Friday, March 16, 2012

Perfectly Good Peanuts

Do you have a  stash of empty cardboard boxes somewhere in a closet or in the attic, neatly tucked inside each other in descending sizes, like Russian nesting dolls, clutching a cache of polystyrene peanuts?

Here is the typical scenario for me: I receive a package in the mail. While opening it, I subconsciously start humming, "My favorite things," from The Sound of Music, singing the "brown paper packages tied up with strings" line out loud. After the box is open and the initial excitement about the contents has settled, I think to myself, "Hey, this box could be really useful if I ever need to mail something that would fit in it, or if I ever had to pack up all my stuff and move again...". Then I find the perfect spot for it within the 3-D puzzle of used but empty FedEx, flat rate, small household appliance, and other miscellaneous boxes of all different shapes and sizes that are nestled together inside of the box that came with the computer that I am supposed to keep forever in case I ever need to return it.

This week, the newest arrival wouldn't fit. It was exactly the same size as four that I already had, and just a tiny bit bigger and smaller than many others in the collection. The Downsize Challenger voice that is learning to speak up to my genetically influenced Save-it-because-you-might-need-it someday-Self posed the critical question, "Why are you keeping this?"

I couldn't come up with a good reason, other than that I hate wasting stuff.  If something can possibly be reused, then I like to give it the benefit of the doubt. This value has deep roots in my family, and for the most part, I respect and honor it, BUT, all this sorting and moving and cleaning out of households in the past few years has planted the seeds for understanding that just because something might still be useful, it might never ever be useful to ME. So, by keeping something that I am not using, I am actually WASTING!!!!

This realization was liberating. So I broke down the boxes and took them to the transfer station. My local UPS store collects polystyrene peanuts, air pillows, and even the biodegradable starch based shipping peanuts for re-use. The fact that they keep a jar of complementary Tootsie Rolls on the counter is all the motivation I'll need to keep from collecting shipping supplies in my closet from now on. I found out that there is a glass blower in my town who is also happy to re-use them. Mailboxes Etc. collects them too. If you have a stash like I did, you can use iRecyle or Earth 911 to find a place near you to drop off your peanuts and pillows.

Maybe you can't relate with my tendency toward saving empty boxes and shipping supplies, but I bet you've got something else in your closet that you've been storing for the same reason.  I have some beautiful yarn that I am never going to use because I figured out that knitting frustrates me to no end.  The oboe that I played in Junior High is in excellent condition but has been sitting quietly in the case for 25 years.  I have a lot of books sitting on shelves, already read, unlikely to be opened again. As you look around at the perfectly good but unused things you've got, I encourage you to keep asking yourself, "Why am I keeping this?"  I don't have to be the one to use every useful thing I've got, and neither do you. Finding the person who will is the real challenge to conscientious downsizing.


  1. Hello. Great post. It is amazing how much stuff we just thow away each day. I use all recycled materials (like used wrapping paper from the holidays)when I ship pottery to customers, and gifts to my family and friends, and it is a great way to reduce "trash". I even find myself with half my body hanging out of the reycling dumpsters reaching for bubble wrap and clean packing paper. I'm not too concerned what my family thinks when they open the package, they know I'm obsessed with concerving resources, but I do always wonder what the customer on the other end thinks when they open a box from me. I'm gotten a few compliments on my "creative" package.

    I definitely encourage people to find local businesses to donate those packing materials to. Especially small businesses who think concientiously. Not only does it cut down on waste, but it saves them a pretty penny. Those styrofoam peanuts aren't cheap!

    Thanks, always, for your blog!!

  2. There are always people moving house who need boxes. After moving house I put an ad on Freecycle and all my boxes and bubble wrap were snapped up in minutes. Great blog - keep up the posts.

  3. I definitely used to keep boxes. My mom the hoarder definitely does because she thinks she'll need them one day. But I realized there are plenty of places to get boxes for free or cheap in a hurry when you need them: liquor stores, cardboard recycling, neighbors and friends, craigslist and freecycle. We went dumpster diving in a cardboard recycling dumpster when we last moved.

    Congrats on having the courage to get rid of them. That fear of "I might need it" really is a huge roadblock.

    I'm enjoying your blog, looking forward to the next post!

  4. I love your blog.

    The last time we moved, I got rid of the packing boxes by stacking them on the porch. I admit that at the time, I thought I'd consider each box carefully, store the best, and recycle the rest. After a week, I'd collapsed some of them but still had miles to go.

    However, a kind angel solved my problem: she sent her teenage boy to the door to ask whether we wanted "all those boxes", because if not, they were moving and would be happy to use them. I found that I was relieved to give them permission to take them all.

  5. I love your writing style. And, yes, I have a ton'o'packing crap.

    And since I'm annoymous, let me confess that I put out two non-working TV for electronics colletion last week.

    I'll be putting two more out this Monday.

    That will leave only, uh, three more obsolete tv's in the basement. Hey, they work perfectly, except they changed the broadcast standards. :(

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