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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

Check out the press release for Global Orgasm for Peace Day below, and the delightful science behind why mass synchronized orgasm could change the world at www.globalorgasm.org/demo.html and noosphere.princeton.edu. And don’t forget to celebrate the event on December 22! I can most certainly think of worse ways to act for peace.

Anti-War Activists Plan ‘Global Orgasm For Peace’

(CBS/AP) SAN FRANCISCO Two peace activists have planned a massive
anti-war demonstration for the first day of winter.

But they don’t want you marching in the streets. They’d much rather you
just stay home.

The Global Orgasm for Peace was conceived by Donna Sheehan, 76, and Paul Reffell, 55, whose immodest goal is for everyone in the world to have an orgasm Dec. 22 while focusing on world peace.

“The orgasm gives out an incredible feeling of peace during it and after
it,” Reffell said Sunday. “Your mind is like a blank. It’s like a meditative state. And mass meditations have been shown to make a change.”

The couple are no strangers to sex and social activism. Sheehan, no relation to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, brought together nearly 50
women in 2002 who stripped naked and spelled out the word “Peace.”

The stunt spawned a mini-movement called Baring Witness that led to
similar unclothed demonstrations worldwide.

The couple have studied evolutionary psychology and believe that war is
mainly an outgrowth of men trying to impress potential mates, a case of
“my missile is bigger than your missile,” as Reffell put it.

By promoting what they hope to be a synchronized global orgasm, they
hope to get people to channel their sexual energy into something more
positive.

The couple said interest appears strong, with 26,000 hits a day to their
Web site, http://www.globalorgasm.org

“The dream is to have everyone in the world (take part),” Reffell said.
“And if that means laying down your gun for a few minutes, then hey, all
the better.”

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

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

Flickr Photos

Dollhouse close up

Kitchen close up

Dollhouse rooms

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