Walk the talk.


In my family, we spend New Year’s Day doing two things: brunching and hiking.  My parents and my sister’s family drive up and we spend the morning eating all kinds of yummy things, and then we head to a nearby state park for the First Day Hike.

I don’t normally host a lot of get-togethers at my house, but when we do, it’s always been so easy to rely on disposables: plates, napkins, plastic silverware.  I keep a pretty minimal kitchen, so my excuse has always been that I don’t have enough of any one thing; I only have 8 large plates, for example, so when all ten family members are here, what choice do I have?

I’ll tell you what choice I have: put out the 8 small plates I have, too. So someone has to eat on a small plate – they’ll survive!  And the same thing goes for silverware: can’t some people use tiny forks and some people use normal forks?  They all work the same.

So yesterday I challenged myself not to use anything throwaway.  To make up for a shortage of bowls for fruit and yogurt, I set out a bunch of small jam jars.  I washed up every cloth napkin we own, so we had plenty.  Glassware was mismatched, but who really cares? And the three people who ate off small plates still got plenty of food.  At the end of the meal, nothing was thrown away; we just washed everything up and put it back in the cabinet.

Even though this is such a small thing, I’d been letting my discomfort with things being a little hodge-podge and scruffy stand in my way.  But if I say I value making sustainable choices, I am absolutely required to make myself uncomfortable in order to live in alignment with that value.  Because if you draw the line at your own discomfort, then the truth becomes that you don’t really value that thing you say you care about.  And I want to hold myself accountable.

I hope 2020 holds even more discomfort for me.

(photo source Pixabay)

On being materialistic.

sewing machineToday I spent about an hour at the thrift store.  I’ve been on the hunt for a new cardigan in a happy color, but I had rules: it had to be secondhand, it had to be made of natural fibers, and it had to be worth repairing if it got damaged in any way.  The thrift store I was at is huge and combing through literally hundreds of sweaters took time, but it felt like time well-spent; if I could find the right sweater, then I wouldn’t have to look for another sweater for a long time.

Combing through the racks was a little disheartening.  So much acrylic or polyester or nylon.  So many bad seams and pilled fabrics.  So much, for want of a better word, junk.  But my patience was rewarded and I found a pink merino wool cardigan with embroidered flowers and good seams.  The buttons and button plackets were reinforced with grosgrain ribbon.  The button holes were sturdy and well made.  This sweater was a keeper.

Now, it wasn’t perfect.  The buttons were quite loose and one was missing altogether.  But perfection wasn’t the goal.  I wanted a sweater I could develop a relationship with.

So, five dollars later, I brought my new sweater home.  I resewed the buttons and moved the bottom button up to replace the missing one.  I haven’t decided yet if I’ll replace that bottom one, because I won’t use it and it’s not really noticeable that it’s gone.  We’ll see.  I can decide that down the road, because this sweater is going to stay with me a long time. Just the very act of sitting down with needle and thread and taking the time to fix the sweater had that magical effect of endowing it with value: I love it more because I spent time on it.

I also spent a couple of hours this week patching some overalls.  I have a pair of overalls I love madly, but they were “destructed” when I bought them, and those holes make them difficult to wear in winter and also mean they just won’t last as long.  Every deep knee bend threatens to make the holes much bigger.  So I patched the two largest holes and will fix the others over time.  Already the overalls feel sturdier (because you know I wore them literally the next day) and also, they feel even more special to me because I invested my time in them.

I want to only bring things into my home that I truly love, things that bring me pleasure when I use them or wear them.  It seems like the only right way to honor the resources of time and materials and human labor that brought those things into existence.


Buy Nothing.

dining roomBack in August, I started a Buy Nothing Project group here in my smallish city.  It’s been slow-growing; I think a lot of people shy away from a gift economy because they don’t entirely understand it.  Our culture tells us there are only two ways to get things.  Either you buy them, in which case: yay capitalism.  Or you are given things, in which case: sad poor.  The haves give to the have-nots, and the haves just keep buying more new stuff, and everyone is left wanting and grasping and seeking all the time.

It’s exhausting.

That’s why I love the Buy Nothing Project.  It asks you step outside that thinking and understand that everyone has things they need and things to give and that if we learned to trust our neighbors (and, you know, bothered to notice each other and learn one another’s names and show up in our communities), so many of our needs could be met without anyone have to walk into a store. And most of the time, I’d rather do anything else than walk into a store.

What has been interesting for me as I nurture my group’s growth is that, some days, I’m the only one giving things away.  To keep things lively there, I gift things pretty often, sometimes multiple times a day.  But the thing that is crazy is, no matter how much I give away?  I always have more stuff I could gift.  When you start to look around yourself, at the things you own but never touch, the things that you used once and never picked up again, the things you bought and then forgot about – my heavens, there is so much of it.  I could give away something every day for the next 1000 days and I doubt I’d even get close to the things I truly care about.  And I think that’s probably true for most people.

And here’s the second crazy thing: every time I give something away, every time I send something off to live a life of use and service in another household, I’m rewarded two-fold.  First, I get the frisson of joy from sharing what I have.  And second, I get more space in my home, space to breathe and rest and remember that things never bring meaning.

People do.

The first step(s).

road edgeI live exactly one mile from a big box store.  One mile isn’t really very much.  I like to get out and go for walks and runs; one mile would be barely a start when I’m talking about getting movement in.  But I never walk to the store, because there isn’t a single sidewalk between my house and the store.  So, I get in the car and drive there, probably cursing under my breath the whole time, because ugh.  Who drives one mile when they don’t need to?

I live in the heart of a smallish city and it makes me crazy that I can’t easily get anywhere on foot.  Once I’m out of my (sidewalk-free) neighborhood, I have to walk on the shoulders of roads, which perch precariously on the edge of deep ditches. It makes walking anywhere feel like an act of desperation, a last resort, instead of a sensible, sustainable choice.  Every time I pass a gym, I cringe a little – all those treadmills lined up inside, and all the pointless walking and running being done on them.  What if we had sidewalks? And we could just walk to the store or the post office or a restaurant?  Maybe we wouldn’t need to set aside specific “walking/running” time if we could just incorporate movement into our lives.

But how do you change a car culture? Especially here in a place like Oklahoma where things are pretty spread out and having a car is a necessity? Do we give up and accept that means we don’t get to walk anywhere?

I don’t plan to.  It may not be easy or comfortable right now, but until I get out there and do it, I can’t discover what the real issues are and learn if there are any simple things that can be done to make things better and more walkable.

This morning, it was pleasant and I planned to take a walk before it got hot.  And I also needed to go to the store for 3 things.  So, I did it: I grabbed my shopping tote, my wallet, and my good attitude, and walked there.  The whole round-trip only took 47 minutes.  A goodly section of the walk was through parking lots and crossing the main street in town was Frogger-esque due to no crosswalk, but I made it.  And it actually wasn’t as bad as I feared.

So, I’m going to keep doing it, and maybe try to discover other ways to get to nearby places without using a car. After all, if I want to have a walkable community, the first step is to get out there and walk it.

(photo source Pixabay)