Saturday, November 7, 2009

My New Favorite Four-Letter Word: Less

I think Rob, a resident of Staten Island, may be onto something. In the comments section of The New York Times article on Rethinking Laundry in the 21st Century, he remarked "It's funny how so many of the 'green' things I do, like hanging clothes outside, keeping a vegetable garden, composting yard and food waste, re-using bags (paper and plastic) and walking instead of driving are the kind of things my grandparents did before anybody called it 'green'."

Getting back to the basics. I'll add to that list: having a library card, drinking tap water, turning off lights when leaving a room, and using homemade cleaning products. (Learn about 25 Safe, Non-toxic, Homemade Cleaning Supplies from Tree Hugging Family and PETA Prime's Simple, Safe, and Cruelty-Free House Cleaners).

One more green thing our grandparents did that our bank accounts and Earth would benefit from? Paying in cash as much as possible. Why? Because I believe if we had to pay cash for many of the items we purchase, we would reconsider much of what we consume.

There's a scene in the haunting film Into the Wild (based on the Jon Krakauer novel), in which Christopher McCandless' parents offer to buy him a new car for a graduation gift, an idea he soundly rejects. "Why would I want a new car? The Datsun runs great. I don't need a new car. I don't want a new car. I don't want any thing. These things, things, things, things.”

"How much is enough?" asks Angela, who chronicles a year without purchasing anything new in her blog, My Year Without Spending. She brilliantly showcases how fabulous her readers look in thrift and consignment store finds in her “Thrifty Threads Feature.”

Angela belongs to The Compact, a San Francisco-area group whose members committed to "a 12-month flight from the consumer grid." They aim to "go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc.; reduce clutter and waste in our homes; and simplify our lives."

While you don't need to go as far as they do, it's worth reflecting on with the season of spending coming upon us, and the financial and environmental aftermath.

Consider this: Americans produce an extra one million tons of household waste over the average between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to the EPA, Planet Green reports. That's a 25 percent rise in waste from the already unacceptable 4 million tons.

I hardly have taken a vow of poverty, but I give thoughtful reflection on my purchases now. When I shop, I like to ask, "Do I really need this?" and "Will I remember this item in a week's time if I don't buy it?" It's not about depriving myself, and of course I permit myself some indulgences. (The R.E.M. Live at the Olympia cd I bought at my local independent music shop wasn't a 'need.') But mostly, it's about being content with much what I already have, and going second-hand as much as possible. For what would have cost hundreds of dollars in past years, I 'acquired' a new fall/winter wardrobe for free through my last clothing swap and 'shopping' in my closet, using perfectly stylish pieces in a range of new looks.

In an interview about a year ago on the U.S. economic woes, Suze Orman reflected that American consumers have been carrying this economy on our backs, and our backs are broken. Our wallets, and planet, cannot continue to go on as it has.

As Eddie Vedder lamented on the Into the Wild Soundtrack in Jerry Hannan's Society, "You think you have to want more than you need, until you have it all you won't be free."

1 comment:

Angela said...

Hi- glad you like my blog and the Thrifty Threads feature. Thanks for the nice mention.

As it happens, I'm a big fan of Into the Wild, both the book and the movie. And I could really relate to that scene.