Thursday, August 13

Live with Less

The past year or so for me has really been an attempt to leave my preconceived notions of comfort and necessity behind. As I progress, I notice that more and more of what goes on around us is cultural and consumer myth. Today, I want to talk about living with less stuff.

I have helped or seen a lot of people move lately, and of course I’ve moved myself. I really trimmed down my holdings (I had a lot of stuff from my grandparents and mother, too, so it was like three generations of stuff!), and I feel a lot better now. I have developed a few key principles in my quest to live with less.

1) If someone else could use it better, let it go.

I am leaving for France, and I won’t be able to take a lot of stuff with me. I have to keep everything I’m not taking in storage, so I evaluated possessions to either keep or donate. For the most part, I gave things away. For example, a set of kitchen utensils. I would assuredly use this set again someday, but is it really worth storing for a few years before this happens? I feel that it would be much better for these to have a new and worthy home.

Sure, my new (or gently used) utensils in the future will have to come from somewhere (energy), but that energy consumption needs to be weighed against the loss of utility in sitting in storage for a few years, or perhaps that the New Home of the utensils would have bought utensils new if they hadn’t found mine. I do not believe that you should hoard possessions once you decide that you don’t need them.

2) Really, it’s the Middle School Cafeteria Scenario.

The Middle School Cafeteria Scenario is the sensation of feeling all eyes on you, when in reality everyone is too self-absorbed to notice you. Basically, once you realize that this is merely a sensation and not fact, you are freed from the burden of trying to live up to others’ expectations.

I mentioned a while back that I only own two pairs of jeans. I realized that no one expected me to put on a fresh pair of jeans every day, and it allowed me to reduce my wardrobe. I take good care of my clothes and hang them up and fold them properly between wears, but yes – everything except for undies and some socks get at least two wears. Turns out, this has been great practice for France because I won’t have to spend a ton of time and money on laundering what would have been an enormous wardrobe.

3) Just Say No.

The best principle (and skill!) I’ve developed is to just say “no.” I shop off of a list for everything – clothes, food, household goods – and work to avoid impulse buys that would otherwise land me with junk. Here is a concrete example: I know that I want/need one pair of capris for France, and I want a khaki pair. I will walk into a store with the specifications “khaki capris” and ignore everything else. I also say no to handouts, programs from plays, etc. I used to hoard these, but I seriously don’t want to take anything that isn’t going to be useful for a long time.

These principles help me keep my number of possessions down, and the simplicity of my life up. I think that the biggest cultural myth that we face is that we need more things, newer things, or more expensive things. This is a myth employed to help companies take our money. Once you recognize cultural myths for what they are, you can begin to refute them and build your own principles.

Wednesday, August 5

Catching Up

A very long hiatus, and I’m sorry. Starting with the NYC trip in March, my personal life started crying out for attention. I won’t go into those details, but I’ll kind of trace my current thoughts through the chronology. This may seem kind of scattered, but bear with me.

First of all, back in December, I applied to be a Language Assistant in France – basically, a native speaker of English who helps out a regular foreign language teacher. I didn’t know if I would get it or not, but I knew that if I didn’t get it, I wanted to build up Illinois residency so that I could go to grad school in Chicago. While I was in New York (and largely due to the personal stuff that started to loom), I decided that I would move to Illinois this summer regardless.

New York was amazing, and I did a pretty good job with limiting my waste. Klean Kanteens absolutely can go through airport security (I’ve done it many times); just make sure that you empty the contents! New York is not exactly an “eco-friendly” city (Boise, Portland, and Seattle are much better), but public transit and the emphasis on “local” (neighborhood) shopping is remarkable. Also, vegetarianism is much easier in a city, in my experience.

When I got back from New York, I moved. I had planned to spend the five months of my student teaching living back at home, but that was no longer a viable option. I moved to Albany, which is 12 miles from my school. This meant that I added commuting time, but I dealt with this as best I could. Sometimes, I carpooled. I was now able to walk to get groceries, etc, and “back home” was out in the countryside, so random errands either had to be combined with regular town travel, or else they were a huge inefficiency. The third way seems silly, but it’s totally practical – when I did have to drive, I’d tuck in behind a semi on the highway and the buffer would give me a whopping 50 MPG! So. There’s that.

While I was still in Oregon, I had to go through all of my family’s possessions that I’d inherited. By this point, I’d discovered that I was going to go to France (yay!) and decided that I wanted to go to grad school in Europe, too. That meant that I’d be gone for at least three years, and who knew what kind of future I’d be facing at that point. Whereas I started with a lot of furniture and an 8x8 room full of boxes, I donated and sold stuff until I was down to six boxes and my steamer trunk.

About this process: I cannot stress enough how important it is to donate your old things to charity, or to try to find someone who wants it. Some stuff may seem like trash to you, but there is a strange market out there. A lot of people want broken appliances to cannibalize, or torn clothing to re-envision. I wouldn’t suggest making a charity sort through it all, but if you can try to imagine a new future for your things, chances are, you’ll find one. For instance, if you some shirts of nice fabrics with spots or holes, why not bundle them together as a fabric bag instead of donating them as clothing? People sometimes only want small squares of fabric, and this would be perfect for them!

So, then in June, I moved to Illinois. I’m living with a friend for the summer, and then I’m going onward to France. I’d heard that there weren’t bulk bins in Illinois, and that had me worried, but I found a Co-Op pretty quickly, and there are a couple of bulk bins at the regular grocery store, too. We also have a good recycling program here and the town is pretty pedestrian-friendly.
I have been on hiatus for a long time, and I have been thinking about the purpose of this blog. There are plenty of blogs that cover practical aspects of day-to-day living in a more eco-friendly way, and I really feel like the market is saturated and I don’t need to cover the same ground.

This blog has philosophical roots, and I think that I will work more to bring out that philosophy. I can certainly work in concrete examples, but I am really interested in cultural mindsets. I think that that is what I will focus on.

Thanks for reading, more soon.