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Showing posts with label Redefining Normal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Redefining Normal. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

With Thanks

Saying thank you is more than good manners.  It is good spirituality. 

~Alfred Painter~




Posted by Bel

I hope I can tackle this topic without seeming all Pollyanna-ish...  I was explaining to someone the other day that my main tool for dealing with any challenging situation is gratitude.  The concept of conscious gratitude was first revealed to me in the Simple Abundance books by Sarah Ban Breathnach in the ‘90s.  If I can find at least one positive to every negative, then life’s on even keel.  And it is all about balance, after all!  If I can find lots of positives in my life, then life’s good!

Sometimes I almost believe my family and friends when they tell me I’m just too busy, overworked, or just plain crazy.  Juggling kids, homeschooling, relationship and friendships, a business, the farm and animals and volunteering in the community as well...  Yes, life is full.  But it’s really just a season.  Already I have one adult child, and within a decade all six will be grown up!  I am currently selling my business, after an enjoyable few years of nurturing it from a hobby to a real source of income.  Sometimes farm life is very demanding with lots of baby animals to nurture, gardens needing overhauling, the cow to milk once or twice a day (which leads to lots of time in the kitchen processing and preserving the abundance).  And sometimes it’s a lot quieter – waiting for babies, no milking, fallow gardens or just enough rain and sunshine to ignore the lot and let it grow!  So many 'seasons'.



image from HP

Remembering the quiet times, and appreciating them for what they are, fuel me through the inevitable hectic times of my life.  Sometimes I am so rushed that, for example, sitting and waiting for the cow troughs to fill with water could easily irritate me.  But instead of feeling frustrated about what else I could be doing, I feel gratitude for the chance to sit (even in the drizzling rain) and look around me - to Be.  I glance at the nut trees, feeling blessed at their maturity and abundant crops; the bee hives full of busy workers who not only create delicious honey for us, but also pollinate our gardens and orchard; the kilometres of fences my darling husband built and repaired so that we could keep large animals like by beloved cows and that crazy horse;  the water flowing from the hose – gravity-fed, clean, fresh spring water which keeps on coming all the year round; my cows and their offspring - the companionship, mowing, milk and even meat our herd provide us with.  I am surrounded by such abundance!  To everyone else it looks like hard work - muddy, smelly, physically challenging, expensive, responsibility-laden hobby farming!  But I know I am blessed and I am grateful for the chance  to live this dream I’ve held for so many years.

To read more about gratitude on the co-op, see:
Gratitude by Aurora
Being Grateful by Eilleen
Bloom When you are Planted –  a Note from the Frugal Trenches
Enough by Bel

Tell me, do you use conscious gratitude as a tool to cope with the pressures of your life?  Perhaps you keep a gratitude journal or have some other ritual?  Please leave a Comment with your experiences, or share something you are grateful for...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

How Simplicity Prepares You For The Harder Times

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Late yesterday evening I wrote on my personal blog about the difference in the experience of frugality when it is forced vs. it being a choice. The days grocery shopping "adventure" was still fresh in my mind. And in truth, my mind was on the black formal dress shirt school is insisting each child owns by Monday (for a concert), my daughters need for sandals, my son outgrowing his trousers (again!), four prescriptions that need renewing this month, three bills which recently arrived and a petrol tank in the bottom 1/4.

I've lived a frugal and simple life for many years. You will find us hiking instead of shopping, watering our community garden plot instead of going to an adventure playground or theme park, and spending our evenings reading, playing games, riding bikes or volunteering instead of frequenting paid activities. But this is the first time under our new circumstances of it not being an adventure, or a reason to save for something (emergency fund, car repair fund, holiday fund, long term savings plan). This is no longer about choice, but circumstance. The two very different c's.

The difference for me is two fold. Firstly, the "what if' thought is never far from my mind (what if there is another bill, or an emergency which costs $$ arises) and secondly, the constant need to prioritize, or choose what to cut in order to make it all work. And that isn't a nice feeling at all.

And yet, honestly, I see beauty in how we live. Yes, I've certainly learned that when things are already tough, more seems to go wrong - like a double blow that seems, at times, ridiculously unfair. But I've also learned about joy, faith, perseverance and commitment to a choice, and owning that choice even when it no longer feels like you've chosen such a path. If we had an extra $1000 a month, the reality is, our activities would not change, you would still find us hiking, bike riding, visiting parks, cooking from scratch, playing games, making art and crafts and loving life. None of that would be any different. What would change is the bank balance, our ability to easily deal with the emergencies that arise and perhaps a little bit more peace. But the reality is, we are not poor, we have a very nice roof over our heads, our fridge and cupboards are full, everyone has all the clothes they need, we have more books than we could possibly read (though we are trying!), we have our garden plot, a car that gets us from A to B, each child has a hobby, or two, that they enjoy each week. And our life really isn't any different, except that I need to be far more creative at times. And you know, the artist in me knows, creativity is never a bad thing!

I'd love to hear from you. Do you have any tips for me, or other readers, about embracing forced frugality or living well on less?

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Water Feature without Water

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Part of my landscaping includes a narrow little dead end piece bordered by the house on two sides, the front fence, and a storage shed, under the shade of a couple of trees on the other side of the fence. The space is split between a sunken paving stone walkway alongside the house, a brick retaining wall, and a little bit of garden space. It's the kind of space that often is easier left to bare ground, and to be honest, I don't really want any high-maintenance landscaping - the fruit orchard and vegetable garden keep me plenty busy.

But it's such a sheltered and shady little nook - so different from the wind-swept sand and sagebrush hills that make up my view. And both bedrooms have windows that open out onto that space - windows that have to be opened up to catch the breeze after the sun goes down in the summer. So I've tried to turn that little alcove into a pretty, green and restful spot, slowly amassing a variety of perennial plants through trial and error that survive, and every once in a while finding a perfect little decorative item to add to the scene.


One such item out there now is a standing birdbath - a terracotta clay saucer lined with blue enamel, supported by a single black pole. It adds a nice little bit of color and interest. And I like the idea of a little water feature in that garden, but quickly decided water wasn't going to work there.

I've written about providing water for wildlife earlier (here), especially important in my area since I live in a climate that sees no summer precipitation at all. I have two heavy concrete basins out in the open part of my yard, and love watching the birds, bees, and bunnies that visit those regularly. But I don't want fluttering, chirping birds right outside my open bedroom window at the crack of dawn. That's supposed to be my quiet, peaceful, restful spot. And I don't want to be always cleaning up after a bunch of birds. They're in the tree branches above anyway. I don't need to be attracting more to that particular little space.

And besides, it's so hot and dry here, and that birdbath is flat and shallow. Any water in it evaporates so quickly during the heat of summer, I'd have to be refilling that thing two or three times a day. It's ok empty, but just not quite right - something is missing. So, how can I have a water feature without water?

Eureka! Wandering through the local big box store, I spy my solution on a shelf over by the gift wrap section. Glass pebbles! So I get a bag of clear and a bag of various blues - mix them together and spread them out over the bottom of the birdbath (I just set it up for the season yesterday - it needs a vinegar soaking to get rid of the mineral deposit rings. Another reason not to fill it with water). I get the sparkle and reflections of sun on water without the trial and tribulations. It's perfect!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Creating A Positive Vision Of The Future

By Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin


Writing most days about living a more sustainable lifestyle is so very rewarding, and I have come to treasure telling my family's story via this blog and my own.  I strive to keep my posts as positive as I can, given the ever approaching post-petroleum future and climate chaos that we now face. Most of the time I succeed.  I have come to learn that positive visions are increasingly important in engaging people which help them to avoid and overcome fear and inaction due to these issues being constantly bombarded at them.

So many activists and environmental messages are filled with doom and despair which attempt to engage via negative emotions in an attempt to urge people into action.  It is not working, because I believe that this is backfiring more and more.  It is simply alienating ordinary people further by disengagement.  People do not want to hear negative messages by choice.  I know I don't.

However, people are becoming increasingly aware that our current consumer culture is not exactly Earth friendly, or is conducive to a long and fruitful future for mankind.  Without a positive vision to be drawn to, or role models from which to learn good examples of simple, green and frugal solutions, they probably just switch off and continue on with business as usual or get stuck in denial of these events.

I have come to realise that there is no us and them, and that we are all in this together.  People want a better future for their descendants, and are willing to work hard at a better life, but will only strive in the right direction if given all the facts, and a positive vision of what they can achieve.  The future is not set in stone, and with each decision we make, they can have a remarkable effect upon it.

So I urge you all to paint that positive vision in everything you do, say or write.  As we begin to share our positive vision of the future, we will find that more and more people will become interested and engaged, and hopefully strive towards one that will have the best outcome for all life on Earth.

Chance favours the prepared mind.
-Louis Pasteur

Thursday, March 29, 2012

We really REALLY need to talk about resilience.

Aurora@Island Dreaming

Yesterday the news broke in the UK that sizable numbers of tanker drivers had balloted to go on strike, possibly as early as next week. The UK has been here before, most spectacularly during the fuel protests of 2000 when fuel refineries were blockaded and the country was a mere '9 meals from anarchy'. Media coverage and a few either well placed (if you're cynical) or incredibly dumb (if you're cynical) comments from a few high profile politicians urging people to top up their tanks and have a jerry can of petrol on standby have led to queues and panic buying.

My own nation desperately needs to start talking about resilience. It doesn't really matter if tanker drivers go on strike for a few weeks. Well it matters, it will cause pain and disruption to a lot of already stretched people, but it doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the fact that we collectively and individually saddle our entire beings on the availability of a rapidly depleting, mostly imported, polluting, nonrenewable liquid fuel. THAT is a real problem; and judging by the commentary in today's papers, the majority of the UK public still doesn't get that. According to the International Energy Authority, 'conventional' oil production peaked in 2006. The potential short term pain we are about to feel is nothing in comparison with what awaits us in the next few decades if we don't wake up.


I became aware of peak oil several years ago, along with tottering housing markets, banking collapse, austerity drives and the potential for civil unrest. What did I do with that awareness? Well, I read voraciously for a few years. I read Richard Heinberg's 'The Party's Over' (a very good if somewhat gloomy introduction to peak oil if you need one) and many of the titles in its bibliography. I read and read and read and made moves to change my own life and become more resilient. Some of these I wrote about on my blog, preaching to the already converted. Who else did I tell? Pretty much no one. As all of these dire warnings became reality, I found myself unable to really talk about them effectively. These are not isolated problems that can be blamed on or palmed off on others to solve and as such are hard to talk about. Talk about bogeymen is cheap and this is instead a conversation  predominantly about personal responsibility.

I came across this video last week that explains the problems we are facing in a natty animation. I posted it to my Facebook page and it got a single like - from someone already in the know.


I think I understand why KONY2012 went viral and generated so much interest, when videos like this one do not. Murderous individuals are so much easier to 'solve' than murderous circumstances. You watch and post the video, you have done your bit - doesn't it feel good? You have helped change the world. You watch a video about the triple whammy reality of resource depletion, economic collapse and environmental degradation and within minutes you start to feel a little off colour. You may try to rationalize it away as extremist nonsense and stop watching. If you can't quite manage to rationalize it away and continue to take in uncomfortable information, you won't feel good for a very long time to come. Watching the video is only the very start of your contribution to the solution, because in essence, the problem is all of us choosing convenience over resilience every step of the way. The change has to come from within and comes to bear on every lifestyle decision you make.


This lack of resilience thinking also explains why the prospect of oil tanker drivers going on strike is causing such a furore here at home. Yes, it is going to be very inconvenient - but wouldn't it be better to stop the bellyaching and use this as a practice run for real energy shocks and disruptions that are undoubtedly going to be a part of our future. Resilience is not having a jerry can on stand by and sending out the army to deliver fuel. Resilience is designing our lives so that a temporary disruption to petrol supply doesn't warrant such attention, because other systems are already in place to take up the slack. It is sharing lifts and getting fit enough to walk a few miles instead of driving. It is buying a bike and learning to maintain it. It is maintaining a pantry and a kitchen  garden. Resilience demands forethought over immediacy. It demands that we make changes and choices and lobby government, but that we don't expect them to listen or to create a resilient society for us.

I haven't communicated any of this and it is time to own my own frustration. These issues encapsulate some of my deepest fears for my children, my community, myself. If I can't communicate these deepest fears and hopes to my nearest and dearest, in the same way that they express their own insecurities to me, then I am not really communicating, am I? It isn't a case of preaching, it is a case of revealing a little more of yourself and potentially taking flack and ridicule for it. So this week I aim to introduce these issues to someone who currently doesn't know or care and a tanker strike is the perfect opportunity. And then I will do it again with someone else next week. I aim to fill my barren Facebook feed with videos and links like the one above, promoting everything from economic collapse theory to up cycling old furniture and repairing bikes. Resilience is the very issue of our time and won't become a reality until the majority of people embrace it as a filter through which to view the world. I aim to start a conversation.

What do you do to promote resilience? Should we even try?


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Treasure What You Have

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.
"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; 

but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for"
-Epicurus, Greek Philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC)
I found this quote when stumbling through the web the other day, and it got me thinking. I remembered reading about a psychological effect that describes this quote to a tee. It is called the ‘DIDEROT EFFECT'.

Let me explain.  Have you ever purchased something, something you really wanted, only to discover that it made the rest of your stuff seem a bit old and dated?  Rather than accepting some variance in the style against your older possessions, have you then been tempted to upgrade your old and dated stuff? This is called the ‘Diderot Effect’, named after the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–84) who first described the effect in an essay titled "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown".  In this essay he describes how a gift of a brand new scarlet dressing gown leads to unexpected results, nearly making him bankrupt in the process.  

How do you become bankrupt just by receiving a gift of a new, sleek and beautiful scarlet dressing gown (aka smoking jacket).  Well the effect kind of tricks you like this.  Have you ever bought nice new shirt, and thought that your old pants now look shabby against it?  So you go and buy new pants to match, and shoes, and a handbag, and a belt, etc.  You get the picture.  The same can be said for putting a new piece of furniture into a room of existing pieces.  Soon you are shopping at the mall or high street to buy new furniture and fittings to make the original purchase look at home probably to the detriment of your bank account.

The same thing happened to Diderot or so he wrote.  He thought that his new robe looked so nice, that he thought that all the stuff in his apartment looked drab and ordinary against it.  So he bought lots and lots of new and expensive stuff to spruce up his abode, with a big hit on his financial accounts.  In the end he had this to say,
"I was absolute master of my old dressing gown, but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.”
Between 2001 and 2006, I too was a victim to the Diderot Effect.  I would buy a new stereo system, only to think not long afterwards that I needed a new media player or DVD player to go with it.  The old one was in good working order so I was behaving irrationally.  When I bought a new computer, I would also upgrade the display, even though the one I had was perfectly okay.  Same goes with a lawn mower that I had, which just needed a little TLC, but I dumped it and bought a new one.  My old petrol (gas) can was old and rusty, but still functional, but I bought a new one, and threw the other away with the old mower.  Yes friends, I was wasteful as well.

These are just a few example of being sucked in by consumerism for consumerisms sake.  Today I would call it the 'steak knife effect' after all of those infomercials that start off flogging you one product, but then throw in a whole bunch of other stuff (that you never wanted anyway) just to justify the deal in your mind!

It has taken me a few years since my green epiphany, and a lot of thought after reading a book by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss titled "Affluenzza - When Too Much is Never Enough", but I am no longer influenced by this effect or most advertising for that matter.  I only replace what I need, when the old item is beyond repair, and only after I have gone without it for a few weeks to see if I can get by without it.  Case in point, my clothes dryer that broke a few months back.  You can read about how we adapted in the absence of this so called laundry necessisty on the post on my personal blog titled "Ditching the Clothes Dryer".  This is a classic example of rethinking and changing my behaviours for the better.

My warning to you all is beware the Diderot Effect and get off the consumerist treadmill which will help you stop the upward creep of material desire. Knowing how much is enough is a powerful skill to possess in this, the age of rampant consumerism.  Despite what advertisements tell us, stuff just doesn't satisfy our desire for meaning, and it is a very poor substitute for your sense of self worth within a manipulative and demeaning society.  I don't mean to sound preachy, but it feels to me that consumerism in western society is totally out of control for all the wrong reasons.

So to sum it all up, Treasure What You Have.  It will save your bank balance, and might just save a few resources in this ever declining, resource strapped, finite planet of ours.

Have you succumbed to this effect and regretted it later on?  How did it make you feel?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Exiting The Rat Race



Back a few years ago, I remember thinking many times that something was missing in my life. I could never put my finger on what it was, and strived for answers. I would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, upgrade my computer yearly to a faster model, buy the latest PC games to spend endless hours of my free time on. I worked hard and long in my quest to earn more money so that I could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that I would find satisfaction and fulfilment. 

It didn't work, but like many other people stuck in the rat race, and due to my inaction and consumeristic habits, it was as good as it got. No-one wants to be unfulfilled in life, but sadly many of us are still looking for that "something" that is missing. Credit card balances were through the roof, and I was living a lifestyle way beyond my means.

I also found it hard to unwind each day, and realised that my head was swimming with so much stuff that my mind raced a fair bit of the time. I wasn't in touch with my surroundings, sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people I shared my life with, and I certainly was not in tune with the plight of the planet. I was blissfully unaware of my impact on it and to the ecosystems that exist upon it. I had drifted on the tide of a life half lived for far too long.

What a sorry state of affairs! I had an inkling of what might be wrong, so Kim and I started to attend meditation classes so that we could both learn to relax. I really enjoyed the experience, and things began to change. After a meditation session, I felt connected to my inner self in a way I hadn't experienced in my life.

Then came the day that I went to the cinema to watch a free movie provided by work, and it changed my life. It was as if I awoke from a horrible dream, and if you have read this my personal blog from the beginning, you will know the rest of the actions I have taken to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

All the actions aside, I think I have only once described the emotions and personal changed that have taken place with in me. Firstly, I have taken a step back, and had a really hard look at myself and the way I lived before my epiphany. I have managed to come to grips with who I am, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I found that by looking within, rather than searching for answers in the outside world, I found that I was already complete and that my life was complete. I found that a simple life had meaning, albeit occasionally hard work, and it was not about blatant consumerism that the TV blasts at us, day in, day out. In fact, I found myself watching less and less TV, and began the research and learning that ultimately helped my understanding the climate change problem, and the ways I could reduce my carbon footprint.

At first my family thought I had lost the plot, but found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things, and made them think about things that challenged their own understanding of how our civilisation works. I had another purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did I feel fully connected to my family, which brought me great joy, I began to feel connected to the Earth, through my gardening endeavours. I may have said this before, but growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done, and certainly one of the most fulfilling. All of the things that my family and I have done over the last two years have brought us closer together, and we spend more meaningful time together. I now stress less about work, and am more relaxed at home, but more active and took a pay cut so that I could work a 9 day fortnight. I have also lost 10 kg in the process and now know that by looking at my inner self, I changed who I was for the better.

Nowadays, we rarely go out anywhere by choice, but we have a fuller lifestyle. We have comfort in knowing that we produce our own solar electricity and solar hot water, drive less, and have reduced our consumption across the board. We make things together, we grow food together, we cook together, and most of all we have fun together, which is really the simple home truth that people caught in the rat race just don't realise. Living simply, and honesty, like our grandparents, is what a full life was, and still is, all about.

It makes me sad some days, when I realise that it took me about 42 years to get it, but my goodness, I am making up for it now. I still work to pay off the house, and actually enjoy work without the stress, and find it a great way to spread the word about my lifestyle. I stopped sweating the small stuff. We are paying off the house and our other debts very quickly, so we should be debt free in about five years time (maybe a little longer). We don't live in a McMansion (never did anyway), and now live within our means. Credit card debt has gone, with the nasty consumerism troll now living at the bottom of the compost heap like the rotting matter it is.

It feels great to be alive, and to have a goal as big as the planet for the rest of my time on it. I have found the "something" that I was missing. It was inside of me all along, and I just didn't know it at the time!

Monday, March 5, 2012

There Is Nothing Like A Walk In The Woods

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches



















I've been a mother to two for six months. Adopting two children who have quickly become the lights of my life! As they are older, there is much pressure to do (though I'm sure this internal & external pressure can occur even if one has a wee babe in arms). I don't have many mummy friends, being only the second of all my friends to become a mother, the other had her first baby last year. The parents at the school gate are older and always seem so much more put together than I am. Their children seem to be masters at everything: yoga, ballet, tap, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, music, swimming and skating. They busily discuss how filled each weekend is with friend's Birthdays, which must be celebrated, and skiing and tutors and, and, and...For the first few weeks, or months, I wondered if I was doing my children a disservice. What if that tutor would make all the difference? What if not being able to skate yet becomes a sore point? What if they never catch up after such a rocky start in life? But slowly, one day, when on a long Sunday walk through the woods with a friend I realized something profound - my children are masters at nothing except being children. They know how to run, skip, hop and jump. They love collecting sticks (& counting them!), they like to giggle, laugh, tickle and be tickled. They like to explore and jump in puddles and visit farms and visit the ducks. And for them that is the good life.

Here's the truth, the six months has taught me a lot (though I have so much more to learn - oh how I hope the gaps close soon!), but most importantly it has taught me to listen to them, to push out the noise as much as you possibly can and just be. It has made me more and more committed to a simple life, a life not found by rushing to people's Birthdays each weekend, or spending each evening hurrying from one activity to the next. Yes, balance is important. Yes, hobbies can bring such joy. And slowly but surely my children are finding out what their interests are - for my daughter it is art, my son is a little actor (we are working on his confidence and I hope one day he will be at a place where he can join a small local theatre group). But more than that, if you ask my children what makes them happy they will answer: time with our family, going to the woods, knitting together and playing games. All of which are simple. All of which are free. All of which centre around just spending time together. And slowly but surely I'm learning the age old wisdom that there really is nothing at all like a walk in the woods with those that you love. The best things really are things that money can't buy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Simple Life. Is It Really So Simple?


Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

When my family and I embarked on our journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle after I had my green epiphany, little did I realise that this type of lifestyle takes a while to go from the complexity of modern society, to the simple and green lifestyle that I envisaged and yearned for.  My initial motivation was to lower my carbon footprint, so that our grandchildren (yet born) and future generations had a liveable planet.

I knew that I had to change my thought pattens somewhat, having to learn how to slow down, relax, and worry less about things that just were not as important as I thought they were, but inversely I also had to skill up so that I could do all the things that I wanted to do.  However, one rather large thing that I did not realise at the start, was that living a simple life did not mean that life got any easier, it just meant that my priorities had changed.  Hard work was there, and continues to be there in droves.

Let me give you a few examples of how my mindset and workload changed.  Instead of worrying if I needed a shiny new iPad, I had to worry about whether whether we were saving enough energy and that our solar PV system was working as designed.  Instead of wondering what rubbish I was putting in my mouth, I had to ensure that my chickens were getting ample nutrition every day.  Instead of thinking about the price of food going up, I had to think about what I was going to plant in the veggie patch for next season that we would eat and what I could harvest right now.  Instead of having to choose which green grocer was the best in town, I had to think about the optimum way of pruning my fruit trees to maximise next years harvest.  Instead of replacing broken things, I tried to mend them.  Instead of throwing away food scraps, I collected them (and fed the chickens, worms and compost bins).  Instead of spending money, we paid down debt, then saved money.  You get my drift, so many new things to learn and master.

All of these things helped us become partly self reliant and meant that we had to do additional work.  We found that the extra work had meaning more than any other work we had tried, and was worthy of our time, because it made us feel better.  By thinking a different way, and by paying attention to our goals, we found that all the things that we set out to achieve, were achieved, however they always took longer than we planned.  Maybe it was because most of the things we did, like raise chickens, make garden beds, grow food, bake bread, etc. were all new to us but very exciting and fun.

Further down the path we began to question the status quo, the current "business as usual" mentality and realised that what we were doing made sense, was more sustainable than our previous mindset, and would put us in good stead for possible future events like resource scarcity.

We found that living a simple life was fun, enjoyable, and rewarding, but the name of this lifestyle was a little bit deceiving.  It was a lot less complex, and now that we were not caught up in the consumer culture, we did not have to buy stuff we did not need, with money we did not have, to impress people we did not like!

Maybe we should call it the "Rewarding, Fulfilling, and Happy, but Constant work Life".  Have you had a similar experienced, or did it just come naturally to you?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Much To Sweat the Small Stuff

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I have taken to getting a cup of takeaway coffee on my way to work lately. I used to always just make a cup myself, but the café  has the best skinny latté. It's a little treat I really enjoy, and it took me a shamefully long time to actually realise how many takeaway coffee cups I was throwing away. I live near a small country town. I didn't want to make a fuss or stand out by bringing in my own cup. I was in denial until one day I went to empty the waste basket under my desk, and it was full of paper cups.  

So I'm very much in love with my new KeepCup, and the local café loves it too. Being a total cheapskate, it took a deep breath to spend that much on a cup, but it just works and my frugal side only regrets money wasted on junk, not money spent on things that work.

Usually I take my lunch to work too, or buy it at the local café. Most days, this is my lunch packaging.


But I got caught up in town the other day, and had to buy a quick take-away lunch from the supermarket.  It amazed me the quantity of packaging.  If I did this every day for a year.... 
 

It adds up.  Each little bit seems reasonable, but it adds up. 

I do believe it is counterproductive to get all moralistic and purist about the small stuff. It just creates the kind of culture that normal, fallible, doing-their-best mortals feel excluded from. But at the same time, the small things like takeaway coffee in a reuseable cup, or a lunch box that doesn't require plastic wrap, often involve no real sacrifices at all. They're the low hanging green fruit. It's just a bit hard to see them sometimes. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Days Like These

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches



















It is days like these when we have nowhere to go and no real commitments, that I wonder why it isn't possible to be still more often. Today I declared it was a "home day". And just what is a home day? A day where we never leave home; no shoes need to be put on, no hats, scarves or gloves need to be tackled. It's a day where I stand at the window, cup of tea in hand and watch the world go by. It is a day where I enjoy simple crafts with my children, no one needing to be hurried, no one making us late. It is a day where I smell curries and soups and muffins cooking and baking, ready to nourish us through far too many busy and hurried days ahead.

It is days like these where I reflect on our choices, our dreams, our aspirations and instead of planning I think "be still". It is days like these where I accomplish our greatest goal - simplicity. It is days like these when absolutely everything else can wait and I'm reminded of a favourite poem...

Cleaning and cooking can wait 'till tomorrow
For babies grow up, as we've learned to our sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep

Anon

It is days like these, where my greatest wish for this world is for everyone to stop. Stop the negative and anxious thoughts. Stop the dash to the shops. Stop the hurried list of things to do. Stop. Stop. Stop. Be still. Be still. Be still.

I hope each person reading this soon has a plan to be still. To breathe. To relax. To be...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lifestyle Transitions

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A wry smile crept across my face as I read my co-writer Aurora's post, immediately preceding my day to write. I have a comfortable morning routine, honed over many years. Or had, shall I say? My husband, transitioning into retirement, now has put everything into disarray.

Many of the same things still get done: breakfast cooked, dishes washed, a load of laundry started, bed fluffed and made up. And sometimes, now it's even him doing some of those things, so I really can't complain (although I do prefer he stay away from the laundry - and I do speak from experience).

But some things have changed too. He's an early riser, so I find my day now tends to start earlier too. I usually read the newspaper as my breakfast muffins or oats are cooking - he has the paper. I take my mid-morning cup of tea in to check my email - he's on the computer. I go to vacuum the living room - he's watching something on television. My late-afternoon walks with the dog are now more likely to take place much earlier, and now there are three of us. Dinner plans now are a topic for discussion instead of up to my discretion.

Spending patterns are in flux right now too. My grocery list has changed - he's now eating lunch at home instead of at work. And I had to reinforce that idea too. We'd often go out to lunch on his day off. But now that every day is his day off, that pattern needs to be broken. He's now readjusting to fixing and eating lunches at home most of the time.

Most of our household bills will remain the same, but we're still waiting to see about car use and gasoline expense. He's not commuting to work, but with more time to spend together we are getting out and about, doing things together. It's a good thing I do so enjoy his company.

As he said a couple of days ago, his "accumulation" phase is now ending. Now we're looking at how to start using the funds we've saved up for this time, and how far we need to plan ahead. Neither of us is quite old enough for government health care. Without the company health insurance, we're going to have to shop for our own coverage for the time being. Not constrained by corporate dictates of who we can see, we'll probably re-examine our health care providers - perhaps changing dentists, optometrists, and doctors.

We've saved and planned for this day - but it's always been "someday." Now that it's here, it's going to take the both of us a bit of time to readjust.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The "Feel Good" Philosophy

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all well. A few months ago, I attended the launch of Sharing Young Women's Stories - a campaign run by Equality Rights Alliance to fight negative body image. It was a great night and I felt very privileged that I was able to talk to many inspiring people doing good work.


Postcards being handed out at the launch. Photo by GR from Equality Rights Alliance and published here with her permission.

One of the people at the launch, Carly Jacobs, gave a particularly great speech. She talked about her "feel good diet". After years of dieting, calorie counting and unhealthy obsession over her body type, Carly finally hit upon a feel good diet. She started to eat what made her feel good. This doesn't mean binging on junk food (that often made her feel sick, not good), it also didn't mean she starved herself. Rather she ate what made her feel healthy and energetic.

Since that time, I've been reflecting on what Carly said and I realised that her philosophy can be applied to so many more areas of my life - my health, my consumption of goods and also my ongoing simplification of my life.

So here is my "feel good" list:

1. I feel good when I hang out with my kids, my family and my friends
2. I feel good when I am outdoors, riding my bike or paddling on the lake
3. I feel good when I am at taekwondo
4. I feel good when I eat home cooked meals
5. I feel good when I eat out at a really nice restaurant
6. I feel good when I have a clean house
7. I feel good when I declutter
8. I feel good when I do a good job at work
9. I feel good when I get a good night's rest
10. feel good when I make the time to just enjoy the view from my house
11. I feel good when I help others
12. I feel good when others help me
13. I feel good when I iron (yes I know its weird but I really do enjoy it)
14. I feel good when I make the effort to look nice
15. I feel good when I play the piano and when I sing
16. I feel good when I am painting, crafting or sewing
17. I feel good when I massage other people (I think this is related to my thing with ironing - smoothing out knots and all that hehe)
18. I feel good when I read a good book, blog post or article
19. I feel good when I achieve my savings goals

The times when I have felt overwhelmed and anxious is when I do the opposite to the list above - when I don't take time out to be physically active and enjoy the space around me. I don't feel good when I've been frivolous and ended up with a leaner bank balance and with too much stuff that I barely use and don't really need.

Now looking over that list, I realise that basically I feel good when I respect myself and the space around me, when I connect with others and when I act in accordance to my values.

What about you? What's your feel good list?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Silver linings

By Aurora@Island Dreaming


The UK is heading full tilt into another recession, not that it feels, for most people, like the last one has actually ended. We are warned daily of the possibility of the collapse of the Eurozone, on the need for austerity, on the consequences of high unemployment, high inflation, a 'lost generation', riots, civil unrest, a 'lost decade', or even permanent decline. Where once you would read of these things only in peak oil and select 'doomer' forums, these concepts are being trotted out before our very eyes in mainstream newspapers and news programs. There was even a lighthearted comment piece on stockpiling (and why it might not be so dumb and reactionary) in one of our broadsheets this week.

I know that many of us would have seen these events looming on the horizon and have been exasperated every time a politician or economist stood up and said that the turbulence of recent years was caused by 'black swan events' or 'unforeseeable circumstances'. Whilst the joys of a simpler life are self evident when you have actually adopted that life, the other upside is that you are exposed to the reality of a world intent on cannibalizing itself. When you begin to pay off your debts, reduce your consumption and start to take care of your own little patch of earth, the din of those around you running in the opposite direction is deafening.

One of the silver linings of all this, is the number of people who are starting to turn in our direction, whether through necessity or by choice. Some will rally hopelessly against the new limits being imposed and stretch every sinew to maintain what they see as their 'standard of living'. Others will hopefully start to look instead, in the absence of material goods and perhaps increasingly for many, material comfort, for the contentment  that can exist beyond those things.

I occasionally check in on Facebook and more so in recent weeks, because the nature of the comments and status updates have changed. I haven't changed my friendship group, but the nature of the comment feeds has definitely improved for the better in my eyes. Where once there were reams of updates about shopping, clubbing, needs, wants monthly overspending and excess, I  now see lots of references to home baking, to gardening, to making Christmas presents this year instead of buying. There is even the odd beer brewing comment. There are groups of friends getting together to knit, to fund raise, to cook.

This is reassuring for someone who has always felt a little out of step with the majority of her friends and acquaintances. It is keeping me sane through some tough times, that the response to this newest crisis is slightly more creative than the response to the last one.

Where are you finding your silver linings these days?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

We're Different And That's OK

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday, my email provider had a front page article about the biggest mistakes people make when giving Christmas gifts; totally out of my character, I clicked on the article and began to read it. Lo and behold, one of the biggest mistakes, according to the author, anyone can make is to give homemade gifts, particularly knitted items. Apparently such things are ghastly and embarrassing for the giver and receiver. Who knew?!

When I got over my initial one second check in (I had just, the hour before, finished putting together a few little handmade gifts) I enjoyed a little laughter at the hilarity of it all. Not only did the article suggest homemade things are totally inappropriate, but so is anything useful, including some items of clothing, giftcards etc. And I began to think of the hilarity of it all, one person, who came across as incredibly spoiled and pampered, a person who is probably quite young and used to having money spent on them, is dictating what is acceptable/normal/OK. Well, here's the truth, his/her norm is certainly not my norm.

And there in that little article was the theme of my life over the last few months. As I navigate motherhood and find what other parents view as normal is vastly different to our life and the norm I want for my children. As I chat with colleagues and hear their views on necessities (a family can not live in less than 2500 square feet, apparently, nor can they function without TVs in their van), I've come to really think about being different and being OK with being different.

We are all on a journey. In my teenage years I desperately wanted to fit in and truth be told, for most of those years didn't. Sometimes, when I compare "notes" with the lives others have, I fleetingly think how nice it would be to have what they have, because in the throws of it, we are all human beings with needs and emotions. But the truth is, I'd rather be different. I'd rather put thought into what comes into our home, than accept the toys a manufacturer tells me my children need. I'd rather give money to help causes, then fret over which new car/van/TV/laptop to buy. I'd rather spend a couple of hours making a dishcloth, then pick up 10 for $2 and I'd certainly rather have to shop at 4 or 5 local shops/farmers stalls, than go to one big conglomerate and feel proud of how much more I could get for the same money.

Sometimes being different is challenging. Sometimes I can feel too different. Sometimes it would be easier not to think critically about each choice, not to have to wonder where something came from, or how its production impacted others. Sometimes it would be lovely to simply roll up at a particular fast food joint and be done with dinner in 2 minutes flat. But the truth is, 99.9999% of the time, I am totally head over heals in love with this different life, bad gift giving (knitted items!) and all. My greatest hope, is that 20 years from now, my children are OK with being different too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Childhood Joy Rediscovered (Again)

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
As a child, I couldn't wait to learn to ride a bicycle. First on the grassy hill in front of the house, then out on our little suburban street - my dad jogging along behind, holding onto the seat, exhorting me to "keep pedaling", until suddenly I left him behind. I kept pedaling, and the world was mine!

I had wheels, and my boundaries grew - from my street, to my block, to the neighborhood defined by the "busy" streets. The bikes grew too, from that first little bike soon passed down to a younger sister, to a bigger one, with fat tires, coaster brakes, and a basket. It was great! As an avid reader, I was overjoyed once allowed to ride to the library on my own - I could get more books whenever I wanted! I taught our little dog to ride in the basket, and the two of us had our faces in the wind every day. Whoopee! I had wheels!

By high school, I had traded up once again - getting a Schwinn 10-speed, and a job. My boundaries had expanded too. Even the steepest hills were no barrier now, and I was old enough to be allowed out after dark. I could now ride for miles, and did. Oh, the fun I had! When I went away to college, that bike did too - providing plenty of exercise along with my new-found freedom.

Once out of school, my commutes got longer (and I was making more money). I got my first car, and the bike gathered dust in the garage. About 20 years ago, I sold that old 10-speed to buy a mountain bike. It wasn't suitable for in-town riding, but made for some fun weekends. As I got older, it got harder to ride the hills - it wasn't as much fun anymore. Eventually that old mountain bike was pretty much just gathering dust in the garage. I still liked being out, and on the move, though. I live in a gorgeous part of the country, with plenty of trails and paths nearby. Hiking and walking was more my recreational speed; with the car for work and errands about town.

I believe in living as "green" a lifestyle as possible. In order to put some effort behind my beliefs, I joined a local organization advocating for pedestrian and bicycle safety. I went to a lot of public meetings, met with a lot of elected officials, and kept speaking out that transportation need not mean only cars. Over the years, and through our collective efforts, we now have a pretty good start on a bicycle-friendly community (and a nascent bus system, too).

And this summer, I figured it was finally time for me to stop merely advocating and "walk the talk" - put my muscles where my mouth is, so to speak. I'm old enough to need my comfort, though. The old mountain bike out in the garage never did work very well other than recreational. I saved up my money, and went shopping for something I could ride about town. I'm amazed at the advances technology has made in bicycling. I was thinking a little-old-lady cruiser-type bicycle, but eventually decided a hybrid would better suit my needs and riding style.

And it does - it's perfect! It has the suspension (oh, what a concept!) in seat and handlebars, and upright sitting and wide, padded seat of a cruiser. But then it has the gearing and brakes like my old mountain bike (definitely a plus, as my house sits up on a hillside). I never liked strapping my purse on the back rack, or wearing a backpack, so I love having a bike with a front basket once again (and now they make detachable baskets - I just lift it off and use it as a shopping basket in the store, and then carry it in the house to store my helmet, water bottle, and lock). And a bell - I had to have a bell! - I'm a town rider now, I wanted a bell :-) I've also found that an Ipod - turned down very low, so I can still hear traffic noises - makes riding so much more enjoyable (I always have the radio on in the car - why not enjoy my music while out on the bike?)

I've rediscovered the simple joy of having the wind in my face once again. I use the bike for running errands about town, even bundling up to keep riding as the weather has gotten colder. I've noticed I can get a little farther up the hill to my house, before having to get off and walk, each time I go out. Before, I'd started having problems with my knees, feeling like I was kneeling on gravel. The doctor said I needed to strengthen the tendon that runs under my kneecap. When I get out on the bike regularly, I've found I can once again kneel without pain. And need I even mention the savings in gas money, or the benefit to the environment? That I'm losing weight and getting in shape? All that aside, it's just plain fun!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

S.O.B.

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I thought I'd share a post from my personal blog that readers here might enjoy. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Hello everyone!

I hope you've all had a good start to the week. Me, I've been on hyperdrive at work! Which doesn't leave a lot of time for reflection, so its good that I had set this goal of writing a post today. Blogging has become a very important way of stopping and reflecting.

A few days ago, Jen of Darkpurplemoon said:
To someone like me across the other side of the world who only knows you through your blog - you have a really strong identity, which is creative, strong willed, caring and all out impressive.
Awww thanks Jen! You know, I'm always surprised by how people talk about my blog..and I guess by extension, me. :) But it is very nice of you to say these things Jen - thank you.

I wonder though what other people - ie non-readers of this blog - see when they see me and my home? I wonder if they see that I do this out of choice - to avoid human exploitation as much as possible? Or do they think I've fallen on hard times? Or do they think anything at all?

I have a feeling it falls into the latter category. I think that many people see so much stuff that they become kinda blind to how much they can see ("stuff overload"??).

My theory of "stuff overload" can be supported (I think) by the experiences of Alex who wore the same brown dress every day for a year...and she said that most people (especially those at her work) didn't even notice she wore the same dress every day. I also know that I don't really notice what other people wear or have either unless if they themselves point it out to me (and even then I usually have forgotten about it by the end of the week.)

"Too Much" Photo by Joe Madonna

So where am I going with this? I am starting to develop a theory (or should I say further develop my original consumption and identity theory).

I believe that consumerism has become a major way for us to project our identity - in this context:
  • the me I want people to see; or
  • the me I want to be.
The problem, however, is that in projecting our identity in this way we start surrounding ourselves with lots and lots of stuff....and we all develop "stuff overload blindness" (let's call it SOB).

And because we become blind to stuff, we then don't understand why the stuff we have do not seem to be projecting "the me I want people to see" or the "me I want to be".

Which leads us to think that our stuff must be "wrong" and so we get more new stuff. And we think "great! this is the stuff that will finally get people to see!!" or "great! this is the stuff that will finally project the me that I want to be!"

But the reality is that no matter what stuff we get, people (including ourselves) still have SOB and therefore won't be able to see for any meaningful length of time what we want to project...

So the whole thing is a pointless exercise which leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

...anyway, I hope I've made sense in this post. What do you think about my little theory?

Wishing you all a good week ahead.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Capturing the Good Life in Statistics

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started a blog called "Measures of Australia's Progress". It's a public consultation about what we could use, instead of or along with GDP, as a measure of "progress'. It asks "Is life in Australia getting better? How will we know if it is?"

I find this immensely encouraging, and I wonder why I hadn't heard of it before? I knew about Bhutan's "gross national happiness" indicator, which has been around in alternate circles for yonks. But it's a clumsy, soft measure and I could never see mainstream politics taking it really seriously.

Of course one of the seductions of GDP is that it is used internationally, but the MAP site has a page with links to all the similar projects around the world, including UK and USA, and it says "There has been an explosion of interest in indicator projects over the last several years, both in Australia and around the world".

That official statistical bureaus are looking for other ways of meauring wealth beyond how much stuff we buy and sell is, to me, really exciting. It's really hard to argue that simple, green, frugal equals good when the measuring stick used to measure progress is how much wasteful overconsumption we've indulged in over the last year. It's like our whole society is in a giant hot dog eating competition and it's called progress.

But wealth is a slippery beast and it's not so simple to nail it down in a way that can be measured and compared, in a way that newspapers can grab onto and politicians can use. Marge Piercy has a poem called "The Perpetual Migration" that has a lovely part in it about wealth:
"Peace, plenty, the gentle wallow
of intimacy, a bit of Saturday night
and not too much Monday morning,
a chance to choose, a chance to grow,
the power to say no and yes, pretties
and dignity, an occasional jolt of truth."

It's very beautiful and true, but I can just see the poor ABS statisticians trying to measure it. I'm all in favour of the ABS consultation, but when it comes to having my say, it's tricky. How do you measure progress?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics project tries to solve it by a kind of complex of measures grouped under society, economy, and environment, with a whole heap of sub measures such as health, education, crime, social cohesion, productivity, biodiversity, atmosphere and so on, each with their own tick or wavy line or cross. They're all measurable, but they don't grab you. It's like comparing a big box of apples with oranges. My eyes glaze over.

I've been trying to summon up the courage to have a say. The concept at the centre of it, I think, is that once everybody in a society has enough, has their basic needs met, producing and consuming more stuff takes us backwards, not forwards. It destroys common wealth like air and soil and water and wildlife and being able to lie on the beach on a sunny morning without a hole in the ozone layer overhead. It steals resources from future generations that they will need for "enough". The only areas in which you can keep producing more and keep becoming wealthier is in art and knowledge and culture and science. And that's the thing.

I think a society is progressing, is becoming wealthier when more of its citizens have the basics, when less is borrowed from future generations, and when more is given to future generations in the form of knowledge and culture. That would give us three basic measures.

The basic needs themselves are not simple. A nation is wealthier when more of it's citizens have enough, are above the poverty line, but we Australians are all wealthy by the standards of Somalians. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens are healthy. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens have access to education, at every life stage from early childhood to third age. A nation is wealthier when people do not need to hoard to feel safe but can rely on their community to rally to their aid, when it has a good and functional fire, police, ambulance, and emergency services, and community connections. It's not simple, but we should be able to have a crack at coming up with a measure for whether we are going forwards or backwards at providing everyone with the basics.

Borrowing from future generations is a simpler measure. Are we using more or less non-renewable resources than last year. Less? Yay, that's progress.

And thirdly, how much have we invested in art and knowledge and culture and science. There will, of course, be huge debates about whether it is better to spend money on opera or street art, a cure for malaria or for coral bleaching, an internet protocol or a novel, surfing or soccer. But an overall dollar value will do for a measure of progress.

By these kind of measures, simple, green, frugal equals wealthy, and that feels like the truth to me. What do you think?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sell Outs

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches



















I have long held the belief that a simple, frugal and green life isn't about following a script or ticking off certain things on a list. A simple life in the country isn't so simple if you spend your time yelling, constantly bargain hunting or feeding a tv addiction. A simple life doesn't mean you have to keep pigs and bees or make every single meal from scratch. A simple life doesn't mean you can't work. Instead I view the simple life as a paradigm and a lense by which I view the world; a fundamental belief in focusing on the most important things, seeking to find balance in all I do and living by the principals "less is more" and "living simply so others may simply live".

Lately all around me colleagues and friends have been talking about what is important to them, a few even mentioned the term sell out. You see many of them thought in their early 20's that they would make "good choices" (that is their term, I certainly am not value judging their choices as good or bad) but as their lives have developed through their late 20's and 30's they really haven't decided to stick to those "good choices" they once thought they would live by. I spent the last week listening to their examples, some of which were:

- Deciding to commute for 2 hours to work so they could have the "biggest bang for their buck" aka the biggest square footage house
- Not buying free-range or organic meat or dairy because they don't care anymore about animal welfare (this person was very pro responsible farming in her late teens)
- Not taking the option of a 4 day work week after returning from parental leave because that extra day is a weekend in Las Vagas every year.
- Never hanging clothes to dry because it would take an extra 10 minutes and interrupt precious facebook time
- Feeding the family hot dogs, boxed pizza and boxed macaroni & cheese almost every night because that is what is quickest and after 10 hours outside the home, no one has the energy to cook
- Admitting they see less than 10 hours a week of their 4 and 2 year old because with an 11 day work day 5 days/week and a love of bargain/frugal shopping (thus visiting 5 different shops on Saturdays and often nipping to the US for the real sales) the grandparents pick up the grandchildren from daycare Friday afternoon and keep them until Sunday morning. This was a hard one for this friend to admit because while suffering from infertility they swore time with their children would always come first, now they have 2 very good careers, a very large house they just totally renovated and only see their children Sundays.
- Being scared to go without because their friends are richer than they are.
- Becoming so obsessed (their words) with paying off their mortgage, buying a second and third home to rent out and retiring at 55 that they are not really living now
- Throwing away anything with a tear/needing a new button and buying new

As I have listened to these conversations, I have tried not to make any value laden statements but did occasionally ask "so if you know, would you change anything", I further asked one "would you now go to work 4 days a week so you can do the things that used to be important to you and simply shop/eat out less". What was really interesting to me, is that no one said they wanted to change a thing. One, a top city lawyer married to another top city lawyer, who eat out 20x a week and admits they don't see their children at all between Mon-Fri said "nope, I'm a proud sell out - I want as much as I can have for as little as I can get it for, we're not interested in having less money, we want more money". I smiled and pondered those words, asking myself what I can learn from their experiences, choices and definition of happiness/selling-out.

What is interesting to me, is in my experience, the older I get the less I want to "sell-out" and the more comfortable I am going without what most people view as a necessity. It took fostering four very broken and traumatized children to help me see there was another life waiting patiently for me to embrace; they taught me there is so much more to life than work, stuff, money and materialism. And while I don't really have any friends in real life who live like I do (although I am blessed to have one friend on either side of the Atlantic who are at the beginning of their simple living journey!) hearing these friends and co-workers yearn for more money and not desire to change anything about their current circumstances, made me very thankful for places like this co-op, the readers of my own blog, Rhonda's blog and the myriad of others which remind me daily that each day I will face choices, those choices bring me closer to the values I hold or further away. While I do aim to be careful about how much time I spend online, I do feel a bit of a haven in what I choose to read in this amazing place. It was that haven that helped me stick to my choice not to attend a friend's wedding and your words gave me the confidence to stick to my conviction when the bride expressed her anger.

Through my own learning this past month (both from the wedding and the new life that awaits me, as well as conversations with those who live so differently to myself) I've come to a place of both certainty I'm on the right path and also grace - grace in deciding I don't have to be perfect or do things exactly like other simple life followers. I've come to realize if we embrace the simple life as a lifestyle choice, then we are probably all doing the best we can, sometimes under extra-ordinary circumstances and most often without people around us to commiserate or encourage. I've come to accept this path will often be lonely. And maybe when it comes to a simple, frugal and green life, that is OK. Maybe as long as we hold onto that value and don't allow ourselves to totally "sell-out", then our anchor will at the very least keep us grounded through the seasons where being simple, green and frugal is more challenging. Like my current season of vermicomposting - and it failing time and time again. Yes, it may be easier to throw in the towel like many people and not bother with spending more time trying to "do good" but since when is the right choice the easy choice. And by heck, one day I'll get that worm compost system right!

My own personal goal this week is to write a list of things I'm not willing to compromise on, as I begin a brand new and exciting chapter in my life, maybe it will serve as a reminder to hold onto what is most important and leave the rest behind! Because the truth is, whether people see it or not, there is a cost to selling out - a cost to ourselves, our families, those we love, our community, our environment and future generations. By focusing on the most important things, I hope to avoid the real cost associated with selling out and instead reap the rewards of a slower, more balanced, person/community centered path. And suddenly I'm reminded of the tortoise and the hare. And now I can firmly, without a shadow of a doubt, say I'm the tortoise, how about you?

Have a happy, simple, frugal and green week, filled with choices which represent the real you !

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A glimpse of how extreme poverty can affect me.

by Eilleen


Me and my children


Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a good week. Readers of my personal blog would know that a couple of months ago, I went on a week-long $2 a day challenge for Live Below the Line. During that week, I was not allowed to live on existing items in my pantry/fridge, nor was I allowed to accept freebies or others offers of meals. Instead, I was to live on $2 a day for all my food and drink. (The reason for why $2, is in this post.)

Having only $2 a day for my food and drink gave me a very small inkling on what it is like to be in extreme poverty. I found the challenge difficult and I posted in my personal blog what I learned and I thought I'd share it here:
When stressed and under pressure, I made bad nutritional choices. This tells me that I am not immune to media/advertising that tell me that non-nutritious food is "fun" and offered an "escape" from the stress. I never realised that I could succumb to emotional eating but there you go.
As a result of my bad nutritional choices, I felt soooo tired all the time. Littlest things like getting dinner done, getting to work in time, organising my children's everyday school needs became an effort.

That despite my bad nutritional choices, there was no joy in my eating during those 5 days. It was a very strange combination of being hungry but not looking forward to eating. Food was just a means to stop hunger pangs. I certainly did not want to eat more of the same!

Without joy in my eating, and without the ability to eat what everyone around me ate, I felt isolated. I was surrounded by friends and family and I ate my own food while they ate theirs...and I felt disconnected. This highlighted for me the importance of the little things we do together to connect and without it, one's entire world becomes different.

I also realised during my $2 a day week, that if this was for real, I probably can not consume according to my values... and that my values would drastically change. And if my values would drastically change, then I would make choices using a value system that would be completely foreign to the way I am now.

And I guess this highlights for me how vastly poverty can affect a person. I wonder, if I was living on the poverty line, would I be emotionally and physically capable to get my kids to school regularly? Would I be able get a job? Would I be able to function and make choices in a way that is socially acceptable? Would I still be "me"? And I suspect that the answer to all of this would be "no". I probably would not.

The more I think of my experience and my constant efforts to live more simply, I realise that living simply is one way that can help prevent one's slide to extreme poverty. If I ever lose my main source of income, I am able to gain some precious time to try to recover because:

1. I do not live above my means. I have a comparably modest mortgage and I do not have a lot of stuff that requires a lot of maintenance. I also make extra payments against my mortgage - not only to pay the debt off faster but also it is an insurance that I can draw on if my circumstances change drastically.

2. I have the skills that already help me how to live frugally. I know how to cook, look after and repair most things. Gone are the days when I had a "disposable" mentality (when I devalued my stuff because I can just buy another).

3. I also now have a vast network of friends who can help me and I am slowly overcoming my reluctance to ask for help. This is actually a big one. I have realised that asking for help is part of being in a community. I love helping others and I need to give others that gift by asking them to help me. By practising how to ask for help for little things, then I am more capable to ask for help for big things if my circumstances change (and sometimes by asking for help on little things, one can prevent having to ask for help for bigger things).

Through the Live Below the Line Challenge, I now know that what is at stake is not only my way of life but also my values and my children's future. This reinforces to me the importance of living simply, frugally and consuming ethically.

I wish you all well.

P.S. Joyful asked in the comments below if my children joined me in this challenge. The answer is, no they did not. They wanted to, but I did not let them. My children watched me eat my food while they ate theirs and we talked a lot about poverty during meal times that week! My daughter wrote a speech (for a competition) on what she learned during that week and I shared it in my personal blog. For those interested, this is the link to her speech:
http://consumption-rebellion.blogspot.com/2011/05/2-day-challenge-what-my-daughter.html