“Oh man, really? Three thousand for a new transmission? Is the car even worth that?” I said to the mechanic as my beautiful old 1991 Mercedes convertible S class listened on sadly. That car and I rode top down all over the California coast, twisted around San Francisco and lounged on wine trails for years. But the memories aside, the mechanic confirmed the car was no longer worth even three thousand dollars twenty years after she was an expensive luxury car. That day she was looking dangerously close to scrap metal. I took out an ad on Craigslist and found someone handy enough and willing to breathe new life into her for a thousand bucks. Once I found him I walked away from my first and only sports car. When I say I walked away I mean it literally. I walked to the nearest bus stop. That was two and a half years ago. I’ve been walking ever since.
Once on the long, white bus, I was surprised to see the clean seats and floors, wide windows and friendly driver. I live in a small town so mass transit is more like micro transit. Virtually no one takes the bus except those without a choice. I had a choice but I thought getting where I want to go for just two bucks and a smaller carbon footprint could be rewarding and cheap. There’s no gas, maintenance or insurance, just my feet and loose change. It’s freeing.
Sitting on the blue plastic seat I read, thought and eventually concluded I could go smaller. Thinking how simple I could go became a hobby between meditation and a few verses of the Tao on the morning commute. I didn’t think I could live without a car but I did, so what else could I let go? I made a mental list of other possibilities and from there came an experiment to see just how long I do without stepping foot in a traditional store or buying anything new. I call it radical recycling.
The easiest first step for me is clothes. I have pretty much what I need and haven’t changed it up in years; still, there are socks to replenish and, yes, underwear, and then a coat or sweater here and there or rain boots.
I hit the consignment stores first, but over time realized the Goodwill is really a better deal; there are plenty of good items for very low price, and the little I spend helps to employ those who may not find jobs otherwise. Now, some items are originally made in Bangladesh where horrific and deadly accidents happen to the poorly paid workers and I avoid them by watching out for certain retailers like Walmart, who despite their claim they banned bad factories, still use Fruit of the Loom products from Mars Apparels, as well as Simco dresses which are part of the garment slums of Bangladesh. The Gap also has failed to ban clothes from these places. Whenever I can identify these brands I stay away from them at Goodwill or any consignment store. I understand that realistically, some slum factory clothes may slip into my Goodwill basket, but my choice isn’t supporting those factories. The person who bought them new supported these factories but had the thoughtfulness to donate rather than toss. So now I am supporting the donor’s decision, financially supporting Goodwill and living simply in the process.
I wash the clothes well before wearing them but Goodwill has already done that and vetted the items for good condition. I am not worried. Nor am I worried about household items that I also buy there. Dishes and pots run through my dishwasher first. Even mattresses are good; I bought a bed for two hundred dollars and it had been entirely re-made from the frame up.
Grocery shopping is more challenging. I go to produce stands in season and my food cooperative for the rest. If you don’t have a co-op in your town look for the locally owned food store and see how they source their fruits and veggies as well as other vegan products. A little research will get you to a store you can feel good about. These stores employ local people, are managed locally without a chain store edict and often buy their food locally and regionally. Cooperatives are user/employee owned so that’s even better. Unlike Goodwill, you won’t find cheaper food there but you’ll find food that’s better for you, your community and your planet as these stores are known for local, organic, and vegan product selections.
Another factor in all of this radical recycling is packaging. When you buy recycled, there is normally no packaging. You bring your own bag and away you go—no plastic, no tags or minimal tags, and thus you are not adding to the landfill. For groceries that’s not entirely true, but you can look for products with recycled packaging materials, and many organic foods are packaged responsibly. For drinks, go glass and wash the bottle out for later use. It’s an asset rather than a landfill item. I’m going small in buying and in disposal.
All this radical recycling and smallness makes me feel lighter and happier. Less guilt to weigh me down, no hours lost in giant box stores and items with stories that are not just about me–I love that!
So here’s your challenge:
1) Buy everything but food with a prior life. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Hospice and many other good organizations have thrift stores which sell everything from shoes to beds to pots and pans. You can even buy as gifts if you wrap them thoughtfully in recycled paper. The people in your life may well appreciate your values.
2) Buy groceries from locally or regionally owned grocery stores, and bring your own bag to the store. Look for products packaged in recycled paper and avoid plastic like the plague that it is in landfills. Always choose glass option if it’s available.
3) If you drive, find a local mechanic who visits the junk yard and get your tires patched or used. Mechanics won’t use it if the part doesn’t work. If you can cut down or eliminate driving by using public transit, do it and find out how much savings in money and guilt you gain. If you can’t or don’t want to take the bus everyday, do it whenever you can.
If you’re like me, the money you save, the pain you avoid in others like sweatshop workers, and the gift you’re giving the planet will hook you. It becomes a game and a hobby to rummage for used items and even find out their story when you can. It adds mindfulness to shopping. What can be better?
If you can’t do all of this or you can only enjoy one thing, it’s fine, do it. Do what you can to be kinder and more thoughtful. Each small step gets you closer to a peaceful destination.
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling