Overwhelmed? Where to Begin

I was talking with my mother last week. I told her about the lists of personal care and baby/kid products I’d put together based on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. She’s not into computers, so I printed off the personal care list for her to keep in her purse when she’s shopping. Our conversation about safe and unsafe products moved to a discussion of all the “high-hazard” products we’ve been using for years, to why the government allows these products to be sold and on and on. Finally, she commented that while she appreciates my efforts, it all seems so overwhelming. Things are such a mess with regulation and there are so many hazards out there, it makes her feel like putting her head in the sand. While she won’t actually do this, I’ve been thinking about what she said. It is overwhelming. There is so much work to be done, and so much mess to be undone, as far as chemical and toxin regulation goes. And that’s just one aspect of what concerns me about the world my children are growing up in. I’m glad I’m more aware than I used to be, but at the same time, the problems often seem insurmountable. When I look at all of the issues I read about: so much waste, not enough recycling, over-consumption,  overpopulation, big agriculture, greenwashing, unfair wages for the working poor. . . you get the idea. If you’re reading this blog, I imagine these are areas that concern you, too.

So what do we do? Most of us won’t bury our heads in the sand, even though sometimes we may like to. But, we can’t solve all the problems on our own, either. This is what has worked for me so far:

Start somewhere. Yes the problems are many, but pick one, any one, and do something. Even if it’s one small thing. Something is always better than nothing.

Remember that you do not live in a vacuum. While your one small thing may seem insignificant, there are millions of people all over the world who are also doing things, some big, some small. It all adds up.

Educate yourself. The problems are big, but if you take the time to learn more about them, you’ll likely find steps you can take, often with little effort, to make things better.

Commit to being more conscious of your actions and your purchases. Before you toss something out or buy another thing you may not need, take a few seconds to think about it. Does the item really need to be thrown away, or can it still be used. If it can’t, can it be recycled in some way? Do you really need to purchase another — fill in the blank or can you make do just fine with what you have?

For those of you looking for specific things you can do to improve the state of the world and the health and safety of you and your family, here’s a list:

Start recycling. Many communities offer curbside recycling. Most others have recycling drop-off points. Check out your options.

Print off the lists of safer products for you and your kids and take them with you when you shop. If you switch out just one high-hazard product you normally use for one that is safer, you’ll be better off. Most, if not all, of these products are available in stores you frequent anyway. There’s no great effort involved, and probably no more expense.

Buy better food. Barbara Kingsolver points out in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, that Americans will spend loads of money on everything except their food. The one place we always seem to want to cut costs is with the food we put in our bodies. Go for more real food, less processed stuff. If you eat meat, buy from farmers who raise their animals without hormones or antibiotics.

Switch out your incandescent bulbs for CFL’s. They’ll last a lot longer and save you money in electricity.

Turn off the water when you brush your teeth.

Use a car wash instead of washing your car at home. It uses much less water anyway and many car wash facilities recycle most of their water.

Some of these suggestions are more involved than others, but nearly all of them ask you to simply stop and think about your habits. The problems and dangers in the world are incredibly overwhelming, but we must try to find the “space” Al Gore mentioned in An Inconvenient Truth, “between denial and despair.” Each step counts. What step will you take?