Monday, May 10, 2010

I know life will be better when I have..... more stuff ?

Clive Hamilton posed the question in his 2005 book 'Affluenza' when will we have enough? This week I confirmed I will participate in a compacting challenge. I have agreed for the next 3 months to not purchase any new products, other than those essential items e.g. food and petrol etc. I can however barter, trade, buy used and heaven forbid...go without !
It doesn't seem a lot to be asking does it? Yet it begs to question why is it in my lifetime our houses are twice as big today as they were 40 odd years ago..... yet we have less children in them ? Why do we now need outdoor kitchens rather than a hot plate and a few bricks to ask a few friends over? In one arena we have the rapidly contagious affluenza and in the other climbing rates of depression, substance abuse, violence, all whilst living in one of the most obese nations in the world. At this rate our communities are literally consuming the world to its and our death.
I have always had difficulty understanding the concept of working harder to make more money to buy more things, live in bigger houses, buy more cars and have less time with your children, only to find yourself out of a job due to work related stress and physical illness. Its simply ludicrous.
As Stephen King once said “...Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” The need to have more, to accumulate more stuff is a monster. The haunting voices of the need to fit in and drives people to max out credit cards, develop gambling addictions and at worst commit crimes to have more, more money, more things, more status....more is society in despair.
The irony of this is the faster the monster grows, the less the person really has spiritually, the greater the chasm between themselves and their children, the less they connect with huamnity and more with consumption overload, sinking into the deep abyss of more and more stuff!
Some buy for a new colour, a new shape, a new style, to keep up with friends, family and society at large, driving the consumer lifestyle and squeezing the life out of our communities, forming the foundations for claims the lifestyle of Victorians cannot be sustained into the near future. As the banking industry used in its recent marketing to increase spending, there will be no inheritance for our children, there will be nothing to inherit, without a shift in consumer behaviour towards a more responsible committment to reduce, reuse and recycle.
A few years ago I was driving out west with my husband to the 10th year of my sisters death. My family and I had decided to have a get together and mark the occasion by celebrating her life, rather than dwell on the sadness of her decision to take her own life 10 years prior. What had we learned in that 10 years about life? What did we learn from losing our sister? A woman with an IQ most would dream of, with the potential to be anyone, learn anything. Yet with all her stuff and I mean lots of stuff, this was a generous woman who after inviting us to attend a ball, brought home several dresses which she had purchased to choose from to wear, yet none of the glitter was enough. The year before her death we spent Christmas together, you could not see the flooring for the sea of wrapping and presents, all that stuff and yet so little happiness.
Four days later we arrived home and started plans to have a mammoth garage sale and whatever was remaining would go into storage whilst we packed up our children, headed north and took the long way home, around the entire coast of Australia. We purchased a second hand trailer and had it modified by our wonderfully talented boiler maker friend to accommodate our camping gear; home for the following months was a large 2nd hand canvas tent, providing enough space for each of us to have alone time & a kitchen/eating area to stay dry in the wet & out of the heat. We each had one small box each in which to pack treasures, books, a diary, some favourite things. Despite my husband and my own backpacking experiences, packing for five people, including three children to travel indefinitely, living on the road, amounted to more than we had anticipated. Following a stop over in Bundaberg with my parents, we off loaded a few unnecessary things (more stuff).
I was a different person back then, a shadow of who I have become today. By the time we had reached Cairns, we decided to purchase a smaller tent, no kitchen, no spare rooms, space for bedding alone. Gradually we spent less and less time indoors and more and more time combing beaches,learning local Aboriginal history & culture, hiking hills in the footsteps of Captain Cook, scouring vast empty plains for plants, animals (at times any life at all !). We needed less stuff and more of each other. Spending late nights reflecting on the day with friends we greeted along the way. Amazing as it was, we crossed three States, thousands of miles and bumped into the same family in four different locations, from one side of the country to the other.
So life changing this experience is that we went with minimal stuff, yet came back with less and more of ourselves. You couldn't buy an adventure training pack to find what we discovered about life, about ourselves. Life is not in things, it is in us, in our moments together, laughing, playing, hiking in 48 degree heat, sleeping in the car when the weather is too rough to put up the tent! Sitting back at night enjoying a sunset over Cable Beach 'the stairway to heaven', braving the soaking rain to grab a glimpse of the Apostles, knowing next time another one will have been taken by the sea.

Life is in the land, the sun, the stars, we are so intrinsically connected to nature, only through a symbiotic relationship can we learn to live with the land rather than off it.

It never mattered whether our towels matched or our doona covers clashed with the lining of our tent. It was more important to have time to sit and share our day with our new friends on the road and learn about this amazing country we call home.
We decided to settle in Victoria as we passed through on our way home to NSW, yet spent a few months without our things before they arrived, we were more excited to be reunited with our Jack Russell 'Millie' rather than our things !

I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard someone say "I know life will better when I have....." more money, another car, a bigger house, a plasma, when I don't have to work. Yet never realising all of these things, each one is a choice, we don't need any of it. No-one is suggesting you or I run off to join a buddhist society, yet ask yourself do you really need more if you already have one and nothing is broken or wrong with it ? Would you need a bigger house if you had less stuff? It is irony of the modern world, so many living in chronic poverty and affluence in the same neighbourhood. Ask yourself are you happy ? Are you living your authentic self ? or are you plagued with a self-generated pressure to keep up with rich and famous?

Everytime you purchase something, your choice has an impact on the sustainability of our plant. Think of the process it has taken to put it in your home. Take chocolate for example. A large percentage of the cocoa beans are farmed on the west coast of Africa, mostly using child slave labour, even the Fair Trade chocolate. Children are stolen/abducted from their families across the border in Ghana and herded like a commodity to cocoa farms to ensure the farmers can remain in the competitive market. The children earn nothing, attend no school and have no contact with their family. A market driven by western trade and production companies. This is the human side, then there is the energy, waste and impact on the environment to bring the cocoa bean to the processing plants, the manufacturing, the transport again to the retailers, the individual and bulk wrapping and packaging. Who generates this market....we DO ! Buying fish from the supermarket is no longer a means of sharing in local produce, with Barra from Thailand and fruit lasting less than a few days after weeks of sitting in bulk freezers.

Australia is one of the worlds highest producers of waste, up there with Denmark and the US, with individuals estimated at producing approximately 700kg of waste annually. There was talk Sydney having run out of landfill to excessive consumption, considered using empty mines near Goulburn, spreading its carbon footprint even further !! Our societies are driven by wants more than our needs. Yet studies conducted on Australia's excessive relationship with consumption revealed most Australian's feel they do not earn enough to meet all their needs. Australian's state they buy to feel more contented, to 'fit in', yet continue to feel a deep emptiness and so buy more.

The issue of 'affluenza' is not only an environmental issue it is both a psychological and social issue, the ramifications of this long term increase in obsessive purchasing is leaving dysfunctional communities riddled with mental health disorders, creating family breakdown and less hope of the individual progressing to self actualisation as Maslow had posited in his hierarchy of needs, without some connection to humanity not material posessions and without first fostering a sense of self, a healthy, well adjusted self.

Its simple really, stop consuming ! There is no denying children grow and their needs change, yet so are millions of others. I began ebaying years ago and more than happy with my choices, not to mention my sales ! We decided to stop replacing broken/worn dinner sets and commenced using our vintage collections. Not only are they simply beautiful, the plates are much smaller and so we eat less. These are a few of the benefits from making a conscious decision to change our consumption behaviour. My lessons so far, I pass onto my children, to form sustainable habits for living into the futue, from not only my current compacting challenge, the changes to my lifestyle from learning we do not need stuff !

1. You don't need it, really you don't. Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have food on the table? This is what you need.
2. Stop buying ! Yes stop. Try it, you will be amazed. Don't even tempt yourself, stop receiving junk mail, stop browsing the malls, go to the park with your children, visit a friend.
3. Take stock. Do you need what you have? Do you have too much? How many of the same style of tops can one person have ? At the end of the day you can only wear one item at a time!
4. Get rid of it? Recycle, reuse. Clean house !
5. The more you buy, the more you do, the more work you have. Spend time doing the things that will give you joy, enrich your sense of self, volunteer, give back to your community, listen to your child read.
6. How often do you cook ? do you cook really from scratch, fresh vegies, no pre-packaged mixes & starter meals, tasted good home cooked meals - get with the program. Obesity is draining our health system. If you don't know what is in it, then don't eat it! You could do more for your children & save a fortune by eating more fruit & veg, no snack bars, dippy things or fruit sticks - real fruit, real food !
7. You don't have time ? Make it. Slow down, you don't need a big house, a big car, a new home makeover. Ask a young child what is that they really want from their parents and it has nothing to do with plug-ins or batteries !
8. Start spreading the word. Encourage recycle days with your local school or Kinder, donate your things to raise funds for more outdoor play equipment or improve the outside environments. Organise swap meets with your local playgroup. Look up the local Baby & Child markets in most States, take along your old things & come home with new wardrobe !
9. Walk - walk as much as you can. You might feel like a late Friday night snack, yet take the time to think of the impact of just jumping in the car to grab a chocolate bar !
10. Which brings me to my most important THINK ! We are supposedly the most intelligent species on the planet ( you have to wonder sometimes). Yet ask yourself what values do I pass onto my children, what is my legacy as they become adults and parents themselves. For my family we practice the 3 R's - respect for self, respect for others and Responsibility for your actions.

I look forward to hearing about your own experiences, own challenges and making the change, as in the inspiring quote by Ghandi "Be the change you want to see in the world".

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