General ramblings

Never Enough

July 11, 2016

Stick the kettle on, pull up a chair, and sit with me while I work this through.I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Wabi-sabi. The revelation that it is something other than the crazily hot green stuff that comes with Sushi lunchpacks in M&S has blown me away. And not only is it not wasabi, but it’s a concept that really seems to speak to me too.

If you missed my last post, the definition of Wabi-sabi is:

“A Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’”

I love the idea of seeing beauty in the imperfections, but my attention recently has been focussed on the incomplete aspect of it.
I am pretty sure that I am not alone in feeling like whatever I do is never enough, is incomplete.
I never play enough with my kids, I never spend enough time really listening to what my husband says, and I very definitely never do enough housework. And I feel bad about it (actually, the housework not so much). We look around and superficially, on social media at least, everyone else is doing enough. Everyone else has wonderfully behaved children, and spends their time with them doing stimulating, educational and fun stuff; they go on date nights regularly with their adoring partners, rather than just slumping exhausted in front of the TV; and their houses are spotless.
I get that this isn’t real. That these are the bits they have chosen to show the world, and that they also have scrunched up insides, and big piles of dirty laundry just out of shot.
I’m starting to reconcile myself with that, and to be ok with it.

But as someone who cares about the planet and our impact on it (What should I call myself? An eco-warrior? An environmentalist? A green? – I think we can all agree that that sounds like a bogey. A hippy? All of these terms turn me off hugely-we need a better ‘label’) I have an extra layer of guilt. A whole other stick to beat myself with, and to feel like I am never enough. Or maybe not so much that I am never enough, but that I never do enough.

Plastic Free July is a brilliant example of this.
I already do the easy stuff, or the ‘Big 4’: the reusable shopping bags; the reusable coffee mugs; no bottles of water; and we have even bought stainless steel straws for the boys to use.
I went a step further and have taken some big steps to reducing the plastic in our bathroom, with my homemade soap, and deodorant.
We get a veg box delivered, so this also cuts down on plastic packaging, and I have had several attempts at making my own yoghurt (with variable success).
But instead of focussing on the successes, I can’t help but feel so guilty about the things I haven’t done.
I haven’t been able to find a replacement for our plastic bottles of milk;
I’m never brave enough to take my own tupperware with my to the deli counter at the supermarket (and instead just stand there wincing inside as they use umpty nine sheets of plastic to wrap the things in);
I still baulk at spending twice as much on standard pasta in a box than organic pasta in a plastic bag.
A Plastic Free Life is very firmly in my ‘too hard’ basket. And because of that, I’ve stopped trying to make further changes. I’ve reached the point where further change becomes uncomfortable. I’ve stopped trying to change, to move forwards, and instead I’m standing still and feeling guilty.

And so I don’t join in with this brilliant movement, as I feel like a failure before I even start.
And of course, I feel bad about that.

Do you think it comes with the territory? Maybe being an eco-warrior/environmentalist/greeny is like being a mum, and is automatically accompanied by a side order of guilt.
Whatever we do, it feels like it’s never enough.
There is always a contradiction, a hypocrisy.
And there will always be guilt I think, no matter what we do, and a feeling that it isn’t enough.

But maybe a little bit of guilt is a good thing.
I think it can be quite a powerful motivator.
When we first had kids, I wanted to use reusable nappies, but I was overwhelmed by the enormity of being in charge of keeping a whole other person alive, and for the first few months we used disposable nappies. And I felt this nagging low level background guilt each time I put one in the bin.
Once I started to re-surface from the shock of first time motherhood, I began to investigate alternatives, and before I knew it we had a whole pile of reusable nappies, and the guilt was gone (probably replaced within about 5 seconds by something else to feel guilty about, but hey). Without that guilt, I don’t think I would have acted.

So actually, perhaps it’s about Wabi-sabi. It’s about accepting the incomplete nature of our efforts, and that feeling of never doing enough. I don’t think it will ever go away, so maybe it needs to be embraced, much like our imperfections. We need to embrace it and use it as a positive force. Change happens when it becomes more uncomfortable to stay in the same place, than it is to move out of our comfort zones.
We are enough. As parents, as children, as carers, as partners and employees or employers. We are enough.
But we can always do more, do better. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a fact. It shows an awareness of the world around us, of how our actions affect other people and the planet.
It’s a good thing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and to explore it more together.
I’ve written this post about five times, thinking through the whole thing aloud (or at least on screen). It’s taken for a good couple of hours or writing and deleting and editing and deleting again to arrive at this conclusion. Do you agree?
Do you feel like your ‘green efforts’ are never enough? And is that a motivator to keep making change, or is it paralysing you and dragging you down?

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  • Reply Julia Wisbey July 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I feel the way you do. I am trying to do more greener choices but it’s sometimes what’s available, the cost, the unknown and support. We all want better for our families less chemicals in our food,less packaging,reuseable packaging .
    Sometimes media via Facebook,tv ,advertisments ,magazines makes things seem the grass is always greener and more perfect never explain fully the alternatives and the better healthier options.

    • Reply Jen July 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      It can certainly feel and sometimes Julia, and like modern society is conspiring against us to make it harder to find the more sustainable options, but it’s great to know there are so many of us, and that we can all help to support each other 🙂

  • Reply Katie July 13, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I wholeheartedly empathize with you! I try to view these feelings as growing pains…sometimes I’ve done so much that I’ve stretched myself beyond my comfort zone and just need to sit in that space for awhile…get used to the new changes (or grant grace for the fact that I bought granola instead of made it and that I’ve given up the plastic wrapped string cheese battle or that I just really really really wanted those cute sandals), take a breath, and then move forward again. You are doing great work!! I know that my mending pile is full of things that, before I read your blog, I would have just replaced as an excuse to do some shopping. I try more to work with what I have rather than buy the easier, shinier option and appreciate that I didn’t have to spend time, money or natural resources on a replacement.

    And my new blogging philosophy is to just let it be natural…I don’t have time to edit, pose, and photoshop pictures of my life…you get it how it is or else I would be too overwhelmed to blog at all (more so than the little I do now!)

    • Reply Jen July 13, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks Katie. So pleased to hear the mending pile is smaller, and that you are being kind to yourself 🙂 I genuinely don’t know how people find the time to do the beautiful pictures either!

  • Reply Anna K July 11, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Jen, what a wonderful post, and everyone – what wonderful comments.
    I felt a little sad, reading that you sometimes feel this way Jen. I think that since going on your make-do-and-mend journey, you have helped & encouraged so many of us to live more sustainably. Which is such a wonderful thing!
    Having very similar thoughts about going plastic-free, but reading your post & the lovely comments, definitely encouraged to keep going 🙂
    I love the idea of embracing the imperfect/unfinished, and will do what I can – and not get discouraged by what I can’t manage. .. yet.

    • Reply Jen July 12, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Thanks Anna! Yes, plastic free is a toughie. Plastic is everywhere and it seems too big a thing to try and tackle. But someone said to me recently that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time..!

  • Reply Lori M. July 11, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    Hi Jen…maybe we should stop saying we are going to go “green” and just say that as a family we are going to make choices that are beneficial for us and how it will also be for others. Years (many) I met a someone who taught me how to make pasta at home…I showed her how to make tortillas…She loved baking bread…I traded her for casseroles…So we each have strengths and weaknesses but if we can share ourselves with others and work together we can all benefit. I love your thoughts about what is imperfect and what wabi-shabi is. My family is now made up of grownups, kids, and their kids n babies…So I like that I learned something as a younger adult and was able to share that with my children and now they are doing so with their kids and friends…

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      Homemade pasta and tortillas? Amazing! What brilliant trades-I need to find someone who is a pasta and tortilla whiz near me!
      I love your idea of the collective pooling of our talents and strengths, to make us all stronger. And passing onto your kids, and now their kids must be a very magical thing to be able to do 🙂

  • Reply Heather July 11, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    I love this post, as I love pretty much everything you write! This is one of my favourite blogs and this piece hits the nail on the head again. I feel like this all the time and sometimes the sense of overwhelm stops me even starting with some projects and efforts. But I have pledged to just have a go even if the little voice in my head tells me it’s too big or difficult for me. Trying is better than not trying. That’s a great mantra for life 🙂

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:14 pm

      It totally is isn’t it? If I could embroider or cross stitch, I would make it into a sampler!

      • Reply Erin July 11, 2016 at 8:52 pm

        I will teach you how!

        • Reply Jen July 12, 2016 at 10:54 am

          Yes please Erin!!

  • Reply lizlovingandlearning July 11, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    I think you are spot on about this. Always trying to do that bit more, but not beating ourselves up about what we don’t manage to do, is really important. It can stop us from feeling “holier than thou” towards some and “useless” compared to others who are in different places on the journey. Hopefully encouraging some and being encouraged by others we’ll make a real difference. Certainly better than throwing in the towel (whether it’s a paper one or a nice fluffy organic one!)
    Well done for getting back to blogging.

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Liz. Your bracketed comments about the towel made me giggle-thankyou!

  • Reply Karen July 11, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    I was watching the tennis yesterday…the commentators were talking about how Wayne Gretzy said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Andy Murray absolutely went for shots he was never going to get, but sometimes he did and he ended up winning.
    That’s kind of how I try to do things. Sometimes my shots are wayyyyy out, sometimes on the line, sometimes in, sometimes in by a mile, what’s important is I go for them. I’ll let you know if I win in, oh, 20 years?!!!

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” LOVE that! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply joelleharris July 11, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Thank you Jen! you are right, we do need a bit of guilt to keep us moving forward, I contemplated plastic free July as I removed some veg from a plastic tray….I am working on it, gradually. I like Wabi-sabi for me it applies to the ‘perfect capsule wardrobe’ Oh and I’m ‘The Eco Wardrobe Warrior’ and trying to accept that I am never going to be able to do it all.

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      Yes, none of us can ever do it all, but I love Alfred’s comments: Doing something is better than doing nothing, trying is better than not trying. The main thing is we keep trying 🙂

  • Reply Alfred Chow July 11, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Likewise, Jen.
    I think my life has become wonderful, and improving as I have changed and adjusted to knowing who I really am, and which people I’d rather associate with.
    All of my best and closest friends all have their faults and failing and I love them all the more for them. I learnt I couldn’t be ‘perfect’ and in doing so I also learnt that those who appear perfect don’t feel they are perfect either, and those who think they are perfect very definitely are not.

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Sounds like you have been on quite a journey Alfred, and that it has made you a very wise man indeed!

  • Reply Anne Fraser July 11, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I understand. I accept that I still have to buy some plastic but am decreasing the amount every year (basically now milk bottles and cheese wrappers) pick up beach plastic every week and actively campaign against plastic bags to help compensate for not being perfect. Then I feel OK about how we live.

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      Sounds like you’ve got a great balance Anne, good work!

  • Reply Alfred Chow July 11, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    It’s never possible to do ‘everything’, it isn’t even easy to try to do most. It is really hard work, modern life and expectations (our own and others) make it harder then it might have been. But always, doing something is better then doing nothing. Trying is better then not trying. Accepting our limitations is better then pushing to absolute despair and emotional hardship.

    Some of our perceived failings are just that, we perceive it but others don’t. It is an almighty leap to see that view too, and to then focus on the positives other see even when we see it as a failing.

    I drive too much, I don’t cycle enough, I sometimes forget to tear the plastic window out of the envelope before it goes in the blue bin.
    But I was caught, and applauded for, ripping open a black bin bag and sorting out all the little bits of paper, mouldy tea bags, crisp packets, paper cups, and left over biscuits into the correct recycling bins at work.

    And having a big car and trailer means I can help others move things, they want to reuse, more easily then if I had not. And especially so when I can combine the journeys.

    And having a messy house and driveway means I have stocks of upcycleable scraps for reuse by others.

    And having a ‘faulty’ brain means I can see ways to use those resources.

    If I had not ‘failed’ at my engineering career at the beginning then I would most likely be designing tanks to kill people with!

    I am glad I have faults, and failings, and was not perfect.

    • Reply Jen July 11, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      This is so beautiful Alfred, thankyou! You say what I was trying to say, but in a much more succinct and clearer way! It’s the whole trying is better than not trying thing. I’ve read a couple of articles recently where people have been complaining about never feeling like they were doing enough, and then kind of using this as an excuse to stop trying, to stay stuck where they were. Trying is better than not trying-you’ve nailed it, thankyou!
      PS. I’m so glad you have your faults too. If you were designing tanks it is far less likely our paths would have crossed, and my life would have been all the poorer for not knowing that there are wonderful people like you in the world

    • Reply Tass Smith July 11, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      I agree with Jen, that’s beautifully put and I’ve already shared your comment with a couple of friends who frequently beat themselves up for their perceived imperfections. Thank you.

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