Being Mindful of Waste

Being Mindful of Waste | On the Street Where We Live (

Living in a small, one-room officetel (read: studio) in Seoul forces you to reckon with your things—not even surrounded by, but in one room of everything you own, facing each item every day. This has led me to develop a new relationship with 'things.'

Andrew and I are anti-hoarders. We don't enjoy accumulating things, and can easily toss them without being sentimental because our attachments are not to the things themselves. That's not to say we don't have things or don't value the things we have—I'm quite precious about taking good care of my things—it's that everything we do have and hold onto both is used often and brings us joy. But even we were overwhelmed when we had to sell, donate, toss, and pack everything we owned in Rhode Island in preparation for our move abroad.

Consumerism is entrenched in the culture of Seoul, and there are deep, historical reasons for this. But the loud and aggressive approach to sales coupled with the lack of space to put things has put me off passive consumerism in a way I plan to bring with me when we find ourselves back in the States.

Another way in which Seoul has made me more mindful of waste is through our trash. Seoul has a strict and methodical process for separating trash, and the onus is on the individual. It's not just separating recyclables and non-recyclables, it's food waste (with designated food waste bags), plastics, papers, tins, and other materials, all by type and with subcategories. There are up to ten different bins when you take out the trash to sort each piece of trash into. Non-compliance can result in a fine of up to 300,000 KRW (~266.30 USD). 

It sounds tedious and it is. But it forces you to reckon with your trash, and, in our case, reduce it; our trash bags are the size of plastic grocery store bags and take us between one and three weeks to fill. 

Here are some of the ways I am trying to be more mindful through action. 


to buy lists

I keep lists on the Notes app on my phone, from memos and to-dos, to gift ideas for loved ones. One of my lists is 'to buy,' categorized by needs and wants, sub-categorized by item type, and listed in order of priority or level of want. Any item I think I need or want to buy is placed on this list for a deliberation period of days, weeks, months, even years (the longest I um-ed and ah-ed over a purchase was ten). Sometimes, the coveting is enough of a thrill and then the item is removed. Other times, the item becomes a considered purchase. Either way, keeping a live document of all items helps me to process, prioritize, consider, and reconsider, to prevent impulses and regrets, and to value my ultimate purchases.


A tip for reducing food portions when dieting is to use smaller dishware. Similarly, smaller spaces and trash bags reduce things and waste. We use reusable or personal bags when shopping and avoid items with unnecessary or wasteful packaging. We have two reusable bottles each, for hot and cold beverages, and I'm trying to get us in the habit of using them when we order coffee, tea, or other drinks out. 

supporting conscious businesses

Starbucks announced that they will stop using disposable plastic straws by 2020. Some small businesses, one of my favorites, Plant, have already eliminated single-use plastics. One can look at these actions from different angles, but I choose to look at them as positive actions in the right direction that will inform consumers and encourage and even pressure other businesses to act the same. Slow fashion is becoming trendy, and I support that.

Being Mindful of Waste | On the Street Where We Live (

I am by no means where I want to be in terms of reducing my footprint on this planet, that produces beautiful flowers, some of my favorite things, but these actions become habits, become lifestyle, become real, enduring change.

Being Mindful of Waste | On the Street Where We Live (

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