If you’ve just done a big spring cleaning or you are about to, you’re probably thinking about (or kicking yourself for) how much clutter has built up since your last major clean. What is all this stuff and how does it get into your home? Are you hanging on to things to keep them out of landfill or because they enrich or serve your life in some way?
Recycling is not better than reducing
Recycling is one of the green movement’s major contributions to mainstream living. It’s an important one, but it can go too far when it’s not brought into balance with one of the other environmental 3Rs: reducing.
Right now I’m looking at one parenting magazine that has instructions for making “wallets” out of milk or juice cartons, toy animals from soda bottles, puppets out of plastic spoons, seedling trays out of pizza boxes, a baseball bat from a foam pool noodle and I could go on.
Turning unnecessary purchases into useless clutter is not green
Part of me really applauds the emphasis here on entertaining kids by recycling old items into new items. But these tips are not standing alone. Not by a long shot.
Everywhere you turn it seems you can find tips on how to recycle — everything from turning snowboards into benches, yoga mats into gardening knee pads, checkbook wallets into coupon organizers, fabric softeners into shoe fresheners, CDs into coasters and shower caps into purse makeup kits. Add to that green products that encourage us to make bird feeders or bookmarks or collages out of their packaging and you are just about drowning in clutter. Recycled clutter, yes, but still clutter.
Reduce reduce reduce
I’m not arguing for an anti-consumerist life here. But it’s important to shift the emphasis away from senseless consumerism made good through faux recycling to responsible consumerism. These days we ask the companies we buy from to have environmental ethics and standards and to be socially responsible. But how responsible are we as consumers?
Two steps to responsible consumerism
It’s actually easy. Just put your focus on these two simple steps and you’re there.
Buy things you really need and buy the things that will bring you great joy and that you can afford. Buy things that will last and that you would want to have around for years and decades to come. Don’t buy things that will not bring you joy or are destined to break quickly. Don’t buy things you suspect are made on the backs of less fortunate workers. Don’t buy things that contribute to harming the earth or your health. In short: When in doubt, hold out.
Close the loop
Instead of turning that toothbrush into a sculpture or that tissue box into a piggy bank, look for products that are made out of recycled materials and that come in already recycled or no packaging. This step means you contribute to the demand for recycled goods that is necessary to keep recycling programs afloat. You also ensure that you can recycle the products and packaging properly when you are finished with them.
When you shift the focus to those simple steps — buying less and closing the loop — you’ll find yourself with much less clutter. Try it for a year and you’ll find spring cleaning next year will truly be a breeze!