Wednesday, September 24, 2008

iPeace: New International Peace Initiative Gaining Momentum

On Monday the new international web portal, iPeace, officially launched. It aims to become the world's largest peace portal and has set the goal of reaching a membership of 1 million people by the end of the year. Built like other social networking sites, iPeace seeks to unite people around the world who are committed to working for peace.

Just to look at the beautiful faces of iPeace members from countries all over the world gave me goosebumps. All of these people are seeking true change. All of these people wish to create a better world. And the internet allows us to dialogue with them, to exchange ideas, to create allies for change, to initiate far-reaching programs and know that we will have support. We do have the power to create positive change and groups like this may go a very long way in helping us get there.

I encourage you to visit the site, become a member, and tell your friends about it. Think what might be possible if this global movement is able to reach critical mass. The power to change the world belongs to us. Let's grab this opportunity.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The "100 Things" Guy

I keep seeing references on the internet to David Michael Bruno, the man who is trying to pare his belongings down to just 100 things. His blog, guynameddave, is some good reading and it got me thinking.

Owning just one hundred things--what an elegantly simple solution. What a clean, structured way to break free of our hoarding fetish. What an awesome tool for gaining clarity and breaking free of the consumer paradigm.

I've often thought that when my son is grown I'd like to live in a little hermit hut with just the essentials for survival. So I have to ask myself, if I were totally self-sufficient, i.e. off the grid and growing and raising my own food, would it be possible to do so with just one hundred things?

What do humans really need?

Here's what I would need. A shack for shelter, mattress and bedding, chair, table, woodstove, sink, toilet or outhouse, tub or shower (maybe), lights (solar, kerosene, candles...), pots, pans, jars, silverware and utensils, plates, bowls, mugs, canning equipment, grain mill, meat grinder (maybe), fridge (maybe), clothing, soap, hairbrush, t.p., and tools...lots and lots of tools.

Garden tools: shovels, spades, hoe, wheelbarrow, buckets, pots, hoses, watering can, rakes, trowels, pruners, scythe, and shears to name a few.

General homesteading tools and supplies: Post hole digger, ladders, fencing pliers, saws, a chainsaw (maybe), a mower (probably just my handy-dandy reel mower), handtools (now that could be a very long list!), clothesline, wash tubs and washboard, soap molds, brooms, scrub brushes, an ax, fencing, chicken wire, lumber, paint, watering troughs, feed bins, animal shelter, bee hives, root cellar, shelving, drying racks, barrels.

Luxury items: Writing desk, paper, pens, books.

So, that would all easily exceed one hundred things. But would it be excessive? I don't think so. Granted, hunter-gatherer societies have survived for aeons with just a few belongings, so I know we don't ultimately need much. We are animals afterall, and animals are innately geared to surviving in their environments without gadgets. But of course we have so degraded and distorted our environment, survival for us today is a more challenging affair.

A back-to-the-basics lifestyle, such as I dream of with my hermit hut, would for me represent a balanced lifestyle. Just enough, but not too much. A little impact on the environment, but a fair impact. And being free of excessive clutter would help me to blend in with my environment and become again a participant in my ecosystem, rather than something alien plunked down on top of it.

I have been in the process of paring down my life for several years and will continue to do so even after I'm in my hermit hut, I'm sure. But David Bruno has given me an interesting goal to shoot for. Apparently a lot of other people are taking up his challenge as well. There is now a group on FriendFeed for people who want to join the 100 Thing Challenge.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beyond Materialism

In my last two posts, I discussed some of the practical benefits of downsizing and living a simple life. But I want to point out that the majority of my posts won't be about the practical side of voluntary simplicity.

I want to use simplicity as a jumping-off point to explore the larger issues facing humanity and also to use it as a tool for exploring human potential. I don't think of voluntary simplicity as an end state
--something to be achieved. Rather, I think of it as a door opening up to a larger reality. I want to document my tentative steps into that new reality here, because I suspect that amazing things will begin to happen. Where will this journey take me? Will I come up with any novel insights into the human dilemma? Will I create positive change in the world? I want to document this process mainly because no one else is doing that yet. All the other voluntary simplicity blogs and websites are still talking about the basics, the how-to's. But that's only the very beginning. I think a new paradigm is waiting to emerge and I would like to play a part in birthing that. I hope in the future that other people will begin to share their journeys into the new paradigm as well. We need many different voices showing the way.

For now, I'll leave you with some random questions, which I'll be delving into down the road:

  • If you step out of the consumer paradigm--what's left?

  • How does the land, the Earth, relate to our human potential?

  • What if we honored limits, confined our creative expressions within the limits of the local ecosystem? Are those limits annoying constraints, or are they forms of profound guidance held in the land?

  • Why is economic growth used as an indicator of well-being? What other models of societal well-being are possible?

  • Does the human being only exist to possess and control matter? Where else could life energy be going?

  • Why do humans seek novelty?

  • What core knowledge, what vital skills, are being lost?

  • How do my choices impact future generations, the health of the earth, all living beings, my local community? What's my larger responsibility here?

  • How can I help my children develop a more encompassing philosophy toward life than that which the consumer paradigm promotes?

  • If it saves me time, does it cost me something else?

  • What percentage of my time goes toward spending, earning, consuming, protecting and planning for--THINGS?

  • What am I trying to buy with money?

  • What percentage of my time goes towards mindless distractions? Where could my time be going?

  • When considering purchases (beyond the necessities) what if I asked: "Will this help me become the person I'm meant to be?"

  • What opportunities does the practice of voluntary simplicity create for me?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Best Move Ever (Part 2)

In Part 1, I talked about the financial benefits of simplifying my living situation. Today, I'll talk about the other benefits.

Less stuff generally translates into more time. With less clutter, there's less time spent cleaning, rearranging, and searching for stuff. Shopping is streamlined --I know I don't have space for anything but the necessities, so I don't waste time window shopping for things I can't have. I try to do one major shopping trip per month (mainly for groceries) and stay out of the stores as much as possible the rest of the month. I'll still need milk and eggs, cat food and a few other incidentals, but I keep those trips quick and to the point. I also don't waste time with maintenance issues since I rent. There have been very few of those anyway, but at least when they do happen, I'm not the one to waste time arranging for contractors or shopping for parts.

I enjoy a slower pace of life here. It's like I've stepped back in time a generation or two. I love the fact that I can let my son run around and enjoy purely unstructured play time here. And the innocence of play is refreshing. In the past weeks it's been Fun With Vegetables. Most everyone here has a garden, so the kids have been entertaining themselves in creative ways with veggies (and fruits). One night it was eating a watermelon they had just picked in the one yard and making a game of chucking the rinds. Another day they carved a jack-o-lantern. A woman down the street gave them a round melon or winter squash that had split open and they were kicking it around and tossing it. My son created a pulley in the back yard and was hoisting and then smashing over-ripe zucchinis (great fun, let me tell you!) which broke them up into better sizes for composting. He came home with a cute gourd that someone else had given him.... I could go on, just talking about vegetables but you get the point. Families don't seem to be so over-scheduled and harried in my town. There's a lot of just families being families and kids being kids. I love that.

And that reminds me of another benefit. There seems to be more neighborliness here than in the suburbs. When I first moved in, I can't tell you the number of people who stopped by to introduce themselves to me. I had never had anything like that happen anywhere else I've lived. People still wave to you on the roads as they pass, whether they know you or not. Such a civil gesture. In the cities, you're likely to see hand gestures but of a much different variety.

There are fewer distractions and annoying interruptions. I've had two door-to-door sales people since I've been here, maybe five or six brochures (mostly the Schwan's guy, who never stops by when I'm home so I can't put an end to it), and two or three visits from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Not too bad after nearly three-and-a-half years in this place. Since I don't buy much anymore and never order from catalogs, I'm not on any mailing lists either. My mailbox is gloriously empty most of the time (it helps that we only have P.O. boxes here --I don't think bulk mailers send as much junk to them as they do to street addresses).

A smaller house also means a smaller environmental footprint and that feels really good. It takes less carbon to heat and light a smaller house and fewer materials to furnish and maintain it. And the actual footprint (square footage-wise) of the house means that less impermeable surface area has been created, leaving more land to absorb rainfall and replenish the water table instead of running off into storm drains and out to sea.

And finally, a simpler lifestyle has brought me much greater satisfaction. I'm satisfied with what I have and where I am and how I'm living. I have all I need--really far more than I need--and I feel incredibly blessed.