November 30, 2015

Buy Nothing Xmas

We lived through another Black Friday Week - congratulations. But our good work is not over yet. Oh no.

From now until the end of the year the mass consumption continues unabated. It is time to plan for another Buy Nothing Xmas to counter the madness.

The point of this final anti-consumer campaign of the year is not to save money, or destroy Christmas, but to take action toward creating a more equitable world where everyone has enough, and we consume what we need and not much else.

It is also about returning to  the original focus of the season, and concentrating more on loving each other rather than on competitive gift giving. It is about throwing out the generic corporate profit-driven season that wants to deck the vaults with boughs of your money, and replace it with a personalized celebration that promotes compassion for all living beings.

This season let us question our consumer mindset, empower ourselves by refusing to participate, and generate awareness of the destructive tendencies of business as usual. We are in good company - the Pope is feeling pretty subdued about business as usual this season too.

Chances are that most people, even the Pope, will be buying something this festive season. The following suggestions will help align potential purchases with the values of the BNX campaign.

  • give locally, fairly-traded items with environmentally friendly packaging.
  • give quality things that last
  • give consumables, like gift cards for the local grocery store
  • give things that people really need (you can't go wrong with socks and underwear)

Often parents find it hard to practice a Buy Nothing Christmas. But it IS possible to have a wonderful non-commercial Xmas with kids. While gift giving is an important social exchange, we don't have to go overboard at this time of year.

  • try not to subject yourself or your family to seasonal advertising hype
  • consider making gifts for each other, or buying only hand made gifts from local artisans
  • up cycle old stuff to make creative gifts 
  • regift items you don't use
  • spend quality time together (without TV or other electronics)
  • go to the library together, get cards if you don't already have them

You don't have to spend a lot to show others you love them. You don't really need to spend anything at all. Just be with them.

That is free. That is BNX.

November 27, 2015

A Certain Isolation

I like being at home, and it has always been that way. It makes it very handy now that I am a full time caregiver.

It always amazes me that people spend insane amounts of money on a house, then work hard to get away from it. From going out to to going shopping to going on vacation, there is always going, going, going, and not so much staying, relaxing and enjoying.

I guess go is the thing to do, and I am part of a minority of people that sees the beauty in maintaining and enjoying a home-based lifestyle. Contrary to popular belief, reducing the amount of going and increasing the amount of staying has benefits.

Sticking close to home certainly saves money, since just about any going out will require spending money. But saving money is not the most important benefit.

The biggest payoff of pulling back from the speed of a fully plugged in modern lifestyle is what it can do for your spirit. Philosopher and social critic Søren Kierkegaard wrote about the individual vs. the crowd, why we conform, and the power of the minority.

"One can very well eat lettuce before its heart has been formed; still, the delicate crispness of the heart and its lovely frizz are something altogether different from the leaves. It is the same in the world of the spirit.  
Being too busy has this result: that an individual very, very rarely is permitted to form a heart; on the other hand, the thinker, the poet, or the religious personality who actually has formed his heart, will never be popular, not because they are difficult, but because they demand quiet and prolonged working with oneself and intimate knowledge of oneself, as well as a certain isolation." 

Things like Black Friday don't motivate Linda and I to leave our home. But that doesn't mean we live in total isolation all the time. We have wonderful neighbours close by, and we enjoy our infrequent trips into town to conduct business.

We live in an interconnected universe, so it is impossible do anything in complete isolation. What we do at home, and in our heads, has far-reaching effects. A butterfly flapping its wings affects the weather on the other side of the globe - imagine what our minds can do.

Christopher Alexander is an unconventional architect who has started a movement to help regular people reclaim control over their built environments. What he has to say about creating beautiful buildings that improve life can be related to building a beautiful home life.

"This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it."

There is nothing inherently wrong with going out. We are social creatures. But perhaps a certain isolation would help restore some balance. Slowing down and enjoying a full, uninterrupted home life can save money and make life more meaningful.

When we make our homes and our selves more coherent and whole, we take our place in nature and improve the world at the same time.

November 24, 2015

Buy Nothing Day 2015

Only three more days to one of my favourite days of the year - Buy Nothing Day. Celebrated since 1992, this day, like this blog, invites people to join a growing crowd that is learning to live better with less consumption. It is no mistake that BND coincides with the craziest consumer frenzy of the year - Black Friday.

BND is the antidote to BF. It is a good place to begin the rest of your low consumption life. The beginning of an awareness of our impact on the people and planet around us when we consume more than we need.

Most of my days are buy nothing days. Some call it the "NBA lifestyle", and I am honoured. But I love having a whole day dedicated to learning to live with less. Never mind that the other 364 days of the year are dedicated consumption days - that is changing.

Just like more and more of us are refusing to support endless war and violence,  increasing numbers are voluntarily choosing not to support the war on the environment and violence caused by overconsumption. Such a choice makes all the difference.

"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you," Jane Goodall said. "What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

What kind of difference do you want to make?

If there were ever a time in our history to be making a stand, now is that time. We have to decide what it is we stand for, and what kind of difference we want to make during our short time on this planet. And we have to decide now because time is running out.

This Friday, I hope many and more will choose to participate in BND, make a commitment to changing their shopping habits, and change the world in the process. It may be the best decision you ever make for yourself, the human family, and the planet.

Click here to read my recent post suggesting "Alternatives To Black Friday". Or feel like dressing up? Get together with a group of friends and stage a zombie non-shopping event in your local mall to raise awareness. Anti-consumerism can be fun!

November 21, 2015

Simple Pleasures: A Toilet

Ancient Roman public toilets were among the first of their type in the world. When finished, 
relieved Romans wiped with a wet sponge on the end of a stick.

It was International Toilet Day a few days ago. That makes sense because hygienic toilets are one important piece of an overall sanitation system. But like a fart, this special day puffed into existence, was soon gone, and I forgot about it. But not because toileting isn't a serious issue - it is. Deadly serious as a matter of fact.

My friend, a nurse, says, "if you don't poo and pee you die". Sometimes even if you do eliminate, you still die. Billions of people around the world do not have access to functioning sanitary systems. Many get sick and die because of the failure to provide for this basic need. The world needs more proper places to poop.

I have used a wide selection of toilets in my days - self-dug holes in the ground while wilderness camping (there is a book written about the topic - "How To Shit In The Woods"), western toilets, squat toilets, and outhouses (both conventional and composting) at campgrounds and cabins.

A plastic shopping bag has even done in a pinch (in some places in Africa they call this a "flying toilet" because when done they throw the bag as far away as they can, resulting in country-wide bans on plastic shopping bags).

When we were hunter-gatherers we could do our thing anywhere. But when we settled into cities and civilizations we concentrated our waste to the point of toxicity. I witnessed this level of waste production personally when I worked in the waste water treatment plant in a city of a million people.

In the course of my work I saw first hand what went down the sinks, toilets, and storm drains from a section of the city, and it wasn't pretty. Everything you could think of flowed down to that plant, plus a few things that you may not of thought about, and may not want to think about.

At the time Linda and I were contracted to deliver the treatment plant's environmental education program. We gave tours and instruction for school groups from grades 1 to 12. It was great fun because it was so fantastically gross. And important. But mostly gross.

I learned a lot in this smelly site. I learned that it is a very good thing that all that waste wasn't going directly into local waterways. It is bad enough since no treatment plant can take all the contaminants from waste water. Pharmaceuticals, for example, passed through the plant and into the river via the discharge pipe.

I also learned that there is a very limited range of things you can put down the toilet, sink or storm drain in order to keep your sanitary system running smoothly. It consists of:
  • water
  • small food particles (the fewer the better, so no garburators please)
  • biodegradable soaps (without phosphates)
  • human waste
  • toilet paper
  • non-toxic cleaners
That is all. No grease or oil. No old medicines, or hamsters, or toys, or facial tissue, or wet wipes, or toxic cleaners, rotting leftovers, or anything except what is on the list above.

If you have a functioning sanitary system, you are more fortunate than 2.4 billion of your global neighbours who do without, and suffer the consequences. Cherish it, and treat your sani-system well all the way from the toilet, drain or storm sewer to the local waterway.

For me a toilet has been a simple pleasure that I really appreciate, but for many it means the difference between life and death. 

November 18, 2015


Sometimes I bike, sometimes I hike, and sometimes I do both on the same trip.

Last summer Linda and I completed a monumental cross country voyage in a wheelchair equipped van that we bought only 5 days before we left. One of the reasons we acquired the van was because I injured my back in the course of preparing for our journey, and I could no longer help Linda into the truck that we owned.

So we packed up the few possessions that we wished to retain and headed out into the great unknown. It was June 1st, 2014. We spent the summer visiting our moms, then concentrated on driving into the rising sun day after day.

I have been discovering many beautiful natural areas close to home.

In August we arrived in Nova Scotia, slightly battered and bruised, but buzzing with excitement about our journey and the possibilities that starting over in a new land bring.

We found a very suitable accessible country home to rent, and moved in with the help of our landlord's whole family. Things were looking up, but as often happens in life, things changed in unanticipated ways.

Water bodies are special places. This is one of two major lakes just a few kms from home. 

It was the end of September and I was helping Linda transfer. Something went in my back, and I dropped Linda on the bed. I was in such pain that I had to call 911 and request an ambulance. Because Linda couldn't stay home without me, they brought 2 ambulances and took us both to the hospital. We were both discharged within two weeks.

This scene is calling for a canoe - an evening paddle would be magic.

Because of my injury I didn't get out to do much biking or hiking, although during our epic winter snowfall event I was able to get out to do some of the best snowshoeing of my life. It was the beginning of my recovery.

This summer and fall I have been able to function normally, and because of that have been able  to explore our area on foot and fat tires. Sometimes both on the same trip. I discovered a lake close to home. After living on the beach on the west coast for 10 years it was nice to find some water to sit beside.

I don't have to worry about traffic on our local Rails to Trails path.

I also discovered a Rails to Trails path that I can access a short bike ride from home. Once on the path I can ride into town if there is business I need to conduct, or I can ride in the other direction, into the wilderness. The trail goes farther than I could ride in a day, and I dream of throwing a small pack on my back containing a tarp, sleeping bag and a bit of food and riding for days.

This Rails to Trails path is multi-use, including horses and quads. I have not seen either on my rides.

Our health and mobility is something that we too often take for granted. Now that I am fully recovered I can really see how handicapped I was by my condition. It could happen again at any time.  

Or maybe it won't, and I will just grow old and slowly become unable to do the more active things that I love. It is life, and it happens.

Either way, I am going to enjoy and appreciate every single moment that I am healthy, and take advantage of my fully functioning form while I am able.

November 16, 2015

Alternatives To Black Friday

It's coming again - Black Friday. Yes, yet another apocalypse of extreme shopping that transforms regular people into consumer zombies. Why bother getting trampled or having an arm taken off by a falling television when you could avoid the shops entirely and do something infinitely more constructive?

Naturally, I have a few suggestions:

Plan a White Friday, white being the colour of peace. Reach out to someone you are experiencing conflict with and extend an olive branch. Donate money to a non-profit that promotes peace around the world. Practice forgiveness for the whole day.

Make it a Blue Friday. Know someone that is feeling down? Do something to make them feel better. When you are done you will feel better, too.

Have a Green Friday and do something for the environment. Ride a bike instead of driving, start a recycling program, tell someone about something green that you are doing. Go for a walk, hike or roll.

Make it a real Black Friday and have a lie in while in a darkened room. Get up when you are rested, and not a moment before.

After you get up, sit quietly and explore the black space between your ears for a while. Repeat throughout the day. Nothing pays off as much as discovering more about the workings of the black box of your mind.

Tracing your thoughts and pin-pointing your motivations means that you can better understand and choose your behaviour. You will make yourself more impervious to advertisement and propaganda, like the kind that leads to bizarre behaviours such as the consumer madness represented by Black Friday.

That is black as in emptiness, the void, and the dark side of destruction. Why would one consciously choose that when there are so many alternatives?

November 13, 2015

If The World Were A Village Of 100 People

If the population of the world were shrunk down to a proportionally represented village of 100 people, what would it be like?  How many people would have electricity? An education? Clean air and water? The World of 100 simulation answers such questions.

I became aware of the World of 100 simulation while studying global education in university. The simulation is a graphic way of illustrating a world of 7 billion people shrunk to a population of only one hundred.

Seen this way, obscure statistics lost in big numbers become more manageable, and if using actual students to represent the numbers, the results can be seen right away.

More recently I came across designer Toby Ng's visual interpretation of the World of 100 concept (numbers may not be accurate for 2015). The simple representations makes the information even more stark. Viewing them reminds me to be more grateful for the life I have, and motivates me to work even harder toward ensuring that every single person on Earth has what they need.

All 100 of them.

November 10, 2015

Crimes Against Hairdressing

Wanted, Shorn or Shaggy.

If bad hair was a crime I would be in trouble with the law. A selfie haircut combined with bed head, and you better call the HD-CSI unit. I would be charged with crimes against hairdressing and sent to appear before a four star stylist.

My life of stylistic hair crime began when I quit paying for haircuts about 20 years ago. At that time Linda, my partner in crime, took up the responsibility for keeping my hair somewhat acceptable. We combed the Internet together to learn what we could about home haircutting.

Over the years MS changes meant that Linda could no longer manipulate the hair cutter and scissors. Oh, no - now it was up to me to make the cuts, with Linda acting as project coordinator.

One year ago Linda was in the hospital and I cut my hair alone for the first time. It turned out pretty good. Since then I haven't cut my hair again in the same way. Instead of sitting down to a total cut I have been randomly snipping at my hair when I noticed chunks getting out of control.

It has felt good to see problem hair and hack it back in a fit of rebelliousness. And I do believe it is an act of rebellion, whether you are five or fifty, because for some reason hair on the head is sacred.

I know lots of people that live simply, but none that have gone as far as cutting their own hair. Why? Because we quickly learn in life that head hair is hallowed, and only professionals shall alter it according to the latest fashions.

I figure the fashion police infringe on my freedom, so snip, snip, snip. If someone has a problem with that they can call in the hairdressing crime scene investigation unit. Of course they would discover that things are all manner of wrong, and I would be convicted of my crimes.

The punishment would be a full day spa treatment for rest, rehabilitation and better, more acceptable hair. However pleasant that might be, I am likely to be a recidivist in this department. Where are those scissors?

November 7, 2015

10 Ways To Use It Up

I find it an enjoyable challenge to see how much mileage I can get out of things. I have leather hiking boots that I purchased in 1988. I still wear them often.

One way to reduce your environmental footprint is to use everything to its fullest extent.

We live in a disposable world where fashion dictates throwing out the old to be replaced by the latest trends. But a harvest gold or avocado green range in the kitchen heats food as well as a white, black, or stainless steel model.

If you use stuff until it is no longer usable, cleaning, maintaining and repairing along the way, you will find that you don't need to buy things very often.

Whether it is a tube of toothpaste, a pair of boots, or a piece of scrap paper used to write weeks worth of grocery lists, it deserves to be used for as long as possible before repurposing or recycling.

10 Ways to Use It Up

  1. Don't waste food. Eat what needs to be eaten rather than whatever you feel like. Save and use leftovers.
  2. Before throwing anything in the trash or recycling ask, "Is there anything I can use this for?"
  3. Wear clothes longer than fashion tells you to. Quality clothing can last many years.
  4. Squeeze the tube or bottle until empty, then cut it open to get the rest.
  5. Only use as much of something as you need, and no more - it will take longer to use up.
  6. Take good care of things and they will last longer - do as much maintenance yourself as possible.
  7. If you must buy something, look for quality items that will last longer. The lowest price item is not necessarily the best choice.
  8. Ignore advertisers and any person that tells you that you need 'newer' or 'better' stuff. Chances are you don't.
  9. Think about how you can honour Mother Earth by using her gifts as lovingly and efficiently as possible.
  10. Live gently and contentedly and you will find that you end up using less everything. What you do use will last longer.

November 4, 2015

Complicated Simple Living

What if you want a simple life and your partner doesn't?

You want to live simply. Your partner does not. What do you do when your simple living plan gets complicated by relationship stressors?

It almost seems a likely showdown since up to 80% of relationship splits occur primarily due to expectations surrounding money and how it should be spent.

Developing a frugal lifestyle was straightforward for Linda and I as we were more or less on the same page from the beginning of our relationship. But what if it wasn't that easy?

A comment was left on NBA recently that highlighted a reader's personal struggle with relationship complications surrounding simple living. They wrote:

"I am really struggling with my partners 'stuff' habit. I have personally been simplifying my life for a number of years now and all my possessions fit inside my small car. I realise that simplifying is a long process but the fact my partner doesn't even have the inclination to do so is somewhat frustrating. 
I find it very hard to spend a lot of time at her house as the clutter mentally drains me. 
We have been together 3 years and I have managed to put up with it for this long, but it is becoming to much. Any advise would be appreciated."

Communication is the key to any relationship, and talking about money is something that should happen early on to avoid complications further down the road. If we are gentle with each other, forgiving and loving, we can often work such things out. But not all the time.

Is it possible to convert someone to the simple life? How do we include a recalcitrant loved one in our dream of a simpler lifestyle, and convince them that "life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing", as Oscar Wilde said?

Is this a irreconcilable difference? At what point does one decide to cut one's losses and move on? I am afraid I don't have many answers.

What would you advise? How is our simple living lover to proceed with his more prodigious partner?

November 2, 2015

Zero Emission Vehicle

Strictly speaking all modes of travel have an emission footprint, including walking and cycling. Moving from place to place always has its costs, although some methods of travel have a smaller impact than others.

Therefore, one of the best ways to reduce your transportation emissions is to travel less. In some cases that is hard to do since we tend to be travel obsessed in rich nations. We like to think that humans have always been travel obsessed, always wanting to see what is over the hill and around the bend.

But not all cultures across history have been this way, with some occupying the same general area over hundreds and hundreds of years without ever succumbing to Itchy Foot or Grass is Greener syndromes. Generations of people who happened to like where they were.

Even today there must be billions and billions of people that are born, live, and die without getting more than a few kilometres from home. I imagine a great deal of them are alright with that situation.