I smoked cigarettes from the time I was twelve until I was twenty-three. I ate fast food with carefree abandon. I drove around in my ’88 Plymouth Horizon with the windows down, blasting the Gin Blossoms, just for the sheer joy of it.
In high school, I was even known to dump empty cases of Natty Ice into the woods because I didn’t want to get caught carrying a bunch of soldiers around in my backpack.
A disappointing summer fling with a surfer dude in San Diego when I was twenty-one opened my eyes to the error of my ways…slightly.
While Surfer-Dude-in-question did turn me on to Sublime, he turned out to be a humongous jerk otherwise (and thank God—I’m married to the Greatest Man Alive now).
But one breezy afternoon as we stared at the Pacific Ocean, finishing our Camel Lights, Jerko squeezed the tip of his cigarette until its orangey ash ‘cherry’ toppled off and disappeared into the sand. He proceeded to tamp out any residual embers, then--gasp--slid his stinky cigarette butt into the pocket of his board shorts.
I was aghast. “What are you doing?” I asked, snarly-faced. I’d flicked my cigarette astray already.
“This is Cali,” he reminded me indignantly. “We don’t litter the beach.”
Holy shit! I’d never seen—or heard—such a rebellious thing in my whole life. Here was a ‘cool guy,’ and he was not littering! All the ‘cool guys’ I’d known prior to him were spitting chewing tobacco-laced saliva all over creation.
I humbly retrieved the butt I’d flicked, and Jerko pointed out I could deposit it into the very visible, very accessible public trash can that had been situated adjacent to the boardwalk.
I never tossed a smoke onto the sidewalk again after that.
When I hit my mid-twenties, I began to see the light even more brightly. I’d stopped using Aquanet with CFCs by then, of course, and I’d learned to recycle more stuff. I’d even quit smoking, turned vegetarian for a stint, sold the ol’ Plymouth Horizon and gotten myself a rusty old mountain bike. I even started bike-commuting to work every day.
It was a modest, albeit noteworthy, start for a girl who’d been raised in suburban Pittsburgh in the gluttonous 1980s and navel-gazing 1990s.
But by the time Weezer’s Blue album had hit the big time, even I could admit that the amount of crap I had amassed had gotten way out of control. High school yearbooks. Goofy pottery. Broken picture frames. And, ohhhh, the Ikea furniture.
At age twenty-eight, I decided to move across the country to do that thing us Gen-Xers have always been so good at: spread my wings. Knowing I couldn’t take all that shit I’d acquired with me to the supercool city of Seattle, I’d had to figure out what in God’s name to do with it.
That’s when I hosted my first sidewalk sale. A lot of it sold, and I earned a handsome $300. But all those yearbooks? Old cassette tapes? I threw ‘em out. Not into the recycling; right into the trash.
And although I was self-righteously evangelizing the merits of tofu all over the Pacific Northwest during the lead-up to the great mortgage collapse of ‘07/’08, I wasn’t fully awakened yet to being legitimately green.
Instead, I’d kept doing selfish shit, like leaving the front porch light on every night just because I thought it made the house my apartment was in look pretty.
But then again, I was living in one of the crunchiest cities in America. I’d go hiking in the Olympics and catch myself, a mile in, becoming suddenly stunned by the fact that there was no litter—no candy wrappers, not even any granola bar wrappers—anywhere along the trails, like there were all over the place back home in Pittsburgh.
And I was dating a guy, by this point, who’d grown up in the UK and had never recycled before—it just wasn’t something that was done in his hometown. I’d actually had to teach him how to do it.
“But why do I have to put this in here and that in there?” he’d ask, confused by the plastics versus glass debate. “You just do, dammit,” I’d say, having no clear answer for why this was necessary myself.
But seeing environmental issues from someone else’s perspective forced me to look in the mirror. And guess what I saw? A wasteful person, wearing toxic cosmetics, staring back at me. And I started to feel a little guilty.
Maybe I should turn the porch light off at night, I started to think. Maybe I should compost all these vegetable skins and stems instead of tossing them out. Maybe I should use eco-friendly eyeliner.
I began to evolve my thinking around the same time my immigrant boyfriend had hit his climax of making fun of how I pronounced my ‘R’s,’ so it didn’t take long for me to drop him like a bad habit and simultaneously get crazy homesick for Pittsburgh.
Luckily, that longing coincided with a trip home for a friend’s wedding. While back on my home turf, after the wedding, I got to catch up with an old acquaintance I’d stayed in touch with while I was in Seattle. This old acquaintance happened to also be a superhot guy I’d gotten to know through my old job. He tended bar at a hip microbrewery, rode his bike around town and was studying to be a green architect. I’d always had a crush on him from afar but we’d always had significant others, so he was always off limits.
That fateful night in June of 2007, it was just really nice to catch up for drinks with him. But afterwards, I went back to Seattle. It turned out that Hot Stuff and I ended up calling and emailing each other daily. In less than six weeks, I’d quit my job (just in time for the financial crisis to hit, and I found out I’d have been let go anyway), sold all the crap I’d amassed there (more Ikea furniture!) and got my ass back to Pittsburgh.
By 2010, I would make that hot, bartending, biker-architect guy my husband. Little did I know, however, that a life of radical Reductionism lay ahead.
Waste-hater, environmental-health wonk, building materials rescuer, perfume-hating, natural deoderant-making, all-around sustainability crusader, I owe all of my in-depth knowledge about simple sustainability to Mr. Green Jeans himself; my husband, Andrew.
That's him, pictured above, in front of our fence he hand-made out of corrugated steel. There's the grill we bought off Craigslist. He's tinkering with hand tools, in his natural habitat, atop a pile of lumber he scored from a nearby farmer in the early spring of 2018, which will forever be referred to as "The year daddy built us a fort!"
Believe me, I’ve resisted many, many of his crunchy ideas these past ten years. We’ve bickered somethin’ fierce over everything from child-rearing philosophies to appliance purchases to what products I’m allowed (allowed! Gah!) to mop the floor with.
But I get it now. Reductionism saves money, eases the burden we place on the environment, limits the toxins we breathe in our homes and emit into the atmosphere, and allows us to maintain control over what we ingest through our food and into our skin. Plus, it keeps our families, friends, and neighbors safer, too.
Today, I’ve got Andrew to thank for knowing how to carry my own to-go containers to restaurants. He’s the reason I flush my toilets using buckets full of water that we’ve captured while the shower water took ages to heat up. And it’s only because of him that I know why flame retardants in our kids’ PJ’s is toxic.
Without Andrew, I probably wouldn’t be sharing everything I’ve learned about being green with you. I’m sure I never would’ve devised my own radical ways of being green. And who knows…I might even still be out there buying Ikea furniture. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Full disclosure: I still own a piece or two and I fuckin' love 'em.
I’m so grateful that you’re here! I invite you to peruse the site, and I challenge you to find a thing or two you can start doing right now to live a life of simple sustainability!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.