Category: Pay Attention (Page 2 of 2)

showering on the road, and in life.

Ask anyone who’s lived with me – I take really fast showers.

Back when I was a preteen my dad challenged me to take a four minute shower. Today that’s my norm. My showers are anywhere from three to six minutes. Depending, of course, on whether I’m late for something or it’s a winter night so cold that I require time to thaw.

I just don’t see any reason why a shower should take longer. Sure, it feels great… it feels great while I’m washing, but then it’s time to get out. I don’t believe in wasting water. Four minutes is all I need to shampoo, condition, and wash my entire body – including my ears and my feet (I shave outside the shower, it’s easier to anyways). I lived in a sustainability house in college that allowed an average of two minute showers a day. Now that is a struggle. So, I showered every other day because hey, long hair takes a little time.

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“make less beautiful” (big bend).

Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park.

There’s something about Big Bend that demands reflection. Maybe it’s the big, soft peaks looming over you, or the way the Basin campground is nestled between the mountains as if in a hug. Maybe it’s the silence, or the endless horizon. Big Bend is the least frequented national park – making it easy to appear, when correctly located, as though you are the only person there. After a month on the road with non-stop driving and visiting, the quiet was rejuvenating. Recognizing that we weren’t meeting our trip goals of (1) running, (2) writing, and (3) figuring out a life plan – the space to reflect was necessary. So we stayed for almost a week.

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“the sh** that’s going to happen”.

At 1:00am I still hadn’t fallen asleep. I lay there, trying not to move, in an envelope of heavy, humid air. It was mid-eighties and the trailer was stifling in the South Carolina humidity.

A few days before, in Asheville, NC, we woke to a puddle of water at our feet. The guy who built the trailer was apparently as inept at waterproofing as he was at installing lights. The leaks were now fixed, but we didn’t have a screen yet. We draped a tarp over the window hoping to deter mosquitos. So far, we had only succeeded in deterring any wind relief.

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3 failures of minimalism.

Constantly reading about minimalism while packing compelled me to write about it, but since then I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I got more likes on that post than I’ve gotten on a single post in a long time. Intrigued by this response, I looked even further into minimalism on the web – it’s everywhere! I ran across numerous blogs devoted to personal journeys towards minimalism and similar ideas. People love “tiny houses” and having fewer than 100 possessions – and a lot of people like to follow the blogs of people who live that way.

Minimalism is good, right? Having less stuff is sustainable; getting rid of stuff creates happier, healthier people. Right? For some reason the concept of minimalism started to bother me, even though I knew these writers were doing what was best by them. I took a few days to figure out why, and through debating with David I narrowed it down to three problems: waste, the definition of stuff, and dependence on consumerism.

1. WASTE: Minimalism is often framed as disposal. “Get rid” of everything. Don’t “hold on” to stuff. When you buy one item, “get rid” of another. Less stuff in your house = less stress, more happiness, a better life in the minds of those who believe in minimalism. But from a sustainability perspective it’s extremely dangerous. Instead of emphasizing not buying more things we’re emphasizing throwing things away. In a country where the average person will produce 102 tons of waste in their lifetime we can’t afford to think this kind of minimalism is acceptable.

Minimalism is great if you make sure to:
1. hold on to things that are truly valuable.
2. donate, repurpose, or recycle everything you’re getting rid of.
3. and; when you do buy new things, make sure you know how and where they were created.
4. but; above all else, avoid buying new things.

2. STUFF: Not all things are stuff. This drives me crazy. David and I own many more than 100 things – but the things we own are useful things, not useless stuff. Too often there is a ridiculous effort to achieve # in one’s inventory, whether it be 200 or 100 items. This promotes getting rid of things that are actually useful, which is not only wasteful but counter productive, leading to point #3:

3. DEPENDENCE: I’ve always found self-sufficiency and minimalism fascinating – yet, with little investigation it’s easy to discover that these two things are rarely synonymous. When you own less than 100 items you’ll find it hard to fix things that break without tools, to grow your own food (farm tools, preservation supplies, etc. etc.), and to provide your own entertainment (musical instruments, art supplies, or board games). Minimalist lifestyles often rely on consumerism for access to food, entertainment, and other goods and services – making it a suitable lifestyle only for those with money, another issue I’ll avoid for the moment. For example; without our food processor and canning pot we would have to buy pre-processed foods, without our guitar we wouldn’t be able to play music, without our electric razor David would have to pay for a haircut every two weeks. Of course, there are always ways to decrease the need for these items (such as borrowing tools from a neighbor or renting farm equipment) but many people won’t always be able to borrow what they need – and they need to know that owning those things isn’t bad.

What I recommend is:
1. when getting rid of something, consider what you might have to outsource as a result.
2. don’t get rid of anything that you actually use, on a regular basis.
3. don’t justify buying something solely by trading something else out, it should have another purpose.
4. try not to buy anything that’s new: get something used or just don’t buy it.

Minimalism is not inherently bad, in fact I love the concept. As someone who practices sustainability and self-sufficiency having less unnecessary “stuff” is a great first to decreasing my reliance on consumerism and my impact on the planet. However, I have to be careful that simplifying my life doesn’t translate into waste and dependency. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be minimalist, eco-friendly, and truly independent; but we can’t all be Rob GreenfieldHaving useful things that fulfill the three tenants of independence, happiness, or sustainability isn’t bad – it’s buying useless stuff that doesn’t fulfill those tenants that is. That’s what we need to focus on.

doing away with baggage.

Getting rid of “stuff” seems to be a hot topic right now. This could totally be biased, considering I follow many blogs that tout “minimalism” and “sustainability.” It also could be seasonal – considering spring started literally overnight last week and everyone has the spring cleaning bug. Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of talk about it, and I’m actively participating, so it’s been on my mind. David and I leave in two weeks. I technically leave in one week, as I’m dropping my car (the non-road trip car) at my parents’ in Maine loaded with all the things we’ll need when we settle down somewhere for longer than a few weeks. So this weekend is packed full of sorting, packing, unpacking, repacking, etc. etc. (pun intended). Sometimes I think I live to get rid of stuff. I find every excuse to do it: spring cleaning, buying too much new stuff, attending a lecture on climate change that scares the crap out of me, watching a movie about third world countries… really any event that makes me feel awful about my privileges or like I’m drowning in unused possessions. It always leaves me feeling renewed. This winter I undertook the most involved “simplification” of my life thus far – to the point that there’s barely anything left to get rid of that makes any reasonable sense. And now we have to fit it all in two cars… IMG_4057To the left is what our bedroom looked like this morning as we sorted everything into: (1) winter clothes, (2) farm clothes, (3) running clothes, (3) work/nice clothes, (4) frequently worn, (4) not so frequently worn. The first two categories are headed to Maine, the rest we’re taking with us – whatever doesn’t fit a category is headed to Salvation Army. And that’s just clothes; we’ve also sorted through books, dishes, memorabilia, and everything else we own. At least four times over the last few months we’ve done a full sweep of the apartment, throwing everything we’re ready to part with in a cardboard box to donate or listing it on Craiglist (um…anyone want an antique sewing machine?). All of this in preparation for today – the car stuffing day of truth.  Each time we undertook a cleaning we found ourselves willing to part with more and more stuff. In January I wanted to keep that blue dress, for special occasion, you know? In February I decided it could go, I don’t attend a lot of those; but that really nice speaker system we never use? We might need that. Then in March: maybe a speaker system isn’t actually that useful on the road… Stuff is just stuff. Yet, for some reason, we emotionally attach ourselves to it. We avoid getting rid of things because so-and-so gave it to us, or it could have use some day, or we like to wear it maybesometimes, etc. etc. In my opinion, our emotional attachments to material objects could actually be considered emotional baggage. As a culture we’re drowning in the chaos of our material lives, in our anxiety about getting rid of anything we might possibly regret. For the record: I’ve never regretted getting rid of anything, no matter how worried I was before I pitched it. Usually, I just forget I ever owned it. Out of sight, out of mind – forever one less worry. Take a look around you – are you surrounded by things you never use? Really think about it. When was the last time you cracked open that book? Do you even remember what it was about? How often do you really use those cookie cutters? You have how many coffee mugs for two people!? Where did you even get that weird looking plant pot anyways? And those pants that are too big, too small, too short, or too hole-y? C’mon, you know the ones, the ones you haven’t worn in three years. Newsflash: you’ll probably never wear them again.

Get rid of it! All of it!

Note: Please sell or donate before throwing away. Unless it’s like underwear… or broken sneakers… or dish rags… throw that shit out (in the proper receptacle, of course). It’s rude to assume other people want that gross stuff. Every item we’ve gotten rid of has pushed us closer to our goal of independence on the road. Every item you do away with will give you that same sense of freedom – one step closer to a life without baggage.

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