In Belgium, we live with our trash.

Jacob and I share 30 square meters of living space. That’s roughly 300 square feet. We have a living room featuring a skimpy kitchenette in the corner, a private bathroom (a luxury for students) and a separate bedroom. The confined space and total lack of closets present unique challenges to my housekeeping sensibilities.

The most difficult of these challenges is the trash. As I mentioned previously, we live with our trash.

In the corner, there is a bin for waste paper.
By the sink, a lidded bucket for compost.
On the floor, one bag for clear glass, and one bag for green glass, and one bag for any other color glass.
Under the IKEA cart, a recycle can.
Next to the IKEA cart, an “everything else” trash.

If a battery dies, it sits in plain sight until we take it to a safe disposal at a nearby shopping center. The same goes for blown light bulbs. Last month, a pair of socks rent beyond patching, but textiles are a special case and need to be donated to the second hand store across town. Needless to say, the socks won’t make it there for several weeks.

And there is another layer of rubbish complexity: every variety of sorted trash can only be set out for pickup on specific days. Some are weekly, but others are collected bi-weekly and some only monthly.

You’re beginning to understand.

While the dingy garbage bins around the apartment continually get on my nerves, I have come to appreciate something: living with my trash keeps me human.

Before Belgium, a dear friend made a New Year’s commitment to live disposables-free for a year (which has become a lifestyle). Isn’t it wonderful when the passion of our friends sparks a thrill of conscience? Her experiment encouraged me to store a set of utensils, plate, bowl and mug in my desk at work. No plastics or paper over my lunch break. That made me feel like I was doing my bit. I threw away my trash and kept recyclables separate like most Americans. The trash was tucked away and put out promptly whenever it smelled. I never had to look at it. I never had to sit at the dinner table with it in plain sight, reminding me that to live is to consume, reminding me that my living leaves a trail of waste in its path. 

But now I live with my trash. Every item I throw away must be contemplated first, then sorted, then tolerated. Talk about extrinsic motivation: living with my waste has made me less wasteful. I wash my plastic ziplocs and have found a million uses for glass jars. I reuse discarded envelopes for grocery lists and waste paper for handlettering. I practice acrylics on empty wine bottles and make dumplings from stale bread. And how can I ever go back to the days before composting? I love the opportunity to turn my waste into something less wasteful: something that gives life. 

After all, in new creation, litter left behind brings good news… 

So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.