Three Ways Living Tiny Makes Eco-Friendly Living Harder

So you've heard that living in a smaller footprint is good for the environment, right? Less to heat and cool? Less room to accumulate junk that's just going to end up in a landfill? Less materials (and material waste) used to build the home in the first place?

Not every part of living small encourages eco-friendly practices, though. Sometimes the nature of living in a tiny house actually invites us to became more wasteful.

1. Quick, hide the recyclables!

We recycle as much out of habit as out of a desire to care for our environment. When we moved into our first apartment after we got married, part of the lease agreement included recycling due to waste management policies in the city where we lived. Even after moving back home to a less recycling-progressive locale, we've kept up the habit. It feels natural, and it seems like the right thing to do. Unfortunately, our current city doesn't offer curbside pick up of recyclables, so we have to take it all to the recycling center ourselves. This creates a bit of a storage dilemma for us.

Where in the world do we put it all between recycling runs?

Right now we have paper in a paper bag under the sink and plastic in a reusable bag that hangs from one of our kitchen cabinet doors. Cardboard is flattened and stacked together in one box in our kitchen. It narrows the walkway, but we haven't come up with a better storage solution yet.

We've mulled over different ideas for keeping it contained in ways that take up less space.

We talked about getting a recycling storage center to put outside, but that's less convenient, and between the trees and the rain and the insects and the other forest creatures that live outside our home, it seems like any outdoor storage solution would quickly get too gross to put in the car.

We also discussed not separating the recyclables until we get to the recycling center so we can keep it all contained in one spot, but I have a feeling that would just discourage us from recycling all together because it would involve more effort to do so. Plus it rains a lot, and I don't know about you, but standing outside in the rain to sort recyclables isn't my idea of a good time.

The best solution is probably to make runs to the recycling center much more frequently than we do now.

It's ironic that living a with a smaller house, and therefore a smaller ecological footprint, actually makes it harder for us to recycle.

2. Save time working and cleaning so you can spend more time at the store! (And don't forget the gas it takes to get there.)

What do you do when your refrigerator will only hold enough food for a few days? (If that.) You shop more frequently, of course. So the time that you could have spent doing other things is now spent at the grocery store.

And here we small-house proponents are trying to convince you that living tiny will save you time!

Okay, yes, I think that the time equation does come out in the tiny-house dweller's favor overall, but not in every detail. Having to shop more frequently probably will cost you in the time department.

And here's the rub: unless you are fortunate enough to live next to a market, you've got to use some form of conveyance to cart yourself and all your purchases around. Whether it's your own personal vehicle or some mode of public transportation, it's not free, and it's not completely carbon neutral (unless you have managed to rig some sort of contraption to the back of your bike to carry your few days' worth of groceries, in which case I applaud you). Making frequent trips to the store can be incredibly wasteful when it comes to fuel consumption and wear and tear on your vehicle.

3. Congratulations! In your quest to live with less, you just created a pile of garbage.

A few weeks ago, Chris made a run to Goodwill for me. Guess what? Even Goodwill has its limits. And I'm not talking about that crazy, dirty, broken junk that should have been tossed anyway. I'm talking about perfectly good things like hangers. Goodwill doesn't take hangers. Who knew?

When we rearranged our bedroom storage to make room for Sweetheart's toddler bed, we ended up completely doing away with a good amount of hanging room in the closet. (Folding clothes is much more space-efficient than hanging them is anyway.) Of course this meant that we no longer needed as many hangers as before.

What do you do with something that even Goodwill doesn't want?

I'm not thrilled to announce that we tossed those hangers, and now they will sit in a landfill for a really long time because they are plastic. Talk about wasteful.

Another example involves gift bags. One of my daughters recently had a birthday, and as I was squishing the leftover gift bags from her opened presents into our small gift-bag-and-wrapping-paper drawer, I pondered the idea of culling the collection a little bit. After all, how many girly birthday gift bags will I ever reuse? Yet I hesitate because just tossing them seems like such a waste. Maybe Goodwill takes used gift bags.

This is one way to repurpose a gift bag.
The obvious solution to this particular problem is to curb the accumulation of stuff right from the start so there's less to get rid of later. That doesn't always work, though. Take the two examples above: hangers and gift bags. One was a former need that eventually became unnecessary. The other was a gift. Someone has to either keep and reuse or toss the gift bags after the gifts have been given and received. I'm certainly not going to tell my four-year-old that her friends can't bring her presents because I don't want to deal with gift bags. So I keep them for now and hope that lots of little girls are going to invite us to their birthdays soon so I can thin the gift bag herd a little.

Of course I could just toss them and buy new ones as needed, but that's the problem, isn't it? Trashing perfectly good items simply due to a lack of storage space is hardly environmentally friendly.

(As an aside, I imaging the market for gift bags must be pretty well saturated by now, right? Doesn't everyone already have a drawer full of bags waiting to be reused and traded around among friends? We can keep passing the gift bags around to each other at party after party. If you don't have your own never-ending supply, come on over to my house. I've got lots.)

In the end, I like to think that the environmental benefits of going tiny outweigh the difficulties that living in a small home creates when it comes to maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. We do our best to keep on recycling even when it would be easier not to do so, and we try to combine our trips to the grocery store with other outings so as to minimize our extra trips to town. Figuring out how to get rid of our unwanted clutter in an efficient manner without being forced to trash perfectly good items is a balancing act that we are still perfecting.

Living small may be one good way to care for the environment, but it's not always going to be as straightforward or easy as it may seem.