Recently I was sitting at a stoplight, waiting to turn left when the arrow turned green. When it did, the first car in our three-car line drove off, but the second car stayed put. I was about to honk the horn (even though I hate having horns honked at me) when I realized I had another choice: I could just wait. I started counting, “and one and.” Before I could say two, the second driver had his foot on the gas. The cost for me? I missed a green light a bit down the road and got to work 90 seconds later than I would have otherwise.
The benefit? I had kept myself from feeling angry and from upsetting the other driver. (I’m not an angel, I would have hit the horn when I counted to three or if I saw the driver using a device at the light.)
While the third leg of the green circling arrows symbol, recycling, seems to get the most attention, the first two, reduce and reuse, have a more significant impact on my goal of living a lower-waste life. I’m always up for a reuse project, but reducing is a little bit harder for me, and is definitely something I’m tackling in smaller chunks. My downfall in the effort to simply reduce what I bring into my home, my office, my life is that smiley logo at Amazon. (Amazon has changed a lot of people’s shopping, and that hasn’t been good for the planet.)
I placed a whopping 108 Amazon orders last year, one every three days. This was an area where I could reduce the number of things I was buying, saving the resources it would take to make each item not bought. I spent some time noticing what I purchased and when and really reflecting about what my buying habits meant.
A lot of my orders contained just one item. I would get overwhelmed with all I had to do and click over to Amazon. One thing purchased, new pants for my son, blinds for my living room, silicone scrubbing pads for the kitchen, meant I could put an X next to one of those nagging to-dos. Unfortunately, it also meant a box used for each item and a trip (burning gas, producing exhaust) by an Amazon delivery person. Even if I kept the number of things I was purchasing the same, reducing the number of shipments those items came in would mean less waste.
Now, when I go to buy from Amazon, I put things in the cart and wait until the 15th or the 30th of the month, when I go back to my cart and first decide whether I still need what’s in the cart, then place the order. I’m saving money (because I usually remove at least one impulse-buy) and cutting cardboard and other packing waste as well as carbon emissions. I’ve also made a big dent in curbing the “retail therapy” that often goes on during those stress-fueled online shopping trips. I just checked my Amazon account, and I’m at six orders for the last 30 days. If I can keep that up, I’ll place just 72 orders in the coming year, 36 fewer Amazon driver trips.
How often does halakha ask us to “just wait”? Wait until you’re not fleischig, wait until after Shabbos, wait before you react, wait until you ask a shailah. The practice of just waiting has improved my whole life. While I fail regularly, the effort to make myself “just wait” before I say something in haste or anger has improved my relationships with my family, coworkers, and friends. After a talk with my friend Rivki Silver, who blogs about life and Judaism here, I realized I could also be more mindful about what I post on social media. I use the bullet journal system to help keep myself on track. When I think I might want to post something to social media, I jot a note in my bullet journal. If I still want to post something at the end of the day, I will (but I cross at least 75 percent of my ideas off the list each day).
Back in the realm of lower waste, I also started keeping an online shopping list. When I see something I want on the internet (especially if it’s something I wasn’t shopping for), I copy the link to the item to a digital list. I checked the list today and deleted both items I had saved recently—a cute dress that isn’t quite dressy enough for Shabbos. I liked it, but right now, my wardrobe only needs a Shabbos dress for summer. I also deleted an exfoliating tool I saw when I wasn’t feeling so great about my skin’s appearance. I definitely go through times when I feel like buying something will solve a problem or concern, but because I didn’t click buy right away on the expensive tool, I could ask my friends for suggestions for tackling the problem I had. (Gotta love those brown spots that appear when you are pregnant and never go away!) I wound up with a serum I am happy with for a fraction of the cost of the exfoliation system I was looking at.
At my oldest daughter’s suggestion, I’m also trying to buy more from local merchants, who have been impacted more deeply by COVID-19 closures. (When I started talking to my kids about lowering our family’s ecological impact, I didn’t realize they might push me farther than I would have gone on my own!) It’s a recent change, but I ran over to the frum kitchen/party store last week when I needed a new dairy cutting board, and I have a few items on the list I will grab as I am near the right store on other errands.
I also cut myself slack when it’s needed. My son needs new pants for the family pictures we are having taken soon, and I knew it would be difficult to get to Children’s Place before our appointment, so I ordered his pants off of Amazon. Nobody’s perfect.
What do pants have to do with traffic lights? I was recently listening to a shiur from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg in which he discussed how the small details we pay attention to in Judaism aren’t really “restrictive and constrictive,” as they might first appear, but rather are a part of a “platform for happiness” that comes from “being present in all we think and say we do.” Cultivating mindfulness around shopping doesn’t just reduce how much of the Earth’s resources we consume, that mindfulness can reinforce the focus on living a meaningful life that HaShem wants of us.
PS: Congratulations to Yehudit Main, who won my gardening-marker giveaway from last week. Leave a comment, follow me on Instagram @amynewsmith, or tag a friend on my Instagram account to be entered into my next giveaway.