Action 126. Organizing (my closet) for climate change.

I’m sticking with the organizing theme of my last post, but stepping away for the moment from the grassroots kind, to the kind inside my house. In a moment of back-to-school, just moved houses, completely overwhelming moments of Oh my lord, I can’t find my way among all this CRAP, I did something I rarely do- I picked up a self-help book.

Clutterfree With Kids and its attendant blog, Becoming Minimalist, was my lifeboat this past week, with thanks to its author Joshua Becker. The thesis of Mr. Becker’s book is simple: you, me, and everyone we know need to have a sea change in the extent to which we let STUFF rule our life. There are many good reasons for de-cluttering, not the least of which is it is fully awesome to be able to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without tripping over a pile of books or your kid’s legos. Mr. Becker’s book and blog are justly driven primarily by the pleasure and happiness of spending less time organizing stuff and making room for stuff and buying stuff. I’m totally on board with all of that.

But in addition to the psychological and financial freedoms gained by reducing our clutter, reducing our consumption of stuff also has very obvious environmental benefits (probably nowhere more clearly stated than in the wonderful video The Story of Stuff). The need for us to own stuff -and in particular, plastic stuff, stuff that is poorly made, stuff that we throw out because it doesn’t last or isn’t the latest version- is a big player in our environmental and climate problems. Making stuff takes fossil fuels; going to the mall to buy stuff or having it shipped to us takes fossil fuels; throwing it away because we don’t have a way to recycle or reuse it makes sure that our stuff sits in a landfill pretty much forever.

Seems pretty obvious, right? Yes, lots of folks are getting on board with the idea that having more isn’t necessarily better; organizational and de-cluttering advice is everywhere you turn. Today in my email from Houzz was: Five Ways To Pare Down Your Stuff- before it gets in the door. There are many others in the blogosphere in addition to Mr. Becker adding to their voices to the de-cluttering chorus, like Minimalist Mom: a rich life with less stuff; or unclutterer (I’m loving the post on the Kid’s Landing Area for school stuff!); or hop across the pond and enjoy Two Less Things, UK friends in the anti-clutter movement. We have entire magazines devoted to the cause of de-cluttering (though truth be told there is some wavering across the line from minimalism towards “how to get more organized so you can cram more stuff in”- of which I am not a fan). Importantly, there are more and more resources for sharing, borrowing, giving and receiving stuff without ever buying it, like my friends over at the amazing Buy Nothing Project that is moving towards hopeful world domination (Action 76).

And yet, we sometimes seem to have a dialog about stuff in which we talk past each other. At the same time that a growing number of us devote a lot of time and energy figuring out how to devote less time and energy to our stuff, we are making and consuming and talking about more and more stuff. One of the most appalling recent fads that exemplifies this is Unboxing, the thrill of watching other people take stuff out of packages. No, I’m being serious. It’s a thing. Look at it. On second thought, don’t look at it, but I gave you a link to an article you can read about it. It’s a thing that makes me feel vaguely nauseous, but apparently that feeling is not shared by the MILLIONS of people who watch these things. Yes, millions. This is the kind of stuff that really makes me want to throw up my hands and give up on the insanity that is our species. How on earth do we reconcile this sort of obsession with any hope that we are capable of getting off the plasticrap consumption train and recognize what this kind of continued revelry in stuff consumption is doing to our future and our ability to live on this planet???

OK. Ok, calming down and taking a deep breath. The fact is, our planet runs on the buying and selling of stuff. It’s not going away any time soon, nor am I arguing that we all stop using currency or going to the store. For goodness sake, I just got two packages from Amazon today, and I can hardly call myself blameless in the stuff game. However, I am a huge believer in the idea that there are a myriad of ways in which we can buy less, consume less, and yet still keep our economies vibrant and strong, and these opportunities are everywhere. We need to think the entire life cycle of stuff: how we value our purchases; how we pay the people who make them; and how we up-cycle or re-cycle before considering the landfill. We also need to incentivize local, quality manufacturing– I was brought up in a Buy American family and I totally agree with the premise of patriotic purchasing, but the fact is we have a real lack of stuff actually made in this country! Yes, consumerism is a fact of life. But it should be a very thoughtful part of our life where we are critically evaluating whether what we are buying is actually a) something we need b) something that lasts and c) something that is made with care for how its manufacturing and distribution affects the environment and people who make it.

With those priorities in mind, Clutterfree With Kids, and many of these other organizational resources I have been perusing, have some great tips and tricks for making inroads to less stuff. Some of the ones I have found particularly appealing include:

  • Give gifts of food or experiences. For example- this year instead of getting a huge lego set my daughter was begging for, her dad took her diving with sharks at our local aquarium- an amazing experience that I am sure she will carry with her in her memories far longer than a Fancy Pony Ranch.
  • Create a borrowing economy. does your neighbor have something you only use occasionally? Can you offer something in return? For example, its incredible to think about the fact that in a given suburban neighborhood, we probably have 20 homes that own 20 rakes and 20 lawn mowers  and… you get the idea- redundancy of stuff. Recently we bought a fruit picker for some fruit trees that grow on our property as well as locally in the area, and we’ll put it in our neighborhood well house so our neighbors can use it too and they don’t have to get their own. Ditto the tree limb pruner that we need but that all our neighbors can make use of as well. Some bigger yard stuff like wheelbarrows and the like, Im hoping to eventually getting around to making a Google Doc we can share with our neighbors so they easily can check what we might have to borrow for yard maintenance stuff.
  • Label stuff so you don’t lose it. For example: this year like every year, we got shelvesour back-to-school list for our daughter, that had a long list of stuff like pens, pencils, rulers, scissors. So we dutifully went out and bought all the said stuff. Then later, while helping my kid clean out her play area, wouldn’t you know I found 3 rulers and 4 scissors exactly like the ones we bought? Lesson learned: we labeled her storage drawers (see photo), thanks to a great tip from Clutterfree, so we have a better sense of where stuff might be if we are looking for it. Maybe in the future we can avoid some buying duplicates of stuff we already have. A mom can dream.
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