perspectives on minimalism from remote locations in Australia (90 day consumerism detox – day 41!)

Hello everyone!!

I haven’t had a chance to keep up with this blog for a while – way too much going on! I’m doing about 80 hours a week of fauna spotting at the moment in a remote site in Central Queensland. It’s been pretty epic and there hasn’t been much time for anything else. I wanted to update you all, though, on my progress with the 90 day consumerism detox. Today is day 41 so just about half way there!

I honestly can’t believe I’m only halfway there, seems like ten years since I’ve bought anything! With my new job, it’s actually proving very easy not to buy crap because I get sent out for 4 weeks at a time to remote locations where there really aren’t any opportunities to buy stuff, anyway. The only ‘stuff’ anyone seems to buy around here is beer and cigarettes. At the end of each 4 week stint they send us home for a week but a lot of people out here (at least the ones who aren’t married) don’t even have a ‘home’ to go to. They just stay with friends or zip of to Thailand or Fiji for the week. Some of them have stuff in storage but a lot of them don’t seem to own much of anything. It’s pretty amazing and a great practical lesson on minimalism.

I’ve spoke before about the strange phenomenon that occurs when you take a break from buying crap. It seems that the less you buy, the less you want for things and that’s definately what’s been happening for me lately. For example, yesterday I went to a mall. It was crazy. Save for a few field guides and odds and ends I needed for work, I haven’t bought anything for myself in six weeks and up until yesterday, I hadn’t even seen a shop in weeks, let alone an actual mall. We were only there because there were two of us that desparately needed a new phone plan. Telstra seems to be the only phone network out here that serves the area we’re at and yesterday me and another girl got seriously lost for like three hours and were totally incommunicado from the rest of the world because neither of us had Telstra. Anyway, so me and this other girl were waiting in line at the Telstra store yesterday trying to solve our communication issue and realised that we actually had access to stuff! We found ourselves just standing there, wracking our brains about what we might want to buy but neither of us could actually come up with anything. Well, Lauren did buy some granola but that was it.

Usually, after a month of isolation you’d think you’d be desperate for stuff but we weren’t. It’s amazing what a break from consumerism does for you. It really puts life into perspective.

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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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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