It’s not easy being green+saving green: Numero Uno

Observe the following conversation between myself, L-blogger extraordinaire (insert guffaw laugh here!) and one of my BFFs:

BFF: Oh, L-blogger, you’ve totally drunk the Portland Kool-Aid!

L-blogger: (*innocently*) What do you mean?

BFF: Ya know, the recycling, the composting, etc, etc.

L-blogger:…..(*tilts head to the side a la dog to think*… silence)

BFF: I just feel like being green costs so much money!  You have to pay for recycling, pay more for organic food, the cleaning supplies are so danged expensive….you should do a blog post on how to save money and be green!

L-blogger: Duuuuude…..

…and *that* is how I come up with inspiration to write.

Ok, I admit, having a proverbial “soapbox” from which to proclaim my beliefs on certain topics is kind of a double edged sword – on one hand it’s great to have a nice platform to have my voice heard – on another people think I actually know what I’m talking about….especially when it comes to green-i-ness (it’s like truthiness, only green-i-er).

Image courtesy of http://fearlessblogger.com/

And while I admit that living a green life stumps even me at times, I’m happy to share the *very*small*amount* that I’ve picked up over the years.  And as much as Portland’s city council would like to believe my BFF in saying that I’ve “drunk the Portland Kool-Aid”, I actually have to say that I’ve pretty much *always* been this way.  Now that I have a soapbox, though, that voice is actually being heard and I think it scares some people – haha!  But seriously – I established a “Green Team” when I was in Middle School (big dork right here), I forced my parents to begin recycling when I was in elementary school, and when I finally moved out on my own in the big, bad world my Condo didn’t have a recycling pick-up available, so I used to collect recycling in my garage (literally, PILES and PILES of trash) and once a month I would stuff my ol’ VW Beetle to the gills and drive to the Fire Station where they had free recycling bins available for anybody to throw their trash into.  I would constantly tell Dr. J in a funny voice, “We have to save the world.”  Now that I blog, and I read about 50 blogs/day (some have “green” topics, some don’t), I’ve gotten even more support from other people who believe as Gandhi did, “Be the change you seek in the world.”  And so I have!

But the bigger topic here is really…..can you be green/eco-conscious/environmentally friendly and not break the bank? The answer, I think, is absolutely, without a doubt, YES, YES, YES!  This is a pretty broad topic and I admit that I am *no expert*, but as a consumer, I can kind of give you an insight into how I think and how I believe it saves me money and might help you save some dinero, too.  This topic is going to spread across several different posts because it is *so* huge and, admittedly, I am probably only going to scratch the surface on each one.  Chapter Numero UNO is one we all know and love:

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE…

Ok, thanks to that late 80’s and early 90’s propaganda (back when I *really* drank the Kool-Aid and regular Kool-Aid too), I know REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE pretty dang well.  But since I’ve become a bona fide grown-up, I’ve learned there is more to it than just the three r’s.  Observe:

REDUCE: This is a pretty broad issue and one that most people don’t think of when they incorporate the three r’s into their lives, but I promise if you reduce “insert ANYthing here”, then you will save money! Here are things that will really help you save money….and they’re so darn simple, I might just win a Nobel Prize:

  1. Don’t buy “stuff”: Wait, what?!?  Stop buying things?!?  But I need food!  How am I going to live?!?!  Ok, look, drama queen, we all need stuff.  I’m not stopping you from going out and buying food and important things like socks and underwear, but we’re not talking about food or socks and underwear.  I’m talking about things like designer clothing that you can’t wear to work because you work in a T-shirt and jeans environment, shoes that don’t go with a single outfit you own (for all you Imelda Marcus types – you know who you are), accessories that don’t match, products that you can’t stand (both cosmetic and utilitarian), things-you-don’t-really-need-but-it’s-such-a-deal-why-not-buy-it-anyway, etc, etc.  It may sound crazy, but you’d be surprised how many people will shop ’til they drop and believe that buying more stuff will actually make them happier.  In fact, it has been recently proven that buying stuff doesn’t make you happy – it’s the experiences in life that actually bring you more long-term fulfilling happiness.  There is a “high” associated with buying things (and getting good deals, to boot), but that high is very short-term compared to the high one gets from imagining themselves, say, on their recent vacation.  Some of these experiences (like vacations, parties, going to college, etc.) can be pretty pricey, but if I think back to an item I have purchased which has given me as much long-term happiness as, say, my honeymoon, I really can’t think of a single thing in my household that is *worth* as much as the memories I have from my honeymoon.  Not a one.  Not even all of my beautiful wedding china, which I absolutely love and adore.  Nothing.  Not. One.  Single.  Thing.  So if you want to REDUCE/SAVE MONEY, just stop buying stuff that doesn’t buy you happiness to begin with.  Potential savings: That just depends upon your shopping style….
  2. If you bring it into your home, think about how you will use it/store it/display it: This kind of falls in line with the above, which is basically to ONLY BUY IT IF YOU LOVE IT!  I would much rather buy something I know I will use, display, absolutely adore rather than buying something I’m only slightly enamored of and once I get home realize I don’t have a single pair of shoes to go with it, a single place to display it, and/or no place to store it for later use.  Just remember, YOU bought it, now you have to live with it!  And if you can’t stand living with it, then you need to dispose of it.  But to dispose of it takes….what?  Heading to Goodwill?  Shipping it to a family member who really will love it?  Re-gifting?  Potential Savings: Again, this depends upon how you shop
  3. Just remember, the more you buy, the more you have to store/save/maintain – one of the interesting side effects of having a highly consumable society is that we feel the need to keep absolutely everything and never throw it away.  If you had a fire tomorrow in your house and you had to vacate in 15 seconds, aside from your children and pets, what would you pick up?  What’s so important to save that it can’t be replaced later?  Family photos are probably the one thing that I think most people would want to save (Dr. J and I already have a plan that if the house is on fire, we grab the iMac because all of our important pictures are there and we could just run out the door with it).  If that’s all you want to save, then what are the other things that you own that aren’t worth saving?  Just remember this: people first, things second.

As a close out on “reduction”, just remember that overall reducing everything you do (shopping, driving, consuming, turning off the TV/lights for a few hours each night, switching to CFLs or halogens, getting more energy efficient appliances, etc, etc.) will save you potentially hundreds of dollars through the course of a year.  Dr. J and I currently work in basically the same neighborhood and, when we are able, we carpool to work together to save a little bit of cash (and, to boot, it’s better for the environment!).  We may not be winning any Nobel Prizes and/or completely preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere, but I’m a firm believer that making smaller changes to your routine is better than no changes at all.

So the next time you are at the Grocery store and you look at that individually wrapped cookie that looks oh-so-good you can’t wait to rip that plastic off and eat the whole thing, think about how you’re going to dispose of that individually wrapping paper.  If you’re fortunate it will be paper (and therefore recyclable – no waste for you!).  But most times it will be plastic – sadly, not as recyclable as we would like!  Think of your paper trail and waste trail and go up to the Bakery Window and ask them, “Can I have the same cookie with no wrapper, please?!”  Small moves, kids.  That’s all it takes.

REUSE: One of the best ways to reuse is to remember the rejects!  I’m not talking about those “Revenge of the Nerds” types, but those things that might’ve been left at the side of the road and/or are headed to the junk pile.  It could be yours.  It could be your Mom’s.  Hell, it could be neighbor Bob’s!  Garage Sales, Craigslist, eBay, freecycle – they’re all really super cheap ways to score amazing things for half the price you would pay new!  Let me give you an example.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. J and I actually have purchased very little furniture in our time together.  In fact, I would say about 50% of our furniture is hand-me-downs (which is both a blessing and a curse).  Our bedroom suite is an original art deco set from my Grandmother, same with our dining set and bar area (which you can see in great deal on our Christmas house tour by clicking here).  We did replace the chairs because the originals were long gone and the replacements were so dangerous I was afraid of somebody sitting in it, collapsing, getting sued, and then having to live the rest of my life in a cardboard box with a broken chair:

Dr. J got our black dresser in the Guest Room at a garage sale ages ago before he went to college, sanded it down, repaired it, and painted it black (wish I had a before pic for you!):

We have at least one hand-me-down mattress, two hand-me-down bookcases (one we reinvented awhile back which you can read all about by clicking here), a few hand-me-down chairs, and up until about the time we moved out to Oregon, most of our living room furniture was a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and mismatched pieces that were just plain awful – we even owned this couch up until about a year and a half ago (which of course we were very good about hiding from most people – it had a couch cover on it most of the time):

Maggie and I cuddling on the "ugly couch" after a rough day - you really don't need to see more, it was AWFUL!

Horrendous, isn’t it?  Thank God for JCPenney and couch-covers!  We even inherited a hutch that Dr. J and I lovingly rebuilt to suit our style and tastes – and Dr. J’s dad built it originally, so you gotta love a family heirloom piece like that!

So “re-using” is definitely a word that fits into our vocabulary.  While we’re not big garage sale junkies or Goodwillers, we are all about taking gently used furniture off of other peoples’ hands (namely our more-than-generous families), reinventing, repurposing, and giving it a new lease on life where none existed – and hopefully a little bit of a style improvement, too.  I can’t quite say how much we’ve saved on furniture as a result (and sacrificed on style on more than one occasion – oh, God, *that* couch!!!), but it’s fun to think that almost 50% of the pieces we own have some sort of a story and “new life” thanks to our creativity, if you will.  If you could put a price tag on those pieces, I guarantee it would number in the thousands and thousands of dollars.  So go ahead and accept that donation from your parents or scope out Craigslist, garage sales, and Goodwill for used furniture/accessories – slap a coat of paint on it, buy a couch cover, make it your own and thank your lucky stars that you saved yourself hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars reusing something that was just gonna get thrown in the trash and waste valuable landfill space to boot.  Tell your parents they can keep their grody mattress, though – yuck!

RECYCLE: Depending upon your perspective, recycling can either cost you a lot of money and time and effort, or it will cost you nothing.  Let me explain – depending upon where you live and the importance recycling and “being green” plays in your life, then you really can recycle just about anywhere in this country for free – you just have to know where to look.  And you also have to be willing to do a little legwork.

  1. Most, if not all cities, have some sort of drop-off recycling program: My brother in law lives in Salt Lake City.  SLC has a great curbside recycling program, but they don’t recycle glass.  Lord knows why, but it’s just not something you can do in the city unless you collect your glass, take it to the recycling center somewhere in the city and drop it off yourself.  Now I’m a crazy fanatic about recycling so I would actually do that and would find great joy in it as well (I like to think I’m saving the planet, even though I’m burning Carbon Dioxide to get there, but whatever).  In Columbus, Ohio, where I used to live, there was a very confusing recycling program that was practically impossible to sign up for and really expensive when you did.  But why sign up for it when every Fire Station in the city has a Recycling bin on their premises?  Anything that’s not covered by a traditional recycling bin (such as computers, hot water tanks, old mattresses, etc.) are covered by other programs in the city – believe me, when we moved to Oregon, we had mounds of trash that couldn’t just be “tossed” (old computers, monitors, cleaning supplies, old paints, toxic chemicals, etc, etc.), so we did our research to get rid of them and even though it took us a lot of driving around, I’m happy to report that we were able to safely (and legally) recycle every single piece.  Do some research, spend some time on Google, open the phone book and ask around.  Cities know that people want to recycle, but they’re too strapped for cash right now to offer it as a centralized service and you as a taxpayer are too strapped to pay for it, so look around.  It may take some driving around and dropping off, but if it means something to you, then you really can recycle for free!
  2. Can’t recycle it?  Give it to Goodwill/Have a Garage Sale/Sell it on Craigslist – I think there are three levels of “trash” in our house:
    1. Stuff we love/loved but need to get rid of,
    2. Stuff we hate/don’t need/can’t use and need to get rid of,
    3. Stuff we neither love nor hate but we’re holding onto it until Aunt Edna gets out of prison.

There’s not a whole lot you can do about the last category (and if you have an Aunt Edna who is in prison, I sincerely apologize).  But the first two categories are tricky.  Some people feel that if they spent the money on it years ago, then it’s worth getting a little something for it these days – i.e. go the garage sale/Craigslist route.  However, I fall into the former category – if I don’t want it, I *immediately* put it in a pile and run it over to Goodwill.  I almost never have things lying around that I want to sell to somebody else later – it’s just not my style, I guess – that and I have no hidden “drop zone” big enough in my house to store enough that would warrant putting an ad in the paper so that I could sell it.  But if there is a surefire way to make money off of recycling, then having a garage sale and/or selling it online is absolutely the way to go!  Pocket the change, embrace your open space, and move on!

I admit that there are probably hundreds of ways that I haven’t thought of above that you can embrace your greener side, save cash (and possibly *earn* cash) and be green and not even realize it!  I would love to hear your suggestions!  And I would love to hear, if you’re not really a “green” type because of a “cost” issue, then let me know why and I’ll see if I can address it in another post!  But remember, I can’t make these things happen magically, I can’t give you motivation, and I certainly don’t know how to make all of this easier.  Being green is a commitment and a lifelong struggle.  But if *you* think it’s worth doing, then, by all means, absolutely go ahead and do it!  If you *don’t* think it’s worth doing, then that’s a whole different topic.  There are a lot of things I don’t think are worth doing – like omitting wine from my diet – I can’t help it!  It’s amazing!  And I’m gonna keep drinkin’ it and *you* can’t stop me!!!  And by me saving green doing the above, I feel it gives me the right to indulge in a little red from time to time….

Seriously, You Tell’Us! What have we missed!  And stay tuned for the next whopper of a chapter – cleaning supplies!  UGH!

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5 thoughts on “It’s not easy being green+saving green: Numero Uno

  1. My City has just began using the RecycleBank program for citizens. We got a large roll cart and a pretty expansive list of items that can be no-sort recycled (plastics 1-7!) Once you start being “green”, the idea becomes a bit of an obsession doesn’t it?! My husband and I have began bringing home trash to recycle rather than toss pieces in the garbage while we’re out and about in the world. We also established a composting site in our yard (I blogged about the process on my page.) Yea for the three “r’s!”

    • Hi, Leslie –

      Oh, it’s a total obsession! Especially when our fair cities make it so easy for us!! I just wish that more and more people would get obsessed like us ;-).

      xoxo,
      L-blogger

  2. I started my first compost this year, too! However, some lovely, annoying, and stinging bumble bees made a ground nest in mine, so I can’t do anything with it until they hibernate. So far, I’ve been stung once on the face because of them. WTF, bees?! I also have my own vegetable garden, which will get bigger by the year. And make a lot of my own cleaning products (which I see you’re going to get at your next post, love!).

    I could go on and on about the little things that I do that are green–recycle, make my own clothes (some of them, and that’s more about fashion than being green), use CFLs–and I think it’s getting easier and easier to be green (and cheaper, too!). It’s just something people have to put their minds to and do. Our lovely planet is getting less lovely, and each person that makes a commitment to reverse that has an effect. It just takes some people to get the ball rolling.

    • jsophia –

      I couldn’t agree more! Like I said, I think millions of “small” changes are better than sweeping “big” changes (something we don’t necessarily have the power to do). Hooray for green-i-ness!

      xoxo-
      L-blogger

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