I often suffer from the “shoulds,” which means that when I embark on a project like saving money or living green, I think I must do everything perfectly or else. Then, this weekend, we went to a party at a friend’s house. They offered good company, a spread of delicious foods, and balloons and bags of thoughtful party favors for the children. The spirit was one of loving generosity. We left feeling restored, touched and loved.
I was depressed the whole next day.
Why? If I do eco perfectly, I can’t go to or host a party like that. (Ban the balloons. How dreary.) If I am cheap, I can’t do the hosting either. I love being generous. But the fact is, I don’t think most of my friends and relatives consider a jar of jam a sufficient gift. Not that they are ungrateful — more like they get a quizzical expression, like “Why are you giving me a jar of jam when I can buy jam at the grocery store any old time?”
My response is to often give a card, give nothing, or give an experience. Last year for Christmas I knit my mother a pair of socks that she seemed to toss aside. This year I’m planning to take her to see a musical instead.
More than that, people enjoy something special. A gift means you’ve been thought of, and the recipient’s most-wanted item might not be used, biodegradable or waste-free. For the ultra-green, even giving a card is deemed too much. That wasted paper! The carbon exuded by the postal truck that delivers it!
What about that party? According to the “shoulds” of green life, we should have biked, perhaps used public transport or not gone at all.
- Bike: I keep hoping to find a used tagalong for the bike, but I’m not looking too enthusiastically. (I hate biking on city streets. I hate wearing a helmet, and I hate not wearing a helmet, because it sets a bad example for Little Cheap.) My friend’s house is six miles from ours, so if we biked at 15 miles per hour, the bike ride would have taken us about 25 minutes each way. Travel time = 50 minutes. Cost = $0
- Bus: We would have had to walk about 4 blocks, take one bus, transfer to another, get off and walk about 6 blocks. Attend party, turn around, repeat. The bus time would have been 36 minutes each way (assuming buses arrived on time for our transfers to work – not always a given, especially on a Sunday) with an additional walking time of about 15 minutes each way. Total = 1 hour, 42 minutes travel time. Cost = $9 roundtrip for the family. According to the rules for the 90% reduce project, public transport counts as 100 miles per gallon (per person, I think?). So, carbon emissions = 6.8 lbs. for the family.
- Car: In real life, we drove. Travel time = 30 minutes round trip. Gas used = 0.6 gallon. Cost = $1.73 roundtrip for the family. Carbon emissions = 11.4 lbs.
At the party, I spent a long time discussing green living with another family. They are major solar boosters — and I agree, but solar isn’t in our budget right now. (They did mention that solar hot water heaters are more affordable than a complete solar system.) They also suggested a local source of raw milk products. I don’t particularly care whether my milk is raw, but I would love to find a local source for fresh milk. Unfortunately, with the raw milk shares offered, we’d have to buy a gallon a week at a higher rate than I currently pay for organic Colorado milk ($7 per gallon vs. $5.29 per gallon), and so far, we don’t consume that much. (We might be able to if we up our yogurt consumption, if Little Cheap does switch to cow’s milk, or if I start making my own cheese.) And the fresh butter that sounded oh so good costs $10 a pound. I just can’t go there right now. Can’t I get a goat for my own backyard?
One thing this family and I were able to agree on immediately was that even when it feels like you are doing a lot to change your life, to live more consciously, to adapt like crazy and downscale, it’s never enough. That alone opens our eyes to how intense the American way of life is and how much we normally use.
Finally, on Monday, after some internal debate, I wound up buying a big stack of cards for upcoming birthdays, for Grandparents Day, to welcome a baby. I know my family values things like cards, and I want to honor them with something they like. Hopefully they’ll recycle them afterward.
And the world won’t end. Not this year, anyway.