The other four Rs

We mentioned that we recycle—the last of the 3Rs—but the other two—Reduce and Reuse—are neglected, even though they're more powerful ways to reduce our impact on the earth.

We also have added two more Rs: Repair and Regret.


There are really two parts to "Reduce," although I imagine the intent of this "R" was to reduce initial consumption.

Reducing our ongoing consumption

Another way to think about this is the phrase "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

This would have a much more powerful environmental impact than recycling does.

It would also have a bigger positive impact on our lives, trading less stuff for more time.

It has become such a habit to mindlessly buy things (just the way we often eat to excess…)

Part of reducing our consumption is simply to become more mindful of it. Do we really need another fry pan even though that nice one is on sale? Do we really need another tablecloth even though our current one doesn't really match the room?

We're going to start asking ourselves, "Do we really need this?" anytime we're tempted to purchase something. Sometimes the answer might be "Yes," but many more times, I'm sure the answer will be "No."

Reducing what we already have

Facing the prospect of reducing the amount of stuff in our house is enough to motivate us to reduce our consumption from now on!

Unlike many people who apparently feel comfortable just chucking perfectly usable (or potentially usable) stuff out to the curb, we feel we need to find a responsible place to take this stuff to.

Of course, another reason we've been procrastinating is that it's just plain boring and time-consuming to handle all the stuff we've accumulated over the last three or four decades and decide what to do with it all. And it's not always easy to decide what should stay and what should go.


We've reused things in two ways: just kept using them and repurposing things for other uses.

Using things again

We have a lot of old stuff in our house, things that go through stages. For example, perhaps an item will be used for "good" but after a while, it is downgraded to a lower use.

Repurposing stuff

There are a number of things that get reused out in the garden. For example, old sheets don't get thrown away, they're turned into tomato ties or used to cover plants when there's going to be a frost.

Repairing our stuff

Poster from WW II From
A clever poster from WWII showing two repairs / maintenance happening simultaneously

Repairing is related to the other three, but especially to "reuse." Over the years there have been a multitude of things we've reused because John had the skills to repair them. These are the skills that have been lost to most of the current generation.

Again, it's somewhat understandable. Life is busy, and after all, didn't we go to college, acquire thinking skills, and develop a career so we wouldn't have to do these menial things?

But we underestimate the importance of these skills, the thinking abilities that go into them, and even the satisfaction of knowing how to repair things.

Of course, some modern things are so technically complicated that there is no repair. Who can repair a cell phone, for example? (Although there are intermediate repairs possibile, such as ways to minimize the damage if an electronic device gets wet.)

But there are many other things that could be repaired. We see these things put out to the curb every day: chairs with one broken back spindle, for example. These things could be repaired or given to someone who could repair them.

Regretting our stuff

When we see the stuff we have that can not be recycled, reused, or repaired (and it's obviously too late to be reduced), it's time for regret. The object has been created from the earth's resources, and it's not serving any purpose for us or anyone else. It probably never did.

Why did we ever buy that stuff? Sometimes we didn't buy it, but just acquired it either actively (by offering to take other people's castaways) or passively (all those presents that become a burden).

One of the first cases of regret I remember is about 40 years ago when a Boy Scout troop was selling trinkets to raise money. I bought a object that had a battery that lit up a bunch of fiber optic cables (I think that's what it was). It didn't pretend to have a purpose; it was just an excuse for selling something to raise money. I remember thinking at the time that I had just contributed to the world's problems, and this was even before I had become very environmentally aware. It was just so obvious. (Now, in these situations I'll frequently just give a donation of whatever I think the organization will actually end up with and skip the junk.)

Something has to be done with this stuff, though, and not knowing what to do with it has been one source of stuff accumulating in the house. The best we can do at this point is to donate anything that someone who still likes stuff may actually want for some odd reason and to bite the bullet and just trash the rest, resolving to never get that kind of stuff again.


Gifts often fall into this category since gifts are often given just for the sake of giving. Then we're saddled with the results—something sitting around for years on end that we neither wanted nor enjoy. We can just pass them along, but that just hands off the problem to someone else, and often it's not socially feasible. So we're left with these objects that just take up space and attention. And this is a gift?

At this point in my life, family members know I really don't want anything, except perhaps a donation made in my name to one of my favorite causes. That truly is a gift.