I grew up with a lot of environmentalism that was so quiet you wouldn’t notice it was there. While my parents would loudly announce their distaste for “bleeding heart liberals” and “furry legged hippie women” they actually acted in a lot of ways that were environmentally friendly. The conservative Mennonite tradition, while not openly decrying the need for living green, does teach that you should live in a conscientious way that leaves as small of an impact on the world around you as possible. It’s part of the being “in” the world but not being “of” it. The world is consumerist and greedy. The Mennonite makes do with what he or she has.
There are many habits I picked up through my family and neighborhood that I’ve kept going, and it amuses me when I see them shouted out in the media as a “new” way of being environmentally conscious, when to me it’s just the “old” way of making do.
- Never toss anything that is usable in any way. This applies to everything from plastic ice cream pails to clothing. Ice cream pails make great storage containers, old shirts make washable rags, t-shirts are sewn into cloth diapers and bath towels are cut down and reused as hand towels. Even the zip-lock bags and plastic ties are reused until they are falling apart. A second-hand benefit to this thriftiness is that while a Mennonite may appear to be acting poor, they usually have money to spare.
- Use washable napkins and place settings. Also- set out real place settings, not paper. My family had “carry in” trays that we’d take to pot-luck dinners, no one used paper.
- Keep a compost heap. Old macaroni isn’t tossed- in a couple of years it will make great topsoil! There are a lot of vibrant gardens that owe their beauty to crushed eggshells and burnt chicken skin.
- Don’t toss old furniture- refinish it. It’s amazing what a coat of paint may do for those wicker chairs or new fabric will do for that ratty couch, and that table you donated to goodwill? It’s got a new coat of varnish and it looks fabulous.
- Don’t be so consumed with fashion. While a few nice outfits make you feel fabulous, when you’re running around with the kids or kicking back at home, a cheap pair of jeans and a hand-me-down t-shirt will do just fine. Imagine all the money you’ll save and the headaches you’ll spare if you learn to clothe yourself in the “beauty that eyes don’t always see.”
- Don’t buy your kids toys. Teach them to make things with their hands, and use their imaginations. This one speaks for itself. Your kids will learned to not be distracted with possessions, and keeping them busy with handcrafts may just keep them out of trouble.
- Turn off the TV and talk to each other. It may not seem “green”- but an afternoon on the porch with lemonade and homemade cookies while the lights are off and there’s no background noise- it’s green, and it’s lovely, and it’ll do away with a world of stress.
“Green” living doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as easy as rinsing out the sour cream container, fingerpainting it, and using it to hand out Easter treats. It’s what Grandma would do!