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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Redefine

1/27/2011 7:39:39 AM

Tags: green home, home ownership, go green, ecosystem, psychological barriers, social justice, green for all, The Good Fight, environmentalism, green, sustainability, environmentally friendly, eco-friendly, Simran Sethi


Flow. Seamlessness. These are terms I have used—and sentiments I have strived for—since the day I moved in to my house. More than a year ago I closed on my house and opened up to an inaugural journey in home ownership. This messy, humbling and, hopefully, informative blog series has demonstrated to me that a relationship with a home, like any good relationship, is dynamic and challenging. While there have been many moments when I’ve pined away for my New York City rental (where bugs and mice were somebody else’s problem), I’ve stuck it out. The paint on the walls, the cleaning supplies in the closet, the shelves in the kitchen, the seeds in the garden—in all of it I have strived for fluidity and consistency.

On my best days, I get there. Not just in the house, but in the ways it affirms and reflects my values. Not every day, just some days.

The most important lesson I have learned is that I can do more than I thought—and  that I could not have accomplished all that I did without the help of a lot of people. This kind of complexity gets to the heart of what I hope you will take away from my series. Our relationships—with our houses, our loved ones, our natural world, all that is sacred to us—are messy, complex and evolving. Greening your home can be one small step toward making those relationships stronger. My hope is that it is not the only step because everything we love—everything we care about and strive for—exists within an ecosystem that we need to continue to nurture and protect.

While you embark on your own quest to “go green,” I humbly request that you go beyond reducing, reusing, and recycling to redefining what this movement means to you. Being environmentally friendly is about more than buying different stuff; it’s about understanding the relationship we have with our environment and with each other. It’s about acknowledging that, while we don’t all have equal access to natural resources (detailed in my environmental justice series The Good Fight), we all want clean water, safe air, and good soil. We all want our children to be healthy and our communities to be safe. The public perception that the blues care more than the reds and the rich care more than the poor is false. We know this. No one political party, no one socio-economic group, no one race or gender has a monopoly on caring for the planet and each other.

If you have regularly followed my blog, you’ll notice that I often return to two themes: First, there are small changes ways to reduce your environmental impact. I believe in this. Small changes are important first steps but can’t be the only steps we take. We do not get to check Mother Earth off the list once we’ve dropped off our recycling, weather-stripped, and swapped out our water bottles for reusable ones. Everything we care about exists within our ecosystem.  If we disregard or damage it, all that we hold dear is at risk.       

And second, I believe we have to celebrate people where they are in terms of their environmental commitments.  I am not satisfied with green for a select few; this movement has to be about green for all. In order to bring more people into the conversation, we have to understand what we really care about—and what we are willing to sacrifice—to achieve greater consensus.  My move to the Midwest has shown me that this change will not happen without some give and take. It requires a willingness to listen, not just talk; to celebrate, not just criticize; and to gently recognize, with compassion, that we are all at different places on our journeys.

For these reasons, this will be the last post in my Mother Earth News series. I have found that the responses to my work tend towards an absolutism that does not resonate with me or my approach to sustainability. (For further insight into my take on environmental attitudes, please listen to my interview on the psychological barriers to environmental engagement.

Reduce, reuse, recycle, redefine, retreat, revive, restore, repair, relate, reimagine. . . repeat. 

Thanks for reading and being part of my journey to transform a house into a home. With great affection,


You can continue to follow Simran Sethi’s journey on Twitter @simransethi or on her site.  

Photo by Simran Sethi; Mural by Dave Loewenstein. Edited by Rebecca Evanhoe.


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