Journey to a sustainable future

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Thoughts on Technology, Part 3

hand washing, hand rinsing, line drying diapers while camping
You know how computers were supposed to save us all this time, so we would have more chances to spend with our families?  And cell phones were this amazing thing for emergencies?  And home washing machines and dryers were going to lighten the laundry load?  And vacuum cleaners would mean we no longer need to go beat our rugs clean twice a year?  And cars would help us get places quicker?

All of those are true.  But, they have surpassed their intended purpose, and have instead created more work. 

Think about it: computers are so ubiquitous that you are supposed to have access to one at all times; you should be able to, and are often expected to, check your work email on your weekends and proofread proposals and memos on your vacation.  You are expected to bring your work home with you.  I thought that the amazing thing about work vs school would be that there is no homework!  Even for us stay at home moms, we need to be "current" on Facebook, and know what the greatest holiday crafts on Pinterest are.

Cell phones certainly are used for emergencies--thank goodness, as almost all of the pay phones have disappeared!  But now, we keep our cell phones on all the time.  On us.  We take them to dinner, to the movies, to church, to the playground with our children.  And not for emergencies...for entertainment and conversation through the digital interface, instead of face to face with real people.

Now that we all have our own washers and dryers, we have more clothes.  We spot clean our clothes less.  We are less likely to have, as adults, work/play clothes, and "regular" clothes.  Fewer women wear aprons in the kitchen; fewer men wear coveralls in their home wood shops.  Because it is so "convenient" to clean our clothes, we don't worry about getting our clothes dirty.  Granted, this is also because clothes are so cheap, so they are easy to replace if they get stained or ripped.

A long time ago, people only had rugs.  "Carpets" did not really exist.  Rugs could be swept, but to be truly cleaned, they had to be taken outside and worked on for hours.  So that was only done a few times a year.  With the vacuum cleaners, it is much easier to keep rugs clean.  But because of this, we now have more rugs to keep clean.  And we are expected to keep them cleaner--after all, we have the modern convenience of vacuum cleaners.

Cars...don't get me started.  Do I own a car?  Yes.  Am I glad I do?  Yes!!!!  But because of cars, and because of how the American system of living and working is built on the automobile, we live far from our friends, and far from our work.  Many people live 10 or more miles from a grocery store or gas station!  Cars are supposed to make us more sociable, and help us to get around.  Instead, they have lengthened the distances between our friends and our families, and allowed us to live further from where we actually need to be.  Which means, of course, that we spend more time driving, and we don't end up getting anywhere much more quickly than when we lived in town with our friends.

All of those inventions and pieces of technology are wonderful things--or they can be, if you place limits on them.  I hope that we are not too involved with our technology and modern conveniences to stop and ask, "Who is serving whom?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Less Stuff, not More Storage!

Miss Minimalist recently wrote a blog post about the fallacy of organization and pretty storage.  Which is funny, because I have been thinking about writing my own blog post about that same topic for the past week, so now I'm finally getting around to it.  :-)

Too many times, I have fallen prey to the thought that ARGH!! What I need is more closet space!  I solved this problem by consigning and donating a lot of clothes.  In my (very small) closet I now have room to hang my skirts, sweaters, shirts, pants, shorts, dresses; as well as Rachel's dresses and sweaters.  Yay!   Much better than continually grumbling about the lack of closet space...just make more closet space by making a smaller wardrobe!

Recently, I announced to Steve that I wanted to purchase a bread box.  My grandmother had one, but honestly, I haven't seen them in ages; even at thrift stores!  So I resolutely started searching Craigslist, and nothing really turns up within a one hour drive of me.  I make our bread, and am tired of having bags littering my counter top.  A bread box would certainly solve that problem.  But you know what else did?  The cupboard!  I rearranged the cupboard a little bit, composted some old beans and barley that I unearthed, and stuck the bread in its big bag up there.  Voila!  No bags of bread on my counter; no bread box on my counter; and heck, I already paid for the cupboard, right?

We were also thinking about purchasing one of those nice shelf/cupboard things that stands/hangs above the toilet in the bathroom so that we had more space for things in the bathroom.  Thankfully, a minimalist drive seized us before we made that purchase, and instead, we cleaned out--and I mean, REALLY cleaned out, the bathroom cupboards and drawers.  Steve has this (unfortunate) habit of picking up ever. single. shampoo/conditioner/lotion/soap from hotels.  He says that he uses them when he has duty at work.  Thankfully, he agreed to take them all to work, and grab what he needs from there, rather than storing them in our bathroom drawers until he has a duty night.

I am going to write entire blog post someday about the wonderful things about living in and owning a small house.  I used to think that the lack of closet and storage space was a major detriment of small houses, but now I think it is a bonus.  It requires some work, and some more creativity, but it sure does keep you from easily accumulating stuff!  So when you find yourself thinking "I need more storage!" try to rephrase that into "I need less stuff!"  Good luck!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thoughts on Technology, part 2

photo by Randall Persing, via

I've been reading a lot more about the Amish.  And I'm not going to romanticize them...they are human just like us; and there are a host of reasons, other than the lack of air conditioning, that make me very thankful that I am not Amish!

But they do have some good points, and things to think about, especially as it comes to technology.

The Amish prove to us that it is not necessary for life fulfillment and happiness to have a Facebook "timeline", a laptop/netbook/iPad/Kindle, a cell phone, or any phone at all!, an MP3 player, Netflix, or elliptical trainers.  The Amish eschew items that we no longer even think about not owning, like vacuum cleaners, dish washers, cars, microwaves, and electric tea kettles.

I recently read that 90% of Amish youth decide to stay Amish and choose to be baptized into the Amish faith, and abide by all its rules.  This is even after they have their chance to wear "English" clothes and makeup and go to malls and movie theaters and experience the wonder that is the Internet.  They try this way of life out, and then they decide that these amazing technological things are not going to make them happier than community, family, tradition, hard labor, horses and buggies, and severely limited choices.

I find this very interesting.  Our culture keeps telling us that we need bigger (for houses and cars) smaller (for cell phones and computers) better faster cheaper NOW if we want to be happy.  And it seems that there is always some new technological advance being touted as the latest and greatest invention, and that finally THIS item will deliver on what the advertisers promise: an easier life, and a happier life.

But it rarely, if ever, does.  Community.  Family.  Tradition.  Time to think and create and play and do work you enjoy and find meaningful.  A true place to belong, and people to belong there with.  Connection--not Internet connectivity, but true and deep connection--these are the things that bring joy and peace to our lives. 

The Amish remind us that our use of technology is our decision.  And it is up to us to make wise decisions with it!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musings on Technology, part 1

I am reading a book by Sara Donati that takes place in 1800.  In the first part of the story, Elizabeth's husband Nathaniel has to leave her and their infant twins to go to Montreal to rescue his cousin and father.  He is projected to return home in  4- 6 weeks, depending on the weather.  When they don't hear a word from him in 8 weeks, Elizabeth takes matters into her own hands and goes to Montreal to see what happened.

The whole time I was reading this portion of the saga, I kept thinking to myself "Good grief, if they only a cell phone!  Or email!  Or telegraph!  Heck, the pony express would be fantastic right about now!"

But it made me think a little this case, knowing if your husband even made it to Montreal without being attached by marauding bears or a cougar would vastly improve your quality of life.  It would legitimately make you happier.  I certainly enjoy the fact that Steve can call me from work and say, "Hey, something came up, but I should be home for dinner."  I then do not spend the next 3 hours fighting back images of him dying in a fiery airplane crash. 

So many times, though, technology does not actually improve our quality of life.  And when it does--let's say that having a computer with email capability legitimately makes you happier--then why do we think that we need faster/bigger/better/smaller/smarter version?  If your true happiness lies in emailing people to stay in contact with them more easily, then do you really need a machine that will connect you to the Internet in 2.3 seconds rather than 5?  Will getting a monitor with a larger screen be the key to your sense of fulfillment in life?  If the computer breaks, can you bear to part with it for a week, or less, while it is getting fixed, or must you have a new one THIS INSTANT because to go without Internet capability for even a few hours is an insurmountable obstacle?

Along these lines...check out this youtube video:

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Story of Stuff

Have you ever read a book or an article or seen a movie that changed your life?  I mean, really made you think, "Wow.  Everything I have thought, or have been doing up to now, has to change.  Now."

That is what The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, our Communities, and Our Health--and a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard did for me.

I found the link for the short youtube video via the Center For a New American Dream (which is awesome in and of itself, by the way).  Steve and I watched that, and then I decided to borrow the book from the library.  The video was made before the book, so the book expands and digs deeper on the topics represented in the video--with the same cartoon-y graphics, and colloquial tone as the video.  It is a very approachable book; Leonard does a great job of presenting depressing, complex information in a matter-of-fact, simple way.  Throughout the book, she also talks about hopeful changes that are occurring that relate to each topic and subtopic.  This keeps the book from being so overwhelmingly sad that you want to stop reading.

Me, I couldn't read it fast enough!  I have a degree in Natural Resources, so the environmental issues were not new to me, but seeing how they are so related to the workers' rights issues, and racial equality issues, further convinced me that a) the environment is the root of everything, and thus b) you cannot work for labor rights or hunger eradication or racial equity without also working for environmental justice.

"The crises of poverty, inequality, and the environment are all related—and they are all related to consumption.  It is simply not an option for those of us in the wealthy countries to refuse to reevaluate our consumption patterns; the planet is in crisis, we’re not sharing fairly, and it’s not even making us happy." ~ Annie Leonard, the Story of Stuff

One thing I especially appreciated about The Story of Stuff was that Leonard did not shy away from hard topics.  She asks us to truly evaluate our "free market" economy, and see if the way that the U.S. is being run is really the way we think  it should be.  Lots of other countries have chosen not to have democracies in the same way that America has democracy, and they are doing fine.  People in more socialist-leaning countries report greater happiness than people in the U.S. do.  Leonard isn't saying that we need to be socialist, but what she is saying is that the current modus operandi isn't working, and we need to find something that does. 

"Victor Lebow, after WWII: our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded an at ever accelerating rate." ~ Annie Leonard, the Story of Stuff

Democracy does not have to equal consumption.  We do not need to buy things in order to prove that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Indeed, our adherence to the work-spend mantra is tying us even more strongly to the rat race and our own unhappiness: that is not freedom.  Consumption is a new kind of tyranny.

Leonard helped me to see the real price tag.  When I took environmental economics in college, we tried to assign monetary value to things that Nature does.  But flood abatement, soil retention, air cleansing, and carbon sequestration are very had to put a tag on.  And so when those things are gone, we as consumers--who caused their demise--never see that cost in our credit card statements.

Leonard does not say to stop consuming things.  Even mushrooms use resources when the grow in the forest.  We have the right, as a species on this planet, to use resources.  What we don't have the right to do is overuse resources. 

"What I question is not consumption in the abstract but consumerism and overconsumption.  While consumption means acquiring and using goods and services o meet one’s needs, consumerism is the particular relationship to consumption in which we seek to meet our emotion and social needs through shopping and we define and demonstrate our self-worth through the Stuff we own.  And overconsumption is when we take far more resources than we need and than the planet can sustain, as is the case in most of the US as well as a growing number of other countries." ~ Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff

I agree with that statement.  And I am trying to live a life that reflects my belief.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Homeostasis of Stuff

love this shirt!  have owned for more than one year!
I have discovered that getting rid of items, stuff, junk, even things you really liked, is easy.  What is hard is not replacing them. 

I sold a bunch of my tank tops to a local consignment shop, and relegated a few t shirts to my pajama drawer (really: a white t shirt when I hang out with a toddler all day?).  So, I went to that same consignment shop to go buy more tank tops--pretty ones, feminine ones.  Came home with some great shirts at great prices. 

And then my drawer was full again.

Well, some of the shirts are difficult to breastfeed in.  Steve informed me that he didn't like a few of the others.  So I sorted through all my shirts, and selected stack to sell to the consignment shop. 

And my drawer is kind of empty again.  And I was convinced that I needed to go shopping, because I didn't have enough shirts anymore.  Thankfully, I thought about this a little bit more, and decided that if I still feel like I don't have enough shirts in a few weeks, then I can go shopping.  It is like I am used to have x amount of whatever, and so when I have less than x amount, even when that was thoughtfully and deliberately done, it feels...uncomfortable.

orange nursing tank top September 2011

Of course, I have plenty of shirts.  And I still wear the same 5 ones over and over.

I try to enact the "one in, one out" rule.  But I have fallen into a trap of minimalism: if I only have a few of something, be that mixing bowls, bath towels, tank tops, or socks, then they need to be the perfect ones.  They have to be exactly what I want; clothing needs to exquisitely reflect my style and taste.

In Oregon, the rain jacket is standard attire
Now for some things, this makes sense.  If you only have a few pots and pans, then you need to have what you use: no sense in having a double boiler if what you really need is a sturdy stock pot.  But if you have the 5 qt pot with steamer baskets, is it necessary to also own the 6 qt stock pot?  Maybe it is; only you can know that.

But clothing has become an issue for me.  Which is kind of funny, because clothing never used to be my "thing."  Ask my sister; she deplored my selection of clothes every morning in high school.  In college, I routinely wore the same four pairs of pants, the same 6 long sleeved t shirts, and the same black fleece jacket to class.  And I seriously never thought twice about it, and I don't think anyone else did, either.

I have had good reasons to buy new clothes: none of my pre-baby clothes fit post-baby.  It took me ages to lose the baby weight.  I am now under my pre-pregnancy weight.  All of these do, in my mind, necessitate, or at least validate, wardrobe editing.

orange nursing tank top July 2012
I have to come to accept that at any given time, my clothes may not perfectly project "me" because "me" changes.  And just because I do own fewer clothes/shoes/purses than the average woman in America, does not mean that I have a right or need to go acquire more of those items.  I am learning to let empty space be ok.  I am learning that just because I am not full, does not mean I am not satisfied.  I am learning to be content with "enough."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Natural Pesticide

Lots of people have pesticide applied all over their entire lawn down here in Florida.  To me, this makes no sense for many reasons.
1. The people who usually do this lawn-wide bioterrorism are NEVER actually outside playing or lounging in their lawns!  They are on the sidewalk, the patio, or, more likely, holed up inside the house.  So why bother with making your lawn bug-free?
2. This makes sense, right?  I mean, who wants to hang out with carcinogenic chemicals?
3. Almost every county in Florida already sprays for mosquitoes.  In our county, I'm pretty sure it's not 2,4-D or anything like that, but this other compound that is supposedly harmless to humans, but binds the mosquitoe's wings together so that the newly hatched mosquitoes can't fly.  It may be harmless (I doubt it) but it also doesn't seem terribly effective.  Come take laundry off the line in my back yard at 5 pm. 
4. Only about 1% of insects in your yard and garden are actually harmful.  So the other 99%, which include bees that pollinate your flowers, and butterflies that make you say "oh, how pretty!" are also getting torched.  Not fair.
5. For things like wasps, black widow spiders, termites, and fire ants, you can spot-exterminate.  Or, just have the pest control people spray around the perimeter of your house, as infrequently as you can stand it.
6.  It's Florida, people.  I am convinced that humans were not actually meant to live here.  I think we should all leave, immediately, and let the fire ants, pythons, water moccasins, black widows, and cockroaches have a good ol' time before it's all underwater in 50 years.  Just accept that bugs are part of the equation.
7. We have free, natural, biodynamic, native pest control constantly patrolling our neighborhood! 

ibises eating bugs
8.  They may not be the cutest, prettiest birds ever, but they're a lot better looking than containers of pesticide.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ditching the to do list

likes to steal my hats, August 2012
I like having a clean house.  I like it being dusted, swept, wiped down, sanitized (within reason) and clutter-free on a regular, frequent basis.

I also have a toddler.  And yes, I could have a dusted, swept, wiped down, sanitized, clutter-free house on a regular, frequent basis.  But in saying yes to those things, I have to say no to so much more.

And I am tired of saying no.  I am tired of being frustrated with Rachel when she wants to make putting the blocks away into a game.  I am tired of losing my temper when she "helps" me sweep, and succeeds only in spreading the sand over the floor even more.  I am tired of staring guiltily at my chore chart, which mocks with its clean, uncrossed off surface.  Even more, I detest how stressed I am when 4:00 rolls around and the only thing to "show" for my day is that I made the bed, there are beans in the crockpot, and my mixing bowls are strewn all over the house. 

silly game! Aug 2012
I had told Steve a month or so ago that any given day, I could accomplish 1 of 3 things.  Either the house was clean, or I got enough rest and sleep, or Rachel had a great, playful day.  None of those could coincide.  And you know?  That's awful! 

Because what kind of person, woman, or mom am I teaching Rachel to be when I snap at her for unloading the dishwasher that I am loading?  When I feel like a failure because I haven't wiped down the counters in 3 days?  When I delay, distract, and even, shamefully, ignore her when she asks to nurse, or play, or read a book? 

Now, some things just have to happen.  And that's life.  I have to hang the clothes on the clothesline.  She doesn't like waiting while I do that, and shows her displeasure by taking the laundry out of the basket and throwing it on the lawn.  Dishes need to get washed (she likes helping with that).  I make the bed everyday, and water the garden almost everyday, too.  And there are many other things like that.  I am not advocating living like a slob and just saying "oh, well, I have a toddler, you know."

Sometimes I wonder how much further I can lower my expectations for my to do list, without abandoning my principles entirely.  So two nights ago, I took down my chore chart.  It is now hidden in a closet.  I still know what needs to get done that day.  I do have a little pad of paper that I write down things to do, like grocery shopping, make bubbles, respond to email from mom, etc.  But there is no master list.  There is no tangible way for me to judge my success or failure for the day.

stacking blocks on the cat

Which is a very good thing.  Because raising attached children in a gentle, respectful way is all about the intangible, unmeasurable things.  Hugs, kisses, silly games, nursery rhymes, playdates, swimming, chasing the cat, potty training, learning to say "frog"--all of those, and especially the attitude with which I do them--those are the most important things in my life.  
brushiing Benny the Beaver's teeth

I still intend to keep a moderately clean, decluttered house.  But my priority is raising my daughter.  I can always sweep the floor later.  But connecting with her is often a now-or-never proprosition. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Breastfeeding: it's the minimalist thing to do!

Rachel very excited to be breastfeeding on a hike, Colorado, 2011
Breastfeeding is the minimalist thing to do!

Just think of all the stuff you don't need: bottles, bottle brushes, formula cans, nipples, nipple caps, nipples in different sizes, bottle warmers, bottle coolers, pacifiers, pacifier holders. 

You just!  And your baby, of course.  Which is good, for someone as forgetful as me. 

The only real breastfeeding equipment I needed was herbs and medication to overcome my low milk supply issues, and an SNS.  But I made my own tinctures, and all the packaging for my medicine, for the 14 months I used it, probably amounted to 2 cans of formula.  The SNS was equal to less than one bottle.  Plus, I just discovered that Nordstroms will alter any bra you bring them to turn it into a nursing bra--how cool is that?

I believe that mamas and babies are a true dyad for the first year, and so I never left Rachel for longer than she could go without nursing.  I am fortunate to be a full-time, stay at home mom, and so we never needed bottles or a breast pump.  I tried to convince her to take a pacifier so that I could get a bit more sleep, but by that point she was convinced that the real deal was the only deal in town, and she wasn't having any substitutes!

Simplification leads to a more genuine life.  Nursing Rachel, and forgoing all the paraphernalia that could have supplanted or supplemented breastfeeding, has been wonderful for us.  Rachel and I share a bond and a connection that could not be the same if I had not nursed her--was still not nursing her. 

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Past is not in Your Possessions

October 2008
When it comes to decluttering, downsizing, editing, and minimizing our lives, we can get hung up pretty quick by the past.

Having an item links you to a special moment.  It is the past made tangible.  It elicits memories, smiles, and stories.  It helps you remember what you do not want to forget.

And I say, it isn't necessary!  I (still) have my high school letter jacket.  I never wear.  I never plan on wearing it.  I do plan on cutting it up and appliqueing the letter onto a quilt I am going to make.  But if the letter jacket disappeared into thin air tomorrow, it would not negate my experience of marching band.  It would, however, give me a bit more room in my closet.

lighting unity candle at our wedding October 2008
I recently went through our living room bookshelves.  Again.  I feel like they are my nemesis in decluttering.  This time, I threw away the unity candle from our wedding.  I donated to  the birth center a Willow Tree figure given to me by a friend, depicting a mother and her newborn baby.  Ditching the candle (a large, petroleum, carcinogenic fragrance-laced affair) does not mean that I am not married.  It does not mean that I love my husband, or that I wish to be less unified with him.  I do not think about our wedding any less.  Giving away the figurine does not mean I no longer value my friend.  It does not mean I forget what it is like to hold an infant.  It does not take away from the fact that my friend thought of me, or that I dearly love my own baby.

December 2010
My possessions do not contain my past.  I am not embodied in them.  And I prefer to remember the past in other ways than things I have to dust or rearrange.  I talk with my friends and reminisce with my family.  I create an annual photobook of our family, that contains maximum memories at minimum space.  Just because I don't own it, doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Contentment is a Learned Art: Hair!

shampoo + hairpins July 2012
You know what is super hard to find?  A woman who is thrilled with her hair--her natural hair.  I'm talking about just the hair on her head.  It seems that our hair is too thin, too thick, too grey, too blonde, too dark, too curly, too straight, too frizzy...or not blonde enough, not brown enough, not short enough, not long enough, not highlighed enough, not wiry enough...

Therre are myriads of ways to overcome your hair's natural tendencies, and coerce it into doing what you want.  But I have found that badgering my hair into my ideal of Perfect Hair takes a lot of money, time, and chemicals, which are three things that I am no longer interested on wasting on my "do".

In college, I had my hair highlighted blonde a few times.  But my hair was long...and thick...and wow, did it take forever of sitting in that chair for the job to be done well!  I liked how it looked, sure, but not the price tag attached to it.   Then I bought a straightener, but used it less than 50 times in 4 years.  We just sold it on Ebay for $75, and I am glad to be rid of one more thing in the bathroom drawers, and $75 in the black.  I threw out my old bottle of hairspray, and gave away my big hair clips and curly styling brush.

I have a wonderful hairdresser, and she says that one reason she likes her job so much is that she "loves making people feel pretty."  I know that I like feeling pretty, and that my hair is definitely part of that equation.  Thankfully, I am now content letting a simple shampoo and some hairpins do the trick. 

There are some things about my hair that I'm still not keen on.  But I refuse to despair or fight to change those things any longer.  It is quite liberating to be content with the hair God has given me!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Clothing Part 1

Hiking, Umpqua River, OR, July 2012

Everytime I do laundry, I grumble that we have too many clothes.  Because, seriously, how many tank tops, or shorts, or pairs of socks, does you really need?

We recently returned from a two week vacation to the Pacific Northwest.  We camped, hiked, jumped in the river, went in a woodfired hot tub, spent time with friends and family, dealt with 24 hours of rain in the mountains of Washington, played at a park in Eugene, and endured a miserable 10 hour flight delay in Houston.  And it amazes me how little clothing we needed for all of that.
For myself, I brought:
1 pair of hiking pants
1 pair of jeans
2 t shirts
1 hiking t shirt
2 long sleeved tops
1 light fleece
1 heavy fleece
1 tank top
2 nursing tank tops
1 short sleeved cardigan
1 skirt
1 pair of jean shorts
3 pairs of hiking socks
1 pair of hiking boots
1 pair of Keen sandals
swim suit
rain jacket
workout gear (tennies, shorts, tank top, socks)

Rain in Washington, July 2012
We had access to a washing machine about every 2 or 3 days.  And you know what?  I brought too many clothes.  I definitely didn't need both long sleeved tops.  Or my heavy fleece, even though it is gorgeous and comfy and I love it.  Or 3 pairs of hiking socks.  Or 2 t shirts.

What really surprised me, though, was that I never got bored of my clothes.  I used to, even at home, get tired of wearing the same thing over and over again.  But I didn't on our trip.  Part of that may have been because we were camping for 4 days of it, so it is expected that you wear the same grungy outfit over and over.  But I am really pleased about not getting bored with my outift choices, because that has been a major part of why I have been holding onto clothes that I barely wear...just so I have the option to wear them.

I also worry that if I have a much smaller wardrobe, then people will notice that I wear the same thing over and over again.  When I was in third grade, I had a plaid fleece dress that I ADORED.  I wore that dress to church every single week.  I loved it; I didn't love my other dresses; so why wear them?  And I truly didn't care, or even think about, what other people thought.  I do remember my mom begging me to wear a different dress, but I think that I stubbornly clung to my plaid dress!

Hiking outfit, OR, July 2012
There is a saying that you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.  I did a major closet and dresser overhaul a year ago, and donated a lot of clothes.  But I find that I am still wearing the same clothes over and over, and sometimes as I dig through my drawer, I come across a shirt that I forgot I owned!  Guess I need to rethink some things about my wardrobe!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Consumer Responsibility part 2

In a borrowed dress at my father-in-law's retirement ceremony (2009)
A few weeks ago, I wrote this post detailing how we as consumers are responsible for what we buy, from its start to its end.  I used a shirt as an example, and discussed it from its start in a cotton field, to its manufacture in a factory in Sri Lanka, to its demise in the dump.

Someone pointed out that if you buy this shirt, then those Sri Lankans working in the horrible factories at least have a job and are able to feed their children. 

That may be true, but the logic is faulty: when the concentration camps closed, all those Nazis lost their jobs, and a way to feed their families.  But I think we are all agreed when we say that closing the concentration camps was a good thing!

When you buy that shirt made in those horrible conditions, you create a demand for more shirts also made in this horrible conditions.  As a consumer, you are telling the producers "yes, please, more like this!"  Supply and demand isn't a pure thing anymore, but the general gist of it is still there--you demand cheap shirts made in pathetic conditions; cheap shirts made in pathetic conditions will continue to be available.

So as a consumer, what are your options?  You could a) borrow a shirt b) save a bit more money and buy a more ethical shirt c) buy a shirt from a thrift shop or a consignment shop d) decide to go without the shirt entirely or e) buy the shirt, because you have no other way of getting what you need.
Me in a Patagonia fleece, and a fair trade wool hat; Rachel in a borrowed fleece suit (2012)
Let's break this down a bit.  You could borrow a shirt.  Borrowing is awesome for lots of reasons!  For one, it costs you zero money.  And because you are only borrowing the shirt for one occassion, you increase the size of your wardrobe, temporarily.  It also builds community, and trust among your friends.  This works well with specialty items, like ski goggles or snow suits or shoes for a wedding, because the people you are borrowing the items from also rarely use them.

Another option is to bypass that shirt on sale, and instead buy a more ethical shirt, i.e, one made under fair trade practices, or at least from organic cotton.  All clothing takes resources to make and sell; that is a fact that is ok.  But it is up to us to pick the clothes (or any item, really) that supports the future we want to see.  The Good Guide helps us to do that easily.  There is an even an App for you SmartPhone people.  Personally, I am a fan of Patagonia, a clothing company that is trying very hard to reduce their ecological footprint and add transparancy to their supply chain.  Plus, their clothing is very high quality, which means you don't have to buy as much because it lasts longer.

You could buy the shirt from a consignment shop or a thrift store.  These are always hit and miss, and you may not have a good selection of consignment shops where you live.  However, there is always ebay or craigslist!  We are blessed to have some stellar resale shops where we live.  Another reason I like shopping at consignment shops is that they support a local business.
Rachel's Easter dress 2012, from a consignment shop

You could also decide that you don't actually need the shirt, and neither buy nor borrow it.  This is, of course, the thriftiest and most "minimalist" decision.  If enough people do this, though, jobs will decrease--not just in America, but all over the globe, because economies are so connected.  We do have a responsibility to help other peole, and try to ensure a working, livable wage and decent living and working conditions.  Obviously, buying a cruddy shirt isn't going to do that.  Devoting time, energy, and money into organizations that are striving for this, though, is a good way to actually bring about situations we want to see.  More on this in a later post!

But what if you do need the shirt, and there are no other options than to buy this particular one, despite its toxic, inhumane tag?  We recently encountered this with our new tent.  We wanted to get a family-sized tent.  Our backpacking tents from our college days just weren't working out for us anymore.  Yes, we could have scoured Ebay for a used tent in stellar condition, but the chances that we would find the tent we wanted, in the condition we wanted, in the timeframe we needed it in, were slim to none. 

So we bought a brand new tent.  We used it on vacation last week, and we are thrilled with it.  And we intend to use it until it completely dies.  We intend to repair it when it breaks or rips.  We intend to treat it gently and care for it correctly to prevent it from breaking or ripping in the first place.  Those intentions, combined with the fact that camping gives us so much pleasure, and helps us to remember WHY we are tree huggers, and also helps us to teach our daughter to live lightly and love the Earth, assauges our guilt.  We feel that this choice was the best one that we could make, given our circumstances. 

Living means consuming, and consuming means resources and labor.  I believe it is our duty to live lightly, and consume lightly.  When we make choices as consumers, it is our duty to make the choices that support our worldview and morals.  Sometimes, that choice will be one that perfectly aligns with our ideals.  Sometimes it will be the "lesser of two evils."  And sometimes, we have to accept that what we need, what is necessary for us, is made in a way that we do not support.  Even if we buy that item, we need to work in other ways that bring about the world we want to see.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What is necessary?

Columbines, Eastern Oregon, 2009
"If something is unnecessary to the composition, it weakens the composition." Jay Shafer
When I found that quotation within Little House on a Small Planet, I literally stopped reading.  I found it absolutely profound. 
It is so true, isn't it?  In big things, and in little things.  If all you want is a simple hamburger, then all the frilly things it could come with, like argula or carmelized onions or applewood bacon, take away from what you are truly after: a chunk of ground beef. 
If you all need is a place and space to live and relax with your family, then having 3 bathrooms and 2 guest bedrooms and a living room, family room, and den all take away from your experience of both relaxation, and of family togetherness.
Me and Lamby, 2009
Of course, everyone defines necessary differently.  I am not parting with my 3 mixing bowls, or my stuffed lamb.  My husband wouldn't consider giving away his table saw.  And our new tent is here to stay!
Still, there are many things that I never thought I could bear to part with that have been packed out the door, either to Craigslist, EBay, or Goodwill.  We just sold my clarinet on EBay.  I sold two of my pairs of jeans to a local consignment shop.  We have donated hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of books to the local library.  My backpacking backpack's days are numbered. 
These things, because we had to store them, care for them, sort through them, and clean them, were detracting from our composition--the composition of our life.  The quality of our life, and how we want to spend our time. 
I'm not advocating a Spartan existence just so that you don't have to clean anything.  Though that does have serious appeal some days!  Just...think about the things you own that would honestly amke you less happy if you didn't own.  I hope the number is small.  I hope that we can all derive our satisfaction and our joy from our friends, our family, our Source, and our own selves, rather than our possessions.
Anthony Lakes, Oregon, 2009

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


How many cooking knives do you own?  Are they sharp?  In good shape?  Do they feel good in your hand?  Which are your favorite?

I am now happily able to respond that they are all my favorites!  I have 5 cooking knives.  And I truly use them all.  Part of what has helped to keep the number small is the cost of these knives.  They are serious, professional knives, which means they should last a really long time.  Considering how much I cook, I think that a solid set of knives is a worthy investment.

I own an 8 inch "chef's knive", a 7 inch Santuko knife, a 4 inch serrated knife, a 4 inch straight knife, and an 8 inch bread knife.  I can cook absolutely anything I want to with this basic set of cutlery.  I can chop watermelon and mince garlic; I can dice tomatoes and potatoes; I can shave chocolate and cut up apples. 

If you feel like you might have too many knives, and you aren't even sure where to start, start over!  Take all the knives out of their usual space and store them somewhere else that is safe and accesible.  When you need a particular knife, go over to the "new" place and fetch it, and then keep it in the usual spot once you are done.  At the end of two weeks, see what you have there!  Don't just go get a new knife because the one you would otherwise use is dirty.  If your knives and dull and you need to sharpen them after you fetch them from the "new" spot, this could be a good incentive to only drag out the unsharpened one if you really need it.

Happy cutting, and happy culling!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Consumer Responsibility Part 1

New Gap jeans, new Gap shirt, new Prana jacket, new belt from Target...hmmmm

You go down to your closest Big Box Store (aka Target, Macy's, Gap, Wal-Mart, etc).  You pick up a new shirt.  It fits, it looks nice, it's on SALE, you were looking for a new button down shirt.  After you wear it a few times, though, you notice how itchy the tag is.  It really drives you nuts!  And then a button starts to fall off. 

Being the eco-conscious, frugal consumer that you are, you cut off the tag, and re-sew the button.  After another month, though, that spaghetti sauce stain won't come out, and you decide you don't want to wear the shirt anymore.  You toss it in the car and take it to Goodwill.  No worries, you figure.  I got it on sale, wore for a few months, and now I'm passing it on.  End of story. 

But do you even have the start of the story?

Let's say the shirt was originally priced at $14, and you got it on sale for $7.  Totally awesome, right?  But how could anyone along the supply chain make a truly decent livable wage if your shirt only cost $7? 

Answer: they probably can't.  It was probably made from pesticide-laden cotton that was grown in Pakistan, turned into cloth in Cambodia, sewn in a sweat factory in Sri Lanka, transported via ship, train, and truck (read: oil!) to the store near you, where it was then shelved by people working minimum wage and overtime with no health insurance benefits. 

Sweet deal, right?  All that impact for only $7!  But you didn't force those people to work like that...all you did was buy a shirt!

And then you pass it on to a thrift shop--which is a fantastic thing to do, don't get me wrong!  But what are the chances that they are going to sell a stained shirt with the tag missing?  Slim to none.  So it will go to the dump.  (But if you didn't take it there, it no longer feels like your responsibility).

If you truly NEED that shirt, and you do your best to maintain and repair and wear it out, then that helps to compensate for the TRUE, externalized costs of the item. If it is vital to your well-being, then it is hard to find fault with that.

I'm not saying to never buy new clothes.  I'm not saying to never throw hopeless clothes away.  What I am saying is that you, as a consumer, have an impact when you buy something.  By purchasing this shirt that was manufactured under those conditions, you tell the companies and conglomerates that you support their agricutlural, manufacturing, and selling practices.  When it ends up in the landfill a few months later, you are creating a demand for more shirts just like the one you bought for $7. 

Every purchase we make as consumers makes a difference, but whether that difference is good or bad is up to us.

Think about your purchases this way: you are responsible for the items you buy, from their birth to their death.  From the oil used to make the plastic buttons and the pesticide used to grow to the cotton, to the conditions underwhich they are turned into your shirt and sold to you--you have responsibility.  As a consumer, you create the demand--and you create the difference.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deep Ecology Platform

Ausable River, NY, 2011
As I alluded to in my introductory post, I believe firmly in the precepts of the Deep Ecology Platform.  So, here is the Deep Ecology Platform, from

1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: inherent worth; intrinsic value; inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.

3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.

4) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.

5) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.

6) Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.

7) The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.

8) Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

- Arne Naess and George Sessions

Maryland, 2012

I just LOVE that point 8 is a call to action.  So many creeds or mission statements or mottos or (even worse) "company commitments to the environment" are empty.  They sound great, but they don't DO anything, or even suggest true, meaningful action.


This is big. 

In college, I took a class called Environmental Ethics and Worldviews, taught by Dr. Vogt.  I didn't even know what a worldview was when I walked into that class; but I certainly came out with a different one.  It was here that I first heard of the concepts deep ecology, environmental racism, environmental feminism, as we were introduced to the ethics and philosophy of how we as a species interact with our biosphere. 

Nestucca, OR, 2008
Please don't think me an anarchist, or a Communist, or a total hippy freak.  I'm none of those things.  I am a woman who realizes that the chemical soup we have created for ourselves means that I have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer.  I am a mother who looks at the rate of deforestation, the lack of corporate accountability for externalized costs, and the pollution of our drinking water, and grieves for the world my children will inherit.  I am a citizen of the United States who fears for the future of my country if we continue to insist on "cheap" oil procured through expensive wars--when the sun is free!

I am worried, yes, but I truly believe that if we could align ourselves even partially with this Deep Ecology Platform, we could change the world.  The question is, how necessary do we deem the change?

Anthony Lakes, OR, 2009

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


March 2012

Hi!  My name is Emily.  I live in Florida with my husband and toddler daughter; though I'd rather be living in Oregon or Vermont with my husband and toddler daughter. 

I want to live a genuine life--a life that mirrors my true priorities.  I want people to look at my house, my yard, my activies, my possessions, and ME, and see a woman of Grace who cherishes her family and cares passionately about Earth's ecology.

I wholeheartedly agree with the principles of the Deep Ecology Platform, specifically that
"Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity [of the Earth] except to satisfy vital needs" and "Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes."

My journey to this sustainable dream includes small dwelling and deep living.  It means cultivating contentedness, redefining "enough," exploring the outdoors with my daughter, putting people before things, saying NO to the culture of consumerism, and reducing our family's ecological footprint.  It means finding the inherent joy in the statement "less stuff; more life!"  It means having time to enjoy my daughter and learn together.

It means that my husband and I are trying to create in our home the world we would like to see.

Come journey with us!
October 2011, in Colorado