Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

BOTTOM LINE for those in a hurry:
The best bags are ones you already have. Reuse them. (I had accumulated about 15 reusable bags over the years, mostly as swag from conferences. If you want to know which are the least harmful to the environment and why, read on.
Refuse Single Use Plastic (SUP) bags when possible.

THE BACKSTORY:
I had been feeling rather virtuous about taking reusable bags with me when shopping. I knew that the thin single use plastic (SUP) bags that grocery stores usually use cannot be put in curbside recycling and most often end up as litter or worse – polluting the oceans and getting into the food chain through fish. Yes, our local grocery store (Kroger) has a large convenient bin to collect these bags but only 9% of plastic film is actually recycled. So, I was doing the right thing by using reusable bags. Or was I?

A friend sent me a disturbing article from the New York Times titled The Cotton Tote Crisis which explained that one would have to use a cotton bag 20,000 times to offset its overall impact on the environment (intensive use of water in growing the cotton, etc.) I was using at least 6 cotton bags. Hmmm. I needed to do some more research.

The deeper I got into the research the more complicated it got. The usual alternatives to cotton bags are: those evil single use film plastic bags, polypropylene bags, paper bags, and misc. bags made out of nylon like Baggu, hemp, or other fibers. Were they any better? Well, maybe.

SUMMARY OF REUSABLE BAG OPTIONS:

  • Single Use Plastic (LDPE) Bags made of a thin plastic film – Since these are almost always SUPs (if you don’t use them to pick up dog poop) many grocery store chains will accept them for recycling.
  • Polypropylene (PP) BagsPPs are still a form of plastic but are more environmentally friendly than other plastics since they don’t release as many toxins as PVC and break down more quickly. PP has a low carbon footprint and transmits the lowest carbon dioxide emissions compared to other plastics. When burned, it does not generate toxic gases.
  • Paper Bags Are made from a renewable resource (usually trees) and are biodegradable, BUT can contribute to deforestation and excessive water use. Besides they are seldom used more than once (although I use the large grocery bags as kitchen garbage can liners which avoids using plastic there).
  • Miscellaneous BagsHemp, jute (aka burlap), nylon/polyester, recycled material. Bulletin Bag (below) gives the most comprehensive descriptions of these options with pros & cons.

FURTHER ARTICLES comparing various reusable bags for the serious and industrious.
Plastic, Paper or Cotton: Which Shopping Bag is best? 
(Columbia Climate School, 4-30-2020) Contains a lot of overview and background.

Sustainable ShoppingWhich bag is best? 
(National Geographic) Unbiased. Not trying to sell anything. Just the facts.

What material makes the best reusable bags?
(Bulletin Bag (800-273-5976) Produces promotional products; also offers hemp, jute, nylon, & polyester bags. Includes a handy chart of “advantages vs. disadvantages” for each type of material.

Your cotton tote is pretty much the worst replacement for a plastic bag 
(Quartz 4-1-2019) Climate advocacy publication. Check out Quartz handy cumulative environmental impact chart.

The 10 Best Reusable Shopping Totes to Replace Plastic Bags
(Travel & Leisure, June 2021) Describes a variety of reusable bags but does not evaluate their environmental impact. Some are very fashionable. Many can be folded into tiny carrying packets.

So, I did the research but you have to make your decisions. If you don’t get enough free bags from conferences, contact me and I’ll tell you what I’d buy if I had to pay.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

I recently returned from a trip to Olympic National Park on the Pacific Ocean. I saw some big stuff like huge Douglas Fir trees and millions of small stones along the ocean. It was awe inspiring and a visual reminder of how we humans are a relatively small part of creation.

And then I returned home to catch up on work and decluttering. After the grandeur of living in nature for 10 days, I looked around our bedroom and was reminded that I still had so much little stuff around the house that I didn’t need but had little time to sort through it all. I decided that rather than wallow in guilt, I would commit to a couple small steps:

1. School supplies/clothes: Our urban parish was collecting school supplies for our school plus clothes for Mary Magdalene House, a place where homeless people can shower and get some clean clothes. It only took a moment to gather some copy paper and a couple T-shirts and take them to church the next Sunday.

2. Then I had a hanger problem. Although I have plenty of things to wear, I’ve carefully curated my clothes closet so that I have just enough hangers for my usual wardrobe. (OK, so I can be a little obsessive compulsive.) BUT, suddenly I had a shirt to hang up and no free hanger. Had my husband “stolen” one of my hangers? No. Eventually, I decided that certainly I could let go of at least one shirt to free up a hanger. Sure, it was only one piece of clothing, but I was surprised at how I resisted the decision since each item had its purpose. One raggedy old shirt eventually volunteered itself as the victim and now my hangers again match my number of clothes.

It’s a sobering thought that I didn’t have enough hangers for my clothes and some people, not that far from me, don’t have enough clean clothes for their bodies.

Is there a small step in your life, waiting to be taken?

As my frequent readers know, I’m all into saving money and time. But sometimes my super frugal, efficient self gets in the way of my higher values of being generous and loving others. For example:

Saving $ – Sometimes we have to spend in order to save. We’ve had solar panels on our house since 2018. It was expensive. We haven’t recouped our full cost yet, but most months we don’t pay any electricity. Eventually the savings will outweigh the installation cost. More importantly, we are investing in clean energy which is our small step to reducing pollution that harms the health of our community. Choosing quality over cheap can be a hard choice, especially if funds are limited, but it’s worth thinking long range. Unfortunately, for the truly economically poor among us, it’s not a choice some people can afford to make. If you can, be grateful AND generous.

Saving Time – I like to multi-task. I feel so much more productive. BUT, for my spiritual wellbeing, I’ve been trying to be more present to the person or immediate task in front of me. This may mean not thinking of what I want to say next, but truly listening to the person in front of me. During Covid, since there aren’t many people physically “in front of me” I’m trying to train myself to pay attention to the simple tasks of getting dressed, eating food, exercising…It doesn’t directly save any time, but I become more present to my daily life rather than cramming more info and tasks into a shorter time.

Saving Lives – Sometimes I fantasize that I should join the Peace Corps, become a missionary in a foreign land, or at least volunteer at a local homeless shelter. I do periodically prepare meals for the local Catholic Worker home guests, but Covid precautions have kept me from directly eating with the guests. I partially justify this by saying, “I’m saving planet earth by working to reduce Single-Use-Plastics (SUPs).” Fine, but my actions are not very dramatic. Besides, although said in jest, it still sounds like I need to let go of pride. A simpler, more modest, but still life-saving action I’ve started to take is to give blood. I’ve got enough to spare and for someone it may be the difference between life and death.

What has helped you save $, time, or a life?

During this 2021 Summer of Covid one of my self-care, emotional survival practices has been weeding. Sure, I weed my garden more or less every summer, but with more time at home immersed in Zoom calls and less time traveling, the weeds have been calling to me – “Take me, Take me. Clean me out!” Upon reflection, following are at least 4 things the weeds have been teaching me.

  1. Weeding is therapeutic: Much of my work in the social justice and spirituality realm is hard to quantify or see a noticeable difference. BUT, weeding is visible and practical. I can directly see the difference I’ve made. After an hour of pulling the unwelcome weeds cluttering my vegetable garden, I now see a clean space with healthy, brown soil. I feel like I’ve accomplished something; made a difference.
  2. Rain is my friend: As satisfying as pulling weeds can be, rain has a double purpose. If forces me to go inside and do those chores that I’ve been avoiding – plow through my email, plan Zoom meetings, vacuum and sweep. Rain also makes it easier to pull weeds the next day.
  3. It’s important to pull the whole weed including its root: When I don’t pull the weed out with its full root, it grows back stronger. Isn’t this a life lesson too? When I try to solve a relationship or political problem if I (or society) doesn’t get to the root of the problem (poverty, illness, lack of education) the problem reappears later and has often multiplied.
  4. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a weed from a good plant: As I was energetically pulling weeds out of my blackberry patch, I mistakenly cut off some branches that I thought were dead, but as I pulled them out, I realized that they were attached to some very healthy

    Lemon sorrel

    stems. I also found that some “weeds” that I had been happily pulling were actually yellow wood sorrel – a tangy, lemony flavored herb that can be used in salads or substituted for parsley.
    (I learned this from a friend who had accompanied me on a prayer walk through a local park. She picked up a piece of sorrel and said, “Here, eat this.” I said, “Hey, I’ve got loads of these in my vegetable patch and I’ve been pulling them up as weeds.”
    Isn’t this a lot like life? As we look at people who might be dirty or we don’t like, we want to weed them out of our space. What might look like a weed might be a gift in disguise.

What lessons has nature been teaching you these days? What emotional survival practices have helped you?

Two recent experiences have prompted me to prayer. Ideally prayer is a conversation with the God who dwells within me as I explore deep spiritual truths about what is really important in life. Often this is a quiet time, prompted by scripture and nature. But sometimes the Spirit breaks in through the activities of my daily life. For example:

PLANET EARTH: Readers of my recent blog posts know that I have been consumed with PLASTIC – how to reduce its harmful impact on our environment. This has led to connecting with about 10 plastic related groups, some local, some regional, a few national and even international. They are all good, but they all have meetings, often on Zoom and lately morphing back into in-person meetings. It can be overwhelming – both time wise and emotionally. It’s hard to keep them all straight and know what to spend my energy on.

  • This feeling that I needed to let go of fretting about how to do it all and return to the essential, led me deeper into my daily morning prayer that my husband and I composed many years ago. Click here for the 3 min. YouTube version.

DEATH: I recently attended the Memorial service upon the death of a good friend who I have been in community with for over 50 years. The celebration of her life was good, but also sobering. Of course death is always a reminder that none of us are going to get out of this world alive. But as I gaze at a crucifix and watch the annual birth/death/rebirth of nature outside my window, I am again reminded that this life is “not what it’s all about, Alfie.” (Those of a certain age will understand this quote and the rest of you can google it.)

  • Remembering the inevitability of death reminds me of the final part of my daily prayer:
    I am alive … But I will not always be.
    I am loved … It’s not all about me. I don’t have to prove myself.
    (Yes,  my spouse of 50 years loves me; but even if I were not in a loving marriage, I believe deep down that God loves me unconditionally.)
    Sooooo … How am I to spread that love to those I am with today?

    (Pause and anticipate who might come into my presence today.)

These two prayer practices help me to declutter my mind – at least for the moment – and remember what is really important. I don’t know how (or if) dear reader, you pray. May my words prompt you to seek your own way. If you feel moved to share your experiences on this blog, it may prompt another to refresh their mind and heart.

Living Lightly on planet earth is a broad theme which encompasses personal lifestyle, consumption of goods, and use of money – all enveloped in an interior spirituality of simplicity, humility, justice, and care for humanity – indeed care for all creation.

Lately I have focused especially on care for creation. By now most folk are well familiar with the 3 R’s of the environmental mantra: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In an effort to make this a manageable task, I narrowed it down to the subtopic of plastic pollution which adds two more R’s – Rethink and Refuse. But this too became such a huge field of study, that I limited it even further to reducing Single Use Plastics (SUPs) as a sub-focus.

WHERE TO START?
To reduce SUPs we can start at the top or at the bottom:
The Top: Supply – Reduce the supply of plastic at the source – the mining of petrochemicals through fracking and turning this into plastic at “cracker” plants. Often this means getting involved in the political process of influencing government policies.
The Bottom: Demand – Reducing the demand to buy single use plastic products would reduce the incentive to create more supply.

Here I will start at the bottom because buying stuff, especially groceries, impacts most people’s daily life. Following is a collection of ideas and resources which I hope will help an ordinary person/shopper to make a positive difference. One person, multiplied by many people trying their best, can make a world of difference.

RETHINK: Before buying anything – Think! Is there another way? Two examples from my life:
1. Instead of buying the #5 plastic containers of yogurt, I started making my own yogurt.
2. Instead of buying alfalfa sprouts in a plastic clamshell, I started growing them in a glass jar.

REFUSE: 
1. Skip the Stuff
2. 20 Ways to Refuse Single Use Products by Kathy Downey: REFUSE – Downey (Includes a sample restaurant note.)

REDUCE:
1. Single Use Plastics 101 by National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
2. Plastic-Free Living Product Guide by A-Z Plastics Coalition
3. ECO-Friendly Household Products by Susan Vogt

REUSE:
Grocery bags, food & drink containers, glass jars, old clothes as rags, repair stuff, cloth napkins, books, cloth diapers, print on both sides of paper… This is an evolving list. Add your favorites.

RECYLE:
1. Chasing Arrows chart – What do all those numbers and letters in a triangle mean?
2. What do Plastic Recycling Symbols Really Mean? more in depth article
3, How to Recycle like a Responsible Human by Phoebe Lapine (helpful recycling summary)
4. Cincinnati area: Rumpke curbside flyer & Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub

EXTRA: VIDEOS for those who learn best by watching
1. 16 short videos on Plastic collected by Cj Willie of Earth Connection.
2. Also, The Story of Plastic (1 hr. 35 min. film). Click here for trailer.
3. Recording of my June 29, hour long Webinar on Reducing Single Use Plastics

I’m not irresponsible. I’ve avoided eating in restaurants during the Covid pandemic.
Nor am I stupid. I know that foam takeout food containers (often incorrectly called Styrofoam) are not good for our environment.

BUT, I knew that our local restaurants were in economic peril from a lack of customers and I wanted to support local businesses, so a few weeks ago we ordered carry-out from our favorite restaurant.
BUT, I didn’t realize how many foam takeout containers this would involve.
So, do two good intentions cancel out the ecological failing of using difficult, if not impossible, to recycle foam containers?

IT’S COMPLICATED.
As explained in previous blog posts (See Plastics #222, #223, and #224) Recycling should not be the first choice of conscientious consumers. It’s better to reduce unnecessary purchases by living simply and repair or reuse stuff when possible.

BUT, ultimately if the choice is between a recyclable item going to a landfill, littering our land, polluting our water, etc. OR recycling it, it’s better to recycle than just put it in the garbage. Of course, municipal curbside recycling is convenient and the right thing to do when reduce and reuse aren’t possible.
BUT, curbside recycling doesn’t accept many items like plastic bags, plastic clam shells, electronics, bathroom tiles, and foam takeout containers.

2 SOLUTIONS:
• 
The plastic bags are easy. Many supermarkets have recycling containers for plastic bags and similar plastic film.

bathroom tiles

•  Since I am trying to become a reliable protector of Mother Earth, I was pleased to discover the new Cincinnati Recycling & Reuse Hub in my community. It takes things that my local curbside recycling will not – like clear plastic clam shells, bathroom tiles, electronics, printer cartridges, plastic CD cases and, YES – Styrofoam and molded foam packaging. I was ready for the big dump.

Good news: Yes, the HUB took all of the above, except for my foam takeout food containers – and I had quite a few of them. Apparently, they accept Styrofoam and molded foam packaging but not takeout food containers – at least not yet.

So, I need to get smarter on what the differences are between Styrofoam, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, building insulation foam, foam takeout containers, etc. I had previously lumped all these things into the same category – a problem to recycle.

Meanwhile, I balanced out my disappointment in not finding a happy home for my foam containers by finding that a Habitat for Humanity ReStore was only 10 minutes away and could use my bathroom light fixture. The nearby Goodwill happily took my plastic waste basket and old but functional toilet seat.

3 Lessons Learned:
1. Recycling is an important back up solution, but it takes time to learn the ropes.
2. Persistence and humility are worthy virtues to cultivate.
3. Keep googling and consulting with experts. I’m not too old to learn some new-to-me science.

This is not the end of the story. I welcome knowledgeable people adding to this post and will follow up with more factual information as I learn more myself.

Even though Lent has been over for a month and Easter candy has been consumed, I continue to ponder some lessons of creative fasting. Sure, during Lent I fasted from sweets and attachment to some of my older, unused possessions, but what about fasting from electronics and electricity?

ELECTONICS – TV, radio, computer, phones
TV: Not much of a sacrifice here since I typically only watch the 11:00p news. A few days I fasted even from this as a way to clear my mind before bed.
Radio: The days I took a radio break were a bigger challenge since I listen to NPR while dressing, eating breakfast, driving, gardening, etc. It did no harm to skip my radio addiction for a few days since I did have newspapers and it gave my brain a rest; but I’m not giving it up permanently.
Computer: I don’t spend much time on social media (although I do post my Marriage Moments, Parenting Pointers, and this Living Lightly blog on Facebook). BUT, I do spend the majority of most days on my computer – connecting through emails and Zoom calls. I didn’t even try to fast from computer use since it was necessary interpersonal communication and thinking time.
Phones: I use our landline phone at home since it is my public work number and I saw no reason to limit it. However, I thought I might fast from my cell phone for a few days since it is more of a convenience phone. I normally only use it when I leave the house. I was surprised, however, at the number of exceptions I had to make to this fast. For example, I needed it for GPS directions, taking blog photos (Do I still have a camera somewhere in the house?), checking store hours, and phone numbers. (I realized how out of date our paper phone book was since many folks now only have cell phones.)

ELECTRICITY – lights, refrigeration, heat, cooking, washing machine, clocks…
It didn’t take long to realize that a pure fast from electricity would be an almost impossible challenge without going into camping mode or living in a Middle Ages monastery. It helped that daylight hours were getting longer which gave me more natural light. But there is a limit to how much can be done by turning off lights and using candlelight.
Ice melts, even wearing multi-layers of clothing to keep warm has limits. Cooking is more complicated. Sure, I could wash clothes by hand but that’s time consuming. Not being able to glance at electric clocks would be the least of my concerns. Batteries only last so long. Ultimately, I decided that fasting from electricity would be limited to turning off lights when not in a room.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  1. Fasting from the radio did help me to be more present to the ordinary tasks of daily life, people I would pass, and nature. But I’m still addicted to multi-tasking and would find my mind going on auto-pilot instead of focusing on the life around me. I tried to use other consciousness raising prompts like hunger, pain, whatever, to remind me to focus on the reason for the fast. What helps you be present to the spiritual wonder of humanity and nature?
  2. Fasting from electricity was primarily a lesson in gratitude – gratitude for the minds that discovered how to create electricity, having enough money to pay for heat, electric appliances. etc. I found myself empathizing with those who must manage without electricity. Have you found any practical ways to reduce your electricity use?

Lent 2021 is over, but I have not pruned 100% of the hidden places (closets, drawers, storage spaces) in my home. As I reflect on these past 6 weeks, however, I keep discovering new insights. Here are 6 lessons that have bubbled up even after the Easter resurrection:

1. 100% is not the goal – Longtime readers of my blog may say, “Hey, you’ve been pruning your household stuff for over a decade. You must have hardly anything left.” Hardly. It’s not that we keep bringing many new things into our home, but –
• Sometimes it takes awhile to be ready to let go of memorabilia or “just in case” stuff.
• Living with nothing is not my goal. I look forward to post-Covid days when having people over for meals and fun will benefit from extra plates, games, etc.
• I’m good at organizing and storing stuff so what I still have is not always evident.
• I’ll never be “finished” because as life evolves so does my understanding of what is necessary.

2. Fasting brings joy and appreciation – I generally give up sweets for Lent, so this is not a new insight, but I’m reminded what a joy it is after Easter to be able to have dessert again. This past Lent I also did some modified “fasting” from the radio and social media. It mostly consisted of waiting to turn on the radio until after I had some quiet time to be present to myself, my surroundings, and whoever may come into my presence. Although this was good in itself, when I did eventually turn the radio on later in the day, it was more of a treat.

3. Being fast and multitasking are not the highest good – By nature I’m a very time conscious person. I like to be efficient and do things as quickly as possible. This leads to a lot of multitasking like reading the newspaper and listening to the morning news as I eat breakfast. I also listen to the radio as I garden and I watch the evening news while folding laundry. (I guess you can call me a news junkie.) Regardless, I found that delaying the radio helped me reflect on the task at hand even if it was just folding laundry.

4. Moving more often would force pruning – We’ve lived in the same house for almost 40 years. This partly explains the accumulation of stuff. Some of our kids’ stuff is still stored here till they are ready to claim it. If we had moved more often I’m sure we would have disposed of stored stuff sooner (unless of course we bought a storage bin )

5. Family harmony trumps purity – I wanted to give away an old meat grinder and my deceased mother-in-law’s china which has been boxed up for decades. I was certain. Jim was not. It wasn’t worth a fight.

6. When to repair and when to let go – I spent time mending a nightgown that was probably not worth it. The fabric was so thin from many washings that it continued to tear. BUT, one day our blender mysteriously stopped working. I was ready to buy a new one. Jim, however, took it under his wing, added some knowledge and oil and Voila! It’s working fine now. Sometimes fixing and keeping an object is better than giving it away.

 PS: For 11 more Lenten Lessons check out the ends of posts Going Into Hiding, From Essentials to Frivolous, Lessons from Letter “S”, and Kids’ Stuff, Junk, & Papers.

We’re down to Holy Week and I haven’t done a total clean sweep of all the hidden places in our home, but I have found stuff I didn’t know we still had and put them in 3 categories:

1. KIDS’ STUFF:
* How many puzzles should one home have for a rainy day? Probably a dozen is overkill. I chose to let go of 3. That leaves us 9 for the next pandemic and covers several ability levels for visiting puzzle aficionados.
* Likewise, how many Bingo supplies are sufficient for one household if you’re not a Church or retirement home. Probably 75 cards are too many since we can’t fit that many people in our house anyway.
* I saved many crayons and markers for visiting kids, but who uses colored pencils anymore? I sharpened the dead ones and am giving about 20 away.
* And what refrigerator isn’t enhanced by magnetic letters and numbers? I already know how to count and spell so all of the above went to the recycling center that accepts toys for young kids.             (Click photos to enlarge.)

2. TRUE JUNK: But then there’s the true junk that I couldn’t imagine anyone could use. Think Single Use Plastics (SUPS) that aren’t accepted in curbside recycling, old sunglasses, plastic baby bottles from the 1970’s with no liners or nipples, old clothes and swaths of cloth, extra canning jars, even empty toothpaste and hair gel tubes, and wait – especially the dreaded Styrofoam. Well, our newly opened Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub said they accepted these items – even Styrofoam! I happily unloaded a trunkful of stuff at their warehouse. I did, however, have one temporary setback – they do in fact accept Styrofoam packaging but not food containers. BUT, they plan to also accept even these proverbially unrecyclable items in several months – by July 2021. Apparently, science has developed a new process for melting and refashioning some Styrofoam into new packaging. This centralized all-purpose recycling Hub is a true gift to our community,

3. PAPERS: My intended Holy Week project was to go through my file cabinets and free up papers from previous jobs to make room for the stacks of paper occupying space on top of my desk and file cabinets. It would be a daunting task, but I hoped it would be a holy time of remembering the past and contemplating progress. It was…but because my fervor in sorting Kids’ Stuff and True Junk took so much time, I only got through one file drawer in 2 hours. I was ruthless. I decided not to save any work papers that were over 15 years old unless they were of archival merit. 😉 Luckily papers can go in curbside recycling.

BOTTOM LINE: Recycling should still remain the last resort of a conscientious, earth friendly consumer. But, when reducing consumption, reusing products, repairing things that break, and passing on stuff to those who need it now is not possible, finding responsible recyclers is worth the effort.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1. Hiding stuff, storing it neatly, isn’t a permanent solution.
2. Be thankful for scientists and volunteers who find new ways to solve old problems and reduce environmental pollution.
3. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Giving some toys away is better than hoarding them all. Recycling some stuff is better than just letting it fester in a landfill or the ocean. Refining one file drawer is better than doing none.

Sorting through misc. stuff can be fraught with thorny decisions. True, I’m not using it now, but maybe the next time we go camping we’ll want that old cook stove? Or maybe our kids will want it? Or it has sentimental value. These can be tough “first world lifestyle” decisions. But…once decided, corollary decisions arise – finding worthy homes. I don’t want stuff people can use just going into the garbage and ending up in a landfill.

Fortunately our neighborhood has been blessed with a plethora of vintage, charity, and second hand shops. There are 6 shops within a short walk of my home. I spent one afternoon just exploring each of them and noting their particular focus. This past week I dug deeper into our closets and started distributing stuff. Here’s the skinny on my success. (The failures will come in a future blog.)

  • Baby Stuff: Since all four of our own children are grown and out of the home, why am I still keeping baby stuff? I took a potty chair, a portable highchair, and a Christening gown to New Hope Pregnancy Center.
  • Fancy Grown-up Stuff: Moving on in age, not only do I not need baby stuff, I don’t really care much about stylish stuff. Maybe it’s Covid-19 keeping us all inside more. Maybe it’s just that my taste has become simpler and more practical. So, I took some fancy purses, gloves, bracelets, and embroidered cloths to Curated Design & Decor.
  • Practical and Outdoor Stuff: Our basement storage room had a lot of camping gear (tents, stove, cooler, etc.) plus duplicate kitchen equipment, and outdoorsy hats. Half & Half Antique Shop took a few of these items but The Roost and its companion shop, Blondielocks & the 3 Chairs took everything else.                         Click to enlarge any photo.
  • Stuff that shops don’t want: I still had some sheets, pillow cases, Christmas mugs, Halloween pumpkins, and other misc. items that were not of interest to the neighborhood shops so I defaulted to Viet Vets. It’s not local but they do make local pick-ups and it’s easy.

BUT, what if I don’t live in greater Cincinnati, much less Susan’s neighborhood? Where should I take my stuff so it does some good and doesn’t do harm (such as contributing to a bigger landfill)?

As I continued to search for stuff in secret places this past week, I stumbled upon the letter “S” – sheets, suits, squirrels, and surprises. (Those who like puzzles can stop right here and try to guess the connections.) For the rest of you:

  • Sheets: When cleaning out the linen closet, I counted 11 sets of sheets. We have 5 beds plus 3 mattresses that can be put on the floor if we have more guests than beds. Only one of those beds is Queen size, but 6 of the sheet sets were Queen size. Easy peasy. Give away at least 3 sets of Queen sheets. We still have one extra set for each bed in case of accidents.
  • Suits: In looking through the closets of our grown kid’s rooms, I found 3 suits. All 3 sons said they no longer wanted them and they probably were from high school and wouldn’t fit anymore anyway. I was then embarrassed to find a suit jacket with a skirt in Jim’s side of our closet. Hmmm, it definitely wasn’t his and it no longer fit me. I took all 4 suits to a local thrift shop. Maybe somebody will get a newish Easter or graduation outfit.
  • Squirrels: My morning prayer perch gives me a good view out the window of trees, squirrels, and birds. Thus, my prayer often turns to creation. For years I’ve marveled at how squirrels can run along telephone wires. But recently I saw a squirrel leap from one roof top to the next – a good 9 feet! This prompted me to meditate on what calculated risks squirrels take.
  • Surprises: As I was about to tackle the next hidden place -a basement storage closet – I got an email from Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (a local social justice ministry). They needed immediate household items to set up a returning citizen (ex-prisoner) in a small apartment. I found a set of dishes, crockpot, and a few extra kitchen utensils in the storage room. Good timing.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Too much stuff can make it hard to find important stuff. All the extra Queen sheets in my closet meant that I forgot the one set of flannel sheets that I usually use during the winter months. I was colder than usual this past winter but didn’t see the warmer sheets till the spring. Perhaps my memory also needs an upgrade.
  2. Storing stuff has an expiration date. Sometimes saving stuff for the kids makes sense but not forever. Why not let someone use it now rather than maybe, some day. Suits that don’t fit and dishes I’m not using qualify here,
  3. God often speaks through nature. Watching the squirrel prompted me to consider whether God may be telling me it’s time to take a bold risk. Likewise, as I’ve been watching the red cardinals flit from tree to tree, it occurred to me that I barely notice them during the summer. Only when the trees are bare do I see them. Maybe this Covid-19 winter has been uncovering the essentials of life and the beauty of relationships that we get too busy to see during normal times.

My last post was about giving away useful stuff (coats, curtains, rugs…) but I also found at least 6 kinds of hidden things that were pretty frivolous.

  1. Nerf Guns: Several years ago one of our children bought each family member a Nerf gun as a gag gift for Christmas (since we had a reputation for being pacifists). We had fun with them during the holidays but most were left at our house. I found them stored under a bed. Solution: Offer them to a family up the block with a bunch of kids who often play ball in the street. (It’s a dead end street.) After checking with their mom if it was OK, I was happy they had a new home. (Click to enlarge photos)
  2. Halloween costumes: What were a lion, bear, clown, devil, and witch doing in my closet? Waiting for next Halloween of course. BUT, our kids are grown and even our out of town grandkids are too big for many of these costumes. Most of them were home made so they had sentimental value, but no immediate use. Then voila! Solution: I heard a bunch of younger kids playing at the end of our block and asked if they were interested? The kids tried on the costumes right away and neighbors told me they saw a bear cub running around that afternoon. Yea!
  3. Big Old Wardrobe Box: Now that I had given away the Halloween costumes and winter jackets, I was left with a 3+ foot wardrobe box. I figured I’d just break down the cardboard for recycling. But one of our kids said, “Remember how much fun we had playing with old boxes!” I started looking for neighborhood kids to pass the box on to. Maybe kids don’t play with boxes anymore. I’m still looking. Meanwhile, I’m just calling this my “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe” phase.
  4. Frames: How many unused picture frames does any house need? Surely not 24. Solutions:
    -5 extra family photos (relocated to appropriate memorabilia boxes)
    -3 landscape paintings (given to a new neighbor for decorating)
    -16 empty but usable frames (will take them to a 2nd hand store)
    -10+ misc. parts (put in trash)
  5. Medicine/Linen Closet: In addition to a few expired medicines, I found 5 large plastic bags (dry cleaning and blanket bags). Plastic bags are anathema to me for environmental reasons. I’m trying to drastically reduce my use of Single Use Plastics (see Reducing SUPs #3). I also found a bunch of cosmetic puffs. Hmmm, I haven’t needed anything dry-cleaned or used enough make-up to require special puffs in at least a decade. So what am I to do? Solutions: Keep them and use them a 2nd or 3rd time. I can use the plastic bags to store things or carry stuff to folks. I found the facial puffs work very well to clean bathroom crevices instead of reaching for a Kleenex.
  6.  Trinkets: For years I’ve collected swag from conferences and trips (key chains, pins, political buttons, costume jewelry, tiny toys…). When kids visit I invite them to choose a trinket. However, the trinket baskets had just become one giant mess, so I  organized them into categories and discarded the junk. I now only have 123 items (225 if you count each pin and hair tie separately). How would you share these?

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Lent needn’t be all Sorrow and Sacrifice: When hearing my joy upon finding neighbor kids to pass on the Nerf guns and costumes to, one son commented to me that I seemed too happy. Wasn’t Lent supposed to be about pain, fasting, and giving up? Sure, it all took some effort, but finding good homes for stuff I no longer needed did bring joy. We live in a mixed socio-economic neighborhood and it also helped me get to know some of my neighbors a little better who have a different background than me.
  2. Look around. Open my ears: With these cold Covid days of physical distancing, I’ve stayed inside a lot, focused mostly on Zoom meetings. Opening my eyes and ears to what’s happening just within my one block and ways I could help, was an eye opener.
  3. Reuse: In my ongoing effort to simplify my possessions and life, I’ve focused a lot on giving things away. Now I’m trying to remember to reuse or repair stuff (like plastic bags and mending tears) which also reduces what comes into our home.

I’m now 11 days into Lent and have carefully looked into hiding places in 2 of the bedrooms. I’ve found 2 expected giveaways, 2 surprises, and 1 disappointment.

EXPECTED FINDS
1. Trivia:
In a storage dresser I found miscellaneous items like an extra sewing kit, fancy gloves and purses that I have no use for. I put them in my Give-Away box. There were also misc. potential gifts (like candles) in case I need to give an emergency gift to someone or the house loses electricity.
2. Children’s Coats: In the back of our clothes closet I had stored 4 children’s winter jackets and a mink cap. I knew I stored them here, but I suppose I saved them just in case our own kids needed them. Well, our kids are now adults and even our grandchildren would be too old for these items This stimulated a giant guilt trip in me because the temperature was hitting single digits and we had over a foot of snow – unusual for Kentucky. There certainly were kids who could have used these items this past week and even previous winters. I immediately took them to the St. Vincent de Paul Donation Center. Waiting for the donation truck might be too late for some cold child. The mink hat? …Well, somebody will get lucky.

SURPRISES UNDER THE BEDS
1. Curtains:
I had forgotten that I stored 6 sets of old curtains under our bed. I have no need for them, but how do I get them to someone who could use them. Sure, I could take them to a thrift store, but I wanted a more personal connection. I decided to post them for free on Next Door which covers my neighborhood. Within minutes of my post, I got a response from someone who wanted all of them. They picked them up this morning.
2. Area rug: I was also surprised to find a 5’x9’ area rug under another bed. It was faded and had some stains so I didn’t feel it was worthy of donating to someone else. Maybe I could use it to insulate the back of a closet? But then a better idea occurred to me.
I had heard that animal shelters accept old towels. Maybe a rug would also be acceptable. Well, some do and some don’t. After a bunch of googling and waiting on hold I finally found an ASPCA shelter a half hour away that could use it. Yea! Done.

A DISAPPOINTMENT
1.
Two file boxes of papers: While I was playing hide and seek in the bedroom closets, I found two large boxes filled with papers from a job my husband had 18 years ago with The Institute for Peace and Justice. I figured I could release these papers from their hiding place and allotted several hours the next day to prune through obsolete papers. The Director, Kathy McGinnis, who is based in St. Louis said she already had the important papers archived and gave her OK to recycle the contents. BUT… my husband had not. So, in the interest of marital harmony, I’ll let him sort through this stuff when he has time – maybe 18 years from now 😉 .

LESSONS LEARNED
1. “Just in case” excuse: It’s tempting to hold on to some items because some day/one day I might want to use x. I’m trying to move toward a “Does someone need this now” scenario. Example: One day we might have a grandchild visiting from Singapore for Christmas (where it’s always warm) who needs a winter jacket. There are too many “ifs” to justify keeping these coats now.
2. Humility: In some circles people think I’m the “Queen of giving stuff away.” Seeing how much stuff is hidden in our closets or under beds after a decade of pruning is humbling.

What’s hiding in your closets or under your bed?

On Feb. 17, 2021 Lent will begin again. 11 years ago I sought a more meaningful way to enter into the sacrificial season of Lent than just giving up candy. It started a Lenten tradition of trying to live more lightly on planet earth by decluttering my home, my life, and my spirit. A decade later I’ve made progress but still wrestle with what is most important for me to do now. On one hand I feel drawn to do more than just declutter stuff but to do two important parallels

  • Become personally involved with those in need, i.e. provide food, clothing, shelter, or education through direct service. Covid-19 has closed some doors in this area because of physical distancing.
  • Focus on systemic change, i.e. volunteer work to reduce global warming and social injustices in general. Covid-19 has opened some doors here through Zoom meetings but it is not the time to mobilize people to attend City Council meetings and gather for peaceful protests.

So, what is mine to do in the next six weeks? It occurs to me that perhaps it is time to go into hiding. By “hiding” I don’t mean avoiding the important works of direct service and social justice, but doing them in a hidden, quiet, internal way. Here is my current plan.

  1. Pray As my understanding of prayer evolves, it becomes more about opening my eyes to the needs of others and changing my heart. I let go of my worries about my health, my money, my computer woes, to remember that there is more to being alive than me.
  2. Be in Solidarity Sure, I fast during Lent from sweets, from meat, from some meals. But I want it to be more than just about me. When I feel hungry and am tempted to not skip that meal, I’ve started remembering that there are people who don’t have a choice. I fast in solidarity with them.
  3. Donate – I am grateful to those essential workers who work in non-profit organizations that serve the poor and disenfranchised. Some of us can do that, but others can give money. Jim and I decided that we will give our recent stimulus/relief checks to such organizations.
  4. Act – Covid-19 has prevented me from tutoring children at a local grade school and eating meals with the guests at our local Catholic Worker House, BUT I can look into some hidden places this Lent. For example, stuff is hiding in my closets, drawers, cabinets, and file cabinets. (The file cabinets will be a special challenge and may take a week to go through. Maybe it will be a Holy Week.)

I’m aiming for one hidden place a day. Making this plan public will hopefully motivate me. But more importantly, I hope it will stir you to choose a sacrificial act that is yours to do. If documenting your actions in my blog helps you to move ahead, I welcome your comments. Let’s keep each other honest and moving.

I’ve been doing a lot of wondering lately. Perhaps it’s connected with Covid, aging, or a deepening spirituality – or maybe not. I wonder. Mostly I’ve been wondering about politics and how people of sound mind and good will can come to differing opinions about what is true. Isn’t truth by definition true?

For example, I believe that planet Earth is mostly round. Photos and science prove that to me. I also believe there is a creative force that gives meaning to my life. I call that force God, although others may name it Allah, Bhagavan, YHWH, The Light or 100 other names. I also choose to believe that there is some kind of existence after my death. I have no proof that this is true but I live my life hoping it is true.

But, back to politics. With both Democrats and Republicans claiming that the other side has fake news, how does one know that a particular political message is true? Of course I believe that my news sources are accurate and reliable, but could it just be confirmation bias? I suppose those with opposing views also trust their news.
For a bit of objectivity check out the media bias research done by All Sides. Of course one might also debate whether All Sides is biased.

Truth can sometimes look like a moving target as new information is uncovered. Also, sometimes the moral of story can be true even if the facts are fictional (for example, see the parables in sacred scripture). Although I’m not a media expert, I googled about 30 websites about how to evaluate truth in media and here’s a summary of the basics:

  1. Is the article or news show objective and fact based or rather does it seem to have more opinion or anecdotal stories that are not necessarily generalizable?
  2. Does the author/host have a credible reputation beyond faction followers?
  3. Are sources named? Are they credible according to a neutral source? How was the evidence vetted?
  4. Has an attempt been made to fairly present both sides of a controversial issue?
  5. Do the points made sound like an attack, hyperbole, or weak on verifiable facts.
  6. If in doubt, check the normal fact checking sources like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, or Politifact.com.
  7. If you want to go the extra mile and have the courage, find a person who represents an opinion different from yours and ask them to share their thinking with you. Your job is not to debate but to carefully listen. Offer your opinion only if asked.
  8. Be cautious of bringing controversial issues up in mixed groups, especially with family members. If there is good will on both sides it may work, but ask yourself whether it’s worth endangering the relationships.

Will you find out for sure whether there is life after death? No, but that is a matter of faith and hope. It can’t be proven in this life.

My blog post #218 focused on “Carrying a Heavy Heart.” That was 5 months ago. We still have Covid-19 and we in the northern hemisphere are still in the dark and cold of winter. Physical distancing still limits traditional socializing which usually lifts my spirit. I didn’t think political divisions could get much worse than right before the elections, but I was wrong.

Although a vaccine is starting to roll out and that is hopeful, it feels like emotional healing of our socio-political divide is still a mirage. In fact, political positions seem to be hardening as demonstrated by the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and resulting impeachment proceedings. How can an ordinary person stay hopeful?

In August 2020 I suggested coping strategies like humor, family and friends, nature, taking action and/or a nap, and prayer. Today, it’s too cold for gardening or bike riding, I’ve already taken quite a few naps, and many group actions are still difficult. So here’s an updated list of how to lighten our spirits during the dreary days of January, February, and social upheaval.

CONTINUE:
1. Family and Friends – These connections never grow old even if it has to be on Zoom or Skype.
2. Prayer – This also is an eternal and universal survival habit.

ADD a PLANET: (think bigger)

  1. Prayer 2.0 – Experiment with new ways of praying. Times of crisis can be an opportunity to discover the sacred (the meaning of life) in new and creative ways. I’ve also started looking at the people I pass in the car or on my neighborhood walk with new eyes. I wonder what they may be struggling with and offer a prayer (or an act of kindness) for these strangers.
  2. Look – for ways to be of service. A stranger gave me a $20 bill. He said I probably
    dropped it. Regardless, I took it as a sign to pass on the favor and now look for ways I can do a favor for someone in need – like gloves for a street person…
  3. Act – Do something to put youself in solidarity with those who have less than you. Periodic fasting has helped me remember that some people are hungry out of necessity not choice.
  4. News – Listen to just enough news, and then turn it off. (I’m a political junkie but it can be repetitive even for me.) Caveat: Listen to both sides, not just the news sources that reinforce your views. This can be a step toward loving your enemy. You don’t have to agree, but it helps to understand. Instead of perpetual news, I’m substituting times to just listen to the quiet and be present.
  5. Enjoy – Find something that brings joy to your life. We ask Google to play Celtic music in the background. Jim and I have developed a custom of a nightly game of cards
    (Cribbage and Gin Rummy). I look forward to it even when I lose.
  6. Try Prayer again. Actually, all of the above can count as prayer.

CONSIDER:
If you want to be part of the solution, there are at least two civil dialogue organizations that I have used and recommend: Braver Angels and Living Room Conversations. Both of these groups sponsor structured conversations that help people who hold opposing views on a topic to understand each other better.
What works for you?

Having just finished 4 blog posts on the limitations of recycling plastics plus one post reminding us to commit to reducing our possessions, Christmas 2020 arrived. It hasn’t been a pretty year with the pandemic, racial unrest, and polarizing political tensions. Yet, many of us at least have probably received some nice new Christmas presents. Has it made us happier? Maybe.

But maybe it’s time to extend the season of giving by giving away stuff that is more than we need. This returns me to the concept of recycling – but not just putting stuff out for municipal curbside recycling but making the extra effort of finding good homes for what we no longer need. Following are some examples from my life that might give you some ideas.

Local Thrift Store – Bathroom rugs, an extra pan, Tinker Toys, blocks. This was a satisfying give-away because the person in front of me in the thrift store was looking for toys for her grandchildren, so I gave the toys directly to her.

Nextdoor – I posted my extra carbon monoxide detector on this neighborhood trading app. It was quick and easy. Click to enlarge.

Salvation Army – TV. We bought a new TV. The old one still worked but was pretty prehistoric. Salvation Army was one of the few places that was willing to take an old-fashioned TV that didn’t play movies.

Municipal electronics collection – Once a year our city offers a one-stop collection point for old electronics. The timing worked well this year as we loaded the trunk of our car with speakers, defunct computer parts, and lots of cords.

Specialized recycling – Sometimes one just has to do research to figure out where to take hard to recycle items like old air conditioners. Because of the air conditioner refrigerants (HCFC) ACs have to be taken to specialized recyclers. I took my broken unit to Cohen recyclers in the Cincinnati area, but it cost me time and $15. On the other hand, I also had collected about 5 years of metal that doesn’t qualify for curbside recycling (broken metal parts from tools, machines, an old bike, etc.) I took these to Can Dew Recycling which paid me $5.40. So…2 environmental good deeds only cost me time and $10. Was it worth it?

Neighbor swap – The most fun and satisfying, however, is when I could match up something I had extra of (produce from our vegetable garden) with something a neighbor had that I needed. (a better watering can).

Now here’s an idea for next year. As it gets close to Christmas, I’ll take our Christmas mugs to a thrift shop. We certainly don’t need mugs that only get used once a year taking up space in my glasses cabinet. But nobody needs them now. All I have to do is remember. 🙂 

Today I want to share excerpts from an article I just read on EarthBeat by Brenna Davis, Do you have too many spatulas, too? It raises so many of the questions I’ve been asking myself for 10 years I could have written it myself – but why spend my time when she says it so well 😊. Following are some passages with a few comments from me in green.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” (Jn 10:41)
The average person in the United States owns over 300,000 items...
I recently realized that in our household of two, we own four spatulas. That might seem like a silly area to focus on, but the spatulas are a symptom of a bigger problem. As I mentally debated if we should get rid of two or three of them, I had a moment of clarity: I am way too attached to inconsequential things. (Happily, my own spatula count is now only 2.)

For me, and for many of us, I think this attachment comes from fear. What if one of the spatulas breaks? What if I have a potluck (in the future) and need them for serving? What if I need to fry four eggs simultaneously?

That’s a lot of unlikely what-ifs, and this experience has gotten me reflecting again on if I put my trust in God and community… If for some reason “the worst” does happen and I am left spatula-less, do I trust that “all will be well” and that my needs will be met?

As I started looking around my house, I realized that I had a lot of extra stuff that other people might find useful…Instead of buying things because it provides a temporary feeling of happiness, I pledge to ask myself the following questions to limit my impact on the planet and to limit the number of things in my house that take time and mental energy to maintain: •
Do I truly need this item?…
How long do I think this item will last?…
Are there things that I have been holding onto “just in case”? (If a real need eventually came up would it be that hard to borrow or buy it?)

ACT: Visit FreecycleBuy Nothing Project or Nextdoor to see if there are neighborhood groups where you can post free items or request items that you need. 

As we approach the high gift-giving season of Christmas most of us will get a few new things which will be precious symbols of love from our family and friends. Hang on to the reality of that love, but perhaps it can also be the prompt that frees us to let go of duplicates and evaluate the necessity other items. My next blog post will be “Uber Recycling” in which I will share samples of things I’ve recently recycled. Hopefully it will give you some new ideas and prompt you to start the new year with less.

Reducing SUPs (Single Use Plastics) is a laudable goal. Although some SUPs are necessary (for example medical use), reducing & recycling plastics are only partial and temporary solutions. Therefore, the classic environmental mantra – Reduce/Reuse/Recycle needs a “P” for PREVENTION. I have divided Prevention into two sub-categories – Substitutions and Stop the Production. To explore these strategies in more depth I consulted several scientists and advocacy groups.

1. SUBSTITUTION requires finding alternate sources for packaging.
Dr. Love-Ese Chile is a sustainable plastic researcher based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She talks about the Circular Economy in which bio-based substances like food or agricultural waste (for example corn husks, banana leaves, seaweed, fungi) can be converted into substitutes for petrochemical plastics.
Similarly, Dr. Patricia Demarco a biologist working in Pittsburgh, PA talks about Green Chemistry which develops bio-plastics from plants (algae, enzymes, hemp, bamboo) instead of petrochemicals derived from oil. In addition, cardboard or reusable bags can be substituted for plastic packaging. She also works with biomimicry & catalysts that have medical uses.

The bottom line is that many scientists have done research in developing alternatives to SUPs. Implementing these solutions would reduce plastics in the environment by 40%. The challenge is producing these products on a scale that is economically profitable. Can our society wait? How do you make consumer choices? For an extensive list of substitute products for household use, see Plastic-Free Living Product Guide.

I recently bought several Etee products (dishwashing soap, scrubbies, shampoo, and stain remover) to see if they worked – so you don’t have to 😊. Yes, all worked…BUT there is a –
Dilemma: Although the products worked well enough, they have to be mail ordered and cost more. This takes us back to economy of scale. Are you willing to pay more to support the companies that make plastic free items until they can be mass produced on a scale that would make them economically competitive? Are you willing to be part of the solution?

2. STOP THE PRODUCTION is more of a political approach.
It involves stopping the petrochemical industry from fracking (injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to extract oil or gas). Preventing the production of plastics at its source not only reduces plastics but also the air, water, and ground pollution that come from the process. The challenge here is that the petrochemical industry is losing energy sales to renewable sources like solar and wind, thus producing plastics becomes a new revenue stream. Since regional governments are usually the vehicle for regulating land use, this is where ordinary citizens need to band together to lobby government officials to protect the air, land, and water from pollution.
For the committed: To learn how you can make a significant impact in preventing plastic production at its source, join Halt The Harm Network which connects activists in the fight against oil and gas. Check out their Webinar – Impacts of Plastic Virtual Summit, A-Z Plastics.

Is this Living Lightly? No, it can be a very complicated and time-consuming process to join with other concerned citizens, contact elected officials, and become involved in the political process. Indeed, it does take a village to protect a community of villages. Each of us must discern what is mine to do. Some may find that responsible recycling is all they can manage at this time. Others can creatively adjust their lifestyle to reduce Single Use Plastics. But some of us have to do the hard work of political advocacy to protect the sacredness of human life and all creation.

Since I live along the Ohio River which is a region that is currently a target for the petrochemical industry building plants for fracking and distribution, I have been educating myself about how to join with others who are working on the “Stop the Production” end. What is yours to do?