consumerism


self-portrait with compost, recycle, trash signsat solar living instituteA famous amphibial puppet speaking of the color of his felt famously sang, “It’s not easy bein’ green; It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.” “Green” has seeped into so many things – far too many – that the word has been overused to the point of being meaningless. This is precisely why, two years ago, a group of professional organizers decided to redefine their specialty from green organizing to the more ecologically- and holistically-infused environmentally-conscious organizing.

Steeped in the traditions of voluntary simplicity and sustainable living, this work stems from the values and ethics associated with helping others adapt simple lifestyle changes that support them wherever they are on the environmentally-conscious path. It’s about building awareness and engaging in dialogues to guide clients to a place where they can observe and effect change in the choices they are making each and every day.

Most of us are already working to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, and environmentally-conscious organizers encourage these practices and more. What will create more impactful and lasting change is exceeding these foundational R’s and allowing ourselves to go deeper.

Take, for example, the multi-faceted practice of reducing. Choosing the path of less packaging, reduces the need to recycle or throw away resources. This is especially powerful when you consider that 25% of landfill contents in the U.S. is product packaging. By reducing consumption of single-use disposable plastics (i.e. packaged and bottled water), we reduce the need for more fossil fuels while reducing the risk to ecosystems from oil drilling and transport of these resources. Reducing the need to store cases of plastic bottles creates more physical space while having the added health benefit of reducing your family’s exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor found in certain plastics. The effects of our choices can be cascading.

When we begin to make time and allow ourselves to rethink our choices, refuse what we don’t need, repair what needs fixing, and let food waste rot into nutritious compost, we’re moving closer to what’s most important in our lives. That’s often the end goal of organizing for many of our clients: creating the time and space to do what matters most.

Each of us has the power, through small acts each day, to make ripples of change in the places where we will see and feel those shifts most directly – in our homes and communities. As Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote in her book, Green Washed, Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet, “…consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.” As we stand on the precipice of Earth Day 2014 (April 22), where are you going to start? Hint: It takes one small step.

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This piece was originally written for and posted on NAPO’s Get Organized Blog.
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The countdown to the year-end ritual of flocking to malls and online stores is upon us. Care to guess where you’ll find me? Dashing (as usual) in the opposite direction.

When the holiday freneticism is unavoidable at every turn, there’s something wonderfully delightful and perhaps a little bit deviant about choosing to swim against the mainstream current. I actually manage to avoid stress and languishing in long lines, all while fully embracing the season’s spirit of generosity on my own terms.

I’ve never understood why, as a society, we collectively wait to the last minute – or in this case, the last month of the year – to squeeze in all the big-heartedness and giving we possibly can that could have been applied liberally throughout the previous eleven months of the year. (more…)

giftcards_insta72

They quietly enter our homes by way of auctions, thank yous, prizes, presents, the mail, and even purchases. Infused with good intentions and the hopes of putting them to use sooner than later,  gift cards, gift certificates, store credits, coupons, and promotional cards often wind up sitting around longer than we ever intend.

Between my own house and those of my clients, I’ve encountered small collections of these papers, plastic cards, and torn- and cut-out coupons languishing in baskets, stuffed into folders, magnetized to the refrigerator, shoved in overburdened handbags, tucked into jacket pockets, lost in piles ‘important’ papers, lost in piles of things to sort, stuffed into bags of mail, and waiting in the foyer. (more…)

An internal dance of joy leapt within me when I read the following line in Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet by Kendra Pierre-Louis:

While we need to be more conscious about what and how much we choose to consume, that consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.

This quote was the perfect finale for my presentation on a panel about environmentally conscious organizing at this year’s NAPO2013 conference. I was thrilled to be one of three ECO organizers speaking on a topic so near and dear but more so about spreading ideas that I hope will help create ripples of awareness and change in an industry of individuals who routinely find themselves on the front lines of communicating with people about stuff and the choices we make as consumers.

My talk focused on conscious consumption and addressed how we can begin to make more mindful decisions because our choices and habits as consumers ultimately affect our actions when we’re standing in front of our trash and recycling bins. (more…)

reusable cloth bag; sf environmentDid you ever have one of those mornings when you woke up to find that one of your habits came home with you? It happened to me the other day. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes and put the water on for tea, there it was, languishing over the back of a kitchen chair: another reusable bag.

Most bags are easy to refuse, but this one certainly had its charm. There was the allure of the soft  blue recycled fabric, not to mention the colorful webbing of the handles (also made of recycled materials) that flirted with me and Sven when we first saw it. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment purchased 7,000 of these bags in a variety of colors for distribution for free free as part of the educational campaign for the City’s Checkout Bag Ordinance which went into effect on October 1.

The purpose of this legislation is to encourage customers to bring their own checkout bags, in order to reduce the impact of disposable bags to the City and the environment. (more…)

Organizing can be this way: You start with a desire to make something better and more efficient. You get started on that single task, but then you find that one thing leads to another, and suddenly you’re going on an unexpected journey around your home or office. Sound familiar?

The interconnectedness of the seemingly disparate parts that make up workable and efficient systems is among the many features I love about the organizing process. It takes you places, it helps you discover things, and it lets you improvise along the way. There are no “rights” or “wrongs” but what works for you, the individual. The process can be overwhelming and a complete diversion that ends in a larger sense of disarray than you could ever have imagined. I’ve been there. Who knew that giving laundry day a lift would provide one such voyage. (more…)

A week ago, I returned from a visit to NYC where I attended the BlogHer 2012 conference. As I do before any trip, I printed out my handy packing list and meticulously crossed things off as they entered the suitcase staging zone (a.k.a. the floor of my office). I was prepared for almost everything, including layers to ward off the chill of air conditioning, a thermal mug to keep my morning tea warm and my afternoon thirst trash-free, and a pen with an extra refill for all the notes I anticipated taking in the breakout sessions. I say almost everything because the one thing I was unprepared for was unpackable. It looked like this:

(more…)

It may come as a refreshing surprise to learn that I am not immune to impulsive purchases. The most common are farmer-generated and occur at outdoor markets year-round (at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area). Visually inspiring and delicious, veggies and fruits often lead to impromptu desires. That’s me (right) communing with a bundle of scapes at a friend’s farm stand at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market in Seattle last month. The temptation was strong, but I resisted them despite the lure of their curls!

But here’s a first for me: while leaving the Mission Community Market last night, I got side-tracked not by produce, but by a towel. (more…)

When you think of love songs, I bet lines like “Oh baby, baby, baby, baaaaaaaaby, I love you” and other word conglomerations of that ilk come to mind. These songs run the gamut of happy, sad, mournful, or even overly goopy.

Leave it to my sweetie to write a song for me that speaks to what we value, not to mention what I spend my days navigating in varying degrees while I make a living. The lyrics go like this:

Shed
by Sven Eberlein

I’ve got a closet full of things
don’t know how they made it in
there’s that sweater I don’t like
and the tapes left behind by my friend Mike

I’ve tried to clear it out before
but all that stuff keeps getting more
my house is looking like a store
and now I can’t even close the door (more…)

This is a post about changing a habit. Habits take time. They require practice. Practice makes almost perfect. Why almost perfect? I believe that perfection is a perceived destination and that the journey is the actual destination.

If you’re like me, I’m on several journeys at any given time. This is about my journey to deepen a habit: to reduce my consumption of unnecessary waste and single use items. While this is something I’ve been working on for years and have gotten very good at, I was inspired to up my game after meeting Beth Terry, blogger extraordinaire and tireless crusader of My Plastic-free Life, in 2010. At the time, Beth interviewed me for an awesome piece she wrote about bringing our own reusable containers out into the world.

When I saw her April 17 post on Facebook announcing she would be attending the Lunchbox Project SF, a pre-Earth Day “large-scale Day of Action in which San Franciscans will order lunch in our own, reusable containers,” I kept my schedule clear so I could meet her for lunch with the very thing that brought us together in the first place! (more…)

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