Mindful Consumption

March 26th: Well, this Wednesday, we went out to upgrade our phones and ended up coming home with a new car.  Of course, our first thought was “This goes against mindful consumption and minimalism.”  Well, no, that was not my first thought.  My first thought was, “OMG, the SUV is getting old and starting to decline.  Plus we have three good-sized dogs now and we will never fit three dogs, three adult-sized humans (including the 12-year-old boy who’s now bigger than me), two coolers and all our kit into one SUV. ”  But then I was reminded of our decision to live more mindfully.

We’ve been a single-car family since the beginning.  We got this 2nd vehicle because we feel that we need it.  It’s a small Hyundai Accent (our Santa Fe, which has served us faithfully, has been an excellent balance between cost and quality and we decided to stick with our dealership) and it will be used for city commuting to save the wear and tear on the bigger vehicle, which we feel more comfortable in on dirt roads and in the winter.  We share the older generation’s belief that a vehicle should be driven until it no longer drives so we hope to have these two vehicles for a very long time.

But it brought something to the forefront of my understanding about Tiny Living.  Minimalism isn’t really about having less stuff.  It’s about surrounding yourself with things that you truly need and want (which consequently excludes most of your stuff).  So if you really love who you are in every pair of shoes you own – perhaps each pair speaks to a certain part of you – then keep them.  But all those things that make you feel inauthentic or not really you?  Donate them or recycle them.

Owning two vehicles definitely increases our global footprint and doesn’t really fit in the ideals of minimalism.  But considering how much we’ve reduced our consumption in the past few months, I feel okay with this decision.  I feel that there are far too  many reasons to justify the purchase than to not.  And I know that we’ll love it because a) it’s a great shade of blue, b) it’s a standard (feels like a race car!), c) we don’t have to squish into our SUV anymore with a guitar neck hanging out the window and the dog sitting on a cooler in the backseat, and d) when the SUV decides to give up the ghost, the 2nd vehicle can come to the rescue.  Occasionally, we all have to make choices that we can’t fit into our ideals due to very real and legitimate reasons – safety, quality of life, or ease.  And that’s ok. As long as we are being reflective of our choices and making decisions mindfully, then we will be living as Tiny as we can.

March 14th: It’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this page.  That’s mostly because I’ve been down and out with a variety of illnesses that have made me mindful only of surviving.  But here we are, mid-March, and being mindful about what I use and how I use it, has started to become second-nature.

Turning the data off on my phone was hardly an adjustment.  It turns out that there’s a lot more adventure in life when you don’t know where you’re going and it’s really peaceful when you don’t have to answer emails while waiting in line at the grocery store.  The only thing I missed was my online movement tracker to count steps/distance.  But considering on February 28th, I got sick with the first virus and didn’t get out of bed for two weeks, in the end, that didn’t really matter either.

My next step is one I will be writing about on my homepage.  Bringing mindfulness back to my clothing.  I have been inspired by a friend to bring back slow fashion and it’s been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences so far.  I created a pair of pants that I love.  They are totally me and I have no idea where I would’ve found them if I’d wanted to purchase them, not to mention the unknown human and global footprint impact of said commercially purchased clothing. Not only that, it awakened something in me.  A different part of my brain.  A different part of my heart.  A connection to who I truly am.

February 21st: An unexpected challenge in being mindful.  I just got a text from my phone provider saying that I had used 95% of my data usage in just 10 short days.  WHAT????  How is that possible????  Well, as it turns out, my wifi was turned off.  For how long, I have no idea.  But now data will be turned off.  Which means no more connecting when I’m not at home, work or somewhere else that has wifi. That means shopping mindfully and waiting in line mindfully.  It means looking up directions before I leave and driving mindfully.  I’m sure I won’t be devastated to lose connectivity; usually I just check it because I’m bored.  But this will definitely be a good awareness-building activity of how much I use my data and get sucked into my phone when I could be more mindful and engage with reality.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

February 16th:  We’ve continued on our journey of mindful consumption and things are getting easier.  It’s been easier to be mindful of what we put into our bodies because we have created habits of the new practices we’ve been doing.  (See my post on the homepage about Mindful Eating.)  We never buy anything without taking a few days to think about it.  And I’ve continued to declutter.

One of my high points was giving a friend a birthday present of a barong mask I’d had for years and loved.  I had bought this colourful mask from a shop that I worked at while at university. It was made in Indonesia and brought over by the shop owner to sell in his gift shop.  It’s a lion-like mask in Balinese mythology that represents the protector and god of health and good fortune.  I’d had this mask for over 10 years, loved it and had never considered getting rid of it.

Near the beginning of February, I realized that my friend’s birthday was the next day and I didn’t have a gift.  I didn’t even have any idea what to get her.  But she is also a very mindful person and I knew she had little patience for “stuff”.  So what to get her that she would consider beautiful and useful that I could acquire in just one day?   Well, she spent several years living in Bali when she was younger and had recently travelled back there.  I know Bali is close to her heart.  And three years ago, she had lost everything she owned in a house fire and had spent two full years battling the insurance company to get any compensation.  So I thought of the barong.  It was the perfect gift.  It was a gift that meant a great deal to her, something I already had and in giving it away, knowing it held such importance and meaning to her, filled me with more joy than any other gift I’ve ever given.

Another high point was eating more mindfully.  After having practiced being mindful about what I put into my body, I started to feel a change.  I started to feel lighter, more awake, I lost weight and I no longer have cravings for the unhealthy food that I used to have, like chocolate and wine.  For a long time, I felt like the only way I could relax in the evening was with a warm meal, wine and sweets.  But now, a cup of tea, a glass of water and some kale chips, can satisfy my cravings.  It feels like a breakthrough.

Total money spent in the month of January:  $312.28 (excluding gas, groceries, a gym membership, the dentist, donations to my animal rescue groups and $200 of the money spent was American money on a hiking weekend in the Adirondacks so it was spent on accommodation, patches, gas and dinner out.)

Things I will never buy again:  

  • Keurig coffee pods
  • bottled water
  • non-local honey and maple syrup
  • plastic bags (I really have to get better at this one!)
  • first-hand books
  • coffee in a coffee-shop disposable cup (wow, our caffeine addiction doesn’t do a lot of good for this world)

January 30th:  Let’s talk about the 2nd-hand market.  If the goal is to keep things out of the garbage (or recycling bins), then an acceptable practice when we need something is to look for a 2nd-hand option.  There really is enough in the world for all of us.  There really is.  The things that we no longer want, are they not usually good enough for something or someone else?  Why do we continue to purchase brand new items?  Ok, brand new underwear I understand.  But new books? New tools?  New furniture?  Now, buying second-hand takes some extra effort.  But you end up saving money and the environment.  We get all our books 2nd-hand, either from friends and family or from our local charity book sale.  The prices can’t be beat and then you can pass them along after you’ve read them or donate them again.  Not to mention, you are more likely to be experimental in your reading if you are only paying 1$ for it instead the retail price of $24.  We’ve also purchased many of our building supplies off of Kijiji.  Contractors often buy too much and instead of absorbing the cost, they resell it. Sometimes this ends up being a bit of a mix-and-match but just take a look on Pinterest for interesting ideas on how to make it look good. Our precious cabin is a testament to thriftiness and creativity.  There’s also the Buy Nothing Project.  It’s a community-based project that allows people to connect on a Facebook page and give away things they no longer need.  Or better yet, go touring the neighbourhood on garbage day.  I live in a neighbourhood that happens to dispose of a lot of perfectly good items.  Or at least items that can be brought back to life with a little imagination.  See the potential in everything so you can snag it when you see it.  Stop feeding the consumerism machine!  Someone somewhere has exactly what you need.


January 24th:  I went to a workshop today and I was excited when I discovered they had some snacks and coffee for us.  But as I started to look at everything through my Mindfulness lens, I realized it was actually not a good thing at all. The cheese was individually wrapped, they had provided juice boxes and bottled water, the coffee was Tim Horton’s (which I’ve always had a problem with because of the mind-blowing amount of garbage they create) and other individually wrapped snacks like granola bars and biscotti.  There were some snacks offered in less wasteful manner (bulk) as well – croissants and donuts in one large cardboard box and a fruit tray in one large plastic container.

I’ve been to lots of these types of workshops, staff meetings and conferences.  One thing is certain, people LOVE free food.  And in my experience nobody has ever turned down food because it was not wrapped.  An open cheese tray?  Gone in minutes.  Homemade cakes and sweets?  Harder to turn down than a granola bar or biscotti.  We were all told to bring our own coffee mug and water bottle so why did they offer the juice?

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m so good at this mindfulness thing that I turned it all down and told the coordinators how I feel about the damage they’re doing to the Earth.  Well, no, I didn’t.  Because a) the boxes and drink containers were all recyclable and b) because it’s free food.  And I’m still feeling a little guilty about consuming it.

Thankfully, we have progressed from a garbage-based society to a recycling-based society.  BUT people still aren’t at the point where they really realize the amount of energy that recycling consumes, or the amount of energy and crude resources needed to make plastic in the first place.  Or the fact that eventually, all recyclables go into landfill in some form anyway.  It’s a process.  We’re moving forward.  But it made me realize how far we, as a culture, have to go.

January 20th:  The question Colin Beaven asks in his documentary No Impact Man is, “Is it possible to have a good life without wasting so much?”  I watched this documentary several years ago and was fascinated by it at the time, but not willing to change much in my life to do the same.  But the idea stayed with me and it’s been building in me ever since.  I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point of not using toilet paper but there are a lot of interesting questions brought up in this experiment that are worth asking yourself.

January 15th:  We’ve been on a dehydrating blitz!  I’ve written a post about it on my home page and it’s really helped us cut down on our food waste.

January 9th: It’s been just over a week and there have been so many times that something has popped into my head about mindful consumption. I’m sure I won’t be able to remember them all but I’m going to try to write out some of my thoughts.  First of all, in the past 9 days, aside from groceries, I’ve only bought some runners for the hallway at WalMart (because the dogs kept slipping on the tile floor when their paws were wet) and a speaker for my laptop (because I need loud volume at times for my job) for a total of $57.17.

But here’s the thing.  Walking into WalMart was like diving into an open box of chocolates. All of a sudden, I needed everything!  I could hardly resist the temptation!  And the sale signs?  They jumped right off the shelf at me!  I had to pull myself away  – with great effort, I might add – from the clearance chocolate!  OMG!  2 for $1!!  I started going through every room of the house in my head, wondering what I needed.  The shower curtain is a little orange from the hard water.  I should just buy a new one instead of trying to clean the old one. One of the dining room chairs is wobbly, maybe we need a new set. Did you see that?  NEED.  Need?  Really?   When I realized what I was doing, I was a little shocked at the force with which this compulsion burst forth.  I’m not even a “shopper”.  I only go out of the house for the things I need.  (There it is again.  Did you notice it this time?  “Need.”)  And when I went to the electronics section to look at speakers, what was the biggest deciding factor in my purchase?  Yep.  Price.  Nowhere in my brain was I wondering where these products were made and if the workers were children or paid a fair wage. Nope. Nada. Think about how little we know about the products we buy and dispose of and what we would have to do to find out that information for every single thing that we bought.

Because being a mindful consumer isn’t just about not spending a lot of money or not cramming your house with useless crap.  It’s about understanding where the product came from and where it will go in the end and making a decision that is going to be healthier for everyone and everything involved.

Maybe this is why we love our do-it-yourself projects at the Tiny Cabin, because we know where the materials come from (usually recycled from other building projects), we know and appreciate how much time and effort it takes to put it together and we have a deep connection to every mistake that we make.

This is going to be a difficult habit to break.  I can understand why someone who shops a lot, spends a lot and has a lot of stuff in their house would find a project such as this daunting, unattainable or even just plain stupid.  But it’s really important for me to break the cycle of consumerism in my own life, not necessarily to be in control but simply to be happier.