Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Recycling is virtuous. Most of us at least make an effort to do the right thing. We probably put out stuff for curbside recycling pickups. We may carry a reusable water bottle and take cloth bags to the grocery. BUT, what about when it gets more complicated and time consuming? Here’s my recent story.

It all started with a basement leak that dampened some important papers because they were stored in a cardboard box on the floor.

Solution: Let the papers dry out and find a plastic crate to put them in. Done!
BUT, the most available plastic crate was full of old tennis shoes waiting to be recycled. Good.
I figured this would motivate me to take the shoes to recycle at the Nike outlet I’ve used before. Yes, it was a 45 minute drive, but once every couple years is worth it. So, I called the outlet and found they no longer accepted used athletic shoes. FAILED. Click here for other ideas.

No problem, I’ll just send them to Soles for Souls which uses them to provide shoes and jobs for people in poor countries. BUT, I noticed that the donate form specified “gently used” shoes. Hmm. If mine were gently used, I’d still be wearing them. So, I figured maybe they’d look closer to gently used if I cleaned them up some.

After an hour of cleaning one shoe, inside and out, I realized this was not going to be enough.
I chose the 3 best looking pairs (I even bought new shoe laces for one pair.) and discarded the other 2 pairs. I boxed them up and took them to the nearest UPS store for free shipping through Zappos. It proved the maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.”

It took time. It wasn’t a complete success. But it was done and my plastic crate was now available to store the papers. Enough virtue for one day.

But, as luck would have it, I got an email from a friend alerting our environmental group to an upcoming event for difficult-to-recycle items. They accepted #5 plastics, light bulbs, empty Rx bottles, batteries, and more. Hmm, I’ve been saving many of these items for our semi-annual County hazardous waste day but the Spring one had been cancelled. I was in recycling mode and I had the afternoon free, so I carted a bunch of things out of the house and freed up a couple more containers – for awhile.

What’s your story of a recycling failure or hard earned success? What helped your succeed?

As destructive as Covid-19 has been, it’s forced me to learn some new lessons during this time of change. I’ve become more:

  • Grateful for many people (essential workers, family, friends)
  • Grateful for the lifestyle I take for granted (my health, a steady income from Social Security and a pension, ability to work from home…)
  • Aware of my white, middle class privilege
  • Focused on the Fall elections prompted by the increasing dysfunction of our federal government (while also remembering that that’s the source of my Social Security)

But, because of cancellations and physical distancing I’ve also had more time at home this Spring – and that brings me to weeding. Weeding my small vegetable garden has been therapy and taught me:

  1. Not all “weeds” are weeds. Just because a little green spout is not from a seed I had planted doesn’t mean it is worthless. The problem is recognizing the wanted weeds (tomato seedlings from our compost) from unwanted weeds.
  2. I can’t volunteer for everything. Often I needed to pull out even the desirable “volunteer” seedlings to make room for the intended crop to grow. Life needs space and time. I can’t do everything.
  3. Look out for impostors. I have a small strawberry patch but last year I got very few strawberries. Only after some googling did I learn to differentiate the real strawberries (white blossoms) from the mock strawberries (yellow blossoms). Frustration can prompt lashing out with brute force at false enemies. It takes careful discernment to figure out which actions will truly last the test of time.
  4. When to act swiftly and when to be patient. When an opportunistic bug invades a particular plant, I must act right away lest it spread to the rest of a relatively healthy garden. Yet, plants take sun, water, and time. Seeing the fruit of my efforts will take weeks, months, generations. Demonstrations can be an immediate response, but systemic change takes the persistent effort of many over time to make a difference.
  5. Poison Ivy can be useful. I got a bad case of poison ivy. (Some of those weeds really were bad 🙁 ). I decided to let itching be my friend. When speaking I can be too long-winded and judgmental. I let the itching remind me to be concise and kind.

What’s really important? In the midst of keeping up with life (and this blog) I summarized the goal of Living Lightly with the following mission statement.
Minimalism is not so much getting rid of clutter (although that is a worthy goal) BUT rather having enough. That requires a mindfulness of what’s really important in life and not letting my worth depend on my possessions, accomplishments, or the admiration of others. As Elsa would say, “Let it go.”

Life is more than being a good minimalist, but I think living lightly holds the seeds of what’s important. Have you ever written your life’s mission statement?
If not, why not now. Let it grow.


LEAKS: Last week we had several days of torrential rains. No problem. Handy Jim had dutifully cleaned out our gutters of tree debris which often causes them to overflow and water seeps into our basement – where my office is! BUT, this time it was a side of the house which has no trees and should be safe. It wasn’t. Water leaked under  my desk, file cabinets, and laundry area. I now had to spend the better part of my day moving stuff, running fans, and sopping up wet carpets. Repeat.

It was a hassle, BUT it also forced me to reexamine all the things I had to move. One large cardboard box on the floor held historical documents about the Marianist Lay Communities I’ve been part of. They could have filled a file drawer. The box was history, but the papers were only damp so I spread them out to dry. Good rescue. However, the box had been on the floor because I didn’t have a free file drawer. I assume this is a sign from above that I should prune the papers – or – my file cabinets. Both are ominous tasks that I don’t have time for. After all, during coronavirus season who has time for anything? 🙁 I guess I’ve been avoiding this task.

The smaller task that I thought I could tackle, however, was to review the stray papers that I had on my desk to help me feel less behind in life. Done!

DUSTING: I’ve been noticing more dust around our house. Covid-19 causes me to spend more time at home which prompted a Holy Week dusting spree. Funny thing about dust – it doesn’t go away forever. Well, I figured it was time to dust again since I had started this new habit and now noticed the dust. BUT, I didn’t want to go to the trouble to take all the little boxes off my dresser again just to dust it. Solution: have fewer boxes of stuff. So I pruned more jewelry and kept only those earrings, necklaces, and pins I actually wear – at least once a year. Result: 1 less box. I also rediscovered a book, Called To Community, that had been resting on my night stand for at least a year, waiting to be read. I committed to at least reading the opening Introduction before I put it in a pile to give away. I was hooked. It has 52 short chapters about living in community so I committed to read at least one chapter a week. Then I went on to giving the rest of the house a quick dusting. And I learned once again that –

Jim is usually right. In our family I’m usually the  one who sweeps and vacuums the floors. BUT, Jim says I should clean the higher surfaces before I do the floors since much of the dust ends up on the floor. Who would have thunk? Well apparently lots of people. I came across the article How to Dust Everything in Your Home if you’re a serious duster, BUT the main take away is dust higher surfaces first.

1. Humility – How dang ungrateful I am. Here I’m grousing about a basement leak when some families have lost their homes in floods. I have furniture to dust and jewelry to spare. Hmmm.
2. Just Start – I procrastinate on many tasks because it would take too much time. Breaking a commitment into smaller steps by just clearing one small pile or reading 3 pages helped.
3. “BUT” – There are usually two sides to every decision/task/problem. One may be burdensome, BUT look for the unexpected benefit.

So, what unexpected benefits have you discovered from doing mundane tasks?

I’m tired. Tired of Covid-19, physical distancing, and not being able to do justice to the worthy Lenten projects I had committed to. I’ve been a “good girl.” I made masks for Jim and me. I complied with social distancing, but I wanted to do more direct service for those in need. It all came down to money.

I don’t consider myself rich but I’ve spent enough time with those in real poverty to know that I am at least comfortably middle class. Certainly millionaires can use their money to do a lot of social good but what can a person on Social Security and a modest pension do to help those in greater financial need? Following are 6 ways that I found to spend my money to serve others.

1. Donate our $1,200 government relief checks to causes we support with our time. So far we’ve donated to Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center, First Shift (a non-profit that gives legal help to mothers in low wage jobs to prevent job loss, Catholic Worker House, and food vouchers to a few panhandlers. Several friends said they were donating to food banks.

2. Donate to political groups that support the poor and marginalized.

3. Buy household products that might cost a little more but save the environment. For example, I’ve recently tested several cleancult cleaning products (so you don’t have to).

  • Liquid hand soap – Cost ($7) slightly more than my previous soap but is thicker, I found I could dilute it with water making it cheaper and it still cleans just as well.
  • Dishwasher tablets – Cost ($8.45) almost double my previous tablets.
  • Liquid dish soap – Cost ($7) slightly more than an equivalent amount of Ajax. (2020-6-25 update: It seems to clean well. but doesn’t create much suds and doesn’t cut the grease as well.)
  • All purpose cleaner – Cost ($7 for a 16 oz. bottle)

When I compared the cleancult products to my previous brands, all seemed to clean as well. I had no need for their laundry tabs, dryer balls, bar soap, or funnel since I already had these.

4. Buy energy efficient products. Certainly the solar panels we installed a couple years ago and our hybrid car apply. On a smaller scale, however, last winter we had an old space heater that worked but used a lot of electricity. We were about to buy a new energy efficient one when I lucked into finding one on neighbor Next Door.

5. Create your own food – Of course strictly speaking one doesn’t “create” food because it comes from seeds but I’m counting all the seeds and plants I’ve recently bought for my garden as an investment in food. I probably spent more money per ounce of food I produce than if I bought it in the grocery, but the coronavirus has given me the time to plant and I can also count it as free recreation since digging in the dirt soothes my soul.

6. Free up money – When we repair something or reduce our desire to buy something we free up money to give to those in greater need. One humble action I’ve taken is to save rags to use for clean-ups so I don’t buy many paper towels.

So, I’d like to hear how you might have bought something more expensive but saved money, time, or the environment in the long run.

When Lent began 7+ weeks ago, I had a 5 point plan to become “Just Kinder.”
1. Eat a vegetarian diet (Be Kind to the Environment)
2. Avoid single use plastics (Be Kind to the Environment)
3. Use more public transportation (Be Kind to the Environment + mix with people in need)
4. Interact more directly with people in need (Be helpful to those in need)
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home (Live Lightly by sharing my stuff)

Covid-19 was far away in China in January and the first US death didn’t occur till the end of February. As Lent began the coronavirus began to change life in the US – but not mine. It wasn’t till mid-March that closures and physical social distancing started changing my daily life. Now Lent and Covid-19 have become intermingled. Meetings and religious services went on-line. My Lenten plans of using public transportation (#3) and direct interaction with people in need (#4) dropped out of my plan.

So what did I learn and how did it change me?
A. Who am I? –
What am I worth? I admit that my self-regard is closely tied to being competent and achieving goals. Letting go of my Lenten plan challenged my concept of who I was. Privileged? Important? Worthy?
B. Who is in Control? – If I am not in control what is life all about anyway? (Who remembers Alfie?) This led to reflecting about Death, Who is God? Is there an afterlife?, Family. and Time (because my watch battery died and I didn’t know if I should to go to a store to get a new one.)
C. LOVE – The answer that kept coming was LOVE. How can the love that is in me continue after my death?

So What? – So what do I do now? After probing the above theological concepts, I still needed to put my love into action but had to rethink the plan I had carefully developed.

  • Yes I could still basically eat a vegetarian diet and avoid single use plastics.
  • Using more public transportation and tutoring at the inner city school would be delayed. I volunteered to be a “car hop” for a neighborhood free food distribution center, but they haven’t called me to work yet.
  • I could continue to prune household stuff and did. Through the Nextdoor on-line group I found Del Shawn who picked up some remaining give-aways including some clothes, a TV antenna, and baskets. Since she was connected with a small community church, I also gave her 6 Bibles. (If you are wondering why anyone would have 6 extra Bibles, some were children’s Bibles, some were different translations, and some were devotional books.

Three Final Questions:
1. How has the coronavirus changed your life? What have you learned?
2. If you don’t need the $1,200 relief check that the US government is sending out for daily necessities, who (or what cause) will you give it to?
3. What is a daily necessity?

So much has changed since Covid-19 has taken over the world. My Lenten commitments seem almost frivolous or irrelevant in the face of deaths, lay-offs, and closings, but here’s the skinny on them:
1. Eat a vegetarian diet – continues, but with more appreciation of grocery workers & farmers
2. Avoid single use plastics – It’s complicated. In order to support small businesses, we purchased a couple carry-out meals, but that included plastic trays.
3. Use more public transportation social distancing, but I’m not going out much anyway.
4. Interact more directly with people in need – Continue to give grocery gift card. Dropped off food to the local Catholic Worker house instead of eating with the guests.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – With meetings cancelled, I took time to clean house. This included long needed dusting which uncovered more than dust: extra necklaces, holey socks finally got darned, floors got cleaned, and windows washed.

But Lent has grown beyond my initial commitments. Physical social distancing created space for more physical activity like walking to the grocery store, longer bike rides, and gardening.

And now, of course, as Christians embark on Holy Week (Jews celebrate Passover, Muslims observe Ramadan…) my thoughts turn to how do these religious feasts which are usually commemorated in churches, temples, and mosques square with social distancing. Beyond live streaming religious services, what’s a person of faith to do?

Since my background is in Catholic Family Ministry and our own family has experimented with many ways of doing “church at home” I offer these ways to bring religion home which I recently sent out to people getting my weekly Parenting Pointers around the USA.

It includes a
• Home ritual for any time in Holy Week (From Where I Sit)
• Holy Thursday Foot Washing basic service
• Holy Thursday – Marianist Family Retreat Center Footwashing Service
Family Meditations for the Stations of the Cross
Stations of the Cross with a social justice perspective
• Easter morning 15th Station.
(You might wake early and do this last one outside at “sonrise.”)

About 2 weeks ago the world started to change for me. With news of the coronavirus spreading, the cancellations started pouring in. First it was Cincinnati’s annual dance extravaganza, PigTown Fling, then the NCAA basketball tournament. These were sad but not life changing. Then meetings and talks I had scheduled started to be cancelled. Too bad, but it opened up some free time and I wrote an article titled Cancellations – The Gift of Time: What to do when Work, School, Church, Events, or Trips are cancelled? I also distributed a Coronavirus Pandemic Prayer to help put our current life trials in perspective.

But then the whole social distancing thing started to impact my daily life. Schools closed, places of worship cancelled services, businesses closed, and Covid-19 news dominated the airwaves more than politics. (Maybe the latter was a blessing.J)

My Lenten resolves took on a different face.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet – OK, that could pretty easily continue.
2. Avoid single use plastics – This also could continue since I didn’t need any.
3. Use more public transportation – I had already charted some bus routes but buses aren’t social distance friendly. It wasn’t essential. I’m dropping this for now.
4. Interact more directly with people in need – My weekly tutoring was cancelled (social distancing). I did continue to give out grocery gift cards to panhandlers though.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – OK, I could still do this. A stranger took the desk chair that I put out on the sidewalk last week and I gave several reams of 3 hole paper to our son who was preparing take home packets for his inner-city school students.
But distribution was a problem for the blankets and stuffed animals I had collected. The homeless shelters said they were either closed or only took new blankets because of bed bugs.
However it is spring and I have a plethora of daffodils so I distributed flowers as a sign of hope to four neighbors.

So, in addition to minding my diet and looking for more things to give away, I decided to try two new environmental purchases.
Vogt tested SO YOU WON’T HAVE TO:
1. Tru Earth – Eco-strips for laundry detergent.
The eco value of these paper-like strips is that you avoid the plastic jug and the weight of transporting it to stores. But I wanted to test it out first to make sure it actually did an adequate job of cleaning clothes. The cheapest place to order 32 loads from was Amazon for $15. It worked, BUT it came in a plastic bubble wrap envelope which seemed to defeat the eco purpose. Once I knew it cleaned clothes well, I went directly to the Tru Earth distributor and signed up to the bi-monthly shipment which comes in a simple cardboard container. Total cost for the same 32 loads is only $13.00.

2. HelloTushy – a bidet like toilet attachment
I thought the eco-value of this bidet would be the elimination of toilet paper. (With toilet paper flying off store shelves these days, that’s a bonus.) Well, without giving you TMI, I can say that it doesn’t eliminate the need for toilet paper since you probably still want to pat yourself dry but it does reduce toilet paper – about 50% in my experience. Both my husband and I are very happy with the Tushy Classic bidet but it took me 1½ hr. to install it rather than the 10 they claim. It cost $79. It’ll take a while to break even. Contact me if you want more information.

BONUS – Does dusting count as getting rid of something? I’ve got some time. I’m counting it.

Now that ⅓ of Lent is over here are my successes, failures, and 4 lessons I’ve learned. My commitment was to do a daily act of kindness to another person, creation, or myself, i.e Just Kindness. I organized my actions into the following categories. Here’s what happened:

  1. Eat a vegetarian dietThis was successful but too easy since we normally only have a couple meat dinners a week anyway. For lunch I often have a lunch meat sandwich so I just substituted a veggie sandwich or ate leftovers. However, one evening we ate dinner at a friend’s house and they served a meat main dish. It would have been rude (unkind) to refuse it. No problem. In my head I just swapped a Sunday meatless meal for this one.
  2. Avoid single use plastics – I thought this would also be easy since I carry my own water bottle, reusable spork silverware, etc. BUT, we hosted a meal for 12 people and used Chinese carry out for simplicity. I specified no silverware, napkins, or other disposable products, but the main dishes came in plastic containers (thankfully not Styrofoam). Some took their leftovers home in them but I had a few extras. Hmmm. One other time I ate out and I wanted to take the extra home. No problem, I would just get my reusable plastic carryout container from the car. BUT… I hadn’t driven. I sucked it up and ate all of the food. Does this count as gluttony? 🙁  (Click on photo to enlarge and see single use plastics collected before Lent began.)
  3. Use more public transportation – I knew this would be hard since it would take researching the bus schedule and more time. I did take the bus once because the event was not time sensitive. I avoided several other opportunities because it would involve a transfer and I was pressed for time. I tried to be present to the people on the bus and contemplate what their lives might be like. One woman had two small children and several bags of groceries. Now that’s heroism. I biked to one nearby destination rather than take the car.
  4. Interact more directly with people in need – On Wednesdays, I tutor several first graders in a low income school. It was harder than I expected to keep them attentive. I’m learning a lot about early childhood education challenges and developing great admiration for the teachers that do this every day. I donated Kroger gift cards to 3 panhandlers I passed.
  5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home – On most days I took the time to look for things around the house that I no longer needed. This included an extra sun hat, old meditation booklets, a necklace, a large hot pad, a desk chair, ream of 3-hole paper, and a small boom box.

1.  Grocery shopping is a challenge. I’ve reduced but not eliminated clam-shells. (Click on photo to see clam-shells since Lent began)
2. Don’t be pure, but make progress. Once I planned on buying grapes but realized they only came in plastic bags. Well that’s better than a clam-shell and at least I can recycle the plastic bags at Krogers. Carry-out plastics are better than Styrofoam. Being a grateful guest is more important than skipping a meat dish.
3. Let hunger and inconvenience be my friend. I was surprised that on a number of days I felt hungry. Eating vegetarian didn’t mean I had to eat less so I was mystified by my hunger. I decided to let my physical hunger put me in solidarity with those who are hungry because of poverty. My bus ride heightened my compassion for those who don’t have another option.
4. Choosing what to give away is easier than finding a good home for it. I still haven’t found a home for my chair, boom box, or other items. For now I’ve just put them in the give away box. It’s hard to find a good home. 🙂

I’ve spent a week pondering how to make this coming Lent count. It has not been a quick or easy discernment. (That’s why last week’s blog was on 6 simple environmental tips. I wanted to share simple stuff before starting on a more rigorous routine.) Are you ready for Lent 2020?

In addition to my usual Lenten commitment of skipping deserts, I ended up with 5 actions I wanted to take to become a better person.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet
2. Avoid single use plastics
3. Use more public transportation
4. Interact more directly with people in need
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home
My hope was that the above actions would deepen me spiritually by focusing on others and reducing pride.

However, I wasn’t sure how to keep all these grand goals in focus so they didn’t just fade away. The ideas were broad and often unrelated. (The first 3 connected to my environmental commitment, #4 connected with my desire to serve the poor, and #5 was a realization that I still have stuff that I don’t need. When I die someone else is going to have to go through my stuff and memorabilia. I needed a unifying principle.

I’ve always been fond of Micah 6:8: “To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
– In short: Just Kindness. That’s my vision.
Now I need a plan for how to do at least one act of justice or kindness a day for 40 days.
1. Eat a vegetarian diet: I typically eat a meat sandwich for lunch. That shouldn’t be hard to change. For dinner we only have meat once or twice a week. No problem, EXCEPT that Jim is usually the cook. I’m in negotiation with him but I can commit to most of the 40 days.
2. Avoid single use plastics: Because Jim cooks he usually does most of the grocery shopping. Yesterday I had to pick up a few extras and was amazed at how hard it was to avoid plastic wrapping or containers. This will be a challenge but “avoid” is the key word here. I’m not trying for 100%, just trying to reduce. How low can I go? Click here for video clips about plastics.
3. Use more public transportation: Taking the bus is both ecological and puts me face to face with many people who don’t have a choice because they are poor. Thus, it addresses both goal #3 and #4. However, it takes extra time. I work at home so there are not many places I need to go and most destinations involve a transfer. Solution: “More” needn’t be !00%. I think I can commit to doing this at least once during Lent to see how it feels.
4. Interact more directly with people in need: I’ve already committed to tutoring one day a week at a low income school. Once a month I prepare meals and eat with the guests at the Catholic Worker House. I just bought additional Kroger food cards to more regularly give to panhandlers I encounter about 2-3 times a week. Probably one of these things will happen at least 20 days out of the 40.
5. Continue to prune more stuff from my home: On days that 1, 2, 3, or 4 have not happened, I commit to identify at least one item that I no longer need to give away. This also doubles as an act of justice and kindness.

But, how to assure busyness doesn’t prompt procrastination and backsliding?
Here are 2 strategies for developing a habit:

The T.A.G.S. approach
• Tell/Promise someone (I’m telling you now 🙂 )
• Award yourself – find a pleasing prompt to trigger your habit (Your blog comments can help.)
• Ground it in a root value – faith, justice, love. the common good (Check myself during prayer.)
• Small steps (It’s only 40 days. I will survive.)

The S.I.P. approach – How to motivate yourself to change your behavior – a TED Talk by Tali Sharot (watch especially from 9:40-16:48)
• Social incentives
• Immediate rewards
• Progress monitoring

So what’s this all have to do with YOU?
Review your own life.
What practice(s) would you like to turn into positive habits?
What has helped you in the past? (Let the rest of us know.)

Life has been busy with little time to devote to serious possession pruning or recycling. My current volunteer priorities of environmental work and addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church have been time consuming. Still, I’d like to share 6 more simple life tips before we plunge into Lent next week.

  1. Reduce Paper Towels: A few years ago I realized we had plenty of rags from old clothes that were not worthy of giving to thrift stores. With an abundance of rags, we decided to make it more difficult to use paper towels. We moved cloth towels to the the paper towel rack and moved the paper towels to an inconvenient place under the sink. Sometimes a paper towel is the best material for cleaning up, but usually a washable rag does just as well.
  2. Keep Water Bottles Handy: Both Jim and I have water bottles but often forget to take them with us to public gatherings where too often only disposable plastic cups are available. Solution: Put 2 water bottles in the car so they are handy.
  3. Use the Car for more than Transportation: Same as #2. We keep several reusable bags in the car for groceries and other purchases. I also recently put a collapsible plastic food container in the car glove compartment to use instead of the Styrofoam container that restaurants provide for left-overs.
  4. Color Coding: When our kids were young to reduce how many dishes we needed to wash we assigned each of them a color. Now when the family gathers or guests visit for longer than one meal they are assigned a colored cup (or glass with a colored rubber band). They also get a unique colored or designed cloth napkin.
  5. 7″ high purse

    Take Advantage of Others: Religious or non-profit organizations make it easier. I could drive to a collection point, but our parish collects toiletries, clothes, and food, for those in need. I’m going there anyway so it’s an easy conduit to get stuff to people in need.

  6. Carry my Identity/Silverware/Tools: If you go to a lot of meetings like I do, you get a lot of disposable name tags.  With

    spork+credit card

    my weakening memory, I appreciate name tags, BUT, I decided to carry a generic reusable one in my small purse. I also carry a “spork” in my purse to avoid single use plastic utensils. My unique “credit card”  includes a miniature knife, scissors, screwdriver, magnifying glass, tweezers, and pen.

Here Comes Lent: I love Lent…Well maybe it’s not love but rather it’s the motivation for me to look more deeply at what’s important in life and what is cluttering my mind and space. Research says that it takes between 20-60 days to develop a new habit so the 40 days of Lent are well suited reviewing my life and focusing on a change of spirit and practice. Currently I’m considering:

  • Using more public transportation
  • Eating a vegetarian diet
  • Eliminating single use plastic
  • Fasting from the internet and/or Facebook for 1 day a week
  • No optional restaurant meals (exceptions are the Parish Fish Fry or travel)
  • Finding ways to interact directly with people in need
  • ?? Please share additional ideas that you are considering

Sometimes Living more Lightly is short and simple. Of course there are other times when it takes more time than I would like and feels complicated. This week I’ve had a little of both.

Simple: Over the Christmas holidays we had a lot of guests. One of our guests treated us to a number of bottles of wine which came in a handy cloth bag with separators for  each bottle. Great! But we already had one of those bags and saw no reason to keep two. Easy solution just return the extra bag on our next trip to Krogers. Took 1 minute max.
PS 2020-2: I just did another simple recycling – Since we got several new items as Christmas gifts, I had a clock, robe, and slacks that were now duplicates. I took the easy way and called VietVets for a home pick-up. It’s not the most satisfying recycling effort since it’s very impersonal, but it sure is easy – took probably 30 seconds.

Not So Simple: With the holidays I also procrastinated clearing my desk (and floor) of papers from several different projects I had been working on – wanted to spend the time being present to our family and guests. Good choice. BUT this meant it was complicating my life to find which papers went to which project. Of course I have over the years developed a filing system and trays for my paperwork. One would think that it was simply a matter of sorting the papers into the appropriate locations. One would be wrong. Part of the reason I procrastinated is that even with 2 filing cabinets, 8 trays and 10 file separators, they were all becoming stuffed. I knew I would need to prune through the older file folders and this would take some time.

Finally I forced myself to set aside at least half a day to do this. 3 ½ hours later I was done. Now I have a lot more paper to put in curbside recycling. Yea!

Solutions: So what tasks have you found simple solutions for? What have you been procrastinating about? What has helped you get over inertia? Do you reward yourself? Tell someone to keep yourself accountable? Lock yourself in until it’s done? Give up and let it pile up?

It has been 10 years since I started my Living Lightly blog (Feb. 2010) and I’ve given you all a lot of words. In the spirit of decade reviews, I’m offering you a summary of highlights for those who might feel overwhelmed by looking at even my curated list of posts in the right column. Here are my top 10 topics of the decade with some literary license for years which point you to multiple posts. The order is roughly chronological rather than priority.

  1. Lent: 2010 Clothes – Although I scoured the whole house in 2010, I chose to focus on clothes since that is the most personal area and one that most people start with. For an overview, click here. For specifics see:
    Shoes: 1, 2 
    Tops: (blouses, sweaters) 1, 2, 3, 4
    : 1, 2
    Bedroom & Misc. Clothes*
    : 1, 2 
  2. 2011+ Other people’s stuff + 1, 2, 3, 4 Once having pruned stuff that belonged to me, I realized that we were storing a lot of stuff for other people (especially our grown kids).
  3. Lent: 2012 Eating Lightly (Food Stamp Challenge)
  4. Lent: 2013 Waste Less + misc. recycling posts
  5. Lent: 2014 A Drawer a Day This was my systematic but time efficient way to “conquer” hidden stuff.
  6. Lent: 2015 Buy Nothing Of course it’s impossible to spend NO money, but check my criteria for what I allowed and what I tried to forego.
  7. 2016-17 Paper Clutter, (Memorabilia, books,,,) Although dealing with paper (and now digital information) is a lifelong task, the key question is: What’s important to save, What’s not? Here’s a start.
  8. Lent: 2018 Kindness – 7 things I learned
  9. Humorous Foibles During Lent 2019 I revisited my Room by Room process of 2010, but in hindsight this can get boring. As a break, here’s a taste of some mistakes.
  10. 2010-2019 Musings As I diligently tried to live more lightly on planet earth, I inevitably learned a lot about myself, what is important and what is not. Pick your favorite and let me know.

* I found that words for under garments apparently trigger spammers and those looking for stuff that is very different from this blog. Most seem to come from remote countries. I imagine that they are disappointed when they learn the purpose of this blog 🙂 .

The joy of Christmas is too often accompanied by over-consumption of presents and plastics. Neither is good for the soul. Over the years I’ve written a number of blogs on simplifying Christmas. Click here to review some of them. This year I offer you Joshua Becker’s list of How to Restore Gift Giving Sanity.
BUT, with Christmas also comes good food, often wrapped in plastic packaging and it’s starting to pollute my Christmas spirit. Here’s my story.

It all started a couple months ago when I learned that Whole Foods would no longer accept #1-7 plastics for recycling. That’s a bummer. Our local curb side recycling accepts plastic bottles and jugs, but what about all those other plastics like the clamshells that berries and cherry tomatoes come in? What about the #5’s that yogurt comes in.

I diligently started searching for alternative places to recycle these plastics and found several. (For N. KY options click here, then scroll to bottom of PACA newsletter.) However, the more I researched I realized that the reason many recyclers were no longer accepting plastics was because their previous markets (primarily China) were no longer accepting our plastic. I also learned some disturbing news about the growing recycling related pollution problems in Indonesia which continues to import our plastics for “recycling.”

Finding alternate plastic recycling sources is only a temporary solution. I was going to have to go hard core – back to the basic recycling mantra REDUCE, reuse, recycle. But what about my beloved yogurt? I took a deep breath and decided to dig out my old yogurt maker from decades ago. Last week I made yogurt. Yea!

With yogurt conquered, I turned my attention to the plastic “clamshell” containers that berries and cherry tomatoes come in. In the summer I grow berries but don’t get many. I’m willing to default to raisins on my cereal for the rest of the year…but my husband isn’t. The jury is still out on how we will resolve this marital recycling difference. (After all he does compassionately release indoor insects to their outside homes; I just squash them.) I’m not aiming for 100% purity, but I can at least REDUCE how many clamshells come into our home. Have you found ways to reduce the use of single use plastics? Please share.

Bottom line:
RECYCLING – Good (Level 1)
REDUCE – Better  Don’t buy as many products packaged in plastic. (Level 1)
MULTIPLY SOLUTIONS – Best  Go beyond individual lifestyle changes by impacting societal change.
Level 2 – Talk with friends about your lifestyle improvements.
Level 3 – Institutional change. Contact local governments, schools, churches, etc.
Level 4 – Go Big – Become involved in national political change.
Click here to watch Will Grant’s 3 minute video describing Levels 2, 3, and 4 from the Drawdown workshops I facilitate. (If you’re ready to get into serious action to reverse global warming, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with a local group.)
Signs of progress: Click here to read or listen to NPR’s 3 minute recent feature on the evolving natural substitutes for plastics.

As we approach the “giving” aka “buying” season of December, my mind turns to a pet peeve – excessive and deceptive Advertising.  For example:

  • Specialized dog biscuits geared to cure your dog of halitosis. Really? I love dogs but this seems over the top.
  • Toothpaste boxes that show a huge swirl of toothpaste overflowing the brush. Since I use an electric toothbrush with a tiny head, only a dab will do it. I presume it’s meant as a subliminal message to kids to put a big hunk of toothpaste on their brush so the parent has to buy toothpaste more often.
  • Fake news political ads. “Fake news” is in the eye of the beholder, but with each campaign season I see ads that portray a candidate or cause with misleading innuendos.
  • How does one know which news source to trust?

As I reflected on these examples, I realized that I had slipped into judgmentalism based on my own biases. So I tried arguing the other side:

  • Dog treats – Hey, it’s just a treat. Don’t I treat myself with ice-cream, candy bars, etc. Just be mindful that it’s a choice. Buying stuff won’t bring lasting happiness, love, and satisfaction. Those are inside jobs.
  • Toothpaste – Should I fault companies for trying to sell more of their product? After all, I have free will and don’t have to use that much.
  • Fake news – I can educate myself about news sources. I don’t have to be a blind consumer. Even if I like my news source I should be aware of how it leans so I’m not gullible to propaganda.  See Strategy #2 below for resources.

1. Take all hype with a grain of salt.
Train yourself to be Ad-Resistant. Question all ads.
2. Check it out with a reliable, neutral source.
See All Sides for a chart of how various news sources lean. For youth, visit Democracy and Me for good basic civics lessons
3. Time is usually your friend. Wait to see if the urge passes.
4. Assess purchases against the Need/Want principle. Treats are OK in moderation
5. Fast from one form of media ads for a week (TV, radio, FB, Instagram, magazines…)
6. OR for the hard core Ad Averse, consider big questions like –

• How would a homeless person view this purchase?
• Would I still buy this if I knew I was going to die tomorrow or next month?
• Can I use the money for something better or donate it to person in need?

My life has been busy lately. My guess is so has yours. Presumably we are both busy about important meaningful responsibilities. That makes searching for convenient, quicker ways to do things attractive. I get that and I’m a consumer of convenience – to a point.

But then there is the dilemma that conscientious consumers face when trying to also live lightly:
• When do I pay more for convenience?
• What is the ecological cost of convenience food, transportation, and outsourcing tasks such as cleaning and repairs?
It all comes down to yogurt and diapers. Well, not really, but consider these two examples:

Yogurt: Yogurt (and like products) usually come in #5 containers. Our curbside recycling does not accept #5s, BUT Whole Foods does – or at least it did until I saw an email saying that they were cutting back on accepting recyclables. What to do? Should I stop buying yogurt? I decided I didn’t need the yogurt with fruit in it. That reduces some. We used to make our own yogurt at home and still have the yogurt maker, but that takes time and is inconvenient. Should I choose convenience or make my own. Solution: Disaster averted. I called Whole Foods and found that they are eliminating accepting all recyclables except #5s.

Disposable Diapers: While this example will not apply to those beyond the early parenting years, the principle applies to everyone. Hold on. Back in ancient history, when disposable diapers were just invented, we used the standard cloth diapers for our 4 children. At home it wasn’t a big deal since it was only one extra load of wash a week. We defaulted to disposable diapers for the diaper bag and especially when traveling or camping. Eventually, we realized that it really was no extra trouble to keep a plastic bag in the diaper bag for day trips. We still made exceptions for longer or camping trips. Not only are they reusable and lasted for several children, when timeworn they make great rags for cleaning instead of paper towels. Since disposable diapers are now the default diaper, however, modern parents do not usually consider this alternative.
Principle: What convenience food, service, or travel do you automatically consume? Think:
• Eating less meat or meals out,
• Turning the thermostat up or down rather than putting on or taking off a sweater,
• Bringing a cloth bag to a store barely takes any more time than accepting a plastic one.
• Walking or biking to do close errands. (Count it as exercise and save a trip to the gym.)
Most of these actions are simply a matter of creating a new habit.

How have you reconciled expense or time vs convenience? What has worked? What has flopped? Curious minds want to know.

What is kenosis and what does it have to do with living lightly? Theologically speaking kenosis is the act of self-emptying in order to become entirely receptive to God’s divine will.

So, what’s this got to do with Living Lightly? I started down this path because my To Do list was getting too long and I was feeling burdened by the current political and ecclesial scandals swirling around me. I wanted to fix things. I have chosen two major areas on which to focus my energy –
• Environmental sustainability
• Responding to the clerical sexual abuse/cover-up crisis in the Catholic Church.
This is heavy stuff and as much as I get satisfaction from decluttering a drawer, pruning my clothes, and simplifying my lifestyle in general, still my mind and my being were whirring with deadlines, commitments, and important things to do to make a positive difference in our complicated world. Sometimes it can feel like just too much.

That’s where kenosis comes in. Currently my goal is not so much a cleaner material space but to empty myself of distracting worries and anger at corrupt systems so I can figure out “What is mine to do?” Of all the good and laudable causes that I care about I cannot do everything. I must say NO to somethings so that my energy can be put to where my interests and talents best position me to make a difference. This takes prioritizing, letting go of thinking it’s all about me, i.e., self emptying. It also takes working in community with others.
I can’t do it all.

I shouldn’t do it all. Only when we humans join our hands, minds, and energy together and try to be receptive to the common good, aka God’s divine will, can we be instruments of healing for our planet and each other. We need to seek the sacred inherent in all life and creation. To do this I sense that we need time, quiet, and self-emptying. I’ve been trying to do these things for quite awhile, but now I need reinforcement.

  1. Daily silent time to listen to nature and to the Spirit within me.
  2. Let go of my desire to impress others by my accomplishments.
  3. #2 does not mean I don’t act, but I must carefully discern (perhaps with the counsel of others) What is mine to do?

What helps you to empty yourself of busyness and self-importance so as to be receptive to the sacred?

Is it better to save time or to save money? I notice that I value both time and money but sometimes that complicates my life because one comes at the cost of the other. For example:

Eating Out vs. Eating at Home: Eating out saves preparation time (if you don’t count travel time). Still, it can be a welcome respite from the chore of fixing dinner, it can be a time to reconnect with friends, and sometimes it’s necessary because of travel. I notice that now that our kids are grown we eat out a bit more than we did when they were all home. This mostly was because of cost since it coincided with our lower family income. In order for eating out not to become a function of creature comfort creep, I try to think of it as a treat. A “treat” loses its power if it is done too often. Yes, we eat out, but try not to make it the go to frequent option.

Exercise – Gym vs Homemade: Exercise is good for you. Paying for a gym membership can be a motivator, especially if you have a regular daily or weekly routine. I know people who find that having a place to go and special equipment, and maybe even a trainer keeps them committed to exercise. My frugal self says, “Hey I can do sit-ups and planks at home and take a walk or a bike ride. It’s free. It saves travel time. What a deal.” I like this approach but who am I to judge. Besides bikes cost money plus we recently bought a bike rack (so we could drive to level bike paths 😕). Similarly, one of my husband’s favorite sports is golf. It takes both a fair amount of time and money.

Hiring a Cleaning Person vs Cleaning Your Own Home: This has been a bone of contention between my husband and me. We also have different standards of what constitutes clean enough. One side says, “Why should we pay someone to do something that we’re perfectly capable of doing ourselves. It feels too elite.” The other side says, “But it would free some of our time to do other worthy work and/or volunteer our time. Besides it provides income for someone who needs the money.” Guess which side I’m on.

The point to these examples is not that one is right and the other wrong. None are necessarily immoral, but it is these competing values that make living lightly complicated. Some things to consider are:

  • All things in moderation.
  • Make your own best choice and don’t judge others.
  • What would Jesus do?
  • Be mindful and generous – with yourself and others.
  • Or, as one of our sons is fond of saying, “Time IS Money.”
  • ________ What’s your criteria? What would you add to this list?

When have you tried to decide between something that saved time vs saved money? How did you decide?

Last week I had two experiences of being forced to wait with strangers. My first reaction was annoyance at being delayed. But upon reflection, I realized that these were opportunities to let go of my compulsion to not waste time. I like to be on time and to make the most of my time. In fact, I came to realize that sometimes letting go of my deadlines, my time, and instead being mindful of others in my presence might be called a “Holy Waiting.”

Example #1 – Airport Delay: I was already at the airport when the announcement came that my flight would be delayed 2 ½ hours. It was inconvenient but not a deal breaker since I was returning home with no immediate commitments. Of course 80+ other passengers were also faced with the same delay. After a little grumbling most people settled into tolerating the inevitable. One extroverted passenger sat down next to me and struck up a conversation that lasted for most of the time. We talked about trivial things and important things like life decisions we had made and how travel had broadened our lives. Other passengers contributed to the conversation as they felt inclined. We became a loose community of folks facing the same adversity. I thought about how my morning prayer always ends with something to the effect of “God, help me to be present to the people who cross my path today.”

Example #2 – Bridge Closing: The next day, President Trump was to hold a rally in Cincinnati. Jim & I planned to ride our bikes to a protest demonstration near the site since parking was bound to be a challenge. BUT, when we got to the bridge to ride across the river to Cincinnati, we found that for security the police had closed the bridge including foot and bike crossings. This meant that there were about 50 people – both Trump supporters and Trump protesters gathered at the bridge…waiting. We didn’t know how long. I wondered what to do. We had a common obstacle but very different political views. I toyed with the idea of proposing a respectful dialogue, but the setting didn’t feel right. Eventually, I engaged a couple strangers in conversation about how long we might have to wait. They asked me what my t-shirt referred to. I explained that Nuns on the Bus was about a Catholic social justice movement. One man said to me, “Oh, I think we’re probably on different sides of this issue. I’m looking forward to seeing my president.” I asked him to tell me about what he valued in life and how that motivated him to support Trump. We had a cordial conversation. I noted that I really agreed with all of the values he held but came to a different conclusion about who to vote for. Eventually, the bridge reopened and we both proceeded to our separate destinations.

1. Sometimes a common obstacle can unite people around a common cause.
2. Sometimes it’s easier to talk with strangers about sensitive matters than folks we know well.
3. Sometimes I have to not only let go of my possessions but also my time.
4. Wasting time together need not be wasted time. Sometimes it is holy time.

How does one count the value of things we give away? (click to enlarge)
Originally I had divided this blog into 2 categories:

    This included a silver/gold chalice, a framed piece of art from France, a fancy metal lighter from Paris, a heavy metal flask with leather carrying case, a large unused candle encased in glass.
    This included 6 water bottles and a blood pressure cuff. A local Respite Center had put a notice in our parish bulletin that with the hot summer days, they were in dire need of water bottles for their residents and guests. I also got an email from an old friend who started a non-profit in Kenya and he was collecting medical supplies for the Kakuma Mission Hospital. One thing he especially requested was rechargeable blood pressure cuffs. Well, I had several old water bottles from camping plus a few extra modern ones. I also had a 10 year old blood pressure cuff that I seldom used.

So, good. I figured I had an easy July blog post. BUT, Jim and I just got back from a 2 week visit with the indigenous people of the Ecuador rainforest. It was a journey sponsored by The Pachamama Alliance (click for short video) in which we visited the Achuar and Sapara tribes. We learned their ways and their commitment to protect the rainforest from the encroachment of oil and mining companies. Of course this was a meaningful but challenging experience as we trudged through muddy terrain, lived without electricity (much less internet connection), revived our camping skills, but spent time with joy filled people throughout it all.

So what’s this got to do with my 2 major give-away categories? I decided to reverse the usual value assigned to “expensive” goods as opposed to “cheap” goods. Water bottles are cheap. BUT, in the rainforest, water is life. Yes, they have plenty of water because the rainforest earns its name honestly. But WE, first world visitors, could not safely drink the local water. We always had to carry purified water. We came to value water highly. THEN, when I returned home and went to drop off our extra water bottles to a local shelter, I got the address wrong and went to the wrong center. As I was about to walk the block to the correct agency, several local people standing nearby heard me say that I was looking for the place to donate my water bottles and they said, “Hey, can I have one of them?” Then another asked; then another. I never got to my intended destination. Indeed I realized that water – and the means to carry it – was an item of great value.
Likewise, I get my blood pressure checked every time I go to a physician or dentist. Plus, if I really need to I can get it checked free at the local supermarket. Yet, the Mission Hospital in Kakuma didn’t have enough. Its value immediately rose in my mind.

Decorative items and precious metals can be beautiful and good, but they are not life and death items. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded about the inherent value of things we take for granted. I donated the decorative items to Legacies, a local high-end consignment shop. Maybe I’ll get a small tax deduction for them. 🙂 

PRE-CYCLING: Before I address the topic of recycling, it’s worth starting at the beginning. Remember the classic “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra of the early earth friendly movement. Too often we jump to the third “Recycle” option when the “Reduce” and “Reuse” steps would  reduce the overall need for recycling. Some call this “Precycling.” Evaluate a product before buying it to make sure it is environmentally sound thus reducing the need for recycling. Avoid products that use excess packaging. Let manufacturers know you care. Chide the wasteful ones. Praise the helpful ones. Go shopping with a cloth bag. If you forget, request a paper bag and later use it to line your trash can. Decline plastic bags. Reuse all bags. (from Simple Living Works)
Example: We like fruit on our cereal. My husband and I have been debating whether to buy the fruit (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) that come in plastic containers that are not accepted in our curbside recycling. We make the effort to take the containers to Whole Foods which does recycle them. BUT, I suggested we refrain from buying the fruit when it is not in season? We grow some berries in our yard and could buy more at local farmer’s markets. I said, “I’m fine with raisins the rest of the year.” Jim is not. Hmmm, still considering this.

REGULAR RECYCLING – Let’s define this as stuff that is trash but is recyclable and you don’t want the garbage truck to deposit it in a landfill. (For donating usable items see previous post, Donating Basics.)
City curbside programs are wonderful. Ours accepts cans, paper, and bottles made of plastic or glass.
Plastics that don’t qualify for curbside: Whole Foods accepts other numbered plastics including #5s. (2020-2 update. Whole Foods no longer accepts #1-#7 plastics including #5’s. See blog post #202 for other ideas.)
• Plastic bags: Most supermarkets take thin plastic bags. WARNING: Do not put plastic bags in curbside or similar waste recycling stations. Having toured our regional recycling center I saw how plastic bags had to be manually removed lest they gum up the machinery.
• Metal: Local scrap metal places take more serious metals if you have enough to make it worth your time.
Example: My husband’s home office gets pretty cold in the winter. No problem. We have 2 space heaters – one that works and one that doesn’t. We tried to fix the broken one so we could donate it to a shelter. Unfortunately, it was beyond repair. So, not an electrician but still a handyman, Jim, disassembled it to retain the metal parts. We use Can Dew or Cohen for recycling in the Cincinnati area.
Click here to see previous posts I’ve done on recycling.

CREATIVE RECYCLING – If you have time and creativity bottles, cans, etc. can be re-used for art or home projects.
Example: I found several ways to use an old slide carousel from Pinterest. However, I eventually just took it to St. Vincent de Paul. I’ll leave the creativity to someone else this time.

SERIOUS RECYCLINGBeyond 34 is a private-public partnership seeking to break through the national recycling barrier of 34%. It challenges people to move from personal recycling to make a bigger difference. It’s coming to Cincinnati..

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS – Google “where to recycle…”: or use Earth 911’s search function.

PS: Some things are not worth recycling (like my holey T-shirts) Let it go or let it be a rag.