Grit Doctor: How much waste do you produce?

Before you can calm your mind, sort the trash clogging your computer and cupboards

Everyone has a ‘stuff limbo’ – that cupboard or corner filled with things we can’t bear to ditch. Photograph: Thinkstock

Everyone has a ‘stuff limbo’ – that cupboard or corner filled with things we can’t bear to ditch. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Q A little bit of me died reading about that woman from California who could fit the whole family’s domestic waste for a year inside a jam jar. She uses a stone for deodorant and all the rest. I think this is all a bit extreme, even for people committed to clean living. Tell me it’s too extreme even for you GD?

A I read an article recently about this brilliant woman, Bea Johnson and her blog and now book, Zero Waste Home, and was filled with a mixture of admiration, envy and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on for this zero waste zealot.

Perhaps it was the whiff of the family’s collective armpit that unsettled me somewhat, I’m not sure. But it certainly got me thinking about how we all live, and then very specifically about how my household operates and how much we waste as a family. I think Christmas-time really brings this one home: the colossal scale of waste and consumerism immortalised by the gigantic pile of wrapping paper that fills the sittingroom and the mountain of plastic toys beside it. It makes me shudder with shame, but, sadly not to the extent that I can see myself banning it any time soon.

But there is loads more we can do as a family to reduce waste. For starters, we could stop using wrapping paper at Christmas – Father Christmas could decide to make an enormous contribution to the global waste effort by enforcing a “no wrapping of any presents” policy in 2016. Any elves found to be in possession of wrapping paper might be expelled from Lapland.

Experiences

I also love the idea of spending money on experiences instead of presents. Because its experiences that our kids, and that we too remember, long after the consumables have been consumed.

I was thinking more on this over the weekend when we went to visit one of the twins’ godmothers in Somerset. Sebastian remembered every little detail about our visit the previous year; walking the dogs to a river and throwing sticks in for them to fetch (we have no animals at home); standing on the bridge waving at the trains and getting waved at by the conductor. None of which of course cost a penny, unless you count buying and sustaining the dogs. In stark contrast, when his godmother asked him what he got from Father Christmas, he could only remember one thing: headphones. Ungrateful git I sensed the Grit Doctor thinking – rather unkindly.

Here’s the thing: I’m never going to be able to fit all our family’s waste into a jam jar over the course on one week, let alone a year. I’m okay with that. But there is other rubbish that I feel more panicked by: the junk, the garbage behind our screens that is less easy to see, very easy to conceal and liable to spiral out of control. Getting on top of computer junk is absolutely key for a more Zen existence. Our laptops, iPads, iPhones or whatever devices have become receptacles for enormous quantities of rubbish and untended to information.

An inbox with 1,000 unread messages in red sticking out of its top left-hand corner whenever you switch on your phone is deeply un-Zen. Open and read those emails or delete them, and clean it all up. Your handbag may be empty of wrappers and receipts, but if your iPhone is chock-full of junk, you are not living as cleanly as you could and believe me when I say it makes a hell of a difference to your state of mind; I feel my headspace has expanded immeasurably since writing this piece and clearing out mine.

‘Stuff limbo’

The sweeping brush and toolbox are obviously key under-the-stairs items but until the clear-out happens, they are almost impossible to access without causing oneself an injury. In my case, this means other essential household cleaning and DIY never gets done.

Clearing everything else out will make other household chores so much easier because they no longer require you having to break your back or snag your cardie first on an old broken plastic toy in another vain attempt to reach the Hoover.

So its a win win: giving new life to those “in limbo” items and transforming that cupboard under the stairs into a functional space that no longer requires a health and safety warning.

The Grit Doctor says. . . The deodorant ain’t going nowhere. It cannot be recycled, reused, reduced or refused under any circumstances.

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