One of the biggest obstacles to living more sustainably, is our idea of what’s normal. This is something that impacts us at the personal level, and as wider societies and cultures. Normal is comfortable, and for many people, just imagining an alternative is difficult. We don’t automatically question things we think are normal, and we all tend to resist change away from what’s comfortable for us.
Most of us at this point are used to wildlife degradation. We’re used to seeing almost barren landscapes presented as beautiful. If we’ve never seen them covered in trees, or rich grassland, if we’ve never seen them complicated and thriving we won’t know that the thin covering of grass they now have is a disaster. We’re used to living with few songbirds, and not being surrounded by wildflowers. We don’t miss things if we’ve never known them. This means we are comfortable with situations that are actually grim.
If you grew up being driven everywhere, then cars are normal. You won’t think of your feet or a bicycle as modes of transport. You might not have shoes for walking or a body that can walk a mile or two at need. You won’t have an emotional relationship with walking and you will have an emotional relationship with your car. Changing this isn’t easy.
If you’ve grown up with foreign holidays and flying as normal, you may feel that you’re being asked to give up a lot in cutting back on that. If you grew up with throwaway clothes, and throwaway toys and an expectation that anything can go in the bin when you are bored with it, just the effort of recycling can seem like a big deal. Reducing, reusing, repurposing and repairing will seem very alien indeed.
We take ‘normal’ as a measure of goodness. We see the normality of the commute, and not how much of our time it wastes. We see the normality of the food we’ve been told is tasty and convenient, and not what it costs our bodies and not what it does to the planet.
It really doesn’t help that ‘normal’ has an advertising budget. Every day you are subjected to ideas and imagery in the form of adverts that reinforce a wasteful and consumerist society. Car adverts are normal. It’s hard to see these things when you are steeped in them.
It’s also easier to make changes if you can see what those changes would look like. It’s easier to re-think what we consider normal when you can see someone else doing differently. Doing all the mental work to deconstruct your reality and social norms on your own is not easy, and for many people it may not even be visible as an option.
This is why it’s so important to share what you do. The upcycling projects, the veg plot, the lower carbon choices… What we do on social media really can make a difference because it shows other people that ‘normal’ isn’t the only option.
This week I questioned the normality of the vacuum cleaner. The old one had broken, and was a cheap one so getting replacement parts would be difficult. This kind of device isn’t made to be repaired. I wondered what we might do that would be better. I prodded the internet a bit. Repairable and more efficient and eco friendly vacuum cleaners exist. Hurrah! But there’s also very expensive. It was only then that I started to ask why we needed this device specifically. We’ve bought a floor sweeper – it will pick up dust. The cat and I do not have to endure a noise level we both find stressful. It has almost no parts and those are repairable and replaceable, it uses no electricity, and there’s so much less of it that if it breaks irretrievably it represents a far smaller impact.
It’s all too easy to default to things because they seem normal. Questioning that is a constant process for me.