Make, mend, and maintain

As I work on reducing my consumption and making it more sustainable, I’ve been thinking through a few approaches that I’m hoping will help me buy less and make do with what I already have: make, mend, and maintain.  Although they aren’t exactly new approaches or earth-shattering revelations, I think they can be easy to forget about thanks to the sheer volume of new stuff that we have available to us, and the fact that it’s so inexpensive and easy to lay our hands on.

I’ve always liked the sentiment in this poster (although the customary last line of “or do without” is missing), but I like it even more with the addition of the idea of using labour and goods to help fight at the bottom.  This was originally produced as war propaganda, but I often feel like we’re fighting another kind of fight today, and one to which this message can – and should – still be applied.

I do think that the things we choose to buy and have in our lives are implicated in fighting for what we believe in and helping to counter some truly troubling trends in the ways that we consume.  It’s far too easy easy to consume more than we need (for what is probably far too little money in many ways), buy questionable products, and get rid of them when they’re out of fashion, damaged, or simply no longer used.  Unfortunately, this leads to things like overconsumption, debt, and excessive waste, none of which is really good for us or for the planet.

That said, I firmly believe that how we spend our money and use the resources that we already have can make a more positive difference, especially if we do so carefully and en masse.  I’ve only started with some of the tasks I have in mind – more about this soon – and making, mending, and maintaining are only three parts of what is increasingly looking like a rather large and quite complex project, but I feel like every piece counts and that it’s worth considering even things that seem to be relatively small.  By choosing to make more, spend and consume less, use what I already have, and extend the life of my things as much as possible, I can hopefully have more of an impact on my own life, the lives of those around me, and perhaps even the world at large – big hopes, quite possibly, but if there was ever a time for audacious dreams, I think now is definitely it.

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Three weeks in

My overarching goals for the new year were to feel happier, calmer, and healthier.  After the last year, I felt I badly needed a list of some things to do just to help me feel better.  We’re only three weeks into the new year and I still have a long way to go, but things have been going well and it’s good to feel like I’ve kept on top of things.

So far, I’ve maintained almost all of my health goals.  I haven’t fit in the yoga yet, and I need to be a bit better about meditating in the morning, but in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, and reading, I’m pretty well on track.  I bike almost daily, walk quite a bit, pack in the fruits and veggies, sleep fairly well, and spend more time than I usually would relaxing.  I’m feeling quite a lot better than I have been, and have even lost a few pounds at the same time.  I’ve also spent more time on food – I’ve been cooking a bit more and I baked bread twice now, and it’s been wonderful to pay some more attention to something that I care so much about.  I’d like to work in more meditation and yoga, but I do feel better overall.

In financial news, I’ve set up pension changes and have established designated accounts for special purchases and summer expenses.  I’m currently doing some research in terms of where I’d like to donate, and I’m hoping to make it down to the farmers’ market next weekend for our grocery shopping.  Work is also going fairly well.  Courses have started, but I’ve managed to fit in a bit of project-related research and sent in some conference applications.  I’m hoping to be able to step this up as I get into more of a routine this semester, but it feels reassuring to have work on the go, even if the process is slow.

Finally, I’ve been a lot more conscious about maintaining relationships these past few weeks.  I’ve spent more time talking with friends, and am currently writing a long email to a someone I haven’t seen in months.  I’m also setting up a standing brunch date with another friend, and made it out to a gathering last weekend and will be going to another this weekend.  It’s been really lovely to spend more time with people, and I think it’s helped a lot with my overall mindset and not feeling like I’m spending (or should be spending) every moment working.

My plans for the next few weeks are very much the same.  I’m going to keep up the exercise and the downtime, focus more on reading, and hopefully add in some more yoga and meditation.  I’m also going to try to be better about limiting my teaching prep and grading so I can make more time for the work that I need to be doing for research.  I’d like to try out a few new recipes to work into our repertoire, make some more bread, and find some time to declutter more of the apartment.  This might all become more of a challenge as the semester gets somewhat busier, but feeling better is really and truly lovely, and something that I’ll keep working towards.

Reconsidering consumption

I’ve been thinking a lot about consumption recently, both in terms of my more academic research and in terms of how I live my life.  It seems to be something I think about and write about a lot, especially as we head into a new year, but more and more I find myself feeling that academics need to not only research and write about their interests and convictions, but to live them as well, and vice versa.  And so, I’m thinking through my consumption habits yet again with an eye towards making some changes around here.

Over time, my awareness of issues around consumption has affected my own habits.  I consume less, look for quality, and buy locally, fair trade, and secondhand whenever possible.  But…I still consume, and typically, I don’t have a lot of trouble justifying the things that I do choose to buy.  For instance, books are easy to explain away as repositories of knowledge and inexpensive entertainment, cookware lets me make delicious meals at home and save on the cost of going out, and clearly I need a range of clothing for different situations.  Add in the fact that all of this is second hand and arguments against creating a market for new goods to be produced goes largely out the window, as do many concerns around cost and the financial implications.

Rust

Despite these changes, there are still some things going on here that I’m becoming less comfortable with as time passes and that I’d like to start thinking through and addressing.  First, I feel like I’m still buying into a consumer mindset more than I would like.  Although I suspect that I buy far less than the North American average, I’m still buying, and often buying unnecessarily.  Although I can justify some things in terms of saving money, saving time, and even stockpiling for the future, the truth is that sometimes I still shop for entertainment, out of boredom, or as a reward.  I’m not comfortable with this, and I’d like to get away from using shopping as a form of recreation as well as from feelings of wanting more than what I already have.

Second, although I buy almost exclusively in a secondhand market, this is still the result of a culture that is focused on disposable goods.  Secondhand shopping is possible largely because of the excessive waste produced from the consumption of new goods.  Consider how much waste has to be generated to fill all the thrift stores out there, and that’s before the things that they can’t sell are factored in.  For me to buy secondhand someone still has to buy new goods in the first place, and I’d like to get further away from supporting that system.  Furthermore, it’s possible that the fact that goods can be donated rather than thrown out makes people feel better about disposing of the things they no longer want but haven’t been used up, perpetuating the cycle of buying and tossing.

Third, I’m not buying all that locally.  I’d like to support local businesses as much as possible, and especially people who are producers.  Although I certainly save money by buying secondhand, what I spend doesn’t always go to local businesses. And finally, although I’m not spending a lot, I’m still spending money here and there that could be put to better use, like defraying the cost of the pressure canner I still have yet to buy, or buying more local food and hand-made goods.  A bit more money – even five or ten dollars a week – should add up over time.

Right now, there are few things that I have in mind to work on.  Some of them I’m already doing, and so this list is partly a reminder of the things I want to be doing, partly a further concentration or distillation of some of my guiding ideas, and partly some new ideas that I plan to keep in mind.

My first goal is to further reduce my consumption.  There are still some big purchases on my list, but I’d like to cut the rest of my consumption – books, clothes, housewares, non-local food, and other bits and pieces – down even further.   I have more than enough, and I’d like to be sure that I’m making the best use that I can of what I have, and that I’m not overconsuming.  Also, when I do buy something, I’d like to spend more time considering quality, durability, and whether what I buy can be repaired.

My second goal is to continue to reuse, but to focus more on reusing what I already have than shopping secondhand.  When wandering through the thrift store, all of the inexpensive options are far too tempting, so trips will be reserved for when I have something specific that I need rather than something that I might want or only have a vague idea about.  Instead, I hope to be better about finding ways to reuse (or rework, or reshape, or repurpose) things that I already have.

My third goal is focused on relocalizing, especially in terms of making more purchases locally.  This certainly includes food, but I’d also like to become more familiar with local artisans and what they produce, from food and pottery to knitted goods and baking.  This also means that if I do shop secondhand, I’ll go to smaller non-profit stores that are working within the community.

Finally, I plan to increase my understanding and appreciation of things, especially on the production end.  It feels easy to not appreciate tangible goods when they’re inexpensive, easily replaced, and when I haven’t seen the work that’s gone into their production.  I feel like it’s easy to let food go bad when there’s more available at the supermarket, or to let a hole in a sweater get bigger when there are racks upon racks at nearby stores.  To remedy this, I’m continuing to try to make as much as I can for myself to really appreciate the work that goes into production and to value the resulting product.  This means baking more bread, knitting more socks, sewing more clothes, and growing more food.  I have the materials, I just need to be better about actually doing this.

It seems like thinking through and improving how I consume is an ongoing goal that I’m constantly adjusting and refining.  In the past I’ve generally tried to cut myself off without really thinking through the reasons why, or what my future consumption could or should look like.  This time, I’m trying to give some more thought to my underlying motivations – for consuming in the first place and for backing off now – and some of the ways that I can adjust my shopping habits.  I imagine I’ll be writing more about consumption as the new year progresses.  There are a number of ideas that I want to think through with respect to the necessity of shopping, how and what I want to consume, and future purchases.  At the same time, I also have a good amount of consumption related research on my plate, and I’d really like to have my own consumption match up more closely with my ideals and values.

Use the good stuff

I hear the idea that you should “use the good china” quite a bit.  I like the idea – we’re never sure what’s going to happen from day to day, so it’s worthwhile to make every day feel special, and to not put off using or doing the things that will make our lives that little bit nicer in the present.

Jadeite

I’m not great at this.  I remember, as a child, being upset that my mom was using up the good soaps that someone had giver her as a gift.  I distinctly recall being upset because then she wouldn’t have them anymore.  It’s an idea that I’m not sure that I’ve ever completely shaken, and I still tend to hold onto things for longer than I should in an attempt to not use them, and therefore keep having them.  But it strikes me that if I continue living my life this way, some day I’m going to have to transport quite a lot of unused soap, candles, jam, pens, notebooks, and clothing to a new home, or that someone else is going to have to deal with it when I’m no longer around.  Worst of all?  I’ll have held onto all of this stuff without ever having enjoyed much of it.

It would be nice to enjoy these things while I have them, and to make good use of them.  I’m trying to find ways to be nicer to myself this year and to do things that I enjoy, and so I’m going to add “use the nice stuff” to my list of goals for the year.  I don’t actually have good china – I didn’t want two sets of dishes, I had no interest in worrying about damaging the expensive stuff, and I like my inexpensive white ikea stock just fine.  But I do have vintage mugs that I’m fearful of breaking, lovely soap that I’ve put off using, beeswax candles that I have yet to burn, notebooks I haven’t written in lest I make a mistake, and favourite clothing that I wear infrequently for fear of stains or tears.

Of course, this means learning how to accept that things are likely to be used-up, broken, or worn out.  But this also means that they will have been used and enjoyed, which is sounding more and more like a pretty good thing to me.  This afternoon, I’ll have a cup of tea in one of the jadeite mugs bought for me by my mom, light a beeswax candle, and open up one of those nice notebooks.  I’ll pull out my woefully under-used fountain pen, load it up with some of the bright green ink that I bought years ago, and start writing.  It’s not a huge shift by any means, but I’m looking for opportunities to make sure that everything I keep around is used and has a purpose and, even more importantly, to find small bits of pleasure throughout the day.  Nothing in my home should be too precious to use and enjoy.

Home fitness

In my pursuits to be happier and healthier in the new year, one thing I’m working on is getting more exercise. In a conversation with my doctor, I was told that I should try to exercise at a high intensity for at least four (and preferably five) days per week. This shouldn’t be a big deal – I feel better when I exercise, and I see a great deal of value in being healthy and fit, but I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out how to make that happen and what my best options were.

My doctor’s suggestion turned out to be a bit of a challenge.  I no longer have student access to the campus gym.  Memberships aren’t that expensive, but the practicality didn’t make a lot of sense, especially since it would involve exercising before teaching which would inevitably lead to me being sweaty and a terrifying shade of red for every class.  I also didn’t have a lot of options available from home.  Biking outside is fairly treacherous in my neighbourhood this time of year, I’m not supposed to run when it’s slippery due to an old ankle injury, and I have yet to find a really effective and motivating exercise video.

So, I did some research.  I wanted to do something that I knew I liked and that would keep me in shape for my usual spring-summer-autumn exercise.  I didn’t want a huge electric addition to the apartment, and was hoping for something that could be packed away when I got back to my usual nice-weather routine.  I also wanted something that would last for a long time.  After doing some research, I wound up springing for one of these:

It might not look like much in the photo, but it’s a fluid bike trainer.  I mount my bike on it and cycle away in the living room.  Happily, this one seems to provide a good workout (no shill – I’m not affiliated with the company in any way, I just happen to like the trainer so far). It did feel rather odd to spend money on a somewhat expensive piece of fitness equipment.  That said, it was less expensive than a year’s gym membership, it’s something that should last for many years, and making sure I keep healthy is worth the cost.  It’s also a bit odd to be exercising indoors when I’ve always preferred being outdoors.  But overall, it’s really convenient to ride whenever I want (while watching cooking shows, even!), and I’ve been on it almost every day since we bought it.  Plus, this gives J. a chance to exercise, too, something that would have been more difficult and possibly a good deal more expensive with some of the other options.

It’s still new, and I imagine I’ll have more to say after a month or two of hopefully regular use, but for now, I’m really appreciating this new acquisition and feeling good about making the purchase.  Now, if only I could find my hand weights to add in some post-ride strength training, I’d be all set for a semester of home-based health and fitness.

 

Goals for the new year

As Christmas was winding down, I sat down and started thinking about goals.  I normally don’t do a lot of goals, but this year it felt like an important thing to think about.  Last year felt really challenging, especially towards the end of the year, and I realized that I wasn’t really prioritizing things in my life all that well.  Work was coming first – especially the elements of work that I probably like the least – and things like my own health, relationships, and enjoyment were very, very far down the list.  As a result, I spent a lot of time tired, stressed, and unhappy, and I’d really like to work on improving that this year.

After thinking about things, I wound up with what looks like a very long list of very specific goals.  It’s possible, if not likely, that I won’t meet them all, but that’s okay – this year, I’m just aiming big, hoping for the best, and trying to think through some of the areas that need changes and what those changes might actually look like.  Really, I think what I want is some acknowledgement and a reminder that I need to spend more time and effort on the things that help me feel good and productive in different ways, or everything starts to fall apart (which is no fun for anyone, least of all me).

Health

For physical health, I mostly need more exercise and better eating habits.  Happily, I now own a bike trainer so I can bike inside the apartment when the weather’s lousy or I want something quick and easy.  This should help me follow my doctor’s recommendation that I do high-intensity cardio for a half hour at least four days per week.  I’m also aiming to cut back on soda and sweets and focus even more on real, wholesome foods.

  • Cycle or run – five times per week for a half hour at a time
  • Strength – weights three times per week for a half hour at a time
  • Yoga – two times per week for a half hour at a time
  • Veggies – five per day
  • Fruit – two per day
  • Water – eight glasses per day
  • Sleep – at least seven hours per night

For my mental health and general happiness, I also have some work to do.  I’m hoping the exercise and improved eating will be helpful, but I have a few goals on top of that, especially around getting enough good sleep and doing things that help me to relax in the evening before bed.

  • Meditation – 15 minutes every morning and evening
  • Reading – read 20 new books this year (for pleasure!)
  • Music – play the guitar once per week

Wealth

The goals here are fairly modest and, in a lot of cases, are things that I’m already doing to a degree.  There are, however, a few that partly linked to my goals to feel happier.  One of my big concerns is money to the point where I have a hard time spending it.  While this is good for my savings account, is somewhat limiting in terms of spending money on important things, donating, and even just enjoying life a bit sometimes, so I’m including some financials goals that actually involve spending instead of saving.

  • Raise my pension contributions by eight percent
  • Save at least 30 percent of my monthly income
  • Establish a savings account for summer expenses (to cover when I don’t work) and save $1200 per month
  • Establish a savings account to save for big purchases (pressure canner, grain mill, water purifier) and save $25 per month
  • Have four no-spend days per week
  • Shop at the farmers’ market twice per month
  • Donate twice per month

Work

This year’s work goals are largely focused on getting me in a position to get a new job.  In fact, a lot of this is about not taking on anything that isn’t necessary and focusing down on the things that are, especially in terms of my own work and writing.

  • Complete two conference presentations (June and October)
  • Revise and resubmit one on-hold journal article
  • Submit two new articles for publication with journals
  • Conduct research for two additional publications
  • Read at least 10 new academic books

Personal

This year, I’ve let a lot of things slide.  One of those things is spending enough time with people I care about.  I do like a lot of time alone, but I’d like to spend some more time on building and maintaining my relationships with people that I care about.  I also haven’t spent much time doing things that I enjoy, and I think that I’ve really suffered for it, so I’d like to take some more time for things like cooking, preserving, knitting, sewing, and gardening.  I’m hoping that spending more time on relationships and on things that I enjoy will help me feel happier in general.

  • Have one date night per month with J.
  • Have one movie night per week at home with J.
  • Spend time with friends twice per month
  • Write a meaningful letter or email to a friend once per month
  • Have a friend over for dinner once per month
  • Try two new recipes per month
  • Bake bread twice per month
  • Can or preserve five things
  • Make a container garden
  • Knit two wearable things (scarves count!)
  • Sew two wearable things (scarves still count!)
  • Declutter and donate at least one thing per day

Although they’re very personal, it pleases me that a lot of these goals are also linked to sustainability and self-sufficiency.  Everything from knitting and preserving to having strong social networks and buying locally reflects the kind of life I want to live and the kind of world that I want to live in, and I’m hoping that focusing more on all of these things will not only help me feel better, but live better as well.  As I mentioned before, I may not meet all of these goals, but I’m dreaming big this year and I really hope to move much closer to what I hope is a calmer, healthier, happier life.

Happy new year, all!