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Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Eco-Organizing Your Stuff

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Eco-Organizing Your Stuff

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
August 2012
(c) Patricia Dines, 2012. All rights reserved.

One of my life's personal pleasures and challenges has been that I tend to collect a variety of cool things, including personal letters, photos, event souvenirs, beautiful dishes, articles to inform my writing, books and magazines, family information, project archives, arts and craft supplies, etc.!

It's not that I bring so many items home (well, except paper information), but that I tend to keep items longer, because I want to get full use of each one.

But sometimes the task of managing these things overwhelms me, thus creating areas of clutter and backlog that, well, make me feel bad.

So it's been quite wonderful for me to realize that this keeper side of me comes from some beautiful qualities in me, including curiosity, passion, caring, respect, remembering, and accuracy.

I also see my saving behavior as a manifestation of my eco-values, my awareness that every item we own has impacted so many people and ecosystems throughout its lifecycle. Too often people forget this bigger picture, as they churn through large quantities of stuff, and thus feed the shared machine that's rapidly turning nature's diverse and sacred beauty into momentary items that just add to our overstuffed landfills.

I've been relieved to find that many of my eco-passionate allies are savers too. So it's not just some malady of mine!

But how can we manage these valued treasures well, so that we're not mistaken for hoarders? Eek! I've recently been doing another round of purging and organizing, and decided to write down some of the principles I've learned over the years that help me with this process. It's my reminder advice to myself! Plus I hope that I can support others by bringing an empowering and compassionate eco-perspective to this organizing task.

How to Purge and Organize with the Earth in Mind

1) Embrace the beautiful values underneath your saving behavior. When we can get past the judgment and value our underlying intentions, it becomes easier to explore better ways to express them.

2) Gather your stuff into categories, then align each grouping so that it better serves your priority goals. Push yourself to name your real current priorities. Visualize how you want your space to look, feel, and operate. This will inspire and inform your progress.

3) Setup functional "zones" and procedures to maintain each one. So I have in-baskets for my office file cabinets; shelves for my photo albums; and areas setup for crafts, giveaway items, things needing repair, etc. I also plan to have little "sewing bees," where friends bring their projects and we chat as we work.

4) Enjoy the creative fun of finding appropriate places to pass along your items. So you can use Craig's List, thrift and consignment stores, or a yard sale. But also look further. For instance, the Computer Recycling Center (www.crc.org) repairs and resells old computers (versus most e-waste spots that just extract the materials). I've also given redwood planks to a shop teacher, pencils to the library for patron use, egg cartons to farmers, and a broken lamp to a repair shop. There are so many options!

5) View your discard process as a loving giveaway to your friends and community. You get to be Santa Claus! It can be an act of gratitude for the many blessings you've received. Even a yard sale can include gifting. One of my friends made a party out of her guests trying on and receiving her unwanted clothing.

6) Consider being a reuse distribution node. For example, a local contractor offers an "accidental hardware store." Started with job leftovers, he now invites friends to drop off unneeded supplies, then come get what they need later.

7) Identify ways you can reduce your incoming flow of stuff. For example, you might get off catalog mailing lists; shift to an online magazine subscription; take digital pictures of flyers at events instead of paper; ask someone to email you a file instead of mailing it; or use a tool lending library instead of buying rarely needed tools. Bring into your house only what you can gracefully manage.

8) Encourage others to organize for full use, including children. This is a key skill we all need to both respect the earth and manage life's ongoing process of setting and adapting to new priorities.

9) Savor the results. Aligning your stuff with your priorities helps you be more clear, focused, cheerful, and effective. Plus you get to have fun tangibly loving the earth and your community!

For more ideas and resources, see www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl6b.html. (That's this page. See below!)

 • • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.

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"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2012. All rights reserved.


* Appraisers and other experts can help you identify which items have real financial value and are worth trying to sell, versus those that you can just give away.
* Here's a handy list of tool-lending libraries, as well as more information about them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tool-lending_libraries. Here's the link to the Santa Rosa Tool Library http://borrowtools.org/
* Potlatches are an inspiring model for regular community giveaways. At these community events, held by various native tribes, people gain status and pleasure in what they give away not what they have! (See www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potlatch.)
* Convert items to lighter digital form. For example, take a picture of an item for memory, and you don't need to keep the original. Scan documents and old pictures. I've even been digitizing the audio tapes of my talks. It also lets me clean up the audio quality, and find what I need more easily!
Important: If you do this, make sure to also backup your computer files regularly. This can be as easy as getting an external drive that you regularly copy files onto.
* You can drop magazines when you're done at the gym or laundromat, so that others can enjoy them!
* Not to be too obvious, but a key tip is to buy less stuff!
* Repair Cafés -- "An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time." With this simple but powerful idea, which started Amsterdam and has spread to various countries including the U.S., a table is setup and people with fix-it skills (including retired folks) are available to fix people's broken items for free. This might include clothes, furniture, small appliances, bikes, dishes, toys, etc. With this simple action, items are saved from the landfill so that new stuff doesn't need to get made. But also, people who like to fix things get to serve with their skills and feel useful and appreciated. Plus community members get a chance to chat and connect, building community at a most basic level. www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/world/europe/amsterdam-tries-to-change-culture-with-repair-cafes.html
* A book that I find both inspiring and useful is "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity," by David Allen. It really helps integrate organizing with priorities with work flow, which to me is how it all makes the most sense. i.e., What am I trying to accomplish with this stuff, and how can I create systems and habits that allow it to happen gracefully in my everyday life?
* I like Julie Morgenstern's SPACE formula for organizing - Sort, Review, Assign, Containerize, Equalize (i.e. maintain). So, for instance, it means that you want to get your stuff sorted and trimmed before getting the pretty containers for it!
* I used to enjoy the inspiring how-to TV show "Clean Sweep," which offered lots of useful examples and advice on how to quickly and effectively organize rooms in your house. They no longer make the show, though you might find it in reruns. You can also look at their website for lots of organizing tips. http://tlc.discovery.com/fansites/cleansweep/cleansweep.html. Here's a description of the show's organizing process/format that you might choose to mimic. http://www.squidoo.com/clean-sweep
Note that Clean Sweep host Peter Walsh is now doing a show Extreme Clutter for the OWN Network. http://www.oprah.com/own-extreme-clutter-peter-walsh/enough-already-with-peter-walsh-blog.html. Here's his personal website, which also has information from him http://www.peterwalshdesign.com/my-books-dvd-app/


Discarding Your Stuff - Ecologically
Do you have items that you want to discard - without adding to our overstuffed landfills? There are many ways to do this - plus make a little money and delight in contributing to others! In this article, EcoGirl walks you through the key ways you can sell and donate your goods, summarizing the benefits and drawbacks of each, highlighting creative options, and providing handy information about websites, local outlets, and more!
Let's Play The Reuse Game!
In this column, EcoGirl introduces you to her fun new activity, which she calls "The Reuse Game." You might already know that reuse is a key component of reducing our impact on the earth and steering ourselves away from eco-collapse. But we can also have fun doing it! This article has lots of ideas and tips for being creative with your reuse. You can even turn it into a social activity! The web page also has lots more added ideas and resources. How lovely for all of us to get rewarded for treating the earth's gifts with respect!
Organizing for Eco-Success
A reader wants to know how she can get better at actually following through on her intentions to be more green. EcoGirl empathetically offers three easy steps for turning her eco-ideas into actions and everyday habits. She illustrates with two easy examples: setting up your home recycling setup and fully using your printer paper.


I'm delighted to offer you my Ask EcoGirl booklets, "Healthier Housecleaning" and "Detoxing Your Life." These unique, handy, and cheerful resources bring together key information you need to create a healthier home for your family and the planet. They make a great gift, and quantity discounts and wholesale prices are available. Plus all sales support my eco-healing community work. Tell a friend! Find out more at www.askecogirl.info/booklets.html.


For more information on this and related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.


Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter, which gently educates readers about toxics and alternatives. For more information about my work for the planet, see www.patriciadines.info

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I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback! (You can email me at info [at] askecogirl.info.)

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This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2012. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 07/25/2012