So, Selkie Jamie had a fabulous post the other day about the ethics of family size. I am too lame to figure out how to do a link--yes, that means I am actually too lame for Blogger. So sad. Just run a Google for Selkie and it should take you there. Seriously, do it, she's a really good writer and worth reading. I will wait.
Are we back (all three of you who read this)? Good. Jamie's basic premise was that a large family which lives frugally and with a sense of responsibility to the environment has a much smaller ecological footprint, and in fact uses fewer resources, than a one-child family that has lots of stuff bought new, two SUVs in the garage and consumes like crazy. So the argument that somehow having more than the ZPG-blessed two children is more wasteful of resources is in fact off the mark.
I agree with her absolutely, and it gave me a lot to chew on in thinking about my own use of resources. It's something I am struggling with now and have been for the last several years, since I started going to church again.
I am caught between two worlds when it comes to consumption. On the one side are my church friends, who generally live very simply, in smaller homes, with older and comfortable furniture. Entertaining is generally potluck, vegetarian or at least vegetarian friendly and while good food is apreciated, there's a sense of health and Earth-consciousness in food choices. Often, couples survive on one car in our public-trannsportation-less city, and to a person, they are bought used and are fuel-efficient and smallish. No one watches much TV.
On the other side is my high school/college friends and my family. SUVs are de rigeur--my 60-year-old parents each drive one. Houses are big, furniture is nice (although still often handed down or bought on sale), and where you live is chosen more for status than to make a statement. Children's clothes are all bought new and generally are name brand, as are toys. TVs are big and dominate the main room of the house.
And then there's us. We have cable and TiVo, but our TV is not outsized (20 inches) and is tucked away in our small den. Maggie has developed a pretty big Sesame Street jones, and we watch wayyyy too much television at night (bad habit and one of the New Year's resolutions I am still working on). Most of my clothes are old--I maybe buy one or two new things for myself each season, and Paul keeps things for so long I have started to just throw out old, holey socks and such because otherwise he'll keep them forever. I can't get behind used clothes for myself, they make me feel icky and itchy, but the vast majority of Maggies clothes are hand-me-downs or bought used at Moms to Moms sales, as are most of her toys. We have a dishwasher and I adore it and will sell my dog to replace it if it breaks. We have two cars, which irritates me as I would rather not, but there's no reliable public transportation in my city and neither of us could walk to work (well, technically I do in that I walk to the room the computer is in, but assignments take me far and wide). There is entriely too much plastic in my house.
The house is a classic "not so big house" and I love it, old and comfy and pretty, in a friendly neighborhood in a hugely dysfunctional city. We drive a new car, but that's because the automakers had such great incentives this ummer that we could lease our new car for less than we could buy one used. It's big, a Ford Focus wagon, but not an SUV (I had several confounding conversations with my mother this summer as she kept suggesting lower-cost SUVs we might want, or good places to find a nice used one, on and on. This despite my explaining I did not in fact *want* to drive an SUV).
Its such a a struggle for me, to find a way I can live ethically and that satisfies both my champagne tastes and my beer budget (being fairly broke and house-poor means some degree of living simply is thrust upon you). I buy many clothes at Target or Old Navy, because it's inexpensive, but I worry about what sort of sweatshop economy I might be contributing to. But I simply can't afford to spend a lot on clothes and I am too vain to wear what I already own and let's not even discuss whhat I spend on haircuts and eyebrow waxes. I don't buy organic, except milk for Maggie, because I can't afford it, but I grow my own veggies in the summer, buy at our local farmer's market when it's viable, and do choose organic when it's not a lot more expensive (as is the case with many things at Trader Joe's). I am working on making sure what we buy is consumed and I don't throw much food away.
But, I really don't want to be that draggy person at every party asking about the provenance of every dish and lecturing my hosts about The Evils of Big Ag. I look at my pretty, stylishly attired friends and wish I could blow lots of money on new clothes every year without guilt. I covet new furniture, nice cookware, a Bose dock for our IPod. Paul lusts for a flat screen TV. I sometimes feel looked down upon, because if Maggie's wearing Gymboree it was a gift, handed down, or bought used. I love TiVo.
I resent this consumer culture, but still feel myself caught up in it. It's so hard to stand up and say "no" especially when not all of me agrees with that "no." I so dearly want to reject the worship of stuff, but I so love some of my stuff. I desire a simple lifestyle, but can't help feeling getting much more simplified would squeeze out the few remaining pleasures I have.
So what to do? Do any of you feel a real disconnect sometimes between what you want and what you do? What drives that? How do you live simply, and what effect do you thik thhat has on the rest of the world?