Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Sustainable Life

Just wanted to note that the images accompanying this post are from our weekend discovery of a local community farm project on the campus at the Claremont Colleges. And the mud home is a student project (I believe) and my dream home. I know, a mud hut, sounds weird, huh?

I have been thinking a bit about this year and the financial world that is coming down on us. NPR reports daily on the upheaval of our economy, our system, our lives. It has made me pause on a daily basis to think and evaluate what we as a family are doing in this upcoming year to prepare, or better say, brace ourselves for the immanent changes.
Them at The farm

Since the day I got pregnant, and I mean literally, we have been on a single income with supplements from my occasional forays into work. We did not feel a huge impact when we 'lost' my income as we had scaled way back before I stopped working. Now, we also exist in a fairly unique situation as we live with not only multiple generations, but with multiple sources of incomes. We have a safety net that many do not live with, and that helps us through harder times and insures that there is always food on the table and a roof over our heads. Tim and I both make/made fairly modest incomes, enough to allow us to live without a lot of worries, but not to live with a lot of luxuries. I am starting to really appreciate what living moderately means, especially as we try to balance and make sense of what we should do as we watch our country's fabric shift and tear quite a bit.

Many years ago I read a book that changed my life. It is titled Ishmael and is the fable of a gorilla that has sat as anthropologist to human kind, observing, theorizing and then passing it on to a student who happens to be a human. It is not a book for everyone, but for me it crystallized almost everything I have felt as I grew up, but was unable to formulate. The 'story' is of our culture, our consumer culture...and of course, it's impact on the world. Like I said, not for everyone, but a lightening bolt for me. So, it changed a lot in our lives, Tim and I have used the story as a barometer of sorts. It is very relevant today as we go forward into what could be the biggest mess we have seen in our lives.
Mud Home

This is not a dire post, rather I mean it as a place to set down in writing what goals I have for myself and family as we try out a leaner way of life, a life with less and with more due to taking less. A life where we find personal sustainability that extends past buying 'organic' or leaving less of a footprint by bringing home products claiming to be good for the world. And the life is starting to look like it is mostly about bringing home less overall.

So, to start, things we are already doing:

1) Farmer's market : We have been going steadily for a year for both produce and companionship. We do not just buy, we speak to the people, get to know them a bit and give our favorite one man band a few dollars while the boys dance to his guitar/harmonica and marvel at his expertise. We are re-connecting with a community that I had forgotten existed. And our dollars go back to our area, our home.

2) Less packaging : I am almost at 100% with taking only what we buy out of stores, no bags, no extra baggies, less less less.

3) Buy used : The boys rarely have 'new' clothes or toys, we use the local children's resale and receive a lot from friends. I never turn away an offer of stuff, rather I go through it, sort and choose, and then regive/donate what we cannot use. I have never felt stigmatized by this, growing up with a 8 children household taught me the value of reuse.

4) Shop less : I curtail urges to go to Target for 'just one thing' or to browse the internet too often as I find the ease of clicking through to Paypal is just too too easy. Instead, we hit the park or the trail and I marvel at all that is there already.

Things I want to do:

1) This is big for me...I want to do a SLOW month. This is the pledge to avoid buying anything that is not essential for food/work. So, milk, yes. Joann's fabric bin, no.

2) Divorce myself from Joann's : Speaking of buying. I have to be honest and say though I broke up with Target, I struck up a relationship with Joann's with a vengeance. And buying fabric for clothes for us and the boys sounds so justified. Until I consider where the fabric came from and how it was made and it then looks as bad as the $1 polos I bought for the boys at the Old Navy sale. So, Joann, I love you but I think we have to break up too. Or at least take a break.

3) Use what we have : By this I mean crafting supplies stacked, paper piled, and jars/containers/bottles reused. I think of Tim's GPs that save everything. They are a product of the tail end of the Depression and remember when glass was precious, when plastic did not rule. I marveled the other day at our yogurt container, lid and all, thinking of how to re-use it.

4) Make more : Speaking of yogurt, I have a yogurt maker, yet to be used. So, things like that, making food, growing food, finding out what is seasonal, sustainable and delicious that we can grow in our backyard. And I want to get a pair of chicks for the yard, they would provide fresh eggs and be great insect eaters. As long as Mishka does not get them.

5) Save what we do not spend : Not spend what we save by doing the above. Tricksy, that part.

6) Educate myself regarding my local homeschooling community : I am becoming more and more convinced that I am going to pursue homeschooling the boys. It came up when I first had them, then I reconnected with a very dear person who invited me t see how she home schooled her youngest. And lest you think it cripples children, a majority of her circle have gone on to college, one is at NYU and currently performing on Broadway. At 20. So, I am weighing the options, wanting to know more, and getting really excited about it. This blog has some great insights into HS. You might read her a bit for her wit too.

Inside Mud Home
So, these are not terrible concrete. It is not like I wrote down numbers and figures, these are guidelines for me and mine to try to follow as we walk with our fellow Americans that are trying to see what the light looks likes at the end of this tunnel. I think it looks totally different than any of us can even imagine.

I do not think this will be in any way easy for me, I know I am more plugged into consumption than I realize. But this is a great way to learn how to unplug. Won't you join me in some small way if you can? You could do the pledge of the Slow Month (or try), reuse or buy used, find your local farm/farm store.
Them at The farm

And if you get a chance, pick up Ishmael. You might just like it and join us.


lori z said...

I loved that book. You're doing a wonderful job inspiring me. Keep up the great work.

See you on thursday!

LauraC said...

Oh goodness, I often wonder how I stumble upon the blogs that speak to my heart. This post is right up there as one of my faves.

We are already in the middle of a slow month. It started December 27 for us. We are taking it a step farther and trying to buy as little food as possible as well. We are trying to see how creative we can be in using the things already in our home. All those things bought with a plan to use them (i.e. dried cranberry beans) are getting used this month.

So far the only thing I've had to buy is new sports bras. It was definitely a need as my old bras were not supportive enough anymore.

I'll keep you posted on how our slow month goes. I have always been interested in the environment, having a environmental engineering degree. And Jon has always been frugal but we read the book "Your Money or Your Life" in 2000 and it changed our relationship with "stuff" forever.

Dawn Johnson Warren said...

Daniel Quinn's writings had a profound impact on Brad and I's thinking as well.

Awesome post and always relevant no matter what the economy, too bad it took all of this craziness to bring it to the forefront of our society's thoughts. Oh well, at least it did. We definitely need to meet up next time I am in California. I just know we'd have so much to talk about!

Luckygirl said...

Excellent post! We just decided about a week ago not to spend anymore money this month except for groceries. Which means I will not be going to Target, because I always overbuy when I go there. We are also going to use the gift cards we have that are starting to pile up. So far the hardest thing for me has been not buying decaf coffee drinks, but it's good that I'm breaking that habit - too much money and calories...

Preeti said...

You talked about home recently and how you are rediscovering special places that were somehow forgotten. You have taken this further by talking about making such a huge difference in the quality of your everyday lives. Inspired, is what we are as a family and we are excited to follow your journey of discovery and hopefully tag along sooner than later.

Beth said...

This post so eloquently captured all that I have been thinking about my life and family. My husband and I have three-year-old twin girls, and since they were born, my commitment to the world we live in (both global and local) has expanded more than I could have imagined. While I try to conserve and re-use, and not buy, it is so hard to not get swept up in it all (I, too, have banned myself from going to Target unless I absolutely have too!). I am going to check out Ismael from the library, and have decided to have our own Slow Month. What a terrific idea. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Have I told you lately how awesome I think you are? Another really thought-provoking and inspirational post! I can always do more than I do, so thank you for the ideas and reminders. :) Going to look up that book right after this...

I'm so looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! xo-S.

Sereknitty said...

Isn't it amazing how little we truly NEED to survive? I want to live an abundant life, but not with an abundance of things. I get stressed out when I have too much 'stuff' around (yes, even with yarn)! The rule in my house is that if it hasn't been worn, or used within the past year, it gets donated to charity. I like the idea of a slow month -- I'll have to give that some further thought.

I love that you're thinking of home-schooling -- challenging, but rewarding, according to my friends who have done it.

Rae said...

Wonderful Mamie- and I would love to live in one of those earth homes too! Your boys are looking so BIG!

lesleysmeshly said...

I found your blog through Laura C at Lauras Mommy Journal and I am so happy to stumble upon you. Your philosophies are right up our alley. Anytime I "need" to go to Target or Michael's I will just head here instead to remind myself that need is not really a need at all.

Knitterista said...

Wow...good for you guys!
You're doin' great! I have some of those same things in place and some to work on as well. Purging is a much needed thing in our house, expecially when grandparents bring toys every time they come over...enough already!!! Your boys are just getting cuter and cuter every day by-the-way!

Katie said...

Hello!! I was just thinking of my resolutions when I read your post. It's so inspiring and motivating to read what others are doing as I think about my next year. I have to say that I'm right on track with you as far as slowing down the buying {especially after organizing my yarn stash!}. And thinking about the food I eat is always a big one for me too. As for the yogurt ~ I want to encourage you to go for. I got a yogurt maker a few years ago, and I've never looked back! I do the simple version (just mix the milk with the yogurt and don't heat it up on the stove), it makes for a creamier, almost drinkable yogurt. yum

gleek said...

i'm on a buying freeze too. gotta spend less and reuse more!