January 30, 2013

The Playful Revolution

Enough work - time to play

Since these are revolutionary times, why not recommend a revolution of spontaneous and undirected playfulness, or a ludic revolution? That is what Bob Black suggests we think about in his essay The Abolition of Work, which starts with, "No one should ever work".

He pretty much had me right there.

Think about it. What would you rather do? Play? Or engage in "compulsory productive activity enforced by economic or political means" (the definition of work)?

Black thinks the only way for us to be truly free is to reclaim our time from jobs and employment, and  turn necessary subsistence tasks into free play done voluntarily. It is a radical turn from conventional thinking, as we usually think of play as childish, or unproductive.

But productive play is possible. To set the stage for this bold shift of mindset we have to free ourselves by establishing full unemployment. The things that need to be done will still get done, but in Black's view, they will be done with purpose, engagement, and joy. And they would be done of our own volition.

Take a look at "one of the seminal underground documents of the 1980s". You can read it in its entirety here. It is pretty thought-provoking stuff that is heavy in some places, and chuckle-inducing in others. Either way, it makes you think about how work affects all our lives.

Enjoy. And remember to play today.

January 29, 2013

The True Business Of People

An age old question that humans have been asking themselves since forever is, "What should I be doing?" Conversely, you could also ask, "What shouldn't I be doing?" These questions obviously took up a considerable amount of time in the life of the brilliant thinker, Buckminster Fuller.

One thing I love about 'Bucky' is that he did his thinking way outside the box, and considered more than just what the economy needed. His interest was in exploring human potential, and utilizing it to the greatest degree.

Much of that potential in all of us is destroyed by mind-numbing, non-purposeful, busy work.

I have never felt that my life's purpose was to work eight hours a day 'employed at some kind of drudgery' just to make someone else rich. I am not even interested in working to make myself rich.

Rather, I have always thought that I should be doing something to make the world a better place. That might mean some sort of paid work, but it could also mean voluntary efforts.

When we cease to be wage slaves we can experience true freedom, and our true calling. Only then will we understand the true business of people, which in ideal conditions, is more than simply struggling for survival while the bosses hoard their wealth.

January 28, 2013

Less Work Monday

Many people choose simple living because it enables them to work less, and isn't working less a goal for most of us?

For Linda and I one of the main benefits of our simple lifestyle is that it enables us to have the freedom for me to be Linda's full time caregiver (she has MS). I can't think of a better way for me to expend my energy than intimately caring for the person I love the most.

And yet a lot of people are still uncomfortable with me 'not working' or not having a "job". I guess this is because we have been brainwashed to believe that if you are not getting paid, you are not really doing anything of value (which means adding to the GDP).

It is telling that international human rights law does not recognize the refusal of work, or right not to work by itself, except the right to strike. Since there are few alternatives to conventional 'work' one is more or less forced to submit to wage slavery. It's 'get a job' or die.

I tend to resist things when I am told that I don't have any other choice. I don't want a 'job'. I have a job, and it's called life. That keeps me busy enough, thank you very much.

Work sucks. If it didn't, lottery tickets, ponzi schemes, retirement, and being in management wouldn't be so popular.

Maintaining a simple life gives one freedom from work. Spend less = work less = live more.

January 25, 2013

Winter Gardening Is Super-KALE-ifragilisticexpialidocious

Kale is a super-food, a green, growing vitamin/mineral supplement courtesy Mother Nature
People in most places in Canada rarely use the words 'winter' and 'gardening' in the same sentence. On the West coast things are a bit different. This year Linda and I are enjoying winter gardening for the first time.

While the coldest season of the year places severe restrictions on what can be grown, what does manage to is more than welcome. Fresh, local, organic produce grown during the darkest days of the year in my own garden makes me happy.

Our 4X8 raised bed plot in the community garden has some brussel sprouts that are struggling to mature during the overcast, rainy days. I'm not sure they will ever amount to much. However, our kale has been thriving and grows in a big, bushy bunch of free food.

I love to bicycle the (often rain-soaked) 6km round trip to visit our garden and pick a bunch of dark green, leafy kale. I  so prefer that over going to the grocery store and paying cash for the limp bunches that lay exhausted on display after the long trip from distant destinations.

I hear that kale chips are great, and we will try them eventually, but I can't resist the simplicity and ease of just chopping, steaming, and eating with a bit of butter and vinegar.

Winter gardening is super-KALE-ifragilisticexpialidocious.

Nutrient Value of Kale (1cup/130 grams cooked)

Kale is one of the most amazing vegetables known, akin to broccoli in its overall health benefits. I like to think of kale as mother nature's little pharma. This is a plant that turns sunlight, air, soil, and water into edible leaves that are like power-packed nutritional supplements.

Check out kale's impressive nutritional profile - it has more iron than beef does, and more calcium than milk. But wait - there's more! It also has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (AND it's tasty).

Nutrient                   % Daily Value

vitamin K                 1327.6%
vitamin A                 354.1%
vitamin C                 88.8%
manganese               27%
fiber                        10.4%
copper                     10%
tryptophan               9.3%
calcium                    9.3%
vitamin B6               9%
potassium                8.4%
iron                         6.5%
magnesium              5.8%
vitamin E                5.5%
omega-3 fats           5.4%
vitamin B2             5.2%
protein                   4.9%
vitamin B1             4.6%
folate                      4.2%
phosphorus             3.6%
vitamin B3             3.2%

Calories (36)          2%

Wow! This stuff is good enough to pay for, but I am glad that I don't have to. You can find information about growing kale at this gardening website.

Good gardening, and good health to you.

January 23, 2013

Shredding Your Identity

This is what I use to shred sensitive paper documents, batteries not required

We live in a world where your garbage can end up leading to a drained bank account or stolen identity. There was a time that Linda and I contemplated getting a paper shredder, but in the end we couldn't  bring ourselves to purchase such a limited, single use item. So how to deal with the threat of stolen garbage?

For a long while we were setting aside sensitive documents in what we called our "burn box". 

The plan was to go out into the bush, have a campfire, and enjoy a ceremonial burning of the contents of the box. 

But we wondered if there was a better way to deal with our paper documents without buying a shredder, or adding C02 to the atmosphere.

We discovered a local industrial strength paper shredding company that takes paper and shreds it in what I assume are super-shredders.

Even better, after the company shreds the documents, it turns them into 100% post-consumer toilet paper. I can't think of a better use for our old bills.

Since we turned our top secret documents into toilet paper, we have instigated some changes making shredding mostly unnecessary.
  • We are going paper free. We switched from paper documents to digital alternatives. Businesses will email receipts and many documents can be accessed on line. 
  • We use scissors, our low-tech shredder. This shredder can be used for an infinite number of tasks including sewing, pizza cutting, as well as reducing top secret information into unreadable strips. For any documents that do make their way to us, we use scissors to do the shredding. But only the bits containing names, addresses, and account numbers. When removed, they are a small portion of the overall document and can easily be sliced and diced into obscurity. 

January 21, 2013

New Beginnings Monday

Often when we think of change we get sidetracked by the pain that may (or may not) occur as we go through the process. Then we say things like, "I would rather die than go without meat."

'Meat' could be replaced with 'two cars', or 'fast food', or a '3000 square foot house', or a number of other luxuries to which we have become accustomed.

With any impending change we tend to concentrate on The End rather than what forms after la petite mort.

But when one way of life closes, another opens. We can choose to focus on the beauty, freshness, and potential of a new beginning with joy. We can welcome changes.

When we do, we find that the change doesn't kill us, and more often than not we find new ways better than the old.

Here's to the power of acknowledging that as we change, exciting new beginnings always follow painful endings.

January 19, 2013

The Four Laws of Ecology

Although nature is complex, the basic rules that keep everything running are simple. Here is a set formulated by physicist and ecologist, Barry Commoner, in The Closing Circle, 1971.

The Four Laws of Ecology   
1) Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.  
Humans and other species are connected/dependant on a number of other species. There is one eco-sphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
2) Everything Must Go Somewhere. 
There is no "waste" in nature and there is no "away" to which things can be thrown. No matter what you do, and no matter what you use, it has to go somewhere. For example, when you burn wood, it doesn't disappear, it turns into smoke which rises into the air, and ash, which falls back down to the earth. 
3) Nature Knows Best. 
Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system.
4) There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. 
Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

Never mind the laws that flawed humans dream up. You know the ones - they allow the rich and privileged unchecked access to exploit their fellow humans, and the environment. They are the ones that allow big banks to commit fraud without penalty.

Those laws were dreamed, and will one day soon be undreamed.

The laws of ecology however, are immutable. No amount of denial, lies, or ignorance will change them, or the impact they will have on us if we ignore them further.

The laws of ecology are the laws we should be following.

January 18, 2013

Waste Not - Mesh Produce Bag Pot Scrubbers

I sometimes buy oranges in red plastic mesh bags.

Then I eat the oranges. Yum. Tasty sunshine, water, vitamins and minerals from California.

Back in the old days, I would dispose of the empty mesh bags.

Regulation pot scrubber

Then I would go to the store and buy pot scrubbers.

Until, that is, I noticed that the red mesh bags that I was disposing of looked an awful lot like the pot scrubbers for which I was paying good money. All of a sudden it felt like a waste to dispose of red plastic mesh bags, then go and buy red plastic mesh scrubbers.

It was an epiphany, albeit a small one. "Henceforth," I decided in a sudden fit of frugality, "I will make my own pot scrubbers."

I thought I was being quite creative, but now I see that converting plastic mesh produce bags into pot scrubbers is a fairly common project on simple/frugal/green living blogs. Something else I could see is that everyone else ended up with better looking pot scrubbers than I do.

Homemade pot scubbers that look way better than mine

The first time I converted a mesh bag to a pot scrubber I used needle and thread to make a more secured, uniform product that resembled the store bought ones. Lately, in my efforts to simplify further, I just wad up the mesh bag in my hand in total disregard for pot scrubber etiquette.

The dirty dishes don't notice my messy, non-conventional scrubbers, and they get pots just as clean as the proper looking ones.

If you are interested in not buying pot scrubbers ever again, but like the look and feel of the puffy round ones, check this website that gives an excellent explanation of how to do it properly.

If not, wad 'em up and start scrubbing, saving money, and wasting less resources.

Or if you have a dishwasher, think about using old produce mesh bags as handy reusable produce bags at the grocery store instead of using the film plastic bags for your fruit and veggies.

Do it yourself reusable produce bag

January 17, 2013

Size Does Matter

Caution - Squinting blogger at work
Is it me, or are they making print size smaller on the Internet these days? My eyeglass prescription is up to date, so it can't be that. Are demonic forces trying to deny the population access to information by making the font really, really small?

I don't want to be part of that, so I have been tinkering with the font size on NBA. But there is such a thing as too big, and I don't want to seem like I am being really loud.

We appreciate your comments, and would be interested to hear if recent changes meet our goal of making Not Buying Anything better for readers.

January 16, 2013

Crushed By Stuff

We all have piles of stuff that tend to grow and threaten to crush us.
Could you fit your possession pile into one photograph?
Since 2008, the second most common keyword that leads infonauts to NBA's corner of the Internet universe is 'hoarders'. Uh-huh - hoarders. That seems strange for a simple living, get-rid-of-your-stuff blog. But not so strange.

Like most of us, I am fascinated with the hoarding phenomena, and have done the odd post on this topic. TV shows like Hoarders and Consumed are testaments to our curiosity. 

Mostly I am interested in the 5% of Americans that exhibit hoarding behaviour because they are the canaries in our consumer coal mine. The poison gas that is making them sick is the system that encourages, supports, and rewards unchecked consumption. 

We are being subjected to the same poison gas. Your living space may be neat and tidy, but what does the garage look like? Basement? Storage locker? Are you exhibiting the symptoms of hoarding light?

How To Tell If You Have Hoarding Light 

Do you:
  • have difficulty throwing things away, often for sentimental reasons? 
  • have a junk drawer, closet, garage, basement, or off-site storage locker overflowing with possessions?
  • buy or acquire things that you do not need? 
  • feel like you can not live without your stuff?
  • feel happiness during shopping binges?
  • have stuff that has sat, unseen, in boxes for years?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be exhibiting the symptoms of hoarding light, a commonly ignored condition. You are not alone - nearly all your friends, relatives, and neighbours have it too.

In the more serious hoarding category, is a sad situation that made the news in my area today. A 70 year old man had to be rescued from his house after being caught under a stuffalanche. 

The man had been pinned by hoarded materials, and the fire department had to hack down his front door, cut a path through possessions piled to the ceiling, then locate and free him. 

He is thought to have been lying under the piles for at least 3 days, and if not for a 911 call by a concerned neighbour, would probably have died. 

We are all breathing the poison gas of consumer culture, and are in danger of being crushed by our stuff, literally and figuratively. First the canaries get it, then we do.

But not to worry - help is on the way.

I am the emergency responder that has come to save you from being buried, and I am knocking on your front door. Together we will escape the debris and poison gas being piped into our lives by those who wish to profit from our illness.

Hopefully I will be strong enough to drag you away and out into the fresh air of the simple life. 

And what of the #1 keyword search that connects the curious to the Not Buying Anything blog? Well, that would be 'peace'. 

Dear readers, don't be hoarders, seriously or lightly - get rid of all that stuff (or at least a lot of it) and peace will follow.

January 14, 2013

Idle No More Monday

Finally, the revolution comes to Canada. I wondered what the spark would be that would ignite the anger most Canadians feel toward our pro-corporate, anti-environment government. 

And now, I am happy to say, Natives and non-Natives alike are hitting the streets in joyous, indignant gatherings under the Idle No More banner.

If you care about human rights, the rule of law, the environment, and basic decency, you are invited to stand alongside our sisters and brothers in the Idle No More movement. 

This growing force was formed by four women in Saskatchewan, but in only one month has spread nationally, and internationally. 

We here at the NBA blog support:

  • indigenous rights and self-determination,
  • environmental rights and protection, and
  • ending the genocide of indigenous peoples globally.

It is time to build a better Canada, and a better world. In this worthy endeavour, there are no spectators, only participants. 

What part are you playing?

"Canada, the most affluent of countries, operates on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money." 

- Alanis Obomsawin, filmmaker and Abenaki from the Odanak reserve, northeast of Montreal (1972)

January 11, 2013

Turn Off, Tune Out, And Drop In... To The Wilderness

Linda at Francis Lake in the backcountry of Glacier National Park, Montana, 1990
Whether it is a crisp morning in the mountains, or the silence of the rain forest ringing in my ears, nature has always been my healing sanctuary. On multi-week hiking trips, I have felt the stress and pressures of the busy life melt away. But is it possible that exposure to the wilderness was also good for my creativity?

Both adults and children are spending more time indoors interacting with a variety of  un-natural devices. Even when people go outside, they remain glued to a screen. With cell phones shielding the view, we cease to notice the beauty of nature we are passing.

When we cease to notice the natural world, we fail to cash in on its physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. In our obsession with technology and 'progress', we fail to see what we are missing.

A recent study looked at the effects of technology and exposure to nature on creativity. What would happen to creativity levels if regular, busy people turned off the screens, tuned out of the rat race, and dropped in to the wilderness for a while?

Psychology researchers took groups of adults on 4 day wilderness trips in which everyone took a digital holiday. No electronic devices allowed.

The test subjects took a test before and after the wilderness experience. The researchers reported  that, "four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increased performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50%". Naturally there were other benefits, too.

One participant of the four day wilderness experience noted that as her trip progressed, people tended to  get more introspective, and talked less and less. The person also noted that when people did talk later in the trip, it tended to lead to deeper, more meaningful discussions.

The researchers suggest that being in a natural setting yields advantages due to the low stress and emotionally positive feelings associated with being with nature. They also recognized the benefits could partially be explained by cutting the exposure to "attention demanding technology".

We may not all be set up for a four day wilderness trip and the thought of sharing a meadow with a grizzly bear is hardly conducive to relaxed creativity (unless you are thinking about creative escape plans). However, we can all get outside and notice nature every once in a while, even if it is only a few minutes.

Boost your creativity - turn off the electronics and digital demons, tune out your everyday worries and concerns, and drop in to a natural setting near you.

Note: Really can't get out? Research has shown that viewing photographs of nature can also have beneficial effects on well-being. 

Beautify your indoor space with inspiring photos of the outdoors - it will do you good, and will motivate you to get out into the real thing.

January 9, 2013

Not Buying A 2013 Calendar

Captain Kirk says, "Beam up those 2002 calendars - they're good all over again."
I haven't bought a wall calendar for many years, and thanks to a quirky tip, this year will be no different.

My mom has been sending me beautiful calendars as gifts every year for over a decade. An added bonus is that their purchase has supported non-profit environmental groups (my mom is nice, and green).

This year, for the first time in years, mom didn't send a calendar. She had radiation treatment for a brain tumour just before solstice, and couldn't fill her role as the calendar elf. So I took down 2012, and thought about what 2013 would bring for mom. And for me - I don't have a calendar, and I am definitely not going to buy one.

I say that this is a quirky tip because I am not sure if it is for frugal reuse, or for hoarding old calendars. I mean, who would actually have old calendars hanging around? Uh, well, me as it turns out.

All the calendars mom sent over the years had amazing photographs of beautiful, wilderness settings. That is why I have kept some over the years - for artistic inspiration, and perhaps to paint one or two in watercolours (something that hasn't happened yet).

I went looking for a calendar from 2002, the most recent year that can be used for this year. I almost hoped I didn't have one - do minimalists have 10 year old calendars lurking around their tiny homes? I knew I definitely didn't have a calendar from 1901, but 2002 was within the realm of possibility.

Digging into my art supply container, I located several old time trackers. The oldest one was from 1998, which will be good again in 2015. After flipping through about 10 newer calendars, I hit the jackpot - 2002. I hung it in the void on the wall left by 2012, and noticed the days did indeed match up, even if the moon phases were off by a bit.

I was a little freaked out that I have been carrying around old calendars for as long as I have, even if they are beautiful and can be reused eventually. Whatever I lost in minimalist cred, I gained in frugality and reuse, but it did make me wonder about the things we hang on to.

Now that I know my calendar stash is more than nice pictures, it is hard to give in to the urge to purge. Linda has done one drawing from 'the collection'. From 2002 at that. Arghh... I slipped them back into the art box.

Here are the calendar years that will work for this year, 2013. Hopefully your stash doesn't go back as far as 111 years... although it would be interesting if it did. 


Frugal reuse, or hoarding? You decide. And mom, thanks for the calendar... again.

For more calendar reuse information see here.

January 8, 2013

Quotes On My Fridge

"Grown men may learn from very little children, for the hearts of little children are pure, and, therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss." 
- Black Elk

January 7, 2013

Sustainable Energy Monday

Wind and solar generation using the MPS, or something similar, can help wean us from fossil fuel dependent grid power
Sustainable energy systems aren't only better than fossil fuel fired generating stations for reducing ecological damage, but they can help wean us from dependence on grid power as well.

In my area winter power outages are an annual occurrence as strong winds topple tall trees onto power lines. In 2006 we went almost a week without power after the worst winter wind storm since the 1960s. We got off lucky - the building next door had its roof torn off. A mobile power system would have come in handy.

Around the world extreme weather puts grid power at risk. Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to millions of customers, some for weeks. Green energy could help provide some relief.

The shipping container-based power station shown above is a power source that could be used in off-grid applications, or after losing grid power. A company called Skybuilt is selling them, but the general idea could be easily imitated to provide power for one or more families permanently, or in case of emergency.

This sustainable energy station would fit right in with a container home.

From the Skybuilt website:
"The Mobile Power System is a complete power station in a standard shipping container. It can be transported by truck, train, ship or plane. (1 - 50+ KW total power generation) 
At the site, you can deploy solar panels or wind turbines for self-generated power. They set up in minutes to hours, and operate for years with little or no maintenance, fuel, or logistics. Or, green power can be supplemented with diesel, propane, natural gas or gasoline-powered generators.
The interior of the MPS can be used for anything—air-conditioned office space, telecommunications, medical center, emergency operations/command center or storage."
Or perhaps the inside of the container could be used as a cabin, or tiny home, or writers retreat. Or a workshop.

Entirely off grid, and green. 

January 4, 2013

A Mall The Size Of The Planet

The world is in the process of adding another 2 billion people to the middle class, an event that most think of as a good thing. Remember that we aren't talking about getting people out of poverty, although slowly that is happening, too. What we are talking about is getting more people past 'enough' and to the point they can afford stuff no human needs for survival.

Middle class means more cars, more meat eaters, and more recreational visits to the shopping mall.

Uruguayan writer Eduardo Hughes Galeano, in his 1998 book Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, discussed global consumerism. He wrote:
“Consumer society is a booby trap. Those at the controls feign ignorance, but anybody with eyes in his head can see that the great majority of people necessarily must consume not much, very little, or nothing at all in order to save the bit of nature we have left. Social injustice is not an error to be corrected, nor is it a defect to be overcome; it is an essential requirement of the system. No natural world is capable of supporting a mall the size of the planet... [If] we all consumed like those who are squeezing the earth dry, we’d have no world left.”
We can't all be members of the luxury and excess class, and we can't all be members of the consumer class (even if those were good things). But we can all join the 'enough class'.

We can save nature from a mall the size of the planet.

January 3, 2013

Too Many Clothes

January is a good time to start a clothing purge project
After I went traveling for a year and got by with a tiny wardrobe of about 15 items (including socks and underwear), I started to wonder why I needed any more than that. It was one reason I stopped buying anything new for my wardrobe.

To say I haven't bought any new clothes for years would be a bit of an exaggeration - I have bought new socks and underwear. But that is about it. And yet, I still seem to have more clothes than I need.

How To Tell If You Have Too Many Clothes
  1. You have clothing bought long ago that is still in its packaging.
  2. You have more clothes than closet (the answer is not a bigger closet).
  3. You have clothes in boxes that haven't been opened in years.
  4. You have clothes you didn't even know you had.
  5. You keep losing things under piles of clothes.
Getting rid of stuff is a challenge for most of us, but getting rid of clothes presents some unique challenges. Giving away dust-collecting trinkets may be easy, but how does one get rid of something as practical and useful as clothes? Clothes are kind of like foodstuffs - you can't survive without them. 

Without clothes we are naked, and being out and about in your birthday suit is not socially acceptable in most places I know. We need clothes not only to cover our bumps and bits, but in a climate like I live in, clothes are essential for survival as well. 

Parting with essentials is difficult, but really, you can only wear one shirt or one pair of pants at a time. I know how many clothes I really need, and my entire light wardrobe can fit into a backpack with room to spare. The rest of the stuff is just taking up space in my closet, and my head. 

Clearing The Clothes

A necessary first step is admitting that you have too many clothes, and have a desire to cut back to a more manageable and useful level.

The hanger method shown in the photo above is one way, albeit a slow one, to weed out the unnecessary clothing from your closet. This is the equivalent of pulling a band aid off very, very slowly. It may not be the most efficient method if you can feel a big purge coming on.

To pull the band aid off in one fell swoop, one must be brave and go all in from the start. Having committed to reduction, attack the clothes like they are your enemy and show them who is boss. Wrestle the clothing into 4 piles:
  1. Clothes that don't fit you.
  2. Clothes that you haven't worn in over a year.
  3. Clothes that need to be repaired.
  4. Clothes that you can't live without.
Take piles 1 and 2 to a second hand store, or offer them to someone you know that would appreciate them. Pile number 3 should be taken to a tailor, or handy friend or mom, for repair. 

Pile number 4 should be set aside and gone through one more time. Pull out redundant clothes, such as more than 2 or 3 pairs of jeans, or white shirts. Get the pile down to a manageable amount of practical, functional clothes that you will use on a regular basis.

If you are having trouble with the task, think of how organized you will feel owning only clothing in good repair, that fits you, and that you feel good wearing. 

A clothing purge is excellent for resetting your wardrobe, but a moratorium on the purchase of new clothes will prevent the build up from happening again. Oh, the money you will save.

And remember, "people seldom notice old clothes if you are wearing a big smile".