Saturday, 12 July 2008

Change Doesn't Happen Overnight



When I decided that enough was enough and that I no longer wanted to be part of the mass-consumer society, I expected changing back to a simpler, greener lifestyle to be easier than it has been. It sounded easy enough, after all: you just stop spending on unnecessary ‘wants’ and look for alternative, less eco-damaging ways to get hold of what you need in order to go about your life in a comfortable and contented manner. That, at least, was my basis.

But changing back to a simpler lifestyle hasn’t been, and still isn’t, easy even though I know finding simplicity has probably been easier on me than it has on some because I at least had some experience of it from a previous period of my life; a period that lasted much longer than my ‘want to have and sod the consequences‘ period. Also, a simple lifestyle was still embedded in me so I was never entirely comfortable in that role but even so, it’s sometimes difficult not to succumb to my unnecessary ‘wants’ and I often have to ask myself whether something will really be useful or whether it’s beautiful enough for me to enjoy looking at every day. If it isn’t, I leave it alone.

Change of any kind is a gradual process so we can't expect something as huge as a lifestyle change to happen overnight. I still throw some stuff in the landfill bin rather than take it to the recycling centre; I just don’t have the room to store things at the moment and driving to the ‘dump’ for the sake of recycling one thing isn’t particularly ‘eco-effective’. I need to sort out the bin cupboard and get some shelves put up for storage, but I can’t get everything done at once so in the meantime I do what I can. Nobody can be expected to do everything at once, although for some these things take longer than for others.

I also need to get my compost bin moved if it’s going to be of any use because I can’t keep walking the length of the garden every time I need to use it but moving it’s part of the long-term plan. Until then I’ll just have to feed what I can to the worms and dump the rest.

There are plenty of other examples but I won’t bore you with more. I’m sure you get the gist.

Sometimes I still buy the cheaper alternative rather than saving for something of better quality that'll be more durable and probably hasn't been manufactured in an Asian sweatshop but only when I really need something now making it impossible to save for and since I don't have much disposable income after the bills, food & debts are paid, I can't just go out and buy good quality stuff without budgeting and saving for it first. I refuse to buy on credit anymore so that isn't an option either. However, I do save for what I can and won't buy cheap goods unless I really have to - I'd rather have second hand, quality stuff than support the destruction of our planet and the exploitation of those less fortunate than ourselves. Not that expensive always means good quality, but good quality rarely comes cheap.

The point is, I think we often put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to live simply and be green. We beat ourselves up over the things we’re not doing rather than patting ourselves on the back for the those that we are. That’s kind of understandable too, because the majority still don’t really understand our lifestyle choices and are often unsupportive of it. We live in a society where only 'going the whole hog' is acceptable, regardless of what we choose.

Several people have pointed out to me what I’m not doing in a way that implies that if I'm not doing it all, I'm not really serious. Others have told me I’m wasting my life when I should be “having fun and enjoying myself” (they obviously have a very blinkered view of what constitutes 'enjoying oneself') and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to listen to people tell me about what they've been buying. The sum of all this is that while I generally don't care what others think and am glad I'm not part of the consumer madness anymore, when I’m having an ‘off day’, I feel as if maybe I’m not doing as well as I should, and sometimes I still envy others their ‘stuff’. Luckily, those days are few and far between and as time passes they become more seldom and far easier to deal with.

Everybody who wants to find simplicity in their lives while doing what they can to preserve our beautiful planet has to do it at their own pace and in whatever way is right for them. There’s no rule book and the ‘green police’ aren’t going to break our doors down and arrest us for not wearing our clothes until they fall to pieces or having a super-sized compost bin. And succumbing to the occasional ‘want’ isn’t such a bad thing, it's just a matter of knowing which 'wants' can be indulged and which shouldn't.

I know I still have a long way to go before I’ll be satisfied with my lifestyle, but for every change I make I find myself feeling more contented so it’s definitely working.

And in all honesty, would you really want to get the point where there's nothing left to improve, and nothing left to learn?

Sharon J

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16 comments:

Frugal Trenches said...

What a wonderful post, it does take time.This week I went three days in a row without spending,for the first day and a half I wanted to go and buy anything....we've been tarnished by consumerism and advertising for years, that takes time to detox from!

Sharon J said...

You're right about the tarnishing. I used to find it strange that I'd want to buy things just for the sake of it but I think that's because we're 'taught' that spending is our reward for the work we put into earning our money. Just as home educated kids need to be 'un-schooled', we also need to be 'un-monied'.

Sara at On Simplicity said...

Sharon,

This is really great! Your honesty is refreshing. I think we all write about the way we aspire to be, and real life isn't so perfect.

The idea that if we're not doing one certain thing, then we're failures at the entire simple lifestyle is infuriating. We will always screw up, so what's important is getting more often than getting it wrong.

I'm saying all this much less elegantly than you just did, but the topic really got me going, I guess!

Thanks for such a down-to-earth post that's still inspiring!

Sharon J said...

I do think that writing about the way we aspire to be helps keeps us focused.

When people make it clear they don't think I'm serious enough about my lifestyle changes I just ask "What's a perfect life?" The only real answer, I think, is whatever life makes you happy right now.

Eco-Gites of Lenault said...

Some of the simplest things recently have given me the greatest pleasure - like picking my own peas, podding and eating them within half an hour of harvesting and watching my boys "dig for treasure" in a patch of dirt.

Sharon J said...

Sounds lovely, Eco-Gites. I can almost hear the podding of those peas :)

WebSmith said...

Well, this is kind of relative:

Here's a man who has set out to do something. Sorry about the links.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDua06jrghQ

http://www.pickensplan.com/

Sharon J said...

I'm not entirely sure about the relationship between my post and those videos, Websmith, but the comments on YouTube were seeing as so many people were sceptical towards his reason for trying to do something.

Pat said...

Seems to me your doing really well Sharon. Keep up the good work :-)

Sharon J said...

Thanks, Pat. I'm trying :)

Barbara said...

God, aren't there a lot of eco-nazis around? Do to the best of
your abilities and that's what
matters!

Sharon J said...

There certainly are, Barbara.

All anybody can do is there best. And as the mouse said while peeing in the sea, every little helps :)

Catz said...

Surely even one small change is better than none at all! That is what I keep telling meyself as I know it will take time to bring in all the changes necessary.

Wonderful post!

Sharon J said...

Just keep plodding along in the right direction, Catz. From what I've read you're doing great :)

shabby chic said...

Hi Sharon
I really loved that post. I have stopped spending on new items in shops dramatically. of course I buy the occasional item but by no way like I used to. I go to car boot sales and pick up clothes and second hand items. But i seem to be addicted to buying china etc. I would like to stop (honestly). I always seem to buy things . How much do I need , how much does one need. Its not a need its a want. Something i need to work on.

Sharon J said...

Sometimes we 'need' beautiful things around us, Shabby Chic. And being as your china is hardly costing you the earth and you're buying second-hand, I can't see that there's anything wrong with indulging yourself :)