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8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot! I’ve been very lucky that my husband has supported (and been actively involved in) our plastic-free journey since the beginning. Whilst don’t always see eye-to-eye about zero waste, our values are very much aligned.

That said, we have had our fair share of waste-related disagreements in our time! Plus there are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. In fact, if my mother is reading this (hi, mum!) she will probably be staring in disbelief and telling the computer screen that I am a total nag! But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

I didn’t marry my husband because of his awesome ability to remember his reusable bags on all occasions. I am well aware that he always strives to do his best, and his best might mean forgetting his reusable bags once in a while.

I married him for different reasons, namely because I love him exactly the way he is. It isn’t as if I am perfect! I shouldn’t let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between us and cause friction. I shouldn’t… but I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Spreading the sustainability and clean living word

When I started this blog, I was motivated because I felt like I was at a real turning point in my life. I was on a journey… a journey that started with a bigger commitment to being more sustainable, but became so much more than that.  It has led me down all sorts of interesting paths. I felt like I was learning so much, and I really wanted to share what I was finding out, as well as keep a kind-of record of my progress.

I love being able to share what I know, and as part of that I got involved with Living Smart, a not-for-profit organisation based in Australia that provides practical knowledge and skills for people to live more sustainable lives. Read more

An exciting letter in the post…

I’ve been excitedly waiting for the gas bill for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday it finally arrived! Yep, you read that right. I was excited by the thought of receiving the gas bill.

Three months ago we decided to be pro-active about reducing our gas consumption because we realised our gas bill was unusually high for such a small flat, and being conscious of our environmental footprint, we decided to do something about it. Living in a rental, we couldn’t do much about the rubbishy cheap inefficient boiler with the gas-wasting pilot light that the landlord had installed. What we could do, and what we did, was reduce the pilot light to the lowest setting and lower the temperature setting so that we no longer need to add any cold water when we shower. Read more

One year on: how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better

On Wednesday night my boyfriend and I spoke at the Plastic Free July closing ceremony about how our lives had changed since taking part in Plastic Free July last year. It was lovely to be asked to speak, and great to be able to share with the community what it had meant to us. It was also a chance for us to reflect on how far we had come.

Whilst it’s still fresh in my mind I thought it would be good to share on the blog too.

One Year On from Plastic Free July

When we signed up for Plastic Free July in 2012, I have to confess, I thought it was going to be easy. I thought that we were pretty sustainable already – after all, we took our own shopping bags to the supermarket! I figured we’d buy a few more things in jars, a few more things in cardboard packets, and it would be a breeze.

Then I saw the movie Bag It.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I beg you to seek it out. It’s a documentary that’s funny, clever, down to earth and it gives out so much information without overloading the viewer. I think I’ve seen it five times now and each time I get something new out of it.

I know others who have seen environmental movies and claimed it changed their lives. An Inconvenient Truth is one. The End of Suburbia is another. I haven’t seen either of these, but for me, Bag It was one of those movies. After seeing it, I knew there was so much more I could do. I also knew it wouldn’t be something we just tried for a month. After July was over, we intended to carry on.

July 1st came around, and the challenge began.

Our first couple of supermarket shops after starting Plastic Free July looked like this:

We realised that if we weren’t going to starve we would probably have to make some big changes to our shopping habits.

So we started shopping at markets and bulk food shops like these:

bulkInstead of taking bags at the shop, we re-used old bags – both plastic ones that we already had and also paper bags – and also went to a workshop and made our own washable cloth bags. We also took our own containers to the deli counter and got reusable cups which we carry everywhere with us.

Another simple change we made was to buy bar soap rather than shower gel and liquid handwash that come in plastic. We choose soap made with natural ingredients and without chemicals or additives so we can avoid all that nastiness too, plus it’s made locally by a woman with her own natural skincare and aromatherapy oil business. Wins all round!

soapSo what else? We started buying more of our stuff second-hand. When we moved into our flat we had committed to buying all our furniture second-hand, but after Plastic Free July we started buying second-hand kitchen appliances, and now we always check to see if we can get something we need pre-loved rather than getting a brand new version from the shops.

We make great use of our local library. As well as the obvious books, our library also lends magazines, CDs and DVDs free of charge. This is great if it’s something we just want to flick through, watch once or have a quick listen, as we can then return it for someone else to use. It’s a great way of cutting down on plastic, but also less wasteful of resources and takes up less space in the flat. After all, how many times do you watch most of your DVDs or read most of your magazines?

We also started switching plastic items with non-plastic alternatives as they needed replacing. This cleaning brush on the right is made by a company called Full Circle (their Australian site is here). It has a bamboo handle and the heads can be replaced so you don’t need to throw the whole thing away. The head is made of bioplastic and the bristles are a mix of natural fibres and recycled plastic fibres. I’m not quite at the stage of knitting my own dishcloths yet (I don’t know how to knit, for a start) so this is a good compromise for now. The brush on the left is wood and natural bristles.

brushesI also bought my boyfriend this awesome little stainless steel lunchbox for Christmas, which he really likes. It generates a fair bit of conversation at his work, too. The plastic fork in the picture came from a pre-Plastic Free July long haul flight – I kept my initial set of cutlery and reused it for

IMAG0360 (2)the entire journey, and then my boyfriend used it at work for several months until the prongs finally snapped. Wouldn’t have happened with a metal fork though, would it?!

After Plastic Free July was over, the Earth Carers, that fantastic group of people that came up with the Plastic Free July challenge in the first place, ran a 5 session course on waste. Having been inspired by Plastic Free July we went along. One of the days was a trip to a rubbish tip and a recycling facility.

One of the big changes you’ll probably have found if you took part in the Plastic Free July challenge is that you ended up with a lot more glass bottles and jars. This happened to us, and we continued to recycle them diligently until we visited a recycling facility.

RecyclingThis massive smelly heap is the recycling collected from just a few suburbs of Perth in one afternoon. I also found out that a lot of recycling is actually shipped to Asia for processing, and glass is often trucked thousands of kilometres to be processed in a different state. The glass that is recycled in Perth is often used for road base – not shiny new glass bottles.

Even with the pantry heavily stocked with bulk items stored in glass jars, we were still accumulating more and didn’t have the space to store them indefinitely. To cut them out I decided to make more food from scratch. We committed to try to avoid buying as much as we could in any kind of packaging.

So I learnt how to make yoghurt, labne cheese and sourdough bread, amongst other things.

I also learnt how to make deodorant and toothpaste. I hope eventually to make most of my own cosmetics and skincare, but I haven’t got round to it yet.

The other interesting thing that happened, and arguably the best thing, is that we became a lot more involved in our local community. After the Earth Carers course we also enrolled in a 10 topic, 7 week sustainability course called Living Smart. It focuses on individual behaviour change and goal-setting, and has been a great way to meet like-minded people who live in our area. My boyfriend and I have both completed the Living Smart facilitator training course that allows us to run our own Living Smart courses. So far I’ve had the chance to present at a few courses and we’re looking forward to running our own by the end of the year.

Finding the Balance

One of our biggest achievements over the year has been finding the balance between wanting to consume as little plastic as possible whilst still wanting to stay sane, be happy and remain part of society! There’s no point in depriving ourselves of things if it’s going to make us miserable. After Plastic Free July I thought we’d become plastic extremists and never buy a single thing in plastic ever again. Over time we’ve come to realise that emergencies happen, sometimes we have to compromise and sometimes, plastic can actually be useful. So we do still end up with plastic – here are the main examples.

Firstly, there’s sneaky plastic. If you took part in Plastic Free July, did you buy something thinking that it was plastic free, only to find that beneath the deceptive cardboard outer, some plastic was lurking inside? Yep, us too.

Secondly, there’s the unavoidable plastic. Despite our best efforts to buy second hand, we sometimes need to buy new things, and these often come with all the little bits and pieces wrapped in unnecessary plastic bags. For example, when I decided to make my own yoghurt I bought a wide-neck flask and a milk thermometer new because I couldn’t find either second hand. Both of these had stupid unnecessary plastic, but it helped stop waste further along. Another thing I’ve found impossible to avoid is plastic lids on glass bottles, or plastic linings inside metal lids, although I buy as few as I can and refill where possible.

Finally, there’s guilty pleasures. These are the things that contain single use disposable plastic but we continue to buy anyway. My boyfriend’s top example is beer bottle tops. Maybe when we have our own place he can try his hand at homebrew. Hopefully he will turn out to be a master brewer; otherwise I think these are likely to stay.

capsBirthday and Christmas presents to each other are excluded from the plastic-free rule too – although we keep it for gifts we give to everyone else in the family! We never go crazy though. The stainless steel lunchbox purchased last Christmas actually came in a plastic bag, and I received a board game with various bits and pieces packaged in plastic. Still pretty old-school, really!

If you’d asked me a year ago how Plastic Free July would have affected me, I wouldn’t have guessed anywhere close to where I am now. I think the main lesson has been to take things slowly, and keep at one new thing until it becomes a habit before starting the next thing. A lot of this is now second nature to us, but it took a bit of work to get there.

The other important lesson has to be not to berate others for their choices. Everyone is on their own journey and if you want to inspire your friends and family to change their habits too, it is far better to lead by example than berate them for what they aren’t doing! Once people see you quietly getting on with things, hopefully they will be inspired to try things out for themselves. Everyone needs time!

As a thank-you for presenting we were given a copy of Beth Terry’s Plastic Free book. Despite being so committed to plastic free living I’ve never actually read this book, so I’m looking forward to any new inspiration that it brings!

book

My latest shower accessory

Last week my boyfriend and I went to a Water Smart workshop, which was about both the issues Perth is facing with water demand and supply, and how to use water sustainably. On the way home, my boyfriend commented that he wasn’t really motivated to make any changes to our lives, because water didn’t seem as important as other things, like power or transport. I was inclined to agree. I think greywater systems and rainwater tanks are fantastic, but we don’t own our own house, so this is something for the future. It is something I’d definitely do in the future, but it’s probably a long way off, and not relevant to us now. Read more