The rise of eco-neurosis, and what to do about it

We all want to do our bit for the environment. But some people take this a bit too far, with the result that eco-anxiety and eco-neurosis are on the increase.

Eco superman

What are eco-anxiety and eco-neurosis?

When sorting through clutter, there are usually things that can easily be recycled, such as paper, cardboard, glass bottles and cans. But there are many things that can’t, such as used toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes, dental floss, plastic razors, cling film, blister packs for pills, plastic netting for fruit and vegetables, jiffy bags, plastic pens, CDs, DVDs, some types of bubble wrap, many types of cat litter, and the list goes on.

You probably have some of these items in your home as you read this, and have resigned yourself to the fact that you recycle as much as you can but can’t yet do anything about the rest.

We make progress every year, and I love hearing about grass roots movements such as the petition in Australia to stop Woolworths and Coles supermarkets from needlessly wrapping small portions of produce in plastic clingfilm and styrofoam. However there’s still a long way to go.

Most people can live with this. However some feel so overwhelmed by guilt that they can hardly throw anything away. I’ve met people who agonize over tossing even a bent paperclip, a used metal staple, a rubber band, or a piece of string. Others stockpile huge piles of things, hoping and waiting for the day when they can be recycled. Some I’ve met have entire rooms or sheds full things that their local waste centre is not yet able to handle.

It’s not politically correct to say ‘Don’t you think you’re going a bit overboard with this?’ because caring for the environment is seen as such a socially acceptable and admirable practice. But when it’s taken this far, there’s often a neurotic or obsessive-compulsive tendency that’s hidden under the guise of being environmentally conscientiousness. It’s concerning rather than commendable. It can also be a health or fire hazard to the person and their neighbours if the habit develops into hoarding and the mounds continue to grow.

Of course there’s a lovely long list of things that can be recycled or upcycled these days if you have the time and energy to do so. Just google the word “recycle” or “upcycle” with the name of the item, and see what comes up in your area. Prepare to be surprised. Unwanted prosthetic limbs, dentures, pets’ fur, human hair, and even sex toys now have a use!

What can you do?

What it really comes down to is how much of your life you want to spend making sure that every item you no longer need is recycled or reused in some way, and how much you are prepared to have what is essentially a private landfill zone in your home or garden while you do this. Making responsible choices is good, but when it starts to consume your life, something is out of whack.

We’ve come a very long way with recycling in recent decades, and countries such as Sweden are leading the way by generating only 1% landfill per year. But when you look closely at how this has been achieved, a large proportion of its garbage is incinerated, and a huge amount of work has been done to change manufacturing practices so that non-recyclable items are not produced in the first place. There is only so much we consumers can do. The big changes need to happen at the top and filter down.

In the meantime, if you hold on to too much stuff, it will stagnate the energy of your home and your life, and you won’t be much use to anyone at all, including yourself. Not too little and not too much – that’s the antidote to eco-anxiety and eco-neurosis, and the recipe for a healthy, balanced life.

Most important of all, remember that you may not be able to do much about the items you’ve already bought, but you can certainly change what you acquire in future. Eco-guilt at the point of disposal will not help at all. Eco-consciousness at the point of purchase is what will make a difference.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2015, updated 2021


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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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5 Responses to The rise of eco-neurosis, and what to do about it

  1. See if there is a Freecycle network in your area. It is free to become a member. You just post online what you are getting rid of and other people can let you know if they want it. It’s purpose is to keep things out of landfills and help people recycle / offer their things to others who could use them. I’ve gotten rid of sheets, fabric, an air mattress, arts and crafts supplies, and a camera that partially worked.

  2. I love this video from the Story of Stuff website. It clarifies how being eco-friendly is really, really a systemic question, and individuals shouldn’t feel so rotten about things we do just to get through the day – The Story of Solutions” from The Story of Stuff website.

    1. Thanks Felicia for the link to The Story of Stuff — an amazing amount of political & economic info about production, consumption, pollution & what are the game-changers, put across in a fast, simple and engaging way.

  3. One can recycle ANY used Electronic (computers; radios: etc) at a local STAPLES STORE; there are lists of recycling centers at websites too. Staples takes “old telephone cords; any computer related stuff”!

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