A new habit for November 2020

I care about the environment, so I do not litter. I like to believe most people are like this, but I still see litter in every neighborhood of Portland, OR. When my team and I visited Tokyo to present at Connected Ink 2020, I was impressed by how clean the roads and sidewalks are in Tokyo. I had heard of this aspect of Japanese culture, but it was amazing to experience in person. I dream of this culture in my neighborhood—in a city.

I like to go on walks, but I am disappointed when I see litter. By picking up litter on my walks, I believe I inspire others to litter less, or pick up litter when they come across it. I am inspired by Peter, who has been organizing detrash events in Portland, OR since February of this year. Mimi and I have attended three of these events, but the meetups are on the weekend. I purchased our own trash grabbers so I can pick up trash while taking a daily walk.

I am experimenting with picking up trash as a habit. In Atomic Habits, James Clear gives advice to create a good habit: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.

Make it obvious

I am using an implementation intention: I will pick up trash at noon on week days in my neighborhood1. I am using habit stacking: After I close my laptop to break for lunch, I will walk outside my apartment building with a trash bag and a trash grabber. I am designing my environment: I keep the trash bags under the sink, but I leave out my trash grabber by the front door.

Make it attractive

I do not know how to apply temptation bundling for this habit yet. What do I need to do? I want to go for walks and pick up trash, but I do not need to. I have joined a culture where my desired behavior is the normal behavior. Mimi and I attend the meetups organized by Peter, and people are starting to remember our names and faces.

Make it easy

I reduce the friction for this habit by accident. I do not have to put away the grabber, so I keep it by the door. The trash bags usually go under the sink, which is by the front door. I wear my shoes while I work from home, so all I have to do is put on a jacket and a mask. There are other things I might want to do instead, like watch something while I eat lunch. To prevent this, I eat a small lunch and keep my laptop put away out of sight. I downscale my habit. The bare minimum for my habit is to walk outside my apartment building and breathe some fresh air. I do not think this habit can be automated.

Make it satisfying

The reinforcement for this habit is a clean neighborhood, the smiles and thanks from strangers, and a fresh cup of coffee when I get home. I use the action of posting a photo to /r/DeTrashed as my habit tracker.

Inspired by “Why small habits make a big difference” in Atomic Habits by James Clear. “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement."


  1. My “extra credit” habit is to pick up trash during daily walks on the weekend. The implementation intention is I will pick up trash at 10:00 on weekend days in my neighborhood. ↩︎