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How is it that no matter how radically I decrease the amount of “stuff” in my life, I can’t shake this cluttered feeling? In the last year and a half I’ve jettisoned around three-quarters of my belongings, and yet I’m still compelled towards less and less stuff and more and more space.

The practice of owning and consuming less seems to have me hooked. The less I have, the less I come to realize I need, and the less I want. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t there be some lightening of the heart to go along with the lightening of the load?

As it is, I feel hemmed in by my belongings and by my surroundings. For the moment I am relegated to one tiny room in a cluttered, overpopulated house. My Bedroom Vortex is not conducive to subverting overconsumption. Things disappear never to be found again, or, alternately, to be found in the most obvious place at the most infuriating time.

Unsolved mysteries of the Bedroom Vortex include:

Bedroom Vortex Still Life1. Power source for Ipod: Damn. The Ipod is found but the power cord is lost. I don’t need Apple to screw me with the planned obsolescence of their sexy disposable gadgets…I can take care of that myself in my Bedroom Vortex. Either one of my roommates inadvertently took it thinking it was theirs, or it is actually somewhere in the drawer that I’ve scoured ten times already. I lean towards the latter because of…

2. Address Book: Its kitschy religious iconography and colour scheme are hard to miss, and yet somehow the Bedroom Vortex sucked it into another dimension for several weeks before I found it while cleaning out my office supplies drawer. Similarly…

3. Hair brush: I am relatively new to the experience of long hair, so I’m still getting used to the ridiculous amount of upkeep that’s required. When the Bedroom Vortex sucked up my hairbrush last week I knew I couldn’t hold out very long before getting a new one. Through an interpretation of the original Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption self-care caveat I determined that I could justify buying a new hairbrush. But I didn’t want to buy a new brush. I wanted my old crappy brush. When I found the original brush in my toiletries bag the day following the purchase of the new brush, I just about lost it.

4. My second last earplug: When you live with two couples and three cats, earplugs are a useful belonging to own, and I was distraught when half of my last set recently disappeared into the Vortex. Probably my cat ate it. At least, that is what I will assume until the day after I buy new earplugs, at which point I will certainly find the lost one.

What is causing the Vortex? How do I make the cluttered feeling stop? I find myself fantasizing about the 10 days I spent in a Thai monastery with almost no belongings at all. Clothes, meditation cushion, food, soap, toothbrush. And no cluttered feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why I think I need anything more than that.

Sweet, uncluttered dreams of open skies and hearts and minds.

xox n

Ok, so I thought the 100-mile diet was radical until my mom forwarded me this article called “Consumed with less: not buying any food” (Globe & Mail, January 13, 2007)*. It’s about the Freegan movement, which basically takes freecycling to the next (and perishable) level: dumpster diving for wasted food that is still fine to eat.

It’s not something I can personally envision myself doing, probably for a combination of reasons including a slight phobia of other people’s dirt and germs, and the cultural perception of what it means to dig through the garbage. On one hand I have a long and proud history of finding treasures in the trash, but eating only from the garbage probably wouldn’t cut it for me. Eating is not just a political statement for me. It also has everything to do with health, and I find it hard to imagine having a consistently well-balanced diet through Freeganism alone.

That said, I have to admit I like the idea. One girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure, a truth that undoubtedly holds for food too. Visit www.freegankitchen.com for more info and to see a great video blog about cooking Freegan style that makes it look totally appealing and sexy. And here’s a YouTube clip that’s fun too:

*For some reason the link to the complete article doesn’t work, but I did access it by Googling “consumed with less globe mail.”

Last night I got home from work to find my roommate lying on the couch watching TV. We haven’t had any channels at all since we canceled the cable a couple months back, so I was confused about what was happening. “Is that TV?” I asked (stupidly), waking him. “It’s cable,” he replied (groggily), rolling over on the couch.

I left feeling kind of gross. My mind immediately leapt to: Wow, my roommates think I’m completely nuts, and so they got cable back without even asking me. Irrational, but I honestly couldn’t think of any other possible explanation. In the end it turns out my other roommate, who claims to only be able to do homework in front of the TV, decided on a whim that she needed cable back ASAP and couldn’t wait to discuss it with us. She figured she’d just pay for the whole thing if we didn’t want it.

So now we have stupid cable. Of course I’ll feel like a twit if I watch any TV at all and then try to get out of contributing to the cost of the cable. And of course I’ve already watched the damn thing, so basically I’m a giant hypocrite.

And so it is that I awake (or rather, am awakened) from my utopian TV-free dream. I’m not surprised – 2007 has been that kind of year so far: this cable hoo hah seems the perfect metaphor for the feeling I have that my own destiny seems just beyond my reach. Depressing, really. I’m raging against it, but kind of powerlessly. Damn.

What is a girl to do? Go to sleep and hope that she gets up on the right side of the bed in the morning, I guess.

Sweet dreams,
xox n

For the past two and a half months I’ve undertaken to buy nothing new, and I’ve resolved to keep up the effort for another 290 or so days. Hurtling into 2007 has found me feeling very much like I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with this project, and like it might be time to start taking it to whole other levels. Not all at once, but with clear intention and resolve. (And joy and uproarious laughter, pretty please!) So here is what I am dreaming of and working towards for Subverting Overconsumption in 2007:

1. Becoming financially independent
No small feat, I’m aware. But I’m resolving to practice the nine fabulous steps of Your Money or Your Life until I get there! How I consume is inextricably linked to how I spend, and I want my relationship to money to be aligned with my values. I think that’s what differentiates stated versus actual values (i.e., what we say is important versus the choices we make and actions we take). So Your Money or Your Life is officially being added to the Revised Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption.

2. Becoming a home owner
I don’t want to give away Canada’s best kept real estate secret, but Regina is probably the last Canadian city where the likes of me (a.k.a. The Creative Class/Working Poor) can still aspire to invest in real estate without being permanently in debt. Of course I’m not talking about buying a new house! I’m talking about a tiny, old, ramshackle Regina character home. Just imagine setting up house and fixing up a fixer-upper without buying anything new! The possibilities are endless: skills exchanges, community sharing of tools (e.g., ladders, lawn mowers, etc.), learning handy skills, scoring recycled or freecycled building materials, taking epic road trips into rural Saskatchewan searching for the perfect vintage living room suite. Documenting the project could be a project in itself!

3. Incorporating food
Ah, food. The grand caveat. The original Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption had everything to do with “stuff”, but nothing to do with how I actually nourish my body. And man, have I ever been taking advantage of that. Treats and wine and restaurant dining galore!

But in the meantime I’ve been exposed to some inspiring food ideas (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the 100-Mile Diet, to name just a couple). On top of that, Your Money or Your Life has been kicking me in the ass and raising my consciousness about all aspects of my spending. The combined effect is absolute clarity that ignoring food in any conversation about consumption is just silly. So although I’m not quite ready for the 100-mile diet in Southern Saskatchewan just yet (though I have a friend who’s working at it as we speak), food is coming under the microscope in 2007. For now I’ve started buying Canadian wine (it’s important to celebrate the small victories, right?).

4. Incorporating Culture
See above…even sillier than pretending to be able to talk about consumption without talking about food is trying to talk about it without talking about culture. I want to produce more than I consume (i.e., I want my net creativity to be positive). I don’t want to have a TV again. I think I might not even want internet at home. I don’t think I need to read magazines anymore. I think what I really need to do is write. And make images. Make make make make make.

(Practical steps for producing more including: 1) taking this magazine writing course; 2) adding a Nikon digital SLR camera to the Wish List; 3) joining the Film Pool and Neutral Ground; 4) telling people what I’m trying to do.)

5. Working less
The status quo does not support the philosophy that working less than full-time is justifiable or even possible. People keep asking me how I like my new job, and I keep giving the same answer: it’s good, but I don’t like working full-time. Usually they laugh at me. Or sometimes their response is, with a slight edge to their voice, “Well, we all have to work.” The cultural conception seems to be that you must be lazy to want to work less than full time. But I don’t know if anyone who knows me would use the word lazy to describe my personality. And I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why full-time work might not be an ideal option for a person (parenthood, disability, art, activism…). So what does working less have to do with my intention towards subversive underconsumption? I want to produce more than I consume (in the creative and consumer senses). So I need more time to produce, and I need fewer resources with which to consume.

6. Finding a co-conspirator
I’m probably the most romantic cynic you’ll ever meet. At this point in my life, I am also one consummately single human. But I don’t particularly aspire towards that being a permanent state. I think this adventure would be so much more fun if I had someone really kickass to kick my ass. I haven’t been in this city long enough to justify adding “awesome boyfriend” to the Wish List, but this is me putting the possibility out to the universe.

So there you have it. Think big? Ok, you got me. Go down in flames? Well yeah, sometimes. But this isn’t about success or failure, right? It’s about my goddam process…staying awake to it, and to what the universe sends me. Right now it’s sending me—in no uncertain terms—photographers and debates about the nature of hope, both of which I’m doing my best to receive with gratitude and grace (or something related to grace).

With that I wish you all bountifully underconsumptive 2007s.

xox n

Flickr Photos