Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reduce, reuse, USE UP, and recycle

Lately I've been thinking about hoarding. Stopping, not starting that is. It came to me when I helped the daughter of a 90-year-old neighbor fill an extra-large-sized dumpster with a lifetime's worth of accumulated trash. What am I holding onto, I wondered?

Turns out I'm into:
  • soap -- if I don't buy another bar of soap starting right now, it will still take me about 10 years to use up all the Ivory and Dial soap I purchased at Costco 15 years ago, yet I find myself rationalizing why I need that deliciously smelling shower gel before I even manage to use up the one I'm working on right now
  • coffee -- for some reason I always buy new coffee ground the way I like it, instead of using up 5 pounds of vacuum sealed whole beans I've been given as gifts
  • tooth cleaning gear -- I switch out my brush and floss regularly, but somehow I keep accumulating sample toothpaste, floss and brushes that somehow now fill almost a box in my bathroom cupboard
  • old clothes -- when my children's school had an 80s dance, I had no problem finding clothes, shoes and even earrings that were of the period
  • note pads -- I must have 20 notepads that I've been given by banks, charities, my old employer who I haven't worked for since 1999, yet I still buy new post it pads like somehow the perfect shape or color of paper will get my life better organized than the back of an old envelope
  • candles -- seems like people never stop giving me candles and until I started making an active effort to use them up, I had almost 50 of them up on the top shelf of my closet (and I'm not talking about tea lights either!)
The point of this exercise is to consider what why I am buying new things that I already have. When I start thinking about it, it's reassuring to know I'm not alone. I've been in people's homes that have entire watermelon-sized baskets filled with hotel soaps and shampoos. There are TV shows built entirely around throwing people's old clothes out. Last week a friend who is working on purging her clutter brought me 20 beautiful special occasion cards that she realized she was never going to use because she had about 40 more. And don't even get me started on social phenomena like the beanie baby craze.

There's a lot of talk about this being a throw-away economy. But I think if we dig deeper we will see that what most people throw away is stuff they no longer have room to or desire to hoard. Perhaps we need to add "use up" as a commandment to the green credo: reduce, reuse and recycle. After all, how many more little shampoo bottles do you really need?