Are you a green dilettante?

My personality is just short of being dangerously obsessive. If an idea latches on to my mind, everything else gets put on hold while I try that new vegetarian recipe/green cleaning technique/carbon-cutting strategy. I’m great about trying different ideas for reducing my impact. 

What I’m not so good at is sticking with them long enough to form habits. Sure, I made pasta…once. I used to go to the farmers’ market every week…until the weather turned cold, wet, and uncomfortable. Even though I’m currently fired up about making my own vegetable stock from scraps saved up in the freezer (post to come!), six months down the road, when I desperately need stock for a recipe and am completely out of homemade, it’s possible I’ll go back to the over-packaged cubes that make everything taste like lovage.

Does this sound familiar? That could just mean that you, too, are a green dilettante. All animals are wired to enjoy some degree of novelty, and I know that my brain, in particular, has a regrettable rape-and-pillage approach to ideas, moving restlessly from one to the next. But I’ve also realized that, unless I’m building on previous progress, I’m not really getting anywhere in my quest for that darker shade of green.

I’m not proud of being a green dilettante, but I do think it’s fairly difficult not to be one. Our society makes it so damn convenient to slip back into old ways. New green habits, like making stock, bread, and cleaning supplies, hanging up laundry to dry, unplugging things at the outlet — well, they take time. They take effort. And there is always a faster, easier, and more familiar alternative. My favorite bread recipe takes a full 15 hours from start to finish (most of it rising time). Oh, it’s great bread — a dense, chewy peasant bread with an assertively yeasty flavor and a gorgeous golden crust — but a loaf at the store costs only $4, ten minutes, and a plastic bread bag to dispose of. 

Maybe some of my green experiments aren’t worth making into habits, but I really hate to backtrack on progress towards less packaging, less transporting, fewer chemicals.  And so, inspired by Lynn’s wonderfully practical once-a-week approach to changing habits over at Upcycled Love, I’ve come up with my own list of ways to thwart my dilettante tendencies and turn green experiments into green habits. (Disclaimer: I can’t yet vouch for their effectiveness. Read Lynn’s first.)

  • Know why you’re doing it. Sure, it’s new and exciting, but what’s in it for you and the planet after the novelty wears off? Are you going to be reducing waste? Reducing food miles? Encouraging local ecosystem health? Intention matters. Knowing why you’re doing it may help you continue long after it’s ceased to be exciting. 
  • Have what you need on hand. It sounds obvious, but even small barriers can be major roadblocks to establishing good habits. Whether you want to eat more veggies, make your own skincare, or compost, have the supplies you need readily available. Make it easy for yourself!
  • Choose just a few habits to develop at a time. Old habits die hard, and tackling too many new things at a time can be exhausting. Change is cumulative, and most effective when accomplished at your own pace.
  • Commit to not buying anything you can make. Having taken the time to learn how to do something that cuts down on your impact, you might as well commit to continuing. As a fringe benefit, you’ll also be saving money. 
  • Vary it to keep your interest. Boredom is deadly. If you’re committing to picking up litter, choose a different place each week. If you’re baking bread, try a new recipe. Variety doesn’t make it any less green, but it might just help keep you going.

And with all that in mind, I think I’ve inspired myself to go off to the kitchen and make the starter for my 15 hour bread. What are your favorite ways to turn your own green experiments into habits? Please share what has worked for you!


12 responses to this post.

  1. Laziness, mostly! Bicarb and vinegar for cleaning is easier than having to work out which ‘eco-cleaner’ is really that ‘eco’. Remembering to get fresh bread from the shops is harder than making our own (admittedly in a bread machine). Hanging the clothes on racks is easier than forgetting you had clothes in the dryer and finding them days later in a permanent crinkle!

    I guess repetition is the key, just keep doing it each time until you’ve forgotten what the old way was like, or you become an expert/ comfortable with the new way and wah-la, habit formed!


    • Laziness. I love it! I could definitely do that. I love the way putting clothes on the line means you don’t have a buzzer (and don’t need to fear that someone else will take your underwear out of the dryer and dump it on the counter). I already use baking soda and vinegar because I’m cheap. 🙂


  2. There are a couple of things that keep me in “green”. One is that I have this “thing” about being too comfortable. My brain equates comfort and ease with “bad” environmental practices. Think about it … nearly everything we do to make life easier and more comfortable is typically not so good for the earth. So that’s check #1. Number two is about ingredients … there are certain ingredients that we have banned from our home. We have simply agreed that products with those ingredients won’t enter our home … and that includes so many products that we either have to make our own or be diligent about reading labels … and often, the products that make the cut are expensive. So that leaves us with either spending more or making our own. That, by the way, is what motivates me to make my own veggie stock … most commercial brands include hydrogenated oils (one of my “evil” ingredients) and the ones that don’t have it, are expensive. So … veggie scraps for me. That’s what does it for me. My hardest habit to create is taking short showers when it’s cold out and the hot water feels so good. But I’m working on it! 🙂 Oh, one last “tidbit” … it’s takes about 30 days to create a habit … and we can do almost anything for 30 days.


    • The shower thing is definitely a problem for me. What I’ve found works best is to be almost late. Then (and only then) I can manage the perfect three minute navy shower. Self control is hard when it comes to a curtain of warm scented water on a cold day!

      I didn’t know that about vegetable stocks. I’m usually a pretty diligent label reader because I want to avoid non-vegetarian ingredients and unnecessary chemicals, but the stock cubes must have slipped under my radar. I have noticed that a lot fewer things are making the cut these days. The quantity of processed food I’m willing to buy has been dwindling down to canned beans and frozen vegetables, and the beans are something I know I should get into the habit of cooking myself.


  3. I am in the practice-makes-perfect category when trying to shape a green habit. I do it over and over until I can’t remember when I wasn’t doing it. I also know what you mean about drifting back towards convenience, that is a tough one for me especially when it comes to food buying and making. But here is something I think about. If I want to change my life habits then what am I freeing up the time for with these convenience items? I want to spend the time to make my own bread or make something else from scratch or by hand. Ya, a lot of this takes more time but I see it as time spent doing something I find important. I always try and think, “Why am I in a rush? What else do I really need the time for?”


    • Hey, thanks for stopping by! You’re definitely on to something about the repetition. For me, the bread is more difficult because I only go through so much and end up baking just twice a month. It’s going to take a while before the process starts feeling like a habit. I find that I actually enjoy some of the more labor intensive processes, like line drying my clothes and baking bread. During that time, my brain is free to wander off and think about other things, whereas if I don’t take the time for these so-called chores, I’m much more likely to waste it on the internet than spend it on worthwhile projects.


  4. Posted by shortystylee on 03/17/2011 at 07:34

    I usually only try to add a few new “green” habits at a time. I tracked my plastic on My Plastic Free Life (Fake Plastic Fish) and started to bake our own bagels during that… I couldn’t find plastic free bagels. It was an easy habit to keep since we only need to do it every other week. I usually hang dry all of our clothes and the only time I don’t is when we’re running late and I really need the clothes that are dirty… or I run out of exercise clothes mid-week. Planning is certainly one of the keys to being green.



    • That’s exactly it. I’m not a particularly good planner because I do whatever I’m enthused about and push everything else to the side. I’m finding that the obsessive personality is good for some things, not so good for others. (Laundry, for instance, I am never obsessed with and sometimes put off until I absolutely have to.)

      Would you care to share your bagel recipe? I just looked at the ingredients of the last batch of bagels I bought from the store and was appalled.


  5. I’m more likely to follow through with a plan if I put it in writing. I’d be lost without my online calendar! So when I need to get something done, I pick a day and time, and then I’m forced to really think about the task because I need to add the duration of the “event” in the calendar. All of this helps to turn it from an ideal activity into a real portion of my day.

    (Psychological research has actually proven that being very specific about intended actions, including writing out a plan, increases the likelihood that we follow through with them.)


    • Andrea, you’re so organized! I guess I could try keeping an online calendar. There are certainly things I’ve been putting off that a calendar would force me to confront. I do find that when I look at the actual amount of time something will take that I’m less likely to make the excuse that I don’t have time. My bread recipe is an exception. It’s rising for the…er, third time as I type.


    • That’s a good idea! I’ve always been terrible with organization + calendars. But now that I’m feeling the need to take my new habits more seriously, I’m considering a calendar again… I should go and find one for creative types…


      • If you find a good one, please share! I’m afraid I’m also kind of a dilettante when it comes to using calendars.


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