How Much is Enough? Sustainability, Justice, and the Economy

February 15, 2009

This is a question I return to over and over again in my life and on this blog and my answer never seems that helpful. I guess I like to just keep thinking about it and trying new approaches which is better than completely giving up.

First, I want to be clear that this is a pretty darn privileged post. I know that, for a lot of people, any discussion of where to spend money is about whether to pay for medicine or food. Or how to pay for food. Or how to pay rent. The reality is, that I wish I was someone who would say, “You know what? Until other people don’t have to worry about how to eat or how to pay for life-saving medical treatment, I am only going to buy what I really need to survive and give the rest to more important causes.” But I am not saying that. I might someday. I wish I would. But I am simply not ready to make that sort of sacrifice – of, let’s be honest, my own comfort – for what I think is the right thing to do. This is about how to live more simply, how to better take into account issues of sustainability, justice, and the current economic crisis for people who are not dealing with acute and/or traumatic economic situations.

Given this – that I am not going to live ultra-simply – I still would like to live more simply and more sustainably, better taking into account how my consumption habits impact me, the world, and the values that are important to me (justice, equality, survival of our planet, etc.).

This is for three reasons: first, because it seems preferable to acquire less stuff for environmental reasons; second, because it seems to me that there are spiritual and personal benefits to having less stuff and depending less on acquiring things to make me feel better/more fulfilled; and three, because the economy sucks, I worry about our finances and job stability, and we really need to be saving money.

So how much stuff is enough to have? When it comes to buying stuff and having space (in your home, which costs money and uses resources) and spending money – what is being normal and reasonable, what is being conscientious, what is being extravagant?

With the economic situation and our recent move, I have returned to these questions more lately and at least until I am preoccupied with other things (baby to arrive soon), I hope to blog on it more.

I ran across a blog (I forget how) Enough which is:

a space for conversations about how a commitment to wealth redistribution plays out in our lives: how we decide what to have, what to keep, what to give away; how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements; how we challenge capitalism in daily, revolutionary ways.

I haven’t read a lot of the blog yet. I’m pretty sure they are more radical than me. I think I am not so much into challenging capitalism (maybe I am into challenging capitalism as it currently is practiced/carried out, but not in general). But the rest of the point of the blog – thinking about what to have, what to keep, how we work together to build sustainable grassroots movements related to justice and equality…. that sort of thing is what I am interested in.

So this post is getting long. I think I will stop here, and say that this is the introduction to my How Much Is Enough? series which, at the very minimum, will include a post on How Much is Enough? A Question of Faith, How Much is Enough? Moving Edition, How Much is Enough? Baby Edition, and How Much Is Enough? Buying Green Edition. I welcome links in the comments to blogs, posts and websites that deal with these issues from any of the three (obviously intertwined) lenses that I’m using to look at this: the sustainability perspective, the justice perspective, and the personal economic perspective.

More soon!

p.s. Other posts I have done on this in the past:

Privilege, Justice and Sustainability Thoughts how to try to eat more sustainably without getting on our high horses, on the interconnectedness of justice issues (including the issue of food).

Book Review for The Simple Living Guide

Can Polyester Save the World? Part of the series of posts on my (failed) attempt not to buy new clothes for a year.

May a Curse Fall on the House of Pottery Barn: Trying to Want Less

No More Clothes in the New Year Thoughts on trying not to buy new clothes for a year. (Spoiler: It lasted five months.)

A Slower and Simpler Life (?)

I Could Keep Living Generally the Way I Wanted Does it actually take sacrifice to live a more sustainable life?

Intimate Partner Violence Doesn’t Just “Happen”

February 11, 2009

Unfortunately for famous people, what happens in their lives becomes the topic of public attention and scrutiny. I have mixed feelings about this. Feministing touches on it. I won’t try to deal with it here. But, I thought it important to point out this terrible quote from the friend of the (apparently) famous man (Chris Brown) who recently assaulted his girlfriend, a famous singer.

“Chris is all right. He’s a good kid. He feels very bad that something like this has happened.”

I’m sorry, but “something like this” doesn’t “happen”. When you say “something like this has happened” typically you would be referring to an accident, or something that just sort of “happens.” Like in a passive or unintentional sense. For instance, a tree falls on your neighbor’s fence. Or you accidentally trip someone or you meant to throw the ball across the yard and you instead throw it through a window. When you send your girlfriend to the hospital after beating her, it does not fall into the category of being able to say “he feels very bad that something like this has happened.”

I wish, but will not hold my breath, that everyone involved with this would be able to make this a teachable moment for all the people watching and looking up to famous people. The above quote, of course, does not bode well for how this is likely to play out in the media.


Power of Place

February 8, 2009


If you have read this blog or spoken to me in the past six and a half years, you may have heard me complain about where we live. Shockingly, it took us until last fall to realize that, as much as Somerville was not our number one choice of cities to live in, a huge part of it wasn’t really Somerville’s fault. It was that we were not urban people. Sure, we loved the diversity – Spanish and Hatian Creole spoken at the grocery store. It was nice to have a choice of three Thai restaurants within eight minutes of our apartment. We will miss not being closer to our friends. But this was mostly outweighed by what we perceived as a generally loud, dirty, crowded, tacky, stressful, loud, expensive place. I am glad there are cities. And glad there are people who like to live there. But it was good to realize that the quality of my life – and that of my partner – was not enriched by living in the city. We are not do-ers. The theater and culture of a city is not our thing. We are homebodies. We drink our tea, read, hang out with our cats, and enjoy nesting.

Since Tuesday, we have lived at the above cottage and it is such a relief that both of us can barely believe it. We just didn’t realize how much better it would be for us. The trees. The grass. You can see the stars and the moon against the dark night sky in the silence. They must have been there in the city, but somehow, it was not the same at all. No wide open sky. No silence.

I am amazed at the joy I get in parking right next to my door rather than driving around the block three times and spending ten minutes shoveling out a spot, only to slip and slide over ice-covered sidewalks, up the steps past the neighbors smoking pot and playing loud thumping music, to my triple locked door.

My soul is so much more at ease here. The air is better. Our neighbors brought us cookies, rather than stealing our mail and screaming at us for leaving the hall light on. No one drives by with their music up at 2am. No lights come through our window at night, except the moon.

And, it allows me to appreciate the non-country even more. We went into “town” today (is this a Kentucky thing – “we’re going into town” – or I wonder if everyone who lives in the country says this…?) and I was in love with the character of it all. Barnacle Bill’s House of Crab, The Rosewood Inn, Ella Jane’s Hair and Nail Salon… These things are are all lovely, when I visit them and don’t live next door to them. There was even a TRAILER PARK, which somehow made me feel very at home since these are perfectly normal in the parts of Kentucky and Ohio I am from. It was a town surrounded by country life, rather than the city next to another city next to another one.

Then we came home from “town” and drove right up to our door. No sounds of cars outside. Just our trees rustling and the melting snow dripping the roof.

There are apparently wild turkeys that live in our woods although we haven’t seen them yet.

I am psyched. And happy. And incredibly blessed.