Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cheap 'n' Green

We are feeling overwhelmed by our 'stuff.' The reasons for this are clear: we moved from a house to an apartment (less space) and we added a new member of the family (more stuff). So, with a constant reminder of the material economy surrounding us (and often underfoot) we decided to make a new year's resolution: buy nothing new for an entire year.*

[ There's a group in San Francisco called the Compact that evangelizes for this sort of thing (interesting stories about them here and here, plus a listserv). They seem idealistic, nicely pragmatic and not, you know, psychotically dogmatic about it. Also check out "Ask A Brokeass" -- Gristmill's fountain of "cheap green" advice. ]

So, why? Well, obviously I bet we can save a ton of money if we work at it. Plus there's something hard-wired in my brain that thinks landfills and disposable consumer products are pretty-much the dumbest ideas ever. I will walk several miles to find a recyling bin. I mean, what ever happened to using every part of the buffalo? What mega-genius came up with those cheap plastic happy-meal toys? The environmental costs of the American high-consumption lifestyle are bad and bound to get worse. For example, do you know where your old TV ends up once you're done with it? Why not take it to your friendly neighborhood TV repairman (hi Dad!) and get a few more years out of it?

And then there's the psychological aspect to it. Unplugging from commercial culture can be very liberating. There's something eye-opening in thinking hard about what we really need and how much is 'enough' and what a sustainable economy might actually look like. And anybody can do it - you don't have to be able to afford the organic section at Whole Foods to play.

And yet, and yet, disposable stuff is so convenient and useful ... and so easy to get rid of. There is certainly something undeniably exciting about saying: I don't need this anymore and I can just make it disappear! Sigh. Too much stuff is definitely an input and output problem, and this is our current plan to deal with the inputs. *Now, of course, there are caveats:
  • Food. This is a clear exception to the rule. The idea of eating 'used' food is gross. (I suppose we could restrict ourselves to dumpster-diving -- and, hey, people do -- but, that doesn't quite seem like our style. Plus, my sister made me promise I wouldn't.)
  • Experiences. Movies, concerns, cultural events, video rentals are all exceptions.
  • Travel. Gas for the car, plane tickets -- not technically stuff, although it would probably be a good idea to reduce these too.
  • Necessity. And of course, if there's a pressing need for something essential that we can't really find a replacement for (I'm thinking ... diapers), then yeah, we'll buy it.
But, in general, we seem to be doing pretty well for our first month, and I expect it really won't be all that hard. There are thriving second-hand markets for most of the stuff I spend money on (books and CDs). High-quality used baby stuff is easy to find (since babies outgrow clothes and toys so rapidly) -- not to mention Quinn has several doting, loving grandparents happy ensure she wants for nothing. Clothes shouldn't be too hard either: I haaate shopping for clothes and will happily avoid doing it for years. I'm pretty sure I've subsisted on free t-shirts for decades now anyway. (fyi-- there is a also well-established exception for used underwear.)

Anyway, between craigslist and freecycle, we seem to be doing pretty well. I got a great used bike a few months ago for a cool hundred bucks from this guy who runs a bike repair business out of his backyard. Now, I really need a new pair of dress shoes, so I expect I'll be checking out the shoe section of the Goodwill soon enough.


Doug Rudd said...

Oh, great idea. As for cultural events, as long as you stay away from first-run movies I'd think you'd be on pretty safe ground. Concerts are one-time events, like transportation, say, for which the concept of new or old isn't applicable.

How do you plan on treating electronic media? Sure, second-hand cd's are good now, since otherwise they'd end up in a landfill, but in the long term eliminating physical media altogether is probably best.

Used underwear... not so sure about that ;)

t said...

Hey Doug - yeah, that's a good point. In the long term, this isn't really a solution since it can't be scaled up to include everyone. It only works on the margins. Immanuel Kant would be displeased.

I hear amazon has started selling non-DRM mp3 tracks, so that might be a viable alternative to used CDs.

Jackie said...

Ooh, I've been contemplating trying the Amazon non-DRM mp3 thing, but it's not as easy to navigate as iTunes so I've been kind of wondering if I just need to hold out for a few months until the music companies cave to Apple and let them offer it too.

t said...

Hey Jackie - yeah, non-DRM iTunes would be pretty awesome. And now that you mention it, amazon.com in general strikes me as outdated and hard-to-navigate, tho I hadn't really thought about it before. huh.

Jackie said...

I know what you mean about Amazon. I guess it always seemed real easy and simple when I ordered a DVD once a year (search for it, find it, buy it) but when I buy music I want a better browsing experience (damn you iTunes for showing me how easy it can be). Why can't I see all by an artist in one page? Why won't it tell me which ones come in mp3 versions too without having to find the album, click on the album page, and scroll down to the track listing. And then, if I want to buy the whole album I have to click on a link to the whole album in mp3?

Doug Rudd said...

Yeah, the interface needs work, but the albums I've looked for have been both cheaper than iTunes and drm free ... convenience can overcome one but not both.


t said...

Sounds like I'll have to check out these amazon mp3s.

I do think it's interesting that amazon has had essentially the same web design since, what? 1995? I wonder if they're even able to re-design at this point or if it's just too complicated that the downtime would jeopardize their profits.

Jessica said...

When did I make you promise not to dumpster-dive? I have no memory of this. But I stand by the opinion of my former self! A good alternative would be attempting to only buy local -- although as produce-spoiled Californian, I have no idea how plausible this is in DC.
Love, J

Jackie said...

I agree about convenience, DRM and money, Doug, but that just means I've haven't been able to bring myself to buy anything from either Amazon or iTunes in the past few months. ;)

t said...

Hey sis - I forget when - sometime in the last year.

You were reading some article about dumpster-diving and you turned to me and said "you have to promise me not to ever do this!" And I was like: "What? What makes you think this would be something I would do?"

apparently my reputation proceeds me, or something. ha! =)