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  On Reuse 06:31 PM -- Thu December 1, 2005  

A lot of people think of living with recycling, reuse, simplification, etc, as living in misery. That is, you deny yourself everything fun and good for the sake of the world. And you can definitely do that, and it would be the best for the world, I am sure. But you don't have to do that. People like to think of that kind of misery and go "forget it!" and just continue on throwing trash everywhere.

But the right way to reuse and recycle is not that. Don't beat yourself up, don't go nuts and try to restore the world in one afternoon. It's about changing attitudes. There is no recycling where we live now, and it makes me uncomfortable. I don't feel right throwing away plastic bags and bottles and cans. I've recycled all my life, I was raised doing it. And that's the key. To develop your mindset such that you feel comfortable and happy doing the things that are good for the world. Not to deny yourself what you like, but to learn to appreciate and like things that are good.

The example that made me think of this issue: Today I was thinking about wrapping christmas presents. I thought of doing it in something reusable. In the past, once or twice, I've given things (to my wife) wrapped in a towel. It does the job, and you don't waste anything. I've also used junk mail quite regularly. Of course, I will end up using wrapping paper (maybe junk mail, but if we've already got wrapping paper as I think we do, it would be a waste not to use it!), and that's fine. I'm not denying myself the wonders of wrapping paper. Rather, I have the mindset that appreciates the craftsmanship and fun of wrapping things in junk mail, and feels good about the savings (not the biggest savings ever, more like a matter of principle - I'm lethally cheap).

There's lots of ways this kind of "appreciation of the bad" manifests in every life. My wife drives half an hour each way to get to work. But she appreciates the view (which is quite amazing on that road), and the time to think. Not that she doesn't often wish she could just teleport to work, but the drive is a small sacrifice for the great place to live (sure beats the city!). Another really simple example: I love ramen! It's very good. I eat it like 3 times a week.

So don't pity me and my ramen. I eat it because I like it. If I could, I'd recycle because it doesn't feel wrong like tossing recyclables does. I live my life the way I want to, because if I didn't... well, I'd be really stupid. So when it comes to doing the "right" thing, don't force yourself. Find the good in it, see if you can appreciate it enough to make it worthwhile. If not, I'd say you should find some other right thing to do, because forcing yourself to do things just doesn't work.

But there's so much fun and good feeling that comes from doing things that you know are good. I think most of the time, if you give it a try, you find you like it better than not doing it, even if just because of the feeling of doing good. A lot like exercise. And a lot like exercise, you'll often fall out of the habit and back to your slobbish ways. That happens too. But it doesn't change the fact that you really enjoyed the exercise, recycling, and ramen!

(One last example: I really appreciate my vegetarianism, because it's easier on my semifunctional stomach, cheaper, broadened my food horizons dramatically, stopped me from worrying about what's in my cutting boards, kept me from having to prepare gross raw meat, and it's a healthier diet. I could whine about the meat I miss the flavor of, but I almost never remember it - I'm too busy eating what I do have! Very busy, he said, patting his big belly)
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