How to Avoid Eco-Hysteria

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-hysteria
  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 World, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, Smart Mama's Green Guide, and 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
How to Begin
The 10 Easiest Ways to Reduce Toxins in Your Home
Going green gradually: Baby steps with a baby
Save Money while Going Green
Lazy and Cheap Ways to Be Green (a series of posts)

Note to reader: this is an updated version of a post first published in September 2010.


  1. This is so good! I love the advice to just focus on your home. If you can just do what you can at home and not worry about other places, you'll be much less stressed out!

  2. Great advice. I'm planning to host a Healthy Kids party and want to approach the issues in a non-threatening way.

  3. Thanks, Amanda!

    Aiming4Simple, good luck with your party! I wrote about hosting my Healthy Kids party here:

    It is definitely hard to find a balance between providing information and freaking folks out. I let others share what they knew and changes they already made, and I think that was less overwhelming as it was more of a discussion. Everyone loved the freebies!

  4. I think the part about going green gradually is so important. I am old enough to have used disposable everything without a thought. About 10 years ago, when I came to realize the impact of that lifestyle, I did not have enough reusable items to get through a week at home or a shopping trip--so I began to collect things a bit at a time. I now have enough heavy duty shopping bags, along with bulk and produce bags, to get me through grocery shopping. I also have some pretty bags to use at department stores. I have containers in enough sizes to have practically eliminated baggies and aluminum foil. I have a resale shop set of tableware and some cloth napkins to use with lunches. We have a water filter and a collection of water bottles that I keep filled and in the fridge.
    The point is that going out to buy all that at once would have been impossible on my budget. The trick is to spend a dollar here and two dollars there over time to collect things that enable a greener life.

  5. Such a great list, once again. Your blog is so great about taking small steps and encouraging others to do the same. The green information can be so overloading that it makes you want to quit before you even start. YOU make it so much easier.

  6. Beth, thank you for sharing your journey to reusables -- so many great examples of disposables that can be replaced with reusables. Not many of us can afford to go green in one fell swoop. One easy way to go green is to replace items with something greener. When you run out of paper napkins, invest in cloth ones (maybe even from a thrift/ antique store!) instead of buying more paper ones.

    Thanks for the kind words, Jessica. ALWAYS appreciated.

  7. Great list. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged.


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