Simplifying and Terracycle

As I cut down the number of possessions that clutter my life, I find myself tossing a lot of stuff that I should have dealt with a long time ago. For example, why, oh why, did I ever feel the need to save movie ticket stubs? Did I think I would forget that I saw the movie? Did I think that some day someone would hold a gun to my head and demand that I recount exactly what day of what month of what year I saw Fellowship of the Rings in theaters for the 6th time? Or, for example, did I need the pile of 5th and 6th place ribbons from horse shows in addition to the one or two blues that I’m actually proud of? (Honestly, some day I may even get rid of those since I have my memories – I don’t need a blue ribbon to remember how great it felt to have such a smooth ride).

The stark Maine winter landscape.

The stark Maine winter landscape.

My family seems to think I’m jettisoning everything that makes my life colorful. I don’t think this is true at all, but convincing people is hard because the feeling of living with less clutter is just that: a feeling. Being able to comfortably fit the entire wardrobe of two people into my grandfather’s old chest of drawers and our closet is freeing. Having ample storage in the kitchen and being able to find everything I need in order to happily cook is immensely satisfying. Spending more time playing with the kitties, exploring new hobbies, and enriching my relationship with Sean are far preferable to feeling like I need to do something already with the stuff that is pouring out of my “organizers” and collecting on the table.

Maybe it is drastic to donate, sell, repurpose, recycle, or trash a large percentage of my things. But I’m done being sentimental about things. This does not mean that I have lost my soul or my capacity to love. I am just redirecting that love. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are certain things, like the quilts and handwoven items that my mother has made for me, books that I cherish, art, and special gifts that will not join the stream of stuff leaving my house. This is about getting rid of things that I never use and have shallow, unfounded sentimental attachment to (something that comes along with the pack rat gene, I think).

Skiing in the university forest.

Skiing in the university forest.

The thing about decluttering is that it seems like an unending battle; it really comes down to restricting what enters your house. Breaking the shopping addiction and nipping retail therapy in the bud are two things that I am working on right now. Instead of wandering the aisles of Target when I’m feeling particularly empty, I throw myself out the door and get some fresh air. By the time I’m done with my walk/skiing jaunt/what have you, I’ve forgotten all about Target.

Now, there is a particular danger when talking about simplification that I have noticed in many texts on the subject and that I fear could be an interpretation of my own writing. By writing about simplifying and waxing poetic about how much it frees up our lives, we find ourselves portraying living with less as something quaint when the reality is that most of the world must live with less. The idea of too much stuff is truly a first world problem, but here’s the big catch: what if the first world starts living with less on purpose? What if we set the standard of consuming less so that the countries that feel the need to “Americanize” and join our consumptive culture can focus instead on developing a more stable, sustainable base to grow on.

Even in my own interactions with people, I have observed a tendency to crave things. I can pick out two people in my mind who, when I knew them, lived paycheck-to-paycheck (or unemployment check), barely scraping by, living on the cheapest food they could find…yet somehow they felt the need to take that paycheck and squeeze it into a brand new car, a pile of stuff from Goodwill that would languish in the closet, a brand new stereo system when their existing one worked just fine, new clothes when their wardrobes were already overflowing, and more. While I cannot even begin to understand the psychology behind this compulsive need to amass stuff, I can wager that the pressure to consume, to own, contributes to these actions.

There's a light at the end of the...field.

There’s a light at the end of the…field.

So I urge you to consider what you truly need in order to live a comfortable life. Consider what is important to you, not for tenuously sentimental reasons, but for the health of your core being. Get rid of anything that doesn’t have a place in your heart, body, or mind so that you have more time and more space to allow your passions to grow.

For me, one of my core needs is to feel like I am not befouling the earth, hence my continuing forays into zero waste. I have drastically reduced how much I actually send to the landfill, but there are some things in my house that are longer-use items that I will have to dispose of eventually. Most of these are bathroom items – floss packages, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles, deodorant containers – that are either unrecyclable or only downcyclable. This is where Terracycle comes in.

I stole this graphic from Terracycle.

I stole this graphic from Terracycle.

Terracycle accepts difficult-to-recycle and unrecyclable items and turns them into something new. Depending on how much waste you send them, they award you points that you can use to purchase upcycled products or to donate to non-profit organizations. There are many “brigades,” including the one pictured above. I am excited to collect our bathroom things and send them off to be recycled rather than to be lost in the “zero sort” stream (I really don’t trust our recycling program in Orono) or sent to the landfill.

This also opens up options to people who aren’t willing to switch to tooth powder or baking soda deodorant (although considering the toxicity of the things you use day-to-day is another thing entirely – click the link to search your products for health hazards). I’m particularly excited about the cheese packaging brigade, because I love cheese and have yet to find a source of non-packaged cheese in the area (even the farmer’s market has packaged cheese…boo).

This is what I want you to do: Really consider everything you put in the trash. Give the brigades a good look-over; could you send it in to Terracycle? Could you find a replacement so that you don’t have to toss it the next time? Can you compost it? Can you do without it in the future? You’ll amaze yourself with what you find.

(A note about Terracycle: While I think it is great that they find alternative uses for these things, I still think that it should be a last resort for things that are otherwise landfill-bound. I will use them until I can find alternatives for the waste I am generating.)

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