I’m still alive

Thanks to Dixiebelle for checking if I’m still here. Let me assure you I am. My life these days just seems consumed with deadlines at work and all the rigmarole surrounding an international move.

In ten weeks time, we’ll be putting our dog on a plane back to Australia, having our farewell parties with our American friends and work colleagues, packing up our house and then putting ourselves on a plane to Europe where we’ll spend a month travelling by train before heading back to our new lives in Canberra, Australia.

It’s hard to believe that our time here in the USA is coming to an end and we have been going through a whole range of emotions during these last few months. Saying goodbye to the place we now call home will be sad. We’ve loved living here and although clichéd, living in American for these last few years has been a life changing experience. Seeing America from the outside and knowing America from the inside are two very different things, and I’ve been very glad for the opportunity to immerse myself in a different culture. My eyes have been opened to a great many new things.

I dissapeared for a while becuase for a couple of months there I was extremely stressed. I don’t deal very well with stress as I tend to descend into a pit of depair. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life, but at least I know myself well enough now to recognise the symptoms and make changes in my life to reduce the effects. To be honest I was shocked when I realised what was happening to me. Since embracing voluntary simplicity a couple of years back, I have been stress free and it has been bliss. Unfortunately something about this upcoming move had sent me back to my old ways and it was a real reminder of how life can spiral out of control if you let it. Anyway, I feel like I’m now over that hurdle and have a plan in place to get everything done that needs doing before we go.

I’ll try to provide more updates on this blog as I get the chance, but in the meantime, I’m still updating my facebook page with interesting links. Come on over and join the community growing there.

Becoming A Good Human | Promote Your Page Too

Photo by h.koppdelaney

The End of Retirement

A while back, I wrote about the coming en masse Boomer (1943-1960) retirement and how it is likely to affect the economy. Today, after reading the post and comments about The Grey Tsunami over at Down To Earth, I’d like to take that thought process one step further.

I’ve previously discussed how populations in industrialised nations are ageing. As an example, the number of people aged 65 or older in Australia will increase from 2.9 million to an estimated 7.4 million by 2049. The percentages are similar for most of the wealthy nations.

Additionally, mounting government debt poses a painful choice for developed countries; either a deep reordering of public expectations about everything from the retirement age to tax rates, or slower growth. In all likelyhood, it will be both.

Raising retirement age

The growth in the proportion of older people has major implications for the aged pension and for Federal and State budgets if taxation revenues were to shrink. If we were to ensure the proportion of five people of working age for every one retired was maintained, retirement ages would have to be lifted dramatically in the decades to come. There is no question that difficult decisions will be required.

To keep the economy moving in the face of a greying population, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has recently called for the retirement age to be raised to 73 by 2049. I’ll be 72 in 2049, so this will very much affect the younger Gen X (1961-1981) and Millennials (1982-??).

The best way to deal with this issue ( from the government’s perspective),  is to raise the retirement age so you can’t begin drawing your old age pension till later …….preferably not before you die. This keeps you paying into the system longer without drawing any benefits.

Superannuation (401K) will not save us

It turns out Australians face a collective $695 billion “shortfall” between what they’ll have to retire and what they need. A professor at the National Centre for Social and Economic Modeling pointed out the following in an Age article:

  • The average super account balance for males aged 60 to 64 is $135,000.
  • For females it is $62,000.

But, apparently, the average isn’t terribly descriptive, because of a minority with very large Super balances. So, let’s check out the medians instead.

  • The median balance for men is $33,000
  • The median balance for women is a big fat 0.

So, half of women have no super. Please let that sink in. Here is the link to the article again. It’s still 0 when you read it a second time. Of course, this is misleading, as it includes those women well before retirement.

  • the median account for men aged 50-59 is $44,000
  • the median account for women aged 50-59 is $10,000

Retiring on $10,000 in the next few years isn’t an attractive proposition. But wait, there’s more. The professor reckons that “the old assumption that people would retire debt-free will not hold true for the next generation of retirees.” They have debt too. That means interest as well.

This is the reason that Governments of wealthy nations are worried. We can see this in Australia, where the Government is encouraging mass immigration and encouraging a new baby boom through the ‘baby bonus’.

The Solution?

So what happens if the government raises the retirement age to the point where it’s likely that you’ll die before you can retire? What happens if the purchasing power of your Superannuation (401K) is steadily eaten away by a sluggish economy and rising prices? Assuming you can keep a job, do you just keep working until you die?

Personally, I am not expecting to ever see a cent from the government for my retirement. I’m not even expecting to see any money from my Superannuation. After all, it relies on the economy growing steadily for the next 40 years and I have my doubts about that.

For me, the answer is to become as resilient and self-sufficient as possible. Realigning expectations to this reality, getting out of debt, reducing expenses, finding work that I love and will enjoy doing into my old age. These are all maxims of voluntary simplicity and I hope they will all serve well to deliver a dignified ‘semi-retirement’. The notion that we can all play lawns bowls and jetset around the world during our final years will not last much longer.

To end, I wanted to include some of the comments from the post, The Grey Tsunami over at Down To Earth as I think they amplify my thoughts on this topic.

What are your thoughts?

This is an important message. My husband and I are in our early 30’s, and we understand that here in the US, there will be no social security for us, and that the age of retirement for those who do receive a pension might well be 70. Simple living, with an emphasis on health in terms of meals and lifestyle are going to be the only comfort for us and others like us. ~ The Simple Poppy

This is one big reason why I am so glad I stepped forward into this life while I am young. This issue actually makes my DH angry, because he has believed for a long time that we will not get this money back. And here in Canada, it’s a lot of money. My goal is to have an entirely self-sufficient home, where we can live without electricity, gas, even plumbing if need be, and that it be modern and beautiful at the same time. My DH is making me a solar oven and a cob oven so that we will have two alternatives from the modern oven. Things in my home are getting slowly replaced- the essentials, so that if we don’t have money for them, we aren’t in the bind. We aren’t counting on a pension, we never were. We are preparing. I’m glad you raised this issue though- we need to all know we cannot rely on the government to take care of us, and take steps now. ~ The Girl in the Pink Dress

I’m 43, and hubby is 46. I was told by my financial planner not to count on any social security or state pension being available when it came time to retire. It was all up to me. So, we have a house with no mortgage, have no debts, and are saving, saving, saving and becoming self sufficient as much as possible. The government coffers are bare, and it is up to us to fill them ourselves if we don’t want to be working until we drop. ~ AM of the bread

The objectives of the welfare state were undoubtedly noble and humanitarian, but the results have been disastrous. As harsh as it may sound, I think it would have been better if entitlements like the aged pension had never been enacted in the first place. And I didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to help me arrive at this conclusion. Instead of incentivising self-reliance, hard work and financial responsibility, what we have now is a system which actively encourages dependency and tells us that becoming a ward of the state is something to which we should all aspire. Anyone listening to talk-radio in the lead-up to the recent federal election (in Australia) would have heard what this does to a person’s moral compass. Instead of expressing concern for the country as a whole and acknowledging that profligate spending is unsustainable and destabilising (see Greece), most callers were only interested in what was in it for them personally…and to hell with where this leaves their grandchildren and all future generations. Obviously the current system cannot be abolished overnight and the transition from welfare dependency to self-reliance needs to be fair and just, but the fabric of our society will be made all the stronger once the aged pension is all but eliminated (some kind of safety net will no doubt still be available). ~ Simone

Alaska…oh how I love thee…

Brendan and I are currently in Alaska visiting with friends. We’ve only been here for two days and I already feel like a new person. I start the day out drinking coffee overlooking the mountains and Eagle River where Bald Eagles have made a nest and swoop and soar on the air currents.

Both days we’ve been out hiking and the fresh, crisp is a welcome change. Yesterday’s hike took over three hours once we stopped at the river and ate some lunch which enjoying the view. This morning I went for a mountain bike ride while Brendan ran and we are soon off for another hike.

I just wanted to provide a quick update to let you know that I am now feeling much better after feeling horrible for the last month. I think visiting with good friends and some quality time in nature to thank for that.

Photo by: Douglas Brown

Eating Locally this Spring

Photo by: Down to Earth

Spring has sprung in our garden. The tomato plants are taking over their world (they seem to be much bigger this year), the apples and oranges are maturing, the beets are ready to harvest and the squash are poking up from the earth. I love this time of year. New life in the garden makes me feel alive.

I’ve also been inspired to try some new recipes to eat up the bounty of our harvest. As I type, I have a ‘Whole Orange Cake’ in the oven. It’s called a whole orange cake because, you guessed it, it’s made from a whole orange! Just put the whole thing in the food processor and add a few more ingredients, transfer to a baking tin and bake for 40 minutes. This is my type of cake. If the batter is anything to go by, this is going to be one tasty treat. A big thanks to Rhonda at Down to Earth for the inspiration.

This week, I’ve also discovered a new edible in the garden. Garlic Scapes. They are the stalk that my garlic have sent up in preparation for flowering. I’ve left a few scapes on to flower, but the rest have been removed for a far more satisfying (to me) purpose.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

Last night I made this Garlic Scape Pesto from The Hungry Mouse. The finished product is delish (as long as you like garlic of course). It’s quite a strong flavour and sits somewhere between raw garlic and spring onions. We spread it over Brendan’s homemade pizza last night and it was fantastic. We only got one jar of pesto from our small garlic crop, but I imagine it’s going to make its way into a lot of recipes in the next month.

Photo from: The Hungry Mouse

My next challenge is working out what to do with the six punnets of strawberries I bought at this weeks farmers market. They are so very tasty, but there is only so many strawberries one can eat in any given week. I don’t have any pectin left for Strawberry Jam, so I’m thinking Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt and frozen Strawberry puree might be the best way to preserve the remainder. Any other ideas?

This afternoon I’m going down to the local library where our town is holding its first ‘Home Harvest‘. It’s a monthly homegrown fruit, vegetable, and flower exchange that’s been founded recently by a group of dedicated backyard gardeners and local foodies.

A homegrown food exchange is a way of sharing what we have and reducing waste when we grow more than we need. In these times of economic challenge, a homegrown fruit and vegetable exchange is good for the pocketbook and good for the soul.

I’m excited to see how it turns out. It’s really great to see initiatives like this popping up in the local community.

Our Garden in Spring

This year we’ve left our cool season garden in longer than we really needed. We wanted to watch everything go to seed; to see our garden’s entire life cycle. I’m glad we did. I’m amazed how beautiful our vegetable plants are at this time of the year. I’m sad just thinking that this is our last spring here. I’m going to miss our garden.



Garlic – Beets behind




Some thoughts on Voluntary Simplicity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about changing the culture of consumerism. Today I want to take a step backwards from that discussion and talk a little about voluntary simplicity. I started along the path to voluntary simplicity when I finally realised that most of the stress in my life was being caused by the lifestyle I had chosen to live. Voluntary simplicity appealed to me as a philosophy because it is about making a conscious choice to downshift and simplify to create the life that fits me best.

Some people associate voluntary simplicity with frugality, but voluntary simplicity and frugality are two very different concepts. Frugality is a tool that makes the simpler lifestyle possible, but it’s not the end goal. Voluntary simplicity does not mean you have to live in poverty or practice a lifestyle of self-denial. It’s actually quite the opposite. Developing the habit of being frugal where it really counts can leave you with more discretionary money and time, plus the freedom of being able to decide what to do with both.

Despite huge gains in material wealth over the last 60 years, our society’s happiness levels have remained steady. Our culture of consumerism and materialism does not appear to be making us any happier. Constantly seeking further material wealth (i.e. needing more money to pay for more “stuff”) seems to trap people in jobs they hate and lifestyles that leave them feeling dissatisfied and unhappy.

The authors of Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough argue that this addiction to material growth causes over-consumption, “luxury fever”, consumer debt, overwork, waste and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to “psychological disorders, alienation and distress”, causing people to “self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption”.

Voluntary simplicity provides an alternative. It’s offers the opportunity to find balance in your life, connect with who you really are and create a lifestyle where you wake up each morning feeling a sense of fulfillment and excitement about the day ahead.

Choosing voluntary simplicity does not have to be a complete lifestyle change all at once. Making just a few small changes in your life can make a major difference.

  • Start by limiting unnecessary purchases. Determine if what you are buying is something you really need or if you a going to still want it a few years from now. Buying something on impulse or just because it’s the latest fashion trend may not be the best use of your money. Perhaps the money could be better used for something more aligned to your values.
  • Think carefully about how you are spending your time. Are you rushing around to activities or events that are meaningless to you? Frugality of time is sometimes more important than frugality of money. Start doing things that bring you joy and stop doing some of those things that cause you to feel stressed and unhappy.
  • Appreciate your family life and enjoy the people you love. Spend time with each member of your family and build strong relationships.
  • Do it yourself and become more self-reliant. Learn skills and teach yourself to fix things.
  • Make a connection with nature. Take a short walk, spend some time working in the garden, or just get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful day. You’ll be amazed how much more relaxed you’ll feel.
  • Re-think the way you shop for groceries and the foods you eat. It’s true that “you are what you eat”. Eating REAL food and avoiding preservatives and additives will help make you healthier and happier.
  • Try to find a balance between work and relaxation. Everyone needs some downtime, both physically and emotionally.

Voluntary simplicity is not a limiting lifestyle. Choosing to live consciously and deliberately will give you freedom, more quality time, more discretionary money and more appreciation and enjoyment of every aspect of your life.

Voluntary Simplicity – What is it, and why I want it.

Voluntary Simplicity, Frugality and why all this economic stuff is relevant

Photo by: {Erik}

Finding Freedom in Simple Living

I came across this interesting Peak Moment interview with an early 30-something couple. I found their story to be really interesting because their lives parallel ours in many ways. While the host of this show gets on my nerves somewhat this video is worth watching for some inspiration on how others are choosing to find their freedom in living simply.

A Young Couple Find Freedom in Simple Living

Rather than follow the customary American dream, Tammy and Logan sold their home and car, and moved to a bikeable/walkable neighborhood in Sacramento, California. After reading Derrick Jensen’s writings, this couple used Your Money or Your Life as a means to get out of debt and, they feel, regain their lives and their future. While they recount the psychological challenges of facing a future of declining resources, the catalyst that continues to move them forward is a dream of living in an affordable tiny house within a supportive community.

De-cluttering and simplifying

Photo by: sindesign

I’m usually not much of a neat freak, but I’m suddenly feeling overwhelmed by having too much stuff lying around. I think part of it is the realisation that we are moving countries again in a little over nine months and I know how busy I’m going to get as we approach that milestone. We moved to America with very little stuff and somehow it seems like our house has filled up. For people who profess not to consume much I have to wonder where it has all come from.

I also have the office to myself all week as most of my work colleagues are off at a conference. It’s the perfect time to get into those cupboards that have not been touched since I moved in. When I first arrived I took a quick peek, saw stuff there that was over ten years old and decided not to deal with it. Now I’ve been here for over two years and have never looked in those cupboards again, which means there is a fair chance what’s in there is not needed. It’s all going. I’ll recycle and reuse what I can, but the rest has to go.

Here’s how I tackle the job of de-cluttering.

  1. Start clearing a starting zone. I start clearing just one area. Usually I pick the space in the room that’s easily accessible like a counter, table or desk and which has the most impact when it has been cleared. Just seeing that first area looking neat and clutter free is enough to motivate me for further excursions into the chaos.
  2. Clear off counters and shelves  first. Next I choose the obvious counters and shelves. I clear off everything possible, except maybe one or two essential things. I just do one shelf or counter at a time and when each is done I reward myself with a cup of coffee or something similar. I find breaking this task down into manageable chunks makes it bearable (Just).
  3. Create boxes or piles based on where the ‘stuff’ will go. I use piles like: Trash, Recycling, Sell or Give away, Relocate elsewhere in the house. Then as I finish each area I take the piles away and deal with them appropriately. Leaving them to another day is fraught with danger as they just become clutter in another form.
  4. Clear drawers and cupboards. I find my drawers and cupboards are the places where stuff has been lurking unnoticed for a long time. Therefore, these tend to be the big jobs. I’ll tackle these after all the visible areas are looking neat. I use the same system as for the visible areas, but I tend to be more cut-throat. If this stuff hasn’t been used in the last 12 months, then there is a good chance it is not needed. I try not to get attached to stuff and look at it logically, but this is not always easy. I always think I’ll get back into a favourite pair of jeans one day, but lets face it, they would be better off being of use to someone else.
  5. Create a list. I have a defined period of time in which I need to reduce the amount of stuff we have. I certainly don’t want to be packing up crap we don’t need and shipping it back across the ocean. So, I’m going to write myself a list of all the areas that need dealing with in the next few months. Then I just have to find myself some motivation. Hopefully this current frenzy will last for a good period of time.

Links – Week 9, 2010

Photo by: Papalars


This week I thought I’d feature a couple of blogs which are actually cooperatives. i.e. they are written by a community of different writers. Each writer brings their own point of view to the conversation and I’ve found some great new blogs in the process.

The Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op

A writers cooperative: Simple Living, Self Reliance, Organic Gardening, Sustainability and so much more.

The Green Phone Booth

Where ordinary women become eco-heroes


This article by Richard Heinberg is well worth reading. In fact, everything Richard writes is worth reading but this article is a turning point in his discourse. No longer is he just about warning the world of the Limits to Growth and the likely outcomes of Peak Oil. He now says we’ve already turned the corner and society as we know it is collapsing. It’s now time to focus on how we transition.

Life After Growth

In 2008 the U.S. economy tripped down a steep, rocky slope. Employment levels plummeted; so did purchases of autos and other consumer goods. Property values crashed; foreclosure and bankruptcy rates bled. For states, counties, cities, and towns; for manufacturers, retailers, and middle- and low-income families, the consequences were—and continue to be—catastrophic. Other nations were soon caught up in the undertow.The world has entered a new era. The project of awakening and warning policy makers and the general public was worthy of the investment of all the effort we could muster. In fact, it would have been negligent of the Limits to Growth authors, Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrère, and thousands of climate and environmental scientists and activists (myself included) not to give it our best shot. But it is now too late to avert a collapse of the existing system. The collapse has begun.

It is time for a different strategy.

By saying this, I am not suggesting that we should all simply give up and accept an inevitable, awful fate. Even though the collapse of the world’s financial and industrial systems has started, effort now at minimizing further dire consequences is essential. Collapse does not mean extinction. A new way of life will almost certainly emerge from the wreckage of the fossil-fueled growth era. It is up to those of us who have some understanding of what is happening, and why, to help design that new way of life so that it will be sustainable, equitable, and fulfilling for all concerned. We all need practical strategies and tools to weather the collapse and to build the foundation of whatever is to come after.

In late 2009 and early 2010, the economy showed some signs of renewed vigor. Understandably, everyone wants it to get “back to normal.” But here’s a disturbing thought: What if that is not possible? What if the goalposts have been moved, the rules rewritten, the game changed? What if the decades-long era of economic growth based on ever-increasing rates of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption is over, finished, and done? What if the economic conditions that all of us grew up expecting to continue practically forever were merely a blip on history’s timeline?

It’s an uncomfortable idea, but one that cannot be ignored: The “normal” late-20th century economy of seemingly endless growth actually emerged from an aberrant set of conditions that cannot be perpetuated.

That “normal” is gone. One way or another, a “new normal” will emerge to replace it. Can we build a different, more sustainable economy to replace the one now in tatters?-

Getting Out of Debt – And the Debt System

Indebtedness pushes us into a form of servitude, and in extreme cases, can leave us imprisoned. Consider, for example, current rates of interest, usurious compared to what savers earn on their savings in the same banks that charge that interest.

How do we convince people they definitely cannot afford to take out loans to buy things? More impact will be realized by targeting luxuries such as houses, cars, and appliances than small “goods.” The Obama administration recognizes this, and has therefore rewarded people for purchasing houses, cars, and — most recently – appliances, by giving them huge financial incentives (i.e., taxes on other Americans who might not even be tempted to play the “consumer” game).  All of this has operated to keep us indebted – and to serve the stock market at the expense of the people.

Loans are required for most people to purchase these “durable goods” (which are often no longer durable or good). Loans traditionally are seen as safety nets, but it has become clear as our incomes decline  and as we can no longer count on the myth of endless economic growth, that they really represent traps.  Never mind the psychological or ecological implications of consumerism — there exists no evidence suggests anybody has minded them so far — the focus here is on the trap into which each potential consumer falls by taking out a loan that require us to pay many times the value of what we receive. Most loans are a bad deal for the borrower, although credit cards represent the largest trap (even with the new rules).

The system needs you to keep borrowing. If you stop borrowing, then who knows what could happen.  What can you do to get out of debt, and to help others get out?


You CAN Shop For Happiness…But The Purchases Aren’t “Stuff”

You can’t buy happiness. Or can you? One new study shows that you actually can – but it doesn’t come in the form of things. It comes in the form of buying experiences. It’s not necessarily news – we already know that happier societies than the US exist, and they’re societies that put far less emphasis on owning stuff. The latest study by Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University professor of psychology and Travis J. Carter, Cornell Ph.D.  points a shining light on how dematerialization can, and does, make us happier people. We just need to shift where we spend our money (if we need to spend it at all…).

What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism

For those concerned with the fate of the earth, the time has come to face facts: not simply the dire reality of climate change but also the pressing need for social-system change. The failure to arrive at a world climate agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009 was not simply an abdication of world leadership, as is often suggested, but had deeper roots in the inability of the capitalist system to address the accelerating threat to life on the planet. Knowledge of the nature and limits of capitalism, and the means of transcending it, has therefore become a matter of survival. In the words of Fidel Castro in December 2009: “Until very recently, the discussion [on the future of world society] revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.”

Changing the Culture of Consumerism

Throughout the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession we’ve all heard it: Governments and economists telling us to get out and shop to save the economy. I’ve even seen Facebook friends ponder on their status update, “Should I go shopping to save the economy?”

Our Culture of Consumerism

Consumerism is about more than just the proliferation of advertising and spending countless hours at the mall, it’s a culture. Culture can be defined as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. That means that our culture comes from all the social interactions that take place in our lives; discussions with family, friends and work colleagues, the TV shows we watch, the magazines we read, Facebook updates we are exposed to. All these social processes add up to become our reality. They define what feels natural to us, what clothes we wear, what foods we eat. We take all this as a given, but it’s really our culture which is shaping our reality.

Unfortunately, consumerism is now the guiding force in our culture. It is so pervasive that literally our well-being, our self-worth and our social status are all intricately tied to our consumption patterns. Obviously this is not a sustainable or viable system to base a culture on.

Why do we Consume so Much?

An interesting (but disturbing) statistic I came across recently, states that the average American lifestyle requires the extraction of 88kg (194lbs) of materials every day. Because we live in a culture that reinforces high consumption patterns, we consume far too many materials. How can we possibly need to use up more than our own body-weight in materials every day? It’s because we associate our well-being with how large our homes are, how big our TV screen is or the size of the car we drive. Consumerism is undermining the ecological systems that allows us to thrive as a species. If we don’t start shifting our culture away from consumerism, this current recession is going to be a stroll in the park compared to the world we’ll walk into.

Attics, basements and garages are loaded with the plunder of our shopping. I see people leave their cars on the street because their garages are so full that there is no room left for a vehicle. Some people even rent storage space to hold their extra stuff. Dumps are filling up with items that have never been used, just tossed out. More and more people are making a living off the perfectly good trash that’s thrown away every day. There is even a TV show called Hoarders which documents the lives of people at the extreme end of what has become a national preoccupation. Does all this stuff even make us happier? Research would suggest that the answer is No.

Consumption Does Not Make us Happier

One of the biggest side effects of the consumer lifestyle, is having less time to enjoy life. We are too busy working more hours, to make more money, to buy more stuff. We spend more hours commuting to work because we want larger houses, which are usually found out in the suburbs. We live in one community, but work in another so we spend so much time rushing around in our cars that we are exhausted by the time we get home. We are so tired that instead of going out to engage with our community and enjoy time with friends we end up watching on average 4 hours of TV per day. The TV shows us lavish lifestyles to which we should aspire and the advertisements tell us that without X or Y we are just not good enough. So, on the weekend we spend too much time at the shops trying to buy our happiness. We become obese and socially isolated. Consumption is undermining our future and our long-term ability to be happy.

How Can our Culture Shift From Consumerism to Sustainability?

So what can we do to combat the culture of consumerism? For a start, we have to work intentionally to shift cultural patterns away from valuing ‘things’ and instead valuing living sustainably or even better, living as a restorative force for the environment.

There are a number of institutions that can be used to move our culture towards sustainability: Business, Media, Education, Government, Traditions and Social Movements. Our culture currently says that the only mission of business is to maximise profits, but there are many great initiatives where small businesses, non-profits and co-ops are operating for the greater good of the community. Many schools are now adding school gardens to act as outdoor classrooms and to give children some much-needed exposure to nature. In recent years we’ve also started to see how the media can shift our culture. The movie Avatar is a good example because it reinforces the idea that we are dependent on and connected to a broader planetary system. In the movie Wall-E, Earth was governed by the Buy n Large corporation which caused mass consumerism and covered the planet in trash. The only life that was left were some obese humans living in space. We need more stories like these to reinforce that consumerism is not a good choice. The more exposure to this cultural story, the more it will start infecting people and begin to spread virally.

Social movements (Grassroots movements) are where I see we need to spend much of our effort to change our culture. Social Movements are often driven by a ‘tipping point’ which unites the majority of the populace in an effort to create change. A tipping point is a moment of ‘critical mass,’ when a trend, idea, or concept becomes a juggernaut. A small event can create a ripple effect, but in order to create one contagious movement, many smaller movements need to be created first.

What Can We Do to Create Social Change?

In the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the first key concept is that there are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them. With an epidemic, a tiny majority of the people do the work. If you are reading this blog, that probably means you! The movement has started, we just need to keep the momentum going until it reaches critical mass.

The second key point is that there is a simple way to package information that can make it irresistible/sticky and will compel a person into action. In order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us into action. Personally I’ve found my approach to be different with different individuals. If you can find an issue that someone feels passionate about, it is much easier to tailor the message for that person. If someone is worried about their finances, I show them the fantastic outfits I’ve put together from the thrift store (op shop). If someone is concerned about toxins that their kids are exposed to, I explain how most cleaning products can be made with simple, non-toxic household ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. If someone is worried about health issues, I talk about my organic vegetable garden and the delicious foods I can buy in season at the farmers market. If someone has a new baby, I crochet cute baby hats as gifts and explain how enjoyable the process was to make it.

Finally, what really underlies successful epidemics, is a strong belief that change is possible; that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. Tipping Points are an affirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. The world as we currently know it may seem like an immovable place, but it is not. With the slightest push; just in the right place; it can be tipped.

So in the process of changing our culture away from rampant consumerism, who will you be?

An Innovator? The adventurous one? A visionary? Will you be the translator? Can you take ideas and information and translate them into a language the rest of the population can understand?

An Early Adopter? A part of the slightly larger group that is infected by the innovators?

A member of the Majority? A part of the deliberate and the skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected try it first?

Or, a Laggard? A member of the most traditional group that sees no urgent reason to change?

By becoming aware of these different groups it is easy to see where best to expend our efforts. Inspiring Early Adopters and the Early Majority will create more momentum than trying to convince a Laggard. It is also a more enjoyable process than constantly bashing your head against a brick wall.

So for those of you already on board; the visionaries who are changing the culture at a grass-roots level: what have been your experiences? What works? What doesn’t?

Photo by: What What