"Happy. Mother. You can really use both words in the same sentence" is the tag line to Meagan Francis's popular blog, The Happiest Mom. Now this Michigan-based mom of five has a book out by the same title, The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood. As part of a cyberspace book tour, Meagan is visiting Mothering Outside the Lines this week. Though I haven't finished her book yet, I've enjoyed what I read so far (full disclosure: the publisher sent me a review copy) and I'm delighted to have her here! Today she writes a guest post about finding easy ways to live a greener life (Holly, this one's for you). Tomorrow she'll be answering questions about happiness and motherhood.

Greening Your Life the Easy Way

By Meagan Francis

With every other product now touting itself as eco-friendly, it's easy to get lulled into the idea that if you just spend enough money, you can magically create a safe, nontoxic little bubble for your family. Then you consider all the questionable chemicals out there, and wonder if you should instead consider moving to an off-the-grid farm in the middle of nowhere.

My first secret to being a happier mom is "Take The Easy Way Out," which may seem impossible when you're talking about living a greener life. But my philosophy is that changes are a lot more likely to stick when you make them gradually and give them time to become habits, rather than expecting your family to change overnight.

And honestly? Living green doesn't have to be as complicated as marketers would have us believe. The truth is that there are a lot of quick, easy, and cheap things you can do at home to live a greener lifestyle. In fact, living green should save you money, not the other way around.

Here's how you can make your days a little greener-without breaking the bank or stressing yourself out:

1. Keep it simple. Sure, you could follow an elaborate recipe for homemade cleaning supplies…or you could just mix up some white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and call it a day (vinegar is a great, versatile cleaner, and it's cheap.) You could search all over three counties for a special granola bar made with all organic oats and no artificial ingredients….or you could slice up an apple for your child's snack. Living green doesn't have to make your life more complicated!

2. Less is more. There are stores full of natural, "eco-friendly" toys, clothes, household goods, and so on. You could spend hundreds of dollars in them to "be green"…or you could just buy less stuff and have a less cluttered, cleaner, greener home. You can also try second-hand stores, Craigslist, or Freecycle first. Buying things used is usually both cheaper and more eco-friendly than buying the "green" version new.

3. Do one thing at a time. Don't overwhelm yourself or your family by trying to completely change your lifestyle in a day. Instead, add new practices in one at a time-you'll be surprised how quickly they become habit and don't seem to take more time at all. Maybe you'll start recycling, using canvas grocery bags (and actually remembering to bring them to the store), or using cloth napkins and cleaning rags rather than paper towels. None of those changes require much more energy, but they do require time and repetition to sink in and become habit.

4. Make small changes. Driving less is good for the environment (and moving more is great for your health!) but it may not be realistic to give up the car entirely-especially if you live miles from the nearest grocery store. What are some small ways you can cut back on your gas consumption? Maybe your child can walk to school or take the bus rather than being driven. Or maybe you can combine your shopping trips into one day so you don't have to drive as often. Almost any big change you want to make can be broken down into smaller, more manageable changes that you can incorporate one at a time.

5. Decide what's important to you. Nobody can do everything-and that goes for the eco-mama at preschool who swears she never gives her children processed food, supports her entire family year-round via the organic garden in her backyard, and bicycles to the food co-op even when it's 20 degrees and there are two feet of snow on the ground, too. We live in a complicated world, and we all have to choose the things that are most important to us. Maybe you feel strongly about keeping chemicals out of your home. Maybe you want to support local farmers. Maybe you're big on reducing waste by buying second-hand, using things until they wear out, and recycling religiously. Even small changes add up, so prioritize those things that are most important to you and that will help you make choices when buying, fixing, or tossing.

We all have great intentions, but life with children can be overwhelming! Do what you can, make changes you feel good about, and don't let other people make you feel bad because you haven't completely overhauled the medicine cabinet and cleaning supplies in a week. Changes you make slowly and simply will stick around a lot longer…and the more you enjoy the shift, the happier and more confident you'll be.

Meagan with her five children!

Meagan with her five children!

Meagan is one happy, and peaceful, mama!

Meagan is one happy, and peaceful, mama!

Readers, does this advice resonate with you? What kind of small changes have you made to eco-fy your life without railroading your sanity? Have these changes made you a happier parent?

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Tags: greening your life, greening your parenting, making lifestyle changes, Meagan Francis, The Happiest Mom

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on Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 at 9:45 am and is filed under social change.
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