AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

Help Me, Rhonda


I hate separating my trash into different types of recyclables when I’m eating out at Earth Fare. There are always, like, four different bins, each with its own sign listing eight possible categories that should go into that bin. It always confuses me, and I don’t have any idea what happens to this stuff after I toss it and whether it actually helps the earth. Even if it does, is it worth my anguish? Sometimes I want to chuck it all into the trash (er, “organics”) bin, but I don’t, because of the glare I know I’ll get from the other patrons. What should I do? I kind of… 

Want To Be Green

I think this little annoyance reflects something bigger. Let me make two suggestions that I think will improve your life overall and solve this problem in the process.

The first thing you could try is deliberately making your life less rushed. Leave half an hour, on top of travel time, between any two things you’re going to. If you can’t do that, reschedule or forget about one of the events. Slow your whole life down this way. You will have to cut out some things, but it will force you to evaluate what you really want to do. You’ll be left with only the commitments that are important to you, and your pace will be more pleasant. You’ll have time between appointments to talk with a friend you run into. Or pick up the Flagpole. Or window shop. This kind of scheduling also smoothes out the delays that pop up sometimes. 

What the frack does this have to do with your Earth Fare problem? When you’re moving at this slower pace, the garbage problem won’t cause so much anguish. Throwing it all in the trash/organics bin is only tempting if you’re dying to get out the door ASAP. If you know you have plenty of time and, in fact, you need to fill 30 minutes, reading the lists won’t seem so annoying and overwhelming. You’ll probably see a pattern among the items on each list and pretty quickly you’ll be able to predict what parts of your trash go in what bin. Then the whole process is easier.

The second option is to work on not giving a damn what the other patrons think of you. You can throw everything in the trash bin and walk right out of the store without breaking stride if you can decide it doesn’t matter that other people glare at you. In order to do this, though, you have to make peace with yourself about what you’re doing. Real peace, not faux angry peace that says “I don’t care what those self-righteous hippies think; I’d have time to sort trash too if I didn’t have a job to go to.” You’ll have to find that true peace in something like your other environmental contributions or your general confidence that you’re a good person. If your conscience is clear, you don’t feel other people’s judgmental stares as acutely. (And is it possible that their glares are actually a fiction of your guilty conscience?)

Lastly, I’ll suggest you satisfy your doubts about the trash handling by asking a few employees there what happens to the bins when they’re full. Try to talk to the person who actually changes the bags. A little investigating could go a long way towards easing your conscience or motivating you to take the time to separate.

What’s In a Name?

I have a cousin who’s about three years younger than me. Growing up, we were pretty close and still are. We don’t live near each other, but we do stay in touch pretty often. We talk on the phone and often send each other cards or little things in the mail. About 10 months ago, she got married and, of course, changed her last name. (Our dads are brothers, so we had always had the same last name.) Since then, I’ve sent her some stuff in the mail and, I guess, a couple of times, when I wasn’t paying attention, addressed the envelope using her old last name, not her married name. She mentioned it when she got the cards, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Last month, our families were together, and, at an event with lots of family and non-family, she overheard me say, “I’m Mary Smith’s cousin.” Smith, of course, being the last name that we used to share. She got really mad about that, but I swear it was unintentional. She was Mary Smith for 26 years, the entire time that I’ve known her, and it’s just the force of habit that makes me keep saying and writing Smith. I don’t do this on purpose, but I don’t really see what the big deal is. Is she maybe being a little oversensitive?



The big deal, Forgetful, is that you got your cousin’s name wrong. Repeatedly. After she nicely corrected you about the cards. She made the decision to change her name (I mean, as much as that decision can be freely made under tremendous social pressure), and you’re consistently disregarding her preference. Her new name connects her with her husband, underscores the fact that they’re a couple, and, yes, separates her a little bit from your family. She might also view it as a marker of adulthood. You’re subtly, but insistently, invalidating all those things by refusing to use her preferred name. 

There’s a lot of unpacking to do around names and marriage, but, in this case, it’s your cousin’s unpacking to do, not yours. Imagine someone repeatedly getting your name wrong, even after you corrected him nicely. Names are personal, and they have a lot of significance, so it’s important to call people by the name they prefer. Muhammad Ali taught us that. 

Talkative Neighbor

I have two dogs, and every evening I walk them when I get home from work. Obviously, I have to do that to take care of them, but I also really enjoy it. It’s when I unwind from work, spend time outside and get some exercise. I live in a small neighborhood, so we really follow just one or two routes. The problem is this woman who lives in my neighborhood, who always seems to be in her yard or taking her trash out when I go by. She’s nice enough, but she just talks and talks and talks. She’s completely oblivious to any suggestion that I want to move on. I’ve even started walking away from her, but she just keeps talking. I’m starting to dread walking by her house, but it’s so close to mine that there’s really no way to avoid it. Help!

Dreading Dog-Walking


First, spend five minutes—just five—thinking about this woman. She probably spends time outside her house because she’s lonely and wants people to talk to. Other people probably react to her the way you do, which just makes her lonelier and more likely to talk in an effort to keep people around. She doesn’t have great social skills, and that further isolates her. Don’t beat yourself up over this, but do try to think about her for a few minutes in order to maximize your sympathy for her. This will make it easier to talk to her once in a while. (Also, if you slow your life down a little, like WTBG above, talking to her might not be so burdensome.)

You don’t have to stop and talk to her for 15 minutes every day though. When you’re walking by and see her, don’t slow down or stop. You can wear headphones or wave when you go by or even say hello, but don’t stop. If she falls in with you, just keep going. If she tries to get you to stop, you can say, “We’ve got to keep moving. Have a great night!” If you get caught up in conversation and it goes on too long, you can also give yourself permission to start walking away. If she doesn’t take the hint and taper off, you can just kind of keep moving until the conversation is forced to end. She’s disregarding all social niceties, so you will have to be blunter than you normally would.