Consumerism

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.

 

 

Missing Out

The downside of a digitized culture is that it makes it so easy to feel like we’re ‘missing out’ on things.  Here I find another place where I’m unlearning what has been bestowed upon me.  I will on occasion experience feelings of loss because of the choices we’re making as a family to diverge from mainstream culture.  I often have the feeling that I don’t ‘fit in’ anywhere and that ‘everyone else’ enjoying themselves doing carefree things that are, by choice, no longer part of my landscape.  Those ‘fun’ things no longer seem fun to me.  What I really crave is the ‘easiness’ of it all, the ability to be impulsive and joyful.  But the contentment I seek does not come from the outside world, making it more difficult to seek and find it in a culture obsessed with consuming.

Social media allows us to see what everyone else is up to through our online lens, creating the illusion that things are so much better for someone else than in our own day to day routines.  Consumption of the lives of others has become a new outlet for gluttony.  Wanting more, wanting the best, having what everyone else has.  The reality is that what we see flash across our screens is but a small portion of life, one that has been constructed, edited, and shared with intent.  Carefully selected highlights.

Parents feel pressured to expose their children to a multitude of extra curricular activities in an effort to provide them with a ‘perfect’ childhood.  In my eyes, the shuffle of activities leaves the childhood part out of the equation.  I don’t want my children to miss out on the opportunities to muck about and learn by engaging in what they’re interested in at their own pace.  This is one of the reasons I have come to form new opinons about schooling and education.  Are my children missing out on a traditional education because I’m choosing to home school them?  Of course they are.  They will not be in a class of 30+ children all of the same age.  They will not spend their days sitting indoors at desks.   They will miss out on being told in no uncertain terms how ‘smart,’ ‘athletic,’ or ‘popular’ they are, since they’ll not have a group of people constantly measuring them against others.  They will not be denied their passion for a topic because it’s not the curriculum being taught.  Their engagement of a topic will not be cut short because it’s time for science/lunch/recess/the next unit of study.  They will miss out on being the centre of attention during snack and lunchtime for our lack of consumption of sugar, wheat, corn, and processed food.  They will not have the opportunity to be able to defend our family’s choice to buy used where possible.  They will not spend their leisure time at school talking to other children about the violent video games they’re playing all night long or media they’ve watched. Yes, indeed they will miss out.

Sarcasm aside, it is hard to avoid the inevitable fear of the unknown.  Pushing edges means leaving comfort behind.  And there are of course things that I greatly enjoyed growing up in a school setting that create a reason for me to pause.  I would love for them to be involved in choir or band.  I wish for them to learn another language.  I want for them to find a group of friends where they feel belonging and trust.  I want them to discover knowledge and skills that I don’t have.  But these things seemingly offered by an institutional setting are not best suited to a classroom either.  They are available to my children without the social structure that fails to mimic natural systems.  Creativity, passion, and determination cannot be underestimated.

We can’t do it all.  We can’t have it all.  We don’t need it all.  We just want to be happy.

Driving Forces

The minivan wove down the entangled road toward a new experience.  It hurried us through space, in order to reach a destination not possible on foot in the time available for travel before sunset.  The dust curled up from the gravel road announcing the impact of the metal behemoth against the earth.

The blessing of car travel hadn’t yet been made visible to my three children in the back seat as this is all they’ve ever known.  The days of travel by foot or horse have long passed.  In their stead are shiny metal manifestations of mother earth.

That day, summer sunny and hot was not unlike most.  Traveling toward something which seemed to offer up a better option to staying home.  An opportunity for adventure, learning, or just to escape routine.  Two-thirds of the way to our destination, the van ceased to respond to pressure on the gas pedal.  Creeping onto the side of the road, I offered myself a silent moment of gratitude for bringing the cell phone – an item purchased for emergencies that is forgotten at home the majority of the time.  I am not interested in being connected to the rest of the world all the time.  But this time…this time I was.

A call was made to my in laws – to the home intended as our point of arrival.  With mild questioning regerding how it is that one runs out of gas with three small children in the car and a rebuttal identifying the last user of the vehicle as their son, including the important detail that the nearest gas station is located nearly at their front door – help was on the way.  I rummaged through the glove box, producing boxes of raisins for the children that were still edible.  I nursed the baby and turned up the insidious children’s music – the kind where adults actually pretend to be poor singers in an effort to sound like children.  A few games of eye spy later, help had arrived.  Gas was funneled into the great black beast and she rolled again.  This time into the gas station.

Many lessons were leaned that day, but top of the list was just how staggering the act of getting into a car, turning a key and pressing the pedal can transform the unfolding of our lives.  The vehicle and its fuel represent an incredible amount of embodied energy.  Metal mined from the bowels of the earth, plastics and gasoline conjured up from extracted oil comprised of ancient decayed lifeforms, rubber from trees growing on the other side of the planet.  Effort from the miners, forgers, chemists, designers, assembly workers, truck drivers, oil extractors, oil refiners, advertisers, retailers and everyone in between.

There will be a day when life returns to living within a walkable radius.  Perhaps my children will be lucky enough to never know this time.  In the meantime, I will do what I can to ensure they know the depth of their privilege.