Do you choose a word of the year? Here’s a contender that will help you with your personal improvement, sustainability, financial, and organizing goals: PRECYCLE.
Jennifer Howard in her book, Clutter, An Untidy History (Belt Publishing, 2020), mentions PRECYCLING in her chapter on Waste, Want, and Wealth. Precycling is about re-thinking our consumer habits. You’ve probably been doing this already during the pandemic: thinking a little more about the mechanics of shopping, buying less either because of belt-tightening necessity or fear of uncertainty, thinking about what you already have at home (because you are home much more than usual).
Coming after the holidays that were chock-full of sale ads and discounts, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that we save 100% off on what we don’t buy.
It’s easy to forget that things don’t bring happiness. Experiences and relationships do, at least for those living above subsistence levels.
We shop at stores, but our relationship with them is complex that the word itself has lost it’s meaning, and our house has now literally become our own “store.” We not only store things in the closets and living spaces, but we store up more than most of us can use in the immediate future, or even what we can use in a lifetime.
We fool ourselves into thinking that as long as we buy recycled or recyclable products, we’re making sustainable choices, but the reality is much darker, as explored in this duo of episodes:
- Planet Money 4-minutePodcast: How Big Oil Misled the Public into Believing Plastic Would be Recycled
- Planet Money 24-minute Podcast: Waste Land
I use a strategy to buy anything I want….tomorrow. The funny thing is, I almost never want it when tomorrow comes. Many “necessities” get put off for months; not so necessary after all.
Some years ago, I learned this sing-song chant that became popular during the world wars:
Use it up,
wear it out,
or do without.
Precycling Vs. Decluttering
January tends to be heavy on TV shows, articles, and expert action plans to purge, declutter, and toss things from our lives. What if we stop getting better at decluttering, and instead get better at precycling? What would that look like?
***It’s trendy to post pictures of all the clutter we purge from our homes. It’s not quite as satisfying to crow about what we didn’t buy, but it’s better for our wallet and our homes. Precycle.
***It’s a shift to look for products packaged in glass, wood, metal, or no packaging at all instead of grabbing the over-packaged version. Precycle.
***It takes more time to locate a thing you can borrow or rent for short-term use, but it’s usually more expensive and consumes more storage space to own the same thing. Precycle.
***It’s difficult to tell the difference between a product with a useless lifetime warranty and a product that will actually be useful and loved for a lifetime. Precycle.
***Trust me, I know it’s hard to teach your kids to own fewer things, but things with higher quality. It’s hard, but not impossible. Precycle.
I know it’s a lot to think about, but now is a good time to start. If not now, when?
If you’d rather just look at pictures of pretty closets and organized kitchens, that’s cool, too. We’re all at different points on our organizing journey. I’m not about judgment; I’m learning every day, just like you.
If you have a story to share of how you’ve precycled, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.
See all of my January 2021 organizing articles in one place.
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In 2019 I donated 125 books. Later, when I started grad school, I was determined to only purchase
the best books in my field. One year into my program and I’ve only purchased 3 books. All the other books I got on line at either the university or public library. Or I rented to read online.
Love your writing!
Elianne, congrats both on your graduate program and on your resolve to buy only what you truly need. That will be familiar to so many people with boxes of expensive and outdated textbooks in their basement, attic, and garage. Keep up the good work!
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