Use Less Stuff
by Robert Lilienfeld
and William Rathje
Fawcett Columbine,
1998, 192 pages


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Robert Lilienfeld and William Rathje have compiled a resolutely accessible guide to curbing consumption in Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are. The authors founded Use Less Stuff Day, celebrated since 1994 on the Thursday preceding Thanksgiving, in an attempt to convince consumers to change their wasteful ways, and this book is a how-to manual for implementing the principles of the holiday.

Aiming at average Americans rather than ardent enviros, the authors painstakingly explain why a reliance on recycling will not cure our environmental ailments but only serve as a crutch or a bandage. If you can wade through (or, better yet, if you skip right over) the authors’ emphatic and simplistic attempts to give multi-millennial context to the recycling movement, and their quasi-sociobiological explanation of the urge to splurge, you’ll find in the latter two-thirds of the book a host of practical tips for reducing your consumptive footprint. Ranging from the mundane (turn out the lights when you leave a room) to the germane (keep the coils on the bottom of your fridge clean to increase efficiency) to the mildly inane (turn stale bread into salad croutons), there are indeed hints for everyone. A few are even likely to be new to die-hard anti-consumers.

Overall, this book is about taking baby steps rather than large ones. The authors advise readers to turn down the water-bed thermostat before going on vacation rather than scuttle the water bed altogether. The book’s tone — congenial, not strident — is likely to appeal to a wide range of readers (water-bed owners included), and it may inspire them to take the simple steps necessary to spare a few trees and prevent a few pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

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