I never thought I’d see this day: My family has run out of plastic bags.
We used to have several giant plastic bags filled with smaller grocery-sized plastic bags hanging on hooks in our garage. Back in the day, I wouldn’t even give that stash of plastic bags a second thought. They came in handy, after all—we would use them to clean up after our dog, for example. And I’m from the generation that was taught that choosing a plastic bag was a better environmental choice than a paper bag, because every time we used a paper bag, we were killing a tree.
I realize that in today’s world that last sentence sounds kind of ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure that if Rip Van Winkle fell into a coma in 1984 and woke up in 2019, he’d be stunned to find paper bags making a comeback in grocery stores, and would probably expect to find a barren global landscape devoid of trees as a result. He’d almost certainly be baffled at the concept of bringing your own reusable bags with you to the store.
Over the last year or two, after seeing story after story about whales and dolphins (my favorite creatures on earth) being found dead with tons of plastic bags in their stomachs, and after being educated by my smarter friends about how hard it is to truly recycle plastic, and how most of our plastic ends up in landfills where it can take upwards of 500 years to decompose, I decided to take a couple of baby steps toward doing my part to decrease the use of plastic.
Keep Reusable Grocery Bags in The Car
Baby Step One involved stocking up on about 5 reusable grocery bags which I keep in my car so that even if I make a spontaneous decision to go shopping, I will only have to walk back to my car to get them when I forget to bring them into the store with me—which literally happens every time I go. Every. Single. Time. (Thankfully, I almost never forget to wear my Fitbit, so I get credit for all of those extra steps. Always look for that silver lining.)
As of last week, our eternal stockpile of plastic bags is completely gone, and my husband is kind of beside himself, wondering how we’re going to clean up after the dog… He doesn’t really like my solution, which is to buy biodegradable pet waste bags that fit into a handy dandy (albeit plastic) holder that attaches to the dog leash. I mean, spending money on bags that we used to hoard for free? That’s crazy talk. But it makes me feel good, like maybe I’m helping out my dolphin friends in some tiny way.
Choose Tap Water More Often
Baby Step Two involves trying to decrease the amount of plastic water bottles we consume in our family. Bottled water is another one of those things that Rip Van Winkle would be baffled by. There is a legendary tale in our family about how my husband’s parents were approached by an innovative entrepreneur back in the 1980s. He was planning to bottle water from a nearby spring and sell it for individual consumption, and was looking for investors. My mother-in-law thought this was the most ridiculous idea she’d ever heard—who in their right mind would pay for WATER, of all things, when you can get it straight from your tap? Needless to say, they did not invest. Needless to say, we would all probably be gazillionaires by now if they had.
But as society is just starting to realize, the popularity of the convenient single-use water bottles has been pretty detrimental to our environment, polluting the oceans and overflowing landfills. Even the recycling process is messy and expensive, and the job is often shipped overseas to countries like China, who no longer want to do this kind of dirty work for us.
So I’m really trying. I still keep bottled water on hand for three main reasons, which I know environmentalists will frown upon, but here they are: A. It’s super convenient to have on hand to offer to visitors who are on the go; B. I prefer my kids drink water over soda, and if it’s available in a handy plastic bottle, they’re more likely to go for the water; and C. Sometimes the water from our tap tastes kind of funky; bottled water never gets that funky taste.
Yes, we’re still guilty of using plastic water bottles, but, like I said—baby steps. We’ve cut back big time. I personally am trying to lead my family by example, so I carry an insulated water bottle with me to the gym and almost everywhere else I go—and I’ve found it keeps the water so cold, it tastes much better. And I’ll no longer tolerate finding hundreds of half-consumed water bottles strewn about the house. Anyone who starts drinking from a plastic bottle must put their initials on the cap with a Sharpie so they can finish it later.
Oh, and here’s a bonus Baby Step— I ditched our Keurig coffee maker a l-o-n-g time ago, because I hated using all of those little plastic pods. This was before the big anti-plastic crusade, but it was clear to me from the beginning that all of that waste could not be a good idea. Besides—French pressed coffee tastes SO much better, involves no waste, and it’s super easy.
I realize we have a long way to go to really make an impact, and it’s virtually impossible for us ordinary, mainstream Americans to completely eliminate plastic from our daily lives. But taking a few baby steps in the right direction can’t hurt, right? I’m not judging anyone who uses plastic grocery bags and drinks from plastic water bottles, but I do hope you’ll challenge yourself to cut back, even just a little bit. It’s not that hard to do, and it will make you feel good!
“Paper, paper, everywhere, but not a drop of ink.”
That’s the current state of my kitchen as we strive to get back to normal after the holidays… Christmas cards have been cherry-picked out of stacks of mail, so that now bills and junk mail are all that remain on the island, waiting to be sorted. An overflowing cup of unsharpened pencils and dead pens sits on the corner desk. Receipts and coupons of all kinds as well as tickets to sporting events—a pile my husband refers to as “his stuff”—accumulate on the counter next to the stove. Then there is the pile of newspapers and magazines that I am not quite sure what to do with because they contain articles I have written.
As the constant war on clutter wages on in my house, it’s definitely the paper battle that is the hardest to fight. That’s probably because, like laundry, it never ends. When the kids were little, there was a constant stream of school-related paperwork—permission slips, newsletters, order forms, homework to be signed, artwork to be “treasured.” While that clutter source has somewhat dwindled as they’ve grown up, the larger problem remains. Every day, a brand new stack of paper clutter arrives in my mailbox. As a “list-person,” I create my own clutter as various lists float about the house (and of course, I’m never quite sure where to find them when I need them.) And from previous attempts to organize the clutter, our office filing cabinet is stuffed to the brim, unable to accept even one more piece of paper.
Well, it’s the New Year, and I’m making a resolution to take control of my paper problem once and for all. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m probably not the only person out there who is struggling with this, so I’m going to share my plan—which I’m developing by picking the ideas I like best from a variety of articles found through a Google search— right here.
Create a system.
Most of the articles I’ve read start with this tip. Easier said than done, but it makes sense. Because of the constant influx of paper, all other attempts are temporary, unless you have a system in place for handling future paper flow. Basically, a “system” involves acting on paper right away — sorting mail into stacks of “Toss,” “Take action,” or “Keep.”
One problem with this system is you need a place to put the “Take Action” and “Keep” piles. The recommendation for this usually involves a beautiful Pier One basket for the “Take Action” pile and an empty, well-labeled filing cabinet and/or multi-colored 3-ring binders for the “Keep” papers.
Another problem with this system is you need to be disciplined enough to go through your lovely “Take Action” basket on a very regular basis so you don’t forget to pay the Visa bill or turn in Junior’s permission slip for the field trip to the Zoo.
But this is the year I’m going to tackle it, so it’s time for me to head to Pier One and then go through my filing cabinet to toss the elementary school files for my now college-age kids, the veterinarian records for my dead dog, and the car repair receipts for the minivan we got rid of 10 years ago…
This is the other consistent tip in almost every article. Pay your bills online, and opt out of the snail-mail version of bills. I have two problems with this tip: 1. It requires remembering more passwords, and 2. It requires opening email that looks like junk mail— and I literally currently have 22, 324 unread messages in my email inbox. I am not exaggerating. I counted one day — I receive over 200 emails each day, and generally, 198 of those are junk mail, while only 2 are from real people. I generally just skip to the ones that look legit and open them, while the rest languish in my inbox until the number of unread messages causes me enough anxiety that I need to go through and start deleting in bulk.
So, with the realization that this tip is probably not going to work out so well for me, there is a 99% chance that you are more organized than I am when it comes to email, so I’m passing it along.
I like this one. The suggestion is to use your smartphone to take photos of things like sports schedules and lunch menus, so you can toss the paper version rather than stick it in a pile or on your fridge. Also, when you consider that most restaurants post their take-out menus online these days, you can toss all menus that get shoved under your door and rely on Google instead. Likewise, whenever possible, store the electronic version of things like airline tickets, sporting events tickets, and coupons in your phone’s wallet.
With these 3 tips, I’m going to take a stand against paper clutter in 2019. Let me know if you are willing to join me in the fight—and share your own tips! Once I get this one down, it’s onto the next fight: the battle against electronic clutter–charge cords and ear buds and old cell phones, oh my…