Whether you believe climate change is manmade or not, one truth is irrefutable: it is in our own best interest as a species to be good stewards of the earth and its resources.
Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I can remember a time when our family of six generated so much garbage, that two large trash cans were not enough to accommodate it all in between our twice-weekly collection days. (I know this because I was one of the ones who was charged with carrying it all down to the end of our long driveway on trash days...and which a failure to do often resulted in me losing television privileges for a week or more!) When recycling was first introduced, it seemed onerous. Even just remembering not to throw cans and glass jars in the trash can was a hurdle we all had to overcome. Today it has become second nature, and I’m pleased to report that our family of four almost never fills up our one large garbage bin often enough to warrant putting it out for the second trash collection each week. (Much to my teenage son’s chagrin, though, there’s still plenty of recycling to put out...in which a failure to do often results in him losing his gaming privileges. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.)
The point is that according to the EPA, landfilling of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States has decreased from 94% in 1960 to 50% in 2018 and composting and recycling rates have increased from 6% in 1960 to 32.1% in 2018...all due to society collectively adopting one new habit to make a difference over time. Just think what a big difference we could make over the next 58 years by becoming just a bit more intentional about how we consume.
Sometimes purchasing something new is necessary, and doing so helps to create jobs and has a positive impact on our economy. But embracing a philosophy of “less is more” can not only save you money and space (both highly-sought-after commodities in most American homes) but can also make you a more responsible consumer and steward of our natural resources. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone or logging onto your computer to order something online, or drawn to an item on a store shelf, ask yourself these six questions first:
Every time you buy something new, you generate waste. When you order online, your purchase will arrive in boxes or bubble mailers, often with additional packaging materials enclosed, delivered in planes and trucks that consume fuel and pollute the air. Even if you purchase something from a brick and mortar store, you are consuming gasoline to get there and your item/s still arrived at the store in boxes with packaging on gas-powered, pollution-generating vehicles. You may even get a receipt generated on thermal paper (which cannot be recycled) and carry your items home in a plastic or paper bag. This is before we even get to what happens to the item you bought or the container it came in once you are done using it. Needless to say, cutting back even just a little bit on new purchases and learning how to minimize, dispose of, or reuse the waste they generate responsibly will make a huge difference over the remaining decades of your life. If each person makes even a small change in how they consume, this could add up to a major shift in our society’s impact upon our environment. And don't forget, there's the added bonus of having less stuff to manage in your home. Everything you buy has an overhead cost attached to it.
I know, I know, this can sound a bit overwhelming and like a lot of work to someone who is used to simply ordering whatever you need, whenever a new need arises. Just like any change, it requires adopting new habits, and that can feel intimidating at the start...just like recycling was for many of us back in the early days. It helps to develop three crucial tools you already have at your fingertips: your network, your imagination, and your knowledge. Some of these may be stronger than others, but with minimal effort and a bit of forethought, you can become an expert at wielding all three to help you achieve your goal of buying less.
Friends, family, co-workers, members of your faith community, neighbors (both those you already know in person and those you can connect with online) and professional service providers all constitute a vast network of available resources, but how often do you really utilize them in acquiring the goods you consume? Here are a few ways to tap into your network instead of filling up your Amazon shopping cart.
Using your creativity to identify possible alternative solutions to buying something new is a skill you can develop. Pinterest is my go-to place to start when I need to jumpstart my creative juices on just about anything. The more you peruse DIY magazines and sites, the easier it will be for you to recall ideas you’ve seen before. Again, ask your network to step in if you are stumped before you pull out your wallet and buy something new. Think of it as a challenge...a sort of game to make something out of nothing. Did you follow my 25 Days of Christmas Ornaments posts on Facebook back in December? All of the ornaments I made used materials from around my house. That was my rule for myself. Here are just a few ways to use your imagination to avoid making new purchases that will become second nature once you're in the habit of it:
Obviously knowing how to make what you need yourself out of items you already have is one way your knowledge can help minimize your purchasing of new goods, as does knowing how to grow your own vegetables and bake your own bread. But knowing how/where to recycle, what is safe to reuse or re-purpose, and when to replace something is equally important. Fortunately, most of these answers can be found on the internet just as easily as finding a new product to buy. Your knowledge will accumulate over time with enough curiosity. Here are some ways more knowledge can result in fewer swipes of your credit card:
With a smidgeon of knowledge and creativity, along with a little help from your friends, even becoming a more intentional consumer can be easy peasy.
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Texans are suffering. People with Covid are suffering. Kids are suffering. First responders, healthcare workers, single parents, and minorities are all suffering. With so much suffering happening all around us, it’s easy to feel despondent, demoralized, depressed and anxious. There’s nothing easy peasy about this game called life. The only way to win is to ante up and play the hand you are dealt carefully. The only way to lose is to view the other players as opponents instead of as members of the same team. Our common opponent is suffering, not each other. You win this game by helping others win. So how do we do that when we have a less-than-stellar hand to play?
Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths:
You DON’T have to spend money to help others.
You DON’T have to spend a lot of time to help others.
You DON’T have to risk your health to help others.
You DO get more than you give by helping others.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” And I would assert that if everybody did help somebody then, collectively, yes we could help everybody.
Our theme for this month is unity. Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this game together. But there’s good news in that statement, because being in it together is precisely how we win. Every single one of us needs something we don’t have, and every single one of us has something we don’t need. Only by coming together do we make a winning team.
Helping someone else, even when--no, especially when--you feel you have nothing to give, is empowering. You become part of the collective. You get to participate, not just as a receiver, but as a giver. You get to contribute your unique talents toward making the world a better place for at least one other person. What better use is there for them than that? And when you experience the power of neighbor helping neighbor firsthand, you become less anxious and more confident that your community will also be there for you if and when you need it. Pay into the pot as much as you are able, whenever you are able, so that resources will be there for you when you need to take some out yourself. That’s how this game is played.
There are as many ways to help as there are needs to be fulfilled. You only have to look around you to identify a need and inward to identify a solution you have to offer. Everyone has at least one of the following necessary resources to contribute: Time, Money, Knowledge, Effort, Skills/Talents
If you lack time, contribute knowledge, effort, and/or money.
If you lack money, contribute time, skills and/or effort.
And so on…
If you’re looking for ideas on how to help during the pandemic, here are just a few ideas:
And don’t forget helping those closest to you. Sometimes we fail to notice a dire need in our own households because we aren’t paying enough attention. Put down your devices, turn off the TV, slow down and connect more to notice the holes you can fill right in your own backyard.
There’s nothing easy peasy about experiencing or witnessing suffering, but with some creativity, unity and a generous team spirit, finding a way to claim victory over it isn’t as hard as you think.
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If you think about it, parenting is a huge responsibility to all of society. It's not enough just to keep your kids safe and loved, educate them, and help them transition into self-sufficiency. One of the most important, meaningful, and never-ending aspects of parenting is inspiring your offspring to make the world a better place and play a role in advancing the human race.
As long as you are breathing, you are either taking from the world, or giving back to it. Teaching your child how to give back is one of the biggest ways you continue to give back. As most parents know, what you do has a greater impact on your kids than what you say. They will be watching as you teach by modeling learning...say something important by listening intently...receive fulfillment by giving away your time and treasure to a cause greater than yourself...and make your voice heard by amplifying the voices of others. This isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't just happen on its own. It requires intention. And it's never too early to start.
Look for ways you and your children can listen and learn together.
Show your kids that learning is a lifelong process. Explore the world beyond your own gate. Go to museums; read books; pay attention to current events; learn about history, religion and cultures outside of your own. Forge relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. Ask grandparents to share stories of their past experiences and personal struggles. All of this enables your children to put themselves in other people's shoes and develop an empathy and compassion that is crucial to improving the world for everyone.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen. Take them with you to vote. Talk to them about the electoral process. Describe your volunteer work. Tell them about the causes you support and why you chose to make them a priority. Discuss age-appropriate current events at the dinner table. Invite friends and co-workers from diverse backgrounds to your home and visit them in theirs when invited. Introduce your children to food, customs, holidays and traditions from other cultures. Read the paper and educational magazines both in front of them and to them. Let them witness your continuing education about the world around you. Share with them about a time you changed your stance on an issue after listening to the other side's arguments. It's important for them to see that beliefs and priorities can evolve as you continue to learn and seek out new perspectives.
Encourage them to get involved.
Plan a summer project or field trip your family can do around giving back to the community. Participate in family-friendly volunteer events. Encourage them to give gifts that support a cause or to opt out of receiving gifts themselves and instead set up a fundraiser for a cause near to their hearts. Support them in a run for student council office. Enroll them in scouts, youth groups, or other organizations that center activities around serving others. Share with them what other kids are doing and nurture their creativity in finding ways they can offer their own unique skills and talents to the world.
There's no shortage of examples, but here are just a few more of my favorites:
Every voice matters. Even the smallest effort can make the biggest difference to one person. Empower your children from a young age to become the change they wish to see in the world. Download and print out the Raise Good Citizens PDF to get started.
With a little bit of contagious enthusiasm and the desire to keep learning, growing and contributing, even raising good citizens can be easy peasy.
Let's face it...relationships can be hard work, especially when it comes to sharing living quarters. Whether it's with your spouse, roommate, parent, child, sibling, friend or co-worker, occupying the same space day-to-day adds a whole new dimension--and often tension--to even the healthiest relationships. As a professional organizer, I've helped quite a few couples, families and work teams negotiate a peaceful resolution to their turf wars with just a few simple strategies. With good communication, a little compromise, and the right attitude, you too can arrange a ceasefire on some of these common war cries:
He/She never puts anything away!
He/She has too much "junk" and won't get rid of any of it!
He/She wants everything out and easily accessible, but I like the visual peace of having it out of sight (or vice versa).
Sometimes just understanding why you or your co-inhabitants exhibit certain habits or behaviors helps to diffuse the tension in a potentially explosive situation. Don't let your frustration reach the boiling point. Think it through, talk it out, and be willing to compromise.
With a little bit of effort, even sharing space peacefully can be easy peasy!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.