November 29, 2010

No Mischief Monday

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you”
~ Lao Tzu

Do With Less - So They'll Have Enough

The state of wealth distribution globally has been worsening in recent decades. Twenty percent of the world's population consumes eighty percent of the resources.

In 1976 in the United States the richest 1% of families owned 20% of the wealth. By 2007 they had increased their already ample portion of the pie to 35%.

That makes the WW II poster above a message for the times. Just replace the image with the slum soldier below who fights a grim battle for survival every day in his Mumbai home.

It is a sad commentary on the state of the world that we can ration in order to enhance our military's effectiveness, but will not live with less in peace time in order to save the lives of our brothers and sisters that lack the necessities of life.

Those of us in the privileged top consuming nations could do with less so the 80% of the population that gets by on only 20% of the resources would have enough. Controlling desires and rationing our consumption of resources will lead us to our fair share.

Then there can be enough for all.

November 25, 2010

Neil Young: The Restless Consumer

Neil Young - "The Restless Consumer"

Neil Young has been one of my musical favorites for a long time. He is a poet and a rebel, and I really enjoy his work which often highlights the plight of the common people and an embattled planet. He tirelessly speaks out against the war machine, the hypocrisy, and the lies. He is so right when he says, "We don't need no more lies."

In 2003 Young released Greendale which chronicles the life of a character named Sun Green. She isn't just an environmental and political activist - she discovers that she comes from a proud tradition of women that have chosen unconventional lifestyles in response to 'progress' founded on exploitation of people and the earth.

I saw Young backed by Crazy Horse perform this theatrical production/rock concert. The powerful performance was unlike any live show I had seen before, and its message was spot on.

Young only seems to be getting better, and since then has released the album Living With War. This guy is definitely not slowing down or going soft in his elder years. My favorite song from the 2006 album is:

The Restless Consumer
The people have heard the news
The people have spoken
You may not like what they said
But they weren't jokin'

Way out on the desert sands
Lies a desperate lover
They call her the "Queen of Oil"
So much to discover

Don't need no ad machine
Telling me what I need
Don't need no Madison Avenue War
Don't need no more boxes I can see

Covered in flags but I can't see them on TV

Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies

The restless consumer flies
Around the world each day
With such an appetite for taste and grace

People from around the world
Need someone to listen
We're starving and dying from our disease
We need your medicine
How do you pay for war
And leave us dyin' ?
When you could do so much more
You're not even tryin'

Don't need no TV ad
Tellin' me how sick I am
Don't want to know how many people are like me
Don't need no dizziness
Don't need no nausea
Don't need no side effects like diarrhea or sexual death

Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies

The restless consumer lies
Asleep in her hotel
With such an appetite
For anything that sells

A hundred voices from a hundred lands
Need someone to listen
People are dying here and there
They don't see the world the way you do
There's no mission accomplished here
Just death to thousands

A hundred voices from a hundred lands
Cry out in unison

Don't need no terror squad
Don't want no damned Jihad
Blowin' themselves away in my hood
But we don't talk to them
So we don't learn from them
Hate don't negotiate with Good

Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies
Don't need no more lies

The restless consumer flies
Around the world each day
With such an appetite for efficiency
And pace...

November 23, 2010

Extreme Frugal Living: Cutting Your Own Hair

Warning: cutting your own hair can have unintended consequences
Sometimes children, the little mini-rebels that they are, will cut their own hair. Why? Because there is something strangely fun and liberating about it. I know. I have been cutting (or should I say 'hacking') my own hair for about a year now.

Over the past few years my partner, Linda, has been cutting my hair. I have always been happy with the results. This is not surprising because we did a fair amount of research before we delved into home haircutting. We consulted on-line resources, but found books from the library to be the best source of hair help for beginners.

But who hasn't looked in the mirror at some point or another and felt the urge to pick up those shiny, sharp scissors and just start cutting? I have been giving in to this urge lately. I try to remember what the books taught, but essentially I am enjoying the freedom to simply hack at will. Damn the latest coiffure craze - let fate decide the outcome.

I realize that self-styling one's hair is an option few will choose. Most will say that for what it costs you might as well have it done right by a professional. But there are reasons beyond money to increase your self-reliance.

For one, the kids are right - it IS fun to cut your own locks. It is fun to take charge of your own life and feel the surge of satisfaction at being able to take care of business. How can I control my life if I can't even control my hair?

Then there is the challenge of learning a new skill. What you learn about your own hair can be applied to the hair of other willing victims. You could cut your partner's hair. Or you could trade haircuts for food.

And finally, there is the thrill of victory when you fluke out and give yourself a good cut. For free! Conversely, you can experience the pain of defeat like the little guy in the picture above. But it is possible to leave an expensive hair salon with the pain of defeat. It has happened to me, and probably everyone else that has ever paid for hair care.

Ultimately, though, it is just fun to pick up the scissors and slice off a chunk here and there. I have gotten better over the months, and when I am not so successful, either Linda does damage control, or I wear a hat. Or cut the whole mess down to bristles, which is also fun and liberating.

Whatever the case, it is true frugal living at its most dangerous and thrilling. Do try this at home... carefully.

November 21, 2010

Resistance Through Not Buying Anything

Gated communities are becoming more popular around the world
 Living a small footprint, more sustainable life can be a form of resistance, as well as a preparation for an uncertain future. It is a resistance to the profligate waste and greed surrounding us in the brutally competitive world of economic winners and losers. At the same time, learning to live with less prepares us for what will certainly be a more thrifty future.

Life is changing faster and more dramatically than ever before. Peak oil, global financial collapse, climate change, the still growing gap between rich and poor, and the destruction of the middle class are all pressing and urgent challenges. It is making previous challenges and changes like the Cold War, or puberty, look pretty mild in comparison.

Chris Hedges, in an April, 2009 article called "Resist or Become Serfs" paints this grim picture:
"America is devolving into a third-world nation. And if we do not immediately halt our elite’s rapacious looting of the public treasury we will be left with trillions in debts, which can never be repaid, and widespread human misery which we will be helpless to ameliorate. Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty. This is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. The stimulus and bailout plans are not about saving us. They are about saving them. We can resist, which means street protests, disruptions of the system and demonstrations, or become serfs." 
Hedges is writing about the U.S., but the infection is global. These global challenges require a global response. Simplifying our lives (in industrialized countries) and reducing our consumption will be inevitable. Even if we could afford to continue our 5-earth lifestyles, the earth can't.

This is our chance to shift to a better, less resource-intensive way of life. We will be happier in the end, but there are powerful forces working against us. The Good Life illusion, formulated when greed was supposedly good, has mesmerized us for decades. But forcing ourselves to act solely in our own best interest in the name of profit, has only brought misery and destruction. Resisting the lies is difficult, but resist we must.

Not buying anything is my form of resistance. If we are to do the least amount of harm while here on this funny little planet, then we can not participate in the harmful activities of our misguided system. And it has proven to be harmful.

Although living simply is an age-old tried and true form of resistance, I am also open to protesting in the streets. It is our responsibility as citizens to disrupt rotten systems, and demonstrate for positive change.

Together we will foster a humane response to human and environmental suffering, which is cooperation and solidarity.

Not competition, self interest, and gated communities.

November 18, 2010

Extend Buy Nothing Day To The Other 364 Days

Some have called Buy Nothing Day an 'insult to those too poor to be classified as consumers', and 'ineffective' in changing our destructive system. But a day that promotes consuming less and producing less waste is alright by me. Stopping shopping so that we can start living is something I support.

But if all we do is buy nothing on that one day, and fail to change our purchasing behaviour the other 364 days, then the activity IS ineffective. As a tool to increase awareness, BND helps us to do something we might not otherwise do - stop, and question our shopping habits.

We shop for entertainment, or for status, or to feel good. We shop to feed an addiction, or because we are doing what we are told. We may even shop because we are afraid of what will happen to life as we know it if we stop shopping. It is healthy to know what the reasons and motives are for our own patterns of consumption.

Once we begin to figure out why we are consuming so much, we can begin to question why we are working so much. We can ask why we are too busy to raise our kids, or maintain our health, or keep up with friends and family. We can try to figure out why we are always either making money, or spending money. Then we can stop the madness.

Enjoy buying nothing on November 26/27, or any other day of the year, and vow to increase your resistance against capitalist exploitation in the future.

Buy Nothing Day Activities:
  1. Go for a walk in nature.
  2. Make a plan for increasing self-sufficiency.
  3. Figure how much money you might have spent in a day - use it to pay down debt.
  4. Have a Free Garage Sale - enjoy giving stuff away.
  5. Cook your favourite meal - share it with someone.
  6. Commit to a Buy Nothing Christmas.
  7. Do some online research on the negative effects of unchecked capitalism.
  8. Write letters to elected officials demanding action on regulation and sustainability.
  9. Spend time with your family -  play cards, or a board game, or sing, draw, play.
  10. Make it a 'Do Nothing Day', and relax.

November 15, 2010

No Mischief Monday

What worries some people about consumption is that the affluent, technologically advanced West seems more and more focused not on consuming to live but living to consume. The problem with consumption, and the consumer capitalism that has pushed it to feverish historical extremes, is that it has become so all-consuming.
-Rodney Clapp

November 14, 2010

There's No Garbage, Only Resources

Some hoarders report seeing material objects, no matter how lowly, in a different way than most people. An 'adjusted' person can toss an empty paper coffee cup aside without a thought, while the hoarder would agonize over this same simple act. The hoarder knows the cup is still useful, so can't throw it away. I fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Where I fall, though, is more toward the hoarders way of seeing things. I cringe when people throw away perfectly good items. Where most people see garbage, waste, and refuse, I see gifts, wonder, and resources. I am an excellent candidate for hoarderism.

In truth, though, I could never be a hoarder because I ruthlessly limit what enters my home. Last week a neighbour stopped by to say she was moving out soon. She invited me over to see if there was any furniture or household items that she could give me. Free.

"No", I said almost immediately, "there is nothing that I need, but thank you very much for the offer."

Not only am I not buying anything, but you can't even GIVE me anything any more. I don't want it, I don't need it. I am achieving a steady state where I am satisfied with my quality of life, and my quantity of stuff. Steady as she goes.

But stuff still manages to get into my house, mostly as packaging in my groceries. Plastic mesh bags for example. My inner hoarder will not let me throw them away - they are resources. I enjoy challenging myself to see what kind of creative uses I can come up with for such items.

I found several uses for the mesh bags:
  • suet feeders for the birds
  • bottle washer made from a short, straight stick with the plastic mesh on one end
  • hangers to get onions, bananas, and tomatoes off my small counter tops - I hang them from under my upper cupboards
  • folded into dish and/or vegetable scrubbers
  • soap holder to reduce soap slime in the dish
  • you can pull them over your head and face without suffocating
  • and, you can use a mesh bag to hold all your mesh bags

Now if I could just figure out what to do with all that belly button lint.

    November 11, 2010

    Make It Fun

    Note: If you stop the video at 1:43 you will not need to see the corporate sponsor

    Natural limits require us to live more simply, to reduce our ecological footprint. However, learning to live in harmony with the earth and our fellow humans through simple living does not need to be punishing. It does not diminish us as individuals. Instead, it unleashes our potential to really live. To live well, and most importantly, to have fun.

    Play, enjoy, be free. We have to make it fun or it isn't sustainable.

    Thanks to Michael S. for sending me this video.

    November 8, 2010

    No Mischief Monday

    "The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

    November 7, 2010


    One of the biggest differences in my life since adopting a slower, lower footprint lifestyle has been the amount of time I have. Some might say too much time. But I have never heard anyone say they wished they had less time to do the things they enjoy.

    I like to have large chunks of undisturbed time that my life can expand into. Of course planning is required in order to meet our goals, but I also like to wander, meander, and dawdle, and let life take its course. Maybe I am easily amused, but I do like to release the illusion that I am in control and let life take over.

    What I have found is that when I let go of all expectations and judgment, and go with the flow of the minutia of daily life, things begin to change. The only way I can describe the overall feeling is that of being child-like. Spontaneity, joy, creativity, the giggles, and a boundless appreciation for little things. My sense of time begins to distort like a Salvador Dali melting clock, and I am less aware of my physical surroundings.

    One recent example was the other day while cooking. I was sorting dried chick peas in a meditative trance using the philosophy of "when you eat a banana, REALLY eat the banana". I was really sorting those beans and allowing myself to be absorbed in the task.

    Before I knew it, I had created a two dimensional sculpture without really trying. I used garbanzo beans for the shape of a tree, and dried kidney bean pods for the ground.

    I share the results below:

    Spontaneous art, or supper?

    When our lives are rushed, and planned for every minute, we miss out on the surprises and gifts that always surround us, waiting to be noticed. The universe is full of people, moments, and processes that can instill delight in our experience of life.

    A recent advertising campaign reminds drivers that "when you slow down you see more".

    It is the same for all of life. Slow down - live more.

    November 3, 2010

    Simple Living Lessons Out Of The Backpack

    Red Eagle Lake: 13 km multi-day hike into the mountains of
    Glacier National Park, Montana
    A large part of my youth was spent exploring the wilderness while carrying a backpack. Most trips were conducted on weekends, and a few were a week long, or longer. When you have to carry everything you need to survive in the back country for days on end, you learn how to cut out the unnecessary and superfluous.

    Just about everything I know about low impact, simple living I learned while backpacking:
    • if it is not useful, don't pack it along with you
    • you can live indefinitely with a minimum of possessions
    • nothing makes food taste better than being hungry
    • Nature is free, and there is nothing better or more important
    • friends can help you out of a jam, or save your life, but they will not carry your pack very far - you are ultimately responsible for your own load
    • things that you want, but don't need weigh you down, slow you down, and are rarely worth carrying great distances
    • the best load is a light load
    • bears DO shit in the woods, and have a great view while doing so
    • a thin tent feels like a palace in the middle of a raging storm
    • if you have to carry your garbage on your back you reduce the amount of garbage you produce
    • clean, safe water is priceless
    • it takes very little to create wonderful lifelong memories
    • bears can run faster than race horses, and cougars are even faster - you can't run, or hide, so practice prevention by making  noise, and be creative (climb a tree, get tall, confront your problems face on and hit the predator with a stick...)
    • do no harm, leave no trace of your passing through
    • at the end of a long hike, driving in a motor vehicle feels like the experience it actually is: a completely dreamy global privilege, regardless of the distance traveled
    • once home after days in the wilderness everything feels luxurious - your bed feels bigger and softer, food is prepared easier, and hot water is simply magic

    Feeling deprived? Thinking of acquiring more STUFF? Go backpack camping in the wilderness for a few days. When you get home your hovel will feel like a castle, and you will wonder what all that stuff not in your backpack is for.

    November 1, 2010

    No Mischief Monday

    "See, now's the time of the meal when you start getting the McStomach ache. You start getting the McTummy. You get the McGurgles in there. You get the McBrick, then you get the McStomach ache. Right now I've got some McGas that's rockin'. My arms... I feel like I've got some McSweats goin'. My arms got the McTwitches going in here from all the sugar that's going in my body right now. I'm feeling a little McCrazy." - Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me