Living Lean

13 04 2009

I know I promised to stay away until Tuesday. I would like to apologize to all three of my readers for continuing to ramble on about nothing in particular:)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have never been privy to wealth or luxury. Even when I made decent money I preferred to wear vintage clothing and stock my home with thrift store and garage sale finds. For a period in the early to mid 1990s this was an acceptable if not admirable approach. The trends of frugality predictably correlate with periods of economic distress. Although frugality waned during the recent time of economic “prosperity” I see a resurgence on the horizon.

Growing up poor endowed me with a wealth of skills and advantages, many of which I am only just beginning to appreciate. Once you realize that not having Adidas brand shoes or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans will not kill you, a certain feeling of liberation takes over. I won’t deny that I have suffered a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when I didn’t have the money to repay others who had treated me with hospitality of gifts; but have recently come into a greater understanding of how we became a nation of conspicuous consumers.

I’m going to tell you right now that if you were planning to read the rest of this post and (I wish) other posts in my blog I’d suggest you stop and dedicate your time to reading this article, instead: The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan

Are you still here? OK, I hope you checked out that article because it describes my philosophy and understanding of consumerism better than I will ever do.

In my quest to “Question Everything” I have uncovered some nasty truths about the things we are being sold. Most of them we don’t need at all and many are actually poisoning us. The question I always ask is “How did we get by before X was invented?”. Granted, many modern discoveries have drastically improved our quality of life. Penicillin comes to mind. But for just about every product or food we think we must use there is a natural and healthy alternative. For the longest time I resisted even thinking about these things, because giving up what I was used to seemed like so much trouble. Funny how being broke helps change one’s perspective.

My Aunt Melanie & Uncle Pete were way ahead of the curve on this subject and have been giving things like natural cleaners and homemade, organic spice mixes for Christmas for many years. Although I am a bit slow on the uptake I am gradually coming around. I believe the key to this is to take small steps. Giving up everything can be a bit of a shock, and it is too easy to revert to the old habits.

To give you some examples I will share the changes I have made in my life, as well as the underlying motivators.

  • No more deodorant. This you might find most shocking, but bear with me. Deodorant is toxic. Check out this article for a brief and easy to understand explanation of what is in deodorant and how it is linked to cancer. Now, I’m guessing you are thinking “I can’t give up deodorant and antiperspirant, I sweat too much.” Well, I used to sweat too much too; and it seemed like no amount of deodorant could stem the tide. Remarkably, after a few weeks of eschewing antiperspirant I realized that I didn’t sweat much at all any more, and when I did it evaporated rapidly. This makes perfect sense. When you fight against your body’s natural activities, it will try that much harder to compensate. Once I stopped forcing my body to sweat it stopped sweating excessively on its own. Of course there is the risk of being stinky. In a society where smelling chemically fresh is of social importance I don’t recommend letting yourself go stinky; although I have known plenty of people who use deodorant and still get a bit of funk every now and then. I try to keep clean and splash my armpits with alcohol once in a while, but since I stopped using deodorant I don’t seem to have any complaints (and I do believe that AJ would say something).

  • No more toothpaste. The safety of fluoride is one of the greatest lies peddled to the masses. If you find yourself thinking our government is trustworthy then just ask why they allow aluminum manufacturers to dispose of their toxic waste in our drinking water and oral hygiene products. The FDA and the corporations involved are quite aware of how toxic this manufacturing byproduct is, yet they have managed to pass it off not only as safe, but as good for you! Don’t take my word for it, research it on your own. I don’t use toothpaste with fluoride. Right now I brush my teeth with a brush dipped in non-fluoride mouthwash and baking soda. Unfortunately, baking soda is also loaded with aluminum, and as soon as I can get some I plan to switch to aluminum free baking soda such as Bob’s Red Mill. One thing at a time.

  • Organic food as much as possible. I heard an anecdote about an organic produce salesman who made his point by holding up a tomato, spraying it with Raid, wiping it off and then asking “Would you buy this?”. The obvious answer is “no”, but the truth is we do it all the time. We like our produce colorful and blemish free, but that perfection comes with a toxic price tag. Ideally, I would never eat commercially grown produce again; however I am doing the best I can by growing as much as my garden will supply and choosing organic whenever I am able.

  • More natural cleaning, personal care and pest killing products. Most of what I used to use around the house has been replaced with baking soda, vinegar, alcohol, olive oil and boric acid. I still use Dawn dish soap, but dilute it heavily with water. I also cut my regular laundry detergent with Borax. Last year we had an intrusion of roaches and ants. Expensive bug killers seemed to have no effect. Then I bought an inexpensive container of boric acid powder, and within a few days of using it there were no roaches to be seen. The ants are a constant battle, but the boric acid has made a drastic improvement.

  • Cutting out most processed food and condiments. My rule of thumb in the kitchen is to ask myself “Can I make this myself from better ingredients?” or “Can I do without it?”. If I answer “Yes” to either question I try to eliminate the processed product with its chemicals, chance of contamination and heavy packaging from my shopping list.

  • Composting. This one is a work in progress. I envy the serious composters who really have a good composting system. Tomorrow promises to be a good day for my pathetic compost heap. I rescued a bag of leaves from a neighbor who raked today; and we should have enough leftover topsoil to give the heap a jump start. One of these days I also plan to pick up some free horse manure and add that in, too.

  • Barter and Free sharing. I belong to a group called freecycle.org. This is a great one for picking up all sorts of things you can use, as well as for passing along things you might otherwise send to the landfill. Today I joined a local community called Fruit Swap of Brevard. This looks like a promising opportunity to trade some of my surplus garden produce for things I am not able to grow here. And don’t forget craigslist.org. They have a barter and free sections where you can find all sorts of interesting things. I plan to look into a local bartering network to trade some things I have sitting around. But again, one thing at a time.

There are certainly more examples, such as how I can’t pass a dumpster or pile of discards without checking for interesting stuff, or how I do my damndest not to drink bottled water; but I think this is enough for one post. The best part about living lean is the challenge of finding creative solutions. I have always gotten a thrill out of getting something for free or making something from scratch. I challenge each of you to inventory your own life and see if there is something you can do to cut costs, waste and pollution. You might surprise yourself.

And P.S. If I start to stink, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you:)

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