I don’t know anybody here!
That's the first thing I thought as I found myself alone in a new country, a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new culture. My husband had left for work at his new job in Chicago, and our kids had left for their new schools (where they didn’t know anybody, either).
We had recently moved to the U.S. Midwest from Spain, and I had prepared myself for this moment. But it didn’t turn out as I had imagined it.
For the first few months, I had planned to leave our apartment every day as if I had a part-time job, which I did: I would go to the public library, work on my website, and design my business cards. I was determined to make a living as a life coach in the U.S., just like I'd done in Barcelona.
I also did something that I hadn't planned: since I was at the library a lot and had vast shelves of books at my disposal, I started reading new stuff. At first, I tried to keep it within my professional interests, but, very quickly, I developed new interests, triggered in part by my new environment and circumstances.
I attended as many events as I could fit into my agenda. As I walked around town posting flyers about my coaching practice on bulletin boards and local forums, I came across information about all kinds of things going on in my community. Equity meetings led by our school district, book presentations at the local library, volunteering opportunities, parks and recreation activities...
At first, I had to push myself to attend these events, because I felt awkward going by myself. But I was fascinated by what I was learning and by the amazing opportunities that were available to me, from learning how to start my own business with SCORE to attending zero waste workshops, helping out at a local garden, and starting sustainability initiatives at my daughter’s school. As I met new people, they would introduce me to other people and invite me to subsequent events and activities. Little by little, I was building a small network of acquaintances—a community.
At the same time, I was learning about lifestyle trends such as voluntary simplicity, zero waste, and radical homemaking, things I had been consciously practicing in my own life but didn’t know they had a name and whole movements backing them.
I wanted to share these ideas with other people.
" I was learning about the connections between the actions we take as individuals and the impacts on our wider community; about the importance of sharing, reaching out, and connecting with others to make our lives better and our planet more sustainable; and about the need to strengthen our communities in order to create better safety nets for those who need them most."
Below are some of my tips for finding community if you're new to the U.S., or even just new to a region, city, or neighborhood. Maybe you won't be able to try them all, but you might find a few that work for you:
For the last 2 weeks I have been in my own particular Paradise; it's a small village in the North East of Catalunya. It is Paradise because my parents have a house there that sits right over the sea and, for 2 weeks, our kids become feral, we sail in a little boat around the area, my mom cooks the best food, and life is good, really good.
Why is it then that, after the first couple of days I feel torn inside? Why do I feel fortunate but guilty? Why do I feel I am part of the crowd but not "one of them"? Why do all my zero waste habits - among others- seem hipocrytical once I am so close to Nature, which in turn brings me close to my own human nature?
It is because I am one of the World's most fortunate people in a time when everything is telling me the World needs to change. This, of course, is not new; What is new to me is that now I see it and feel it everywhere and all the time: In my children's addiction to their cell phones, the overconsumption even moderate people incur into, how self-conscious I feel when I compare myself to other women, how complex and inhumane politics are, how much we identify with our possessions and status, how people I love and who love me perpetuate patriarchal attitudes (even myself…)
In a very very basic and naive way (although I am trying to fill in the gap in order to understand better), I am becoming aware of where we are as People, and, as Eisenstein's The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible explains, how we are in between two Worlds, one of Separation and one of Reunion...
I undestand that the discomfort I feel is part of the process of becoming aware as an individual, as I understand that I still have to do what I feel is right, like writing this post even though it is an invisible act with no effect in a world outside my own. But still, by changing myself I am changing a part of the World. That is something I know is true, too. I am one with Nature and with all its beings; That is also another one of the things I now feel all the time.
On the other side, I don't know how willing I am to give up more of my priviledges besides the one's I have already parted with, (the easy ones, the ones that look good on Instagram and on family meetings like buying second-hand lawn-mowers or mending socks). Would I be willing to use less water because there are terrible droughts happening closer and closer to my home? Would I be willing to not go on vacation because traveling by plane is one of the worst CO2 producing actions an individual can take? What about you? Are you willing to live without AC? to become a vegetarian?
Or should we not give up anything and see what happens? Maybe this will accelerate a crisis that, because of its almost insignificant effect on us privileged people and thanks to our amazing adaptation to change, we are reticent to call real and decisive.
If you too feel like this, don't miss Eisenstein's book. You can read it for free (like all his other books and resources),here
or buy it in your favorite bookstore.
After 10 months of living with (a lot) less, this is what my kids and I have realized:
1. Makes me come up with ways of sharing without fighting
In order for them to satisfy their needs, they have to come up with ways of sharing without fighting. Wether it is charging their phones at odd times, trading a house chore for one they find more pleasant or negotiating who plays his/her music and for how long, they are learning to share spaces, resources and family time in ways that strengthen our family and their relational skills… although it is not always easy to be there while they are "learning"
2. Having less means having more time and money to do interesting things
Spending less in things gives us more chances of signing them up for great after-school activities, traveling, going to the theater… A plus has also been that having less things sets the mood for reading, listening to music, drawing… using the home as a haven to relax, create and rest from the outside world.
3. Having less means wanting less, too.
I came up with this one. They don't realize it, and I am not going to tell them, but having less toys, clothing and things in general, makes them be less anxious to own the next cool item. They are just not in a consumerist wavelenght anymore, nor looking to own the latest trends.
4. What I want or need is more obvious when I don't own too much stuff
Since we only own what we really need and use, when we are short of something, we notice right away. When this happens, we see if we can use something else to cover that need, borrow it if it is a temporary need or buy it second hand. If none of those options are available, we look for non-plastic, well-designed options (including sustainable production) and favor products made by people earning decent wages.
5. I have to tidy up less.
Obvious. The less stuff you own, the less stuff you need to put back in its place.
6. I see that things have multiple functions.
A milk carton can be made into a wallet, for example or the shoe tray we use for our winter shoes can be used to hold some potted plants indoor while it is still cold outside.
I can see my youngest daughter come up with the most creative and practical uses for a paper tube. This is wonderful because she now understands that most of the things she needs for school or to play are available to her if she only uses her creativity to make them be what she wants them to be.
7. Things can be fixed or given a different use when they no longer serve their primary function.
Things break and we must use our intelligence and wit to make them be useful again, either restoring them to their previous function, or giving them a new one. During these months, we have mended socks, patched pants (and even boots), taken shoes to the cobbler… The lavender of a broken sachet is now infused in alcohol and we use it to perfume our car, lemon peels have been added to vinegar to make it smell better as a home cleaning product. Any plastic bottle has de ability to become a unicorn-flower-fake camera in the hands of a child that is used to creating from imagination and not from instruction booklets.
8. Things have value and the more I use them, the more value they have
When you own only what you really use, those objets become important in your life. If to that, you add the fact that we try to own functional, well-designed, beautiful objects, it is almost impossible not to become somewhat in love with them. That, in turn, leads to us taking care of them and trying to make them last as long as possible.
9. Four pairs of shoes are enough even in Chicago
And, as my daughter says, and even 2 pairs are enough! Why do kids need more that 4 pairs? One pair of sneakers, one pair of winter boots, one pair of "nice" shoes and maybe, a pair of sandals in the summer or a pair of comfy boots in the winter. Really, do kids need more than that?
10. I have to make do with what I have and use my imagination and ingenuity to make it be what I want
Returning to point 6. We are becoming really good at using what we already own to make what we need. Use a kitchen cloth to carry food, use an old box to display a science fair project, use a pan to toast bread when our toaster couldn't be fixed, use an infinity scarf to insulate milk jars while it is turning into yogurt...
11. I am learning how to manage my own money.
Money is not something we use to get everything we need, but only to buy those things we cannot make ourselves or borrow. We spend it freely in things we have decided to spend money on. We are not servants to money, we use it to make our lives and communities better. In accordance, our children are aware of the value of money and spend it to enjoy time with their friends or to buy things they really want and that my husband and I consider are outside of our responsibilities as "providers." An example would be a pair of expensive sneakers, for which we would only pay half, or the difference between a new smartphone and a second-hand one. I wish that they would also spent some of their money in helping others but they are not there, yet.
12. I'm used to it and it is my new normal.
When I asked my kids about how having less had impacted them, I had different answers. My middle daughter feels life is the same as ever (!), my eldest son is ok with it but hates when living with less makes us look cheap (like when the passenger door of our 2008 Volvo has to be opened from the inside) and our youngest daughter is more that happy to be able to experiment with the stuff we have at home and see what she can come up with or when she helps me fix things or plays in the bathtub with a silicone kitchen sieve I never used but didn't know what to do with it:)
Extra bonus: What my husband thinks about living with less!
1. Less stress because you don't have to keep up with the Joneses.
I guess living 4400 miles away from your own Joneses also helps ;) But it is true, when you go Minimalist, you leave behind some "values" that were too heavy to carry and start living by your own standards. And that is liberating and life changing.
2. Everything is simpler
Less stuff, less things to have to take care of, less maintenance… more time to go running, biking...
3. When we buy things we think of quality, durability and design before price or quantity.
I always try to make do, borrow or buy second-hand, but sometimes my husband really insists on buying new (maybe the Joneses are closer than we think… or I am thriftier than he can tolerate!) functionality, design (favoring cradle to cradle designed products), the quality and type of materials, place of production and reputation of the company are our main concerns.
I can't help it. Every time I go to a store, I feel stupid.
As I enter the place, I notice how products are displayed to make me buy, how the music, the colors and the scents are there only to make me open my wallet. I feel resistance and a bit of scorn for how they are trying to manipulate me. "It's not going to work"- I think... Until I see the huge discount on the cereals my daughter loves or a "buy one, get one free" deal on off-season clothing. At that point, my resistance banishes, my thrifty side takes over and all I can think of is "I NEED THIS."
Without even noticing, I've fallen under the spell of one the most basic marketing tools. Weak-willed, I am set at believing that spending is actually going to save me money or get me wonderful stuff at a fraction of its fair price. So I get a bigger shopping kart and start "saving."
Fortunately, I have fallen for that enough times so as to know it is simply not true.
Here's why I usually choose not to buy:
If I decide to buy, my rule of thumb is always the same (for bargains or regular price items):
You'll need what's inside...
Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it... These simple creatures know how to do it but, hey, we need to un-learn everything we've been taught in order to learn how to be Zero Waste. And beware! Once you fall for this lifestyle you will never again see innocence in a disposable Starbucks cup... an hopefully, you will never ever hold one in your hand again.
Want to get unplugged? Here's how:
And this is how you start your Zero Waste journey. Hopefully, you've never got chance to go to the store;) Still, if all these steps seemed too complicated, the short version of ZW has been around for a while:
"Use it up, wear it down, make it do or do without"... and that includes plastic!
Enjoy the journey.
P.S.Want extra credit? Read about the 5 R's and, if you want extra extra credit, go for the 14 R's.
The art of Kintsugi is probably the most beautiful way to practice elongescence Photo: Atelier1250
A few days ago I came across a term i Spanish that I had never heard before. Alargascencia or, what in English would probably be called elongescence*.
Elongescence reclaims the need to make products last longer than what they are programmed to last by repairing, reusing, exchanging or buying second hand. It is a social movement, more than an industrial standard, of course, and it stems from the weariness of some people towards overconsumption and product obsolescence.
But, what is "product obsolescence"? This term "refers to the time and state in which a piece of technology or product ceases to be useful, productive or compatible"(technopedia.com). As Tim Cooper notes in his book Longer Lasting Products: Alternatives to the Throwaway Society, it originated in the 1930's when "...the manipulation of product obsolescence was seen as a means to revitalize an ailing economy. The aim was to encourage new product ideas, remove any potential for economic stagnation and enable workers to earn money to buy products".
It is also important to note that product obsolescence can be pre-defined. When that is done, the product has a "programmed obsolescence", which actually means that it is going to stop working/being useful (or trendy or meet regulations) at a pre-set time in its life, and that you will have to decide whether to throw it away or repair/repurpose/update it.
For most people the answer is easy: Throw away/discard and buy a new one. Companies and our economies in general favor this behavior by hindering possible means to revitalize it ( difficult access to spare parts, product not designed to allow repair/repurpose/update, no specialized repairmen or repurpose instructions...) and by promoting new purchases (bring your old item and get a discount).
So, why would we want to repair and choose to lengthen the life of our product instead of getting a brand new one? Who does it benefit? Why should we care? By choosing elongescence we are:
I invite you to think about elongescence next time something at home breaks or becomes out of fashion. Think out ways to fix it, how it can still be of service to you, how you can make it last a bit longer or make it be trendy again. Use your brain, your hands, ask for your loved one's help and opinion, share your time with them... or see who can help you in your community, promote local businesses, be curious, challenge their skills! And once that something is fixed, enjoy it and feel proud of your contribution to your family, your household, your community, your wallet! And to our planet.
* I searched the Internet to see if I could find a direct translation of the term "alargascencia" in English but couldn't find it anywhere. If you know if this word has been coined differently in English, please let me know:)
White background, tons on sunlight, a couple of glass jars containing vegan-organic-locally grown delicious food. Bamboo utensils and a cotton napkin. The perfect Zero Waste picture. I love to look at them because they inspire simplicity and peace... But something always bothered me. Why isn't my ZW journey taking me there? Why, after looking at these pictures, all I want to do is go on a ZW shopping spree?
I finally understood. I was looking in my instagram feed and I saw a picture of a stainless steel water bottle next to a plastic container. @metzona's observation was that she saw a lot of people using stainless steel food containers but that she "use(s) what I already have."
Even if that means plain old plastic. Even if you're stuck with it forever. Even if you don't like it.
This got me thinking about what it really means to be Zero Waste. to me, it means:
So, in reality, being ZW is an act of rebellion against the Status Quo! It takes courage, persistence and restrain for a mom to cook from scratch to avoid packaged food, for a kid to use a cotton napkin when all his friends use disposables, for a teenager to ask the waiter to not put a straw in her soda, or to wait for that new book to be in the Library, for a couple to reuse their old furniture when they can afford new one...
I am willing to go that extra mile. Want to come along? It won't be perfect but it'll be worth it!
Anytime is a good time to start de-owning but maybe a Transatlantic move beats them all. That is where our story begins. Two years ago, my husband was given the opportunity to work in Chicago. We've always lived in Barcelona, that's where our 3 kids had been born, so the idea was pretty exciting. Besides the emotional turmoil that it generated, we had to deal with a lot of practical details, starting with: What do we do with all of our stuff?
Luckily, we had already started introducing Voluntary Simplicity into our lives so the steps towards reducing, de-owning and making our move easy were quite clear.
We had to start with the 4 Box Method:
Overall, we spend 6 months in this process but that's because I started way too early (I realize now I was craving to de-own most of our stuff) but I think it can be done in 4-6 weeks from beginning to end.
De-owning over 50% of our stuff was an eye-opening opportunity to question if our belongings satisfied our needs and to analyze if those needs were real and still worked for us. As we de-owned things, we felt lighter and many ideas and decisions became clearer. Now, may months later, the benefits of those decisions are for us to experiment and enjoy every single day. But that is food for another blog entry.
Having enough is being satisfied with what we have, regardless of how much or little that is. By being aware of our inner balance between what we want and what we need, we are able to decide what is enough.
Our world is not designed for us to feel that internal scale. We only want and, quite often, overlook what we need.
How can we revert this tendency? Here are some ideas:
Until not too long ago, the "Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot" mantra had a bitter-sweet feeling for me. It was not a weakness for freebies not a desire to own T-shirts. It wasn't that I loved free food samples (which of course, I do, but from a distance)! It was my inability to say "no" when somebody handed me something and smiled at the same time.
Besides the language barrier (I am from Barcelona), which made me babble unconvincing apologies for not wanting the item, I had to add my compulsive and unhealthy need to please and be nice to strangers.
So, to avoid conflict, I used some pretty lousy non-verbal strategies:
But the other day, I was watching Béa Johnson's TED talk and she explained that, in the same situation, her kids just say, "No thanks, I'm good." Yes! It was simple, assertive and polite. Perfect. I go in front of the mirror and practiced it for a while, so that it will come out automatically when I need it. Now it is mine to keep and use... to Refuse!
So, what is your magic "Refuse" sentence?