Enough and no more

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Enough and no more

A friend told me not long ago that she wanted me to help her give her apartment an eco-makeover and especially, first thing, to advise her on what kind of cleaning products she should be buying. I felt like I punctured her enthusiasm a little when I said it didn’t matter all that much, because what really matters is how much we use. My simple proposal, based on the premise that if something is really easy to do it’s much more likely to become a habit, is that we should just use less.

Just that, using less of every product we buy, will make a bigger difference than switching to different detergents or floor cleaners. An unscientific estimate, based on observation of the people I know and on how I (someone who is supposedly ultraconscious about these things and also quite frugal) use products, is that we could reduce consumption by 25-50% without any effect on results. Think of the dramatic reduction that would make in water and air pollution caused by cleaning products.

I tested this with personal care products recently – which I’m sure we overuse in the same way – on a four-week trip to China. My usual travel containers are fine for a week, but four weeks? I did get something bigger for shampoo, but otherwise figured I’d try to get by, and pick up replacements if I had to. It was amazing, though, to see how knowing I had to make things last made a difference. I did not buy a single replacement, and even arrived home with a little left in some containers. And I wasn’t deprived: I was just using enough and no more.

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