No-Frills Five, Gone Seven

I didn’t post about it, but yes, I did do my No-Frills Five in February. And the end of March is approaching, so it’s time again. This month, Consumption Rebellion is kicking my ass from five to seven. Which necessarily will include a weekend. This will make it much more challenging for me, which is good, right? That’s the point.

Including a weekend means, for one, I have to tell My Man about it. Yes, I did the last two fivers without even telling him. He’s in class all week, so it was easy to keep my little limitations to myself. I still won’t ask him to join me, I believe to each their own. But I can’t be letting him pay for dinner, and call that a challenge. So, no family spending anyway. And weekends are of course when we usually do something fun like go out to dinner or ice cream. Mostly I don’t want to deprive myself of this weekly indulgence. For lots of reasons I feel it’s justified at this point in my life. But, just once, wouldn’t it be good to take a picnic to the park instead?

This month I will be going a step farther in the No-Frills spirit. No consumption of homemade frills either. That means I can’t make my own brownies instead of going to the bakery for a treat. No treat. Get it? I will also nix my afternoon cuppa, and you know how I feel about that. Not the morning cuppa though. That one’s till death do us part.

And I’ve got my caveats, but I’m not gonna list every damn one. I’ll break my vows if I feel I need to. It’s my own damn challenge to my own damn self, thank you very much.

If anyone cares to join me in any way, whatever you can muster, make up your own soft-core challenge. Write your own rules. Decide to give up just one thing. Be small and proud.

Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

Yesterday, I got my new favorite book in the mail. I ripped open the envelope and proceeded to ignore every one of my beautiful family members while I devoured the first few pages.

Radical Homemakers promises to be everything I could have hoped for. I can’t believe I almost let this link founder in my inbox until complete oblivion. How close I came to missing out on someone championing my cause, with far more eloquence and research than I could ever muster!

It’s got me thinking a mile a minute. It is a bit hard to slow down enough to tackle one of the many post issues on my list. Doesn’t anyone want to come over and do my Radical job for me, so I can just sit around and theorize about it?

When my sister was visiting for Mardi Gras, we were sneaking dessert one night after the kiddos went to bed, and she asked, out of genuine curiosity, “How can you afford to eat organic ice cream?”

This is an interesting way to begin this conversation because, for one, we don’t usually buy organic ice cream. And for two, not buying organic ice cream would be one of the ways we can afford to eat organic. Capice?

It got me motivated to write a post I’ve had in my brain for over a year. I think this is an issue a lot of people new to the green homemaking arts wonder about. Organic, fair-trade and sustainable products are more expensive. How can a family expect to have a lower than average (ie: single) income and buy higher than average priced products.

The answer is many fold. But the over-arching answer is– prioritize.

The organic thing has really gone crazy. I mean, I knew this before, but living 4 blocks from a Whole Foods, here in New Orleans, has really pushed the point home to me. There is organic everything. Marketed towards yuppies who, if you haven’t noticed before, actually prefer to pay a higher price for something in general, and especially if they can use the thing to assuage their inherent guilt. Which I feel is a real danger of the organic movement. Buying organic shampoo does not mean you are saving the Earth. Replacing all the same average American products with their organic counterparts would take a huge income. Every dollar spent is another log on the fire of The System. Pretty much.

The advertising world is, I believe, the real and true source of absolute power in our world today, and they scare the living shit out of me to be honest. When I walk into Whole Foods, I feel snared. I can’t help but like the look, the set-up, the labels. Everything is geared toward people like us (sort of like us) and I hate, hate that it works on me. But work it does.

The desire to change the world is a fad, to be sure. But it’s also just a basic human desire. To do good. To leave a good place for your kiddos. “They” know that. “They” know how to use that. The green shift has provided just another, tremendously effective, advertising ploy.

People have been taught to chant “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but it carries no meaning. The first, and most important of the three has been completely disregarded. The second can be used to sell stuff, so it has maintained marginal import. The third is the only one that has really caught on, because it fits perfectly fine into our consumer world. In fact, the more you consume, the more you get to feel good about recycling, right? Bonus!

I think that we could make a new little mantra, for those of us trying to live as responsibly as we can on meager budgets. Reduce, make your own, prioritize.

Reduce what you need (and want!) as much as you can. This is still and always the most important thing, and the still and always the hardest to do. We are so enmeshed in the ‘want more, you deserve it’ advertising we grew up with, it is truly challenging to limit ourselves. I limit myself far more than your average American, but still not hardly enough. It’s especially difficult to keep challenging yourself once you’ve already gotten the basics down. When you look around and see how much less you need than everyone around you, it’s easy to get complacent. But we have to keep chanting to ourselves, “Less, less, less.”

Make your own is the fun part. It’s where you get to learn new skills, be creative, enjoy the fruits of your labors. There’s loads of make-your-own-every-kind-of-thing blogs out there. It’s also relatively easy. The skills are straightforward, and can be researched. But remember that this has to come after reducing. Make your own ice cream, after you have tried as hard as you can to want less ice cream. I’m really good at the make your own part, but learning to make less of my own, or just generally lower my living standards, is a never-ending challenge. Especially in the food department. It’s cool to make your own ice cream, but the fair-trade sugar you use still comes from a third world country where everybody’s more or less fucked. Even if they’re less fucked, it still gets transported thousands of miles via cheap, Earth degrading fossil fuel extraction. It is simply not sustainable for people in northern climes to eat sugar. Even in the places the sugar comes from, it would traditionally be an occasional treat because of how time intensive it’s production is.

Lastly, even after you’ve reduced as much as you can and made your own of what’s left, you’re likely to have a grocery list. And this is where prioritize comes in. Unless you are super kick-ass, and don’t buy anything, like Riana and her family, you’ll need to sort yourself out as a responsible consumer. If you’ve really gotten your list of needs down, you might be able to afford to buy everything from the highest quality producers. But likely, you’ll have to make some compromises. I have done a little research about this, and thought I ought to share my opinion on the wheres and whens.

But for now, I’ve tangentially written myself right out of time. And I need to go be the real life mama housewife I love to preach about.

Next on Apron Strings:

Setting Your Consumer Priorities!

No Frills Five: A Soft-Core Challenge

When I first started reading about people challenging themselves with “No-Spending” weeks, I thought it absurd. A week? Give me a break. Who cares? You go stock up on your groceries, and then are so proud when you keep your wallet at home for a week? Big, fat deal.

But, I have often fallen prey to a very all or nothing mindset. And as I get older I realize how unproductive and self defeating it can be. Why do I expect people to go crazy and give up everything as they know it before I’ll be impressed? Don’t I profess to believe in the value of small change, of everyone doing whatever they can muster? So, I’ve reconsidered.

I have really gotten into the blog Consumption Rebellion. Eilleen’s a mama of two in Australia, somewhat of a “born-again” anti-consumer. She’s just got a really genuine, earnest personality that shines right through her blog. I always like people who are earnestly doing their best, trying to be their best. Anyway, she wrote a great post called Do No-Spending Weeks Really Save Money? And it inspired me to quit with the I’m-too-hard-core-to-do-something-small mentality, get my shit together, and do whatever I can muster.

So, in order to explain what I’ve decided I can muster, I first have to give you a little background on my own consumer background.

First off, not spending for a week is, in the context of my life, no big deal whatsoever. Most Alaskans would scoff at the idea of a week being anything to write home about. When you live rurally, you function that way as a rule. I’m sure I’ve gone much longer than a week without buying anything before.

Even growing up in Anchorage, my mom was an infamous bulk-buyer. Our kitchen usually had all the staples, and that was more or less what we lived off of. Also, my folks were poor. Not poor by my standards, and nowhere near poor by world standards, but poor by American standards. When I filled out forms at school with my family income, I always ticked the lowest income bracket, “$15,000 or less.” Making do was nothing special, it was the way we lived. All those creative thinking skills that many people are discovering during their No-Spending Weeks, I was raised with as integral to life. All my clothes came from the thrift store. When something broke, we fixed it. We almost never ate out, treats were truly a treat, as in rare.

Soon after striking out on my own, I went even further in the spartan direction. My girlfriend and I lived in a treehouse of our own making, in the woods outside of a small town for four years. The first summer we ate beans, rice, oatmeal with raisins (no sugar), and homemade bread, cooked on a skillet over the campfire. That’s it. Literally. I mean, after two months when we bought a jar of peanut butter it was a huge exciting treat. Although it was not a good summer for my digestive organs (wow was my shit weird) it was fun in it’s own way to be so hard-core, and yes, I did learn a lot about needs, wants and doing without.

Over those four years, we softened a little, but not much. Heartbreak is what really struck up my self indulgence. And my next lover (later husband) had done quite a bit of softening himself since his young and hard-core days. Together we made quite an indulgent pair (by my standards, again, still not even on the chart of American indulgence). But, living in a teensy-tiny town in Alaska, surrounded by wilderness, with no road out to any bigger town, you can only spend so much.

To be perfectly honest, we are both quite enjoying our Big City experience, all the delicious food and cool stuff to see. This is not a permanent situation, we’ll be returning to our little hamlet of natural spending limitations in three years, so I have every intention of living it up while we’re here. This is where the all-or-nothing mentality comes in.

I had been thinking, well, here we are, screw it. But, I am realizing this is a wasteful way of thinking. I just have to admit the facts, and move on.

I. am. not. hard. core.

Wow. I said it. Good for me. Now I can move forward with my life.

So, let me introduce you to my very own, extremely soft-core, but still potentially slightly meaningful Spending Challenge.

And kids, it ain’t even a week.

Calamity Jane’s No Frills Five

For the last Monday through Friday of every month I will take five days off from spending money.

And now the caveats to that already very small challenge:

  • I allow myself to stock up on regular groceries on the weekend before. Furthermore, since I have two small kiddos and often don’t get to do things when and how I want, if I don’t make it to the store on Sunday, I allow myself to go to the store Monday, or whenever I can get there, so long as I only purchase what was on my list  as of Sunday night, no exceptions.
  • Except. By some unforeseen circumstance, although I will make every attempt not to, if we run out of coffee, half & half or milk, I allow myself to purchase said items.
  • Hubby is not in on this. I never like the idea of twisting someone else’s arm. I do what I do because I choose to. He’s his own self. I do however promise not to pull any dirty tricks like asking him to stop at the store to get whatever.

I’ve provided you with all my personal excuses and explanations not to gain your approval, but to perhaps inspire other folks who are interested but intimidated by big name challenges. Admit to who and where you are, and work from there. Make your own rules. Only you know your boundaries, and how to stretch them.

Do whatever you can muster, and call it great.