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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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Choosing a Greener Life Together

by Sierra on January 27, 2010 · 11 comments

in green living

Rio and Serena in the GardenOn the heels of my Monday post at Get Rich Slowly about talking to your spouse about money, here’s a reader-requested post about how couples can communicate about green lifestyle choices.

In general, my husband and I get along fine about our green living. Our values about things like making green life choices are very closely aligned. It’s something we both care deeply about, and we never have to argue about the underlying principles. For us, the decisions are about how to best use our limited resources to live into the values we share.

That’s a different problem from a couple where one spouse is deeply invested in green living and the other is not. As the New York Times reported last week, conflict about green values can be a real problem for couples.

Here are some hopefully helpful tips on smoothing those waters:

  • Set a time to talk. Make a time to talk to each other about the changes you’d like to make (or not make) to green up your lifestyle. Stick to that time. That means both showing up and being present for the talk, and resisting the urge to ambush each other while brushing your teeth or cooking breakfast.
  • Be specific. Don’t just start an open-ended conversation about “living green”. Have a change you’d like your partner to commit to, and be ready to make the case for why it will work in your lives and why it’s worth doing. Want to insulate the house? Agree to have one vegetarian meal a day? Swap all the lightbulbs in the house for CFLs? Fine. Know what you want and be able to make the case for it.
  • Be realistic. I’d love to put solar panels on our roof, rip out our home’s 100-year-old plumbing and install a graywater system and composting toilets. My honey would veto those moves in a minute, for good reason. We can’t afford them. It’s important for both of you to be realistic about what changes you have the resources to make.
  • Start small. If you’ve been a meat-and-potatoes family for twenty years, sitting your spouse down and announcing you’d like to the whole family to go vegan probably won’t go over well. Making simple sustainable changes will feel better, inspire less conflict and do more good in the long run. This connects to the realism piece: you need to be real about what you can live with, or you’ll burn out fast and bounce back to bad habits.
  • Let some things go. You and your partner have to live together, but you’re not the same person. It’s appropriate to ask your partner to cooperate on household items that affect you both or require resources from both of you. It’s important for each of you to be able to make your own choices about issues that are more personal. For example, I do the Compact; like Katy, no one else in my house does. I can’t require my husband to commit to buying nothing new. I just live my own choice on that one.
  • Include your kids. Even my five-year-old is very committed to “not giving the earth a fever”. It’s important to keep kids involved in green choices, both because it empowers them now and because it teaches them how to make good choices as adults. They can also be a big help; having the whole family on board is crucial to the success of any lifestyle change.

How do you communicate about green life choices with the people you live with? Are you on the same page or in constant conflict? What are your tricks for making changes stick in your household?

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  • http://fakeplasticfish.com/ Beth Terry

    Fantastic post! My husband and I don't have exactly the same green values, but I find that by making changes for myself and not nagging him to change, he has slowly made changes in his own life. We have different reasons for the actions we take. I am concerned about harm to people and wildlife. He is concerned about waste. As a blogger, I have learned that we all have different motivations and have to meet people where they are.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    NOT NAGGING. I should totally have put that as a separate item on my list. It's so important.

    Be the change you want to see in your household, just like you do in the world. It doesn't get more effective than that.

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  • http://thetruthway.net/ Claudia

    My family is fine with my green values except for food. I'm a raw vegan eater. I don't cook my food but I do use a blender. my family thinks I'm nuts but we don't fight about it. Maybe one day they will follow my ways. I mean they can see that I'm healthy and never get sick – not even in winter.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Food gets a little wacky around here too. I'm not a vegan, but I eat a very different diet from the rest of my family. After awhile, my husband has drifted more towards my food inclinations.

    I've been a vegetarian pretty much my whole life, so it doesn't phase me to be eating differently from those around me. The kids are all about “mommy's special diet” though, in really cute ways.

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  • threerings

    My husband and I recently had a discussion about not using paper towels. I asked him if he thought we could do without and he said he couldn't. But we compromised and agreed to move the paper towels to a less convenient place and try to use them for fewer things. And that's marriage!

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  • Pingback: Disagreeing on Green Values: Why Michael Thinks I’m Ned Flanders | Fake Plastic Fish

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I bet he'll be happily surprised what you can do without. We've used half a roll of paper towels over the past four years, and only that many because I'm required to have them on hand for work. We really just use old cloth diapers for everything.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I bet he'll be happily surprised what you can do without. We've used half a roll of paper towels over the past four years, and only that many because I'm required to have them on hand for work. We really just use old cloth diapers for everything.

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  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    I bet he'll be happily surprised what you can do without. We've used half a roll of paper towels over the past four years, and only that many because I'm required to have them on hand for work. We really just use old cloth diapers for everything.

    [Reply]

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