New Economic Model?

I attended and economic update last week.  I attend these from time to time, as it is part of my job to understand what is going on in the economy.  This one featured two economists from a large Canadian bank.  As they were talking about the forecast for the price of oil, gold, silver and copper – my mind started wandering.  The price structure of these commodities can help predict the future strength of the economy, the employment rate, interest rates.  The economist told us that the price of silver was irrationally high, and that there should be a correction.

It left me feeling conflicted.  Why will the price of silver come down?  What is the true cost of silver, the true environmental cost?  When I think of silver and gold now, I don’t see it as pretty sparkling piles.  I think of the mine, the vast amounts of earth that must be moved to pull out tiny portions of precious metals.  I think of the forest destroyed, the water used.  I feel heavy.  Why do we need all this silver and gold anyway?  What is it all used for?

Silver Nevada's nickname is the Silver State

Image via Wikipedia

So the price of silver will come down, perhaps.  Prices for gold, oil, copper, gas, food – these will also fluctuate on the global commodity markets.  But all these things came from somewhere, somewhere from our Earth.  Stuff was disturbed, even destroyed, to get them. I feel like I have an emotional investment in these things now.  I cannot just talk about them nonchalant like this economist does, without thinking about where they came from.  As he was talking, I find myself feeling sad.

He went on to say that the US economy will not be able to fuel global demand for consumer goods in the long term.  Household debt is too high.  Unlimited debt fueled spending is not sustainable.  However, to get out of the recession, that is exactly what US consumers need to do.  They need to start spending.

Sigh. 

I don’t know the answers.  Economists measure a healthy economy by growth in GDP.  But what if we have reached our limits to growth?  If the US cannot spend their way out of the recession, who is going to pick up the slack?  Who is going to buy all the gadgets and gizmos that China makes?

Walking out of that session, I wished I had asked that question.  Are there limits to growth – limits to how much consumers can spend, limits to the ability of the Earth to give up resources?

If there are limits to growth, what does the new economy look like? 

What will be the new economic model?

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Nothing New in Review

At the beginning of the year I made a series of resolutions. One of the more challenging ones was to refrain from buying anything new for the first three months of the year. I was sick of being a mindless consumer, buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, from where ever in the world I wanted. Instead, I wanted to stop to consider the resources that passed through my hands. I wanted to see if I could do without, make stuff, purchase used items instead. I wanted to abandon the image of myself as “consumer” and replace it with “citizen”.

My exceptions were as follows:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

So now that today is officially the last day of the three months – how did I do? What did I end up buying? I am here to confess to some cheats and some insights in breaking free from shop-mode.

Here is a list of items I did buy over the last 90 days:

  1. 2 handmade bars of soap from the Farmer’s Market
  2. 1 small jar of handmade face cream from the Farmer’s Market
  3. 1 two-inch bottle of handmade hemp conditioner from… yes, the Farmer’s Market
  4. Dishwasher detergent – only after trying to make my own with great disastrous results
  5. Liquid dish soup – only after trying to make my own with somewhat disastrous results
  6. Flour sifter – to sift the bran from my stone-ground local flour so that I could make a lighter loaf of bread, and also – local bran muffins!
  7. Candy thermometer – to use when canning, as I am planning to preserve lots of food this summer/fall
  8. Birthday presents – for two birthday parties my 5 year-old son attended (although I gave my 1 year-old niece a previously loved toy my kids had when they were babies – I think she liked it!)
  9. Handmade necklace and bracelet from the Farmer’s Market for my mother-in-law for her birthday (I got her 3 used hardcover books as well).
  10. Rubber boots for my kids – after I had checked out 2 stores for used pairs, I bought ones that were phthalate-free and made in Canada, which is not easy to find! The snow melt is finally on, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
  11. Tylenol – we ran out and I had a horrible headache one day
  12. 4 recycled plastic large bins – for storing items in the garage that were previously stored in cardboard boxes in the storage room downstairs. That stuff cannot reside in their existing cardboard boxes as our garage can flood. I am clearing out the storage room to make way for a new shelving unit for… homemade canned goods!
  13. Emergency supply kit – this is a whole other blog post
  14. Digital SLR camera – I lost my camera and spent the whole next day calling around and retracing my steps trying to find it. Frustrated, I threw up my hands and decided to buy a camera I plan to have for a really long time. I did not however, purchase a camera case. I did however, purchase a used men’s jacket, from which I plan to sew, and craft into, a custom-made camera case. By the way, I know how weird this sounds. But the camera case for the camera was over $100! The men’s jacket was $7! Besides, it will be much more interesting. Until it is made, my camera is bound to the confines of my house.

That is it. I feel a bit guilty about the 4 (recycled) plastic bins. Who knew a year ago, that I would be sitting here writing this, feeling guilty about buying 4 plastic bins. Under normal circumstances I would feel happy and proud of myself, for taking the initiative to actually organize and clean out the storage room and garage in the same project. Look at me! Cleaning the garage! Now I feel like – look at me! I just bought 4 big ol’ plastic bins when I forgo buying regular bread since I don’t want to waste a little bread bag! It is nonsense, I know. However, there are situations, when a plastic bin does make sense. Like when things are going in the garage, where they could become wet and ruined if they were left in any other type of container – cardboard, wicker basket – these just will not work. Even a homemade wooden box from sustainable timber that I cut down myself using a previously used axe, would not work. Plastic has some uses. For example, I like my plastic laptop. For the most part though, I try to avoid plastic whenever I can. If you really look, plastic is everywhere. So if a non-plastic alternative exists I will normally take it. Despite these justifications, I still have lingering guilt.

The other big glaring item on the list is the camera. Nothing new, and I buy a camera… I justified it as something I was not willing to sacrifice, as it is important to document my children growing up, and also – I need to be able to take pictures for you, dear reader, for this here blog.

Note that I did not buy shampoo. Digging through my bathroom cupboard, I found a stockpile of a brand I don’t really like. Oh well, it is finally getting used up. Eventually I want to learn how to make my own soap, and then by extension, my own liquid soaps, such as dish soap, hand soap and shampoo. I am going to defer this project until next fall, as I feel like I am going to be pretty busy with the whole big new garden plan and all.

The other thing I did not purchase – any clothes or shoes for me, even used. I bought used clothes for my kids and found some really cute stuff.  Kids grow and they need bigger clothes, you just cannot get around that. However, I am also getting some hand me downs from friends and my sister, and that helps too.

So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t have to shop for something to do. Have you ever been in a long line up at the till, waiting and waiting to pay, squinting under the fluorescent lights, feeling the energy and life slowly drain out of you, bored, restless and annoyed? Why am I standing here? I did not miss those moments. How about when you get home with all your bags, and the kids are restless and jumpy and loud, and it is well past the time you were supposed to get supper on, so the bags get left by the door in a heap, and at the end of the day after everyone is in bed, you trip over them again, and realize that you have the additional job of taking everything out of the bag, clipping off all the tags, peeling off all the stickers, taking stuff out of the packages, and then putting it all away, into your already full house? I never liked the putting away part. The best part of shopping is the finding, the discovery. After that, it just seems to go downhill.

So what will I do now? I have thought a lot about it, and have decided that I am going to sign up for another three months of Nothing New! I will report any exceptions here at the end of June.

It actually was not that bad, it was liberating really, and I learned quite a few things along the way. I think I also saved about $1,000!

Before I begin though, I think I might buy myself some of those made in Canada rubber boots, to play around in the puddles with my kids, and later, to play around in my future garden. Other than that, my original exceptions will apply, with the addition of shampoo, dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap.

So who is with me?  What would your rules be?

Economics of Happiness

 Last week I attended a screening of the Economics of Happiness. The film is about how our current mode of life in the West is unsustainable and is not making us any happier. In fact, we are more overworked and stressed out than ever before. We are disconnected from our communities and from our natural world and whether we realize it or not, we need these connections to feel happy and fulfilled.

The root cause of all this disconnection? The movie claims it is due to our highly consumptive lifestyle where we define the sense of ourselves within the image of this consumption – I am defined by the car I drive or the house I live in, by the designer clothes I wear, the furniture in my house and the smart-ness of my phone. What if instead – we were defined by our place in our local communities, our families, our contributions and joy that we bring each other? What if we saw ourselves as part of nature, and realized that we are nature? Right now we are so disconnected from nature and from each other that it’s making us lonely and sad.

What is driving this consumerism and disconnection? The movie claims that it is big companies, big banks, big media. We are increasingly homogeneous on this planet of ours, as we all feed into the same images of beauty, wealth, affluence, success. Local customs, cultures, even languages, are being lost to the Western culture of consumerism.

The solution? Localism – lessening the distance between buyers and sellers, so much so that we can look the seller in the eye knowing that he has produced what we are about to buy, and have a conversation with him and build trust. We will perhaps then better respect the natural materials that went into build it, grow it, and the human effort it took. My goods don’t have to travel across the globe to get to me, I don’t have to contribute to poor working conditions in halfway around the world to get my product. It may cost more, yes. But what if the cost to me was the true cost of the product, including the cost to the people who made it and the cost to the environment?

This movie has really struck a chord with me. It goes against what I was taught in business school, and everything I thought I knew about free trade and globalization.

I remember in one economics class in University, having a debate about globalization. Is it better for large companies to have their goods made in the developing world, under poor working conditions with a barely livable wage, or to have them made in the developed world, under good working conditions with a fair wage? If the goods are made in the developing world, the end price of the product will be cheaper for the consumer. Also – it gives people jobs, without which they might have nothing. Are we doing them a favour by exporting these cheap labour jobs? Who benefits more? The western consumer for the lower prices, or the poor migrant worker with poor working conditions and a poor wage (but without the job, could perhaps be in even a more dire situation)?

In that economics class, I argued that it was better to give the person the job; that it was more efficient to have the goods made there than here as they have more resources of cheap labour, and that this combination brings the most good to both parties.

A poor job is better than no job right?

Now I am not so sure. What right do we have to export all the crap jobs over to China, where there are few worker safety regulations? In the West we could not force people to work in these same conditions, in some cases it would be against the law. How ethical is it to buy our goods from these places, knowing this might be the case?

Back to those people who need the job – if we don’t give it to them what will happen to them? Well this movie argues that people are being taken off the land, away from farming, and moving into large urban centres to work in these large factories to make stuff for us in the West. This is happening all over India and China right now. Migrant workers move away from their families to work in the city, and lose their connection with their communities and with the land. But they are getting a job right? But wait a minute – isn’t farming a job? The movie argues that it is okay to be a farmer; we must not look down upon it, we must not see the mass migration from sustenance farmer to urban factory worker as necessarily a good thing. The sustenance farming communities are often very sustainable, and employ much of the community in the work. Just because people don’t have a lot of material goods and drive cars and have a lot of money, does not mean that they are not happy. In fact, the movie claims that some communities are happier in that they have a deeper connection with their community, with each other and with nature.

So why is success defined through economic prosperity, instead of through a measure of happiness?

The movie also commented on the power large corporations have over governments these days, and how much power they have over us as citizens (consumers). They form incredibly large and well-funded lobby groups; they fund political campaigns and buy off politicians to further their own agendas. They mesmerize us with their commercials and billboards and magazine images. Who exactly is in control here anyway?

This is also something that goes against what I have always believed in. Corporations are key to capitalism right? And capitalism is the most economically prosperous type of system right? Corporations are efficient, they are working towards innovation, they create jobs for people; create wealth for pensions for people. Right?

Now I am not so sure. Why do they have so much control over governments? This is so evident on the issue of climate change. The scientists tell the government that we need to change to avoid disaster and oil companies tell the government that we don’t have to change. Who have the governments of the world listened to? 97% of climate scientists? No. Oil companies? Yes.

This is precisely the reason that 350.org is launching a campaign against the US Chamber of Commerce, which is a large and well-funded lobby group for big business that has been persistently trying (and succeeding) to block action on climate change in the United States. 350.org is asking businesses and people all across the US to sign up and say that the “US Chamber does not speak for me“.

So what can I do? Well I can choose local food, locally made goods, handmade goods made right here in my city, or in my province. Perhaps these goods will better reflect the true cost to the people and to the environment.  I can support local industries, help them flourish. I can be part of the solution. I can limit my purchases of consumer goods I don’t need. I can think twice about buying products from places where the working conditions may be questionable.

Getting local, getting back to our roots, connecting with our communities, with our families, each other, and with nature – it has to be a good thing!

Clothes to Me

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; Cotton

Image via Wikipedia

I watched a show yesterday called Eco-Trip: The Real Cost of Living.  In this episode, they  followed the life of a cotton t-shirt. Apparently, cotton crops are some of the most heavily sprayed in the US agricultural industry. Cotton crops also consume a vast amount of water, over 2,700 litres (700 gallons) per pound of cotton. The heavily sprayed seeds and other plant parts are also fed to cows, which we then eat. According to this show, we are actually consuming more cotton through eating beef than through purchasing clothes. Hmmm.

After it is picked, the cotton is cleaned and shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is woven into cloth, using more water and dyes and chemicals. In many cases the cloth is shipped again to another country where the garment is put together, and then shipped again back to North America, where it is put into stores for us to buy.

Our clothes really have an amazing journey, even before we walk around in them for the first time! Just as importantly, our clothes consume a lot of water, even before we have washed them for the first time. Finally, our clothes have been responsible for a whole lot of pesticide use, almost 1/3 of a pound per t-shirt. If you think about it, the pesticides used to produce a regular cotton t-shirt, can weigh more than the t-shirt itself. Ewww.

Before turning all green last November, I had never once thought about the impact that my clothes had on the environment. I had never considered my clothing footprint.

We have an insatiable appetite for new clothes in North America. The fashion industry feeds this frenzy, by making us feel decidedly un-cool if we don’t buy new clothes each season. Many people have racks and racks of clothes, some of which they have only worn once or twice, some still with the price tags.

If we all knew the environmental cost of making our clothes – would we still buy so many?

As part of my Nothing New challenge, I have not purchased any new clothes for myself, husband or kids since January 1st. It honestly has been very easy. We have so many clothes to begin with there is no reason to buy more. However with kids it can get a little tricky. Take my son for example – he is five years old and plays rough and tumble on the floor. The knees of his pants can take quite the beating. Since our challenge began, he has blown out the knees of 3 pairs of jeans. I still let him wear them, just not to school.

My next problem is socks – my socks. It seems like I am getting holes in all my socks all at once. The other day I had to try on 3 pairs of socks before finding one without new holes.

My community held an “I’ve Outgrown It” sale last weekend. It is an annual event where they stuff a school full of used kids clothing and toys. It is like a giant garage sale! There are great deals to be had. I purchased 4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my son, and 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my daughter. I got all this for $100. Several items had never been worn and still had the tags on them. Others were high-end, brand name items that had seen very little wear. So I am now set up quite nicely for spring and summer.

I am closing in on my 3 month challenge of nothing new, with only about 2 weeks left. It has me thinking about what I will do once the challenge is over. Will I rush out and buy a bunch of new stuff? Will I continue to not buy any new stuff at all? Or will I take a hybrid approach and purchase new only when absolutely necessary?

I have not quite decided. I do know that I am very aware of the huge footprint my clothing has, and will opt to wear what I have instead of purchasing new.  If I have to purchase, I will try to purchase used whenever possible. If I have to purchase new, I will buy from stores that offer high quality fabrics that don’t wear out as fast – it may cost more but it will last longer, and someone else is more likely get some use out of it when I am done. I am also going to be on the look out for organic cotton fabrics in my area. I would like to save some pesticide poundage! I will also get out my mending skills and see what I can do about those nasty holes in my socks and my son’s jeans.

Umm… wait a minute. I think I just committed to darning my socks. Seriously?

I guess so! 🙂

Wal-Mart Worries

A typical Wal-Mart discount department store i...

Image via Wikipedia

Shortly after I had my green epiphany in November, I found myself wandering around in Wal-Mart. I looked around me and saw aisles and aisles of boxed items, plastic items, clothes, shoes, and toys for young and old. Each shelf was packed with stuff and the aisles went on and on and on. The store was huge. How much stuff was actually in here anyway? Who is going to buy it all? Where did it all come from?

Standing there in Wal-Mart, where I had been at least a hundred times before, it hit me. How are we ever going to change as much as we need to, when this Wal-Mart represents our consumption culture? I looked at all the people around me, pushing carts full of stuff. Consumption is all around us, it is what we do. How can we stop? It is just not sustainable to consume as much as we do. The resources are going to run out. We are pumping too much carbon into the sky to produce all this stuff, to ship it. At the end of the day, most of this stuff just ends up in the garbage anyway, as we reach for a newer, shinier option. We like to buy things. It makes us feel happy. It makes us feel like we deserve it, that we have worked hard for our money and that this is our reward. Sometimes it makes us feel like we measure up to other people, or worse, that we are better than other people.

The sad thing is that we buy all this stuff without appreciating what part of the Earth it came from, how far it came, and the people who were involved along the way.  Where did the tree grow that was cut down to produce the cardboard box?  Was the place they mined the metals a safe place to work? Did the workers who made the plastic have proper protection from the chemicals? Were the people in China who put the item together paid a fair wage, enough to feed their family? Do they even get to see their family or are they migrant workers from rural areas? Often Chinese migrant workers will leave their children behind to work in the city, only seeing them once or twice a year. I can’t even imagine having to do that. 

This all happens so I can have a new toaster, or a nicer coffee maker. I want some new dishes – I want to switch out the ones I have, I am sick of them. I want to buy a few new lipsticks, even though I have a dozen or so at home, I just want some different colours. I should also get a new stapler, since mine only staples 15 sheets at a time and I would prefer if it stapled 20. Hmmm… How about a new clock, this one looks more modern than the one I have. What else can I get while I am here?

So standing there that day in Wal-Mart, I began to feel panicky, anxious. What was going to happen to our world, how would we ever change? 

In that moment I resolved that I would not purchase things recklessly. I would make do with what I had. If I needed something, I would try first to find it used. I decided then and there to put myself on a shopping ban in 2011 to see how it felt.

Now it is February, and it feels good. I have not purchased any toys for my kids, no clothes for anyone. I have not purchased any cleaners or shampoo or hair gel or moisturizer. I am making do with what I have, and in some cases, making homemade stuff to compensate. It is challenging, yes, but also fulfilling. I feel like I am pushing myself to change, in hopes that others will change too. I want to tread lightly. I don’t want to hurt our world more than I have to. To quote Colin Beavan from his excellent book, No Impact Man:

If I treated the resources that pass through my hands as if they were precious, might I also begin to feel like this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too? And excuse me for generalizing – I don’t mean to preach – what if instead of just me, it were we? By this I mean if we, as a culture, treated resources as precious, might we not begin to act and feel as though this life we lead together – the one we live when we look in each other’s eyes – might be precious, too? And might this planet be precious, too? (page 46)

Precious indeed.

The 4th R

I would like to propose a 4th “R” in our trio of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

REPAIR.

Too often when things break, we toss ’em. The reason is that we just don’t want to fix it, we don’t know how to fix it, or we don’t care to fix it. Fixing it takes work! The other reason is that we like shopping. Our thought process goes something like this:

“Broken, no problem, I can get a new one. I actually wanted a new one anyway, because I can get the one with this added feature and that added feature that my old one did not have. In fact, now that I think about it, I am kind of glad that it broke, since now I have an excuse to go shopping.”

Well I am about 2 weeks into a 3-month shopping ban, so that kind of logic is not going fly. So I have to either get it fixed, or live without.

As it turns out, I have fixed 4 things this weekend alone, all toys. Mama’s toy repair shop is going strong. Here is a sampling of my work:

Here we have a ballerina whose left leg was smashed to smithereens, a dollar-store crocodile whose leg snapped off as I was trying to cram it into a toy drawer, a Gormiti named Fiery Angel whose fiery wing had broken off, and finally, Tinkerbelle’s dainty slipper that had lost its pom-pom.  It is quite the assortment, yes.  Like I have said before, we have way too many toys in our house.  For this motley crew, I just added a little glue here and a little glue there, and they were good to go.

I know, I know, these are relatively easy fixes (except for little miss ballerina, this was a multi-stage process over several days, as there were so many pieces to put back together).  But what happens when the dishwasher breaks, or my cell phone?  Well if we don’t know how to repair it ourselves, then we will get someone who does.  My husband’s cell phone is in the repair shop as we speak!  Mending clothes instead of buying new ones, replacing component parts of a vacuum cleaner instead of getting a new one, getting a garden hose kit to fix the leak… these are things that our grandparents did all the time, our parents even.  Yet we don’t.  It is easier to replace. 

Some of it is not our fault, as many products have built in obsolescence.  The suppliers are depending on the probability that if it breaks, we will buy it again.  Sometimes the cost of replacing it is even less than fixing it.  So they are also to blame in this equation.  It seems like our whole culture is programmed to value disposal over retention, as Tyler from Intercon so eloquently points out. 

So how does this sound? Reduce-Repair-Reuse-Recycle.

Can you think of any other Rs? 

Repurpose?

Better yet – Refuse?

Nothing New

Shopping – we love it. We do it for fun; we do it with friends. I remember in high school, doing it lots. I would call up a friend and we would want to go out, so we would go to the mall. We would hang out. We would buy clothes. We would buy shoes and earrings and boots and music.

As I got older, I shopped less with friends. I found it was more efficient to shop by myself! I wandered around stores, looking at pretty things. I would appreciate interesting paintings and cool home décor items. I would covet fancy dresses and expensive shoes, even if I did not always buy them. Sometimes I would purchase. Other times I would go overboard, and blow the bank. Mostly I stayed within my means and only bought stuff I either really really liked, or really really wanted.

Then I had kids. Suddenly I had two other little people accompanying me on these shopping trips. When my son was first born it was great, I could schlep him around anywhere while he either slept or cooed happily. No problem. We scoured the malls together. I spent more money than I should have, bought more stuff than we needed.

Once I had two kids I used shopping as an excuse to get out of the house. I would start to feel cooped up if I stayed indoors for too long. Sometimes we went out for groceries, sometimes for things for the house, and many times for shoes, boots, clothes and kids stuff.

So now my house is filled with stuff. I don’t have a big house, so I don’t have massive amounts of stuff, but each closet and cupboard and shelf and storage area is expertly arranged and organized so that the maximum amount of stuff can be packed in. For example, I have what I like to refer to as the “jigsaw container drawer”. The only way to get everything that belongs in that drawer to fit in that drawer is to precisely perform a plastic container jigsaw puzzle. If you do not know my puzzle secrets, you will never get it all in.

So what do I need all this stuff for anyway? Why is shopping a form of entertainment, and a way to spend my time?

Some people do things differently. There is a growing movement of minimalism out there. People are eliminating their possessions and getting back to basics. Some are paring back so drastically, that they possess only 100 items, like this guy (watch video). Imagine having only 100 items? I bet there are millions of people in the world who have less than 100 items, but imagine doing this on purpose? I bet I have 100 items in one cupboard alone. However these people live simply, and focus on that which is truly important – love, friends, family and happy moments.

There is another movement called the compact. It started in San Francisco, where a group of people made a pact to purchase nothing new for one year. What would that even look like? Well it would mean no more purchases of clothes, shoes and boots. New home décor items would especially not be allowed. It would mean no more fun trips to the mall, to spend money on things I think we need but mostly just want.

I know that walking lightly upon the Earth means consuming less. How can I walk lightly when I go to the mall and come home with plastic bags full of extra clothes, shoes and boots, and now also, toys for the kids? How much extra stuff do we need and why do I think we need it?

The fact is that I probably don’t need much of it at all. I need essentials, but we are not talking about essentials are we? My shopping bags are not full of essentials. I already have a closet full of clothes, shoes and boots, and so do my kids. We are talking extras here, luxuries.

If I want to get serious about reducing my carbon footprint, I have to reduce my consumption. All these items take materials from the Earth, they take carbon to produce, carbon to ship and then will probably end up in a landfill anyway, where they will release methane as they rot. So what to do?

Well I can do something about it. Are you ready? This is a big one. I will commit to not purchase anything brand new for the first three months of the year.

These are my exceptions:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

I want to try that on and see how it feels. I suspect my bank account will be smiling. Heck, I am smiling, because I am so excited for this challenge. I will just have to make due, and figure out a way. The time I save by not shopping, perhaps will now be spent on the floor playing with my kids. Or perhaps I will read another good book. Or perhaps I will just look outside and appreciate the birds singing in the trees.

Toy Mountain

Well another Christmas has passed, with the merry moments and warm wishes that go along with it. I have always loved the Christmas season, the sparkly lights, the pretty packages and the good spirits. I remember feeling sad as a child, when it was all over at the end of Christmas day.

My children are just getting old enough now (at ages 2 and 5) to get really excited about Christmas. They were so excited yesterday morning, when they realized that Santa really did come, and he really did eat the cookies and drink the milk. They were doubly excited when they saw that Santa really did bring the toys they had asked for. It was magical for them and for me too.

This year, I was committed to not use a scrap of wrap in the giving of our gifts. All my gifts were given in a homemade bag, a tote bag or a reusable gift bag. As a result we generated less Christmas garbage than in other years. Way less! Some family and friends also used homemade gift bags as well. We had cute fabric bags a plenty this year! One sister went as far as to make all her Christmas gifts, and a friend of mine gave Kiva loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world! I was so inspired by these gifts.

Despite this, we still managed to generate a lot of garbage associated with the toy packaging. It is obscene really. The most annoying thing is how all the toys are pinned in with multiple ties and screws and elastics and tape. Why? With some, you have to be careful not to break the toy when prying it free from its plastic cage.

How can I reduce that next year? Well one idea is to purchase used toys instead of new toys for my kids. I actually did some of that this year – they got some used story books, and some used toys from Santa in their stocking. However, I could have gone further if I planned better, and looked for stuff earlier on, such as at summer garage sales.

The second idea is to drastically reduce the amount of toys that we get the kids. Right now they each get three toys from us and one toy from Santa, along with a stocking full of toys from Santa. This is clearly too much, since they also get toys from Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Uncles and cousins.

The worst part is that they are starting to get greedy for toys, especially my oldest. This must be in part, due to the amount of toys they have and get. What am I promoting here? That toys are what we value? When they grown up, what will they value? Adult toys? More stuff? This rampant consumerism is exactly the opposite of what I want to be promoting.

It is so hard though, since their little faces light up when they see the toys, and then they spend hours and hours playing with them. They do love the toys, and use them. It is hard to take that away, and they will probably not understand. However, it is in their long-term best interest. That is what parenting is about – thinking long-term, and educating for the long-term. That is why we don’t let them eat cookies and cake all day long.

So enjoy today kids, playing with your new mountain of toys. Next boxing day might be different.  Perhaps we will go sledding! 🙂

Shop ‘til you Drop

Black Friday was just this past weekend. It is an American tradition, so we Canadians just sit back and watch in awe. We are still impacted a bit of course, with the TV commercials and spam emails from our favourite online retailers. Someone in Canada decided to start an opposing tradition for this day, called “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against the spectacle of consumer gorging.

It is a simple issue really. We love to shop, but in doing so we are rapidly using up the resources of the planet. As the title of my blog indicates, we only have One Earth to Live. Once we run out of resources here, there isn’t a spare Earth floating by that we can all hop on to. This is it. Some people have likened this to the idea of a spaceship. Earth is our vessel as we careen through space. We need to use resources aboard wisely, to ensure that they don’t run out, that everyone has enough, and that the conditions required to keep life alive persist.

So the core idea of being Earth friendly is to be less wasteful. That is it. Don’t use (consume) more than you have to. What you do take, use wisely and efficiently. Make less garbage and use less energy. It is simple really.

So why is it so hard to do? Why do most people not do it? Heck I didn’t do it. For me, it took a series of exposures to this issue, over a period of about 4 years, which finally culminated in my reading “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery that made me sit up and really take stock. After reading the book in one night, I found myself crying at 2 in the morning, vowing that from that moment forward to take action. I worried for my children and future grandchildren. I desperately wanted the world to change, not to save the Earth, but to save ourselves – humanity. It took this drastic awakening in me, for me to start to change my ways. What will it take for everyone else?

I was driving in my neighbourhood one day, this caught my eye (actually my son pointed it out):

Then we found this one nearby:

Hmmm… a shopping cart at the top a mountain of snow, right in front of Wal-Mart. How interesting. How symbolic really. We are all climbing a mountain – working and striving to make money to support our families and to buy stuff. We work harder and harder to buy bigger and better stuff, so that we improve our standard of living and live more comfortably. Does this make us happier? Well perhaps it does, since why else would we all do it? At the end of the day, the stuff is somehow supposed to equal happiness and success. It is the shopping cart atop our mountains.

My 5-year old son thought it was funny. I bet the kids who pulled this prank probably thought it was funny too, I am sure they were rolling around laughing at the sight of it. I wonder if they thought about the symbolic piece of landscape art they had just created….