You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2006.

misssideshow.jpgIf you’re an adult that celebrates Halloween, then last night was likely when you gussied yourself up in costume and hit the town. For my part, I managed to pull together a relatively decent costume without buying anything at all!

Going as a two-headed “Miss Sideshow 2006” ended up being better in theory than practice, but I would still call it a moderate success. My idea was to dress up like a beauty queen and attach a styrofoam head somewhere on my body. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t for the life of me manage to attach the head securely, and so just carried it around with me for the night.)

I was really hoping to find matching tiaras for the two heads to wear, and even added them to the Subverting Overconsumption Wish List in hopes that they’d magically manifest. Unfortunately they didn’t, but I did come up with some other fun recycled materials to use. Of particular note were the following:

  • The second head, which was just floating around my house when I moved in.
  • A great vintage dress that I found in Montreal.
  • Fingerless white satin gloves that I wore to my own prom (ironically, of course).
  • Fabulous vintage clip-on earrings, purchased new last summer from the best jewelry store on the planet, Morin’s in Assinaboia, Saskatchewan.
  • An elasticized fake pearl choker turned makeshift tiara.

Overall I was happy with the outcome and not overly constrained by the restrictions of Subverting Overconsumption. Here’s wishing you all a consumer conscious All Hallow’s Eve.

xox n

Second Head

A couple of weeks ago I was in Montreal staying with a close girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in a year. I was preparing to move to a new city, far away from all my good friends, and the visit gave me a chance to spend some quality time with people I’m not going to see much of for a while. It was Thanksgiving and we decided to make a proper holiday of it, with good wine, good food and good times at the top of our list of priorities.

I’d been thinking about starting this project where I try to become a more conscious consumer by buying nothing new for a year, but I knew that starting it in Montreal would be tough. Usually our girl-style good times have at least something to do with clothes shopping, and sure enough, one of my friend’s first suggestions for the weekend was that we make a pilgrimage to H&M. I hedged a little, and even mentioned that I was thinking of starting this project about consumerism, but it was weak resistance at best. I can’t kid myself. I love shopping, especially with my best girlfriends. It’s part of how we have fun, let off steam and relate to each other.

What I’m beginning to realize is that it’s this social aspect of my relationship to shopping that makes my particular brand of consumerism so insidious. My overconsumption is not just about acquiring stuff. It’s actually about my identity and how I interact with the world around me. It’s about how I connect with people I care about in my life. It’s even a coping mechanism I use when I’m stressed or depressed or bored – a medication I use on myself after a nasty day at work or a major (or minor) disappointment. It’s all of these things, and as I become more aware of what and why and when I consume my eyes open to all of this and I realize how complicated and fascinating a project like this could actually become.

When my friend suggested H&M, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was thinking about starting this project, but I was scared to talk about it because I wasn’t sure if it was crazy or if I was capable of it. I was scared that making a big deal about it and refusing to go shopping would make me a hypocrite if I started the project and then couldn’t pull it off. The other side of it was that I just wanted to go to H&M with my good friend and try on fun clothes and be silly. I wanted to go!

So we went. We burnt a bitching mix CD and drove out to a mall in the ‘burbs. We dug through the heaps of Cambodian and Indonesian-made clothes and stood in line waiting to try them on. I blew some cash on some clothes I needed and some that I didn’t. And then we drove home, laid our new purchases out on the couch to admire, drank some wine, watched some movies, and did all the other things that I love to do with my girls.

Two weeks later I’m in my new home in my new city, where there’s no H&M or Jacob or Zara. I’m also one week in to what I hope will be a year of buying nothing new. I decided to have a go at it to see what happens.

When I sent my friend the link to this blog to tell her about the project, she wrote back: “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone about H&M.” At first her response embarrassed me. I mean, who enjoys having their hypocrisies pointed out to them? But it also got me thinking. I knew going into this project that I didn’t want it to be about asceticism or preaching some high and mighty set of values. Nobody’s perfect and I know I’m not either, nor am I trying to be. I like to shop and I hang around people who like to shop. Shopping with my friends is fun. Shopping when I’m down makes me feel better.

All these things are true about me and probably always will be, which is what makes this project so perfect! I’m aware of my hypocrisies, but I want to know even more about them. This project isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being imperfect and in process, and exploring what happens when my awareness of that deepens. It’s about setting an example by being flawed and increasingly conscious in the process.

The things I own don’t define who I am, but I’m finding that saying that and actually believing it and really putting it into practice are two entirely different things. I’m also starting to figure out that that is what makes this project so very interesting and necessary.

Sometimes participating in the secondhand economy is fun and sexy, like today when I bought a jaunty blue tam at a Saturday morning church bazaar. Other times, becoming a more conscious consumer and working to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle feels much less glamorous.

Case in point: secondhand socks. After missing the entirety of the last Canadian winter traveling in Southeast Asia, this autumn finds me short on appropriate footwear. With Subverting Overconsumption only a few days old, I was determined that the secondhand economy fulfill my sock needs. Despite my good intentions, upon arriving at Value Village I felt decidedly unenthusiastic about the prospect of dawning someone else’s stockings.

Secondhand SocksTheir selection was limited and quite drab, causing some unconscious middleclass hipster snobbery to rear its ugly head. But I persevered, and ended up with four relatively decent pairs of $0.69 socks. It wasn’t actually that bad at all (and the cute pair of secondhand pumps that I used to reward myself certainly didn’t hurt).

Having mustered the resolve to buy used socks once, I can easily imagine that the next time some multinational demands $18 for three pairs I may voluntarily opt to pay under a buck to reuse the perfectly good socks at my neighbourhood thrift shop. Like all good habits it’s about training myself…practising something healthy until it feels so natural that I can’t remember why on Earth I would have ever done it differently.

Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

Does your household have several dozen or hundred extra plastic bags floating around? Do you have a special drawer reserved for them in your kitchen or back porch, or have you attached a stylish plastic bag holder to the inside of a cupboard door? Have you gotten to the point where there are just too many bags to bother saving? It can’t hurt the environment too much to throw a few dozen away from time to time, can it?

Guess what? Plastic bags don’t go away. Whenever they eventually do leave your house, they sit in the landfill indefinitely. They don’t break down. Well, they might eventually, but chances are we’ll all be long gone when they do.

When I moved into my new home it was “furnished” in all senses of the word, right down to a plastic bag holder jam packed with bags. Having just begun my project of Subverting Overconsumption by not buying anything new for a year, I was dismayed that the first days of the process found me burdened with more bags.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even at my most determined, remembering to bring old plastic bags (or better yet, reusable cloth ones!) along when I go grocery shopping is generally beyond me, and the reason it fails to sink into my consciousness is mysterious and profoundly confounding. So it was with immense relief and gratitude that I recently stumbled on some angels bent on saving me from being plastic wrapped into oblivion.

The staff at Eat Healthy Foods organic grocery store in Regina Saskatchewan have adopted a simple yet brilliant practice: they invite their customers to bring in old plastic bags for reuse. Let me count the ways in which this is so damn excellent:

1. It provides an opportunity to reuse (many times over) some of the countless plastic bags that would otherwise get landfilled.

2. It saves the proprietor of Eat Healthy Foods the cost of buying new bags.

3. It alleviates the guilt the customer feels when we forget to bring our own bags, and empowers us to be able to reuse our old bags by bringing them into the store.

Thank you Eat Healthy Foods. To find out more about this sweet little independent business, check out this article in The Commonwealth.

And don’t forget that innovative small business owners aren’t the only ones that can take positive action. Check out the actions you can take:

1. Suggest to stores you frequent that they follow Eat Healthy Foods’ example by accepting donations of plastic bags for reuse.

2. Keep a bag of bags in the trunk of your car or in your bag for reuse at all times, so you won’t kick yourself for forgetting them!

3: Invest in a few large cloth bags to shop with, and keep them where you’ll see them and use them.

4. Don’t be discouraged by forgetting once in awhile. Remember that each time you don’t bring home new plastic bags is a victory, and that bringing them home occasionally doesn’t erase your efforts.

Here is some interesting further info on the subject:
Plastic Bag Podcast
The Guardian article on plastic bags
Info and resources from Worldwatch

Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

The universe supports the subversion of overconsumption. Where on Earth did I come up with such a wacky idea? Right on my own front porch. The day I arrived at my new house in my new city, I was thinking about starting this project where I try to buy nothing new for a year and document the process of underconsumption. I was writing about the idea in a journal with only a few blank pages remaining.

In the front porch of my new house was a pile of boxes labeled “for Value Village,” which my landlord encouraged me to scavenge. What did I find at the bottom of one box but a lovely unused journal, just waiting for me. The cover read: “Dream your dreams with open eyes and make them come true. – T.E. Lawrence.”

They say that one girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure. Jung called it synchronicity. I agree and thank the universe for taking the trouble to encourage me to start. Until next time, buy nothing.
xox n

Journal

Welcome to Subverting Overconsumption! The idea is this: I want to lighten my ecological footprint on the Earth and creatively document the process. If every human on the planet lived the lifestyle I’ve been leading, we would require four and a half Earths to survive. Since we’ve only got one, lightening the weight with which I tread on the planet seems like the best (and indeed, the only) way to go. With that in mind, for the next year I intend to buy nothing new, and to explore the creative and spiritual results of underconsumption.

Of course, such an undertaking will undoubtedly be easier said than done! I’m genetically predisposed to collecting vintage junk and I’m a cheapskate to boot, so the idea of buying furniture and appliances secondhand doesn’t faze me. But it didn’t take me long to start thinking of the many ways this project will be tough. How will I stay current without new books and magazines? It’s one thing to buy used clothes, but will I really be able to bring myself to shop at Value Village for socks and underwear? What about going to movies and buying new music? What about receiving gifts? Can I paint my apartment? Can I consume things that are fairly traded or made locally? What about art supplies?

The questions and gray areas abound. Obviously underconsumption is a complicated business, so key to the project is exploring where the plan gets tricky or downright impossible, and what creative means exist to address the challenges. The goal of this project is not asceticism. Rather, it’s about becoming increasingly aware of and creative in my actions, and continually learning how to become more conscious of how I consume. With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines I’ve come up with to start:

1. Participate in the secondhand economy as much as possible. (Exceptions include food and self-care items such as soap, shampoo, etc., though I intend to be as aware as possible of production and packaging.)

2. When consuming, take the following approaches as often as possible: reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order. Trade, share and buy locally to boot!

3. Consuming self-care services or learning opportunities (massage, classes, gym membership, etc.) is OK, though I intend for them to be purchased or traded fairly.

4. Consuming culture (live music, theatre, etc.) is OK. (For now I’m including movies in this category, though I recognize that consuming Hollywood is problematic…)

5. Focus on building knowledge to support the practice of underconsumption. (E.g., how can I learn to better care for the belongings I already have, in order to have to replace them less frequently? Building and sharing a body of knowledge to support a lifestyle of underconsumption is an important aspect of the project.)

6. When Subverting Overconsumption gets hard or impossible, write about it and talk about how and why, and what can be done.

So that’s how this project will start. How it will end is anyone’s guess, but I invite you to stayed tuned, give suggestions, get involved and tell your friends. Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

Flickr Photos

Dollhouse close up

Kitchen close up

Dollhouse rooms

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