My month without buying crap

Hi Everybody,

Just a quick update this evening as I’m afraid I have been neglecting this blog a fair bit lately as a result of my day job and my studies. I have enjoyed keeping in touch with everyone via Facebook and Twitter as always, though.

I have endeavoured to spend the greater portion of one month (it would have been a full month if I hadn’t thought of it on the 2nd of June!) without purchasing any personal items. Of course I am allowing myself to buy food and basic toiletries if they run out but that’s about it. No books, no dvds, no clothes, no craft stuff. I’m still allowing myself to purchase experiences (going to the movies, etc.) because this is more a test in non-consumerism than it is in frugality although if at the end of the month I find I’ve spent less than usual, well then that would be terrific.

So far I am only three days in and already it has been tough. I am selling my fish tank (long story – turns out I simply cannot keep fish alive and I get really upset when they die!) and now that the fish tank is going I desperately want to get a little desk fountain to go in its place in my feng shui ‘wealth corner.’ Normally I would have got obsessed with the idea and spent the day prowling through Chinese trinket shops looking for one but alas, this time I must wait three weeks! Can I do it? Who knows. I think so. We shall see. If anyone wants to join me in this challenge (ending July 1st 2012) let me know! I’ve been watching all these documentaries about African tribal communities and our lives looks so wasteful and stupid compared to theirs!

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How cluttered is your life?

As some of you know, I am very passionate about home design and over the past year or so I’ve become fascinated by minimalism. I’ve recently had the opportunity to actually live the minimalist life. I’ve moved to a studio apartment where my entire living and sleeping area is confined to a single room with just two other small rooms – a bathroom and laundry – tacked onto the back.

I wasn’t sure how I’d go with living in such small quarters but it’s actually been really great. I think I would call my little house here a practice in “cozy minimalism”. I have lamps, candles, blankets, and pillows around the place but in no way does it feel cluttered. Eventually I will move out of here and into a larger home but I imagine I will continue to employ a minimalist mentality to any new space I enter.

Most people think of minimalism as the stark, “modern” style of home design that has recently become trendy. I find this style of home design interesting and inspiring in its un-cluttered aesthetic but also somehow at odds with the “live simply” mentality that is the heart of true minimalism. Here in Canberra there are “minimalist” homes going up all over town and a lot of them sit at the $800,000 to million dollar+ price point which is just crazy and totally at odds with the non-consumerist minimalist mentality.

To me minimalism is about living simply, without clutter, and focusing your energy and money on what is important to you rather than on stuff.

Here are a few ideas for any of you interested in moving toward minimalism:

1. Drastically reduce the amount of knick knacks you keep around.
Knick knacks are something many people find difficult to part with because they almost always hold sentimental value. The problem, though, is they clutter up a place like nobody’s business. One trick I’ve come up with is to put all your knick knacks in a box and only put the most important ones back out again. Donate or give away as much of what is left in the box as possible. And for God’ sake – don’t buy any more!!

2. Dare to wear out your best clothes – and chuck the rest.
Don’t save your nicest clothes for a special occasion. Wear them. It’s better to wear things out than to hold onto them for so long that they go out of style and have to be thrown out anyway. Go through your closet and get rid of absolutely everything that you don’t like, doesn’t fit, or that you just don’t wear and never will – and be brutal about it. Whatever is left, wear!

3. Take the time to put your photographs in albums – and chuck the rest.
There’s no point having a gigantic box of lose photos sitting around. Take the time to properly display your memories and get rid of the anything that isn’t worthy of either being framed or going into an album.

4. Eat out your fridge and cupboards before you replenish them.
Food can be a major money sink, especially when you’re routinely buying perishable items that go mouldy before you use them. Throwing out or not using good food is also disrespectful to the farmers and land that was used to create it.

5.Be honest about how many skin and hair care products you really need.
So often our bathrooms are full of samples and random products that we have barely used yet have been sitting there for years. If you’re not going to use them, throw them out. If you are going to use them, use them.

6. Invest $5 in a library card
You really don’t need to be buying books that you will only read once. There’s also no real point in spending money on dvds and cds when the technology will soon become irrelevant anyway. Save your money and start going to the library.

7. When it comes to furniture and other big ticket items, buy things that truly speak to your heart.
The beauty of minimalism is that when you do decide to purchase something, you have the luxury of opting for quality because you haven’t been spending all your money on meaningless crap!

8. Use the time and money you would otherwise spend on the acquisition and care of possessions to better your life.
After you have de-cluttered your space, set to work on de-cluttering your whole life. Get rid of the thought patterns and beliefs that have been tripping you up, clear up your financial mess, let go of those so called friends who do you more harm than good. At the same time, sign up for that art class you have been wanting to take and call up that family member you don’t get to see as much as you’d like. Minimalism is about clearing out what doesn’t matter so you have more time for what does.

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Men are competing for us even after they have cum and gone (sperm competition in bats and people)

It’s true – even after a man manages to woo us, fend of the competitors and get us into the sack, the job still aint done. At this point he basically just relays the responsibility onto his sperm who continue to compete in what reproductive biologists call a “sperm competition”. For sexually monogamous couples there are no sperm competitions but when a woman cheats on her partner or if she goes on some kind of unprotected Girls Gone Wild SOCal spring break, there can be stiff competition (pun sadly intended) for sperm.

I have just begun research into sperm competition for my master’s degree. I’m studying it in regards to bats. Bats have always been of fascination to me but it wasn’t until I started learning about their sexcapades that I decided to go into major student debt over it!

You see, because many species of bat live in gigantic social groups (sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands) there are near unlimited opportunities for them to sleep around (or “hang out” as we Gen-Y’ers call it ..hey maybe we get this term from the bats!). Most bats also don’t believe in monogamy. Only 12 of the over 1,200 species of bat are believed to be monogamous – and with a little genetic testing, I’m convinced it’s even less than that. They tend to live either polygamously or, more commonly, like baboons where any male can mate with any female with the exception of some direct family members. For bats, every day is a SOCal spring break! At least in the breeding season, anyway.

Even more ridiculous, female bats can distend their reproductive tracts to hold huge quantities of semen which they can keep alive in their bodies for up to 200 days!! All of this adds up to a situation where sperm are competing with each other like gang busters.

What happens, then, when the sperm have to compete so much is that natural selection favours males with larger balls (that produce more sperm) in the way that if you want to win a raffle you buy more tickets. Over time, then, bat balls have evolved to absolutely vulgar proportions! In one species, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, the combined testes weight is 8.4% of total body weight. That’s the equivalent of a 180lb man walking around with 20lb balls! IT’S INSANITY!!

The craziest part of it, too, is that because bats have to maintain low body weights in order to fly they can’t just carry around these gigantic balls without having to pay for it somewhere else and so not surprisingly – the brains take the hit. They have actually found that the larger the balls of a bat, the smaller the brain*.

I was just thinking about all of this in the shower (as you do) and realised how ridiculous it all is. I mean in an effort to be the winner of the sperm competition, testicles only think to do one thing: produce more sperm. Even if the end result makes them dumber. Does it never occur to them to produce quicker, faster, more efficient sperm and not have to sacrifice grey matter? Nope. Well, sometimes. Occassionally, rather than producing more sperm to win the sperm competition they’ll produce bigger sperm but this really isn’t much better.

And doesn’t this just sum up men perfectly?? I mean the male agenda is always about bigger, better, more. Women on the other hand, understand value. That’s why we produce one perfect, valuable, egg rather than a million crappy ones. Not to mention why we fantasize about one perfect partner instead of a threesome …

*This doesn’t apply to flying foxes

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You don’t need a Prius – you need a fucking bike!

I was totally inspired this evening by an article my friend Stacey sent me about eco-homes.

The article talks about how in a lot of ways “sustainable” homes are not that at all because despite the fact that they might have grey water recycling toilets, all the materials and labour has to be trucked in. Buying a simple, modest home where you open a window instead of running AC, plant a veggie garden instead of going to the super market, and use good old fashioned cow poop on the garden instead of chemical fertiliser is likely to be just as sustainable of a lifestyle as what any snobbish “eco-home” can offer.

It reminded me of the line in the flick “Baby Mama” where Tina Fey asks Amy Poehler why she doesn’t eat organic food and she says “that stuff is just for rich people who hate themselves”. That line always cracks me up because in a lot of ways, she’s right. Organic foods and “green” products have become elitist and pretentious!

For the record I believe that the philosophy behind the green movement is awesome and I’m all for it. I buy as much organic stuff as possible (including all my cleaning products and makeup) BUT I really believe that the “green” homes, the “green” cars, and the fucking $7 “green” carrots just make the average person feel like living life in a sustainable way is out of reach for them.

And when the whole Green movement isn’t elitist it is really hippy, right? Well I don’t know, anymore actually, because I always have associated hippies with being broke and there’s no way you can be broke and afford the crap these eco-pushers are selling.

Have you ever been to a “co-op”? You’d think they’d be cheap-as because everyone who goes there is either a uni student or a dread-locked, bare-footed 22 year old BUT A JAR OF PEANUT BUTTER COSTS LIKE ELEVEN DOLLARS!! Honestly, maybe these kids could afford shoes if they weren’t buying such expensive peanut butter!

Also, have you guys ever seen those “eco-clothing” stores? I’ve wandered into those on occasion to find FIFTY DOLLAR T-SHIRTS!!!! OMG!!!! Seriously, have you people never heard of the SALVATION ARMY? Second hand clothing does not require any extra resources to create, wearing it prevents it from being thrown into a land-fill, and usually it’s been sourced locally. PLUS IT COSTS LIKE THREE DOLLARS! Granted, a lot of people (myself included) have an aversion to second hand clothing because a lot of it is ugly but I’ll be the first to admit that we all need to give it a try. It’s just a matter of wading through the crap to find the kick-ass vintage treasures. I’m going to plan a thrift store adventure soon. I’ll post some pictures here for you guys when I do.

OK this post is getting a lot more ranty than I had planned but honestly, this whole subject makes me angry because I really think that we should be promoting the cheap stuff that people can do to live more sustainably instead of raising the “green standard” to a level where it is unrealistic for the average household.

Here are some of my ideas for alternatives to elitist, green snobbery:

You don’t need an “eco-home” – you need a fucking small house that you don’t pollute with nasty chemicals (or a yurt if you can stand to be that awesome).

You don’t need a Prius – you need a fucking bike! (click here for an awesome set of baskets for carrying your groceries on your bike)

You don’t need $7 carrots – you need a fucking veggie garden!

You don’t need organic free-range beef – you need to become a fucking vegetarian! (or at least cut out as much meat from your diet as you possibly can and then buy the free range, ethical stuff.)

You don’t need $10 free range eggs – you need a fucking chicken! (haha)

OK I better stop before I get too carried away but honestly, if you want to live sustainably just go visit your grandma and ask her what life was like when she was growing up .. and then just go do that. It’s really that simple.

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Want to help the environment? Be a little cheap!

To decrease my spending and wasteful ways I have come to appreciate SO MUCH all the free things in life like the radio, the library, free podcasts, and hand holding (aww).

Another thing that I’m learning to love is thrift stores! I still have a slight aversion to buying clothes at thrift stores although I’m starting to get over that. I’ve always, though, been really into them when it comes to furniture (not couches – yuck – but old wooden hutches, book cases, etc). Every single piece of hard furniture that I own was either given to me or purchased at a thrift store – and I have some killer pieces! I’m also really into buying old kitchen stuff from thrift stores – casserole dishes, teapots, china, wine glasses, etc.

I really like the look of sexy, modern pieces mixed with really old, interesting pieces. There is something sort of sterile about a house (or wardrobe) made up completely of brand new stuff. And similarly, someone who hasn’t bought a new item since 1974 is just weird. I think you need a mix.

Also, I have been gifted some unwanted cosmetics/bath goods and clothes, lately (thanks Shaz and Lesh!) and that has been just awesome. If I didn’t constantly throw stuff out (and therefore had stuff I didn’t want) I would throw a clothes swap with my friends. It’d be fun to put on a chick flick, order a pizza, and have everyone throw their old frocks and purses and things in a pile for people to try on.

It all got me thinking – the environmental impact of keeping up with the Jonses’ .. or Kardashians, for that matter – is just huge!

All the new stuff we buy costs energy and resources to make and then has to be packaged in disposable plastic crap, and shipped in big, dirty trucks around the country or world to get to us. Actually, there are so many more costly, energy-zapping, resource-squelching steps than just that. Most things are manufactured in one area (with all the supplies similarly manufactured and trucked into that area) and then shipped somewhere else for labeling, then shipped somewhere else for packaging, then shipped to a storage warehouse, then eventually shipped to a store where you will buy it and then throw it away five minutes later.

OMG we are wasteful!

Imagine what the environmental impact would be if we all acquired 20% of our possessions from “second hand” sources. It’d be massive! I know, I know .. the word “second hand” sucks! I cringe at it myself at but hey, “vintage” is second hand, right! “Antique” is second hand! It can be cool.

So .. my point, what is my point? Ah yes. Free community resources and cheap, used stuff is awesome! It not only helps you get your finances under control but it makes a huge positive environmental impact, too. This probably seems obvious to most of you but I think we could all do with bringing less new crap into our homes.