Tennesseetransitions


Lessons on Less

I write here fairly often about ‘sustainability‘, which dictionary.com defines as: “pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse”. It’s a word that has been bandied about rather loosely over the last decade but it’s the single best word I’ve found to describe the lifestyle that I aspire to, and that I wish for the planet. It’s that “Continual Reuse” that I find difficult to maintain. Actually, I’ve only managed sustainability in just a few areas of my life, and even then only for short periods of time: using clothelines, maintaining compost piles, heating my home for 10 years using only coppiced and downed wood (and then adding the ashes to the garden), harvesting rainwater and refusing bottled water, and creating zero waste. It’s very hard to even grow food sustainably, for I’d have to save all my own seeds to be completely sustainable in the garden.

I’ve come to the conclusion-finally-that I cannot lead a sustainable life. From cradle to cremation, our lives are simply not sustainable in the modern world. I’ve realized that even the Native Americans weren’t living sustainably as they cut down trees for their every use, planted their crops until the soils were so depleted they had to ‘move on’ and made face paints from mineral pigments that they dug from the earth. Believe me when I say that admitting that makes me sad. 

However, here’s the good news: we CAN easily practice and produce things in our households that will help us  be skilled and resilient in the face of the continuing threats of worsening climate changes, economic instability and inequity and the depleting of the earth’s natural resources. ‘Curtailing’ is a newer buzzword when used in conversations about sustainability.  That means buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less. Curtail means to “cut back” or possibly to “downsize.” It is more reflective of the seriousness of our current situation than the probably more politically acceptable word “conserve.” Conservation often implies a relatively small reduction in consumption, possibly recycling or buying compact fluorescents or maybe buying a hybrid car. If conserve is to be used as a synonym for curtail, it would be appropriate to preface it with some modifier such as “radical” conservation or “extreme” conservation or “rapid” conservation.

Buying Less: I am really trying to ‘curtail’ my driving these days, even though I’ll admit that  I don’t do it so much as a frugality measure, but as a health measure. I enjoy getting my daily exercise walking or biking to the places I need to go and have found when I carefully ‘bundle’ my errands, I don’t spend any more time walking them than I did driving them. Without the stress of road rage, I find the time spent is actually conducive to my well-being, beyond the cardio benefits. While running errands recently I’ve noticed birds’ nests, hidden rabbit litters, blooming flowers and the neighbors’ gardens. I’ve witnessed homeless people, panhandlers and drunks too. Being in a car isolates and insulates me from those realities of life, but I’d rather live life with eyes wide open. I’ve saved many dollars on fuel, prevented the release of countless CO2 molecules, and preserved the miles on my car’s engine and tires, all while running errands. Hooray for ‘curtailing’!

Consume Less

Using Less:  I’m also conserving more energy these days; both mine and the electric company’s! With the arrival now of truly hot weather, I rise earlier so that I can run my errands and work in the garden before the heat of the day settles in. That gives me the rest of the day to guiltlessly enjoy reading, cooking, napping, playing music or writing, all the while sipping ice tea under the fan. Not a bad trade-off, this ‘conserving’ 😉

Wanting Less: Seems like recently I’ve forgotten my own advice about buying more ‘stuff’ and I found my closets and corners filling up once again. Getting into the habit of buying somehow magically leads to buying even more. A new dress can lead to a new pair of shoes to match it, which leads to a new car to drive around town looking good in while you’re wearing the new dress and shoes. Ask any star. But it’s just a habit. Of course knowing something and doing something about it are two completely different things. I smoked for many years even after I realized how bad it was for me and the planet. Smoking was a habit, and so is excessive shopping. But-more good news!- the habit can be broken and with the release of its’ grip, you automatically begin to want less. I’m no minimalist, but to know with certainty that point of having ‘enough’ is priceless to me. And wanting less is the key to that knowing. 

Wasting Less: My friend Sandy tells me: “A low consumption lifestyle is the ultimate waste reduction strategy.”  I enjoy the challenge of not being wasteful. I’m not talking about just drinking the last sip of milk, I’m talking about buying the milk in a returnable glass jug! I’m not talking about eating the apples before they go bad, I’m talking about composting the cores and feeding the seeds to the chickens! I’m not talking about recycling your #2 plastic bottles, I’m talking about drinking out of a glass for goodness’ sakes! I really can say with confidence that I don’t ‘waste’ anything. Like developing the habit of ‘wanting less’, it’s become such an ingrained habit in me that the concept of wasting anything is strange. Yet I see (on those daily walks in my urban area) senseless waste each and every day. From an uncancelled postage stamp to an unwanted article of clothing, you’ll find very little waste in my life. I’m proud of that. But you know what? It doesn’t matter that I’m not able to live 100% sustainably; what matters is the trying.

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

And in trying very hard, you can come as close as you can, and it sounds like you sure do come close! That’s a great post all around.

Comment by sarasinart

Thanks Nancy. I’ve gotten a lot of personal email comments on it too. When that happens I know I’ve struck a chord with folks. Thank you for all your positive reinforcement.

Comment by simpleintn

You are so welcome dear lady, and thanks for all your good ideas all the time and encouragement you give to others to live richer lives!

Comment by sarasinart

We band together into communities because “sustainable” is more possible with a broader base. A single family is too “at risk” of a single small but devastating upset. The historic response to this is, unfortunately, larger families and higher birth rates. And so we keep on outgrowing our resources. Vicious cycle.

We need to break the birthrate-safety linkage by forging something new.

Comment by gtkeep2013

And the obvious answer to breaking the birthrate-safety linkage Gerald is to work together in families, groups and communities. Family, of course, can be families of our choice: church families for example. Like you 🙂 or employer, neighborhoods, sororities, gaming groups, whatever.

Comment by simpleintn

I really liked this post and your discovery of “curtailing” for this usage. I also liked your point on how driving can insulate you from the outside world. Sometimes the only time I’m actually outside is when I’m walking to and from my car. From one room to another.

Comment by redgiant87




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