As I’ve simplified my life in many areas (by getting rid of 800 things, crawling out of debt, and living a voluntarily simple life), I’ve started thinking about trash. Garbage, plastic, glass, food scraps, paper, and so much more.
The complexity of my trash situation hit me as I was cleaning out and organizing my kitchen cabinets for the Reverse 100 Thing Challenge. Under the sink, I have my regular trash. In two other cupboards, I have recyclable soda bottles and cans and another bag of recyclable plastic and glass. Another cupboard holds only a paper grocery bag with paper and cardboard in it and then there’s the plastic bag full of plastic bags. There’s another small bin for garbage in the bathroom.
As I was trying to organize and minimize this mess, I wondered how much trash I actually create. So – to those who know me, this will come as no surprise – I decided to measure it all. For the first three months of 2013, I weighed every bag of trash and recyclables that left my home. The only things I missed were the food scraps that accidentally went down the drain. And here’s what it all weighed:
34 lbs of paper
26.5 lbs of trash
18 lbs of plastic & glass
78.5 total lbs of trash = 0.79 lbs / day
Insanely, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the average American produces 4.4 lbs of garbage daily! At least I’m well below the national average, but I’m still shocked at my 0.79 lbs per day. That’s 288+ lbs per year for little ol’ me.
To simplify (i.e. lighten) my environmental impact, I really thought about what I’m tossing out into the world. And I know I can do better. Here’s how:
Most of my trash is paper.
- I read several free newspapers per week. I can read them at the office, coffee shop or library and easily return them to the stand for the next user. It’d be even better if the publisher printed fewer copies because of this.
- I can ask cashiers to not print my receipt before it starts to print.
- By eating fresher foods, I’ll have fewer boxes to recycle.
- Many of my bills are paperless, but I can really push the companies that don’t yet offer this option.
- I’m still figuring out the junk mail problem. A month ago, I registered to NOT receive a phone book this year. A few weeks ago, it showed up in my mailbox. Go figure.
A lot of my trash is just general junk.
- And a lot of that junk is the containers and wrappings for dinners, fast food, take-out, and coffee cups.
- I’m working to cut back on how much I eat out. The arrival of summer will especially help with that.
- I’m drinking more coffee from my own mug at the office. I could be better about bringing my own mug to coffee shops, especially when I’m buying coffee for the road.
- Some of my trash came from a big spice purge. I bought way more cumin, chili powder, and ground mustard than I could ever use and it was not at all fresh anymore. I now buy spice in tiny, tiny amounts, just for the recipes I’m making that week.
- I bought into a little community garden near my apartment building. With a compost pile, I hope I can divert some of my organics.
A little bit of my trash is recyclable glass and plastic.
- I’m cutting way back on my soda habit, so that will help big-time.
- I’ve planned meals better so that I can either eat at home or sit and eat at a restaurant or cafe, rather than grabbing the ubiquitous to go containers. This has actually made meals more peaceful and enjoyable.
- I did a big purge of plastic containers recently. I replaced them with the glass jars I have leftover from salsa or honey, so this is recycling times two!
Also, check out this great little article from the Mother Nature Network on waste, poundage, and the financial and environmental costs.
I’ll keep measuring my trash this year. It’s easy enough: just a quick step on the scale before I haul it downstairs. And I’m curious if my trash pounds decrease with different seasons or just good ol’ mindfulness.
My not-so-secret goal is to get the pounds down to at least 0.50/day through next winter. I’ll try to post quarterly reports here. This is just another friendly experiment from the interesting terrain of my mind.
Your turn: do you know your trash poundage? Want to take a guess? Or, even better, do you want to join me in my goal of 0.50 lbs/day (per person)?
For the past 15 months, I’ve gotten rid of 800 items in my home. It all started with Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge and then Courtney Carver’s Reverse 100 Thing Challenge. I knew I’d never (never say never!) be able to part with so many of my posessions (books, art, clothes, etc.) to get to Bruno’s goal of owning only 100 things. Even Carver’s goal of just getting rid of 100 things seemed slightly impossible. But in one year (2012), I easily rid myself of 500 items, while only bringing 100 new items into my home. And I just got rid of 300 more in the three months of 2013.
Rather than detailing more of my discarded objects in this post, I want to offer suggestions for your own simplification project. And these won’t be your usual clean-out-one-closet-at-a-time projects nor will I tell you to get rid of clothes you haven’t worn in the past six months. You can search the web for lots of great posts like that. I’m going to go a bit more extreme.
Ironically, two months before I planned to pay off my credit card, my number was stolen and used to make $200+ in purchases at two Target stores in Colorado. It’s been years since I shopped at a Target and I’ve never been to Colorado, so it’s odd to think of my credit card living a life of shopping thrills without me. I’ve put the expenses into dispute with my credit card company and, with any luck, I won’t have to pay them.
In the meantime, I’ve paid off my credit card debt!
The balance reflects three big fat zeros: $0.00. Actually, the font my credit card company uses on their website makes them look rather skinny, but in my mind they’re round and robust and well-earned.
A History with Debt
In the past few years, I’ve decided to do battle with my debt. It’s been an up-and-down roller coaster for the past 12 years, but you can see from this chart that it’s been mostly downhill (in the good way) for the past three years.
I detailed the roller coaster in my last post about becoming debt-free: Below $10K.
Tensions that Keep Us in Debt
And while this downward momentum looks quite dramatic on paper, my budget numbers tell me that being debt-free was possible many, many times before in my life. The dissonance between my goals and actions finally made sense when I was re-reading The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. In a chapter on Personal Mastery, Senge explains creative tension as the gap between vision and current reality. It’s the tension between your business idea and actually starting the business; the exercise plan and actually exercising.
It’s not, though, emotional tension, which is when you experience anxiety or “negative” emotions because your vision and reality don’t match up. The risk of emotional tension within creative tension is when our anxiety makes us lower our vision to match the reality, rather than stepping up our actions to make the vision a reality.
And then there are structural conflicts keeping us from our visions – as if emotional tension weren’t enough! Structural conflicts happen, sometimes, when “life” just happens. My car gets towed and costs an arm and a leg to retrieve, delaying one of my extra credit card payments, for example. But structural conflicts can happen when our underlying beliefs are challenged by making our visions a reality.
I think I’ve lived with debt for so long that it’s become the norm for me. And it’s a well-supported norm for much of American society, so I’m not alone in this. I also haven’t lived an adult life that didn’t involve debt, so I have some unconscious (now conscious) worries about what that means. I imagine that structural conflicts have unconsciously kept me in debt for much longer than I’d like to admit.
A Vision Worth Moving Toward
Articulating these tensions didn’t happen in time to help pay off my credit, but they are helping me pay off my student loans within the next few months. My credit cards could have been paid off many times over if I didn’t have an unconscious system of debt and overspending. But now that the end is in sight for all of my debt, I’m building a conscious vision and reality for my life without debt. It’s one in which I save and invest quite aggressively, with some long-term goals in mind, while also knocking items off of my bucket list in a very systematic way.
The vision I’ve created for life-after-debt is quite adventurous, while also being financially sound.
If you didn’t have debt, what would you do differently?
Are there hidden beliefs or support systems you’ve rigged up to keep you in debt?
How invested are you in those systems and beliefs, especially if divesting meant you could get out of debt much quicker?
On February 1st, I had the pleasure of presenting at a Vermont Downtown Networking Meeting. Present were a dozen or more downtown programs, such as Montpelier Alive, Revitalizing Waterbury, and the Barre Partnership, along with their staff, volunteers, and board members. I spoke to Facebook events, Facebook advertising, FourSquare, and I touched on editorial calendar planning a bit at the end.
You can watch the presentation here, though you’ll have to click forward to 57:00 to get to my segment.
Thanks so much to ORCA Media for recording the event, as well as to Leanne Tingay, Downtown Program Coordinator for the State of Vermont, for the invitation to present!
Last year, I was intrigued by Dave Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, but could not imagine reducing all of my possessions down to 100 items. The challenge seems more appropriate for digital nomads, travelers and, well, people who don’t have any art, books or photos. Nonetheless, it’s intriguing to me, so I decided to do the opposite and see if I could give away 100 things.
Between January and March, I easily found 100 things to give away or trash. By September, I was up to 195 things. Then I read about Courtney Carver’s identical challenge, which she was calling the Reverse 100 Thing Challenge over at Be More With Less and I was jazzed to see how many things I could “declutter” in 2012. In October, I hit 368 things and knew I wanted to make it to 400 before the end of the year.
To recap, here are some of the things I’ve gotten rid of in the past year:
- Clothes I haven’t worn in a year or more
- Clothes that no longer fit
- Food storage containers, especially the ones without matching lids
- Bowls and dishes
- A set of old pillows
- An old pair of sneakers
- Two of three ice cream scoops
- Dead pens
- Lots of cassettes, CDs and VHS tapes
- Camo pants (2) and jacket
- Old sweatshirts, t-shirts from high school and college
- Graduation mortarboard
- Jewelry box
- Pot and lid
- Gavels (2!)
- Kentucky Derby memorabilia
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This last day of my water fast was a tough one. From morning on, I felt really fatigued and lightheaded. Around noon, I decided to eat a light lunch and break the fast. I went about 60 hours on this fast and, despite the relatively short time, learned a few things from it.
I’d like to do longer and longer water fasts, but my difficulties this time probably stemmed from not having the healthiest nutritional base to start with. Doing a water fast probably put me into a vitamin and mineral deficiency that might be prevented if I had a healthier diet to start. So noted for next time.
I’m also having some hip and joint pain that the water fast seemed to exacerbate or expose, making me think it’s time to go gluten-free and take a regimen of Omega-3 vitamins. Also, to get myself back to the gym.
On Day 2, I detailed some of my food thoughts; that food and foodspots (coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) are really delightful parts of my routine. I also wrote about changing up that routine a bit, switching out one unhealthy and expensive treat – like going to the coffee shop every morning – with another healthier and less expensive treat – like making my favorite breakfast foods at home and carving out time to eat and read. Then when I go out to eat on the weekends, I can indulge with a little less accumulated guilt from the week. There are even further switches I can make: I can get smaller lattes or decaf coffees. I can eat smaller portion sizes. And while I enjoy wine and beer, I see fewer and fewer reasons to drink these days.
Food is such a large issue and it’s always curious to peel off little layers at a time. I’ve used food for everything from treating myself to getting blogging done. Food serves boredom and social needs. It hopefully serves nutritional needs, but, before this water fast, it was mostly serving as a carb/caffeine/sugar-induced routine.
There were times this morning that I really wanted to eat, but I couldn’t determine what for. Even through the time I broke my fast, I didn’t feel hunger pangs. So instead of eating, I watched my thoughts for awhile. Then I immersed myself in a book, which I haven’t done in weeks. Once my mind was engaged, my body was less restless. Unfortunately, the fatigue and lightheadedness couldn’t be ignored!
So: onto healthier eating this week. Building up my vitamins and minerals and overall health. I’m sure lots of others are thinking about this too as we move through a very food-centric holiday and then New Year’s resolutions!
After 37 hours of fasting, I finally felt hunger pangs. But it was only after smelling some cooking and baking. Once the smell was gone, so went the hunger pangs, so I’ve gone nearly 43 hours without feeling true hunger. Clearly, I have a few calories that are tiding me over!
I had to go out and about today, but I returned home quickly. I felt fatigued and napped quite a bit of the day away. I thought more about food today than I did yesterday and it’s been revealing to watch my thoughts.
My trips to coffee shops, especially, seem sort of magical to me. It seems funny to type that, but they’re a real treat I give myself every day. The coffee shops in my neck of the woods are social places, abuzz with energy, serving excellent coffee and croissants and scones and cinnamon buns and…you get the point, right? So I’m asking myself what healthier treats I could exchange for those trips to the coffee shop.
My mornings are often rushed, though I somehow find the time to slip into the coffee shop before my commute. I rarely enjoy slow time in the mornings: reading, watching the sun rise, eating breakfast, drinking my own cup of coffee before beginning to get ready for work. So I will change my routine during the weekdays in order to cook my own breakfast and coffee. I love breakfast foods too, so I’m planning out a veggie & tofu scramble, then a vegan french toast recipe for my next week.
I’ll save the coffee shops for the weekends and feel less guilt since it will be a rarer treat.
I also have the luxury/convenience/joy of working on a college campus with a cafeteria, snack bar and a bookshop with lovely treats. It’s easy to grab snacks and a fast lunch. I doubt I can sustain cutting out all of the snacks of my day, but I know I can make healthier choices, eat smaller portions, and bring my own healthy lunch to work much more often.
So today I also looked for lunch recipes that would be delicious enough to lure me away from the snack bar. To be honest, my cravings kicked in at that point, so I put the cookbooks away!
Today it felt like the fast really began. I thought about cheating and having just one maple latte, but I realized it would ruin the experiment and shock my body in a way that was totally unnecessary. I’m not set on doing an experiment, especially a fast, if it becomes unhealthy, but this seems doable for another day. Then I have some toast and jam, some risotto, and tea to get me gently through the following day.
I’m curious, are there ways you treat yourself that could be switched out for a healthier treat, like my coffee shop switch for slow breakfasts at home? Are there ways you treat yourself with food that seem non-negotiable?
- 84+ oz water
- 0 oz or grams or pounds food
- A minor headache since noon
- No hunger pains yet
I embarked on this water fast because I knew that last one would happen: I’ve (over)eaten so much that I’m curious to see how many days until I feel hunger. Granted, today I’ve felt a few cravings: a cinnamon roll from Espresso Bueno, a ham and cheese croissant from Capitol Grounds, and homemade chex mix that a friend posted to Facebook, but any impulse I’ve had at all has been to go out to a store or coffee shop and eat just to do something. That’s not hunger or nutrition: that’s using food as a social activity or to alleviate boredom.
So I’ve just stayed put in the house today. I’ve caught up on some reading, done some dishes, put a few gifts away and decluttered. I took a two hour nap and I’ll probably dive into a new book later this evening.
I haven’t felt fatigued at all. I assume my body has enough stuff to burn for energy for at least the next two days of this fast. I’ve been curious about longer fasts and recently read about Jennifer Thompson’s 40 Day Water Fast. I’d like to try that someday, but I’m just starting with these little ol’ three days.
My reasons for water fasting are to detoxify my body and to reset my habits and cravings. After these three days, I’ll move into Cathy Freston’s 21 Day Quantum Wellness Cleanse. Water fasting allows the body to use the energy it normally uses for eating and digesting food to cleanse the body of toxins and disease. A three day water fast doesn’t allow time for a complete detox, but, in my experience, it starts the process and sort of cleanses my palate.
I choose to do such a thorough, albeit short, experiment because I feel I have very little control or willpower over my cravings. I have habits around where I go (coffee shops) and when (all the time) that support a high-carb, high-sugar, high-caffeine intake. These habits are also the way I get blogging done, the way I run into friends around town, the way I start my day, and the way I pass time on weekends. Water fasting gives me some extra time and energy to examine what’s really working for my body, what’s helping me achieve my goals, and then time to plan a path forward for the next few weeks and months.
Do you find that food is associated with a habit you love? For example, a night out with friends, a daily coffee stop, a mid-afternoon snack, or the whole deal (soda, popcorn, candy) at the movies? What would you do if you removed food from the scenario? That’s what I like about fasting: remove the food and see what’s beneath the habit.
For the past seven months, I’ve been on my feet…at my desk. It all started when I started at Vermont Tech. My office was previously used by a vastly different department, so I somehow had three desks and three filing cabinets, all of which were empty and didn’t serve my paperless work style. I realized that I could start from scratch in designing the space – and it is a gorgeous space.
I’ve heard, for the past few years, that sitting all day is killing us desk jockeys. In 2011, NPR reported that “…researchers are beginning to suspect that even if you engage in regular exercise daily, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of too much sitting during the rest of the day.” Further, epidemiologist Steven Blair, a professor of public health at the University of South Carolina, conducted a study (of only men, unfortunately) exploring the correlation between sitting and heart disease and concluded that “those who were sitting more were substantially more likely to die.”
Okay, I won’t make the obvious point that we’re all going to die with equal probability (oops, I just did!), but studies across the board link a sedentary lifestyle with higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, poor circulation, and high blood pressure. And the related conclusion, as Blair noted, scares me: those 30 minutes of exercise after work don’t counteract eight hours of sitting at your job (and then at home, for dinner, TV, reading, etc.).
I hit another milestone today: my total debt is under $10,000! I’m heading toward a seven-year low mark and I’m just doing full-on battle with the beast.
Since studying abroad in college, I’ve carried credit card debt. It ballooned, ironically, when my income increased, a typical example of lifestyle inflation. Two years after graduating from college, I bought a brand new car and my student loans came due, all within the same summer. See that big spike in the chart below? Yeah, I’ve been recovering from that since 2005.
The high point was $40,000 and, as of a payment I made today, I’m now officially below $10,000. I paid my car off a few years ago and my credit card will be paid off in a month or so. Then, next up: the student loans.
How have I done this, you may ask? Well, you can see that it’s been a bit of a roller coaster for me. I made good progress into 2008, but then relied on my credit cards when I started my consulting company. The spikes in 2009 were pretty inexcusable, in that I can’t even remember what that money/credit was spent on.
But, overall, I’ve used the snowball method of paying off my debt: I’ve paid off either my smallest debt (the car) or the highest interest debt (the credit card) at various points and, when one debt was paid off, I put that extra monthly money into the next debt. I’ve also had the underlying belief that debt = wage-slavery of some sort. As long as I have debt, I have to work that much extra to just make the minimum payments.
I highly recommend the book Your Money or Your Life. That book turned me into an informed debt-fighter. Realizing that I was mostly working to pay monthly minimums on my debt led me to move to a less expensive apartment, saving $200+/month. It gave me the courage to negotiate higher starting salaries at two jobs. It also led me to set realistic – and enjoyable – budgets for my discretionary spending. I haven’t lacked in fun since fighting debt, which I believe is key to setting a budget you can live with.
So my next immediate goal is to pay off the rest of my credit card debt, which I hope to do in January. I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with credit, so this should be interesting!
Do you track your finances or does the thought of it scare you? Do you have goals around your debt or spending for 2013?