February 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
40 bags in 40 days is a very simple concept. There is no right or wrong way to do it. How ever it works for you is the way it works, but there are always some questions that are asked.
History and Scope:
How did this get started? You can read the original post from 2008 here.
Is there an “Original” or “Official” group/site/page? — The short answer is no. This is the ‘original’ as in I did this for myself and came up with the idea. Father Kyle Schnipple first suggested it as a Lenten Penance. Dozens if not hundreds of groups and blogs have picked it up since then.
How many people do this? I have no clue. If you Google “40 bags in 40 days” you get something like 40,000 results.
How the Challenge Works:
The original concept is easy. Pick a size of bag, fill it up with stuff and get rid of it.
What size bag should I pick? That depends. If you have a big house and/or a big family and lots of stuff then go big. On the other hand if you are fastidious about clutter, always shop wisely, have a small house and small family then a small bag might be a challenge. If you have never done the challenge before start with the standard tall kitchen bag. If you struggle to fill it then one of two things is happening – you are using too big a bag or you should prayerfully consider letting more things go.
Is it ok to do 6 bags on each Saturday? There is something to be said for the steady discipline of letting a bit go each day. It usually doesn’t take more than about 30 minutes to fill a bag. But do what works for you.
Can I gather bags ahead of Lent and count them? Sure. The goal is to let a little go each day, but if you know you are going to be missing a few days and really want to do all 40 bags… go ahead. There really isn’t a right or wrong way.
Do bags of trash/junk/paper count? Yes. You have this stuff in your house and it is stealing your space, your time and your sanity. Of course it counts to let it go.
How do you manage the bags? I take them straight to the car then drop them off as I do other errands. I don’t leave that bags in the house as they might start to become unbagged.
How do I let go of ____?:
By far the most common questions are questions on how to let go of certain things. For some of these I either have or will be putting up articles this Lent, but here is the brief answers
How do I let go of sentimental things? The love is in your heart not the item. Take a picture or it. Write about it. Give it to someone you know will love it. Having some sentimental things is fine, good even. But not everything item can be imbued with sentimentality.
Should I let go of baby stuff, maternity clothes or things I hope to fit in again? Yes, with wisdom. If you have not used something in 5 years it should go. If you get pregnant, loose weight or have a baby trust God to provide for you needs in the moment. In the meantime be the means by which God can bless others who needs those things now.
How do I let go of stuff people I love got for me? It is hard. But again the love is in our hearts not the thing. Keeping something you don’t like because if feel obligated because it belonged to someone who loved you is something that most of us fall into. The love doesn’t go away just because the object does.
I have had this so long how can I let it go? Because you don’t love it and use it. Most things don’t improve with age.
Craft supplies, homeschooling, books and hobby stuff? These can be hard because we have every intention of doing something wonderful with the stuff. But having stuff without a solid plan can be problematic. (and yes I am looking at those bins of fabric scrapes) Keep a limited amount of stuff that doesn’t have a plan. Even if you have a plan for something don’t keep it more than 5 years.
Kid’s things: Involve your children in letting things go. Don’t undermine their natural generosity. They really will be happier with less.
Sacramentals and religious items. There are special rules for items that have been blessed.
February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
The last time I wrote about my clothing check list system was back in 2008. I think at this point we can call it the “Time-Proven, Well-Worn, Updated and Revised Clothing Checklist” but looking at it that seems sort of ungainly so let’s just stick with “The Clothing Checklist”
The original list was created in response to the fact that I had managed to accumulate way too many clothes for every single person in my household. We went well beyond the Proverbs 31:21 “She is not concerned for her household when it snows — all her charges are doubly clothed.” and were over-clothed by – a bunch. Drawers and closets yawned with too many options and too much stuff. The children’s rooms could be carpeted in clothing (and most times appeared to be), the laundry was never under control.
Once I put together the list I was able to cut back our clothing to a manageable amount. As long as we pull the list out a few times and cull. Friends hand you stuff, grandparents send gifts the inflow doesn’t stop. Clothing also dies: it is torn, stained, outgrown. So once you have cut down to the list, and gotten rid of the dead items there are gaps especially with boys and jeans and knees with holes. The list helps with all of that by setting limits and creating an automatic checklist.
Limits are especially helpful when working with your children. Yes, they may love all 10 pairs of pajamas that they own, but really the list says two – so pick.
The original post explains about using the list and how to determine the amount of any item you might need.
February 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
If you would like to learn more about the 40 bag challenge for Lent please read this post.
Last night I gave a talk about the 40 bag challenge and simplicity to our home school group.
My talk tonight isn’t about organizing or time management and this isn’t about money or home schooling or catholic life or family, but it sort of fits a little bit into all of those areas.
Confession time: I am by nature a disorganized disaster. I have my places of super organization, In school my notebooks were amazing neat, so was my locker and music, but my room looked like a bomb went off in it most the time. As an adult this trend continued. At work my code and documentation was obsessively organized but I would misplace my car keys at home, be notorious for procrastination everything and lived in a cavern of mostly done projects, way too many books, aspiration-ally purchased cleaning supplies and more cloths then I could wear in a month. My children added whole new outlets for the chaos.
Over the years I tried every organization system I find of with varying degrees of success ranging from “giving up before I even start because this is way to complicated” (Sidetracked Home Executives) to “this worked for about a week and then something happened” (Organizing from the Inside Out) to “Oh my goodness you have drowned me emails about how great I am until I want to choke on sappy goodness – I quit” (FlyLady — but that thing about not being able to organize clutter was cool and we will come back to it.) All of these systems are supposed to help, have helped thousands of people and I was able to take something away from all of but being that I am stubborn and such Nothing really clicked until I had Joshua.
While I was in the hospital for Joshua’s birth my in-laws came and stayed at our house. Which was kind of traumatic for me because of the whole people in my house and the oven wasn’t working right and I was having a baby thing. And while they were staying with us my mother in law was super helpful and she did about 30 loads of laundry in 3 days. After I had mostly recovered from that whole “just had a baby thing” she told me in the point-blank way that only she could that I would never be able to keep up with the laundry because we just had too many clothes. “Well duh, I have 4 kids and a new born “ NOPE. She had raised 7 kids and the problem was not the number of people, it was the amount of clothing per person.
I had to admit the only part of the whole laundry thing that was working was the school uniforms. Both the children in the parish school had three bottom and three tops. We did laundry for the uniforms on Wednesday and Saturday and it worked perfectly. Everything else was a mess. So I spent way too much time researching boarding school checklists and comp checklists and thinking about laundry schedules and came up with Clothing checklists for the kids. I went in a winnowed down their clothing to “the list” and got rid of about 2/3s of the clothing I had for the children.
This completely transformed the entire laundry issue. But I still wasn’t quite insightful enough to apply this to anything else. But the reality was I just had way too much stuff. And I am not alone in this Statistically we are a society drowning in stuff.
Some examples : British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily
There are 300,000 items in the average American home and the size of the average American Single family new home has tippled in the past 70 years.
The average American woman owns 30 outfits. In 1930, that figure was nine
Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items.The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list
So, here I was in desperate need of something and it took me way to long to realize that what I really really needed was less of everything I had. So back in about 2008 I was reading on Elizabeth Foss’s blog about how she had done a major clean out and posted a picture of an empty box of trash bags and I thought, If I just did one bag a day how much clutter and stuff could I get rid of. So I tried it for 40 days, 8 weeks for five days a week. And it was liberating and all that Simplicity that I wanted so desperately to get into my life started feeling possible. The next year a priest I knew talked to me about doing the 40 bags thing during lent. And we did and that was great. And then life hit like a hammer, and my grandmother’s health started failing. I had a baby and got totally side tracked from what I had been working toward. But then the storm passed as storms as storms always do and I started working toward simplicity once again.
When I talk about Simplicity I don’t really mean in the Simple Living concept which is inherited from the Shaker and Amish traditions of Simple/ plain living. Nor am I advocating that modern “zen” minimalism which is both a design concept and a living concept that advocates working toward an absolute minimum of what is necessary, but a middle ground that is Removed from the goals and values of American consumerism but not toward the extremes of selling everything and homesteading in Upstate Wisconsin in a refurbished school bus on one end or getting rid of everything but 100 possessions on the other. But a simplicity that is rooted in Christian tradition and is Authentically Catholic. As Pope Francis had put it “Less is more. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.”
For me anything that isn’t gradual and sensible is not sustainable. So purging a bag a day – is to much for the long term. But with the 40 bags in 40 days thing it doesn’t have to be. It is a discipline for a brief time, a sacrifice and a giving up of things but since it is just for a short season; there is always the “end” coming up so it is doable.
After I wrote about this it sort of took on a life of its own and I have seen it pop-up all over the place. So you will have to forgive me if you have heard about it before, but here is the basic concept. 40 bags of stuff in 40 days – gone. (or 37 if you stop at Holy Thursday and don’t do any Sundays) The basic thing is to pick a bag (Shopping bag, paper bag, trash bag or Big Black bag) and then fill up one bag a day one day at a time. Then either get rid of it or donate it. I have also counted “equivalents” like a computer system or a box of books or a piece of furniture counting as a bag. Usually the bulkyness or the hassle they add just getting them gone adds to the the sense of having done something worth while that day.
For some reason this really resonates with some people. They totally love it and find it a wonderful process and other just hate to pieces.
I have seen some people declare that they don’t have enough stuff to get rid of even a small bag each day. Which is wonderful — I wish I could be that person. I have seen others who really wanted to it but were so overwhelmed by their own situation that they felt they couldn’t because they were in too deep and needed serious help. I have also seen people decide that this isn’t a good Lenten exercise as they don’t feel it is spiritual enough. (as opposed to giving up soda or TV – I guess, or maybe they would think those weren’t very spiritual either..)
All kidding aside I think that is a perfectly valid thing to say in as far as it may not be what the Holy Spirit calls them to at that moment. But one really can’t claim that getting rid of material possessions is an act devoid of a spiritual dimension. There are multiple Biblical examples of Christ calling those who would follow him to freely give away their possessions or telling them not be concerned with their material needs and there are many, many examples of the Saints doing just that.
The obvious Biblical example is the rich young man.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
As Americans we are all wealthy.
Thankfully there is a long Christian tradition for dealing with the fact that we tend to covet and keep more material possessions then are spiritually good for us. Getting rid of 40 bags of stuff over 40 days in Lent may not resonate with you, it may not be what God is calling you to do, and it could be that someone could do it and get nothing from it (which could be said of almost anything one gives up for Lent) but for those who are called to do it and are mindful of the reasons for it the letting go of stuff is a very spiritually enhancing discipline.
First World Problems:
We live in a world warped by consumerism. We have a disposable cup culture where the competition to have the new and latest thing takes our natural and good desires to bless those we love with beauty and sets us off into focusing on things that aren’t lasting. Too often this consumerism replaces the bonds of family, community and even faith. The Holy Father has spoken on this very topic saying: “ Today consumerism determines what is important. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming… Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. “
There is an essential fact that when our life is full of stuff there is less room for God, prayer or family. So letting go of things move from being a good but neutral act to and act of significance.
In the process of forcing ourselves to let go of these extra things we occasionally find that something is hard to let go of, in this moment we are learning where we cling to things not of God, where we fail to trust God and where use possessions to insulate ourselves from the world we are called to engage.
January 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
Lent is coming up soon and with it the 40 bags in 40 days for Lent. One of the constant questions I see on this blog is how to declutter with children. There is no denying that children bring with them a bunch of stuff. But they also can learn the value of simplicity very early and are indeed happy when there world is not overburdened with stuff.
Here are a few ideas I have collect to help anyone who might be struggling with how to get their littles on board with decluttering.
10 Tips for decluttering with children.
- Involve your children in the process. – Let them have a say in what stays and what goes. By having a discussion over some of the things that it is more difficult to let go of you help them build good mental habits for the future.
- Declutter once a month: Schedule a time every month to go through and get rid of the build up. This includes broken toys, stained or otherwise ruined clothing and anything too small or outgrown.
- Purge toys and clothing before every birthday and Christmas (gift giving holiday): Make room for the new.
- 15 Min bedroom pick-up every morning: Make it part of the morning routine. Make the bed, pick up laundry, throw away any trash, put away anything that is out, put away anything that doesn’t belong. A fresh start every day is a wonderful habit to build.
- Let them be generous: If your child wants to give something away don’t try to talk them out of it. Maybe your Great-Aunt Sally did buy that stuffed dolphin on her trip to Guam. IF Jr wants to let it go don’t complicate it with your own sentimentality.
- Teach them to let go not to hold tight: Empower your child to let go of things they no longer play with. Praise them when they drop something into the donation box.
- Only allow in what you have space for: If your book shelf can’t fit the new book what will you let go? You love your new swimsuit, let’s get rid of the old one.
- Don’t do the toy box thing: Toy Box = Clutter Bomb. Children have a hard time with toy boxes, they will empty them to get something on the bottom, favorite things get broken, little things are lost. Replace the toy box with cubby, bins or open shelving. Collections like Barbies, toy soldiers, tea party and Legos can be in containers but not everything mixed in together.
- Capture the memory not the thing: Take pictures of your children holding their art projects, school projects, paintings and all those wonderful things they create.
- Let even good things go: Just because something is wonderful doesn’t mean it is something you should keep it. No matter how beautiful, useful, educational or expensive something is, if it isn’t bringing joy to your child you should let it go so it can bless someone else.
April 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Hecato, says: “I can show you a philtre, compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch’s incantation: ‘If you would be loved, love.'”
Seneca ~ Moral Letters to Lucilius IX.6
My dad has cancer. This is one of those numbingly painful things that has been pulling my heart and peace to shreds. So I have been going to back to essentials: prayer and Mindfulness, a heart turned toward simplicity and Stoicism resting in the peace of Christ. It has also led to some conversations with family. Most particularly a very insightful moment with my mom.
We were talking about life – that whole messy business and something clicked. She was expressing how her whole life she had never really felt loved. My dad and I were assuring her that she was loved but there was the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff. I came up with some wholly inarticulate version of “I have been trying to tell you I love you my whole life but you never believe it.” Which led to her realizing the kind of odd cruelty her own lack of self worth inflicts on everyone who loves her. No one can ever love you enough that you feel loved unless you have the faith that you are loved. The only way you feel love is love someone else and have faith that they love you.
With a new appreciation of this truth I see it all around me. In Seneca’s quote from Hecato. in random articles I read online and in thr Prayer of St Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It seems that it is always in pain that we learn more about love. I hope that my mother can see that the truest path to being loved is to love with no regard for any return but to love wholly and Holy and true.
March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
“Why would you want to start blogging again?”, an earnest question asked by my 13 year old. Each of my children give me a gift, Hannah gives me thoughtfulness. The question forced me to think. Why write? Why write and “put it out there”? The answer really comes down to this: when I write I am a better me.
The reason I chose Simply Catholic as the name of my blog is that those two words encapsulate not just who I am but also so much of what I intend for myself and what I strive to become more of. They are more or less the essence of my best self. The more I can align myself with those two words the more content I am and the more fulfilled I am. Writing and the act of putting it out on the internet helps me keep the perspective I need on my own life. If someone else enjoys it or finds it useful — all to the good.
My life is a Catholic life. I will honestly confess that I am “bad-Catholic” but with the grace of God I am a Lioness; the love of Christ infuses me as warm as the sun, as gentle as the moon and as merry as a stat lit sky. God has placed on me certain burdens and difficulties – I have no delusion that I am in any way unique in the weight or number of those burdens although sometimes I do forget that and feel sorry for myself. As much as I despise the platitude “ God never gives you anything more than you can bear” I do find that when place those burdens on the yoke that Christ gave me I am able to bear them with ease – Christ’s yoke makes all burdens light. When take things into my hands and take too much to heart, when I attempt to carry the burdens too close it all overwhelms me. Practicing my faith makes dealing with the rest of my life possible. When I am writing about my faith I think about it more deeply, center myself in it more firmly and find more about it to love.
The other theme of my life is simplicity. When you have seven children simplicity is just a matter of practical survival. Simplicity as a lifestyle and as a movement is something I am drawn to because I have a tendency to over-think everything and allow stuff to take over too much of my space and commitments to take up to much of my time. It is very easy for me to let perfect become the enemy of good and to get so wound up in non-essentials that the essentials don’t get done. There is a vicious cycle where my mind is cluttered which makes me less attentive to my external world which leads to my space and time being cluttered which makes my mind more cluttered. Mindfulness and prayer clear my mind of the thoughts and worries that chase around inside my head. Simplicity is the outward manifestation of mindfulness and the external support that buttresses inner peace. Writing about it helps keep me accountable to myself and It helps me stay organized and at peace. It helps balance and calm the spiritual, material, emotional, cognitive and temporal aspects of my existence.
When I was younger I really failed to appreciate how quickly life flies by and how easy it is to forget even things we know in the moment we will always remember. “I am way to busy living my life to document it” I said at one point scoffing at my mother-in-law, Dana, when she complained that I didn’t take enough pictures. But now, of course, I wish I had documented those things better and journaled more. Journals and pictures are repositories of memory and after watching both my grandmother and my mother-in-law, Irene, deal with memory loss I find myself very much aware that memories of are the gold of life. So I will journal more so that I can capture memories in text and keep them for that time when my mind fails to hold fast to those most precious things and I will take more pictures even though I am no longer able to share them with Dana.
That is why I am starting to blog again. As silly as even saying the word “blog” might be I live in a modern world and this is the tool that I have. Bless you if you have read this; I know it is just so much navel gazing – but sometimes that is ok.
October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
This past weekend I finished up “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” by Shannon Hayes. Basically it is a manifesto for the crunchy side of the opt-out movement. It tries really hard to be a pro-feminist argument for domesticity, but I have a difficult time believing that this book will convince anyone. It is instead a reassurance for the true believer – maybe. It is certainly written for those who have been following the simplicity/lovavore/anti-consumerism movements. In fact, this really isn’t a standalone book. There is too much assumed for the typical America consumer to make heads or tails out of this, especially when they start reading about the book’s heroes (study subjects) who forgo health insurance, live off inheritance, found a rundown, old shack and fixed it up and/or have one solid income earning spouse working while the other plays homesteader.
What did I really enjoy about this book?
For once a book unafraid to use the word “homemaker”. Now of course Ms Hayes does take pains to point out that “housewife” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Supposedly it means something more akin to “freeman”. But still, it is something.
Stuff can’t make you happy. One of those principles that I think touches so much of what is wrong with our society. “Radical Homemakers” devotes a good amount of time to thinking through what the alternatives to “more stuff” are.
A lack of diversity: There is a vast diversity of thought and practice within the opt-out movement. We see only the slightest touch of this in “Radical Homemakers”. Ms Hayes describes that there are all sorts of Radical Homemakers, women, men, families, child-less, singles, single-parents – but all the interviewees have a certain homogeneous world view about them – I really couldn’t tell if this was because Shannon Hayes had selected a narrow band of people she considered “Radical”, if her own writing covered the voices of her subjects up too much or if she just happened to find 20 families opting out of the consumer-driven culture who had read all the same books and echoed each other.
Betty Friedan Fan. Betty is quoted in almost every single chapter. In fact this book is very quote heavy. Lots of quotes give the illusion of a well researched scholarly study, but the quotes are all sort of laboring under the same problem as the interviews. Lots of quote from a rather limited number of sources and all carefully selected to match the author’s world view such as Riane Eisler’s rather fanciful view of pre-historic cultures.
For the general reader, the person not sold on the anti-consumerism movement, I think this book would be horribly discouraging. In fact it was sort of discouraging to me. Ms Hayes doesn’t show you how step out of the rat-race. The stories she shares of those who have managed to step out aren’t really an option for most families, at least not whole clothed. There was no sense of a “first step” that a normal, in debt, working couple with small children, urban or sub-urban family could do. We see people who have been given inheritances, grew up on farms, have families that helped them out – what if you lack any of those resources? I guess you are out of luck and condemned to be another cog in the wheel. In reality of course you aren’t, but I don’t think Radical Homemakers shows that.
All in all
A good book for reaffirming the choices of those who have opted out and maybe a good read for those who are toying with the idea of less consumerism, but deep down inside don’t want to take it too far because that would be just way too much work. If you are looking for a deep exploration of those who have opted to return to homemaking in opposition to the general culture or a guide-book to the way out of consumerism this is not a book you will fall in love with. The view is too narrow and while the beauties and some of the struggles of the trail are described the location of the trail-head is left a mystery.
June 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
I suppose it is because I have a life like a zoo – where all the animals have escaped their cages and are rooming around getting into mischief – Noah’s ark maybe – that I have found myself drawn to simplicity. I like life in the wild. I enjoy the homeschooling, big family, two cats, two dogs and a baby on the way thing. But it takes a sturdy frame (fence, ark) to hold all this in place. That is one reason I am Catholic and the main reason I keep coming back to the “less stuff” ideal. Less stuff, more time, more family, more love, more prayer, more faith – that is a solid frame. And it is a survival mechanism.
For a large family thrift, simplicity, frugality, ritual and routine are absolute musts – at least if you want to have a shred of sanity at the end of the day. At least in my case, and I really don’t think I am special enough to be some great exception in this. But it took me a while to realize this as principal and even longer to figure out that there is this whole political/social movement called Voluntary Simplicity, of course that the Catholic, big family thing means I will always be relegated to a plundering outsider – it is too “Gaia-centric” – large families don’t fit the mold and humanity is often (not always, but often) viewed as a parasite on the beautiful, perfect, natural world. So ‘a pirating I go: I ready through the simplicity books and websites and grab out what works and pass over the things that I find won’t work for us and basically cobble together some vision of what I would like life to be and then struggle to implement it.
May 20, 2010 § 3 Comments
Since we are expecting number 7 I guess that makes me the “experienced” mom. At least I am experienced in the sense that I have in fact been here and done this a couple of times. My sister-in-law is expecting her first. So I suppose it is natural to think back to expecting my first and the absolutely uncertainty that I was awash in when I was a first time mom and laugh at myself.
Something that has been amusing me the past few weeks is the “baby registry” phenomenon. What do you need for a baby? I can almost feel that remembered panic setting in with me, the new mom, sure that I was going to miss having that one, ultimate, thing that will make caring for a new baby easy. Especially when you don’t have much experience around newborns it can seem like they are little alien creatures who will break if you don’t care for them perfectly, and marketers are more than happy to exploit these insecurities and sell you all sorts of stuff you don’t need.
The reality is that you really don’t need much for a newborn (under normal circumstances).
Top ten things you probably don’t need:
- A changing table.
- Special baby towels/washcloths
- diaper wipe warmer
- diaper genie
- mobiles/white noise/baby lullaby/ crib vibrators
- full-sized high chairs
- special laundry detergent
- baby food
- diaper stacker
Your newborn spends the entire day eating, pooping and sleeping with occasional breaks to look at things usually to face of whomever is holding them – at first they would be perfectly happy to be held 24×7. As they get older they spend more time alert and quickly start looking for things to do. Baby’s needs can be divided into some basic categories: sleeping, eating, diapering, bathing and care, clothing, travel, and play. These needs are what should drive baby purchases, not marketing.
May 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
You knew there was a “but” right?
Every now and then I pop into mmlist.com which has some good insights into simplicity. Most of what he says I agree with in principle, but…. a couple weeks ago there was the article, society, reimagined, Leo treats us to his imagining of a better society but I also felt there was something very much missing in his look at society.
If there is one thing modern, urban simplicity advocates forget it is the invisible screen against which their lives are projected. What do I mean by that? Well, quite simply there is a whole mesh and network of things, services, stuff, that is a scratch and a peck under the surface that we never see, we never know about but it is there and without it all our systems would crumble and most people would find that crumbling utterly unbearable. Which I realize is probably clear as mud so I will pick on poor Leo and pull out his ideas and use them as examples.
Junking the car: It sounds like a good idea, getting rid of our cars – working closer to home or even working at home with mass transit available for those times when one must travel. To urbanites it is an awesome idea. Not such a great plan if you are rural and the nearest mass transit is 50 miles away.
I don’t hear a lot of simplicity advocates wanting to get rid of mass transportation, emergency vehicles or freight. These are part of the screen. We like the fact that our homes are not right up against the clothing factory or the manufacturing site, but as long as we want mass transportation and freight someone, somewhere has to be building buses and trains, these are built out of parts that must be manufactured, from materials which must be manufactured from raw materials that have to be harvested and shipped. Then to run the bus or train you have to have fuel (some sort of energy), it has to be maintained, the roads or tracks it runs on have to be maintained. All this requires energy, people and raw materials.
While the simplicity advocate might really want to have their nice little community free from cars in the street where are these mass transportation workers going to live? Is the miner going to raise his children within walking distance of the mine? What about the ore smelter, the steel worker or the parts manufacturer? We do not have (nor can I imagine we will develop) technology that will make aluminum parts manufacturing for mass transit vehicles a clean process – certainly not one I would want to raise my children in the shadow of – which, considering my husband works for a company that makes freight vehicles, buses and emergency vehicles, is a real possibility if we are going to localize industry. If we are going to advocate a change in how we loco-mote we need to consider the holistic costs of what we are thinking of. Do we create a better community for ourselves and our children while leaving those families who enable this lifestyle living in the shadows of factories and manufacturing plants or do we sacrifice transportation as we know it. How much would we be willing to sacrifice in order to improve our communities? Would we give up mass transportation, freight or emergency response vehicles? And if not willing to do so are we asking others to live in a way we would not choose to in order that we may live as we want?
Locally Grown Food: I like this idea, but the idea that we are going to grow enough food in back-yard and community gardens to sustain families is — well, naive. Farms, family farms, those sized large enough to produce enough food for the family living on them can only be so small. Just think of how much land you need to devote to growing food in order to supply yourself and your children (and your parents) with enough food to survive the year. I suspect my family could do in it our area (the insanely rich and fertile Willamette Vally) on right around 20 acres. This would produce enough for us and enough to trade. If we are just looking at sustaining ourselves 10 might be possible and that is with modern preservation techniques. If we lived in a community were we could trade skills for grain-crops closer to 5 might work. A back yard garden or a community garden plot is not going to supply my family’s needs. That is reality. I would love to think that I could possibly manage to do it on a 1/4 acre or something, but that would be delusional. There is an interesting discussion here with more thoughts.
Now organizing communities around farming, going back the the village model is something that rings right in my soul. If we were mostly farmers with some tradesmen here and there we could return to a system of locally grown food as the center of most family’s diets. But we would have to sacrifice a lot of modern life. This would require a rural agrarian life style for almost everyone. Which is going to mean smaller communities overall. Then you loose some things. You are not going to have a universally “wired” world and a universally agrarian world. The energy and manufacturing needs of a digital society are so enormous that the two are in reality incompatible. Building buses and trains is nothing compared to building computers, digital networks and modern communication infrastructure. Who will be feeding these factory workers making the microprocessors, network cable and video screens? Again do they have to farm and work in a factory? The amount of time to plant, harvest, preserve, store, prepare and serve homegrown food is astronomical. Not equal to the amount of time most of us work at our livings today, but it is an everyday of the year gig.
And mmlist actually does go into the idea that the ideal simple world would be a world that was highly digital. Look at the manufacturing footprint of your basic laptop, it dwarfs the bus or firetruck, then look at the foot print required for a digital infrastructure. Are we ever going to be able to provide that style of living for everyone? How this is supposed to happen I can’t even imagine. Sure I agree that this sort of vision could be real in some places, maybe the college towns mmlist suggests, I am sure Eugene would be game for it, at least in parts, but I think that vision of simplicity only works as long as it is a subculture within a highly developed, factory manufactured, consumer base world. Sort of a new aristocracy, as long as there are enough serfs to plow the field the royalty can live resplendently, just don’t peek too closely at the lives of the serfs.
What is missing in the vision? Humanity. How do we provide a quality, dignified existence to all God’s children? It is not enough for us to envision a life that benefits us while harming others, it is not enough to free ourselves and our children while leaving the rest of the world in the mud. Sure we can do just that, but is that in any way better than shopping at Walmart and buying cheep, plastic, crap from China? We eventually have to make the choice. We will eventually have to give up the freight and the digital infrastructure if we wish to have an equitable world, or we will have to accept that some parts of the world will always be the “slaves” to the wants of the rest.