Consumerism

Freedom Fighter

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Patterns for consumerism are so easy to slide into.  This way of being and relating to the world has become so innate that it feels normal.  Our family is dedicated to reducing the number of purchases we make, but still, we end up slipping into the mind trap of ‘consumption means progress.’

We are just edging away from a very busy season in our lives.  We completed a tiny home project where we converted the unfinished addition to our home into a 400 sq. ft. apartment.  The result is wonderful.  The apartment turned out great and we now have some of our best friends living with us on the farm!  Although it is easy to minimize what a labour of love this project was now that it’s complete, the truth is, it was hard work.  There were many late nights, a lot of frustration and an overall exhaustion that befell our home. What the project meant was many months of stretching ourselves to our maximum edges and beyond them some days in order to get the project done.  This had a trickle down effect for our children.  Not only were we as parents strapped for energy, but our children were parched for attention and authentic connection.

Part of the process of creating the backhouse apartment was accumulating many items.  We tried to use as much recycled material as possible, but not everything we accumulated was able to be used.  We were in the state of increasing our volume of ‘stuff’ for nearly a year.  With little time to manage it all, things became heaped upon each other making a giant mess of our workshop and parts of our yard.  We just simply didn’t have the space to deal with it all.  We have been feeling the pressure of disorganization and our inability to keep up with the demands of maintenance around the farm.  Every job has taken many times longer because tools haven’t been put away properly and oftentimes we need to sift through piles of items to locate what we need!  It’s easy to recognize in hindsight how inefficient this is.  But at the same time, it is with a compassionate heart that I recognize how very hard we worked.  It is real to say that the project would not have been finished if we took the time to tidy as we went.  We were doing the very best we could and it was still impossible to stay on top of it all!  Our lives are very full!  Between homeschooling and caring for our children, running a farm, my full time job, Rob’s nursery business, an auto-immune paleo diet and the related health issues, not to mention everything else life brings!  There was no time for management since life required us to push forward in order to keep our heads above water.

This year when garage sale season rolled around, I was in full accumulation mode!  I was excited as I always am to experience the thrill of finding something unexpected that someone else no longer needs.  Weary from a year of full time work, I was ready to hit the streets and find the bargains, as well as some instant gratification!  It’s amazing how alluring it can be to experience that thrill of a great find.  It was also appealing to run away from our trashed and neglected homestead.  The draw was somehow to finding that perfect ‘something new’ that would fix it all.  This thought of course was not so overt on the three Saturdays I spent driving around shopping from people’s driveways.  My subconscious wanted the solution to cleaning up our lives to be easy.  But the reality is, even if I found the item that could revolutionize our lives, I would not be any further ahead in doing the actual work of implementing it!

“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes.”

~ Taylor Swift

I had been feeling exhilaration at going to yard sales and coming home with new items.  But beneath the surface there was also a dissatisfaction with how my time had been spent.  After a morning wandering from home to home buying what other people didn’t want anymore, my children and I were more connected to the stuff we toted home than each other.   This commodification of our lives wasn’t really made clear to me until Rob and I were talking through our plans for today.

Today is the day when the wealthy neighbourhood nearby has their town-wide yard sales.  The town is renowned for having great stuff and people travel from all over to attend.  I try to go every year, arriving at 7am before things get picked over and the crowds show up around 10.  I usually find some clothes for myself, some Christmas presents for my children and a few odds and ends for Rob, the household or the farm.  More stuff.  

We have been talking about looking for ways to live more authentically as of late.  We’ve been lamenting about the state of our homestead.  We’ve been working through how to meaningfully connect with our children while still getting the work done.  We’ve taken action for change in our lives when I accepted a new part time job for next year.  We are sacrificing money for the lifestyle we want.  Yet here, on this Saturday, one of the two precious days I have with my children, I’m willing to get up early and go to yard sales without them, or drag them around looking at things I don’t really want them to buy.  It became clear to Rob (before me) that this was a juxtaposition of our values.  What were we really choosing to value here?

It took me some time.  I had to sit with the decision for an hour or so.  I had to feel it.  I had to acknowledge my emotional connection to the event.  To wanting to find the deals.  I had to get real about how much I was valuing stuff.  I had to get honest about valuing stuff over the people in my life.  Not easy ideas to rumble with.  It became clear over the course of my hour mulling it over that what I really want for my life is not found at any yard sale.   Used or not, cheap or not, I was still bringing home mounds more stuff!  And the inevitable work that comes with managing it.  It is work to find a place for it, organize it, deal with what has to go because we have something new to fill the space, and so on.  I was able to realize the whole picture…that the management of stuff is not how I want to spend my time.

In our over-scheduled consumer-driven culture, we have to make a concentrated effort to create space.  Not just physical space, because our 50 acres can hold it all!  The type of space I’m seeking is in freedom.  By clearing things from our lives, both tangible and time drains, we can clear the mental and emotional space needed to see what we really want for ourselves and our families.  Space has the potential to highlight for us what is not serving.  Had we had more space during the backhouse renovation, we could have kept things more orderly.  So now, when I do have the choice…I’d like to make it.

If you want freedom, you’ve got to fight for it. 

So…we stayed home this morning.  We spent time fixing fences and plugging holes in the barn where the mink got in.  We tidied the yard where the children had made a village out of recycling that had since been abandoned.  We played with ducklings and chicks.  We cleaned the bathroom together.  We read books.  I washed the cupboard faces.  We played lego.  I swept the floor for the first time in 2 weeks.  We connected.  To our stuff…the stuff we already own.  To our homestead.  To our animals.

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The Greatest Things

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“Great Things are done by a series of small things being brought together”

-Vincent VanGogh

As we inch our way into 2018 we have found ourselves commiserating about all of the things that we did not accomplish in 2017.  The gardens weren’t well tended and yields were low, we didn’t have any goslings in the spring, the duck eggs we bought to hatch and raise were eaten by a raccoon, we haven’t completed the renovation project that we thought would be done at the end of October, we still don’t have a farm plan, we haven’t planted any fruit trees, we have not started our forest garden, there are many odd jobs that need to be done around the farm, and so on.  Really, the list could go on for days.  There is an infinite list of things that we can not accomplish.

The trouble is, this laundry listing of all that has not been done is not fruitful.  It doesn’t honour all that has been done, never mind the effort used to accomplish life, failure or not.  Looking at our shortfalls doesn’t help to energize us or empower us toward future goals.  It takes the wind out of our sails, leaving us feeling defeated, and so we will be.

This realization comes along with a deeper truth, that having a set of defined goals can be troublesome. In 2017 we grew more than we could have ever dreamed but in ways we could not have predicted that directed us away from our ‘goals.’  When you have a goal in mind and fail to meet it, it makes you feel like a failure.  This is outcomes based thinking, and our culture thrives on it!  We have decided to approach the coming year on the farm with a vision for how it could be rather than with a list of goals.  We are keeping an openness to the growth and learning that needs to take place and therefore remain open to what naturally presents itself.

It’s time for us to cultivate more of what we do want in our life.  As Bill Mollison says,  “You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!”    If we can allow our problems to define the pathway to creative solutions and growth then we will be on the right path.  Not to mention life seems to have a way of forcing us into small, slow solutions.

In the spirit of cultivating more of what we desire in our lives, we have started to dream about our coming year.  We asked ourselves and our children a few questions, like, “What would you like to do this year?  What would you like to learn this year?  What do you want to grow this year? ”  So far our list looks something like this:

Rob – plant an apple tree collection, transplant potted perennials into the earth, establish windbreaks, move the nut trees out of the garden plot, learn to draw comics

Julie – take forest school certification, make writing part of my weekly rhythm, grow an abundance of raspberries, gooseberries and french beans, appreciate my gifts, practice self-care regularly, raise turkeys

Oldest (7) – learn to write, buy a peahen and start a peacock business, plant lots of raspberries, buy all the Lego Star Wars sets, make a feature length film

Middle (5) – learn to play the ukulele, plant blueberries, learn to read and write, learn how to keep left and right straight in your mind, more playdates with friends, take a family vacation

Youngest (3) – learn to cook, learn my ABCs, grow corn and carrots, raise snorty pigs

Even if we complete one thing on the list, that is a success.  Dreaming it alone is a success because being together through the journey is the real definition of success for me.  Honouring the efforts of our loved ones and ourselves is reward enough. Some list of things checked off  becomes meaningless if we’ve taken the successes for granted.  The trouble is, when we forget to celebrate our successes, we’re left with a void.  Perhaps one that culture at large hopes to be filled with ‘things’ give our consumerist driven ideals.

As we have turned our negative outlook around, beginning to look at all we have accomplished this year instead, we have been astounded at the list.  This past year has brought major life shifts and yet we have accomplished a whole awful lot!  We have geese!  We now have a brood of Australorp hens and one beauty of a rooster named Grandfather Featherlegs!  We have a freezer full of ducks and chickens from our own land!  We doubled our garden space this year!  We are still eating fermented salsa verde from the fall!  We have a freezer stocked with tomatoes and tomatillos waiting to be processed!  We have bags of popcorn in the cupboard that we grew!  We have a stock pile of saurkraut!  We are getting close to finishing our renovation project and our friends will be moving in soon!  Rob no longer has a day job!  I have a full time job so we don’t need to worry about money!  And so on…really once I get on a roll, it’s hard to stop!  All the little moments, choices and efforts add up to a pretty meaningful year of accomplishments.  Bringing forth into the light the abundance that we experience, again and again, will help to retrain our brains.  We need to break free from the oppressive thoughts of scarcity.  It is the fear of not having enough that keeps us from recognizing all of the ways that we do.  If we keep honouring the many ways we have enough, and in fact live in abundance, then I’m hoping one day we will find we are free from self-sabotage.  Let us create a vision, but respond to change.

“Collect the moments one by one, I guess that’s how the future’s done.”

-Feist, Mushaboom

So let’s celebrate what we have done, and stop worrying about the relentless ‘to do’ list.  Because we have purpose.  Because we have drive.  Because we have vision.  We can trust that what actually needs to get accomplished will be done.  What drives our actions is the passion we have for our vision.  So vision with us…let’s make this world a better place!  What visions do you hold for 2018?

Choosing Joy Over Fear

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”

-Albert Einstein

There is a difference between intention and our emotional attachment to our intentions.  One can still have the intention for something to come to fruition, while detaching emotionally from it turning out in a certain way.  Although it is difficult to do, nearly impossible at times, the natural world and the unfolding of the mystery of the universe will take us along for the ride whether we concede to it or not.  All the while we must continue observing and interacting with the shifting and unpredictable landscape.

Someone said to me recently that although our emotions are real and an important piece of the puzzle, they do nothing to change the outcome of any situation.  Seeing them as separate from the event somehow makes it easier to feel emotion in its intensity, and let it pass through, knowing the situation will advance regardless of how I feel about it!  In my opinion, getting caught up in the emotional mess of life usually pulls me away from my intentions.  ‘The voice of reason’ – which is a lovely placating way to describe fear – pulls me back from living out what I feel innately called to do.  When I find myself working my mind around the ways to figure out the final outcome, the destination, I know I have hopped back on the ride.  This mental wandering into the unknown, the unknowable does nothing but fuel emotional fires.

Having our focus set on the end result is effectively driven by our consumerist society, where we get instantaneous results and gratification, served by the invisible hands who have done the hard work of bringing us cheap consumer goods.  This illusion that we create for ourselves, over and over again, sets us up for malcontent in all other areas  of our lives.  We expect the same results, ease and unseen support  and are left feeling marooned instead when it does not spontaneously appear.  Seeking joy outside of ourselves and removed from connection is enforcing a message that cheats us out of enjoying the journey and ultimately trusting that everything will work out as it should.  The consumer gears have sped up to the point where our culture often sees work as undesirable, which is an attitude that robs the joyfulness available to us in the process.  In focusing on the destination alone, I have missed the journey.  I have missed life.

We have found the farm of our dreams and our conditional offer has been accepted.  As a result, I have been fixating on the sale of our home.  It has not happened.  I am stressing myself out by trying to find ways to make our home more appealing.   I wrack my brain about how things might work out, or how they might not.  While the inner storms rage, I try to keep everything ‘together’ – an approach to life I thought I had left in the dust until we put our house up for sale.  Not only is it stressful to maintain a visage of perfection, but it isn’t real.  The more my life looks great from the outside, the more I realize what is lacking on the inside.  What happens when I strive for external perfection is that my internal self becomes bound.  I am no longer able to ride with the flow of things.  I try to control.  Once I unleash that beast, it seems to lash out at anything and everything it has a hope of affecting.  Feigning control is a joy thief.  I feel like I’m ruining my current life because I’m so worried about my future life.  My fear about what may or may not happen is causing me to lose sight of what is and sits right in front of me.  A loving husband, three amazing and adorable children, a beautiful house we still call home, a wonderful and supportive group of people we have the pleasure of calling family and friends.

When I can refocus and see all that I have from a place of gratitude, when I can really see that I am living in fear, I open up to the possibility that I can choose joy.  If I want to actually have control in my life, making the choice to pursue joy is the best way to achieve it.  I hereby release all that is bringing fear into my vision…at least for this moment.

 

Inner Buoyancy

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I have found myself indulging many of my deepest fears lately.  As we make the conscious choice to step out of our conventional life and into the murkiness of something completely uncertain.  Selling our home without a new one to inhabit has been pushing my edges with intensity.  Most days I feel convicted.  But lately, I’ve been swirling around in puddles of ‘what if’ and regret.

I have chosen to jump into a deep pool without being prepared and have been here for quite some time.  There are times where I’m able to stay calm enough to tread water and wait for the way out to appear.  My recent feeling has been more like I’m drowning; thrashing around looking for something, anything to grab hold of.  I remember from my lifeguard training that when someone is drowning, they are fully under the influence of their amygdala gland, scrambling toward survival.  Writhing around is not only an abundant waste of energy, it creates a situation where the people around the victim need to worry about keeping their head above water too, since saving oneself might be achieved by pushing another beneath the surface.

We choose joy.  It is clear now that what I choose to focus on contributes greatly to my perception of the world.  My emotional landscape is correlated to my ability to meet the world with myself.  It is often that I am drawn into feeling like an external object can solve a problem.  I have been seduced by our culture into thinking that it is the ‘thing’ – in this case my home – that will bring me happiness.  Feeling between things means that I am forced to find inner security.  We have created a situation where we are forcing ourselves to grow beyond materialism.  I know from my experience over the past weeks that there is no room to indulge fear in my new landscape.  I am happy to acknowledge it, thank it for it’s messages of warning, then to put it into perspective and ultimately set it free…at least temporarily, in favor of joy.  Deep joy that is only possible from within.  I just keep bringing myself back to the surface…again.  and.  again.

Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

Clearing Space

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Now that we have decided to sell our home, we are working hard to clean the place up.  We have so many things!  Being a homeschooling family with a permaculture (make no waste) outlook means that we have a hard time letting ‘useful things’ go sometimes.  Like the pile of bricks lovingly brought home in our Honda Civic that have sat stacked against the fence ever since.  Or how about the pile of tree intended to become hugelkultur beds?  The piles of baskets?  Where did they come from?  The…list goes on and on.

The items we’re purging are from the life we are slowly leaving behind.  As I pick up each item and consider whether or not it brings me joy, I am realizing just how much we are moving away from our days and home being filled with consumer culture.  I have been trying hard to pare down our possessions for a very long time.  But the idea of leaving this home has given me the gumption to look at these decisions in a new way.  I’m tired of living my life from a place of fear and scarcity.  Saving things for one day when we ‘might’ need them doesn’t make sense for the majority of the things we have been stockpiling.  Could we get by without the excessive stock of egg cartons, should there one day be a shortage in the world?  Did people not do without them once upon a time?  Although we don’t want to make waste, having all of this stuff is actually wasting the most precious of all things to us…our time.   I will not be wanting for vinyl tablecloths in the future, nor will I care about that book I never read.   If life comes to a place where we exist in a place of scarcity…and by this I mean real hard times, I have a hard time believing that the luxuries of a consumer driven culture will be of much benefit for survival.

A major time vacuum in our home is laundry.  We have been trying to think of ways to reduce this task to it’s minimum.  I read a great blog post about converting one room in the home into a shared closet/laundry room, which sounds wonderful!  But given our current trajectory, and wanting the problem fixed now, I opted for something different.  I have reduced the children’s wardrobes significantly instead.  Their drawers now hold  10 pairs of pants, 10 seasonal shirts (long sleeved right now for winter, but we kept 10 short sleeved shirts and 10 shorts for summer), 10 pairs of socks, 10 underpants, and 3 sweaters – since these are easily reused and also very bulky.  I have struggled with how many articles of clothing a child really needs, and how few things we can ‘get away with.’  I decided to settle on 10 as a trial run.  Although admitting to 10 items per category seems high, it reduced what was in their drawers by about half!  This alone was a big step…recognizing just how much excess there was!  Why did I choose 10 items per category?  I thought it would allow laundry to be done once a week, with a few extra items for good measure…because mess happens a lot around here and sometimes a wardrobe change midday is required!  The first week I thought about reducing down to less, but I’m going to give it a while first before pushing ourselves too hard.  Our laundry tasks have been drastically simplified, but that hasn’t made up for the fact that I still need to get it washed, folded and put away!  Amongst the other (never ending) tasks of the home, laundry still gets left by the wayside sometimes…as we deem it to be less important than other things in our life.

Numerous bags and boxes of stuff have already been moved out.  How did we have this much stuff?  And how is there still so much left!?  There is no shortage of things left to purge!  We’re trying to reduce the contents of our home by at least half.  Which is no small feat given how much our cupboards contain!  I have to keep reminding myself that this upheaval is just a storm, and when it passes the water will look even more beautiful.  I have to remind myself of this often, because the mess that is created as our carefully packed possessions explode into the living spaces.  What I have learned is that clearing out, while decorating for the holidays, while also experiencing real life with three littles can be very hectic at times!  The laundry isn’t getting folded for a reason!

I love my home to look tidy, and I also have some ace packing skills…which together have created a problem.  Cupboards are stocked neatly but excessively.  Being good at packing means I can always find space in the dishwasher for one more bowl…but it also means I can make room for that ‘thing’ in the cupboard too.  Finding that I have stockpiled 10 shower gels at the back of the bathroom closet was a bit of a surprise.  I knew I had extras, but could only see one since the rest had been carefully hidden lined up behind it.  In cleaning out the bathroom, I also found upwards of 15 toothbrushes!  These ‘useful things’ end up not being all that important for a family who uses one bottle of body wash a year and use an electric toothbrush!  We’ve decided to donate our excess to a local charity that helps homeless women get back on their feet.

I don’t want to spend my time tidying and cleaning.  It’s not that I dislike these tasks.  I actually find immense reward in completing a cleaning project!  But these tasks do not define my life.  The more things I have, the more they distract from the things I actually want to spend my time doing.  Each stolen moment I spend trying to cram too many bibs into the tiny drawer in our kitchen.  Each second I spend staring into the overcrowded closet looking for the thing I need.  Each minute spent re-configuring and reorganizing spaces to fit all the stuff.  This is all wasted time.  If I were to add up those moments, seconds and minutes, and I’m sure I’ve spent at least a year of my life shuffling stuff around.  It’s time for it to stop…because the less stuff we have the better our life gets.

 

Clothing Swap!

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A week ago, I hosted a clothing swap!  The intent was to subversively reject Black Friday, which has turned out to be today.  Those who attended my swap were too polite to speak up about my error!  Just goes to show how in touch I really am with consumerism.  In any case, I wanted to write about the experience because we had a lovely evening.

The idea of a clothing swap is to trade clothes you no longer want with other people.  The number of items you bring does not have to equal the number of items you take home.  The clothes are piled in the centre of the room, and you take what you like.  Anything that does not find a new home is donated to charity.

For our swap, I invited many people, but only a few were able to make it.  It was nice to have a small gathering.  Since there were just four of us, we could really help each other through the process of selecting clothing that looked nice on us.

When people arrived, we enjoyed some of the (ridiculously numerous) snacks that I had prepared and drank wine and homemade hard cider.  When we determined that everyone had arrived, we dumped the clothes into one large pile on my rug.  It was like a treasure hunt searching through the clothes mountain.  I tried on a lot of things, and kept several.  We each started our own ‘stash’ where we put the things that we wanted to keep.  I found some really neat things, some that I would have picked up in a shop and many things that I likely wouldn’t have even tried on otherwise!

It was a wonderful evening filled with conversations and laughter with lovely people that I’m glad to call my friends.  It was nice to choose clothes I liked without having to worry about the price tag or the environmental impact of my purchase.  For all of us, what we brought to the swap were bags of clothing we were planning to get rid of anyway.   I got rid of far more than I kept.  And what I did end up keeping were things that freshened up my wardrobe in unexpected ways!  We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we plan on having another gathering in the springtime!

How to host your own clothing swap:

  1. Set the date – if you’re trying to coordinate it with a special event day, be sure to check your calendar!
  2. Invite your friends!  I invited lots of people, but the party ended up being small.  I would say, smaller is better.  Although I’ve not hosted a large clothing swap, it might get ugly if people were fighting over the same items!
  3. Find a full length mirror to set in the shared space, near where the pile of clothes will be
  4. Create a ‘change room’ (We used my bathroom), but most people just changed in the common space.  I wore a tight tank top and just changed in front of my friends.
  5. Prepare some snacks
  6. Gather.  Explain the process.  If there are disputes over who should get what item, have a vote – the person who is voted to look the best in the item of clothing takes the prize!
  7. Have fun!!!
  8. Take remaining items to your local thrift store, so they can find a new home.