Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

As Covid appears to possibly be retreating, I have recently returned from two trips (one by air to Singapore for our son’s wedding and one by car for a retreat and visiting friends and family along the way). These trips have prompted me to muse about the experience of traveling and what it continues to teach me about life, meaning, and God.

PRACTICAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
Packing Light: By nature, I enjoy the challenge of packing light. This is especially applicable when traveling by air since I usually try to take no more than a carry-on suitcase and backpack. (To see my updated Traveling Light blog post of a decade ago, click here. I added 20 sub-tips to my original Top 10 travel tips.)

EMOTIONAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
The positive side
of travel is the joy of being with far away friends in person and having conversations longer and more intimate than a Zoom call can endure.
The negative side is that I’m not good at directions and I also lose the comfort of familiar routines. Having a husband who I call “Mr. Map” since he has an excellent sense of direction solves the first problem.
BUT…I struggle with – Where did I put my phone, my glasses, my whatever? What time is it here? The flow of each day is different so it’s easy to lose the rhythm of on Sundays we usually go to Church, On Mondays I send my Marriage Moments, Parenting Pointers, and Eco-Tips out. Where is the grocery store? Should we drive, take the metro, bus, or Uber? Where will we eat today? It can feel confusing and stressful.

SPIRITUAL SIDE OF TRAVEL
Dependency: When traveling I am reminded of how I am dependent on the generosity of others. Often we stay with family or friends and they provide food, housing, and companionship. Even when we spring for an Air B&B or Retreat Center, I realize that the money to pay for these comes from the government (in the form of Social Security payments) from past jobs (in the form of pensions), or from savings (partly from an inheritance). The virtue called for is Gratitude.

Sharing: Yesterday’s Gospel (John 6:1-15) retold how Jesus fed the 5000+ with 5 loaves and 2 fish. What do I have to share? For many of us our time and knowledge are our most valuable assets. Teachers, caregivers, people who repair stuff share their time and knowledge. I can donate money for food, clothing, shelter, and education, but direct service feels more satisfying. Sometimes the hardest thing for me is to take the time to listen to those in need or to those who have different opinions from me – and then ACT to make a difference.

Relating: People met Jesus as they traveled. They walked together and talked just like I have been meeting old and new friends. The folks on the way to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus as they walked and talked. Sometimes it takes awhile for me to recognize Jesus in the people surrounding me. We have to look beneath the surface to recognize Jesus.

Prayer: While sitting on my bedroom “prayer perch” I see the glorious dogwood tree coming into bloom outside my window. Wow! Freely if offers its beauty at no cost to me. Yet I know that the beauty of nature and daily needs of humans are at imminent risk by global warming and violence.
Recognizing the beauty of creation feels like a prayerful but passive stance, while working to preserve creation takes my time, effort, and stretching into actions of political and systemic change. I try to remember that these actions are also a form of prayer.

QUESTION: What has travel taught you?

As we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week, I am aware of how unusual this Lent has been for me. Perhaps for you too. My usual basic Lenten practice is to give up sweets. This is not a significant sacrifice, but rather I consider it a daily background reminder of this season of transformation. When I am tempted to reach for my usual lunch desert candy bar or dinner Klondike ice cream bar, I am reminded of the bigger sacrificial changes I am trying to make in my life – like living more simply, devoting mega time to social justice causes, really changing my lifestyle; or even this year’s plan to clear my desk area of paper clutter. But this Lent has been different.

Instead of a mammoth give-away effort or major lifestyle changes, I spent about half of Lent half a world away in Singapore for our son’s wedding. This hardly feels like a sacrifice. But…we work with what life (God) gives us. This year Covid travel requirements, a different culture, and lack of a daily routine jerked me out of my typical Lenten sacrificial mode to muse about life in general.

  • Maybe it’s the constant disturbing news about the invasion of Ukraine,
  • Maybe it’s a growing awareness of the precarious future of planet Earth as we know it,
  • Maybe it’s reflecting on how our children’s lives may be altered by the above,
  • OR, maybe it’s just getting older.

I don’t know. Regardless, I’ve been thinking a lot about ultimate things, like

  1. How big is the universe and can human-like life exist on other planets (like TOI-674 b)
  2. How/when did creation of the universe start?
  3. What is the essence of what I call “God” who I think of as the creator of the universe?
  4. Is there really a God and life after death? I choose to believe these concepts. It brings me comfort to envision a place of being after death, but… I have no certainty. Death may be nothing more than my body returning to the earth and being the source of new plant life.
  5. Would I live any differently if there is no God, no afterlife? Probably not. But my life feels more meaningful by connecting with a spiritual, God-like being.
  6. Are the above musings what Lent is supposed to be for me this year? OR should I just organize those loose papers?
  7. Am I the only one thinking about these things?

So… how would you answer the above questions?

Hmmm, my Prayer & Fasting during Lent are going OK, but the Almsgiving is eluding me. I had decided (rightly I think) that almsgiving should be broader than just giving money. I now define it as not only making donations to charitable causes but giving my whole self. Thus, choosing a way to serve others by donating clothes, household items, and my time, is also almsgiving. Fine. Over the years I’ve done plenty of those practical things.

As I evaluated my life and time during Lent 2022, however, it seemed to me that pruning the many papers that were cluttering my desk and office would be a worthy project since, once done, it would simplify my life, help me do things faster, reduce distractions, help me focus. However good this might make me feel, it was a self-help project that didn’t exactly feel like service or very spiritual. I partially followed through on my decision to spend at least 15 minutes a day clearing paper clutter, but I didn’t make much progress.

I had to face the reality that life and projects keep getting in the way. I wondered if:
1.  Maybe pruning paper was the wrong choice for a Lenten practice.
2.  I just let too many other priorities get in the way.
3.  I was avoiding it as it would take too much time; was too emotionally draining.
4.  I was just being selfish/lazy with my time.

Enough self-flagellation. Eventually an answer came to me in prayer. My papers reflected the evolution of my life. They documented each of the jobs I held and the various groups and movements that I have been committed to.

Just for fun – short diversion: My folders, file cabinets, and piles of paper fit an alphabet of categories: ANAWIM, FCGG, IOMLC, MISC, MLC-NA, MSJC, NACFLM, PACA, PPJ, UD, VOTF…
(If anyone wants to play the game, How Well Do I Know Susan Vogt, see how many of the above you can identify? Winner gets a can of alphabet soup.)

But, on to what spiritual lessons are hiding behind my papers and letters. As I ponder which papers to pitch and which to file better. I am realizing that this Lent I am taking an interior journey through my life. Part of the trip is letting go of earlier formative resources that may no longer be needed.

The more recent side trips are inner excursions into what is the purpose of my life? What gives it meaning? In the end, I am more than meetings, Zoom calls, social justice projects, and a pile of papers. It all comes down to loving creation – both human and nature. Some relationships are easy to love – like my family and those who think like me.
Others are more challenging – like those who are mean, think differently from me, or spiders. Maybe this Lent I will come to more peace with the latter? It’s all about unconditional love.

PS: To balance all this amorphous spiritual stuff, I bring myself down to earth by remembering that there are people seriously suffering right now on planet earth – not just on paper. I still must do something to ease the suffering of the hungry, the homeless, the unloved, the lonely. News of people suffering in Ukraine jar me back to the present and the need to act, not just pray, give money, and push paper.
What is mine to do? What is yours?

Lent has started and I’m a week behind already. I’ve got 2 of the 3 Lenten basics covered, but it’s discouraging to be behind before I start.

  1. Prayer – In addition to my regular prayer time I’ve joined a contemplative prayer group at our parish. These twice-a-week online gatherings have been meaningful since they prompt me to go more deeply into the mystery of God’s sacred presence. But, I’m going to miss at least 6 of the 13 sessions because of other commitments.
  2. Fasting – I usually give up sweets and fast from some regular meals during Lent. I think of this as being in solidarity with those who don’t have enough to eat. It’s not a choice for them. But for me, the main value is that it is a daily reminder to turn my attention to the “Why” of Lent – to connect more intimately with God.
  3. But what about the 3rd biggie – Almsgiving. Sure, I could donate more money to charitable causes. But, I usually understand this Lenten practice as taking actions such as spending my time and effort to serve others. In the past I often gave stuff away (not just money) or tried to be of service to those in need.
    This year I thought I’d wrap it all up in the word PAPER. I have way too much paper cluttering my desk and overflowing to the floor around my desk. This not only makes it difficult to find the right paper amongst my many piles, it clutters my mind and makes me feel behind in my daily life. I’ve pruned paper before, but obviously it needs an upgrade.

So, Ash Wednesday came and went, and I kept figuring I would develop a “paper plan” the next day. My first step was to commit to 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to devote to paper pruning. I made a simple chart outlining which part of my desk area I would work on each day. Now, it’s a week into Lent and I have my commitment chart but no action.

What is all this teaching me? That I’m not perfect. (In fact, I had buried my chart under other papers for several days and just now found it again. ☹) I’m human and need to forgive myself.

Right now, I will stop writing this blog, post it, and spend my 15 minutes this afternoon, before I get distracted and choose to do something else.
I wonder what other lessons the Spirit will teach me this Lent through paper?

How is it going for you? Do you have some Lenten motivational tricks?

Curbside recycling is convenient and prevents many items from polluting our land, air, and water or languishing in landfills. The local Cincinnati area waste collection company (Rumpke) has recently added “to-go” cups to what can be put in curbside recycling. Good! BUT, what about items you no longer need but you want to find a respectable home for like clothing, kitchen ware, and misc. stuff that doesn’t qualify for curbside recycling – especially plastics and polystyrene foam, i.e. Styrofoam. Here are some solutions:

THRIFT STORES: Clothing, household supplies, games, etc.
can go to the usual places like Goodwill, AmVets, Lupus, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, VietVets, Next Door, OR check out my Donating Basics posts here and here. To check out a pretty comprehensive list of national clothing donation sites, click here.
My favorite local Thrift Store is Betty’s Treasures because it’s close and serves the local neighborhood. That’s where I took this frying pan. What’s your favorite Thrift Store and why?

PLASTICS, STYROFOAM, & MORE:
But Thrift Stores don’t want your garbage. The best place in the Cincinnati area to take these items is the Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub which takes clean rigid plastic and Styrofoam take-out containers and a whole lot more like toothpaste tubes, bubble wrap, etc. I’ve become a regular customer of the HUB.
(Note: temporarily they are not taking #1 plastic until a new buyer is found.) Is there a similar recycling center in your community? Let others know in the comments.

Rx PILL BOTTLES – Maybe you’re healthy and never need pills, but people of a certain age (like me) accumulate a lot of those orange plastic pill bottles over a year. Click here for background on what to do with them. Matthew 25 Ministries takes them in many cities. The HUB (above) also accepts Rx bottles.

Although Christmas gifts (especially new electronics) can prompt recycling of older stuff, I continue to ask myself “How much is enough?” It’s nice to know I have an extra lamp if one breaks. How many blankets does a home need? How do you decide when to get rid of useful but extra stuff?
Two recent experiences prompted me to stop procrastinating and let go.

1. Updating our home insulation
We knew the insulation we put in about 40 years ago was deteriorating. As conscientious environmentalist wannabes we decided to re-insulate our house. It would be expensive, but it would save heating energy. To do this required emptying out a bathroom closet to access ceiling and wall space. The closet stored medical and bathroom supplies, towels, and bedding supplies. Most of these were extras in case of emergency or to host visitors. (Of course not many visitors were coming during these pandemic years.) Pruning through all this stuff eliminated out of date medicines and added a feeling of gratitude that we hadn’t needed arm slings, poison ivy remedies, or additional sheets in quite awhile. (For additional ideas to save energy, especially in bedrooms, click here.)

2. The arrival of Afghan refugees to our community
Around this same time, we learned that Kentucky Refugee Ministry was preparing to welcome evacuees from Afghanistan. We volunteered to welcome a family of 8. A local religious congregation was providing a temporary dwelling but they did need home supplies.

Hmmm, how many sheets, towels, and extra toiletries did we need to keep “just in case” when a family with 6 young children needed these now? Sheets for 4 beds and 5 towels was a start.

How many extras are enough of anything is an ongoing dilemma for me. I like to be prepared and careful, but it’s made easier when I know a “neighbor” is in need.
What prompts you to give away or recycle extra supplies in your home.
What makes something “extra”?

Christmas is almost upon us. Perhaps you will receive some new electronics (a phone, laptop, TV, game system, etc.) Yea! But leap ahead a week or so and this also brings up the question of what to do with your older, maybe broken or obsolete technology items. How do you recycle these responsibly?
I did some research so you don’t have to. Here’s a summary:

RECYCLING OLDER ELECTRONICS: For the serious declutterer, check out these 3 articles.

  1. Where to Donate and Recycle Used ElectronicsAll Connect offers many ideas about principles, resources and where to take used electronics.
  2. How to Recycle Old ElectronicsConsumer Reports offers their always well reputed reliable, unbiased product information.
  3. Where to RecycleEarth 911 offers a simple, direct search function to find local recycling places.

IN A FEW WORDS: For those who care but have less time, the key points are:

  • Donate as much as you can to reputable charities (the articles give contact info for many of the usual ones.)
  • Recycle others by taking your stuff to stores that sell similar merchandise or to the parent tech firm itself.
  • Wipe all products clean of any personal information.

FOR FUN: Check out this 2 minute video. Which of the 5 things would you guess?
5 Things To Always Recycle

BEYOND ELECTRONICS – Bonus ideas about decluttering other Christmas stuff and making the holidays sync with your environmental commitments

Here we are in the middle of Advent (Nov. 28 – Dec. 24, 2021). I will repeat only once my tired rant about Christmas being Dec. 25 and Advent being the season of waiting and preparing, NOT celebrating and gift giving. Over the past decade I’ve written 20 posts related to how to manage this complicated season with simplicity, sanity, and hope. Click here for a summary of each.

But for those of you who understandably don’t want to wade through too many ideas that might just make you feel tired or guilty, here’s my skinny on how to honor Advent and prepare for Christmas without alienating your family and friends.

BE KIND: to yourself and others. Make exceptions to the following when warranted.

WAIT:

  1. At least till Thanksgiving to start home decorations. I whine about stores doing it early, but I’m not in charge of stores, only my own family.
  2. To party – unless it would be rude to not attend an office or friend’s party.
  3. Till Christmas Eve to decorate your tree. (Too late for this year? Forgive yourself.)
  4. Till Christmas morning to exchange family gifts – again unless it would be rude.

PREPARE: (While pregnancy means waiting, it also requires getting a lot of things ready.)

  1. Enter into the spirit of Advent (Light the candles on an Advent wreath, Put up a creche and move the 3 kings from the East to the West. Count the days on an Advent calendar…
  2. Put up outside lights, window candles, green garlands, etc. Perhaps consider the lights like following the stars and greenery as honoring nature.
  3. Get gifts. Whether buying, making, baking, giving experiences, or sharing kind thoughts, the sharing of gifts requires planning. Check out my Nothing New Christmas experience.

Since this post is coming out in the middle of Advent, some folks may have already plunged in to more traditional Christmas activities. That’s OK. Remember the first step: Be kind to yourself. There’s always next year.

8 extra socks

I do clothes washing about once a week. Recently when I was folding my all-purpose black socks, I noticed that some needed mending. Even after that, I had more than I could ever wear from one wash day to the next (even adding on a couple extra grace days for delayed washing). Thus, I came up with the magic number of 10 and am calling it Susan’s Law of 10

After all there are 10 Commandments, I have 10 fingers and toes. There are 10 years in a decade, 10 decades in a century, 10 Hail Mary’s in a rosary decade, and the number 10 is the first Arabic number to have 2 digits. So much for justification 🙂 .
Basically, it was a nice round number to get me from one wash day to the next. So, I started pruning my wardrobe down to 10 items for the 10 basic categories below.

Step 1: The first step was easy – try clothes on to see if they still fit. This eliminated one suit skirt that definitely didn’t fit and another that was too snug for comfort.

Step 2: Note the quality of the item. Did it have holes, stains, or need repairs that I couldn’t do.

Step 3: The next step was noting which items I seldom or never wear (probably because they weren’t my favorites). Others were practically duplicates so I didn’t need them. (I did decide to keep my wedding dress even though I haven’t worn it in 50 years plus one formal gown in case I would ever be invited to a fancy event.)

Ex: kept 10, gave away 2

10 categories I used for pruning my clothes to 10 or under
10 professional outfits (suits, dresses, etc.)
10 slacks (including dressy pants and jeans)
10 long sleeved winter knit tops
10 sweaters (pullover style to go over winter tops on cold days)
10 short sleeved summer knit tops (solid colored)
10 short sleeved summer knit tops (with words or pictures)
10 pairs of black socks (plus underwear and pj’s.)
9 scarves to give variety to my outfits
7 pairs of shoes (3 are dressy shoes I hardly ever wear, but maybe if that invite to a fancy event ever happens, I’ll be ready.)
5 pairs of shorts

I had to make some hard choices for some of my professional outfits. Eventually I figured that even after Covid-19 wanes and we pay attention to more than the waist up view on Zoom screens, I probably won’t be doing public speaking and attending professional meetings as much as I did in my 60’s. There were also some easy decisions like shirts from movements that I no longer participated in

Obvious spiritual reflections that this pruning exercise prompts:

  • What about people who don’t have a sturdy pair of shoes, much less fancy ones?
  • What about folks who don’t need professional outfits because they don’t have a job.
  • What is mine to do? I’ve got miles to go before I sleep restfully with these questions, but some folks don’t have a comfortable place to sleep at night.

So, how do you manage the clothes in your closet?
How do you reconcile what you have with the plight of the poor? (Yes, of course we give away our extras to those in need, BUT what about the systemic changes needed so that fewer people are in need?)
What about YOU?

People may disagree about what is the right thing to do and whose opinion is correct. Some folks are just plain argumentative. Others may be of good will, but we just have different fundamental views on life or values. The temptation is to retreat into our “tribes” or “bubbles” where folks agree with me. It may feel safer and more comfortable, but in a pluralistic society it doesn’t help us live well with those we disagree with. Consider these 8 steps for talking about controversial issues:

1. PICK YOUR PARTNER: Social scientists tell us that on a controversial issue about 15% of people have their opinions locked in with their identity. If their view is the extreme opposite of yours, nothing you say will be heard. They will just dismiss you. Don’t waste your time.

2. PREPARE TO LISTEN: Before you even start a difficult conversation:
Know your own stuff. Research the facts so you are not operating on misinformation.
   • Be aware of your own biases.
   • Think kindly of the other person. What part of their beliefs may be right? What are some of their strengths, good qualities…? What might they be afraid of? If you are a person of faith, call to mind that the other is also a child of God.
   • Pray – to listen well and clear your mind.
   • Finally, let go of wanting to prove you are right (even if you may be). You know your facts but don’t use them as a weapon. It won’t help.

3. LISTEN: This doesn’t just mean being quiet, but truly try to understand the other’s position. Try to put their points into your own words to check that you are hearing them well.

4. BUILD RELATIONSHIP: If you don’t already know each other well, get to know each other’s interests, family, hobbies, etc. What might you have in common?

5. SEEK COMMON GROUND: Before focusing on your differences, explore what elements on the issue you might both hold in common. (Example: We both want a safe environment for our children; or to help those living in poverty, or a fair justice system…We may differ on the best way to achieve these.)

6. EXPLORE YOUR DIFFERENCE: Probably best to limit this to one or two differences in the beginning.
   • The goal is not to convert the other to your position.
   • The goal is to understand the other better so that you can remain friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens.
   • The ultimate goal is to build a better/fairer society for the common good of all.

7. BRING AN ATTITUDE: When responding to a statement the other makes that you disagree with or that bothers you, resist the temptation to fight back. An attitude of receptive humility works better.
   • Christians, might ask yourself the classic question, “What would Jesus do?” He is known for both speaking truth to power but also being merciful.
   • For all, speak the truth as you understand it, but speak with respect. The bottom line is “What is the loving thing to do or say?”

8. PRACTICE: Several movements that can help are:
   • Braver Angels Focusses on political divides between liberals, conservatives and others.
   • Living Room Conversations provides guides in home or online conversations on over 100 controversial topics.
   • Civilize It includes a pledge and resources to help Catholics enter into respectful dialogue around civic virtues.
   • All Sides strengthens our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation
   • National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation is a network to bring people together across divides to tackle today’s challenges

I just completed a “Web Week from Hell.” I needed to migrate my Family Matters website and Living Lightly blog to a new host. Despite doing websites for about 20 years, I realized that I was still a “techno peasant” in understanding the technology behind how they worked.

Tech support was very helpful and patient with me but it still took over 50 emails/chats, 30 hours of trial and error, and a week of stress as I questioned my sanity, abilities, self-worth, and what’s important in life. Upon reflection and prayer I finally realized that I had tied up my reputation, importance, and self-esteem with having a website and blog. Who was I without that? This was not a deal breaker in life, but it prompted some self-evaluation as I tried to figure out why I was tying my identity so tightly to this relatively small part of my life.

Perhaps your self-worth is tied to your marriage, children, job, income, public persona, accomplishments, physical health and abilities, etc. Reflecting on who I am and what difference my life on planet earth makes is a lifelong journey, but here are some things I learned/remembered as a result of the trigger of a techno crisis.

  1. My worth as a human does not depend on my abilities, my health, my successes or failures.
  2. The day-to-day stresses of life can be tiring and burdensome, BUT as tragic as some are (death of a loved one, serious injury, hunger, etc.) this is not the end of the world. Life will go on (at least for awhile) and eventually I will die. What matters is how I respond to the challenges I face.
  3. Facing a challenge can be stressful and painful, but what can I eventually learn from it?
  4. Perhaps the learning is to keep trying or to learn new ways of doing a job.
  5. Perhaps the learning is to be kinder to myself, to take a rest, to love another more than I care about my own success.
  6. Perhaps the learning is to humble myself, to admit I’m human and make mistakes, to let go of my pride and wanting to be perfect, to apologize, to forgive myself and others, and to ask forgiveness.
  7. Perhaps the learning is to rest, to pick myself up, ask for help, and to go on – like Elijah (I Kings 19:4-8)

To fold all 7 points into 1 – In the end, the only thing that matters is trying to LOVE all.
So, do any of the above ways work for you? Are there other strategies that you’ve found healing when you need to let go of guilt or undue pride?

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.