Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just Something You Haven't Thought Of

Have you ever had one of those moments when you kind of give yourself the palm-to-forehead smack, saying to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?" Sometimes those moments do not necessarily involve new inventions or even revelatory ideas, but they may just be simple things - new ways of doing things - that seem so obvious once you see it, but for some reason it has alluded you.

For example, years ago when I first started making my pizzas from scratch, I would press all over the dough with my fingers and pull and stretch it until it fit the pan or the stone I was using. I really have no idea where or why I decided to do it this way, but I did and I did it that way for at least two or three years. Then one evening, at a Pampered Chef party a friend of mine was hosting, the woman selling the items was making us a pizza and she pulled out her handy dandy Pampered Chef rolling pin. Was I sold on that particular rolling pin? Well, no, but I just couldn't believe that, for whatever reason, it had never occurred to me to roll out my dough instead of using my hands. Crazy!

I think the same idea can be applied to voluntary simplicity and living environmentally consciously. We often get so ingrained in the way we do things that we sometimes don't think there is any other way to do something. Actually, these types of discoveries are one of the things I really love about living lightly. I'm always amazed and inspired to learn how to do something better for the planet and the people and animals that live here. I am inspired by the creativity and ingenuity that goes into engineering, for example, rainwater catchment systems or composting toilets or new desings of bicycles and other alternative forms of transportation.

Some things, however, are so very simple that they are often overlooked. The beauty of their simplicity, though, is that they can often be done by anyone and even done immediately, with no real learning curve whatsoever. As an example, yesterday as I was walking into the grocery store I saw a mom with her two kids diligently placing plastic bags into the plastic bag recycling bin. Fabulous! Really, it was very good. But then less than a minute later this same woman is standing in the produce section filling up a new plastic bag with produce. I was very tempted to try to kindly say something, but I knew it would come across all wrong (hence this blog post!). :)

Without being critical, because I do applaud her efforts, this seems perfectly illustrate what I'm talking about. She wasn't even thinking about what she was doing, really, and much of the time we just don't; we just continue to do things as we've always done. So here's the thing. Obviously, she could have just used some of the plastic bags she'd brought in to put her produce in. But, taking it one step further, she could simply not put her produce into any bag. I have done this for years and I promise you it is absolutely doable.

If you are purchasing small fruits, loose, in bulk, like say, cherries, then you may want to use a bag you've brought. But otherwise, apples, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, eggplant, etc. simply do not need to be put in a plastic bag in order to travel to your home. This is just one of those things that may be completely obvious to some people, but not to others.

And here is something you might find interesting in regard to all those plastic bags. Perhaps you have heard of the massive, swirling, as-big-as-the-state-of-Texas, collection of plastic out in the Pacific ocean that is regularly killing sea birds, fish, and mammals as we speak. Perhaps you have heard of the sea turtles that mistake discarded, wind-blown plastic bags for the jellyfish that are a regular part of their diets and ingest them, making it eventually impossible, due to all the trapped air in their bellies, for them to dive and they then starve to death. Perhaps you are not as moved by these stories as I so easily am. But Colin Beavan pointed out something new that I didn't know in his book, No Impact Man.

Although the plastic bags do not completely decompose, they do begin to disintegrate in the sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces get ingested by fish, which get ingested by humans. Chemical compounds that make up these plastic bags, never before found in humans, are now being found in human blood. For me, of course, this is just one more reason I'm glad I don't eat animals, but for those who do, I think bringing cloth bags to the grocery store and the department store and the hardware store just became a little more inviting to do. As Beaven points out: we really are what we eat.

Another example of something maybe you just haven't thought of is bringing your own bags to purchase in bulk. Used bread bags are great for this. Again, it may be obvious to some, but I can't begin to tell you how many times the cashiers at Whole Foods tell me, "Oh, hey, that's a really good idea. I never thought to bring my own bags for bulk items too." And bonus: our Whole Foods gives 5 cents off for every bag you bring and all those bulk bags count toward that too. :) You can do this with coffee that you grind too. If your bag is still in pretty good condition, why throw it? Take it back with you and refill it.

These are the kinds of things that keep the whole lifestyle of voluntary simplicity endlessly interesting to me. It's not rocket science and the ideas won't win you any sort of prize, but I do think everyone loves a good idea - especially those that are free and easy.

Instead of getting discouraged, I'm trying to remember not to judge and to consider that maybe some of the changes people need to make are just things they haven't thought of yet. I'm trying to extend a little grace, practice a little patience, not complain (we're taking a family challenge this week to not complain for a whole week!!), and remember to be thankful to the grace that has been extended to me. Because I never know the next time I'm going to be slapping my own hand to my forehead! :)
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