Journey to a sustainable future

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.