You are currently viewing When the In-Laws Aren't Eco-Concsious…And You Live With Them!

When the In-Laws Aren't Eco-Concsious…And You Live With Them!

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

source: James Thompson

We used to joke about adult kids who return home to live with their parents well beyond the age of “reasonable.”

Now we’re one of them.

While waiting for that Perfect House to come along at the Perfect Price (dear interest rates: please do not skyrocket before we find it!), we’re temporarily living with my in-laws.

We expect many challenges: the discipline of our children, the fact that I cook from scratch and my mother-in-law has a good relationship with Stouffer’s and Sara Lee, and that my in-laws don’t have an environmental bone in their bodies.

Is Green Normal?

It’s not until you start to live in someone else’s house that you realize just how far off the beaten path of common culture your eco-friendly ways have become. Nearly every “product” in the house is different than I would use at home. Since we’re guests in their home and grateful for their generosity, I am ready for some compromises. For example:

  • Even though I have been ranting about the dangers of antibacterial soap for a decade to about anyone who will listen, I’ll be using pretty Bath & Body Works smelly things, heavy laden with triclosan, on a daily basis.
  • I filled the dishwasher with Cascade instead of natural dishwasher detergent tonight (in fact, my favorite detergent stopped working a few moths ago, so I’m on the hunt for a new one)
  • Fragrance-filled laundry detergent and dryer sheets haven’t graced my home in years, but for this realm, I’m sticking to my own stuff. I won’t submit my kids’ eczema-prone skin to weeks (months?) of foreign, potentially irritating laundry products. We’ll do laundry separately, and I’ve brought my soap nuts along for the experience. (Here are my soap nuts reviews, if you’re interested.)
  • I skipped packing the cloth napkins (believe me, people think that one is over the top), but much to my husband’s chagrin, I tucked a pile of homemade handkerchiefs into my suitcase. I explained that it was less a green “don’t throw things away” choice than a “save our kids’ noses if they get a cold” choice. Even with constant wiping, the receiving blanket I cut into hankies ensures that we avoid that ugly, painful, red chapped upper lip. (And wouldn’t you know it, with the stress and terrible sleeping schedule of moving, my 3-year-old has a wicked cold already. I’m happy I brought them!)

Who Goes Green?

Two generations ago, folks simply weren’t wasteful. The conservationist attitude was less about what’s good for the earth (the earth wasn’t in trouble yet, really) and more about being frugal, as many of that generation lived through the Great Depression. My generation seems to have a subset of people who are deeply concerned about the environment and another subset thriving on waste and excess.

The Baby Boomers probably have a little of both, too, but I think many of them, not growing up with things like recycling, simply don’t think about their environmental impact.

source: Joelk75

I first realized the extent of the disparity between our eco-philosophies in a dinner incident forever etched in my mind:

After dinner at the in-laws’ house one night a few years back, my mother-in-law was clearing the table and pitched the last baked potato, wrapped in aluminum foil, across the room into the garbage.

I gasped.


I really did.

Two thoughts ran simultaneously through my potato-loving mind: (1) aluminum is a non-renewable resource! (2) Who throws away good food? I would eat that for breakfast!

I said something to my mother-in-law, and her explanation actually made things much worse. She said flippantly, “I always make one extra baked potato, and I always throw it away.”

Sounds a lot like planned obsolescence to me, which drives me nuts. I told her I’d eat any of her extra baked potatoes from now on, and sometimes she’ll bring one to my house, but the philosophy of planning to throw away food and resources is just incomprehensible to me.

How Much Waste would a Family of 4 Create?

source: starmist1

One of the issues I brought up with my husband when we were discerning whether to bunk with the in-laws or pay for an apartment was the fact that they use plastic disposable plates at every meal. With my hand on my chest, I said, “It would just hurt my eco-heart to throw away that much plastic every day.” He thought I was being a bit over-sensitive.

During “the Conversation” about what living together might be like and how we’d manage it, I said to my mother-in-law, “How would you feel about us using real plates?”

“Every day?!?” she responded passionately. “No paper plates?!?”

(See, we’re a lot alike. We both had the exact same response and dismay…)

I clarified, “Well, maybe we can use paper, but I just can’t throw away that much plastic,” with my hand over my heart again. I figured that even though disposables aren’t my thing, paper waste is much less detrimental than plastic...right?

I’m hoping it’s not a major point of contention, but I just don’t think I can do it, and I even packed my own little glass dishes for my kids’ granola and yogurt. We go through a lot of little dishes, and you can’t get bowls in paper.

To Recycle or Not to Recycle?

The big question in my mind right now is what to do about recycling. The in-laws, of course, do not pay extra money to their waste disposal company for recycling. (At our old house recycling was part of our taxes – I wish all communities would do that!) They do have a Paper Gator at church, so paper gets recycled, but not cardboard.

What’s a green gal to do?

(a) Just forgo recycling for 3 months and cringe every time I throw away plastic, metal and cardboard?

(b) Collect my own recycling and take it to the downtown recycling center?

(c) Offer to pay for their recycling through the waste disposal company?

(d) Other ideas?

Got any advice for me? What would you compromise on or hold fast to in a mixed living situation?

Katie Kimball is a mom of two who spends a ton of time in the kitchen making real food with whole ingredients and then blogs about her successes and failures at Kitchen Stewardship. She believes everything in life is a gift from God and should be taken care of wisely.