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, maybe it’s because it’s been a really, really long couple of weeks, but I’m having trouble suppressing my irritation. So here we go:

Yesterday I carelessly posted a call to “action” involving a coordinated turning off of lights and electrical appliances around the world to make a statement about climate change. (Apparently there were also some accuracy issues.)

Today I got another “activist” email forwarded to me proposing a coordinated deflation of SUV tires (see the bottom of this post if you want to read it). It also dissed the electrical power down “action,” proclaiming that the SUV action “can have real media and political weight.”

Maybe. Letting air out of SUV tires might be much more effective, radical, revolutionary. Or not. I feel pretty sure that if I was an SUV driver and I got back to my car to find that someone had deflated my tires, I wouldn’t feel that open to hearing about the important message they were trying to draw attention to. I would probably just be really angry and hold a big fat grudge on all those goddam hippie anarchists, and close my mind forever to the possibility that they might have had something intelligent and important to say.

In any event, I’m likely not going to join the masses to fight climate change by deflating SUV tires. I didn’t turn off my lights or my computer this afternoon either. I didn’t even bother having an orgasm on global orgasm for peace day!

Though I’m a big sucker for the idea that mass action can move mountains, I don’t think this particular form of internet “activism” is the way to go. Actually, I’m pretty sure these mass forwards are no more effective than those bullshit forwarded petitions that were all the rage a few years back. I don’t even think they’re that much better than the tacky chain emails that demand you forward them to at least five people for good luck. They prey on similar things, inspiring the niggling guilt that I should forward it to my entire address book to avoid letting myself or my friend, or (heaven forbid) the planet down!

I’m irritated at myself for succumbing to the pressure. I’m irritated at the people who forward me the crap. And I’m irritated by the people who come up with the hoo hah in the first place. I’m gloriously, irrationally irritated, and being irritated is the most irritating thing!

So to cleanse myself of the bullshit I thought I’d make a list of some actions that I actually think are useful. Turns out I’m not even doing most of them. Damn! So if you’re not either, then maybe we can do them together:

  • Put a plastic jug in the tank of your toilet to save water
  • Write a letter to the editor
  • Walk to work
  • Run for city council
  • Grow a garden
  • Use vinegar in water to wash your mirrors and windows
  • Meditate

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

xo n

P.S. Here’s the SUV thing…decide for yourselves how much merit the idea has:

Did you get that message forwarded to you that asked everyone in the world to simultaneously turn off the lights for five minutes — in the middle of the day — to “take action” and “send a message” about global warming? Did you roll your eyes? Then here’s the action for you…

Participate in the biggest direct action mobilization of the Air Liberation Front!

The Air Liberation Front (a clandestine network dedicated to the liberation of air from the tires of unneccesarily-oversized vehicles) is calling on all citizens to create a few hours of gas-guzzling rest for the planet.

People all over the world can go to their nearest parking lot on the sixth of February 2007, between 2 and 4, and let the air out of an SUV’s tires (preferably a Hummer). (Hint: if you place a very small pebble in the cap and screw it partially on, the pebble will push in the valve and the air will deflate slowly without you having to remain crouched beside the offending vehicle.)

A few hours of gas-guzzling downtime for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

Addendum (2/2/07): Upon reflection this started to bug me. Check out my next posting for some elaboration. xo n.

The 1st of February 2007:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet. http://www.lalliance.fr

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the first of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55am on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

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

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

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

Unsolved mysteries of the Bedroom Vortex include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

xox n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet dreams,
xox n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that I wish you all bountifully underconsumptive 2007s.

xox n

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

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

Flickr Photos