Waste Not

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I’ve been thinking a lot about trash lately. Mostly how much I produce. How many bags go out per week, how full my recycling bin is, stuff like that.

And then I wondered how different my choices would be if I had to pay or be responsible for this trash. I am already paying for its removal, as are you, it’s one of those line items in your “City of…” bill or it’s built into your rent, so paying for it is covered.

But what if I had to do something with my trash and recycles? What if I couldn’t just put them at the curb and smile in satisfaction at my clean home?

Let’s play a game… Let’s pretend we’re going grocery shopping for one day of food on the SAD (Standard American Diet).

In our basket we may find:

  • 1 box of cereal
  • 1 gallon of milk
  • 1 quart of orange juice
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 loaf of bread
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat
  • package of American cheese
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise
  • 1 box of single serving chips
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag
  • 1 box of Hostess treats
  • 1 package of hotdogs
  • 1 package of buns
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup
  • 1 jar of pickles
  • 1 jar of baked beans
  • 1 container of potato salad
  • 1 12 pack of soda
  • 1 gallon of ice cream

First of all, bleck! For your health’s sake, please eat some greens!! But moving on. Let’s take a look at the waste produced just in the packaging.

  • 1 box of cereal – cardboard box, wax paper insert
  • 1 gallon of milk – plastic jug, plastic lid
  • 1 quart of orange juice – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 dozen eggs – Styrofoam container
  • 1 loaf of bread – plastic bag, plastic tie
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat – plastic container/wrapper
  • package of American cheese – plastic wrapper(s)
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise – plastic jar, plastic lid
  • 1 box of single serving chips – cardboard box, plastic wrap, plastic bags
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag – plastic bag
  • 1 box of Hostess treats – cardboard box, plastic wrap for each treat
  • 1 package of hotdogs – plastic wrapped
  • 1 package of buns – plastic bag, plastic tie
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – plastic bottle, plastic lid
  • 1 jar of pickles – glass jar, metal lid
  • 1 jar of baked beans – tin can with rubber lining
  • 1 container of potato salad – plastic container
  • 1 12 pack of soda – cardboard box, aluminum cans
  • 1 gallon of ice cream – wax coated cardboard

Now let’s say you were going to throw all of this away in one day. A lot of it could go into your recycling bin, but not all. Those lids for mustard, ketchup, pickles, etc. are usually not recyclable. Many plastic bags cannot be recycled. Styrofoam egg containers, maybe. The cardboard can typically be composted or recycled, in some municipalities.

All this sounds like good news! What’s the problem?

The problem is only about 35% of people actually recycle and only a percentage of that gets recycled. There’s too much. Recycling is a business and if there is no need for more of your trash it gets turned away. Where do you suppose it goes?

What if you had to separate all of your recyclables and take them to their individual recycling places and pay to have them recycled? What if there were no service to just pick them up? Would you make different choices?

Let’s take a look at our shopping list one more time and consider some more environmentally friendly choices that may actually be healthier for our bodies as well.

  • 1 box of cereal – purchase in bulk (purchase reusable cloth bags to buy dry items in bulk)
  • 1 gallon of milk – make your own almond milk, super easy, no waste, store in a reusable glass bottle
  • 1 quart of orange juice – buy loose oranges and squeeze your own, compost the peels, nothing like fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 dozen eggs – ceramic containers are available and doesn’t everyone have a backyard chicken now? Purchase from a farmer’s market or friend, bring your own reusable container
  • 1 loaf of bread – bake your own, or let go of gluten for a while and use lettuce to wrap your sandwiches
  • package of smoked turkey lunch meat – purchase from a deli that uses paper to wrap meat and ask them to put it in your reusable glass container or washable cloth bag
  • package of American cheese – see above
  • 1 jar of mayonnaise – make your own, it’s easy and fresh
  • 1 box of single serving chips – you don’t need chips, pick up some bulk nuts
  • 1 apple in a plastic bag – ditch the plastic bag, you’re going to wash the apple anyway
  • 1 box of Hostess treats – you don’t need these either
  • 1 package of hotdogs – no, but if you must, again, get them from a deli that will wrap in paper
  • 1 package of buns – go bunless or wrap in lettuce or purchase from a bakery that will wrap in paper or use your bag
  • 1 squeeze bottle of mustard – make your own or buy an organic brand in glass – save the glass container
  • 1 squeeze bottle of ketchup – make your own, easy and fresh
  • 1 jar of pickles – you can make your own but if you’re buying glass and saving it, you get a pass
  • 1 jar of baked beans – choose a brand that doesn’t line their cans or make your own
  • 1 container of potato salad – make your own, grandma must have an amazing recipe
  • 1 12 pack of soda – just no
  • 1 gallon of ice cream – on a hot summer day make your own, this is a treat

We have ended up with a few glass containers we can reuse, paper than can be composted and maybe one tin can. Don’t you feel better?

The time it would take to make all of this from scratch is probably the same amount of time it would take to sort through all your trash and drive it to separate recycling facilities and pay to have it recycled.

Precycle. Plan ahead. Consider where the packaging will go when you make your purchases.

  • Purchase a few glass jars that seal tightly to hold bulk dry goods like rice, cereal, nuts, etc.
  • Pick up a variety of sizes of cloth draw string bags for bulk foods and produce.
  • Save all the glass containers that are already in your pantry to use for other purposes.

Set waste goals. Find a container that seems like an acceptable amount of waste and notice how long it takes to fill it. Continually try to beat your last record, slower and less.

There are so many great resources out there and inspiring people doing great things. Here are a few:

Website with tons of ideas: www.bezero.org

Website: www.trashisfortossers.com

Article with statistics: harmony1.com

 

Mattering

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I’ve been absent for about 10 days. I have a really good reason: someone close to me passed away. It was unexpected and sad, but ultimately beautiful and freeing. For her.

I, on the other hand, have been gifted the bulk of her possessions. And it’s a lot. She had a two bedroom apartment stuffed with books, creative project pieces and parts, clothes and the normal belongs of a life richly lived.

The Universe can be douchily ironic. Just as I am in the process of purging and letting go I am presented with a whole house of stuff to manage.

I am not being intentionally insensitive, it is just that I am on the business end of handling this parting. Grief comes in waves mixed with laughter and sweet memories. For now, though, the sorting of that life is the task at hand.

It’s always a process.

In sorting through the markers of her life I am both compelled to keep special tokens and simultaneously light a match and walk away.

There will be no fires.

At first glance the items surrounding me point to a life of abundance. But on closer inspection I find evidence of something more akin to lack and fear. Where one stick of deodorant would suffice I find 4. All the same. Five tall bookcases line the walls of the craft studio. They are packed with scraps of fabric, beads, books on creative endeavors, sewing materials, patterns, paper, glue. There are two computers, a sewing machine and a closet stuffed with mystery. A million tiny notes are scattered about. Half as many projects begun then abandoned.

Elsewhere in the home 3 large bookcases are full of books, sometimes two rows deep, a few photos and other mementos dot the shelves. Stacks of books rest next to the spots most frequented, magazines teeter on tables, the freezer is stuffed with food, the refrigerator the same. The walls are covered in artwork and photos with still more framed pieces leaning against walls waiting for a vacancy. And appliances requested sit in boxes unused.

It is a very accurate representation of its occupant: homey, messy in that creative way and lived in. It’s welcoming and feels safe.

But it’s a lesson. In stuff, in love, in fear, in recognizing what is necessary. In recognizing what is true.

I will continue to sort through belongings, donating many to the faceless masses, gifting some to friends of the deceased and keeping a touchstone or two.

There are boxes full of love – letters, cards, photos of trips and good times – that were perhaps felt and then forgotten. Mementos of troubleless times. (I will study these.) But they were not powerful enough to convince the beholder of her worth. Perhaps for a moment, but long term this sense of ‘not-good-enoughness’ would take a seat beside her.

Receiving things, temporarily created peace. Until they didn’t and more things would be desired, procured. She wasn’t a hoarder, but may have been heading in that direction.

The biggest gift I am getting from this experience will not take up any space in my home. It is the recognition of my own self-worth, my place in the universe. That I matter.

She mattered too, so much more than she could accept and believe. She heard the words over and over again from so many people how she had made a life-changing difference to them, how she had given them peace when they thought none existed, how she awakened in them a creative spirit they didn’t know they had. But she didn’t receive those words, she didn’t integrate them. She wore them for a short time, shared them with those close to her as external evidence of her worth, then shed them like dead skin.

In sorting and purging her things I am infected with a sense of melancholy. In purging my own things and letting go I am left bare, all raw nerves and sensitive teeth. It’s necessary. At times I am elated and giddy. It’s a cleansing with far deeper implications than a tidy home. It’s a liberation. And it’s a process.

 

 

Evidence of a Life Lived

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As far as I can tell I have about a million photos, just in my room. And 20 times more on my laptop and two external hard drives. Oh, and on my phone. And on about 3 SD cards. I guess you could say I’m a visual person.

What occurs to me as I sort through the physical photos is how much I enjoy touching them and deciding if I want to keep them or not. Putting them in piles, tossing some into the trash, then maybe retrieving one or two from there. I go from a stack so tall it threatens to topple to one no thicker than a Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman novel.

And I am filled with satisfaction.

I do not get this same high from sorting through my virtual pile of photos. I never feel like I’m complete, or that I’m doing it right. Didn’t I just put this one in the trash? Or did I move it to another folder? Maybe it’s on my desktop. It’s maddening. And yet I feel like it should be the same.

But underneath all of that the underlying cause of the distress is the fear that I will delete the wrong photos.

I am attached. I loathe to admit it.

This process, the counting and cataloging and eventual purging is revealing all my neurotic tendencies. Why are photos so precious? What if they all just disappeared? What am I truly holding onto?

Memories? Evidence of a life lived? Proof of something?

Is that what all stuff is? Is that why we hold onto things from our past? I think maybe that’s one reason. I also think guilt holds objects in place longer than they need to be. And lack, fear of never having enough. Our stuff tells our story, too. It communicates to others who we are by the selection of items we choose to live with. It’s more than just your style.

But I digress, back to the endless stacks of photos.

It hits me as I paw through one box in particular. Most of the photos are from past work events from a company and job that defined me for a while and definitely shaped my business acumen and practices. I loved working for  this company and the people I worked with. We traveled to Hawaii and San Diego and San Antonio. We had fun trainings in Atlanta and parties locally. Yet I can only name maybe half the people in the photos. The photos don’t tell the story as richly as my memories. I can let them go.

I’ve also noticed that I am quick to toss photos of things that I’m sure I felt were amazing and new to me at the time, but I have since seen or experienced whatever it is over and over again. A tiny alligator in a pond at the Kennedy Space Center 15 years ago looks trivial and silly next to the up close and personal friends I’ve made at the Orlando Wetlands. I am comparing my past to my present. Healthy? Normal?

This shows me that the photo was a novelty, not a memory. I also can’t bear to keep photos of animals in the zoo or Sea World. My sensibilities and education about such places won’t allow me to enjoy them.

I am questioning my own photo motives.

Mostly I think I just really like documenting things. I don’t know why. I’m not sure it’s just for me. I like to share.

I will continue to thin the photo herd for eventual scanning. Photo books are in my future, but will I be able to let go of the actual photos once they’re scanned? I guess we’ll see.

I’m just grateful I have not committed to counting everything I have digitally. Although that may be a worthy endeavor.

Makes me sleepy just thinking about it. Let’s deal with the tangible stuff first.

Full of Dirt and Good Intentions

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Since I was already sitting there, on the back patio, I decided to catalog my back yard.

My criteria for “stuff” seems to be anything I could pack up and move with me. So not the trees or plants rooted in the earth, or even the stone patio we set, but the items I usually bring in when a hurricane threatens to blow through, are what made the list.

I have always wanted to landscape my tiny back yard so that I couldn’t really see the fence surrounding it. I’ve been here 16 years (it was supposed to be five) and this has not happened on purpose or through the beauty of managed overgrowth. But I still love my organically messy back yard. We planted native trees when we moved in alongside the existing orange tree and rubber tree, so it’s much more lush, but still not the garden of my imagination.

It is small. My porch, which is huge, probably eats up half my yard. If it weren’t for the mosquitoes, I’d probably do away with the screen that divides the two spaces. But, Florida.

Because of my greenish-brown thumb, I employ a lot of potted plants – 30 to be exact. This way, I can move plants that are floundering to a different spot. More shade, more sun, eastern exposure, southern. There are a few of these in the front yard as well, but I’m getting a head of myself.

I have a small scrolly table with 4 chairs I inherited from my great uncle. It’s aluminum I think and the paint is peeling, but maybe that’s part of its charm. On it is a collection of those pots I mentioned, full of nothing but dirt and good intentions. In addition there is a hand made decorative plate I got from somewhere, filled with water. We have a bird bath in the front yard and the doves love it. The doves also love our back yard so I thought I would treat them to a second option. Since “installing” the back yard bird bath I have hosted not only doves but blue jays, cardinals, titmouses (titmice?), finches, generic brown birdies and squirrels. If I sit very still on the patio I can watch them drink and bathe without being noticed.

Then there are the chairs. Not the ones that match the table, the other 4 randomly strewn throughout the tiny space like some modern art installation. An art critic may note the longing of the two empty chairs seated next to one another, waiting, waiting for two lovers to return. Or the solitary chair facing east as if it’s former occupant sat anticipating the sunrise each morning. I’m not sure what this critic would say about the aqua chair with peeling paint and no seat.

I have a favorite sculpture I bought many years ago that is made from soldered metal parts that once belonged to other things and now through the mind of a Frankenwelder it has become a beautiful rusty bird. I’m a little attached to it.

Like the patio, I could let all of this go – except my bird maybe – but I enjoy it while it’s here. The extra chairs? those could find another home. Between all the chairs outside and all the seating on the patio I could comfortably seat 22.

Aside from the pots of plants and dirt, there are a few stone statues – one of an angel, one a monkey – a plaster St. Francis, cause he loves all the critters of course, an unattached panel of fence hiding out of sight and a stack of slate tiles meant for something greater. Oh and there’s a tiny table between the two chairs for those lovers so they’ll have somewhere to put their tea. Because surely they would have tea. Or maybe wine.

Total number of items in the back yard: 65

 

Where to Begin…

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Okay. So I’ve made this decision: The Year of Living Mindfully or Consciously. Or The Year of Counting All My Stuff. Or The Year of the Purge. Now where do I start? How?

As I meander from room to room in my not at all large home I become overwhelmed with all that I know is hidden. Desks, chests, cabinets, closets, even vintage suitcases are home to “things”. And some stuff is flat out mocking me by boldly sitting out for all to see. I have to start somewhere.

This is where most people get stuck. Where I am in danger of procrastination.

The whole mess put all together, especially if I start thinking about the black hole that is the garage, pushes me backward onto the couch in analysis paralysis. I look around for clues. Stare blankly at a plant. Gaze outside hoping for a distraction. I can clearly see the organization necessary, the putting back of things. I see that this needs to go here and that needs to go there, but the thought of pulling stuff out of their secret little hidey-holes and exposing them to daylight makes me sleepy.

I could start the old-fashioned way: pick a drawer or small closet to tackle first. Use a timer so I don’t overwhelm myself. This would be the advice of the Fly Lady and countless other organization gurus.

I could take the advice of Marie Kondo in the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and compartmentalize my stuff. Start with clothes first, then papers, books, etc. Her strategy is to pull all the pieces of one category together, touch each one, hold it up and ask yourself if you love it, or something along those lines. I did this with my clothes, books, papers, then shifted to spaces like the kitchen. Mostly it worked but I got a little stuck when it came to art supplies, artwork, and memorabilia.

Or I could use the Minimalists tactic of boxing up everything I own. Everything. And as I need something take it out of the box. After a month or two, whatever I didn’t pull from the boxes gets donated or otherwise released.

Or I could simply keep researching the best way and avoid the actual work.

I need to think and start small, the garage IS NOT the place to begin, or even look, until I get this project underway.

I will start with my master bedroom. It’s a simple space. Clean. I’ll begin with the contents of my bedside table drawer. I never open it except to retrieve my Nook charger. But there are other treasures in there.

Or, no. As I contemplate this I am sitting on my back patio. The weather is perfect, there’s a breeze and my bird friends have come to sip from the makeshift bird bath on top of the table. The table, birds and bird bath are all outside the screened enclosure, but the patio itself, inside the screen, is home to 675 square feet of hiding places. THIS is where I’ll begin. Stay tuned…