the plunge (so to speak) into having a rain barrel, and this seems like a good place to start.