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Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist


I remember sitting around our tree on Christmas morning; sleepy eyes, giddy younger siblings fidgeting like jumping beans, and paper wrapped boxes flooding from under the tree into the room. As we dove into our gifts, eyes widening with surprise, I recall the giant plastic bag my dad kept at his side, stuffing it with the wrapping paper we'd crumple into a wad and chuck at him like he was the last one in the center of a dodge ball game.

I remember the sparkle of Christmas suddenly dimming as I realized the amount of garbage that we, a big family struggling to hang on to middle class, hauled to the curb that day. Something in me clicked. I didn't want to generate that much trash. ever.

I began using plain, unbleached paper and twine (I still do) to wrap gifts each year and became adept at tying together a package without tape. I began saving ribbon and gift bags caring for them almost as carefully as the gifts they held for me.

It was a moment that changed me. I don't know why, I just know that I've been sensitive ever since to the goods and garbage us humans produce and how little we even use most of it. No judgement, no criticism, it was just an observation that still influences my decisions today.

For years people rolled their eyes at me when I'd mention small things like, "I wish they had 'for here' cups at Starbucks." or "I'm trying to reduce the packaging I bring home from the grocery store. I'm getting pretty good at making my own hummus and soup!" Even in my work, coaches and friends have discouraged me from using the  'E' word - pick one - environmental, eco-friendly, eco-conscious... For the most part, I complied because I didn't want to preach to anyone, didn't want to get tossed in with 'greenwashing' manufacturers shouting about the virtues of bamboo flooring and cleaning products in 'recyclable' plastic bottles, and certainly didn't want to make my art out of recycled plastic or claim that I alone knew how to save the planet.

I thought I could quietly do my part by using low VOC paints, bringing my bags to the grocery store, and turning off the water while I brushed my teeth. The other day, I looked at my sweetheart's bowl of snacks on the counter. It was just a jumble of plastic bags and pouches with a few bits of food inside. And at the flea market the other day, he said half astonished, half admiring, "people are so prolific!" as we grazed through dusty lamps and barbies and vases and rugs... Most of us see it, at some level, but don't know what to do about it so we don't say anything. I'm so guilty of that.

I don't know if some middle age thing has overcome me or if I finally feel safe in this beautiful and strange new relationship- or both- but this year I've been letting go of secrets. I've been binging on chocolate right in front of my sweetheart, speaking my mind more, and making him stop a movie to make sure I understand it before we move on. I've stopped pretending I know what someone is talking about and ask them to repeat of explain if I don't. I care about the environment. I feel overwhelmed by the momentum of capitalism and consumerism. I feel guilty about my part in it. And I'm not sure if how I can make any kind of difference- especially since I don't want to preach and don't see myself being a political or outspoken person. But, I've resisted creating my own stencil line, designing packaging for my Plein Heir home goods and buying new canvases for my art. I've resisted expanding my business even though I have an urge to do just that, because I'm constantly caught between wanting to make beautiful things for the home and not wanting to create waste in the process. I love our planet. I want to see more of it. I want to play a part in preserving or restoring something wild. I want the money to support local craftspeople and artists and to buy from people who are making a sustainable difference in the way they make and distribute things. I want to slow down and make everything I eat, I want to gather with friends and family more often and sit around a room or on a deck making music and telling stories and I want to do all those community things that used to bind people together with a common vision. I don't want to join a church- I've been there. But I do want to find my people and share our tidbits about living more thoughtfully.

I use kapok for my pillow inserts because even though it's insanely expensive, it's truly the most renewable, sustainable and luxurious fiber I've found. I use local artisans and vendors because I can't imagine going to a factory anywhere else when there are people here who can do the work and work with me in person. I support their livelihoods and they support mine. I'm looking for domestic linen and hope to find inks that won't contaminate our water. I paint on salvaged wood, used painters palettes and vintage dressers because they are already here and they seem to love, like me, second changes. And if you can figure out how to package and ship my goods with minimal waste and fuel, please contact me!

There, I've finally said it all out loud. I confess. I love making beautiful things for the home, but I'm an environmentalist and I'm not sure what to do about it.


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