In time lapsed

photo (86)

When I was a freshman at Rhode Island School of Design, I took a foundations 3 dimensional design course with a teacher named Ken Horii. I often recall a lecture he gave during which he projected slides from his trip to the Kailasanatha rock-cut temple at Ellora in India. The temple was carved into the wall of a basalt cliff and took an estimated 40 years to complete. One of the slides showed a section of a painted ceiling. Ken explained that the fine lines in the image were applied with a single hair. I remember that when he returned from the trip he was unable to make art for more than a year. I recently emailed Ken to ask him to refresh my memory on some of the details of his experience. In his reply he explained that he was hoping to impart to his students the importance of finding necessity in our own production. The work of those who carved each stone and painted each line was in service to something greater than themselves. He wrote that what gave him pause in his work was, “the need to seek and find that necessity for myself—a deeper and undeniable way forward.”

I think of Ken’s lecture whenever I am faced with something overwhelming that forces me to question my practices and requires me to take pause in my own life. This last semester of graduate school at Parsons was an instance of this. I was able to design my curriculum around the subject of waste and I discovered very quickly that I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I took a class about e-waste that examined the manufacturing, usage, and disposal of electronics, specifically through the lens of the smartphone. We made a digital and physical project called TECHTRASH that aimed to demystify some of the consequences of device use. In an anthropology course I took at NYU called Garbage in Gotham, I learned about the history of waste management in NYC. I worked on a composting project and campaign at an urban farm in Brooklyn with Project Eats and Hello Compost. In a more experimental project, I co-designed an exhibit called Landfull for a speculative design class. This kind of discourse is exactly what I was searching for once I had settled into a No Trash Project routine in Providence and I looked around wondering if it was possible for me to effect change beyond my own personal consumption and discard habits. I had started to become aware of the limitations of focusing solely on problem solving municipal waste and was eager to have conversations about systems upstream of consumption. The question, “Why do we focus so much money, so many resources and campaigning on municipal waste management and individual responsibility, when household trash only makes up for 3% of the nations total waste output?” rang in my ears. I felt the need to reconsider whether or not I wanted to continue to generate what I feared may ultimately be a misdirected energy. I wondered if I had been naïve to promote my No Trash Project through the blog when folks in the field of Discard Studies seem to have much bigger fish to fry.




After many months, some wonderful experiences, and a lot of reflection, I’ve come to some conclusions that I feel the need to share. First, and perhaps most importantly in the context of everything I’ve written on this platform to date, while the planet won’t notice whether or not I make trash or if I leave the lights on when I leave a room, I remain committed to the effort to circumvent garbage and packaging in my consumption of goods. I continue to take care in my decisions (based in considerations of source, material, manufacturing, energy, quality and durability) about the things I acquire and the things I choose to purge.  I will continue to work to limit my energy and resource-consumption. Though I’ve tried to express this in previous posts, I can say more distinctly now that these decisions are not based in some delusion that I alone can slow the melting ice, but rather in something more personal and intuitive. It’s in the feeling that I have when I lift an item towards a trashcan about the strangeness of its grave beyond the receptacle and the rituals we’ve constructed to deliver it there.  Any acknowledgement of the resources and labor required to produce that item, and of the fuel required to move the materials around is obliterated in that gesture. The objection to it stirs in my chest and in my stomach. If I had to assign one word to the feeling it would be, “Nope.” It’s important to note is that while that 3% statistic is something I grapple with in terms of trying to decide where to focus my attention, having stood in the open face of Rhode Island’s central landfill taking in the volume of a single day’s worth of garbage in the smallest state in the country, there is no part of me that imagines that 3% to be too insignificant for concern.

Additionally, the upward trend in my quality of life since starting this project obliges me to continue forward with it and to sustain my effort to become more organized in my housekeeping, work, school, and personal care routines. In doing so I might free up more time to cultivate relationships and get after more adventures. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not an organized thinker by nature, so I have to work hard to maintain order and efficiency. I’ve come to rely on the No Trash systems I’ve installed to reduce chaos and clutter. So in short, as far as my personal dedication to this project goes, there’s still no end in sight.

Another important conclusion I’ve reached is that while my private individual actions may not lead to anything outside of personal satisfaction, sharing my thoughts, works, and practices on this blog may generate meanings greater than my own struggles and successes. I’ve just returned home to New York City from a trip abroad. I was awarded the opportunity to attend a design workshop in Venice called Recycling City 3. Once the workshop ended I traveled around to meet some friends I had made through dialogues sparked over my project. I am so grateful to have had the chance to spend time with such amazing thinkers and doers. Letters from old professors, conversations with my brilliant classmates, and shining new friends have inspired me to keep posting. The tone of future posts will likely range from theoretical to practical, and continue to include musings around micro and macro issues in waste.

More soon,


27 Responses to In time lapsed

  1. Marie-Ève July 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    Always a pleasure to read you! I’d be interested the breakdown of the other 97%.

    Cheers from Montréal.

  2. Rebecca @ Rebe With a Clause July 24, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    Glad to hear from you, Colleen! Looking forward to future posts.

  3. Rose July 25, 2014 at 5:19 am #

    Please continue to share your journey with us! You are so inspiring in your manner of approaching a more thoughtful and peaceful way of life. I encourage you to continue to keep sharing your trail blazing spirit regarding the issues of daily life and trash in your own evolution of knowledge and exploration on these topics. I know that knowledge can at times bog down purpose, but I cherish the knowledge I’ve gained from what you have shared and have found a refreshing marriage of minimalism, frugality, and greener living through your beautiful and contemplative blog and hope to continue finding inspiration for my own life here.

  4. Katy July 25, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    I’m so happy to see you’ve posted again. You’ve had a big positive impact on the way I do things round the house and in my life and no doubt on many others with your inspiring writing. Through reducing trash and being more mindful of how and what I buy it’s rolled into other aspects of life, getting a lot more minimalistic, decluttering, reducing consumption etc. It’s all very fulfilling, but for many people it’s just something they don’t stop to think about. I think all most of us can do is live our lives the way we feel is right, do our bit and try and spread the message. Sometimes (especially on bin day on our road) it can feel like you’re swimming against a very strong tide.
    The 3% figure really shocked me, I’m from the UK but I expect the numbers are similar.
    I look forward to future posts.

  5. Elisa @ Biosballo July 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    I’m glad to read you again! All the best !! :O)

  6. Isis July 26, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    i know exactly the feeling you are talking about. it’s some sort of innate feeling in us to do what we feel is right – not to save the world, or prove a point or anything – just that it we have to do it for ourselves. i struggled for a long time with the thoughts of ‘but i’m can’t make a difference, and what is the point if no one else changes’, but then i realised i can’t live a lie. i have to live what i feel is right.
    i love reading your blog btw.

  7. Julia July 26, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    I’m so glad to see that you are back! Your blog has inspired numerous lifestyle changes for me, and I have been checking almost daily for new posts. I was worried i’d never read a post from you again! Glad all is well.

  8. Bridget Brewer July 27, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

    Yayyyy you’re back! Your efforts are so inspiring to so many of us. I’ve been reading you for a few years now, and when you don’t post anything new I go back and reread about your adventures and tribulations. Thank you for being brave, thoughtful, and intentional! And thank you for coming back!

  9. Erana July 27, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Kia Ora Colleen, so glad you are back! your ongoing experience has been extremely beneficial to the way I reimagine my daily routine. You have been inspired and your discoveries have caused great changes in my life. Thank you.

  10. tgp July 28, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    “Some of my critics were happy to say that my refusal to use a computer would not do any good. I have argued, and am convinced, that it will at least do me some good, and that it may involve me in the preservation of some cultural goods. But what they meant was… the materials and energy I save by not buying a computer will not be ‘significant’. They meant that no individual’s restraint in the use of technology or energy will be ‘significant’. That is true.
    But each one of us, by ‘insignificant’ individual abuse of the world, contributes to a general abuse that is devastating. And if I were one of thousands or millions of people who could afford a piece of equipment, even one for which they had a conceivable ‘need’, and yet did not buy it, that would be ‘significant’. Why, then, should I hesitate for even a moment to be one, even the first one, of the ‘significant’ number?
    ….Why should anybody wait to do what is right until everybody does it? It is not ‘significant’ to love your own children or to eat your own dinner, either. But normal humans will not wait to love or eat until it is mandated by an act of Congress.”
    —-Wendell Berry— Feminism, The Body, and The Machine

    Thanks for your insights, Colleen.

  11. Kim July 30, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    So glad you are back! You are inspiring and this blog has already made an impact outside of your single project. I have been moved to eliminate waste in my life and I know others have too.

  12. Yannick August 1, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    I’m glad you’re back. Your blogpost made me smile. Thank you for being such an inspiration. Btw still using your deoderant recipe :-)

  13. Jitka Mikulastikova August 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    Glad you are back! You are such an inspiration to me, in so many ways, se please keep posting :)))

  14. Caroline August 15, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    I have been following your blog since the beginning and it has been incredibly inspiring to see how you have designed your lifestyle, not to mention a pleasure to see your beautiful photography. I am so glad to see you return here and wanted to express much gratitude towards you for sharing your journey and efforts to live in this intentional, low impact way. Thank you, Colleen. You are a true hero!

  15. Liz August 15, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    I read your entire blog over the course of a couple days, and I’m so glad to see that you’re posting again! I continue to go back to your archives for inspiration. I love the way that you highlight the beauty of a zero waste lifestyle, not only the difficulties of going against the grain. Thank you– It has been a great encouragement to me.

  16. Ann Louise August 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    It’s great to “hear” your voice again! Your recent work and projects sound so interesting and inspiring!

  17. Lisa August 20, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    It is great to see a new blog post. I hope that you find the time to post more soon.

  18. Maggie Ross Price August 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    I can’t wait to read future posts! I just finished my thesis project on reducing my personal trash and can relate to many o f your trials. My blog is I would loved to toss idea back and forth with you.

  19. Mary August 25, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

    So happy to read this post! I’m ceaselessly impressed with your commitment to the micro and macro issues of waste reduction. Your blog has inspired me in so many tangible, physical aspects of my own life. Much support and happiness to you and your goals.

  20. Jenna October 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm #

    Hoping to read your next post soon, Colleen! Like many others, I have been so inspired by your blog! Would love to hear what is on your mind these days.

  21. pest control nj October 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    This is one awesome blog post.Really thank you!
    pest control nj

  22. Sandra October 29, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    Amazing! That is an incredible article! I love to read articles about journeys! Thank you for this one!

  23. Brenda December 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Beautifully said! I was surprised to see that household trash was only 3%, though as you said, it still is significant. I believe minimalism, frugality, eco-living all have so many more benefits than just producing less waste. Living intentionally is so beautiful and meaningful. It shows respect for our planet, each other, and ourselves. In addition, if we are not purchasing and consuming all of the “stuff” everyone else seems to “need” won’t we also help to reduce the amount of waste generated during production? If nothing else, at the very least we are showing others a different way to live. I am so grateful for my journey. I am so much happier and healthier living with less stuff, less packaging, and less distraction. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and your lifestyle, I find it very encouraging. Thank you.

  24. Michelle March 1, 2015 at 11:08 pm #

    I discovered your blog about a month ago and am thoroughly enjoying your reflections and experiences. I teach environmental science to high school students and it is nice to have an example to share with them of someone “walking the talk” who is close in age to them that they can relate to. About the 3% – it’s my understanding that the 3% is responsible for the other 97% in terms of materials used, energy used, ecosystems destroyed and pollution generated during resource extraction, refining raw materials and the production of the things we buy. I believe a seeming small reduction is actually quite huge in terms of the whole life cycle of the items.

  25. Bronwyn March 11, 2015 at 2:44 am #


    I just want to say that you have been very inspiring to me. I really resonate with your tone and your honesty. I’ve started on my own project and have encouraged other friends to join me. I want you to know that even though it may feel small you are a big part of the cultural shift that is needed to combat waste. Please keep it up.

  26. No Need for Mars July 5, 2015 at 1:00 am #

    I was attracted to the post because of the beautiful art but stayed for the inspiring words! I never thought of how municipal waste is so small in comparison to the rest of the world’s, but I agree that it is important to sally forth with our personal missions. Our individual actions are small, but they may help create seeds of change and ideas that are much larger than ourselves! You gave me a little extra oomph!

  27. Brisa Silverleaf March 2, 2016 at 11:00 pm #

    I know it’s been a couple of years since you wrote this post, but I just found your blog and have been reading it voraciously. I just wanted to let you know that you ARE effecting change, far-reaching change, through your posts. I’m in Utah, and I’ve seen commenters from all over the world get inspired to consume less waste. I’ve been working to reduce the waste I produce for a few years now, but your blog has really opened my eyes to the many areas of my consumption that I’ve been neglecting. I work in a hospital, and the amount of waste we produce there is truly unsettling. You’ve inspired me to broach the subject with my superiors about trying to find ways to reduce our hospital trash, and if enough of us do this in our workplaces, we may influence more than just three percent of the waste stream. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Anti-Spam Quiz: