Attempting a zero-waste or less-waste life style can be so overwhelming that we can lose focus on the true goal: to be better and to do better for ourselves, for others, for the Earth. I would venture to guess that most people interested in creating less waste in the interest of benefiting the environment are a believe-in-the-greater-good and the-world-does-not-revolve-around-me kind of people. For some, this takes the form of religion. For others, a personal spirituality. And still some just see an inherent goodness in being kind, helping others, and preserving the Earth. I find these to all be compatible, and, for that reason, I didn't title this blog post Less Waste Lent, as I was tempted to do. I am, at my core, not very good at demanding my religious tradition as the one and only true religion. To some who attend the same kind of church as mine, this would be a sign that I'm not as faithful as I should be. I let go of that pressure a long time ago. I am willing to admit that I like a lot about the tradition of my church, but I hold no judgement against people who find other ways and reasons to be good and do good.
As we enter late winter/early spring, chaos and stress seem to swirl. It has become a pattern that, at this time of year, I lose focus on living intentionally, and allow myself to become overwhelmed with too many goals and frantically being mediocre in all aspects of my life. So, each year, I take a step back and undertake 40 days of calm and focus. I choose one area of improvement and allow myself the grace of keeping everything else the same. It is a spiritual and personal focus with the goal of bringing me closer to the people I love, kinder to others around me, and more in tune with the environment, all of which are closely intertwined with God for me. In my faith tradition, this is Lenten sacrifice. However, the tradition of a 40 day fast from some sort of waste need not be religious. This practice is valuable even without the Christian leaning. During the dark days of winter, when we are craving light and warmth, when the work doesn't stop, and when many of us are feeling low or inadequate, taking some time to quiet the mind and refocus can be a comfort and result in establishing new habits.
This is a good time of year to let go of the panic of trying to be the best. For me, it is letting go of the need to be zero waste, or overhauling each wasteful part of my life. The further into my less waste journey I get, the more I feel that less waste as a journey is better for my family than having zero waste as a goal. Yes, I love the earth. Of course I want to reduce my impact on the environment and make the world a safer place for future generations. This aspect of my life is very specifically a moral decision I make. I feel it is the RIGHT thing to do. Reducing my waste is a way of being grateful for being born on this planet and for being gifted with the beauty of nature. However, I am also lucky to be surrounded by kind and generous people, supportive and loving family. We are living in a society where valuing the environment is not a priority, and no one should be judged for things over which they have no control. Zero and less waste is still fairly new or even unknown to most people in mainstream America. I do not choose zero waste when doing so would be unkind to a host, embarrass a stranger, or hurt someone in any way. I don't force my kids to choose zero waste (for instance, birthday parties, Valentine's Day celebrations, art from school). Connecting with other people is important, and I cannot take on the stress or cause the hurt feelings that would result from demanding zero waste at all times. Finally, I have other goals (doing well at work, helping others, parenting, having fun sometimes, spending time with family and friends, living within my means) that take some of the time and money I would need to use to replace all wasteful ways.
In that vein, I am taking my 40 days to fast from one or two wastes. I hope others will consider doing the same. Giving up just one waste is a better way to create a habit. The refocus will leave you, after 40 days, refreshed enough to take on a different, new goal. The waste does not have to be physical! Here are some ideas:
- Wasted time on social media. I typically do this by giving up looking at my phone (or mindless scrolling on the computer) during my childrens' wake time.
- Plastic straws
- Take out coffee cups
- Unkind words (wasted negativity)
- Shopping for clothing
- Wasteful eating (you are not a garbage disposal. Eating unnecessary food is not worthwhile zero waste behavior. Eating leftovers instead of cooking something new is!!)
For a proper 40 day sacrifice, it should be simple enough to be attainable. It should have some meaning to you, and it should help you reach peace (with yourself, with your loved ones, with God, if you are religious). Think small. Do not give up all waste, for instance. That is too daunting for most of us and would result in frustration. Such a big goal would not quiet your mind but would send it racing. This is forty days of focus and quiet to rejuvenate.
Living simply and intentionally is what less waste is for me. Getting there is not always simple, but accomplishing one more less waste initiative almost always simplifies and quiets my life. For instance, my Bottle-Free-hair February. So daunting, so stressful at first. Now, so freeing and less effort than my hair has ever been. Hard change led to simpler life.
Obviously, you could do a 40 day fast at any time of year. It's cool. Just whenever. And it could just as easily be a 30 day fast. Adjust this as you see fit for your life. For me, the 40 days of quiet and focus are soothing to my soul and energizing for my heart and mind. Consider taking on your own Less Waste Challenge or Less Waste Lent. I doubt you'll be sorry you did.