February 29, 2012

Keeping It Light

"No suffering befalls the man who calls nothing his own."
- Dhammapada
Not everyone aspires to be a wandering monk, claiming ownership to nothing but a piece of cloth to wrap one's self in, and a bowl for food. That would be considered extreme for the average participant in Western 'civilization' where we have become weighed down by our possessions.
Deep inside, however, we know the sages are on to something. We can relate to them because we harbour a yearning for a slower, simpler life, free from a growing mental and physical clutter.

Most people consider some of their best days to be when possessions were few, and responsibilities minimal. Think about it for your own life, or ask others when they felt the most free, the most alive.

Often people will answer that some of their happiest days were their student days. They remember wandering down the road to knowledge with nothing more than a suitcase and a sense of adventure. People recall macaroni and cheese, tiny dorm rooms, and limited budgets not as examples of extreme hardship, but as the joys of a simpler life.

Some of my best days on this earth have been while living out of a back pack. Wilderness trips of up to two weeks, supported by whatever I could carry on my back, taught me the joys of keeping it light. It was just me, my boots, my back pack, and the grizzly bears. It was liberating and exhilarating, and a wake up call to the lies of economic 'authorities' that promote purchasing our way to happiness and prosperity.

While laying in my sleeping bag on the ground under a dome of stars, I would ponder the Big Question. "If I have everything I need to sustain myself in my back pack, what is all that stuff back at home for? Why am I working so hard to acquire a bunch of things that I don't really want or need?"

This line of questioning eventually caused me to quit my job to experience the freedom of traveling lightly for an extended period of time. I bought a round the world ticket and lived out of a back pack for an entire, glorious year.

While traveling I joyfully washed my six item wardrobe in a sink or bucket, and hung it to dry. I walked everywhere, shunning buses, taxis, and trains unless traveling long distances. I carried a small bundle of art supplies, and even a tiny library that shrunk or grew according to book swaps with other travelers. I had lots of time to use both.

Living with things pared down to the essentials appealed to me, and I have not looked back since. Today my possessions are sparse, and I am constantly acting to streamline them more. I am not down to a piece of cloth and a bowl yet, but I have recovered from the damaging effects of conforming to the regular life script of work - spend - sleep - repeat.

We are repeatedly told that the stuff we own is important for the enjoyment of life, but in the majority of cases this is so wrong. Wandering monks, and even our own experience, teach us that there is no freedom in the accumulation of stuff. Real freedom comes when you get rid of stuff, and stop lusting for more.

The less extraneous stuff we have, the less suffering befalls us.

Keep it light. Be free. Enjoy your life.

February 27, 2012

Dangerous Clothes Monday

Fashion can be harmful to more than your pocketbook

Keeping up with the latest fashion trends can be harmful to more than your pocketbook. Many common clothing choices can be potentially deadly.

Tight clothing such as collared shirts, and accessories such as belts, ties, stiletto heels, and 50 pound shoulder bags are all potential health hazards.

"Rarely do comfort and health get much more than a nod in the fashion picture. Yet the failure to consider them can impair performance, diminish alertness, foster irritability and even compromise health.
Headaches, varicose veins, corns and calluses, gastrointestinal distress, heat prostration and even vaginitis can result from attempts to 'dress properly' or follow fashion trends." - New York Times

Fashion is deadly, and best avoided. Have a great week.

February 26, 2012

Shabby Ideas and Shoddy Philosophies

“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it."  - Albert Einstein


People seldom notice old clothes if you are wearing a big smile, or coming up with revolutionary theories that change the way we think about the universe.

I have read that Albert Einstein had several sets of the same, simple suit of clothes hanging in his closet. That way, when he woke in the morning and went to his closet, he did not need to think about what to wear.

To simplify matters more, he never wore socks. Not sure about that wonderful and wild hair of his, but it looks like it did not see a brush often. He, like many people, had other things to think about.

There's a growing group of people that would agree with Albert, and would rather not think too much about what to wear. Some advocate cutting the work wardrobe down to 6 items (or less), at first for a month. The idea is to help people understand their shopping habits and clothes better, by cutting the cloth to a minimum. Here's the website.

The tiny wardrobe keeps down both costs, and maintenance. It focuses on buying high quality clothing, taking care of what you have, and making sure everything works with everything else to maximize versatility.

The payoffs are simplifying your life, reducing costs, and decluttering the closet. But wait! There are other benefits.

Many who have tried the Six Things Or Less Challenge report that they came to realize that they are not defined by fashion trends, and now look at their clothing in new, healthier, less wasteful ways. In the era of the 'walk-in closet' and 'shoe wall', this can only be a good thing.

Einstein had a healthy and refreshingly rebellious attitude toward his six items. When considering how he presented himself to visitors he said, "If they came to see me, here I am. If they came to see my clothes, they can go to the closet."

Edit: If the Six Items Or Less website is not working, read more about the challenge here.

February 24, 2012

I'd Rather Go Nude Than Have To Dress Fashionably

Clothes are a great way to cover your
butt when you can't get naked
I don't understand the whole clothes shopping thing. I am not into it. As a matter of fact, I would rather go nude than have to keep up with the latest clothing trends.

Every household budget I have ever seen has had a generous allotment for monthly clothing purchases. A traditional clothing budget is $1000+ per year, something I have never understood.

Is this some sort of fashion industry clothing conspiracy? Or are people wearing their clothes out really fast?

Except for some things, most clothing is useable for years. Often a good piece of clothing improves as it's worn. Over time it becomes a comfortable friend, fitting your contours uniquely.

But the fashion industry, aided by cultural pressure, dictates that one maxes out the clothing budget every year to buy the latest and greatest designs. A whole new wardrobe, or additions to already overstuffed closets, every year. Year after year after year...

Why? Just so we can avoid potentially "embarrassing" social situations? To avoid a run in with the dreaded fashion police? "Stop in the name of this year's collection! What you are wearing is so last year." We must get stylin' or risk being banished.

But clothes are primarily used to cover the body when nudity is inappropriate, so last years outfit or ensemble will do just as well as this years, or next years.

Therefore, I have flipped the finger to fashion. In the process I have found that it is difficult to wear out clothes if you get good quality stuff to begin with. I have made my clothes last - a clothing budget has been unnecessary for several years.

I am putting the money saved toward better, less wasteful things that add something to my life beside the momentary thrill of buying new threads.

Full disclosure: My minimal, near-zero clothing budget has been partially made possible by very generous patrons of simple living. For example, this past December good friends sent me about 10 pairs of my favorite, durable, long-lasting socks, and some slippers. And I have a mom and mom-in-law that like to give practical gifts (translation: I have enough underwear to last a decade).

February 22, 2012

Secrets Of The Centenarians

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."
- Samuel Ullman

My grandparents never lived to see a century, but they all lived well into their 90s. I might have the centenarian gene. Of course, I could have the cancer gene, too. Either way, living well is certain to help extend my adventure in good health.

Aging is not fully understood, and neither is living it seems. But living well does boil down to a few basic things that anyone can adopt. Like eating oatmeal every day, and taking naps.

The following people, among the longest-lived we know of, attributed their long lives to a few simple things.

Secrets of The Centenarians
  • Jeanne Calment, France, 122 years "World's Oldest Person to Have Lived" - Rode her bicycle until she was 100, drank red wine, ate chocolate.
  • Sarah Knauss, USA, 119 years - Lived a tranquil life with little stress.
  • Marie-Louise Meilleur, Canada, 117 years - Hard work.
  • Maria Capovilla, Ecuador, 116 years - Never drank hard liquor or smoked.
  • Christian Mortensen, 115 years, Denmark/USA - Positive attitude, refrained from alcohol, surrounded himself with friends.
  • Emiliano Mercado del Toro, 115 years, Puerto Rico - Maintained a sense of humour.
  • Walter Breuning, USA, 114 years - for the last 36 years of life he ate only 2 meals a day, worked till he was 99.         From: Guinness Book Of World Records

February 20, 2012

Floating Tiny Home Monday

A floating mini, mini mansion in a local marina, Photo: Stasi Manser
The small house is the residential equivalent of traveling with a single backpack rather than a tottering airport trolley full of gear. Both cut life to the basics, and liberate us from unnecessary clutter, mental and otherwise.

This is even more pronounced when your tiny home is on a boat. A small boat.

These homes on the water, photographed by a friend in a local marina, were built by true masters of mini. My hat is off to these innovative individuals that lead by example and show us that there is always more we can jettison as we sail simply through the sea of life.

No room for clutter aboard this floating home, Photo: Stasi Manser
"Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions. "  - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

February 19, 2012

Life Is Like A Cup Of Coffee

What does your cup look like?
I read the following simple living parable on line, and enjoyed it enough to share. It is short and sweet, and contains a timeless message.

It might go good with a nice cup of coffee, tea, or chai. Or maybe just pour some refreshing water in an empty glass jar and enjoy that while you read.

Life Is Like A Cup Of Coffee

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned to complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups - porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite - telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups... And then you began eyeing each other's cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.

Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee. Savor the coffee, not the cups! The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

- Author unknown

February 17, 2012

Reducing Consumption Reduces Harm

It is a challenge to consume and not do harm.

One reason I choose to live simply is so I can reduce the amount of harm I am doing. Like no trace camping, I want to leave as little damage behind me as I hike through the wonderful park of life.

Problem is, just hiking along is going to have some effect on other people and the environment regardless of how light one's backpack is. But that fact does not diminish my desire to minimize my impact as much as I can, and jettison some of the heavy stuff.

How am I contributing toward, or supporting, harmful practices? What I have learned is that the global economic machine makes it very, very difficult to avoid becoming just another cog that cranks out misery and mayhem.

Henry David Thoreau, in On The Duty of Civil Disobedience, said "Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."

A no-nonsense way for me to be a counter-friction to the clanking, wheezing gears and cogs of consumerism is to simply consume less.

Reducing consumption reduces harm.

February 15, 2012

Rich Is Relative

Rich or Poor?
Deciding who is 'rich' is a highly relative undertaking, and one that many obsess about. Where you fall on the richness scale depends a lot on where you live. Calculating where I rank in income in North America, where I live, is enormously different than calculating where I fall globally. It is enough to give one a split personality.

On the North American Rich-O-Meter I am at the bottom, with 94% of people having incomes higher than my own. I am semi-retired, so my income is low, but even if I include total expenses for the year, I find that 78% of the population is still richer than I am.

I am at the bottom of the rich scale when compared to my neighbours. Some people might find this rather distressing, but I rather like it. Check out the North American Rich-O-Meter here.

If you checked your ranking, and didn't like what you saw, fear not. Another income meter may change that - the Global Rich List is certain to make you feel better. Or not. Either way, it is a pretty sobering comparison.

Using my modest annual family income, the same number that put me at the poverty level in North America, tells a very different story globally. The global rich-o-meter calculates that I am in the top 14% of global income earners, and among the richest people in the world. Calculating my position on the rich list using total annual spending puts me into the top 12% globally.

In comparison, to join the top 12% of earners in North America, I would need over 10 times the annual income. See the Global Rich List here.

So am I living in poverty, or am I rich? It is all relative, and when it comes down to it, it is my perception of my experience that determines how I feel about it. One's ranking on the rich scale has little to do with happiness, which depends on many things other than money.

Income, personal wealth, and material possessions mean very little when it comes right down to it. This lesson is taught to us over and over and over by very wealthy individuals that tragically struggle to find happiness, in spite of being able to afford virtually anything they want.

Happiness is what is truly important in the end, but there are obvious issues of inequality that threaten everyone's happiness if left unaddressed. We ignore them at our peril.


Three billion people live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. - from Global Rich List

February 14, 2012

Occupy Valentine's Day

Money not required

You may think that there is an Occupy for everything that is outrageously unfair, unsustainable, and unjust. There is. Including Occupy Valentine's Day.

Thank goodness, because if there were ever an outdated, blatantly consumeristic cultural relic that deserves to be extinguished once and for all, Valentine's Day is it.

Don't get me wrong, I am totally into love. Totally. I am just not into commercial interests co-opting it, and bullying everyone into spending cash in a gift-buying frenzy to 'prove' their love one day a year.

The National Retail Federation did a survey to see to what degree Americans would be  getting sucked in by all the (fake) love hype this year. "Love may not cost a thing", the survey starts out, "but consumers this year are set to spoil their friends, family and loved ones this Valentine’s Day in a very big way."

Well, at least they got the 'love doesn't cost a thing' bit right, but they are obviously hoping that consumers forget this basic fact of life.

The survey predicted that spending on Valentine's Day goodies would top $17.6 billion in today's guilt-reducing, economy-pumping, profit-generating spending spree. But wait. Let's show some commercial love for our non-human loved ones too.

"Valentine’s Day is a great day for pet owners to show their furry friends just how much they mean," the NRF's survey reminds us. But nothing will let your furry friend know you care more than consistently providing food, and a clean litter box or back yard.

Retailers want us to believe that buying something is the best way for people to "show their appreciation for each other". That is so tragically wrong.

The best way to show our appreciation is to be loving, kind, and patient. All the time. 365 days a year. You can't buy love. When we are loving, we freely receive the love we need.

I am Occupying Valentines Day. No flowers, chocolates, jewelry, or expensive night out. Our love is unconditional, and there is no need to buy anything.

Have a loving day, and year.

We love you.

February 13, 2012

Non-Valentine's Day Monday

No, really, you shouldn't have - love will do...
"Valentine's Day is a sham created by card companies to reinforce and exploit gender stereotypes." - Liz Lemon

February 12, 2012

Density, Efficiency and Tiny Homes

512 sq. ft. lofted cabin costs $10,000
I currently live quite comfortably in a 586 square foot condominium. Because of the multi-unit nature of the building and resulting density, land and energy is used efficiently.

The efficiency of density is what makes New Yorkers among the lowest-impact citizens of North America. With a burgeoning global population, density is the way to go.

Having given a nod to lower-impact, high density living arrangements, I must admit that I do dream of having a tiny home somewhere with space for a nice vegetable garden.

Tiny homes take fewer resources to build and maintain, and are more energy-efficient. Compared to conventional homes that can cost you a lifetime of working, a tiny home will only cost a few thousand dollars. In addition to these advantages, tiny homes can also be used to increase density/land-use efficiency.

Some tiny home designs are so compact that they don't need a separate lot - many are finding their way into the big backyards of regular-sized houses. This is a way to house people at low cost, while increasing density in older neighbourhoods.

Thoreau might think this too large for his needs
I recently discovered some new tiny homes, as shown in the photos. The company, in the USA, produces models starting at 12x30 (360 sq. ft.) for $7500.00. The size seems downright Lilliputian until you consider that Henry David Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond was only 150 sq. ft., and he found that adequate for several years of beautiful, low-impact living.

The 16x32, 512 sq. ft. lofted cabin shown costs about $10,000, and is not finished inside. With a bit of sweat equity the tiny home owner could finish the inside, including extra insulation and energy-efficient systems, for a low-impact, low-cost dwelling.

And wouldn't a $7,000 - $10,000.00 small loan be nice to have, compared to a massive mortgage that takes 40 years to pay off?

February 10, 2012

Not So Convenient Coffee Maker Recall

Convenience Kills: Common Sense, Quality, DIY...

For most consumers convenience is everything. If it is not convenient, it is so not happening, regardless of how good it may be. However, we are learning that convenience always comes at a price.

This is evident in the recent North American recall of over 1 million units of a popular brand of uber-convenient single-brew coffee makers. It appears that some users, and innocent bystanders including children, have been burned by a bad design and the desire for a quick, individual brew.

When I first saw the single-cup coffee makers in 2008, I thought they were a bad idea. The kitchen gadgets use pre-measured, prepackaged pods for each single cup of coffee that is manufactured.

It is these plastic pods that have been exploding, burning lurking coffee drinkers counting down the seconds, as well as bystanders.

Not convenient, but safe,
and makes tastier coffee
The small plastic pods, besides being dangerous, also show how convenience often ends in wasted resources. Each cup made produces more waste.

Up to 80% of the things we buy are considered disposable and quickly end up in landfills. We can't afford such excessive waste.

Neither is it affordable when buying coffee in single servings. If it is convenience that you want, you are going to have to pay more. The recalled coffee makers have an annual cost of $275.00 to $640.00 for two cups per day, depending on the kinds of single-serving coffee pods purchased.

For comparisons sake, the annual cost of using a French press - which is also fast, but makes much better coffee - would be about $100 to $200 for two cups per day, depending on the beans you are using. Unfortunately, financial considerations may be the least of the coffee conundrums.

All taste - no waste
Some caffeine-fueled consumers have received 2nd degree burns from their single-brew cartridge coffee makers. If you own one of the models in question, unplug it, and contact the manufacturer.

Better yet, never use it again. Get some beans and a coffee grinder, and brew a tasty batch in a French press or stove-top coffee perk. Taste with no waste, and much cheaper, too.

Convenience should be balanced with sustainability. What is convenient, is rarely what is best. While making decisions about what and how we consume, it is good to keep this in mind.

If we don't, we could get burned.

February 8, 2012

Workers Build Value, But Don't Benefit Proportionately

We all help to build value - we should all benefit

The wealth of nations is built by the workforce, from the bottom up. Why is it then, that this very same workforce is being asked to swallow austerity, while those at the top continue raking in the wealth?

"From the end of World War II through the early 1970s... the rate of income growth for all levels was relatively well in sync. From 1945 to 1973, incomes rose 99 per cent for the bottom 99 per cent, but only 40 per cent for the top one per cent.

But from Reagan's election in 1980 through to 2007, the year before the Wall Street crash, the top one per cent gained 232 per cent, compared with just 20 per cent for the bottom 99 per cent."

Almost 500 Canadian workers for Caterpillar Inc are about to experience what forced austerity feels like. First they were locked out, after rightfully refusing to take a 50% reduction in wages, and now Caterpillar has closed the shop and is leaving town with its bag of profits. It is leaving a dedicated workforce feeling demoralized.

Chances are workers abused by business practices all over the world are not thinking about climate change. Small footprint living will only be effective and sustainable if we enter into it willingly. Involuntary simplicity is a struggle, not a lifestyle choice.

We want to promote living with less for the benefits it provides personally, as well as environmentally and from a social justice point of view, not to improve the bottom line of the business community.

February 6, 2012

Tiny Home Monday

280 sq.ft. tiny home on Bowen Island, BC, Canada

Tiny homes are making a comeback, and not only because of the Great Recession. Tiny homes provide a simple, energy efficient, sustainable dwelling at an affordable cost.

Tiny homes challenge our notions of need as well as the minimum-size bylaws of most neighbourhoods.

There are many creative ways to live a tiny home lifestyle. However, we will have to change bylaws and planning departments, as well as the 'bigger is better' mentality before tiny homes become a realistic alternative.

We need a housing industry that is based on respect for nature, and can provide sustainable, affordable, mini-homes for the masses.

How many people, if they were offered a mini home alternative, would choose it over a conventional home complete with large footprint and a massive mortgage? Would you?

See more creative tiny homes here.

February 4, 2012

Nature Does Not Hurry

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” - Lao Tzu
My life speed limit is SLOW. Or somewhere between slow and stop. It has always been this way - I have tachophobia.

My fear of speed does not show up on amusement park rides, while sledding down snow-covered hills, or on jet planes. When it comes to life, though, I definitely become tachophobic.

I don't know about you, but the faster I try to live, the less effective I become. When I rush I end up either breaking something, or hurting myself. Or both.

Recently I drove through a red light. The guy behind me must have been in a rush as well because he went through the red right behind me. Argh - time to do some downshifting.

I drove to a park and went for a walk, feeling lucky that I wasn't in Emergency on a stretcher.

Proceed slowly
Why live in a world that is complicated, fast, and detrimental to personal and planetary health when a simple, naturally-paced, wholesome alternative is possible?

I don't think snails get tachophobic as they move along at their leisurely .05 kilometer per hour (.03 mph) top speed. And yet they still get to where they need to go.

Nature is slow and patient, and like snails, we are part of nature. We can live at a more relaxed and enjoyable speed (which, in my case, will also be safer).

What's the hurry? Try reducing your life speed limit for health and happiness.

February 3, 2012

Cultivating The Art Of Silliness

Silly is the Anti-serious
The world could use a little more silliness. Not of the "weak in intellect" variety, but more along the lines of the original word. In Old High German where the word 'silly' began, 'sālig' meant 'happy'.

But the art of silliness is so much more than just happiness. Some put silly firmly between absurdity and giddiness, and well, that sounds like fun to me.

There is another difference between the two. Happy you can do alone. Silly is more of a shared experience. Silliness requires one or more co-participants to help create, and enjoy, the moment.

I had one such moment of pure silliness today in the check out line at the grocery store. Ahead of me was a serious-looking young mother. Sitting in her cart was a quiet boy of about 3 or 4.

Glancing at serious mom, I thought about all the serious seriousness in the world these days. Often it seems that it is lurking in every dark  corner waiting to extinguish every glimmer of giggles with doom, gloom, hesitation and caution.

What we need is balance - all seriousness and no silliness makes Jack a dull boy.

Back in the grocery store and cashiers queue, all seriousness in me was about to be dispelled.

Soon me and the little dude had eye contact. We both recognized the latent silliness that resides in each of us. It looked like it was time to turn back the tide in the sea of stifling seriousness that has engulfed our modern times.

Each time the little guy lifted his shoe up he looked at me, and each time I got big eyes. When the shoe went down - I made little eyes. Up, big - down, little. We both smiled, then laughed, then giggled. No words were spoken, or were necessary.

He kept on doing it. So did I. All thoughts of the world's innumerable serious and scary problems were blown out of my mind like so many earnest cobwebs in a hurricane of happiness.

Soon the cashier was laughing along with us, and when I got to the till she said, "Sometimes you don't need words."

"No", I answered, "the art of silliness is universal."

There is a time for seriousness. Just remember to make time for silly too.

Hee, hee, hee.

February 1, 2012

A Greener Way To Go

A traditional burial is expensive and resource-intensive - $10,000
A green burial is affordable and low-impact - $2,000
Image source: Nathan Butler

There is living more gently on the earth, and then there is dieing more gently on the earth. Monday's post here, that included coffins made out of recycled cardboard, elicited the following question from forward thinking NBA reader, Jen:
"Will government regulations let you be buried in a cardboard box in the woods? I like this idea, but am just curious if it runs afoul of any laws? I hope not, I dislike modern cemetaries, they are such a waste of space and have chemically treated lawns, etc."
It turns out that lots of people are asking similar questions in their quest to reduce the cost and environmental burden of being buried. Enter the green burial.

Traditional Burials

I used to think that a traditional burial was a fairly benign process. I was wrong. Check out the following funeral figures for the impacts of annual traditional burials in North America:
• 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, including formaldehyde
• 180,544,000 pounds of steel, in caskets
• 5,400,000 pounds of copper and bronze, in caskets
• 30 million board feet of hardwoods, including tropical woods, in caskets
• 3,272,000,000 pounds of reinforced concrete for vaults
• 28,000,000 pounds of steel in vaults, (compiled by Mary Woodsen)
So much for a traditional burial. Then I decided being cremated was the low-impact way to go, with my ashes being spread somewhere nice (legal on public lands without a permit). It turns out that cremation is very energy intensive, and it releases toxins into the atmosphere. Argh - it isn't just living that is hard.

Like Jen and a growing number of green-minded individuals, I want to reduce my funerary footprint. Not just the embalming and materials used for body preparation and burial, but also the fossil fuels and nasty chemicals used in cemetery lawn maintenance.

Green or Natural Burials

The good news is that natural burials are increasingly easier to organize, and more people are initiating them.

Governments, along with the funeral industry, are responding to the demand by formulating guidelines, and space for this new, old way of going greener.

Europeans have a head start on North Americans, with the demand for green burials and land conservation working together to save natural areas, and provide tranquil green resting grounds. The first such project was in Wales in 1991, and has since become popular enough to spawn 225 more across the UK.

But North American demand is on the rise, and so are the natural eco-options.

Traditional cemeteries are beginning to offer separate grounds for green burials. Unlike the adjoining regular areas, in the special sections there is no need for embalming, metal liners, caskets, or concrete vaults (that are only to ensure that the ground does not sink making it easier to cut and maintain the grass).

In the green burial section of a cemetery one can go back to the earth in nothing more than a biodegradable shroud. Maintenance is also less in these areas, cutting down further on the environmental impact.

Individuals that are interested in interring a loved one in a more natural setting can contact landowners to arrange for green burials on private property. Permits can be obtained to transport, and bury a loved one in a total DIY eco-funeral.

Or, like in Europe, land preserves set aside to protect natural beauty and provide a place for low-impact, affordable burials, are being set up in Canada and the US. I could only find information on two locations in my own country, and one is right in my area on the west coast (the other is in Ontario).

A low-impact green burial is a great way to make a high-impact statement on one's way out. Initiate a search for 'green' or 'natural' burials for more information in your area.

I, for one, would be like to be remembered as a person that "Lived gently, and died gently."