1 September 2015

Preventing stuffocation at home

Hello again!

It's been spring-cleaning time here. Anna, who had turned nine the day before, spent about four hours yesterday with me clearing out her bedroom. It was an enormous job, and we were both exhausted from her party/sleepover, but we were focused, and we did it!

Anna's bedroom. She made her own bed this morning.

I despair, though, about the amount of 'stuff' we had to shift. How can we avoid it coming into our lives?

Prevent stuffocation

We are stuffocated, even though I say no over and over again to $2 shop visits, plastic toys, and even thrift-shop finds. Certainly the pile of stuff we sent to the landfill was not as big as the one we'll be giving away. I'm not even sure that thrift shops will be able to accommodate all the beads and trinkets we'd like to unload on them. The world is awash with such stuff. (Note: Stuffocation is the name of a book, not my witty invention sadly!)

I've resolved to be tougher in future: birthday parties will be no-presents-please (although our children will get presents from us), and I'll have to be even stricter with saying no. This orderly room with some bare surfaces is worth fighting for - as well as a cleaner planet, of course!

But how to do it without causing offence? There have been a couple of situations recently where I've either had to accept the junk, or offend someone.

The well-meaning and devoted soccer coach gives out $2 shop purchases as game prizes, and the school PTA has children seeking sponsorship for completing their cross-country run, with toys for the children that get bigger as the amount of sponsorship gained grows. We skipped the sponsorship deal, but it felt impossible to offend the coach or disappoint Anna as each team member dipped into the goodie bag to choose a prize.

We had a two-bag week thanks to the clear-out and party.

Why we have to say no

The last issue of New Zealand Geographic magazine (in which I have an article about bumblebees) has is a fascinating story about rubbish. It says that every month, New Zealanders send a rugby field's worth of rubbish to landfill. It's a very tall rugby field: thirty stories high.

Apparently this is a fairly constant amount.  We continue to get better at recycling, but unfortunately this is outweighed by buying ever-increasing amounts of stuff, so the landfill burden doesn't drop. Often it's stuff that's cheap to buy, but only because the cost it imposes on the environment is not included in the price.

Low-waste living tips

There are people far more expert than me to advise on this: see www.rubbishfree.co.nz for the full info on a New Zealand couple who reduced their waste to one supermarket bag full of rubbish for a whole year. Their website has all the how-to of it, plus a shop - yes, for more stuff! - to help you reduce waste.

I bought for my neighbour something along those lines for her birthday recently. They were a 6-pack in a little red pouch of extremely light, see-through 'weigh bags' for gathering and weighing fruit and veges before purchase. I got them through www.onyabags.co.nz. I reckon their backpack would be an awesome little pull-out-of-your-hat bag when going on holiday.

The reward

One of the hardest things is to get others on board. Even Anna emerged from our clean-out feeling good about it, though. She said "I gave away some of the things I loved" (although she had the final say over everything that went), and also "I loved cleaning my room with you". At the end of the day, I realised that working with your child - as long as they're willing participants - is every bit as rewarding as doing something more leisurely with them.

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