August 31, 2012

What Will They Do When We Realize We Are All One?

Bill Hicks: "I want you - to think and laugh"

My favourite comics are the ones that make their audiences think, and challenge their habitual ways. George Carlin is one that comes to mind. Another, and one I am not as familiar with until recently, is Bill Hicks (1961-1994).

Hicks was an American stand up comedian, political philosopher, social critic, and all around anti-authoritarian. He died at age 32 of pancreatic cancer, but took full advantage of his brief life by challenging accepted ways of thinking and living, and asking his audiences to do the same.

When an audience member approached Hicks after a show and complained, "We don't come here to think," Hicks responded by saying, "Gee, where do you go to think? I'll meet you there".

Hicks thought his routine was like "bullets in the heart of consumerism, capitalism, and the American Dream". He was deeply disturbed by the dystopian reality foisted upon the public by big business and governments, and took refuge in "love, laughter, and truth".

A few Bill Hicks quotes highlight why he was a frequent victim of censorship, and was considered a dangerous subversive.

"I do not believe making money in order to consume goods is humankind's sole purpose on this planet. If you're wondering what I believe our purpose on this planet is, I'll give you a hint... it has to do with creating and sharing."

"It's all about money, not freedom. It has nothing to do with freedom. If you think you're free, try going somewhere without money."

"I'm glad mushrooms are against the law, because I took them one time, and you know what happened to me? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours going, "My God! I love everything." Yeah. Now, if that isn't a hazard to our country … how are we gonna keep building nuclear weapons, you know what I mean? What's gonna happen to the arms industry when we realize that we're all one?!"

"I need my sleep. I need about eight hours a day, and about ten at night."

"The less critical one is about various issues concerning the status quo, the more apt you are to become prey to advertising. The more substance and talking points you have in a show, the less attention you'll pay to the commercial break. Your mind would be too busy digesting and pondering the new information that was just received. U.S. media just can't have that."

Had Hicks lived longer he would have been at the forefront of the revolution, although he was also a big proponent of a more natural and peaceful process of voluntary evolution. He knew that if we could turn away from all the distractions and get together in a massive cooperative effort, we would be taking a great leap forward.

May love, laughter, and the truth reign in our lives.

August 29, 2012

Off Grid Housing

Romania's entry to the 2012 European Solar Decathlon
produces 20% more power than it uses
My dad once accused me of being "so damn independent", and I guess it's true - I do enjoy the challenge of taking care of my own needs.

I would rather grow a garden than go to work to make money so I can pay someone else to provide my food. I don't mind being dependent on other people, because we are all dependent on each other, but I don't want to be dependent on corporations which, despite laws to the contrary, are not people.

I also don't like being dependent on a large, centralized power generation and distribution system run by number crunchers in expensive suits. When this system is the only game in town, and there are few to no alternatives to turn to when rates jump by 50% or more, I feel less like a valued customer, and more like a vassal.

It is time to break out of the Middle Ages, and quit paying tribute to the feudal corporate conglomerates that currently control power distribution in most parts of the world. Corporations are not people, and we therefore can not depend on them to provide our basic needs - they only care about profit, and not us or the best interests of the planet.

What we certainly can depend on, is our nearest star, the Sun. This massive, flaming ball of gas constantly washes the globe in enough free and abundant energy to meet all our needs. Our sustainable future will take advantage of this fact to bypass damaging private power production using coal, gas, and nuclear. It will enable each of us to become our own power producers.

The first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon took place in 2002, and takes place biennially (the next one is Oct. 2013). The free-to-the-public event "challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency."

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to:
  • Educate students and the public about money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions.
  • Demonstrate to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems available today.
The first European Solar Decathlon (modeled after the US event) was in 2010, and another is taking place this year. One entry for this year's competition is generating more than electricity - it is also producing a lot of interest in small, simple, energy self-sufficient homes.

Romania's entry (shown above) is so efficient that it creates 20% more power than is required by the house. The student team wanted to keep a simple, traditional design in mind for their prefabricated high-tech house. Building materials include engineered wood, along with regular timber and steel. The outside walls are pre-built including insulation, and are load-bearing, allowing the inside space to be free of supports.

To further increase efficiency, all of the technical infrastructure such as the heating and cooling systems, and the energy converters, are in one tech room. In Romania, the house produces 9501kWh/yr and consumes 7508.11kWh/yr.

The building decisions allowed the Romanian team to keep the home's interior simple, open, and bright, while maintaining a small environmental footprint. The prototype cost $149,000 to build, but in time the team hopes that their sun-powered homes can be made for about $86,000.

My dad would have liked it if I had leaned on him more, for that support is what good fathers provide their children. But he would have agreed that leaning on large, profit-hungry, non-human entities for basic needs is probably not a good idea.

He would have also agreed that it is time to take advantage of the freedom and independence of off-grid housing  using the free and abundant energy that the Sun provides as nature's gift to all life on earth.

August 27, 2012

Sustainable Consumption Monday

We are all consumers.We will die if we don't consume things. However, there is a big difference between being a consumer, and engaging in the cult of consumerism. At some point between consuming to meet basic needs, and full blown capitalist consumerism, we begin to descend into unethical territory.

Is it when we consume more than our fair share of the planet's resources? Or is it when we consume for vanity and status rather than need? While we can't stop consuming, we can adopt healthier consumption habits.

Ethical consumerism is a movement started in the 1980s as a way to reduce the impacts of consumeristic behaviours. It sounds like an oxymoron to me, like military intelligence. 'Ethical', 'conscious', or 'green' consumption, while a step in the right direction, may not go far enough. If it isn't sustainable, it isn't going to get us to where we need to be.

We like to talk about a kinder, gentler consumerism, but can it be maintained in the long run? The ecological productivity of our planet is already overdrawn at current levels of consumption, and we are now borrowing from our children's global resource account. Also, a new high consumption class is being recruited across the globe with a billion new middle class consumers coming on stream in 'developing' countries.

Now is the time we should be talking about sustainable products and consumption patterns.

We can move closer to sustainability when we ask ourselves several questions before making purchases.

Is the product:
  1. made locally with local materials?
  2. 100% recyclable at the end of its useful life?
  3. free of toxins?
  4. produced by happy workers?
  5. necessary?
By asking these questions, and being honest about the answers, we could cut about 80% of our purchases and our waste right off the top. The remaining 20% represents a one-earth, sustainable style of living that the planet can handle.

If we don't consume anything we will die. But if we continue to consume everything, our end is just as certain.

August 24, 2012

Not Buying Body Odour Products

We each have our own unique, natural scents, and someone will sell you
 a product for masking or eliminating every one of them.
Our fingerprints are not the only things that are different for each and every one of us. We also each have our own unique scent.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, while testing whether he could detect smells as effectively as his dog, found that, "A book that's been standing a while has a dry, uninteresting kind of smell. But when a hand has touched it, there's a dampness and a smell that's very distinct."

Although Feynman found that he couldn't track footprints on his floor as effectively as a dog, he eventually trained his nose well enough that he could entertain guests at parties by telling which person in the room touched which book on a shelf. He recognized the importance of the human scent.

The human body emits a wide variety of chemical messengers to communicate all kinds of vital information. Normal body odour is not offensive, and can even be perceived as pleasant.

However, an odour phobia has been nurtured in the general population by businesses that make money selling a wide variety of 'odour control' products. Most people, in order to calm their fears, douse themselves in enough deodorants, antiperspirants, body sprays and other scents to staunch even the most feisty of pheromones.

Human body odour, is 100% natural. Among other things, it signals sexiness and allows measures of compatibility with potential mates. Our noses can also help us distinguish family from those to whom we are unrelated, and we can tell a person's age from how they smell. Babies and the elderly have been found to have the lightest scents.

Olfactory researchers have also found that exercise sweat and anxiety sweat trigger different parts of the brain in the person smelling them. Anxiety sweat, unlike exercise sweat, triggered areas of the brain in test subjects that were associated with empathy.

Why would we want to cover up all that odouriferous information? In most cases odour control products are in no way medically necessary. Dermatologists actually advise against using such products since they have a tendency to dry the skin.

So what can we do about our natural body odours?

First of all, we can replace our negative automatic thoughts associated with BO with more rational ones. Marketers have long nurtured an unnatural fear of body odours, then exploited those fears to sell their versions of what we should smell like.

Second, we can make sure we have:

  • a semi-regular routine of basic hygiene
  • a low stress lifestyle, and
  • a healthy whole food diet

The funky fact is that as long as a person does not have an extenuating medical condition, there is no need for expensive and potentially cancer-causing odour control products. For the past ten years we have not been buying any of them, and it smells like freedom to us.

August 22, 2012

Ecological Footprint By Country

Ecological Overshoot: Business-as-usual (red line) shows why scientists are looking for
 other habitable planets to move to after Earth is finished

The Global Footprint Network, like this blog, is not buying anything having to do with the status quo and promoting high consumption lifestyles. The GFN and NBA also share a common vision, which is "sustainable, one-planet living". In order to achieve this, lifestyle changes will be required in high-consumption nations.

The information the GFN produces allows us to see where different nations fall when it comes to ecological footprint (resources used), and biocapacity (biological productivity, or resources available).

Each person's fair share of the earth's resources would amount to 2.1 hectares (5.1 acres) if resources were shared equally. For comparisons sake, in 2008 the United Arab Emirates had the highest global footprint of about 9 hectares (23.7 acres), while Malawi had the lowest footprint at 0.5 hectares (1.2 acres).

The Global Footprint Network, while addressing the ecological overshoot represented by the graph above, states:
"Individuals and institutions worldwide must begin to recognize ecological limits. We must begin to make ecological limits central to our decision-making and use human ingenuity to find new ways to live, within the Earth’s bounds.
This means investing in technology and infrastructure that will allow us to operate in a resource-constrained world. It means taking individual action, and creating the public demand for businesses and policy makers to participate.
Using tools like the Ecological Footprint to manage our ecological assets is essential for humanity’s survival and success. Knowing how much nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what is the first step, and will allow us to track our progress as we work toward our goal of sustainable, one-planet living."
The following graphs track the per-person resource demand (Ecological Footprint), and biocapacity in the order of the top 10 countries from which NBA's visitors originate. Footprint varies with consumption and production efficiency.

Biocapacity varies each year with ecosystem management, agricultural practices (such as fertilizer use and irrigation), ecosystem degradation, weather, and population size.

An overall ecological deficit is shown by red shading, while an overall surplus is shown by green.  If your country is not in this list you can find a national footprint graph for your region at the GFN website.

1. The United States

2. Canada

3. UK

4.  Australia

5. Phillipines

6. Russia

7. India

8. Germany

9. Netherlands

10. Brazil

This information shows that the lifestyles of many countries is beyond the level of sustainability. It also shows we all need each other. Countries with an ecological deficit must procure resources from countries with ecological surpluses.

As individuals we have to take responsibility for the size of our own ecological footprints. We can approach living within the constraints of global ecological limitations, and only consume our fair share.

You can calculate your personal ecological footprint at the Global Footprint Network.

All those scientists peering into space are discovering that good planets are hard to find. I figure our best bet is taking care of the one we have.

August 21, 2012

The Spirit In Everything

We can meet great spiritual leaders every day, if only we would recognize them.
Artwork: Michael Leunig

August 20, 2012

No Dish Rack Monday

Just what the world needs - another plastic dish rack

In my quest to live a clutter-free life I have to question the usefulness of all possessions. I want to know what is necessary, and what is superfluous and can be jettisoned. The goal is to pare things down to the essentials, and no more, in order to have less mental and physical clutter.

If something isn't actively adding to my life, and if it can't fulfill multiple functions, it probably does not belong in my arsenal of life-enhancing tools. This is regardless of how many other people own the item and consider it an integral part of a smoothly functioning modern home.

That is why Linda and I don't have a microwave, or toaster, or BBQ, or large stereo augmented by a wall shaking sub-woofer, or a host of other things that many people feel they couldn't live without.

We also don't own the ubiquitous dish rack for stacking dishes to dry after washing. I have owned these in the past, and have seen them in most homes I have visited. But eventually I had to question whether the regulation dish rack was right for me.

What I decided years ago, was that the standard dish rack has no place in my clean, sparse kitchen. First of all, it only has one purpose. Also, when not in use for its one and only function, it takes up space somewhere, AND they are usually always made out of plastic.

Therefore, I now use a tea towel to set my dishes on to dry. Tea towels are useful for many things, including snapping my dozing sous chef on the rear when I need the pepper mill.

A careful balancing act keeps the tea towel nice and dry
One problem with using a tea towel is that they tend to get very wet, and when continually wet, they tend to smell bad. Yuck!

After some trial and error, I developed a procedure for keeping the towel near dry which involves stacking my dishes so that all items are dripping onto other items, not onto the towel. Then as I dry the dishes I dump the collected water into the sink.

The towel stays dry and smell-free, I don't need an extra accessory in my small kitchen, and I get to use my skills and creativity to build towers of dishes that balance on each other in great tottering piles.

It is fun, and I haven't broken anything. Yet.

I love to discover all of the things I don't need, because increased freedom is the result.

Are there things that you have learned to live better without?

August 19, 2012

Slower, Smaller, and Free

In the human world of faster, bigger, and more profitable, it is difficult to conceive of one based on slower, smaller, and free. But all we need to do is observe nature to see this is the way to go.

Over millions of revolutions on its axis, the earth builds mountains, and it wears them away. The geological time frame is so vast that a human life, in comparison, is like the breath of the buffalo on a winter day.

There is no inherent hierarchy of life with 'man' at the top. Any life is as important as any other life, and has an equal right to exist. That goes as much for blue whales as it does for microscopic organisms. All is important and vital to a functioning biosphere. It is often the smallest of things that have the greatest roles to play.

Before humans commenced large-scale exploitation of the land and everything on it and under it, all was free for everyone. It still could be. There is more than enough. Nature is endlessly abundant.

Nature can't be wrong. Slower, smaller, and free is the way to go.

August 17, 2012

10 Paths To Sustainable Change

Grow a garden and "beet" the system
  1. Practice compassion - love unconditionally, act cooperatively.
  2. Forgive and move on - if you could understand everything, you could forgive anything.
  3. Don't work for people or corporations known to be doing bad things.
  4. Don't buy stuff from people or corporations known to be doing bad things.
  5. Educate yourself - ask questions, and seek out the answers. Then share what you find with others.
  6. Grow a garden - eat local and organic, organize your neighbourhood and community around food security.
  7. Turn off the media and get outside - symptoms of information overload are cured by time in nature.
  8. Live locally - be somewhere you like so much you don't want to leave.
  9. Increase lifestyle sustainability - live with only what you need, and no more.
  10. Enjoy life to the fullest - each moment is a precious gift that can induce awe and appreciation.

August 15, 2012

Tired of The Consumer Life? Get Awestruck!

Many of my moments of awe have been in nature
photo: Ryan McGinley

Most of us have had experiences that have taken our breath away. Moments that have altered our perception of time, and changed how we think about the world and ourselves forever.

Such moments have been identified by individuals across history, and go by different names. People have used phrases such as 'in the moment', 'being present', 'in the zone', 'on a roll', 'centered', 'in the groove', 'being one with things', and others. It is not surprising that we have devoted so much of our language toward the attempt to describe this ethereal experience. It feels great.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called such moments 'flow', which is a positive mental state that occurs when a person is fully engaged in an activity that requires focus, and involvement. During these encounters, the individual will lose track of time and place, and may feel spontaneous joy.

Flow, and the feeling of success it brings, is shut down by depression and anxiety, and has nothing to do with money. Therefore, it is difficult to attain flow in a constantly busy, cash-consumed world. In Csíkszentmihályi's opinion, moments of flow are "the secret to happiness".

American psychologist Abraham Maslow described a similar phenomenon that he called 'peak experiences'. He believed that these moments have lasting effects that help us to become better individuals.

According to Maslow, peak experiences are:
"feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, and the loss of placing in time and space." 
Recent studies have looked at the feeling of awe, which was induced in the laboratory. They found that flow, peak experiences, and other awe-inducing moments made test subjects report feeling that they:

  • had more time 
  • were more patient
  • were less materialistic, and
  • were more willing to volunteer to help others

The researchers gave credit for the changes in decision-making and well-being to awe's ability to change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down.

A slower pace, they thought, allows us to enter the present, adjust our perception of time, make better decisions, and thus experience life as more satisfying. So if you are tired of competitive, conspicuous consumption, there is hope.

Help someone. Get lost in a project or activity that you enjoy, and that challenges your skills. Stop and look around. Spend time in nature. Play with your kids. Smell a flower. Sing. Dance. Watch a meteor shower. Have tea with a friend. Do nothing for a while, then do more nothing. These things can take time.

Keep on doing such activities and you will experience awe more often. Not only is this what life is about, but it is also the antidote to consumerism.

The best thing is that anyone can do it anywhere, anytime, without any special stuff. And no need to to buy anything - it's free.

August 13, 2012

Minimalism Monday

I saw an article on hoarders recently with a headline that asked, "Why aren't hoarders bothered by all that junk". It made me think, "Why aren't consumers bothered by all that junk?" What's the difference?

It is difficult to separate the hoarders from big-box consumers stuffing all available storage space with bargains, some of which will never be used or seen again until the estate sale. 

Most of us in industrialized countries could use a serious minimalizing of our possessions. We tend to hang on to things like kids hang on to their collections of stickers, coins, or miniature action figures - "They're cute - collect them all!". 

Before long our cherished stuff, our "collections", are like lead boots that threaten to drag us down. Minimalism, on the other hand, gives us wings.

We should be teaching minimalism in schools rather than the current doctrine of conspicuous consumption, or maximalism, and save our kids from the smothering burden of complicated, stuff-oriented lives. After all, maximalism is not sustainable, while minimalism definitely is.
"There are many different facets to minimalism, but in a nutshell, it is about cutting the unnecessary clutter from your life to enable you to focus on what makes you happy. 
People practice minimalism for many reasons - be it to remove redundant possessions, clear their minds of worry, or even just for aesthetic appeal - but in essence, it is a means to increasing the quality of your life by removing rather than adding. 
Though it must be noted here that keeping things that make you happy can be just as important as removing things that don't."     - from r/minimalism FAQ
Linda and I stopped adding to our possessions long ago, and have been working on removing selectively in order to achieve an optimal amount of stuff - just enough to do the things we love. We think very seriously before bringing anything into our home (unless it is wholesome food).

Some recent examples of our ongoing efforts to minimalize and cut unnecessary clutter include:
  1. Earlier this summer we recycled our microwave, and a toaster over after they quit working. Since our kitchen is very small, and we like a lot of free counter space for wild and creative cookery, we did not replace the appliances. We already have an oven and stove top, and these are what we use now for all our cooking, reheating, and baking. The best part - peace and quiet without a noisy microwave, and room to roam in the kitchen.
  2. I am not sure how stuff lays right under our noses, untouched, for years without us being more aware of it, but these items that blend into the background must be seen, and eliminated from our lives. We took  boxes of unused stuff to the thrift shop, and got rid of them for good. Don't have to look at them, don't have to think about them.
  3. We have been digitizing photos and music CDs, then giving away the original hard copies.
  4. We gave away our TV, and have no plans to buy a new one. It is amazing how getting the big screen out of the house makes it feel so much more spacious and calm.
  5. Everything has its place. Any new items that do not fit harmoniously into existing spaces won't make it through the front door.
How have you been increasing the quality of your life by removing rather than by adding?

August 10, 2012

The Importance Of Idleness

Medieval scholar Yoshida Kenko writing Essays In Idleness

Idleness has negative connotations in most industrialized countries where busyness is the norm. This could be the result of busybodies telling us that "idleness is active selfishness". Yikes! Who would want to do that? Well, many people, actually, including creative types of all stripes.

There is good reason that artists have traditionally sought out retreats in quiet, beautiful places. Such settings, with their relaxed schedules are conducive to the creative process. An essential part of the equation is idleness. Creative types know that down time is essential to doing what they do. It is no different for the rest of us.

We may associate idleness with the avoidance of work, but the thing is, idleness IS work. It may not look like work, and it may be enjoyable, non-sweaty work, but it is work none-the-less. It is brain work of the most important kind.

Yoshida Kenko, a medieval Japanese author and Buddhist monk, wrote of the importance of idleness, or leisure:

"I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of 'having nothing to do.' I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone. People are all alike: they spend their days running about frantically, oblivious to their insanity."

Kenko wrote about being marveled that he could spend whole days at his writing desk "with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts that have entered my mind".

His capacity for taking advantage of the power of idleness resulted in written works that are still studied by Japanese high school students.

Tim Kreider, an American cartoonist, takes a similar approach to idleness, and one that NBA readily endorses:
"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Spend some time in idleness today, and get work done. 

August 8, 2012

The Power Of 1 Billion Cooperative Members

When I tell people that Linda and I lived in a housing cooperative for 10 years it usually elicits the same response - "What is a cooperative?" I am always patient and understanding because before we became members of Sundance Housing Cooperative, I didn't know much about this method of organizing and meeting needs either.

According to the International Cooperative Alliance, a cooperative is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise." That is a nice, if not somewhat academic way of putting it.

The way I describe it to the uninitiated is, "a cooperative venture is a group of regular folks getting together to share and meet needs without the interventions of a parasitic, private, for-profit system of middlemen and other leaches that funnel money to themselves and a small elite at the expense of everyone else and the environment."

In a report issued to commemorate the beginning of the 2012 UN International Year of Cooperatives, it was noted that globally there are 3 times as many members of cooperatives as there are corporate shareholders. It highlights a basic, yet oft-ignored/covered up, aspect of humanity - our nature is to want to help each other, and share in the bounty of our combined efforts.

There are many different types of cooperatives with the most common being agricultural. However, you may be more familiar with other shared ventures such as: food, housing, retail, and car coops, as well as credit unions.

With the lack of mainstream media attention, who would know how popular coops really are? I guess that was the idea behind the UN designating 2012 as the year to get the message out to the masses. That message is: cooperatives work... for you.

It is not surprising that we don't know more about cooperatives. They are based on values we learn in kindergarten, but leave behind as we grow up and discover that they are not compatible in the 'real world' of business.
"Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others." - from the ICA
I can imagine why our political and business 'leaders' wouldn't want people to give in to their natural instincts to share, take care of each other, and form cooperative ventures. Most everything that is done by government and private enterprise could conceivably be done better as a cooperative.

Are the values that cooperatives are based on even compatible with the way business and governments conduct themselves theses days? What if all our institutions were based, really based, on these same values?

We should not underestimate the power of 1 billion cooperative members. Our innate desires for sharing, caring, and helping, when expressed through organizations like coops, have the ability to change our world for the better.

That is definitely what living in the community of Sundance Housing Coop did for Linda and me. I can say without hesitation that we are improved individuals for having been members of this safe, supportive, and compassionate group of amazing, hard-working people.

Coop Facts
  • Globally, India has the most coop members (240 million), followed by China (160 million), and the United States (120 million).
  • In Europe, the countries of Ireland (70% of population), Finland (60%) and Austria (59%) have the most coop members.
  • 21% of the population of the UK are members of coops.
  • Housing coops, unlike the private real estate sector, are dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing.
  • There are a quarter million people living in housing cooperatives in Canada. 
  • Over one and a half million families in the U.S. call housing coops home. 
  • Coop members own and control ventures that are dedicated to a strong local community, and  environmental sustainability.
  • Coops operate without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
  • Members exercise control and actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
  • All members share equally in profits and benefits.
  • Cooperatives promote education, training, and information exchange.
  • Coops make life better for 1/7th of the world's population.

August 6, 2012

Tough Choices Monday

As happens when greed overtakes sanity, average houses in most places in Canada have become unaffordable for the average family. Too often people are having to choose between having a house and having a life.

For most people a house represents the largest single purchase they will ever make. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most emotional. When our acquisitive desires meet our nesting instinct, rational decision making often ends up being a victim of our illusions.

While many countries around the world have already seen their housing bubbles pop, Canada's has continued to inflate until recently. After over a decade of annual increases, house prices have reached a historically high level relative to income. Unfortunately, average income has not been inflating much since the 1980s.

It used to be that a household needed to spend about 30% of pre-tax income to pay housing-related expenses. Not any more.
"For the second quarter of 2011, Vancouver residents could expect to spend 92.5% of their pre-tax income on homeownership costs, including mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes."
Vancouver is the country's most expensive market, but in Canada as a whole, servicing a mortgage is still requiring almost half of pre-tax income. While we all need somewhere to live, giving half of your monthly paycheck to the bank is extreme. Having to turn over your whole check sounds more like robbery.

There is a time to buy a house or property. A time when there is more balance and you can enjoy both a house and a life. In most places in Canada, including where I live, that time is not now.

Is it possible to own a house and have a life in your area?

August 3, 2012

Not Enough Time

Today Linda and I sat on the floor in a sunbeam and had a picnic. Afterwards we stretched out and lounged, listening to music. The sun was warm, a light breeze carried beach smells in the window, and I just about drifted off.

One of the bonuses of a small-footprint, simple life is having enough time to do things that make you truly happy. Like having naps.

A common complaint of citizens in industrialized nations is that there is not enough time to do the things they want to do. There is even an acronym for it: NETTEL, which stands for Not Enough Time To Enjoy Life. Modern families are so busy earning money that they no longer have the time to enjoy its benefits.

While H.D. Thoreau enjoyed his calm passage of time in the green woods, he wondered at what it was that everyone was so preoccupied. He observed that ants were busy too, and saw much of human busyness as “restless, nervous, bustling, trivial activity.”

You don't have to remove yourself entirely from the bustle of town life  (although it does help) to liberate yourself from prevailing attitudes about how you should be spending your time. All you have to do is step off the wheel, and slow down. If you want to get really radical, try stopping for a while.

It is socially acceptable, encouraged even, to be busy. Busy people are 'industrious', 'productive', and 'ambitious'. Even if it gives them a heart attack.

Some sick individuals actually get an adrenalin rush from being perpetually time challenged, and feel superior because they can 'handle it' when mere mortals would crumble. Super moms fall into this category.

What about individuals with a more realistic and relaxed pace? Those we call 'slackers', 'hippies', 'lazy', and worse. Being idle is practically a sin.

The system loves busy people. Busy people multi-task, don't worry about work/life balance, carry day timers to increase their productivity, and purchase advanced communication devices so they are available for work 100% of the time. Busy people don't notice, until it is too late, that their jobs have been outsourced, and their pensions eliminated.

Never mind being consumed by work-related activities. When it comes to leisure time, as Calvin and Hobbes said, "There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want."

No wonder today's worker feels like there is not enough time to enjoy the back yard, or play with the kids. Or cook, read a book, sleep in the grass under a tree, clean the garage, nap, play a board game, or learn a new language or musical instrument. If there is no time for the things you most want to do, with what are you so busy that is more important?

Linda and I have learned to guard our time. It is a precious resource, and we cherish it. We would rather be time rich and money poor than the other way around.

When I took a sabbatical from teaching, my time out extended to include 2 years. It was life changing, and I highly recommend everyone take one, whether a 5 minute mini-sabbatical, or one stretching out over years.

You will have enough time, and you will never be the same again.

Tips For Creating More You Time In Your Life

  1. Simplify by saying "NO". Cutting down on the number of things you do in a day allows you the time to honour your priorities. 
  2. Cut back on work. If you spend less, you can work less. Try part time, casual, or contract work. By living simply and saving money, you could retire earlier.
  3. Control your thoughts. Watch how you think about your time because our thoughts create our reality. Thinking "I have enough time to do what I need to do" fosters calmness, and sense of control.
  4. Be present in the moment. When we get lost in the moment time seems to stretch out.
  5. Take a time out. Chronic busyness can become perversely addictive, in which case it is time for a workaholic detox. Stop occasionally for recovery and recuperation. Start small with a few minutes at a time. Work toward an hour long break, then longer. Take a year. Or more. It can be done if you live simply.

August 1, 2012

Safe Harbour

Sailboat pulling into harbour by sunset/moonrise

If the world is as scary and dangerous as portrayed in the media, why do I keep meeting such darn good people? Without fail, the people that I meet and talk to in the community garden, parks, on sidewalks downtown, and here on NBA, are curious, friendly, and peaceful folks trying to do the right thing.

I thought about that this evening after spending a couple of hours at our raised bed garden, meeting other gardeners, sharing the bounty, and comparing notes. On our way home we stopped by one of our favourite beaches to watch the sun set and the moon rise. A sailboat silently glided past through moonlit waters, returning to the safety of the harbour. Home and hearth beckoned.

There are a lot of compassionate, right-living people in the world, and I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting many of them. Rather than greed and self-interest, what I have found in my experience is unfailing generosity and cooperation. It gives me a profound sense of safety knowing that so much love exists in this wild experiment we call humanity.

In 2008 - about 500 posts ago - Linda and I started Not Buying Anything as an antidote to the system that brought the world crappy jobs, widespread mental illness, ecocide, perpetual indebtedness, and The Great Depression II. We hoped that this blog would become a refuge for those seeking safety from the waves of discontent that are still growing.

Little did we know that our blog would become a refuge for us, and a place we go to in order to see how simplicity and cooperation are providing safety for others who have escaped the storm.

Pull into harbour. Enjoy the warmth of our shared hearth. Together we are going to do this thing.