Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Redefine

Reader Contribution by Staff
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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,

Simran

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.