December 31, 2012

Restoring Balance Monday

We are restoring balance on our wondrous, magical planet

We don't need to look for other planets to move to, and we don't need to wait for anything. We already possess everything we need to make this planet the best place to be. And we are doing it, even if it seems slow now.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to think less about what is wrong with things, and more about what is right with things. If we can imagine it, we can create it.
"Imagine the earth restoring herself to her natural balance. More beautiful, varied, abundant, and magical than ever, she is truly a wondrous place to live. Imagine that many of the institutions and structure that were no longer in tune with the needs of the planet have been dismantled or transformed. Humankind has developed wisdom and consciousness and has thereby returned to the Garden." - Shakti Gawain 
Together we are restoring balance, personally and globally, and moving toward a better world.

The best to you and yours in 2013!

December 30, 2012

Cooperatives Committed To Healthier Communities

Sharing, working together, and getting along with each other are the most important things we learn to do in our early years. Later in life, however, the importance of cooperation seems to fade into the background noise of individualism, greed, and self-interest.

That's not to say that sharing, working together, and getting along aren't important after we 'grow up'. If we didn't unofficially operate cooperatively in millions of little ways every day, things would quickly grind to a halt. Our survival depends on the simple lessons of kindergarten.

Therefore, I would like to use one of the last opportunities to say, "Happy International Year of Cooperatives". Although you may not have heard much about this global celebration of working together toward the common good, coops world-wide are thriving, with over 1 billion + members. Coops are officially everywhere.

Cuba has experienced phenomenal success with agricultural coops. Now the government is making it easier for citizens to create non-agricultural cooperatives, as a response to the people's desire for an economic model between pure socialism, and pure capitalism. Worker owned coops fit the bill.

Even in the centre of capitalism, the US, there are 120 million members of co-operatives and cooperative credit unions. So robust is this sector that some are calling it the "new economy".

The infographic below is used as an example of how cooperatives are committed to the social, economic, and environmental well being of their members and communities. Food cooperatives surpass conventional grocery stores in several important measures.

"Co-ops are based on values not unlike those we subscribe to individually, including self-responsibility, democracy, equality, honesty and social responsibility.
A cooperative exists to serve its members, but what makes co-ops unique is that the members are also the owners. So, in addition to getting the products and services you need, you also have a say in the business decisions your cooperative makes.
Rather than rewarding outside investors with its profits, a co-op returns surplus revenue to its members in proportion to how much they use the co-op. This democratic approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its members and the communities it serves."     
When businesses are owned by the workers and community, and not Wall Street bankers or rich families, everything changes. Here's to a more cooperative new year in which we value people over profits, and make sustainable, healthier communities the focus of our collective efforts.

Let's make our kindergarten teachers proud.

December 28, 2012

Just To Be Alive Is A Grand Thing

What is life? It is the breath of the buffalo in the winter time.

Linda was sleeping beside me when it happened. First the bed shook in gentle, rhythmic waves. Then the whole building creaked as if stretching its dry bones. My heart started thumping at my chest. Then I heard/felt a low, ongoing rumble. I knew that if the rumbling faded, we would be alright.

But if the rumbling continued, or worse, intensified, it would be time to evacuate our home (we live in the tsunami zone). That is a particularly scary situation with Linda relying on a wheelchair. Thankfully the rumbling, and shaking stopped, the result of a 3.3 earthquake with an epicentre about 60 km east of our location. Linda didn't even wake up so I had to calm my heart on my own.

The late night earthquake not only made me go over our emergency plan in my head, but it was also a powerful reminder of the brief and fragile nature of our tenure on earth. Although it is the fashion lately to consider ourselves omnipotent with technological wonders, the fact remains that we are under the sway of much more powerful forces than our puny little gadgets.

With all the things that can go wrong, weather, natural disaster, or health-wise, it is a wonder that anyone is ever safe or carefree for any period of time. When we do experience long stretches of security and good health, we should pause to consider our good fortune for it could change in just one moment.

Even when things aren't going so good, we can still take solace in the fact that we are alive. Not one to waste this precious gift, Agatha Christie said, "I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, and racked with sorrow. But through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

Because I have the time to do such things, today I ruminated on the humbling rumbling last night. I was feeling an increased vulnerability and humility, but also an awareness of the transitory nature of life.

It made me think of one of my favourite quotes from Chief Crowfoot of the Siksika First Nation, who on his deathbed in 1890 asked, "What is Life?" His answer was,
"It is the flash of a firefly in the night. 
It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. 
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass 
and loses itself in the Sunset."
I didn't do much more than relax and meditate on life today, because I could feel that just to be alive is a grand thing. I am committed to enjoying it fully while it lasts, however long (or brief) it may be.

December 27, 2012

5 Ways Walmart Is Evil

I am not much of a shopper, but I have never set foot in a Walmart. Deciding not to support the Walton family fortune was a decision I made before I even knew how big and evil they really were. I just figured they didn't need any of my money, regardless of how cheap their crap was.

The Walton family is one of the richest families in the world, inheriting their hoard of loot from Bud and Sam Walton, founders of Walmart, the world's largest retailer and employer. Six members of the family own as much wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans (49 million families).

5 Ways Walmart Is Evil

  1. Bullying of overseas suppliers, demanding lower wages and safety standards
  2. Widespread gender discrimination
  3. Stores have a net negative effect on job creation - every job created destroys 3 others
  4. Unfair wages
  5. Union busting at home and overseas
I am happy to not support this evil empire. Escaping its effects, though, is more difficult. We are all touched by the rapacious greed of those at the top.

Don't support the evil - #boycottwalmart.

December 24, 2012

Rebirth Monday

The lesson of the butterfly is to let go of old behavior and
 be reborn into the next phase of existence.
Humans have performed rituals around winter solstice since primeval times. Regardless of who you are, or where you live, there is reason to rejoice at this time of year.

It is now that we acknowledge the cycles of nature, and the most important one of all -the cycle of life. Through this recognition we reconnect with Mother Earth, and move ourselves to the next phase of existence in harmony with her.

The ancient Egyptians celebrated the goddess Isis and her son Horus. The ancient Greeks celebrated the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. It's always been about cyclical activities and the renewal of life.

Now, even larger cycles of creation are being revealed, and it appears that we may be experiencing many cyclical changes in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Astonishingly, not only the Mayan people singled out 2012 as a significant date for cyclical change. Similar prophecies come from the Hopi, Navajo, Cherokee, Apache, ancient Egyptians, Kabbalists, Essenes, Qero elders of Peru, Subsaharan Dogon tribe and the Australian Aborigines.

The cycle has turned, and familiar patterns are coming to an end. New patterns are starting to form, and our world is experiencing rebirth... again. However, there is no reason to fear coming changes.

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief
in injustice and tragedy.
What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
the Master calls the butterfly.
- Richard Bach

We are all reborn as butterflies in a new world, and for that, we rejoice.

Happy Solstice/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Yule/Bodhi Day

December 22, 2012

The Problem With The Consumer Rat Race

Happiness is always just around the corner in the consumer rat race maze

In the consumer rat race, happiness is always just out of reach. The next purchase, vacation, gift, or dollar earned, all promise happiness, but they never quite deliver. After a transitory sensation of fulfillment, we launch the pursuit of the next conduit to bliss. We are stuck in the maze.

Benjamin Hoff, in the "Tao of Pooh", describes the situation many will experience during the holidays.
"The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we're off to reach the next one, then the next one, then the next."
To escape the trap of the consumer lifestyle, we can choose the door that leads out of the maze, and into a more simple life. Ahh, instant relief.

I would rather sleep on the ground and be free, than sleep in a comfortable bed in captivity in an economic lab experiment. When we escape the maze we can stop chasing.

It is when we stop chasing that we start finding. We start finding ourselves. We start finding people that we love, and that love us. We start finding community, and a revitalized relationship with nature.

We start finding happiness.

December 21, 2012

Comfortably Contained In An Alternative Home

Shipping Containers, Chris Jordan, 2007. Detail of picture representing the 38,000 containers  
 processed through American ports every twelve hours.

Shipping containers carry everything from shoes to wheat. 10,000 of them are lost at sea every year. They are the strongest modular structures in the world, and they make great homes.

Shipping containers revolutionized the freight industry in the 1950s. They standardized the loading, transportation, and storage of goods, and slashed the price of shipping by 90%. Global trade was revolutionized as the ease and efficiency of containers moved goods cheaper and quicker than ever before.

It is no coincidence that consumerism rose in prominence along with the shipping container. It is unlikely that the shopping frenzy for cheap goods could continue without them. Big box stores would become little box stores in no time.

Often it is cheaper for shippers to buy new containers than pay to return the empty ones. Now containers are available across the globe making them an accessible, low cost raw material for building alternative, affordable, and attractive housing.

In recent years a new form of architecture has emerged that uses containers as the basis for designing structures of all kinds. One useful site is the Residential Shipping Container Primer. It describes itself as:
"A do it yourself reference and architectural design service for converting recycled intermodal cargo shipping containers into green homes, buildings and architecture. Includes built project examples, details, plans, techniques, videos, and more."
Altering containers for habitation can be done easily, and previously used standard sizes can be bought for about $1,200 dollars or less. Since they are designed to fit together, connecting containers to build larger spaces is simple.

Example of Container Home

Many people are doing innovative things, converting containers to homes. I came across a nice set of photos showing the complete process of converting two containers into a sensible, snug little home.

Plan using two 40 X 8 containers

Containers joined and set on site, with awning and ready for conversion

A well-stocked pantry is essential...

... as is a place to cook and eat good food.

A repurposed bureau made into the bathroom vanity

The finished container house makes use of an earth berm along the back side

To see the full photo set of this project check here. 

December 20, 2012

51 Years of Simple Living

The year I was born, the first disposable diapers hit the market. My mom couldn't afford to use them, but she tells me I didn't seem to care. She says I was a very contented little person right from the start.

When I came into this world, the average cost of a house was $12,500 dollars, and a dozen eggs cost 30 cents. The global population hit 4 billion, and Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

It was in these exciting times that my father was starting what would become a 30 year career in education. Although I didn't know it at the time, I was starting a 51 year career in simple living.

Teachers were poorly paid, and his salary did not go far with a growing family - living frugally was required. Eventually he had 5 kids for which to provide. Mom, like most mom's at the time, stayed at home and managed the logistics for her chaotic crew.

We eventually moved into a modest home, and stayed there until all the kids were grown. There was no 'trading up' to a larger house every few years, as is the expectation among many today. Actually, the acquisition of money and things was never a driving force for either of my parents.

Both mom and dad taught us that money was not the answer to anything past the point of having enough for a good life. What was more important than money and stuff was doing something with your life to make the world a better place.

Mom had to be creative to make ends meet, and somehow she managed to make sure that we always had what we needed. My clothes were hand-me-downs from my older brother, and if they lasted, they went down the line to the next rug rat. We always had a car. It was always a used car.

We never ate out, or order in. Processed foods as we know them today were unavailable, so all meals were cooked by my mother from scratch. That is how I cook now, and I have no idea how mom did it for 7 people day in and day out. It takes me a lot of time to cook meals from scratch for only two people. Moms are magic, obviously.

Everything tasted great, and I was always the most appreciative mouth at the table. But even I balked at powdered milk, and I remember really hating it. Cow tongue was a bit much, too. Most importantly though, I don't remember ever being hungry.

Often we did not have television, and when we did, it was black and white. There were no separate rooms for the kids, and we not only had to share a room, but often two of us had to share a bed.

Oh, the inhumanity! Occasionally, rising expectations in society would make my siblings and I think surely we lived in abject poverty, or were experiencing some sort of cruel and unusual punishment. We were led to mistakenly believe that everyone had a colour television, whole milk, steaks, new cars, and their own rooms.

That is what it sometimes felt like as we were growing up. But now I thank my parents for saving me from all the unnecessary crap, and sending me outside to play. Nature is what I like the best anyway.

I was born a content little dude on a dark winter night in 1961, and I have continued to be satisfied with 'enough' to this day. I have chosen to value time, freedom, and service to others, over the accumulation of money and things.

Today I celebrate 51 years of simple living.

December 19, 2012

Hold Hands

First Nations are coming together to help create a brighter future
Before Linda and I embarked on a year long low budget tour of the world, a friend shared some advice - "Hold hands." They were words that served us well as we navigated our way through unfamiliar lands.

We considered not just of the physical act of holding on, but also the spirit of the words. This came in handy in cultures where public displays of affection are frowned upon. We still 'held hands', but here it meant looking out for, and supporting, each other.

During these dark days it is important to look out for each other. To stick together and hold hands.

That is essentially what the 2012 UN International Year of Cooperatives was all about. It has been a celebration of people coming together and organizing collectively to meet their needs.

In spite of this reminder, we have forgotten to hold hands, and at a bad time. 

Now more than any other recent time we need to pull together. This is what is happening in Greece, where they are organizing to survive. This is what is  happening in Canada where 1st Nations are organizing to survive. Increasingly, this is what is happening around the world.

We can understand this in our families. When things are good everyone benefits, and when things are not so good, everyone shares in the suffering. We have forgotten that we are all family, all sisters and brothers, and what affects one segment of society or part of the world, eventually affects them all.

When we work together for the common good, we find a doable alternative to the present profit-oriented system that puts so many and so much at risk, just so a few can benefit.

We can do this thing, if we remember to watch out for each other during the dark days, and hold hands.

December 17, 2012

Do Nothing Monday

Doing nothing is just as important as doing something. 

In order to make life better, sometimes it is not a case of doing more. Sometimes gains are attained by doing less.

Even in a simple life it is necessary to remind one's self to slow down, stop, and, do nothing.

Keeping Quiet
Pablo Neruda

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still...

For once on the face of the earth
let's not speak in any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engineers,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
(Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.)

If we were not so singleminded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seemed dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

December 15, 2012

Attention Shoppers: Rethink The Season

From Adbusters

As we max out our credit cards, we hope we will become America's economic heroes – saving the nation from the fiscal cliff. But instead, we plummet further into a complicated recession, and as our spirits sink once again, the economists coo into our ears that there is a way out – consume more, they say! This is the paradox of our addiction – filling the void only to fall deeper into it.

We're in a state of “pathological consumption,” George Monbiot explains, “a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.”

The call to consume less – where it is heard – is denounced as pedantic, naive, authoritarian, even insane.

Decide for yourself where the insanity lies.

Read the rest of our #BuyNothingChristmas statement (a.k.a our brief, vehement, timely rant on consumerism) here:

December 14, 2012

Mayan Calender: The Re-Emergence of Matrifocal Cultures

With December 21, 2012 one week from today, you are likely to hear different ideas of what this significant date in the Mayan calender might mean. Some believe the world may end, but I don't think so.

Here is my take on what kind of shift this date may usher in.

The Mayan calender consisted of three parts, the longest of which measures 5,000 year cycles. It is this appropriately named "long count" calender that resets in seven days.

So what was happening in the world 5,000 years ago? By looking at any shifts that occurred at that time in history, perhaps we can understand what might be happening now.

One significant event 5 eons ago was the beginning of the end of cultures where womyn were in charge. That's right, cultures where womyn wielded power beyond the hearth, know as matrifocal cultures. At this time small, thriving cities led by females had no fortifications because peace ruled the day.

Then the boys took over, and haven't looked back since.

Actor Jada Pinkett-Smith wrote recently on the present unbalanced state of power. "I am sure the men, who restructured our societies from cultures that honored woman, had no idea of the outcome. They had no idea that eventually, even men would render themselves empty and longing for meaning, depth and connection."

All the male-perpetrated destruction has not spared anyone or anything. Look at the results of 5,000 years of male domination. Womyn are unhappy, men are unhappy, and the environment lays in waste.

When you live under a violence and exploitation-based patriarchy, what needs to happen to return to balance? The pendulum needs to swing back toward matriarchy. But it means more than grrl power. It means grrl power, matron power, and crone power. It means helping men heal so they can participate without hitting everything with a club and dragging it away.

One week from today is not only Winter Solstice, but is also the end of the Mayan long calender. This day will bring with it not only a return to increased light and warmth, but also a return to the increased participation of womyn around the world.

Some men may prefer that the world ends, but when it doesn't, they will see that an equitable and meaningful sharing of decision making will restore men, womyn, and the planet, back to health.

Or maybe not.

December 13, 2012


No, we aren't doomed.

We just have to start looking at the planet as a really big Twinkie.

And it's the last one.

December 12, 2012

Be A Good Ancestor

We are consuming future generation's global inheritance

Are we being good ancestors when we consume more than our fair share, while endangering the survival of future generations in the process?

Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, thought that our greatest responsibility was to be good ancestors. Put another way, Native 1st Nations tell us we should be thinking 7 generations ahead as a guide to all our decision making.

You would think that people with kids (and most people have children) would be ruled by this line of forward thinking. After all, how can you leave an all important genetic legacy if you consume the planet to ashes, thus jeopardizing the survival of your spawn?

Leaving a non-toxic planet for our kids does not seem to be a priority, for if it were, we would be toning down our still-accelerating decimation of nature.

Not only should we want to live more lightly so our kids can live at all, but we should be thinking about our kids children, and their children, and theirs... 7 generations and beyond. The way things are going we will be lucky to get just a few more generations before homo sapiens becomes yet another species to fall during the current global extinction event.

With our global population mushrooming, and in a time of peak-everything, a great way to be a good ancestor is to reduce consumption, live more simply, and leave something behind for the good of those yet to come.

If we made being a good ancestor our greatest priority and #1 responsibility, it would profoundly affect our expectations, and how we behave as consumers. We would realize that we do not own this world, but are only borrowing for a short while before returning it to our children.

Will the planet they receive make them think of us as good ancestors?

December 10, 2012

No Christmas Madness Monday

You don't have to cancel Christmas, but Green Santa advises canceling the consumption part.

Every year North Americans celebrate Christmas through an elaborate and expensive ritual that stresses most people to the breaking point, financially as well as emotionally. Linda and I responded to the continuous ramping up of holiday expectations by de-emphasizing consumer Christmas in favour of a simple solstice celebration.

We are not religious, nor do we participate in consumerism, so we choose to miss the madness. Besides, what do you get for the person who wants nothing?

Answer - It's not stuff.

At this stage of the environmental game we have to start looking at all aspects of our lives and seek more radical solutions. A green Christmas is only a transition from an over-the-top consumer pig out to an all out buy nothing Christmas.

Besides, Canadians on average are 163% in debt. Even if consumer Christmas was a good idea, who can afford it? And even if you could afford it, can the planet?

I know - Scrooge. Oh well, Scroogley times call for Scroogley measures.

The NBA No Christmas Madness Solution

We have freed ourselves from the madness. How?
  1. No decorations.
  2. No tree.
  3. No cards.
  4. No gifts.
  5. No holiday away.
What we do is eat healthy food in good company - it is cold and dark out there after all. We go for walks in the woods, then return to our home for a hot beverage. And on that special day when the planet makes the transition to longer days, we light a candle and give thanks.

December 8, 2012

Feeling Hopey-Changey

Why wait? You can create personal change NOW.

So how is that "hopey - changey" stuff working out for you? Pretty good actually. Just ask an activist.

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favourite activist/writers, so it was with delight that I discovered how involved she is in the global change movement. Her recent words, written to the individual agents of action (you and me) are hopeful and encouraging. They increase my level of ambition for working toward a brighter future despite the darkness that sometimes threatens to overwhelm.

"To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart. 
There are really only two questions for activists: What do you want to achieve? And who do you want to be? And those two questions are deeply entwined. Every minute of every hour of every day you are making the world, just as you are making yourself, and you might as well do it with generosity and kindness and style. 
That is the small ongoing victory on which great victories can be built, and you do want victories, don’t you? Make sure you’re clear on the answer to that, and think about what they would look like." 
- Rebecca Solnit 

More and more people are not waiting for their elected officials to instigate change - they are doing it for themselves. Why?

Because it is the right thing to do. It is in accepting personal responsibility for the planet's ills, and then changing them, that provide the best route towards hope, and a better world.

Our little personal victories add up and create monumental victories for all.

So, in spite of the obfuscassion and misdirection I hear coming from the mouths of politicians and bureaucrats, I remain feeling hopey-changey.

How about you?

December 7, 2012

Give A Dr. Seuss-Approved Gift: A Library Card

If you are giving gifts this holiday season, consider one of the most valuable (and often free) gifts one can possibly give - a Public Library card.

A library card is the perfect gift for all ages. Introduce someone you know to the magic of libraries, and the magic of books and life-long learning.

You will be making sure they have unlimited access to reading, knowing, learning, and growing.

Author Penelope Rowlands shares her thoughts on the importance of libraries, librarians, and books.
"Like every author I know, I became a writer through reading. I spent my childhood supine — on the floor of my room or under a tree in country summers — endlessly absorbed by words on a page. I think it's safe to say that I wouldn't have become a writer without free access to a library, whether at school or in the neighborhood. To enter one was to arrive at a feast. I hauled bags of books home in triumph. To this day, I patronize — and treasure — my local library. I think of it as a sanctuary, a respite from isolation, and I value the easy access to librarians, with all their perspective and advice."
Give the gift of libraries, books, and reading to someone you love. Oh, the places they will go.

December 5, 2012

My Minimalist Wallet

The minimalist wallet - less space, less stuff
Do men still carry leather wallets? The advent of virtual money, and now, the virtual wallet got me to thinking. Has the analog over-stuffed man wallet been, like so  many things, demoted to museum exhibit status?

Alas, the leather billfold seems safe for now as the digital variety has been slow to take over, despite the virtual wallet's ability to hold all the things men put in their pocket purses, except coins, mints, and pictures of the kids.

More than likely a wallet remains on the typical gift list, even for today's digital dads.

The George Castanza Wallet - not minimalist
If there is one on your list, save your money. I have a more practical, less expensive idea I came up with after several unhappy relationships with traditional wallets. If dad is a minimalist like I am, he will appreciate your spartan-minded thoughtfulness.

He will also avoid the "Costanza Wallet". Men's wallets, like George Costanza's on Seinfeld, quickly descend into out of control blobs of leather bound dude detritus. Buying a large-capacity wallet is simply asking for trouble.

I know this because when I was a kid my dad's wallet was the original pocket-busting wasteland. Many things went in, but little ever came out. The constantly growing collection, the size and shape of a squished double-decker burger with all the trimmings, would prematurely wear out any pocket into which it was thrust.

Apparently Pop did not pass on the gene for large wallet carrying. I have always seen wallets bulging at the seams as a case of hoarding on a small scale, and have avoided them. But I have had my own versions of wallet black holes.

My solution for this masculine mayhem was to dispose of the idea of a traditional wallet altogether. I emptied my last old wallet of the things that I actually 'needed', and realized it all amounted to very little. A wallet is a function of commerce after all, and I figured the size of your wallet should fluctuate with the amount of buying that one does.

Rubber bands, or wallets?
A guy not buying anything doesn't need a big wallet, or a regular wallet, or any wallet at all.

In keeping with my mission to reduce my possessions to the most minimal and practical as possible, I concluded that all I needed was a rubber band! There it was - my new 'just enough' wallet.

And even if you do some day get the main dude in your life a digital wallet, what comes along with the device? That's right, a plastic card. I guess you use it to buy things when you can't figure out how to use yet another newfangled gadget.

But where do you put the card when you no longer have a billfold? Or what if you have some cash on hand? Whatever will the man on the move do in this increasingly digital world?

Another minimalist solution, a money clip might work, but that could cost as much as a more traditional wallet. I suggest banishing the massive man wallet to the local museum collection, saving some money, and trying one of my essentially free minimalist wallets.

Note: I am currently using a rubber band from our junk drawer, or 'miscellaneous resource depository' as it is known around here. So far it has lasted many months of service.

December 3, 2012

Write Your Own Story Monday

The thing I like most about living simply is that it allows me to create, and live, my own story. I have time to overcome years of accumulated brainwashing, and find out who I really am, and what I really want out of life.

I laid siege to the machine, and reclaimed my life.

Many others are doing it too. It seems to be catching on.

How is your story unfolding?

Don't Give 'Stuff'

Looking for a gift?
Spend time together hand in hand... or paw in paw

I saw this anti-consumer message recently and it meshes nicely with NBA's mandate during the holiday season, and year round.

Don't Give 'Stuff'

Give the 5 Hands instead.

  1. Handmade
  2. Hand-me-down
  3. Second hand
  4. Helping hand (donate)
  5. Hand in hand (spend time together)
When giving gifts, if that is what you choose to do, let these 5 waste-reduction, money-saving tips be your guiding hand.

November 30, 2012

Live Simply - Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Complexity and consumption increase the size of your carbon footprint

Want to do your part for climate change? Living a more simple, less energy-intensive lifestyle can be a good way to contribute. Taking responsibility for your own carbon footprint is a step you can take whether world leaders can agree on a Kyoto replacement or not. 

Climate change denial has been harder to spin since Sandy struck. Hopefully that catastrophic event, and other weird weather globally, will have an impact on the UN Climate Change Conference negotiations taking place in Qatar over the next few days.

Qatar, an oil-producing nation, has the highest CO2 emissions per capita in the world. But I can't say much about my country, either. Canada is the largest consumer of energy in the world per capita, and the second largest producer of greenhouse gases (after the United States). We have just over 30 million people, but we use as much energy as the entire continent of Africa, home to 700 million.

The good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Living more simply offers many ways to reduce your personal contribution to climate change. It could be as easy as walking more often. As Steven Wright said, "everywhere is within walking distance if you give yourself enough time". 

Here are a few other actions you can take, ranging from run of the mill responses to more outrageous ideas.

  • live close to work, or to a pubic transportation network. Or work from home. Or, if practical, quit work.
  • walk, bike, skip, hop, run, jog, roll - all are low carbon footprint activities.
  • consider vacationing at home, or close to home. 
  • quit vacationing altogether after you quit working and no longer  need to "get away".
  • bus, train, and ships are the among the most efficient methods for long distance travel. Sailboats and horses are pretty good too.

  • grow/raise as much of your own food as you can
  • if you don't have access to soil join a community garden
  • support local organic farmers
  • eat low on the food chain
  • stay away from convenience foods of dubious nutritional value with a lot of packaging
  • keep to the outside of the grocery store where all the fresh food can be found
  • eat less - the average North American could eat a few hundred calories less per day and be healthier
  • raise back yard chickens
  • guerilla garden in empty or abandoned lots

  • live in a smaller home and cut energy use, utility bills, and CO2 emissions. 
  • replace lawn with a veggie garden and fruit trees
  • make your home as energy efficient as possible
  • install solar panels and/or a solar hot water system
  • compost organics and recycle everything else
  • stop buying unnecessary stuff - high consumption lifestyles are high carbon footprint lifestyles
  • say no to single use/disposable products
  • lower your thermostat in winter, raise it in summer

The Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of this year. Hopefully, political interest in lowering carbon emissions doesn't also expire. Either way, tackling your carbon emissions through your very own low-carbon, simple living protocol is a way to contribute now.

GHG Emissions for 20 Common Foods

November 28, 2012

Small Is Still Beautiful

The phrase 'small is beautiful' was popularized by economist E.F. Schumacher with his 1973 book by the same name. The idea for the title of his book came from a phrase used by one of Schumacher's teachers, Leopold Kohr.

'Small is beautiful' was meant to challenge popular ideas like 'bigger is better' and 'growth is good', and to slow the relentless march toward increased complexity and waste. The philosophy promotes smaller, appropriate technological solutions that empower people more, and respect nature's laws.

Schumacher thought that our "aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." He could see in the 1970s already, that western economies and lifestyles were unsustainable.

Since Schumacher's influential book was published the world has become even bigger and more complex as a result of the push for constant growth. In spite of this, small is still beautiful. Small is the way to go, now more than ever. It is inevitable.

So get ready for a smaller, more efficient world - it is the only way out that we have.

Gail Tverberg, is a commentator on peak oil and is the author of the blog, Our Finite World. About a future smaller world she says:

"I think that the direction in years ahead will be toward reduced trade of all sorts. By definition, every country will become 'more independent,' including more 'energy independent'. Whether or not current lifestyles are supportable with lower trade is another question."

Small space living
Smaller amounts of trade means increased independence and an emphasis on self-reliance. In this and other ways, our world is about to get smaller. Current lifestyles won't last, and our expectations will need to shrink along with our support networks.

We have been led off on a tangent and are far from the ways of moderation. Schumacher knew how we could get back on the right path.

"Modern economics considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of all economic activity," he says. "Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful."

Living simply with a reduced ecological footprint is the lifestyle that best matches the smaller world that we will be living in soon. It will be a world of tiny homes, staycations, home cooking, walking, biking, and public transportation. A smaller world of local economies and the building of things that people actually need over the wasteful production of frivolous luxuries.

We should not look at this transition to tiny as a bad thing full of painful sacrifice. Rather, we should embrace the return to a more human scale and pace of life that is better for us and everything around us.

The book Small Is Beautiful highlighted the benefits of adopting a saner, smaller approach, including some of the personal payoffs.

"The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity."

That sounds right to me, and much better than a life of endless toil and conspicuous consumption.

November 26, 2012

Doing The Right Thing Monday

It has been said that we live in a world in which politics has replaced right and wrong, and self-interest has replaced respect for the common good. Under such conditions, American grocer Joe Lueken's story is not only right, but is totally righteous.

After 46 years as a successful grocer in Bemidji, Minnesota, the semi-retiring Lueken is transferring ownership of his three supermarkets to nearly 400 employees, despite lucrative offers to sell out to the big grocery store chains.

"My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken said. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."

The family ownership of Lueken's Village Foods feels that turning over the business to the employees at no cost to them is better for the community.

"Employee-ownership at Lueken’s means increased opportunity for employee-owners, their families, and continued support of our community. When profits stay local, everyone wins."

70 year old Lueken credits his approach to life to a simple, straightforward, and once common lesson his parents taught him - "do the right thing".

At times just finding out what the right thing is can be a difficult undertaking. But with "do the right thing" as our guiding principle, eventually we will be led to game changing decisions both large and small.

May we all strive to be like Joe, and do the right thing rather than the political or profitable thing. Even when it is inconvenient. 

November 24, 2012

Why Buy Local? - Infographic

Where we spend our dollars can make a huge difference in how our world works... or doesn't. Even if you aren't buying much of anything, most people have to buy something. Being mindful of the repercussions of our purchases can help us put our hard earned cash where it will do the most good.

Before buying, think about your health, the health of your local community, and the health of the planet. Consider that the cheapest products are not always the best for you or the environment.

(Click to enlarge)
Why Buy Local Infographic

November 23, 2012

Buy Nothing Day 2012

Today is BND in North America, a day chosen to coincide with one of the most manic shopping days in the conspicuous consumption calender, the dreaded Black Friday. Tomorrow, Saturday, November 24, is Buy Nothing Day internationally.

Here at NBA we have elevated Buy Nothing Day to holiday status. Actually, it is our favourite day - it's the only one where you're 'obligated' to not buying anything.

By celebrating the start of the Buy Nothing Holiday Season one can start to think differently about the real meaning of our existence beyond shopping. Are we really just consumers?

There is a reason the people went from citizens to consumers in the eyes of our lame leaders. A great part of industrialized economies are made up of what us ex-citizens buy in our new role as money making and money spending zombies. Consumers fulfilling their shopping obligations in the US accounts for about 70% of GDP, a situation that is reflected in many other consumer nations.

That we buy, and continue buying, is more important than any of the things we used to do as citizens, like vote, participate in  our community, work for the greater good, and speak out in the face of injustice. It is now much easier to fulfill your responsibilities to the state, and be patriotic - just keep on shopping.

If we even so much as slow down our pace of spending as consumers, the wheels start coming off the economic wagon immediately. The consumer spending based economy must grow infinitely or die. We can't slow down in our efforts to buy things, few of which are necessities, or misery for the masses is sure to follow. Or so we are told.

So we work at McJobs, to buy stuff we can't afford, to keep the economic beast fed, so we don't lose our McJobs. Of course the jobs don't pay enough to cover all spending, so we go into debt to buy the stuff we don't need. Canadians, for example, spend $1.63 for every dollar they earn.

Wow. What a system.

It is a wonder that people aren't bailing from this guaranteed-to-fail-model in droves.

Buy Nothing Day is a time to reflect on the global effects of a model based on over-consumption, and the wars that are required to maintain it. A time to think about the exploitative global system that promotes conspicuous wasteful practices in order to provide profit to a select few.

As a celebration of anti-consumption, BND emphasizes being debt free, spending time with family, getting in touch with nature, and supporting more efficient local economies.

Here are a few ways to participate in Buy Nothing Day. They range from active and in-your-face, to more passive and contemplative.
  • Credit card cut up: Participants stand in a shopping mall, shopping center, or store with a pair of scissors and a poster that advertises help for people who want to put an end to mounting debt and extortionate interest rates with one simple cut.
  • Free, non-commercial street parties
  • Sit-ins
  • Zombie Walk: Participant "zombies" wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare. When asked what they are doing participants describe Buy Nothing Day.
  • Whirl-mart: Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long, baffling conga line without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases.
  • Public protests
  • Wildcat General Strike: A strategy used for the 2009 Buy Nothing Day where participants not only do not buy anything for twenty-four hours but also keep their lights, televisions, computers and other non-essential appliances turned off, their cars parked, and their phones turned off or unplugged from sunrise to sunset.
  • Buy Nothing Day hike: Rather than celebrating consumerism by shopping, participants celebrate the Earth and nature.
  • Buy Nothing Critical Mass: As the monthly Critical Mass bicycle ride often falls on this day or near, rides in some cities acknowledge and celebrate Buy Nothing Day.
  • Buy Nothing Day paddle along the San Francisco waterfront. This event is promoted by the Bay Area Sea Kayakers to kayak along the notoriously consumptive San Francisco waterfront.
  • The Winter Coat Exchanges that started in Rhode Island and now have locations in Rhode Island, Kentucky, Utah and Oregon in which coats are collected from anyone who wants to donate, and anyone who needs a winter coat is welcome to take one.  - Wikipedia
Other activities could include taking a brown bag picnic, playing games with the family (ones that don't require electricity), reading a book, taking a nap, visiting a neighbour, sharing a meal, and going unplugged and playing acoustic instruments in a jam with others. The possibilities are endless once you stop thinking about spending and shopping.

But will BND make a difference?

Adbusters, the Canadian anti-consumerism magazine that was instrumental in getting BND going, states that it "isn't just about changing your habits for one day" but "about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste.

This is the Anti-Black Friday mentality. Call it White Friday. It is our opportunity to turn from the dark side of debt, waste, guilt, and environmental destruction, and embrace the white light of rational thinking.

November 21, 2012

Truth Seeking Party Poopers

Bearer of truth, or party pooper?

I came across an interesting blog post from 2007 written by Arthur Silber. Although it was written with politicians in mind, the sentiments expressed reflect the general mind set in these days of ignorance and denial. When so many are living a lie, honest folks speaking truths are not welcome, and are often seen as annoying party poopers.

The planet is struggling, as are billions of its human inhabitants. At the same time a small privileged group carries on living the high life as if nothing is wrong.

Uncomfortable truths are discouraged as they are "a downer" and put a damper on the uninhibited enjoyment of luxurious appointments like stainless steel, granite counter tops, annual exotic vacations, new cars, fancy clothes...

There is a major disconnect between the truth and lies, and between a harsh reality and comfortable fantasy. Silber writes:

"It is not simply that our national discourse rests on a foundation of evasions, complicated by equivocations, twisted by avoidance, and rendered into meaningless insignificance by an uncountable series of lies. All of that is true, but it fails to capture the quality that is most striking to the perceptive observer. That quality is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. 
It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are "acceptable" -- phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts. It is as if everyone realizes, but will never state, that we are engaged in an elaborate charade, a pageant of gesture and indication, where substance and specific meaning have been banned."

And what generally happens to those who attempt to, dare to, speak truths? On those "extraordinarily rare occasions"  when truths are identified, the messenger is labeled "extreme, crazy, or a troublemaker".

"You are not 'respectable', you are not to be treated with any degree of seriousness, and you are not to be listened to."

Such individuals, if they are effective enough, will be discredited with less than flattering labels - eco-terrorist, tinfoil hat wearer, communist, and enemy of the state are only a few in the muzzling arsenal.

It has been amply documented that 70 years of rampant consumerism has tainted the human and natural landscapes. The effects of our unchecked desires and waste are quite simply destroying everything, including ourselves.

But try talking about it at a gathering, while out for coffee, or at a party. Linda and I used to do just that with less than encouraging results. We did not speak in meaningless code. We did not observe the ban on uncomfortable truths that might jeopardize the status quo.

We don't go out so much any more.

However, undaunted by our tepid reception, we searched for and found a different soap box on which to stand. We are continually humbled by the small (possibly masochistic) crowd that continues to gather here at Not Buying Anything to hear the bad news for bloated expectations.

 Those same brave people are asking questions that challenge business-as-usual, putting themselves at risk for derision. The good news is that the truth is filtering out into the world, and people are taking up the challenge to live more reasonably and gently upon the earth.

The consumer party is a house-wrecker. That means that the truth seeking 'party pooper' is not trying to bring anyone down, but through their questions and alternative perspectives, bring everyone up.

November 19, 2012

Minimalizing More Monday

A lot of people, when they get together, talk about their new acquisitions. I guess it is a "pride of ownership" thing. A smaller group of people, in the same circumstances, talk not about things they got, but rather things of which they have gotten rid.

Since Linda and I moved from Alberta to British Columbia eight years ago, we have been on a semi-random minimalist mission. The move itself was the perfect excuse to unload years of accumulation, and we downsized our  belongings from a mid-sized moving truck to a utility trailer pulled behind our small pickup truck. 

Our drive west felt more like riding in a balloon with all the ballast thrown overboard. We felt liberated, exhilarated even.

It is demonstrated that some people experience a rush when shopping. I have a similar reaction when I get rid of stuff.

In the summer we took a truck load of things to the second hand store, and last week we took another full load. The more we take out of our small home the better it feels. More space means more room for air, sunshine, and creativity to flow.

This has been a decades long project that is ongoing as things pass through our lives. There is no end, which is ok. It is all about the process of eliminating the superfluous so that the necessary can reveal itself.

We have a way to go before we are down to backpacks, but as we minimalize more, our simple, spartan, and austere dream is becoming a happy reality.

November 18, 2012

Grass: What Is It Good For?

Russia has 18.8 million acres of family gardens, which produce US$14 billion worth of products per year, equivalent to over 50% of Russia’s agricultural output, or 2.3% of the country’s GDP (Rosstat 2007b). 

The United States, on the other hand, have 27.6 million acres of lawn, which produce a US$30 billion per year lawn care industry (Bormann, Balmori, and Geballe 2001).

Grass - what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again...

November 16, 2012

Amazing Feats of Simplicity: The Ancient Teachers

Lao Tzu riding his ox, a symbol of strength, patience and benevolence
Have we collectively failed as students in the school of life? Should we have our knuckles wrapped for not listening to our teachers? I am not a proponent of pain, but eons of ignoring our lessons must be rectified before we are sent to the detention room indefinitely.

I don't know of a single teacher worth their salt, historical or contemporary, that has espoused the positive aspects of wealth accumulation and worldly goods. Similarly, ancient texts generally do not record the 'excellent' results of greed and individual acquisition.

Nor does ancient wisdom advise that future generations exploit nature to the point of collapse.

Unsurprisingly, virtually all ancient teachers that are still remembered today, taught through their lives and their words, the value of living simply in harmony with each other, and the world around us.

Kagemni, an ancient Egyptian philosopher, wrote a text to help students select the right teacher. It reads like a template for the teachers of the past whose teachings have endured.

The Egyptian philosopher's ideal teacher:
  • performs good deeds without expectation of reward
  • respects their responsibilities to the community, and focuses on service to others
  • has compassion for all living creatures
  • accepts joy and sorrow with equal mind
  • is always happy, and
  • lives according to their guiding Principles.
To the good teacher, Kagemni tells prospective students, "gold and dross are as one, nectar and poison are as one, and the king and the beggar are as one".

The following simplicity-related wisdom is from ancient teachers of which I am sure Kagemni would approve. Perhaps if we had heeded their message earlier, we would live in a more enlightened, evolved world today.

Lao Tzu

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”


"He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has."


"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."


"The greatest wealth is to live content with little."


"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?"

“Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”


“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”


“To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.”


“The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveler, who takes rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way.”

Can we learn our lessons on time and avoid endless punishments in our cages of ignorance? Our teachers can only open the door - we have to make the choice to enter ourselves.