Project Simplify: The Failure

Our Mom is totally losing her cred here....

This week, I fail at being a conscientious reusing/reducing/recycling citizen. You can take away my GREEN card. I am sorry, Mother Earth. Give me my time out. Make me stand in a corner. I’ve been a bad girl.

My ambitious plan to live a more simple life is becoming more and more complicated as I flail about, try to figure out how to best reuse things, pass along our used items, and produce less waste to be transported to a landfill. In my defense, it’s also summer, and I have almost NO time to spare for the implementation lately, and not enough attention for following through with most of my big objectives.

Still. It sucks to feel like you’re failing at something you were so motivated about initially.

My big idea for back-to-school shopping involved figuring out which of my friends have older/bigger children than mine, and begging for their cast offs. This is not working, as it’s rather hard to procure twirlable dresses for the 6 year old and t-shirts with robots and/or puppies on them for the 8 year old. Buying from a consignment store is better than going to Target, right? Except that the prices are either the same OR HIGHER at the consignment store! Yeah, right, and then I’ll replace our toilet paper with twenty-dollar bills! I really can’t do something that is so financially wasteful. So it looks like I’ll be hitting the sales racks at *insert department store name here* and trying not to beat myself up too much about it.

I have even failed lately at putting the organic waste into the compost bucket in the yard. Mostly because, ahem, COMPOSTING IS UTTERLY DISGUSTING *wretch, hurl, ewwwww, icccckk*. We use a small plastic bin to temporarily store the compostables until we can bring them outside, but it stinks when I open the cover, and it keeps getting dropped onto the floor, to the jollies of the ever-present fruit flies, who hover in my kitchen’s corners like crack-addict buzzards. No one wants to continue the composting experiment we started at the beginning of spring with such high hopes. My kids, who LOVE science and bugs and getting dirty, have gone on strike over the disgusting chore of emptying the compost.

And lastly, I have items that are seriously worn to nubs, and I don’t know what to do with them. Like the bathrobe Allen got me in 1998. Or the 15-year-old stompy platform shoes that are too worn out to pass along. I’m sure there are clever uses for these much-loved but worn-out things, right? Martha Stewart could probably transform that robe into a sassy winter wrap or a spiffy looking blanket. She could make delicious meat-free burgers from the worn shoe leather of my stompy shoes. I, on the other hand, threw them in a trash bag and “stored” the bag in my basement.

And speaking of basements — mine is where clutter lives in perpetuity. What I want to do is rent a dumpster and be less sentimental. But that would also mean sending stuff off to the landfill instead of being conscientious and thoughtful about my refuse. I should put things on Craigs List and Freecycle, have a yard sale, advertise my cast offs on the town’s list serv.

Should. It’s a word I use too often these days. I should do something about that.

What do YOU do when you have too many “shoulds” but even more “don’t wannas” and a serious lack of time/motivation/energy to get stuff done? Should I just get the ADD diagnosis now, eat more bran, drink more coffee, have a beer, get a life?

About Terry L. Holt

Writer. Mother. Goddess. President of the Save the Dandelions Club. Climber of trees.
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18 Responses to Project Simplify: The Failure

  1. You're not a bad mom, hon. It's just there are so many options and not all of them are good. And you have a small ACTIVE baby. Compost is stinky. There are changes you've made – cloth napkins instead of paper, that sort of thing. My suggestion: just start small and work up to the bigger things. And find someone with a less sensitive nose to take out the compost. 😉

  2. Nora says:

    I think, firstly, you need to breathe and give yourself a break. One can only be perfect about 10% of the time, and the rest is just life. The fact that you're trying diligently to do these things is much better than most of America.

    Secondly, ideas:
    1) Have a junk party! Have us all come over and party and pick through your basement to see if we want/need anything. Just like Craigslist or freecycle, only without the hassle and with the bonus of Friends in House! And if we don't need something, we might know someone who does.
    2) I seem to remember that there are compostable plastic bags around. You could line the bin with one of those, tie it off, and hurl it in the outside bin? That might get rid of a little of the hurl-factor.
    3) Worn out clothes can totally go to Goodwill. As long as they're not *literally* full of holes, they'll take them and either sell or reuse them. If they are, that's what the trash exists for. You can't become a zero-sum house of trash overnight, or perhaps ever– so give yourself credit for what you CAN reuse, and let go of what's not worth the stress.

  3. Adam Lipkin says:

    First, you're only a failure if the goal was to completely stop putting any goods in the trash. If your goal was to reduce and make changes, you've clearly done so.

    The clothes thing bugs me, too. I know how to recycle everything else from cans to computers, but there seems to be no option for torn/worn clothing (items too shabby to be donated) beyond the trash (or a short life as a rag before the trash).

  4. nex0s says:

    In high summer, compost needs to go out every day. No sitting around! That will help with the bugs and the stink.

    Do a tag sale and put even the worn to nubs items out. Mark accordingly (25 cents?!). Anything that doesn't go at the tag sale, goes to GoodWill. Anything that they can't use, they will get rid of. Leave it to the professionals.

    I'm a big fan of giving stuff to the GoodWill. ALso, of shopping there 🙂 Lots of jeans, tees, etc. I know it's a Christian Organization, and while I'm not thrilled about it, I do love the prices, I do love the help they give to addicts, and I do love the reduce/reuse aspect of it.

    Have the girls help with tagging everything for the tag sale, setting up, and selling stuff. Tell them they get to keep a percentage of the proceeds. They can also put up the Tag Sale signs in the neighborhood. Delagate woman! They are old enough (especially going in a pair) to do this stuff! What's the point of having kids if you don't put them to work? 🙂 I say this as a mother who plans to teach her child how to make her morning cappuccino as part of his “chores” – LOL.

    You living a simpler life doesn't have to mean that YOU do all the transforming. Let the stuff go!

  5. Mort says:

    We've found that old socks, and towels and bathrobes and whatnot are great for dust rags or washing dishes and what not. Old bathrobes and towels also go to line the bottom of the chest fridge since it tends to collect water. Nothing complicated, no sewing or nothing. Just a pair or scissors :). No ideas about the shoes though.

  6. I recommend starting by giving yourself a break 🙂 You can only do what you can do, and you're a human being with limitations and needs and only 24 hours in a day. Fact.

    I think there might be some choices you can work with, but they all involve trade-offs of time and money and just-how-sustainable-is-this-anyway. So I will share with you one of my mantras: something is better than nothing. This is totally a cop-out in some big important ways, and also, it is true.

    I am a Goodwill fan for generalized shopping. It's cheap, and if I want a big category of things (shirts, jeans), I can usually find what I need. On the downside, it takes forever to search through things and used things do wear out faster than new items of the same quality. Also, it's still really hard to shop to order. So maybe a compromise: 2 new shirts with puppies, and 4 more plain ones from the thrift shop? (Something is better than nothing!)

    Compost: you're right! I find the best thing for me is to put scraps in an open bowl. The reason this is the best is because then I take it out at least once a day, and often right after I finish cooking. That cuts the yuck by a lot. Also, covering food scraps in the pile with leaves, dirt, or hay helps the pile itself stay surprisingly un-gross, at least on the outside 🙂

    Clutter: I think it's okay to ditch stuff. Your mental health counts too. If you want, you could put things in an empty, clean trash can and post to freecycle that they're on the curb and the trash is taking them the next day.

    Shoulds: for me, I get into shoulds when I see ways that my life isn't lining up with my values. Of course, that doesn't really happen by accident: it happens when I have conflicting values! Trying to get down to brass tacks as far as what I'm optimizing for is useful to me, in that at least I can talk to myself about what's really going on instead of just the symptoms thereof. Also, I try to be nice to myself, which sometimes works and always helps when it does.

  7. Vika Zafrin says:

    I like the something-is-better-than-nothing mantra. Most of what I'd say has already been said here, so just one small thing. Clutter in my own home vs in the landfill is an issue I've struggled with. The answer I came up with, *for me*, is: the less I own, the less I'm likely to acquire. Clutter begets more clutter. Getting rid of stuff I don't use (whether to the landfill or to Goodwill, and in my case it's definitely a combination of both) makes me feel *so good* that I remember how good it is to feel unencumbered. That's what makes me less likely to acquire more stuff, unless it's stuff I'm truly going to use.

    This is an iterative process. 🙂 Also, YMMV.

  8. Xtina says:

    When I have too many shoulds in my head, I try to poke at them and get to the whys.

    “I should organise my closet.” Well, why? What is the need to do this, underneath? Is it because I feel like being an adult means having an organised closet? Am I afraid of being judged? Do I think better without clutter?

    It's pretty often that I find it's some cultural mandate I appear to have acquired. I should go to college… because that's what people do. Never mind that I can't afford it, I don't seem to need it, and I'm not particularly interested in it; adults go to college, therefore I should go to college.

    Once I find the source of it, sometimes the procrastination goes away. Sometimes, though, it's still doomful, so I use the phrase, “Do it now.” Someone suggested this to me as a replacement for “just do it” (™ Nike), as the latter has a sort of pushy feel to it, whereas the former is just, you're thinking of it now, so do it now.

    Also, years and years of practice in thinking “anything is better than nothing” with regards to things like charity has totally helped in other things. Frex, even if all I do to clean is put all dishes in the kitchen, that is still more than I did before, and I appreciate what I've done and that the place is improved, even if Martha Stewart would spontaneously combust were she to come to my place. Beating myself up about how I didn't Do It All and Do It All Perfectly And Immediately just means I'm less likely to do anything about things, because doom.

    This has taken me years and years to acquire, so.  😛

  9. Lise says:

    I keep my compost in a large Tupperware in the freezer until it's ready to go to the bin. No smell. 🙂

  10. Terry says:

    My freezer is full of food stuffs. Clearly, I need a bigger freezer…. And then I could get to that project of cooking ready-made meals weeks in advance! Awww, crap. More things for my to-do list! *grin*

  11. Terry says:

    What I need to learn from you is that whole idea of doing at least anything, and appreciating what I've done. I somehow feel like I'm a failure if I don't do it ALL and do it perfectly and immediately. Why SHOULD I have organized drawers, if I'm the only one who goes in those drawers? Because it feels like something I should have as an adult? Clearly, I need to poke at my reasons for feeling a need to do it all.

    The cultural mandate is rather harder to let go. My community does things like recycle, compost, shop responsibly. I feel it's a responsibility. And a burden. And it's harder to forgive myself when I don't measure up. But it's just… me. Answering to… myself. No one is going through my garbage to see if I've composted the strawberries. I should stop being such a bitch to myself, huh?

    Thanks for your insights. I think I'll borrow your phrase, try it on. 😉

  12. Terry says:

    It makes me feel SO good to get rid of stuff. You wouldn't know this by looking at our basement. Do I really truly need the set of sheets left behind by the old college roommate? The sweaters my MOTHER outgrew in the 80s? *sigh* And I'm not even a pack rat!

    I've started on this idea. Of owning fewer THINGS. And downsizing what we have. There is a trade off here, though. Fewer dishes mean less clutter but more frequent dishwashing. Same with sheets. And cloth diapers. And when you have one of those weeks when it's hard to do the household chores, there's definitely a lower quality to my life. I'm learning how to deal with this. Because the answer isn't “go buy more stuff.” It's “learn to manage the stuff you have better.”

    I am learning.

  13. Terry says:

    I suppose cutting up the beloved bathrobe is the best use of the material. It's somewhat easier to make it disappear in a bag heading to the Salvation Army. I am a sentimental beast.

  14. Terry says:

    The problem with MY wanting to simplify my life is that I can't WANT it for the 5 of us. Believe me, I'm selling the idea to my family, and I'm imposing a lot. They are coming along.

    I send things to Goodwill. And I shop there, too. But back to school is an important time for my kids. Getting something new, like REALLY new, has become part of the ritual. They don't get a whole new wardrobe, but they get a few new things and, of course, new underwear, socks, and shoes.

    My kids do chores, so they're used to doing things as part of the family. I'm wondering if they'd be interested in a yard sale if they got the profit. Good idea!

  15. Terry says:

    I'm only a tiny bit of a failure! Hooray! *wink*

    I am reducing and making changes tiny steps at a time. But those steps back are bad for my motivation. I will try to reuse my discarded clothing as rags, as that seems to be the best way to get the most out of it before sending it along to its eventual demise in the landfill. I wish for a backyard incinerator, where I can take care of those things. But that's probably not wise…. or legal!

  16. Terry says:

    Only 10%? Geesh, I SHOULD give myself a break! I shoot for at least 50%!

    Junk party idea is rather awesome. And I found a compostable bucket I need to get to store under my sink. Of course, the idea to take it out daily is a more responsible decision, but I doubt I will have time to do that.

    Thanks, hon. I do stress about this stuff way too much. No. ME? Huh.

  17. Terry says:

    I have made some big changes. And I am trying to forgive myself when I can't do something I've set out to do. That's a big step for me. Usually, it's self-flaggelation followed by depression!

  18. Terry says:

    The chasm between my expectations and my reachable goals is big enough to float a very large iceberg through. When my life is not lining up with my values, it's usually because I'm fighting to get some time to myself instead of getting to the list of objectives with which I've set myself up to fail. This is what happens when a very stubborn and independent woman with very high expectations falls short of her objectives. It's a common theme in my life. I should change. Or something.

    I will continue doing something. Doing nothing is not an option. 🙂 I just need to forgive myself for not reaching those goals. Be happy with myself for what I *am* doing.

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