week 21

“The reason that the rich were so rich…was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots,…cost about ten dollars. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

-Terry Practchett, ‘Men at Arms’

After my ebay spree, I’ve been thinking a lot about my need for a checklist when I’m acquiring. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

>When choosing , be really clear and honest with yourself why you want it, and what you want it for. If you don’t have a good reason, don’t get it. If you do have a good reason, make sure the thing you choose suits the task you have in mind. Be patient; if you can’t find the right thing straight away, don’t get something that will do in the meantime,

> Understand how it works, how it’s made and how to care for it. Find out what constitutes quality in that class of thing, and what’s best going to meet your needs.

>Get the highest quality reasonable. By “highest quality” I mean staying power. You’ll replace it less often, which will save resources. I would add to Sam Vimes’ boot theory, above, that the ten-dollar boots use the same amount of raw materials as the fifty-dollar pair.

>Give preference to self-serviceable, rechargeable, and mechanical (as opposed to electronic) items. Look for technology appropriate to you.

Well, it’s a start.

In other news, some friends came over and built me an amazing composting toilet, which will be filled with poo to eventually go on the fruit trees at home. It’s nice to be leaving something behind I probably won’t benefit from directly, and I’m also aware of the huge amount of water used with every flush. Filling a cistern with buckets really brings it home.

spree

I’ve been in a strange place the last few weeks, having found myself with both more time (the end of this semester’s coursework) and more money (job that pays the cashmoney). And so, ebay.

It’s been what can only be described as a spree, and while I’ve been careful to buy only secondhand things, and things I think (hope) will last me a longtime, I feel much more as though I’ve violated the NNY spirit than with the hardware I bought last week. I’ve bought another straightedge razor (as excessive as it sounds, two are actually recommended – they’re supposed to rest between shaves longer than I usually go without cutting) and a watch (which, as gauche pointed out, was a bad call), a pen (which I think is probably quite sensible – it’s what should be an entirely reliable gold nibbed fountain pen. They’re so much easier to refill than any ballpoint I’ve ever found, and the nib will, with luck and care, last longer than I will). I also got some entirely unnecessary butch street-cred in the form of cufflinks, tiepins and money clips. Oh yes.

The idea with these purchases – at least, the way I have been justifying them to myself – is that there are certain things (pen, watch) which I will need throughout my life, or at least the life I can foresee (bar the apocalypse). I figure it’s worth trying to find some good things, and paying good money for them, if they’re a once-off deal. But perhaps I am just kidding myself, and wanted some bling. Also I went to op-shops; got pants, shirts, even a suit. And shoes. My wardrobe is brand new, and entirely old. It’s quite nice, but I feel now that I didn’t need any of these things. The compulsive purchasing bothers me.

Also.

Batteries are evil. I have a bunch of rechargables, but can’t seem to find them in bigger sizes, so when I brought my boombox to some rally, and realised the absence of volume was an absence of voltage, I felt as though there was no option but to run to the nearest ‘convenience’ store to buy some. Salt n Peppa are the shit but I’m not convinced they were worth it – I didn’t end up cranking tunes on account of boring chanting. The moral of this story is that the presence of convenience stores tricks us (by which I mean me) into buying what we don’t need because the illusion of necessity is compounded by sheer force of presence.

In The Good News, however, I now have aloe planted for the shaving of my face, and a wonderfully ingenious friend has pointed out all the plum trees on the other side of the creek will be ripe in a month or so. Just in time for summer plum wine, a la Riots.

til next week.

Felix.

fail

So. For I think the first time I’ve seriously broken my (admittedly ill-defined) rules for NNY. I went to the hardware store the other day, and bought nails, wood glue and concrete. Nails and glue are for buildingthis bike trailer, and the concrete was for fixing the bath, which is now done. We didn’t use quite enough the first time, and it was stable but not quite steady. Since it’s pretty much the best form of relaxation (it even beats the adventure hammock) I’m keen to get it fixed up. Anyway, I bought a bunch of plants and seeds, too – but I’m ok with that.

To be fair, I feel as though I exhausted most of my other options. I even went looking for construction materials at my new favourite place – the Darebin Resource Recovery Centre (also known as the Reservoir tip shop). Seriously, tipshops are awesome, and I got a bunch of stuff there which I’d kinda given up on, like a vacuum cleaner and a bike pump (mine broke). Actually, I think tipshops are different to opshops, which I’ll talk about again soon.

on entertainment

Now that school’s over and I’m excited about summer projects, not buying’s going to get more difficult. I want a bike trailer – it would be useful, I think. Since my bike rack broke I’ve been enjoying the lightness of a bike without cargo, but I do miss the ability to carry my life around with me for a couple of weeks. I took that bike touring in Tas a little while back, and it was amazing. Having the cargo capacity of a trailer (but being able to quickly disconnect it and have a supergofast lightbike) will be aces.

I have other projects too, like fixing the garden and reading more. But they won’t break the rules, I think.

But what I want to talk about is movies, and entertainment more generally. Because I walk past the drivein cinema screens every night after work, I’ve been thinking about cinema a lot. I tend to think of entertainment as not consuming. After all, in a cinema I’m not actually using anything, or paying for its use – except electricity, I suppose, and upkeep on plush chairs. But this is an aversion of the responsibility for supporting big budget bonanzas which fly film crews all around the world, support the lifestyles of the rich and famous, blow things up in industrial proportions and generally make a mess.

Not that it’s necessarily a big deal. I mean, it’s a pretty long bow to draw claiming that by watching a movie I’m making myself liable for the entire downfall of the ecosystem and life as we know it. But I think it’s interesting to consider, and there’s a case to be made for prioritising the small theatre over the big movie, the musical your friend’s in over the broadway show.I think it would have the same – or at least a similar – effect in the making-of-happy for the watcher, and adds the benefit of, in the words of CrimethInc., a “readership of authors” – a culture of entertainment in which all who want to be watched, can be.

Long absences

Well, it’s been a long time. I have been legitimately busy, as well as just distracted and lazy. Because I’ve been busy I’ve been simply not buying, rather than creatively finding ways to get what I need. My housemates and I have been continuing to scavenge all of our food from the dumpsters of supermarkets, but I haven’t been keeping a diary of it, partly because I’m lazy and mostly because it’s been them – not me – who’s been going out.

My garden is blooming and full of beans. The bees are busier than I’ve ever seen them, and I’m enjoying baths looking out over the escarpment, across the willows and onto the banks of the creek. It’s springtime; life is good, and it’s time for projects. We finished the housemate’s new room. It looks lovely, and ey was ridiculously stingy in buying new things, so other than a little timber, some concrete, bolts and nails, it’s been renovated and furnished with almost entirely found and recycled materials. We also built a firebath! Incredibly exciting. Bricks from the garden (which were serving no real purpose where they were), concrete and mortar we found in the shed-of-a-thousand-wonders. Mounded dirt around the bath and now we’re bathing in a bed of succulents. We’ll plant flowers and aromatic herbs later.

There have been a few major temptations since I last wrote: a sneaker store with a huge sale, cheap-cheap swivelscreen multitouch tablet/laptops. And a few failings: I’ve been buying a heap of take-away coffees, which is both unusual and unnecessary – I have a bunch of travel mugs at home.

I also serviced my bike. Which meant a fair whack of new materials going into it, including a whole new bottom bracket, which was wobbling around like a drunk rolypoly clown…

Building

I’ve been helping build a room with and for my housemate, in the shed out the back of my place. And while we’ve been using as much secondhand and reclaimed material as we can find, we’ve had to buy a fair amount, timber especially. And it’s come mostly from a particularly horrible hardware chain. While I’ve been rationalising this as being Not My Fault (it’s not my room, after all), I directly benefit from having the extra housemate (less rent, for instance) and I’ve been encouraging em* to move in to the shed.

So the obvious question is, is there a better way to build the shed? And of course there is. To start with, getting materials from gumtree, the trading post, or any other similiar hub for the secondpass economy is totally viable – and would probably also have saved us money. There’s also freecycle, one of the most exciting manifestations of the gift economy I’ve run across in Melbourne. Freecycle is a simple listing service, where folks announce what they’ve got to offer and what they need. There’s no expectation of a direct exchange for goods, just the anticipation that those who benefit from freecycle will help others, in order to keep the system flowing.

And there’s a bunch of blogs, DIY books and websites, as well as workshops and trainings dedicated to the idea of “green” building – which often means reclaiming and recycling materials. In fact, there’s so many I’m not going to make a gesture towards listing them here – I think there’s no point. Because more than anything I’ve talked about on this blog so far, this building project reveals the class privilege I’m working with.

It’s easy for me to suggest to my housemate that we slow down, take longer and get recycled materials to build eir room with; I have somewhere to stay. But ey hasn’t had a room of eir own since April 2009, has been couchsurfing ever since then. We both have a fair bit of time to scrounge with, but we don’t have a car to get stuff home. So while I’m angry at the luxurious sense of convenience that a lot of consumer decision making is based around (which we can see in the marketing of goods as well), I see this as a bit different.

Other than that, I still haven’t bought anything. My underwear’s beginning to thin, so I may well need some soon!

The contract on my phone is coming up, making me think (again) about Coltan and its environmental and social implications.

More on this later.
*using Spivak pronouns

presence (not presents); mistakes; makeshift

I’m going to start this week’s post with a letter to family regarding Christmas gifts…make of it what you will. Also I want to talk about mistakes (and making the most of them) and makeshift thrifty fun times. Enjoy!

>>
Knowing as I do that some if not most of you are more readily organisable than myself, and what with the halfyear come and gone, I’m beginning to think about Christmas upcoming and the gifts’ll be got. I have a request: the same I’ve asked for years past and have not got.

Please don’t give me anything. Not now nor in the future, leastwise brand shiny and new. I am not afeared to ask for what I need from you (generous all) and will when time comes by. In the meantime, there’s better things than this to do with money, time and most especially with our family’s way to show affectionately love. I have plenty (I know you do too) and need for very little; what I do I can mostlyways get for my own self.

If you can’t accustom yourself to the idea of a gift-free tree, give money to a something which’ll work for revolution and show to me the receipts. I appreciate the gesture I know to be made from love but am asking you to love me in the way I want; by listening to what I’m saying and treating me the way I’m asking.

Big big love…felix.
<>
Recognize environmental problems,
Refuse any damaging activities,
Reduce waste and resources, Replace environmentally questionable activities,
Re-use,
Recycle,
Re-engineer organizational structures,
Retrain employees in environmental issues,
Reward successful attainment of environmental objectives,
Re-educate employees and customers, to benefit the environment.
<<

By way of DIY, I've thrown together a handcart out of a secondhand pram and a luggage crate – photos to follow, but it's nice to know that there are simple (albeit temporary) solutions to my needs. Seriously kids, wheelbarrows = the most useful tool ever.

Aaand, still no buyin’! Well. The things I have been buying (and accepting as gifts, which is the same thing) include food, cigarettes, transport (trains), alcohol (wine), electricity, internet and phone, housing (rent, I mean)…
But still, the intent of NNY remains to examine consumption, at which it is succeeding.

Week 3

Week three, and nothing to report. A year feels like a long time today, but I’m still excited about this project. It makes me think about the way I consume everything: from food to clothes to energy… I just received a bunch of money from the government; they have a startup scholarship to help with the costs of study. There’s a list of things I’d love to buy, but sitting on the idea for a while and thinking about what’s useful in my life, what’s harmful for the world is a process I have a lot to gain from. NNY is slowing me down.

Gauche is going to post soon about toiletries, but I thought I’d get in first with a couple words on Neem, and shaving.

Neem’s a tree which grows pretty commonly around Melbourne, though it’s native to India and South Asia, where it’s been used for years as teeth-cleaner. My friend Ali first taught me how to use Neem about six months ago, and I didn’t take it up at the time, but my toothbrush is starting to look a little manktastic and using Neem just seems so sensible right now. To brush your teeth with it, you take a length of thin branch, and gnaw the tip til it the fibres break into soft bristles. When you’ve got it to that point, you’re pretty much set to go! Like I say, Neem grows prolifically around Melbourne, and only a small amount of the tree is needed. a six-inch stick might last three or four weeks. It’s really bitter, and you need to spit the juices out a lot – I’ve been using the time as an opportunity to walk around the garden of a morning, and check in on the world in my backyard.

Shaving…well, those of you who grow facial hair and don’t want to can maybe share my frustration with my body’s complete recalcitrance when it comes to my desire for being chinbald. Shaving every day can become a drain on resources, though there’s a couple of options other than the go-to of disposable razors. Razors with removable heads are at least slightly less wasteful than single-use blades. Electrical shavers last a long time before you need to replace or sharpen the blades. But I think for getting clean cut in style (and without using power in a frankly unnecessary manner) you can’t go past a cut-throat razor. I managed to pick one up secondhand for $15 about a month back, and got it honed for $5 at a blade shop across the creek from me. It’ll need re-honing every five years or so, and needs to be stropped every time I use it, but it should last me a lifetime. I get the impression it’s already lasted someone theirs. I might write about capitalist conspiracies to incorporate obsolescence into all products some other time, but whatever the reason, tools like straight razors don’t seem to be in fashion at the moment, and I think that’s both dangerous for our longterm survival and a sadness – there is a loss, I think, in the absence of (for want of a better word) soul in the everyday household.

Unfortunately, my housemates broke the handle of the razor. My next job is to make or find another one…

Also, I’m going to learn to weld at loophole community centre in the next few weeks. My bike rack broke as I was dinking a mate so I’ve had to take it off, which significantly decreases my cargo capacity. Oh well; gluing metal to metal with superheated other metal sounds like my idea of fun, and it’ll be a great skill to have.

No New Year: No Solution

As you will probably notice over the next twelve months, a lot of my workarounds when I can’t buy something I need* are based on reclaiming waste. I have no problem with this, and I think we (I mean Melbourneist@s) would be well-advised to rediscover frugality, a conscious sense of thrift. But reclaiming waste is, taken in isolation, no solution to the problems of high-turnover consumption and capitalism. Consider op-shop economics.

Opshops serve many functions, one of which is a pressure valve for the consumption patterns fashion: consumers can conveniently dispose of surplus clothing by giving it to the local opshop. When I buy from opshops I’m not thinking of this, obviously; I see them as a hub for the second-pass economy. But by normalising giving away old products (rather than making them new, a la the uniform project), we also normalise the pressure from the supply side of the equation. This is the same psychology as the dumpster-diving crew calling full dumpsters ‘good’. They’re not good – they’re the most wasteful. We (the detritivores) might benefit from this in the short term, but in the not-too-distant future this kind of normalised surplus production is going to harm us all (is harming us already, even if we can’t see it yet). See Gauche below on squatting for more on this theme.

NNY is (for me) about experimenting in new ways of consuming, about leading by example, there’s much more value in frugality and responsibility than in creaming the fat from a wasteful city. I’d rather brew my own booze (more on this later!) than not drink at all, rather grow my own tobacco than not smoke. With this in mind I’ve joined the sharehood, a particularly awesome example of what I consider a real solution. Creating networks of shareable goods and services within a small geographic area (a, you guessed it, sharehood), the sharehood project works against social fragmentation and unnecessary duplication of goods (maybe one lawnmower is needed on a residential block, not in every house). I’m having a little trouble with the site, but I’ve used it it in my last house and it worked well there.

In other news, I made detergent (the dishes had been mounting up since we ran out)! I used this recipe. You really need to use more water than’s in the recipe. I added an extra litre, and still ended up with a jelly-like sudless goop, but it does the job and I’m pretty sure it’s greywater friendly.

Gauche pointed out to me the other day that one of my biggest problems by way of frugality is that I break things. Often. Electronic gear, my clothes, glasses, my body…I break things. Mostly that’s just a product of the (playful? boisterous?)way I live, which I don’t heaps want to change. And mostly the things I break aren’t so hard to fix. But it is an issue, and caution, some kind of slowness, is a virtue not to be underestimated. An ongoing aim for me.

*The way need is constructed is driven by what you’re used to. Most needs are simply requirements for maintaining one’s style, not life and limb. NNY is about choosing a new lifestyle and thereby redifining need.

carpet

So, riding home today I found a big pile of carpet that had been put out on the side of my street. Such an awesome score, as my house is freezing, and the gas central heating recently broke. We’ve laid down a square in the loungeroom, and the difference is already noticeable, both in warmth and in audio insulation. Just goes to show that when you’re looking for something (and your options for getting it are limited) the world around you becomes a source of interest and a resource for living.

Big thanks to whoever put out their old carpet on a dry day!

In other news, I cleaned and oiled my bike tonight, and patched up my panniers (with mad cool rhinos from an old hoody I’ve had lying around since forever), so now we’re running a bit smoother. I’ve been relying on bikes as my primary source of transport since I moved to Melbourne in 2005, and the difference between a well-oiled chain and a crusty lump-o-rust is significant.

Plus, I sewed together an old apron and added a patch so’s now I’ve got a short pouchy thing with four pockets and a covering flap (I’ll post a photo sometime). It’s kind of the miniskirt of aprons, and I’m finding it really useful around the house. SO much sewing lately, it’s been great.

« Older entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.