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3 Easy Ways to Encourage Your Family to “Go Green” (Without Being Pushy)

Written by contributor Katie Kimball, of Kitchen Stewardship.

This time of year, many of us find more time to spend with our extended family than usual. As much as family time is a blessing, it”s also often fraught with tension as people who don”t usually live together are thrust upon one another for a day, a weekend, or even longer.

Certainly our lives aren”t as complicated by family gatherings as, say, Chevy Chase”s fictional family in National Lampoon”s Christmas Vacation, but nerves can get frayed when everyone doesn”t see eye to eye.

I know it stresses me out to see the rampant waste that occurs when our big extended family gets together for a meal and present-opening. “Recycling” seems to be a foreign language. I always wish there was more I could do to spread the eco-friendly love.

Does your family “think green?” Perhaps it”s a legacy passed on from one generation to the next in your family (like I hope to start with my children). If so, you”re one of the lucky ones. I think many of us find that family members use the earth to their advantage for one reason or another:

They may be reticent to “newfangled” eco-friendly habits because they”re simply set in their ways, they may not think it”s important, or as is too often the case, your family members and mine just might not think about it at all.

Here are my simple tips for how to share the love without being a pest:

1. Show how it”s easier

In our fast-paced society, it”s practically a given that everybody loves to save time. Some earth-healthy habits are actually easier than the alternative:

  • Bake potatoes without foil – just put them on a cookie sheet and poke a few times with a fork
  • Glass dishes dry better in the dishwasher than plastic
  • Cleaning glass with microfiber cloths and just water, no chemicals, is super quick and easy

2. Prove it”s cheaper

Photo by Epsos

A great many conservation strategies save more than just energy and resources: they keep dollars in your wallet, too – always a super selling point when sharing ideas with others:

  • Have a recycle conversation – I know my mother-in-law was surprised to learn that if we downgraded the size of our trash can and added recycling, we ended up saving a few bucks. She might even call to do the same. In our old community, recycling was free (part of taxes) and garbage was by the bag, so we saved tons of money by recycling everything we could.
  • Reusing and repurposing anything is always frugal, sometimes even free – glass jars, plastic bags, other containers for storage, Why I Have Empty Ziplocs in my Fridge, and more.
  • Lots of ways to save money and energy with the dishwasher – no heated dry, the light cycle, and using less soap to name a few
  • Vinegar and baking soda as homemade cleaners are super cheap, and often also quite efficient (An eBook packed with homemade cleaning recipes on a budget: Clean Start)
  • Making food from scratch is usually cheaper and saves tons of packaging (My Top 5)
  • Obviously finding techniques to avoid wasting food also saves money (statistically the average American throws out something like $600 of food per year).

3. Just do it for them

Photo by Steven Depolo

Sometimes the best way to help others save the earth is just to step in and do it. I know, this sounds like the line where I get pushy, but these are the sneaky ways that folks will hardly notice, and if they do, they won”t likely care:

  • – Just yesterday my husband”s cousin raved about the chapstick I gave in stocking stuffers last year. She said, “That stuff is seriously the best. I might have to order some – you know there”s a website on there?” I just smiled and said, “Yeah, I know, it”s great.” I could have told her how good for you the 3-ingredient lip balms are, too, but it wasn”t even necessary. Sometimes quality speaks for itself.
  • Offer to take recycling in for them, for in-town family – especially paper, since it”s easy and doesn”t involve much thought or rinsing anything out
  • Host the party and use real dishes
  • Sign up to bring the water, and bring filtered water from home instead of individual bottles (this item fits category number two as well)
  • Write everyone”s names on their plastic cups so at least each person only uses one for the day. Sometimes, saving the earth is just that simple. You could also offer to collect the recycling from a big party or get together or just do it on the sly.
Disclosure: Links to Clean Start and MadeOn are affiliate links.

Does your family share your green consciousness? If not, how can you share the earthy love with them without being a bother?

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23 Comments

  1. Emily

    We wrap our presents in fabric gift bags that my sister made for us a few years ago. My side of the family uses the fabric bags for almost our the gifts, which cuts down on a huge amount of waste. But, on my hubby’s side, we’re the only ones who use reusable wrapping, but at least it saves a little bit of paper! And everyone thinks the bags are beautiful (they are) and they don’t even miss ripping into the paper. I wish I could sew better, then I would give my in-laws fabric gift bags that they could re-use every year.

    • Heather

      If you really want to learn to sew better, check your local fabric store (including the chain stores). They often have classes, and they’re not terribly expensive. And there are many, many, many things that are “green” and very useful around the house that are VERY basic sewing–present wraps, shopping bags, napkins, baby slings–it’s a long list. I mostly taught myself how to sew as a kid (my mom was NOT friends with sewing machines, and my family that does sew was a couple of hours away), and it has literally saved us many thousands of dollars over the years. Not to mention caused us to have reusable stuff we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. BIG TIP: If you are in the market for a sewing machine, you will do better to buy a refurbished used machine from a sewing machine dealer, or buy a used machine in decent shape and get it cleaned and adjusted than you will to buy a new machine from Wal-Mart or Target or even the big fabric stores. As with too many other things, the major sewing machine companies have pretty much all been bought out by holding companies and their more basic machines are made in China low quality garbage nowadays–and poor quality tools are ALWAYS false economy, as they cause one to become frustrated and decide not to do something themselves, after all. With any tool, if you only have the budget to buy new of low quality, it’s time to look at buying used. If you shop wisely, you can get SO much more value for your dollars that way!

  2. Charlotte

    Thanks for this post! I appreciate the thoughtful ways we can handle this. It’s better to be truly helpful while being responsible than being pushy or standing on a soapbox about “green” living. These ideas already have me feeling good about holiday times!

  3. Lizi

    thanks for the post! this time of year i usually get a little tense due to staying a few days with my inlaws who aren’t as green as we are (yes, please, wag your finger at my snoody self! i am working on it…) and i have learned to ease up because being a snob doesn’t convert anyone 🙂
    what about gift giving, and what your kids are showered with? luckily, my mom asks for and appreciates a gift list so we get thoughtful, needed toys that are kid-powered, often natural, and most importantly played with. yet my husband has yet to take up the issue with his parents very much, who often buy things that to be frank, end up either at goodwill or the landfill. to be fair, my folks only have our kiddos and his side has 4 sets of grandkids- and the other parent’s all totally gung-ho on disney, plastic, noise-making, built to break toys.
    is it rude to make suggestions? his folks are pretty cool about stuff like that, but i would rather HIM do it 😉 it’s not that i want them to spend a boat-load, or even get exactly the schmancy stuff i pick out, but i would rather my daughter not have her sixth set of cheapo dress up heels set and nasty kiddie make-up, nor polyester PJ’s, and annoying battery operated baby toys. i would like for their $$ to be truly appreciated.
    and BTW what about buying nice condition second hand toys/clothes for the cousins? i went to the trouble to pick some pretty nice, cool gifts out the other day but then thought will the kids (and parents) be turned off that they aren’t obviously new in packaging? will we be the weird aunt and uncle who bought gifts at the thrift store? so i ordered them some cool outdoorsy toys from amazon….sigh….

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Lizi,
      Gift giving can be a tough one for me, too – I can see myself doing just what you did with second hand vs. Amazon! 😉

      I do make lists for the grandparents on both sides and try to steer in the direction of helpful toys vs. plastic battery-powered monstrosities. But there’s always compromise…this year, it’s “yes, okay” to the Sponge Bob Leapster game (I just despise Sponge Bob, i can’t explain it!), and “no, way too young” to the Nintendo DS.
      🙂 Katie

      • Lizi

        thanx katie- i think next year i will go ahead and give out a list to the in-laws, plenty early, and just hope for the best.
        and really if the stuff goes to goodwill, it’s not so bad since we have an abundance of toys/clothes and i just like to think somebody else will appreciate them. i just don’t know if the in-laws would feel the same way about what they spent their energy and $$ on….
        i totally agree that leading by example is often the best way. but sometimes a situation arises and we can teach with words- if your friend or family is open to it, i say go for it!
        the other day my husband’s friend called me b/c he was doing a speech for class about green living and telling me how they were trying to green up their life (they are pretty mainstream, just started recycling this year). oh boy did he open the floodgates!! but he was really receptive and appreciative and was like WOW about all the info and facts i could share about green living. i know all my knowledge made an impact on him to live greener. of course knowing when that knowledge will be helpful
        (or hurtful) is a very delicate matter, esp w/ family 😉

    • Heather

      My kids don’t have any cousins yet, but we totally do this for the kids. We live in Silicon Valley, and there are people around here who spend absolutely insane money on kids’ stuff that ends up at the flea market or thrift store looking like it’s never been played with. The kids’ big Christmas present this year is a toy kitchen, which hubs is outside finishing. It’s upcycled from an old entertainment center shelving unit. Last year, we got them balance bikes. Those were bought brand new, and were very much worth the money, as they are probably still the most used toys here. Mostly, I try to make sure that play value is high for the toys that are here. Cheap junk that they are given tends to break quickly, or get disappeared during room cleaning once they lose interest, ending up in recycle or freecycle, as appropriate. I also make sure to be lavish with thanks for the high play value stuff the kids are given, while letting my opinions on junky toys in general be well known.

  4. Tammy

    Honestly, this is an area that I think you need to let go. It’s just asking the universe to slap you upside the head to try to preach eco-ness to other people. Especially extended family. There will, over the years, be difficult conversations to be had (elder care, finances, family properties, cousins with different rules, a million things). Don’t make those conversations harder by having already established yourself as the nosy, busy-body who won’t mind their own business about anything, even the minutia of what kind of cups were used on last Christmas eve! It’s a plan designed to make people who wanted to like you into haters. Don’t do it.

    I think it was St. Francis who said, “Preach the Gospel always. Sometimes, use words.”. Live the example and keep your mouth shut – for your own happiness, as well as best chance of success.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Tammy,
      Well…I guess I thought most of these ideas, at least the way they play out in my life, were about acting and not speaking, using my example to make “being green” seem attractive to others. It’s just difficult to blog about it without words. Merry Christmas, Katie

      • Heather

        The ideas that can be presented as money-savers will always catch on best. For example, I remember writing names on disposable cups at family parties even 30 years ago, just to keep from wasting money on even more cups.

  5. Julieanne

    I agree with Lizi – being a snob, or even making casual comments to help “teach” someone about being “green” is not helpful. I was raised by parents who made many casual comments in order to “help” others and “teach” others, and even though their intentions weren’t bad or dishonest, I learned to communicate the same way. I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to undo this whole attitude of communication, because I learned the hard way that people just don’t take to that very well. I’m very, very close to my parents, and we’re very close friends, too, but I’ve chosen to not use little hints and undercover comments to make a point.

    And you can tell, because I’m being very honest here and speaking things clearly. No “reading between the lines” here! But if I was talking with a friend or relatives, I wouldn’t use little tactics here and there to “teach” them these things. I’d keep quiet about it all.

    I’d much rather have people just observe me and my “green” behaviors and ponder that, than to have me say comments to explain my actions. It really isn’t any of my business if people decide to have tons of small bottled water at their own party they’re hosting. I can pray for them, that they will eventually see this as a waste of energy and our earth’s resources, but it’s not my job to teach them this fact. I pray that they’ll eventually come to the same conclusions as I have! 🙂

    I hope you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the holidays even when you see people not recycling and being wasteful.

    Julieanne
    http://www.JoyInOurJourney.com

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Julieanne,
      I do catch myself with the casual comments sometimes – we live in such a roundabout society, don’t we? – a good goal to work on this month. Thanks, Katie

  6. Heather :) :) :)

    These are great tips 🙂 🙂 My family is slowly starting to be more “green”. The big factor that has helped is being able to show the money that we save when we cook meals at home, make our own cleaners etc. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

  7. Terri Sue

    several years ago i gave all adult family members a 300 ways to be green book and a green housekeeping book. i wrapped them in a reuseable grocery tote. everyone seemed most appreciative. both books could be “bathroom” books that you could pick up and put down easily. over the next months i would get emails from people about this or that that they hadn’t known or a new cleaning method they were now using. no they have not embraced it as my husband and i have but it was a start. i make almost all of our gifts. i’ve made napkins, embroidered dish towels, made shopping totes. this year i started making my own soap, (i wanted to know exactly what was in it.) everyone is getting my homemade soap creations. i also taught myself to knit this past year, so i knit up an organic cotton dishcloth for everyone to go with their soap. i make almost all of my grandchildrens gifts. i use kapok to stuff any dolls or stuffed amimals. it is a completely renewable rainforest product that can be harvested every year. it is so soft. the few plastic items they have gotten from me are from a company that makes their products from milk cartons. the plastic has some heft to it and it is not going to break. mostly though it will be from renewable wood sources or bamboo. these are the things that my grandchidren play with. my daughter and son-in-law tend to go with the cheap plastic toys. i hope with time they will see that the toys that last are the ones that come from grandmama and grandpa. the clothes i make for them are made from organic cotton. my granddaughter loves them. my grandson is to young to have a preferance. i was like this when my children were young and my daughter seems to think she missed out on not having character clothing, so she buys quite a bit in polyester for rowen. rowen doesn’t like the way they feel though so i am hoping that my daughter will soon at least just go to cotton. i don’t preach, i just give.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Terri Sue, I think you might embody the opposite of what many of us here experience – I know lots of “green” minded young people who struggle with the plastic toys and sugary sweets their parents/in-laws give their kids. I would faint in bliss if you were my kids’ grandma! How awesome! 🙂 Katie

  8. Stephenie

    We TRY, we really do. We ask our parents to please stay away from the dollar store when buying gifts for our children, because it is often junk and usually ends up in the garbage in a week. We also try to get them to pull back a little bit, give less because we really don’t NEED more stuff. This year we are giving upcycled, homemade and second-hand gifts, and honestly, I am loving the challenge. Happy Christmas!

  9. Lucy

    Great summary; I would also add that it’s important to try and focus on buying things with less packaging so you end up with less recycling issues on your hands.

  10. Natalie

    Great ideas. I think it always important to offer alternatives for family, friends, etc. I don’t think it is something to give up on (as mentioned by another poster) and I think as long as you go about it the right way, it shows passion. Often people need a push, guidance or just support to make change!

    We all need to work together to make change and that does involve some people leading the way!

    So yes, there may be conversations that are more important in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean we have to quietly sit back and let the small stuff go.

    I often give my family gifts that are eco friendly as you mentioned, so they can see how easy or great the products are. This year I am making reusable napkins for my mom, as she cannot seem to kick the habit of using paper napkins. We are building a nice table basket/display and I have sewn a ton of them. Will she never use paper napkins again in her life? Probably not, but at least now she will have options!

  11. SushiMon

    When I switched to cloth diapers everyone thought I was crazy, but over time they see that they are easy to use and work great. I think the key is living your green beliefs even when people mock- eventually they will see the light.

  12. Dee's SmallHouseLife

    When you mentioned it can be less expensive.. Yeah, when our daughter starting working for Whole Foods, they were shown how to shop economically so they could buy organic foods even on a budget.

    dee

  13. 'Becca

    This year was the first time since 1995 that I spent Christmas with my Oklahoma relatives. My parents always have been earth-friendly and frugal, but my uncle and aunt and their daughter’s family were not. Well, this year all the gifts from my uncle and aunt were in printed plastic bags with ribbon drawstrings that are easily reused (I’d never seen these before!), and all the gifts from my cousin were wrapped in fabric tied with ribbons–except the chef’s hat and cookbook for my son, which she wrapped in the apron that she painted with the name of his imaginary restaurant, putting the painted part inside and tying it with the apron strings! And I saw all of these relatives carefully saving their gift wrappings for reuse! I was so pleased.

  14. Amy Pearson

    Eating organic food is a great step towards a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, many organic fruits and vegetables are a bit more costly. To combat the increased cost, and to ensure that the food you are eating is 100% organic, you may want to start your own organic garden.

  15. Sarah H

    Having spent over 3 weeks staying at my in-laws in November and December I think I’ve struck a pretty good balance. While helping clean up I just busted out the vinegar and baking soda like I do at home, and now they use it sometimes too. I also make sure that I’m recycling everything and putting my name on the solo cup. I do get really effusive about stuff I’m excited about; EVERYONE had to hear how wonderful baking soda is at getting hard water stains off of faucets when I discovered it, but really, they’re used to me doing that about everything from the TV I love to the new book I got to my new Kindle (a-maz-ing!) so it’s not a source of friction.

    I think the most important thing is to keep from acting, as I call it, crunchier-than-thou.

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