Friday, February 01, 2008

February Challenge -- Waste Not Want Not

Modern Sculptural Art? -- salvaged spiral notebook wire, awaiting it's next useful application

"When we throw something away, what does 'away' mean? There's no such thing as 'away.' "

This little nugget of wisdom was brought to you by a 35 year old Berkely, CA resident, Ari Derfel, who decided to save the flotsam and jetsam of his life for one full year. These were my sentiments exactly when it came time to pack up and move house last year. I couldn’t just throw stuff away. My real estate agent, the sweetheart that he is, showed understanding but was unaccustomed to anyone turning away the welcoming arms of the 1-800-Got-Junk army -- who advertise themselves as the equivalent of a full-service trash dumpster.

Instead I invested the time and energy to donate to charities and to drop off re-usable materials for recycling.

How did we accumulate so much junk? A friend confided that she was surprised that my husband and I could have accumulated so much, since we aren’t really the “type” to acquire a lot of things. While this is true, we have, over the years, inherited possessions and hand-me-downs from family members, and we are also reluctant to dispose of anything that MAY prove useful one day. Lastly we are wickedly sentimental. If you bought me something atrocious that I really hated, I would probably still have that item several years later. In a box. In the basement. It’s labeled “sentimental hogwash” if you really must know.

What amazes me is that so many of these items that I considered absolute junk sold very well at the garage sale I had last fall. Never having participated in one before I concluded that: 1. garage sale junkies will probably buy just about anything, so long as it is cheap, and 2. Every item you own holds a little piece of your energy. That means getting rid of that item frees up a bit of your energy. Garage sales are great if you have the time and need to pad your wallet a little, but if not then giving your stuff to charity is just as beneficial.

Not only does each of our possessions absorb some slight slice of our time and energy, but as this article about Derfel states, “Each thing we throw away has been produced somewhere, shipped to a store, entered the home, and then is sent somewhere else - using up water, oil and land.”

If you’re a visual learner, have a looksie here. I must say that these images really make a big statement to me, one that numerical facts alone cannot convey.

OK, so you understand that the American way is just not sustainable, right? But the next time you go shopping, I’ll bet you will see something you just really fall in love with, something that you feel makes a statement about your personality or something that you actually feel you need. Whether you need it or you just want it might be a gray area. I know that holds true with me. I happened across an interesting suggestion for creating a “want book,” a place where you can record all those things you think you want or need and come back to them later with a clearer head.

But remember as you lean toward placing that object in your shopping cart that every object is in many ways an energy sink. We aren’t just draining worldly resources, there seems to be some evidence that we are also putting a damper on our own personal well-being:

“Researchers have found that low self-esteem and materialism are not just a correlation, but also a causal relationship where low self esteem increases materialism, and materialism can also create low self-esteem. The[y] also found that as self esteem increases, materialism decreases."

“The word 'believe' is the key here. People believe that buying more and more things will make them happy, when in fact research has shown time and time again that this simply isn't the case. What we do know for sure is that buying more and more unnecessary things is damaging our planet and contributing to global warming." (source)

Here are few suggestions of ways to cut back on the amount of waste we generate. I recommend choosing one of these options to work on for a month. If you like your results, you can always challenge yourself to do more.

  • Remove your name from mailing lists
  • Compost, compost, compost
  • Preferentially purchase items in recyclable containers
  • Look at your bad habits and try to minimize them
  • Shop with a list
  • Before you buy an item, decide on where it will be kept
  • If you don’t absolutely love an item, re-home it
  • For every item you bring in, get rid of two others (donate, garage sale, Craigslist)
  • Catalogue things in a want book before buying them

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