Sunday, 6 September 2009

Electronic Sunsets

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Lately I've been realizing how much of my time and my husband's time is dominated by electronics. We don't even have a television in our home, and haven't for many years. But we have laptops, and he has a cell phone. Far too much of the time we should be spending together, doing either productive or non-productive things is being eaten up by these tools that supposedly make our lives better. In my husband's case this is partly down to the fact that he telecommutes, so having a phone meeting at 8 pm with a company in Japan is the price we pay for his ability to work from home. Still, I'm bothered more and more by the amount of time we squander on the computer, or through other electronic gadgets.

I don't know where I first came across the electronic sunset idea, but I loved it right away. The idea is that you pick a time each evening when all the electronic attention-stealers and time-sucks get turned off. This would include blackberries, televisions, gaming devices, computers, cell phones, etc. So from 7 pm, or whatever hour you decide, the rest of the evening is spent interacting in some way with your actual physical environment. For most of us, that could simply mean everything is turned off at dinner time, and not turned back on until the next morning.

So many of us complain that we have no time, that we're exhausted all the time, that we'd love to do X if only our lives permitted it. Yet we fritter away enormous quantities of time on electronic distractions. What could we do with several extra hours per week? Certainly some of that time would be spent "catching up" on tasks that we feel guilty about neglecting. We could use that time to do many of the frugal things that we say we have no time for, such as preparing extra meals for busy nights, or packing lunches to save eating out the next day.

But what's of more interest to me is the bonding that can occur when we make the choice to limit the electronic intrusions into our family lives, even for a brief period. I can speak from some little experience in this because we've had electronic hiatuses over holiday breaks. We've taken turns reading books out loud while the other one does some manual task, such as knitting in my case, or tool sharpening in my husband's. We've put jigsaw puzzles together. When we have company, playing cards is a great entertainment. More gets done around the house. We talk to each other more, and more substantively. The kitchen is neater. Most importantly, we feel calmer, less rushed, better rested, and more involved with one another. All because we cut a few distractions out of our lives for a brief time.

Here's a list of things I would love to do during an electronic sunset:

Read out loud to each other
Crack and shell the gleaned nuts we've collected
Clean out closets, junk room, and garage
Identify and set aside useful things to be donated/sold/recycled/repurposed
Discuss future plans
Maintain the garden and the garden tools better
Learn to operate the sewing machine and make a few gifts
Complete more knitting projects
Several small house projects
Get to bed at a decent hour

What do you think? Have you ever done something like this? Would your family benefit from a daily electronic sunset? Does the idea seem daunting to you? What would you most like to accomplish with a little "extra" time? Is the irony that you're reading about electronic sunsets online just a little too much for you?

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Live the Lifestyle You Want to Live, and Live it Sustainably

by Melinda Briana Epler,
One Green Generation

Last month I wrote about finding your own version of sustainability. Everyone is different, and for that reason, there is no ONE way to live sustainably. From the comments, I gathered that some readers felt I was somehow letting everyone off the hook, that we didn't all need to live sustainably but we just had to live happily. However, that is far from what I meant. I believe we can, each of us, live the lives and lifestyles that we want to live - and live them sustainably.

In other words, if I am most comfortable in a city, I don't need to move back to the land to live sustainably. If you hate the chaos of the city, you can find a lifestyle in the country that is sustainable. If I want to fit into society - and not be thought of as someone outside of society - I can find a way to do that sustainably.

If I don't have time to knit or sew, I don't necessarily have to make time to do those things - as long as I buy clothing and household items that are sustainably made (and only when I truly need them). If I don't like gardening, or if I'm not good at it, I don't have to live in the country and tend a huge garden. Instead, I can live in the city and purchase local, organic foods at the farmer's market or through a CSA. Often this makes food and clothing more sustainable, because fewer resources are used when things are made and/or grown in bulk. This is not true across the board, of course - no matter what you do, you have to do it conscientiously in order to remain sustainable. But you don't have to do everything yourself in order to live sustainably.

Why don't I do everything myself? I grow some food in a community garden and work with my mother on a second urban garden, but I no longer have a 2,000 foot garden in the country. I don't knit or sew, and I don't always make my own food at home. You can do all of those things and live sustainably and happily. But you don't have to. And in order to do all of the work I do to make the world a better place, I cannot manage a large garden, sew, knit, cook all of my own meals, preserve foods, make my own soaps, and many other things.

I live a professional lifestyle, and at the same time I consume 90% less energy than the average American. I live a pretty darn sustainable lifestyle.

It is a choice. And I have chosen to do as much as I can at home, and to utilize my surrounding community to help me do the rest to live sustainably. And I do that in order to have a job that helps me reach a lot of people and create world change. Ultimately, I have a larger impact on the world.

I can do things in the city that I could not do in the country, and I have access to people and resources I did not have access to in the country. For these reasons, I can do more world changing things here.

Plus I have a small, energy efficient home here - built with green materials, and sharing energy and resources with other people in my building. I can walk or take public transportation nearly everywhere I need to go. I can find used designer clothing and nice furniture in local thrift and antique stores, I can walk across the street to the farmer's market and across another street to a green grocery store. For these reasons and many more, I am able to live the lifestyle that I enjoy living, and make the changes I want to make in the world - all while living sustainably.

So I encourage you to live the lifestyle you want to live and make it sustainable. Only you are you, so don't let others sway you into living a lifestyle you don't enjoy. Life your life, and make it sustainable.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Consuming media...

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Photo by Aaron Escobar

I don't watch commercial TV. Well, at least I don't watch adult TV. I *do* watch some very carefully chosen children's shows but that's more for my kids rather than for myself. I haven't watched commercial TV for adults for almost 6 years.

I don't listen to commercial radio either. My radio consumption is limited to the government-owned talk-back/news channel that I listen to for 15 mins every morning on my way to work.

So perhaps, my limited exposure to commercial media is the reason why I am truly shocked by what is classified as "entertainment" these days.

It seems that almost everytime I turn to commercial media, I am exposed to programs designed to manipulate and exploit people's emotions. Many "Reality TV" and commercial radio "stunts" shows seem to consist of unhealthy dramatisation of people's lives. There is a cruel undertone in many of the write-ups - a heartless anticipation that perhaps one of the people will actually breakdown.

The cruelty behind these segments astonish me. If it was a physical act, it would have been deemed assault. And worse are the implications of such actions:

- that sacred life events such as birth, mating and death are now fodder for mindless entertainment;
- that life is only a game; and
- that entertainment is of such priority that it is above dignity and compassion.

Are we now so emotionally stunted and detached from our fellow human beings, that we can pick off others' sorrows with cruel glee??

So how does this relate to ethical consumption (and this blog)??

Well, I believe that consumption happens on so many levels. Going through my "no-buying-brand-new for a year" challenge has made me realise how much I was using the physical act of buying things as a way to "prop" my ego. My consumption habits fed my craving for acceptance (within myself and my peers) thereby creating an unhealthy dependence on those things.

When we consume we take into our lives the good and the bad of the those things. In the end, I try to ensure I consume more good than bad.

Consuming entertainment that is geared towards being cruel to people means I would be taking in the energy of anger, hatred, sorrow and violence. Consuming this entertainment will mean that I would become more and more comfortable to discuss others as if they were not deserving of respect. Consuming this entertainment feeds my negative side - the side that tells me it is okay to judge people without compassion, the side that tells me that I am entitled to be let into their lives without having to show them kindness.

So in light of that, why should I foster the negative seeds of my soul?

I wish you all a weekend free from negative consumption.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Not Your Average Vacation

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, originally uploaded by Darvin Atkeson.

My husband and I got married over a year ago and have yet to go on our honeymoon. Part of the problem is making time (I got a new job and we moved across the country right after the wedding) and part of the problem was deciding what to do. We could have easily gone on a cruise or stayed at an all inclusive resort in some far flung tropical locale but that's not really us. Instead we wanted something more meaningful, something "greener." Now that we will have the time our search for the perfect green getaway has intensified and here is what we've found.

If you are interested in learning about building your own house or how post and beam houses are put together you could check out the Shelter Institute in Woolwich, ME which offers weeklong courses on a variety of building subjects. I realize building a structure, no matter how small, may not seem like a vacation but Maine is gorgeous and you can certainly have nights out after class is over and spend the weekend before or after simply relaxing. This is the current front runner for us but we haven't decided yet....

Feeling a bit more adventorous and longing to see more than two by four pieces of wood then you could bike the California wine country of the Tuscan Coast with VBT Bicycling Vacations. I think this would be awesome if you are in shape and an avid biker. Now most tours will drive you places if you don't feel up to the ride that day but the ride is kind of the point of the trip. Which is why we eliminated this option. I like to ride but I'm not up to riding for 3-7 days.

Thinking about starting a farm or simply want to get away from the bright lights of the city for the "slower" pace of the country then try a farm vacation. These have been popular in Europe for decades but are slowly gaining popularity across the globe. This doesn't really qualify as a "romantic getaway" but I think it's a great thing to do with kids.

Traditional hotels not your thing? How about vacationing in a tree house! We've tossed this idea around quite a bit but it would require flying to any of them and that just isn't in the budget for us.

A week long vacation is great but the reality is we don't always have that kind of time or money to devote to vacation (hence the recent popularity of staycations) but you can probably get away for a day or a weekend and do things like learn to make your own cheese. We've already signed up for a workshop in November and can't wait!

If you have any other ideas please share!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The homemade revolution

by Rhonda Jean @ Down to Earth

Hello, my name is Rhonda. Some of you won’t know me because I rarely write here now but I started this co-operative and invited these talented and thoughtful writers to share their experiences here for the world to read. I do my writing in other places now but it is a real pleasure to come back and write rather than just read here, which is what I usually do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the skills I lost and regained when I started living a more simple life. Over the years, like many others, I was encouraged to become dependent on cheap Chinese imports and the convenience they provided. I bought fast food and forgot about cooking true to my heritage. I was proud to have enough money to be able to throw away clothes that needed a button sewn on or a seam mended. Looking back on it now I see that lifestyle as a waste of money, time and effort. I wasted money buying more than I needed, I wasted time and effort working more to pay for my stupid excesses.

Times change.

I live life now without wasting money, time nor effort. My days are full of the kind of gentle slow routine that makes each day flow. I grow vegetables, collect eggs, pick fruit, tend my million worker worm farm, I mend, create, knit, I make soap and cleaners for my home, I cook from scratch every day, I bake bread and cakes, I volunteer and I teach what I know in my community and try to show others , by example, that this kind of living holds a richness that credit card funded shopping sprees never come close to. I am in my 60s so I’m lucky that I’ve seen firsthand many of the things I do in the course of a common day, done expertly, many years ago, by my grandmother and sometimes by my mother. The skills they didn’t show me, I have taught myself. They make bread and brawn, but never cheese. They made ginger beer but not vinegar. They would have been interested in how I make sauerkraut but I learnt how to pickle beetroot and cucumbers watching them.

I never thought when I first decided to turn my back on my old life that the way to live a more enriched life was to regain the skills taught to me by my granny and mother. But the real skill, the one that made all these things come together for me was to use them daily, consistently, to patchwork a life worth living. Until you can do that – see and understand the relationship between the elements of your simple life - your garden, kitchen, chickens, sewing, no debt living, or whatever they are, and the joy to be found in those simple things, all you’ll be doing is carrying out a series of simple tasks. Anyone can learn how to mend a sock or bake bread, you need to develop the mindset of someone who strives everyday to live simply for it to have meaning.

When you develop a simple, green and frugal mindset, it all falls into place. You start with one step, which leads you to the next and the next. Following your path this way will lead you gently to each stage and when you look back you’ll realise how far you’ve come. It’s an interesting journey we are all on. Don’t ever expect to get much feedback or encouragement along the way because we aren’t living the life most choose to live. But choosing this life deliberately and rejecting the excesses we are encouraged towards will make you stronger and more self reliant. Not everyone is cut out for this, at times it’s difficult and you work hard but it will also bring you the rewards of independence, freedom and choice, and they are fine prizes.