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.

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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.

Before shot.

I’m coming at this pretty differently to Felix.

Last year I started my first ever full-time job, and though the pay is pretty low and I’m working part-time now, I still have more money than I’ve ever had before. Having a dollar value for each hour of my labour means I know when it’s cheaper to buy something than acquire it another way, if I don’t take the environmental impact into consideration. I’ll confess that generally this influences my consumer choices less than the personal cost of alienating my labour — I’m not sure what rate of pay it would take for me to want to work five days a week, but I’ve never been paid enough for that to be worthwhile.

I also moved out of eco/anarcho world to a flat in the most bourgeois suburb, with a fabulous housemate and a very different lifestyle. We’re still relatively poor so it’s not that often we buy new things for the house, but mostly the motivation has been economic. In the lounge room I’m sitting in, all the furniture is from hard rubbish: two sofas, two coffee tables, a lamp, a cabinet, a bookshelf and a writing desk. But while most of our glasses on the liquor shelf are from op shops or garage sales, we do replenish our supply of martini glasses regularly with new ones. I haven’t gone dumpstering since I moved here, and after rent and bills, I probably spend most of my money on food — roughly a third on groceries and two-thirds on eating out.

I’ve also re-evaluated myself, and my relationship to politics-as-personal. At one point I felt really burnt out, resentful and suppressed — I felt like my life wasn’t mine, like I’d been submerged into this activist culture that didn’t really speak to me (though the initial immersion was intoxicating) and consisted more of rules than possibilities. What to eat, who to fuck, how to get there, when to talk. I felt like dreaming of utopian futures required living in a way that honoured pleasure as well as responsibility. I needed to resist discipline that wasn’t deliberate and wasn’t mine. I desperately, desperately needed not to be pure. To sluice the guilt off my body and feel the pulse of my own desires. And then, to decide.

But without making everything either ethical or unethical, subversive or problematic — I do want to think about how I live and its material impact. I want to be politically astute, if sometimes bad. As articulated in the first link to my own blog, I don’t believe every little thing matters, so my updates will be less a record of every purchase than general thoughts on living in consumer capitalism. I’m undertaking this project less as a promise to acquire nothing new for a year, than to commit to thinking more about production, consumption, waste, labour and capitalism. I’ve concentrated on politics of oppression for so long, I really need something that forces me to be more aware of economics and environment. I can’t justify these things being peripheral to my ideology any more — I couldn’t ever — and I’m excited about incorporating them into the core of my concept of justice.

So the before shot:

Practically, I’m well positioned for this project. I have a lot of privileges that enable me to undertake something like this, such as stable accommodation, a reliable income, a strong and extensive support network, no dependants, few commitments, high mobility and minimal special needs. If I had children, if I were squatting and didn’t have anywhere secure to store my things, if I didn’t have friends and family in Melbourne I could borrow things from, if I couldn’t easily spend a day scouring hard rubbish and op shops and wherever else, if I were living more hand-to-mouth and couldn’t plan ahead — any of these factors would make me much more reluctant to participate in this project; I probably wouldn’t consider it at all. This is possible because I’m young, fit, rich and free.

I also already have most things I’m likely to need for the next twelve months: most essentially, bed, bicycle, computer, washing machine and fridge. All of these things came to me second-hand, but having had stable income/accommodation/support et cetera has meant that I’ve been able to accumulate these things over time, and hold onto them. I’ve had the good fortune to never experience those common situations in which people lose their shit, like being kicked out of home or nasty ex-lovers or others who walk off wid alla yr stuff. Anti-consumerism is often framed as having very few possessions, but for any anti-consumerist practice that’s based on environmental and economic motivations rather than spiritual purity, it’s actually much easier if you have a few things to begin with — having a decent tool box and sewing kit, for example, mean that you can fix and alter stuff instead of buying it new.

In any case, I have more than a few things. I have enough clothes for not only the next year, but any occasion I’m likely to encounter, from glitterpunk queer balls to job interviews. Should my computer or phone break (both fairly likely), I have access to public libraries and my workplace and university and friends’ and parents’ houses. More importantly, I have access to some genius friends, between whom can probably fix anything in the world (and who I totally trust to fix the world, at that). So this should be really easy, on a physical level — it’ll be much harder to break my intellectual and psychological dependence on the first-pass economy, on the expectation that if I need something, I can just pay for it. Commerce is king of all. That thinking is hard to change. But, as always, I’m up for it.

– Gauche

Referencing myself, Tiger Beatdown, Ntozake Shange, and bastardising Herodotus.

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.

Week 1

This week I’ve been travelling, landing in Kaurna country for this year’s Students of Sustainability (SOS) conference.

Travelling throws some problems up when it comes to not buying. Firstly, the food I buy when travelling is mostly prepackaged, heavily processed snackfood which I do want to avoid – I’m toying with the idea of trying to go 100% freegan for the year (presently I fluctuate at 50-90%)- secondly, there’s almost always something I forget when I jump on a bus at six in the morning. This time round, it was a cup. Travelling without a cup means no takeaway coffee, for instance. And the cafe at SOS was selling those cute little keep cups which were kinda hard to resist. Nevertheless, you can’t go past plain ceramic mugs from the Food Not Bombs kitchen (so, big thanks to FNB Adelaide).

The experience brought home to me that there’s a bunch of stuff I’d normally grab, needing it at the time (and thinking “I’ll use this every day“), but just chucking it in the dustcupboard when I get home. I’m going to learn to do without that – and it’s really, really going to be ok.

So, the only things I bought this week were the conference (registration costs), transport there and back, a pouch of tobacco, and entrance to a gig (a fundraiser for Tas forests). Week 1 = total win!

f.

Interview: Gauche on freeganism

Adolfo interviewed me for an article about dumpster diving and freeganism back in 2009. Here are my responses in the raw:

1. Do you think there is anything ‘wrong’ with what you’re doing (legally, morally, culturally)?

I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with freeganism, and I think there’s plenty that’s good about it, though perhaps sometimes people are more righteous than they ought to be.

Legally there are some issues but I think they’re based in some very silly ideas about property. I can understand moral and legal concerns about going through someone’s trash if you’re opening their mail, but I think that’s a privacy concern, not a matter of theft which is what makes it legally problematic.

Culturally and aesthetically I find freeganism interesting — there’s a kind of grungy glamour around these practices, some of which I appreciate (there’s something beautiful and magical about reclaiming waste) and some of which I think is problematic as it somewhat romanticises poverty.

2. Why do you engage in freeganism? (Is it merely out of utility, a political statement, or a bit of both?)

A bit of both, for sure: I wouldn’t have had any furniture other than my bed in my first sharehouse if it weren’t for scrounging around hard rubbish. But sometimes it’s more work than it’s worth economically — for example organising a clothes swap party instead of buying some new things off the $5 table at Supre — and that’s when you’d need to have the political commitment to opt out of a cycle of needless consumerism.

3. Have you ever been given trouble by authorities/corporations because of your activities?

Not really — a couple of times I’ve been told off when dumpster-diving but you can just leave and go back later. Generally staff at supermarkets don’t care because they’re just working for a wage. If you explain what you’re doing, most people are more sympathetic to the idea of salvaging trash than protecting waste as property.

There’s a lot more chance of legal issues with squatting, because even though that’s reclaiming waste in a sense, people see real estate as being property you only give up through explicit legal means, not simple abandonment.

4. What got you started in freeganism/recycling/anti-consumerism?

I’ve always tried to re-use and recycle and increasingly since I was about 16 I’ve shopped vintage. But I’d say I started to think more about consumerism when I finished high school, moved out of home and became involved in the environment movement.

Coming both backwards from thinking about ethical production (eg fair trade, no sweat etc) and forwards from wanting a society where goods are produced on demand rather than the other way around is how I got to this position of feeling the most ethical consumerism is none.

5. Do you think you’ll keep doing it in the future?

Yep!

6. Any other thoughts?

Yeah, I want to add something about the politics of dumpster diving and squatting: I think minimising unnecessary production and consumption is a valuable political goal. But an equally important goal for me is for all people to have their needs met without duress. So while I think salvaging garbage can be an effective way to highlight the wastefulness of our society, I don’t want it to affect how we measure someone’s standard of living.

The dollar economy is incredibly dominant in our society, so in terms of governance I think we need to provide people with the means to acquire what they need through social services, or the money to purchase it through the market. The economy of salvage is unreliable, and more importantly it depends upon a cycle of waste I would rather see stopped at the point of production.

Beginning, again.

Welcome to the no new year project, a collaborative blog written by felix and gauche (possibly more contributors will jump on board later).

Over the next twelve months, we’re going to be documenting our attempts to ditch the first-pass economy. This is the second time we have tried this – the first ended in abject failure, and abandonment of the project. This year will be better, I’m sure of it! I’m going to try to post weekly (on Thursdays) with my shopping lists, projects, progress notes &c.

So, I’ll speak to you again on Thursday.

f.

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