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Focusing a Complex Household on Caring for the Environment

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
08/06/20  11:50 AM PST

Our lives are complicated enough, can’t someone else worry about the environment?

My parents started recycling in the 1970s, so I grew up with a “reduce, reuse, recycle” mindset. They even added a couple of R’s, refuse, and re-purpose. Much of their motivation was and still is of practicality, frugalness, and stewardship. They are conscientious people who do these things because they simply make sense.

As a family of children with disabilities and medical conditions, our family life is often much different from that of my peers. I see people cutting down their driving, while I can’t because so much of it is driving my child to appointments. I see people nearly eliminating waste, while I can’t because we use medical and incontinence supplies which are single-use and not recyclable. I’ve often wondered if it’s worth it and if my little household actually makes a bit of difference. I’ve got enough going on, can’t someone else worry about the environment?

Out of over 7 billion people in the world does my effort make any difference?

Maybe it’s because I was raised on reducing, reusing, and recycling that I can’t just let it go. I see the bags of necessary trash and know we can’t change that, so what can we do?

It’s tempting to try big changes in hopes of making a real difference, but those often flop. Getting the whole family on board with something brand new and complicated is a tall order. Instead, I’ve found that the small changes are the ones that stick, and they make the most difference. I try to find a natural starting point like the start of school, end of school, or a new year to make a change so that it goes along with something that’s already starting. It can be as easy as putting out a box to collect all the papers from school to recycle, buying reusable lunch systems for the kids, or starting a compost bin for the food scraps that don’t get eaten.

When I can, I get the kids to buy-in by taking ideas and cues from them. If they are bought in they not only are more agreeable to it, they also hold me accountable. There’s nothing like your kid catching you breaking the rules to keep you in line, so I shamelessly use them to my advantage.

If it doesn’t stick, because sometimes no matter how hard I try or how good of an idea it seems it just doesn’t stick, I don’t wallow in guilt. I tried, it didn’t work, I learn from the experience and now know more.

The Small Changes Add Up

When I finally gave in and bought reusable Silpat mats for baking cookies instead of using parchment I winced at the cost. But over time I’ve saved many rolls of parchment, and the cost has been more than made up for. Little by little, with one tiny change after another, I keep trying to be kinder to the Earth. Over the years I’ve made dozens of sustainable changes that keep adding up. Many are baby steps, but they’re baby steps in the right direction, and they really do add up. If you’re looking for more tips on caring for the environment, or just need a place to start, the book Growing Sustainable Together, by Shannon Brescher Shea has many ideas that are well suited to many families.

inclusion on the playground

Alethea Mshar is a Special Needs Mom and Blogger.

Read her blog, Ben’s Writing, Running Mom

Follow her on Facebook


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