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A Year of UnNew: Month Four
Embracing progress over perfection

Throughout my childhood, my parents had a saying they’d repeat on the daily: If you’re going to do something, you should do it right. This certainly infused me with the sense that performing well was of highest value—for a while I thought doing things “right” was my only option. It’s taken me years to find a healthy balance of striving for success without the burden of perfection. And my journey through environmentalism has been no exception.

Ideally in my mind, this Year of UnNew would feature not a single purchase of a single new thing. Literally nothing (save food and medicine, as we outlined at the beginning of this journey). But, of course life doesn’t operate in a silo, and things don’t always work out the way we envision or plan.

[caption id="attachment_2206" align="alignnone" width="2560"]Two athletes hiking the wasatch mountains with climbing crash pads Sam Cohen and Tyler Sterling off to boulder Wasatch Mountains, Utah Photo Credit: Lee Cohen[/caption]

My latest reckoning with perfection began with a crash pad—the mattress-like foam pads that boulderers use while climbing rocks relatively close to the ground. My husband, who has broken both his ankles in the last seven years, decided he wanted a new, thicker crash pad. When he brought it up, I volunteered to patrol the interwebs, searching for a used one we could buy off something local. As the searching spanned days and turned into weeks, his patience waned and the weather didn’t help, getting nicer and nicer as Colorado began transitioning into spring. He bought a new one online, and when he told me after the fact, trite as it was, I felt betrayed. I knew my daily online searches weren’t turning anything up, but where I had the patience to keep looking, he had the itch to climb in a way that would best protect his ankles when he fell.

[caption id="attachment_1838" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Emma and Jordan[/caption]

Jordan’s decision makes sense. I know. Still, I had wanted to try harder, to really see if we really could go 365 days without acquiring new materials. So, in a sense, we failed as a household, but we also got to connect over the situation and think through its effects.

Over the years I’ve found loads of solace in Caroline Gliech’s advocacy, and I turned to her again in this moment. A self-described athlete-activist, Caroline has spoken up about the detrimental effects of perfectionism in the environmental movement. Through vocalizing her various commitments to combating climate change and the unequal effects of global warming, she’s been the target of online harassment: called a “glacier killer,” “hypocritical ecoterrorist,” and more in response to the fact that she, for example, flies on airplanes and uses new gear. She’s spoken about how those comments have had a silencing effect. “So for a few years, I felt like I lost my voice on climate because I was afraid to speak up,” she told The Colorado Sun.

You don’t have to be “perfect” to be an impactful environmentalist. Most of us, as she often reminds us on social media, are just making the best decisions for ourselves at any given moment, and that’s what matters. Advocating for the planet and its vulnerable humans is a lifelong journey, bumps along the road are to be expected, and no single individual’s efforts are going to make-or-break the movement, anyways.

Throughout 2020, the environmental advocacy organization Protect Our Winters (POW) embraced the idea of “imperfect advocacy.” This ethos is wrapped up in the idea that placing the blame or responsibility of carbon emissions on individual people is flawed from the get-go. A large focus of POW is holding companies and major carbon emitters accountable. This can help remind us of two things: firstly, considering sustainability is a team effort, individual shame isn’t an effective tool to get us where we want to go. And secondly, that finding and creating a sense of balance will help sustain the work ahead.

What is perfect anyway? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist. Here’s an invitation to simply try your best (whatever that means on a given day) and get back up on your feet even after you feel set back.

To read more about my Year of UnNew, see the March, February and January installments.

Have any questions about Emma's Year of Unnew? Ask away in the comments  on Instagram + Facebook, or email us at  We would love to hear from you.

Emma Athena is an award-winning journalist and fresh-air lover. She writes about adventure and the environment, where humans and nature intersect at their most impactful moments. When she’s not glued to her keyboard or curled up with a book, she’s running in the mountains with her dog or camping with people she loves. To read more of her work and get in contact, visit


While Geartrade has a lot of climbing gear spoiler alert we currently don't have any crash pads either right now. Do you have Summer Climbing or Hike & Camp gear? Tents, sleeping bags, bikes, bike gear, and climbing gear (especially crash pads) are in top demand right now. If you have perfectly usable gear gathering dust, list it and sell it. And, if you’re in the market for gear that’s in great shape and costs a fraction of new, we’ve got it. May the circle of gear life continue.