Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Part 1: Reduce

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

This phrase has become one of the mantras of the coming age of sustainability. This subset of the sustainable philosophy is being taught in schools, is embraced and promoted by governments, and is being enacted by non-profits and for-profits alike.


This goes against nearly everything our modern consumer-based businesses stand for. Advertisers and product manufactures would have you believe that all things have a limited lifespan — the shorter the better. Said another way, they would like you to believe all items always need replacing at some point in the future — better sooner than later.

Food containers are marked with “Best buy” dates that have no bearing on whether the food is still  nutritious. Furniture is made easily breakable and crumbly from pressed board rather than wood or other more sturdy material. Society has been conditioned to think school children and adults need new, designer items that always go out of fashion rapidly.

Advertisers prey on everyone,  insisting that you always “need” something they have and that it will provide you with “love”, “happiness”, “reputation”, and/or “bliss”. Grocery stores have small shopping carts for children with flags mounted on the front that say “future shopper” (aka consumer). The list goes on and on, all in the name of profit.

Consumerism is actually a very bad practice because it teaches society to use resources and then throw them away as soon as possible. Often the “garbage” ends up in growing land fills, out car windows, and much finding its way to our waterways and oceans.


If we want reduction to be successful, the question we must all begin to ask ourselves is “Do I need it or do I want it”. Advertisers, stores, and manufacturers spend fortunes devising ways to make you think you “need” something when in reality it is just a “want” in disguise. Children and young adults are very susceptible to this psychological manipulation and it can continue to affect our mental outlook for most of our lives — unless we begin to see through the advertisement fog.

To break through this marketplace conditioning we need to begin to think in the following manner: “Is it food, shelter, clothing, or direct social contact?” These are the human “needs”, the rest are wants. Lets refine this list and remove the brainwashing advertisers have instilled upon us.


Food – “Does the item I am considering supply the nutritional value I need to physically survive?” We certainly do not need refined sugar or corn syrup. Unfortunately a large share of modern consumer food usually has one of these. Generally we do not need added sugar in our food. A sweetener can always be added during consumption if desired.

We do not “need” soda pop or chips to live. We do not “need” fast food. We just need basic, reasonably nutritious food to live and there are many ways to get it without caving in to the modern “want-needs”.

Nutritional knowledge and cooking skills are important. Our society as a whole is rapidly loosing this knowledge and these skills. They should be taught in ALL schools, to ALL students.


Shelter – Frankly, all you need is a good tent. The Native Americans have known this for eons. Soldiers know it. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts know it (or they ought to). Anything beyond this is more of a “want”, but . . .

If we want to be practical and compromise a little with “modern” thinking, then lets ask the right questions. “How big of a house do we need and what do we really need in the house?” Housing should be just enough to be sufficient to protect us from the elements and to make life relatively safe and comfortable. We DO NOT need big new houses all the time, despite what the marketers and realtors say (they make pretty good money you know selling you big new houses).

The point is, we really need to think through our shelter purchases and try to devise a way to be modestly comfortable. In addition, we really should try to have our accommodations help us be more in touch with nature and the Earth. Modern housing has isolated us from nature – and that is part of the problem we are now facing. Because we have isolated ourselves from nature we do not easily see the damage we are doing to our only real home, Earth.


Clothing – “How often do we REALLY need new clothes?” The simplest, honest answer is “When they wear out”. The purpose of clothing is to protect us from the elements. Anything else is “bling” or show, not need.

To me, worn out means they no longer serve their purpose. If my jeans have holes they can be patched. Or, I can go to Goodwill or a reuse store and find more. I have not had “new” clothes in decades because there is “no need”. Once in a while I do need a crisper pair of reasonably clean business clothes, only because that is the modern business paradigm, but I do not “need” to replace them too frequently. Most of the time my older business clothes become my around the house clothes.

When it comes right down to it, unless we have growing children we really do not “need” replacement clothes very often. And, when it come to children’s clothes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hand-me downs, used clothing, or garage sales. Used clothes worked just fine for my growing years — they served their intended purpose – protecting me from the elements.

Anything else would have been to satisfy “want”. Most often that “want” was insidiously pushed into our youth culture by advertisers. Children should learn the value of what they already have and the difference between “want” and “need”. It is our duty to teach them this so that we protect them from manipulation and help provide them with a sustainable future.


Direct Social Contact – This is included because it is a human “need”. We all need direct social contact with others. People who become isolated from direct social contact by at least one person (and preferably more) for long lengths of time often become highly neurotic and phobic. Look at what happens to people in situations where they become “shut-ins” in their homes. This often happens to elder widows or widowers who do not have other family relationships.

We need direct social contact but it does not need to cost us. If we would walk more in our neighborhoods and talk with neighbors, sit out on our porches or front steps more and talk with neighbors, or go out and engage in groups with common interests more  we would have this need satisfied.

There is no need to gather in shopping malls, that is again the marketers “brainwashing” coming into play and we fall right into the trap, especially the youth.  Hobby groups are good and do not need to cost a lot of money. We can gather together to help a a neighbor accomplish a task and have a pot-luck dinner.

There are thousands of ideas. Do things that combine getting back in touch with nature and socializing. Group or community gardens. Help a neighbor start a garden. There is so much more we can do.

One last note: Gaming is not socializing. As a matter of fact it has been proven to be socially destructive most of the time based on modern “war” type games and it has also been proven to potentially become a real addiction. Addiction is not helpful in promoting a sustainable future.


Resolution –  The key to all of this is to become active. Commit to learning and doing. Break the marketer molds we have been cast into. Know the difference between a “need” and a “want”. And, know what your needs really are. Knowledge is the key and the power that can help all of us – together – to make this world a much better place for those that follow in our footsteps.

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