Sustainable and toxin-free living

Sustainable and toxin-free living

No Compromise Month Wrap-Up: Should I Feel Bad?


No Compromise Month was a bit of a misnomer. I guess I should have called it, “Try Harder Month.” Because in the end, I did compromise on a lot of things.

I compromised when I bought meat, because even from the farmer’s market, it comes wrapped in plastic. I compromised one night at 3 in the morning when I just wanted a crunchy snack, gave in, and bought a bag of potato chips from the bodega. I compromised when I got a really bad case of the sniffles and switched to disposable tissues–my handkerchief couldn’t keep up. I compromised when I ate non-organic food with friends, a lot of it.

But for all the ten things that I didn’t do “right,” there are a hundred other things that I am doing right, because I’ve been overhauling my life for six years now. I have a big jar on my kitchen counter filled with rags, instead of paper towels. I have a closet full of used or sustainably made clothing. I use nothing but non-toxic beauty products. I take a cab maybe once a week. I have a little reusable bag and reusable water bottle with me at all times. I have cloth napkins, and make my own house cleaning products.

I got two huge boxes this week with my grandmother’s crystal, and Fedex had helpfully packed it all in bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts. I unpacked everything, carefully put all the packing back in the boxes, and found someone from Craigslist who could take it all for her own move.

On Friday I went to Integral Yoga market and did all my grocery shopping. I brought mason jars and veggie bags for bulk items, a reusable grocery bag and a backpack, because shopping like this is heavy and you need to distribute the weight! When I was done, I texted my boyfriend to tell him that if he wanted meat or eggs, he would have to get them himself, since Integral Yoga Market doesn’t sell that stuff.

So what that I just took out a 3-gallon trash bag of non-recyclable items yesterday? (A kitty litter bag, meat scraps and bones, and cheese packaging, mostly). Living sustainably is a lifestyle change, not a crash diet. You make little changes here and there, but it takes time and experimentation and learning to change your habits permanently. I have yet to find a place to get locally-raised meat and organic, hormone-free cheese in recyclable packaging, or a place that sells bulk kitty litter.

I appreciate that this month forced me to try some new things and think harder about how I was living my life. I led me to realize that used gloves are cheap and easy to find, that it’s OK to make requests (sometimes) for more sustainable food options, that you can compost a lot more than I thought you could, that sometimes if you walk just another block you’ll find a suitable option.

But I also learned that you have to pick your battles. Saturday I was supposed to meet up with a friend at the Matchabar for tea in Williamsburg, but it’s only a block away from the enormous warehouse fire that was swathing everything in acrid smoke. So he suggested Peter Pan donuts, a Polish (not organic) Greenpoint favorite, where we ordered conventional bacon egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, orange juice, and donuts.

I told my friend about No Compromise Month. “If you had said no, I would have been so angry,” he said. Yeah, he’s right. Because Peter Pan donuts is good, a locally owned place that is a neighborhood staple. It’s worth cheating on the organic part. If he had suggested Dunkin’ Donuts, I would have told him he was crazy. But this, this is worth it.

I had some friends over Friday night to play cards. One walked in with a plastic box of macarons. “I know this isn’t good,” she said. “I even considered taking them out and putting them in a bag, but I didn’t have time! I’m really sorry,” she said. Other friends who weren’t aware of my No Compromise Month looked confused. “Sarah, it’s OK!” I said. “They look delicious. I’ll recycle the box and keep the ribbon. Thank you!”

Just like with a diet, you have to know when it’s worth it to cheat. For friends, for family, for sanity!

If I had to guess, I would say my habits, home, and wardrobe are 85% sustainable. They were probably 70% sustainable before this month. I’m pretty proud of that! What if everyone in New York City lived like this? All the McDonald’s would go out of business, our waste stream would shrink, our air would clear up. It would be glorious.

So no, I’m not going to feel guilty about the little ways in which I compromise. That’s not what this blog is about anyway, is it? I’m not going to shame myself or anyone else. I’m just going to talk about how awesome the alternatives are, and share my learnings with all of you in the hopes that I can keep convincing people to live a little greener.


  • Alden Wicker

    Alden Wicker is an award-winning investigative journalist and author of To Dye For: How Toxic Fashion Is Making Us Sick — and How We Can Fight Back (Putnam). She splits her time between managing her internationally recognized platform on safe and sustainable fashion,, and contributing to publications such as The New York Times, Vox, Wired, Vogue, and more. She’s made expert appearances on NPR’s Fresh Air, the BBC, and Al Jazeera to speak on consumer sustainability and the fashion system’s effect on people and the planet.

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