By Terri Smith —
Recycling is all well and good, but we’ve all learned by now that reducing and reusing are even better. I avoid buying products that come swaddled in layers of plastic. I never leave home without my travel mug and water bottle. When grocery shopping, I usually stick to unprocessed foods anyway—they’re cheaper and healthier, and when faced with a choice between a product that comes in a tin or jar that I know I will reuse or one that I’m going to have to recycle I will pay more for the product in the reusable container. I think it’s a good deal: a product I want plus a container I like for a dollar or so more than the product alone.
I also find it difficult to get rid of anything that is potentially useful.
There are three main reasons for this: first of all, I hate to waste anything. Recycling, after all, takes energy to accomplish and leaves a much bigger carbon footprint than reusing (or avoiding the product altogether). Second, I always see the creative potential in an object and if I see such potential, become loath to part with it. And third, I’m lazy. I hate sorting the recycling and taking it to whatever facilities are operating at that moment (and if you manage to take in the recycling as rarely as I seem to chances are you have to bring it somewhere new each time and figure out how the rules about dealing with it have changed since last time).
To tell the truth, I find all the recycling facilities I’ve ever been to intimidating. Whenever I walk into a depot or recycling yard anywhere it always seems to be full of people who know exactly what they’re doing. People who instinctively know which beer bottles can be grouped together or who can toss objects into bins with hardly a glance. And while I can never seem to find someone to help me before I begin sorting, you can bet that the moment I place something in the wrong bin someone will be there to chastise me. So rather than brave the wrath of the recycling sentinels any more than necessary, I do the more environmentally sound thing and reduce and reuse as much as possible.
Consequently, I have a lot of stuff. I try to keep everything organized, but I must admit I don’t always succeed. There was a time when it was all stacked neatly behind the woodshed and other outbuildings. But then I acquired goats. Being goats, they climbed every pile, turned anything they could walk under into a back-scratcher, and head-butted the rest until my once-neat piles of treasure became mounds of junk. And it was at about this time that Curtis moved onto the farm.
Now, the first thing I learned about Curtis once he moved in is that he is remarkably good at de-cluttering, and prefers a rather minimalist lifestyle. I like the idea of minimalism, but have always found that the minute I part with something is the exact moment I find the perfect use for it. Almost immediately upon arrival he set to work cleaning up, clearing out, and taking loads of stuff to the dump and depot. And in that momentary lapse of personality that can happen when one is newly in love, I let him. Boxes of broken glass for making Christmas ornaments joined shards of pottery that I’d hoped would one day would become a beautiful mosaic in the discard pile. Rubbermaid bins of old clothes for some future textile project (I don’t really even sew, actually) and suitcases of clothing left behind by farm volunteers all found their way to the Salvation Army. I must admit that some of the “treasures” he unearthed had depreciated in value. I couldn’t always remember why something had struck me as important to keep. Sometimes though, I would explain why I was keeping something and he would agree that it made sense and together we would find a goat-free storage location for it.
But the one thing we may never agree on is the lovely, green and yellow, rectangular, olive oil tins. I love these tins. It took me a few years to come up with a purpose for them, but by then I collected 25 and needed only five more. Opened and flattened they would make charming tin shingles for the duck house I was planning to build. Curtis found them one day when I was not at home. All 25 of them ended up in the back of my truck with the rest of the recycling and it wasn’t until I reached the recycling yard that I discovered them.
“What are these doing back?” he asked a few days later. “I thought I’d gotten rid of them.”
“You tried,” I grinned. “I brought them home again. I’m going to use them to shingle the duck house.”
“What duck house?”
“The one I haven’t built yet.”
He just shook his head at me even as he smiled.
“Have you even thought about how long it will take you to get them ready to use?” he asked.
“It’s fine.” I replied. “It won’t take long. And I’ll get the girls to do it.”
We had two very industrious volunteers at the time. The next day I gave the girls a couple of can openers and the tin snips and explained what I wanted. They set to it with alacrity, thinking it was a great idea, too. An hour and a half later they had finished with two tins. At this rate it was going to take three days for them to ready the 30 tins I would need to roof my as yet non-existent duck house. Curtis laughed when he returned from work. “Now will you let me recycle them?” he asked.
But I can’t give up so easily.
Perhaps the honeymoon’s over, but I just can’t let him get rid of such wonderful potential; there has to be a way. So I’ve hidden them. In groups of five or ten all around the farm. Every so often he finds a stash and if I’m not quick enough takes it to be recycled. If he’s not quick enough I rescue them again and hide them somewhere new. It’s a game we play. I still don’t have a duck house, but last month I was at Mom’s and she gave me another to add to my collection and it turns out her electric can opener will open one tin in less than a minute! Some year soon, I will have that duck house!
Terri Smith is an organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo with Road’s End Vegetable Company. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and a diploma in Art.