Less is More

Recently my family has taken on the challenge of reducing the amount of waste we are responsible for generating.  We decided to undertake this challenge in small, incremental steps, in attempt to make the seemingly monumental task of living a Zero Waste lifestyle a little less daunting and little more feasible.

A common theme I found when reading about others attempts at minimizing their waste was a decision to simplify their lives by reducing the amount of “stuff” they owned.

To live more simply I realized that my family needed to do two things, first reduce what we already owned, and second reduce the number of new things we bring into our home.

This month we decided to focus on reducing the what we already own and set out on a mission to “declutter” our house by following these two steps.  

  1. Identify what possession were most important and useful to us.
  2. Eliminating everything else.

Needless to say both of these guidelines are easier said then followed. Everything we own has some importance, or we wouldn’t own it right? Plus deciding what to eliminate its hard as it comes with some anxiety over what if I want to use that same day…. 

To break ourselves in slowly we decided to start with duplicate items and evaluate wether it was necessary to own more then one of any particular object.

For instance, did we really need 3 staplers?  Were we ever going to need to use more then one stapler at a time? Why did I have 5 different hair brushes? Did will really need 3 different size colanders or would 1 medium size meet our food drainage needs?

When I noticed that my kids closets and drawers were so full it was sometimes hard to put clothes away I wondered, does a 7 year old boy need 20+ plus short sleeve tee-shirts, and how many pairs of leggings does a 9 year old girl really require.

As we started to remove duplicate items in our house, we began reaping the benefits of having less stuff cluttering our lives. We started to find things more easily, there was more space to put things away, and their were fewer items laying around that needed to be put away.

Inspired we decided to evaluate the need for items in our house that we hardly ever used.

Did I really need a curling iron if I couldn’t remember the last time I used it? What about all those DVD’s of movies we never watch or the board games we never play anymore-at 7 and 9 they kids have pretty much out grown Candyland, so why did we still own a regular version as well as a Dora the Explorer one?

Yes, it was fun to make fondue that one time 5 years ago, but does the slim chance that we will use it again one day justify the space it takes up in our crowed cupboards?

We soon became aware of all the little things that were cluttering up our house and our lives as well. We realized that we had far more pens, pencils, crayons, paper clips, hair ties, nail clippers, then one family of four could use at one time, or even over a long period to time, and that basically most of these items were just taking up space.

As I started the decluttering process I realized that my desire to reuse, combined with my discovery of Pin Interest pages filled with DIY projects ideas on ways to Up-cycle what some consider garbage into new products,  was getting in the way of reducing the amount of clutter in my house. 

I took a good hard look at the 6 months of newspapers I had collected and asked myself, am I really going to find the time to spin enough yarn, from this paper, using the homemade spindle I bought on Etsy, to make the ecofriendly doormat I discovered on Pinterest?

Am I ever going to actually make pencil holders from the floppy disks we no longer have use for,  and more importantly do we really need another pencil holder?

With the other more pressing and important demands on my time like making sure my daughter is keeping up with her school work-think 4th GradeMission Project-, and helping my 1st grader with his reading, was I really going to find the time to get the sewing machine, that has been sitting in my closet unused for over 10 years, up and running, to sew shopping bags out of my kids stained and worn out tee-shirts?

The realistic answer was no. So I  decided to reduce my up-cycling projects to one at time, and let go of the unfinished and un-started ones I had planned.

After determining what items we were ready to eliminate from our lives we needed to decide the best way to go about doing this.

Things that were still in good shape could be donated which allowed us to share these already consumed item with others, lowering the demand for resources to spent on making new things.

My favorite place to donate in Davis is the SPCA, not only because they support a great cause, but they make dropping off items very convenient. I just drive up to the donation station the have at the back of their store where I’m greeted by a friendly staff member who helps me unload my donations.

Not everything we decided to give away was appropriate or convenient to bring to the SPCA. For these items I turned to FreeCycle-a sort of free version of Craiglist-whose official mission is “to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community”.

Freecycle allowed us to find homes for the used, but still perfectly good shipping boxes, that we accumulated over the holidays, and the 200+ plus gently used file folders that had somehow found their way into our closets.  Objects that would have been recycled or tossed in the garbage were now going to be reused for their original purpose.

We also found homes for larger hard to transport objects, like the stepping stones we pulled our of backyard last summer and the garden fountain that we inherited when we bought our house over 7 years ago but never used.

As for the 6 months of newspapers that was never fated to become a doormat, they went into the recycling bin, and the stained worn-out shirts, well regrettable they are headed for the landfill.

So while our recycling and garbage containers were a little more full this month, we hope that by adopting a simpler way off life, by sharing what we no longer need with others, and only purchasing what we need and will use, that in the long wrong our efforts will lead to a more sustainable way of life for ourselves and our community.


About Michelle Millet

Michelle is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Natural Resource Commission and sits on the Executive Boards of the Explorit Science Center and Davis Bicycles! Michelle writes periodic columns for the Davis Enterprise and maintains a blog about her family's efforts to live a zero-waste lifestyle, and works as a part time substitute teacher. Michelle and her husband Mitch live in South Davis with their 11-year old daughter Emi, their 9-year old son Drew, plus their 2 dogs, and 6 chickens.

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