Can you advocate for zero waste, ethical, eco-friendly or minimalist lifestyle principles if your life doesn’t fully embody them? Don’t you have to practice what you preach?!
I often reflect on whether or not it’s fair for me to be a “mainstream minimalism” influencer. We don’t live an entirely zero waste lifestyle. I make purchases that aren’t ethical. I don’t always choose the perfectly eco-friendly option.
Am I fraud? In short, I believe the answer is no. I don’t believe that living a conscious lifestyle “doesn’t count” if you occasionally stray from the ground rules.
I choose moderation, and my family uses eco-friendly and minimalist principles as a baseline against which to make decisions about our life. I allow and appreciate that these value sets influence my life and the choices I make, but I don’t live by them to the letter of the “law” or let them fully dictate every move I make.
I respect the “all in” minimalists who travel the world with nothing but a backpack, but I have kids and a husband and a career and we can’t (nor do we want) to forego everything in our current lives for a life of counting possessions, measuring trash by volume of mason jars, or hopping from temporary bed to temporary bed. Those lives are inspiring, but to quote Amy Poehler in her book Yes, Please, “Good for them! Not for us.” I also think there is value in making moderate changes, not just drastic ones. Living thoughtfully and intentionally isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition.
My Current Life Brings Me Joy
I like a lot of things about my current life. I don’t want to give up my warm and cozy king size bed that’s dressed in soft flannel sheets and which I share with my husband (and sometimes my boys). I like my little home office that serves as the center of my personal work (both for the blog and my corporate job). I like having a comfortable home that isn’t huge but definitely isn’t tiny; it’s just enough for us and occasionally a visitor or two. I loved getting rid of the extra clothes in my closet and the excess stuff we had accumulated, but I like what’s left. And I think I can still be a good steward to my community and our world without giving up all of my favorite little luxuries.
With Privilege Comes Responsibility
While I don’t want to go “all in” on a drastic lifestyle change, I recognize the privilege and abundance of my life. I acknowledge the corresponding responsibility to serve and share with others the gifts I’ve been given, to mindfully use the abundance at my disposal, and not to exploit others with fewer resources than me.
No sooner do I say “everything” and I shall be proven wrong, but everything in life is on a spectrum. I’ve chosen to pursue my life through a lens of mainstream minimalist principles. That doesn’t mean, though, that I chose the “perfect or purest choice” at every crossroads.
So Why Do I Do This?
Can you really be an intentional living blogger and advocate if you don’t always practice what you preach? I say yes. In fact, I think a majority of families aren’t ready or interested in pure or holistic zero waste or ethical or minimalist lifestyles. Many of us want a “life of less stress/stuff/commitments”, but we still want to sign up for soccer camp, buy balloons for the birthday party, and indulge in something super cute from Target’s dangerous dollar section once in a while.
Every time I enter Target, I notice the dollar section and the chochkies stuffed onto each shelf. Once in a while I look. I rarely buy. But every so often, I see something that checks off an item that’s been on my “I’d love to have one of these and would really use it” list. And I buy it, without regret or guilt.
I try my best to live my life in moderation. I’m not one that’s ever been a seeker or follower of strict rules. I suck at dieting (if anything I’ve ever done even counted as trying). I don’t get emotionally caught up in quitting (when the time is right.. I quit).
I don’t really hold grudges. I’m really good at letting things go, and that includes reasonable departures from a set of principles I’ve chosen as guidelines but not guardrails for my life.
I believe that “done is better than perfect” and we can choose progress over perfection. I share my journey, experiences, and experiments with mainstream minimalism because I think there are lots of families like ours that want to live somewhere along the middle of the spectrum of intentional living, not at either extreme. I believe there’s meaningful value in the mainstream world shifting just a few giant steps toward something better, even if the landing spot is still several giant steps from perfect.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing or taking anything away from those who follow zero waste principles more fully than me. I think it’s great; it’s just not for me. I’m only suggesting that zero waste practices have value even when they aren’t practiced at every turn in life.
It’s a Journey, Not a Single Junction
Further, only a handful of people will wake up one morning and do a complete 180 with their lives. Just about all of us will take baby steps and transition to a mindful life of less over several years. We will walk along the spectrum and make slow progress toward change, quietly resetting our baselines time and again.
It’s a winding journey we are taking, and I know we have plenty of company.
I’m Not Perfect and Not Pretending To Be
You want to know some things about me that are not zero waste or eco-friendly or supportive of ethical production practices? I drive an SUV (which I do for a variety of reasons and something about which we heavily weighed alternatives). I shop at mainstream grocery stores and buy bags of tortilla chips, packaged bread products, and energy bars individually wrapped in plastic (to name a few). I take really long, hot showers. I occasionally eat fast casual food and take my meals wrapped in disposable packaging.
Those are just a few of my “violations” of pure ethical and minimalist living. I consider each choice in light of my values and make what I believe to be the best choice for the circumstances at that particular time.
So when someone asks me how I hold myself out as an intentional living influencer, I don’t feel like a fraud for sometimes breaking the “rules”. We don’t live by the rules; we live by guiding principles. Our choices are heavily influenced by these very important initiatives, but even when assessed through intentional living lenses, sometimes our circumstances warrant deviating from “best practice”… and I’m not losing sleep over it.
Everything I share with you about how we practice mainstream minimalism is honest and sincere. But we aren’t perfect, we aren’t trying to be, and we are finding a balance that works for our family somewhere between entirely uninformed and categorically obsessed. Life thrives on moderation, and I’m not apologizing for sometimes taking the “busy road frequently traveled and full of ruts”. There’s a time and a place for taking the path of least resistance.
Where are you on the spectrum of intentional living practices?
Jeans ~ Industry Standard | Shirt ~ Old | Jacket ~ Vintage, thrifted | Shoes ~ Bucketfeet
I’m Jen, the author of Honestly Modern, an online space all about eco-friendly living for modern families. Check out more and explore climate action, zero waste living principles, regenerative gardening, and intersectional environmentalism, all through the lens of modern family life.