23 May 2012

Doing what you can is enough

Today I'm commenting on Cat's recent comment. She asked me to talk about "green guilt". Add your thoughts on this as well. I'm sure she is not the only one feeling this way and pooling our thoughts on this will help some work their way through it. Here is Cat's comment:

I wonder if you might be able to talk about the whole idea of "green guilt".

I try very hard to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I garden and compost - I even compost the kitty litter, I don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, I drive less than 1000 miles per year, I don't use shampoo, only use TP for "number 2", keep the house cold in the winter and hot in the summer, pay extra to get all my electricity from wind power, use cloth dish towels, napkins and handkerchiefs, rarely buy things - and when I do I opt for used as much as reasonably possible, bring reusable bags to the store, run most errands on my bike or on foot, I don't travel by air (actually - I don't really travel at all), I make the vast majority of my food from scratch, and a whole host of other things.

But even with all that, there are plenty of ways that I know I could do so much more. And constantly feeling like I "should" be so much "better", sends me into a terrible cycle of guilt for not doing more, and anger at those who do nothing - neither of which is very productive.

When I first read Cat's comment, it surprised me a bit, reading it again now, it makes me sad that trying to do her best is making her miserable. I think this might be similar to wanting to have everything perfect at home and beating yourself up because you want "perfect". I doubt there is such a thing as "perfect" and I also doubt that anyone would have the time or energy to do all the green things they could do, or think they should do. I have friends who are environmental scientists and who work to provide green solutions as part of their jobs. They also live according to those values in their own homes. Even they find things they just don't do because of lack of time, energy or because they have a life to live and there is more to a well rounded life than fixing problems.

When I first started blogging there were few simple living blogs around and those that did write about this beautiful lifestyle wrote mainly about political themes, greenhouse gasses etc. I found very few writing in a positive way  about their own homes and none that reflected how I was living - making the most of home production and trying to live from scratch. I decided that I would just write about what I was doing - that was my special subject, it was what I knew best. I didn't care that no one else was writing this stuff, I hoped that by focusing my blog on my home and the way I worked here, that my ripples would work their way out and help others. I knew then as I know now, that getting angry, being holier and better than the others and TELLING everyone would get me no where. No, for me, the only way was gentle and to show, by example, that living this way is beautiful, satisfying and significant. It worked. 

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Cat, please remember that by doing all we do, we're all trying to make our lives better, and in doing so, we'll make the world better too. There is nothing in the contract that says we have to do more than we can, there is no requirement for misery or guilt. If people watch you and see you being made happy and content by how you live your life, they'll be more inclined to follow your example. Don't try to do it all. Focus on what you need to do for your own well being and be content with that.

Simply doing what you can do is enough. 



  1. Hi - I don't often comment, but I read every day, agreeing with you every step of the way. I too, do what I can, with what I've got. xx

  2. John Seymour (author of books on self sufficiency and a legend in green circles here in the UK) said “I am only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do, I will do!”

  3. Oh, poor Cat. you are doing an amazing job...and you are doing more than me !
    I always follow the motto ,'Be the best person you can be...' and whilst you are doing that, never allow the judgement of others or judgement of yourself to come into it .
    The fact is that we are human and most people , are out there doing their best .Green living is to be enjoyed and savoured no matter how you do it, so let the light in and give yourself permission to shine.

  4. Cat, this journey is about staying in it for the long haul and if you are continually beating yourself up then I think you may eventually give up. As to what others do, it is their choice not to as much as it is yours to live Eco friendly. I would enjoy life a little more and not be so hard on yourself. Part of the simple life is deriving benefit and joy from it so if that is not happening then you need to have a big think. Kindly, Wendy

  5. I can certainly sympathise with some of the issues Cat describes, and I agree with Rhonda that doing what you can is enough - "I cannot do everything but I must not do nothing". However, it really gets to me sometimes and I get very disheartened that I try hard to live as 'green' as I can while so many people do absolutely nothing and pretty much couldn't give a rats. I can't even get people to use the recycling bin in our lunchroom at work and it is right beside the rubbish, couldn't be easier but they simply don't care. I love living my simple life but things like this make me feel that no matter how hard I try it makes no difference.

  6. I so relate to what Cat has said as I used to feel this way too. I still feel guilty when I buy clothes for the kids at Target where they're likely to be made in a sweat shop in China. But, realistically, I just could not find organic/second hand clothes to suit everytime we needed them and spent more hours than i had trawling the net looking.

    I also realised that if I c ompletely burnt myself out I would no longer be able to do much for the planet at all - moderation is much better.

    And that if you really cannot afford organic fairtrade on every item, there's no need to beat yourself up or make yourself destitute trying to shop 'perfectly'.

    Partly due to the high cost of heating,and partly due to the environment we were also sleeping in sub-zero temperatures - the living areas were warm,but not the bedrooms. I'm now saving for low evergy use heaters to take the chill off at night as we were all quite unwell last Winter. I had whooping cough for months,and I will honestly tell you I threw recyclables in the bin and bought a few ready-made sauces etc...I just couldnt do otherwise.

    So, my advice is to be gentle on yourself. Live with 'enough' but not too much, and not too little. Be conscious,but take time to appreciate the beauty of life and all of the wonderful things that ARE happening on our planet.


  7. Couldn't have said it better myself.

    I wholeheartedly agree!

  8. Hear, hear!
    I completely agree with this one! I am doing what I can and for me that's enough for now. I don't need to compete or compare. I get sick of the preaching from some corners telling me what I need to be doing. I so enjoy your blog because I don't feel that you preach. I don't feel like you're setting yourself as the perfect example, this is just what you do. And I do what I do. It's as much as I can for now. Thanks.

  9. The warm fireplaceMay 23, 2012 7:23 am

    What wonderful advice, cat you are doing a super job, we can all only do what we can, i can only do my best and not beat myself up over things i cannot do at present in my life.

  10. There is always more one could do but I find it pays to do the things one at a time and then wait until it becomes habit before getting to the next one. And try not to feel guilty. This is not a race and there are no winners as we are all in the same boat regardless. Ripples in the water does explain ti best to my way of thinking.

    viv in nz

  11. Good morning Rhonda,
    This is a lovely post. Cat, I hope you read all the comments here because you are doing a terrific job of trying to live the simple life. Part of that simplicity is being content. Frustration with yourself and others is not good for your health, in fact it will eventually wear you down. Lead by example. Others will notice the cloth bags you use whilst shopping and think Oh I should do that. Or they might see you pick up an empty soft drink bottle and put it in the bin and think, I should do that. You might assist and elderly person across the road or you might enquire how a cashiers day is going and a child will notice
    you are being kind. It all matters Cat and you are quietly doing your bit. I say well done Cat. Give yourself a pat on the back.
    Blessings Gail

  12. I read here often but don't usually comment, thanks for your blog Rhonda, it's always a pleasure to read and often thought provoking. I have realised that the washing will never be done, there is always something else I could make or buy or do that is "greener" or "simpler", there is always some housework to do or something that needs fixing- there is not a point at which I can say "I've arrived". Realising this has helped me live with the undone happily and enabled me to enjoy life day-to-day without pressure to do more. I hope Cat can find a way to do that too and enjoy all that she is doing without the guilt.

  13. Awww, thank you all SOOOO much for your kind words.

    Rhonda, you totally hit the nail on the head - I am a perfectionist. I was the straight A student, the person who never took her vacation time at work, the person who freaks out when she's 5 pounds over her "perfect" weight, etc, etc.

    On some level I know that the guilt run very deep in my psyche, and that it really has much more to do with the crazy dysfunction of my childhood than whatever it is that I'm currently focusing the guilt on. And I also know that in a certain sense, guilt is an indulgence for me, because it's SOOOO much easier to fret about my descent into commercial dish washing detergent than it is to deal with the "deeper" feelings behind it all.

    But y'all have actually given me a new and very helpful way to think about it. If I change my perspective a bit, and re-define my roll to more of setting an example for others, rather than trying to single-handedly save the planet, then the whole idea of subjecting myself to 30 lashes every time I commit an "eco-sin" is not only unproductive for me, it sabotages the cause - because who in their right mind would want to follow that example?!?

    So I guess I need to start feeling guilty about not being more positive! (ha ha) But seriously, it's sort of a revelation to think that focusing on the happiness that my lifestyle brings me, and letting others see that happiness, will do more good than trying to be "perfect" ever could.

    Thanks again for all of your kind words, I truly appreciate it.


  14. CassieOz (reformed perfectionist)May 23, 2012 8:37 am

    For me there are three issues here;
    1. No-one else can really MAKE you feel guilty. We generate the feeling ourselves, perhaps in RESPONSE to external comments and self talk, but we do it to ourselves. Self talk is the most powerful creator of guilt. "Shoulds" and "musts" are the greatest culprits. Learn to recognise and challenge them.
    2. I want to say something about ENOUGH. It's a concept we seem to have lost completely, egged on by marketing and cheap hype. Apparently we never have enough material goods. Apparently we've not working hard enough if we don't give 110%. Listen folks; THERE'S ONLY 100%!!. You cannot give or do more than what you are capable of TODAY. Cheap marketing and management hype would like you to think otherwise but remember that their aim is to make you dissatisfied with whatever you have or are doing. Billions of dollars of advertising and marketing are aimed solely at making you unhappy with where you are - so go buy something to make yourself HAPPY. Listen for it in yourself and others and REJECT it.
    3. I'm sorry but I have to say it Rhonda, but flies prefer s**t and are generally as disinterested in honey as they are in vinegar! Nasty little "out for whatever I can get at the expense of others" critters. Now ants and bees are a different matter. Productive communities of busy working women. Admittedly the metaphor breaks down when they work themselves to death but not all metaphors are perfect!

  15. Great response Cat,
    That's what Rhonda's blog is all about. Being blessed and learning to bless others. I think we all learnt a lot from this post.
    Blessings Gail

  16. This promises to be funMay 23, 2012 10:39 am

    Cat give yourself permisssion to just be yourself and learn to be okay with what you do
    It isnt worth making yourself sick with perfection because perfect isnt real but you are and what a fantastic job you are doing and what a caring person you seem to be.
    So love your imperfection as theymake us who we are as humans abd work on those things you can and go tobed at night and say to yourself I'm ok I did ok today
    good luck

  17. Usually I line dry all of my laundry.
    The other day I was sick with a cold, and I used the clothes dryer to dry my clothes. Initially I felt guilty, but then I thought that I am doing so many things to live more sustainably and simply, that it was quite OK to have a "day off"!

  18. Great answer. I love the way I live and I try not to be holier than thou, and if I do I just remember that there are plenty out there doing more than me. I enjoy finding new ways of living simpler and focus on the ways that work for me at this stage in my life.

  19. I can admit not to feeling green-guilt but definately green-stress, in my quest to try to change all the things I want to change in my lifestyle, as well as working full-time. It was once I realised that if I didn't enjoy my life there was no point to it all that I stopped trying to do it all at once and am now content to change one thing at a time. Over the years as I add more things it will make quite a difference. I can see major differences in only 6 months. Please Cat, above all, enjoy your life, if you can't do it all, don't worry, you're doing way more than a lot of people.

  20. Cat, all the things you are already doing are impressive and inspiring.Awesome in fact! As another reader already commented on,please be gentle on yourself. There are no 'oughts' and 'shoulds'.It is about each person being on their own journey. One can only endeavour to be green if there is an inner conviction to be doing so. Don't compare yourself with anyone else.If you are doing your best, that is all the planet can ask for! Enjoy "being green" rather than 'doing' more.

  21. My first thougth on reading Cats letter was 'wow, what is she complaining for - she does so much'! And then Rhonda, you pretty much summed up what I would have said too - do what you can and be happy.
    I just wanted to add that my daughter who has a 3 month old baby, rang me yesterday and told me that she wasn't coping with the washing - it's been raining, Tassie is pretty drab in winter anyway and she has no where to dry things. She is using cloth nappies and is 'green' and frugal. I suggested that she purchase a 2nd hand dryer because what was the point in getting stressed over a pile of washing when she should be enjoying her new baby. The option is there so why not use it in this season of her life? She won't use it all the time but it will help her to get nappies etc dry.
    We have mod cons in teh modern world and I see no reason not to use them if you have a genuine need - and above all don't feel guilty. She's doing what she can to live an environmentally friendly life style but she still has to enjoy life - as do we all.

  22. I too work by the motto and ask for guidance to be the best person that I can be.We are all working towards a better environment and a happier ,simpler lifestyle.We are leading others by our example.I am so much happier and everyday I look forward to reading Rhonda's and forum posts.JennW

  23. I agree with Kim,everyday I ask for guidance to be the best person I can be.We are all leading by example in one way or another.I am happier and am thoroughly enjoying living more accountably and simply.Every day I look forward to reading Rhonda's blog and following the posts on the forums.It is inspiring and encouraging.

  24. Us humans can make life really complicated sometimes without realising what we are doing. Simple living is supposed to make life, well, simpler.


  25. Another person mentioned advertising and I cannot agree more! Marketers discovered in the mid-1900s that if they made us feel poorly about what we have, what we do, and how we "compare" to others, that they could get us to spend our money on what they peddle.

    The "green" marketing is just as bad as the non-green marketing at making you feel badly. You don't have to meet all their hype to be doing good. Life should be enjoyed at least some of the time!

    What I do, because I believe our world needs us to be better stewards and participants in the global ecology, is to find ways to gently impart my ideas to others.

    An example would be gift-giving. I'll give them some of the things they love and I know they'll appreciate, but I'll also do things like tucking it all into a reusable cloth bag that stores in its own pocket and can be tucked into their purse. You can find ones nowadays that are really pretty for those who like "girly" stuff :)

    Honor where people are at in their own lives, respect their choices as being theirs to make, and be creative in gifting and get-togethers, and above all enjoy yourself.

    Many people are dissastisfied with their life but have no idea what exactly is making them unhappy and maybe are unsure of what to do to change anything. They may be needing a friend to drag them along on thrift store shopping trip, or for you to gift them with some bulk spices, instructions on mixing it up for a drink blend, along with some pre-prepped tea sachets so they can enjoy a cuppa right away. And when they run out and ask you about more, take them with you to the store with the bulk spices so they see --how-- you go about buying such things.

    It sounds silly, but some of this stuff is so simple, and yet so scary. I remember growing some vegetables a few years ago, after not having gardened for years. It was my very first "all by myself" vegetable patch, and I was afraid to eat the zucchini. I was worried about what if I'd done something wrong and I got sick. I KNEW it wasn't rational, after all, if you plant a zucchini seed, and it grows and blossoms and sets a fruit and gets big and looks like what Grandma grew and what you see in the market, then it's a zucchini, LOL. I never did eat that first zucchini.

    Anyhow, I wanted to say to Cat that I can relate to feeling incredibly guilty for all the things I'm not doing that I *could* be doing "if only I ___". Being Type A can be a real weakness sometimes. All I can suggest is to try to remind yourself from time to time that it's ok to focus on one or two things instead of the entire wish list. You don't have to save the world. My goal this year is to do well with my garden - even though I have lots of goals that freak me out if I think about all of them because then it becomes absolutely impossible to achieve.

    We cannot "do it all". That is the biggest marketing lie of them all. They tell us that, and then when we don't succeed (because it is impossible) we feel terrible. And when we feel terrible, then we're that much more vulnerable to all the other marketing lies.

    Rhonda is right. What you can do is enough.

  26. I started cooking at home more and less eating out or from prepackaged. The problem is I hate cooking! but i does cut down on my food bills.

  27. I love to read blogs, but don't leave many comments (I am not great at writing). I love this post! My daughter also struggles with these issues and with others being too negative about her kife choices. Personnally, I think as we age we are more comfortable with our decisions and can push the negative attitudes away.

  28. Thanks for your words here Rhonda. I found similarly to you that in searching for green living, simple living blogs so many were extremely political. Though this is good, I really needed something that reflected the positives, and that looked at the joys in working for your family. Sometimes I find that rather than going down the checklist I look at waht's best for my kids and hubby and I. Almost always that drives me to be greener! But it bypasses much of the green guilt I had felt in the past. And at the end of the day, little kids at home all day in the cold wasn't working... they need heat! Thanks for your writing. It's lovely!

  29. Something that helps me when I'm feeling like I should be 'doing more, trying harder etc.' is to limit choices. Here are a few examples:
    1. After being overwhelmed looking for the 'right' places buy groceries from I have picked a small area of shops near my house where I now go for everything. I make the best choices I can there without having to go all over town looking and researching and worrying that I'm not doing well enough.
    2. I limit my use of internet so that I'm not spending too much time getting new ideas into my mind and thinking, 'oh no, here's something else I should be doing...there's someone doing more..." The ideas from many blogs are excellent but as everything, more than enough of anything good becomes bad.
    3. I go to bed at bed time no matter what I have yet to do. If I haven't made my husbands lunch yet, well he'll have to buy it. For that day I have done enough.

  30. I want to say thank you to Cat, Rhonda, and all the other commenters here - I too suffer from "green guilt" occasionally. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and on top of it, my husband and I are trying to buy our very first piece of property so we can expand our self-sufficient life. So I took an extra long weekend this past weekend, with hopes of finishing up my started-then-stalled projects, and I spent most of it enjoying the weather and the company of my pooch. I felt guilty ("I should be finishing those stuffies for my friends' babies, I should finish that ring for my friend, I should really get some lye and make liquid soap, I need to.....") but then I thought - I'm stressed enough as it is. I should really just use this time off to recharge, and not get so upset and guilty. And I find that sometimes I need to think of other things like that. Yes, it is better for the planet if I take short, cool/warm showers, but... nice, hot showers really soothe me before bed, plus now that the days are longer (I'm in Canada), I can shower by the sunlight coming in through the window and not use the bathroom light - that's good enough. Yes, I should probably grow a tonne of tomatoes and make my own pasta sauce instead of buying jars of it, but... we don't eat fresh tomatoes, and I reuse the jars whenever I can (and recycle them if I can't) - that's good enough.

    Thank you again, everyone, for this gentle, beautiful reminder that yes, enough IS enough.


  31. We can only do what we can with the time and resources we have. Cat should not worry about how much she is or isnt doing, and nor should she judge others for not being able to do as much as she can. Everyones lives and circumstances are different and we should only concentrate on what we can do ourselves and less on what others think we should be doing or what we think others should be doing.

  32. I have gone through this but now I ask myself really quickly if I am going to worry about it or not and then let it go. I can't do everything and I can't worry about every little thing in the house so I try to just let go and do the best I can.Every little thing someone does really helps whether it's everyday or every month.

  33. Gosh, did I feel guilty when I read Cat's letter. I'm doing so much less than she BUT I know I'm doing so much more than others. I will try to be content with that. I'm too busy feeling guilty about all the chores I never get to...

  34. Great comments and discussion. I think its important to remember that thoughts (even guilty ones) are just thoughts; there's no need to take any notice of them, unless they are helpful. We are much more than our thoughts, and to quote a cliche, Actions speak louder than words. If we are able to live according to our values, although there may be room for improvement, that should be enough.

  35. I struggle everyday with the perfectionist side of my personality but your last line really made me think and helped with my thinking and perspective...as always...thank you Rhonda x

  36. Hi Rhonda! Great post today----thank you! I used to allow my self to indulge in a form of self-loathing stemming from "green guilt". I would read blogs/books that detailed an image of "green living perfection" and then bash myself for not being able to live up to the model.

    The longer I am on my own green/simple living journey, I am becoming more comfortable with who I am and what I am willing to do and with what aspects of simple living are most important to me and my family. Sometimes, I've learned that my own happiness is more important than living up to someone else's idea of the perfect green lifestyle and I allow myself to toss out what ideas/practices are simply not working for me and my family. I'm not perfect and never will be and I'm learning to be content with that.

    Blogs/books about the green/simple life are wonderful, but unless we as individuals are secure in who we are and what we want to both glean and give, we can become bogged down in a mire of guilt, self-loathing, fear, even shame. None of those should be by-products of a truly green and simple life. I truly believe that life is a balancing act----when things get out-of-whack, when we begin to view things from a skewed perspective, when we give in to guilt, we really rob ourselves of the peace that we were originally seeking. If a person doesn't want to make their own bread or prefers off-the-shelf shampoo, or if they don't have a garden space or don't desire to raise their own chickens for meat/eggs SO WHAT! Whatever we do on this green journey of ours we should do it lovingly, cheerfully----if not, then what's the point?! I would rather enjoy a meal with a happy friend who grabbed the food at the local take-out then to sit with a guilt-ridden friend who prepared every aspect of the meal herself simply because she felt she HAD to. Do what you can, do what you choose, and let the rest go!

    Thank you again for the years of amazing encouragement and help to those of us who find great joy in this simple journey.

    Blessings, Patti

  37. I could have written the exact same comment as Cat's - I feel the same way!

  38. Perfect answer. Do your best. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  39. What a grea post and comments. Perfectionism is great for getting things done, not a comparison point.
    I personally am finding that part of "green guilt" is to replace the guilt, anger, frustration, negativity with a spiritual endeavor of acceptance, gratitude, patience and compassion. It's not easy, but the work then becomes much more rewarding. :)
    at all rates: baby steps, one day at a time :)

  40. An excellent post! I too suffer from being "not enough" at times. I try to remember that every single act ripples out and makes a difference.

  41. Great post and great question Cat. Don't feel guilty for not doing more, remember that what you are doing even if it was only one of the many things you do to be green is better then doing nothing at all. Don't put pressure on yourself to do more then you can comfortably or you will eventually get to a point where you say, "chuck it all" and you will stop. I know, I have been there. I am slowly getting my family to get on the bandwagon with using homemade cleaners and doing more with less and whatever small things we can to save energy, waste less food and try to live earth friendly. This isn't something that happens overnight and boom you can do it all. I am impressed with all you are doing and I have picked up many good ideas that fit into our lifestyle from Rhonda as well. Keep up the good work to all who are making a difference. Every little bit helps.

  42. Ha ha, I was wondering what such a feeling is called, and I know now - green guilt, what a term! I do, too, experience it many times a day and can relate very well to whay Cat was saying! I think for me it has to do with few things: i) living green in a modern society is a tremendous effort. My husband sometimes jokes that to be fully green we have to go back to living in caves and hunting lions with spears, something of that sort.... But if we live in a modern world, you can only do your best and be proud of yourself. ii) another thing is that My efforts to save the planet look really worthless when I think of all industrial waste that is happening basically everywhere where production takes place, from water crackers in my neighbourhood to the cheap and toxic plastics somewhere in China.... My reusable shopping bag just fades when you realise how much rubbish there is out there already... So I really hope that government should step in and make it a law that all product packaging TO BE made recyclable, so I do not feel a green guilt when I fancy a bag of potato chips in a foil bag. I really count on that one, so it could alleviate my GG. iii) the feeling, that my choices are harming the planet (everytime I flush toilet, buy food in non- reusable packaging, forget my shopping bags at home, or put a HOT wash on for my laundry, or 1000000 other things) - is here with me, and I just have to learn to live with it, otherwise I should really start living in a jungle with few spears for hunting and shipskins on my waist.... :) thanks for your post, Rhonda, now I know what it is :)


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig