Friday, May 27, 2011

The Gods Must be Crazy - or at Least I Am

Some of you whippersnappers out there may be too young to remember the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy. It's a thoroughly delightful film, and if you haven't seen it I highly recommend giving it a viewing. The basic premise is that a group of Bushmen living deep in the Kalahari Desert stumble upon an empty Coke bottle which an unscrupulous pilot had tossed from the window of his plane.

The bottle ends up disrupting the idyllic social structure that the Bushmen enjoy because it introduces the concepts of greed and materialism, heretofore unknown in their culture. Anyhow... the head of the family decides that the "thing" is evil and sets out on a mission to get rid of it, and all sorts of bizarre and hilarious things unfold from there.

The film makes a wonderful statement about "civilization" and "progress" and is also pretty damned funny. However, all societal criticisms aside, what has stuck with me over the years is the image of that Coke bottle.

Here was this "thing" that most of us would consider to be useless garbage. Yet the Bushmen found it so useful and desirable that it nearly tore their family apart. I know this isn't the message that the filmmakers were trying to get across, but somehow what got burned into my psyche is that nothing should be considered garbage.

Now, on the one hand, I do believe that the concept of garbage is absurd. In nature there is no waste. Everything simply becomes the building block for something else. On the other hand, while this is a beautiful and enticing ideal upon which to build one's life, I have discovered that one can arrive upon a few... um "stumbling blocks" when trying to put it into practice.

So here's what I'm leading up to. I've spent the vast majority of the past few days working on my de-cluttering project. I have pretty much gone through all of the "things" and now I'm at the really hard part... the junk. Seriously, this should be the easy part. But I have been through days of mental anguish trying to figure out how to deal with the vast number of bags, boxes, jars, bottles, plastic containers, packing paper, bubble wrap, etc. etc etc that has found its way into my basement.

This is all stuff that most people would just toss in the trash or the recycling, and therein lies the problem. It just kills me to see useful things being used once and then either tossed into a landfill or put through an energy intensive process to make them into something else that will probably be used once.

The wastefulness of it all just makes me sick... literally! After about 5 hours of sorting I found myself sitting in the middle of the basement surrounded by piles of stuff and my head just started to throb out of control. Pretty soon my guts were wrenching and I had to run to the bathroom to be sick.

I dunno... maybe it was off gassing from all of the plastic and what not, but I tend to believe that it's just the needless squandering consumption of our society that overcame me.

I held strong though, and allowed myself to keep only one shelf's worth of packaging supplies, boxes and containers. I found someone on FreeCycle to take a bunch of the boxes and packing peanuts, and am recycling the rest. But it was absolutely incredible to me that a person who "hasn't used" plastic bags in over 10 years, and who really makes a concerted effort - shopping in bulk with my own containers, rarely ordering takeout, etc, has accumulated SOOOO much in the way of disposable containers!

The whole experience has strengthened my resolve to do everything in my power not to bring any more of that kind of stuff into my house in the first place! I know on some level that it's impossible, I'll end up with another half dozen boxes next time I buy cat food for heaven's sake. But I'm going to pay much more serious attention to the whole issue from now on. Every time I go buy something, I inherit the responsibility for not only the thing itself, but for everything that it comes packaged in.

What do you think? Am I the only crazy person out there who struggles with this stuff? How do you guys maintain discipline when it comes to single use containers? I'd love any advice I can get.


  1. i am proud of you. i'm a 65 yr old widow and i love living a "small" life. that means my house is not crammed with sentimental cr--p and "stuff." it is filled instead with simple comfort, sunlight, space, air and beautiful shadows of light across the walls at different times of the day for art. the fact that you have begun this journey of valuing life itself instead of the accumulation of more 'things' makes you a hero in my book. there are what, 6 BILLION of us now on this small planet, and we are turning it into a garbage pit. there are now 5 HUGE swirling masses of garbage floating in the ocean, plastics of all kinds, non-biodegradeable crap. i'll just say it this time without the cute little dashes. it's quite tragic actually. if just one of us keeps getting the word out, maybe we can make a difference. i say bravo cat lady!!!

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words, and thanks for stopping by. Still hoping for that hundredth monkey...

  3. Another excellent post. When my husband and I moved house last year, we found we couldn't fit everything into a 7.5 ton truck. This really made us feel that we have far too much stuff.

    I have real problems with throwing things away because I always think it might be useful (and it usually is!) I'm going to have to do something about it soon, though. I need the conservatory for my tomato plants, but it's full of junk. It's mostly the same kind of stuff as in your basement - boxes, packing paper, bubble wrap. I'm going to have to get rid of most of it, but I've been putting this off for the last six months, and I can easily imagine it will have the same effect on me as it has on you.

    Hundredth monkey...?

  4. hey! Followed you here from ZWH! Saw your title and smiled: one of my two all time fav movies, Buckaroo Bonzai being the other. Don't know if you were aware that GMBC was showing permanently for over a year at a SF movie theater. The audience would start chuckling during opening credits....
    Totally get where you're coming from, and am fretting over all the *great* bottles, boxes, even bags that I have.
    My solution: very lucky, we have an annual blocksale, and will be putting out my excess "treasures" as freebies, and will post notice on freecycle. Our city, for some odd reason, has an informal tolerance of folks just setting things out on the curb with "FREE" signs. Nothing lasts more than a day unless ridiculously destroyed. So that would have been the other option.
    I just have to decide what I will USE vs WANT/LIKE. BIGGGG difference!
    Keep posting!

  5. LOVE the movie!! I have your same struggle. My husband threw out a garbage sack full of packing peanuts after our last move, and 6 months later I was wishing I had it back for my kids' "digging" birthday party. I HATE throwing away or recycling things that can be useful again. But, I can only keep so much. My de-clutter and my no-waste sides are having wars with each other! I'll let you know who wins.

  6. Rachel - I totally know what you mean about being afraid that you'll need it. But... my "world as storage locker" revelation ( really helping me in that regard. And knowing that so many other people hang onto this sort of stuff makes it a little easier for me to believe that I'll be able to find some if I need it.

    Oh - and the Hundredth Monkey story... instead of trying to write it out, I'll just give you a link:

    Jay - I think it's totally great that so many people love the movie as much as I do... I haven't been to San Francisco in 20 years, but if I make it back I'll have to try to catch a viewing! Your block sale sounds like an excellent idea. Do people actually take stuff like cardboard boxes and bubble wrap at sales?

    Lynn - The internal battles wage large don't they? I just have to keep telling myself that if it turns out that I really need a ____ (fill in the blank) I can always go get one on FreeCycle or Craigslist or at the Thrift store. There may be a small cost involved, but I have to measure it against the cost of living amidst a world of clutter.

  7. The movie has since moved on, but was fun while it lasted!

    People take almost anything, as long as it's free! It's a great study in human nature.

  8. They'll take ALMOST anything. Alas, I couldn't find anyone to take the 30 year old broken color television...

  9. Your storage locker perspective is very interesting, though I fear I may be a little too insecure to fully embrace it just yet.

    Thanks for the link to the hundredth monkey story. I guess you're using this as a metaphor for that magic moment when suddenly everybody 'gets it' but I found Elaine Myers' interpretation (bottom of the page) more useful: "We still need direct communication between individuals, we need to translate our ideas into action, and we need to recognize the freedom of choice of those who choose alternatives different from our own." One of the exciting things about the internet is the way it facilitates that direct communication.

  10. As for your single-use food container dilemma, I use mine for stock. I freeze chicken, veggie etc stock in the containers until they've fallen apart. I know that they're only intended to house the food that was in them when they came from the store into our homes, but why bother keeping them if we're not going to do something with them at some point, right? It depends on what kind of containers they are too, but I suspect preschools & such could take some containers for paint & crafts maybe?

  11. Rachel - Wow! I, of course, did not bother to read the whole story on the link that I sent you since I've known the Hundredth Monkey story for eons. But that's a very interesting take on it... there is no magic other than people communicating with other people. Guess that means we all just need to keep on keepin' on!

    Kristin - I try to re-use them as I can, and I have a freezer full of mason jars with homemade stock in them, but I won't put any liquid into a plastic container. I'm sort of convinced that estrogen mimicking chemicals leech into the liquid, and since my migraines are sooooo connected to fluctuating estrogen levels, I do everything in my power to avoid exposure. Preschool arts and crafts is a great idea though... I wonder if our local Children's Museum could use some of it. We childless ones tend to forget those options!

  12. ok - all your posts about clutter and then your comment (just above) about being childfree means you've got me as a fan for life!
    (I prefer childFREE to childless - I am childFREE by choice and I'm not LESS anything!)

    I've been clearing out my home and storage shed for months now - and can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've been a packrat my whle life - I won't make that mistake again.
    I pay very close attention to what comes into my home now. And I glory at ever box that leaves!

  13. Hi Hollie,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I LOVE your childFREE distinction! You know, it's so funny that people make such a big deal out of not having kids.

    Maybe this comes from working around headstrong musicians for so long, but most of the people I have known in my adult life are sans child and are all extremely happy. In my world it's always been the people with kids who were "outside of the norm", but when I step outside of my immediate circle and interact with the wider world and realize what an oddity it really is.

    Congratulations on your de-cluttering... I think I'm starting to see a light too, and I'm really hoping it's not an oncoming train!

  14. It's not a train! It's daylight!


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