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Consumerism is a minefield of simple choices leading to complicated conclusions. I lived through the days of easy consumption where everything was better when it was disposable, from plates to pads. During this era, my finances and food were in a shambles too.

It may have nothing to do with a swollen world of consumerism, or it may have everything to do with thinking disposable was easier, better, and less indigestion-inducing.

As I gradually folded sustainable swaps into my life, my finances and food went from bloated and saturated to green and lean.

1. Buying to Borrowing

At one point, it felt easier to buy than borrow.

Buying meant I could have it instantly. I could use an item and move on, but moving on was different from what happened.

I love books for many reasons including, per Darius Foroux, leaders are readers. So this included buying secondhand and new books from thrift or dollar stores. The sticker price was always right and it didn’t bust my budget. Or that’s what I thought while shopping.

Once I brought the book home, that’s when the other costs were charged. I would need a place to store the book, which meant having the space and shelving. Then, until I got my poop in a group to read it, I would dust and take care of it.

Sometimes we would move before I had a chance to read it. Books are terrible beasts to move because they look like straight soldiers of knowledge parading on a shelf. When in actuality they’re bulky burdens that bust out the bottoms of moving boxes.

Eventually, if I did read it, I would have to decide whether to keep it or not. If I wasn’t going to keep it, could I resell it or donate it? If I donate it, to whom – a lending library or a secondhand store?

For a cheap book, there were long-winded consequences.

My ways changed once I started working at a library. Outside of national parks and goose-laden riverfront walkways, libraries are my favorite public space. My Ravenclaw is on display as I state with starry-eyed zeal, the benefit of free entertainment and education for a community regardless of pay, lifestyle, or bizarre gasoline-sniffing fetishes.

I can borrow books that are taken care of significantly better than my DIY efforts. Between the commercial-grade dust covers, special tape (it’s heresy to use regular tape on book pages, there’s a special tape for that), and a 140-year-old catalog system (!), libraries manage books better than I manage plants.

Their vast database of books, audiobooks, and movies are a gold mine. Along with removing the price tag, it releases other costs like storage, maintenance, moving, and removal. It’s a brilliant scheme for turning a buying bust into one of three sustainable swaps.

2. Disposable to Reusable

As much as I wanted to believe in the possibility of disposable, there is no such thing. I won’t see the permeant settlement in my trash can or the blue bin on the curb, but a short trip to the landfill isn’t disposed. It goes from my home’s mini dump to the city’s dump. One day, when that gets full, it will become a park or housing development. Then, taxes will increase because another one needs to be built.

Today’s disposable is tomorrow’s problem.

To opt out of the disposable, I swapped single-use for multi-use.

A sample of transitioned products includes:

  • Paper napkins to cloth
  • Paper towels to microfiber
  • Tissues to hankies
  • Disposable pads and tampons to cloth and menstrual cups

I’m still in transition with some things like plastic sandwich bags. I have half a shelf of plastic bags, which I’ve moved twice. I use bags for lunches and leftovers. Plus, I reuse the plastic until it has more holes than the movie Holes. Though plastic bags are chucked into the disposable category, I use them as reusable.

When a bag is dirtied, I wash it along with the rest of the dishes and keep the lower kitchen drawer as a clean bag mecca for it’s wide variety of uses.

Eventually, when all the plastic bags and their boxes are the last of their kind, I’ll transfer to fancy silicone bags designed for the “reduce and reuse” lifestyle.

3. Trash to Treasure

Banana peels, eggs shells, and bamboo floss is more treasure than trash.

Instead of tossing these organic pieces into the bin for a lifetime of solitary confinement, they take a short trip to a humid climate.

Soil is a finite resource because it’s rumbling around $20 a bag at the local hardware store. Not all soil is equal, but rich nutrients pass through the door weekly in the form of groceries.

The hides and hulls of things eaten are thrown into a controlled chaos of compost. Mr. BuLL and I take the easy (lazy) way by having a bin with no bottom. Occasionally, it’s watered and mixed, but mostly it works with little effort, outside of putting on real shoes to walk 15 feet to dump the compost bucket.

As a bonus, our trash never smells because nothing is spoiled and rotting and we generate fewer landfill contributions.

3 Sustainable Swaps

When I shifted from disposable to reusable, I had to think more about what I purchased. I couldn’t buy on a whim. I had to research quality over quantity. Like a faulty landfill, this mindset leeched into other areas like food and finances.

I can’t complain about these unintended consequences of sustainable swaps. Instead, it’s a reminder that there is no growth without some struggle.  

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