Up And At ‘Em

Hey there friends, it’s been a long while.

I’ve been back at the shops for a month and a half now (well, not straight, that would be insane. I’d probably have died), and I think it’s time to update you all on my consumption!

Oh, yes, my consumption.

July 6th came in all its glory and I was able to celebrate the end of my year-long sabbatical from shopping by exploring the wonders of Portland, Oregon. If you know anything about Portland, you could probably imagine that it would be a top-notch place to find some quality goods of the local/used/ethical nature.

And you would be right.

My stack of new (and used) books

My stack of new (and used) books.

While my closet had dwindled considerably and I was in rather dire need of things such as pants (the American and British versions), my first real stop was Powell’s City of Books. The name itself inspires one to new heights of rapid consumption. And consume I did. Powell’s is a great place (I could probably spend three days there, no sleep, and maybe make it through the whole store), and it boasts an impressive variety of both new and used books. On the first day, I walked away with more new (and used) volumes for my shelves than I care to admit. On the second trip, I gathered a few more. Oh the glory of being back with my dear friends, the books.

I also found myself some new and used clothing (some much-needed and some definitely not needed). I hit up my favourite clothing company, PrAna, for some new pants, and discovered the wonders of Buffalo Exchange, a large consignment store. Laden with new things I could honestly feel good about, I travelled north to Vancouver (another great city to find some quality goods of the local/used/ethical nature). Here I returned to my favourite local shop, Devil May Wear, and added to my collection.

On top of all this, I ordered goodies from my new favourite underwear place, PACT apparel (check it out. Fair trade, organic cotton, oh-so-soft and very comfortable. I’ve never met with better gitchies), and made a hefty order from Amazon (for what I amazingly could not find at Powell’s). I also finally got a few goods from a vendor I’ve been admiring for two years, UK’s Annie Greenabelle.

I may have got a little carried away.

Stack o' new clothes! Yikes!

Stack o’ new clothes! Yikes!

I know I did practically a year’s worth of shopping in one go, but I remained under my budget. Almost everything was second-hand, locally made, or ethically made (much of it fully fair trade), and I have a hard time feeling bad about buying books.

My drawers are full again, my bookshelves are bursting, and I love everything I bought. I certainly did not need most of the things I’ve purchased over the last month, and after a year of being (relatively) happy with what I had, I am ready to go forward to consume mindfully. The year-long practice of reflection and deeper understanding of consumerism, especially my consumerism, has left me slower to buy and far less swayed by changing fashions.

I know it’ll take willpower to remain in the mindset of the last year. Hopefully I’ve learned and changed enough for it to be more natural as time goes on.

What my next steps are, I don’t yet know. If you have any ideas, leave me a comment!

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That’s It, That’s (not) All

Me, one year ago today. I now have more hair (which I’m not sure I like) and less stuff (which I like very much).

That’s it! Today is the official end-day of my year-long consumption sabbatical.

I am facing this day with both pleasure and with trepidation. Certainly, my experience to clothing (and to stuff in general) has changed. There’s no way I could communicate all the things I’ve learned, and I’m probably still figuring out what most of those things are. But anyway, here are a few highlights:

1) Having fewer items of clothing really is easier and more enjoyable than having a lot.

2) Today’s fast-fashion clothes are not meant to last a year. This I know for absolute certain and have proof. However, these clothes can be made to last longer than they’re meant to, and can be re-purposed to extend their useful life on this planet.

One of my new favourite books. Inspiring and hilarious. What more could you want?

3) I have lots of books. I will always have lots of books and I will always want more. However, expanding my bookshelves by borrowing, and expanding others’ bookshelves by lending is fun and strengthens friendships. I was introduced to some new favourites this way.

4) Using less plastic is easier than it seems. It takes some more work, creativity, and the willingness to appear a bit silly (read, counter-cultural). Every effort is worth it.

5) I still love clothes. I need a few new things, and I want a few new things. Now, however, instead of simply wanting and buying the clothes I covet from friends and peers, I want well-made, versatile items that will last years (of my hard wearing), rather than clothes I will wear out or get bored with right away. The point is not to have a large donation pile along with a large closet (which has been my strategy for years), but to have things so good and loved that I will not want to give them away.

So now I go back into the world of purchasing. I will now be working on the commitment to buy ethically-made goods. I am willing to spend the extra money on something I believe in. (Also, if I just buy fewer items, I can afford to spend the extra money). I want to buy better and smarter. I want to maintain a focus on needs rather than wants.

I still want to be, rather than buy.

But on that note, I’m going shopping.

P.S. Even though this sabbatical is over (for now, who knows what’s next), I’ll be keeping up this blog with my further adventures in (or out of) this crazy world of consumption. I will also be featuring some amazing guest bloggers who also care about these issues. If you are interested in contributing, send me a message!

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#Humblebrag

With less than two weeks to go on my consumption sabbatical, I thought I should confess one more spot of weakness in my consumption patterns: arts and crafts.

I was raised to sew. I have distinct memories of sitting on the kitchen floor with my grandmother instructing me in hand sewing. I quickly learned to use a sewing machine once it was age appropriate and I’m a skilled mender. I’m very adept at knitting. I’m also into the visual arts and general handicraftery. I guess the brag isn’t very humble, but it’s an area of passion for me, and an area I’ve always been encouraged in. I also find it to be a great stress-reliever and a way to center myself and work out problems.

I take particular pride in creating new things out of old, garbage things. Such as my hoodie-turned-sweatpants I mentioned in a previous post. I’ve also made a dress out of a pillowcase, and a different one out of a bed sheet. I’ve made jewellery and belts out of old bicycle tubes. I have a particular passion for mixed media art using all manner of odd leftovers.

Only some of my collection of paints and other things to put on canvas.

Only some of my collection of paints and other things to put on canvas.

While I do like to use recycled materials, I also have a bit of a problem with purchasing new items to fuel these hobbies. The two biggest areas I consume for are painting and knitting. I love to use oil paints. And with oil paints comes easels and stretched canvas, turpentine and linseed oil, pallets and pallet knives and paintbrushes of many shapes and sizes. I also love knitting, especially with natural materials such as sheep or alpaca wool, cotton and bamboo knitting needles. I have a large bin fill of yarns to use and more knitting needles than seems reasonable. 

It really adds up quickly.

And I always find a way to justify the consumption. I like oil painting because the colours are vibrant and forgiving, and not made from plastic like acrylic. I like natural yarns because they’re natural and not made from plastic. And these are creative outlets! I make things! It’s good for my soul! I make things to wear or to gift! It’s not like having an enormous wardrobe, which only really benefits myself.

My pile of yarns and needles!

My pile of yarns and needles.

While I have been focusing this year on not consuming things like clothes and books, I’ve also stopped my consumption for these creative outlets. I think this has had a heavier toll on me. My husband, bless him, has bought me some new canvases, and I’ve experimented a bit more with using mixed media and alternative materials for my art, but mostly the non-consuming has just stopped me from creating. My father bought me some new yarn a few months ago and since I hadn’t been knitting much at all, it took me ages to get going again. Now that wedding season is upon us, I don’t have the usual gusto for making crocheted blankets, and not enough time to finish any now.

I’ve learned that I can live (more) happily with less clothing, that I find joy in borrowing and lending my books, that going plastic-free is fun and challenging. But perhaps there are things I “need” to buy that may not seem like needs to other people. In no way do I need oil paints and yarn, but I’ve been more stressed this last year than in previous years, and had I spent more time (and perhaps money) on creative things, I may have handled things better and may be in a better place now.

It is very difficult for me to balance my concerns for unnecessary consumption and my desire to do art. I’ve worried about it for years now. I know that art is not defined as a basic need, but do I limit my understanding of needs to that which keeps me alive and physically healthy while neglecting that which keeps me mentally and emotionally healthy? Are they not related? Is not emotional and mental well-being as important as physical? Can I shift that understanding without feeling like I’m “cheating”?

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Confessions by Half

Forgive me, readers, for I have shopped.

In what feels like a very short amount of time I will be attempting my first (and perhaps last) half marathon. I’m a bit unsure at this point as to why I decided to do this, but I’m signed up and ready(?) to go.

An interesting thing about running is that it requires very little gear. That is, in fact, one of the things I love the most about it. I’ve always been active, but the sports I’ve done require quite a bit of gear. Like swimming (you need a pool, first off) or rowing (boats aren’t small or cheap) or cycling (oh gosh, the gear). But running! You can just slip on a pair of shoes – or not, depending on where you live – and go! Glorious freedom.

Of course, when training for a long(ish) distance event in Manitoba, you have to start when the weather isn’t exactly outdoor-activity-friendly. This wasn’t a problem for me (gear wise – the searing cold was almost unbearable). I have tights and jackets and wool socks a-plenty. As it got colder in the winter, I realized I needed a pair of sweat pants so I made some! No problem!

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However, as the days got warmer and my distances became longer, I ran into a few problems. My feet ached and my physiotherapist recommended that I get a pair of more supportive shoes. So I did. On long runs my cheapo sports bra actually wore out the skin along my ribs (bit of an issue) so I bought a new one (or two…). My only tops for activities were cotton or cycling jerseys and I wanted a singlet. My husband wanted to buy me one, but I mostly picked it out so I’m pretty sure it’s cheating. I run to work and needed something to carry my ID, keys and phone, so my husband bought me a running belt.

My low-gear activity suddenly got a lot more gearful.

Ready to run.

Ready to run.

And now I will be running the half in almost exclusively new things.

I realize that I can justify the  shoes and the sports bras as “needs”, since the old items were causing pain and suffering. But then I ask myself where these “needs” are stemming from. They are stemming from a goal of mine that is certainly not a need. In no way do I need to run a half marathon. I’m running more than is necessary for my fitness, and maybe more than I should, considering all the pain I seem to be in. In fact, running like this is a privilege – it is time-consuming and expensive: race fees, gear, extra food, physiotherapy as well, in my case. Only those of us who can afford it, have the time and the good fortune of good health really get the opportunity.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had many conversations with people about privilege and what it means. Now it seems that I have broken my fast for things I do not really need so that I can participate in an event that is reserved primarily for those of us with enough privilege. So much for being and not buying.

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Ten Months

It’s been over ten months since I began my consumption sabbatical. Ten months of attempting to be and not to buy.

Looks like it's mending day. Again.

Looks like it’s mending day. Again.

My jeans have been patched, twice, and are wearing through the patches again. My tights are threadbare. My favourite shirt has sprouted a hole. I’ve gone through my wardrobe again and again, trying to get rid of things I don’t wear anymore. I’m finding myself experiencing a combination of contentment at not buying and the eagerness to do so again.

I feel freer from the pressures to have certain clothes and to keep up with constantly changing fashions. I want to buy sustainable, quality items rather than a fad only meant to last six weeks. I want a style that is me, rather than what the world wants me to be.

But at the same time, I want new bike shorts (see my last post about those here). I want books! (I have a heavy shopping cart on Amazon.ca). I want new, hole-less jeans. I want a spring jacket. I really want a new couch.

The last few weeks have been interesting. Within one week it was the end of Lent, Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. All reminders of why I wanted to embark on this experiment, and why I want to change my habits and my lifestyle to better reflect my values and my understanding of my place in this world.

As I near the end of my consumption sabbatical, I need to remind myself of why I’m doing this in the first place. I need to constantly make personal decisions and changes that stay true to the world I want to live in. As I am concerned about human rights abuses, I need to remove my support form the exploitative aspects of consumer culture. As I am concerned about the climate, and how our damage to this world is causing suffering to the earth and to my fellow human beings, I need to reduce my own impact and footprint on the planet. As I am concerned about my own spiritual and emotional well-being, I need to break the addiction of consumption and find value and happiness within myself, rather than look for it from society.

Apparently they have everlasting flip-flops as well…

My office is, oddly enough, situated in a mall. And I am lucky enough to have mall-facing windows. I can look down from my little work space onto the storefront of Ardene, which I have realized is probably my antithesis. It is a store peddling cheap, disposable clothes that cater exclusively to a particular idea of beauty (and thereby make anyone who does not fit that image feel inadequate). The window display changes every few weeks, as well as the selection of items at the front of the store. One shirt actually has an infinity symbol on it, which is ironic enough for me. This last week, the slogan in the window says “more is better” (referring to cheap, foam flip-flops).

It is a constant reminder of the world I am trying to break away from, the world I want to help change. And that more is better: more understanding, more effort, more contemplation, more thankfulness, more contentment. We need more of this. I need more of this.

Breaking free is not an easy journey. But to me, it is a vital one.

So I’d better go re-patch those jeans.

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Back in Plastic

Well friends, Lent is over. My husband and I have endured 6 weeks of not consuming plastic (or at least trying). Here are a few lessons learned:

1) There is plastic in things you don’t think there is. Such as tin cans.

2) We will always forget about straws. Whenever we went out to eat (which wasn’t often), we got straws in our drinks. We forgot every time to remind the server that we didn’t want them. If it’s not straws, it’ll be something else.

3) Superstore is not a good place to shop plastic-free. Our favourite alternatives in Winnipeg include: Organic Planet for produce; De Luca’s for produce and deli; and Scoop n’ Weigh and Bulk Barn for bulk foods (bring your own bags!).

4) Shopping plastic-free is fun, and some people are really excited to help you do it.

5) Shopping plastic-free is difficult, and some people have no idea why you’d want to do it.

6) It is healthier. Plastic-free makes for cooking real meals rather than grabbing something quick, which can be frustrating. But it can also build skills and ensure healthier eating.

Some of our guilty plastic (there's a tin can behind my head).

Some of our guilty plastic (there’s a tin can behind my head).

Most importantly, this experiment has allowed us to reflect on and observe our relationship with our food and our planet. We now have a better understanding of how much waste we personally create, and how much less we create without the plastic. It has allowed us to seek alternatives we may never have thought of. And it has helped us build habits that we want to continue for the rest of our lives. I may still want to buy almond milk and bread, but I know now that I can make it myself (I definitely want to get better at the bread-baking). Since we’ve been almost exclusively buying organic produce, we want to continue this healthier and much tastier option (trust me, organic carrots taste like carrots, rather than the big bagged ones that taste like they remind you of carrots).

While we will now consume some plastic, I hope that we will always keep it in mind, and seek to find alternatives (the occasional bag of chips may be our biggest downfall). This Lenten time has been the most challenging, and most enlightening of any fast I’ve done. I hope to continue to build skills and find alternatives in order to create a healthier life for me, for my family, and (though ambitious) for the world.

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Plastic-Free Month

Well friends, we’ve been plastic-free for over a month now. It’s been difficult in some ways, but remarkably easy in others. Easier than I would have expected, which tells me that many of the practices my husband and I have employed over the last few weeks should be continued for the rest of our lives.

My home-made almond milk, and my bulk blanched almonds (in a re-used bag)

My home-made almond milk, and my bulk blanched almonds (in a re-used bag)

The biggest change, as I mentioned last time, has been our grocery shopping. At first it was difficult to imagine what foods we would buy, but we’ve found good places to get the things we need without the plastic. It means visiting more, smaller shops rather than a single trip to Superstore, but there is pride and joy in supporting small, local businesses rather than a huge conglomerate.

Some people look at us like we’re crazy when we beg them to wrap the cheese in butcher paper instead of plastic, or scold us for using our own bags in the bulk section (we feign ignorance and carry on). Some people are excited to let us put bread in our own bags, and are interested in our reasons.

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First successful gluten-free bread!

I have also learned to bake my own bread (thanks to the Gluten-Free Goddess)! I have celiac disease (and a dairy allergy), so baking is a bit more of a chore, and much more finicky than usual. And I’ve never been a strong baker. I’ve also made my own almond milk, which is much tastier than I had imagined, and certainly more cost-effective than buying it in tetra-pacs.

The biggest stumbling block has been eating out. I had one great moment of asking my server for a pizza box to take my leftover stir fry home in, which she complied to with remarkable good will. But we’ve also experienced issues like dropping a perfectly nice metal fork, only for it to be replaced by a plastic disposable one at one of our favourite burrito places, or bringing our own cutlery (and mentioning it) only to be ignored and given more plastic spoons. Sometimes things come in disposable plastic that we would not have thought of asking about. Generally, we have to be brave and seem silly asking about it.

Pizza box and wax paper take-out tray.

Pizza box and wax paper take-out tray.

We have not been perfect, but perhaps we never will be. The purpose of this experiment is not to be perfect, but to try. We’ve talked about extending our plastic-fast (perhaps a plastic-free summer?), and I know that our lifestyles have already changed in many ways for good. This experiment has opened our eyes to the ludicrous amount of unnecessary plastic used in our foodstuffs, and provided us with alternative shopping places and friendlier faces than we had experienced before.

Superstore has fallen off our list.

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