As in most things, it's the small changes in the way we view something that lead to major overhauls of the way we live our lives. For me it was the realization that commercial society had been misrepresenting the friendly waste hierarchy mantra of "reduce-reuse-recycle". The main emphasis has always seemed to lie on the "recycle" part of the equation. My epiphany of sorts came when I started to get serious about recycling. I was so proud that after separating out the recyclables the bag of trash I produced each week was very small. I was still using a small container for recyclables, though, and needed to make many trips during the week to keep it emptied. I realized that I was literally just shifting the problem and started to reevaluate my purchases. I started buying in bulk (reusing the plastic bags that are used for bulk-purchasing) and storing manageable amounts in repurposed containers. I also paid more attention to the packaging that other goods came in. A few examples of product changes that I made: I switched from shaving cream in a can to shaving soap and brush (which I love), use cloth napkins and washable rags instead of paper towels, I use a washable shower curtain instead of using the plastic liners that never seemed to really stay clear of the mildew, and I use bar soap instead of liquid soap. I also cut back on my purchases in general, with the goal of having fewer, but higher-quality, things. Many times this translates directly into supporting my local economy by purchasing hand-crafted goods that are apparent in their craftsmanship.
I also started to reconsider the purchase of new items when already existing ones were still highly useable and desirable. I wanted a piano, and found a gorgeous one in tip-top shape on an online bulletin board. When I needed a computer, I found a friend of a friend who always wants the latest piece of equipment… my pleasure to take the year-old laptop off his hands for a song. I made it a treasure hunting adventure to outfit my apartment with as much "reused" furniture as I could find. You might assume that it took a long time to find the very specific, small, cast iron patio table that I was wanting, but really it took a few weeks of paying attention to the online bulletin board. You would be amazed at the amount of goods available on the market, and I live only in a mid-sized city. I'll admit that it might take a little longer to find what you're wanting when searching for previously owned things, but considering the good you are doing for the environment (reducing things in the landfill and preventing all of the waste that comes with the initial production/delivery), I think it's a small price to pay.
With the shift in thinking about my material goods I started to really investigate where my prior habits had originated. Although I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person, I am positive that media marketing had a lot of influence over my way of life. With the virtues of new products touted all of the time, I succumbed here and there to the "new and improved". I'm still amazed that the club soda I keep in the reused window cleaner spray bottle cleans my class as well as anything I've tried. Television seemed to be where I was bombarded most with advertisements, so I have subsequently been TV-free for over 9 years. I'm not saying that television is a bad thing… I think there are many quality programs aired and will often rent or borrow them on DVD (that I play on my computer… no extra TV set or DVD player required). Perhaps if I had more time for such things I would even consider using the software that allows you to record your favorite show and skip the commercials. I have found other ways to keep up with the news, though, and find my list of books to read and research to be done to be long enough that I don't foresee adding television back into my life anytime soon.
As I started to pare down the material excess in my life, I began to devote more time to really exploring what I considered to be my priorities and goals. Many hours of lists and soul searching later, I have a much clearer idea of what I find important to my life and check my actions against the realization of those things. I have made major changes, including moving from a big city to a smaller town where buying local is a source of pride and chain restaurants are eschewed. Bike paths are everywhere and I can participate in a vibrant arts and education culture. I feel connected to the community and know that there are many who share my concerns and aspirations. I have changed the focus of my work so that I can have more contact with individuals and try to offer something of myself that I hope is meaningful to their lives in some way.
My adventure has just begun, and I'm excited to experience all of the twists and turns along the way. I am so much happier with my life now, and look forward to continuing to learn and grow as a participant in this amazing web of life.
If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.
I am only one; but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
Tangible Karma Day is just around the corner! (April 5th this year.) Check out the website for more information. I'm hosting a round table discussion on Simplifying the "Stuff" in Our Lives at our local library. There are many ways to celebrate this day, and I'd love to hear about what you are planning!
Story of Stuff: http://www.storyofstuff.com
If you haven't watched this (free) video yet, you're in for a treat. It's an enlightening overview of the material "stuff" in our lives, especially drawing attention to where it all comes from and goes.
Karen Logan's book Clean House, Clean Planet This book has so many wonderful recipes to create your own non-toxic and simple cleaners for your home. In these pages is where I discovered the wonderful method of cleaning glass with club soda.
Print out this handy reminder (on reused paper, of course) from The New American Dream website to keep in your wallet to help guide your purchases. The front reads: "Every dollar I spend is a statement about the kind of world I want and the quality of life I value." Wallet Buddy pdf: http://www.newdream.org/walletbuddy.pdf