Journey to a sustainable future

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.