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Living Green 365: Resolutions, reuse, and the big idea

2017-01-31 12:00 PM | Anonymous

Reposted from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

What's the big idea?

In resolutions and sustainable consumption, keep the big idea in mind but go after it one step at a time.

Did you make a resolution for the New Year? Was it to buy lots of new stuff, online or otherwise? (Didn’t think so.)

We’ve got a hunch, dear Living Green 365 reader, that your hopes for 2017 include keeping our air and water clean, and not using up finite natural resources. Those are big goals. Psychologists suggest that people keep the big ideas of their resolutions in mind, but break them down into manageable steps they can tackle through the year.

Let’s start with reusing a little more. According to one poll, 91% of Americans think the way we live produces too much waste. Even the greenest among us have room to improve when it comes to our consumption patterns.

The idea here is easy – keep what we have longer, get what we need by borrowing or buying secondhand, and not end up burdened with the kind of stuff that makes us feel both cluttered and empty.

Reuse does all sorts of good things. It:

  • Fosters green, reuse-related jobs like repair and consignment and keeps dollars local.
  • Prevents waste, conserves natural resources and reduces greenhouse gasses. (How? Keeping it in use longer slows our use of virgin resources and creation of waste. You can find out more on reuse and the circular economy.)

Reuse is easy to love, but it can be hard to do when one-click-shopping is so tempting. So try committing to just one or two of these tips to help you reuse more:

Keep things longer

Tip 1. Practice gratitude for what you have. The first step to keeping things longer is to value them. Be mindful and grateful for an item, and you will find it easier to treasure. (The science of happiness says that happy people are grateful for what they have, and don’t compare themselves to others.)

  • Treasure meaningful things. Do you remember that mug from your grandfather’s workshop? That’s meaningful. Why get a generic new mug to replace the one that reminds you of your grandpa?
  • Try something simple, like sticking a post-it that says “nature is here” on a closet door. Everything in that closet is a little bit of nature – it’s mined out of a mountain, or grown from a plant or animal, made with energy from oil, sun, or wind, and with the labor of a real person somewhere. If you can envision the mountain, the plant, the animal, the person, you might find yourself holding onto that sweater fondly and not feeling the pull for another.
  • Use it often. The more you use something, the more it becomes deeply yours. Me? I’ve been using the same glass, mug, bowl, and plate at work for 8 years. Each has a story. Don’t need any others, I reuse these every day.

Tip 2. Buy it right the first time. We talk about buying durable all the time. But how do you know if something will last? Let your experience and intuition guide you. That $5 t-shirt that you can see through when it’s new? Won’t last. That cheap freebie water bottle offered at the community event? Don’t take it. You know it’ll leak the first time you use it.

  • Buy an antique. You can be pretty sure it’ll last, because it already has!
  • Buy a high quality item with a guarantee to fix it. Tara Button has done a lot of the leg work and found things that are made to last more than one lifetime by companies that will fix them if they break. Check out

Tip 3. Show it some love. There’s a reason you’re supposed to vacuum out the dust from the back of your fridge once in a while. I know. I didn’t do it. And my fridge died. Once you’ve invested in something of quality, or have something you value – treat it well. And if it needs a little repair – great! There are so many options for fixing these days. We wrote about it here: Fixing. I recently had my old leather purse redyed; it’s as good as new.

Tame the “buy it new, buy it now” impulses

Tip 1. Take a photo instead of buying. We are hard-wired to respond to novelty. But that buzz of having a new thing wears off after just a few days and we often regret we spent the money. Next time you’re tempted, try taking a photo of the thing that caught your eye. Look at the photo enough times and the novelty might wear off. You may find you no longer “have to have” it.

Check out this fun video to remind you of all the great reasons to get less!

Tip 2. Commit to trying at least one second-hand option before you jump to online shopping sites. Check ReUSE Minnesota’s new directory to see if they have a store listed near you. Or ask if a neighbor has one they are getting rid of – NextDoor is great for this.

Seek access over ownership

The average electric drill spends only 15 minutes of its life actually drilling holes. The rest of its sad life is on your garage wall, taking up space. Many toys are the same – a child may love it for a year and grow out of it. For things like this, we only need access to them when we need them, we don’t need to own them. It’s already happened for music (Pandora, iTunes), and movies (Netflix).

Tip 1. “I’ve got one you can use.” Help someone else reuse. Offer to lend something you have. The offer will probably come back to you. Acts of kindness and creating community relationships will increase your happiness while you increase reuse.

Tip 2. Use or start a toy library, or a tool library. The Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library and the Minneapolis Toy Library lend tools and toys the way traditional libraries lend books. So simple and powerful. These can be small and simple – with just a few members in your neighborhood, or larger and more ambitious.

My first step in 2017? I hate remodeling, but my bathroom needs fixing. I’m resolving to explore the great building and architectural salvage businesses around the Twin Cities to find the fixtures, cabinets, and hardware I need.

Which tip will you start with?

Community events and resources

Where Do We Go From Here? The science, policy and politics of addressing and adapting to global-scale environmental change. 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Camp Bar, St. Paul, MN.
Everything has an impact on the environment. Climate change is top of mind for many, but our carbon dioxide emissions are only the beginning of the story. The ecological outcomes of our activities take myriad forms and have far reaching implications. Join us for a wide-ranging discussion about the science, politics and policy driving our complex relationship with our planet’s systems. Sponsored by U of M College of Biological Sciences. Part of the Petri Dish series, which explores how biology affects our lives and what it means for our future. 

Wild Ones 2017 Design With Nature Conference—Planting Matters.
February 18, 2017. Anderson Student Center, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Campus. Sixteenth annual Native Plant conference hosted by Wild Ones chapters in greater Twin Cities Metro, featuring keynote speaker Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home. 

Reuse Minnesota was founded in 2012 and is a member-based nonprofit that supports repair, resale, and rental businesses, bringing visibility to the reuse sector as a means to lower our state's impact on the environment.

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