Your Green Life: The Double Life of Mrs M.

This weeks Your Green Life interview is with a lady whose writing has kept with me captivated for several months now; with her fascinating, honest and often humorous blog The Double Life of Mrs M.  I was intrigued by Megs description of her blog as a space “...devoted to nurturing my other personae, the ones that barely got a look-in during the working week.” something which I think we all strive to find in some way or another. 

But this is exactly what you get with The Double Life of Mrs M; a multifaceted blog which covers (but is never limited to) food, gardening, traditional crafts and sustainable living. The fact that this last subject is interwoven among many other aspects of Megs personality, struck me as a very real and honest approach to green living, and I wanted to know more about this wonderful Mrs M…

IMG_4860“I’m one of life’s meanderers. Very focussed on what I do but too curious to do just one thing for life. I have worked in a variety of spheres (from science funding to the energy sector) and disciplines (including PR  and law).

I’m currently a ‘mature’ student working on an environmental degree, a freelance writer and a maker. ”

“For the last four years I’ve been blogging at The Double Life of Mrs M. I never set out to produce a green/sustainable living blog. Rather it was a repository for my experiences, experiments and interests, which just happen to be revolve around practices and skills that are nowadays classified as ‘green’. After a year or so, I noticed that readers really enjoyed the posts about low-impact living so many of my topics now have an environmental or ethical angle, mostly by me exploring environmental and ethical dilemmas and sharing how I try to navigate them.”

What does green living mean to you, and how do you incorporate it into your life?

Much of my ‘green living’ stems from practices and attitudes I learnt as a child and were reinforced by working in the energy sector. Although many of those practices (like turning the lights off, cooking from scratch, walking instead of driving…) are part of a green toolkit, the beauty of them is that they are so much more than just environmentally virtuous. They make for a more joyful, healthy, connected, serene… life. E.g. I’m healthier for walking and cycling rather than sitting in traffic, and my skin and sense of smell are also a lot better for not using overly processed products!

In my experience, a greener life is also a more generous life. For example, I love producing home-made/home-grown food and sharing this with friends, family, neighbours, colleagues… Compare this with supermarket shopping. How often do we wander around the aisles, look at some remotely sourced overly processed product and spontaneously buy it for a friend or relative…? ‘Green’ generosity stems from the joys of a more connected life, and takes many forms.

It might include gifting home-made preserves, flavoursome produce from the farmers market or a few skeins of locally spun yarn but also involves a willingness to share experiences, pass on skills, swap know-how (e.g. where to forage for hedgerow harvests)… and, of course, leaving seed heads on plants for the birds and bees!

Why do you think it’s important to live a sustainable lifestyle?

The obvious answer is that we only have one planet. For all technology’s marvels, we are utterly reliant on this planet for all our needs and if we use it up or trash it even more than we already have, we are jeopardising the lives of our kith and kin and other species.

I would, however, argue that we should aim for more than sustainability. That may seem odd when we collectively can’t take the steps needed to limit any increase in global temperature to 2 degrees. Because of this lack of collective will, I think we as individuals should be more ambitious and not only aim to conserve but to do what we can to give nature a fighting chance to bounce back. Extinction may be hardwired into life on this planet but nature is also good at adapting. In our daily actions and own locale we should aim to create environments where nature stands a chance of doing what she does well!

Five years ago this was a barren patio; now it's my larder and the scene of birds rioting over snails!
Five years ago this was a barren patio; now it’s my larder and the scene of birds rioting over snails!

I’ve seen in my own tiny garden how quickly nature can establish a new equilibrium. In less than five years it has gone from being a barren patio to a place teeming with life. Admittedly, there are a few too many slugs and snails for my liking but there are plenty of friendly critters too and the slugs and snails have brought birds to the garden which in turn have brought more plants…

What have you found the easiest thing to implement?

That’s a tough one as man of my ‘green habits’ were learnt as a child from my parents, who’d grown up with wartime thrift.

I suppose the easiest new habits to form relate to things that are fun, delightful, tasty… In my case, food. I find it is easy to avoid bland, processed food and instead source organic ingredients, grow my own and cook from scratch because I really like my food! I also found that once I questioned where food came from and what went into it, this questioning spilt over into other household and gardening products. I very soon extended my habit of reading labels and quizzing producers (essential for nut allergy sufferers) from food to all manner of goods. It helps that I’m very inquisitive!

My slightly bloody-minded/rebellious nature also helps me make lots of small changes. I see excess production and consumption as a major part of the environmental problem but rather than dwell on what I’d have to forego, I look at whole suites of products and services as part of a big con. Taking that view, I find it pretty easy to live by self-imposed rules: e.g. no peat-based compost, only organic cotton, quality over quantity, no flying for travel that I can reasonably do by train or boat (even though I get really bad sea sickness)…

What habits have you found tricky to get started or maintain?

I’ve been trying to reduce my dependency on the train and tube by cycling more. This shouldn’t be too difficult for me as I grew up in a country with a cycling culture (and segregated cycle paths!). However, with age and living in London I have become more cautious on the bicycle, so I really need to motivate myself to cycle into Central London rather than catch the train. I always feel better when I do but I still need to get over my initial apprehension.

The tumble-dryer is also an Achilles heel. I’m very good most of the time but I do slip occasionally in the winter when it takes forever to dry sheets and towels in the damp cold of London.

The deeper I dig into green living the harder it gets of as I look beyond the low-hanging fruit. Following supply chains back to source involves work – often emailing companies and pestering them for replies. And there are the changes that involve finding a green electricity provider, ethical and green investments for pension arrangements…. These changes are the hardest to implement because let’s be honest, nobody likes paperwork!

Favourite idea or tip for living green without costing too much time or money?

There are so many but I’d probably boil it down to these two:

  • Just buy a whole lot less stuff. That sounds hard but it isn’t really once you stop re-stocking on autopilot. Start with non-edibles. When a product runs out, check the label of ingredients before buying it again. If the list is as long as your arm and sound as if every other one was developed in a test tube, there’s a fair chance the product is not very good for you or not necessary (or both) and that there is a perfectly good multi-purpose product that you already have.
  • Be resource minded. Start to ask yourself whether you can squeeze an extra bit of utility out of the items that flow through your life. View waste as a possible resource. If it has another use, exploit. If not, think about how you can swap the product or cut it out altogether. When I help others audit their homes, they’re amazed at the oddest things I point out. E.g. orange peel can easily be turned into candied peel – a real grown up sweet; steam in the bathroom is useful as it makes ironing easier; a spent lemon makes a super sink scrubber…
"From waste to useful resource... and they look pretty good too!"
“From waste to useful resource… and they look pretty good too!”

Who or what keeps you inspired? 

As inspiration comes from many sources, there are no shortage of people or things to keep me inspired: my late parents; the growing number of people actively changing their lives and, increasingly, questioning the underlying economics that have contributed to today’s environmental challenges; social history (much of what we call green living is nothing new!); nature, of course, which does not do waste; even (small) businesses. Nobody in business gets a pat on the back for wasting resources. Managers look at where they can cut or how they can tweak systems or processes for greater efficiency.

Although many industries contribute to environmental problems, I do think we can learn from their process/resource mind-set to find ways to reduce the impact of our homes, lives, community… E.g. shops do regular stock-takes, something we can adopt with our fridge/larder to avoid food waste; similarly many businesses recognise and maximise the value of waste by-products, something we could definitely do more of!

Follow the meanderings of The Double life of Mrs M:

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