Trashy Trash Trash

I've been thinking about trash.

Moving to a small apartment with a small garbage can has made me very aware of what I throw away. Having to walk the garbage bag down 3 flights of stairs, then down another to the basement, out the back door...and a short walk to the ally makes me not want to make much trash! We usually fill up one small garbage bag a week...but even that seems like so much! I'm still trying to figure out where I could take my food scraps to reduce that even further. One of my goals during The Compact is to buy groceries/food with little to no packaging. This drastically reduces the amount of trash one produces. I'm amazed by how much trash we can throw away just by ordering take-out one night! Wow.

A movie that is closely related to this topic is "The Gleaners and I" (thanks Ali!). I just finished watching this quirky little French film about modern day gleaners and urban scavengers. It was incredibly interesting to me...I've always been curious about the lives of experienced dumpster divers and people who live completely off of the trash that others create. The movie goes far beyond that and delves into the world of found object art and into the lives of those making a difference in their neighborhoods. I can't say enough about this movie...I think everyone should see it.

The Compact has me on the lookout for items that I can re-use or use in a different way. In my research about these things, I came across some fun Flickr groups dealing with this topic: ReUSE Project Tips for Recycling and Reusing Junkin' Trashion Nation

There are also some great sites dealing specifically with re-fashioning items of clothing: Wardrobe Refashion Wardrobe Refashion (Flickr) Little Brown Dress ::: Recycling Project

And more sites discussing found object (trash) art: Metroactive Art from Trash

Books to check out: Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things

Today, when you throw something away...ask yourself if it could be recycled, re-used, or given to someone who needs it (Freecycle!). In a disposable may feel weird at first, but it does the earth GOOD!

Photo credit: D'Arcy Norman


It's been 2 weeks since we committed to the Compact, and the topic of contentment has really been on my mind. It's no wonder that so many of us struggle with it. As a nation, there is discontentment around every turn. We are constantly looking for a bigger house, a better car, a more exciting job...we are told every day by advertisers that we NEED all of those things...or we will be LESS than everyone else. Less successful. Less pretty. Less desirable. Have you ever paid close attention to those feelings that are created when you are looking at advertising or at something in a store? They are not happy thoughts. Thoughts of wanting, needing...the feeling that you are somehow deprived of the true joy in life if you don't act now. When I go into a store, I am now acutely aware of those feelings...because I cannot act upon them. I look at an item, and then I stop and examine the thoughts running through my head. Pretty crazy stuff. I've been trying to eliminate all sources of advertising in our lives over the last year or so...and it's been an eye-opening experiment. I knew that the obvious offender was the TV. But the others are not so easily detected. What about advertisements in magazines? What about the magazines themselves? Looking through magazines like Country Home, Real Simple, and others...I see so many things that I WANT. Oh the goodies! What about magazines like Health or Self? Looking at the women in those magazines will only create discontentment with your body. Now take a look in your mailbox...Crate and Barrel...J.Crew. More WANTS. Look in your email inbox. You will see passionate pleas for your to open their message. Sales! Buy now...before it's too late! The Sunday newspaper sales ads...full of STUFF to buy. Billboards that scream at you as you drive. And the most stealthy method of all...your friends. When you go to their house and see that they have something that is sooooo cool, you want it too. Even if you don't need it. I experienced this just yesterday. I was at a girlfriend's house. She has a rug that I was looking at buying a couple months ago, but decided against it. And even though I have a perfectly great rug now... for a moment, I thought that I needed that same rug because she had it.

As silly as it sounds, and as "strong" as you think you might's so easy to get sucked in by all of these things. You may not act on your "wanting" impulses right away, but it's those feelings that just pile on top of one another, creating discontentment and desire, and pretty soon you're buying a McMansion and filling it with goodies from Pottery Barn.

The mall is another temple of wants that I try to avoid at all costs. The term "window shopping" is really quite silly. They should just call it "driving myself crazy by making myself want things I can't afford". And now they don't just make malls, they make "Lifestyle Centers". Made specially for you to MAINTAIN your lifestyle. They make it hard to leave...with the food, coffee, playgrounds, lakes, trails, movies, colleges (yes, in a mall), you do just want to LIVE there.

For me, contentment is clearly a spiritual issue. In the past, whenever I have gone on a spending binge, it has been during a spiritual dry spell. I also tend to spend a lot more when Matt on a trip and I am lonely. I spend to fill a void in my feel "happy". That void should be filled with my relationship with Christ, not with stuff. But for some reason, buying stuff (even just a fancy coffee) changes my reality at that moment, but it's a temporary fix.

I like what Joyce Meyers has to say about this topic:

Contentment is a decision to be happy with what you already have. One dictionary defines the word content as "rest or quietness of the mind in the present condition; satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restraining complaining, opposition, or further desire, and often implying a moderate degree of happiness."

We usually learn to be content by living discontented lives for a long time and then finally saying: "Lord, I don't want to live this way any longer. Getting this thing or having that thing is not worth it.

"I don't want to be miserable anymore. Just give me what You want me to have because unless You want me to have it, I don't want it.

"From now on I'm not going to compare myself with anyone else. I'm not going to be jealous or envious of anyone. I don't want what anyone else has. Lord, I want only what You want me to have."


The 2 things that really stick out to me:

  • She says that contentment is a DECISION. It does not come naturally. Don't beat yourself up if it's a struggle for you...but you can overcome it.
  • "Restraining complaining, opposition, or further desire". Further desire. Sometimes my whole mind is one big desire. I desire to be this, I desire to have this, I desire to be in another place, I desire a bigger or smaller this or that. To be content is to STOP all of those feeling that roam around your brain taking away energy. Energy that could be spent on the NOW. Enjoying your life for what it truly is. It's energy that could be spent getting to know Jesus better.

Here are some verses that speak about contentment. I am going to meditate on these verses and memorize them throughout this year as we take part in the Compact.

Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want, for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.

I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want.

I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency.

Philippians 4:11-13

Don't be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, "I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you," we can boldly quote,

God is there, ready to help; I'm fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?

Heb. 13:5, The Message

Better is little with the reverent, worshipful fear of the Lord than great and rich treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.

Proverbs 15-16-17

Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds' feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Wow. Such a complex topic...I feel as if I have hardly touched the surface. But everyday that I resist the urge to buy stuff, I get a little more content with what I already have. Baby steps. Thank you Jesus for being patient with me!

The Secret Life of Stuff

Last year I discovered a delightful, but disturbing, little book...called Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (by John Ryan and Alan Thein Durning). The book goes "behind the scenes" of your "stuff". Where did it come from? Who made it? What type of working conditions did they have? What components went into making that item? What kind of environmental impact did it have? It's an eye-opener to see how complicated and wasteful making "stuff" really is. The different items it examines: coffee, newspaper, t-shirt, shoes, bike, car, computer, hamburger, french fries, and cola.

Here are some excerpts from the intro:

"Made in Taiwan". I'd seen thousands of such stickers in my life without ever giving them a second thought. Taiwan. Taiwan. Not just a word on a sticker. It's an island. A country. A real place with real people across an ocean from me. Suddenly, the overloaded shelves around me looked different. I was stripped of the illusion that stuff comes from stores and is carted away by garbage trucks: everything on those shelves came from a real place on Earth and will go to some other place when I'm done with it. Everything had a history -- a trail of causes and effects--and a future. Everything had a life, of sorts. If you tried very hard, you could put a "Made in __________" sticker on each car wax bottle, speaker component, or old magazine on those shelves.

I started wondering where the things in my life come from. As coffee beans, newspapers, and soda cans make their way toward me, what wakes do they leave behind, rippling outward across the world? And what had to happen for millions of people like me to go about our ordinary business...using lots of stuff?

What happens around the world to support a day in the life of a North American is surprising, dramatic, and even disturbing. Multiplied by the billion members of the world's consumer societies, it adds up to stresses greater than the world can withstand. The first step toward solving any problem is recognizing it. I've started by looking at the things in my life in a new way and learning what I can about their secret lives.

One of the reasons why the Compact is so appealing to me, is that it forces me to find new avenues of acquiring things. I am becoming more creative and more patient as I search for an item that I need. When you buy something used or someone gives you a used are helping to stop the need for NEW resources to be tapped to replace that item you bought from the store.

A great example of this from the book is the chapter on the life of a T-shirt. If I went to the mall to buy a new t-shirt (instead of the thrift store), the following resources would be used (paraphrased from p. 20-25):

  • Oil: the polyester in the shirt started as a few tablespoons of petroleum (they go on to talk about all the effects of oil drilling, environmental concerns, etc.)
  • Cotton: to get the 2 oz. of cotton needed for the t-shirt, 14 square feet of cropland in Mississippi were harvested. The soil was first fumigated with aldicarb, one of the most toxic pesticides applied in the U.S. The cotton seeds were also dipped in fungicide.
  • Dyes: Regulated by the EPA as hazardous substances.
  • Sewing: the fabric was shipped to Honduras. Honduran women cut and sewed it into a T-shirt and earned 30 cents an hour. After it was completed, the box of t-shirts went to Baltimore, by train to San Francisco, and by truck to Seattle. It was unpacked on a department store shelf under a 150-watt floodlamp. That's where I found it. I bought it because I liked the earth-tone color. And I brought it home by car in a bag of low-density polyethylene from Louisiana.
  • Laundry: I spilled coffee on myself and had to change...and I threw the other one into the laundry chute. Later I washed it in water heated to 140 degrees by natural gas flames. Boxed powder detergent and chlorine bleach from a high-density polyethylene bottle removed the coffee from the fabric. The coffee, detergent, and bleach washed into Seattle's sewer system. An electric dryer evaporated the water from my shirt. The greatest environmental impacts associated with my T-shirt arose in my own laundry room: washing and drying the shirt just ONCE demanded 1/10 the energy as manufacturing it in the first place.

What can one person do to make a change in this process? Well, let me tell you. Little things make a big difference. In the case of the t-shirt, you can...

  1. Buy USED or vintage clothing.
  2. Wash only full loads of laundry.
  3. Use warm instead of hot water when you can.
  4. Wear your clothes more than once before washing.
  5. Look for organic cotton apparel.
  6. Encourage others to do the same.

If anything, I hope this has encouraged you to THINK about the secret life of your stuff.