Saturday, June 30, 2007

the reckoning

It's the end of the financial year, and it seems a good time to do a bit of a review of progress so far.

I started the compacting journey in late January, thinking I would give it a good crack for a month. It seemed a good idea at the time. Little did I know what I was getting myself into (apart from my first foray into the world of blogging!).

So this is how it has gone:
1. buying stuff. Hugely reduced. I give myself 8 1/2 out of 10. I cannot believe I have not bought a CD since January! It was generally 4 or 5 a month. I should also note that I haven't stepped foot inside a CD shop since - I strongly suspect I would crumble in the face of temptation ...

Book buying was another major weakness - I have had a couple of minor slips, but again it used to be 4 or 5 (or more) a month. Have increased my library usage significantly and buy books from the Op Shop (and can even bear to take them back). Have figured out that I don't have to read the latest releases when they are hot off the press. This has been a struggle point for me, but on the whole doing quite well.

Clothes - don't go looking, don't go to shops much. Have bought a couple of items which I feel ok about. They have been conscious choices of quality items that I will wear a lot and will hopefully last the distance. Also bought some recycled items and make an effort to seek this stuff out.

Lipstick and perfume - girly weaknesses. Bought none. And judging by the amount I already have, I won't have to for another 20 years. But I still want to ...

Shoes - one pair second hand. No funky boots. Last year's funky boots are doing fine service after a re-heel.

Jewellery - two items second hand.

2. Cleaning products - bought some dishwash, vinegar, bicarb, and borax. Still working my way through the stuff in the cupboard. Why did I ever imagine we needed so many different cleaning products. Ridiculous. I would like to wash the dishes with soap (gee, just like the olden days) but have been stymied by not being able to find one of those shaker things you put it in. Don't want it getting slimy in the bottome of a container. Anyone got any brilliant ideas?

3. Energy use - thinking about this a whole lot more. Make a big effort to turn off lights and to only use heating when needed (and to keep it at 19 or 20 degrees). Not bad.

4. Water use - I am a bloody hero (in my own mind, anyway)! Have been showering with a bucket since December. First the water went on the garden, now it flushes the toilet. Also catch water from the basin in a bowl and add that to the bucket. Looking at a more serious investment in a tank.

5. Rubbish - has reduced. The worms eat all the vegetables, and the rubbish (which was largely packaging I suspect) has gone down. Not wasting so much food.

6. Food - didn't buy much processed food, but am cutting that down. Starting to buy some organic (I would like it to be all, but this is a point of domestic disagreement ...) Am taking my own lunch to work, so not buying any packaging with that. On the odd occasion I do buy lunch, I make sure it is wrapped in paper.

7. Mind change - huge. From 'see it, want it, buy it' consumer to considered consumer. No more spontaneous purchases. Thinking a lot more about my actions and their consequences. Starting to feel that my values and my life are getting back in sync. Got to be happy with that.

So there you have it. The benefits have been enormous - have met some fabulous people and started to change my thinking about a whole lot of things. There is still a long way to go, but I am well on the journey.

There is no going back.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

does second hand perpetuate a problem?

I went to the preloved clothing sale on Saturday and bought a new handbag, a couple of tops, a pair of shoes and a watch. All second hand, in very good condition and at bargain prices. I guess the desire to spend some money had to come out somewhere/somehow. It got me thinking about this whole second hand thing - yes, in buying second hand we are not creating a new market for goods, energy is not expended in making new stuff, and we are reusing things. All good.

On the other hand, it gives free license to continue in consumer mode, which is not really a good thing and perpetuates the pursuit of the material. And in buying second hand stuff, are we salving other people's consciences so that they can happily go out and buy more?

There is something that is not really stacking up for me here - but am not quite sure what it is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

this could be vintage nirvana?

I have just come across an article about a market (Melbourne) for women's 'pre-loved' clothing on Sunday 24 June. At the Hawthorn Town Hall. The woman who runs it also runs markets for selling 2nd hand kids clothes. This is the web site:

Worth a look.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Clothes just aren't built to last any more

Clothes just aren't built to last any more.

I have come to this conclusion after years of trying to 'build' a wardrobe.

I've done all the right things, I swear. I've looked after my clothes. 'Invested' in 'classic' pieces that were meant to become the 'backbone' of my wardrobe. Classic cut jeans and denim jackets. Good quality jackets and blazers that were supposed to last forever. Shirts that were well-cut. Good quality boots. Top quality underwear.

None of it seems to last more than five years. Buttons and fasteners break. Seams rip. Fabrics tear. And I am convinced that the factory made 'Made In China' label that you see on nearly everything these days should really come with a codicil: "Poor Quality Garment: Destined for the dump in 2 years flat.

I compare my modern clothing to the items I have found in Op Shops that were made here in Australia (and elsewhere) pre-1970s. A few funky shirts that would make Austin Powers swoon. Some really old miniskirts that may even be Mary Quant originals from the 1960s.

The difference in quality is astonishing. Even the cheapest of my old shirts (made from 100% polyester!) are double-stitched, and the seams have generous allowances. Darts are properly finished, and patterns match up beautifully.

In short, they're well-made, and made to last. And the proof is in the pudding, because here am I, in 2007, 30+ years on, still wearing these great clothes. One of my funky 70s shirts is now in its fourth season since I've had it, and is wearing as well as the first day I got it. Still great, still comfortable, still a favorite.

But the clothes I bought new in 2003 - they're long gone. Fallen apart. Made In China, in some sweatshop where a person almost certainly wasn't paid properly and had no interest or pride in their work. Who can blame them, making shirt number 500 for the day, all exactly the same?

So what is a frugal Greenie supposed to do?

Here are a few tips:

  • I start by buying what I can from Charity Shops, second-hand. The older the better. Clothing that is pre-1980s at the very least, because it was in the 1980s that the big shift to sweatshops happened, and the quality of clothing took a big shift down.

  • I also buy classic items that are less likely to date. Modern fashion, forget it. My wardrobe consists of classic cut jeans, classic jackets, classic shirts, skirts and dresses, and all the best quality I can afford.

  • I avoid the 'Made In China' label like the plague. No, I'm not racist. I simply know that when people are poorly paid, they have less interest in ensuring that the garments they produce are well-made. In short, they have less pride in their work, and that is reflected in the quality of the item. That's without even getting into a whole stack of human rights issues!

  • I buy men's clothing in preference to women's, when I can. Men's clothing is generally better made, better cut, and cheaper. The quality is better all round, and the fabrics are usually of a heavier weight. Even the most petite woman can save herself some serious money by buying men's socks, men's handkerchiefs, and boy's t-shirts.

  • I avoid factory-made garments as a rule, whenever possible. Handmade clothing is so much better. Charity Shops have a surprising number of hand made clothes, especially dresses. They are easily spotted by the lack of tags, individual styling, and great fit.

  • Lastly, as part of my 'No More Stuff' vow, whenever I buy something that is new to me (and usually it is secondhand), I remove an old item from my wardrobe. That way, I don't build up the number of clothes I have, and my 'stuff' doesn't get out of hand.

Monday, June 18, 2007

and now I have purchased ...

I have been shopping and bought a new coat and trousers (first clothing purchased since December). The trousers were a carefully planned and desperately needed purchase, but the ooat wasn't (spontaneous, but it is good quality). It got me thinking about the sustainability of this gig - at some stage, you really have to get new clothes - whether they be 'new new' or 'recycled new'. Two of my pairs of trousers were in dire need of replacement - one pair had just come to the end of their natural life and were not really fit for polite society any more, the other pair (I am rather embarrassed to confess) were cheap, and as it turned out, nasty. I should have known better. And I've had my old coat for 5 years and it's looking somewhat tired.

I have been looking diligently in the local op shops. Maybe it is the area I live in, but they just don't stock corporate-suitable clothes. And if I am to be honest, the musty used clothes smell just doesn't do it for me. Tried a recycle shop - but there was nothing that suited that day. How much effort should I put into searching out non-new clothes? Apart from which I am not too excited about paying a reasonable amount of money for clothes that definitely look pre-loved before I get to them. And I don't really like shopping that much anyway.

So, the upshot - a coat that should last 5-10 years and new decent quality trousers. I am pleased. And considering the sales are on, feeling pretty restrained. Or have I been extravagant? Is this good or bad behaviour?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

cured at last?

Today being a public holiday, my beloved and I went out. For a drive. Not something we generally do. We went to a small country town with the biggest antique shop I have ever seen. I love old stuff - I love junk - I love antiques. And this place was bulging full of it. And I looked at it, and admired it, and considered buying a couple of things, and then thought 'I don't think I will use it.' I didn't buy anything - and I am fairly astonished. There I was in a vast haven of guilt free shopping, and I didn't want to buy anything. I am reeling from shock.

However, I have decided that I do need to buy some new clothes for work. A new suit is required. So I shall buy one. I will buy what I need and no more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Handbags and happiness

Case study 1: The Trendsetter

For some, it's the handbag. Latest fashion. It's this season's must-have. You've probably seen female after female walking around the city proudly clasping them. The females also have the latest boots (to match the handbag). And the latest smock-style dresses. The latest cape-jackets. The latest hair accessories. The 'right' leggings. The make-up. The jewelry.

It will all be out of date and in landfill within 18 months, declared 'out of date' by the Powers That Be.

Case study 2: The Geek

For some, it's the PDA. The latest model. Plays everything. Has everything. Does everything. Very small, neat, compact. Fits into your pocket - maybe so small you don't even notice it's there. A smart phone. iPod. Laptop. Palmtop. Geeky toys your geeky friends will wow over.

It will start doing 'strange things' within a year or two. Maybe the screen will stop sensing your stylus taps, or get too scratched for clear viewing. Or the screen might just go blank one day. Or the model you have doesn't have enough memory any more. Or it just isn't as spiffy as the one your workmate has. Toss it out, shove it in the drawer, sell it on eBay for next to nothing - it's garbage now, whichever way you look at it.

Case study 3: The Mountaineer

Maybe your 'thing' is adventure sports. You have lots of clothing with 'Kathmandu' emblazoned across it. 'Gondwana'. 'Feathertop'. High-tech mountain gear. Not that you do much mountaineering but - hey - it sure looks good. It even makes your beer gut look trimmer.

Once again, you've got to keep up with those infernal Joneses. Keep that funky, sporting wardrobe up-to-date with the latest outerwear, and toss anything that is looking a bit worn in the trash. Or maybe give it to St. Vinnies charity shops. But probably the bin.

Oh, those Joneses!

The truth is, we all have our weaknesses, whether they are clothes, toys, equipment, or even spoiling the kids with the latest kids stuff.

The reason the Downshifting movement has come into its own is because the bane of modern society is, simply put, Too Much Stuff.

We're drowning in clutter. We're knee deep in belongings that we don't really want, don't really use, and probably never really needed in the first place.

Somewhere along the line, we convinced ourselves (encouraged by copious amounts of advertising which has played upon our lack of self-worth) that we needed things to be worthwhile, beautiful, clever, fun, or amusing. Things would win us friends and help us to influence people. Things could help us do what our small, lonely, self-doubting humanity might not.

The Trendsetter (case study 1) convinced herself that if only she had the 'right look' (as marked by various fashion magazines, shops etc.), she would be more beautiful, more appealing, more popular with her friends, and probably more likely to find a partner. Oh, and happier.

Sadly, in our shallow society, some of this is probably true.

The Geek (case study 2) convinced him/herself that if only s/he had the 'right toys' s/he would have some sort of funky BOFH status among his/her other Geek friends. In this subset of society, comparing clever gizmos is a major pastime, and having better gizmos than your peers is sometimes, sadly, a definite status-gainer.

Maybe the Geeks should really stop to question if they should perhaps consider deeper and more meaningful ways to strengthen relationships than having toys?

The Mountaineer (case study 3) convinced him/herself that if only s/he has the right clothing and equipment, s/he'll look and feel fit, attractive, and ready to tackle the great outdoors.

How many hours are spent earning enough money to pay for that equipment and clothing? Are there enough hours left to enjoy the great outdoors?

Maybe a better way for the Mountaineer to trim that beer gut and live their dream is to wear any old thing and just get out there into the world!

All of these case studies are people who think that they can find virtue, or value, or self-worth, in belongings.

But the truth is that self-worth can only ever be found inside oneself. No amount of stuff will ever make a person more worthwhile.

Somehow the more we clutter our lives up with clothing, toys, possessions, 'stuff', the more we lose sight of what is real, and deep, and meaningful.

All around us, in our overly 'stuff'-filled society, people are searching for meaning. Attending meditation workshops. Trying yoga, Pilates, swimming, gym work. Struggling to lose excess pounds and shed excess emotional baggage. Grasshopper-leaping from religion to religion in search of 'the truth'.

But here's the rub: Happiness can't be bought or sold.

You can't find fulfillment through clothing, toys, or equipment.

You can't buy contentment from a Church or a short course.

Truth can't be sold door to door, or ordered online, or purchased in a catalog.

The paradox of happiness is that sometimes it is easier to find your bliss when you shed the 'stuff'.

Our society has fallen into the trap of thinking that happiness is all about the handbag. But the handbag is empty. It will never make you happy.

Neither will that latest geeky toy or that piece of outdoors equipment.

But if you go outside, and listen to the wind in the trees, and smell the flowers.
Or if you hug someone you love and are hugged in return.
Or if you give some of that 'stuff' you have to someone who really needs it, and tell no-one and ask for nothing in return.

Then you might just find happiness.

(x-posted from the writer's own Blog Cluttercut)

water matters

Having spent most of the summer with a bucket in the shower and bowls in the basin and sink to catch water for the garden, I was a bit confounded when it did rain a few times. The garden, such as it is, survived the summer and autumn crisis and no longer needs the extra water, but I still have a need to conserve it.

The water crisis sure isn't over.

So now I am using the water from the shower to flush the toilet. Haven't got round to doing the greywater plumbing thing - am just tipping it in. I figure that each bucket of shower water that gets used is a lot less litres of clean drinking water down the toilet...