Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

Since the city I live in (Covington, KY) borders the Ohio River, last weekend I participated in an annual “River Sweep.” The goal is to clean up trash along the wooded banks of the Kentucky side of the river. I met with about 30 other diligent environmental do-gooders armed with old jeans, hearty shoes, gloves, and “tricky sticks” to pick up litter and put it into large plastic bags without having to personally touch most of it. I felt virtuous cleaning up my side of the river.

Invisible People:
But, soon I was impacted by a deeper part of this experience – How did all this litter get here? It wasn’t spontaneously generated. Human beings left cans, bottles, and paper strewn on the ground. After a moment of judgementalism about litterbugs (after all I had made many “Don’t be a litterbug” posters as a child), I realized that the litterers were not just lazy, they were destitute and desperate. I started also finding blankets, old sweatshirts, shoes, and sleeping pads on the ground. Most of these articles were mired in mud and heavy to pull out and put in our plastic bags. Hmmm. Homeless people had obviously been sleeping here and they weren’t camping for fun. They were invisible to me now, but remnants of them remained. Where did they go? Did they find a homeless shelter, a job, a way out of poverty?

This reminds me of another environmental clean-up my husband and I often do during our winter walks around the neighborhood. On a less disturbing scale, we often find empty cans and plastic bottles along the street and carry a bag to pick them up for recycling. Good for us, but…I also have been in the recycling field long enough to know that usually less than 9% of recyclable cans and bottles actually get recycled.
I console myself with saying that at least we’re cleaning up the neighborhood streets even if only a smidgen of it actually gets recycled.

So…are River Sweeps and recycling in general just temporary solutions? They are good. They are necessary. But perhaps their ultimate function is to point humanity (us) to the bigger, endemic problems – we create too much trash, and we trash people. I am not the first to recognize this and the solutions are not new:

  1. Reduce the need for recycling by reducing the production of plastic (especially single use plastic containers). After all, even the production of plastic by fracking and cracker plants harm the environment.
  2. Address homelessness and poverty by increasing services to our fellow human beings who need training for jobs, counseling for mental/emotional disabilities, etc., etc., etc.

These are systemic changes that look at the source of the problems and often require political and organizational efforts. It’s hard. It can’t be done alone. It takes a community bolstered by faith, hope, and love. Which brings me back to individual actions. Which part of this mammoth systemic change am I called to do?

How do you resolve these epic challenges? Pick up more litter? Pick up another human being? Pick a cause? Spend your money? Spend your time? _______________________?

Lent has been over for 2 weeks. So…has it made any difference in my (or your) daily life?
Sure, I donated clothes and supplies to worthy causes. I eventually organized the loose papers that cluttered my desk. These acts felt good and cleaned up stuff but did not do much to focus my life on what’s really important – furthering loving relationships with others. Folks in need can use some of my stuff, but my personal attention may be even more important.

Five Holy Week experiences, however, taught me to look beyond decluttering and my environmental efforts.

  1. Taking the bus: On Good Friday Jim and I decided that rather than drive, we would take the bus to a Good Friday service. We were being good stewards of the environment, right? The experience, however, went beyond saving gas. I noticed who boarded the bus and sat near us – most appeared poorer than me, one had difficulty walking, another appeared mentally handicapped. Most were of a different race from me. Hmmm. Riding the bus became more than an environmental gesture, I was crossing paths with people who suffer every day from poverty, and life’s limitations.
  2. A Movie: I watched a movie about racial discrimination in the Cincinnati area. The movie itself raised the social justice issue of historical racial injustice and what could be done today. Good. BUT, it was way too loud! At first, I just complained to myself and pulled up my hoodie. It was still too loud. Eventually I listened from the hallway. This made me think of people who are deaf or blind. Hmmm, I’m privileged to be able to hear at all.
  3. “Can you hear me?” Speaking of hearing, I was parked at the library and as I got out of my car, I heard a man in an empty parking lot yelling to seemingly no one – “Can you hear me?” Because of my Rain Walker experience several weeks ago, I decided not to ignore this plea for help. I asked the man what he needed. He said, “a ride home.” (He was legally blind, limped, and spoke broken English.) I decided to risk it, offered a ride, and eventually we found his home.
  4. Having a Beautiful Body: Because Jim and I are of a certain age and have Medicare, we qualify for free memberships at the local Planet Fitness. Once a week we add this to our daily bike ride or walk. I noticed that some members are clearly overweight. My first impulse was to be judgmental. Maybe they eat too much junk food, watch too much TV, etc. But then I remembered my recent post about trying to give up judgmentalism for Lent. I also realized that we were both lucky to have grown up in families where healthy food, exercise, and self-esteem were foundational. 
  5. Desk decluttering: Finally, I got back to organizing the many free flowing papers on top of my desk. I started with pruning my medical back-up files. Do I really need 10 years of Rx receipts? No. As I shredded the older unnecessary files, I thought of people who don’t have adequate health care or the money to pay for it.

The underlying lesson? Opening my eyes and ears to be more attentive to the people I pass and situations I encounter may lead me to a deeper spirituality than decluttering. Now it’s on to conquering systemic and political change that is needed to make our society fairer for all. But these challenges often feel tiresome. The challenge is to stay with it, not give up.

Today I realized that I have about a week left in Lent and I’ve barely implemented “The Plan.” Sure, I’ve prayed, fasted, and done some service, BUT pruning a “Room a Day” took a deep dive after Week 3 and pruning my “Desk & Office” area barely started.

So, what do I have to show for the last 2 weeks. First check out the children’s toys that I am willing to part with. The bigger Lenten Lesson, however, is noticing that clearing stuff off shelves and cupboards is not the essence of Lent. Even doing community service, beneficial as that is, may not be the most important action I take.                   (Click to enlarge photo.→)

Today, I learned something about Lent by watching birds. At first, they were just a pretty distraction. But then I started reflecting on how they flit from tree to tree, they eat, they reproduce, feed their young, and eventually die. I also noticed that it was the bare trees of March than enabled me to actually watch their cardinal red color and flights more closely.
* Do I flit from tree to tree too quickly? Maybe my fixation with pruning stuff is hiding some deeper sacrifice I need to make?
* Do the birds have any enemies? Sure, larger birds, animals, and even humans eat them.

This got me thinking more about LOVING MY HUMAN ENEMIES & JUDGMENTALISM.
During Lent I’ve been struck by how judgmental I am of my fellow humans. I don’t usually use the word “enemy” but certainly there are people that I find myself at least internally criticizing, judging, feeling superior to, disliking, or disagreeing with. I hope I am not alone in this. ☹
So, how can I be less judgmental/critical of my human friends?

  1. Notice when I’m tempted to complain or criticize. What triggers my criticisms? Can I devise a personal warning system to help me be aware (like a rubber band on my wrist…)
  2. Refrain from speaking to others about my criticism of an individual or group. (If necessary, alert the subject of my complaint to the danger their words/actions have upon themself or others. But beware, this is often more for self-satisfaction than for the other.)
  3. Seek to understand what might be behind an act I find annoying or offensive, i.e. don’t presume that my analysis of an infraction is the whole story. For example:
    • Maybe that pokey driver on their phone, just received an urgent message about their child’s injury.
    • Maybe a politician I disagree with is defending a life value that I uphold but doing it in a way that I believe would negate other values I hold.
    • Maybe a child abuser has been a victim of terrible abuse in their own early life.
  4. Remember that I am not blameless. I’ve done things I regret. I’ve made mistakes.
  5. Let go of stuff I can’t change. Somethings are my business – and some are not.
  6. God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to all – including me. (If you don’t believe in God, consider how a spirit of forgiveness – and reparation if needed – is more healing than hate.)
  7. I can protest a decision or action a person takes and call for systemic change, without hating the individual. In fact, the individual fault or tragedy that happens may prompt needed change.This hasn’t been an easy Lent…But it has been enlightening.

1. It was a very cold morning as my husband and I drove through a drenching rain to exercise at Planet Fitness. We passed a 40 something man walking without even a jacket or hat, head down, along our route. After passing him I started to ponder how uncomfortable it must be to walk in those conditions. Then the thought struck me, Why don’t we turn around and at least offer him an umbrella, OR maybe a ride to his destination. But it seemed too late. What would you do?

2. I started to update my website with my latest Marriage Moment but it wouldn’t work. I fussed and fussed and spent too much time trying different fixes. Still no success. Eventually I started catastrophizing, wondering if this was the end of my life as a “would be influencer.” Maybe I’m just getting too old for modern technology. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep as I continued to fret about how I might fix the problem OR what kind of life I might be moving into without a website, blog, and weekly ECO-TIPS, Parenting Pointers, etc. What would you do?

3. After a 2+ year Covid break, I had just returned to weekly tutoring at a local, low-income, 99% black school. I was assigned to work with 3 third grade students on reading. I asked their names and tried to get to know them a little. I assumed that all 3 were were girls. They all had black braided hair of different lengths, non-gender specific uniforms, similar high pitched voices. After about 10 minutes I noticed that one student hung his head in despair. Eventually I figured out that “she” was a “he” and had a name that wasn’t obviously male or female. Aargh! I wondered if word would spread and I would be fired from this volunteer job? I felt distraught. What would you do?

As I reflect back on these disturbing Lenten experiences I wondered what good were my Lenten commitments of increased prayer, fasting, tutoring, and “The Plan” of pruning even more of my possessions, and decluttering my desk so I could work more efficiently? I felt humbled and remorseful. BUT, in hindsight, maybe my mistakes and fumbling were the more important Lenten lessons. Maybe I needed to let go of my well laid plans and learn from the experiences that were being given to me.

Here’s what I did:
1. The Rain Walker – I found an extra umbrella and put it in the car. More importantly, I refreshed my eyes and mind to notice people in possible need along the road side and be ready to assist if an opportunity arose again.

2. Computer glitch – Since I couldn’t sleep, I prayed. In the morning I rebooted my computer. Problem solved. How much of it was prayer, I’ll never know, but rebooting is often a good solution.

3. Tutoring fiasco – I apologized profusely to the child. Emailed the teacher in case word had spread about my ineptness as a tutor. So far, the feedback has been to “let it go.”

4.  Biggest Lesson – Lent is not just about prayer & fasting. Paying attention to the life around me can remind me to recognize Jesus in the people who come my way, to avoid taking undue pride in my work, and to receive lessons humbly.

After 5 days of Lenten procrastination, here’s the skinny on 2 weeks of Pruning a Room a Day and Desk Decluttering efforts:
To Give Away: 2 large mirrors, Skittles game, Bow & arrow, marionette, child’s dress, 200+ paper clips, musical recorder, several books, never used clamp-on lights, 200+ daffodils to housing project homes …
To Throw Away: dust, old calculator, broken alarm clock, unusable cosmetics, old medicines
Desk decluttering: Found homes for papers on floor. Dealt with some misc. desk reminder papers.

Yes. I know, Lent started 5 days ago on Feb. 22 (Ash Wednesday), BUT, I’ve spent the past few days pondering what I would focus on this Lent. I’m late, but I finally have a plan. Traditionally, Lent has 3 components – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Prayer and Fasting are relatively easy for me since I’ve basically followed the same routine for many years:
PRAYER – Continue my morning prayer but add deciding how I’m going to do the Alms part each day.
FASTING – Don’t eat sweets except on Sundays. Skip lunch on Fridays. These are a small taste of being in solidarity with the poor plus they prompt me to remember to do the Alms part.
ALMSGIVING – This is new each year and harder to define since it isn’t just about giving money but more about giving my time. Part 1 is that I plan to resume tutoring at a local city school.
Part 2 is harder to define but involves trying to simplify the clutter and chaos that still lingers around my home so that I can donate more stuff and clear my mind of searching for stuff hanging around my cluttered desk. This is the hard part so I’ve spent the last 5 days procrastinating and clarifying my plan for the remaining 35 days of Lent.

Starting today, Feb. 27, I commit to:
1. A Room A Day
Spend at least 15 minutes a day reviewing a room or closet and choosing things to donate, recycle, or discard. If I include bathrooms, closets, and the garage that’s 15 spaces. That means I can do the circuit twice and still have one “grace day” a week to account for illness, hectic days, or forgetting.😊. Of course that 15 minutes could expand to an hour once I get on a roll.

2. Reorganize/Prune Paper in my Office
Spend at least 15 minutes a day dealing with paper. Right now I have too many piles of paper around my desk. Some in neat piles, others on the floor waiting to be organized. I also have:
– 2 filing cabinets filled with files
– 4 crates of binders
– 4 bookcases packed with books
– Slots for 24 different newsletters
– a case full of supplies for talks
– miscellaneous office supplies hidden under an unused ping pong table

All of these need to be pruned so I can find things more easily and let go of stuff that are unlikely I will ever need to refer to again. (Of course unless I do ) Again, I may extend my 15 minutes but I figure I’ll never start if I don’t commit to the initial goal of at least 15 minutes. After all, that’s how I accumulated the existing piles that came under my “I’ll clean this up tomorrow” mantra.
I’ve done this kind of pruning before but apparently it is a never-ending process. Besides, what am I going to do if some visitor decides they want to play ping pong.

PS: I just “spent some time” with a friend and told her of my “paper pruning” goal. She suggested scanning many of the papers and filing them in the cloud. It would still take some organizing, but it would free up a lot of file cabinet space. Hmmm…

PPS: Readers, you may be well into your Lenten practices, but if you’re still looking for ways to sacrifice your time and decide to try pruning paper, let me know how it goes.


I talked with a group of Catholic university students yesterday. It reminded me of my own college years and I felt both young and old. Young – because I could identify with our common faith that formed our values. Old – because I realized that even though I’m healthy and bike or hike most days, my life experience has taken me places (physically and emotionally) that is still to come for them. We talked about:

Living a Simple Lifestyle: I realized that when I was in college my possessions could all fit in a dorm room and it seemed like enough. Now, after 10+ years of giving stuff away, I still have more stuff I should give away than would fit in that dorm room. I’ve accumulated more than I would have imagined as a 20 year old including books and toys belonging to our grown kids.

What kind of relationship we have with God: Although the students gathered because they were part of a faith community, I realized that my way of praying and understanding the nature of God has evolved dramatically from my college years. Although I pray, it seldom takes the form of traditional memorized prayers. Mostly I meditate, look around me and anticipate how I might recognize the Spirit of God in the people I might encounter during the day. I wonder how praying might change for the students as they age.

How to love people better: This includes becoming involved with social justice issues like feeding the hungry, tutoring low income children, welcoming immigrants, etc. But on a more difficult level how do we love our “enemies” – those we disagree with in this world divided by politics and even religion. How do we let go of guilt and love ourselves when we become aware of our failings.

How do we love Planet Earth: We didn’t have time to do justice to this topic, but one person was aware of my weekly ECO-TIPS and asked about them. This reminded me that not only my body is aging but this land that I call home is also aging. In my youth I didn’t think much about dying and I took the existence of Planet Earth for granted. Now, with global warming my spirit is more aware that my children’s or grandchildren’s generations may not be able to support life as we know it. It may look like the moon, or Mars, or whatever.

It’s sobering to talk seriously with folks of another generation. It continues to call me back to the question I ask myself each day – What is mine to do? Today, tomorrow, with the rest of my life? Is it to:
__Write more ECO-TIPS?
__Continue to make my lifestyle simpler and more environmentally sustainable?
__Get more involved in systemic change?
YES! Some or all of the above. Check the answer that’s right for you. This is a test, sort of. Let me know your answers.

I’ve written a lot about simplifying our lives from excessive material and mental clutter. But in the spirit of even simplifying my many blog posts, I decided to summarize key life goals in one post. Actually, for those with a short attention span, I could even summarize the 5 Goals into just the first one – LOVE. As short as the word Love is, however, it’s probably the most expansive and difficult goal, so I hope the other 4 put flesh on how to love more fully.

1. Love people more than things
Of course focusing on loving people is foundational to our human lives, yet it is also very challenging. It’s hard enough to always love my family and friends, much less those who are far away, different from me, disagree with me, or even feel like enemies. Add to this the challenge of consumerism – hoping that buying more stuff will bring more joy is a tempting but false love. The challenge is to include loving humanity as one of the necessities of life in addition to food, clothing, and shelter. Then the other pulls of life like feeling important, enjoying creature comforts, etc. are nice and welcome but not the top priority.

2. Do Justice
Related to loving people (myself included) is acting on that love in our often unequal world. It’s frequently harder to love those who live far away, don’t look like me, live in poverty, are mean, etc. Life is not always fair, but for those of us who are blessed with enough stuff, physical health, healthy relationships, it is only right that we seek how to make our world fair for others. I don’t have to solve all world problems, but I must seek what is mine to do to make this world more just for all.

3. Care for Creation
OK, so we love other humans, but none of us would survive without plants, animals, water, even rocks and minerals under the ground. The more the people on planet earth multiply and advance technologically, the more pollution threatens our health. To love people means caring for the earth we live on.

4. Tune your Spiritual Life
But being physically alive has little meaning without tending to our Spirit. For me this means taking time to reflect and pray about the source of life I call God. You may have a different word for religion, faith, spirituality, but taking time to ponder the meaning of life, the universe, whatever, gives depth to the Why of life.

5. Be Brave but Humble
To tend to all of the above takes courage and sometimes risk. To stand up for those who have less or are in danger can put me in danger. But even worse is to spend my life in search of being important. We must be brave enough to risk not being liked because we stood by a person in need, but not take pride in doing it.

These 5 goals are pretty ambitious and not meant to be a tool for self-flagellation, but rather ongoing principles to move towards. It’s a direction to guide our lives, not a test.

I’ve been struggling for a while to discern what a conscientious, faith filled person can do about global warming, i.e. environmental sustainability. On one hand trying to live more lightly on a personal lifestyle level is concrete and feels satisfying. I can be careful about what I buy for my home, avoid unnecessary plastics, live simply, donate to good causes, do works of service…

Lots of people making personal sustainable lifestyle choices like these is good, BUT it’s not enough! It’s only half of the equation. Intellectually I know that systemic change is necessary too. Society (that’s us) needs to change how we do business. Governments, companies, and institutions need to change laws, policies, and structures that perpetuate the production of climate damaging acts. This often takes:

  • Educating myself and others on possible actions to take.
  • Political action like going to lots of meetings, speaking up, writing in the public arena.
  • Protesting unfair institutional practices and doing the legwork of researching and supporting alternative positive practices.
  • Contacting civic and community leaders. (Signing petitions is the easy part.)
  • Donating not only clothes to Goodwill but money to organizations that work for change.

The price of these systemic change actions is not only financial but also takes time and resilience. I may be willing to let go of some recreational or social pursuits (think TV or contra dancing), but it can also bleed over to taking time from my family or a paying job. It can also add stress to my psyche, spirit, and personal relationships.

Solutions – The systemic change part of doing good is harder for me than the personal lifestyle adaptations. For others it may be the opposite. Working on political change may feel like a meaningful challenge as long as I don’t have to give up meat or plastic at home. 🙁

Bottom line – Of course, both personal lifestyle and systemic change are necessary to be a person of integrity who walks the talk. The challenge is to assess one’s talents, resources, and personal leanings and find a balance. It probably won’t be a 50/50 balance, but neither would a 99/1 balance be authentic.

How – Of course personal reflection/prayer is necessary, but in most discernments that are this multifaceted I remember that community is important. Consulting with others who know me well, share my values, but are not afraid to challenge me and look at both sides of an issue is a step in the right direction. It takes a community – a wise and diverse community.

How do YOU do it? See my ECO-TIPS for additional ideas.

As Ukraine continues to be in the news with heart-rending stories and photos of human suffering, massive destruction, and the looming hardships of a cold winter without heat, electricity, and possibly food for its citizens – it’s sobering.
I can’t help but realize how relatively safe and comfortable my own life is. Sure, there is poverty in many places in the world and even in my own neighborhood. Families everywhere face deaths, emotional traumas, and hardships, but… when I reflect on my own life and my bubble of friends, I feel called to humility and action.

What have I done to deserve my privilege, my comfort. Sure, I work hard, I donate to worthy causes, serve in the local soup kitchen, etc. but the scale of suffering in Ukraine, and places like it around the world, put me in a favored place. I keep asking what more am I called to do? Do I need to keep stretching myself till it hurts?

Then, last week suffering got personal. I got Covid. It’s not a bad case. I was already vaccinated and boosted, but still I felt crummy for a few days. This too called me to reflect on how a couple years ago, Covid might have been a death sentence. Even today, it means quarantining, canceling a medical test, missing in-person meetings, etc. It’s inconvenient but not life threatening.

Both of these experiences (reading about the people of Ukraine and the physical discomfort of Covid) prompt me to humility and compassion for those who are facing much more serious life struggles. Upon reflection, I realize that it is through noticing the pain of humanity around the world and close to home that I become a better person myself.

  • I don’t as blithely carry on with my day wondering why another person missed a deadline or didn’t follow through on a commitment.
  • I feel called not only to pray for those in need but to figure out more tangible actions to take to turn the prayer into action.
  • As my world opens wider to the sufferings of others through the media and my own relatively minor physical ailments, I am moved to a deeper compassion. Life’s not all about me and the tasks I busy myself about.
  • Although I don’t want to minimize the serious pains of people near and far, it has been an emotional wake up call for me. Tuning in to the suffering of others has deepened my spirituality.

If these experiences are a wake-up call, then what is my next step? I already feel maxed out with work and volunteer commitments. I’m deeply involved with efforts to reduce global warming. Should I do more? Or is this primarily a call to identify more deeply with suffering humanity and let go of my pride?

How do YOU deal with suffering – your own, others, and global injustices? What helps you know what actions to take and when it is enough?
I also welcome any thoughts you have about steps I might take to move from concern and compassion to action.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. The challenge is to learn from and not repeat mistakes. Following are some recent examples from my life.

I won’t do this again

  • Frugal Fertilizing: Gardening is a source of food, exercise, frugality, and joy in my life. Last spring I was part way through planting a variety of vegetables in my garden. This not only provides some healthy food but also feeds my frugal nature because it saves money at the grocery and I can share surplus crops with neighbors and those in need. My frugality, however, can get the best of me as I noticed an old bag of soil fertilizer in the garage. I happily spread it near the base of many of my crops. Several weeks later I noticed many of the plant leaves turning brown and dying. After consulting with a local feed and seed supply store I learned that old fertilizer deteriorates and “poisons” the ground. Instead of multiplying my produce, it reduced my crops by about half. Ugh. Next year…
    Bonus: Ask me about the downside of using pine mulch to reduce weeding.
  • I’ll do this

    Good Samaritan opportunity – missed: I was walking to the nearby post office and noticed an elderly man struggling to carry groceries into his home. I was walking briskly so that I could consider my walk as exercise and didn’t stop to help. It would have been so simple. Only after it was too late did I decide that the better decision would have been to offer help. Hey! I’m able bodied. Why is my time and goal more important than his need?

  • Looking Both Ways & Hurrying: I was driving out of a crowded

    I’m lucky this didn’t happen

    parking lot. I thought all lanes had a stop sign so after stopping I glanced right, saw no approaching cars and started to drive through the intersection. I then noticed a car on my left had to stop abruptly to avoid hitting me. I’m not sure whose turn it was but I was grateful an accident was averted. It would have been my fault for not looking BOTH ways.
    Upon further reflection I thought about how “Looking both ways” is also a human relationship and political skill. If the left tried harder to understand the positions of the right (and vice versa) a lot of ugly altercations and unwise governmental policies might be averted.

Hmmm. Have you made any mistakes recently that, despite initial regret, taught you something important about life?

Halloween can carry both a spiritual and secular meaning,

  • Spiritually “Halloween” can be translated as “Holy Eve” – the evening before All Saints Day on Nov. 1. It also reminds us of the Fall harvest season.
  • Secularly Halloween is more commonly known for celebrating frightful experiences and creative costuming.

For those who consider being on the verge of extreme climate change a frightening experience, perhaps these alternative ways to use our holy energy on Oct. 31 will give you food (and a little candy) for thought.

Read 20 Ways to Fete a Plastic-Free Halloween by the Sierra Club for fun and thought provoking ideas because “What’s scarier than goblins and ghosts? Petrochemicals and waste.”

Although over the years I’ve had stuff stolen from my home, here I’m not addressing thieves but rather how I’ve recently happily found people (friends, visitors, and nonprofits) who help me prune my stuff. It all started when our son who lives in Singapore came home for a 3-week visit. This meant that most of our family and a lot of his friends visited our home. Following is how they helped me prune more stuff.

Step 1: Ask our kids to take their stuff stored at our house. This didn’t get far because most of them were flying home and didn’t have extra space in their homes anyway. At least they identified stuff to continue to save and stuff we could give away or throw away.

Step 2: Ask their friends. Since our Singapore son was in town many of his local friends visited. One was a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, so she took 6 puzzles. Another took 11 cassette tapes.

Step 3: Prune our kids’ electronics. (For my purposes I’m distinguishing between “technology” and “electronics.” In my blog post Pruning Technology, I deal with pruning information technology such as use of email and other social media. Here I’m using electronics in the sense of electronic hardware such as DVDs, CDs, and tapes. Our kids released the following electronics for recycling:
• 28 DVDs
• 33 new CDs
• 23 used CDs
•   9 Zip Drives
• 42 Cassette tapes
• 66 empty CD cases
(You may wonder how anyone collects 66 empty CD cases?
Answer: I hang many old CDs on wire frames in my garden to dissuade deer from eating my vegetables. Other CDs are lost or broken.)

Step 4: Take stuff to new homes
In the Cincinnati area the best place is the Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub. I took all of the above former “treasures” to the HUB which is a non-profit organization. They charge $1 per pound to cover their cost of shipping to Green Disc in Washington State. It cost me $22. It was easier and cheaper than packing and mailing all the electronics myself. For an earlier blog on electronic recycling click here.

If you don’t live in the greater Cincinnati area or don’t have similar local electronics resources, other recycling options are:
Green Disc – mail in program located in Sammamish, Washington
Backthruthefuture – mail in program located in Franklin, NJ 07416
• Earth 911 – is an all-purpose recycling resource with many ideas on how and where to recycle.
• Google “Where to take electronics for recycling” (Big box stores such as Staples and Best Buy also take many electronics for recycling.)

I had been saving dolls for visiting grandkids. Even they were not interested so I took them to a local Thrift Store (Be Concerned). Certainly there are similar places near you.

Our kids said I could give away an 18 book children’s encyclopedia set and 3 reference books. Having earned $.28 cents from taking previous no longer needed books to a half price bookstore, I took these directly to the public library so their Friends of the Library group could sell them to fund library functions. For other book options, click here.

Since these recently emptied file cabinets were too big for visitors to take or for us to deliver, I scheduled a Salvation Army pickup. Not as personal but easy-peasy.

What are the best sources you’ve found to pass on stuff you no longer need?

Truism: It’s easier to prune someone else’s books than your own.
How do I know this? My husband recently retired. For part of our professional careers we shared a job so we have many books and reference materials that have relevance to both of us. So… when Jim was clearing out his office of books he asked if I wanted to keep any. It was relatively easy to say “No” to almost all of them. BUT, this didn’t absolve me from the task of finding good homes for his books.

My pruning process consisted of:
1. Categorize the books to be donated into types such as spirituality, family ministry, social justice, peacemaking, misc.
2. Find people who might be interested in these types of books.
SOLUTION: I took books to several upcoming meetings with friends and gave away about 10.
3. Find places that take used books
SOLUTION #1: I donated a large box of books to our Parish library plus an empty bookcase to put them in.
SOLUTION #2: Take miscellaneous used books to a local Half Price Book Store. I hoped to make a small profit from this. I did – I got 28 cents. At least they didn’t go into a landfill.
SOLUTION #3: Take miscellaneous used books to the local public library. I didn’t do this but it may have been a better use of my time than the Half Price store.

14 empty 3-ring binders

4. Bookcase related supplies: I found 14 empty 3-ring binders originally intended to hold workshop materials.
SOLUTION: The Cinti. Recycling and Reuse Hub happily took these to distribute to schools.
5. Beyond Jim’s books: This prompted me to consider all the other books we have in our home. Should I also prune them? This task felt daunting since we have 10 bookcases full of books. Pruning these remaining joint and personal bookcases will be much harder. This is more than I want to tackle right now.
SOLUTION: For sanity’s sake, Delay.
Copies of books I’ve written: I’ve written 5 books and one of the publishers sent me several boxes of my books that they are no longer printing. These are currently stored in boxes in our basement.
SOLUTION: I recently took a bunch of my books to a talk I was giving about marriage and family life. I offered them for half price. (Sold about 10). I’m willing to extend this offer to others plus shipping.
7. Additional Resource: 20 Places to Donate Used books by Joshua Becker (includes many of the usual places plus a few creative ones you may not have thought of)

The Bigger Question
Why save ANY paper books when the internet and public libraries exist?
I will explore this more deeply when I have the courage and credibility having tackled my remaining 10 bookcases. My short answer is to keep:
1. Books that are frequently re-used – for example cookbooks and books to re-read to children/grandchildren)
2. Personalized Books – such as personal journals or anything with personal notes or memories

What criteria would you use?

What do old medicines and trophies have in common? They both have a limited shelf life.

I recently rediscovered stuff in both categories as I was cleaning for company. Since our house has 4 bedrooms and Jim and I only need one, we happily welcome guests. Of course during Covid most people weren’t visiting so we didn’t pay much attention to the extra rooms. Even offering to house homeless people, desirable as it might be, seemed questionable.
But, as Covid appears to be waning, we welcomed several out-of-town friends to stay with us. This meant that space we had neglected to clean for awhile was not only dusty but hadn’t been pruned in awhile. Two categories became willing victims – a medicine closet and an old storage chest.

Medicine: Gratefully we’ve been pretty healthy, but during our child raising era there were various prescriptions and over the counter medicines that I am embarrassed to say ranged up to 20 years past the expiration date. I did some research and disposed of most of it.
In addition, the medicine cabinet was home to non-medicines like spray starch and a candy thermometer. Does anyone still starch shirts? A local yard sale took these items.

Trophies: We’re proud of our kids but we needed to move an old chest to make room for our guests. It was heavy, partly because it contained a lot of our kid’s trophies.
To lighten it we decided that many trophies we were saving for our adult children could be passed on (at least to the one child who had his own house). He can decide whether to save them. We pitched the medals but saved the trophies for kids who didn’t yet have permanent housing. For other ways to pass on trophies click here for my earlier blog on trophies.

Soooo, how long to save old medicines and your children’s trophies can be tricky but it’s worth your time to check whether you’re hoarding any unnecessary stuff.

avoiding clamshell packaging is challenge

As I write this “Pruning Plastic” blog post it is July 23. One more week till the end of July’s Plastic Free Ecochallenge – an international effort to motivate people to reduce their use of Single Use Plastics (SUPs) by learning, documenting, and competing with folks around the world. Sure, it’s a game, but a game with a worthy purpose – to slow down global warming. Yes, it’s almost the end of July but it’s not too late for you to do something. August 1, 2022 will not be the end of planet Earth, but I challenge you to do something about your use of plastics – sooner rather than later.

You don’t have to be a long reader of this Living Lightly blog to know that I often deal with environmental topics, especially how to reduce plastic use. (For a collection of recent plastic posts click here. Especially check out #238 here.

For myself, I’ve spent this July challenging each piece of new plastic that wants to enter my home. For example, I

  • Use reusable bags for most of my shopping.
  • Switched to cleaning products such as CleanCult, Dropps, Etee, Earth BreezeTruEarth since they aren’t packaged in plastic.
  • Make my own yogurt and alfalfa sprouts; plus I grow my own vegetable and berries in season
  • Justify some plastic for medical uses and some plastics I just reuse – thus eliminating them from the SUP category.

BUT, I’m not perfect and some SUPs still enter my home. I then forgive myself.
Beyond avoiding Single Use Plastics, it occurred to me that individual lifestyle changes like reducing SUPs is good, but I could multiplying my efforts by:

  • Educating and inspiring others to reduce their use of plastic. Thus, I started a free weekly email called ECO-TIPS for faith and civic organizations to put in bulletins and newsletters. Individuals can also subscribe.
  • Participating in local and national organizations that work for systemic change. This is probably the most impactful but also hardest step since it often involves political activism and a lot of meetings.

You may already be doing a lot of the above, OR it all can feel pretty overwhelming or burdensome. If so, you might find these two timely background papers inspiring:

So, what’s you best SUP tip for others or an element of SUPS that you struggle with? Curious minds want to know.

Click to enlarge

The recent release of the James Webb telescope photos prompted me to Ponder the Universe. For more background, click here.

Sure, most of us can fathom our location in our own city, state, country, and even planet Earth with the help of a globe or international travel. We probably can remember the order of planets in our own solar system from high school science. We’ve heard about “The Big Bang” that presumably started it all.

But these new pictorial images (not only distant stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, but also distant galaxies and time periods) stretch my mind. What map is large enough to even see a “You are here” dot for the planet we live on.

All of this prompts me to think of how creation started and who is the Creator?

  • My Christian tradition wraps it all around God the creator, Jesus a human person that history verifies existed, and a general concept of an enduring Spirit.
  • Expanding this to other faith traditions still carries the idea of some form of spiritual essence that transcends human lives and pulls us beyond ourselves to contemplate the meaning of life.
  • Even agnostics or atheists must wonder how the universe started? Are there other universes? What caused the Big Bang? Is there really a God?

These are some of the faith and science questions that enter my mind as I gaze at the many colored dots on the Webb telescope photos. With greater awareness of the expansiveness of the universe, what does that imply for a person of faith about the nature of “God.” It’s all pretty overwhelming to contemplate.

My current thinking is that “God” is a word we humans use to describe the indescribable origin of life – human, animal, extraterrestrial, whatever. Is there “life” of some kind after human death? I don’t know. I can’t prove it, but I’d like to believe there is. In the absence of any proof to the contrary, it helps give meaning to my life to believe that there might be some form of consciousness after death, some connection with those still living. And, if we define “God” as a creative energy force grounded in love, then “God” can take many forms and be described through different stories in different times and cultures. It’s not necessary for to me to know which is the right, the best, the only description of God.

Having spent my life as a Christian, what I know about Jesus shows me a way to live that makes sense. Christianity puts flesh on my spiritual journey through the person of Jesus – and brings it down to Earth. It is a way to live focused on a deep, sacrificial love. It is not the only WAY, but it is the WAY given to me.

Other spiritual paths point to a similar reality grounded in love even though given different names and background stories. Hmmm, it’s a lot to think about.
How do you think the universe came to be? What gives meaning to your life?
(For a thoughtful response from reader, Tom Dorsel, click The Game of God article.)

Too many emails? Can’t keep up with social media? Don’t know which alerts are legitimate and which are just spam or phishing scams? Don’t know what “phishing” is?

Besides just totally abandoning your computer or phone, how can a conscientious but time conscious person stay sane in this world of internet overload?

These are important modern issues but more complicated than I can deal with in one post or that I’m qualified to advise on. The purpose of this post is simply to remind you to be careful, share my own system for limiting email, and point you to some helpful resources.

Limiting email:

  • Don’t “reply to all” unless it’s a small group or “all” really need to know your opinion.
  • Unsubscribe from organizational/political groups that you are not actively involved with.
  • Set a limit for active emails. My desktop computer can show 22 emails on the screen so I try to keep no more than that in my Primary tab. Gmail helps by having a promotional tab which captures most unsolicited emails which I mostly ignore.

Social Media:

  • Limit how often you check it. For me, once a day is usually plenty.
  • Limit how many sites you follow. I put this blog on Facebook and Instagram but I’m getting off of Twitter and other sites.
  • Only post stuff that your audience cares to know about. Every trip does not have to be documented.

Other resources:

  • Several years ago I did a more complete blog titled 365+#100: TMI-Computers. It has a lot more detailed info.
  • Many computer security systems offer information on safe practices. For example: Which phishing scams are trending in 2022?
  • Consult with unbiased experts when unsure. (Often this means someone younger than you – if you’re my age.) One source that I trust is my brother who recently did a whimsical but true post on evaluating snail mail and email titled Urgent=Not Urgent. Enjoy.

This is not my area of expertise, but simply ways I’ve found to keep my online work manageable. I welcome knowledgeable reader input.

Current Stressors in my Life:
Computer – Lately, I’ve been fighting with my computer. Aarrgh!
I finally decided to buy a new desktop computer because my 10 year old main computer was acting sick and tired. Our son helped me decide on a new one and set it up. Good. But I didn’t realize I would also have to reconfigure programs like my website. It took over a week of fiddling and help from another computer savvy friend. Success! Meanwhile, I wondered how much of my worth as a human being was tied up with being able to do a blog and maintain a website.
• Recycling – Add to that, ongoing dilemmas about what can and cannot be recycled properly,
• Time crunches – Social justice priorities and Zoom calls have been competing for my time,
• Relationships – I feel sad about reduced contact with family and friends because of Covid,
• Memory – My memory does not seem as strong as it used to be. I search for names and familiar words.
• Power – People in politics, religious institutions, and families are fighting over who is more right. Misinformation is rampant and fuels anger.

BUT, then I remember:
• Ukraine – The invasion of Ukraine dominates the news, followed this week by the mass shooting at the Uvalde elementary school in Texas.
• Planet Earth – I am aware that irreversible climate change may happen within the next generation. I may die before it dramatically changes my life, but what about our children and grandchildren. I care about them and all life on earth.

As sobering as these 2 “BUTs” are, they do serve a positive purpose. They put my personal woes in perspective. As I read and see photos of buildings and lives destroyed in Ukraine and irreversible climate changes looming, I say to myself, “And I’m worried about my website!”
So, the question I ask myself (and you) is:

How do I keep a perspective that is broad and encompassing, but sane and doable?
How much time and energy should I spend trying to address my personal life challenges and when do I let go of my smaller worries to take action on issues of systemic change – like political action?

MY SOLUTION – Consultation with a Higher Power, i.e. Prayer
1. Listen well to the Spirit within me
2. Educate myself about what options are available
3. Listen to other humans who are wise guides
4. Follow through. ACT

What works for YOU?

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.

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.)
Of course, there is also the negative climate impact of long road or air trips to weigh. Hmmm.

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.

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?