The Art of Resilience: The pitfalls of being a sustainable packrat.

Every children’s song about recycling that I learned always included a phrase like “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” often accompanied by hand motions that look pretty adorable when performed by a group of five-year-olds. The same hand motions, I’ve noticed, look a little more dorky when performed by anyone older than five. But back to the song: reduce comes before reuse and recycle, and I’d like to argue that this is for good reason.

The FLAT has been looking a little different lately, and Dave Wise is the culprit. You see, in our never-ending adventure to be as practically sustainable as possible – and on a small budget – FLAT residents have become skilled scavengers, harvesting unused and unwanted materials from around Missoula for projects. We’re great at reusing: a variety of fixtures, from our compost system and chicken coop to kitchen shelves and furniture, are built from materials no one wanted anymore. This is a wonderful thing, because whenever one of us wanted to start a new project, we could probably find what we needed sitting in a neat pile of lumber or odds and ends in the yard or garage. The not-so-wonderful side effect is, well, that we had lots of piles of odds and ends around. And a lot of it wasn’t getting reused. It was just sitting there.

So Dave got busy last week and took all of the odds and ends that weren’t getting used – mostly lumber – to Eko Compost to be recycled.

Now, if you’re anything like me, part of you yelps, “But wait! What if we could have used that for something!” The idea of reusing has been so ingrained in our culture of sustainability that the thought of getting rid of anything starts to feel almost unethical.  “But what if we can use that for something” becomes an excuse to be a pack rat, to hoard extra whatever-it-is just in case it comes in handy…you know, sometime in the future. And this isn’t just construction materials – we do it with clothes, food, books, you name it. All in honor of sustainability, of not letting anything go to waste.

I have to admit, one of my initial reactions to Dave’s cleaning campaign was one of irritation. The things he brought to Eko Compost really could have come in handy…you know, sometime. They did get recycled; but reuse comes before recycle in the song, so shouldn’t we prioritize reusing? Dave’s actions remind me that while reusing is important, reducing comes first. Having everything you might ever need to live sustainably, lying around the nooks and crannies of your house, doesn’t exactly fall in line with the idea of reducing the amount of stuff you have. What if resilience means remembering to have less first, and reuse only when you need to?

The yard and garage are refreshing to be in now: clean open spaces, no clutter in sight. Resiliency can be relaxing, after all.

What do you tend to be a pack rat about? How could you recycle it and start anew? Spring cleaning is just around the corner…make this week resilient and try reducing some of your stuff!

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