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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Redefining Normal

Grain At A Local Farm


The Power Of Consumption.


The last couple of days I’ve been struggling with how to begin the Green Your Insides Challenge. And then it hit me that I needed to address this: the reason it is so difficult for anyone to green themselves, inside or out, is that society is constantly pushing us in the other direction. We have learned since we were wee tots that we are supposed to want more, want better, want now now now. And usually, we can have what we want… so we do.


There are studies that tell us otherwise, there are blogs like this one and many others that tell us that we have to stop consuming to save the planet, there are books that tell us that we should save our money for retirement. But the power of the here and now, of the signage, the advertising, the glitz, and the frenzy, says we should do it now Now NOW! We should buy, we should spend, we should get that house spic and span with harsh chemicals that kill all those germs, we should send our wools to the cleaners and put our delicates on the low laundry cycle and then iron to rid ourselves of wrinkles, we should use this product for dandruff, and that product for gum disease, the children need these toys so they aren’t singled out as different, the lawn must remain lush and green because that’s the American dream, we must have the latest technology or we are missing out on life, must buy this, must do that, must go now Now NOW!!


Stop.


Breathe. Relax. Let yourself take control of this moment. Take your time to ponder your purchases. Take your time to figure out who you are and if this or that product really jives with your sensibility. Don’t let yourself feel guilty buying things. If you want them, buy them with pride. If you don’t want them, do not buy them. Just don’t. Teach your children that it’s ok to want but not have, to look and admire but don’t touch, to only buy things that really matter to them.


Do you believe in climate change, peak oil – or at least that oil prices are higher and we need to alter our lifestyles accordingly? Do you believe in creating a safe indoor environment for yourself and your family? Do you believe it’s time to make our communities stronger, more environmentally sound, more resilient, more enjoyable, and better places for our children?


Then don’t let the momentum of our society keep you rolling down the wrong track. A wise man once said to me, “We have to stop the train from traveling at high speed down the wrong track, before we can turn it around and get it going in the right direction.” If you’re on that train, step off. And be confident.


It’s scary to tear up your own lawn when others around you think you’re crazy. But you are the one doing the right thing. And sooner or later, they will follow. Because it’s beautiful, because it makes sense, because someone else is doing it too, and because they like it.


If you’re in the toy store or the grocery store, and your son or daughter really wants something… stop. Cast away your tiredness, your crankiness because it has been a long day, your feeling that you just want to get out of there. For one moment, visualize five years from now, and then 50 years from now. Will that bit of junk food turn into a life-long habit that leads to obesity? I know it’s a big question, but will it? Will that toy that may or may not have lead in it turn into a medical problem down the road? Will lots of little spending here and there eat away at your savings, or increase what you have on your credit card, so that you are always in debt? This is not about guilt, it’s about staying true to who you are and who you want to become.


And I know these are difficult questions to ask yourself when you’re tired, cranky, and hungry, but they are extremely important questions. Because what we do right now affects what happens to us and our world later. So it is time to ask these questions for ourselves, for our families, and for our planet.


Redefine Normal


Redefine Normal. Why are we as a society led into a pattern of doing things that harm ourselves, other people, our financial well-being, and the planet as a whole? I don’t know. It probably has a lot to do with corporations wanting to make a profit, and inundating us with advertising that makes us want their products. It also probably has to do with a history of impoverished, malnourished people who wanted more in order to survive, and then we just got onto that train and didn’t stop when we were satiated. And it probably has to do with an economic and political system that revolves around us buying things in order to keep the economy afloat – just because it has been that way for a long time, but not because it can’t change. It can change.


So let’s change it together. Because we can’t wait for someone else to do it, we certainly can’t wait for our politicians to do it, and grassroots non-profit organizations are finding it tougher and tougher to gain enough funding to do it. So it is up to us. And don’t be bashful. A few years ago, when I spoke to anyone about climate change or a decline in energy supply, people looked at me like I was a purple alien from another planet. We have gained momentum. We can do it. Let’s redefine normal. Together.


Because we can change, and because we must change.


How Do We Redefine Normal?


When we make decisions about buying, selling, and overall living, we must take into account the quadruple bottom line:


  • People (social impact),
  • Planet (environmental impact),
  • Profit (financial impact), and
  • Personal (self impact).


Don’t buy things that will hurt you. Don’t buy things that will hurt others. Don’t buy things that will hurt the planet. And don’t buy things that will set you back financially unless it helps you, others, or the planet.


And redefining normal is not just about buying, it’s about living, breathing, working, and enjoying. Learn what harms you indoors, and take steps to change it. Smile at others walking down the street, because it puts a little more good into the world. When going on vacations, rather than contribute to or condone our world’s problems (and most likely end up feeling guilty afterwards), go somewhere where you and your family can have fun, learn, grow, and contribute positively to the world. Jennifer talked about going on a camping trip in her backyard, complete with tent, s’mores, and a good imagination. What a splendid vacation!


Redefining Normal May Be Uncomfortable At First, But It Will Soon Feel Good.


When I take you through greening your insides, I am going to ask you to stop using some of the products you’ve grown to love, and discard some of the habits you’ve come to rely upon. I’m not asking you to give up everything you know as normal. On the contrary, do not become overwhelmed – the idea is to create a sustained change in ourselves, one that lasts a lifetime. So do it as quickly as you can, but don’t burn yourself out, do only what you can do and keep working on it as you walk through life.


The same is true for any change toward sustainability, big or small: it may be uncomfortable now, you may feel out of your element somewhat, you may feel that you are alone or different from others around you. But be strong, keep true to your convictions, and wait: sooner or later, others will follow. And sooner or later, you will be addicted to the new you. And this will become your new normal.


Step Foward. Now, Together.


Climate change is beginning to have a serious impact on our world. Oil and food costs are trending upward. An economic recession is taking its toll worldwide. It is time to take a good look at how we live our lives, and take steps to change that. Please start now. For yourself, your family, your community, and your planet. Redefine Normal.


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35 comments to Redefining Normal

  • Melinda, have I told you lately how much I love you and your writing?

    Beautiful post (per usual.)

  • WHat arduous said- ditto for me

  • Thank you, Melinda, for the reminder that we need to stand up and take action. No one else will do this for us. Beautiful and inspiring.

  • What a great post! I’ve only recently found your site, but you have become a must stop daily site. Thanks!

  • I am delighted to see your argument about redefining normal since it it the norms and customs of the dominant society that are pushing back, or as Speth writes in his recent book, flowing like a river against which we swim. What level of effort will it take to reach the tipping point, to give the memes of environmental protection some momentum? I think the last two years beginning with the reaction to Gore’s film and continuing with the peak oil enlightenment this year are hopeful trends but still do not resonate culturally as embedded norms. Somehow people with these concerns need to find a way to come together and be viewed as a significant force of moral order.

  • I’ve I been a long proponent of anti-normal and wrestled with the idea for a long time of the purity of motivation. Was I just plain born against, or do I truly want a world that embodies the changes I have made personally. Thankfully I don’t have to answer that question. The planet needs people to start making those changes yesterday, and instead of people asking me “why” they have changed to “how” Its humbling because it reminds me of the gaps in my own knowledge and experience, and because for as long as I’ve been trying to make a change, I am stumped on a routine basis by what some might consider neophytes.

    I’ve also wrestled with the question of elitism. Is what I consider “enough” purely a function of my own experience? I saw a person with a smart car at the gas station taking sips from a disposable water bottle while they filled up the tank. How do we keep from believing that because we have gone 3/5ths of the way that we have done our part? How do we encourage without alienating, without making people back away with the sense that “there is no pleasing you greenies”

    How?

  • I know those purple alien moments when the person I’m talking to takes a step back or someone says to me, you’re so bad, because I’m conserving, composting, recycling. I am bad, but not in those moments. In my bad moments no one would likely lift an eye. When I see someone making a step towards conserving or changing their habits in some way I make a point to acknowledge it and keep the focus on what they are doing and not what still needs to be done. Of course that’s on my good days. Great post, Melinda. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful post. As you know, I am taking on the challenge of living like my grandparents once did in order to learn to live more sustainably and simply. I will be signing up for your challenge as I know I will end up doing many of the things you suggest in this coming year. I like to look nice, I like to eat my treats, but I am so tired of thinking I can have what I want, when I want it, without ever once considering the ramifications of my actions. The prevailing cultural message in America is one of discontent. I want my life to be marked by a movement toward contentment. Embracing contentment impacts the quadruple bottom line by deepening relationships, minimizing my environmental impact, and reducing my debt load. You are right – it is not an easy shift but the more I move in this direction the more I like it.

  • Wonderful post. @kory, just the other day I saw someone with an armful of plastic bags hop in her Prius and drive away. Maybe she was just having an off day. But the green movement is become consumer-subscribed, so it feels like we can just buy more stuff to “fix it.”

    Once you move past normal, you see what the old normal was. We spent a day running errands on Saturday and realized just how seldom we set foot in a mall, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc., and how crazily overwhelming those places are once you lose your sense of being accustomed to them. It’s so good to remember that “Normal” is very, very relative.

  • Jennifer

    Yes, Melinda, I believe! In community, greening my indoor environment, you betcha! Thanks for the shout out, our staycation is a blast. We spent the night in the tent last night (the kids loved the novelty of it), read “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, used cloth napkins, composted our pee, didn’t buy roadside snacks, didn’t eat fast food, and had DH away from the TV! Yay, check my carbon footprint, baby! Yest. someone was using cloth bags next to me at the store, and I got really excited. WE will be the norm soon, my fellow greenies!!!! Amen!

  • [...] others you may have missed. Also, stay tuned – there were some great questions and thoughts shared yesterday that I look forward to answering later [...]

  • Wise words. I’m going to start shopping for a three wheeled bike (a trike!) for adults. I think “Redefine Normal” would make a great bumper sticker. :)

  • ARDUOUS, ROB & GREEN BEAN, you can tell me how much you love me anytime you want! Seriously, it’s good to hear.

    GREENE ONION, Thanks for saying so. I love your presence here.

    CHRIS, “What level of effort will it take to reach the tipping point, to give the memes of environmental protection some momentum?” I think you’re right, that we have gained momentum with Gore’s film and quite frankly gas price increases. I also feel a stronger anti-consumerism and reaction against our industrial agricultural system, which I think are separate from the awareness of climate change and peak oil. But I think these worlds of people are beginning to merge. I feel it here in the blogosphere. And that is helping.

    Today I was in the doctor’s office reading a extremely mainstream -if conservative- Women’s Health magazine, and I was shocked at how many articles I found about going green, becoming aware of what you put on and in your body, mitigating the effects of climate change and oil costs and a recession, and even articles about how to spread awareness – two of the latter in the one issue. It’s not enough, no, but it’s a start. The more we all normalize our more “fringe” lifestyles, the more others will follow.

    We have to work at all levels: local and national politics, consumer awareness, community organization, and personal lifestyle changes. I don’t think we can ever know what will push us to the tipping point. All we can do is do the best we can, give the most we can. And know that every action builds on one another, and we have to make those big and small actions to keep building toward the awareness – and action – we dream about.

  • KORY, “instead of people asking me ‘why’ they have changed to ‘how’” – that is awesome. For me personally, once I understood the true problems we’re facing, I was done delving into the intricacies – it was time for action. It’s my hope that our blogs will give people a place to learn that how.

    And so you ask how… how to deal with people who have only gone 3/5ths of the way. Well, we embrace them, we ask about their Priuses, we engage with them, we let them feel good about the changes they have made. And once their own normal has been redefined, we gently nudge them to the next level: “hey, I bought too many canvas bags – would you be interested in one?” Or, give them a snazzy water bottle for Christmas. Invite them over for dinner made of food from the garden, and let them discover all the great things you have around the house that help you decrease your footprint.

    After having studied social marketing myself, I believe negatives don’t work effectively enough – fear does to some degree, but I don’t like adding extra fear into the world. So we just have to kill them with kindness, kill them with solutions, kill them with how fun it is to be green. Lead by example. Show them how good we feel, make it normal to live our lives with the earth and all our futures in mind.

    Katrina, Exactly was I was just trying to get at above! Encourage where people are, focus on what they’ve accomplished. Soon enough, if they like their new normal, they will keep changing. And yeah, when you’re having a bad day realizing just how many people will suffer and counting how much of the rainforest is toppling every hour, it’s sometimes hard. But I think it’s the only way.

    APRIL, I think your challenge is a great one! I’ve added you to the Green Your Insides Challenge, and look forward to hearing about your changes. “The prevailing cultural message in America is one of discontent.” Sad, isn’t it?

    I believe that is one of the reasons why the slow food and local food movements are gaining traction, why knitting is becoming a fad, why all our blogs are gaining popularity. We are done being discontent with our lives, and we’re taking action to control them, slow them down, enjoy simple things, and become aware of our surroundings. Honestly I don’t know when I will be content, but I am definitely happier and healthier, and I feel better about my life as I am treading more lightly on the earth.

    CHEAP LIKE ME, Matt and I have those moments often, too. It feels good, doesn’t it? I also had that moment the other day, when I went to an Office Depot with my grandfather and saw it through his eyes. Actually, even more so when I went with him to a large hardware store. The man owned his own hardware store for years – I can only imagine how that must feel!

    JENNIFER, Thank you so much for sharing about your staycation. That truly sounds like a blast! I bet your kids are telling their friends about it. AWESOME.

    DEB G, Ha! What a great idea! Any way to make a bumper sticker out of green materials??!

  • Don’t buy things that will hurt you. Don’t buy things that will hurt others. Don’t buy things that will hurt the planet. And don’t buy things that will set you back financially unless it helps you, others, or the planet.

    Great advice for everyone!

  • Thanks for your comment, Chile – I agree wholeheartedly.

  • [...] all of these uses below, there will be a faint scent of vinegar. Remember when I wrote about Redefining Normal? This is normal! The vinegar scent will go away quickly, pretty much as soon as the vinegar dries. [...]

  • [...] tipsar Christina om att man bör läsa ett inlägg i en annan blogg. Det är på engelska “Redefining normal“. Det handlar om vilken livsstil som anses vara normal/normen. Det är det som är mitt stora [...]

  • [...] more sustainable and resilient? How do we convince others that we need to change our lifestyles, to redefine normal? And what areas should we work on first? Please also feel free to share anything you’ve read [...]

  • Wow, what a powerful post. So much said so well. I often feel pulled in different directions by our changing culture, and I tend to feel overwhelmed and then rebel against some of the extreme sustainability challenges. Sounds like I might find some peace-inducing sensibility here. :)

  • Thank you, Amanda. I hope you find peace-inducing sensibility here… I love that. I have tried to build a thoughtful but safe place here, where we can share our ideas, experiences, and stories with one another.

  • [...] someone said a certain product is the only thing that works. Don’t buy into their marketing. Redefine normal on your own [...]

  • [...] to, because you don’t shampoo with sudsing action like we are used to. But there’s that redefining normal thing again! We’re only used to a certain way because some marketer packaged this bottle of [...]

  • [...] really see it on menus anymore, my eyes simply glaze over those items.  My worldview changed, I redefined what is normal for me. [...]

  • What a fantastic post!

    This was just what I needed to read. Thanks again.

  • Thanks, Daharja – glad you enjoyed it! : )

  • [...] this happen.  We have helped make it popular, we have helped make it important, we have helped redefine normal.  [...]

  • [...] it comes to cost, you have to redefine normal. Cost includes the amount of money you pay for an item, as well as what the environment and society [...]

  • [...] We achieved our goal of a 90% reduction back on September 24, 2008, and we’re still there! I don’t write about the Riot For Austerity much, because it has become a way of life now, and I don’t think about it much anymore. We have redefined normal. [...]

  • [...] it occasionally, and I’ve tagged several posts with this term.  I encourage you to read the original post.  But here is a bit about what I [...]

  • [...] you hadn’t yet recalibrated your thinking, you hadn’t redefined normal in your own mind.  Those things didn’t matter to you then the way they do [...]

  • [...] writes about sustainability in their Home and Garden top blogs.  I do believe that is a bit of redefining normal, don’t you [...]

  • [...] note: I never, ever thought I’d be writing about bowel movements in public view.  LOL, how my new normal has [...]

  • [...] personally necessary for me to take each day at a time, and to allow myself to try it and redefine normal with each new addition before moving onto the [...]

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