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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Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.