Krista Houghton
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The zen of picking up trash

By Krista Houghton

Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed an alarming amount of trash on public lands. Social media is partly to blame, as no place is secret anymore and there are  more people enjoying remote places. Sadly, many haven’t learned the principles of Leave No Trace.

Recently I was nine hours from the nearest gas station when I noticed some trash, a tampon applicator; you know, one of those purple-colored plastic, disposable applicators. A few years ago, this would have ruined my day, but I’ve learned not to waste emotional energy on trash. I just calmly took a few squares of TP and picked it up, placing it in my garbage bag. I took satisfaction knowing it would no longer ruin the beauty of this place.

Speaking of toilet paper, what’s up with all of the TP flowers left in the woods?  For us ladies that squat in the woods, please don’t leave the toilet paper behind. Pack it,  use some leaves, or better yet get yourself a Kula cloth. Worth every penny!

picking up trash

I have always been one to pick up trash, especially in the great outdoors. But this past year, my husband and I have taken it up a notch by acting locally. We have decided that where we live is just as beautiful and needs our help too.

What started as observations of garbage on our street led to research and phone calls. At first nothing happened, but we did make some progress eventually resulting in the clean up of an abandoned homeless camp across from our street. My husband then decided that he would become the guardian of this area, making sure it would not be defiled again. This urge comes from a deep sense to protect the places we live and love, through direct action.

It’s good to be involved in policies that work toward long term solutions to complex problems such as homelessness and increased tourism, but in the meantime, the trash just keeps piling up. I worry that we are being desensitized to seeing garbage and that it will become something acceptable in our society. Trash on our streets, in our schools, in our parks and in nature, is not acceptable. If the problem is allowed to fester it just multiplies.

Throughout the past year, I have noticed I am no longer as upset as I was when I first started making my rounds in our neighborhood. Rather, I feel a sense of pride in caring for the areas where I walk my dog and my son rides his bike to school. It’s nice to come home and see my streets clean. Yes, there is still some trash to be picked up occasionally, but even this seems to have become less frequent. I ponder if this is a result of our actions? We often get honks and a wave, or a thank you from a passerby when we are out picking up trash. The local high school kids have seen me pick up around their campus. Perhaps, our actions of caring for a place are taking hold in others? I can only hope this is the case.

I encourage everyone to find a spot you love — the street you live on or a place you care about — and get a bucket and a picker and get to it. Join a local clean-up group or just do it on your own. It is such a simple thing, reaching down and picking up trash; you may be surprised at just how good you feel doing it.

Check with your local visitor’s bureau and/or county officials to find out about local cleanup volunteer organizations. You can also get involved with Yosemite Facelift #ActLocal. Go to for more information.

Read other articles by Krista Houghton here.