Thursday, January 28, 2010

Balance In The Form Of A Toothbrush Holder

There are some incredibly thoughtful and insightful comments up about my previous post, so thank you everyone for taking the time to weigh in.

I agree with what many of you mentioned. Living sustainably is all about finding the right balance for you. Like eating right or exercising, you have to find what works for your life. And that is likely going to be different than what works for someone else.

Katy mentioned that she wished more eco-bloggers continued blogging seriously after their "eco-challenges," because in some ways, finding the balance is the more interesting and relevant story. And, I agree with that as well. It's inspiring to see that people can give up fridges or heat or shopping or what have you for a year, but it's in some ways even more inspiring to see how people handle the day to day of their lives year after year after year.

And I think that's one of the reasons why I've kept blogging. Why I don't gloss over my struggles.

I was talking to Honda a couple months ago about how everything I own is falling apart. This is what happens when you go from being a non-consumer to being a student to being unemployed. I haven't really bought much in 2.5 years, and well, it shows. My laptop is dead. My iPod is almost dead. I need all new shoes.

I haven't figured out yet how I'm going to handle all the new purchases I will inevitably have to make. The other day, I stood in the Bath aisle of Bed, Bath and Beyond for fifteen minutes trying to decide whether or not to buy a toothbrush holder. On the one hand, not having one had been bugging me and I was fairly certain a toothbrush holder was going to be hard to come by used. (And while I am generally very pro-used things, I also think the likelihood is high that if I found a used toothbrush holder it would be kinda grody.) On the other hand, a toothbrush holder is hardly a necessity.

If I had lacked a toothbrush holder during my year of non-consumerism, I would have sucked it up and gone without. I would have used a cup, or just left my toothbrush on the sink.

But I'm not a strict non-consumer anymore. I wanted a toothbrush holder and I could get a fairly inoffensive one fairly cheaply.

So I bought it. Because life is, above all, about finding balance. And while I don't plan to become a spendthrift, I also am ready to start buying a couple things here and there that might not be, strictly speaking, necessities.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Living Sustainably Unsustainable?

The other day I was talking to an old blogger friend, one who hasn't been posting much in a while. This is not unusual. In fact, of all my old blogger pals, only a handful still regularly post. The rest have mostly retired or post on rare occasion.

Blogging is tough, make no mistake. Writing day in and day out can be a chore, and at a certain point, you get to a place where you wonder if you have anything left to write. After all, how much can one write about not shopping?

But I think with eco-bloggers, there's more to it than that. Many of us started blogging at the beginning of our journey. Our first posts were about how proud we were for giving up plastic grocery bags. Gradually, we started increasing the eco-difficulty: giving up paper towels, going to the farmers' market, cooking more, making our own butter. Some of us line-dried our clothes. Others started gardens. Others gave up toilet paper. Others gave up their fridge.

And then ... time goes by. Life catches up to you. Work gets busier. You move house. You break up with your partner. Or maybe you get married. And you realize that living this so-called sustainable life is HARD.

So you start to back slide. You start throwing loads in the dryer again. Just once, one time, because you're on a tight schedule and your son needs his soccer uniform in a couple hours. And then because you're going out of town, or someone is visiting, or because it's Thursday, damnit and you're tired. And pretty soon you're back to using your dryer all the time. And you feel really guilty about it, but you also just don't have the energy to use the dryer.

Or if you're me, you go from cooking all the time to cooking almost never. And I do feel guilty about it, very guilty about it actually. And yet, somehow I rarely have it in me to prepare a full meal.

It's not just the cooking I've backslid in. I've gone back to using toilet paper (though I buy 100% recycled, and honestly I personally think the giving up toilet paper produces such minor eco-benefits that it's more of a bragging point than anything.) I use my space heater more often than I should. I take longer and hotter showers than I should. I drink more soda than I should. I use a face wash with bad chemicals. The list goes on and on. On rare occasion, I've even committed the ultimate sin of getting a plastic bag at the store.

I think the issue is that so much of eco-blogging was or has been about challenging oneself to do MORE, MORE, MORE. Meanwhile, we live in a world where everyone else is doing ... pretty much nothing really. Where it's more of the same from our elected officials. Where Copenhagen is a big ol' bust.

So it's very difficult to be busting your ass trying to live this eco-life. You start wondering what you're doing and why. And you question whether you can really maintain work, friends and family, and your eco-nutty life. AND blog about it every day.

So my question to you is this: Is living sustainably actually unsustainable? If you think not, how do you do it? How do you find the right balance? What is your right balance? And how long have you been keeping this balance going?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Shave or Not to Shave, That Is The Question

I was bouncing around the internets today when I caught an interesting discussion going on in the comments of Crunchy's post about natural waxing. One commenter suggested that we women need to get over ourselves and learn to live and love our hair. Another argued, "Just seems to me that waxing the pubes and 'natural lifestyle' may be somewhat mutually exclusive."

To a certain extent, I think both of these commenters make fair points. There's a great deal of societal pressure for women to remove body hair and it sucks. I sympathize with women who would prefer not to shave their legs, but feel pressured to either go hair-free or cover their legs. Especially in a workplace environment, women often have no choice but to comply with societal norms. And that's not cool.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that I do see a contradiction between wanting to remove body hair and wanting to live a more "natural lifestyle" whatever that means. We all groom ourselves. We cut our hair, our nails. And I don't believe that societal pressure is limited to women either. Ask any American bearded man whether or not he feels societal pressure to shave. The answer is very likely, "Yes!"

I do believe one can be environmentally conscious while still preferring to remove some body hair. It's important not to conflate "eco-friendly" with "alternative lifestyle that I support." It's great if you don't want to shave or wear make-up. Good for you if you don't care about fashion. But, conversely, wanting to shave, wear make-up, and liking clothes does not make you anti-environment. Honestly, I've personally never understood what the big problem with shaving was. I don't know about you all, but I bought a Venus razor about five years ago and change the blade approximately once a year. As far as I'm concerned, the plastic and energy expended here is pretty minor. Waxing has its issues, but I circumvented that problem by switching to threading my eyebrows. For me, given that I prefer to remove (some) hair, giving that up would pretty much constitute hair-shirt environmentalism.

I think, in the end, grooming decisions are a matter best left up to the individual. (Or maybe the individual and their significant other.) As I see it, my job, as an eco-nut, is not to judge or to proselytize. My job is simply to say, "If you wish to remove your hair, here are some more environmentally friendly ways to do so."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Suburban Bliss

So, as I mentioned earlier, I have moved back to the land I grew up: the San Francisco Bay Area. And while I'm looking for a job (a super fun enterprise during this, the worst recession in 70 odd years) I'm living in the burbs.

I haven't lived in the suburbs since college, and even then I lived in a suburb that was, in essentials, not a suburb but an extension of the city. So while I was prepared for the obvious annoying things about suburbs, such as having to drive everywhere, I had forgotten some of the more covert annoying things about suburbs.

For instance, leaf blowers.

Can someone please explain leaf blowers to me? I don't really get their point since they just seem to blow leaves around and make a lot of noise, but every gardener in the burbs uses one. Including my mom's gardener. Ahem.

Front lawns.

I love lawns, really. I understand that grass wastes a lot of precious water, blah, blah, blah, but grass is also so nice to lounge on. Or play on. Except, when was the last time you ever saw someone lounging or playing on their front lawn. That's right. Never. What's the point of wasting all that precious resource on an ornamental front lawn?

Speaking of wasting water, the other day I was going for a jog and I noticed a hose that was turned on and spilling water straight into the gutter. I assumed that there COULDN'T be an Earthly reason why a person would do that on PURPOSE. I mean what possible reason would someone have for that? So naturally I assumed that the hose must have been left on accidentally, and as a good Samaritan, I should inform the owner of the house as such.

So I knocked on the door, and a man came to the door, and I politely informed him that his garden hose was turned on.

"Oh, yes. I'm going to turn that off soon. Thank you for your concern," he said before shutting the door.

I still have no explanation.

It's a weird, weird world out here in the burbs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wherein I Take Up A New Activity

In my infinite wisdom, I have decided to try a new activity. And because I'm uncoordinated, clumsy, a wimp about winter, and slightly afraid of heights, clearly skiing was the obvious choice for me.

No, seriously, I am looking forward to trying out skiing, especially because I feel that it will cement my status as a Yuppie Northern Californian. However, what I am not looking forward to is acquiring all the accoutrements that skiing apparently requires.

In fact, when my friend Kel sent me a list of things I would need, I almost changed my mind. It's not just the skis and the boots and the polls. No, no! There are parkas and ski pants and hand-warmy things that go in your gloves.

Dude. I don't even own gloves.

So now I'm on an epic quest to rent and borrow as much as I can, and buy most of the rest used. After all, there must be tons of people who take up winter sports, buy all the crap, and then realize they're too lazy to actually engage in said winter sport. Right? RIGHT?!!


Well, if any of you have any bright ideas for how I can avoid buying this stuff new, I'd appreciate it.

In the meantime, I'll be here wondering why I didn't take up Civil War re-enacting instead. I hear used muskets are a dime a dozen on Craigslist.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Newest, Most Awesomest Eco Trend

Ladies! Are you tired of the same old body? Looking to change your physical appearance for the better in 2010?

Then I have just the idea for you!

No, I am not talking about the totally awesome pink button that is all the rage over at the BlogHer blog these days.

I mean really. How many people are gonna see that thing? Your husband? Honey, he's already locked in. And chances are, he doesn't look that closely anyway.

No, if you really want to upgrade your body this year, I have two words for you:

Boob Job

Now you may be thinking, "Huh. I always wanted a boob job, but I've been prevented from getting one due to my environmentally conscious way of life."

And I understand this predicament, believe you me. But luckily, there is now a solution.

An all natural boob job. See, it's simple. Doctors simply suck some of the fat out of your ass and stick it into your boobs.

They're recycling your fat! I mean what's more eco-tastic than that!!

For too long this procedure has been frowned upon by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons who argued that fat recycling (or up-cycling as it were) could make mammogram readings problematic. But now, the society's task force has issued a report with this extremely positive endorsement:

[Fat up-cycling]could potentially interfere with breast cancer detection; however no evidence was found that strongly suggests this interference.

No evidence STRONGLY suggests that putting your ass fat into your boobs could hinder doctors from detecting breast cancer!!

Now, the downside to this extremely natural procedure is that, unlike silicone, you can lose fat. So, if, for example, you start working out, your boobs might go away.

But come on. Who wants to work out anyway? Exercise is so un-eco.

So, do it for you. Do it for your husband. Do it for planet. Hell, do it for Al Gore.

Because you know what they say. Recycling your Brita filter is so last decade. This year, all the cool greenies are recycling their fat.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On Not Coveting Things

I've been thinking quite a bit about my non-consumer year lately.

As I mentioned a couple days ago
, that year changed my life. Completely. Although there are many things that have fallen by the wayside (for example I'm currently back on toilet paper) I will never shop the same way again.

I can never shop the same way again.

I'm not perfect.

I still covet things.

I'd like a new MacBook Pro. An iPhone.

But I'm also perfectly comfortable using my current computer and cell phone until they die.

And ... and this is the most cool thing to me ... I no longer covet other people's material possessions. I no longer see a friend buy a house or a car or a Kitchenaid mixer and wish I could afford those things.

I do buy things now, but when I buy now, it's almost always after genuine deliberation. I buy jeans after thinking about it for a month. A new thermos after needing one for weeks.

I have finally begun to learn the difference between wants and needs.

And of all that has come out of my non-consumerist experience, that lesson is the one I cherish the most.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Have a Home!

And it is ...

drumroll please

The same place I was born, grew up in, and lived for 18 years of my life.

Yes, I am officially declaring that I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It took some soul searching, traveling, and living in New York for two months, but I'm ready to come home. I loved London but I missed my friends and family more than I realized.

Plus, the Bay Area also has amazing weather and Rainbow Grocery! Plus a whole host of awesome sauce bloggers like her, her, and her. What's not to love?

So, yes, I have a home. Now to find the right job.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Still A Non-Consumer at Heart

I've recently begun playing a game with myself wherein each day I inventory the clothes I'm wearing.

For instance, today I'm wearing

1) A shirt that once belonged to a friend of a friend
2) Jeans that once belonged to my sister
3) Shoes I found in a Freecycle bin in my dorm in London

The only things I've bought myself in this outfit are my socks, bra, and underwear.

This is not an infrequent occurrence. In fact, it's incredibly rare that I wear an entire outfit in which everything I wear I bought myself new.

This is my life. Two and a half years after I started a mad challenge to not buy anything new, my life has been transformed.

Today I went to Target to purchase some underwear. As I passed the racks of clothes, I thought, "Huh. That's a cute shirt."

And then I moved on.

I had come to purchase underwear. And that's all I wanted or needed to buy.

No impulse shirts. Or knick knacks. Or purses.

I didn't need that stuff. I didn't want it. I didn't want to waste time looking at it.

I just picked up my underwear, and got out of there.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy 2010

Happy New Year, all!

Last year was a really good year for me. Among other things, I traveled around Europe, I learned a tremendous amount, and I graduated from a Masters program.

Unfortunately, last year was not so great a year worldwide (as I'm sure we're all aware.) I won't bore you with a recap of the year, but let's just all agree we have our work cut out for us this year and decade.

The problems we face right now are large. It's undeniable. And it's easy, given the size and scope of these problems, to simply throw up one's hands in the air and say, "Forget it. There isn't anything I can do, so I might as well do nothing."

I have been very tempted to throw my hands up in the air, time and time again.

And yet I continue to persevere. To plod. To hope against hope.

There were some days last year when I was miserable. When I was sure that I wasn't smart enough, good enough, or educated enough. But I took it day by day, I kept working, and at the end of the year I somehow had a shiny Masters degree.

Although it may seem ludicrous to compare the climate change crisis to graduate school (torturous though it may be) I believe the same principles apply.

Take it day by day.

Because if we all keep pushing on icebergs, big things can happen.

So this year, I resolve to persevere. To hang tough. To look cynicism in the eye and say, "To hell with all that."

And to keep pushing.

Happy 2010 everyone. May this decade be infinitely better than the last.