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Feeling the need for a family fix and a couple of good granny meals, I decided to motor off to the rich province to the west for Easter weekend. Then, being conditioned to multi-tasking, I figured I’d kill two birds by picking up some hand-me-down furniture for my new place en route. So I increased my carbon footprint dramatically by renting a ridiculously gigantic cargo van and hurtling several hundred kilometres in a giant loop, from Regina over to Calgary, then up to Edmonton, across to Wainwright, and then back around, through Saskatoon and back home.

I carpooled as far as Moose Jaw with Dave and Al, and then drove the long haul to my home-town, arriving late the first night to the land of Black Gold wealth and real estate mania. I don’t really relate to Calgary very well anymore, so it was OK that my visit was a short one. But it was a delight to see Pammy, one of my oldest friends. She’d been holding a mighty gift for me ever since I left home for university, and this past weekend I finally got to cash in on it: a giant cowgirl armchair, with half-wagon wheels for a frame and a great bull’s head emblazoned on a green vinyl chair back. We hauled it out of her basement (breaking off a piece in the process…it’ll glue) and into the van. Then I got invited into the garage to dig around in boxes and collect more loot. Score.

Then it was back on the road. Destination number two was Edmonton, where I was treated to a Filipino feast and birthday cheesecake, and left with family heirlooms including my great-grandmother’s wooden rocking chair, an antique bookshelf, an old wooden footstool (which I also have a miniature version of that my grandfather built for my dollhouse), some serious artwork, and a bunch of other good loot. After that my dad joined me on the third leg of the journey to Wainwright to visit the (ailing but lovely) grandparentals, eat more decadent food (lots of meat, mashed potatoes, turnip puff, aspic, etc.), and drive out to the lake cottage to score an antique office chair and a delightfully rustic and unnecessary dresser.

Not the most relaxing Easter holiday on record, but it did serve the joint purpose of furniture and family. Before I knew it I was back on the road for the last leg of my whirlwind furnishing adventure. Unfortunately, about halfway between Saskatoon and Regina I was in a full-on blizzard. Yup. April in Western Canada. I am so ready for spring.

But for now I’ll have to satisfy myself with my new-to-me furniture, and the delight at having survived my epic cargo van journey through the brown bland almost-spring prairie. Hopefully by this weekend I’ll be close to fully moved in to my new place. And then in a few short weeks my mom leaves her idyllic Vancouver Island home to do her horticulture practicum landscaping my new garden. Yes, bizarre. More on that to come, as well as pics of the most excellent new-to-me furnishings.

xo n

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Subverting Overconsumption will be getting a wee mention (an indirect one, but fun nonetheless) on CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not The Opera tomorrow between 1 and 1:30pm. It’s part of my friend Krista Baliko’s Juno Takeover. Fun! Unfortunately, I anticipate that my radio voice will, as per usual, sound like a five-year-old’s, but oh well.

xo n

Ok, I guess I needed more of a break than I thought. It’s been a good while since I posted (like, the last post was on the subject of hockey sticks, and now shinny season is well over). A few factors contributed to my long silence: 1) my job is kicking me in the ass and it’s been exhausting and depressing me, 2) buying a house is stressful and expensive; and 3) discovering a creepy ex commenting to the blog under false name and pretenses spooked me.

Basically, whatever was going on over the last few weeks was not good conducive to a positive state of mind, and I had nothing constructive to share whatsoever. Actually, I couldn’t think of anything to say at all. So I said nothing, and nothing, and more of nothing.

But here I am, feeling a little better, and ready to say something again.

For the moment I’ll stick to the celebratory: today I took possession of my house. House buying is so weird. I hadn’t seen the inside of my house for six weeks, and over that time I’d become increasingly panicked and convinced that I wouldn’t like it anymore and that buying it was a bad idea and that it would send me into financial ruin and that my neighbours would be terrible etc., etc., etc.

And then I got there today and it was so beautiful and sunlit, and the snow had melted off the backyard to expose a giant sunny garden plot. And the previous owners must somehow have known that I am buying nothing new this year, because they were nice enough to leave me two kitchen chairs, a plunger, a broom, a snow shovel, a rake, and even a couch!

I love my house, and I can’t wait to move in! And since it’s mine and I get to stock it exactly as I see fit, I’ve decided to bid adieu to the nasty chemical cleaning products that I’ve always known (good riddance Comet, Pinesol and Windex!). So today I went armed with my brand new natural cleaning products and proceeded to lovingly scrub the fridge and cupboards. Who knew that baking soda, lemon juice, soap flakes and water would go so far? Thanks Greenpeace! Check it out:

All-Purpose Cleaner
1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap
1 gallon (4 litres) hot water
For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.
This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.

Scouring Powder
Use a firm bristle brush and scrub with pure soap combined with either table salt or baking soda.
Baking soda alone on a damp sponge is also effective on most surfaces. You can also personalize your scouring powder by adding an aromatic herb or flower. Put the ingredients in a blender and run until the fragrance has infused the powder.
For oven spills, scrub using straight baking soda or combine with the stronger version of the all purpose cleaner.
Remember to wear gloves when scrubbing.

Liquid Dish Soap
Grate a bar of pure soap into a sauce pan. Cover with water and simmer over low heat until they melt together. Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease and to remove spots. Pour into a container and use as you would any liquid dishwashing soap.

Mirrors, Glass and Windows
Wash with pure soap and water, rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Use washable, reusable cheese cloth instead of paper towels.
I scrubbed my fridge til it gleamed, ate my first meal, poked around and investigated every corner and cupboard. I love my house. Tomorrow some nice friendly folks are going to help me move some belongings in. Then I will treat them to another excellent recipe:

Jagarillas
1 part Jagarmeister
2 parts organic root beer
ice

So there you have it. I have lots of other things to say again, so rest assured that you’ll hear from me again before long.

xo n

I’m just about to celebrate 20 weeks of Subverting Overconsumption, bringing me well over a third of the way through my project of buying nothing new for a year. Unfortunatey I seem to have hit a bumpy patch on the road, and though there’s not much to do but keep going, I’m not feeling all that happy about it.

It’s like this interminable Canadian prairie winter: March 1st hits, and what started as just a few months of cold weather suddenly turns unbearable. The thought of enduring one more night of freezing feet or one more wind-bitten walk to work is just too much to handle.

Subverting Overconsumption is feeling similar. It’s not that what I’ve set out to do is that hard – I’ve stuck to my plan, and the result has been a significant increase in my awareness of what I consume, how and why. But at the moment I seem to have hit a wall where everything about it just feels uninspired and irritating.

Case in point: when I moved out of my old place I had to leave the left-shooting house hockey stick behind. Now I’m without, so I’ve tried the regular stuff: posting it to my Wish List and to Freecycle, visiting the local used sports equipment store, etc. But to no avail. No stick wants to find me.

When I had to endure a trip to Canadian Tire to help a friend pick out her own shiny new stick, I couldn’t help wondering what the purpose of me not buying a stick actually is. I mean, my rationale is still rational: though I consume plenty, I like that new goods aren’t being manufactured just for me when there is more than enough perfectly good stuff already in existence to reuse. But the sound of my voice explaining to friends that I can’t come out to play for lack of stick is increasingly grating, and in the meantime I’m getting less exercise, breathing less fresh air, and having less fun for my trouble.

I guess I’m in the whiny phase of Subverting Overconsumption. It’ll probably pass. I mean, I’m certainly not bored with life…there are a million more radical things I want to do as a result of starting by buying nothing new. Maybe I’m just at the part where I realize that what I’ve committed to isn’t enough, but what I think I might want to commit to next is too scary to say out loud. For now I just want a fricking hockey stick.

Sticklessly yours, n

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

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

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.”

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

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

Flickr Photos