Gratitude

“Today you are precious and rare and awake.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I have been blessed with a generally positive disposition. Don’t get me wrong though, I can complain easily when things get out of perspective. Hunger, tiredness, stressful situations – I get irritated and grumpy and whiny and sometimes mean. But yoga and the literature this practice has exposed me to has given me the best gift I could ask for: gratitude.

The reason I am writing this is because I wish this feeling on every human being. Laughing at tiny things makes you smile more. Reminding yourself of everything that is going right makes more difficult situations in your life more approachable. Leading with love in your interactions with everything and everyone, and admiring qualities in others that you think are awesome makes you value them more and be happy to be in their presence.

However, I can’t write this post without acknowledging my privileged position as a white, middle class, heterosexual, able-bodied female. There are many humans I share this planet with who are not so lucky, and I understand that and acknowledge that my list of things to be grateful for might be longer. I don’t expect gratitude to be easy for everyone, or expected. But I forever admire the resiliency others have and their abilities to remain grateful in tougher situations.

Anyway, like I said, I didn’t just pop out like this. Some readings that have really helped me are The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo and A New Earth by Eckhardt Tolle. I talk a lot about the ego on my blog, and I think learning more about the ego has been really helpful in understanding my own actions and others’, as well as tempering my ego’s response to the ego in others. I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou, it just really has improved my own disposition because I don’t get as annoyed at people (or, I get un-annoyed quicker than I used to).

It’s pretty meta, but I’m grateful for gratitude! Because it has given me such a deep feeling of content, luckiness, happiness, reverence and wonder at the world around me. Like how I started this post, I will start sharing some quotes that I love that have helped my disposition in hopes that they bring a little more goodness to the world.

Advertisements

Reflection: six months low waste

2018 is half over! That alone is insane. Time flies, and that also means it’s been half a year since I started my challenge of making as little trash as possible and collecting whatever trash I do create in a jar. I have several reflections, ranging from overall changes in how I feel about zero waste and the world to small outrages about everyday life and zero waste leaders.

Firstly, I think it would be helpful if I did a trash audit – running through the trash I have created so far this year. Here are the culprits:

  • Receipts: I have soooo many receipts. Most places print them automatically and there is no option to not get one (unless the cashier throws it away, which happens a lot when you say you don’t want the receipt).
  • Birth control pill blister packs: working up to the IUD or Nexplanon arm implant, but for now this is trash I make
  • Plastic windows from unwanted mail: I called lots of charities requesting for me to be taken off mailing lists, but some is inevitable. My previous job also did not have an option to get direct deposit so I would get an envelope every other week.
  • Fruit stickers: one day I will drown in these.
  • Various other debris: broken hair clip, plastic tags from (thrifted!) clothes, ripped elastic, Lindt chocolate wrapper (sue me), other stickers

Wow! That’s it?! All I have to do is get an IUD and get off those mailing lists and I’ll make no trash!???!

………No.

Here’s all the trash I made this year that I didn’t include in a small jar, for seemingly obvious reasons:

  • Shards of broken glass from the two glasses I’ve broken so far this year (my b)
  • Trash I make at work (I try to minimize this as much as possible, and I work at a restaurant that composts now, but like, that’s not really my problem, right..????)
  • Straws I get when my request for no straw wasn’t honored (I DID MY PART)
  • Unexpected trash on plated meals if it’s like… soiled (though I take what I can home to be disposed of responsibly, like toothpicks or a plastic condiment container)
  • Several bleached napkins when silverware was already rolled in it at a restaurant, I couldn’t give the napkin to someone else or put on a different table, or I realized that, from working in restaurants myself, it would almost definitely get thrown away anyway because it was already on my table (moral dilemma!!!)
  • Some food leftover on my plate at a restaurant if it was too weird to take home

I have a hard time when my ability to be zero waste involves another human. For example, the napkin part. If at all possible, I tell my server I do not need the napkin, but sometimes they insist (like if it’s to protect the table from my sweating drink), or it’s already rolled and I am too nervous to ask for unrolled silverware. I am awkward and those situations make me straight up uncomfortable.

Unfortunately though, I feel guilty for not doing it and being truly zero waste because I feel like I’m lying. However, I disagree with “zero waste” sometimes. I feel like these instances are too micro when I think we should be macro. Expending lots of effort to save one napkin feels pointless to me when we should be focused on making sure we order the vegetarian or vegan meal. Where I see room for myself to grow is not in going out to eat less to avoid some trash but rather going to restaurants that serve locally sourced food and putting more effort into buying from the farmers market myself. Of course the trash matters, but I think not going to Starbucks because they partnered with Nespresso (owned by Nestle, which sells Michigan water back to Flint) is more important than getting it in my own cup. Jk I would never get coffee if getting it in a real mug wasn’t an option but I hope I’m making sense.

I also get a little annoyed at the leaders of the zero waste movement, specifically the ones that keep their trash in a jar (Kathryn of Going Zero Waste and Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers). They don’t keep their receipts and their jars would be overflowing if they did! I think it’s lame that they don’t keep them, because yeah I don’t want them either but if they’re printing out automatically, I should have them. Kathryn doesn’t want to touch the BPA-lined receipt paper which I understand but still feels a little dishonest to me. I know I’m being petty but whatever let me have this one.

I think my objections are about the jar in particular: no one is perfect, but the jar demands perfection. I just can’t maintain that, and I think it’s silly to expect that of people when it’s not the way the world works (yet).

So what does this mean for the rest of 2018? Clearly, I don’t want to continue with the jar. However, I don’t want to stop because I challenged myself to this for a reason, so I will keep doing my best. However, I have to start a second jar because my current one is filled to the brim!

Additionally, for the remainder of 2018 I will put more of my efforts into policy change and community involvement. I will also continue to spend my dollars at smaller businesses, which wasn’t initially a priority I had. Finally, I will be more strategic about food shopping and seek out farmers markets rather than grocery stores.

Finally, I haven’t touched on the most positive outcome of living low waste, which is knowing that you are making a difference! When my hands get clammy with eco-anxiety, I remind myself I’m being the change, and doing my best.

Benefits of living low-waste

I read a post from goingzerowaste.com that listed some positive effects and translatable skills of living zero (rather, low!) waste. It listed added confidence, among other things. I’ve been thinking about some benefits I’ve experienced and some that others have noted but I haven’t personally had. Without further ado, here are some benefits of living a low-waste life that I didn’t fully appreciate before making the decision to be nicer to the planet:

I eat WAY healthier:

Of course, when you think about food that only comes in packaging, it is pretty much tasty things like chips and cheez-its. *sigh* cheez-its. I still miss you. Not that I didn’t think about this before committing to fitting my trash in a jar for a year, but well, I guess I didn’t think about every single item I was forgoing. Sure, I can still get lots of things out of packaging, like mochi balls from whole foods or items from their bakery. Unfortunately, most of these things are sweet rather than savory. I haven’t found any package-free salty snacks. Which is overall for the best. My sister has found cream cheese package free, but I still haven’t really tried looking (she found it for a party appetizer recipe, and I haven’t had such an occasion). At home, I pretty much eat vegan plus eggs (and recently I rescued a tub of goat cheese from a work event that would have been trashed!), but I try to stay away from such labels because they make me feel limited. For example, I recently had a lobster roll for lunch in Portland and I regret nothing! I also would eat cheese at home if I found it sans packaging, but I haven’t yet.

One thing I’ve heard people say is that when you eat whole foods, you don’t crave junk food as much. I’m not sure if this is true for me really. I guess I don’t crave bags of salty junk food because I know I won’t buy them no matter what? But I still love eating chips and salsa out at restaurants, and regularly want to do so. So who knows.

Additionally, I eat food at home more in general, not that I didn’t before, but I can’t always count on having a zero-waste lunch or food option available to me, so I try to eat at home or bring food with me more than I used to. Which leads me to my next point…

I am much more prepared:

A low-waster on the go cannot simply leave the house with their wallet, keys and phone. Maybe if I’m just going somewhere nearby, but my previous mantra of “wallet keys phone!” I would repeat before leaving the house has become “wallet keys phone! …. Cloth napkin, jar just in case, spork’s in my wallet, where’s my hanky, water bottle, wait should I bring my tiffin? Nah, just the jar’s ok, and might as well toss a reusable bag in there too. And a snack!!!” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this is annoying. But knowing you’re prepared for any situation is a great feeling: hand drying, snack wrapping, latte on the go holding, leftovers container, back up utensil if plastic is the only option (happened to me the other day), nose blowing, dehydration, hunger… I’m prepared for any situation that puts my values at risk.

This sense of preparation has extended into other parts of my life as well. At home, I keep a much closer eye on the stock of my toiletries, our cleaning supplies, and my pantry and produce items because low-waste options are not always immediately accessible for me, even in a big city like Boston.

I have learned extreme dedication to a cause:

This last one might be a little personal and not totally relatable. But I am really proud of myself for changing some big and lots of little aspects of my life in order to align myself with my values more closely, and this entire experience has made me feel better about my ability to commit to something. I stand by what I have said previously – that you can make a huge difference in your environmental impact with few changes to your lifestyle. That is true, and I think almost everyone can do it. But it still takes a level of commitment that goes beyond a weekend project to set up your compost bin or collecting jars at the thrift. It requires commitment to the cause, and recognizing when even though technically your trash fits in a jar, you still drive more than you should and bought a cucumber at Whole Foods that was from Mexico yesterday (not like I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…).

This commitment extends to every aspect of my life. Like Kathryn from Going Zero Waste said in her post, it has made me more confident. Because it does take confidence to go against the grain and ask for something in your own container, and it takes strength to continue on when you know people might be judging you (when in fact that is a reflection of themselves, rather than you). It also takes confidence to stand your ground in the face of peer pressure. When I fill up my bulk pantry items, my time in the checkout line can be pretty lengthy. I try to be organized and prepared with my PLU numbers and tares, but I see the antsy customers behind me and I get flustered a lot of the time. But I try to remember that I am not doing anything wrong and to be a good ambassador for the low waste movement.

***

When our eyes are opened to the outrageous amount of waste there is in the world, I think it’s pretty common that our one goal is to reduce that, and we pursue that goal only. So we don’t often think about the bennies that we get to appreciate along the way, and that it’s okay to. They’ve become so much of what I enjoy about this movement. I hope if you’re thinking about living more simply, this has helped convince you to take those first steps!

Dare to Dream

How does one approach a goal like a new person? Baggage, man. It’s heavy! (Says the 23 year old. Lol/yikes.)

I have a really promising, cool idea. It’s a business idea that involves environmentalism, and I feel like it could actually be successful. It will take a lot of thinking and working out how it could function, but hey, I didn’t have a business minor for nothing! 18 credits, what up.

But I only hesitantly think of this idea. Cautiously do I allow myself the possibility of success because I’m too bogged down by my tendencies and faults, or my perceived tendencies and faults, to move forward. I mentioned casually that I have this idea to a girl at work today, and naturally I included a self-deprecating comment (“it’s silly!”) and she shot me down so hard. She told me to never write off an idea I have as silly, because why couldn’t it be successful? I needed that.

Even after she said that though, I still tread carefully and put myself down just in case it doesn’t work out, because “look, I told you it wouldn’t work” is better than having true dreams crushed. Did you catch that 18 credits comment two paragraphs ago? Even that was a light jab at myself!

I know it’s self preservation, but I need to remind myself to be my biggest advocate and fan. No one is going to make it successful FOR me, and there are plenty of things that could make it fail, so why should I be one of them? I should be a pure force of good. Why do we do that – hold ourselves back? Treat our thoughts and ideas and selves with anything other than pure love? A guy I went out with a few times was being really annoying the other day, and I imagined hearing about his brattiness toward me from the point of view of my sister, mom, brother or dad and was like “GIRL, DROP HIM.” I was happy that I was able to see things from the perspective of someone that wants the best for me and thinks I deserve the world, but it’s kind of messed up that that perspective wasn’t naturally my own.

One of my largest perceived/actual faults is that I have trouble following through on the chores and maintenance required to put things into action (and keep them there). I am the queen of starting to clean my room, getting everything all over the place as I try to sort it into piles, then getting hungry and abandoning it, leaving my stuff in the middle of my room for three months. I’m not exaggerating, that literally happened around the new year and only now do I have renewed energy to complete the task. WHY AM I THE WAY THAT I AM.

Maybe the solution is to think of all the times I have succeeded in following through, rather than focusing on the room thing (because everyone hates cleaning their room, right? RIGHT?). Hmm, examples, examples…

  • I’m doing pretty well at keeping up the compost, even though it feels like a chore.
    • What’s been helpful: knowing my roommates are involved too so I kind of have people to report to
  • I’m still living the zero waste life!
    • What’s been helpful: posting on social media and making myself accountable, having a jar, support from my sister and friends, extreme commitment to the cause, ego
  • I update the same Google excel spreadsheets every day at work.
    • What’s been helpful: I will get yelled at if I don’t, I am getting paid to do this job
  • Meaghan and I have been friends for 10 years!
    • What’s been helpful: there’s another person involved, we can pick up where we left off, my feelings aren’t hurt if she doesn’t reply to all my texts, we support each other on social media
  • I pay rent every month
    • What’s been helpful: I will get shoved out to the street if I do not
  • I’ve been a vegetarian for more than a year even though I yearn for bacon and steak way too often
    • What’s been helpful: I don’t want to disappoint myself or back out on a cause I know is factually important
  • I’ve written on my blog twice a month this year (with the slight exception of March, but it’s only April 2 so as long as I post three times in April I think it’s acceptable)
    • What’s been helpful: I enjoy writing

Some of these were a stretch, but I think overall when I have social supports, public evaluation, a strong commitment to the cause and enjoyment from it, and actual consequences, I follow through!

So, moving forward, I should do the following:

  • Get a business partner or casual group of “consultants” that I can report to (even family or friends).
  • Consider myself a savvy businessperson, so that I continue to do what a savvy businessperson would do
  • Post about my project online and try to garner a bit of a following (also crucial for the actual idea’s success)
  • Create attainable, short-term goals and ways to evaluate my progress, reward success, and potentially serve consequences.

This exercise actually really helped. Even though no one reads my blog (wow, I think I even heard an echo that time!), I hope this was somewhat entertaining to read, and inspirational for someone who needs to be their own biggest advocate! Remember: the world is our oyster – or whatever we want it to be!

Phone Addiction

Here’s a somewhat embarrassing fact: I think I have a mild phone addiction. Okay, maybe it’s not so mild. More like medium. I have a medium-strength phone addiction.

Well, doesn’t everyone? I guess… But that doesn’t make it disrupt my life any less or make me happy. In fact, it almost makes it worse. I hate looking around in public, typically on public transportation or worse, a social engagement, and seeing heads down, eyes glazed over, thumbs (probably with the muscles of the hulk at this point) scrolling through some app. I think I have a sort of guilt because I want to be different. I look upon the phone-obsessed, torn as I partly feel like a crotchety old woman who thinks the youths don’t know how to communicate anymore but partly jonesing for an Instagram fix.

Thinking back through my life up to this moment, I can easily relate this to my dad waking me up every weekend or summer morning when I was in high school, saying “sweetly” (and judgingly), “Cindy, it’s 10 am, are you going to do something today?” It’s hammered in me that to sleep in is wrong and lazy and you should make the most of your day. I did grow up in Franklin, Massachusetts after all, so it’s good that one thing Ben Franklin said has stuck with me: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Trying to get me to wake up early is fine and I’m sure my dad’s intentions were pure. Who wouldn’t want to instill motivation and a strong work ethic in their child? (However I’m still weirdly bitter that my chore was never to mow the lawn, because I grew up thinking it was a thing that only your dad could do, and I feel ruined as a feminist.) But can you not see the inkling of shaming others for doing that? I don’t know, maybe I’m trying too hard to connect the two. But when I see people on their phones I think, “you guys, it’s 10 am, we have to get up! I mean, uh, shouldn’t we put down our phones???”

Unfortunately for me and everyone else suffering from this, it’s a bit difficult to totally get rid of my phone, because oh yeah, technology is actually quite helpful. I have a map at my fingertips, google a click away, and music whenever I want it. It’s great! But do I really need it all the time? No, I guess I actually know the drive to the cape at this point. If I HAVE to search something I probably can wait. And I don’t have to constantly be flooding my brain with music but instead perhaps take the earbud out and talk to my coworkers, ponder human existence, or listen more intently to the world around me.

But believe me, I’ve thought about ditching my smart phone for a flip phone. I don’t even know how you could access the internet on that. There was a button on one of my old phones that could connect you to AOL, but I was too afraid to open it and get scolded for using internet because who knows much that cost. Plus, why would I need it?! Oh, sweet past me, you didn’t even realize all the millions of forms of content you would need at all times.

The trouble is, I get a lot out of all the apps. I love Instagram because it’s pretty, but it’s probably the most dangerous, because I can spend so much time on it and then emerge bleary-eyed and wishing my life were cooler. Facebook I would quit but everyone is on it, so even though it’s the worst, it’s the hub. Twitter is too angsty for me, but can be really funny at times and I like to tweet about the Bachelor. I can’t lose Snapchat because my brother sends videos of my nephew on that. UGH, can’t you see the agony?!

Anyway, today I read through some tips to avoid phone addiction. One tip got me thinking. It said to replace the word “can’t” with “don’t”. So when I’m trying to cut down my phone usage, instead of saying “I can’t go on my phone right now” say “I don’t go on my phone after dinner” or “…at work” or “…more than three times per day”. This intrigued me because it is creating a new identity for our ego to have. If I say, oh I don’t go on social media more than once a day, I will eventually cling to that as a point of pride. That point in my ego will develop until it’s who I truly want to be, and my behavior will change to be that way. When I say that I don’t go on social media more than once a day, I’m saying lots of things about myself. I’m saying “I’m engaged with the world around me, and don’t you want to be too? I am too busy (hair toss), I am active and healthy, physically and mentally, I probably read a lot and my room is definitely clean because think of all the stuff you could get done if you actually value your time like I do.”

Clearly I have some already established ideas about what it would be like to not go on my phone as much, and I have some serious qualms with the ego. I’ve never thought of leveraging this aspect of yourself and putting it to good use. It worries me, because what will happen when this identity is rooted and overgrown with other identifying characteristics? Can I even use my ego in this way if I’m constantly trying to separate myself from it? It’s not like I don’t have an ego or that I’m perfectly separate from it by any means. But it seems counterintuitive to work my ego for one purpose but squander its less useful traits. Then again, the ego is not necessarily wrong. It just is. And let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have it if it weren’t useful biologically and evolutionarily. Ego makes you protect your land, family, food, shelter more fiercely. But it gets in the way of relationships approximately one million times more.

Luckily for me, there were other tips! Such as putting your phone far away (maybe even locking it in your car!), forgiving yourself when you do go on, and replacing the habit. Just to add my own, I think I might start writing down how I feel after each jaunt through the apps. I think if I note the immediate emotions I will be more motivated to make a change. Additionally, I’m going to look for a club to join or sign up for a weekly yoga or fitness class. I think if I am busier I will be less likely to whittle away my time scrolling. Also, I should load up my library wish list with several books so I always have something to read.

Also, time to congratulate me, because so far, I have succeeded in my goal of posting on my blog twice a month this year! I’m proud of myself for being consistent and following through so far on what I’ve set out to do. Overall I see my writing improving, though I do tend to babble, but I used to just start a topic and then when it got out of hand not really know what to do. Now I try to see it through and keep it simpler. Have you ever noticed how the Simpsons episodes start so far from where they end up? That’s like my blog, except I’m way less funny. Yay for me for following through, and even though using my phone less might be more difficult, it’s reassuring knowing I have the skill set to do it.

Finally, thanks to my dad for making me wake up by 10 am on the weekends or in the summer. It made me value my day and what I can get done in it so much more, and now I love mornings, working on special projects around the house, and exercising while it’s still light out. It’s made me treasure cocktail hour on a summer day, because I know I did lots of awesome stuff that I enjoy that day. Even though the age of smartphones might bring me down at times, I think those wake-ups saved me from thinking that’s ok.

 

Don’t cry over spilled deodorant

Quick entry about positive changes: today I finally made homemade deodorant! I was using up the rest of my Degree stick into the new year, and the recipe I followed for the natural, homemade deodorant insisted that I detox my body from the lab-created, unnatural stuff. For THREE WEEKS. Ah! So for 24 days – overachiever, aka I didn’t feel like making it on a weeknight – I washed my pits everyday (otherwise I’d be shunned) and my laundry pile grew to new heights. Side note: the first week wasn’t bad at all, I think because it was built up in my system? But from there it went downhill and I repulsed even myself. Also, the commercials are right – stress sweat is a million times worse than physical exertion sweat! And then you get more stressed/anxious that people smell you, and you spiral.

But today, TODAY I rejoiced at the expanse of time I had to clean out my old deodorant tube and make the new stuff. What took time was cleaning out the tube; whipping together the ingredients was actually pretty quick. I poured it into my container, carefully placed it on my shelf in the refrigerator, then went to clean up. A minute or two later I realized I was approaching shaky-hand level hunger, so I went to pull out some leftovers from the fridge, when whoops – I knocked over the deodorant. Not having hardened in the two minutes since I had put it in there, it spilled, dripped down between the two sheets of glass shelving, and got over every Tupperware in sight. Noooooo. I frantically snatched it up. I lost probably 40-50% of it. All my hard work! Those ingredients were kind of hard to find! What a mess! It was everywhere. I cried pathetically, not actually sad enough to heave but just so frustrated! But then I showed myself how much I’ve grown. I gave myself five seconds to think about how sucky the situation was (why is “sucky” the best word I can think of to describe this? #notanenglishmajor), ok then five more seconds because man this is rough, then I cleaned up. I wasn’t chipper after those ten seconds, but what else could I do? It happened. It was a mistake. I filled up the container with a little bit that was leftover and I didn’t really know where to put, and I cleaned. Fifteen minutes later, I was in a fine mood again. A little exasperated, but almost laughing.  I realized that I didn’t want to be unhappy, so I (painstakingly) decided not to be. You know that tiny voice that you shush when you’re angry about something, that says Hey, being unhappy is the worst, how about we skip that part this time? It can be so hard to listen to. But being angry is not vindication. It would not un-spill the deodorant or clean up the sticky mess for me. 

I don’t know when exactly I would have reacted differently, but I distinctly felt like in the past, something like this would have destroyed me and/or my day. Is that just regular growing up and developing more coping mechanisms? It seemed like an almost tangible shift in my brain. I think so much of this change is thanks to my yoga practice. Even though I haven’t practiced for practically five months, yoga has changed how I think about everything. I am so much more loving, honest, level-headed, and humble (lol, might not seem it here) than I was before. I am so grateful for all the teachers I’ve had that have inspired and guided this change within me. I can only hope that getting on my mat again will further this growth. (There’s fear there definitely – something for a future post!)

In any case, I couldn’t help but be so happy with myself and how I handled this literally sticky situation. Regulating my emotions, and most importantly restructuring my thought processes, is so hard (and I am one thousand percent not done), but today listening to that tiny voice was so worth it. 

Before I poured it into the old Degree container, and promptly dumped it in the fridge.

Privilege + Ego + Zero Waste

Can we talk about privilege?

Going zero waste has been a great journey for me so far. It has lead me to refuse things I don’t need: junk food, extra shopping trips, trinkets, and straws. It’s opened my eyes to the insane amount of trash we create on a daily basis. However, it also has become an identity my ego clings to and wants to reinforce and let everyone know about. Enter: the trash jar.

This year, I decided I would make a go at a “trash jar” like the stars of the zero waste community and collect any trash I incur in a mason jar in my pantry. When I told people my plan, they largely said “what?” at first because they couldn’t conceive that someone’s trash in a year, let alone a day, could fit in a jar (or not be disgusting). But, with some explaining, and reinforcement over the last couple months as I’ve talked about my zero waste life more, everyone knows.

I felt unsure about keeping a jar at first. For starters, I had read this post from goingzerowaste.com (my first introduction to ZW) that explains that the trash jar is essentially bullshit. I thought, “then why do you keep it?” But I understand now. Besides ego, it is a great way to pique people’s interest. It is like when you are writing your resume and you want to have a nice stat on there to draw a potential employer to the hard facts of your performance. It is measurable and awe-inspiring and shocking. I wanted to keep a jar of my own for these reasons, but also for the reasons people don’t talk about as much: ego. I wanted to prove that I was part of the zero waste community too, because look, I can fit it in one jar!!!!!!! Aren’t I cool?!?!!? The jar showed how different I was, how *good* I am, and how hard I must work.

Even though I kind of knew that ego was the driving force, I still started the jar. But recently, it’s become hard to ignore. I’m starting to like the jar less and less. Not only does it make me maniacal about avoiding trash at all costs, but it feels like a lie. Think of all the trash I make at restaurants and don’t see for myself. What about the straws that came in my sister’s and my coffees at breakfast last week that we wouldn’t have thought to ask to skip, because it was hot coffee? What about the receipts I refuse, but that print out automatically and the cashier throws away? I could go on. It feels wrong to brag about only making a little trash, when in reality it is only the tip of the iceberg.

img_7275
The jar in question.

The other big part of what I don’t like about the trash jar, and having such high expectations for oneself, is the privilege that goes unmentioned. If you live low or zero waste in this non-zero waste world, there is a level of privilege that feels icky to ignore. I can’t brag about this when others don’t get to. I am able to live low waste because of so many reasons:

  • I have a job that pays me money
    • I got this job because of my education and work experience, which I wouldn’t have without my parents paying for it, or my high school grades which I was able to focus on because I didn’t have to be working all the time to support my family; in short, our socioeconomic status because of our racial privilege… etc. times infinity
  • This job pays me enough money in 40 hours of my week that I have time to spend doing things I enjoy rather than working more hours
  • I do not have children that I must care for or support
  • I do not have family members I have to support
  • Essentially everything boils down to the uncomfortable truth that my and my family’s whiteness and socioeconomic status (obviously interconnected) has gained me this privilege! (And heteronormativity and so many things omg)

So I am able to feel superior to everyone else because I was able to spend my time making tortillas from scratch, instead of buying them at the store because I had to go to my second or third job or take care of family or because I don’t have the space in my kitchen for all these ingredients or because I don’t have a kitchen at all.

I am so lucky.

At work, I am part of a group called the White Accountability Space. In that space, with those people, we talk about and confront our white privilege. In a meeting at the beginning of January, that meeting’s facilitator asked us how we want to work towards racial justice this year, and how we can be more involved and better. I told the group, wow, I feel bad, because all of my New Year’s resolutions have been about zero waste rather than about racial justice, which is something I also sincerely care about. Another group member responded, what if by going zero waste, you are actually working towards racial justice? Those most impacted by poor environmental living conditions are most often people of color. I will probably always be able to access clean water in my life, and when the effects of climate change really increase, I will be safe from the increased precipitation and extreme temperatures because I will have shelter, and will be able to repair my roof if it leaks, and so many other things. I also don’t have to live near a landfill or area that has hazardous air quality because of garbage. Zero wasters work toward a cleaner earth for everyone, but those largely impacted by the changes will be lower-income people, which are more often people of color. (Not to say only heterosexual, white, middle class women can reduce their trash. At all! But hopefully you understand what I’m saying.)

When she said that, I felt a sense of relief! I also felt responsibility that reinforced why I’m doing this. But thinking about that now, in regard to the trash jar, I also feel gross. I feel weird bragging about my little trash when there might be someone who wants to create less trash but doesn’t have the resources to. While I think there are some overarching things almost everyone could do (refuse a bag! straw! flyers!), I don’t think it’s right to flaunt my ability to spend an hour making tortillas like everyone should be praising me. I am lucky I get to spend my time this way, and I don’t want to forget it.

Just to add to things, I don’t really like the message the trash jar sends about ZW expectations. Or veganism totally. Like my sister says, outraged, “if I’m not going vegan I shouldn’t try at all?!” No one is perfect, and expecting everything out of people who show even a little desire to reduce their trash is SO harmful. I don’t want to scare someone off because they are making the changes that they are ready for now. I hope I haven’t made someone afraid to reach out to me about all things trashy. That would make me sad, because no matter how much of my own trash I’m reducing, by scaring someone out of living a zero- or low- or medium- or just-a-little-less- waste life negates all my hard work!

There are SO MANY ACTIONS you can take to reduce your trash by a ton (literally, because Americans create over 250 million tons of trash annually!). And more people taking these steps feels way more important to me than what is in my trash jar individually. I see the amount of change required in going zero waste as an exponential graph:

Where work or lifestyle changes required is the y axis and how close you are to zero waste is the x axis. You can make like 5-10 simple changes that might alter some things in your life, but not as much as you think, and your trash will be nearly eliminated. Going that final step to “zero” (whispers: it’s a lie) requires more effort: avoid those receipts like the plague, don’t you dare eat a bag of chips, and if it has a sticker on it you’re out of the club!!!

With all these reasons to ditch the trash jar, it’s still hard to give up. Despite all of this, my ego still wants to have this way to measure how amazing I am. And I don’t want to tell people I’ve stopped using the jar and have them think I couldn’t handle it because it was too hard! My sister is very against the jar because of its negative nature of pointing out your failures in a way. While I see that, I don’t think it will be the impetus that makes me get rid of it.

I don’t mean to say that taking that large step in my efforts has been all negative. It’s been challenging, and made me realize that I don’t need as much as I thought. What I do like to point out is that I am just like anyone who likes to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. I just did something about it when I was ready to, and it was pretty easy. Until businesses and lawmakers catch on, there will always be trash. And it’s very unrealistic for me to think otherwise. I’ll keep voting with my dollars and buying chickpeas in bulk. And if you aren’t sure where to start in protecting the earth, I hope I’m someone you turn to. I’m no expert, but I’ll cheer you on the whole way.

Time Hoppin’

Each day, the app Timehop notifies me that I have a whole store of memories to relive. What happened on all my previous January 24s?! I wonder, and swipe open the app. Not all January 24s though, just the ones in the last 8-9 years or so (since I’ve been active on social media). I scroll through my old photos – mostly taken in the last two years since I’ve had this phone, tweets, Facebook statuses or wall posts, and Instagrams. It has gotten me thinking about the past more than usual. When it comes down to it, so much of what we think about is about the past. All our memories and knowledge comes from what we have previously learned. All the imagery in our head is from memories, even if we are constructing something we haven’t seen yet – it’s based on what we know already. This is more scientific than I’m intending, but what I’m saying is that all we have to think about is things that have already happened. Barring insanely energetic people that only think of the future, I think everyone dwells at times.

When I tap through my memories on my phone, it’s easy for me to get sucked into thinking about a certain era and long for it. Mostly it’s memories from last year, when I was in California, but anything can get me – pictures from senior year of college make me ache for the freedom and excitement of nearing graduation and living near my brother and his wife in such a cool city; clear sadness I felt at this time of year during my earlier years of college make me want to reach through my screen and hug past me and tell me things will get better. Silly Facebook posts from when it was new to me and my friends in high school make me miss seeing my best friends and everyone I knew everyday, and seeing posts about my long-distance high school boyfriend make me eye-roll and wish I had had some foresight (we started dating AFTER high school ended and we wouldn’t be in the same city. No regrets, but come on me).

But at the end of the day, these moments are in the past, and they aren’t tangible, though I can see some of them so clearly. I still feel as though I just left Santa Barbara – like earlier today I could have been walking down State Street or getting out of a yoga class at one of my favorite studios there (ugh, the yoga!). But they don’t exist anymore, and all we have is the future. What do I do with these memories? It can be nice to relive them, and I go on Timehop for a reason… But are they doing more harm than good? As I aim for minimalism in the physical items around me, should I be just as ruthless with how I treat the past? Holding onto memories isn’t healthy, but severing my grip on them seems just as harsh. Although I wish I could Eternal-Sunshine-of-a-Spotless-Mind some things, I have to address the constant need I have for myself to be living everything at once. My biggest conflict in my life now is my desire to be a free spirit and explore the world versus my desire to be stable and make a difference. I want it all and I know that’s my ego speaking on behalf of all of me, but its voice is loud and not to be reckoned with at times. If I constantly want more than one thing, I don’t think I’ll ever be content. For moments, sure, but long-term? Consistently? I’m not sure. Maybe that’s why I get so wrapped up in memories of a different time – of my Santa Barbara days, I very much miss the freedom. I was delaying life in a sense, and now life is here, and all the responsibilities that come with it. Overall, the main theme is how difficult it is to grow up and take ownership of your life.

On this blog, I once wrote about how I value all emotions I have, because they are part of the human experience and I am lucky to have them. (That emo post is here.) I still feel this way – even though sometimes I feel a little more lost than the people around me, I know that I am definitely not alone. There are countless movies and books and songs written about coming of age and dealing with growing up. It is literally the most tired topic because it is so universally felt. At least I’m unoriginal? Even in times of turmoil and discomfort and unsure-ness, I feel endlessly lucky. Because when I can’t pick a direction for my life, it’s not for lack of options. The world is my oyster… Or whatever I want it to be. And this time is precious, and I appreciate living with my roommates and in the same state as most of my family every day. I try not to use those things to keep me from considering other dreams of mine, but for now they are wonderful and I am so grateful. I guess for the time being, Timehop is ok. I can pick up my phone tomorrow morning and see what I did those other January 25s, just as long as I close my phone, look up, and don’t forget to live this one.

Christmas

Even after almost three weeks, I still get a bad taste in my mouth when I think about Christmas. Well, aspects of it – of course I enjoy spending time with my family, eating delicious food and going on a walk (and now that my parents live on the Cape, the walk is on the beach). The part I still feel room for change and growth in is the gift giving. 

Even before my foray into the world of zero waste, the idea of minimalism was always appealing to me. I frequently daydream about getting rid of all of my stuff and having an empty room to just sit in. Thoughts could come to my head so much more easily, I imagined, and I wouldn’t feel clouded or clogged or anxious. Despite this idealization, I have never really done anything about it – sure, I’ve definitely bought fewer clothes over the years, and I don’t have many knick knacks lying around, but that’s about it. When I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom, I intended to cleanse ruthlessly, but instead I found myself getting teary-eyed reading old report cards and finding old artwork tucked away in bins under my bed. Then, after a day or two of that, I rushed through the rest of it and threw away about a million figurines, did a pretty good job compiling a yard sale collection, but was pretty tired emotionally and just decided to tote the memory-lane-inducing items to the next destination. They are now sitting in my parents’ attic… not being useful. 

In any case, as my lifestyle yields less and less waste, I don’t want to make more. I don’t want more items – I want to fulfill those daydreams of having only what I need. Christmas, however, did not get me closer to that goal. While I did get some items I am excited about, and I value my family’s thoughtfulness in many of the gifts I received, I noticed that I need to change my plan for next year with other relatives. The concept of giving stuff just to fill space grosses me out. Knowing the unnecessary stress that goes into it baffles me. Just this year I realized that people go into debt because of the holidays. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I can’t believe someone would think I need a present more than they need financial security! 

Communicating that I do not want anything does not seem to be a simple task. I think, despite the fact that many people feel a burden and stress around the holidays, they still like it. Well, duh, but they must get some sort of reward out of it – it’s something to do, think about, complain about, and then complete. Even though I am touting minimalism here, I myself feel that way a little, at least with certain people. For example, I love trying to think of a good present for my sister. Even though it is a challenge, especially because she is such a good gift giver, it’s a fun mission. This year I went into it very casually, with my principles of giving small gifts, but when the day came I found myself worrying that it wouldn’t be enough. It is hard to want to be minimalist when others around you aren’t on the same page, and when I’m not exactly there yet either.

And how am I supposed to communicate that I do not want to receive gifts? That they can feel rewarded from getting others gifts but not me? It reminds me of “love languages” – it is like telling someone that I don’t want them to express their love for me, because they feel like giving me gifts is showing their love. Which it is, in a way, but only to an extent. Gifting a family member something you know they need, or can be consumed, or improves their life in another way shows thoughtfulness, which I appreciate more than anything. But giving meaningless gifts out of obligation to reach a certain requirement you think you have to attain makes me sad and takes away from the whole thing. I think I will have to tell my family that even though they might feel they are expressing their love through gifts, I have everything I need, and what I want are not items. Donations to charities, their time, and ok fine, maybe a gift card I would use, is more than enough. 

In the morning I will get started on the giant pile I have created of things I do not need or want (unfortunately, a few Christmas presents are in the pile – agh, am I a bad person?!). This time around, I won’t be throwing away a million figurines… it’s all about sustainably re-homing them. Wish me luck! 

Thank you, 2017

Happy End-of-2017! 2017 was a very exciting year for me. On New Year’s Day I woke up in New Orleans while on my road trip. That sentence is misleading… I was supposed to be there! New Orleans was one of my favorite stops. I remember driving from Nashville and seeing the scenery change from rolling hills to flat southern fields to lush and steamy swamps. It was my first destination on my own (besides staying over in D.C. with my brother and his wife, but that doesn’t count!) and it was the first place that I felt was very different from my origin. I loved it. I had so much fun on New Year’s Eve – I was baffled by the lack of any open container ban on alcohol, I danced with people that were totally new to me and felt immediately like friends, and I reveled in the warmth of the city. New Year’s Day, I wore my favorite outfit and felt so much like myself. I ate chicken tenders (this was just before my vegetarianism began) to revive myself from perhaps one too many G&Ts the night before, and I walked endlessly around the French Quarter. I listened to live music in the streets and stumbled into a beautiful store that felt so me – the NOLA Rock Company. I got a bracelet that I treasure to this day because it makes me feel independent, fearless and open-hearted. As it started to pour I ran into a bar and had a mudslide! Life really can be wonderful sometimes.

After New Orleans, I continued on to Houston (driving through a tornado watch, which was terrifying and has since inspired several stress dreams) where I stayed with one of my teammates from GWU Club Cross Country and her lovely family. I woke up the next morning and continued on to Big Bend National Park, at the bend in the Rio Grande between the United States and Mexico. I camped by myself, hiked by myself, feared running out of gas by myself – good times. I used a pocket rocket camp stove for the first time (this felt huge). I continued on to Las Cruces, NM, Scottsdale, AZ, and finally, Santa Barbara, CA. After three months in Santa Barbara, I left for home, taking 26 days to return. This summer I waitressed on Cape Cod again and then in September I moved to Boston and got my first full-time job! I live with roommates that are amazing, so nice and funny, and I feel completely at home.

Sometimes when I think about this past year and the fact that I left a year ago today for California, I get nostalgic and weirdly jealous of myself. I guess I miss the freedom. I really enjoy being near my family in Boston, living with truly the best roommates, and having “financial freedom” because of my job, but I won’t pretend that it is perfect. I often feel like I’m not doing the right thing for myself – I feel like a free spirit that is confined and whose creativity is stunted. The responsibility of not living with my parents anymore (outside of college days) is a tough adjustment for me, and I feel like I’m dragging my feet, but I can’t tell if that’s wrong or not. The balance of wanting to pursue total happiness and knowing that I need to have financial security in the long run is frustrating because I don’t want them to be mutually exclusive, and I am navigating how to avoid that.

My hope for 2018 is that I still feel the excitement and freedom I did in 2017. I want to make decisions based on excitement and an open heart rather than from a place of fear or “should-y” happiness. I want to make sure the 128 hours of the week that I am not working are as fulfilling as possible, and continue working towards improving those other 40 hours as well.

Who knows where 2018 will take me? I think it will be one of the best yet.