Cutting clutter, recycling can change your life
Think differently about your stuff. In Los Angeles, much more is recyclable then ever before. Reduce that clutter and recycle!
By Jeanne E. Arnold
Concerned about the environment? Bemoaning too much clutter in the house and garage? Finding little time to enjoy yourself outside? Struggling to make a difference? If so, you have plenty of company in Los Angeles, where these closely related phenomena have deep roots in a consumerist society that unfortunately discourages simple, thoughtful approaches to our lives. The truth is, at home (and work), everyone can begin to have an impact on a greener future. Surprisingly few people know that Los Angeles now recycles every kind of plastic, including bags, clear plastic food containers and the molded plastics we wrestle open when we buy products like DVDs.
The county also recycles blocks of styrofoam packaging (from computers or TV boxes) and, of course, all paper and cardboard, bottle glass and cans. It is simple and gratifying to place more in the recycling bin than the trash bin every week.
Attending to the planet on a small scale is addictive and has a "runaway" effect. Train kids to participate, and explain why you're doing it. Or let them train you; the next generation needs to see recycling as natural. Recycling (and reducing energy consumption) daily also prompts us to weigh new purchases more carefully and look much more critically at excesses of property at home. Here is where clutter enters the picture.
Surveying heaps of barely used possessions in our closets, playrooms and garages makes the notion of buying one more toy or electronic gadget feel unnecessary, distasteful, even irrational.
Contemporary American families have more material goods per household than any society in history. This material affluence may be a source of satisfaction and a reinforcement of the sense that we have done well. But material affluence also comes at a cost.
Los Angeles homes studied by UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) are overflowing with toys, stockpiled food, electronic media and appliances. Homes are burdened with consumer goods, and accumulated objects spill into yards and overpacked garages. Cars are expelled into the driveways and streets.
Parents voice frustration over their inability to contain the clutter that surrounds them. To clean and manage all the possessions and to make our homes orderly is time-consuming and takes a psychological toll.
As the stuff in our homes devours our time and energy, we neglect the outdoors. Families in the CELF study spent considerable money and effort to beautify their backyards, yet rarely enjoyed time in these "leisure spaces."
In fact, less than 3% of parents' time at home consists of leisure in their yards, and more than half of the families — children included — spend no time at all in these spaces. Certain families are exceptions, but leisure at home is mainly devoted to sedentary indoor activities such as TV and video games, fragmented into short segments by the busyness of daily life.
Solutions? Buy less. Clear out. Recycle. Start with small steps that may lead to a positive runaway effect. The payoff: We might be inspired to wind down and get outside occasionally. It's worth a try.
Arnold, a professor of anthropology, is an archaeologist and a founding faculty member at the Center on Everyday Lives of Families.
Published: Thursday, May 22, 2008