What if everything that passes through your hands suddenly seemed more precious? In not being able to simply dispose of items when I’m “done” with them, I find myself pausing over mundane “trash” objects and savoring their glimmer and imagining future glamor for them. I am re-investigating purpose and snooping out hidden potential. I feel more creative than I have in a great while, carving words into non-reusable packaging to give it new life as a lovingly adorned message to a friend or reminder to myself, wondering at the second life that a single staple could lead as a component of reused jewelry, passing impromptu “gifts” of origami animals, once foil wrappers, into the hands of neighbors.
I honestly haven’t tossed a single thing into a trash bin today (it’s incredible that this is an actual struggle and accomplishment, especially for someone already pretty conscious of life inputs and outputs). I have fielded a few questions from my brother and a friend about the paperboard and other assorted detritus type papergoods soaking in a bowl on my countertop. “I’m making recycled paper in an effort to eliminate waste,” I reply. This response has met with a knowing, “Ohhh,” as if this is a common occurrence in kitchens across the Queen City (I wish). I had a student give a speech about the recycled paper making process earlier this year (thanks, Ali!), and it has inspired me to make the uneven, care-strewn sheets that are often seen in craft stores and in high-end “eco” gift card stock. I may make “seed stock,” sprinkling native wildflower seeds into the pulp before pressing it, making it a plantable product that maybe the local urban gardeners can use in their marketing and community outreach efforts (hint to my city farmer friends).
I did have to buy some replacement ink for my printer today, as I need to print some words for a graduate school assignment. I’m working from home, and all other ready, free printing options are either closed for Memorial Day or a significant drive away. I biked to the store, recycled another cartridge, turned the plastic cartridge wrapping into a humorous present for a friend, and added the paperboard packaging to my soaking stock of paperstuffs destined-for-better-things. I still feel kind of defeated about having to visit an office box store, though, and fork over $40 and part of my conscience. “Graduate school is a big endeavor that you’ve poured a good amount of time into, you can make this purchase to support those career efforts,” was the advice I received as I stood on the rusty stairwell of my bohemian apartment complex.
I have to remember, I think, that this process is about continual thoughtful negotiation and evaluation. And, yes, I surely realize the fortune I have in being able to make these choices. I hope if I can make better carbon and community choices and inspire others to do the same, we may all continue to have some ease and some options in how we live in the decades to come. And, whether by necessity or by choice, I dearly hope we learn to live gracefully and joyfully with less. It sure ain’t easy. But, still, I’m surprised to find some bliss in paying more attention to each interaction I have with the material world. I’m struck, too, as I uncover some freedom in the consumption limitations that call me to be more inventive and more playful. I think we suffer in our excess, in our throw away mindset, in our waste – perhaps more than we realize as we hurry about our days. For now, at least, I’m looking forward (right after I finish the “Results and Discussion” section of my qualitative study assignment) to creating some recycled staple earrings – jangly and edgy and potentially functional – that I can wear in the summer heat.