Can Recycling and Consuming Less Lead to Happiness?



More stuff doesn’t make us happier, but I’ve found that higher quality stuff (and less of it) does. The nice thing is that this “selfish” decision (to invest in quality over quantity) also happens to be the best thing for the planet!” -Terra Heilman


Do you love to go shopping and collect things or rather, do things collect you? Do you find yourself cleaning out your house on a day off and getting rid of or recycling stuff that you barely used? Perhaps you buy something and it falls apart shortly after you get it and then you have to replace it again. If any of this sounds familiar, read on!  I  recently talked with an environmental educator and learned some fascinating tips on how to increase your happiness by eliminating excess material items, which in turn is better for our earth. Here is our Q &A:


Jocelin: Hello there Terra! Thanks for taking the time to be interviewed for Feel Better Wellness! Go ahead and tell us about yourself.

Hi! My name is Terra Heilman and I run my own business, Terra Linda Consulting. I’ve been in environmental education for about 15 years now. Currently, I’m a public speaker on waste reduction topics (recycling, reuse, thoughtful consumption, etc) and I’m also involved in a few side wings of the business doing environmentally friendly gift markets and client gift boxes.

Jocelin: Oh, that sounds really fascinating! What makes what you do important? Does it involve a mission and if so, what is it?

Most people recycle. That’s great! But, what most people don’t realize is that they’re probably over-recycling and also that recycling is a very small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the environmental footprint of our “stuff.” This can be overwhelming knowledge (it was for me when I discovered it) and that overwhelm can lead to apathy. I help my students and clients push past that overwhelm/apathy cycle to action. I inspire people to live a bit lighter on the planet by offering guilt-free green tips and tricks.

Jocelin: Apathy can lead people not to take action, unfortunately. So, how can people feel better by getting involved in what you teach?  What are the advantages? Are there any obstacles or things to consider that may make participating difficult?

When I initially talk to people about “waste reduction” that can be a hard pill to swallow. It sounds like I’m asking them to sacrifice. The funny thing about it though is that often, the “sacrifice” is replaced by something better.

Here is an example: Let’s say you have $100 to spend on new shoes. You can either buy three pairs of boots for $30 each or you can buy one pair of boots for $100. Many of us look at that equation and think, “Well, of course I’d want three pairs! That way, I can have black, brown and a third color!” The problem with this is that we’re also talking about three times the resources that went into making those boots. The resource extraction and manufacturing phases of our “stuff” are responsible for the majority of the environmental footprint, so now we’re talking about three times the amount of resources wrapped up in just one consumption decision.

Let’s look at it from a purely selfish standpoint: we’re talking about the difference between three pair of boots versus only one pair, right? Well…what about the quality of those boots? If the boots are selling for one third of the price, they’re likely lower quality (how many times have you bought something “cheap” only to find it wears out much sooner than you would have hoped?)

I personally take my boots to a cobbler when they’re wearing out and for about the price of a latte, I have a practically brand new pair of boots! You can’t really take “cheap” shoes to a cobbler because there was just never much quality in them to begin with. Also, I’m walking around in these suckers all day! I’d much rather pay for one solid pair of shoes and keep them in good repair than to have three pairs that all pinch and give me blisters. Ouch!

The bottom line is that the “sacrifice” that you make by spending your hard earned dough on quality instead of quantity is usually worth it. More stuff doesn’t make us happier, but I’ve found that higher quality stuff (and less of it) does. The nice thing is that this “selfish” decision (to invest in quality over quantity) also happens to be the best thing for the planet!

Jocelin: This seems like a simple change and quite smart. Do you have any other incredible stories of positive change that resulted from what you do?

I have a lot of little stories of inspiring others to make changes in their lives!

Here’s one: I have a good friend who was helping me to refine what I speak about and I mentioned that one of the behaviors that I’m working on in my own life is to refuse a plastic straw when I go to a restaurant. Shortly after we had this discussion, that video was going viral of the turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nose (warning, it’s pretty sad/painful to watch!) She shared it out to her social networks and mentioned that someone (yours truly) had recently inspired her to decrease her own consumption of straws like this one by simply refusing a straw in restaurants.

For me, it’s the little things that have gotten us to where we’re at in regards to our planet and it’s the little things like this that can collectively make huge changes.

I know videos like this one and climate change news can be disheartening and lead to overwhelm and apathy. I hope to help people push past that and change behaviors in their own lives and then inspire friends and family to make lasting changes as well.

Jocelin: That poor turtle. ): Thank you for giving up the use of plastic straws. We once had those plastic rings around a six pack, but now they are non-existent. So, change is truly possible!

Please tell us, how can we get involved or learn more?

I’ll be giving my talk, “Beyond Recycling” on a few dates in October, beginning October 8th here in Portland, Oregon. We will look at the fact that recycling is only ten percent of what is needed to create lasting change in our consumption habits. I’d love to see people at these! Additionally, we have a few events coming up and if anyone needs client thank-you’s for their business, we’d love to help you create a customized gift basket full of high quality, locally produced goodies! The best way to keep up with me is to follow The Reuser (my alter ego) on Facebook and/or through my website: Additionally, if you have specific questions about what I do or my knowledge base, I’m happy to have an email dialog, as well! I can be reached at:

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and being an earth saver, Terra! We appreciate all of the important work that you do!

Be sure to e-mail Terra to learn more about her upcoming schedule of talks! She is located in the greater Portland, Oregon area, but travels often.

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