Friday, November 21, 2008

When the challenge is over - Moderation

Something I've always struggled with is extremes. I'm one of those people who does things all-or-nothing. No fence-sitting here. No way! In the past, ramping up my exercise routine meant jogging 10 miles a day (every day); saving money turned into extreme penny pinching and detailed spreadsheets that would make an accountant cry "uncle;" and living a simple life was defined by a  300 square foot apartment and the donation of almost all of my worldly belongings (I allowed myself to have one plate, one bowl, one set of silverware... you get the idea). Yeah, moderation hasn't exactly been a part of my vocabulary for the better part of my life. But it's something that I now work at diligently. 

Many of us, in an effort to becoming more frugal, simplify our lives, or turn that darker shade of "green," join (or host) a challenge. For some, it's turning off the AC/heat for the season. For others, it's not buying anything new for a month or maybe a year. For me, it was eating locally. But what happens when the challenge is over? Where do we draw that line of moderation? At what level do we allow ourselves to fail without guilt? In other words, can we allow ourselves to moderately consume rather than completely withdraw. 

Example #1 - I try to bike or walk to most every place I need to go. Because I live in a town where there's very little alternative transportation (particularly on nights and weekends), that's not always possible. And not driving can mean missed opportunities with friends and family. At what point does connecting with others trump gas emissions/spent fuel? 

Example #2 - I routinely take navy showers (turning the water off while I soap up). Two days last week, I left the water on through the whole shower because I was still getting over a cold and the hot water helped my head to clear. At what point does comfort trump conservation?

Example #3 - As most of you know, I was on a local eating experiment for 10 months (it was supposed to be a year, but I ended it early because I was feeling a little overwhelmed at the time). I still try to eat mostly local and in fact, recently, I've gone vegan. But what happens when one day I'm craving a mango (sooo not local) or someone offers me a piece of their birthday cake (not exactly vegan). At what point does enjoyment trump health (whether it's mine or the environment's)?

Ok. Enough examples. You guys probably think I'm completely nuts by now, anyway. 

Although your situation may be different, I have no doubt that each of us struggles with how far to take our goals. Though we try our best, if we're honest, most of us will admit that from time to time, we take the "easy" choice vs. the simple, green, or frugal way to which we aspire. Although I've made progress over the years, this is still something I struggle with on a daily basis. I have to continuously remind myself that the goal is to be mindful, not perfect, but it's hard to overcome the volatility of all-or-nothing thinking. 

How about you? Many of us have made individual decisions to become more simple, green, frugal (or all three), but do you expect your spouses, children, and friends to do the same? How far are you willing to take it? Do you go to extremes in some cases and not others? How do you find moderation?


ttammylynn said...

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.
When it comes to the choices you make for yourself--eating local, organic, vegetarian, conservation, et cetera, you make your own decisions. Your spouse is often led to support and share your successes and failures, he will likely be your greatest advocate. If I make a veggie pizza, he will eat over half of it...but, when he pulls out the ice cream for dessert, I try not to condemn him. If he needs to lose weight, I try to help, but I will not try to force my decisions on him(this is against my code of ethics). Just as he supports me in my decisions, I try to support him in his.
That being said, I try to rally support by making tasty foods that are as natural as possible and to the liking of everyone in the house(with some misses and some wonderful hits). I wish that everyone in my household could eat as healthfully as I try to, but I do the best I can to make everyone happy and healthy(a sort of a balance).
Since I am the primary shopper, most of the burden rests on my shoulders. If I buy local fruits and veggies, we eat local fruits and veggies. If I reuse bags, they are reused. If I buy milk from the farm that uses glass milk jugs that I send back for reuse, then I save a little piece of the environment. If we use an HE washing machine or space heaters(or a/c units) in just the occupied rooms, then that does a little bit. If I use things until they are unusable or give away things that others can use.
Sure, these are all baby steps...but the baby steps can take you to great places.

Michelle said...

I am SO an all or nothing gal and I am working on moderation, too! Thanks for a relatable (is that a word?) post!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

This was a great post Heather, thank you for sharing it. Finding balance is probably one of the hardest things to do - especially in our fast paced consumer culture.

First off, I am probably the exact opposite of you, I am always on the fence. There aren't too many things that I am "set in stone" about, and I am all about moderation. I don't really have a true passion, but dabble in many areas, I see everything as my passion really. So I take these things with a grain of salt. It isn't like I don't take them seriously, quite the contrary, but there are things that are out of one's control and times when concessions are necessary.

Where to draw the line? Well, I am truly lucky that Brett and I have made this transition together. I can't even place my finger on when it started either. A few years ago, we were exposed to some documentary or something that really changed how we thought about things. I started reading about all sorts of different social and environmental issues, Brett and I would discuss, and determine how we wanted to handle our cognitive dissonance. How far do we want to take it, and we have to do it together, otherwise tension could mount, and to me, there is no point in trying to live a better life if you drive everyone away.

With that in mind, I don't know where to draw the line. For Brett and I, certain things are simply based on affordability. We cannot afford to go buy a house right now, so we live in an inefficient apartment. We try to compensate by not running the heater very often, bundling up, not owning a car, etc. If we find that something just becomes overwhelming, we discuss dropping it. But for the most part, just being on the same page, honest about feelings and thoughts, you decide together how much is enough.

You DO have to make compromises sometimes - for example, going to see family members. We do not harp on our family for not eating local food, nor do we refuse to eat their food if it isn't local. We do not chastise them for buying something from WalMart, etc. These are our choices and we are always aware of that.

It's all about the individual, for some people, all or none is best. For Brett and I, a gradual transition, dealing with the bumps along the way together, has been how we handle it. Moderation, for us, has come with the gradual nature of our lifestyle change. Sometimes we have reel ourselves in and take a step back, but we just take it as it comes.

Theresa said...

Thanks for this post! Its been interesting over time to see how my idea of moderation changes. For example, at first,catching shower warm up water in a bucket to flush the toilet later was a weird and radical thing for me, but now it just makes good sense. It, and some of the other things I do, still seem weird and radical to my family, but they are getting used to them too, and I hope that that means they might consider doing some of these things themselves oneday soon.

I have backed off from participating formally in most of the challenges in the blogosphere lately - I just found them to be stressful and guilt-inducing when I couldn't or wouldn't keep up with them. So I decided to just incorporate things over time, and try new things now and then, without any specific time frames or goals. I wanted to build things into my lifestyle in a way that I would keep doing them, rather than just heave a sigh of relief when the challenge was over. I guess we each find moderation in our own ways :)

Heather @ SGF said...

tammy - I agree with you completely. We can encourage others to join us, but in the end it's each person's choice in what they eat. Eating is such a basic need - I don't think it's something that people should be pushed into. That said, I'm glad Dave has gone with me on a lot of things - the raw milk from the dairy, some veggies from the farmers market, homemade pancakes and jellies instead of prepackaged, organic corn flakes, etc.

michelle - I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one. I always feel like once I've talked about doing something, like biking everywhere, that if I drive (ever), I'm this HUGE hypocrite. I'm such a goof! Moderation can be hard sometimes, but it's so worth it. I think there's a lot of calmness to be found in moderation.

jennifer - I like the sound of the way you guys operate. Sounds very zen :) I'm trying to work that way. I don't suppose you do any coaching, huh :)

theresa - great point! Our ideas of moderation change as we change. Thanks! I too have backed off from the challenges. I always just ended up stressing myself out over them. Probably not the idea, huh?

Hugh said...

Moderation in moderation. In fact, I joyfully abandon myself to many excesses: love, happiness and all things sensual.

In my life simple, green and frugal are lifestyle choices that arise from values that have less to do with a sense of guilt over consumption, though I recognize that as a perfectly healthy value, than they do with how I choose to embrace existence, where I find that connection, transcendence and a sense of self come mostly from non-material interactions. A desire to be a part of, rather than apart from, the web of existence is not a perspective of deprivation for me. So, if, on occasion, I indulge in a splurge of materialistic squander I don't find a need to purge or forgive myself.

Great Blog!!!

Heather @ SGF said...

Hugh - I love how you put that and your attitude is wonderfully healthy. I guess I KNOW that I'm not depriving myself of anything and I absolutely love the simplicity I've found in my life but that little "be perfect" voice in the back of my head starts screaming at me (like when I think about taking the car somewhere). Granted the voice has gotten softer the more I learn (and meditate)...

But then, I think that's the trick. We are choosing this life because we want to be more aware/mindful. The more aware we are, or the farther back we stand so that we can take in the bigger picture, the less we sweat the small stuff. Does that make sense to anyone but me? :)

Green Resolutions said...

Oh, this post so speaks to my heart. Just as I was beginning to make changes that felt significant to me, my household went from 3 people to 7 people plus 4 dogs. I'm the only one who is concerned about the amount of trash we produce, but I'm grateful that everyone recycles what they can and my sister buys organic foods much of the time. I just feel like I'm not making much progress because life gets in the way. I don't have as much time to research and read. And it takes all my energy to stay caught up with the cleaning and my part-time work, so I feel stalled and overwhelmed. But I just try not to give up. Even the small changes already in place are something. I just can't do as much as I'd like as fast as I'd like. In my case, moderation isn't a choice but a product of circumstances. Maybe it will be healthier for me in the long run?

Theresa said...

Heather - the only challenge I really threw myself into was Chile's 'Stress Less' one, back in the Spring - that was when I started meditating in earnest and that wasn't stressful at all!

Mon @Global Homestead said...

It would take an entire post and then some to respond to this, lol.

I'm going to summarise by saying a couple of things.

1. I don't believe in being a martyr for anything (mothering, environment, etc)

2. I don't believe in proving myself to anyone (sometimes we choose what we choose to keep up with others)

Change and choices, I believe, should come from the heart.

Heather @ SGF said...

green resolution - wow! That's a serious population increase! Hang in there. What I'm finding from everyone's comments and re-teaching myself is that it's not about perfection. It's being content with doing what we can and cutting ourselves some slack. I think I need to go back and look at my list - reminding myself of how far I've come. I'll bet you'll find the same thing.

theresa - I find a lot of peace in meditation to. Right now, I'm doing more yoga than meditating, but it's all good - finding peace and calm in life. Reading everyone's comments, I'm reminding myself of my original purpose - to live a simpler life that is in harmony with the earth. I think maybe I lost my focus in the midst of trying to do it all.

mon - thanks! You are absolutely right!

Beany said...

Wow, I wish we could have met to compare notes on our respective extreme natures. I am really struggling with being moderate in my approach now since I had a chance to think many things over on my trip.

I don't know why its so hard for me to be moderate, I feel like its a constant struggle with me and I constantly keep guilting myself with mental images, facts, numbers, etc. Maybe I need therapy or something, but as for the frugal approach, I am reading about how other people approach things and trying to emulate that (which is not necessarily normal, but I don't know how else to not be so extreme) :)

I realized that I really went overboard with trying to eat locally especially from a financial point of view, it was very, very unfrugal. I wish I knew where to draw the boundary. I'd really like a manual on how to be moderate.

Apologies for being so rambly.

Heather @ SGF said...

beany - welcome back to the blogosphere, my fellow extremist :) Have I mentioned that I've really missed you? Although your bike adventure has to be one of the greatest learning experiences of your life. You inspire me!

All: Beany wrote a response post on her blog. Be sure to check it out at her new location (The Middle Way):

Chile said...

This post brings to mind a quote from a Heinlein book: "Take big bites out of life. Moderation is for monks."

I used to be much more black & white about almost everything. I've mellowed a lot over the years. Marrying someone very different from myself probably pushed a lot of that personal change. LOL

I had a friend who once said something that really stuck with me. When confronted with a question or difficult situation, she would ask herself, "Will this make a difference in 15 minutes? How about in a year? Five years? Ten years?" I find doing this really helps put things into perspective!

Heather @ SGF said...

Chile - thanks for the tip from your friend on how to keep things in perspective. I can't believe what a difference a couple days can make. Everyone has been a big help in helping me refocus!