Waste not, want more

No variations on a theme.

Minimalism and Making Room for Rice

I have been itching to tackle consumption and minimalism in a post for some time and putting off actually doing the tackling. A recent blog post by Karim Osman that generated many comments got me back in gear. It discussed the merits of minimalism and emphasized getting rid of things, purging, clearing out and otherwise freeing your material and digital self. There are after all environmental, financial, and personal reasons to keep it simple. He wrote:

Back then I spend most of my money on clothes and footwear. Yet I never knew what to wear and always wanted something new. Over the years I lost my obsession and went from 50 to 6 pair of shoes. Do you still remember which shoes you had 5 years ago? Not really right? That’s how “important” they were to you. Remember the trip you did with your family or friends 5 years ago? You probably do! It was definitely worth spending money on that because it’s something you’d never forget.

I generally agree, though I think there is something to be said for keeping some generally useful but unused things when they aren’t getting in your way. A costume box/ridiculous items of clothing, a couple of dresses that I can rarely wear places, blankets, and buckets come to mind. The used Tupperware veggie-serving tray I bought two years ago that has not yet been used could probably go. But it doesn’t have to if I think I will be out buying a new one within a year to serve the same purpose. Of course, if that serving tray starts dictating that a larger home is in order, it’s time to reevaluate.

Purging is great, but the biggest problem on my list of modern temptations I deem sinful, is that we’re as good or better at accumulating things again than we are getting rid of them.

But what I’d like to take to task is the questioning look, spark of anger, or downright disdain for those who work hard to get life down to the necessities plus a few items of great pleasure, and stay there; those who want to avoid buying new stuff; or those who limit the luxuries available to their kids (while they can). People seem pretty quick to judge those that make an effort not to consume. There are minimalist-types who are preachy about their life choices and that can be annoying and inspire retaliation – that’s not really what I mean. I’m more concerned about the general belief system that underlies the uninvited judgment on those who try to keep it simple.

A Globe and Mail article by Rachel Jonat prompted my original draft. It chronicles the story of her Vancouver family  and illustrates this potential for judgment:

Family and friends have been supportive, skeptical or adamant that we are making a huge mistake. We have been gentle with our words on the subject, and often tell people that it’s not for everyone.

I documented our journey on a blog (theminimalistmom.com)  and found it to be the best way to connect with other minimalist families. There aren’t a lot of us. The home is mostly a female domain and women tend to be shoppers, gatherers and collectors. Deciding to live with less and not spend money as a hobby or an emotional pick-me-up has alienated me from a few friends. While I don’t preach about it in person, several friends have read my thoughts on the subject on my blog and have quietly stopped inviting me to social events. I’m okay with this. My closest friends, regardless of their affinity for minimalism, have been supportive even if they are holding onto over-stuffed closets themselves.

It strikes me as pretty powerful that she’s actually experienced warnings of a “huge mistake” and alienation from friends as a result of this shift but it doesn’t surprise me. Though my life is not nearly as pared down as hers sounds, some of the most awkward times for me have occurred for similar reasons. For example, when I’m talking to a person who loves gadgets, has all the newest technology and thinks that I should too, it can be difficult to explain that I don’t feel the need, would prefer not to spend the money, or like to keep it simple without provoking a defensive reaction or a mild insult. I recognize that this person has no more than many others and I try to be respectful about it, making fun of myself, but that doesn’t cure the discomfort, or sometimes, the judgment.

I’ve certainly taken flak from certain members of my family for discouraging presents, random unnecessary items, and – most prominently – for refusing to buy a rice cooker, of all things. The rice cooker has now become my minimalist logo. I have no moral vendetta when it comes to the little space machines, but to my mind the principle is simple: I need and have pots. Pots cook rice well. Right now I don’t mind getting up to turn down the heat or check whether it’s done. I am not a rice fanatic that could justify to herself the purchase of a rice cooker. I’m sure there are others who reasonably could, like I justify my camera. Likewise, I don’t have a kettle. Pots are good at boiling water, too. However, I continue to receive comments about things like the cooker that would change my life. I’m stubborn, I’m cheap (I am cheap, but that wouldn’t stop me), or I’m a contrarian. Actually, I just really get off on not having stuff I don’t need, and clutter is my mortal enemy.

I am keenly aware, however, that this approach will get more problematic as time marches. I remain unprepared for the battles I might endure if I were to have kids. I’ve got a mental rulebook regarding number of gifts, newness of gifts (used!), questionable nutritional quality of gifts, and pinkness of gifts (unrelated issue) that could really generate some tensions with grandparents and others. I’m positive it will generate closeted criticism, but I guess that’s parenting. Friends of mine have told me about their experiences, including grandparents mourning the loss of their right to spoil and people questioning the quality of life of a 14 month old without a relatively fulsome set of toys.

In case it’s not obvious, that worries me. Are we so concerned with justifying our own stuff that we insist that babies have it all, too? Do we really think that toddlers are missing out on childhood because they have far more toys than they can remember? Is my life less worthy without the rice cooker? Was I put on this earth to annoy people? Do people have some point that I’m just ignoring?

____

Apparently my writing could use some minimalism – my apologies!

Advertisements

October 17, 2011 Posted by | Consumption, Irritated, News, Waste | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Orca Playground: To Watch or not to Watch

Personal work on a project has made the issue of better regulation of marine tour operations (and all marine boaters) an issue dearer to my heart:

Whale watching is a pretty big deal along the southern coast of BC, including Victoria and Vancouver (and into Washington). Outfits garner a lot of attention from tourists, bring considerable revenue to the area, and educate people about marine wildlife. However, orcas, and particularly the southern residents prevalent in local waters, are endangered. Food stocks and contaminated marine waters are the two biggest threats to orcas, one of BC’s favourite icons. Noise disturbance is also a very significant threat. Our waters and the animals that occupy them are exposed to constant boat traffic. The long-term effects of these disturbances on whales are unknown. A recent court decision found that Canada has failed under its own law to designate critical habitat for killer whales. In the meantime the critical habitat is consistently invaded by creatures it is not so critical to (like us); some of these creatures do not know how to minimize their impact.

These facts justify a precautionary approach to the protection of orcas. The precautionary principle requires that people and governments take action to prevent reaching a point of no return. Scientists have already identified these threats to orcas; strong measures must be taken to prevent further damage while we continue to learn. These precautionary measures can and should include substantial changes to the Canadian Marine Mammal Regulations…

-Report: Recommendations to Reform the Laws Protecting Orca from Boat Traffic, p. 5.

Please see this recent article in the Vancouver Sun. (If it makes it any more enticing, yours truly had a hand in this story.) If you’re really keen you can see the full report on which the article is based. To hear two perspectives on this  issue, listen to the podcast of a recent debate.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Law, News, Wild Animals | , | 2 Comments

Just Overshoot Me

What follows includes an offensive amount of cheese and brackets. Today, I will not apologize. Check back tomorrow.


I am a hesitant reader of non-fiction. Like opera, I can appreciate its value but reap little enjoyment. Despite my desire to be truly post-modern, I really enjoy a “clear” but fictionalized narrative. I want a story, with a beginning, end and a bunch of intriguing thoughts sprinkled throughout like candy at a parade. I don’t mind intriguing thoughts being thrown at my head. Such books feel like pure Creation with a capital rainbow. (I am currently resisting the urge to link to Kermit the Frog singing the Rainbow Connection. Thank me later).

Despite this fiction obsession, I was telling some aged environmental gentlefolk of my interest in hearing from or reading something of a different sort. I had spent months reading environmental and political news without seeing anybody discussing the fact that there is a finite amount of everything on this earth (except maybe love and road rage) and that we are quickly working ourselves into some potentially dreadful results (this is me avoiding terms like “mass hysteria” and “earth-sized mound of chicken poo”). These two dudes recognized my ignorance and my failure to be around in the 70s and took the opportunity to recommend a couple of books for me to read: Limits to Growth and Our Ecological Footprint. And oh, did I read.

Our Ecological Footprint introduced the mainstream to the idea that everything we do leaves a crap-patch on the earth the size of which is within our control, to put it in articulate terms. Despite all the cartoons and “let me break it down for you” moments, I found it difficult to read. For me, reading about science is like sewing about sex. I do not compute. That said, I did get through it in a few weeks with some new tools and language to use when discussing that thing I’ve never been able to describe beyond saying, “stuff can’t just keep growing.”

Limits to Growth was a more formidable challenge – I want to say 3 or so months – that included a lot of swearing while holding the book. And that’s a book I wanted to read. Just imagine what I was like when my boss handed me The Tipping Point, a book that still sends my pulse soaring, probably mainly because of Malcolm Gladwell’s slam on Sesame Street (or maybe for other less personal reasons). I got a lot of really good sleep during the Limits to Growth period, though that eventually ended when I finished the book. That said, certain ideas really clicked for me. I earned the language to further discuss my irritation with the meta-b.s. (google it) of never-ending progress that normally gets me incoherently, um, RAGE-rific. There were a couple of pieces that really stuck with me. In one particular spot I found the explanation of “overshoot,” a fundamental concept when talking about the world eventually wretching all over me (as I picture it), particularly useful. Maybe I liked the not-quite-irony of it too. I have sat on this quote long enough that it has lost some of its lustre. Though the a-ha moment has dimmed, I still find it really comforting, but not.

“The final contributor to overshoot is the pursuit of growth. If you were driving a car with fogged windows or faulty brakes, the first thing you would do to avoid overshoot would be to slow down. You would certainly not insist on accelerating. Delay in feedback can be handled as long as the system is not moving too fast to receive signals and respond before it hits the limit. Constant acceleration will take any system, no matter how clever and farsighted and well-designed, to the point where it can’t react in time. Even a car and driver functioning perfectly are unsafe at high speeds. The faster the speed, the higher the overshoot, and the farther the fall.”
 

Limits to Growth the 30 Year Update, p. 175

November 6, 2010 Posted by | Books, Brackets, Childhood Complaints, Consumption, Doing it the hard way, Irritated, Uncategorized, Waste | , , | 5 Comments