Use less, do more this holiday

Photo courtesy of Mary Droege.
Sophomores Mara Bailey and Amanda Brault work on making reusable silverware wrap.

Ι think I might have too much stuff – and chances are so do you. 

According to the U.S. census, Americans are spending upwards of $4 billion a year – not on housing, but on storage facility fees.  In the U.S. alone we have over 50,000 storage facilities and one in 11 Americans pays approximately $91 a month to put things that they hardly ever use into a long-term lease agreement.   

In a 5-minute Ted Talk, Graham Hill made a convincing case that we might actually be happier if we took some time to cull the clutter from our lives and I realized it was time to finally clean my closets.  More importantly, I just need to buy less stuff.

It’s possible that thinking about your carbon footprint can not only save the planet but it can also make you happier. Pathological consumerism is driving climate change.  We like to blame factories, coal mines, and airplanes for creating the excess carbon floating around in the atmosphere, but a 2015 study published in The Journal of Industrial Ecology contends that the stuff we buy – from candy bars to paper cups, is responsible for 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions.   

Add to that, 50-80% of the total land, materials, and water use and we begin to understand that consumerism is actually killing the planet. Our collective stuff is adding up to real impacts, but at least this we can control. 

First of all, everyone could buy less stuff. Think of the times you bought a shirt you had to have just to let it languish in your closet. We could all think more carefully about what we really need. Try having a contest with you friends as to who can go the longest without buying anything on Amazon.

Or, you could repurpose or “upcycle” old stuff. 

A few weeks ago, I went to an event on campus – A do-it-yourself “green” craft fair, the brain child of Mary Droege (CU Greenhouse Manager) and Charlotte Gerstein (CU Librarian) sponsored by Spartan Climate Action, a committee of the Green Campus Working Group.  This event was all about how to make things – nice things, like gifts or useful items for yourself by repurposing other things.  Beautiful fabric, donated by the theatre arts department was put to excellent use by students who made reusable shopping and gift bags. That same fabric was renovated into beeswax wraps for reusable, natural container covers.

At another table, attendees made travel silverware wraps made from napkins so you never have to eat with a plastic spoon again. Kyle Dash, a senior ecological studies major, taught people how to make Monkey Knot Key Chains and Dean Boggio, a local community member, donated natural wood rounds that were artistically transformed by students into Christmas ornaments.  The event was fun and relaxed, with delicious cookies and hot chocolate served in actual mugs. 

Global studies major Skyler Ambrose came after her 5 p.m. class and painted rocks.  When I asked Skyler what drew her to the event she remarked, “Honestly, I just needed an excuse to make something. Arts and crafts are therapeutic.” 

With Christmas around the corner, consider making something for your friends.  Offer to help a parent or grandparent with a job they need done, or simply spend time sharing a meal or a fun activity with your loved ones. And the next time you want to blame the government or that big tractor trailer truck for wrecking your planet – remember, the single biggest contribution you can make to reduce climate change, is to buy less stuff. 

Cynthia Moulton, Ph.D. is a biology professor in the Natural Sciences Department.  She teaches Ecology, Biological Illustration and other fun science classes.

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