Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSONS LEARNED

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

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

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

LESSONS LEARNED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADD a PLANET: (think bigger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my last blog post (Plastics-Is It Worth It?) I suggested you watch the documentary, Plastic Wars. If you did your homework, you may now feel discouraged. Is recycling plastic worth it? Yes, BUT…the better solution is to reduce use of Single Use Plastics (aka SUPs) so there isn’t so much to recycle. Sure, plastics are convenient, usually cheap, and in some instances necessary (like medical sanitation or environmental emergencies like hurricanes). So what’s an ordinary, conscientious citizen to do?

Grocery Shopping
Let’s start with grocery shopping. Food is a necessity, but many of our foods are now packaged in plastic. Last week I counted all the items packaged in plastic for one week’s groceries – and that’s after trying to trim plastic consumption for a while and buying apples, peppers, oranges loose.

I carried my own reusable bags for lettuce and asparagus and 3 items were in plastic bags (bread, lunch meat, and flax seed) which Krogers accepts for recycling so they didn’t make my challenge list. But 9 items remained

2 items in plastic coated bags that cannot be recycled (chips, rice)
3 items covered with plastic that cannot be recycled (fish, sausage, bacon)
2 items in plastic trays (tofu #5 and mushrooms #1)
2 clam shells (raspberries and alfalfa sprouts)

Clam Shells
I want to focus on the clam shells since that has been a marital bone of contention. Clam shells are a common SUP product for fruit and vegetables. We both like berries on our cereal. During the summer we can get some strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries from our garden or farmer markets. But for the other seasons, it’s mostly clamshells. I default to raisins but Jim really likes fresh fruit. There’s no good compromise other than to move to Florida.

BUT, in my research I heard about a radical solution. Apparently some grocery stores allow you to empty clam shell fruit into your own bag, as long as you put the price tag on it. You then leave the clam shell in the store and they will recycle it. I contacted the store ahead of time. It sounded promising. Bottom line – it didn’t work. (Contact me if you want the sordid details.)

However, I did have one success. Since we regularly buy alfalfa sprouts in clam shells, I learned that you can easily grow these sprouts indoors all year round. To watch how to do it in a Mason Jar, click here. To do it in a Two-Tiered Seed Sprouter, click here. Tofu will be harder to grow at home. 🙁 

For additional ideas on how to reduce not only SUPs but also paper towels, napkins, carry out Styrofoam containers, and name tags, click here or check my Tag cloud at the bottom of the right column, or check out this YouTube video on avoiding SUPs.

So, how have you reduced SUPs in your life? Curious people want to know.

Recycling plastic is good. It’s better than letting it pollute our air, water, land, wildlife, and scenery. But, is it worth it? I’ll have a lot more to say on this in upcoming blogs (Reducing Plastics #3 and Preventing Plastics #4). But for now, I’m wrestling with the question of how much recycling is worth my time? The question popped up as I wondered what to do with empty printer cartridges that had accumulated in our basement,

With Covid-19 prompting more people to work at home many of us need supplies for a home office. Jim and I have had home offices for at least a decade. Each of us has a printer. Thus, we’ve accumulated quite a few empty plastic cartridges – 70 to be exact. They were taking up storage space, but more importantly we wanted to be good environmental stewards. I did some research (so you won’t have to) and this is what I found.

  • Are printer cartridges refillable? Yes, sort of – for a limited number of times. You have to buy some equipment, ink, and be very careful.  Click here for a mixed review.
  • Are printer cartridges recyclable? Yes. Office Depot takes cartridges as long as they are one of the brands they sell. 23 of mine qualified. Staples accepts all brands. I took the remaining 47 to Staples. Each store has a small rewards program which gives you a $2 credit for each cartridge (up to 10 cartridges a month).
  • Are they really recycled or are they just sent to a landfill or overseas? After many phone calls and emails I was not able to get a definitive answer from Office Depot. Staples sends their cartridges to Clover Environmental Solutions which reuses or remanufactures them. I’d go with Staples.
  • Is it worth the trouble? Yes, it was easy to drop the cartridges off at a local store. Although I would save more money by taking in a batch of 10 for the next 7 months and buying something with my $20 reward, I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of planning my shopping around this limit. I gave them all I had at once.
  • Another solution: Copy less. Paper copies used to be the standard way of communicating information. Since much more can be stored digitally now, we don’t need paper copies as much. There’s something satisfying about having a piece of paper to highlight, make notes on, and crumble up and throw if you’re upset. Besides, paper is recyclable. BUT, think of all the information that can fit in even a tiny mobile phone. There’s got to be a balance.

Are other recycling tasks worth it?
Maybe you don’t have a home office or a ton of printer cartridges. So what recycling items are worth the effort?
1. Curbside municipal recycling is easy and worth it. Most cities collect metal, glass, paper, and plastic bottles. Metal, glass, and paper are pretty economically recycled, Plastic is a harder sell.
2. Single use plastics (especially #5s) are becoming the albatross of our day. Very few places really recycle them. BUT, they’re so convenient and it’s hard to get groceries without plastic packaging. My next blog post will be about reducing single use plastics.
3. Furniture, tools, food, toys, etc. Sure, share them with friends or give them away. Stay tuned for Beyond Plastic Recycling #5.

Plastic Challenge #2: Your challenge for the next 2 weeks is to watch Plastic Wars, a PBS, Frontline documentary. It’s free. It’s 53 minutes. It’s worth your time. It will prepare you for Plastics #3.
Bonus Challenge for those who are willing: For the next 2 weeks count and list the things you buy (especially at the grocery) that cannot be reused or easily recycled.

Plastics are convenient. They are light, durable, and often cheap. However, they are becoming toxic to the air we breathe, the water we drink, the animals we love, the soil that supports our food, and the beauty of natural landscapes and roads.

I’ve recently become involved in a Pachamama Alliance action oriented environmental program. I chose PLASTICS as my focus. You are all familiar with the slogan “Reduce; Reuse, Recycle.” In this and the next several blog entries I will be sharing with you a Challenge for each of these components ending with Prevention. Today, I start with RECYCLE.

I’ve previously blogged on different aspects of recycling plastics: Plastics Do’s & Don’ts,  Recycling Basics, and Taming Xmas & Plastics. Assuming you already recycle plastics in your own home, today’s challenge is to go beyond your home to your community. It will raise your awareness and multiply your efforts. See if you can meet or exceed my recent plastic recycling experiment below.

Step 1: Know what items your local curbside recycling company takes beside paper (usually cans, glass, and plastic bottles).

Step 2: Collect. For a day or a week, scour your neighborhood for recyclable trash along the roadside. Collect it. I decided to use my daily bike route for this experiment since I often see trash along the roadside but it’s not convenient to stop my bike and pick it up. This time I put 2 plastic bags on my handle bars, took half of my route (about 2 miles round trip) and stopped to pick up plastic or glass bottles, and cans, along the way.

Step 3: Count. I had 31 plastic bottles, 22 metal cans, and 5 glass bottles. It took me one hour to do a 2 mile loop which is half as far but twice as long as my usual bike ride.

Of course you could just walk your neighborhood. Or you could choose a generally littered part of your town if you really want to beat me. The point is to take recycling plastics (and other curbside recyclables) to a new level of consciousness.

This may be the easiest of the Plastic Challenges I will offer you. The next 2 Challenges will include home based actions and influencing others. I offer you no prize other than knowing you are becoming part of the solution (and a little self-satisfaction 🙂 ) Let me know your numbers, what works, and what doesn’t.

Last night was the first USA presidential debate of 2020 . No matter your political leaning, it was a sad night for our country – a lot of wind and little light. Today I need some hope – and perhaps you do too. So, I turned my attention to a new energy saving invention – the clothesline.

This modern “online” invention uses solar and wind power to reduce the use of electric dryers. (Of course for super energetic or prehistoric laundry buffs it could actually eliminate the need for an electric dryer, but I’m not quite that hard core.)

Simplest Solution: At least use a clothesline for large flat items like sheets and table cloths. I’ve been doing this for years and the total investment has been 1 long rope, about 10 clothes pins, and 10 minutes to hang out the sheets. Of course this works best during seasons that do not begin with “W”.

Complications:
• But, I don’t have a yard (or at least not a sunny yard): It’s harder to find a large enough, unobstructed, indoor space, but it is possible. I’ve seen European and Asian apartment buildings with clotheslines on their balconies.

• But, it’s Winter: Drying takes longer outside in cold weather and less sun, but it’s not impossible. Of course snow doesn’t help. I put a shorter line in our basement as a partial patch.

• But, what if it rains? Abort plan this time but congratulate yourself for setting up the system.

Thought to Ponder: What in the world did our parents, grandparents, etc. ever do before washing machines and dryers? Go dirty??

Covid-19 has caused much disruption and, pain, BUT one unintended consequence is that I’ve spent more time in my garden. At first I was too energetic and planted some pole bean seeds too early in March. Only one stem survived a late frost. I later planted more seeds and vegetables so we had a hearty supply of beans, tomatoes, peppers, kale, etc. during the summer.

As I was weeding my pole bean area at the end of the season I noticed that only one stem was actually still alive and producing, AND it was in the original row that I thought had all been killed by the frost. It had produced many vines that climbed up the strings and spread out at the top.

See photo at right for the beans I got during just one day of picking. I’m calling it a miracle – something to remind  us of the resilience of nature and give us humans  hope that we can survive hard times.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Speaking of lessons from the natural world, Our zinnia flowers were also growing well. Normally, I would bring these inside and make a bouquet for our entryway. Of course no one is visiting during Covid to see their glory. At first I figured I’d just pass them out to neighbors, but many of them have flower gardens of their own. I decided to anonymously drop off about 50 zinnias at random homes that we pass on our daily bike ride which includes low income areas of Covington. Since I didn’t know how long it would be before the recipient found their flower, I got a bunch of single flower water tubes. This was the harder part of the project, but I hoped the flowers would bring some unexpected joy to people I didn’t know.
PS: I also distributed some extra beans.

 

There are plenty of worries to weigh one down these days. In addition to the normal worries that most of us have to fret about (our kids, money, career, health, how to tame the internet etc.) 2020 has now layered the coronavirus, conflicts about race and police relationships, and the presidential election on top of it all. Of course all of these things are interconnected. Covid-19 impacts income, health, family relationships, and politics.

But my heart is especially heavy these days after watching the two political conventions on TV. Of course I have my biases and candidates that I support, but it’s hard to hear very different descriptions of what ails the USA and how to fix it. Where is truth? How did “the other side” become so duped? Of course “they” would say I’m ill-informed. So how do we learn to live together and build a better world? Some would say we need to compromise somewhere in the middle. Others say that to compromise one’s position is selling out and we need to be pure.

So, these conundrums have been weighing on me. Maybe you too? I thought it might be helpful to dialogue about recovering sanity and calm, while still letting my natural anger at injustices motivate me to constructive action.

Here are some strategies I came up with:

  1. Let humor help. While I’m annoyed at some of the changes FaceBook has recently made, still there are some funny clips that come my way. And Zoom calls have changed the definition of “business casual.” Here’s how Jim dressed for a recent Zoom meeting with a government official.
  2. Family and friends. Even when we disagree we know that long standing relationships give us people we can trust will be there through the good times and bad. Keep in virtual touch.
  3. Let nature be your friend. Even in the wake of climate change, practices such as walking, biking, and gazing at the trees and sky have brought perspective when the internet gods have played tricks on me.
  4. Do something. It doesn’t have to be big, but it’s better than doing nothing. Currently I’m delivering signs for my political candidates and mentoring people to write Letters to the Editor. Find what is yours to do.
  5. Be active or take a nap. Be willing to do both.
  6. Pray. For some this may mean saying memorized prayers on your knees. For others it’s quietly gazing at nature or seeing the wonder of the human being in front of me (or on a screen). There is no wrong way but lots of right ways to connect with the creative force in the universe. Give it over to God, by whatever name speaks to your spirit.

What helps you?

During the first 2 weeks of July I challenged myself to discern how much stuff was enough and take at least one step to simplify my life. (Of course this follows a decade of working to declutter and simplify my possessions and life. One would think I had barely anything left to prune. One would be wrong. 🙂 ) I invited you all to do the same.

The result was complicated. I identified 4 areas of clutter:

  1. Workspace Clutter (physical clutter)
  2. Time Clutter (evaluating how I spend my time)
  3. Money Clutter (long range financial planning led to facing the inevitability of death)
  4. Worry Clutter (emotional worries can clutter my mind and heart)

In order to honor the underlying principle of not making this task itself so complicated that I became discouraged and procrastinated I chose to focus on my desk which is my primary workspace and where I spend most of my time. The task was simple – sort of. All I aimed to do was clear off miscellaneous papers from projects that I was still actively working on.

Here’s what I learned in the process:
Throwing out papers is easy once the task is done, BUT these were ongoing projects. Filing papers may seem simple once you have a logical system and place to put them, BUT my file cabinets were already packed and I didn’t want to spend the time going through 8+ drawers to throw out or digitize obsolete papers. That would take way more time than I wanted to spend now.

This forced me to reevaluate the main projects I had been working on. Some of the projects were temporarily on hold or morphed into Zoom meetings because of Covid-19. Perhaps I was just trying to keep up with too many commitments. What would come to the top –

  • Advocacy – for the Environment and Civil Dialogue
  • Working – to reduce Racism and Sexual Abuse
  • Writing – on social justice and family issues
  • Political activism – in light of the upcoming elections
  • Spirituality – both personal and contributing to my broader faith communities
  • Family – spending time tending to my marriage, kids, and grand-kids

LESSON LEARNED: These desk papers reflected the various priorities in my life. Some I could delay or let go of. Others were foundational. Maybe I was being over-responsible by thinking I had to do all the work myself rather than delegating more? So the Workspace project of paper paring bled into assessing my Time commitments which led to evaluate overall life priorities. Of course this blended in with reflecting on end of life issues prompted by Money decisions. The challenge is to not let Worry overshadow what’s really essential. So…Everything is related and it’s still complicated.
How do YOU balance the necessary tasks of your life and what have you learned to let go of? Curious minds want to know.

In my ongoing challenge to clear my life of clutter, Covid-19 has helped me identify four areas:

Before: click to enlarge

1. WORKSPACE CLUTTER: Although I consider myself a pretty organized person, I’ve found that having more Zoom meetings has resulted in more scraps of paper accumulating on my desk. Since I don’t have to actually pick up these papers to go to a physical meeting, they just lay around being lazy and remind me of what I still have to do. I decided that the basic action I would take to fulfill my blog’s Enough Challenge was to clear my desk work space by finding accessible homes for these papers and discard the rest. It took about 1½ hours but now my desk space is neater and I learned some stuff (see upcoming post).

After: click to enlarge

2. TIME CLUTTER: With Covid-19 cancelling most in person meetings, I thought I would have more time (since I wasn’t sick, an essential worker, or homeschooling kids). Even though I work at home, it took time to convert programs to online formats and learn the intricacies of Zoom. I devoted any “extra” time to weeding my vegetable garden and exercise. This required changing my daily routine since it was so hot out that all gardening and bike rides had to be done before 9:00 am.
Because of physical distancing, I’ve had to postpone my plan to use extra time to do more direct service like tutoring children in a mixed race, low income school. I have, however, gotten to know the neighbors on my block better as they have been the recipients of too much kale and tomatoes. Now that’s service too and our neighborhood is of mixed race and income.

3. MONEY CLUTTER: After disbursing our $1,200 Covid-10 stimulus checks to non-profits, it was time for my husband and me to meet with a financial advisor to develop a long range financial plan. It’s a sobering experience to look at one’s projected life expectancy, resources, and the potential need for long term care. None of it is certain since a lot of it depends on knowing the odds and one’s tolerance for risk. Thinking about death and knowing it is certain – at some time – forced me to reevaluate what I’m saving money for. How much is enough?

4. WORRY CLUTTER: Since my work is now more dependent on technology, I’ve become more aware of potential internet scams. Why is my website getting so many hits from Beijing, China? Is there any way to stop those incessant robo calls? Are any of those emails offering tech support or warning me that I need to upgrade my security legit? Should I wear a mask while biking or how careful should I be when visiting immediate family members? Am I an OK human being? Have I led a good enough life? Maybe it doesn’t matter because, after all I’m surly going to die eventually no matter what the actuarial table says. Hmmm…

I was going to summarize what I’ve learned from all these decluttering experiences but this post is already long. I’ll hold those insights till my August 4 post.
But, I am curious to learn how you are dealing with workspace, time, money, or worry clutter?

Now for  the riddle reveal from my #215 blog, How much is Enough?
RIDDLE:
What does coping with Covid-19 have in common with liturgy?
ANSWER: For me, both involved Sitting, Standing, Kneeling, and Walking.
Sit: I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk, working at my computer. This led me to choose decluttering my workspace as my “How Much Is Enough” action.
Stand: I recently took a public stand on a controversial issue. I wrote an Op-Ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Being pro-life is messy – elections and purity
Kneel: During Covid I’ve been spending a lot of time kneeling in our vegetable garden to weed.
Walk: I walked about a mile to an unknown neighbor’s house to deliver some stamps she had requested through Nextdoor due to being in Covid-19 quarantine

I have a Challenge and a Riddle for you today. BUT,.. it’s going to take some work on your part. So,…stop reading right now if you don’t want to do the work – unless of course you’re a curious soul like me and don’t want to stop until you find out what the challenge involves.

THE CHALLENGE:
•  Read Fr. Richard Rohr’s meditation, Embracing Enoughness. My Cliff Notes version for those who don’t want to even read 496 words is:
   I have just 3 things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. (Lao Tzu)
   We can’t discover the truth until we remove the clutter, (Rohr)
•  Decide at least one action to take to implement Enoughness.
This counts as simplicity.
•  Do it during the next two weeks.
It can involve physical clutter (food, clothing, shelter, and the money to pay for these)
OR intellectual clutter (meetings, information overload, work space),
OR emotional clutter (worries, self-esteem, annoyances)
This counts as removing clutter.
•  Read the “reveal” in two weeks. I’ve already done this challenge.
Waiting to read my experiences counts as patience.

THE RIDDLE:
•  What does coping with Covid-19 have in common with liturgy (ritual prayer)?
For extra credit ponder (and share) what the coronavirus is teaching you.

Check my July 21, 2020 blog (365+#216)  4 Kinds of Clutter for the reveal.