Sensational Living®

October 2003
© 2003 by Bret S. Beall

The 7 Rs of Sensational Living

At this time of year, we in the Northern Hemisphere begin to increase our time indoors, and thus are often confronted by massive amounts of belongings (or “stuff”). Sadly, many people are trapped in a cycle of acquisition and discarding. More times than not, such behavior is based on desire rather than need, and in some ways can be considered a disease or an addiction. Regardless of how we characterize this behavior, the impact on the earth is significant and undesirable. To this end, we sometimes encounter various formulae called the “three R’s,” “four R’s,” or even (in one case) “five R’s” (see Judith Getis’ “You Can Make a Difference: Help Protect the Earth,” Wm. C. Brown, Publishers: Dubuque, IA; 1991; 88 pp.).

Here, I present what I believe is the first appearance of the seven R’s synthesized into a single concept: 1) Reuse, 2) Reduce, 3) Reject, 4) Refuse, 5) Reward, 6) Recycle, and 7) Respect. I hope that they help you simplify and streamline your life, and simultaneously lower your impact on the Earth.

Reuse: For better and for worse, my entire life revolves around “Reuse.” From my wardrobe to my home décor to gifts to entertainment and more, “Reuse” has been my guiding principle. Whether we are talking about hand-me-downs, or yard-sale finds, or thrift store acquisitions, or dumpster diving, one can satisfy almost all of one’s needs by “Reusing” what you already have or what others are discarding/donating. Living in Chicago, I may have access to some “nicer” items to Reuse (such as Armani suits, signed and registered Inuit sculptures and high-end cookware), but my natural orientation toward Reuse has also guided my behavior. I still use the desk and dresser I used when I was 7 years old (though I did sell the twin bed from that same set). I have flannel shirts from my high school days. I still use the salt and pepper shakers given me to me when I was 18 and moving into my first apartment. I use two plastic baby baths salvaged from the alley for my gardening needs (one is a potting tub, the other is home to magnificent caladia, elephant ears or impatiens, depending on the year). I have even rescued a box of canned goods from the trash pile, including some fabulous organic pumpkin that inspired me to develop some truly original recipes presented in the November 2003 Simple! Sensible! Sensational! recipe column (this provides yet additional motivation to Reuse items: your creativity may flourish). NOTE: this idea has, in fact, been reused most recently as “freecycling,” as described at http://freecycle.org/ .

I know that some people equate “Reuse” with transforming one thing into another, often in the form of arts and crafts. That is great, although I would really encourage everyone to ask themselves whether they truly need/want whatever the final arts and crafts project will be. This is entirely an individual matter; for example, not everyone would need my bulletin board made by Reusing old wine corks, but I think it’s quite appropriate for my kitchen. I’m truly impressed by builders and designers who Reuse old lumber, old plumbing, old nails, and old furniture (though I’m not impressed by those interior designers who feel the need to dismantle a perfectly functional piece of furniture for their “esthetic” vision … if you see this on television, you’ll know it often isn’t esthetic). The bottom line here is to just be mindful.

Reduce: As with Reusing, Reducing can affect your financial bottom line in a very positive manner. Do you really need to use as much shampoo as you squeeze into your hand? Do you really need an inch of toothpaste? Do you need “as much” of everything? Again, how you Reduce is a matter of personal choice and individual lifestyle. Still, I know of no one who couldn’t reduce some of his/her consumption. One easy way to approach this is to look at what is in your trash. Do you find yourself discarding food that has gone bad? Do you find yourself throwing out newspapers and magazines that you have not read? Do you feel the desire to acquire something new and then discard its predecessor? These are clear indicators of what can be reduced in your household!

One can (and should) also Reduce the natural resources one uses. Do you have to drive everywhere? Perhaps you can walk (better for your health, too!). Do you leave all of the lights on in your home, even if you are not using a particular room? Then turn out some lights, which Reduces a) the expense of electricity, b) the danger of fire, c) the ambient heat (particularly important during the summer) and d) the pressure on the power grid. Do you plan the most effective and efficient way to use your oven? I have ranted about oven use during the summer (in other words, DON’T), and the need to Reduce the inclination to heat up the oven to cook one tiny thing. Once again, Reducing wastefulness is a matter of being mindful rather than stumbling through life.

Reject: Ms. Getis specifies the need to Reject both disposable diapers and polystyrene foam as intrinsically wasteful, toxic and/or otherwise intrinsically hazardous to the environment. However, these are not the only intrinsically dangerous products. A quick review of the various cleaning products under your kitchen sink, or in your bathroom cupboard, will reveal a variety of less-than-earth-friendly products. The same is true for many of the home maintenance products in your basement, garage or work shed. Also of concern are the pesticides used in home environments without much care or understanding for the long-last effects of these products. Please, be mindful of what you bring into your home. Learn about potentially dangerous products by reading relevant books at the library, or by subscribing to a magazine such as Natural Home (www.naturalhomemagazine.com). Just start by Rejecting ONE product. Then move on to another, and another.

Refuse: Once you have Rejected particular products, you can take this mindset a step further by Refusing to live a life full of unhealthy products, overt materialism, and selfishness. Refuse to even consider “keeping up with the Joneses.” Only you can decide what you need. For example, do you really need a television in the kitchen? I can’t even imagine doing the cooking I do with such a box in my kitchen (no room for a TV, for one thing!). Personally, I Refuse to have a TV in my bedroom; it doesn’t fit my lifestyle, but maybe someone else will find that a bedroom TV is better than a TV in the living room or family room. Do you really need that set of designer cookware? I am saddened that many people think that their cooking will improve instantly if they spend megabucks on new cookware (while good cookware can be helpful, I Refuse to buy into the hype, and enjoy helping people “make do” with their existing cookware).

Do you really need those souvenirs from your vacation? What are you going to do with a shot glass that says, “Atlantic City”? It really isn’t attractive, and you probably don’t even make mixed drinks requiring a shot. So don’t buy it to begin with! The same goes for that umpteenth pair of shoes (some of my women friends tell me, “Bret, you just don’t understand!” and they’re right: I do NOT understand, and I REFUSE to understand. They’re SHOES!). Guys, do you really need that additional “gadget” or “tool”? In case you’re a wee bit slow, the answer is “NO.” Refuse to succumb to either peer pressure, societal pressure, or to impulse buying. Take control of your life!

Reward: Rewarding is one of the Rarest of the Rs. The upshot here is to Reward those merchants, those individuals, those businesses that promote earth-friendly, positive, life-enhancing products and services. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t, sadly. Specifically, I am referring to certain companies that market themselves as being earth-friendly and life-enhancing, but which merely feed into the type of consumerism that is the antithesis of being earth-friendly and life-enhancing. Instead of helping people live their lives better, they sell stuff (and most of it is stuff YOU DO NOT NEED). Some of my particular favorites are: a “special” yoga suit (any loose clothes will work); a “dedicated” yoga mat (an old beach towel will work nicely, especially if you fold it over on itself); a “designated” meditation shawl; and one of my favorites, a $40 dish draining rack!

Seek companies that create positive social change. Support women- and minority-owned businesses. Purchase products from companies that clearly document Fair Trade practices. Patronize companies that feature items made from Recycled/Reused/organic materials, use less energy, streamline your life, or practice strategies that have a light impact on the planet. These are the companies that deserve to be Rewarded!

Recycle: Here, I follow the logic of others who have observed that Recycling is better than discarding, but Recycling still requires numerous resources in order to convert existing products into new and different products. This fact even allowed the publication of a flawed study claiming that Recycling uses MORE resources than virgin production. While this study was patently wrong, it shines a light on why Recycling should be considered a last resort.

If one works to Reuse items, there is less to Recycle. If one Reduces what one consumes, there is less to Recycle. If one Rejects certain products, there is less to Recycle. If one Refuses to purchase certain items or to buy into a consumerist lifestyle, there is less to Recycle. If one Rewards those companies that follow the first four Rs, there will be less to Recycle among more people. With fewer materials requiring Recycling, fewer resources will be used in the process.

Respect: I’ve given hour-long lectures on the topic of Respect, as it is a subject near and dear to my heart. Perhaps the most significant element in a balanced life is to have Respect: Respect for our planet, Respect for our fellow humans, Respect for non-human species, and Respect for ourselves. Too often, the last of these is missing, but any can be missing, which leads us to imbalance. Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t divide people, places or things into categories which facilitate disrespect. Rather, begin with the assumption that everyone and everything deserves Respect, and Retrain (that’s yet another “R,” but it’s more of a method than a goal or activity) yourself to believe it. Please begin implementing Respect in all of your interactions immediately. You will not regret it!

In the end, by following the seven Rs, fewer items and materials are discarded, and fewer resources are needed in the first place. Everything connects to everything else, and it all makes sense. The entire picture is simple and elegant, not to mention comfortable and economical. It’s a Win to the 7th power situation! Following the seven Rs will allow you to introduce mindfulness, consistency and constancy to your lifestyle, and once you do this, you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t make the change sooner! If you aren’t willing to make these changes for the greater good, make them for yourself, one step at a time. Let me help you if you need help.