I have a neighbor who does amazing things with used materials. Last week I stopped by and he had built a beautiful fence for his garden out of used pallets. Shortly thereafter he completed a full size, insulated chicken coop out of partially re-used materials. (Yes, he built a house for chickens in his Metro Denver backyard so he could have unlimited access to fresh eggs) Standing in his backyard reminds me of a childhood trip to the petting zoo, except now I get permission to be on the other side of the fence.

I’ve often referred to the ingenuity of the depression era families. Their tenacity towards turning trash into treasure is truly tremendous. They probably wouldn’t glorify it the way I do, they would probably tell you that they were very hard times and you treated everything you owned as though it were your last. (they might also tell you that it was their desire to make sure their children had everything that the depression-era families never had that led to our current culture of consumerism) I sometimes wonder how much better I’d feel about culture in the U.S. if we still held onto our things like this. If we still manufactured products that were meant to last and weren’t designed to become obsolete. If we took responsibility for our landfills, or at least considered the implications when standing in the store.

As we aren’t buying anything, these thoughts have churned around more often than normal. We’ve recycled since Denver made it easy with their big purple bins. Reducing and reusing on the other hand, is something that I think many of us conveniently ignore. In the past month, more than once, I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and find a solution to repair something that has broken without money to fix it, build something from leftover parts or just leave it as is. It is interesting when the solution to your problem isn’t buying a new one. You learn new skills, build upon old ones, and sharpen abilities to problem solve. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is more than just a Jack Johnson song, it is something we should all consider doing more often. Of course, that is very un-American of me, buying is the new black, owning is the new green or something to that effect. (Homeland Security is probably on their way to my house as we speak)

I do this as an experiment. (although, hopefully a longitudinal experiment) I envy my neighbor, because he does it instinctively (and because envying your neighbor IS very American). It is ingrained in him. Like most things I envy, I hope to learn from it and perhaps even do more of it in my life. In the long run, it might even teach my daughter some important values.