As I start the transition to a vastly simplified life I’ve made some rather interesting discoveries about the whole thing. The biggest change is that I feel more connected with processes and cycles, in obvious ways that really never before impinged on my awareness.
For instance, like most people I buy my clothes instead of making them. And for me the material – and hence the origin of the fabric used to make a garment – never really mattered. I checked for color, fit, and a texture I liked, made sure it was machine-washable, and made sure it fit my budget. End of.
Now I do my laundry by hand. This is forcing me to really learn about the fabrics, and that’s led to all sorts of other things. Such as, did you know that clothes don’t come from stores? They come from fields, from silkworms, from animals. The store is simply the last stop before it gets to me. I somehow lost conscious awareness of that because I was so distant from the process. I knew it, but I didn’t know it. Working it with my hands connects me to the whole cycle of the items I handle in a way I hadn’t expected.
Spending so much time with my clothing has also made me more conscious of quality – if I’m going to spend this kind of effort to maintain something, it needs to be something worth the bother. That reasoning has moved mending and alterations much higher on my to-do list. I’ve got set time between each “load” when doing laundry, and it’s nothing to quickly stitch on a button or take up a hem by hand while doing everything else. I’m actively considering making at least some of my clothing by hand in the future, just to better grasp the process.
Transportation is another huge change. I take the bus everywhere. I find myself really studying my neighborhood, learning how it feels and meeting my neighbors. My apartment isn’t its own little island – it’s a part of something larger. Walking it on foot spotlights that in a way driving doesn’t. This is something hardcore urbanites and rural folks both know, but that those in suburban areas often forget.
I’m also much more conscious of transportation logistics. For instance, moving a gallon of milk from the shopping cart to a car isn’t a big deal. Lugging it to the bus stop, managing it on the bus, and then lugging it the ½ mile from the bus stop to my home? While trying to make sure it stays cool for the trip, and juggling anything else I’m carrying? Milk is a pain in the ass. So I have to think – how much milk do we transport by truck all across the country? How heavy is that, and how much energy is used to transport it and keep it cool? I take the issues I have with my short trip and my one gallon and multiply it, and it’s suddenly a problem of which I’m consciously aware. Supporting local agriculture is no longer some abstract ideal for me. I understand the logic more with every step I carry groceries home.
That brings me neatly to another focus. I’m also going for simplicity in my food. I want to totally ditch pre-packaged foods and make everything from scratch. My ideal is to have shopping trips be strictly for staples – flours, beans, etc – and spices. Oh, and to do this with as few specialty tools as possible. *laugh* Because why not aim high, right?
This one is hard. I’m not a great cook to begin with, and growing up Hamburger Helper was high cuisine. I also work a full-time job that’s pushing into massive overtime, and the free time I have is also spent doing the other things I’m doing for simplicity’s sake. So, since all this kicks in for real in December, I’ve decided to take the food transition in steps. A gradual adjustment should be easier to incorporate than changing direction midstream.
I decided to start with anything flour-based, since that’s the most processed thing I generally deal with. I now bake all my own bread. Over the next week or two I’ll be experimenting with making my own noodles and crackers, and eventually with grinding my own flours. Just the bread thing has been a challenge! But, somewhat to my own surprise, it’s been totally worth it. I used to pick up whatever was cheapest. Now I’m much more conscious of what goes into what I eat, how nutritious it is, and how my body feels after I eat it. I find that I’m more consciously aware of the fact that bread is not really created in a vat in the back of the grocery store. I actually stop to consider the various elements individually and how they work together to make the bread I use for my sandwich. And I’m just getting started with this whole thing!
So far this process has been as illuminating as celibacy was. I’ve discovered that – for me, at least – the dependence on automation has really distanced me from the things that make up my world. It has also showcased how far apart an abstract understanding is from practical reality. The more automation I ditch the more I realize how dependent on the earth and other people I am, and how important it is to support both. I’m really looking forward to the perspective changes waiting for me down the line as I continue this path.