November 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
At the beginning this avian love affair was all about me. I had a Type A need to locate, identify and categorize every bird I saw. I read books about birds. I went to all the birding hot spots I could find. I watched DVDs and nature shows to learn everything I could about my fine feathered friends. (I still do.)
August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
Americans are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to break our addiction to consumerism. Our belief that our usefulness to society extends only as far as our ability to purchase things is so deeply held that our own government refers to us as “consumers” not “citizens.” (Or worse, “employees.” But without being an employee, you’ll never be an acceptable consumer, so basically those are two connected thoughts.)
I’ve made a conscious effort to re-program my belief that owning certain things will make me happy. Even so, I still get a bit giddy when I think about getting those new barstools I’ve been ogling for over a year now. But I have made serious strides over the past few years to learn about the simple things in life that make me happy without spending money on stuff.
Here’s just a brief sampling of some of the things I’ve discovered:
- The public library is the greatest place on the planet
- Picnics at my local botanical garden, Quarryhill
- Hiking the trails at our local state and regional parks
- Yoga DVDs
- Kettlebell workouts
- Riding my bike with no particular destination
- Walking anywhere
- Cooking meals from scratch
- Meal planning to ensure that none of the ingredients I buy are wasted
- Re-reading my favorite books
- De-cluttering my closets
- Growing my own vegetables in our local community garden (my Anaheim Chiles are amazing!)
- Free concerts on the town green
July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments
We’ve become a nation of outsourcers. Not only are we sending our jobs and manufacturing overseas (a company in my backyard just shuttered its doors and sent its manufacturing to China, laying off 40 people in the process), but in our own lives we are beholden to a cadre of “experts” to help us manage the smallest details.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in no small part to the excellent e-book by Jacob Lund Fisker, “Early Retirement Extreme.” He proposes that we should become “Renaissance [Wo]men” rather than “Wage Slaves” in order to take back control of our lives so that we can ultimately be free.
What he means by “Renaissance [Wo]man” is a person who not only can generate income from a variety of useful sources, but also someone who can manage the little disturbances that come up in daily life without having to call in an expert. A Renaissance [Wo]man knows how to fix the plumbing, repair the bike, change the oil, mend a hole-y sweater… Renaissance [Wo]men have a diverse array of talents.
A “Wage Slave,” according to Fisker, is someone who is completely dependent on job income for everything. They specialize in one area of expertise, their career, and leave the rest to others. The garden is weeded by a gardener. The roof is repaired by a contractor. The clothes aren’t even mended, rather replaced at the boutique down the street. You get the picture.
I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle. I’ve always had a job, and it has gotten even more specialized over the years. Right now I actually just do ONE thing for the company I work for, and absolutely nothing else. However, in my personal life I have, for many years, been slowly discovering the things I can rely on myself for – and the list increases every week. My job may be specialized, but my life skills are varied and ever-changing.
Things I currently insource:
I’m a vegetarian and a foodie. This is a tough combo. Even though I live in an area where people are pretty enlightened when it comes to food, many restaurants still have very limited vegetarian selections. I’ve realized that if I want to eat in the decadent manner to which I had become accustomed when I was a carnivore, I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve read, studied, practiced and learned everything I can about vegetarian cooking, unique ingredients, unusual spices… I’ve made my own granola (it’s so good and so much cheaper than store bought), soups, sauces, salads, hummus… Some have been complete failures, but for the most part I eat like a queen because I was willing to learn how to do it myself. (I’m converting to vegan at this point and it is a LOT of work – I’ll post on that later…) Next, I’ll be making my own tahini. I also just signed up for our community garden – no more outsourced, garlic, potatoes, beets, herbs or onions for me. I’ll be growing my own.
I had a team (a team!) of housekeepers for years, but now I clean my own house. I keep it manageable by eliminating clutter wherever possible. I just made my own laundry detergent (click here for a really solid post on this at exconsumer, which was inspired by this one at thesimpledollar). I make my own cleaning products using baking soda and vinegar. I don’t buy plastic bags to store things. Instead, I re-use jars that had things in them that I have already used. I never purchase plastic utensils or paper napkins – I just take my silverware and wash it when we get home. I recently made my own toothpaste, giving me one more way to save money and eliminate unnecessary packaging. (George is SO not on board with this one…)
I gave up organized entertainment long ago, and I was recently reminded why. After paying $60 for two of us to get into an aquarium we were unable to even see anything because of the crowds. That’s just one example. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years because I don’t outsource my amusement to retail outlets. Aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, putt-putt places – all of these are out. For fun, we hike, bike, play Killer Bunnies, read, cook, identify birds, spend time with friends, nap and listen to music. We attend free concerts. One exception I’ll always make: Art museums. I love me some art.
I understand the need for joining a gym or hiring a trainer if you A) live in a region where you’re snowed in for several months and you like to have a warm place to work out or B) you have a particularly dicey weight, health or medical issue that requires some assistance by a pro. I’m lucky in that I live in a region where I can be outside pretty much every day and I can walk. Walking regularly combined with biking, hiking, kayaking and all those other things I naturally love to do, have helped me remain fit while I kept the money I would have spent on a gym in my wallet instead. I even do yoga workouts at home with a pretty decent library of DVDs (you can also check these out from the public library.) Basically, I’ve always insourced my exercise – and you can, too!
I reject the notion that I NEED a car. Cars are dangerous, expensive and dirty. Car culture is making us fat and unhealthy, and it is destroying the environment. The only reason I still have a car at all is so that I can get to the coast for hiking and to get to the corporate office when I need to. I’d be more than happy to rent a car every time I need to go a long distance, but I’m not on my own so I must compromise. But we CAN reduce our use even more. At this point, the kids can either walk or bike to school, and there’s no single destination in my hometown that can’t be reached by foot or bike. I avoid the car whenever possible, thereby insourcing my ability to move around.
I never hire painters. George and I do most of our home repairs and updates including tiling, appliance hookups and small plumbing jobs (George installed our cork floors himself, saving us thousands of dollars.)
Things that I could – and maybe should — insource, but haven’t yet:
I need my feet to look sweet in the summer because I’m always in flip-flops. But why can’t I do it myself? I bet I can.
Although George already cuts the kids’ hair, I can’t seem to talk him into learning to cut mine. This will probably never happen (and probably shouldn’t).
I don’t know anything about my car or how to fix it. Right now the shocks need to be fixed and the quote was nearly $500. I don’t even know where to begin to learn how to fix a car.
Ditto above. Fortunately we haven’t needed to do too much, but there’s a bike shop a block away so it’s hard not to just pop in.
I don’t know how to make my own clothes. But I do know how to mend things, so that’s a start at least.
Products we use:
I don’t churn my own butter or make my own mustard. I don’t know how to make hairspray or dryer sheets. I don’t know how to make miso or vinegar or press my own olives for oil. Are these things I can learn, or should I learn to live without?
By learning to insource, you not only take back control from marketers who have made you believe that you need their products in order to be happy, but you also save gobs of money.
One small example: We used to buy delicious hummus every week from “The Hummus Guy” at our farmer’s market. It cost $7 and came in a plastic tub. I now make my own with bulk beans and herbs and it costs us about 75 cents for the same amount. It takes more time, but it’s fresher and cheaper. And what better way could I be spending my time, really?
What products/services could you insource?
July 12, 2011 § 3 Comments
If my experience last week in Vancouver is any indication, it’s safe to say that my days of carefree traveling are behind me.
June 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’ve long been a fan of the writings of Tom Hodgkinson and his crew at The Idler. His philosophy (and practical tips) about releasing yourself from the chokehold of modern life by embracing a low key existence struck a chord with me when I discovered his book “The Freedom Manifesto” over five years ago.
My recent weekend of totally transcendent boredom encouraged me to retrieve “The Book of Idle Pleasures,” (eds. Dan Kiernan and Tom Hodgkinson), from my shelf. It’s filled with insightful reflections on the things we do for no particular reason other than enjoyment like Procrastinating, Leaning on Gates, Whistling, Looking at Maps, Doodling and so much more. Just flipping through its pages instantly relaxes me.
One of my favorite passages is the one on “Throwing a Caper”:
“Just out of pure joy of being in the world, sometimes you want to leap into the air and click you feet together like the tumblers, troubadours and jongleurs of old. Throwing a caper is a pointless act and should be indulged for that reason.”
I also love the one entitled “Building a House of Cards”:
“Wholly without use, the house of cards is fragile, difficult and supremely satisfying. It is like building your own little cathedral on the kitchen table. And a mere breath or the lightest brush of the sleeve can bring the whole lot crashing down, reminding us of the temporary nature of man’s earthly creations and the vanity of human wishes.”
If I wasn’t so busy idling, I would engage my Type A personality in a worldwide campaign to have “The Book of Idle Pleasures” placed alongside the Gideon Bible in every hotel room.
Check it out from your local library. You may discover a whole new world of relaxing ways to idle away your summer.
What’s your favorite idle pastime?
June 6, 2011 § 5 Comments
May 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
When de-cluttering, decompressing, deciding, designing and all the other details that come along with building a minimalist life, it’s easy to lose sight of how funny just all this stuff actually is.
When I get the I-don’t-shop-anymore blues, I love to pop over to Molly Erdman’s catalogliving.net to see what shenanigans Gary and Elaine are up to. Molly pulls photos from popular catalogs and captions them in a way that just makes catalog photo styling seem a lot less good. I mean, have you actually looked at some of this stuff? Thank goodness Molly Erdman does, because she is making me laugh on a daily basis.And if I really need a chuckle after a long, hard day of planning my next junk drawer cleanse , I watch this video created by the minimalist blogger Don Swanberg at getoffthiswheel.com. I think I might be a little late to the viral party on this one, but I don’t care — it’s hilarious.
And finally, here’s a little girl who has embraced recycling in a manner that’s all her own. Ok. I don’t know if we can really call it recycling, or minimalist for that matter (except her outfit is pretty minimal…), but this made me laugh so hard I nearly peed my pants.
What’s making you laugh these days?