I’ve learned a lot from my mom — how to sew, how to refinish a piece of furniture, and, most importantly, how to be a great mom. Just perusing the greeting card aisle before Mother’s Day always causes me to reflect on the many lessons she’s taught me.
I’ve written before on some of the things I’ve learned from her that particularly resonate in terms of my becoming more environmentally responsible. When I was growing up, people didn’t think so much about recycling, conserving energy, and minimizing the landfills. But they did think about being frugal, and saving both time and money. While I was thinking of some of my mom’s frugal habits and how today, they’re also habits that can benefit Mother Earth, I asked my husband if he could think of things he learned from his own mom.
I’m sharing our recollections as a way to pay tribute to our moms (Hi Mom! Hi Christina!), and moms everywhere, this Mother’s Day.
1. Reuse those bags. My mom lives in Santa Fe, where, as you might recall from my piece on unusual trash laws, plastic grocery bags are not allowed and paper bags must be purchased. On the rare occasion she does get a disposable bag, she’s sure to put it to good use: Plastic bags line her trash bins, and paper bags corral her paper recyclables. And whenever I get a package from her, I can be sure that she’s cushioned everything with random plastic, such as bread bags and the plastic film wrappers for paper towels.
2. Carpool when you can. When my husband was a kid, he went to a school that was a good half-hour drive from where he lived. His mom arranged a carpool with another neighborhood parent. It might’ve been because she didn’t want to sit in the car for 2 hours a day, but carpooling to work, school, or events makes even more sense today not only to conserve fuel but also to relieve congestion on our roads and to cut down on emissions that contribute to global warming. And for commuters, there are even more, less obvious, benefits to carpooling.
3. Don’t waste water. One of my latest green habits is to clear all the half-drunk water glasses, and water bottles, and even the cats’ water dish, and to pour them into my houseplants and container gardens. It’s another lesson I learned from my mom, who repurposes every possible drop of water for her garden, even keeping a watering can near the sink so she can fill it with the running water as she’s waiting for it to get hot. This is especially important in the Southwest, where she lives, since there are often drought conditions and restrictions on landscape watering.
4. Use natural products. My husband’s mom introduced me to Shaklee cleaning products, a brand she’s used for decades. I was skeptical when she gave me a starter kit that included the company’s flagship Basic H2 Concentrate and a couple of squirt bottles to make your own cleaning solutions. How could just 1/4 teaspoon of the stuff, added to a full 16 ounces of water, possibly be effective? I still don’t understand what’s in this stuff, but I like what’s not in it, namely phosphates, dyes, artificial fragrance, bleach, or chlorine. And talk about sustainable: Although I use the all-purpose solution daily on my counters, mirrors and appliances, we just used up that bottle… 9 years later. Talk about sustainable! My mom-in-law is also great about reading labels and paying a little more for good-quality products that have a solid environmental story, and along the way she and I are always trading recommendations on our latest eco-friendly, organic, and sustainable finds.
5. Don’t waste energy. Funnily, when I asked my husband about other lessons that his mom has taught him about being environmentally responsible, he scowled and reminisced that his parents always turned off the air conditioner at night, no matter how hot it was outside (and in Atlanta, it gets pretty hot!). I had similar memories of shivering in the winter and sweltering in the summer (we didn’t even have central air, which at the time I assumed had to do with tight-fisted parents). And yes, they might’ve been thinking more about saving money and less about wasted resources, but the nice thing about being mindful about how much you use utilities like electricity, gas, and water, is that you get both benefits. Today, we’re the parents who just tell the kids to put another blanket on the bed, rather than cranking up the heat.