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I can’t say that I enjoy criticism, but it does tend to nurture deeper reflection. So let’s see where it leads! What follows is my response to a comment on My Little House on the Prairie.

I fail to see how you fulfilling the liberal dream of property ownership makes the world a better place.

You’re right! You can’t see what’s not there. Owning property, in and of itself, certainly does not make the world a better place. What I am hoping is that my house will be part of a positive direction in my life that is equipping me to contribute more effectively to the world. It’s just a thing, so it won’t make me happy or wise or compassionate. But it is one component of a life I am trying to design to help support me in being the most effective human I can be.

I did say that happiness and peace might help me be more effective. I guess that came off as selfish. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. I tend to see happiness more as a means to an end than an end in itself. My goal in life is not to be happy. It’s to try to make the world a better place. But I recognize that I can’t do that effectively without taking care of myself. I’ve experienced being depressed and anxious and fearful, and I can say with certainty that those states make me pretty well totally ineffectual. Hence my interest in experimenting with happiness.

What exactly are you giving back to the world? By producing independent media? By reducing your ecological footprint?

Oh, they’re good questions. I want to make the world so much better than it is, and I wish I could tell you with total confidence that what I’m doing is contributing to that. The process of growing up and discovering that I might not actually be able to fix things has been hard for me to come to terms with. That said, I do believe in what I’m doing. Media plays a crucial role in shaping our culture, and culture plays a crucial role in shaping how we think and act. Media is a hugely powerful thing…and I take creating independent, critical, fearless media very seriously. I think it’s important work.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing the work I do for long enough to know what the consequences of it can be for myself. A while back I burnt out, and in that state I had nothing to contribute to anyone. At that time I mistook “making the world a better place” with driving myself into the ground, racking up unmanageable debt and being totally out of touch with what a sustainable, healthy, feasible life looks and feels like.

Since that happened I’ve worked very hard to change my life and take steps away from what it was like then. But it’s amazing what a number I did on myself—I haven’t regained all my energy and it’s quite possible I never will. I suppose that’s made me protective of myself, and maybe that means that I’m also selfish. If I want to keep doing the work I think is important, then I have to be able to survive it. I have to be able to take care of myself.

The reality of my life is that I choose to work hard for not a lot of money, and for that to be sustainable from financial and energetic perspectives, I have to manage the balance very carefully. Money is part of the world I function in and I have to be smart about it. I’ve been dumb about money before, and recovering from that has been hard. Going down that path again is not an option for me. One part of trying not to is investing in this city and in this house. Which brings me to:

You’ve just bought into the mainstream, you’ve just fulfilled what it is that banks are for, to give us money to buy things so that they can make more money…you’re still complicit in what it seems to me you are trying to challenge.

I vehemently disagree that I just bought into the mainstream! I have two university degrees, I work fulltime, I pay taxes, I own a computer and I indulge in heterosexual sex. I have student loans and lines of credit and the banks have been making good money off me for years. My goodness, I most certainly did not just buy into the mainstream. My whole culture has been edging me into complicity since birth!

I’m not trying to be a brat on purpose. I’m just of the opinion that most all of us in this culture are complicit in the mainstream, and that we’re farther ahead when we acknowledge it. I was complicit before buying my house and I will continue to be. I will always participate in the economy and in capitalism, and when those collapse I will inevitably participate in whatever human inventions replace them. I could choose to reject my complicity more radically, perhaps by renouncing all my possessions and becoming a monk, or by hiking into the arctic and sacrificing myself to underweight polar bears (is it odd that I’ve considered both?). But by choosing to remain in the world and do my work here, I believe it’s my responsibility to accept that I am complicit in what’s wrong in the world. Then it’s my responsibility to question my complicity. And then to rip it up. And then to talk about it. And then to get blasted for it over and over until hopefully, ultimately, I learn something from it that will make a difference.

I had a wonderful prof named Deborah Barndt who taught me to embrace contradictions – not by ignoring them or skimming over them, but by really engaging with them. So I’m reluctant to try to justify buying my house as the right thing to do. I might very well be a giant, useless, selfish hypocrite. But I made the decision based on a real, thoughtful, critical process, and now I get to live with it, for better or for worse.

So what will I do with this cursed blessing? Getting my ass kicked has definitely inspired me to get on with planning for it more actively than I had been. Mostly I’m just excited to join a community that I can become an active participant in. Here are some of the cool things I know about so far:

Core Community Association. Don’t worry, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for me, ranging from working with kids to providing food to identifying unsafe living conditions.

Thomson Community School is right across the street from my house and, as an inner city school, services one of the most diverse student bodies in Regina.

– Chinastreet. I miss the proper Chinatowns of my former big city homes, but I’ll take what I can get, and there is a great Asian grocery just a few blocks from my house. And although the community is conspicuously lacking a big grocery store, there is also a great health food store and a wicked South Asian/Central American grocery within walking distance. There is also a good Korean restaurant and an excellent Ethiopian restaurant, so food will not be a problem. This particular part of Regina is about as multicultural as this small city gets.

So there it is. More than enough reflection for one night. Thanks Kelvin, for making me think hard.

xo n

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Ok, so I fell off the map for the last while, but I return with some major news: I made a very large and very old purchase. As of yesterday I am the proud (and terrified) owner of a 1944 bungalow in “Canada’s worst neighbourhood.” I’m not fazed by the bad neighbourhood part (I’ve lived in some most excellent bad neighourhoods in my day, and I actually think I prefer them…call it the Romantic Starving Artist archetype within). What scares me is the responsibility, commitment, and probable substantial cost of the endeavour.

There seem to be two schools of thought on home-owning in this day and age. There’s the standard one, which goes along the lines of, “Why pay rent every month to someone else when you could be paying it into your own investment?” Though I sometimes wonder if that that line of thinking might be nothing more than big bank propaganda, it’s ultimately the one I decided to go with, mostly because Regina has such an affordable and growing real estate market. In that way, I’ve made a very calculated investment (a.k.a. risk). I fully intend to make money from this and put it towards something else (of even greater value, whether financial or spiritual). Of course, in the meantime it’s also going to be my home, which is one of the most important parts of my life.

But there’s a critical argument against investing in real estate too, and that’s the one that is scary. It goes something like, “Maybe, just maybe, buying something huge that requires constant upkeep and maintenance isn’t actually the best way to move towards sustainability (financial independence, smaller ecological footprint, simpler life, etc.). Why would I want to live in (and pay to maintain) a comparatively huge property and structure, when I could certainly spend less money by not owning my own house? A couple of my more righteously hardcore friends have also reminded me gently that a whole house is more space than most of the world’s population has, and that it’s my responsibility as a privileged Northerner to decrease the amount of global space and energy I take up.

Yes, yes, yes and yes. I know these things and am in full agreement. And even though I’m scared and have lots of questions and fears about the whole thing, I still wanted to buy a whole house. Why? What am I hoping to achieve through this purchase that I think might actually serve the common good?

1. Financial Independence. So how exactly does my financial independence serve the common good? A fine question. Please refer to Your Money or Your Life for the best answer, but in the meantime here’s my version: by becoming less dependent on the mainstream socioeconomic structure, my work is freed up to happen on my own terms, without being as compromised to cultural expectations. In other words, I can focus on the work that is most important (and most fulfills my purpose/potential) without having to worry as much about how I will survive.

2. Greater freedom over the choices I make and my lifestyle. For example, I can (hopefully) use my property to grow food, which increases my self-reliance, decreases my reliance on Big Food, and localizes/simplifies/improves my food consumption. I can also choose to make energy efficient choices/upgrades in my home, and design my space based on what I legitimately need and think is of value rather than simply filling it up with a million things. (For the record, I also plan to share the space, so if any of y’all know of any potential roomies who might be keen to share the practice of Subverting Overconsumption, let me know!)

3. Greater sense of home, community, connectedness, happiness. Ok, one cute little house won’t necessarily give me all (or any) of these. But I’m working towards these states in my life, and while a happier, more connected me may not sound like a giant service to humankind, I actually think it is. The more successfully I can resolve the doubts I have about my role in the world, the more successfully I can focus on the business of fulfilling my potential. Though my purpose sometimes feels like it is eluding me, whether it’s ultimately to publish independent media or write or simply be a good and compassionate friend and neighbour, the happier and more at peace I am, the better. Hopefully building a healthy, functional home that reflects my values will support that.

So there you have it. I have high hopes for my little house on the prairie. I don’t expect its red trim and hardwood floors to provide a map to world peace or a solution to climate change, but I do hope that it will be the beginnings of a home base that will help to manifest my vision. With regards to this project, I think it will be a wicked fun challenge to see what I can do with it from here on in.

See you at the housewarming,

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.”

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

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

Two days ago my household’s satellite cable was cut off. Since then I’ve felt completely liberated.

The thing with me and TV is that when it’s around I watch it. I remember a few times when I accidentally had free cable, like one time in high school when for a period of time I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation practically every night. Other times I haven’t had a TV at all, and when it’s not there it generally doesn’t occur to me to miss it. Typically, it seems that the amount of TV available to me directly corresponds to the amount I consume and the attachment I experience. It’s that simple.

I like to think that I’m in control of my television consumption, but the reality is that I’m not. As I become more conscious of my consumption habits, I notice that I will sit down in front of the TV even when I don’t want to. Sometimes I’ll even flip it on hoping to disconnect from whatever I’m feeling: the stress of a tough day at work, the loneliness of living in a new city, or a lack of inspiration to write or draw.

I’ve been aware of how bad TV is for me for a while, so much so that when I was planning my move to my new city I intended to have no TV at all. But then I found a shared house that was already furnished with everything, including a totally outrageous satellite cable package.

At the time there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it. I loved the house, so I wasn’t not going to move in. And I didn’t want to waltz in to my new communal living situation making a big fuss about the way things were already set up. Besides, at that point I was feeling pretty righteous about the whole thing. Big deal, I thought. My roommates can watch the boob tube if they want, but I’ll be too busy with my vibrant social and creative life to even notice!

Righteous or not, as usual I ended up watching the TV because it was there. Though it turns out that having 250 channels doesn’t necessarily (or even regularly) ensure there is anything worthwhile on, I enjoyed that CSI or What Not to Wear were pretty much guaranteed to be on at any hour, and that if I missed The Hour or Survivor at 7pm or 8pm, I could catch it at 9 or 10. Oh, the freedom!

What I didn’t figure out until we received the first bill was that I was actually buying cable for the first time in my life. The painful irony was that my first-ever paid cable experience occurred in conjunction with the very first month of my project to Subvert Overconsumption by buying nothing new for a year.

Yuck. Now, at the beginning of this project I wrote into my Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption a caveat about consuming culture, so technically I’m off the hook. In fact, TV wasn’t even mentioned in the Guidelines at all, and it certainly didn’t occur to me that paying for cable was going to be problematic. But interestingly, taking cultural consumption off the hook has actually had the effect of making me hypersensitive to the culture I do consume.

Happily, the roommates agreed that $50 a month for satellite cable was a little over the top, so as a first step we decided to downsize to a more basic cable package. It took a few weeks, but when I got home Friday night, there it was: no satellite signal. I have to admit that after a long week at work I felt a little dismayed at the prospect of filling an exhausted Friday night with anything other than cable.

But something in the universe must want to support a cable-free me, because reluctant though I felt I was swept into a most excellent weekend involving improv theatre, looking at, making and trading art, meeting new people, writing, a movie, brunch, working out, visiting the library, taking pictures of the crisp winter day, and smiling at nothing and everything.

And so there it is. Just like that, I have a lighter heart. Is my weekend of renewed connectedness and possibility the result of not watching the boob tube for two days? I guess it would be a little simplistic to think so, but whatever the cause, something’s shifted and I’m glad. When I got home this afternoon I asked my roommate what she thought about not having any cable at all, and she said she’d been feeling great and more productive too, and that she thought it was a good idea.

All this reinforces something I already knew about myself, which is that my health requires good habits that have to be supported by my environment. Feeling empowered to design my own healthy environment is crucial, and it obviously doesn’t include cable. Pretty straightforward.

On that note, let me leave you with a great posting I found about someone else who is experiencing the delights of not having cable:

Why you too should cancel cable

Til next time, consume subversively,

xo n

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