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Maybe I’m Not Doing so Badly After All

I am enjoying a quiet evening and, while I really should be working on my presentation for next week, I’ve been browsing blogs I have come across.  Blogs about living sustainably and reducing consumption.  There are plenty of neat blogs out there and I could easily spend hours surfing and reading.  I rarely do, and mostly just read what others find and forward to me.

Having now browsed through a number of these blogs, I am starting to realize that, despite my many failures, I still live much more sustainably than most.  This largely hasn’t been by choice, but because of having such a tiny budget.  I don’t buy stuff because I can’t.  I read one blog that encourages people to buy nothing but food for a month.  Welcome to my life!  And, to the lives of many.  Canadians spend on average less than 10% of their incomes on food (I spend about 20%).  Most people on this planet spend much, much more, and have no choice but to buy little else.

I just read one entry from a blogger who lists all the things she bought or obtained used instead of buying new, and how much money she has saved in the process.  While the total savings was impressive, I was more impressed by all the things she would have spent money on in the first place and still brought home second hand.  I can’t imagine doing that anymore.  I can’t even remember what its like to spend money on anything except for food and bills.

Ok, sometimes I buy gas for my car, but I ration it.  I drive only when I have to – basically to get food since local eating requires driving, and occasionally for social reasons.  I used to drive more when I was able to train the dogs.  A tank of gas now lasts me around 3 weeks.

Before Christmas I bought a few items of clothing at Goodwill – 4 sweaters, a pair of sweat pants, and a pair of garden shoes – to replace the horribly worn sweaters I have been living in all fall.  My mother bought me a new coat so she wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with me in public, and she also took me to her salon to fix my self-cut hair.  Then there was the frying pan I wrote about two weeks ago (gift from Grandma).  And I bought a book on bread making and two calendars, all with a Christmas gift certificate.  Oh, and a couple of small gifts for others over the holiday.

Christmas was a big shopping time for me, mostly because of gift certificates others gave me to go shopping with.  Otherwise, all I buy is food, and occasionally gas.  So when I berate myself about not being good at ‘unstuffing’, mostly it is about buying non-sustainably produced food, such as meat on styrafoam trays or vitamins in plastic bottles, or driving the two blocks to the library to return a book when it’s -25 out.  I’m not buying new clothes or gadgets or make-up or knick-knacks or eating at restaurants and so on.  Heck, I haven’t even bought juice (other than the occasional jug of local cider) in over a year because it doesn’t fit my budget.

I am now so accustomed to not buying stuff that I get upset with myself for what most would consider to be very tiny purchases, like the B12 vitamins in a plastic bottle.  Reading through these other blogs has made this clear to me tonight.  Apparently I need to lighten up and stop being so hard on myself!

By the way, don’t get me wrong.  I am not sharing my financial situation to get sympathy.  I am in this situation by choice – I’d rather be a poor grad student than back in my old life (although given my druthers I’d choose to be a well financed grad student).  Many people live like I do because they have no choice.  There is a certain elitism about much of this “live more sustainably” rhetoric, an elitism I am well aware that I participate in.

I do get very stressed when I can’t make ends meet – which happens more often than not these days – but as long as I can pay my bills and buy the food I want to buy (i.e. organic and local), I am happy.  It feels GOOD not to buy stuff.  It almost is adictive.  It reminds me of the one time I successfully fasted for a day.  It was very tough going, but by the next morning, I was on a high.  The high felt so good that I didn’t want to eat, just so I could maintain the feeling.  I did eat, because we don’t have much choice in that matter.  But I like this consumer fasting high that I’m on.  My only complaint is that I can’t afford to DO stuff.  I could care less, for the most part, about BUYING stuff.

I do still have too much stuff in my house (although most of it is second hand), and that is a process of de-stuffing that I need to get working on.  I also have too much stuff in my head.  Much harder to get rid of, but I have been practicing my meditation and it’s helping.  Writing in this blog helps too.

I hope that when I get through these tough times, and have a good job again, that I will continue to live this way.  I think it is possible.  I think that most people want stuff only because they can’t have it, and use credit to get it if they can.  When I was working for Big Oil, and making a very healthy salary, the desire to buy stuff surprisingly disappeared.  When I suddenly could buy pretty much anything I wanted, I found I wanted very little.  I was extremely careful with my purchases, and lived very frugally.  In fact, I lived in a smaller apartment than I do now, and didn’t even own a car!  And when I bought one, I decided against the BMW I had drooled over for years and could finally “afford” (ie with years of payments)  and paid cash for an old pick-up truck that later served to move me enough times to pay for itself several times over.  When I walked away from that job I was in complete control of my life, with zero debt, very little stuff and money in the bank.  Now that was a high I strive to return to!

Even though I do consume less than many, this is not about comparing myself to others.  I have my own standards and goals, and it is those I wish to acheive.   Reducing plastic is a big one, but finding a way to earn an income in a fullfiling and low stress way has become my top priority.  So I will continue to browse blogs, and collect ideas and inspirations.  Eventually, I’ll get there.

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One Response

  1. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

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