Sunday, September 24, 2006

30 Days of Nothing--Update

Well, I said here that we weren't going to participate by buying nothing...but as it has turned out, we've been so busy beginning a new homeschooling year, a new musical, and a new writing class (which I'm teaching), that I haven't had time to set foot in any store but Aldi since the month began (oh, and Panera, while I wait for my kids during rehearsals). We sure haven't been eating as well as Tonia though--this month I'm sooooo grateful for frozen pizza, prepared bags of salad and baby carrots, and kids old enough to make their own soup and sandwiches. (Poor Papa Rooster--to get what he considers a real meal, we've had to order pizza twice.)

Actually, we're not eating that badly. I suppose I also am grateful for the organic veggie subscription we bought for the harvest season, because I've been forced to do something with the veggies, though I haven't had much time for it this month! Last week I made potato, leek and onion soup from scratch, and it was delish. This week we had spaghetti squash with tomatoes, onions, and eggplant--all of it organic--and though the kids had to bury it in Parmesan cheese to make it palatable, I kept thinking how good it was for us! We've had so many fresh heirloom-variety tomatoes that we're beginning to tire of them, and I've even had to throw some out.

That strikes me as a metaphor for the abundance we enjoy in our society. We have so much that we take what we have for granted, then tire of it and throw it away. I said that this month we were going to pay attention to what we were paying for, if nothing else, but I've also found myself paying attention to what we're throwing out (actually, giving to charity). In late August, after our summer guest moved out of "the junk room," I began a decluttering project that was interrupted by our Labor Day weekend trip. Since then, I've only been able to work on it in moments here and there. But it sure has got me thinking about the "back door" of consumerism:

Learning how to get rid of our possessions has become as much a part of homemaking as cooking and cleaning. Spring and fall cleaning, for most of us, now means "decluttering." Look at the popularity of Flylady's 27 Fling Boogie! Giving away and throwing away things is a survival skill American parents have to teach their children, in order to keep them from being overwhelmed by all. their. stuff. Does this seem as wrong to you as it does to me? Why don't we just buy less stuff in the first place?

One of the most helpful things I read when I was a newer parent was Clay Trumbull's hundred-year-old book, Hints on Child's Training. In a chapter called "Denying a Child Wisely," he says:

One of the hardest and one of the most important things in the training of a loved child is to deny him that which he longs for, and which we could give to him, but which he would better not have.

It is very pleasant to gratify a child. There is real enjoyment in giving to him what he asks for, when we can do it prudently. But wise withholding is quite as important as generous giving in the proper care of a child.

If in childhood one is taught to deny himself, to yield gracefully much that he longs for, to enjoy the little that he can have in spite of the lack of a great deal which he would like to have, his lot will be an easier and happier one, when he comes to the realities of maturer life...

It is not that a child is to be denied what he wants, merely for the sake of the denial itself; but it is that a child ought not to have what he wants merely because he wants it.

As a child, my parents said no to me all the time, it seemed--and I'm grateful. Now, I say no to my kids far more often than they like to hear, more often than their friends seem to hear it--and probably not as often as I should, for I certainly struggle with sorting out our "needs" from our "wants." But I hope one day my kids will be grateful that I said no as often as I did. I hope they'll be able to be content with little and generous with the rest.

I read with interest Tonia's most recent update on her 30 Days of Nothing experience. She admits that it has been hard to keep the needs of the poor in mind, while she is trying to break her own selfishness and "self-numbing materialism." I confess that the plight of the poor--though it deeply saddens, even haunts, me--is not a great motivator for me in this area. It's just too far removed to think that foregoing ice cream cones for my kids will really make a difference in the world situation. (I know no one's saying it will.)

But foregoing that stop for treats because it's best for my kids is much more of an incentive to me. Do I want to model that eating out is a regular thing, or a rare thing? Do I look for excuses to run to Target--or stock up when I'm there, in order to avoid going shopping so often? Do we buy everything new, or look first in the resale shops? Do we stick to the list, or fill up the cart with impulse purchases? My kids are watching...and learning.

We know a young couple that is expecting a baby. They are living on a shoestring while he's in grad school, and they are consciously cultivating a mindset of not "needing" things. (I believe their ideology has grown partly out of their travels to third world countries.) She's worn the same maternity dress nearly every day for the past few months, her mom said; she just rinses it out at night and it dries by morning. She doesn't think she needs more than that one outfit! She didn't register anywhere for baby gifts. She told her mom that they have 4 outfits and a blanket--that and some diapers are all they'll really need, she thinks. (Her mom told her a baby can go through 4 outfits in an afternoon, of course.)

They've clearly got some learning ahead of them, and they're going to have their struggles. But poor financial stewardship, "comfort spending" and worrying about too much clutter probably won't be among them! They may be a little idealistic, but I truly admire their low-need, simple way of looking at life.

The 30 Days of Nothing has got me thinking--a lot--about year-round choices and habits, and especially how they affect the next generation.


tonia said...

EXCELLENT thoughts. I am particularly struck by your point that decluttering is now a survival

Thanks for giving me some good things to think about as we enter the home stretch!

Wendy WaterBirde said...

I agree with so much of this. Doing the challenge with the goal of becoming more aware of others poverty and the like just didnt do it for me, its part of why I declined. Not that we dont need to be aware there, we do, its rather that you dont become more aware of others poverty through your own self denial like that, it just doesnt seem to work that way I find. I'm slowly realizing that perhaps we become more aware rather by becoming first more aware of ONES OWN poverty, admitting and changing that, being the change as Ghandi puts it, first. When I prayed on whether to do the fast or not I dreamed of Marie Anoinette and her little cottages she escaped to because she hated her life at court deep down, sought nurturance and simplicity and realness, ever elusive. She had deep poverty I've come to realize, despite appearances. The demands of consumerism and the like are definitely a form of poverty, we have the peace of our days stolen, our contentment, our groundeness, our time, our sense of realness, our simplicity, our quiet, even the peace of our family life, not small stuff at all but actually deep and huge and core theft. That's why, just as you say, decluttering has become an actual literal SURVIVAL skill. And it really is. Decluttering not only too much "stuff" but also too much busyness, and too much discontentment, and the like.

The self denial thing is so very different from the de-cluttering. I noticed folks on the nothing fast turning to stress eating and going back to old addictions and the like, and I was not at all surprised at this. Because self denial like this, despite the best of intentions, it often backfires. At least Ive found that out in my own life over and over again. Decluttering though is not self denial when one looks, it instead actually feels good and right in the end. Its this subtle but really core difference. Distinguishing your wants from your needs also feels truly right and good in the end as well, and its kind of the same thing---all you dont truly need is clutter really, a block, excess. Distinguishing your wants from your needs isnt self denial but rather realizing that you dont actually need it in the first place, so you can focus instead on the simple and deep things you actually do need. Which is deeply healing I feel. If we all did this, the difference in our world would be just huge!

Plain and Simple (Echo From the Green Hills) had said in a post that her goal is to ""Take what I need, but no more". That's kind of what I'm trying to say. By need I dont just mean bare necessities but also the intangibles like true body comfort (not the whims of the moment, but real and stable comfort), and a sense of home beauty (not the chaging whims of trends but solid healing beauty), and true nourishment (not a bunch of empty foods and addictions but the solid real simple healing food our bodies actually need), a sacred rhythm to our days rather than a bunch of frantic empty rushing, and of We really should take what we need, and with gratitude not guilt. But no more. Taking more hurts others, our earth, and in the end ourselves too. Taking more is what is behind comsumerism. Taking more of what we dont even really need. And the thing is, what is behind that taking more is ironically the lack we have of the things we really DO need, like peace and simplicity and true nurturance. We take more of a bunch of comparitively meaningless stuff to fill the void for not having what we REALLY need. And so I feel that latter part needs to heal, filling that lack of what we really need, before we can shed the taking more of the other stuff to fill the void. Our only taking what we really do need, and not the substitute of "more" instead, is what I am seeing right now as healing.

I think the focus on the sacred in the mundane and the quotidian mysteries, like you have explored in some of your other posts, holds such a huge part of this. Your focus on those things is what draws me back again and again to your lovely blog.

Sorry for the ramble here, I guess Ive just been thinking a lot about this stuff lately. I really enjoyed this post : )

Anonymous said...

Years ago, several of my friends were into the Flylady, so I decided to try the 27-fling boogie...and one of the things I accidently threw away was my husband's pay check! He calmly told me I should only fling 26 things next time :-) We had to dig through the dumpster, but we found the check.

Anonymous said...

thats from Jen in Seattle :-)

At A Hen's Pace said...

Tonia and Wendy--

You're welcome! You've both given me so much to think about too!


I'm not into flinging. I'm more of the old school "put it in a box in the attic for 6 months or a year and if you don't need anything from it, then it MIGHT be okay to donate to charity without looking through it again"!