Saturday, March 12, 2011

Non-consumerist Clutter

SustainaMom wonders what it takes to create order in the midst of sustainable living…

In my mind, I equate “simplicity” and “minimalist.”

In reality, my sustainable life is full of clutter:
  • The recyclables are spilling out of their bin because we haven’t taken the time to haul them off.
  • A catch-all table in the basement holds an assortment of old shampoo bottles, vinegar bottles and medicine bottles — because I might need them someday.
  • The spare room closet is full of boxes of kids’ clothes, ranging from newborn to boys’ size 5. The larger sizes are hand-me-downs waiting to be used by SustainaKid. The smaller sizes are the ones I haven’t loaned out to friends or that have been returned already.
  • Then there’s the baby swing and stroller that I hope to use someday if we can afford SustainaKid#2.
  • The garage is full of kids’ toys for all ages — including three hand-me-down kids’ bicycles of different sizes.
  • My closet is full of hand-me-down clothes, for which I am grateful but many of which I rarely wear. I keep the work clothes because I may decide to go back to work full-time when SustainaKid#1 goes to kindergarten. But I really need to let go of the patterned T-shirts that just aren’t my style.
  • My kitchen has a few too many gadgets, gifts from my family.
  • My bathroom has become a holding ground for gifts of lotions with suspect ingredients from well-meaning grandmothers. I don’t want to give potential carcinogens to someone but it seems wrong to throw away something that someone else would pay for.
  • The backyard holds a CraigsListed playset that my son has outgrown but the hoped-for SustainaKid#2 would love. In the meantime, we move it to cut the grass while some other kid would love to be playing on it now.
  • And I am tripping over toys, 50 percent hand-me-downs, 40 percent birthday and Christmas gifts, and 10 percent SustainaFamily-purchased. In fact, when SustainaKid wouldn’t help pick up toys two months ago, I threatened to put them all in the basement. I followed through and he hasn’t missed them. I think that is a sign.

I sound like a clinical hoarder, don’t I?

Maybe I’m an eco-hoarder. Before I really thought about where all the trash was going, I threw things out much more easily. Before I became aware of the environmental impact of consumerism, I donated things much more easily. For example, I’d just plan to buy more baby items should we need them in the future. (Of course, the tanked economy and the SustainaFamily job situation have radically affected that mentality as well.)

I do some things right. I have a fantastic kids’ hand-me-down chain going. Five little boys ranging from 12 month to 6 years benefit from clothing swaps. And my on-the-way little niece or nephew will benefit from stored baby items and toys. When I need egg cartons to start seeds, I know there are a few in the basement that weren’t given to my friend with chickens. When I finally make homemade deodorant this week, I know I have a perfect container in the basement and I don’t have to buy something.

But the “what if I need it?” items are taking over my house. I have to let go of the guilt of moving gifts that I do not need out of my house, and I need to really zero in on what I might need and what is worth storing.

I’m committing to a two-month process to go through at least one room every weekend. I think Amy Dacyczyn and Tsh Oxenreider may go to war in the SustainaFamily household.

I've found some inspiration, if you're interested?
  • Tsh Oxenreider's Organized Simplicity - I don't think the book says anything revolutionary, but it is motivational, especially if you need to hear in many ways, "If you don't need it, then it is okay to get it out of your house." And she does a great job breaking things into small bites that seem less overwhelming.
  • Have you heard of the Quietude home? This article is what actually made me realize how idyllic simplicity is — and to think about the discipline it takes to simplify and live consciously today.
Any advice or more inspiration for someone who is soon to become very active on Freecycle?!


Willo said...

These are great things to think about. One thing that helps me marry simplicity/organization and environmental concern is remembering that I will never reuse/donate/sell it if I can't find it. Having everything in its place energizes me to do more.

Kate said...

I take my cue on giving away lotions and things from Breckin Meyer's character in the movie "Clueless."
Toward the end of the movie he is a reformed erm...substance abuser...and brings in a piece of donate to the victims of a natural disaster. When someone expresses surprise at this, he says something like, "Well, I'm not doing that anymore, but far be it from me to deny anyone else..."
I usually give away things to people I know would be buying them anyway and if people really press me for why I'm not keeping it to use myself then (and only then) do I explain that it's not something I want to put on my body.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting line to draw: what do you actually need and what do you forsee you need. Besides stuff I need for an emergency I find I have to draw the line at how many glass jars I collect 'waiting' and scraps of material, etc. Sometimes the 'keep one, donate one' is a way to start getting organised.

I've been reading other blogs about stockpiling a pantry of goods. If you add up what they have, then that might be the idea on what you do and don't keep.

Good luck! Being organised is the way to go!

Daisy said...

One room each weekend; that's a good pace. You'll be so proud of the results!

Justine said...

Boy, does this hit home. I have an Etsy gift shop, which I try to stock with items made of recycled items. In there I have repurposed sweaters/wool, fabric, cardboard for business cards, the list goes on. So, I've started following Tsh's Project Simplify, and just finished gutting my bedroom (now posted on my blog).

Of course, now I'm assessing the clothes thinking..."could I make something with that fabric?" So, I've limited myself to keeping only the non-usable items. It's a constant battle.

SustainaMom said...

@Willo - I've never been great at organization. I'm more of a stacks person, as you can tell by my kitchen counters. Must transform myself!

@Kate, when it is people I love, I want to educate them rather than give them something free, but most don't care, I fear. At any rate, I'm giving the lotions to my aunt who has a bed & breakfast. It will save her some money on stocking the bathrooms.

@Vivienne, I'd love to see a couple of links?

@Daisy, @Justine, I started with the linen closet and two bathrooms. I thought they'd be easy. It was an all-day project!! (But I am rather proud :))

Green Bean said...

I used to be very guilty of eco-hoarding but I've realized that I just cannot live with all that crap in the house! After a month or so, I usually end up recycling what I meant to recycle. The good news is that, for stuff that I do freecycle and donate to the thrift stores, I'm often able to find replacements second hand, years later, if need be. And, in the mean time, I didn't have to haul that stuff around.

Anonymous said...

Hi SustainaMom:

here's a link for stockpiling:

Mostly, it's about working out some standard recipes you usually eat and when those ingredients are on sale, buy up - dry goods (unprocessed) as they last for so very long. I also have batteries, candles, etc.

and also in Australia, our govt has an emergency preparedness website pdf that lists all you'd need to grab in case of emergency:

I find that the two methods can really blend well.



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