Can You Live Green When You Are in Crisis Mode?

When I moved to Maplewood three years ago, it seemed like everyone around me was actively working to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I met people who only bought second hand clothes so as not to create demand for new clothing. Some were composting. Some were hanging clothes rather than using their dryers. Some converted their entire front lawns to vegetable gardens.

To be honest, I wasn't sure that I fit into this community. It all seemed a bit over the top.

After all, I love trendy new bags and shoes. I don't like gardening, and I like my appliances. I also love the flush of my 1930's toilet. No remnants left in that toilet, thank you very much.

Despite my initial resistance, I must admit that the habits I was exposed to wore off on me, and I am glad for it. I began carrying my own bags everywhere I shopped. I bought compact fluorescent light bulbs. I carefully recycled. In short, I became mindful of my actions and their effect on the environment.

Then the shit hit the fan: the recession came.

My husband got laid off and my first thought was: we have to get out of here. NJ is crazy, stupidly expensive. We had a beautiful house, but the taxes were insane and I couldn't figure what we got from them.

We immediately worked to get our house ready for sale.

I was in survival mode. I had to get things done quickly. The housing market was in a free fall, and the uncertainty put me in panic mode on a daily basis.

I could've given two shits about the environment.

I went out and bought the cheapest paint possible (read: not low VOC) to repaint the kitchen and bathrooms. I put incandescent bulbs back in the lamps so the house would be light and warm for open houses. I stopped buying green cleaning agents and personal products because I needed to save money. And even though I donated 27 boxes of discards to the vets, I also threw away many things that would go straight to a landfill.

Now we've sold the house. We've moved into a rental. I have returned to my environmentally friendly habits.

But my experience made me think: being green is not only about wanting to be mindful about the way we use the earth's resources. It also requires that people are able to be mindful. I don't want to excuse my own actions, but the argument can be made that living green is costly, and not all can bear that cost. Sure, there are lots of small things that everyone can do, but we still have a way to go before many of the environmentally friendly options can be adopted by people regardless of socio-economic conditions.

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