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Tonight I went to hear the mythical David Suzuki speak at the University of Regina. It was the best live talk I’ve ever been too. Hands down. That man has so much cred that he maintains absolute legitimacy even while hollering into the microphone like a raving lunatic. It was seriously excellent. For some reason I thought powerful oration was a lost art, but clearly I was wrong.

He’s heading west and has a number of stops left to go, so if he hasn’t already passed through your town yet, please try to check him out. Find the sched here. ‘Cause we all need more heroes, right?

xo n

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I’ve been putting off this confession for over a week: I had a momentary (and very lame) lapse in consumer judgment, and participated in buying something totally off limits to Subverting Overconsumption. It may have been the least romantic and most incomprehensible way to fall off the wagon, so I feel a like a bit of a jackass. But it’s a good reminder about how easy it is to get careless, so here goes:

It was my Grandma’s birthday 83rd birthday last week, and my uncle and I drove out of town to visit her for the day. I procrastinated dealing with her birthday all week, stayed out too late on Friday night, woke up the next morning and found myself in Safeway with my uncle sharing the cost of a potted flowering plant and a shiny Happy Birthday helium balloon.

Now, the flowers I managed to justify to myself (if only because they don’t fall under any clear guideline for Subverting Overconsumption). But a festively garish themed helium balloon? It’s never even crossed my mind to buy such a thing for anyone ever in my entire life! Why now? For what purpose? Did I lose all reason and consciousness and sense of self to boot?

I have no explanation. It’s completely incomprehensible to me. I just feel confused and dumb. Not like it’s the end of the world or the project or anything…just like it was really weird.

I’ve thought about it some, and there seems to be something about giving gifts in the context of this project that makes me profoundly uncomfortable. At Christmas I struggled with a similar anxiety around how to express my love/appreciation/affection to people through giving them shit. I felt insecure that if I didn’t buy stuff for people they wouldn’t think I was giving enough, or I felt reluctant to put a ton of time into homemade effort for people that might just not appreciate it. I felt like it would have been safer and easier to drop money on something material and meaningless than to pour blood, sweat and tears into something meaningful only to risk having it fall flat. In this case, it was much easier to lull myself into going along with buying my grandmother some impersonal crappy object that it was to admit that I don’t know her well enough to trust myself to do something for her that she would really value.

It’s disappointing, but all there is to do is get up, dust myself off, flag “gifts” as something now officially needing extra attention as part of Subverting Overconsumption, and move forward.

xo 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.”

The results of the Subverting Overconsumption holiday poll have been painstakingly tabulated (all 36 votes). Here are the subversively underconsumptive holiday gifts you’d most like to receive:

1st place tie: Homemade foodstuffs and Homemade/crafted gifts (9 votes each)
2nd place: No gift necessary (6 votes)
3rd place tie: Charitable donation on your behalf and Dinner out together (3 votes each)
4th place tie: Products bought used and Re-gifted items (1 vote each)
5th place: Screw off! I want a real gift (no votes (due to some technical difficulty with the suvey itself that I was too lazy to resolve))

Thanks for taking part! For some other sweet suggestions, check out the reader comments on my pre-holiday post.

So how did Christmas Day proper pan out on the underconsumptive gift giving/receiving front? The family members that spent the day together had a $10 price limit for gifts, which took a lot of the pressure off and made things fun (I recommend it). Here’s the debrief:

Gave:
– More enlarged original photographs in thrift store frames
– Souvenir from Thailand that I’ve been hanging onto since the spring
– Door prize I won in the fall
– Purchased foodstuffs (definitely cheating)

Received:
– Cash
– Bath stuffs
– Puzzle game for the “stressed executive” (I guess that’s me)
– Slippers
– Calendar
– Organic fair trade chocolate bar

So there we have it. The most overly consumptive part of the year is almost over, and I’d say that my holiday efforts to underconsume were, for the most part, successful (though I won’t even touch my consumption of shortbread and perogies, neither of which were moderate).

Happy almost 2007.

xox n

Awesome headline, right? For those of you who’ve been following Subverting Overconsumption, you may recall my mental hurdle to buy used socks, and the ensuing dialogue about what would happen when the time came for new (or at least new-to-me) underwear.

It seems that buying someone else’s socks is one thing (I’m shamelessly wearing my thrift store socks as I type), but that recycling panties has whole other connotations. Though in recent years I can admit to cheerfully buying the odd second-hand bra, slip or vintage bathing suit, when it comes to the generally quiet lingerie aisle at Value Village I generally steer clear, and I never browse the panties.

That aside, the used undy question makes for interesting conversation. A favourite uncle sent me an email (subject heading: “dead man’s underwear”) that read: “So I hear you are going to buy nothing new for a whole year, what a great idea. Sometimes I find new underwear at the sally-ann, but I think they may have been a dead man’s pair and he just never got to use them.” I also had a chat with Stonehead about the dilemma, on both his and my blog.

All that said, I guess I’m as much disappointed as relieved that the underwear dilemma has been resolved before it even became a problem. Turns out my mom “couldn’t bear the thought” of me not buying new underwear for a year, and so intervened by buying* me four shiny new pair for Christmas. And so my passable underwear collection is now even better, and the debate can likely be put to rest for the remainder of the project. Thanks mom! (But I have to wonder how much more fun it would’ve been to play it out the other way!)

*Passing through Calgary (my hometown and the current Canadian hub of overconsumption) on her way to Saskatchewan for Christmas, my mom stopped at the iconically Canadian and newly American-owned Hudson’s Bay Company to buy a pair of pants. It happened to be Scratch and Save, and she happened to scratch an unheard of 45% savings on all merchandise in the store. So instead of buying a single pair of pants at regular price, she made the most of her savings by spending several times what she originally planned to on all manner of products (including my brand-spanking-new ginch). She then went home and passed the savings card to a friend, who went and bought a ton more stuff that she would have otherwise not bought. Talk about viral consumption…I’m not sure what kind of human would be completely immune to it.

xo n

(Note: Snyder family be advised that reading further will give away your Christmas presents.)

With only a few days left till Santa, my attempts to subvert holiday overconsumption have been moderately (if not wildly) successful. I haven’t been in a mall or a big box store, and it feels great. But unfortunately I haven’t been magically moved to create innovative underconsumptive gifts either. The moments of inspiration have been few.

Fortunately I’ve managed to manifest at least one decent series of gifts. The idea came way back in the summer, when I came across a snapshot of my great grandparents in 1910, standing on the prairie with a boxy storefront in the background. Neither of them could have been older than 25, and they look happy.

I love this picture. I love the sense of history and place it gives me. So I went and had 8″ x 10″ enlargements made, put them in frames, and sent them to every family member on that side of the family. Father, grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins.

Snyders in Wainwright Alberta (1910)I think it’s a good present. But talk about putting all my eggs in one basket! As the box travels west and north I find myself feeling insecure on a bunch of different levels. For one thing, I’m not sure if or how far photo development falls outside my guidelines for subverting overconsumption, and after worrying about that for a while the photos didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted anyway (the photo dude cut off the giant prairie sky, which is a big part of what makes the original photo so cool). For another thing, hiking out to Value Village to buy recycled frames meant that I had to take what I could get, even though it meant settling for some fairly ratty looking frames. On top of that I didn’t buy wrapping paper – instead I did a bit of a hack job wrapping them in old magazine pages and recycled velvet and lace ribbon.

Then of course there’s the problem of them being my only gift…what if they just seem lame?

Why is it that despite sparing myself the holiday stress of the malls and consumption, I’m still managing to worry that I’m going to come off like a cheap twit to my friends and family? Two months in to this project (today is Subverting Overconsumption’s two month anniversary!) I realize I still don’t feel quite secure underconsuming in a culture that associates how much we buy with how much success, love and gratitude we have. I wonder when that’s going to wear off. I really want it to wear off dammit!

Subversive season’s greetings to you and yours,

xo n

With the number of shopping days till Christmas counting down, I still haven’t developed my Buy Little-to-Nothing Christmas strategy. This week found my house (and life) moving into high gear for the holidays, but I’m still lagging behind. If anything, I should have starting thinking about Christmas earlier than the average consumer, but instead I’ve put it off and am now about to fly into a panic!

So far my attempts to subvert overconsumption this holiday season haven’t been all that successful.

First hurdle: Tree. My roommate really wanted a tree. I also love having a tree. I’ve always had a real tree. I couldn’t decide whether having a real tree was in any way justifiable under the Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption. I tried to find a Freecycled tree (posting once myself and responding to two posts) and failed. My roommate finally bought a brand new artificial Christmas tree from Wal-Mart or Liquidation World (I can’t remember which). Shit.

Buy Nothing Christmas PosterSecond hurdle: Gifts.

(Warning: if you are a relative or close friend, you may wish to stop reading this posting now (unless you’re more interested in the process of Subverting Overconsumption than you are in being surprised by what present you get from me).)

I seem to have several gifting options, which I could also mix and match. But so far I’m not feeling overly inspired, and the clock is ticking. I made crabapple jelly in the summer (but at the moment it’s several hundred kilometres away). I could probably find some good used books online. My roommate found a recipe for homemade bath salts in Martha Stewart Living. In the past I’ve made mix CDs, but this year I’m not sure what to do about buying (or rather, not buying) CD-Rs. I thought of personalized storybooks, but that’d be a frick of a lot of work. I won a door prize I could re-gift.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out, but how about some help! Cast your vote on the Subverting Overconsumption Holiday Poll (top left of this page) for a chance to win a subversively underconsumptive gift from yours truly (well, not really, since voting is anonymous…but if you leave a really great comment we can talk!).

xo n


It’s 11 days and counting since the cable was shut off. We have zero channels, and as a result I haven’t watched the TV at all. Specific initial outcomes of the experiment include:

  • Borrowed first DVDs from public library (Truly, Madly, Deeply and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
  • Went out every night for a week (totally unheard of)
  • Walked outside more (despite the incredibly harsh Regina weather)
  • Read more than my combined total for the past six months
  • Discovered that the only program I actually miss is Survivor
  • Discovered that I actually really miss Survivor (damn)
  • Discovered that Survivor is available online on the Global website (with fewer ads than on TV)
  • Joined the Teleban (group of blogs lobbying (playfully) for a Ban on TV)

General outcomes include:

  • Increased/improved social life
  • Increased sense of productivity (unclear whether this translates to actual increased productivity)
  • Improved well-being

Overall, the results seem to indicate that not watching TV is great for me, and that not paying for cable is absolutely appropriate to this project. Unfortunately, my love affair with a TV-free life might be shortlived.

My roommates miss TV! The roommate who felt productive and engaged the weekend the cable was cut off now tells me that not having TV makes her feel isolated, and that she doesn’t want to spend time at home.

I was really sad to realize that not everyone thrives on a TV-free existence the way I seem to. And unfortunately, if my roommates do decide to get cable again, I don’t think it would be cool for me to opt out, so that puts me in a tricky situation.

As mentioned in The revolution will not have cable, if the TV is there I will watch it (I’m the kind of creature that requires a healthy environment to actually be healthy). And regardless of that, it would feel pretty tacky not to chip in if both my roommates really want it.

Another possibility is that we get an antenna, which would get us two or three channels for free (though then I’d be buying that, which would still be outside the guidelines…dammit!). The other possibility is that I move out, but I’m not sure the goal of Subverting Overconsumption is to isolate myself from the world so that I can perfectly control my environment. Or maybe it is…arghhh.

What it seems to come down to is that it’s hard to make significant lifestyle downshifts towards reduced consumption and increased sustainability when the people around me aren’t necessarily making similar changes. Of course I dream to changing mass consciousness by putting my own values in full practice, but the idea of preaching (e.g., “Oh come on, don’t you feel like you’d be a more engaged, happier, human human if you never watched TV again?”) feels much more like a nightmare.

So obviously I haven’t struck a balance with any of this. But if the roommates want TV, I don’t think I can and/or will make a giant fuss over it.

xo n

Hmmm…Not as naughty as it sounds, but these posters from Take back Your Time are still fun.

It’s true! There is a correlation between how much time we spend working and how much we consume. In general, the more we earn, the more we spend. And the more we work, the less time we have for everything, including making conscious choices.

Check out www.timeday.org for more info.

Waste Less

Adult Playground Rules

…and I didn’t even remember! Oh well, it’s just Adbusters propaganda anyway (though they weren’t the ones to come up with the idea…it originally came from the brain of Vancouver artist Ted Dave).

So how badly did I botch Buy Nothing Day?

“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”Got up, drank coffee and did laundry. Walked briskly (my back’s feeling better) in the frigid Regina weather to the McKenzie Art Gallery to participate in an Artist Trade Card trading session. Traded for eight new cards. Got a lift home from a fellow trader. Went to Eat Healthy Foods and bought (oops) unsweetened soy milk, a can of organic pea soup (perfect lunch for a cold day), a loaf of manna bread, and a piece of wild Coho salmon. What a frickin’ hippie.

So I guess it could have been worse. I could have bought a bed (for an update on the bed sitch, check out my Wish List). As it stands, my net creativity for the day feels decent.

In honour of the day, here’s a little piece on How to Buy Nothing that I liked.

xo n

Flickr Photos