10 Steps to Help You Avoid Eco-exhaustion

I fell down the rabbit hole of toxic information soon after I had my first baby. I spent hours and hours on the computer researching safer, more natural options with an infant on my lap. I had just left a job in policy research, so I was still in the research mode. And I was worried. And a bit obsessed. I wanted to know everything, change everything, fix everything - immediately!  Eventually, I chilled out. And now I'm going to share with you my tips for achieving some balance in your quest to go green.

 Ten Steps to Help You Avoid Eco-exhaustion

  1. Remember that a happy, well-adjusted, sane parent is also important to your child's well-being.  So do your best not to freak out about how we are destroying the earth and polluting kids' bodies.  The steps below will hopefully help you with that.
  2. Make lists, then categorize and prioritize actions.  Make lists of all the things you want to change.  This will help you define and keep track of what you want to do.  Your list might seem manageable or overwhelming, but it will hopefully stop you from having scattered guilty thoughts and amorphous anxieties constantly nagging around the edges of your mind.  Then organize your list into categories.  For example, you can identify which items on your list are the easiest, the cheapest, or will have the fastest and highest impact on your family's well-being.  One of my lists is a list of changes that are just too expensive for me to do right now.
  3. Go green gradually.  Pick a few things to change.  You might want to choose an easy or cheap item to start with.  Start small and build on success.  Change gets easier.
  4. Be realistic about what you can accomplish, especially if you have small children (remember #1 and #3).  Be realistic about what you can afford.  And be realistic about what your family can handle.  Especially if you have a reluctant spouse.
  5. Beware of books about going green.  While these books can be wonderful resources, they are meant to be encyclopedic.  If you are a new anxious parent, reading an entire book like this in a short period of time will only cause you stress because your knowledge will far surpass what you are able to accomplish.  Instead, consume your book in bite-size pieces.  Pick the chapter about personal products or the nursery, and then don't read any more until you are comfortable with the changes you have made in that area.  Even after all the toxic information I've consumed and green changes I've made, I still get a little overwhelmed and anxious when I read too much of these books at once.  But they are very useful to have as a resource to consult when you have a specific question, or for additional ideas about how to green your life.  If you'd like to use a book to help you go green, a few books I've liked and can recommend are by Healthy Child Healthy WorldThe Eco-nomical Baby GuideSmart Mama's Green Guideand Raising Baby Green.
  6. Celebrate success, forget failure.  If I get frustrated or fail at one of my changes, I just quit and forget about it for a while.  Later, I might give it a go again.  It took me three separate attempts to switch from disposable to reusable nursing pans, and years to stop using all our Teflon-coated cookware.  
  7. Concentrate your efforts on your own home.  After all, this is probably where your kids spend the majority of their time and it is what you have the most control over.  I personally don't worry much about what my family eats when we are in other people's homes.  I don't worry about what toys my kids play with at other kids' houses.  I don't worry about what's in the carpet or what cleaners people use.  I love to share information about green living (obviously), but only to those actually interested in hearing it.  You probably won't change anyone's mind if you alienate them in the process.  
  8. Find a community.  Like exercising, you are more likely to change and keep changing to greener ways if you have a friend along for the ride.  I often swap green information and green gripes with my friends and family members, and, of course, with the green blogosphere.  In addition, a local community of like-minded folks can make it possible to tackle choices that affect public spaces like parks, schools, or day care.  
  9. Sign petitions and send e-mails to elected leaders.  This is a very low-effort way be involved in the larger public sphere.  While I think it is best initially to focus on your own home, I also want a healthy environment for all children, and I recognize that we are all essentially inside the same boat (a.k.a. earth) anyway.  If an organization I respect sends me an email alert about legislation to reform toxic chemical policies, I sign it.
  10. Let go.  Do what you can, and don't worry about the rest.  Easier said than done, I know, but I am a professional worrier, and even I can now manage to do this most of the time. 

How do you cope with toxic information overload and green fatigue? 

Additional Resources from Eco-novice
Lazy and Cheap Ways to Be Green (a series of posts)


  1. Thank you so much for this entry. This is me exactly. My son is 8-months-old and I'd say my "eco-exhaustion" peaked when he was around 5-6 months. I felt afraid of just about everything and I felt angry that makers of all these everyday products put profits ahead of health. I got so overwhelmed and felt like it was inevitable that my son is going to end up with cancer, autism, ADD, etc. I still obsess and worry way more than I'd like to, but I think I'm getting better. I too have tried to loosen up about what other people do. My mother-in-law uses heavily fragranced, antibacterial handsoap from Bath and Body Works. I would never have it in my home, but I figure it's not worth worrying about for the 3-4 times a year we're visiting her. The other thing that helps me is to think back to my own childhood and how my parents did none of the things I'm doing, but yet I'm healthy. For example, I distinctly remember brand new carpeting in my and my brother's room when I was probably around 7. We would bury our noses down into it and inhale because we liked that "new" smell. I cringe at that thought, but neither me or my brother ever developed asthma, learning disabilities, etc. It doesn't mean that things like that from my childhood won't still catch up with me down the road, but thinking back to those things usually helps calm me down when I feel discouraged and on the verge of tears. I also want to cry when we're walking through a parking lot and some vehicle spits out exhaust that I have no way of avoiding, so I trying to remind myself that babies in places like New York City are exposed to way more vehicle exhaust than my son.

    Thanks again! It's always nice to know I'm not alone.

  2. Oh, Sara, I can really relate. For me, at least part of it was postpartum hormones (anixiety!!!) and part of it was just the onslaught of information all at once about something I'd never given much thought to before. Eventually, you will find your homeostasis.

  3. Betsy, I just wanted to let you know that the conditioner you recommended is so amazing! Seth loves it too. This is the first time in my memory that I have consistently not had an itchy scalp from fragrances and other weird ingredients in traditional conditioner. Such a relief. I also was able to find some really great leave in conditioner and gel from the website you recommended. Thanks so much!

  4. Betsy, I think #10 could apply to EVERY aspect of life -- don't you!!
    Thanks for the great post. I have to admit, I'm pretty intimidated by the whole "green" living concept. It seems so time consuming. I recycle and grow all our veggies...but that's about it. Maybe this year I'll try something else!


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