Saturday, May 1, 2010

Purging Paper is Harder than it Sounds

Yesterday was recycle pick-up day in our neighbourhood. We have the extra-large blue bin, which the city empties every two weeks. Usually it’s full, a sign that we must be over-consuming. But we are a family of four and our growing boys eat a fair amount, much of which comes with some form of packaging: water bottles, pizza boxes, cereal boxes, milk and juice cartons, jars of all sizes, soda cans etc. We could probably do a better job compacting the boxes and I could buy milk bags rather than cartons (although the plastic is worse for the environment), but generally I’m a fairly environmentally conscious shopper.

Same goes for garbage. Every two weeks our extra-large bin is full to the brim. If I were really diligent and ambitious about reducing our output, I’d go through the entire bin with my family and discuss each piece of debris (like they did on Oprah on a recent episode).

The boys learn about recycling and garbage facts at school and we try to reinforce the teachings at home. We have a container in the kitchen for recyclable glass and plastics, a box in the utility cupboard for boxes and papers, and a green bin for biodegradable waste. Everything goes in its proper place. The problem is, we have too much of everything.

Technology should help somewhat. Now that we can read newspapers and magazines online, we should be able to reduce at least some of our paper product consumption (the Sunday New York Times must weigh about ten pounds). Which brings me to my main point. Yesterday, our bin wasn’t as full as usual so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get rid of some of the magazines I’ve kept over the years.

I love magazines. I love the glossy photos, the variety of articles, and the current perspectives. I could read magazine articles all day long. Every year the kids participate in a magazine drive to raise money for their school. This is when I renew my subscriptions and sometimes tack on a new one. My husband buys them too. We justify the expense because it helps the schools and also because a subscription is more economical than buying a magazine at the newsstand.

Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to read them all. As a result, we save them for future reading. But before we know it, the next issue has arrived, especially the weekly publications like MacLean’s and the Economist. The magazines pile up in the living room, our bedroom, and the family room. Same with the newspaper. I read the headlines and then put the paper aside for later on in the day. Predictably, I don’t end up having time because there is always something pressing to attend to outside of the work day: emails, phone calls, volunteer obligations, appointments, kids’ needs, pets’ needs, domestic chores, and now that spring is here—the garden. Who has time to read anything? (I must thank my followers for taking the time to read this blog!)

At night I either work on my new novel, my editing, or try to keep up with my book club reading. So the magazines accumulate and assimilate into our decor. They end up on bookshelves, on coffee tables, in wicker baskets, and in the basement. I have decorating magazines from years ago that I am loath to dispose of because they contain beautiful, creative ideas that I might use some day. Given the fact that we moved seven times in twelve years, I never know if another move may be around the corner. And then there’s the gorgeous LCBO magazines filled with mouth-watering photos of delectable dishes accompanied by recipes that I must try, eventually.

Yesterday was a day of reckoning. I dumped about two hundred magazines into the recycle bin. Was it hard? Absolutely. Just about every publication screamed at me to keep it a little longer, for the day would surely come when I’d be laid up or bored, and would finally have time to read what I missed.

Sorting through the magazines was a challenge. I couldn’t be ruthless. There was too much important information in those pages.

Headlining titles popped off the covers: Summer’s coming: Put the kids to work; Science Says: Happiness Really is Contagious; Why Boomers Hijacked Facebook; A Step-by-step guide to finding (and fulfilling) your life’s purpose; and Saving Energy: it starts at home. How could I throw these out? And then there’s Time Magazine’s glossy Year in Review: The Events That Counted, The People that Mattered, The Stories we’ll Remember…from 2005. I never did get to that, but perhaps I will—one day.

I recently cancelled my subscriptions and now I do most of my current magazine reading online, but I can’t help being drawn to a magazine stand at an airport or the grocery store and then breakdown and buy one or two, which I inevitably add to my “must read” collection at home.

As a writer, who must compete for those coveted magazine and newspaper spaces, I should be promoting the trade and singing the virtues of that physical feeling of paper between the fingers. But with computers and eBooks and now the iPad, it’s difficult to make the argument, especially when the environment stands to be the biggest casualty of all.


  1. My weaknesses are travel magazines and anything with recipes!

  2. I'm not quite the fan of magazines that you are, Carla, but books! They pile up, and pile up. When it comes to reading, my eyes are bigger than my stomach (does that saying work here? A tad confused, perhaps, but you catch my drift!) More and more, I read online, as it's so convenient and saves clutter as well as garbage. One day, I hope to get a Kindle (I have gone behind dropping hints for Christmas to outright requests). Although the feel of paper is still preferable to the cold glare of a screen, I do believe there's a place for the new along with the old.