A few weekends ago I took the first step towards realising my New Year’s resolution for 2017 by attending a beginners’ workshop in Ashtanga yoga. I had such an amazing time, and when I came home on Sunday afternoon I was fully resolved to practise my new moves every day. I envisaged a year of physical and mental transformation as I master some of the basic poses through dedicated, daily practice sessions. The next day I rolled out my yoga mat in the dining room and practised the sun salutes while my children napped. It felt great and I was proud of myself for making the effort to start a new, healthy habit.
Well, about three weekends have passed now, and in all that time I don’t think I’ve spent more than 15 minutes on my yoga at home. I’ve been to just one Hatha yoga session (which I really enjoyed). How pathetic is that? And how could it be that I’ve practised so little when I wanted to do it so badly, and I really enjoy it so much? I assure you, I wanted to practise my new favourite hobby, but I honestly haven’t had the energy or time to do any more than I have. On Saturday morning I could have gone to the 8am Mysore class, but I cooked pancakes for everyone instead. Last week I could have left the kids with my mum and done a class, but she was feeling miserable with the nasty cold she caught from them, so of course I didn’t. In an unfortunate twist of fate, all the Mysore classes scheduled into this year’s timetable happen right when I need to pick Stella up from kindy, or cook dinner – two things I really can’t work around at all 🙁 . In fact, my yoga efforts have been so few and far between (and short), and my excuses so numerous (although genuine), that my first inclination is to avoid Katie the yoga instructor FOREVER, out of my own embarrassment and for fear of disappointing her …and myself I guess.
But when I think about it some more, it occurs to me that this is just the kind of feeling my friends and acquaintances might be feeling around me! The ‘Mrs Goodness’ me. I hope I’m not being avoided, but since I started writing this blog I do get a bit of, “Whoops, sorry about the plastic bag!” (when a gift of food is offered inside one) and, “I’m really trying to be more environmentally friendly, but…” (after we’ve just greeted each other), and numerous apologies in general for anything plastic, wasteful, disposable, and so on. Sometimes I do feel like I trigger feelings of guilt and shame in others through my own enthusiasm for sustainability and healthy eating/living – which is the complete opposite of my intentions! Because of course, the emphasis shouldn’t be on what we fail to achieve; particularly when our expectations are unrealistic to begin with (as were mine with yoga). In comparing all our actions (or lack of them) to an envisioned end goal, we are obviously setting ourselves up for failure before we even begin!
There are evenings when I am too tired/lazy to cook so occasionally we order Indian takeaways, which comes in lots of small plastic trays (…heated…) that we can’t recycle and don’t reuse because it’s hard to wash the curry stains and smell out. So they go straight to landfill 😮 . Instead of feeling ashamed of our poor decision-making and total laziness, we enjoy our food with gratitude and use that night off cooking and dishes to recharge and re-invigorate our resolve to eliminate plastic from our daily life. Yes, it’s not perfect; but giving up altogether is much worse. The only reason my family and I are now at a point where we can imagine living ‘zero-waste’ in the hopefully not-too-distant future, is we’ve spent the last few years making just one teeny-weeny good change at a time, one thing after another, as we could manage, and we’ve celebrated each effort like it’s an achievement in itself.
So after taking the time to reflect on these ideas, I’ve decided that instead of avoiding Katie the yoga instructor forever, I will concentrate instead on just making it to a class whenever I get the opportunity. And I’ll get out my yoga mat, or just lie on the floor and breathe Ujjayi breaths when I can. And I’ll go to Katie’s lovely grocery store and talk to her about how much I love yoga when I can do it, without feeling embarrassed about the infrequency of my practice. And maybe one day I’ll have the time and energy to practise yoga enough that it feels like a second nature to me; that I won’t have to make any extra effort to practise, because it will just happen out of habit and because I enjoy it.
If you’re one of those apologetic friends or acquaintances (or readers) who wishes to make Good changes to your life but you just don’t have the time to attend to them all the time, please don’t feel embarrassed around me! Instead, why not just start something and try? I mean, what’s the big deal if you kill a sourdough starter? I did! And it only cost me a bit of flour and water. I killed a kombucha SCOBY too. So I just called up a friend and asked her for another of hers. I anticipated I would kill our milk kefir grains so I froze some as a back-up, but miraculously I never have killed them despite episodes of neglect. I’ve given up on lots of eco-experiments over the past few years, but I’ve continued with even more and my life is so much the better for it.
If you want to make some Good changes to your life but you already know you’re really, really busy and afraid of failure, here are some changes that I think require small and/or once-off efforts with hugely positive outcomes (from our experience):
– Set up a compost bin. Food scraps shouldn’t be going to landfill for environmental and ethical reasons¹, but also because they stink out your bin and your kitchen. If you live in an apartment with no opportunity for an outside compost bin, consider using a bokashi system.
– Grow something you can eat. A vegetable, herb, a lemon tree. Anything edible, even if it’s in a little pot. Homegrown food is the freshest food you’ll ever get your hands on. Supermarket produce is often old, artificially ripened, and not particularly nutritious.
– Put some reusable grocery bags in your car and one of those tiny reusable bags in your handbag so you can start saying “No” to plastic shopping bags and carry bags in general. Stop kidding yourself that it’s ok as long as you use them once more as bin liners 😉 .
– Stop buying cleaning products. Between baking soda, vinegar, soap, laundry powder, and dishwashing liquid, you have everything you need to keep your house clean and healthy. I use bleach very occasionally.
– Choose local, and don’t underestimate the influence you can have by voting with your wallet. Buy as close to the source as possible so that your money goes to the person/s who put the effort into growing/making your purchase, and also so that your hard-earned money stays in your community and enriches it.
– Start saying “No thanks”. Those little ‘gifts’ they offer at the supermarket checkout? NO THANKS. Even if it’s biodegradable and really educational for your kids. It’s junk, and you don’t need it in your life. Accepting it just encourages more of it.
– Turn off the television. If you can’t get rid of it completely, try turning it off one evening a week. I wrote a whole blog post about why we don’t watch tv. I think Facebook comes a close second…
– Switch all the storage containers in your kitchen from plastic to glass (or other durable un-plastic materials like stainless steel or wood). Replace your plastic utensils with stainless or wooden ones. Basically, get rid of plastic in your kitchen – it’s a one-off effort that you won’t regret! If you’re really strapped for cash then do it slowly, as and when you can, and see if you can find what you need in second hand shops.
– Stop buying plastic stuff. Assume that there could be plastic-free alternatives available, so look for them whenever you can and choose them when you can!
– Avoid buying plastic clothes/fabrics. Buy natural fibres instead; preferably organic, especially when it comes to cotton. Even better, buy second hand.
– Try making something fermented, preferably vegetables. Fermented pickles like gherkins, radishes, sauerkraut, kimchi etc are the ultimate convenience when you’ve got no time/energy to make a healthy dinner. Raw, probiotic, nutritious, vegetables, and the kids love them (well, perhaps not the kimchi – yet!). They are also actually incredibly easy to make – just remind yourself that many unclever people in days gone by successfully fermented food without poisoning themselves!
– Don’t waste any time or energy trying to change anyone else’s habits or opinions. Just start with yourself.
– Be humble. Instead of comparing your failings to others’ achievements, let them inspire you! 🙂
– Have fun experimenting and learning from your mistakes. At least they’re mistakes made through good intentions!
¹ Love Food Hate Waste NZ Website: “The Global Issue of Food Waste”