Bin there, done that


This is a problem. A first world problem, granted, but a problem.

All morning long, I have been working on keeping my focus on writing a story that was due. Early on, there were distractions, like food, which I’m ordinarily bad at eating on a regular schedule, and the cat’s litter box. I just as soon would have ignored that one, but I already was emptying the trash, which only happens once or twice a week, and I was concerned about what the state would be if I waited another round.

As long as I had a full trash bag that had cat litter packed into the side and was tearing, I might as well take it out to the bin rather than risk litter leaking onto my floor, I reasoned. As long as I was outside, I might as well roll the bin to the curb in air that was brisk, not bitter — what passes for nice in a Michigan January. As I walked back I thought about taking another two minutes to take the recycling bins to the curb and my brain started screaming at me about sitting down and writing the story, so I did.

(If you have to ask why, when the event I covered was Wednesday afternoon, I did not write the story on Wednesday night, you never have been a writer.)

I’m stumped, so I start about three paragraphs in. There is not only what happened Wednesday to talk about, but some important future plans as well, in a way that’s not clunky and forced. I keep chipping until I’m getting reasonably satisfied.

Phone goes off. Editor. My greeting is, “I’m working on it.” Ten minutes, I say. I think it ends up being 12.

Just as I finish, I see a city truck. No, I think, be the one for the trash. I watch to see if the mechanical arms come down for the next-door neighbor’s bin.

No! Someone hops off to grab their recycling. They will be past my house before I can grab even one bin and make it out the door, let alone both.

We’ve been recycling for a few years now, and I am completely sold. It only took a few months to realize how much of our trash was devoted to packaging. Unless we have deer remains or something, I sometimes don’t even roll the trash out weekly, because it takes three or four weeks to fill the bin.

But the recycling is another story. We are lucky not to have to sort, and can throw cardboard and plastic and paper and glass all together in one glorious party. That helps with the family cooperation.

The down side is that the bins fill quickly enough that skipping a week doesn’t work well. I now have one bin smashed and tamped full, and one empty — plus a third in reserve.

Next week: recycling before breakfast. Writing hours before deadline? Unlikely.

Not 100 things, but mindful purchases

Once upon a time I had read about Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, so I went to his website to revisit the idea.
Hopping around some links also led me to Courtney’s Carver’s Minimalism Misconceptions including a link to mini-missions, which are baby steps to changing not only stuff but thinking.
I don’t know that I ever would have 100 or fewer possessions. I know that as a tween I had more than 100 elephants, and while I don’t have them all anymore I know I’ve gained others, and so “elephant collection” would have to be one item.
On the other hand, I’m pretty good about clothing. This is partly because my home and work wardrobes are so similar, and partly because I don’t enjoy shopping. Jewelry, on the other hand, especially earrings … those would be another group, I rationalize.
Much of this thinking I already had absorbed from FlyLady, who taught me about decluttering and that I only needed to keep items that were useful or meaningful. Those extra dozen or so coffee mugs didn’t qualify, so they’re boxed up in the basement. I’d have given them away, but I have late-teen children who will move out in the next few years, and they’ll need something for their morning joe. Tossing now and buying later would be wasteful, and not being wasteful is precisely what led me to this train of thought in the first place.

It’s all in the packaging

We have been astounded at the amount of packaging that moves through our house.

I can say “moves through” because a couple of months ago, one of our TV channels changed from Discovery Home, I think, to Planet Green. Then we watched “Living With Ed,” which we’d encountered before elsewhere (and I now want the book, “Living Like Ed”), and “Wa$ted” sold us completely. On the show, households are told their ecological footprint, which tends to be hundreds of times larger than their actual land size, given tips and three weeks to change their act, and awarded money to equal what their savings over a year would be.

Some things we haven’t done yet, but will soon. More insulation before winter is a must, and the dual-flow toilets I’ve been able to find locally have scary prices ($500 and up) so we won’t go that route but we might try an $80 conversion kit I found online.

What these shows really did, though, was shame us into recycling. Where we live, curbside recycling alternates weekly between paper and glass/plastic/tin. All we had ever managed, though, was to drag out the newspapers – although in our defense, with up to four daily newspapers thanks to my puzzle addiction, they do add up.

No more. We kept the recycling bin for the newspapers separate and put two others in the back entry. They are steps away from the kitchen sink, so rinsing something and tossing it in a bin takes only seconds extra from tossing it in the trash.

My son remarked on the difference after about three weeks. “You know, we only have about half as much trash now,” he said, and he was right. It is shocking how much space we filled every week with things we should have been sending somewhere else. And with that realization we can never go back to throwing things away.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.


Happy New Year, everyone!

When my husband asked a week or so ago what I might have for a New Year’s resolution, I said something vague about eating better – more nutrition, more flavor, less boredom.

What occurred to me as I woke this morning, though, was more of a theme: less garbage. Sure it will be for food, because I certainly eat enough things that can’t be considered proper fuel. But it also can be for garbage I keep in my head or heart, like negative thoughts or resentment. It can be for the continued decluttering of our home, letting go of things we don’t use regardless of how long we’ve had them or how much we paid. And certainly it can be for what I send back out into the world. The snarkiness will be tough plowing, but something I need to consider.

I have great tools: FlyLady, Saving Dinner, Freecycle. At 43, I’ve had about enough time to decide how I want my life to go, don’t you think? If the people around me aren’t always as cooperative as I’d like, well, I need to move forward without begrudging the effort, because I still end up at a place of my choosing.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’ll be “Pirates 3” and another Monopoly marathon at our house today, as the blessing that is my family is the holiday’s focus. The coat closet can wait until tomorrow – truly. Peace to all.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.

Staggering waste

I saw a staggering waste of packaging and money yesterday at Meijer, although this product might well be available elsewhere.

It was timely, because driving around the other day we heard a radio ad promoting peanut butter in small “dipping-size” cups for children. My 14-year-old son promptly pronounced the product a waste of money, speculating it cost $5 for four small cups, when for the same price you could buy a whole jar and scoop it into little cups yourself.

Understand too that I hate, hate, hate buying bottled water when perfectly good stuff comes out of my home faucets, and refuse to do so.

So I was stunned when I was padding down a pet supply aisle on the way to rabbit food and saw a dog product called Pup Cups. It was four small cups of water, packaged much like single-serving applesauce or jello for people, and it even had instructions, in case you couldn’t figure out for yourself that you were to peel off the top and place the cup on the ground so your beast could lap up this fabulously purified water. The package sold for $3.99.

Our solution always has been to carry a bowl and a people-sized water bottle, and we didn’t feel terribly burdened. I just can’t fathom paying $1 each for little water packets, and the requisite waste they generate.

This post originally appeared on, the online home of the Midland (MI) Daily News. Republished with permission.