How do you manage friends and relatives with different views? How do you make things ‘okay’ without surrendering your values? This is an unconventional episode with some personal stories about the challenges and rewards of “livin’ that eco life.”
The episode for today is a little “meta,” but it was actually suggested by my father-in-law. Yes, my father-in-law listens to my podcast. And if he was here right now he would say something like, “yes, old dogs can learn new tricks.”
Anyway he said, “What about an episode on how to manage relatives, going to friends with different views; making things ‘OK’ without surrendering values?” Which may require me to share a lot of personal stories, but I’m up for it. So, that’s what I’m talking about in today’s episode, the challenges and rewards of livin’ that eco life.
The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m the oldest child. I’m going to make a sweeping generalization, but as the stereotype goes, it’s never been very hard for me to voice my opinion or stick to my convictions. That’s probably a combination of personality in addition to being the oldest.
Here’s an example: when I was in first grade I was allowed to walk to school with one of the 4th grade girls in the neighborhood. The only rule was that the older girl had to hold my hand to walk across the street. This was a rule I understood for my own safety and it made logical sense to me, so when we got to the first crosswalk and she wouldn’t hold my hand I was flabbergasted by her disregard of the rules.
The next day I refused to walk to school with her. As ridiculous as this now sounds, it is my very first childhood memory of having conviction.
As I grew up, this character trait presented itself in different ways: in elementary school, I often befriended the “underdog” (whether it was the girl with the single mom who had just moved to town and didn’t have any friends) or debating my high school history teacher on the Palestine-Israel conflict and getting kicked out of class.
Yes, I was a pain in the ass. My mom often tells stories about me “ruling the roost” in our house and things needing to be done to my exact satisfaction. She took me to therapy when I was four years old because I would go ballistic if my socks weren’t folded perfectly or if I colored outside of the lines.
So, yeah, that’s some background on where I stand in voicing opinions, holding my ground and sticking to my beliefs.
Which begs the question, what does this look like as an adult living a lifestyle that could be considered somewhat “alternative” to the mainstream consumer?
And the answer is, it depends. It depends on what it is and how strongly I feel. And I have learned to pick my battles.
So, for example, when I first got interested in sustainable fashion I started learning about how terrible fast fashion is for the planet and people. So, I channeled all of those negative opinions into blog posts and marketing materials for the startup fashion brand I was creating at the time.
I hosted clothing swaps and documentary screenings for my friends but I didn’t push my opinions on them. I wasn’t going around condemning everyone for shopping at Forever21 and H&M (even if I was doing it privately in my head).
But over time, this strategy paid off. Whether it was people following me on social media, or reading my blog posts or coming to a sustainable fashion event that I co-hosted, I gradually became the girl who would be really proud of you for buying something second-hand.
In fact, during one of the speeches at my wedding, my maid of honor told a story about how everyone loves to come up to me and tell me that they bought something at Goodwill.
That’s not to say everyone in my life has changed their ways when it comes to how they shop, but I have definitely seen a shift among the majority of my friends and family. So this is a testament to changing opinion and action without being forceful about it.
On the other hand, there are lifestyle choices that I’m not so subtle about. My family can probably remember a certain Thanksgiving when my mother-in-law tried to give my one-year-old son a muffin with refined sugar and I quite literally ran out of the room with him.
The “food stuff,” as I call it, is probably the topic that’s most difficult to communicate to friends and family. The idea of Grandma sneaking the kids sugar is such an ingrained and accepted part of our society. It’s almost a rite of passage to spoil your grandchildren with sweets and candy, but that was something my husband and I put the kibosh on as soon as our son started eating real food.
Most of my friends still can’t believe that my son is three and has never eaten refined sugar (he’s obviously had sugar in fruit and has had coconut sugar once or twice but no white sugar). And as he gets older it’s harder to find the line between “he doesn’t eat that yet” and not making him feel alienated from what other kids are eating. But for now, he’s far more inclined to go for a strawberry than he is a Skittle.
It’s funny now that I think about this, and examples to give you, because I don’t think of clean living or eco-living as challenging. What you may also find in this process is that the more steps you make, the more naturally the changes will come. Nowadays, I don’t think twice about using reusable grocery bags or looking at the ingredient list on a jar of peanut butter or avoiding the cosmetics section at CVS. And because I believe in cleaner living so much, I don’t feel bad about sticking to it or explaining why I do or buy something a certain way.
What people don’t realize when they’re first starting out in this space is that your own lifestyle choices don’t have to reflect shame on others. What you do for yourself and your family isn’t an attack on anyone else. The majority of the time, people just don’t know — they haven’t done the research, they trust big corporations and the government to create safe products and they don’t have the time, energy or resources to think about an alternative. And that’s completely understandable.
What I’ve found is that trust and conviction in my choices comes from the confidence I’ve gained in doing my own research and having the information to back up my claims and reasons for doing things. It also helps to have a partner who for the most part, is fully on board with my needs to install an under-the-sink water filter and buy the more expensive, non-toxic sunscreen and know that if the blueberries at the grocery store aren’t organic then not to buy them.
And that’s what I’d recommend for you. If you are committed to detoxing your products, your food and your family, then the first thing I would recommend is education. Just by listening to the podcast, you’re already doing that. Many of the brands that I recommend in various episodes have their own blogs where you can deep dive further on specific topics, ingredients and products. It helps immensely to have the knowledge and research when certain situations come up that you know aren’t aligned with how you want to live.
The second thing is to get your partner or a friend on board. Even if your partner isn’t as committed as you to doing the research, it makes a big difference to have a conversation so that they “buy in” to the changes you want to make for your family. If you’re single, then finding a friend who can be your accountability buddy makes it a lot more fun and supportive to make both big and small changes.
So, confidence through knowledge and partner support — those are my first two suggestions on holding steadfast to a lifestyle change.
Because inevitably, uncomfortable situations are going to come up — especially if you have kids where the parent shaming can feel intense. I have no doubt that I’ve come across as rude or “high and mighty” in certain situations when I’ve declined a food that was offered to my kid or donated non-toxic cleaning supplies to the daycare or asked if my son can use our own hand sanitizer instead of the school’s. Honestly, I kind of cringe thinking about how “nice white parent” I can be (that’s another great podcast, on a totally different topic, if you haven’t listened to it). I often make fun of myself, definitely keep an air of humility, and I do pick my battles, but there are some things that I’m not willing to back down on.
It’s this constant balancing act that we as consumers shouldn’t have to make — we shouldn’t have to be the gatekeepers of toxic food and toxic products but that’s the world we’re living in until companies decide to put their customers first. Or until the government starts to get serious about lobbyist influence. I’m going to go off on a bit of a tangent for a second, but the reason we need strict government oversight with food and consumer products is because right now, the cleaner, more sustainable, healthier options are more expensive. And that, very unfairly, alienates a huge segment of the population.
Because the truth is, “living that eco-life” is a privilege. It’s been created for the privileged and while yes, I always try to recommend alternative products at a range of accessible price pointS it’s not always easy — you may have noticed that in the Nut Butter episode. It’s practically 10 dollars more to buy peanut butter that does contain additives and other toxic ingredients.
So, as much as this has been a conversation about standing strong in my beliefs, I also know that I have the privilege of being able to do that. And I recognize that not everyone has that privilege — some people have to buy the 7 dollar mascara shampoo at the drugstore or the baby shampoo at Family Dollar. This should probably be a whole separate episode, but we need to recognize that there is an inherent privilege in even being able to listen to this podcast and buy the non-toxic products I suggest.
And that’s why I do feel so strongly about legislative change. Because the U.S. hasn’t updated its legislation on the personal care industry since 1938. And companies too often aren’t held liable when they add toxic ingredients to their products. But yeah, now I’m just ranting…
So, that’s what I’ve got for you today. You do you. Knowledge is power, confidence is key and having the support of other people will further empower you. For healthier, more vibrant lives, and a cleaner, less toxic world, I think it’s worth it.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Clean Living Podcast — I’m your host Shannon Lohr. Here’s to creating a cleaner, more sustainable world for all of us.