A few weeks ago, in Repurposing Containers, I confessed that in the past I’ve had a bit of an addiction to resealable plastic baggies for organization and food storage. Today, I have widely replaced them with better alternatives in my home. For example, I’ve made beeswax food wraps in various sizes for wrapping up a sandwich for lunch, or covering bowls in the refrigerator. Still, these baggies remain in use from time to time. In keeping with the 5 Rs, we do our best to wash and reuse them when we have to use them at all.
My mother in law washes most of the dishes in our home, as well as baggies and jars, and I see her exasperation with my “hippie” ways. She grew up, poor, in remote Alaska, and reusing items was essential to surviving. It was a real celebration when she reached a point in her life where she had the luxury of single use items and the reduced work that comes from a modern lifestyle, and she’s not keen to return to the old ways.
I understand her perspective. It is a bother to take something we’re used to chucking in the trash without a second thought, and, instead, set it aside to later wash, dry, fold, and replace in the drawer it came from in the first place. Hanging laundry outside to dry, item by item, then fetching it later is also a bother. Heck, we’re American, and Americans don’t need to be bothered with something so trivial. Funny, how these messages are absorbed over decades.
When I weigh her perspective against messages of conservation, I realize the key to moving forward together is understanding that while it seems that we have a choice as to whether we participate in the 5Rs, the truth is that we do not. Her generation celebrates a move from poverty to prosperity. I want to acknowledge and celebrate our prosperity as well. However, for the last century, that prosperity has been celebrated with a pillaging of resources and peoples at such a pace that we will soon reach a point of no return. We will once again have to conserve in order to survive. Many argue that it’s already too late.
In another example, I recently read that many cities and HOAs have laws against hanging laundry outside to dry. Why? Because it looks “trashy” and people believe it brings down property values. Okay, sure, I don’t want to see other people’s undies flapping in the breeze when I look out my window. However, there are other things I want to see even less: dead landscaping from global-warming-triggered drought. A lack of happy birds, frogs and other native wildlife. Smog. So yeah, I can deal with the undies in the name of taking care of the planet .
And as far as the bother goes, if I’m not washing out a plastic baggie, or fetching dried laundry from the line, what other more noble task would be occupying my time? Fail videos on You-Tube? Shopping for things I don’t need? Truth is, many of us who feel that we’re unbearably busy are simply wasting gobs of time on digital media, living further than we should from work and getting stuck in commutes, and other things that reflect more of a lack of priorities than tasks we simply cannot avoid doing. Besides, if I’m standing at my sink washing something, I’m also looking out my window at my yard and enjoying the abundance of native wildlife that finds sanctuary here. Or if I’m bringing in the laundry, I’m doing so only after burying my face in a bath towel and deeply inhaling the beautifully fresh and natural scent that a dryer sheet cannot emulate. This appreciation of the “small things” is what minimalism is all about, and illustrates how paths of minimalism and conservation frequently wind together. What is it all for if not for these moments, these treasures?
What other “single use” items get reused in my home? Once you learn the best way to get all of the remains of peanut butter out of an Adams peanut butter jar, they’re easy to wash and take to the grocery store to be refilled with freshly ground peanut butter. (I’m anxiously waiting for my local store to offer freshly ground organic peanut butter!) The plastic produce baggies that invariably find their way into my home get stuffed back into our reusable shopping bags for the next trip to the store. Spice bottles are a cinch to remove the label*, wash out, and take back to the store for a refill in the bulk section. Mrs. Myer’s Clean Day dish soap bottles are fantastically squirty and durable, and I like to keep one in the shower with my diluted Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap for easy dispensing onto my loofah.
There’s not a whole lot else to write about this, as it’s one of the easiest of the 5Rs if we can get over the messages of prosperity we’re conditioned to believe. Look at that disposable thing in your hand that you weren’t able to refuse or reduce. Ask yourself if you can wash it and use it again for the same purpose. Chances are, you can! Easy peasy.
Next week we’ll take a look at repurposing — how it differs from reusing, how it flexes our creativity muscles, and how it’s key to being good stewards of our earth.
Read the next post in this series, Repurpose.
*Pro tip: if jar labels won’t come off cleanly, don’t lose your sanity or resort to toxic store-bought goo removers. Instead, soak the jar in some hot soapy water, peel or scrape as much of the paper off as you can with a butter knife, and then mix up 2 teaspoons baking soda with 1 tsp cooking oil. This paste easily scrubs off the remaining gunk.