In many ways my triple “r” habit was inherited from my grandmother: drying and reusing pieces of kitchen towel; double-dipping teabags; eating (perfectly safe) food out-of-date; using things sparingly; and making do and mending. However, now I am in a position where I am caring for her full time and I’m struggling to sustain my “green” habits in order to prioritise hygiene, safety and my sanity.
I find myself constantly throwing away once-used tissues, using worrying amounts of harsh chemicals to clean up spills and “things”, wasting uneaten food, leaving too many lights on and burning the central heating in mild weather. This is stuff I wouldn’t imagine myself doing at home or even at work, where possible. But while juggling my Nana with my eleven-month-old son, I have found myself taking certain shortcuts in order to meet both their needs while minimising risks in her home to them both.
So I’m challenging deeply ingrained habits that took years to perfect and it’s making me question what is more important. My usual stance is to consider the “greater good” and strive to do the right thing by our environment. Here, I am faced with a choice: the planet or my Grams. And for the sake of my survival, being able to continue in this role, the planet is losing.
She is constantly cold and refuses to layer up. My options are to manhandle and force her into more clothes or keep smiling and turn up the thermostat. Incontinence has taken its toll. My options are to spend half her pension on eco-friendly products or buy cheap, spray and mop in a flash. One minute she’s hungry, so I cook up a nutritious meal. Next minute she looks at me like I’m crazy and refuses to even take a bite. My options are to leave and reheat or just prepare something cold that will last. Of course it’s unsafe to keep reheating or leave lukewarm food lying about the place. So what have I found myself doing? Buying cheap packaged foods like quiche, cheap deli meat for sandwiches (with questionable welfare standards) and biscuits – because sometimes that’s all she’ll eat.
I’m still recycling, trying my best not to be wasteful, turning off the radiators and throwing a blanket over my nan when she’ll let me. But it’s not easy. And it’s making me think perhaps I’ve judged others too harshly in the past, without considering their personal circumstances and limitations.
As I settle into this routine, I’m sure I’ll be able to improve certain things. I’ve already taken a step in the right direction and bought some bicarbonate of soda in bulk to freshen up the carpets as the little man is on-the-move, soon to be crawling. Phew! That’s when the trouble will really start…