Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Two

How much do we own? And how much do we own what we own? Or does it own us?

How much do we want? How many of our desires have slipped in unquestioned, to use a Charlotte Mason image, by an unguarded back gate; and have calmly made themselves at home in our minds? How many of our first-world, twenty-first-century expectations? It's only when we run into the parameter-jostling exceptions and renegades that we notice them.  For instance, a family of four living, happily and tidily, in a one-bedroom city apartment. Which isn't to say that it would suit every family (ours, for instance, where a workshop has always been essential); but it reminds you that it can be done. That children can thrive without owning mounds of toys, and that an eating space a few feet from the bed was once pretty common. (Think Little House in the Big Woods.)

Here's a game. Pick something that takes up a lot of space, or that you've had since college, or that someone gave you and you're keeping out of obligation, or because you have been told that everyone has to have one. Finish the sentence: "What if we/I didn't have to have an X?" Did you feel a weight lift off your shoulders? Sometimes you can't immediately get rid of your X, because it's holding up the Y or it really belongs to Z. But just allowing that different idea, taking the mental step towards life-without-it, that's the point.
There's another possible reaction you might have had, though: feeling that while you personally could get along without X, you worry about what others might say. At best, critical remarks. At worst, someone helpfully calling social services on you. (Children need their own rooms, and a queensize bed in the living room is weird.) It could happen. Anything you do out of the mainstream does mean you risk being misunderstood. Just ask Amy Dacyczyn.

But you could also end up being a trailblazer. Occasionally, not too often, I run into a friend who says, "Oh, you're wearing that sweater. I saw your post about finding it at the thrift store." Gulp, somebody actually reads the blog. I also had a couple of people I've met say thank you for old posts about teaching math with scrounged supplies. Who knew? Someone shares an idea, someone passes it on, and it helps us to think differently, frees us from preconceptions, maybe inspires another idea.

Yesterday I linked to Alden Wicker's article criticizing "conscious consumerism." Two other Quartz articles by different authoĊ•s were linked at the end. One was about going two hundred days without buying anything new (used goods were allowed, so that wasn't too exciting). The other was about setting a personal $150 minimum price for clothing, because, at that cost, the purchaser would have to consider each item more carefully. Neither of those projects lined up completely with each other, or with Wicker's perspective of "save the time and money you're spending on 'green' stuff, spend it lobbying the government."  If they're so contradictory, are they worth reading? How do they fit into the principles that steer your life?
The article on the cost of clothing is a reminder that cheap clothing does not really come cheap, and that anything we buy, expensive or thrifted, should serve a definite function. The "nothing new" article is a reminder that the world is full of existing things we can re-use and upcycle, if we think creatively. Maybe some of them are things we already own. If most of the world's clothing factories stopped producing goods, so that shirts and pants were prohibitively expensive or just no longer in the stores, what would we do? Maybe even the spendthrifts would have to start mending jeans and turning things inside out. Bales of surplus clothing headed for the shredder might suddenly become valuable property.

And Alden Wicker's article makes the point that feel-good fixes don't change hard facts. We should do what we can to help victims of a broken system; but the big, longterm changes have to happen at the top levels of organizations and governments. Change does happen if enough people care.

Part Three: a more practical side of (thrifted) acquisition

No comments: